Welcome to MacKenzie Country, New Zealand

Mt Cook, Canterbury, New Zealand. FWT Magazine.

Early morning in Fairlie Basin, MacKenzie Country

It’s early morning in New Zealand’s Fairlie basin. Farmer Angie Taylor lies in bed. Drat, she thinks. It’s bucketing down outside – and has been for hours. There’s a herd of 800 dairy cows to feed, a mob of pregnant ewes to tend and a coach load of international tourists due for a three-course lunch in just a few hours – provided Highway 79 doesn’t wash out. Without taking her head off the pillow, Angie’s got a pretty good idea of how this sodden, winter’s day on Morelea Farm will play out.

She and husband Stan have farmed their 320-hectare property for more than 20 years. They’ve raised three children, Mitchell, Ben and Julia, here. Before that they were newlywed farmers in Cromwell. Before that, they were a couple of fourth (Angie) and third (Stan) generation farm kids growing up on the Canterbury plains – Stan in Ashburton with Angie just 50 kilometres down the road.

So today’s relentless, icy rain doesn’t bother the couple too much. Stan will say there’s no use getting upset about these things. You’ve just got to work around it. Angie reckons storms are all part of their story. Today it’s rain, with the likelihood of flooding. In a few months’ time the temperatures will reach 30 degrees and there’ll be drought. And, anyway, it’ll have nothing on the horrendous blizzards of 1992 and 2006 – or even last week’s storm, which dumped 300mm of snow on their doorstep and took out the power for four days straight.

Tekapo, New Zealand. FWT Magazine.

Lake Alexandrina, Tekapo. (c) PureNZ

Welcome to MacKenzie Country

Welcome to MacKenzie Country – a 7,300 square kilometre inland plain region 180 kilometres southwest of Christchurch that sits pretty much at the centre of New Zealand’s South Island. This is rugged, isolated country where scenery dominates, large country sheep stations have been the norm for more than a century and very few people live. There are not quite 4,000 people scattered among the region’s five main centres – Mt Cook (on the western-most edge at the base of the Southern Alps), Twizel, Omarama, Lake Tekapō and Fairlie.

New Zealand. FWT Magazine.

Aoraki Mount Cook (3754m) and Lake Pukaki in winter. MacKenzie District, New Zealand. (c) Rob Suisted / http://www.naturespic.co.nz.

Most MacKenzie people farm (sheep, beef and, more recently, dairy) or work in the hydro-electricity industry, which produces a large portion of the country’s energy supply. Increasingly, locals like Stan and Angie make at least some of their living from the region’s well-established tourism industry.

Arriving in Fairlie today, though, it’s hard to pick why more than 900,000 people visit the MacKenzie every year. A thick grey mist has muscled out all obvious clues. We’re told the skies of nearby Tekapō are a big attraction. Most days these skies are blue. Infinite. Joyous, even. At night, they are said to be so clear, so unpolluted they’ve become a protected International Dark Sky Reserve – the largest such reserve of only four in the world and ideal for stargazing.

#Tekapo in #MacKenzieCountry is home to a protected International Dark Sky Reserve – and some of the world’s best #stargazing. Here’s more on why to visit #pure #NewZealandClick To Tweet

MacKenzie Country. New Zealand. FWT Magazine.

Sky gazing, Lake Tekapo, MacKenzie Country (c) Vaughan Brookfield

You wouldn’t know it today. But the Taylor’s farm is usually a plum spot year-round for relaxing on the front lawn and taking in the skyline ridges of Mount Dobson, Two Thumb Range and Fox Peak. Angie knows our group will have to wait for today’s storm to pass to enjoy a moment like that. By then, we’ll be in Dunedin or Queenstown and another AAT Kings Southern Spectacular coach tour will be headed her way.

So the afternoon we arrive, Angie and Stan opt to change things up. Ushering us off the bus, shoes on, into their single-storey stucco home, the couple welcome us inside for a chat and a sit-down lunch by the fire. There’s homegrown beef steak, sausages and lamb chops on the go. There’s salad from the garden, minted peas and home baked bread. Angie’s pavlova topped with cream and kiwifruit will finish us off.

Before lunch is served, Angie explains she and Stan will tend 3,000 sheep this summer once the lambs are born. In January, the four-month-old lambs will be sold live to the meat works in Timaru. Until then, their flock will enjoy fresh farm air, water from mountain-fed streams, mum’s milk and green grass. It’s a similar story for the cattle, says Stan, although only a third will be killed for beef. The rest are dairy grazing stock and will return, well-fed and pregnant, to three nearby dairy farmers.

“For Kiwis, our story is quite typical I suppose. But for people from the big international cities of Asia and Europe, it’s something quite different,” says Stan. “People love it when I come in from the tractor, with a bit of my knee out of my trousers, string trailing from my back pocket. They can see this is a real working farm and we’re real-life farmers.”

Change arrives in MacKenzie Country

Perhaps what isn’t so obvious to tourists passing through Morelea is the fact that life is on the change in this part of the world just like it is everywhere.

Stan says, “Having the bottom fall out of the meat and wool industry in the 1990s had a major impact on us. You’ll see there’s a lot more corporate dairy farming in the MacKenzie these days and more pressure on farmers to convert to dairying. We won’t do it. But our son Mitchell who is taking over the farm may do so.”

The change has disrupted the social fabric of towns like Fairlie too, says Stan. There are more absentee farmers – business people who own or have shares in a dairy farm but don’t live locally, choosing instead to have a manager run the farm on their behalf. Yet, says Stan, there’s not much use worrying about it and there’s still a wonderful high country lifestyle to enjoy.

