An Elegantly Bajan Barbados

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Elegant Hotels offers a unique collection of five luxury hotels beautifully situated along stunning beaches on the west and south coasts of sun-soaked Barbados. With 99% of the on-island staff hailing from Barbados, Elegant Hotels created an exclusive “Elegantly Bajan” program where they feature the island’s true culture and cuisine.

Crystal Cove is located on the west coast of Barbados, where the waves are gentle and beaches pristine. The boutique resort welcomes guests into its open lobby, adorned in graceful white tones. Bohemian style building with hues of pink and blue add Mediterranean architectural elements to the backdrop. Lush gardens filled with landscaped herbs, frangipani and bougainvillea surround the 88 contemporary rooms and suites, each equipped with a private patio or balcony. Although the resort is not small, it feels intimate and personal.

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As the name suggests, there is a man made cove right under the lobby, which houses a groovy looking bar. A cascading waterfall suggests guests jump into the refreshing swimming pool and take a seat at one of the stools at the swim up bar. There are three freshwater lagoon-style swimming pools on the property, each offering a spectacular view of the white sandy beach and turquoise blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Our evening at Crystal Cove Resort starts with a manager’s cocktail party (held weekly) where we mingle with the staff and other guests. All of the hotel’s staff members individually introduce themselves and offer their services to make our stay comfortable. We sip on champagne, and nibble on samosas and fish cakes at the resort’s elevated patio, overlooking a beautiful sunset on the sea. We browse through paintings, crafts and souvenirs displayed by few local artists.

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Speaking with the hotel’s management, I get the impression that they prize their warm Bajan hospitality and superior service. The staff gets to know your name, notes your preferences, pays attention to small details, and makes a sincere effort to meet any reasonable demand.

For dinner, we head to Drifters Restaurant at the beach. Here, the vibe of Oistins Fish Fry (a popular island Friday night tradition) is recreated. Delicacies include granny’s fish cakes with Mount Gay Rum cocktail sauce, fried flying fish with Bajan pepper sauce, grilled sweet potato, fried plantain, calypso rice and pumpkin and ginger soup. A live DJ takes us late into the night, playing popular tunes, ranging from calypso to reggae, to American 80’s and everything in between.

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The following day, we head out to the capital city of Bridgetown (located only 15 minutes away) for a Heritage Tour, arranged especially for the hotel guests. This daylong tour takes us through historic neighborhoods and important sites such as the Mount Gay Visitor Centre, Kensington Oval, St. Mary’s Church, Parliament Buildings, Garrison Savannah and the Prime Minister’s Office. Bridgetown’s harbor dotted with fishing boats, shops and restaurants, makes for a romantic stroll. We have some down time at one of Barbados’ most beautiful beaches, Brown’s Beach, to snorkel, swim and relax.

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Music is an essential part of Bajan tradition, and shares its roots with other Caribbean islands such as Bahamas, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. While there is some form of live music at the hotel every night, on Heritage Night, Crystal Cove showcases a Caribbean cabaret with dancers wearing carnival costumes and performing a range of dances and feats, including fire eating and limbo dancing, accompanied by the Tuk Band and the famous Calypso King. We enjoy a glimpse of what Crop Over (Barbados carnival held in August) fiesta would be like, while we sip on coconut and rum cocktails, and taste more authentic dishes from around the Caribbean. Aspiring musicians can also get up and join the free steel pan lessons offered on site.

As a British colony, the national sport of Barbados is cricket and it is common to see practices and test matches going on as you drive along the road. However, Road Tennis is the little known national sport of Barbados, native to the island. It involves a ‘skinned’ tennis ball, a stretch of road for a court and wooden paddles to bat the ball between two players. There is a hands-on lesson across the street from the Crystal Cove for players of all ages.

After a fun and invigorating game of road tennis, we settle down for Rum Shop Initiation experience. Rum is an important part of the island’s economy and its culture. It is said there is a rum shop on every corner of Barbados and that liming (Bajan slang for relaxing) at a local village rum shop is an essential part of the Bajan experience. We learn a few rum shop games such as dominos, sample rum shop snacks including corn beef and biscuits, as well as cheese cutters made with local salt bread, and sample different flavors of local rum.

