Visiting the “SLO” Life in San Luis Obispo, California

Nestled just three hours from Los Angeles is San Luis Obispo. Known as “SLO” to the cool kids, San Luis Obispo is not just a college town (although don’t miss visiting the local campuses. Cal-Poly and Cuesta College are beautiful), but a town with a fun main drag. Along with a fantastic array of restaurants, bars and shops, SLO also has incredible wineries, hiking, museums and is home to one of the 21 California missions. Not to mention, it’s just 15 minutes from the beach!

A Fantastic Getaway to San Luis Obispo

With surfer pit stops (Pismo Beach, Cayucos) and quaint small towns like Cambria at your fingertips, San Luis Obispo has become much more loved for its diversity, foodie scene and crisp climate that is ideal for wine making. Those who live in SLO or have gone to school there know, though–it’s always been a “best kept secret”!


The Embassy Suites of San Luis Obispo recently underwent a major makeover, and they cannot wait to show it off to you. Just a six-minute drive from Downtown, the Embassy Suites offer a gorgeous and ample bar and restaurant in an atrium setting that overlooks the lobby. Open, airy and very welcoming, I felt as if I were at home with my kitchenette, living room, desk and comfy King sized bed with my TV favorites on. Some suites offer a fun patio view overlooking the hustle and bustle on the first floor.

One of the reasons I love staying at Embassy Suites is their evening reception featuring an open bar and snacks to enjoy while you get some work done or people watch. And they offer a terrific breakfast starting at 6am daily with made-to-order pancakes, omelettes, and a yogurt and cereal bar. It also makes for the ideal spot to grab a cup of coffee and snack for the road. These complimentary AM and PM perks with Embassy Suites is enough reason for me to choose them.

The Embassy Suites of San Luis Obispo (c) Mary Farah.

The History Center of San Luis Obispo (c) Mary Farah.


If you’re looking to start your day in Downtown SLO and do like the locals do, look no further than Mint+Craft.  My mouth-watering Obispo Toastie (Applewood bacon, tomato, crushed avocado, micro greens and an over-medium egg on gluten-free rye bread) was paired with an artistically crafted Matcha green tea latte. This was such a fantastic start to my first morning in town. So much so, that it made it hard to go back to a chain store coffee and snack stop post-trip. Reasonable prices and both gluten-free and vegetarian options make Mint+Craft a charming nook to begin your day; even as your coffee stop. Grab lunch or dinner, too! Breakfast is served until 2pm, and the rest of the menu 11am to close.


Just a few steps from Mint+Craft is the San Luis Obsipo Mission, as well as the History Center of San Luis Obispo, the SLO Museum of Art and an array of stores that offer such a variety, everyone will want to shop til they drop.

If enjoying the great outdoors is what you have in mind, there’s plenty of hiking trails all around. Bluff Trail, Poly Canton Loop and Valencia Peak Trail are just few of the trails, parks and hikes surrounding you. If you like unusual, rather, gross history, make sure not to miss San Luis Obispo’s infamous Bubblegum Alley….its name pretty much sums it up.

Bubblegum Alley. You have to see it to believe it! (c) Mary Farah.

A hearty meal courtesy of Big Sky Cafe (c) Mary Farah.


While SLO is a fantastic weekend getaway option, you might to try to make it on a Thursday. Each week (as weather permits), the Downtown Farmer’s Market fills the entire block of Higuera Street with all of the locals’ favorite fare from 6pm to 9pm while the stores also stay open. Bars, too! While it was overwhelming to decide on just one vendor to try.

Several eateries offer patio dining so you can enjoy the ambiance and strollers, including Big Sky Cafe. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Big Sky is one of the several farm-to-table restaurants in the area. The dishes were so fresh and elaborate. My pesto chicken sausage scramble (breakfast until 1pm) was one of the highlights of my two-day trip. I loved watching everyone’s afternoon go by from my patio table, too. Big Sky’s staff was also top-notch. My server, Riley, was so personable and helpful in my deciding on the perfect brunch dish.

Big Sky doesn’t fool around with their coffee, either. Getting their beans around the corner at local favorite, Coastal Peaks. My organic iced latte fueled me aplenty for my ride back to LA.


The  San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center is an excellent resource. An abundance of information awaits you and they will be happy to assist you with all of your itinerary  needs. Rest your head and enjoy the hospitality over at the Embassy Suites. Sight see and learn about the city with the San Luis Obispo Mission, Museum of Art and the History Center. Then,  take your appetite to Mint+Craft and Big Sky Cafe.

And, don’t forget to pack some chewing gum to leave your mark!

