Gretchen and Michael are now contributors to Travel Zoo. Check out one of our firs pieces here
You heard it here first.
Trophy Travel. Or #Trophy Travel. Or #Trophy Travel Tuesdays. Or some permutation thereof. That's travel with bragging rights. Travel you proudly Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat about.
In the old days, it was travel your grandparents took 8 millimeter films of and made the neighbors watch while Harvey Wallbangers and fondue plates were passed around. (This is grandma on a camel in Cairo, this is grandpa smoking a Romeo y Julieta in Havana in 1952).
Today's Generation Grammable knows that every trip should have some element of the trophy in it. Whether it's the "slumming at Burning Man" first world problems of how to trade a bottle of Dom for insect netting or the more esoteric trophy travel of going to very expensive and hard to get to places (Bhutan, United Arab Emirates, Iran, etc.) or the tried and true first class ticket, upgraded to suite, room with a view of the Arno, seats at the latest Michelin-starred Parisian temple of food class of trip--Trophy Travel will always be in style.
Ten years ago or more when our friend Patricia Schultz created the "bucket list" phenom with her "1,000 Places to Go Before You Die" bible, the cross this destination off your list dynamic was somewhat moon-eyed and charmingly naive. In today's meaner, more cynical times, Trophy Travel seems more brutishly, refreshingly honest.
Our trophies are sometimes about experiences we perceive as altruistic (although the efficacy of voluntourism has recently been hotly debated) and sometimes they are purely hedonistic over-the-shoulder-thong-shots-on-the-pristine-beach variety. But let's not kid ourselves. Yes, we love the experience, the moment that lives in our memory book, the lingering high of the peak experience. But we love the trophy aspect of our travels. (I'll see you one Havana Air B and B and I'll raise you an Armenian monastery stay.)
This column is going to show and tell the best Trophy Travels money, love and passionate desire for peak experiences can buy. And make no mistake: bragging rights are unashamedly on display.
Twr y Felin in Pembrokeshire is just so Welsh.
Welsh in the context of "hireath" and for those of you that know the Scandanavian "hugge" (cozy--but so much more), "hireath" is just as good. It means longing for home. Maybe for a home you've never even had. A home in your mind and heart.
Twr y Felin is an art hotel run by The Retreats Group in the tiny town of St. David's, near St. David's Cathedral--that elegant structure set in the midst of a bucolic Wales landscape (yes, there's sheep).
The hotel was a former windmill and maintains some of the quirks and turns of that original building. In Wales, elegance never precludes comfort and a sense of snuggling into the earth itself: surrounded by ancient trees, standing stones and other dreamlike icons of times gone by.
Spend a weekend at Twr y Felin on one of the Retreats Group's special detox workshops and you can have in-house massages, clean cuisine, yoga and more, all set in this "hireath-y" haven.
Forty-eight years ago, during the “Summer of Love,” three million concert-goers trekked to the lower Catskills in search of peace (and, of course, sex, drugs and Rock ‘n Roll). The location of the concert was not Woodstock, NY, as was the concert’s namesake, but rather the town of Bethel, NY. This historic gathering is still emitting memories, like the last gasp of incense burning in its ceramic holder. Visitors to the town of Woodstock can still regale themselves with tie-dye shirts, moccasins, flower child face paint and retro souvenirs. As Neil Young wrote, “Rock and Roll can never die.”
Fifty miles northeast, trekkers can also find peace in the town of Mt. Tremper, NY at Emerson Spa and Resort. Although, I suppose, in this free nation of ours, one can also find sex, drugs and Rock ‘n Roll there, those particular indulgences are certainly not the focus of this jewel nestled in the Hudson Valley. At the Emerson, peace is procured in the form of spa treatments, clean air, outdoor Jacuzzi, delectable food at the Woodnotes Grill, and spacious accommodations. Within the resort, one can browse the various shops that offer products from apparel to decorative to home goods. The resort also lays claim to the largest kaleidoscope in the world. The psychedelic colors reflected and refracted from the shards of colored glass is reminiscent of the spirit and aura present in that Summer of Love so many years back.
Named for Transcendentalist writer and thinker, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the resort and spa features his words on the hallway walls and within the rooms themselves, constant reminders of how nature and man are meant to live in harmony. Thus, the pampered traveler should branch out to walk the trails around the resort, or take a ride to the surrounding towns. If that wandering leads to the towns of Woodstock and Saugerties, be sure to stop by the Thomas Cole House and Studio. Master painter of the Hudson River School of Painting, Cole simply had to gaze at the majestic landscape surrounding his house, and paint what he saw and felt. His art brought the beauty of the human creative spirit with the inherent beauty of nature.