Most summers he and Angie take their jet boat out on Lake Ophua where the trout and salmon fishing is good. One summer was extra special with daughter Julia coming home to get married at Lake Tekapō. Later in the year, they’ll follow the Fairlie rugby team. Stan was president of the club for several years and now Mitchell has taken over. Often in winter, on a Sunday afternoon, Angie and Stan will rug up, grab a bottle of whisky and head to Tekapō for a couple of hours’ curling with friends – either at the new artificial ice complex or at their own homemade rink dug out at a secret spot about six years ago. The wives drive, so the men can play.

Stan says the competition starts out tough among the 25 teams who turn up each season. But, as each good stone is rewarded with a swig of Scotch, the game becomes more of a test of one’s constitution than one’s sporting ability. An old outdoor farm broom is the makeshift tournament trophy – and Stan’s pretty keen to win it this year.

Another draw card of the MacKenzie is its close-knit community, says Angie. Neighbours know one another well, socialise regularly and help each other out in tough times. And, while Angie regularly heads off to Timaru for the weekend farmer’s market or to Christchurch for some shopping, Stan leaves the farm only when he has to. In many ways, he says, it’s all right here at their fingertips. And, anyway, why not stay put and let the world come to you?

Church of the Good Shepherd, FWT Magazine.

Lake Tekapo, Church of the Good Shepherd, MacKenzie Country (c) Julian Apse.

MacKenzie Country, what’s in a name?

MacKenzie Country is named after a Scottish shepherd and would-be farmer named James MacKenzie who allegedly pinched sheep from a large sheep run back in the 1850s. Said to be stronger than most and admired for escaping captivity three times, MacKenzie maintained his innocence, eventually becoming local folk hero.

Keen to check out the extraordinary landscapes of #MacKenzieCountry with #AATKings? Here’s all you need to know. #PureNZ Click To Tweet

If You Go

AAT Kings six-day Southern Spectacular Tour starts in Christchurch, travels to Twizel, Dunedin, Te Anau and finishes in Queenstown. It takes in several historic sites, including a stop-off on Pioneer Drive at The Church of the Good Shepherd, a small stone church on the shores of Lake Tekapō. The church was the first of its kind to be built in the MacKenzie Basin in 1935. Today it serves as a South Canterbury memorial, commemorating the original European settlers of the area and their ability to brave the harsh alpine environment and establish high country sheep runs. The writer travelled to the MacKenzie care of AAT Kings.

Aoraki Lake Pukaki. New Zealand. FWT Magazine.

Aoraki Lake Pukaki, MacKenzie Country, South Island, New Zealand (c) Will Patino.

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Why 2018 is the Year to Visit Jordan

Jordanian coffee

Jordan was never on my bucket list, but returning to Jordan is now on that list. Heck, before my trip there, I would not have been able to find Jordan on a globe. But after 10 days exploring this simply amazing country, I cannot only tell you where Jordan is, but also where its major cities and best tourist attractions are.

There’s really never been a better time to visit the country. Jordan tourism has decreased due to the conflicts in the region, which means there are fewer tourists so you can really enjoy and explore the sites. But tourism is rebounding as the government has worked hard to send a message that the country is safe and stable, and definitely open for business.

camels in the desert for Jordan tourism

Camels are the Uber of the Wadi Rum desert; (c) Beth Graham

Here are Jordan’s Do-Not-Miss Experiences

1. Petra 

It goes without saying that this UNESCO World Heritage site, dating back to 300 BC, is one of the world’s most iconic sites and one of the highlights of Jordan tourism. What’s most amazing is that Petra was hidden in Jordan for thousands of years until it was (re)discovered in 1812.

You’ll want to spend a full day exploring as your journey starts with a walk down the Siq, a narrow gorge, that leads to Petra. You’ll walk between towering pink sandstone cliffs, dotted with facades of ancient temples, tombs and residences. But you’ll lose your breath as you round the corner and come face to face with The Treasury, a massive 43-meter tall Greek-style temple carved into the sandstone. (Be sure to watch ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ before your trip to fully appreciate this iconic site.)

But this is only the beginning of Petra. There are many many more marvels of this ancient city to explore. I highly recommend hiring a guide as there’s so much history and many hidden features you’ll miss if you visit on your own. If you’re not too weary from a day of exploring, go back to Petra at night – it will be one of your most memorable night time excursions as you walk the pitch black Siq to experience a special ceremony at The Treasury, lit up by luminaries.

Where to stay: The Petra Marriott Hotel is the perfect base for your visit. After a long day of walking, treat yourself to a Hammam in the hotel’s spa before you relax in your well-appointed room.  

Jordan tourism experience riding donkeys in Petra. FWT Magazine.

Riding donkeys up to The Treasury in Petra; (c) Beth Graham.

2. Bedouin Experience at Feynan Ecolodge

As we exited our tour bus and boarded a few older model and well-traveled Toyota pickup trucks, I wasn’t sure what we were in for. We bumped and tumbled across the desert passing a few Bedouin camps as our keffiyeh-scarfed driver navigated the rough and dusty path.

We arrived at Feynan Ecolodge, built in 2005 and the first of its kind for Jordan tourism. Clearly, there are no power lines so the lodge is completely solar-powered with open-air rooms that provide natural ventilation with fresh spring water pumped in.

