May 23 – 31, 2018
We are a group of 27 heading to Lake Como to spend our first 4 nights there followed by 4 nights in the lovely Italian Riviera.
We fly into Milan and embark on a panoramic tour of Milan’s main landmarks stopping at sights such as the Sforza Castle, the former dwellings of the powerful Sforza family, a beautiful fortification with many museums within its walls. We then continue on to the famous Duomo Di Milano. The cathedral is a masterpiece in architectural design and detail which took thousands of workers, a new canal system and over six centuries to complete and its construction is still continuing with routine restorations. We admire the duomo from the outside as the lines to get in can be very long in excess of an hour. We also spend a little time in the square wandering around the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a magnificent shopping arcade in Milan, built in 1860, covered with a glass and iron roof. The interior of the impressive five story structure is decorated with patriotic mosaics and statues and it is full of upscale stores and various restaurants and cafes.
We then drive a couple of hours to the village of Varenna, a quaint village on the eastern shore of Lake Como, looking over the central part of the lake towards Bellagio. Varenna’s picturesque lanes and old fishermen’s houses are unpretentiously appealing, and some visitors prefer the town to its grander neighbors. Although Varenna is a tourist destination, and its pretty waterfront and tiny stone beach fill up with vacationers, it has somehow a more authentic air than the other hotel-packed villages. The main tourist activities in Varenna are relaxing by the lake, and visiting the gardens of two villas, Villa Monastero and Villa Cipressi. I have chosen a lake front hotel called Royal Victoria Hotel, a 4-star property set in a building dating back to the 19th century. This property features lush gardens, a swimming pool and a wellness center with a sauna and a steam bath, 2 restaurants and a private dock. The views of Lake Como from anywhere within the hotel are breath-taking!
From this home base, we spend the next 4 days visiting the different villages around the lake. Our first visit is to the most important town on the lake, Como. As we sail across the lake in our own private boat, we admire the beautiful villas perched on the cliff sides of all the lake side villages. Once we dock in Como, we walk through its lively streets and nice waterfront and take the funicular up to Brunate, a picturesque village 700 meters above sea level. This excursion allows us to enjoy enchanting views over Lake Como and the Alps. The next day we visit the village of Bellagio but first we stop at Villa Carlotta, this beautiful villa was built at the end of 17th century by the Milanese marquis Giorgio Clerici in a natural basin between lake and mountains, facing the dolomite Grignas and the peninsula of Bellagio. It also houses the most spectacular botanical garden of the area with over 8 hectares of lush greenery with old varieties of camellias, century old cedars and sequoias, huge planes and tropical plants, the Rock garden and the Ferns valley, the Rhododendrons wood and the Bamboos garden among many other beautiful settings.
On our last day in Lake Como, we drive over to Lake Maggiore, the second largest lake in Italy in size (the biggest is Lake Garda) but the largest of the lakes closest to the Alps. Since the 19th century, the lake has been one of the top vacation and weekend destinations for wealthy families from big cities, who built some of northern Italy’s most stunning villas on its shores. Anyone who has seen a postcard of Lake Maggiore is bound to be familiar with The Borromean Islands outline. The archipelago is one of the biggest attractions for travelers enticed by the charm of yesteryear—and Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori have plenty of charm. The archipelago is named after the Borromeo family, which acquired the islands in the 14th century and still owns two of them. The noble palaces on the islands, with their rooms filled with antique furniture, paintings and priceless porcelain, and the enchanting gardens are open to visitors and are a must on your list of things to see.
On our 5th day, we depart Varenna and make our long way over to Santa Margherita Ligure, a picture-perfect seaside resort town with a busy promenade, where elegant hotels with Liberty facades overlook yachts in this fishing-village-turned-retirement-spot. Santa Margherita is a good base for daytrips to Portofino, the picturesque San Fruttuoso monastery, the resorts of Camogli and Rapallo, Genoa and the Cinque Terre (around an hour by train, or an all-day boat excursion).
