Vibrant Dubai! Part 1

Burj Al Arab  - Exterior Portrait

Like many other cautious travelers, I was curious about visiting the Middle East. By and large, the way news outlets tend to position their stories, you’d think the entire region is misogynistic, stuck with a repressive mindset and on the brink of collapse. While some of those points are valid conclusions for some countries in the Middle East, those points not true when it comes to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Before I proceed, I am compelled to let you know – from firsthand experience – while the UAE is a very conservative country, it is arguably one of the most modern and progressive countries (comprising of 7 hereditary monarchy-states) in the Middle East. Women do indeed have the right to speak freely and be who they want to be without government interference or religious / cultural interference (the opposite of which occurs in neighboring countries). Women hold high-ranking positions in the UAE government and they are also executives. Additionally, women earn equal what men make in the UAE (something that the U.S. is still grappling with) and they are not required to wear the Hijab. The only exception happens to be for government employees where both men and women alike wear traditional cultural attire of the region…. I compare this to what is found in The Vatican: This is more of a ceremonial uniform.

The very cosmopolitan city/state of Dubai where I made my first visit to the Arab world. Getting there from Los Angeles isn’t a short trip so and my journey involved a nonstop Ultra Long-Haul flight on Dubai’s homegrown carrier, Emirates Airline you can read my outbound flight review
HERE and the video below:

Emirates is a premium airline which is a proper representation and amalgamation of the wealth and ethnic diversity that is found in Dubai: The Wealth – With some of the most advance aircraft and the most opulent surroundings and amenities for a premium airline, you can see that Emirates spares no expense. The Diversity – The majority of the people living and working in Dubai are from other countries. And as a result of its approach to “Human Resources,” Dubai has quickly become THE emerging crossroads of the world.

After enjoying a restful 16 hours at 35K feet, my flight arrived at the massive and richly adorned Dubai International Airport. After clearing customs, I departed the airport in one of Emirates’ Chauffeur Drive cars which transported me to the palatial Fairmont, The Palm resort which is located in the heart of the iconic Palm Jumeirah, the world’s largest human-made island shaped in the form of a palm tree.

Fairmont The Palm on Palm Jumeirah

Fairmont The Palm on Palm Jumeirah

One thing that is mind-boggling about the Palm Jumeirah is the fact that this manufactured island was built entirely of sand and rock – plus, less than 20 years ago, its creatively-designed landmass didn’t exist beyond the minds of its creators. This avant-garde approach to construction is far from unusual for modern-day Dubai. Construction for high-rise, residential and resort communities is robust and outpacing that of any municipality at present – with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Fairmont The Palm

Fairmont The Palm

The resort offers a unique destination in the heart of this prestigious landmark – which is infused with Arabic design touches set against contemporary architecture. Fairmont The Palm is ideally located next to key leisure areas and business districts, major city landmarks and two ‘world firsts’: Burj Khalifa, the tallest free standing building and The Dubai Mall, the largest retail development. This ultra-luxe, private beach resort features 381 guestrooms and suites, including two presidential suites, outdoor leisure facilities with four swimming pools, a private beach club, and Fairmont Falcons Juniors’ Club (a children’s activity center) as well as a variety of dining facilities featuring sea, garden or pool views. Similar to other Fairmont properties, Fairmont The Palm offers Fairmont Gold rooms (a hotel within a hotel) and a Willow Stream Spa are featured here. I enjoyed a very wonderful stay a sumptuously appointed Deluxe King guest room with a balcony and view overlooking the resort’s pool and beachfront.

Fairmont The Palm, Deluxe King Room

Fairmont The Palm, Deluxe King Room

During my stay at Fairmont The Palm, I enjoyed a number of wonderful experiences which were memorable in every regard:

I was able to explore the secrets of healthy Arabic cuisine with Fairmont The Palm’s cooking school which is chaired by Rober Salloum who is the resorts’ Senior Arabic Chef. Chef Rober graciously walked me through the process to prepare quite a veritable feast which included spreads, salads as well as a fantastic fish entrée and a rose water-infused custard dessert – all prepared within an hour (…and I helped! :-) ). What struck me the most about my experience cooking with Chef Rober was his ability to prepare one dish after another without breaking stride or losing focus. If there were an Olympics for cooking, I’m confident Chef Rober would take the gold!

When I stay at a resort, I always do my best to enjoy a unique spa treatment. One thing’s for sure, Fairmont the Palm’s, Willow Stream Spa didn’t disappoint…..and the results of the treatment lasted over 20 days! Firstly, the impressive 17,200 square-foot spa boasts 13 treatment rooms, including separate massage, facial and treatment rooms, a duet suite for a traditional Arabian rasul experience (which is a cleansing ritual that uses mineral-rich mud, heat and steam). The spa also offers a grand suite with two single suites connected by a large lounge. Additionally, the men’s spa is is designed for men to relax and recharge in a comfortable club style atmosphere. The male spa facilities also include a thermal suite with a large aroma steam and sauna, a cooling ice fountain, and several experience showers great for muscle relief.