At night, the entire complex is lit by candlelight. The expansive terrace doubles as the dining room where vegetarian meals are served looking out over the rugged desert terrain. The 26 guest rooms are minimalist, designed to represent those of a caravanserai, a roadside inn where travelers, in this case Bedouins, would stop for the night along their journey. As if experiencing the tranquility of the desert far away from daily life was not enough, guests can spend their days hiking the nearby desert trails followed by a sunset stroll into the mountains to enjoy a pot of tea with sage, brewed over an open flame.

The lodge’s guide will also invite you to experience the Bedouin life with a visit to a nearby family where you can join them in a cup of Jordanian coffee with cardamom and learn to make kohl (Bedouin eyeliner). The darkness of night brings on the most magical stargazing experience of your life as you lie on the rooftop of Feynan Ecolodge and enjoy a curated talk about the constellations.

Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan. FWT Magazine.

Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan; (c) Beth Graham.

3. Dead Sea 

We drove by the Dead Sea on one of our first cross country drives and my first impression was the serenity and peacefulness of the long, narrow waterway. But I was also surprised to find a number of luxury resorts dotting the coastline.

No trip to this region would be complete without experiencing the magical feeling of complete buoyancy in the Dead Sea. Just don your swimsuit, walk into the thick salty water, lift your legs, and you’ll instantly float. It’s a strange feeling but definitely worth the experience. After floating, it’s time for a little au naturale spa treatment. Find one of the urns filled with Dead Sea mud and slather it all over your body. It will harden in the bright sun, rinse it off in the outdoor shower and you’ll be surprised how soft your skin is.

Where to stay: The Dead Sea Marriott Resort & Spa is a luxury resort with breathtaking views. From the resort’s multi-leveled pool deck to the spacious, well-appointed guest rooms to multiple dining options, this is where you’ll want to experience the Dead Sea.

luxury hotel in Jordan. FWT Magazine.

The luxury Dead Sea Marriott in Jordan; (c) Beth Graham

4. Jerash  

In my opinion, one of the country’s, if not the world’s, most underrated sites is Jerash. An ancient city that was another modern day discovery just 70 years ago, Jerash was a walled Greek-Roman city from the Bronze Age. The site is now generally acknowledged to be one of the best-preserved Roman provincial towns in the world. From the city center’s grand columns to hilltop temples to outdoor theatres, it’s worth a full day of exploration.

5. Wadi Rum Desert

When I heard we were riding 4x4s in the desert, I thought to myself, “I’m more of a luxury resort spa girl. Do I have to?” Well, I’m here to tell you it was one of the most awesome experiences. We climbed into the bed of pickup trucks and set out across the desert landscape that felt a bit otherworldly. We raced other 4x4s, stopped often for photos and just marveled at this vast and magical destination.

Our afternoon of dusty trevails ended with a beautiful sunset, surrounded by luminaries, against the backdrop of desert landscape. We headed back to our Bedouin campsite but the next day held promise for an even more exhilarating desert experience.

In the darkness of the (very) early morning, we boarded, not 4x4s, but camels to head out over the eerily still Wadi Rum desert to catch the morning sunrise led by our Bedouin guides. Sunrise and sunset in the desert is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Where to stay: There are over 100 camp sites in the desert. We stayed at Rahayeb Desert Camp, a remote yet authentic Bedouin-style retreat.

Wadi Rum desert adventure. FWT Magazine.

Riding 4x4s in the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan; (c) Beth Graham.

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Scenic Walking Tour of Thessaloniki, Greece

As the 2nd largest city in Greece, it is vibrant, historic, diverse, chaotic and beautiful – often simultaneously.  The deep-seated cultural and historical treasures and traditions are evidenced in the monuments, architechture, cuisine.  The ancient remains feature Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman lineage along with more modern facades.  Following the devastating Great Fire of 1917, reconstruction of the city center now offers 20th-century look and feel offering yet another layer of contrast and interest.  As such, you’re sure to be entertained, enlightened, surprised and delighted along the way.  From start to finish, plan for approximately 5-hours for this scenic walking tour of Thessaloniki, including lunch and a leisurely coffee in the tradition of the Greek.

  1. Democracy Square:  Also referred to as Dimokratias or Vardari Square is a main intersection point of Monastiriou, Egnatias, Lagada and Dodekanisou Roads.  It is a symbolic representation of the past, present and future bustling with traffic, restaurants, cafes and shops.
  2. Thessaloniki Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception:  Just a few minutes walk on Dodekanisou toward the waterfront and historical portion of the city and you’ll find this picturesque and historic church situated on Fragon street.  Designed by Italian architect, Vitaliano Poselli, who is most widely recognized for his work throughout the city including the Jewish Museum.  The treasured temple was built in 1899 and remains active today and is run and preserved by the relatively small Catholic community of Thessaloniki.
  3. Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki: Next on your city stroll you’ll view the outside of the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki.  To properly take in the wealth of historic and cultural inside, it is recommended you reserve a tour for a separate day.
  4. Agios Minas church: In closer proximity to the port, where King Herakleiou and Dragoumis streets intersect is the Agios Minas church.  From the Post-Byzantine era, this Christian monument dates to the 9th century and is especially significant as it is one of the few not converted into a Muslim mosque after the city’s occupation by the Turk’s.  The current structure is a result of significant repairs necessary after undergoing centuries of wear, war and fire while maintaining the post-Byzantine style.
  5. Modiano and Kapani Food Markets: Situated at Platia Aristotelous and Ermou Street, this hidden marketplace with pulsing with vibrant colors, sounds, scents and flavors from the various stands offering an array of choices including fish, meat, veggies, herbs, bread, pastries.  Truly a feast for the senses.

