In Northwest Italy in the region of Liguria you will find five colorful fishing villages linked by an ancient system of footpaths. These villages perched on steeply terraced cliffs are collectively referred to as The Cinque Terre, which means five lands or five towns.
As cars were banned many years ago you can reach the five villages-- Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore-- only by footpaths, boats or train. The ancient architecture, medieval fortresses and breathtaking coastal scenery are just a few of the charms of this area.
At the National Gallery of Art you will find a painting of the idyllic valley of la Paiola, by Camille Corot, titled "A view from Volterra". But why not enjoy this amazing view in person? If you’re dreaming of a Villa in Tuscany, we know a lovely 12th-century farmhouse built on the pre-Roman ruins of an Etruscan villa that sits in a valley above 70 acres of olive groves with its own burbling stream.
This beautiful secluded property has a wood burning brick oven as well as an outdoor terrace and patio both fully furnished and perfect for dining al fresco or just watching the sun set.
But, if you want the Tuscan Villa experience without the seclusion, you can relish in the best of both worlds with a beautifully restored Villa featuring Tuscan antiques and ceramics situated in the open countryside just outside Florence.
Olive groves and cypress trees pave the way to this estate located within walking distance of a restaurant, just 1 mile from local towns and markets, and less than 10 miles from Florence.
This villa shares an outdoor pool with a neighboring villa and is easily accessible via train or bus. Both stations are a 5 minute drive from the villa. And you can easily branch out from the nearby train station to explore Siena, Pisa, Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Venice.
Many clients inquire as to the best time to travel to Tuscany? I find that Tuscany's best travel months are April, May, June, September, and October when you will generally find the most pleasant weather. However, this is also peak period for this region when the area is at its busiest and most expensive. I tend to prefer late May and early June before the crowds swell enormously or mid to late September when the crowds are dying down a bit. In July and August when temperatures hit the high 80's and 90's the summer heat can be grueling in some areas, making this a good time to head for the coast or find a shaded river bank.
Tuscany as a destination is quite popular so our best advice is to plan early to avoid disappointment. And through our trusted partners we have access to properties you won't find on internet travel clearinghouse sites. If you’d like assistance with a custom itinerary to help you discover the beauty of Tuscany contact Enlighten Excursions at 301-384-1519.
If your dream vacation involves soft white or golden sand caressing your toes, crystal blue temperate water and state of the art resorts, then Koh Samui is worth visiting. Touting a vast variety of beaches and resorts, you can vacation your way in Koh Samui. From romantic secluded villas to boutique wellness resorts like Absolute Sanctuary, to deluxe resorts offering dining, shopping, and nightlife entertainment like Anantara Lawana resort and spa, Koh Samui’s resorts are diverse. Santiburi Beach Resort & Spa, Sea Dance Resort and Sawadee Sea View are also good value options for romantic getaways. Enjoy the warm breeze and the culture of Thailand at the location that best suits your budget and needs.
The destination offers exotic tourist attractions such as the Big Buddha Temple on a small northeastern Koh Samui Island. The 40 foot high golden statue of Big Buddha rests atop the shrine which has amazing views from its platform. Numerous visitors and devotees visit year round and is one of the most famous landmarks of Koh Samui.
Additionally, Angthong National Marine Park is a marvelous place to explore natural caves, magnificent rock formations and stunning blue lagoons. The Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo are two other attractions to consider as you explore Koh Samui. From bird shows to tiger shows you will find entertainment here. The Samui Aquarium also houses various sea marvels like giant catfish and sharks. You may also find yourself mesmerized by the majestic leopards, parrots, sea hawks and hornbills.
If you’re seeking an interesting learning experience combined with a little adventure, you might consider a visit to the Samui Snake farm. The Snake farm houses reptiles of various origins and sizes. Watch as snakes weave and writhe in the arms of snake wranglers. The shows are fascinating and highly informative. You never know when you might need to draw on the understanding you will gain here of reptilian defensive postures.