The post Visiting the “SLO” Life in San Luis Obispo, California appeared first on FWT Magazine: food wine travel.

from FWT Magazine: food wine travel


11 Best Travel Destinations for 2018

A Zodiac near an iceberg

The world’s a big, exciting place. Sometimes it’s tricky to know where to plan your next adventure. Do you go with what you’ve always done or branch out and try somewhere new?

According to our FWT Magazine travel experts, the 11 best travel destinations for 2018 take in outstanding international cities like Tokyo, as well as culture-rich destinations like Italy, Germany, France, Budapest and Sri Lanka. If craft beer and curling are on your mind, then you’ll definitely want to book time in the winter wonderland of Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada. Then again, if you want an off-the-beaten track adventure, 2018 could be the year to jump on a plane bound for Jordan or the Solomon Islands.

Whatever your fancy, it’s time to make a plan.

1. Tokyo, Japan

Best travel destination for 2018? My top pick would have to be Tokyo, Japan. The entire country is gearing up for the upcoming Olympic Games in 2020, so there is a buzz in the air as they prepare. With so much history, arts, and culture to explore in this fast-paced, very civilised, polite city, you’ll need to bring comfortable shoes and plan to stay awhile. The food is excellent, the shopping is glamorous, and the transportation network within Tokyo and all of Japan is top notch and easy to navigate. It’s a travellers dream location.

Mary Chong, Canadian travel blogger for Calculated

Tokyo skyline. FWT Magazine.

Tokyo, Japan is travel blogger Mary Chong’s pick of top travel destination in 2018.

2. Losinj Island, Croatia

Lonsinj Island in Croatia is, after all, known as the Island of Vitality where wealthy Europeans came to get away from the hard, cold winters for centuries. They came to this tiny island to cleanse their bodies and minds. Literally, before medical tourism was even a thing. It is said the island has special health benefits because of the fresh air mixed with sea salt and pine trees. But not only that, it is a gorgeous seaside village of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants with a simple way of life. You will absolutely be delighted to spend some time here along the coast of the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Cacinda Maloney, US travel blogger for Points and

Losinj Island, Croatia. FWT Magazine.

Losinj Island, Croatia is US travel blogger Cacinda Maloney’s recommended must-visit destination for 2018 (c) Cacinda Maloney.

3. Abruzzo, Italy

Abruzzo, Italy is a great destination because the area is absolutely rich in culture, art, cuisine, history, and activities. It is not rife with tourists, it has the mountains and the sea, and it is a good blend of northern and southern Italy. I know it like the back of my hand as my grandparents were born in the region.

Chris Cutler, US travel blogger for

Abruzzo, Italy. FWT Magazine.

Abruzzo, Italy is US travel blogger Chris Cutler’s pick of the best 2018 destination (c) Chris Cutler.

4. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

Fredericton, New Brunswick is my pick of the best destination for 2018. Based on the East Coast of Canada, New Brunswick is filled with nature-related beauty. I am visiting during the time of year in which it can be described as a winter wonderland. New Brunswick is within the Appalachian Mountains yet it also has urban elements to it as a true bilingual province. The New Brunswick HopSpiel is an outdoor event — taking place in Officer’s Square of Fredericton — and is part of FROSTival. Its main focuses are craft beer and curling. I can’t wait to experience the HopSpiel Beer Garden.

Darren Paltrowitz, US freelancer

Fredricton. FWT Magazine.

Fredericton makes to the top of Darren Paltrowitz’s list of best destinations for 2018. Photo courtesy of Fredericton. 

5. Bordeaux, France

Bordeaux is world renowned for its fine wine, but the city itself was long an industrial port. The city’s position on the Atlantic seaboard made Bordeaux a natural crossroads between land, river and sea. Bordeaux even temporarily became the capital of France during WWI when Paris was threatened by the proximity of German armies, and the port was strategic in the industry of arms trade. Years and years of industry and boats steaming up the Garonne took their toll. Layers of thick black grime soiled the once gleaming honey-gold stone facades, earning Bordeaux the nickname The Sleeping Beauty.

But Bordeaux has, quite literally, cleaned up her act. A massive cleaning project to sand blast the stone facades to their former honey-gold glory was just the beginning of a new era for Bordeaux. New museums like La Cité du Vin, recently named as one of the best museums in the world by National Geographic, have opened just in the last two years. Wine châteaux that had long been shuttered to the public opened their doors to welcome visitors in a new age of wine tourism. Even some of the world’s most renowned chefs have opened restaurants in the UNESCO World Heritage city.

It’s an exciting time in Bordeaux. This year will see the 20-year anniversary celebration of Bordeaux’s wine festival, Le Fête du Vin. With wine producers, tastings and festivities stretching for over two kilometers along the quay, the wine festival will be complemented by the Tall Ships Regatta in an exceptional event taking place from June 14 – 18, 2018.

