Probably like many little girls, I have had a fascination with castles and country estates that has stayed with me for a lifetime. My first stay in such royal surroundings was the wonderful Castle Sababurg about a 45-minute drive from Kassel, Germany, in Brothers Grimm territory. It is widely believed the brothers were inspired by Sababurg, using it as the model for the castle in Sleeping Beauty, and I believe it. Sadly, it has recently closed.
When our daughter was young, we stayed in a delightful luxury family hotel, Woolley Grange near Bath in England. One huge benefit was the on-site nanny to watch over children so parents could enjoy a quiet gourmet dinner. And one of my all-time favorite memories was a stay in the English Lake District at Farlam Hall Country House Hotel, a beautiful Relais & Chateaux manor home with resident cats Gin & Tonic and amazing dinner service.
On a more recent trip to Ireland, we loved our visits to Ashford Castle (pictured at top), Dromoland, and Ard na Sidhe. Read on.
Ashford Castle | Cong, Mayo
I can’t even think of enough adjectives to describe Ashford Castle. Dating from 1228, this property did indeed start out as a castle. In the mid-1800s it was owned by Sir Benjamin Guinness. In 2013, the property was rescued from receivership by the Red Carnation luxury hotel group. They bought it for less than half of its previous sale price and then proceeded to invest somewhere between $50-70 million in renovating the hotel and estate. Read the rest of this entry
In the North Carolina High Country, I have never seen so many hummingbirds flying in and out of the trees to the feeder and nearby flowers. Dipping and diving too fast to get a good still photo. They were magical.
We sailed on the AmaWaterways Prima for a spring trip in the Netherlands and Belgium during tulip season. It was a delightful trip and I would recommend the itinerary for couples as well as groups of friends. It was a seven-day river cruise that departed and returned from Amsterdam.
In addition to Amsterdam, our itinerary included Hoorn, Middelburg, Kinderkijk, Rotterdam, and Gouda in the Netherlands along with Ghent, Antwerp, and Bruges in Belgium. You can click each one of those locations to read about my experiences in each port.
The 162-passenger ship was well-appointed and modern. I traveled with a couple of girlfriends and we each booked a separate cabin with a French balcony. AMA does have some single supplement cabins, but we basically paid double for cabins on the Cello deck with a better location and the French balconies, figuring it would enhance our experience (which it did). For a couple, I would suggest one of the larger cabins or suites, riverboat accommodations are traditionally small. The Beds, bedding, and pillows were super-comfy. Two of the three of us had to have our in-room hairdryer changed for one that was hotter.
St. John’s Episcopal Church is a little gem tucked away in the woods down a gravel road in Sugar Grove, NC. Not far from its parent church The Church of the Holy Cross Episcopal* in Valle Crucis, St. John’s was built in 1862. It came about through the fortitude and aspirations of William West Skiles who gave his life to the church and was deaconate in Valle Crucis. He served the people of this mountain region from 1847, often on horseback, until his death in 1862, just after the new church opened. Read the rest of this entry
You can’t drive through the green, pastoral country roads of Western North Carolina without seeing barns. It’s always fun to see a barn. Barns of all types and styles. Barns mostly in a state of disrepair. Barns that aren’t going to be in existence for the next generation to enjoy. I can’t imagine these mountain landscapes without barns.
The Appalachian Barn Alliance was created to preserve the memories of these barns and document their significant role in the history and development of this rural region. Through architectural drawings, photographs, and data collection the group has documented about 90 historic barns in Madison County, North Carolina. Read the rest of this entry
See unparalleled views of the Linville Gorge from Wiseman’s View, near Marion. NC. Looking down across the deepest gorge in the eastern U.S., you can clearly see the Linville River snaking through the forest 1500’ below. The trail itself is an easy, paved, 0.4-mile, handicap accessible path that even has a permanent port-o-potty-style bathroom at the trailhead. But, oh boy, the ride there is an adventure. It’s only four miles on a gravel road, but with the washouts and potholes around most turns, it seems much longer. You will need a 4×4, high off the ground, with good wheels. A Jeep, Range Rover, or F-150 will do the trick.
A trip to Catalina Island is a true escape. Just a short hour-long ferry ride transports you from one of several ports along the southern California coast to a haven with few cars and beautiful vistas.
Plan your departure from Dana Point, Long Beach or San Pedro on the Catalina Express. You can upgrade to the Commodore Lounge and have a free drink and/or snack, but the trip is short so it’s not really necessary. Some of the ferries have private cabins available. Check out the website for details, they do not run every day, but when they are running have many trips. Average adult fates are $74 round trip, $67 for those over 55, bikes and surfboards $7 extra. Reservations are a good idea.
Well, maybe some change in the parking meter.
A visit along Laguna Beach’s portion of the California Coastal Trail is a must-see for any visitor to SoCal. It is Laguna so it is picture-perfect. Heisler Park is a protected Tidepool Habitat with a beautiful beach. This Pacific coastal park has plenty of handicap and stroller-friendly paved walkways with rails. There are ample public restrooms and areas for kids to run around and play. Art lovers will enjoy the sculptures throughout the grounds and everyone will enjoy the spectacular views.
Adults and kids can agree spotting Sea Lions is always a thrill – even if you can usually smell them before you see them. Near the center of picturesque La Jolla, head over to the park along Coast Drive and you can people watch as well. Weekend parking can be tough, but you can grab a Bird (electric scooter) and get anywhere in minutes.
There is a pleasant Coast Walk along the Pacific with viewing points and as a bonus, you can visit the Sunny Jim Sea Cave. For $5 an adult and $3 for kids, it’s a chance to visit La Jolla’s longest-running business and the site of a historic tunnel to the cave. Open since 1903 there have been a few improvements over the rope that originally guided adventurers’ descent into the dark tunnel. Today there are a few lights and 145 wooden steps with handrails to ease your way.