Koh Samui, Thailand is a beautiful, hospitable, place to visit and a great alternative to the ever popular Phuket, Thailand beach vacation.
If you want to explore more of Thailand on this vacation, you may want to start with Bangkok and Chiang Mai before retreating to your Koh Samui beach paradise. Either way, consider adding #KohSamui #Thailand to your #MustExploreList!
Last week we discussed traveling to Washington, DC in the spring and taking in the beautiful cherry blossoms. But Japan is one of the best places in the world to see cherry blossoms in April. In Tokyo and Kyoto there are literally millions of cherry trees.
If you visit Tokyo in late March or early April you will generally find comfortable day time temperatures and, you will be treated to any number of blossom parties held in public parks, like, Ueno Onshi, Chidorigafuchi, or Asukayama Park. The blossoms also beam along the Meguro and Sumida Rivers.
Be aware that the Japanese celebrate Golden week at the end of April-- usually from about April 29th through May 4th, 5th, or 6th. Many Japanese workers take paid time off during this period to celebrate a series of holidays including, Showa Day, Greenery Day, Children’s Day and Constitution Memorial Day. This is an extremely popular time for the Japanese to travel.
Conventional wisdom says to avoid traveling to Japan at all during this time due to lack of transportation and hotel inventory and higher prices. But, I’ll let you in on a little secret, Tokyo is often the exception. Because a large number of Tokyo residents tend to travel to rural areas or out of the country, the city is relatively quiet at this time. Generally restaurants, public museums and most stores stay open on public holidays, so sightseeing should be pleasurable. Though, I can’t guarantee that getting beyond Tokyo on the bullet train will be a breeze during golden week.
Regardless of when you go, just know that spring is warm and welcoming in Tokyo. And, I always recommend booking your tours or accommodations as far in advance as possible.
Japan’s highest mountain, the active volcano Mount Fuji can be seen from Tokyo on a clear day. Those aspiring to hike the mountain should plan a trip for July or August.
Reminiscent of the renowned Eiffel Tower visitors are treated to a 360 degree panoramic view of the city from The Tokyo Tower, a communications and observation tower which is open every day. In recent years the Tokyo Tower has played second to the Tokyo Skytree.
The Tokyo Skytree is the world’s tallest tower and provides awe-inspiring views of the city towards Mount Fuji. If you have the time, you won’t regret squeezing them both in.
Another enchanting site in Tokyo is the Sensoji Temple an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan. Beautiful in the daylight or illuminated at night, this is Tokyo's oldest and one of its most important temples.
I also recommend you add 21_21 Design Sight to your tour of Tokyo. This museum of experimental design created by Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake and constructed by premier Japanese architect Tadao Ando features innovative artists like Naoto Fukasawa and Frank Gehr.
Tokyo’s unique districts are fairly simple to explore via its efficient public transportation system. And trust me, from sushi to onsens, and shopping to karaoke, your inner adventurer will want to do some independent exploring.
Some popular districts to check out include Shibuya, Akihabara and Ginza. Akihabara attracts computer and technology lovers, while Shibuya and Ginza are popular shopping areas. Browse elegant boutiques and art galleries, people watch in the cafes, get the latest gadgets, and sleuth out rare and popular comic books. Personal confession time: no trip to Tokyo would be complete for me without a visit to a karaoke spot. Shibuya has a number of fun places for karaoke.
Music lovers should check out the happenings in the Shimokitazawa neighborhood, just a few blocks outside of Shibuya.
For more unique experiences visit one of Tokyo’s onsens--bath houses famed for healing and rejuvenation, take a tour of a sake brewery, or get tickets to a sumo wrestling match.
Tokyo cuisine will intrigue you. Of course my foodies will want to try the soba noodles, tempura and sushi prepared by master sushi chefs. Even if you don’t like sushi, you may just change your mind on this trip. Adventurers may want to try anything from blowfish and locusts to octopus ice cream. The Tsukiji fish market-- the largest wholesale fish market in the world, is a great place to sample sushi.
