Old World Christmas: The Knee High Feast With Santa at the Famous Osthoff Resort, Elkhart Lake, WI

In one hand of a four year old dressed in candy striped tights, a red Christmas dress, and shiny black shoes reaching for yet another goody, in the other a plate. The gathered crowd watch in stunned silence as eggs, bacon, sausage, and a huge strawberry started succumbing to gravity as the breakfast plate slid gently to a terrifying angle towards the floor.  A long elfin arm reached down from over the table and leveled the plate, disaster averted.

Above the floor the holiday table was truly a groaning board laden with every possible temptation for brunch. Decorated with piles of Christmas ornaments, swags of cedar, elf figurines,  it was surrounded by children serving themselves with eyes bigger than stomachs.

This was the annual Knee High Christmas Brunch with Santa at the Osthoff Resort. Every little festively costumed face radiated the certainty that dreams really do come true.

Live holiday carols were sung and played on a piano while Mr. and Mrs. Clause roamed around the room delivering messages of joy and cheer to children of all ages. Dozens of elves assisted as children climbed up into chairs where they wrestled with the delicious problem of where to start on the miraculous wonder they had assembled at the knee high table.

As parents guided smiling faces towards another knee high table, the children were presented with not-too-hot chocolate surrounded by bowls of marshmallows, peppermints, cinnamon nuggets, chocolate chips, sprinkles and whipped cream in candy striped containers. Endless confections could be made from the dozens of ingredients enticingly waiting in bowls. The kids were grinning, tap dancing and round eyed as they dipped spoons into sugary possibilities adding to the mug of hot chocolate.

Outside the dining hall awaited Santa, the perfect Santa right down to the dimples. Sincere little faces gazed adoringly up at him and spoke of their Christmas wishes. He held them on his lap and listened as if each child was the only person in the world. As they left Santa, each was given a small hand decorated stocking with a treat inside. They carried these precious gifts filled with holiday wonder as they moved to yet another part of this magical day… the cookie decorating room.

The chef at Osthoff Resort had made hundreds of sugar cookies shaped like Christmas trees, reindeer, ornaments and Santas. Each child decorated with bowls of sprinkles, candies, cinnamon chunks and every manner of festive edible. With pride and excitement grinning children worked away at their sweet projects, creating plates full of yummy treats, their own contributions to the holiday.

Outside the festivities continued with the 15th Annual Old World Christmas Market. A tent the size of a football field had been decorated in every possible way for the holiday.

An authentic Christkindlemarkt, reminiscent of the German celebration with veiner schnitzel & bratwurst, local beers, and sweet flakey kringle. Tall sparkling live trees scent and holiday music filled the air while Russian dolls, Czech blown glass, kissing balls, fresh wreathes and hand knit sweaters were presented as gift ideas. It was a small world created just for the holidays and like Brigadoon would vanish in 10 days.

A vestige of road races through the town, you want to make this turn or end up in the lake.

Beyond the borders of this magical world lay another hidden treasure, the town of Elkhart Lake. Famous for road racing in the fifties through the streets of town, it remains a mecca for sports car lovers world over. It deserves credit as a magnet for foodies and fun lovers as well though, with a home town feel but a very sophisticated sense of style and a highly developed palate.

Osthoff Resort www.osthoff.com

Breakfast with Santa Claus – December 7, 14 & 21, 2019
Join in a festive knee-high breakfast buffet given in honor of Santa Claus. Children will receive a special gift from the jolly old elf.

Old World Christmas Market – December 6 – 15, 2019
Experience the holiday “gemütlichkeit” of a traditional European Christmas Market, reminiscent of the centuries-old German Christkindlesmarkt. International and regional artisans displaying their specialty wares, European delicacies, German Christmas music and Father Christmas are all a part of the 22nd annual Old World Christmas Market. Admission is $7 per adult, children 14 and under are complimentary with an adult ticketholder. Discounted ticket prices for groups of 10 or more are available. Visit www.christmasmarketatosthoff.com for more information.

Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin www.elkhartlake.com


Movie Star History, Grace and Fine Dining at Chico Hot Springs, Montana

After leaving Bozeman civilization for a stunningly beautiful drive through the mountains of Montana, at the very end of the road lies a surprising oasis. Recorded first in 1865 in an explorer’s diary Chico became a mecca for people weary of body from rugged Montana days, or frail of health from all over the region in the 19th century. The natural heat and earthy minerals of these heated waters developed a reputation for relief from everything from kidney issues to skin disorders, while many just came to “plunge” because it feels so good.