Jennifer Dombrowski & Tim Davis, US travel bloggers for Luxe Adventure

Bordeaux, France. FWT Magazine.

US travel bloggers Jennifer Dombrowski & Tim Davis pick Bordeaux, France for a must-visit destination in 2018 (c) Jennifer Dombrowski.

6. Capri, Italy

For 2018 the trend for travel is looking to places that are laid-back yet understatedly luxurious. Capri, a small Italian island town set high on the hill surrounded by the jewel-colored sea, has some of the best food you have ever had, gorgeous cliffside accommodations, beautiful shops, cobblestone streets and views for days. 

Kimberly Fisher, US travel blogger for 

Capri, Italy. FWT Magazine.

Capri, Italy is US travel blogger Kimberly Fisher’s choice of the best destination for 2018 (c) Kimberly Fisher.

7. Sri Lanka

My pick is Sri Lanka. The diversity of influence from Europe, the Far East, and the Indian subcontinent can be seen throughout Sri Lanka from its culture to its cuisine. Pair that with stretches of white sand beaches in the east to the rolling tea hills of the Central Province and it becomes clear that the beauty of Sri Lanka should be explored in its entirety.

Edward G Young III, US travel blogger for

Sri Lanka. FWT Magazine.

Sri Lanka makes it the top of the list for Edward G Young III (c) Edward G Young III.

8. Lake Constance, Germany

This natural lake, created by the Rhine River, lies on the border between southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It’s actually two lakes, the larger Obersee which measures 40 miles long and nine miles wide, and the smaller Untersee. The shoreline is dotted with enchanting small cities and towns, providing a variety of activities and places to visit. The countryside, lake and views of the Swiss alps offer great scenic beauty. Roadways, trains, ferries and buses make it easy to travel between towns and across the lake. It’s a friendly and safe destination, and conveniently close to the airport hubs of Zurich and Munich.

Tamara Muldoon, freelance travel writer and blogger for

Lake Constance, Germany. FWT Magazine.

One of the largest lakes in Europe, Lake Constance offers charming seaside towns with many attractions, delicious food and drink, and inspiring views, says travel writer Tamara Muldoon (c) Tamara Muldoon.

9. Budapest

Budapest is actually made up of two bustling cities, Buda and Pest, divided by the regal Danube River. Explore both sides of the city, including Heroes’ Square, the Buda Castle and Matthias Church. At the Budapest Great Market Hall, you’ll find delicious Hungarian delicacies, beautiful handmade crafts, and of course, paprika. Walk through the city and discover amazing outdoor thermal spas with people soaking in them or playing chess on large floating boards.

Visit the Jewish Quarter with the magnificent 19th Dohany Street Synagogue, complete with the Raoul Wallenberg Garden and Tree of Life memorial to those lost in the Holocaust. Also sobering is the Shoes on the Danube memorial to those who were shot into the river. Budapest holds special magic, especially at night, with the Parliament, Castle and Chain Bridge lights all aglow…a magnificent sight to behold in this medieval city with a contemporary beat. Museums, palaces and galleries all make Budapest a delightful destination worth seeing this year.

Mira Temkin, US travel blogger for

Budapest. FWT Magazine.

Budapest is travel blogger Mira Temkin’s choice of where to go this year (c) Mira Temkin.

10. Jordan

My top pick of destinations to visit in 2018 has to be Jordan. Why? Because it exceeds expectations and creates a sense of wonder and awe. It has an incredible natural beauty, history, culture, community and cuisine. My top recommendations? See the Wadi Rum UNESCO World Heritage Site and Dana Biosphere Reserve. Stay at Feynan EcoLodge to enjoy a Bedouin educational excursion. And be sure to experience Beit al Baraka and its community of beekeepers, basket weavers and traditional Jordanian cooks.

Joy Steinberg, travel writer for

Jordan. FWT Magazine.

Dusk in Jordan (c) Joy Steinberg.

11. Solomon Islands

Today it’s difficult to find those remote, tucked-away places on the planet where tourists are welcome, but very few go. In the South Pacific Ocean, six thousand miles off the coast of Los Angeles, is a wildly stunning archipelago of nearly 1,000 islands, populated by half a million mostly Melanesian people who spend their daily lives living in and off the water.

To get to the Solomon Islands, or the Western Province, at least, where eco-tourism is taking off, you fly to the Solomon’s capital city of Honiara, then take a 16-seater twin otter to Gizo, the regional hub located in north-western pocket of the Solomons. From there, you jump in a motorised canoe to get to your chosen eco-lodge. In July, this year, my canoe will transport me 10 minutes across Gizo lagoon to Oravae Cottage, where I’ll park up, switch off and unwind. I’ve been to the Solomons twice before and I can’t wait to go again this year. No shopping, no five-star glamour, just perfect pink-tinged sunsets, the best snorkelling I’ve ever experienced and the freshest cuisine. And what’s not to love about spending a week or two in your own, rustic bungalow – miles from anyone – set over a translucent ocean?