Tokyo is an ancient city teaming with modern innovation and cutting edge design. There are awesome opportunities to be immersed in the culture, people watch, explore, and just have a great time. It's definitely time to add Tokyo to your #MustExploreList
As a DC native I admit to some bias, still, Washington, DC gets my vote for best destinations to visit, especially from March to May. June, September and October are also very good times to make the trip but spring is personally my favorite season.
DC is a gorgeous city in the spring time and, it’s not just about the tidal basin blossoms. You’ll find the whole city and surrounding suburbs aglow with everything from the magnificent cherry blossoms, tulips, magnolia and dogwood trees, to forsythia and flowering pears. They are certainly beautiful. And, if you miss the Yoshino Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin, there are a variety of cherry trees at the National Arboretum, many of which tend to peak slightly later than the Yoshino Cherry Blossoms each year.
In fact, I always like to remind my visiting friends that DC is known as "the City of Trees" because of its broad variety of tree species. From George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Boss Shepherd and Marion Barry, planting trees in DC has been a government and community priority. More than 15,000 trees were planted in DC from 2013 – 2015.
In addition to its lovely trees, the magnificent marbled monuments, memorials, and renowned museums should not escape mention and exploration.
The Martin Luther King, Jr and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorials are my absolute favorite places in the city, with the Einstein memorial only slightly trailing behind.
But, no trip to DC should neglect the traditional attractions, like the Washington Monument, the White House, and the Smithsonian Museums. The National Gallery of Art, Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museums are a few of my favorites.
And what's great about Washington is that it seems the lovely landscape is always changing. For example, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will have its grand opening on the mall in the fall of 2016. So, if you’re planning a trip for this fall or next spring, you may want to add this site to your #MustExploreList .
Free museums and monuments, free lectures and exhibits and the amazing things you can discover just by walking around the city, make DC a perfectly affordable get away.
March is a wonderful month to travel to Jamaica and explore this island’s captivating culture and history. But then again, anytime from November to April is amazing. May through October is the rainy season and hurricane season starts in June so if budget is an issue then you may find your best deals during this time.
Jamaica is derived from the Arawak name “Xayamaca” which means lands of rivers and springs. And, true to its name, you will find shimmering water and pristine white sand beaches, like Seven-Mile Beach in Negril, or numerous other stunning lagoons and beaches. So whether you like to swim, dive, snorkel or just bask on the beach, you can find your paradise here.
Wherever you decide to base yourself in Jamaica--Montego Bay or Ocho Rios on the northcoast of the Island, Kingston on the southeast coast of the island, or Negril set on the island’s west coast-- you will easily find entertainment and relaxation during your stay. I love the slower pace of life and the laid back vibe of Jamaica.
I could write an entire blog on Jamaican food, but for now I’ll just say this: To explore authentic Jamaican cuisine you will need to venture out of your resort and dine with the locals. If visiting Negril, be sure to get to Rick's Café. This wonderful café sits atop a 35 foot cliff overlooking the Caribbean and the broiled Jamaican spiny lobster is amazing! Beautiful sunrises and breathtaking sunsets can be found at Ricks and all over this island. The majesty of it all tends to illuminate petty worries and help you see that some things are just not that serious.
In Cairo, Egypt’s capital city, you will find a wonderful juxtaposition of past and present. This city is an exquisite mélange of modern urban chaos, rural tradition, ancient relics, extraordinary monuments, and world class museums.
The Greater Cairo area is home to nearly 17 million people and is the largest metropolitan area in the Middle East. Set on the Nile River, the city is known as ‘Mother of the World’ or Um ad-Dunya to those who live there.
The best times to visit include February to April and October to November. And while it seems much too obvious to say this, I have to: If this is your first visit don’t miss the Great Pyramid and Sphinx of Ghiza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This majestic site has astonished civilization for over 4000 years.