My spa treatment was the 90-minute Willow Stream Desert-Sand Hammam. In this combination Vichy shower and hammam treatment, warm water is poured rhythmically over the body, releasing the day’s stresses. My hammam specialist applied a blend of Moroccan Argan oil with warm desert sand with relaxing strokes, sloughing off dead skin cells. He then used a Vichy rain shower to wash away impurities. A pampering massage followed, using khemoussa pouches and traditional oils.

Aptly described as a meat-atorium, Dubai’s authentic Brazilian Churrascaria experience Frevo slices up a pantheon of succulent meats, ranging from tri tip (bottom sirloin), top sirloin, rump, ribeye to flank, boneless short ribs and strip loin. With 18 cuts of meat prepared on skewers, carved and served straight at the table, it’s great that a large selection of vibrant and colourful salads is available to compliment all of the protein that’s offered at Frevo , Frevo also holds Dubai’s largest collection of cachaça (distilled beverage made of sugar cane) and South American cocktails, including the world renowned Caipirinha. Live music each night reflects the vibrant tempo of a Brazilian carnival.

Frevo Brazilian Restaurant

Frevo Brazilian Restaurant

2 words of advice…. If you plan to have a meal at Frevo, please do it on a day when you don’t plan to have a spa treatment such as the one I enjoyed. Here’s why: You’ll be too tired to enjoy the meal fully since the spa treatment will have you completely relaxed and sleepy. Also, the spa treatment will leave you so relaxed that you may leave personal items behind…..such as what I did. More on Fairmont The Palm reuniting me with my flip-flops in part 2.

My visit to Dubai has just begun and I’m looking forward to sharing more unique experiences from my visit. In the meantime, please review the “andiamo!” Destination Spotlight video below highlighting key aspects of my journey. Also, don’t forget to book your vacation to Dubai with
Orbitz and receive instant savings with their Orbitz Rewards program!

Visit Dubai

Fairmont The Palm

Travelpro Luggage

Orbitz

Emirates Airline

Dubai Skyline as seen from Fairmont The Palm

Dubai Skyline as seen from Fairmont The Palm

…..and they named the city “Peace.”

It wasn’t until my visit to Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico in 2013 that I became quite enchanted with Mexico. Keep in mind, my first visit to Mexico was in 1982 and I was quite young when my parents and I visited Puerto Vallarta. Even though the resort (the Sheraton Buganvilias – which is still in business) was an impressive property for its time (with an amazing staff), I remembered thinking then: “There are too many tourists here!”. My second visit to Mexico came in 1993 when I visited Ensenada on a cruise stop. Once again, I thought to myself: “This place is too touristy!” So when I was convinced by some friends from Mexico to give Mexico another try – but to take a more authentic approach to visiting the country, I did (with my visit to Loreto) – and I have been in love with Mexico ever since.

I said all of that to say this: Just because you see a great travel deal in the newspaper, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the destination will be impressive or meet your needs / expectations. More often than not, those travel deals exist only the sole purpose to fulfill inventory needs – better known as: “low hanging fruit.”

Moving on…

My second visit to Baja California Sur was just as resplendent as my first visit. However, this time, I visited a city that is about a 3 hour drive south from Loreto: La Paz (which is Spanish for “Peace”)!

AeroMexico Connect

After my 90-minute flight from Los Angeles on AeroMexico Connect, I arrived at La Paz International Airport which is about a 20-minute drive from the waterfront Costa Baja Resort complex. Both the actual Costa Baja Resort and the Hyatt Place La Paz are wonderful full service properties – however, the Hyatt Place is true to its roots: It is a business hotel – however, it has resort sensibilities. On the other hand, the Costa Baja Resort is very much a leisure-focused luxury resort with great food (more on that in a moment).


Hyatt Place La Paz Hotel

Hyatt Place La Paz Hotel


View from my room

View from my room


View from my room

View from my room

La Paz is a place where celebrities, royalty and financial titans call their playground (and this can easily be proven by the volume of the privately owned multimillion dollar sailing vessels that dock here). The one thing that draws the affluent to La Paz is the great water offerings which are available.

Some of La Paz's affluent visitors

The Government of Mexico has made great strides to protect its waters and the natural habitat of its sea life. So it’s no wonder that the water in La Paz (and throughtout Mexico) is some of the clearest in the world. In addition, the variety of sea life in La Paz’s sanctuaries are vast. Residents & visitors alike can experience the Whale Sharks, Sea Lions, etc. firsthand. Whether snorkeling or SCUBA diving, you’ll be thoroughly astounded with the monumental aquatic world of La Paz.