Jacqui Gibson, New Zealand travel writer and associate editor for FWT

Over water bungalows of the Western Province, Solomon Islands (c) Jacqui Gibson. FWT Magazine.

Photo: Over water bungalows of the Western Province, Solomon Islands (c) Jacqui Gibson.

The post 11 Best Travel Destinations for 2018 appeared first on FWT Magazine: food wine travel.

from FWT Magazine: food wine travel

Charleston Lives Up to its Honor as One of the ‘World’s Best Cities’

There is a reason Charleston, South Carolina holds the honor of being named in Travel & Leisure magazine’s ‘World’s Best Cities’ list for the past five years. The region’s history, architecture, emerging culinary scene, southern charm and strong sense of place are contributing to the city’s success.

My husband and I decided last minute to add Charleston to our East Coast itinerary and arrived from New York mid-afternoon for a quick 36-hour visit. We checked into the Renaissance Charleston Historic District Hotel, which is centrally located in the heart of the city. It is a perfect starting point to explore the city by foot, offering the opportunity to see, smell, taste and experience what the city has to offer.

Example of Charleston's unique and beautiful home architecture

Beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. Home architecture © Jan M. Smith.

Charleston Walking Tours

Walking tours are popular in the city, designed to provide visitors with interesting history and up-close views of the unique architecture found in homes and buildings. We selected a Charleston Strolls tour based on the suggestion from Explore Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Tour guides are sanctioned by the city and required to go through rigorous historical and architectural testing before being certified. Our tour guide, Kim, is a self-professed “semi-Charlestonian.” She shares that the true Charlestonian designation is reserved for those who are born and have family lineage within the confines of the actual city. Kim was born and raised in an area north of Charleston proper, so although she has lived in the heart of town for the past 18 years, she is still considered an outsider. Regardless, Kim is clearly in love with Charleston and her pride is palpable.

The tour began on Market Street where we received a short city history lesson, a warning about walking on cobblestone streets and tips on how to dodge the horse-drawn carriages that were to share the streets on the tour. Well-preserved homes dating back to the mid-18th century lined the street. Confederate jasmine (known as star jasmine in the west) shared its sweet scent and offered a fragrant gift as we passed by the shrubs and walls covered with the beautiful white star-shaped flowers.

The tour meandered through the historic streets past homes and churches standing for over 300 years, and moved on to Charleston’s French Quarter near Broad, Meeting and Market Streets. We walked down a street of art galleries, restaurants and the open-air City Market then stopped in front of the original Old Slave Mart building, constructed in 1859 for slave auctions. The building currently houses the African American History and Art Museum and reminded us of the city’s storied history.

We passed an array of antebellum styled homes, a mix of Italianate, featuring beautiful cupolas and balconies, and Queen Anne, with colorful exteriors and ornate details. Creeping fig covered the brick walls of Georgian buildings with their ornate iron balconies and gates. Colorful shuttered windows, gorgeous flower boxes and the occasional, welcoming red door made me wonder if a house could get any prettier and I considered mine was in for some changes when I returned home.

Picture of Charleston's famed Rainbow Row Homes in Historic Downtown area

Charleston’s famed rainbow row homes © Jan M. Smith.

Strict preservation laws safeguard the authenticity of the neighborhoods in the historic area. A good example of this is the famed Rainbow Row housing in an area referred to as South of Broad. Here, 13 Georgian-style homes reflect the original pastel colors dating back to the 1700s.

Eventually, all roads lead to water in Charleston. At the seawall, we could see a large bay fed by the convergence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. From our vantage point, we looked across the water and viewed Fort Sumter in the distance. Built in 1860, the fort holds the dubious honor of being the point where the first shots rang out in the American Civil War. Today, it is a United States national park open to the public.

Throughout the tour, our guide’s go-to word to describe almost everything we saw was “charming,” which aptly fits this unique city.

Exampleof beautiful iron gate by famed ironwork artist Philip Simmons

Gorgeous ironwork gate in historic Charleston, South Carolina © Jan M. Smith.

Artistic Ironwork

The gorgeous ironwork adorning gates, balconies, fences and light posts throughout the Charleston Historic District was designed and produced by renowned ironwork artist, Philip Simmons. Simmons lived and worked in Charleston for nearly 90 years before his death in 2009.