    Thessaloniki Food Market (c) Joy Steinberg.

  6. Port of Thessaloniki: In addition to a scenic view of the waterfront, you’ll find the Museum of Photography and the Cinema Museum.  Cinephiles will also appreciate knowing there are two film festivals in Thessaloniki.  The Thessaloniki International Film Festival held annually every November and the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in March.  Also situated in the port area, the Kitchen Bar is an ideal spot for a bite or drink while enjoying the waterfront vantage point.
  7. Nikis Avenue: Continue your walk along waterfront promenade Nikis Avenue. On a clear day, the promenade is bustling with walkers, runners, bikers and visitors enjoying the view of the water and charming street cafes.

    Nikis Avenue and waterfront promenade (c) Joy Steinberg

  8. Aristotelous Square: Next, stop off to explore Aristotelous Square home to luxurious hotels, vast mansions and charming cafes.
  9. Ancient Roman Agora: From Aristotelous Square, proceed to Venizelou square and take in the Ancient Roman Agora (located in upper Venizelou square)
  10. Agios Demitrius cathedral: Proceed from there to visit Agios Demitrius cathedral which offers representative Byzantine architecture. The church burned twice throughout history.  Most recent was the Great Fire of 1917 and it was rebuilt using parts of the old church that were not destroyed.
  11. Cafe Terkenlis: From the cathedral, walk down to Agias Sofias street and enjoy a leisurely and delicious coffee break at Cafe TERKENLIS in Agias Sofias square. Café Terkenlis originated in 1948 and is an acclaimed bakery and patisserie brand.
  12. Galerius Roman Palace: Now fully caffeinated and rejuvenated, carry on towards the Navarinou Square, Dim. Gounari street. This road is frequented by the university students and accordingly you’ll find shops and restaurants catering to their more modern tastes and minimal budgets. At this point, pause to take-in the ruins of Galerius Roman Palace – offering a dramatic counter to the contemporary youthful University vibe of the neighborhood.
  13. White Tower: From here, commence to walk down towards the famous White Tower considered by some to be the city’s trademark as the most recognizable landmark.
  14. Venizelou Street: Window shop along Tsimiski Avenue to Venizelou street. See the old arcades with the small textile shops.
  15. Finale: Bring your walking journey to a close at a neighborhood café while reflecting on the highlights and enjoying a traditional Greek culinary delights and a glass of wine from the regional vineyards of Macedonia.

    Kitchen Bar Port of Thessaloniki (c) Joy Steinberg

While highly recommended, it is best to plan a separate day for visits to the Byzantine Museum, Archaeological Museum and Jewish Museum properly explore and immerse yourself in the wealth of information and historic magnitude.

IF YOU GO:

As is customary in this industry, my trip was organized by PASS PARTOUT Tourism Marketing with promotional rates provided by the Capsis Hotel Thessaloniki and Airotel Parthenon Athens.

 

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The Memorable Cuisine of Croatia

Evening at the International Prosciutto Fair in Tinjan, Croatia is buzzing with energy and celebration. Wine glasses clink as thinly sliced parchments of meat are lovingly teased from immense and fatty legs of perfectly marbled pork. The fragrance of roasted chestnuts wafts through the air as they roast over an open flame. Even the ambiance feels delicious.

Anthony Bourdain has touted Croatia as the ultimate foodie destination back when he visited and filmed No Reservations in 2012. “If you like food, and you haven’t come here to eat, you’re missing the [sic] boat”, he said and the world is beginning to take notice. Tourism has increased by over 5 million visits per year since 2012.

Local Fish from the tasting menu at Toklarija. Shot by Kaila Yu

Istria, Croatia

Croatia is an emerging food destination that will soon be on your radar. The passion for food in the country is evidenced by the Prosciutto fair and countless other food festivals that pepper the year in the Northernmost Istria region of Croatia alone. Some of the festivals include a truffle festival, asparagus festival, sole fish festival, and countless others. If you are visiting Croatia for the food, the Istria region should be on the top of the list as it is famous for its truffles, wine, olive oil, prosciutto, fresh seafood and more.

Tuna Tartare at Restaurant Badi © Kaila Yu

During my trip to Istria, we visited the Gastronomija Ville Meneghetti located inside the Meneghetti Wine Hotel. The restaurant serves high brow interpretations of local Istrian ingredients and features a highly aromatic wine and olive oil tasting. The restaurant serves their own award-winning olive oil, pressed from olives harvested from trees grown on the estate. In Croatia, one of our hosts said: “we put olive oil on everything”. A highlight of the meal was the perfectly grilled, delicate turbot fillet dressed with a shot of piquant Mediterranean sauce and dressed with elegant olive oil pearls. The presentation was understated yet upscale and truly gave us a sense of Istrian cuisine.

Tuna Tartare at The Lone Hotel © Kaila Yu

For lunch the next day we were treated to a four-hour presentation at the famed Croatian slow food restaurant, Toklarija. Overseen by chef/owner Nevio Sirotić, Toklarija is a restaurant built into a converted olive mill. Sirotić possesses a meticulous attention to detail and he had turned down all other reservations for the day to focus on serving our meal. The meal started with a delicate and flaky bread sandwiching a locally raised ham and cheese paired with his own homemade pickles.  It ended with a sublimely light and airy chocolate cake and the meal reminded us of the importance of taking the time to indulge in a delicious meal, something we often forget in the US.