We break up the long journey mid-way at Villa Sparina Wine Estate, located in the Gavi wine region. The history of Villa Sparina goes back to the 1700s when it was part of a grand colonial complex immersed in the vineyards of Monterotondo in Piedmont, the heart of Gavi territory. In Villa Sparina, visitors can enjoy fine dining at La Gallina Restaurant where the cuisine balances creativity and southern Piedmontese culinary traditions. Villa Sparina also houses the four-star L’Ostelliere hotel, where guests can have a unique and unforgettable stay in Piedmont. After a delicious banquet of cured meats, cheeses, vegetables and cheese risotto paired with 4 different wines, we embark on our final stretch to the riviera.
We arrive at Grand Hotel Miramare, our hotel for the next 4 nights; this hotel is the epitome of classic Italian elegance. Situated in the heart of the Italian Riviera, the art nouveau-style building overlooks the beautiful Golfo del Tigullio. Palms, camellias and lavender are among the aromatic plants growing in the hotel’s large Mediterranean garden. The spa and choice of restaurants and bars add to the sense of luxury. Built in 1903, Grand Hotel Miramare was one of the first luxury hotels on the Italian Riviera. You feel like you are following in the footsteps of Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, who spent their honeymoon here in the 1940s!
The next day, our first day excursion is to Genoa, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and the pesto sauce! Known as “the proud one” due to its glorious past and impressive landmarks, Genoa is the capital city of the Liguria region. Part of the old town is inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List. After a two-hour long city tour among its labyrinth of narrow, medieval alleyways, we have built enough appetite to make our way to Il Genovese, a 1912 establishment featuring genuine Genovese dishes such as of course, the pesto. With lots of wine and pasta to last for days, we head back to Santa Margherita.
On our 7th day, the crew heads over to Cinque Terre by bus first to La Spezia, where we embark in a ferry that takes us to our first stop Portoverene. Perched on the dreamy Golfo dei Poeti’s western promontory, this historic fishing port’s sinuous seven- and eight-story harbor front houses form an almost impregnable citadel around the muscular Castello Doria. Later we continue our boat trip and reach Monterosso which has the best beaches of the Cinque Terre villages and the most wine shops, artisan shops, hotels and restaurants. In Monterosso we visit the Enoteca Internazionale wine shop and taste 2 different Cinque Terre Doc white wines and a glass of sciacchetra’ (local sweet wine with very limited production) in addition to a mixture of cured meats and cheeses. It takes about an hour to return back to Grand Miramare hotel early afternoon.
Our last day in the riviera couldn’t be more marvelous. We board our private boat towards Portofino, a charming Italian fishing village and vacation resort famous for its picturesque harbor and historical association with celebrity and artistic visitors. The “Piazzetta,” meeting-up point for the international jet-set, is the symbol of Portofino, while the port, with its characteristic, brightly-colored houses, is the icon of this borgo’s maritime traditions, whose inhabitants were called “delfini” (dolphins) by the Greeks and Romans. Next, we stop in San Fruttuoso, one of the most unique and special places in all of Liguria with two powerful attractions: the ancient One Benedictine monastery and the Christ of the Abyss statue. Our boat tour finishes in Camogli, a cozy medieval fishing village with an old port and a very distinctive character. Here we find authentic fishermen and old boats, boutique shops and restaurants. We all break into smaller groups and head to different restaurants to taste the local cuisine. I decide to try the famous and only offered locally, cheese focaccia, paired with some delicious local wine.
Our trip comes to a closure by having a spectacular farewell dinner at the Grand Hotel Miramare where the chef has prepared the most sumptuous and succulent 5 course meal for us paired with several white, red and sparkling wine. As we all cheer and reminisce about the last week, everyone is already asking: Where are you taking us next?
Wonderful Mountain Villages, Superb Skiing, Obligatory Cheese Fondue
I flew into Zurich Airport for my time in Switzerland, which sets expectations for what guests can anticipate from the overall experience in the country. The airport is efficient, well-planned, and very easy to navigate for travelers.