Simmons was recognized with many prestigious awards for his work, including the South Carolina Hall of Fame and most prominently, the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor that the United States can bestow on a traditional artist. Simmons’ art is also displayed in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

One of seven remaining colorful cobblestone streets in Historic Downtown Charleston

Cobblestone streets in historic Charleston, South Carolina © Jan M. Smith

Charming Streets and Alleyways

There are only eight remaining streets in the Charleston Historic District still lined with cobblestones, including Chalmer Street in the French Quarter, North and South Adger’s Wharf and Maiden Lane. It is interesting how stones can add charm to a city street – the uniqueness causes these thoroughfares to be heavily visited and photographed by tourists.

The cobblestones originally arrived on English ships in the late 18th century and were used as weights (ballasts) on the incoming empty boats. Once in Charleston, the stones were removed and tossed into the bay, replaced by cargo returning to England. As the city grew, city planners surfaced the beautiful cobblestones to line the local streets.

The cobblestone streets are still used today by horse-pulled carriages, cars and pedestrians, although they are a good challenge to maneuver by foot. In addition, a few equally charming historic brick-lined streets and pedestrian alleyways, including Philadelphia Alley, are still present in the city.

Charleston’s Emerging Culinary Scene

Charleston’s burgeoning food scene is heating up fast. Last year there were as many restaurant openings as there were closures. The popularity of this tourism destination has caused a spike in rent for both business and housing, which in turn, is affecting the cost of living and sustaining business in the city.

Regardless, Charleston’s food and beverage scene has attracted top chefs from around the country. Acclaimed restaurants require reservations months in advance to secure a table, so plan accordingly for your next trip. A visit to Charleston should include experiencing the unique flavors of the South. Here are two of our favorites to consider.

Bricklined exterior of Historic Downtown Charleston's McCrady's Tavern

Historic downtown Charleston’s McCrady’s Tavern © Jan M. Smith.

McCrady’s Tavern

A mainstay in Charleston, McCrady’s Tavern once served President George Washington. Located off a brick-lined pedestrian alleyway, the building dates back to 1778 and is on the National Historic Register. Although recently remodeled, the tavern still maintains the original brick-lined arches, fireplaces and wooden beams.

Executive chef and James Beard Award winner Sean Brock offers an innovative menu that changes often based on the availability of local ingredients. The familiar low country she-crab soup and a uniquely named side dish, ‘A Pie called Macaroni’ (Thomas Jefferson, c. 1802) top the list of regional offerings. Served on vintage mismatched china, the meals are uncomplicated and flavorful. The restaurant is open for dinner and weekend brunch.

The South's famed Sweet Tea can be enjoyed at Butcher & Bee Restaurant in beautiful Charlerston, SC

Freshly-brewed Sweet Tea from Butcher & Bee © Jan M. Smith.

This hip industrial-looking restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating and a healthy menu of various mezze platters, sandwiches and salads, each creatively designed with a Middle Eastern influence. Daily menu specials depend on locally sourced fish, meat and vegetables. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A visit to Charleston would not be complete without experiencing the South’s famous sweet tea.
My first sip detects a distinct sweetness overpowering the tea itself. I ask the hospitable and friendly server the secret to making this classic southern beverage and she replies in her charming accent, “Bless your heart, it is actually simple freshly-brewed green tea and an extra helping of block sugar.” Unquestionably, this tea’s namesake is accurate!

If You Go

Renaissance Charleston Historic District
Explore Charleston
Charleston Strolls Walking Tours
McCrady’s Tavern
Butcher & Bee

The post Charleston Lives Up to its Honor as One of the ‘World’s Best Cities’ appeared first on FWT Magazine: food wine travel.

from FWT Magazine: food wine travel

10 Reasons to Travel to Halkidiki, Greece

Private beach at Nefeli Villas and Suites | Halkidiki, Greece

Talk about planning a beach vacation to Greece, and inevitably, the question will surface of which islands are best to visit.  But what if an equally beautiful place in Greece isn’t an island but rather a peninsula in the north of the country called Halkidiki? Compared to the famed Greek Islands, Halkidiki is still relatively unknown as a tourist destination. But it’s worthy of consideration when planning a beach vacation, and here are 10 reasons why.

1. Unique And Diverse Landscapes

Halkidiki is one enormous peninsula that begins on the mainland near Thessaloniki and divides into three smaller peninsulas extending into the Aegean Sea.  The three sub-peninsulas (known locally as “legs”)  are Kassandra, Sithonia, and Athos, each distinctly unique geographically.

2. The Beaches

Depending on the peninsula, the beaches range from protected coves with calm, clear water to rocky shores backed by rugged cliffs.

Karidi Beach in Vourvourou | Halkidiki, Greece

Karidi Beach in Vourvourou © Francesca Mazurkiewicz.