By Gretchen Kelly
Fado (Portuguese), from the Latin fatum, meaning destiny or fate.
The club is dark, except for the glow of the candles on the tables. The clientele is sipping wine, finishing their dinner and craning their necks toward the corner of the room, where a dark-haired woman of about 25, draped in a black shawl, is getting ready to sing.
Her musicians arrange their instruments, and a hush falls over the room. She begins to sing, her voice throbbing with sadness, a little cry that seems to come from the deepest part of her soul. She stands perfectly still, the only part that moves are her hands, white and expressive, before her black dress. There is a collective shiver of delight from the audience. They feel the sadness but delight in it, too. Is it a love song? A song about a tragic loss that will never heal?
She's singing fado.
Fado, as any Portuguese will tell you, is the sound of the soul of Portugal in song. It is sung by solo singers to the accompaniment of a Portuguese guitar - a pear-shaped instrument that looks a bit like an Elizabethan lute (it is said they were brought by the English during the heyday of the port trade).
The plaintive sound of fado is said to have been developed in the 19th century by fishermen, sailors and students - itinerant travelers who were far away from home and who poured their sadness and longing (saudade in Portuguese) into music.
Today fado is a major tourist attraction in Portugal. You can't come to Lisbon or Coimbra (the two cities most closely associated with fado) without seeing a fado show. It's like tango in Buenos Aires or flamenco in Seville. Except that in Portugal, the "national" form of song has not yet attained the total tourist-trap status of its Spanish and Argentine sisters.
There are still many clubs in both cities that cater to native listeners, and the music still speaks to the hearts of the people themselves, many of whom can remember live performances of the great fadista of the 20th century, Amalia Rodrigues. The beloved singer attained popularity during the harsh years of the Salazar regime (1926-74). Her plaintive voice and expressive style have defined fado for several generations.
Lisbon's fado is sung by both men and women. Clubs in the winding, originally Arabic district of Alfama offer authenticity as well as atmosphere. Check out the Casa do Fado on the edge of the Alfama district. At this informative small museum, non-Portuguese speakers can get a good background on the themes and history of the art form before attending a show.
Coimbra fado is sung by male students (traditionally to women, who listened from their windows as their paramours serenaded them from the streets). The songs talk about the life of the student (the heart pulse of this ancient university town), the loneliness of being far away from family and friends, and of course, the impossibility of love - a cherished fado theme.
One of Coimbra's finest fado clubs is A Capella, a fado club installed in a 14th-century church. The fado group Quintelo de Coimbra sings here almost every night - the men's voices and the sad call of the strings floating up around the ancient vaulted ceiling as waiters fill glasses with good Portuguese wine.
You can even sit over the Plexiglas grave of the church's benefactress, who was buried here in medieval times after funding the building. Music at A capella tends to last long into the night. The singers often jam with each other after the last customers have drained their glasses and left, so plan to linger over that last glass of port.
For more information on fado and Portugal, go to Travel Channel's Lisbon travel guide.
A serene stroll along the boardwalk rivals anyone’s definition of luxury...
Prior to departing on my journey to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my wife and daughter, I downloaded a GPS app on my phone so that we wouldn’t get lost as we explored the vast coastlines and rustic nature preserves amidst a hot and humid July vacation. However pragmatic it was to be led by the virtual hand through the unfamiliar streets, dictated by a strident, female voice on my GPS, there is something to be said for the luxury of adventure, the retrospective joy of getting lost.
There are limited attractions along the linear highway from the Raleigh/Durham Airport to the bridge that crosses the Alligator River en route to Roanoke Island and the nearby Outer Banks. Yet, once there, the all-encompassing blue sky with its commonly seen cumulous clouds juxtaposes the consumer playground of commercial edifices in dazzling crayon-box colors. As one rides along the Croatan Highway, a north/south running roadway upon which it is difficult to get lost, it becomes easy to see a nautical metaphor run along the streets like a skiff dragging a fishing net behind it. One establishment that perfectly promotes that metaphor is Mutiny Bay Miniature Golf where a hole in one is celebrated in a game of golf rather than dreaded for the act of mutiny.