While I’m on the topic of water, there’s something I experienced in near La Paz which was epic: Whale watching. Now sure, I’m some of you are thinking: “Jason, you’re from SoCal! Whale watching can’t be any more impressive than what exists there!” Well, let me tell you – you’re wrong. The migration path which whales take every year bring them to Baja California Sur – and their numbers are quite substantial. Even while I was was taking pictures, I could hear the whales communicating with each other while they were swimming under my boat! The whales were very friendly and they loved the attention the visitors were giving them in the open waters.

In SoCal, there are many interesting iterations of “Baja cuisine”…..and none of those imitations compare to the flavors which exists throughout Baja – and particularly in La Paz.

Street tacos in La Paz

Street tacos in La Paz


Street tacos in La Paz

Street tacos in La Paz


Street tacos in La Paz

Street tacos in La Paz

From simple meals to fine dining, La Paz doesn’t fail! Both your palate and your appetite will be thoroughly satisfied.

Nim is one of La Paz’s finest restaurants which is run by the Kiewek Sisters. Focusing on a contemporary and avant-garde approach to cuisine, the Kiewek Sisters do not sacrifice quality in any of their dishes.

Cristina & Margarita also own the AMAZING Azul Marino Restaurant at the Costa Baja Resort which their mother manages. The cuisine here is phenomenal and their wine selection is one that rival that of restaurants in Beverly Hills. When you visit Azul Marino, please be sure to have the tuna tartare appetizer and pair it with a Mark West Pinot Noir…..It will change your life (for the better of course!).

I’m looking forward to visiting La Paz again soon! In the meantime, I hope you experience La Paz for yourself. Rest assured the value for the dollar is great and the memories from a wonderful vacation in La Paz is lasting. Until then, please visit my photo album by clicking here. And please visit my “andiamo!” Destination Spotlight of La Paz here:

AeroMexico & AeroMexico Connect

La Paz Tourism

Hyatt Place La Paz

Nim Restaurant

Azul Marino Restaurant

Travelpro Luggage

Shalom!

Israel has been on my travel wish list for over 20 years. However, early on, I was advised by many to visit Israel on an all-inclusive group trip – and to be honest, I found that suggestion very repellant. Yes, I realize that group travel was the preferred way to vacation for many “back-in-the-day” – but the reality of visiting a destination such as Israel around a tour company’s schedule is not only very limiting (and pricey), it really takes away the freedom of spontaneity which I enjoy when traveling. That said, I now would like to share with you my completely independent visit to Israel.

Timing is everything. For my first visit to Israel, I was fortunate enough plan my first visit around the inaugural launch of Air Canada’s brand new fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. If you are not familiar with this marvel of aviation, I can assure you that this aircraft is a sheer joy to fly for long distances. Check out my Air Canada Dreamliner flight reports for my flights to and from Israel: Premium Economy and International Business Class.

The drive between Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport and Jerusalem is roughly 45 minutes and there are several ways to make the journey: Sherut (these are shared shuttles which are easily accessed once you step outside of the airport terminal building): Relatively inexpensive at 60 or so Shekels (Israel currency), or roughly $15 – or – Private taxi (250 Shekels or $64). Even though Sheruts are great deals, they are designed for average-sized individuals. So, if you are a tall and/or big person like me, I recommend that you spend the money (for comfort’s sake) and hire a private taxi.

Just like other big cities, Jerusalem has many major luxury hotel brands. However, it was recommended to me by another luxury-minded Wanderluster that I should stay at Dan Hotel’s King David Hotel…..and I was wise to follow their recommendation.

King David Hotel

King David Hotel

The Five Star King David Hotel is Dan Hotel’s Flagship hotel and it definies of the phrase “Grand Hotel.” With an unobstructed view facing the citadel that is the Old City of Jerusalem, the King David (its name honoring the most famous King of Israel) is a living monument which has witnessed, and oftentimes played a role in, many of Israel’s historic moments of the 20th century. Beginning with its opening in 1931, the King David Hotel quickly became the home away from home for royalty and world leaders of the time. To this day, dignitaries the world over remain loyal and they continue to enjoy stays at the King David when visiting Jerusalem. In fact, the hotel’s Golden Book reads like a “Who’s Who” of the world! See for yourself:

After I checked in, Jeremy Sheldon (who is a hotel manger of the King David Hotel) proceeded to escort me and my brand new Travelpro luggage to my suite. Along the way to the elevator, I took a moment to peruse the King David’s “Walk of Fame” which highlights the names of some of the hotel’s most famous guests – and it nearly stretches the full horizontal length of the hotel’s lobby level.

