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Editor's Letter,

April 2024

Dear Lisa,

"Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends." Maya Angelou

Steve and I are privileged in this job of ours to be able to open doors for our ActiveTravels members to see and experience the world in a way that you can't hear on CNN or read about in the newspapers or skim in the headlines of Apple News. It has been a jaw-dropping month of helping our clients to do amazing things on their travels. Here's some of them to inspire you to push your boundaries, learn about far-away cultures, try something brand new and get to know your fellow humans around the globe:

  • Experiencing Holi, the festival of welcoming Spring, in India with colorful powders being sprayed and music and dancing in the streets
  • Seeing Dubai and the Maldives and swimming in crystal clear turquoise waters above a pool of sharks
  • Reuniting our client with her South Korean birth mother with the help of a translator and guide and enjoying a week in South Korea together so the mother and daughter as well as her grandchildren could meet for the first time
  • 1st generation Holocaust survivor going back to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp outside of Prague, to see where his mother lived and dealt with unimaginable atrocities

The stories we are privy to and the experiences that we play a hand in mean literally the world to us! Thank you for coming to us with your dreams and trusting us to make them come true! We truly believe that travel is the best way to understand the truth of how people live around the globe.

This coming month we have travelers going to these wonderful places: Greece, Spain, Italy, London, Paris, Prague, Turks & Caicos, Morocco, Ireland and the Netherlands. And, we are off to Spain with our family! We will visit Barcelona, Marbella, Malaga and the Rock of Gibralter, departing tomorrow and back in the office on April 15th. We'll be checking our emails periodically, so please be patient. If anything is urgent, please contact and she will assist you. And, we'd appreciate it if you could wait for new requests until our return.

Please read on to find out about Alternative Destinations to the most popular and crowded locales and a Quick Escape to Troutbeck in Dutchess Country, New York.

Be well and you may just want to start thinking about how you can begin to push your boundaries and make a few new friends in another part of the world.


Lisa & Steve

ActiveTravels, LLC

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Want to Avoid the Crowds?

Go to these Alternative Destinations!

You've probably felt that urge to travel when you see posts of that perfectly blossoming cherry tree in Kyoto during Sakura Season in Japan or when you encounter your friends enjoying a serene sunset off the Amalfi Coast with Aperol Spritz in hand. Instantly, you want to be there, whereever "there" is.

The travel world has not only succumbed, but has been swamped by the surge of tourists thanks to these Instagrammable locales. You’ve seen the result—far too many humans in overheated Venice come summer and such an overwhelming number of requests for visiting Japan that the tour operator we usually work with has refused to take on any more inquiries for 2024.

Is there any place that’s still a secret gem? Probably not, but destinations do exist that have simply been overshadowed by their far too popular neighbor. This past year, Lisa and I, and our colleague, Rachel, seem to have been traveling to a lot of these often-overlooked locales, savoring our time away from the masses as we visit majestic sites and go to restaurants favored by locals, not tourists. The result is a more affordable and often more rewarding jaunt. Do yourself a favor and don’t overlook these destinations:

Instead of Tuscany, Choose Umbria

In early March, Lisa and I had the privilege of traveling with the tour operator we love to work with in Italy, TFL Tours.

We visited Venice, Rome, and the historic hillside towns of Umbria.

Gaze up at our first stop in Umbria, Orvieto, perched atop a cliff that rises from the sylvan countryside and you realize the allure.

But it’s not until you approach the massive Gothic cathedral, arguably the most beautiful church in Italy, that you quickly realize why Orvieto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The highlights? The cathedral’s elaborate facade created by Lorenzo Maitani in the first decade of the 14th century which is an absolute masterpiece covered in colorful mosaics. Inside the long chapel built by Andrea Pisano around 1350 are paintings by the masters of Italian art of the time--Angelico, Perugino and a chapel with frescoes by Luca Signorelli that is not-to-be-missed. It's no surprise that many Popes of the era frequently took residence in the cathedral.

The narrow walkways that slope down from the main square are just as enchanting, offering the chance to shop for local porcelain, peer down the rolling hillside at the farmland below, and dine like we did at a gluttonous four-course lunch at Osteria da Mamma Angela.

Then it was off to our lodging just outside of Orvieto, the Altarocca Wine Resort, an adults-only wellness retreat located on twenty hectares of organic vineyards and olive groves. They would take good care of us the next three nights as we partook in a cooking class (made homemade tagliatelle) and dined on far too much yummy risotto and pasta, washed down with their tasty wines. They have a lovely spa onsite and outdoor swimming pool and lots of lodging options throughout the gorgeous property.

In the daytime, we would drive deeper and deeper into Umbria to visit the college town of Perugia, best known for its Baci chocolate, but also offering fantastic sites like an Etruscan gate still standing for over 2400 years. The highlight for Lisa, the art historian, was a stop at Nobile Collegio del Cambio, once the headquarters of the Guild of Money Changers in the late 15th-century. This institution had the cash to pay the most famous artist of the time, Perugino, who for 2 years, 1498 to 1500, covered the walls of the building in wonderous frescos, even leaving a self-portrait of himself as a signature.