Hotel Atlantis by Giardino picked us up from the airport, and a brief commute through Zurich’s city streets took us to the urban oasis that is Atlantis. Situated on a hill above Zurich, the hotel offers sweeping vistas of the city below, while still being a quick train ride from the city center. An expansive spa, Michelin starred restaurant, and bar with nightly piano music await guests looking to recharge.
From Zurich, we took the train up to St Moritz. After a three hour journey from the city through picturesque rolling green hills and snow-capped mountains, we were welcomed by our transfers from Giardino Mountain Hotel. Giardino boasts a location just minutes from the glitz and glam of St Moritz, while guests can enjoy the charming local village of Champfer. While in St Moritz, we had the opportunity to experience a few different facets of the area. There was extensive skiing with long groomers and powder stashes, a private on-mountain lounge at one of the après hot spots, courtesy of Giardino, and a village tour to complete our stay.
I wrapped up my Switzerland tour with a final night in Zurich. A trip to Europe in winter wouldn’t be complete with visiting Christmas markets, so I explored the best that Zurich has to offer. From a market with rows of vendors and an oversized Swarovski tree in the main train station, to a choir off the Bahnhofstrasse, and a market with locals undeterred by the rain, Zurich definitely lived up to expectations.
Hotel Atlantis by Giardino
Giardino Mountain Hotel
Eleven Experience has ten properties around the globe, and Taylor River Lodge is one of them. At each destination, comfortable lodging and delicious, seasonal food are combined with guided outdoor adventures on mountains, in the backcountry, and on the water for guests of all ages and skill levels. No matter how remote, every lodge has custom, well designed accommodations, talented chefs, enticing spas, and world-class guides who will show you new dimensions of life, friendship, family, and adventure. Whether heli-skiing near the Arctic Circle in Iceland or casting for bonefish on a remote flat in the Bahamas, Eleven experiences are a different kind of escape.
A perfectly remodeled historic building located in the heart of Crested Butte
There are 5 king rooms with en-suite bathrooms and a bunkroom with 7 bunks and connecting nanny room. There is also a lot of public space for people to hang out with each other including a saltwater pool, 2 hot tubs, work out facility and kids game room.
There is a button in each room you press and it puts more oxygen in the room. Great for guests who get altitude sickness.
They only do buyouts in the winter but can sell by the room during the summer months.
Breakfast each morning as well as a bar in the house. Each room also has a mini bar with drinks (non-alcoholic) and snacks that they replenish each day at no additional charge.
They have a private mountain above Lake Irwin for cat skiing. They will pick the guests up at the lodge each morning in a luxury cat (leather seats & TVs) take them to the private mountain on whichever run they would like to do. The guest skis down and by the time they are at the bottom, the cat will arrive to take them back up. There is a private lodge where they can arrange for lunch as well. Or if they want to ski Crested Butte they will shuttle them there each morning and pick them up as needed.
Book your vacation at Scarp Ridge Lodge
Eleven is not just about their properties; they’re about really experiencing a destination.
After booking, an Experience Manager reaches out to find out likes and dislikes with food and activities. This is not a superficial inquiry, they strive to get thorough information on clients to provide a really customized stay. Your trip begins when you’re welcomed at the airport by one of their team members, who provides an SUV fully stocked with snacks and drinks for the ride to the property. Once you arrive, another team member gives you a tour of the property and all of its amenities, which are plentiful. With both properties, your rooms are stocked with a complimentary mini-bar, which contains unique beverages and a lot of locally made snacks–not your typical minibar. If you’re staying at Taylor River Lodge, this includes wine and PBR, just to give you some options.
The Eleven team has an elevated level of guest service, and they really try to go above and beyond with guest requests. We had a hiking/whitewater rafting guide (same person) that also does ski in the winter, and is both entertaining and knowledgeable. Our fly fishing guides were incredible as well; offering tips on technique, and making sure everyone has a good time.
