Viniferous Vacation: Virginia’s Monticello AVA

Wine is made in all 50 states and every state will tell you their “home-grown” wines are fantastic, wonderful, the best. But we all know that there are few states that have the conditions needed to actually grow grapes that can be made into wine of any real quality. You’ve got basically the whole West Coast, bits of New York, an even smaller bit of Arizona and then Virginia. (And no, I will not accept that there are currently other states making really good wine. And, yes, I’ve tasted Texas wine.) There has been much written about the influence of Thomas Jefferson on American winemaking and much smarter people than I have written many books which you should read if you want the full story. Basically it boils down to this: he was totally on to something. The current Monticello AVA encompasses Jefferson’s own vineyard, which you can visit and should right after you complete the tour of his amazing home. Charlottesville is the nearest city and you could certainly make it a home base for visiting wineries, but then this would have to be a Charlottesville post and it is not. Besides there are the following spectacular places to stay in the country including two that are on the site of wineries you will want to explore anyway. And I say cheers to that!

Keswick Hall


The 1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards

There is a chance that if you stay here you won’t make it to anything else. The scenery is stunning, there are ruins to explore, wines to drink and a stellar restaurant.



Clifton Inn

The Clifton may not be at a winery but it does not lack in gorgeous views. You can stay at the main house, a variety of small cottages or on the farm, any of which are so nice you’ll wish you could live in them.


Crossfields Vacation Rental

According to Home Away this is an estate rental and for once, it seems that label is accurate. This place is so nice and so perfect for a large family getaway or a friend reunion and with 5 bedrooms and 7 bathrooms there is plenty of space. Not that you’ll feel cramped with 23 acres to roam.




Virtual Vacation: New Orleans



The Columns

Genteel and well located on St. Charles with a huge porch for evening cocktails or morning coffee.


Creole Gardens
Funky and affordable with breakfast included and an easy walk around the block to catch a trolley. Not to mention super friendly staff.

Creole Gardens

Race and Religious                                                                                                        
 Comprised of an old creole cottage, row house and slave quarter this corner of Race St. and Religious St. is now a perfect getaway for large and small groups. With so much of the buildings’ history preserved it’s like no other lodging in the city.

Race and Religious


Café du Monde
Some tourist attractions are ridiculously popular for a reason and crispy, light, sugar-mounded beignets are as good of a reason as it gets for standing in line first thing in the morning. 

Get in line at Cafe du Monde

District Donuts and Sliders
A new addition to Magazine St. this is all day noshing spot is a great place to break from shopping. With donut flavors like Vietnamese Iced Coffee and an almost Northwest-style coffee bar in the a.m. that transforms into beers and sliders around lunch, this place will have you covered.

District Donuts and Sliders

There are many options for oysters in this town, but not many are as delicious and charming as Casamento’s. Whether it’s oysters on the half shell, the “oyster loaf” or gumbo, you will eat well and you will leave happy.


Cochon Butcher
Around the corner from big brother Cochon the restaurant is this butcher/sandwich shop/ meat heaven. Get a meat filled sandwich or even a suckling pig to go. 

Cochon Butcher

So, yes, you’ve got your Galatoire’s, your Antoine’s and your Arnaud’s and they all seem very similar from the tourist’s point of view. However,  Arnaud’s wins out for me not only because of the wonderful bar, French 75, and the excellent food, but also a little bit because it’s got one of the most beautiful dining rooms anywhere. 


Commander’s Palace
Another tourist place, you are asking? Here’s the thing, brunch at Commander’s Palace is still one of the most enjoyable things a tourist can do in New Orleans. Between the roving jazz trio and the hollandaise and the bloody mary served like nowhere else (meaning you are served the fixings and then a bottle of vodka frozen in ice is brought over and poured until you ‘say when’) it’s just fun. Do it. 

Brunch at Commander's Palace

This Irish Channel bar/restaurant may be best known for their roast beef po boys and their miniscule men’s room but they make, in my opinion, the perfect example of a shrimp po boy.


Napoleon House
In a city full of ambiance, the Napoleon House still manages to drop jaws. Their specialty is the Pimm’s Cup which could not be more refreshing or pair more fantastically with the gulf shrimp salad and remoulade. 

Napoleon House

Jacques Imo’s
The sign outside reads “Warm Beer, Lousy Food, Poor Service” none of which is true, of course. But, if you like the idea of eating cheeky, tasty food in the atmosphere of a crazy fun house party, this is your spot.

Jacques Imo's

Willie Mae’s Scotch House
The world’s best fried chicken. Enough said.

Willie Mae's Scotch House

Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar
Tell me, where else in America can you drink a Sazerac in a building that’s close to 300 years old and was used as a front for one of the country’s most famous smuggling operations? Yeah, this is pretty much it.