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The rest of the afternoon, we avail the benefits of the complimentary water sports offered as part of the all-inclusive experience. Beach ambassadors and lifeguards facilitate lessons in windsurfing, kayaking, sailing, banana boating and waterskiing. Kids under 12 years of age are whisked off to the Flying Fish Kids Club where they do supervised water activities, play Wii, pool and air hockey, and watch movies late into the evening.

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While many visitors to Barbados chose to stay at all-inclusive resorts and take little time to venture outside, guests of Elegant Hotels can get a peek into the island life, while being pamper in luxury. Owned and run by the locals, each of Elegant Hotel’s properties is conducive to enjoying an authentic Bajan holiday, while learning the culture and supporting the local economy.

Belize: Small, Diverse and Ideal for Your Next Getaway


CN logoPublished in Cuisine Noir magazine print and online

Tucked between Mexico to the north, Guatemala on the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east is Belize, the most diverse, English-speaking country in Central America. Formerly British Honduras, Belize’s population includes people of Mayan and European (known as mestizo), African, Afro-European (Creole), Mayan, Afro-Amerindian (Garifuna), East Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern and North American descent.

Due to its geographic location, Belize enjoys both the Central American and Caribbean climates as well as natural beauty. From the lush tropical rainforests, prehistoric Mayan villages and glorious beaches to the world’s second-largest barrier reef, there is plenty to see and do within 9,000 square miles.

Ancient Maya

Belize was once the center of the Mayan civilization. Although the settlements date as far back as 400 B.C., many of the excavations highlight preserved plazas, pyramids, temples, frescoes, tombs and ball fields built between 250 A.D. to 900 A.D. – the height of the Classic period.

Many of the ruins can be found across the country and it’s not difficult to spend an entire vacation doing nothing but tracing the history of the Mayans. However, if you have limited time, start by visiting Altun Ha and Lamanai in northern Belize and then make your way down to Xunantunich (the most impressive ruins), El Pilar, Caracol (the tallest Mayan building in Belize as well as the tallest man-made structure in the country) and Tikal (located on the Belize-Guatemala border, and the most excavated Mayan site).

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Romance at a Jungle Lodge

The jungles of Belize are lush, alive and home to wildlife from black howler monkeys, iguanas, crocodiles, manatees and hundreds of tropical bird varieties. Most visitors travel to the region of Cayo where they can watch the wildlife on a river tour or stay at a jungle lodge.

If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle, go to the Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge at the foothills of Sibun National Forest Reserve off the famous Hummingbird Highway. With only nine private cabanas overlooking the river, a thick canopy and oversized indoor/outdoor showers, it is the perfect place for a romantic getaway to rekindle with your partner. Listen to the sounds of the forest while lying in a hammock or watch the brilliantly lit star-studded sky from your outdoor Jacuzzi.

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The lodge’s open-air restaurant serves regional Caribbean creations including lobster and conch curry which feature fresh and natural ingredients. Wake up early to have breakfast with toucans and monkeys and then go for a hike to the canopies from where you have a breathtaking view of the forest and surrounding citrus orchards.

Explore the World’s Second-largest Underwater World

One of the greatest attractions of Belize is the Belize Barrier Reef, 185 miles of beautiful corals, cays and islands. While water temperatures are pleasant year-round, the best time to dive is December through July. White sandy beaches, turquoise waters and miles of untouched, unspoiled beauty are only a few reasons that divers from around the world come to the gorgeous waters of Belize. Be prepared to see a variety of hard corals, gorgonians, sea fans, tunicates, shellfish, grouper, stingrays, manta rays, spotted eagle rays, hammerhead sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, whale sharks and oceanic white-tip sharks depending on the area in which you are swimming.

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The most spectacular attraction in the area is the Great Blue Hole. Off the coast of Belize, the Blue Hole is the largest ocean sinkhole in the world. Created by a collapsed underground cavern, it appears as a dark blue circle among the startling turquoise sea. Take a day cruise, a snorkeling boat or an aerial Astrum Helicopters tour to grasp the vast magnitude and brilliant blue waters.