We arrived on a cold blustery Montana day in February of the 21st century, with snow in the air, a chill in the bones and the ground crusted over. As we walked past the “Welcome Home” sign by the door, and into the large old fashioned Victorian main lodge, the fire was roaring in the wood stove, wonderful smells were creeping from the dining room, and returning visitors who were on a first name basis with the clerk behind the desk were signing into their favorite room for the weekend. Clearly glad to be “home”. The settled charm of a place with well over a hundred years experience at comforting visitors was immediately felt by all of us. Though we had never been there before, we did indeed feel welcomed home.

As I walked through the door of my room at the Lower Lodge, its comfortable slightly modern western interior, four poster bed and golden wood walls provided a sense of shelter from the harsh horizontal snow outdoors. My recently married daughter and her husband had a room upstairs that made them wish they had known about Chico Hot Springs when they were making wedding plans. I resisted the urge to ask for details, but they felt very cozy in their room.

Chico hourse barnBehind the Lower Lodge we found the Horse Barn, and were greeted by several horses with a layer of snow on their backs, and a sweet dusting of snow in their eyelashes. Chico is famous for horseback trail rides into Yellowstone National Park, carriage rides through the mountains, and ponies to introduce younger people to the ways of horses. The mountains surrounding Chico summon the spirit of exploring on horseback, and the horses seemed ready to answer that call. We also found that dog sledding tours were available there. We were very sorry to miss the chance to see the mountains from a sled with a team of dogs, or from the back of a horse as there is something of that quiet way of travel that stirs the soul in these huge rugged mountains. Every direction you turn the mountains call like a song on the wind.

Chico CottageAfter exploring outside for a while, we decided to take the “plunge” in the hot springs ourselves. Bathing suits in hand we ventured back to the main lodge and through the long winding halls to the huge natural spring pools. On the way we became acquainted with much of the history of this end of the road. The walls are covered with over a century’s worth of photos, maps, newspapers and other bits of history which tell a wonderful story of the evolution of a remote natural resource that has evolved with grace. It also tuned us in to looking at everything inside around us, a real treasure trove of eclectic adventure.

The outer pool is 44’ long and naturally heated with fresh spring water every day. The inner pool is smaller and hotter and under a roof, with “curb” service from the “Saloon” next to it. Both pools make your skin tingle with freshness, your muscles melt with pleasure, and your belief that there could be any problems in the outside world disappear.

After a short nap in my snugly room, we walked back to the main lodge and found the dining room. It is welcoming and comfortable, and everyone seemed to know each other even though they might have just met. We where we were immediately struck by the sophisticated menu.

Montana is famous for its beef, but fresh fish, pork and duck along with their own homemade bread and Chico grown herbs and vegetables were as beautifully prepared as surprising. Perhaps we were seduced by the clean snowy air combined with a long soak in the hot springs pool, followed by the luxuriant and mandatory four poster nap before dinner BUT the offerings in the dining room are a mountain miracle. Beef in Montana has a well deserved reputation, and Gavin’s vanished with barely need for a knife. I ordered the duck, which I try most places that it is offered, and Chico’s was among the best of the best. Crispy outside and richly tender inside. My daughter ordered trout, which she declared wondrously fresh and sweet, with a light lemony salsa on top.

Breakfast at Chico is another distinctive adventure, with three buffet tables laden with everything you can think of for breaking fast, and then some. One whole table filled with fresh pastries, and on top of that there is a menu of specialties! All the offerings were so tempting, so irresistible, that when we left we decided we needed a break from eating for the next 48 hours!

Chico Hot Springs is truly one of the most beautiful ways I have ever seen for taking a break from the world. I would like to go back and stay for a week, ride horses, hike in the mountains, sleep in that wonderful nest of a bed and let the universe take care of itself without me. Spend time in the dining room too, did I forget to mention that? I am sure that I would come home ten years younger and a few pounds heavier.

Luscious Dining and then Chico’s Famous Flaming Orange – the Ultimate follow up.