3. The People

The land is gorgeous, yes, but so are the people. The locals in cafés are quick with a smile and warm greetings, and English is widely spoken. The hospitality professionals are refreshingly attentive, enthusiastic, and genuine.

4. Stress-Free Travel

The easiest way to get to and around Halkidiki is by flying into Thessaloniki International Airport “Macedonia” and renting a car. The roads are in good shape, and highway signs are well-marked in both Greek and English. A rental car allows travelers to not be limited to one location.

Private beach at Nefeli Villas and Suites | Halkidiki, Greece

Private beach at Nefeli Villas and Suites © Francesca Mazurkiewicz.

5. Suitable for All Budgets

Accommodations range from national forest campgrounds to opulent resorts at the pinnacle of luxury, from half-board packages to self-catering rentals.

6. Suitable for All Types of Travel

With various levels of accommodations and diverse dining options, Halkidiki accommodates all types of travelers. Whether for the annual family beach vacation or a couple’s romantic getaway, it’s the perfect place to create memories.

7. The Food

Being surrounded by water means an abundance of fresh seafood. A common sight at beachfront restaurants is a server filleting whole grilled fish, tableside, for patrons. There is also no shortage of meze and traditional Greek dishes at the countless restaurants and tavernas.

8. Air of Mystery

Athos has been the exclusive domain of monks and hermits for more than 1,000 years, and women are not allowed on the peninsula past the town of Ouranoupolis. Men are allowed on Athos but must have advance permission. Piques the curiosity, no?

Mount Athos | Halkidiki, Greece

Mount Athos © Francesca Mazurkiewicz.

9. Distinct Personalities

There are three peninsulas, all very different from one another. Kassandra is known for its nightlife and party beaches. Sithonia, teeming with thick pine forests, is more laid back and rugged. Lastly, there is Athos and its air of mystery.

10. So Much to Do

The beaches are what draw many to Halkidiki, but once there, travelers realize that outdoor recreational opportunities abound. Among the most popular activities are hiking, biking, fishing and boating.  Of course, lying on the beach and soaking up the Aegean sun is perfectly acceptable as well.

The post 10 Reasons to Travel to Halkidiki, Greece appeared first on FWT Magazine: food wine travel.

from FWT Magazine: food wine travel

Cats of Jordan: Recommended Feline Pairings

cats of jordan

According to the video marketing website, YouTube hosts more than two million cat videos, which people have viewed more than 25 billion times. But in Jordan, the cat watching is so excellent that I suspect they don’t need cat videos. On my recent trip, I found that the adorable semi-wild cats perfectly complemented the cultural sites, just as many people enjoy the perfect pairing of wine and food. Here are a few of my favorite cat pairings in Jordan.

Dana Biosphere and Orange Cat

The Feynan Ecolodge is a 26-room, candlelit lodge in the Dana Biosphere Reserve. This area preserves wildlife, including the Nubian ibex, and is a last stronghold of traditional Bedouin culture. Ever since opening in 2005, it’s been making top ecolodge lists on all the major magazines and websites.

Feynan ecolodge

Feynan Ecolodge. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Three darling orange striped cats live at the ecolodge, where they eat breakfast with guests and generally look adorable.

cats of Jordan

Cat at Feynan ecolodge. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Wadi Musa and water cat

Wadi Musa, or Moses’ Spring, is supposedly where Moses struck a rock with his staff, releasing a rush of water. This historic, spiritual spring is now housed to protect it.

Wadi Musa Jordan

Moses allegedly brought forth this spring by striking a stone with his staff. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

This cat, just outside the little building that houses the spring, gives visitors a friendly welcome. You can’t drink out of the old spring, but this cat will probably let you have a bottle of water.

cats of Jordan

Wadi Musa cat. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Petra Monastery and rugged outdoors cat

Thirty thousand people may have lived in Petra back in its 1st century A.D. heyday. Now it’s populated by tourists and cats. I met quite a few friendly cats while spending the day trekking through this Unesco site. It takes a rugged cat with a deep appreciation for archeology to make its home in Petra.

Monastery Petra Jordan

The Petra Monastery. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

cats of Jordan

Cat of Petra. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Desert camp and desert cat

I loved the desert camps that dot the Wadi Rum desert. You feel like you’re out in the middle of sandy vastness with nothing around, then suddenly you see a group of striped tents among the rocks.