You will also seriously regret not visiting the Egyptian Museum, so allow yourself ample time for this one of kind attraction.
You should also visit the Khan el-Khalili Market, a souk in the Islamic district of Cairo that has been operating since 1382. If you're hunting for locally produced souvenirs, antiques or jewelry this is the place to be. However, if, like me, you don’t like shopping much, you still shouldn’t miss this amazing experience. Just pull up a chair and enjoy people watching while savoring shisha, or a cup of Arabic coffee or tea. You can also sample an enormous array of traditional cuisine from the street vendors here.
And last, but not least, if you have the opportunity to do so, I highly recommend a visit to Saqqara—the sacred cemetery of the Pharaohs.
Here you will find 11 Pharaohs’ pyramids surrounded by the tombs of their families, servants and pets. Saqqara has been a major Egyptian excavation site since the 19th century and remains one of the most fertile grounds for archaeologists working in Egypt. Experts believe thousands of tombs and burial chambers have yet to be uncovered here.
These are just a few highlights. There is so much more to discover in this amazing city. That's why you have to add Cairo to your #MustExploreList
Although the city has a reputation for its changeable weather, March is an excellent time to explore the city of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. In March, the scorching Australian summer fades into the background giving way to beautifully mild evenings, perfect for strolling along the South bank of the Yarra River.
While Victoria is Australia's smallest continental state, its capital Melbourne, is big on everything.
Travel to this sprawling cosmopolitan city offers jamming festivals, vibrant bars, and cool boutiques, as well as culture, art, food, wine, and stunning wildlife.
And let’s not forget that Melbourne is the sports capital of Australia and offers numerous sports events options for all sports lovers.
Be sure to take a drive along the Great Ocean Road.
This scenic drive is graced with breathtaking limestone rock formations like the Twelve Apostles, emerging from the deep blue-green coastal waters; pristine golden sand beaches; and charming fishing villages.
Wildlife enthusiasts will want to visit Phillip Island for the Penguin Parade one evening to watch as hundreds of fairy penguins return to their sand dune burrows after a long day at sea.
Another highlight near Melbourne is Yarra Valley wine tasting. On a scenic drive of Yarra Valley you will find more than 70 wineries and an awe-inspiring choice of ﬁne food.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t implore you to find a festival. Whether you attend the Ventana Street Fiesta, the Port Phillip Mussel Festival, the Moomba Festival, the Inverloch Jazz Festival, the Begonia Festival or Motorfest, for an authentic experience you need to celebrate with the locals!
Whatever your interest, Melbourne is so easy to explore, you will find plenty of activities to delight your tastes, from the Golden Mile to the Yarra River and beyond. You should definitely add #Melbourne to your #MustExploreList.
Ahhh... This is the money shot! The blue sky beams brightly over Istanbul's Blue Mosque. But, what are the chances that when you go to Turkey circumstances will converge so that you can get the money shot? It depends. When advising you when to travel, a number of sites focus almost solely on the costs. If you're a little more value focused like me, then you may appreciate a different perspective.
If I'm going to spend my time, which also has both cost and value, then I want to have a good time, get the money shots and marvel at the beautiful clear sky. This is the experience for which I am willing to pay.
So when the experts tout fewer crowds and lower prices December through February in Istanbul, I just shake my head. It's cheap because it's rarely less miserable than my home town of Washington, DC. It's cold, wet and icky and you may only get the money shot, if you're the type to win the lottery. From June-August Istanbul tends to be hot, muggy, expensive, and crowded. You can get the money shot during this time since there is very little precipitation, but it may have loads of strangers in it. Which for some may be perfectly fine.
Both May and September top my list for comfortable temperatures, affordability, fewer crowds and lots of opportunities to get that picture perfect memory.
Remember, the best time to go anywhere depends on your personal desires and expectations. An experienced travel counselor can help you answer this question.