But the most astonishing thing of all though was their signature dessert, the Flaming Orange. I saw columns of fire erupting in the dining room, but I was so focused on the richness of the duck that I didn’t even think to ask what it was. After dinner though, our waitress informed us about the house specialty. She then arrived at the table with what was clearly an orange that had mounds of cream on top settled into what looked like a small iron skillet. With no fuss at all she torched it and yet another 3’ high geyser of flame shot upward and produced that singular campfire smell of burning sugar with the tang of citrus. It was just as interesting to taste as it was to watch too!
How to get there:
163 Chico Road
Pray, Montana (MT)  59065
get directions

Jalousie Plantation on St. Lucia Becoming Tides Sugar Beach

Descending into the Valle des Pitons at night.

Descending into the Valle des Pitons at night.

Driving through midnight darkness on the road from the airport down to Jalousie Plantation on St. Lucia was rather like sitting on a gyroscope. I adapted to the constant shift of climbing up hair pin turns glued to the pitches of the legendary peaks of the island, and then of course there was that going down thing.I never really considered exactly how many of these hairpin turns it took to reach Jalousie and sea level. Couldn’t really make it out in the dark, but rocking from the “going up” to the “going down” got my attention.

My cottage with Gros Piton on the right

My cottage with Gros Piton on the right

Lost in post air travel dimness I barely noticed the lovely white villa under the Flamboyant tree that would be home for the next week.   I disappeared into the most comfortable of beds and snapped off the light wondering at what this intensely vertical terrain must be like by daylight. By morning it did not disappoint. Seconds later the sun came up. Petit Piton was so close and so alarmingly huge that it consumed the window, filled the sky, stopped my brain in its tracks.

My cottage with a private pool looking out to sea

My cottage with a private pool looking out to sea

Through the white French doors at the foot of my bed I saw an elegant patio with a million blossoms around a charming small plunge pool and what was that beyond? Dripping sunlight glistened on the rainforest soaked trees that clung miraculously to the vertical sides of that impossible peak. I was stupefied by these visions until I found the coffee pot on the terrace and sat down to process where I was. Then I was humbled.

Jalousie in the Valle des Pitons

Jalousie in the Valle des Pitons

I had done my homework and learned that the visionary Lord Glenconner had purchased 492 acres between the pitons in the early ‘80s which included the old Jalousie Plantation, then a producer of Royal Lime. Under his guidance the Jalousie Plantation Resort opened its doors to a festive crowd of celebrities and royalty in the fall of 1993. This is the same Lord Glenconner who purchased a chunk of rock in 1968 which his vision evolved into the playground of the royal and elite known as Mustique.

Sugar Beach

Sugar Beach

In 2005 the resort on 192 acres was purchased by another experienced visionary, Roger Myers. He has joined forces with KOR/Tides to launch a $100 million regeneration of one of the most beautiful and unique sites on the planet. In so doing he has created a rare opportunity for investors to own part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Tides Sugar Beach Resort project is due for completion in 2011.

In the mean time Jalousie Plantation is open and glorious to visit. The villas are clean lined and elegant and with a cool white living room, huge bath with claw foot tub, separate shower room with garden access. The plunge pool with its flowers, sunny terrace and small bar set up create a lovely laid back way to pay homage to the gods that created the pitons!   The food is fresh, local, interesting, and served in three gourmet restaurants with a villa delivery option. Don’t miss the chef’s tasting menu! Jalousie offers to set up tables and serve your dinner anywhere on site so fire up your imagination and create an unforgettable evening!

buffet breakfast each morning by the beach

buffet breakfast each morning by the beach

Jalousie Plantation Villas offer 24 hour butler service,   a sweet West Indian Spa, a diving center under Petit Piton, the beach club with lounging under the palms, several different lounges inside and out, a children’s club and swimming pools. The list grows as renovation continues creating Tides Sugar Beach Resort. It seems as if every day I was there another inspiration was added to the plan. This very imaginative team of experienced resort creators is focused now on making the most exclusive and elegant complex in history. They intend to blow right by the “5 stars” designation and given the prospectus as designed and this heart-stopping UNESCO site it seems a possibility!

Meanwhile down the beach, our friend Lord Glenconner is not sitting on his laurels. Owning the rest of le Val des Pitons, he has planned a new village where owners and guests get to meet the locals who will run the restaurants and shops there. I heard about a dock capable of handling super yachts and a new wide sandy beach along the shore with paths for access to Tides Sugar Beach Resort.

There are bits of construction going on, but nothing that takes away from the experience of being in such a lush location. Together Jalousie Plantation, Tides Sugar Beach Resort and Glenconner Village nestled between the famous and unforgettable Pitons of St. Lucia seem destined to leave 5 stars behind to mere mortals.