Captain's desert camp

Captain’s Desert Camp. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

We stopped at one called Captain’s Desert Camp for lunch one day. The restaurant was in a huge, pillow-strewn area with walls open to the air. Musicians played on a stage and adorable cats lounged on the colorful textiles. A perfect setting for the regal cats of Jordan.

cats of jordan

For me, this guy or gal epitomized cats of Jordan. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Umm Quais and Finley

Umm Qais, a village in northern Jordan, is the epicenter of a sustainable tourism movement. Ever since Baraka Destinations opened the Beit al Baraka B&B and started offering the chance to partake of activities like beekeeping, basketry and cooking, the village has seen an uptick in visitors. Because the locals needed to learn enough English to share these experiences with foreign tourists, Arabic student and jack-of-all-trades Roddy Boyle came to Umm Qais. This young man from Scotland has a soft spot for cats. When he found the handicapped Finley, whose back legs are paralyzed, he adopted him. Now Finley lives in the Beit al Baraka garden. He hung out with me while I did yoga one morning and was the sweetest of the many cats of Jordan that I met.

Beit al baraka

The garden at Beit al Baraka in Umm Qais. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

cats of Jordan

Finley, sweetest of all cats of Jordan. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

If You Go

If you visit, I can’t promise that these particular cats will be there to greet you at these sites. But if not, their cousins surely will be. For help planning your trip, check out the Visit Jordan website.

The post Cats of Jordan: Recommended Feline Pairings appeared first on FWT Magazine: food wine travel.

from FWT Magazine: food wine travel

A Visit and Tasting at a Japanese Whisky Distillery

Sled to move whisky barrels in the winter.

A wee dram in the highlands is one thing, but great Scotch whisky from the mountains of Japan? I was about to find out, entering the gated grounds of the Nikka Distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido (Japan’s northernmost principal island) to learn about the Japanese distilling industry.

Japanese whisky’s star has been soaring in the spirits world lately. With many similarities to Scottish whiskies, even its name follows Scotch tradition by dropping the “e,” at least when spelled in English. If you have a penchant for detail, call it Japanese whisky, not Scotch, which must come from the land of heather and moors.

History of Japanese Whisky

Nikka Whisky Logo

Nikka Whisky Logo, © Debi Lander.

In 1918, a young Japanese traveler, Masataka Taketsuru, journeyed alone to Scotland. He was the son of a “sake” brewery owner. Already an expert in the use of fermented rice to make the quintessential Japanese drink, he studied chemistry at a Japanese university.

However, Scotch whisky captured his imagination. Masataka wanted to learn the secrets of whisky-making, so he enrolled at the University of Glasgow, the first Japanese to study the science of whisky making. Additional chemistry courses, distillery apprenticeships and training as a blender led Masataka to the designation of a master blender.

He met and married a Scottish lassie, Jessie Roberta (Rita), returning to Japan with her in 1820. He went to work for a company trying to produce Scottish-like whisky, but he wasn’t pleased with the outcome.

Turns out he just needed a better environment. In 1934, Masataka established Nikka Whisky in Yoichi, Hokkaido.

He chose a site with a latitude similar to Scotland, surrounded by mountains bordering the Sea of Japan.

Nikka became one of Japan’s best producers, earning Masataka the title of “Father of Japanese Whisky.” In 2001, Nikka’s 10-year Yoichi single malt whisky was named the “Best of the Best” in a whisky magazine international tasting, beating entrants from the mother country for the first time.

The Tour

Visitors strolling the grounds of the Nikka distillery.

Visitors strolling the grounds of the distillery, © Debi Lander.

Nikka Distillery offers free guided tours, only in Japanese. Multilingual self-guiding pamphlets let visitors follow the whisky production process tour. The site’s nine historic buildings mimic Scottish architecture and don’t look anything like traditional Japanese structures.

Yoichi’s climate augments the traditional distillation method of using coal, producing a rich, peaty malt. The whisky’s distinct aroma and body come from copper pot stills heated with finely powdered natural coal – the traditional method rarely used anywhere today. Japanese religious ribbons adorn the pot stills to provide blessings.

Visitors can peek inside Rita and Masakata’s home (sadly only Japanese signage) and tour a whisky museum highlighting Nikka’s history, production methods and awards.

A satisfying tour end brings free tasting of three varieties: Pure Malt Whisky Taketsuru, Blended Whisky Super Nikka and Apple Wine. The Whisky Club offers rare tastings for an additional price. The “Rita House” room, named after Masakata’s wife, offers English-style tea (scones and all).

If You Go    

Nikka Distillery

The post A Visit and Tasting at a Japanese Whisky Distillery appeared first on FWT Magazine: food wine travel.

from FWT Magazine: food wine travel

Go Big: Luxury on the Island of Hawaii

Sunset at Waikoloa Beach © CT Shier.