Kick Up the Adrenaline

Like its Central American neighbors, Belize tries to capture thrill-seeking travelers with many of its attractions, including zip lining, rock climbing, caving, tubing, hiking, rappelling and more. At Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge, leap from six underground waterfalls in 300 feet of darkness while spectacular crystal formations loom above. View Mayan ceremonial centers hidden deep inside caves on a river tubing tour. Finally, rappel down to a sinkhole above the rainforest canopy.

At 2,300 feet the zip line at Mayflower Bocawina National Forest, near Silk Grass Village on the Southern Highway in Belize, is the longest zip line in Central America. Nestled amid 7,000 acres of pristine lowland broadleaf forest in the saw-toothed Maya Mountains, this adventure center offers day and nighttime zip lining, waterfall rappelling and hiking.

Trace African Roots of the Garifuna

A large proportion of the Belizean population is Garifuna. It is believed that in 1635, two Spanish ships carrying Nigerian slaves sank off the coast of the island Saint Vincent. The slaves who survived and swam ashore found shelter in the existing Carib Indian settlements. Over the next century and a half, they intermixed, intermarried and eventually fused into a single culture, the Black Caribs or Garinagu, also known as Garifuna today.

The coastal village of Hopkins in East Belize is known as the cultural center of the Garifuna population. This small, vibrant community prides itself on good food, unspoiled beaches and genuine hospitality. The local bars and restaurants, although casual, serve local dishes, such as hudut, a savory fish stew with mashed plantains and cassava bread. The lone street of the village is dotted with B&Bs, resorts and neighborhood watering holes.

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Almond Beach Resort and Spa is one of the top-rated hotels in the country, located right off the beach in Hopkins. Its ocean-view rooms and direct access to a clean sandy beach, kayaks and snorkels make it a haven for travelers looking to enjoy the sun and sand of the Caribbean. The resort offers free concerts on the weekends where one can hear rhythmic beats and watch dances performed by the Dangriga Garifuna Dance Academy.

Whether you are looking for a relaxing beach vacation, thrilling adventure activities, quiet time with nature or ancient culture and archeology, the tiny country of Belize has enough to keep your attention.

To begin planning your next getaway to Belize, visit www.travelbelize.org.

Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Lake Placid: The Perfect Upstate Retreat

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One of the best kept secrets in upstate New York is the city of Lake Placid. Nestled in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, Lake Placid offers picturesque scenery, unique culture and plenty of outdoor adventures.

Historically, an American physician named Edward Livingston Trudeau put Saranac Lake on the map in the late 1800s as an escape for patients with tuberculosis.  Soon, the area became a popular summer retreat among the rich and famous. The Winter Olympics of 1932 and 1980 brought about additional attention to city and the Lake Placid Ironman is the longest running triathlon in the U.S. aside from Championship Kailua-Kona in Hawaii where thousands of athletes come to test their abilities every year.

Lake Placid is a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts; those who like to hike, bike, swim, hike, rock climb, kayak, camp or simply enjoy nature.

Getting to Lake Placid

Lake Placid is located close to the U.S./ Canadian border and attracts visitors from both countries. It is easy to rent a car and drive to Lake Placid from surrounding big cities of Burlington (3 hours), Montreal (2 hours), Toronto (5.5 hours), New York City (5 hours) or Boston (5 hours).

Lodging at the Lake

The Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort located directly on Mirror Lake offers some of the best views in the city. It is convenient for shopping, dining and relaxing on the beach. Complimentary equipment for paddling, kayaking and boating is available to the guests.

For a quieter atmosphere, you can book yourself a luxurious suite at Lake Placid Lodge. The upscale camp lodge is a majestic arts and crafts building on the scale of the Newport Cottage. The lodge offers private boat tours and direct access to the lake to its guests. The location is popular for intimate weddings, so make sure you book well in advance.

For a quirky German bed and breakfast-style setting, head to family ownedThe Pines Inn, where you will find cozy rooms and a friendly staff. They also have a German Biergarten themed dinner on Friday nights where you can enjoy beer and pretzels on the outdoor patio.