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz
First things first. A snowball is NOT a snow cone or shaved ice or any other frozen ball-shaped water substance put into a cone or cup with syrup poured on it. The texture of a New Orelans snowball is nearly impossible to describe as it’s just too divine. Also, you can get condensed milk on your snowball which is, obviously, total heaven. There is much debate about who makes the best snowball in the city but Hansen’s has been doing it for 74 years, is still run by the same family and makes all their own syrups, so get in line.

Hansen's Sno-Bliz


Ogden Museum of Southern Art
The largest collection of American southern art in the world it’s a really fantastic museum that has a stellar permanent collection as well as wonderful temporary shows.
Aioli Dinner by George Rodrigue on display at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Aioli Dinner by George Rodrigue

National World War II Museum
Short of visiting the D-day landing beaches of Normandy, this is the place to visit for a full view of the war.

National World War II Museum

Magazine St.
Stretching from almost downtown to through the garden district this street has a shop for almost everyone. 

Magazine Street

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
Established in 1823 by America’s first licensed pharmacist and now a museum that’s like a step back in time. 


Certainly not as famous as another popular music venue in town, yet also very important to the musical landscape of New Orleans. A great place to see your next favorite band.

See a Show at Tipitina's

Save Our Cemeteries
Intriguing, beautiful and possibly haunted, many of the cemeteries are not open to casual visitors. You can, however take a tour with this organization and not only get to see the tombs up close but even learn a little something. 

Cemetery Tour with Save Our Cemeteries

Photo Credits:

1. Morgan Ennis 2. Tom Barnes 3. Danny Keaton 4. Michael Siu 5. Jason Perlow 6. curtesy of District Donuts 7. Mark Shands 8. Jablow via flickr 9. curtesy of Arnaud’s 10. curtesy of Experience LA 11. Morgan Ennis 12. Exit Lines via flickr 13. Willo O’Brien 14. curtesy of Southern Foodways Alliance 15. Kit Hancock 16. Charlotte Cox 17. Wendy Rodrigue 18. curtesy of NY Times 19. Avenue Inn B&B 20. Educational Tours 21. mdub70 via flickr 22. curtesy of Times-Picayune

The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.


The Wander Plan never sat right with me as a title for what I wanted to do here. It was more like wanderlust, but that didn’t work either. I’ve been thinking about this platform and what to do with it, where I want it to go. It wasn’t until a conversation a couple of days ago with a friend who has known me for a long, long time (and been part of more than a few vacations I’ve planned over the years) that the virtual vacation reared it’s head. It made perfect sense. I’m currently living in what I’m referring to as one of life’s “layovers”.  Living in a place that I’m hoping I won’t be in in a year and not exactly going on a lot of vacations. I, like many people I know, love to travel and really want to travel but, let’s just say that winning Powerball ticket has not yet arrived.

In this case, I’m perfectly situated for the Virtual Vacation. Armchair Travel or what have you. I’m hoping to become a bit more focused on a location and what I would want to explore, where I would want to stay, eat and blow up my Instagram account from. I doubt I’ll abandon lodging snapshots altogether as there are some places that just deserve a lot of attention, but who knows? I mean, this is my fantasy life after all…

Memories of France

Yes, I realize it’s been a long, long time. I’ve been living in a nebulous world of possibly moving across the country, possibly not for about 6 months now and it all seemed to (happily?) culminate in a multi-generational two week trip to France last month. I still have no idea if I’m staying or going, but I’ll say this: France is the cure for what ails you. Even if nothing ails you. I’ve been about 5 times now and while travel to anywhere resets my psychic clock, travel to France puts me in a mindset that no other place yet has. I feel at home in Britain and Ireland. I feel content and full of life in Italy. I feel rootless and wild while an American road trip. But France does something different to me. It throws me out of my comfort zone just enough to keep me on my toes (and rooting through my mental list of French vocabulary) but surrounds me in so much beauty and elegance that in the end all I want to do is stay and walk slowly through every place and eat ridiculous amounts of cheese.

Many countries value and incorporate beauty into daily life, and almost everyone does it more often and better than Americans, but while Italy and Spain do it in a visceral, passionate way, the French do it in a way that to me is more refined, more subtle. And, yes, sometimes practically invisible if you take the French distance too personally. Although I’ve never been to Japan, it in no way surprises me that French and Japanese chefs have such a connection and sense of mutual respect. They are both doing the same thing without (seemingly) even trying: bringing pleasure in the most basic and yet refined way possible. Am I exaggerating? Quite possibly. But truth be told, I have yet to experience a place where I am so deeply satisfied by what I eat, drink, and see. I’ll be posting more specifics in the future, but here’s some visual memories of my most recent journey.