Opatija

The next day takes an hour south to the city of Opatija, in the Kvarner region, also known as the Monte Carlo of Croatia. Opatija is renowned for its Kvarner Scampi, distinguished as the star of all Adriatic seafood. Kvarner scampi is most often caught with longline fishing traps, This method of fishing prevents bruising and is much more highly selective than fishing with nets. Scampi starts off our first meal in Opatija, at the Villa Ariston. It’s a briny, buttery bite paired with a sun-dried tomato and pomegranate seeds. It’s a perfect bite of Opatija. The star of the lunch is the scallop course, perfectly grilled and served atop crispy, creamy spinach fritters. The accompanying sauce of celery and black truffle cream perfectly highlights the dish.

That night we settled in for the night at Design Hotel Navis. This brand new five-star hotel features stunning sea view and balconies in every room. The hotel features a generous buffet for all guests, featuring two entire self-serve prosciutto leg, one deeply crimson and one generously marbled with a thick layer of fat. Local foods were also featured with a trio of sardines harvested from the local island of Kali and a selection of pate and pickled peppers and vegetables.

Sibenik

Sparkling Fish Soup at Meneghetti © Kaila Yu

Finally, we make it to the last stop on the trip, Sibenik, which has gained some recent notoriety as it was the filming location for three episodes of the Game of Thrones. Konoba Pelegrini in Sibenik was anticipated to be one of the highlights of the trip as it has won the title of the best restaurant in Croatia for three straight years and has been called “A place and experience that foodie dreams are made of” by GQ Magazine. It’s located right next to the St James Cathedral, a UNESCO heritage site. This tavern/diner is the unofficial symbol of Sibenik and is devoted to the preservation of the Dalmatian style cuisine.

Head cook Rudolf Stefan prides himself on innovation while showcasing his passion for the Mediterranean region. We later wondered why Konoba Pelegrini hadn’t yet earned a Michelin star. The restaurant is celebrated for its 10-course tasting menu. The procession of locally sourced, yet elevated dishes included a light and airy bite of local fish ceviche – flavored by dashi, veal under the bell, a cuttlefish and black gnocchi. The “Veal under the Bell” course is inspired by the traditional Croatian dish of peca. It’s served under a heavy stone bell which is lifted with a dramatic flourish as smoky meat-scented air wafts into your face and blends deliciously into the room. The sourdough bread served is made from the restaurant’s own mother yeast. All dishes are served by a synchronized waiter train, which orchestrates the placement of each dish in front of each guest simultaneously. Especially memorable was the veal roll ćevapčić, served as a carpaccio and dotted with a bracing mustard sauce and nestled into a bed of crispy panko crumbs.

 

The KRKA National Park

The last stop of the trip was at the KRKA National Park, a 142 sq km UNESCO World Heritage site, so secluded that it is home to two monasteries. A three-hour hike through crackling leaves while enjoying the crystalline waterfalls leaves us ravenous quite hungry and treated to one of my favorite meals of the trip. It’s at the Stari Mlin i Kalikusa, and outdoor restaurant located inside the park and the meal itself is incredibly simple. We enjoyed a crispy, grilled local monk fish seasoned with only local herbs and olive oil, paired with homestyle potatoes and kale. The accompanying salad was dressed simply with just olive oil and vinegar. We savored the meal outdoors in the fresh air as we reminisced about the trip and were joined by a friendly orange tabby cat, who sat politely nearby until we donated our generous leftovers for his enjoyment.

In the end, the best meals are not only about the food but about the company and the environment in which they are enjoyed.

If You Go

Istria Tourist Board

Opatija Tourism Board

Sibenik Tourism Board

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Visiting the “SLO” Life in San Luis Obispo, California

Nestled just three hours from Los Angeles is San Luis Obispo. Known as “SLO” to the cool kids, San Luis Obispo is not just a college town (although don’t miss visiting the local campuses. Cal-Poly and Cuesta College are beautiful), but a town with a fun main drag. Along with a fantastic array of restaurants, bars and shops, SLO also has incredible wineries, hiking, museums and is home to one of the 21 California missions. Not to mention, it’s just 15 minutes from the beach!

A Fantastic Getaway to San Luis Obispo

With surfer pit stops (Pismo Beach, Cayucos) and quaint small towns like Cambria at your fingertips, San Luis Obispo has become much more loved for its diversity, foodie scene and crisp climate that is ideal for wine making. Those who live in SLO or have gone to school there know, though–it’s always been a “best kept secret”!

STAY

The Embassy Suites of San Luis Obispo recently underwent a major makeover, and they cannot wait to show it off to you. Just a six-minute drive from Downtown, the Embassy Suites offer a gorgeous and ample bar and restaurant in an atrium setting that overlooks the lobby. Open, airy and very welcoming, I felt as if I were at home with my kitchenette, living room, desk and comfy King sized bed with my TV favorites on. Some suites offer a fun patio view overlooking the hustle and bustle on the first floor.

One of the reasons I love staying at Embassy Suites is their evening reception featuring an open bar and snacks to enjoy while you get some work done or people watch. And they offer a terrific breakfast starting at 6am daily with made-to-order pancakes, omelettes, and a yogurt and cereal bar. It also makes for the ideal spot to grab a cup of coffee and snack for the road. These complimentary AM and PM perks with Embassy Suites is enough reason for me to choose them.

The Embassy Suites of San Luis Obispo (c) Mary Farah.

The History Center of San Luis Obispo (c) Mary Farah.