I was blessed to receive a very generous upgrade upon check-in – to a sumptuous Deluxe Suite (#428; This suite has been occupied by famous individuals such as: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Alicia Keys). As Jeremy proceeded to give me a tour of my opulent suite, I marveled at its cavernous size and I couldn’t help but notice that this suite was replete with the finest appointments and luxury amenities (anytime I observe a hotel or resort using Frette products, I know that the experience will be remarkable….it’s those small details which make ALL the difference to me when staying in a luxury hotel or resort). During my room tour, I observed the following: Very, VERY high ceilings, a massive bathroom which included a whirlpool tub AND a steam shower, an abundant amount of closet & storage space, a plethora of tech: Big screen High Definition TVs with Blu-Ray players and surround sound speakers in both the living room and bedroom (the TVs are encased within an aesthetically pleasing framed mirror), an HD TV in the bathroom and electronically controlled lighting & curtains. Plus, there is a restroom near the main entry – and for the ladies: A separate makeup vanity table. Of course, there is fully stocked honor bar complete with top shelf liqueurs, juices and more. Before the tour of my suite was completed, over, Jeremy opened the powered sheer drapes which revealed a balcony that had a perfect view of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Before I go on about my stay at the King David, I must take a moment to tell you about the bed in my suite: I have never had a more comfortable and restful sleep! Please keep in mind that I sleep on a very pricey Aireloom bed at home – but the bed at the King David completely trumped the comfort of even my own bed! Rest assured, you will sleep better than even the most content baby at the King David Hotel!

The view from my bed

It is to be expected that a hotel in the caliber of the King David would have great restaurants – and certainly, you will NEVER go hungry when staying at here. Firstly, the lavish daily breakfast buffet is one of the most impressive I have ever experienced: Premium quail eggs, smoked salmon, herring and other kosher fish, a bevy of artisan cheeses and fresh & flavorful fruits & vegetables. The expertly prepared blintzes, Potatoes au Gratin, Muesli, and a bounty of fresh breads and pastries (including Baklava – which I haven’t enjoyed since I was 9 years old!) are simply a tour de force. In addition, you have the option to enjoy cooked to order egg dishes, Pancakes & Waffles as well as fresh juices, rich & robust coffee and a wide selection of herbal teas.

Since the majority of our audience is based in the U.S., I feel that I should note to those who are used to having the odd numbered sausage links and/or multiple strips of bacon with their breakfasts – you won’t find these items at the King David as it is a hotel which observes Kosher rules, and as such, serving pork is verboten. With all of the good food that is offered at the King David, trust me, you won’t miss having pork (and in the process, your body will thank you for that)….

Anyway…..

The King’s Garden Restaurant is the King David’s casual restaurant – however, it is far from casual with its ethnically diverse fare. I dined here a couple of times during my stay and I was thoroughly impressed with the items which I ordered (especially the Mille Feuille! I haven’t had one this good outside of Quebec!)

I also enjoyed a great meal at King David’s fine dining restaurant, La Regence, which happens to be one of the highest rated restaurants in Jerusalem serving meals with locally sourced ingredients. My meal there was very memorable: The lamb dish was unlike anything I have experienced anywhere!

After spending a day touring and shopping, you can relax in the King David’s pristine swimming pool, play tennis, workout in the fitness center or enjoy a spa treatment. And if you are traveling with the kiddies, the King David has an area dedicated for childern where they can spend their time playing the day away.

Guest service at the King David is genuine and personal – but not overwhelming. There are some hotels which obviously browbeats their staff about “perfection” with the customer experience, and result coming off either disingenuous or trying “too” hard. However, staff of the King David has mastered the guest service experience: The staff is always at ease, personable and can practically predict the needs of every guest before they ask. In short, the King David guest services experience reminds me of what it is like to stay in the mansion of an established family.

After my glorious 3 night stay in Jerusalem, it was time for me to begin my journey back to North America. But before I head back on my amazing Air Canada Dreamliner flight in International Business Class, I spent 2 nights in Tel Aviv.

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Traveling to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem is easy. There are regularly scheduled trains and buses (Train: 25 Shekels or $6.35; Bus: 22 Shekels or $5.60) – or – you can book a Sherut (prices vary based on your location in each city) or taxi (280 Shekels or $71). To be very frank, I suggest that everyone travel this route via taxi or private car service since it’s not cumbersome and it’s far easier and faster to arrive at your destination in this manner.

I was very fortunate to continue my Dan Hotels experience in Tel Aviv for a 2 night stay at the Five Star, beachfront Dan Tel Aviv Hotel. Similar to the King David, the Dan Tel Aviv continues to be the preferred “home away from home” for many VIPs – particularly those who are in the entertainment industry. Stars such as: Madonna, Mick Jagger, Lady Gaga, Jesse Eisenberg and many others stay at the Dan Tel Aviv home when they are in the region – and I totally understand why! While this is a popular luxury hotel, the Dan Tel Aviv is one which remains very conscious about the needs and expectations of its most notable guests. In particular, privacy & security are of the utmost importance and the Dan Tel Aviv accomplishes this successfully in a very discreet manner.