We also made stops in Todi, where we spotted wild boar, and probably my favorite gem of a village, Bevagna, once a Roman outpost and today, best known for its cashmere sweaters and the home of a weeklong Medieval Festival every June. Every narrow path in this town led to something picturesque like Chiesa di San Silvestro, a stone church still standing from 1195, and not surprisingly very popular for weddings in the summer months. After touring the village, we were treated to lunch at the more modern Briziarelli Vineyards on the outskirts of town. The perfect way to end our visit to Umbria, easily accessible from Rome or Florence.

Instead of South Africa, Choose Namibia

While Lisa and I were traipsing around Italy, our colleague Rachel was on her first foray into Africa, a 13-day trip with G Adventures around South Africa & Namibia called “Cape & Dunes Northbound: Wildlife & Starry Night Skies.” She began in Cape Town, where Rachel ventured to the top of Table Mountain, visited the penguins, snorkeled with seals, and made it to the southernmost point of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope. She was bummed out that she was unable to do a cage dive with the sharks, but there's always next time, if she dares!

She then met the G Adventures group and headed northwest. First stop was the Orange River, which separates Namibia from South Africa, and then onward to Fish River, home to the largest canyon in Africa and second largest in the world. The best was yet to come! Rachel next made it to Namib Desert and the legendary Dune 45, the largest sand dune in the world, where she had the chance to do some off-road ATV riding in the deep sands. Next up was Swakopmund, the German settlement straight out of Bavaria, known for their German bakeries and restaurants. Final stop was Etosha National Park one of the best safari spots in southern Africa. Rachel spotted herds of elephants at watering holes, giraffes, loads of lions, and cute baby warthogs that I’m surprised she didn’t bring home as a souvenir. She slept under clear skies peering in awe at the Southern Hemisphere night sky which shimmers with stars. Then it was off to the capital city, Windhoek, where she flew home through Frankfurt, and had the good fortune to avert a 2-day German air strike by one hour. Go Rachel!

Instead of Japan, South Korea

I wrote about our trip to South Korea in the July 2023 issue of our ActiveTravels newsletter after a 10-day trip with our son, Jake. If you missed it, shoot us an email and we’ll pass it along. Or, you can get a quick taste of the trip from an article I wrote for New Zealand’s largest newspaper, the Herald Tribune.

We were struck by how genuinely gracious the people of Korea were. On our first day in Seoul before our weeklong South Korea Real Food Adventure Tour started, Lisa found a Visitors Center. We told the woman inside the booth that we had 1 pm tickets to the Huwon Secret Garden, the well-known garden behind the 15th-century Changdeokgung Palace, where some of the unique trees date back almost 300 years. Even though we already had tickets, the woman at the booth told us there was no 1 pm tour at the Secret Garden, but we proceeded to walk down the main boulevard toward the palace. Remarkably, 10 minutes later, this same woman finds us on the street and tells us that the 1 pm tour is in Korean only. We need to buy tickets for the 11:30 am tour, which is in English. We were so struck by her kindness that we bought her a huge cookie on the way back. She was touched and then found three ice cream cakes for us in return!

Then it was off on a whirlwind tour of the country. First stop was Jeonju after a 2-hour bullet train from Seoul, staying at a guesthouse in the historical Hanok Village, where traditional Korean homes line the quaint cobblestone streets.

Next stop was a Buddhist Temple stay in the mountainous countryside before heading to the coastal port city of Busan, which I would happily return for The World Expo in 2030. We visited the majestic Haedong Temple, built into the rocky cliffs above the ocean and stopped at the Gamcheon Cultural Village, once the poorest community in Busan after the Korean War, now a collection of colorful homes, murals, art galleries, and restaurants, atop a hillside laced with rambling narrow streets and sidewalks. After a lunch of fresh seafood overlooking a beach, we visited the Jalgachi Seafood Market, the largest seafood market I’ve ever seen, where stalls overflowing with fish, octopus, squid, clams, crabs, lobsters, eels, and countless other seafood I had no idea what it was (like a fish with wings). Memorable!

With upscale Korean restaurants now popping up around the globe, including a recent story in the NY Times about three new dining establishments in New York that are hard to get reservations, we have no doubt that South Korea will continue to grow in popularity. Coupled with the emergence of K-Pop, television shows like Squid Game, Academy-award winning and nominated movies like Parasite and Past Lives, even a new exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts on Korean Culture, we know the country will soon rival Japan as a major Asian getaway.

