My Vote For Prettiest Fishing Village in Southern France!

Last May I had a few days to fill before meeting up with my French group in St. Remy. I was flying into Marseille and wanted to find a place on the Mediterranean close by.

Luckily, I chose Cassis, a small seaside-fishing village only about an hour away by SNCF train. There’s a train station right near the airport with a shuttle in between, so even with a change of trains in downtown Marseille it was relatively easy. A quick cab ride to the waterfront, and I was there!

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I stayed at the Hotel Liautaud right on the harbor. It’s a 2 star hotel that’s simple and clean. But, the real reason to stay there is the view! I was fortunate enough to get a top floor corner room with two balconies. WOW!

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Pastel buildings lined with outdoor bars and restaurants surround the delightful harbor. It’s almost impossible to stroll around the port without stopping in one because of the incredible aromas! I had a tasty thick bouillabaisse fish soup with croutons that was to die for. And, who can go to Cassis and not try Crème de Cassis? This sweet dark red liqueur is made from black currents and is heavenly added to a little sparkling wine or champagne.

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The Cassis area boasts a lot of vineyards. I went on a wine tour of Clos Sainte Magdeleine, high on a cliff just outside town. The vineyards are on terraced slopes, stretching right to the sea and because of this, the wine has a slightly salty taste. It’s a historic place that was founded in 1896 and I don’t know what I expected, but it was a shock to go down to the wine cellar and find state of the art stainless steel tanks!

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The real star of the area is Calanques National Park. The park has steep limestone cliffs that rise out of the sea. There are dozens of fjord-like bays that are only accessible by boat or hiking. The first one, Calanques de Port-Miou, is only a 20 minute walk from the port through pretty neighborhoods and by pebbly beaches.

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The best way to see the rest is to take a boat tour. There are several tour companies in the center of the harbor offering trips to between three and eight calanques through out the day. I chose to take the half-day eight calanques cruise, and it was one of the highlights of my trip. Each narrow inlet we turned into was surrounded by towering walls of limestone. The water was crystal clear, and I could even watch the fish swimming around. The strangest thing I saw swimming though were two wild boars in the middle of the bay! No one could tell me why they were there, but they were entertaining to watch!

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The central harbor has a little Petanque court (similar to Italian bocce), a public beach, and a great tourism office. Towering over all of this is the Chateau de Cassis, a fortified castle built in the 14th century. Unfortunately it’s not open to the public, but it’s truly spectacular to look at especially at night when it’s lit up.

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Right next to the public beach is Cassis a Velo. Run by two incredibly friendly women, they rent e-bikes complete with self-guided tours of the area. The maps are easy to follow, and it’s an exhilarating way to see the beautiful vineyards, cruise down country lanes and cycle through pine forests. It’s a hilly area, and it was so fun to effortless pedal up the hills!

 

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I was able to spend my last morning at the bi-weekly outdoor market. Market days in Provence are my absolutely favorite thing about the area. A Provencal market has fruits, vegetables, cheeses, olives, jams, honey, desserts, breads, wine, olive oil, lavender products, soap, tablecloths, clothes, flowers and so much more! It’s a perfect way to immerse your self in the best that Provence has to offer. You can eat your way through and gift shop at the same time! What a wonderful way to end my time in Cassis.

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Why I Love G Adventures!

In November I was fortunate to be able to go on a travel agent familiarization trip to Jordan with a company called G Adventures.

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G Adventures is the world’s largest small-group adventure travel company, and they’ve been around for 26 years. I can’t count all the awards they’ve won, including National Geographic’s best ‘Do It All Outfitter’ on Earth.

If you’re an adventurous and curious traveler looking for an intimate, authentic and sustainable trip then G Adventures is for you! They have over 700 trips to 120 countries with 7 different travel styles. There’s something for everyone!

This is what sets them apart from other tour companies, and in my mind, makes them far superior.

  • Small groups – most tours have an average of 12 travelers. The maximum on all tours is 16.
  • 100% guaranteed departures – that’s right, you don’t have to worry about your tour canceling, because not enough people signed up.
  • Life time deposits – if you have to cancel for any reason your deposit can be used for any other trip. Or, you can pass it on to someone else!
  • No single supplement – they will pair you with someone if you request it.
  • Flexibility and independence – there is ample free time to do things on your own if you want to.
  • Choice – they have a variety of travel styles and destinations, as well as trips for every budget.
  • Local CEO’s (Chief Experience Officers) – these guides are local, very knowledgeable and fun!
  • Local Investment – they work with small locally owned businesses rather than big chains
  • Planeterra Foundation – they have a non-profit dedicated to creating and supporting local enterprises in disadvantaged areas.

If you like to stay at all inclusive or 5 star resorts this type of travel might not be for you. But, if you’re looking for an amazing adventure with unique opportunities to immerse yourself into the local culture G Adventures is the way to go!

AND – I’m having a special until the end of February. Book ANY G Adventures tour with me and I’ll give you a $50 discount!!!

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Top 7 Reasons To Travel Solo!