Dan Tel Aviv

Dan Tel Aviv

After check-in, Simona Marcus (Dan Tel Aviv Assistant Manager) escorted me to my luxurious Terrace Sea View Suite (#501) which has been occupied by many famous celebrities including: Actor Leonardo DiCaprio & singer Leonard Cohen. Similar to the adornments I experienced in my Deluxe Suite at the King David Hotel, the Dan Tel Aviv Terrace Sea View Suites are equally replete with blissful amenities and ample closet space. The warm wood finishes, comfortable surroundings and amazing technical wizardry all help to make my stay in Dan Tel Aviv’s Terrace Sea View Suite an amazing experience (and the view of the Mediterranean Sea from this suite is phenomenal!). I should also note that guests staying in this Suite are granted access to the Dan Lounge (which provides complimentary beverages, snacks and more all day).

Dining at the Dan Tel Aviv is an event! The hotel’s intimate dining restaurant, Hayarkon 99, is very unique in that it hosts no more than 40 guests. The meals are thoughtfully prepared with great care and wines are paired by the restaurant’s Sommelier, Norman Gluck. Since my meal included a Filet Mignon entree, Norman recommended a wonderful 2012 Petit Castel from the Judean Hills. This Bordeaux-styled wine was flavorful with strong berry notes – which is perfect for Kosher beef. I particularly enjoyed Norman’s choice since I find the stinging finishes of Syrah or Shiraz too strong for my palate.

When visiting Israel, I highly recommend that you experience a cultural immersion into Shabbat which starts every Friday just before Sunset, and it ends early Saturday eventing. To learn more about Shabbat, please visit
here to learn more on the Israel Ministry of Tourism’s website. Shabbat at the Dan Tel Aviv is an especially wonderful experience – particularly at dinner time!

Growing up in Southern California, I was immersed in a variety of cultures – and due to my mother’s profession, I became aware of many aspects of Jewish culture & customs. What I wasn’t aware of was the Shabbat dinner! The Dan Tel Aviv puts on QUITE a spread with a Shabbat buffet which is nearly bigger than any dinner buffet I have ever seen in Vegas! So take my word for it, you will want to make sure you have a big appetite in order to enjoy all of the goodness that is offered! That said, taking a swim in one of the Dan Tel Aviv’s 2 swimming pools, after you take a walk along the strand immediately in front of the hotel, is strongly advised. Everything I enjoyed – from the prepared salads to the to the Hummus, to the Roast Chicken, to the massive dessert offerings – EVERYTHING was delicious! Even as I’m typing this, I am recalling the amazing flavors and freshness of the food!

For a regional luxury hotel brand, I wasn’t expecting anything outside of the ordinary. But, Dan Hotels completely and pleasantly surprised me! There are many large hotel brands which bandy the word “luxury” in their promotional materials, but the reality is far from it. As a brand, Dan Hotels stands alone and it doesn’t need to “bang a drum” about it’s luxury positioning: Dan Hotels simply delivers the very best effortlessly.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Israel and I am looking forward to our upcoming production of “andiamo!” there soon. The people are friendly & genuine and they will go out of their way to ensure a pleasant visit.

Please be sure to check out the video on my journey to Israel below:

Air Canada

Dan Hotels

King David Hotel

Dan Tel Aviv Hotel

Travelpro Luggage

Switzerland: Your FIRST Stop in Europe

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As you probably have already gathered from my other posts, I LOVE to travel! Experiencing a new and exciting destination is always a thrill and I especially enjoy repeat visits to certain destinations that have struck a particular chord with me. Based on a recent visit, I’m looking forward to enjoying many visits to Switzerland for the foreseeable future (especially since the country’s air and water are the cleanest I have ever experienced in Europe).

The general American consensus about Switzerland is: Wealthy European capital, mountains and snow. While these things are true, there’s SO much more to this country than you might expect. Let’s get right to it!

Even though my SWISS International Airlines flight arrived into Switzerland’s financial hub of Zurich from Los Angeles, I never stepped outside of the airport to experience this bustling metropolis (which is certainly not the first impression I wanted of Switzerland). Fortunately for me, the very impressive Zurich Airport is the epitome of Swiss efficiency: It has an integrated train station for a transportation system that is, again, very Swiss (clean, efficient and reliable). Within roughly 3 hours from the time I touched down in Zurich, I traveled on the same train in First Class (with a few short stops) toward the center of Switzerland and its lakeside municipality of Thun. Quick note: When it comes to trips that include train travel, I STRONGLY recommend that you travel with Travelpro luggage. Travel can create a great deal of wear & tear on your luggage, and the more your luggage is in movement, the greater the risk for damage. So protect your belongings and make an investment in the fortified luggage of Travelpro.