Taylor River Lodge offers buyouts, but they aren’t required. Even if some family members aren’t into fly fishing, there are plenty of other activities for them so they can explore and enjoy the area. The property feels rustic chic, and is definitely a place that is like summer camp for any age. In addition to their pool and hot tub, which have a glass garage door that fully open them up to nature, the property has games for adults and kids. Foosball, a pool table, in addition to lawn games (corn hole, etc), and a well stocked pond where guests can learn to fish set this property apart. They have a teepee on site where kids like to play (and can sleep there as well if they choose), as well as axe and knife throwing, bb guns, and archery.
Scarp Ridge would be a great option for multi-gen families or any type of small group. This property feels even more high end than Taylor River Lodge, and would be the perfect fit for discerning guests. Since it’s right off Elk Avenue, guests can walk or bike anywhere they’d like to go in town within minutes. For skiers in the winter, the cat skiing is for any ability level. For more timid skiers, they can stick to the freshly groomed cat track that goes down the mountain, while more advanced and expert skiers can be taken to couloirs by the guide. The options are endless.
As I travelled back to Florida from Reno/Tahoe a couple of weeks ago, I chatted with a few people in the airports. Everyone had the same response: “Reno, isn’t that like a little Vegas?”
Six months ago, that probably would have been my response. In reality, the area is nothing like Las Vegas, except they are in the same state. I see Reno and Lake Tahoe as a wonderland for all seasons. The skiing around the lake with the larger well-known resorts such as Squaw Valley to the west and Heavenly to the South are great choices for winter and summer mountain destinations. Today I wanted to say a little about the lesser knowns. Mt Rose is the highest with a base at 8260 feet above sea level and 1300 acres, which makes this a nice choice for a few days of skiing. Mount Rose is just 20 miles from Reno. This is a great choice to stay and play in Reno, and still ski while on your trip.
Crossing over the divide from Mt Rose you will find Incline Village. This is home to the beautiful Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino. This property is located on the north shore of Lake Tahoe and is one of the only resorts with their own private beach. I was there in the fall and it was still a great place to go to relax by the water or even take a sail on the catamaran operating out of the hotel.
Another place to check out while in Incline Village is the CalNeva Resort. If famous names like Frank, Marilyn, and Kennedy ring a bell, the history of the CalNeva resort is for you. This property has been closed and will reopen after a major remodel in 2016 under a Starwood brand, according to what I can find. I will definitely need to go back and see the history of the property. Diamond Peak is a quaint little ski area closest to the Hyatt on the north side of the lake. This ski area does something a little different than most. I have paid for “First Tracks” to go up on many ski mountains, but have never seen “Last Tracks” This is a wine and beer tasting on mountain at the end of the day. Dates and times are limited to parts of the year, but the locals were all chatting about it still in October.
Our trip to the area also took us to the small mining town of Virginia City. Bonanza fans will remember this Old West town mentioned throughout the years of the TV series. In the late 1800s this thriving town had over 30,000 residents. There is still a steam train that will take you from Carson City to this historic mining town. All the history of the area is quite an interesting read.
We have now come full circle and back to Reno, a city on the grow. This city is also home to Tesla. This electric car icon is adding around 10 million square feet to its plant here in coming years. Other notable contributors to the 50,000 jobs coming to Reno are Microsoft, Amazon, and some in the air industry. The Riverwalk located downtown is a must-see with many renowned restaurants in the area. Other things to do while in the area include the 50+ golf courses, the expansion of the Truckee river whitewater park system, and the 13 breweries in the area. Being a person from North Dakota, I have to mention the world’s largest all-sports store, Scheels. Probably the most noticeable item you will see in Reno, however, is the millions of dollars in upgrades being done in the hotels from the lavish spa and pool area at the Peppermill, to the many restaurants, bars and clubs of the tri properties: The Eldorado, Silver Legacy, and Circus Circus. The Atlantis, The Grand Sierra, The Nugget and Harrah’s Reno, Bill Harrah’s original Bingo Hall, are all making improvements and making Reno a destination worth looking into.
A special thanks to Reno Tahoe USA, The Eldorado, The Peppermill and to our other Reno Tahoe partners for making this trip a memorable one.