For more information on visiting the Jalousie Plantation Resort http://www.thejalousieplantation.com/content/87.htm Tel: (758) 456 8000 reservations@thejalousieplantation.com

For more information on Tides Sugar Beach Resort contact Lisa Basire, Post Office Box 251, Soufriere, Saint Lucia,+ 44 (0) 208 812 4761,+ 44 (0) 7917 701486, + 44 (0) 208 874 8205, lisa.basire@sugarbeachvillas.com

How to get to St. Lucia and Jalousie Plantation:

There are two airports on St. Lucia, Hewanorra Int. Airport (UVF) in the south and the George F. L. Charles Airport (SLU) in the north. American Airlines flies direct from Miami daily. US Airways and Delta have staggered schedules in. Jet Blue is starting to service the island. From the UK British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have flights. LIAT offers local flights between the islands. There is a departure tax of EC$68 ($26 US) per adult which is built in to a round trip ticket. A taxi from either airport to Jalousie Plantation is roughly EC $120 ($50 US) for up to 4 people.

Stowe Weekend of Hope: This coming weekend

1I am going to be at Topnotch this weekend for the most amazing gathering of cancer survivors that has ever been put on by any community I have ever heard of.You can find out more about it, please tell your friends who have lived through this awful year that it is free for first time visitors, lodging as well. There are over 50 different venues ranging from oncology massage to restorative exercise programs, to reinforcing the remembering that you are not your disease and life can be fun again.

Here is a link: http://www.stowehope.org/

Please drop me a note if you are interested in talking with me there.

Details to come soon, in the mean time enjoy the day,


The New Phoenix, A Glorious Surprise Rising in the Desert

balloon1Rising into the early dawn darkness over the desert outside of Phoenix was a surprising and mystical experience. I had been in a hot air balloon, once, so I was not surprised by the huge flame lit volume of air overhead, or by the roaring of the burners as they raised the contained air temperature. The fact that without any sense of movement you are suddenly looking down on things you were looking across at seconds ago was interesting, unnerving for some at first but everyone quickly acclimated. What really moved me were the colors.

 Millions of stars dimmed as the light slowly amped up, mesmerizing to watch. What had been shapes of black and gray stretching for miles towards the mountains began to grow colors silently. Long dark shadows were creeping towards the western mountains leaving sages, tans and russet colors in their wake.  The phrase “line in the sand” crossed my mind as clearly on one side of that line there was shadowy darkness and on the other was the rich gold of the new light cresting the ridges. Coyotes, cactus’ and even desert hares stayed in the dark side for protection. We gazed down from our brightly colored now sun lit hot air balloon above them. They must have heard us, but were certainly focused on other things like breakfast and shelter, rather than the beautiful ritual of the desert awakening as seen from the air.

We were offered the traditional post-hot air balloon breakfast as the day warmed up. We watched the balloon getting packed up as we were served wilderness cooked eggs, sausages, sweet rolls and of course chili, accompanied by cold Champagne. We were then offered, I kid you not, cotton candy. Turns out to be pretty much of a palate cleanser served at many restaurants in the area! 

 Phoenix had never been on my radar to visit, I am pretty much of an ocean girl. But then I heard about how the city was reinventing itself, and that people seemed to be liking it so I decided to take a look. Opening that exploration with watching the sun rise over the desert bordered on strategically brilliant. I was primed to like what I found even though I had only been inside the airport previously on my way to somewhere else.

 My sister and I had given most of a week to exploration of this “new” city. Sure enough everywhere I looked there was renovation. Phoenix really did appear to be reinventing itself. Traffic was continually snarled up because areas of construction were cordoned off in all the streets but you could see the potential. I felt sorry for people working downtown in this snarl, but with parks emerging where there had previously been trash filled lots, and people based cityscape architecture evolving from old square brick buildings it was going to be worth the temporary inconvenience.

Laurie Nessel showing me how to turn rods of colored glass into fanciful hand made beads.The Mesa Arts Center  was something I was so looking forward to seeing, and it exceeded anything I could imagine. It was like a small city of art studios with gardens, restaurants, and public spaces woven through it designed to inspire the right side of your brain. There are free performances by the symphony on Sundays “weather permitting” but this is Phoenix where the weather is always permitting. When I got there I realized that pretty much anything that you could wish to learn to make you could find in this place. I had signed up for a lesson in how to make glass beads with Laurie Nessel. She showed me things that could be done with glass rods and a torch which made me wish I had a room there for a month.