Thun is in the Canton of Bern (“Canton” is a French word describing a Swiss Member-State) and it is a picturesque city which is unlike any place that I have experienced in Europe thus far. It is truly a place which you need experienced firsthand as no blog post, online video or photograph can properly articulate the sheer beauty that exist here. However, I will do my best to convey my point about Thun: It’s pristine. Rich with lush foliage, rolling green hills, a wonderful city center that’s full of great restaurants, unique traditional architecture and a lake that is the most clean and serene of any I ever experienced. Thun is a destination that can best be described as: “Europe’s most unexpected city.”

My visit to Thun included a stay at the Seepark Thun Congress Hotel. This 4-star property is nestled in park-like surroundings with an amazing view of Lake Thun which will leave you awe struck. While you are here, be sure to take a quick walk through the forest and have dinner at Schloss Schadau Thun. The view of Lake Thun here is so idyllic, you’ll think that you have stepped into a masterpiece by Monet!


Yes, this hotel has a bowling alley! :-)

Yes, this hotel has a bowling alley! :-)

Enjoying lakeside serenity is just one of many things you can do in this region on any given day. So a few days after my arrival in Switzerland, I decided to enjoy my first visit to the Swiss Alps by embarking on a day trip to Jungfraujoch. Suffice it to say, this is not a journey for the faint of heart: It takes about 4 hours to arrive at top of Jungfraujoch by train (which happens to be the highest point for a train to arrive in Europe). Within this timeframe, you will ascend from sea level to 11,000 feet – and you will certainly feel the effects of thin air as you gradually reach the peak of Jungfraujoch. So I strongly suggest that you prepare yourself physically (breathing exercises days in advance and a hearty meal the day of) before embarking on this journey. Once you do, you will be able to focus on your experience a spectacular view which you will find to be breathtaking and certainly worth the journey.

Producer Jason at Jungfraujoch in his The North Face Thermoball jacket!

Producer Jason at the North face of Jungfraujoch in his Thermoball jacket….by The North Face!


Once you leave the excitement of Jungfraujoch, be sure to pay a visit to Interlaken as you return to Thun. Interlaken is known as Switzerland’s mecca for adventure sport – so if conquering Jungfraujoch isn’t enough of a thrill for you (…it certainly was for me!), then you can partake in Wakeboarding, Paragliding and Whitewater River Rafting in Interlaken.

Interlaken: River Rafting in Interlaken - Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

Interlaken: River Rafting in Interlaken – Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

Wakeboarding in Interlaken - Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

Wakeboarding in Interlaken – Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

Wakeboarding in Interlaken - Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

Wakeboarding in Interlaken – Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

Paragliding in Interlaken - Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

Paragliding in Interlaken – Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

One thing I wish to note: All of my ground travel throughout Switzerland was accomplished using rail, bus and boat – using Swiss Travel System’s Swiss Pass. This pass is a very cost effective way to journey throughout Switzerland in an unfettered manner and the pass is available for 4, 8, 15, 22 days or 1 month periods. My pass was specifically for 1st Class train travel (where available) and similar to air travel, First Class on Swiss trains provide serenity and comfort – which is most welcome on long journeys. Using this pass provides you with a very efficient way to get around the country and the entire system is very clean and orderly. Additionally, the pass grants users access 470 museums around the country as well as providing a 50% discount on practically all mountain-top trains & cable cars.

After enjoying Thun & Interlaken for several days, I bade these wonderful towns adieu and proceeded to the next stop of my journey, Zermatt (in the Canton of Valais) – which is home of to the Matterhorn. I took the scenic route via train – one which included a stop in Stockhorn, where visitors can board a cable car and ascend to its nearly 7,200 foot peak for a spectacular panoramic view of Thun.


The way to Zermatt: Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn

The way to Zermatt: Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn

My earliest interest in Switzerland can traced back to my formative years living in Los Angeles and annual visits to Disneyland with family. For some, that sentence may seem non-sequitur – so allow me to explain. Disneyland is home to many unique attractions and experiences – each of which are steeped in the following: Adventure and fantasy. One iconic Disneyland attraction that has its roots in Switzerland is the 55 year-old Matterhorn Bobsleds. The adventure with this attraction is that guests careen (and race) in a speeding sled through the Matterhorn while avoiding capture by the Abominable Snowman. For the longest time, I’ve wanted to see if Disney’s version of the Matterhorn was a perfect replica of the real deal in Switzerland. Surprisingly, they are very similar (so kudos to the Disney Imagineers for that!) – however, the scale of the actual Matterhorn is far, FAR greater! Yes, there are speeding sleds at the Swiss Matterhorn, but they don’t travel inside the mountain and they aren’t controlled by steel tracks and computerized braking systems (these are snow sleds which you can rent). Plus, I didn’t witness seeing the Abominable Snowman (…but that shouldn’t be taken as a confirmation that it doesn’t exist… 😉 ).