BREAKFAST

If you’re looking to start your day in Downtown SLO and do like the locals do, look no further than Mint+Craft.  My mouth-watering Obispo Toastie (Applewood bacon, tomato, crushed avocado, micro greens and an over-medium egg on gluten-free rye bread) was paired with an artistically crafted Matcha green tea latte. This was such a fantastic start to my first morning in town. So much so, that it made it hard to go back to a chain store coffee and snack stop post-trip. Reasonable prices and both gluten-free and vegetarian options make Mint+Craft a charming nook to begin your day; even as your coffee stop. Grab lunch or dinner, too! Breakfast is served until 2pm, and the rest of the menu 11am to close.

EXPLORE

Just a few steps from Mint+Craft is the San Luis Obsipo Mission, as well as the History Center of San Luis Obispo, the SLO Museum of Art and an array of stores that offer such a variety, everyone will want to shop til they drop.

If enjoying the great outdoors is what you have in mind, there’s plenty of hiking trails all around. Bluff Trail, Poly Canton Loop and Valencia Peak Trail are just few of the trails, parks and hikes surrounding you. If you like unusual, rather, gross history, make sure not to miss San Luis Obispo’s infamous Bubblegum Alley….its name pretty much sums it up.

Bubblegum Alley. You have to see it to believe it! (c) Mary Farah.

A hearty meal courtesy of Big Sky Cafe (c) Mary Farah.

FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD

While SLO is a fantastic weekend getaway option, you might to try to make it on a Thursday. Each week (as weather permits), the Downtown Farmer’s Market fills the entire block of Higuera Street with all of the locals’ favorite fare from 6pm to 9pm while the stores also stay open. Bars, too! While it was overwhelming to decide on just one vendor to try.

Several eateries offer patio dining so you can enjoy the ambiance and strollers, including Big Sky Cafe. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Big Sky is one of the several farm-to-table restaurants in the area. The dishes were so fresh and elaborate. My pesto chicken sausage scramble (breakfast until 1pm) was one of the highlights of my two-day trip. I loved watching everyone’s afternoon go by from my patio table, too. Big Sky’s staff was also top-notch. My server, Riley, was so personable and helpful in my deciding on the perfect brunch dish.

Big Sky doesn’t fool around with their coffee, either. Getting their beans around the corner at local favorite, Coastal Peaks. My organic iced latte fueled me aplenty for my ride back to LA.

IF YOU GO

The  San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center is an excellent resource. An abundance of information awaits you and they will be happy to assist you with all of your itinerary  needs. Rest your head and enjoy the hospitality over at the Embassy Suites. Sight see and learn about the city with the San Luis Obispo Mission, Museum of Art and the History Center. Then,  take your appetite to Mint+Craft and Big Sky Cafe.

And, don’t forget to pack some chewing gum to leave your mark!

The post Visiting the “SLO” Life in San Luis Obispo, California appeared first on FWT Magazine: food wine travel.

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11 Best Travel Destinations for 2018

A Zodiac near an iceberg

The world’s a big, exciting place. Sometimes it’s tricky to know where to plan your next adventure. Do you go with what you’ve always done or branch out and try somewhere new?

According to our FWT Magazine travel experts, the 11 best travel destinations for 2018 take in outstanding international cities like Tokyo, as well as culture-rich destinations like Italy, Germany, France, Budapest and Sri Lanka. If craft beer and curling are on your mind, then you’ll definitely want to book time in the winter wonderland of Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada. Then again, if you want an off-the-beaten track adventure, 2018 could be the year to jump on a plane bound for Jordan or the Solomon Islands.

Whatever your fancy, it’s time to make a plan.

1. Tokyo, Japan

Best travel destination for 2018? My top pick would have to be Tokyo, Japan. The entire country is gearing up for the upcoming Olympic Games in 2020, so there is a buzz in the air as they prepare. With so much history, arts, and culture to explore in this fast-paced, very civilised, polite city, you’ll need to bring comfortable shoes and plan to stay awhile. The food is excellent, the shopping is glamorous, and the transportation network within Tokyo and all of Japan is top notch and easy to navigate. It’s a travellers dream location.

Mary Chong, Canadian travel blogger for Calculated Traveller.com

Tokyo skyline. FWT Magazine.

Tokyo, Japan is travel blogger Mary Chong’s pick of top travel destination in 2018.

2. Losinj Island, Croatia

Lonsinj Island in Croatia is, after all, known as the Island of Vitality where wealthy Europeans came to get away from the hard, cold winters for centuries. They came to this tiny island to cleanse their bodies and minds. Literally, before medical tourism was even a thing. It is said the island has special health benefits because of the fresh air mixed with sea salt and pine trees. But not only that, it is a gorgeous seaside village of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants with a simple way of life. You will absolutely be delighted to spend some time here along the coast of the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Cacinda Maloney, US travel blogger for Points and Travel.com

Losinj Island, Croatia. FWT Magazine.

Losinj Island, Croatia is US travel blogger Cacinda Maloney’s recommended must-visit destination for 2018 (c) Cacinda Maloney.

3. Abruzzo, Italy

Abruzzo, Italy is a great destination because the area is absolutely rich in culture, art, cuisine, history, and activities. It is not rife with tourists, it has the mountains and the sea, and it is a good blend of northern and southern Italy. I know it like the back of my hand as my grandparents were born in the region.

Chris Cutler, US travel blogger for ColdPastaandRedWine.com

Abruzzo, Italy. FWT Magazine.

Abruzzo, Italy is US travel blogger Chris Cutler’s pick of the best 2018 destination (c) Chris Cutler.

4. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

Fredericton, New Brunswick is my pick of the best destination for 2018. Based on the East Coast of Canada, New Brunswick is filled with nature-related beauty. I am visiting during the time of year in which it can be described as a winter wonderland. New Brunswick is within the Appalachian Mountains yet it also has urban elements to it as a true bilingual province. The New Brunswick HopSpiel is an outdoor event — taking place in Officer’s Square of Fredericton — and is part of FROSTival. Its main focuses are craft beer and curling. I can’t wait to experience the HopSpiel Beer Garden.

Darren Paltrowitz, US freelancer

Fredricton. FWT Magazine.

Fredericton makes to the top of Darren Paltrowitz’s list of best destinations for 2018. Photo courtesy of Fredericton. 

5. Bordeaux, France

Bordeaux is world renowned for its fine wine, but the city itself was long an industrial port. The city’s position on the Atlantic seaboard made Bordeaux a natural crossroads between land, river and sea. Bordeaux even temporarily became the capital of France during WWI when Paris was threatened by the proximity of German armies, and the port was strategic in the industry of arms trade. Years and years of industry and boats steaming up the Garonne took their toll. Layers of thick black grime soiled the once gleaming honey-gold stone facades, earning Bordeaux the nickname The Sleeping Beauty.

But Bordeaux has, quite literally, cleaned up her act. A massive cleaning project to sand blast the stone facades to their former honey-gold glory was just the beginning of a new era for Bordeaux. New museums like La Cité du Vin, recently named as one of the best museums in the world by National Geographic, have opened just in the last two years. Wine châteaux that had long been shuttered to the public opened their doors to welcome visitors in a new age of wine tourism. Even some of the world’s most renowned chefs have opened restaurants in the UNESCO World Heritage city.

It’s an exciting time in Bordeaux. This year will see the 20-year anniversary celebration of Bordeaux’s wine festival, Le Fête du Vin. With wine producers, tastings and festivities stretching for over two kilometers along the quay, the wine festival will be complemented by the Tall Ships Regatta in an exceptional event taking place from June 14 – 18, 2018.

Jennifer Dombrowski & Tim Davis, US travel bloggers for Luxe Adventure Traveler.com

Bordeaux, France. FWT Magazine.

US travel bloggers Jennifer Dombrowski & Tim Davis pick Bordeaux, France for a must-visit destination in 2018 (c) Jennifer Dombrowski.

6. Capri, Italy

For 2018 the trend for travel is looking to places that are laid-back yet understatedly luxurious. Capri, a small Italian island town set high on the hill surrounded by the jewel-colored sea, has some of the best food you have ever had, gorgeous cliffside accommodations, beautiful shops, cobblestone streets and views for days. 

Kimberly Fisher, US travel blogger for KimberlyFisher.com 

Capri, Italy. FWT Magazine.

Capri, Italy is US travel blogger Kimberly Fisher’s choice of the best destination for 2018 (c) Kimberly Fisher.

7. Sri Lanka

My pick is Sri Lanka. The diversity of influence from Europe, the Far East, and the Indian subcontinent can be seen throughout Sri Lanka from its culture to its cuisine. Pair that with stretches of white sand beaches in the east to the rolling tea hills of the Central Province and it becomes clear that the beauty of Sri Lanka should be explored in its entirety.

Edward G Young III, US travel blogger for RebornStronger.com

Sri Lanka. FWT Magazine.

Sri Lanka makes it the top of the list for Edward G Young III (c) Edward G Young III.

8. Lake Constance, Germany

This natural lake, created by the Rhine River, lies on the border between southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It’s actually two lakes, the larger Obersee which measures 40 miles long and nine miles wide, and the smaller Untersee. The shoreline is dotted with enchanting small cities and towns, providing a variety of activities and places to visit. The countryside, lake and views of the Swiss alps offer great scenic beauty. Roadways, trains, ferries and buses make it easy to travel between towns and across the lake. It’s a friendly and safe destination, and conveniently close to the airport hubs of Zurich and Munich.

Tamara Muldoon, freelance travel writer and blogger for tamaramuldoon.com

Lake Constance, Germany. FWT Magazine.

One of the largest lakes in Europe, Lake Constance offers charming seaside towns with many attractions, delicious food and drink, and inspiring views, says travel writer Tamara Muldoon (c) Tamara Muldoon.

9. Budapest

Budapest is actually made up of two bustling cities, Buda and Pest, divided by the regal Danube River. Explore both sides of the city, including Heroes’ Square, the Buda Castle and Matthias Church. At the Budapest Great Market Hall, you’ll find delicious Hungarian delicacies, beautiful handmade crafts, and of course, paprika. Walk through the city and discover amazing outdoor thermal spas with people soaking in them or playing chess on large floating boards.

Visit the Jewish Quarter with the magnificent 19th Dohany Street Synagogue, complete with the Raoul Wallenberg Garden and Tree of Life memorial to those lost in the Holocaust. Also sobering is the Shoes on the Danube memorial to those who were shot into the river. Budapest holds special magic, especially at night, with the Parliament, Castle and Chain Bridge lights all aglow…a magnificent sight to behold in this medieval city with a contemporary beat. Museums, palaces and galleries all make Budapest a delightful destination worth seeing this year.

Mira Temkin, US travel blogger for miratemkin.com

Budapest. FWT Magazine.

Budapest is travel blogger Mira Temkin’s choice of where to go this year (c) Mira Temkin.