Farm to Table Dining

Start your day with a hearty breakfast at Generations Restaurant adjacent to the Golden Arrow.  Locally sourced fresh ingredients are used for preparing omelets and pancakes. This is a good place to sample maple syrup and cheese made at New York farms.

Rekindle the romance with a lakeside dinner during sunset at Artisan’s restaurant located at the Lake Placid Lodge. Finest Champagnes, beluga caviar, Maine lobster, homemade pasta and white chocolate truffles are just a few aphrodisiacs on the menu. Chef Nathan Rich’s seasonally inspired multiple course menu is likely to create memories that would last a lifetime.

Pick up a box of the yummiest hand made goats’ milk (cajetaand sea salt caramels you will ever have from Asgaard Farm and Dairy.  They also sell award-winning chèvre, feta and soft cheese made right at the farm.

Learn about maple production from sap to jar at the Uihlein Sugar Maple Research and Extension Field Station, located just a few minutes outside the city. Bring cash for the unmanned store where you can buy maple syrup in bottles of all shapes and sizes.

Activities for Mind and Body

Before you gear up and head out to play, stop by Eastern Mountain Sports, a one-stop shop for sporting equipment and guided tours. Here you can rent or buy everything you need for your day’s adventure. You can also enlist for one of their group explorations or hire a guide for a personal tour. Choose from hiking, biking, golf, fishing, paddling, birding, hunting and more.

In the winter, Alpine enthusiasts may spend their winter days ice climbing, skiing and riding on the east’s greatest vertical, Whiteface Mountain. With Over 283 acres of ski-able terrain, 86 trails and 11 lifts at Whiteface Mountain, there is plenty of room to enjoy the slopes. The ice skating rink at the Olympic Center and Lake Placid Olympics Museum are also open year round for visitors and competitors.

While Lake Placid is a great place to visit year-round, it is exceptionally magical in the fall when the leaves change colors. Drive, motorbike or cycle up the scenic Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway to its summit mountain top castle and catch some of the best views of the foliage.

After a day on the slopes, relax at the spa located at The Whiteface Lodge, the only resort hotel at Lake Placid. Enjoy a body wrap or massage followed by a dip in one of their indoor or outdoor pools. The spa’s café, KANU, also serves an organic menu with delicious Bento box lunches and detox drinks.

Not to Miss Fall Events in Lake Placid

Lake Placid Farmers’ Market and Keene Farmers’ Market – Held at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts every Wednesday through October 23 and at the Marcy Airfield in Keene every Sunday through October 13, respectively, both feature locally sourced produce, meat, poultry, baked goods, handmade crafts from Adirondack artisans and more.

Oktoberfest at Whiteface Mountain – Held at Whiteface Mountain annually, Oktoberfest is a weekend-long celebration of all things Bavarian, complete with authentic music, dancing, food, beer, Gondola rides to the top of Little Whiteface to view the fall foliage, lotsof lederhosen and more.

Lake Placid Brewfest – The second annual Lake Placid Brewfest returns, complete with samplings of some of the best beers from around the country, alongside Q&A opportunities with the brewers behind them.

Flaming Leaves Festival – Featured on the “Today Show’s” top fall festivalsroundup in 2012, the Flaming Leaves Festival features food, sport, music, and more. Watch as some of the nation’s best ski jumpers soar through the air, enjoy live music performances and chow down on delicious BBQ. Don’t forget to take a trip to the top of the tallest 120-meter ski jump to see the fall foliage at its best.

Honeymoon in the Highlands

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The legendary and charming Old Edwards Inn Resort and Spa is consistently voted as a top travel destination for romance, relaxation and world class spa. It is located in a scenic mountain town only a short drive from Atlanta, GA, Charlotte, NC and Greenville, SC. Old Edwards Inn was named the #9 Most Romantic Hotel in America by Travel and Leisure in 2012, received the Trip Advisor Reader’s Choice Award for #2 Best Hotel for Romance in the US in 2011 and #3 Hotel Spa in North America by Conde Nast Traveler 2011.  Needless to say, it is the perfect romantic escape for couples looking to take a luxurious honeymoon or rekindle an old romance.

