12.03.2016

The Duomo — one of Italy's greatest experiences

Duomo exterior by night (c) 2016 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Sometimes I get my inspiration for Travel Horizons by reading the Europe forum on fodors.com — an interesting mixture of shared wisdom and (sometimes) misinformation. Consider this posting entitled Venice, Florence - too many museums. The writer's planned trip to Italy includes "2 days in Venice, 3 days Florence." She is reaching out to other readers on advice on maximizing her time enjoying museums and churches. And then she makes this jaw-dropping comment.
I've read that the interior of the Duomo is not that great.
Shared misinformation, indeed! If you walk into the Duomo without knowing its history, you'll be unaware of the engineering and architectural wonder that it represents. When the cathedral was built, its Renaissance designers wanted to crown it with the largest self-supporting dome in the world, but they didn't possess the technology to accomplish their dream. The Santa Maria del Fiore, under construction for more than a hundred years (not an atypical time-frame), remained dome-less with no conception of how to complete it. So a competition was announced: "Whoever desires to make any model or design for the vaulting of the main Dome ... shall do so before the end of the month of September."

That competition was won by Filippo Brunelleschi, and you can read his amazing story in Brunelleschi's Dome. This book is a must-read before you travel to Florence. If you know the story, walk into the cathedral and look up at the Dome; you'll be filled with awe and wonder. Then climb the stairs to the top of the Dome, the same stairs used by the workers in its construction. These stairs wind their way between the inner and outer layers of the Dome (did you know there were two domes?) to a parapet at the top with a commanding view of Florence.

I'm stunned that not one Fodor's reader challenged the poster's misinformation, as the forum is frequented by some very experienced travelers. Just a reminder that (a) not everything you read on the internet is true, (b) google is not a substitute for an expertise of a travel advisor, and (c) a great guide can add so much to your travel experience. I did respond with my advice; I hope the original poster actually reads it. It would be a shame to visit Florence and miss the Duomo.

copyright (c) 2016 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

11.30.2016

Boon Fly Café | really good local Napa restaurant

Boon Fly Café (c) 2016 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Boon Fly Café is quite popular with the locals, always a good sign for a restaurant. We enjoyed three meals there while guests at Carneros Inn — two breakfasts (Virtuoso guests get a daily breakfast credit, currently $40 per day and going up to $60 per day in 2017) and our Thanksgiving dinner.

If you arrive for breakfast between 8 and 9 a.m., you'll likely have to wait for a table because, as noted above, the place is extremely popular with people who live in and around Napa. Restaurants are usually crowded because they're good, and this is certainly the case with Boon Fly Café. The extensive breakfast menu includes the Boon Fly American Breakfast ($18.40) that includes two eggs any style, sausage or bacon, bread, juice, and tea or coffee. You can also order order a la carte — unique choices such as Bloody Fly's Spicy Bacon Bloody Mary, Poppa Joe's Eggs in a Hole, Green Eggs and Ham, Boon Fly Benedict, or the restaurant's own homemade donuts (which seemed to be quite popular).

Carneros Inn guests can also enjoy breakfast at the guest-only Hilltop Dining Room (open on weekends). While there's no waiting for a table and a more serene setting, I enjoyed the friendliness and bustling energy at Boon Fly Café.

How was the Thanksgiving dinner? Yum ... from soup to turkey to the bourbon pecan pie with vanilla ice cream, one of the best Thanksgiving feasts I've had. 

copyright (c) 2016 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

11.28.2016

Carneros Resort | even better with age

landscaping matured: Harvest Suite at Carneros Resort, November, 2016

What a difference eight years can make! I last visited Carneros in September, 2008 (see my review here). At that time, the resort was sparking new ... as well as the landscaping. See the picture below from 2008 — very small plantings in front of the porch, and none of the newly planted trees were large enough to provide any meaningful shade or to frame the starkness of the new buildings.

eight years ago — Cottage in September, 2008

I recently spent two nights at Carneros Resort (the name just changed from Carneros "Inn"), and I can report that the landscaping is maturing nicely and will only get better with time. We enjoyed our stay very much. We stayed in Sycamore 7, a Harvest Cottage in the Sycamore group of cottages. This is a much requested location, as it's closest to the adult pool, spa, and guest-only restaurant.

All cottages have 450 square feet of indoor space featuring two easy chairs facing a gas fireplace and wall mounted television and a King or two double beds in the sleeping area, Brazilian cherry wood floors. The large bathroom had dual vanities, soaking tub, step-in shower, and WC. There is also 500-700 square feet of private outdoor space — ours had an outdoor bathtub and outdoor shower, although it was too chilly during our stay to take advantage. For a splurge, go for a Harvest Suite — 800 square feet of indoor space and a fire pit in your private garden.