Sunrise from our bedroom in Paris as taken by my 8-year-old.

Notre Dame and the Seine.

The 900 year old Notre Dame Cathedral in Reims.

Best sardine sandwich in the universe at Le Bocal, Reims.

Eiffel Tower at night over rooftops.

House built into the tuffeau in Amboise, Loire Valley.

The rooftops below medieval Loches.

Medieval architecture in Honfleur, Normandy.

Nearly infinite gravestones at the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach in Normandy. Plus my thumb 😦

Monet’s lily pond in the charming, if touristy, Giverny.

Friday Fantasy Vacation: Oia Villa I & II, Santorini, Greece

It’s hard to look at pictures of Santorini and not feel relaxed and in a vacation mind-set immediately. The contrast of deep blue sea and ancient white washed walls is instantaneously calming. That feeling of well-being is even better achieved when you’ve got a great vacation rental like one of these refurbished, centuries old cave houses. Each house sleeps two and is simple in design, yet far from boring. There’s nothing here to interfere with your enjoyment of the stunning surroundings, and no one will blame you if you never venture out except for fresh bottles of wine.

Oia Villa I

Oia Villa II


Photos curtesy of:

Welcome Beyond – Luxury vacation rentals.

Friday Fantasy Vacation: Huka Lodge New Zealand

If a 1920’s era lodge on a gorgeous river in the middle the north island of New Zealand doesn’t sound like a perfect getaway to you, then I can’t help you here. I know I’ve been on a bit of a lodge bender, what with last week and this focusing on wilderness lodges, but I can’t help myself. It’s a primal urge I’m having to get away to somewhere beautiful, remote and luxurious so you’ll just have to suffer through another. Originally a fishing lodge, built to take advantage of the superb fly fishing on the Waikato River, word of the stupendous location and beauty of the area and lodge itself spread fast. It has hosted Charles Lindbergh, James Mitchener and even HM Queen Elizabeth among others. What started as a sparse and simple lodge for fishing enthusiasts has morphed into a truly luxurious spot with a wine cellar to prove it. Sounds like a vacation to me.

Friday Fantasy Vacation: King Pacific Lodge, BC

I’ve lived in the Northwest a long time now and there are still so many places I haven’t yet been. Unluckily, or maybe luckily if I ever get a month off and a wad of cash for a full-blown tour, most of them are in British Columbia. I’m sure I’ll fantasize about them all summer long but for today, I’ll stick to the King Pacific Lodge on Princess Royal Island, about 380 miles north of Vancouver and in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest.  The resort is an integral part of the stewardship of the rainforest and has won multiple awards for not only being a super luxurious wilderness lodge but for also being a great example of how to offer memorable and comfortable travel experiences without shoving a big footprint on your locale. The 17 room lodge is actually a floating lodge and works on an all-inclusive model that includes a round trip float-plane flight from Vancouver, room (obviously), all meals, guided activities and a host bar. The most important thing you need to know, is that it’s gorgeous up there and you’ll not likely ever get another opportunity to see the elusive spirit bear in your life.

And let’s not forget the wildlife:

black bear

grizzly bear

spirit bear!

Friday Fantasy Vacation: Capella Lodge, Lord Howe Island

Only a two hour flight from Sydney, this World Heritage listed island is exactly the kind of place to go when wanting to escape the world. Yes, there’s a spa, hiking trails and snorkeling, golf, surfing, and fishing but with views like this I’d just find a comfortable chair and look around for awhile.

All photos courtesy of Capella Lodge.

The American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem

While Jerusalem may not be the first thought in your head when planning a vacation, it remains a lure for millions around the world of varying faiths. It seems a fitting place to ponder as Passover and Easter approach this year. And if you are going to go to Jerusalem, for Passover or any other time, and feel flush enough to shell out for some luxurious lodgings, then this hotel should be at the top of your list. Originally built as a palace for a pasha and his wives in the mid 19th century, it was transformed into a hotel for European and American travelers in 1902. It is in East Jerusalem and close to the walls of the old city. There is an outdoor pool, multiple restaurants, large interior courtyard and even shops. It seems colony may have been the perfect name after all.

All photos courtesy American Colony Hotel except garden photo by marantzer via flickr

Friday Fantasy Vacation: Rockhouse Hotel, Jamaica


The Rockhouse is a boutique hotel perched atop the cliffs of Pristine Cove just outside Negril, Jamaica. It is consistently rated one of the best hotels with one of the best restaurants in Caribbean. It’s also home to its own Rockhouse Foundation which has been able to give back a million dollars to the local schools and library of Negril. So I don’t know what could make for a better fantasy vacation today besides a beautiful hotel with stellar food, to-die-for views and the knowledge that a portion of your well spent money will go to support the local kids.


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