 We moved out to the historic Arizona Biltmore hotel. Turns out it was not in fact designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but rather by one of his students who got the design contract. He called Wright to see about licensing a deco tile design that Wright had shown him. Wright decided that made him a consultant, which was fraught with problems for all parties involved but did at least result in the building of beautiful Taliessen. It’s an interesting story that they tell on the tour of the Arizona Biltmore which is worth the time to go on.

Elegantly whispering of ladies in jewels and men in top hats.The Arizona Biltmore is a wonderful blend of the original design as seen in the large photos that hang all over the building, and a modern facility with all the conveniences. It feels very deco, elegant and timelessly graceful. Perched in the desert it is a jewel. Our room was in one of the new buildings which was spacious and had a lounge of its own accessed by our room key, and a pool that was a short easy stroll from the back balcony or our room.  The large hot tub out there turned out to be a perfect place to sit out one of the cloud burst that came through making the desert around bloom.

Lunch at the edge of the olive orchard.We took a drive out to the Queen Creek Olive Mill as I had never seen olive oil pressed.  Coming from Vermont the term “localvore” has a whole lot of importance for me, implying healthy locally grown food, as well as healthy employment for the locals. All of that turned out to be true, and it was a beautiful family owned olive grove which processed and aged it product right on site.  We had a wonderful lunch there (surprising considering vast number of things we sampled from the olive buffet) as well as a demonstration of all the steps that go into making fresh pressed olive oil. It was a very nice afternoon. 

 While we were in the area one day we visited the brand new Museum of Music. I wish we had been able to give that a whole day, which it richly deserved. It is wired for headsets which they give out when you pay admission. Every time you stop to look at something, a gentle voice offers information about that thing. There was music from all over the world, and instruments, as well as a fabulous special exhibit on music from the 60s which had photos, costumes, instruments and songs from “rockers” of my childhood. Be still my heart. 

If I could only revisit one thing there though, it would be the exhibit of mechanical music. I kid you not, calliopes, carnival organs, metal robots that would sing and dance for a nickel placed in the palm, clocks that sang with tiny dancers moving around, and a truly astonishing collection of miniature musical players that were hard to fathom in their complexity. Not all of them worked, but those had videos and sound which became activated when you approached. 

 We spent another afternoon exploring the area around one of the many sports centers that Phoenix has recently invested in. The spring training baseball field at Talking Sticks was as intimate as Fenway, but all brand new. You could see everything happening on the field in detail as if you were part of the team. 

From there we crossed the street to one of the most fun restaurants I have ever been in, complete with a mechanical bull and a cowboy who clearly just lost his last dime at poker and needed to make a very quick escape. The food there was western style, chuck wagon plentiful,  and followed up of course, by cotton candy served in a very fancy cone just ripe for the plucking! There is a whole community of things to do and see with families in mind surrounding the Talking Stick baseball field.

Another day we spent an afternoon at the Heard Museum. I happen to really enjoy museums that preserve the style, artwork and culture of the west, and this was one of the better ones that I have visited. While we were there an exhibit of each tribes costumes, artwork and lifestyle complete with full sized dioramas for each culture was ongoing. You walked through their lives, saw the rituals of daily living and heard the music of their lives.  I was surprised at how different each culture was when laid out this way.

Our casita at Four SeasonsWe arrived in the mid-day heat and had the kind of smooth entry to the Four Season’s Scottsdale that Four Seasons always delivers. Our suite looked like part of a small adobe village from the outside, and a very private casita from the inside. We had a large comfortable ramada off the bedroom that put us face to face with the tumbled rocky landscape of high desert right down to a cactus the size of a school bus on end 10 feet out.

 We spent a relaxing day roaming this small estancia starting with the bar by the pool, some excellent southwestern chow and the mandatory margarita, or two. The spa there is cool and dark and very nicely comforting from the heat of the desert.  That evening we met some friends at the western facing cantina before dinner. In front of us a hundred yards across a wide grassy plaza a fifty foot wide fire blazed as the sun went down, the shadows retook the desert and the stars reclaimed the sky.  I thought of the desert hares and coyotes we had seen the first day we arrived, and saw in my mind the images playing backwards. I could happily do this hundreds of times over.

 sunsetWe were liking this new Phoenix. The atmosphere of the new Phoenix is fun, energetic filled with great food and interesting things to look at, learn and do are everywhere. The reinvention of this city is creative and beautiful and I really enjoyed its new burst of life. We even eventually got accustomed to the tradition of serving cotton candy after meals.