As a writer, I particularly enjoyed the names of the towns on the Outer Banks. Atop the Outer Banks sits the village of Corolla, where the road ends for cars other than 4x4s, and where it is possible to see wild mustangs kicking up sand on the secluded beaches (secluded save for the convoys of 4x4s hoping to catch a glimpse of these majestic equine creatures ). I suggest a little help courtesy of Corolla Wild Horse Tours. The next town south is the simple and aptly named Duck. This coastal community prides itself on its clean waters and attractive shops, wetlands and dune space, where a serene stroll along the boardwalk rivals anyone’s definition of luxury. Though I am an avid bird watcher, I didn’t actually spot any ducks as I passed through this quaint town.
The town of Kitty Hawk (which is not an actual species of hawk), holds claim for being the birthplace of American aviation. Replicas of the original 1902 and 1903 airplanes offer an interactive experience and photo op, perfect for the scrapbook or for Instagram. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is historic luxury, a place to put things in perspective. Though we now have the means to navigate distant planets in outer space, the Wright Brothers’ 120 foot flight across the sands of the Outer Banks looms as large, in some respects, as all the dark space within the cosmos.
My wife, daughter and I stayed in Kill Devil Hills, the real site of the Wright Brothers’ historic flight (shh, don’t tell the residents of Kitty Hawk), as the town did not officially exist until 1953. With a name that sounds more deadly than its sister cities, Kill Devil Hills beautifully extends the pirate metaphor with its themed restaurants, souvenir shops, family fun parks, and comfortable lodging for land lovers and mariners alike. We chose Best Western Ocean Reef Suites which is a convenient 50 yard sandy walk to the beautiful beaches where brown pelicans glide across the sky scoping the shallow waters for their bounty. The room was comfortable without being ostentatious, spacious without being wasteful, and atmospheric without being cliché. An outdoor pool and hot tub enjoyed as the afternoon sun faded into dusk rounded out a stay that epitomized affordable luxury.
Nature reigns supreme in the Outer Banks. South of Kill Devil Hills is the town of Nags Head, where we chartered a boat at Kitty Hawk Kites - they also offer kite rentals, and they really are in Nags Head. After a patient ride into the Roanoke Sound, we finally came upon a pod of dolphins feeding, playing, and just being dolphins in their natural environment. Heading west along highway 64, through the town of Manteo, we came to Mann’s Harbor, the site of Alligator River Natural Wildlife Refuge. Here, a series of boardwalks cross the swampy home of a myriad of creatures: dragonflies, snakes, lizards, toads, and alligators. A wide range of waterfowl and raptors, small mammals, and even black bear can be found following their instinctive pathways, lacking GPS, but never truly lost. These are only a couple of the impressive nature preserves within reach of the towns along the Outer Banks.
We drove more south to visit the lighthouse at Cape Hattaras. On a map, Hattaras sits upon a thin ribbon of land which, from above, appears like the index finger of a skeleton (extending the whole pirate metaphor), but while driving along the dunes and shrubbery seems more like an endless landscape painting. As the lighthouse comes into view, one can imagine how sailors might find solace in its hopeful beacon. The spiral climb of 248 steps pays off when standing at the observation deck, seeing the scope of the landscape, and feeling one among the clouds and turkey vultures who own that height.
The last night of our journey, we enjoyed a delectable steak and fish dinner at Owen’s Restaurant, a family owned establishment for the past 71 years, which celebrates the maritime history with a vestibule filled with artifacts and a menu filled with diversity and flare. All the fish is caught locally, and served with attention to detail. Steamed clams and lump crabmeat are wise choices for appetizers, while the Hattaras Combination more than satisfies the diner who feels entitled to it all.
The next morning, before heading back to Raleigh/Durham Airport, we paid a visit to the Beef Jerky Outlet in Nags Head. My daughter and I selected the most unusual jerky to try: kangaroo, elk, ostrich, alligator and wild boar. Not surprisingly, there was no sign of dolphin or wild mustang. The Outer Banks might be all about adventure and experience, but, after all, we’re not heartless pirates.
There was so much we did not have the time to see, but which I had researched. Two such sites are the Elizabethan Gardens, which was developed to bring attention to Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost colonists, and The Lost Colony, a long-running on stage performance which commemorates the original settlers from 1587 (20 years before Jamestown…shh, don’t tell the settlers of Jamestown).
Upon returning to New York City, seemingly lost among the clouds and turbulence, I was reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost.” I am certainly glad that we chose to wander to the Outer Banks, and upon our return (I’m sure we will one day), it will feel as if we are returning to a place of familiarity, a place that eschews the GPS.
For more information about planning your own adventure to the Outer Banks, visit The Outer Banks tourism board’s website where you’ll find videos, itineraries and more.