Old Edwards is a four-star mountain resort located in the heart of the downtown historic Highlands district nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. Straight out of a fairly tale, stepping into Old Edwards feels like you have transported yourself into a luxurious European mansion from the 18th century. With dark wood panellings, oversized fireplaces and cozy nooks fitted with comfortable loveseats, the lobby area is inviting to the guests making them relax instantly. The extravagance continues with Champagne upon arrival, inviting cozy rooms with canopy beds and dramatic European decorations complemented by around the clock room service attending to your every need.

The resort offers a variety of accommodations including deluxe rooms, suites and private cottages. Every room is carefully decorated with pleasurable colors and large canopy beds that boast extremely comfortable Italian beddings and linens.  The suits offer a spacious living area with a working fireplace and a private balcony where couples can take in views of the quaint Main Street.  Even the bathrooms are designed to spoil you. Heated floors lead you to an inviting Jacuzzi tub where plush towels hang on towel warmers next to separate his and her vanities. Guests staying at the spa suites can drape the snug robes and take an elevator straight down to the award winning spa at Old Edwards.

The spa boasts 25,000 square feet of exquisite European style luxury including a nail and hair salon, boutique, café, solarium, Jacuzzi and sauna. As you step into the spa, you instantaneously feel welcomed by the staff who is keen to attend to all your needs. Ask for a couple’s massage or an organic facial for the ultimate pampering experience.  There are lovely spots to relax and read at the spa’s meditation room so allow yourself some time to unwind or perhaps even nap in one of their lounge chairs.

After a relaxing day, enjoy a scrumptious dinner at Madison’s Restaurant (2011 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence) located at the Old Edwards Inn. The menu showcases farm-to-table cuisine which means the chefs actually grow many of the ingredients at the Inn’s private farm located twenty minutes away. Acclaimed German Chef Johannes Klapdohr creates Southern and European inspired dishes with unique combinations. Try the duck two ways which is very interesting with black eyed peas hash and parsnip puree, bacon wrapped quail over wild rice or delicately fried scallops over a bed of creamy risotto garnished with cauliflower chips. Every item has multiple dimensions and layers of flavors.  Rose petals and friendly servers make the dining experience more ornate. Madison’s also serves breakfast and lunch in its’ comfortable, yet classy setting.

For al fresco dining, there is a wine garden and rooftop terrace that is open during the summer months.  If you are looking for something casual, there are several restaurants within walking distance from the Inn. Oak Street Café is a wonderful establishment where you will also find meticulously prepared traditional Southern and European dishes. Here you’ll find some of the best mushroom bisque, shrimp and grits and chicken kiev.

The city of Highlands enjoys a temperate climate, small town charm, upscale restaurants, lively arts community and many outdoor activities. If you decide to leave the comforts of the Inn and explore the area, there are waterfalls, hiking trails, golfing, horseback riding and more.  The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina are among the oldest mountains on earth. The landscape is full of superlatives: the highest mountain (Mount Mitchell), deepest gorge (Linville Gorge), and highest waterfall (Whitewater Falls) in the eastern United States; the oldest river in North America (the New River); and the two most visited National Park lands in the country (the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park).

For some shopping indulgence, visit Acorns shops at the Old Edwards that sell famous Carolina furniture, home accessories, European antiques and designer apparel. Across the street, Dutchmans is the perfect romantic store full of unique pieces from around the world that play on all of your senses. There are candles, floral, kitchen equipment, hand carved furniture, quilt and golf books that will keep the two of you engaged for hours.

Old Edwards Inn and Spa offers the perfect romantic escape packages that includes deluxe accommodations, Champagne and strawberries, dinner at Madison’s, spa credits and rose petal turndown service. This world class hidden gem in the mountains of North Carolina is the ideal place for those looking for ultra luxury, world class service, high end cuisine and beautiful mountain scenery.

Old Edwards Inn Resort and Spa
445 Main Street, Highlands, NC 28741
828.526.8008
www.oldedwardsinn.com