Check the weather in Phoenix (http://www.accuweather.com/en/us/phoenix-az/85003/weather-forecast/346935)

Hot Air Balloon Tours (http://www.hotairexpeditions.com/)

Mesa Arts Center (http://www.mesaartscenter.com/)

Arizona Biltmore (http://waldorfastoria3.hilton.com/en/hotels/arizona/arizona-biltmore-a-waldorf-astoria-resort-PHXBMWA/index.html?wt.srch=1

Queen Creek Olive Mill (http://www.queencreekolivemill.com/)

The Museum of International Music (http://mim.org/)

Talking Sticks Baseball (http://www.saltriverfields.com/)

The Heard Museum (http://www.heard.org/)

Four Seasons Scottsdale (http://www.fourseasons.com/scottsdale/accommodations/?c=t&_s_icmp=mmenu)

Care Free Tea, Roses and English Sweeties

We had walked off the hot dusty streets of Care Free, Arizona and into a magical world created by our film star gorgeous host, Jo Gemmil, born of her real life experience growing up in English Tea Rooms. The environment that she created has not a spare inch of space that hasn’t been filled with Roses, bits of iron fence, small photos of English gardens, hundreds of unmatched floral tea pots, cups, creamers and sugar bowls which blossom into a wonderful collage of festivity.

We were seated at a small table with iron cottage style garden chairs, and offered a tea list the likes of which I had never encountered. As we visually explored the small room, crowded with people doing the same thing we discovered the crowning achievement of this tiny jewel. In the corner we discovered a white arch covered with roses that lead into a side room filled with garden hats of every description, and dresses with frills and lace. The urge to play dress up was beyond us. We instantly became ten year olds in granny’s closet. Uplifted spirits guaranteed.

Over a flowered bone china tea cup my eyes picked up my friend in her red wide brim hat with red and white roses, sprinkled with diamonds around the brim no less. It was impossible not to smile. Here we were, old friends having tea and biscuits with Devonshire cream, strawberries, cucumber tea sandwiches along with every kind of diet violation on tiered plates.

Before long everyone in the room had made a selection from the joyous collection of hats and was happily probing the tiered plates for treats. The teas were wonderful, the goodies delicious and the atmosphere something that is good for your soul.


Easy Street, Care Free, Arizona

Captain Cocktail’s Guide to the BVI

Some of the guys who play at Foxy’s

The Caribbean is world famous for the kind of outrageous fun had by kids when the teacher leaves the room. Its blend of azure water, glistening islands, excellent food, casual atmosphere and constant breezes with line of sight navigation for sailors attracts visitors like lemmings. In essence you would have to work really hard not to have a good time in this island paradise.

Some attribute this draw to the fact that in this part of the world it is the mixer that is the expensive part of the cocktail, and therefore the part that the barkeep is stingy with. After dozens of visits there myself I think it is really simpler than that. The minute you step off the plane you can sense in the air that you have landed in the epicenter of fun. Each island has its own contribution to make to the mix and I would like to offer some of my favorite “tings”.

I usually fly to Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands commonly called the BVI. It used to be a funny little tin roofed airport building which had walls only most of the way around it, and turquoise water right up to the tarmac around most of the runway. Welcome to Beef Island. One time I rolled my luggage from the under the roof across the runway and onto a small dock, hopped into a skiff and climbed aboard a 63’ sailboat which was gently swaying in the wash of the jets coming and going overhead. 10 minutes later we were under sail in the golden hour before sunset with fresh fruit rum drinks and 75 degree breezes over the deck. It doesn’t get much better than that. They have modernized (notice that I didn’t say improved) the airport building since then, but the little dock to the harbor is still there.

Another clue to the nature of the British Virgin Islands can be found in the airport and on each of the islands. When you first enter the BVI unless you hold a British passport you must do what is known locally as “clearing in”. Passport in hand you see two signs; one for “visitors” and one for “belongers”. Some of us visit these islands to enjoy a very special attitude about life and the living of it in an environment tailor made for celebration. Still it is never quite forgotten that the “belongers” invented it. The signs have been changed in the recent past, but the distinctions remain.

Being a sailor I have visited most of these islands by boat. Whether you come by skiff, bareboat charter or in the rarified luxury of a superyacht this is clearly a boat person’s paradise. In my mind afloat is the best way to get to know the region. In case of emergency (as in you can’t get your own boat) there are ferries and small shuttles to get around but one of the things that I love about the BVI is that there is nowhere for a Cruise ship to park.