Upon arriving in Zermatt (which turns 150 years old in 2015), I was whisked away by electrical automobile (as gas powered vehicles are not allowed in Zermatt) to the CERVO Mountain Boutique Resort. With its lush natural surroundings, this luxury resort is is the envy of Zermatt hoteliers, especially with its breathtaking views of the Matterhorn. The CERVO sets the standard for modern boutique mountain resorts and no detail has been overlooked by the resort’s owners. Each of the luxurious guestrooms and suites include world class amenities: Heated bathroom floors, Molton Brown toiletries, massive bath tub with separate shower, complimentary ensuite beverages and a very high end audio/video system (and of course, there’s free high speed Wi-Fi).

A journey to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise takes about 45 minutes from the cable car station in Zermatt (and the resulting trip will place you at the highest cable car station Europe). This is also the location where you are provided the finest views of the Matterhorn’s south face. Once I arrived at the Matterhorn’s Glacier Paradise, part of the environment was quite reminiscent to my visit & overnight stay at Quebec’s Ice Hotel. This is also the summit of the international ski area (which is open year round), and it’s also the gateway to Europe’s largest summer ski area. Mountaineers and hikers (accompanied by mountain guides) set off to scale the Breithorn which is a 2-1/2 hour trek. On some days, the views from the observation platform are so clear they seem to stretch as far as the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, my visit was hampered by blizzard-like conditions, so my docent advised that I stay indoors to avoid the weather conditions – which I did…..with a mug of hot chocolate!

Just a short trip from the Matterhorn is the home base of the Switzerland’s popular Blacknose sheep which are professionally shepherded by the Julen family. Before interacting with the sheep, current generation “shepherd,” Paul-Marc Julen, told me that these sheep are very tame and love being around people. It is very clear to me that the sentiment is mutual since Paul-Marc and his team have quite a bond and they take great care of these woolen Swiss treasures.

From Zermatt, I journeyed to Martigny (also in the Canton of Valais) – which is a particularly art-minded French city (I honestly thought I was in France at various points of my visit). Martigny is rich in history – some of it dating back to times of the Roman Empire. Martigny is best known as the city which Napoleon Bonaparte marched through (with 40,000 troops) to reach Marengo, France (using the Great St. Bernard Pass) for an epic battle with the Austrians. Of course, Napoleon being what he was, claimed Martigny as part of one of his republics for a period. In addition, Martigny’s Abbey of St. Maurice is a Swiss heritage site and it stands as a Swiss time capsule of sorts. With roots dating back to 1st Century BC, it continues to stand the test of time – even with its structure being built and rebuilt over a period of 15 centuries. Part of the Abbey continues to undergo an excavation as a portion of its tract was once used as a Roman shrine.

Today Martigny continues to make history – especially for its flavorful wines. There are many wineries in the region, so I visited the Gerald Besse Winery for a wine tasting which was hosted by Mr. Besse’s daughter, Sarah. I sampled several of the Besse wines and my favorite is their Fendant Les Bans Martigny, which is a crisp & clean tasting white wine which has hints of pineapple, and it is the perfect wine to pair with Raclette or Fondue. With the ideal Spring & Summer climates for growing graps, perfect soil and extremely pure Swiss water, it’s no wonder that the Swiss wines are the best I have enjoyed in Europe. Unfortunately, only 1% – 2% of all Swiss wines are exported (trust me, you won’t find this Gerald Besse Wines at BevMo). According to WineVibe.com, the Swiss love their wines so much, there’s very little left behind to export. I think Swiss wineries are smart to keep their supply as-is (this way, the quality of their product doesn’t suffer). All the more reason to visit Switzerland!


One MAJOR highlight of my journey to Switzerland was the experience walking a St. Bernard dog. I was able to do this, but it was a bit of a journey to reach St. Bernard’s Monastery (where this breed has its origins dating back to the 1700’s) – so I recommend that you plan a solid day for for a visit so that you don’t shortchange your interaction time with these amazing dogs (plus, you’ll be able to experience some breathtaking views as you face the Italian border).

The present-day St. Bernard dog is a actually a cross-breed between the “classic” St. Bernard (dating back to the 1600’s) with a Newfoundland. The earliest version of the breed was originally used for property protection before it was discovered that these canines were skillful for successful mountain rescues. Today, St. Bernard’s Monastery continues its duty educate the public as well as to preserve the legacy, lineage and heritage of these magnificent & loyal creatures.