The Big Island

If you have visited more than one Hawaiian island, you will have noticed each island destination has its own vibe. While Oahu is “the gathering place” and often a gateway to experiencing Hawaii, Kauai is known as “the garden isle” for its lush landscape and sparser population. The largest island, Hawaii, offers luxurious resorts along the coastline with a breathtaking, diverse topography perfect for day trips. The Big Island is known for its active volcanoes, lava fields, rainforest, tide pools, and beaches. You’ll immediately feel a world away from the ordinary when first setting foot on Hawaii, yet completely at home at the island’s world-class resorts.

Mauna Kea Beach on Kaunaoa Bay © CT Shier.

Mauna Kea Beach on Kaunaoa Bay © CT Shier.

Escape to Kohala Coast

The thirty mile drive from Kona International Airport to resorts along the Kohala Coast offers an introduction to Hawaii’s lava fields. Queen Kaahumanu Highway is surrounded by evidence of volcanic eruptions, yet tucked along the water is a sandy beachfront where you’ll find Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. The resort property has all the appeal of a luxurious getaway, yet is far removed from the tourist vibe you’ll find along the Kailua-Kona waterfront.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel © CT Shier.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel © CT Shier.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is the island’s first resort, built after Laurance S. Rockefeller fell in love with the picturesque qualities of Kauna‘oa Bay. Contemporary island-inspired decor welcomes resort guests, and the serene beachfront location makes this a go-to destination for swimming and snorkeling. Calm bay waters attract manta rays to a small cove at the resort and moonlit snorkel sessions are available for guests who wish to swim alongside these gentle gliders.

Seared Dry Rub Scallops at Manta © CT Shier.

Seared Dry Rub Scallops at Manta © CT Shier.

Carrying the marine life theme into the resort, a must-visit dining venue on site is Manta. The open-air restaurant offers panoramic bay views and fresh seafood, from Mac Nut Encrusted Mahi Mahi to Seared Dry Rub Scallops. Koi ponds dot the path from the main building to the oceanfront pool where palm trees tower overhead and cabanas offer relief from afternoon sun. The five-star property also offers immediate access to the crescent-shaped beach, with resort chairs, umbrellas, and other amenities available to guests.

Waikoloa Beach Luxury

Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, located on South Kohala Coast, is a beachfront destination with ample options for shopping and dining. Directly across the street from the resort is Kings’ Shops, an open-air plaza with high-end retailers and restaurants including The KOA Table by Food Network star Chef Ippy Aiona. Around the bend, Queens’ Marketplace offers a series of boutiques, souvenir shops, and grab-and-go eateries.

Sunset Luau at Waikoloa Beach Marriot © CT Shier.

Sunset Luau at Waikoloa Beach Marriot © CT Shier.

You won’t go hungry on site at Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, though, as menu options are abundant morning through night, from the breakfast buffet at Hawaii Calls to the Sunset Luau. The luau features a Polynesian dinner and show set amid spectacular sunsets blending into ocean surf.

Unearthing the Kalua pig at Marriott Sunset Luau © CT Shier.

Unearthing the Kalua pig at Marriott Sunset Luau © CT Shier.

For mild adventure, Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa offers on-site equipment rentals including snorkel gear, boogie boards, kayaks, hydro-bikes, and stand-up paddle boards. Between the resort pool decks and the beach, you’ll also find ancient Hawaiian fishponds with information to help identify the critters below. If you prefer to bask in the sun poolside, it’s worth noting the expansive pool deck is open into the wee hours of the morning, perfect for a dip under the stars.

Island Exploration

While the Kohala Coast offers five-star resorts to call home during your time in Hawaii, you’ll want to rent a car for a day or two to explore more of The Big Island. One requisite destination is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the glory of two active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Park rangers are available to share the history of Hawaii’s volcanoes, but much of the park can be self-explored.

Guide at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park © CT Shier.

Guide at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park © CT Shier.

If you’re a wine lover, be sure to stop at Volcano Winery, in the town of… you guessed it: Volcano HI. The small vineyard has a tasting room open 364 days annually. If unique outdoor adventure is on your bucket list, head to the southeast corner of Hawaii to experience the island’s tide pools. About an hour east of the Volcanoes, you’ll find Kapoho Tide Pools and other pools where warm water is protected from crashing waves. Some tide pools are perfect for relaxing during an afternoon soak, while others offer an incredible snorkeling experience.

Tide Pools on The Big Island © CT Shier.

Tide Pools on The Big Island © CT Shier.

If You Go

Thanks to the diverse landscape on The Big Island, weather patterns may change throughout the day. Plan for sunshine along the coast during the day, but keep cooler evening temperatures in mind. Layer up for misty rain patches when you visit higher elevations en route to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Hawaii Tourism Authority:
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel:
Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa:

The post Go Big: Luxury on the Island of Hawaii appeared first on FWT Magazine: food wine travel.

from FWT Magazine: food wine travel