Instead of Hawaii, Choose French Polynesia

Hawaii has been in very high demand these past two years with the result being an increase in hotel pricing. But if you fly two hours past Hawaii into the heart of the South Pacific, you’ll reach the legendary islands of French Polynesia. Pricing might be comparable to Hawaii, but you’ll certainly have less crowds and remarkably beautiful islands to visit. I’ve been fortunate to visit French Polynesia three times in my career, writing about honeymoon resorts that feature overwater bungalows in Bora Bora and Moorea, and diving locales in Rangiroa and Raiatea. But the most memorable trip Lisa and I took was aboard the freighter cruise ship, the Aranui, which delivered supplies to the Marquesas Islands, still part of French Polynesia, but considered the most remote islands in the world. Here, we would find Paul Gauguin’s infamous House of Debauchery and the island where Herman Melville jumped ship to pen his first book, Typee. Still to this day, the Bay of Virgins on the island of Fatu Hiva remains one of the most dramatic sights I’ve seen, verdant cliffs dropping precipitously to the ocean floor.

The Aranui, Paul Gauguin, and Windstar offer ocean voyages to see many of the Society Islands or continue on to the Marquesas or Cook Islands. Or sail on your own between the islands with Moorings. This past October, we booked a honeymoon for a beloved client that started in an overwater bungalow at Four Seasons Bora Bora, next a private 3-day sail with Captain to scuba dive off of Raiatea, ending at the magical Brando Resort on its own private island. Here at ActiveTravels, we make dreams come true!

Instead of Argentina, Choose Uruguay

I honestly don’t think Argentina is overrun with travelers. Buenos Aires is a world-class city filled with classic architecture and art, renowned steak houses, and the finest tango dancers. Then you can grab a quick flight to taste the sublime malbecs of Mendoza or to hike, bike, and boat in the Lakes Region of Bariloche. Or head further south to the glaciers of El Calafate and the stunning Patagonia region. But this is a good way to introduce you to Uruguay, an important add-on to any travels to this part of South America.

Take a hydrofoil from Buenos Aires and the first town you’ll reach in Uruguay is the UNESCO-protected town of Colonia del Sacramento. Founded by the Portuguese in the late 1600s, it’s a sedate walled town of cobbled streets and palm trees. Casco Antiguo (old town) is a maze of art galleries and little posadas with patios and hidden gardens. Spend some time in town and then take the 2-hour drive along the coast to Montevideo, one of South America’s most picturesque capital cities. You’ll see Belle Époque, Art Deco and Modernist buildings (plus a neoclassical concert hall, the Teatro Solís) jostling for position alongside large government headquarters. It’s easy to get your bearings: all roads lead to La Rambla, a 12- mile riverfront boulevard packed with joggers, walkers, bikers, and families. Look up and you’ll find exotic birds like parrots and hummingbirds flying overhead.

Another two-hour drive east from Montevideo, along the Atlantic coastline, and you’ll reach some of the best beaches on the continent. Head past the overdeveloped glitz of Punta del Este and go another 30 minutes to the fishing village of Jose Ignacio. Thanks to properties like Playa Vik a gem of a hotel that’s more like an art museum than a place to sleep, you’ve reached one of the most exclusive parts of the country. Jose Ignacio is typical of Uruguay in that architecture, design and art are a priority throughout the town. They love to celebrate local artisans. Once you’ve reached this idyllic spot, spend at least 3 to 4 nights to relax on the beach and play on the water.

ActiveTravels works with excellent tour operators in all of these locales, who will be happy to custom-design a trip based on your interests and amount of time. All you have to do is reach out to us and we'll lead you away from the masses and toward more authentic and unique travels!

Quick Escape:


Amenia, New York

I've visited every nook and cranny of New England and New York state over my lifetime, and I thought I had seen it all. But I was wrong! After spending the day dropping off the kids to ski at Catamount in the Berkshires while we climbed Monument Mountain, the peak Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne made famous when they made the same climb in 1850, we headed south for an hour into the heart of Hudson Valley’s farmland. I had visited the towns just over the border in Litchfield Hills, Connecticut, like Kent, Sharon, and Salisbury, but had never ventured into the New York state side to see Millbrook, Millerton, and Amenia, home to the 250-acre estate hotel called Troutbeck. We would spend a glorious winter weekend here, dining at their exceptional restaurant, playing games of pool, and reading by the freshly lit fires both inside and outside.

Come summer, this bucolic getaway, which has a rich history as being the site where the NAACP originated, is a serene getaway, replete with tennis courts, outdoor pool, yoga studio, fishing stream on premises, and a nearby bike trail to take in the velvety green fields and mountains. Yet, we loved it in winter, especially exploring the nearby towns. We stopped at the well-known teahouse, Harney and Sons, the winter food market, wonderful Oblong Books, and an historic one-room schoolhouse in Millerton. Next stop was Salisbury and the classic White Hart Inn for a lunch of hot soups, salads, and freshly made breads. That night, we visited the village of Millbrook for an intimate dinner at Canoe Hill. Then it was back to Troutbeck for another game of pool and a nightcap at the fireplace. We’ve sent a number of clients to Troutbeck over the years, so it was good to finally go in person and we happily give it our stamp of approval.

Troutbeck is offering a fun promotion for April. If we book your stay there over a Monday night in April, they will treat you to dinner as part of their Monday Pasta Nights at their acclaimed onsite restaurant. This is extremely enticing as we truly enjoyed our meal when we stayed there!

89 Roundwood Road,
Newton, MA 02464
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