Traveling solo can be a truly easy, safe and incredibly rewarding way to travel. Sure, it can be scary at times, but solo travel is all about breaking out of your comfort zone and learning the most you can about yourself and the world around you. In the process some amazing things can happen.

When you travel alone you’ll see amazing things, meet unforgettable people, hear interesting languages and taste food that you never knew existed. You’ll travel to explore the unknown, but along the way you’ll find the true you.

Here are my top reasons for traveling alone.

Freedom!

You are the boss. No compromise, no complaints – nobody’s schedule but your own. You can spend your time doing exactly what you want to do. Do you want to wait on the bridge for an hour to get the perfect picture? Do you want get up before dawn to hike to the top of the mountain and watch the sunrise? You can!

New Friends!

Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. Even sitting down to breakfast in your hotel is a great way to meet locals and fellow travelers. And, asking questions is a great way to break the ice anywhere. In fact, I’ve met more new friends in a week of traveling that in months at home!

Cultural Connection!

It’s easier to keep an open mind when you’re by yourself and don’t have other people influencing the way you think and feel. You don’t have any distractions and what you experience tends to have a deeper meaning. You will definitely come home with a new perspective.

Perfect Moments!

You will make unique discoveries that you might miss out on if you’re with friends. When you travel alone the experience is more vivid – more momentous. When you are completely immersed in the moment magical things can happen!

Discover Courage!

You’ll feel like you can conquer anything after journeying on your own. You learn to make decisions and rely only on yourself. And, the more confidence you build traveling solo, the more confidence you’ll bring home with you! I guarantee you’ll be more comfortable in your own skin.

Become a better person!

I truly believe that solo travel has made me a more kind and compassionate person. You pay more attention to yourself and your feelings when you travel alone, and that carries over to when you return home. There’s plenty of time to reflect and learn what’s important in your life when you’re experiencing new things.

Spend less money!

It’s much easier to figure out a budget and stay within it when you’re going solo. You also have control over where you want to save and where you want to splurge. There’s nothing worse that getting stuck with a big bill over something you weren’t interested in in the first place.

Cruising On The Nile

I’ve always dreamed of cruising down the Nile River. I didn’t expect I’d be running down a dusty path in the dark trying to find a place to jump on board the ship!

My four day cruise from Luxor to Aswan had been booked months before with a wonderful company based out of Cairo called Memphis Tours. But, I couldn’t anticipate getting violently ill while touring the Great Sphinx of Giza and being stuck in bed with an IV for a day and a half! Luckily I was staying at Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel, and they had an in-house doctor.

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Once he gave me the go-ahead I immediately jumped on a plane to Luxor and raced to catch up with my cruise. Driving through rural Egypt itself was an exotic adventure with beautiful green strips of sugarcane and palm trees on one side and dusty villages on the other.

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The Sonesta St. George 1 is a 5 star elaborately decorated ship with only 47 cabins – all river view. This ship was just refurbished – and it shows! Never did I expect to be cruising on such on something so luxurious. It even has a spa and fitness center. The trip includes all meals, excursions, entrance fees, an Egyptologist guide, service charges, taxes and transfers.

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The rooms are spacious and comfy. But the best part is the shower! It has so many spa features that it comes with a remote control and a one page instruction sheet. I had fun trying out the steam bath, jacuzzi and water massage all to glowing disco-type lights.

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Once I was able to tear myself away from the bathroom I discovered that the panoramic French windows opened. What a treat to be able to sit comfortably and glide along watching the green fertile banks of the Nile. It’s a scene that hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. The banks are lined with mud brick huts, sugar cane fields, egrets, donkeys, fishing boats and waving kids. It was relaxing and fascinating at the same time.

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Due to my illness I missed the Valley of the Kings and Karnak. As sad as that made me, I was astounded at everything I was able to see. The beauty of Nile cruising is every temple is within a short distance of docking. We were never more than a horse and buggy ride away from a spectacular temple or sight!

I can’t wait to share more about my Egyptian adventure in another blog. Memphis Tours was superb, and as a woman traveling alone I never felt unsafe. The Egyptian people I met were very welcoming and kind, and the things I saw and experienced definitely surpassed my expectations. Stay tuned for more!

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Beware Of American, Delta and United’s New Basic Economy Fares!

All three airlines have introduced a new low cost fare called basic economy. Yes, the fares are low, BUT they are extremely restrictive. Read this before you book them!

United Airlines:

  • Seat assignments ONLY at check-in, and seating together is not guaranteed
  • Carry-on bag is limited to ONE personal item; no overhead bin use unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier, have a MileagePlus credit card, or are Star Alliance Gold
  • NO flight changes or refunds
  • NO upgrades
  • LAST to board unless a MileagePlus Premier member, primary card member of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card, or Star Alliance Gold member

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American Airlines (these fares don’t go on sale until February):

  • Seat assignments ONLY at check-in, and seating together is not guaranteed
  • Carry-on bag is limited to ONE personal item; no overhead bin use unless you’re an Elite member or have an Advantage credit card
  • NO flight changes, same day stand by or refunds
  • NO upgrades
  • If bag is brought to the gate you must pay an ADDITIONAL 25.00 on top of regular baggage fees
  • LAST to board
  • Elite qualifying miles earned at a reduced rate

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Delta:

  • Seat assignments ONLY at check-in, and seating together is not guaranteed
  • NO changes or refunds
  • LAST to board
  • NO upgrades or preferred seats

More fun in San Miguel de Allende!