10. Jordan

My top pick of destinations to visit in 2018 has to be Jordan. Why? Because it exceeds expectations and creates a sense of wonder and awe. It has an incredible natural beauty, history, culture, community and cuisine. My top recommendations? See the Wadi Rum UNESCO World Heritage Site and Dana Biosphere Reserve. Stay at Feynan EcoLodge to enjoy a Bedouin educational excursion. And be sure to experience Beit al Baraka and its community of beekeepers, basket weavers and traditional Jordanian cooks.

Joy Steinberg, travel writer for givejoy.com

Jordan. FWT Magazine.

Dusk in Jordan (c) Joy Steinberg.

11. Solomon Islands

Today it’s difficult to find those remote, tucked-away places on the planet where tourists are welcome, but very few go. In the South Pacific Ocean, six thousand miles off the coast of Los Angeles, is a wildly stunning archipelago of nearly 1,000 islands, populated by half a million mostly Melanesian people who spend their daily lives living in and off the water.

To get to the Solomon Islands, or the Western Province, at least, where eco-tourism is taking off, you fly to the Solomon’s capital city of Honiara, then take a 16-seater twin otter to Gizo, the regional hub located in north-western pocket of the Solomons. From there, you jump in a motorised canoe to get to your chosen eco-lodge. In July, this year, my canoe will transport me 10 minutes across Gizo lagoon to Oravae Cottage, where I’ll park up, switch off and unwind. I’ve been to the Solomons twice before and I can’t wait to go again this year. No shopping, no five-star glamour, just perfect pink-tinged sunsets, the best snorkelling I’ve ever experienced and the freshest cuisine. And what’s not to love about spending a week or two in your own, rustic bungalow – miles from anyone – set over a translucent ocean?

Jacqui Gibson, New Zealand travel writer and associate editor for FWT Magazine.com

Over water bungalows of the Western Province, Solomon Islands (c) Jacqui Gibson. FWT Magazine.

Photo: Over water bungalows of the Western Province, Solomon Islands (c) Jacqui Gibson.

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Casa Velas Hotel: Reaching New Heights in the Culinary World

Reaching New Heights in the Culinary World

Food and wine enthusiasts are now more than ever seeking out adventurous new ways to satisfy their gastronomy and enology desires! Step aside beachside dinners and private villa soirées and say hello to a dinner like no other. A feast that literally places you closer to the stars than ever before!

Casa Velas Hotel’s Dinner in the Sky

Thanks to the luxurious hotel, Casa Velas, and their Dinner in the Sky, guests are hoisted 150 feet in the sky to experience an extravagant feast.

Situated in picturesque Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, the Casa Velas hotel is all about redefining luxury indulgence and offers guests an experience like no other! It is no surprise that patrons will be in awe of the sensory splendours being provided.

Dinner in the Sky begins February 2018

Foodies all over will be happy to hear that Casa Velas’s Dinner in the Sky, will be available from February 2018. The hope is this amazingly unique service will continue for the next three years.

Reaching New Heights in the Culinary World. FWT Magazine.

Ready for a culinary voyage like no other with Dinner in the Sky! © Casa Velas.

Hailed as ‘one of the world’s most exhilarating dining experiences’, guests will be mesmerized as they will have the perfect vantage point to view the striking Banderas Bay and Sierra Madre Mountains.

Casa Velas, an AAA Four Diamond luxury adults-only all-inclusive boutique hotel has outdone themselves in executing this exclusive culinary adventure by inviting top chefs in Mexico to create memorable dishes.

First-hand experience with Chef Massimo Fongaro

During my Dinner in the Sky adventure, I was fortunate to have been spoiled with dishes created by the accomplished, award-winning guest chef, Chef Massimo Fongaro.

Chef Massimo Fongaro laid out the red carpet treatment as his guests were treated like royalty the moment we were secured in our seats. Safety first! After a ceremonial shot of Tequila and Mescal (to calm our adrenaline filled nerves), we slowly ascended into the air, blending with the stunning backdrop that the Sierra Mountains offer.

Signature cocktail. FWT Magazine.

Signature cocktail during the Dinner in the Sky experience at the Casa Velas Boutique Hotel © Casa Velas.

Dinner in the Sky was a feast for all senses. The sights and aromas accompanied by the perfect execution of the dishes’ flavours were comparable to that found in a fine dining establishment. Guests lavishly indulged, and in some cases overindulged, on Chef Fongaro’s rich lobster lasagna and his generous melt-in-your-mouth beef filet that had freshly shaved truffles draping over the exquisite dish. There was no end for the truffles…to the delight of the guests!

And if that wasn’t enough to seduce us into food glory, fireworks lit up the sky as we were having dessert, a tropical Tiramisu that was filled with strawberry and passion fruit – very apropos to the paradise-like ambiance we were all enthralled by!

Casa Velas has succeeded with its avant-garde approach to providing guests with a new culinary adventure.

Reaching New Heights in the Culinary World. FWT Magazine.

A culinary voyage like no other, as you take in the sights and flavours during Dinner in the Sky! © Casa Velas.

If there are any doubts left to experience this innovative bucket-list item, ask yourself this: When will be the next time you will be dining so close to the stars?!

If You Go

Casa Velas not only spoils guests with unique culinary experiences, it also provides them with luxurious offerings at their boutique hotel that makes every guest feel right at home. Visit their website for rates and dates, so that you can have the rare opportunity of eating under the stars.

The post Casa Velas Hotel: Reaching New Heights in the Culinary World appeared first on FWT Magazine: food wine travel.

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