If you have never traveled to Europe, I strongly suggest that you take my advice and choose Switzerland as your first stop. Here’s why: 3 cultures of Europe dominate here: German, French & Italian – and you can get a taste of each culture as you travel throughout Switzerland, even if you only speak English (as it is widely spoken in Switzerland). Switzerland’s accessibility and safety are only matched by its scenic beauty and lush surroundings. It bears repeating: The fresh air, great water and pleasant people also provide a wondrous experience – one which I am looking forward to enjoying on a regular basis.

Swiss Alps Horns

Swiss Alps Horns

Switzerland Tourism

Thun Tourism

Interlaken Tourism

Zermatt Tourism

Valais Tourism

Martigny Tourism

SWISS International Airways

Swiss Travel System

Travelpro Luggage

Seepark Thun Congress Hotel

CERVO Boutique Mountain Resort

Jungfraujoch

Matterhorn Glacier Paradise

Julen Family (Blacknose Sheep)

Musée et Chiens du Saint Bernard

Fondation Barry (St. Bernard Dog)

Southern California Wine Country

Cheers to Southern California Wine Country

The mere combination of the words “California” & “Wine” typically have most folks concluding that “Napa Valley” will be discussed. Yes, while Napa Valley is known the world over for its popular Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon varietals, wine aficionados are increasingly being drawn to a place in Southern California that, at one time, could be considered the model for Knott’s Berry Farm’s fictional Ghost Town.

Welcome to Temecula Valley!

Temecula Valley, California is an unsuspecting place that not many would consider, at first glance, to be a wine destination: It’s rich history has key elements which should be culled for a dramatic & adrenaline infused TV series storyline. While this cozy little corner of California embraces its past, it also looks forward to a bright future with its booming wine industry (which has become a bit of a modern-day “gold rush” of sorts), unique experiences for travelers and its farm-to-table approach to cuisine.

Temecula's Farm to Table culinary experience

I had the opportunity to visit Temecula Valley recently and I was surprised that this region existed in Southern California. Who knew that such beauty and serenity existed about 90 minutes from Los Angeles? Honestly, I felt as if I had been transported to a place that was several thousand miles away from the metropolis that I presently call home! During my visit I had the chance to enjoy many sides of Temecula Valley including their annual Balloon & Wine Festival (which takes place late-May every year), great wines from vintners such as: Oak Mountain Winery (which is currently constructing a massive underground wine cave), Robert Renzoni Vineyards (which not only produces a phenomenal Malbec, they have cornered the market with a Marinara sauce that puts anything that’s mass produced to shame!) as well as Wilson Creek Winery (which is known far and wide for their delicious Almond Champagne) – and I also enjoyed a visit to one of Temecula Valley’s finest spa resorts (which happens to be winery as well)……

South Coast Winery Resort & Spa

Judged Best Winery in the State of California for three out of the past six years, it’s little wonder why South Coast Winery Resort & Spa was ranked #1 in the Reader’s Choice Awards. This decadent 39-acre winery resort in Southern California Temecula Valley grows and produces approximately 60 exquisite wines from four distinctly rich and sustainable vineyards. South Coast Winery is one of only 57 wineries in the state certified as Sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. In addition to a real working winery and tasting room from which to taste South Coast’s award-winning wines, this showcase winery resort features 76 private villas for luxurious overnight stays and another 50 suites in its decadent Hotel Tower; a four-time WINE SPECTATOR AWARD OF EXCELLENCE title holder: the Vineyard Rose Restaurant; as well as a three-story 15,000 square foot GrapeSeed Spa serving up vine-based spa treatments along with a glass of wine with each service. For those looking to add something new to their wine tasting experience, the resort also offers “Behind the Scenes Wine Tours” daily and the highly popular Vino Vinyasa, which is a “group therapy” yoga and wine tasting session like none other. FYI: Advance reservations are required for these sessions.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Temecula Valley is also home to the most flavorful olive oil. Temecula Olive Oil Company is internationally known for producing its vast selection of robust artisan olive oils – some of which are smoked and spiced – as well as vinegars, spreads and tapenades (they even produce soap and candles made from olive oil!). A visit to Temecula Valley is not complete without a visit to Temecula Olive Oil Company’s tasting room which is located in a very historic building in Temecula Valley’s Old Town.

SONY DSC

The panoramic views, amazing wine and food along with a great resort all make Temecula Valley a memorable getaway destination which you will want to visit again and again. That said, between July 31, 2014 and August 30, 2014, you can enter for your chance to win a vacation to Temecula Valley with a 4-night Villa stay at South Coast Winery Resort & Spa, including airfare provided by Orbitz.com! Also, the fortunate winner will attend the Annual Blessing of the Wines Grape Stomp & Harvest Festival where they’ll dine on Chef’s special harvest feast, enjoy tractor rides through the vineyards, enjoy live musical entertainment, dancing, clowns and face painting, PLUS grape stomping contests and tried-and-true fun family games – designed to have you and your family up on your feet all night long!

Blessing of the Wines Grape Stomp & Harvest Festival