There are many museums in San Miguel, and the Casa de Ignacio Allende gives wonderful information about the city’s foundation in 1542, the Mexican Revolution, and hero Ignacio Allende. This is where he was born and grew up, and some of the rooms have been preserved as they looked when he lived there. It’s right next to the Cathedral and is closed on Mondays!

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What stole my heart though, is San Miguel’s newest museum, the La Esquina Toy Museum! This tiny four room museum is chock full of colorful handcrafted toys from different the regions and cultures of Mexico. Its history of children’s toys is delightful and fun for all ages. And, the view of the city from the rooftop is amazing!

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A trip to San Miguel de Allende wouldn’t be complete without time spent in El Jardin, the central plaza. Many locals call it the “living room” of San Miguel! It’s closed to traffic on three sides and lined with shade trees and benches just perfect for sitting and watching the world go by. There are plenty of cafes ringing the square with outside patios and food carts selling fruit and snacks. On one side of the square is the tallest building in the city – La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. The spires and rose color are amazing, especially at sunset. There is something interesting going on at any time of the day in El Jardin, but the nighttime mariachi bands are a must!

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Usually you don’t think of going to libraries while on vacation. The San Miguel Biblioteca is a different story! This library has the largest collection of English books in Mexico, vibrant colorful murals on the ceiling of the bookstore, and a tranquil courtyard complete with fountain and café. It’s a great place to go and find out what’s going on in town. They offer walking tours and a Sunday historical house tour as well as having a small theater. Don’t forget to pick up the English/Spanish newspaper “Atencion”. This comes out every Friday and lists everything coming up around town for the next week!

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Spa time! La Gruta Hot Springs is outside of town but well worth a half-day visit. It’s about a 20 minute taxi ride, and the best advice I can give you is to set a time for your taxi to come back and get you. It’s isolated, and you could wait a long time for a ride home if you don’t! There isn’t anything fancy about this place, but it’s oh-so relaxing. There are different spring-fed pools that range from a swimming pool with lukewarm water to a very hot water thermal tunnel and water cave. They have lockers, reasonably priced swimsuits you can buy if you forget your suit (like I did!), a restaurant with great guacamole, massage rooms, showers and lots of lawn areas and chairs for just hanging out and relaxing. If you go on a weekend it’s very crowded with local families.

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Travel Tip

Who loves the beautiful lavender of the Jacaranda tree? San Miguel de Allende is full of these beautiful towering trees. If you travel there in March or April you’ll see these dazzling trees in full bloom!

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Discovering San Miguel de Allende

For my first blog I thought I would share one of my favorite places with you – Mexico! Last spring I spent a lovely few days in San Miguel de Allende. This colorful highland town has a thriving arts scene, charming colonial buildings, and the reputation of one of the prettiest towns in Mexico. It’s a safe place where it’s easy to get around, and it’s a great place to travel on your own!

p3000986Getting there

 This colonial hill town isn’t easy to get to, but it’s worth the effort. The closest airport is Leon, a good hour and 45 minute drive away. I flew on Aero Mexico through Mexico City, but there are also non-stops through Houston, LAX and Dallas. Leon is a tiny airport, and don’t expect anyone to speak english! I booked round trip shuttle transfers online with Bajiogo Shuttle. The shared ride is a deal at 29.00 one way.

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 I love finding intimate local hotels with a lot of character. Casa Carly is situated on one of the main roads into town, about a 10 minute walk from El Centro. This used to be called Casa Crayola because of the brightly colored casitas, but the Crayola Company made them change the name! There are seven casitas here amidst lush gardens and fountains. It’s a gated oasis with ample space to sit and appreciate the myriad of colors. They also have a café attached that makes fresh scones and a wonderfully spicy mango-chipotle salsa. There are other, more deluxe boutique hotels in the area, and all of them are gorgeous with a welcoming Mexican feel.

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Things to See and Do

Art, art, art! Known for its artistic and cultural life, San Miguel is a UNESCO heritage site. Yes it has a lot of ex-pats, and I ran into a lot of gringos. But, as I walked along narrow cobblestone streets passing colorful courtyards, unique wooden doorways and little shops full of Mexican folk art I felt a sense of wonder at everything it has to offer. Walking is the best way to explore, and meandering brings surprises on every street.

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My favorite place is Fabrica la Aurora. This was a textile factory for 90 years and has been reborn as an art and design center. The building’s been transformed into an industrial chic space with a large number of galleries, studios and restaurants. Many are high end, but many feature local Mexican artists that you can watch at work. They even offer weaving, watercolor and sculptor workshops. Don’t miss the decadent postries at Aurora Café – the perfect place to sit outside and take it all in!

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