Carneros Resort is at the southern end of the Napa Valley and has a convenient location for visiting wineries both in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Virtuoso amenities get even better in 2017 with a daily $60 breakfast credit per room (up from $40), a $100 spa credit, and upgraded room if available at check-in.


copyright (c) 2016 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

11.25.2016

Carneros Resort | visit Napa

country road near Carneros Resort (c) 2016 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Carneros Resort and Spa is a resort in the Napa Valley wine country, just one hour north of San Francisco. We just spent two nights over Thanksgiving at Carneros — more about our stay in a later blog post — but yesterday we enjoyed a 4.3 mile walk on country roads near Carneros. The concierge can give you an easy-to-follow map.

Though the harvest is done, we still enjoyed some spectacular scenery — the luxurious curves of hillside planted with vines, red barns, small ponds reflecting trees clad in autumn colors, and the parallel lines so typical of wine country. I always say that travel is my excuse for photography ... and I came back from this trip with half a dozen favorites.

Though the sun was shining and the sky was blue, I decided to turn these photographs into black and white. I hope they give you a taste for what you can expect in the Carneros region of the Napa Valley.


red barn and weather vane (c) 2016 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

copyright (c) 2016 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

11.18.2016

contrails over San Francisco Bay



How do you explain this? I saw these intersecting contrails in the western sky over San Francisco Bay during my walk yesterday afternoon ... and snapped a picture with my iPhone. It appears that that paths of two planes — one flying north-south ... and the other flying vertically (?) — crossed.

Obviously it's an optical illusion, but I thought it was a pretty cool sight... 

copyright (c) 2016 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

11.16.2016

four seasons of Ritz-Carlton resorts in California

There are four Ritz-Carlton resorts in California — one for each season — and I've now had the opportunity to visit all four of them. Here are some of the vacation possibilities awaiting you.

spring — Rancho Mirage, Palm Springs
 

A resort in the desert, guests are surrounded by the austere beauty of the surrounding mountains. What to do? Play golf. Take a desert tour in a 4x4. Visit Joshua Tree National Monument. Swim in the resort's pools (one for families and one just for adults). Indulge in the spa. Enjoy the great cuisine. Or watch the mountains turn gold at sunrise.


summer — Laguna Niguel


A southern California beach resort, Laguna Niguel is a wonderful destination for a summer beach holiday. Laguna Niguel is actually the very first Ritz-Carlton resort in the world. A renovation has replaced the lobby's "Buckhead" dark wood paneling and heavy curtains with light wood paneling, and the windows now look out on the beautiful ocean view. Other activities include golf, cruising Newport Beach Harbor in a Duffy Boat, or visiting Disneyland (40 minutes away without traffic).


fall — Half Moon Bay
 

We just got back from Half Moon Bay, and fall is the perfect time to visit — pumpkin season. The resort is adjacent to two 18-hole golf courses, including the challenging seaside course in the picture above. You can visit the cute town of Half Moon Bay, and the scenic Signature Drive will fill one day with a picturesque trip: seeing pumpkin farms, hiking redwood forests, visiting wineries, and driving up the California coast.


winter — Lake Tahoe
 

Located at Northstar, a family-friendly ski mountain overlooking Lake Tahoe, this Ritz-Carlton is both a summer and winter destination. In the winter, you'll enjoy staying in this true ski-in ski-out resort. Located mid-mountain, adjacent to the lifts to the top. The Ski Concierge will set out your skis and heated boots for you each morning ... and store them at night while you enjoy après ski activities (a spa treatment, perhaps?). But summer is also a fabulous time to visit — with opportunities for mountain biking, hiking to a secluded lake, or sailing on Lake Tahoe.

You can receive added-value Virtuoso or STARS amenities at all four of these resorts, including free daily breakfasts and more. Just ask!

copyright (c) 2016 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

11.12.2016

luxury hotel reviews on the French Riviera

sea view in Nice (c) 2016 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

I've written reviews of fifteen hotels on the French Riviera (also known as the Cote d'Azur) and posted them on FlyerTalk. If you followed my live blog during my trip, you'll remember that we had a fabulous time. Early October is a great time to visit southern France. The crowds are thinned out, meaning an easier time finding parking and better experiences both in cities like Nice, Cannes, and Monte Carlo but also cute villages like Eze and Saint-Paul du Vence.

We were hosted during our trip by two hotels — four nights at the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat, a Four Seasons Resort ... and Le Saint Paul, a quaint hotel with lots of character right on the main pedestrian path through the middle of town.

But the best part? Just like the four visitors to Nice in the picture above, nothing beats spending some time sitting on a bench, soaking in the sun, and taking in uninterrupted views of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea.

copyright (c) 2016 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.