Arabella, cabin charter at it’s finest.

One of the finest ways that I know to see many islands in a week enjoying the boat life is by boarding the lovely Arabella. This 156’ four masted schooner has 20 staterooms and is a wonderful introduction to a half dozen islands while seeing many of the famous beaches, snorkeling spots, sampling restaurants and relaxing at beach bars. No sailing skills required.

For those who prefer life “on the hard” each island has its own style, some are large, busy and bustling with places to enjoy every kind of tropical adventure. The largest of these is Tortola with something for everyone! The smallest might be Sandy Spit, which is probably the island that cartoonists are thinking of when they draw the guy alone under a single Palm tree surrounded by endless horizon. It might be 200 feet long and 100 feet wide and a few inches larger at low tide. It supports one palm tree and several dozen scrub bushes surrounded by wide white beach of the kind you dream about during the gales of November. But it pays to remember that you could be alone there so bring your own “fixings”!

If you would rather be served than brown bag it, the BVI has way more variety in food and drink than anyone could guess would be packed into a few dozen islands. Fruit, fish, spices and veggies are fresh and abundant all through the islands, and creativity has no bounds. Among my favorites are sweet potato encrusted red snapper served on banana leaves, Callaloo lobster, Conch fritters cooked over a 50 gallon oil drum and you should try every roti that you come upon, dipped into some kind of fresh fruit chutney. You will miss it when you go home!

Foxy’s Taboo

Some of the best food in the islands comes from the most unlikely looking places, casual beach bars are always good at any time of day.

If your mission was to go from bar to bar up the Sir Francis Drake Passage your liver would be waving a little white flag before you got around your second island. The islands are justly famous for taking reality in very small doses and locally made high octane in large ones. And remember the bit about the cost of mixers? Since some selectivity is required just to get by, these are a few of my favorites.

The Savior of the Sea in Little Harbor on Jost van Dyke

I walked up from the water of Little Harbor on Jost Van Dyke, past the shell encrusted “savior of the sea” and into Ivan’s No Stress Bar. No stress indeed, no bartender either. The note on the counter said “make your drink, start your tab, pay it when you leave.” That’s right, this was the famous honor bar, a place that never closes because time has no meaning. You really will lose any stress that survived the trip to Jost sitting with your feet in the sand watching the boats rock gently at anchor surrounded by nothing but perfect beach and gentle waves. Jost Van Dyke has only about 200 residents but it is a very good place for a visit.

While you are there you should walk over the hill to the beach that they call Great Harbor. Foxy’s is probably the most famous of all the beach bars in the region, famous for food, famous for music and famous for Foxy himself. Of all the places in the BVI this is the legendary place to spend new years eve, which by default means new years day as well. Get ready for the wooden boat regatta held then, anything made of wood that still floats will qualify you for one of the really crazy events that kick off the year.

Another time I happened to arrive on Tortola at the full moon, which means exactly one thing to the island wise – Bomba Shack. Perched between the narrow road and the wide beach on Apple Bay is a ramshackle collection of corrugated tin strips, sea washed beach timber, old bicycle frames and hand painted signs. The first one I noticed said “if you want a Bomba t-shirt, get naked and give him your underwear”. That is when I noticed that every inch of every rafter had sun bleached underwear wafting in the dark night breeze. Bomba must go through a lot of t-shirts! Still, mushroom tea is legal, the live music was great, the beer was icy cold while the sand was still warm, the full moon glittered over a luminescent sea although so far I have never seen one of these t-shirts handed over.

Welcome to the Cooper Island Yacht Club

If end of the universe tranquility is on your search list, it is pretty hard to beat The Cooper Island Beach Club. Sitting on the sand under the rustling palm fronds has inspired many a pin striped wage slave to run away from home. “The Cooper Island Dream” is made of peach schnapps, coconut rum, fresh fruit juice and peaceful fantasies of never hearing a phone ring again. Cooper Island has few people living there, 2 rental villas, fabulous diving, poison apple trees and is reputed to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’s song “Cheese Burger in Paradise”.  You can only get here by boat or ferry from Road Town, Tortola.

The only thing on Prickly Pear Island in North Sound is the Sand Box. This is another spot where your toes are in the sand, your face is in the glorious sunset over “the dogs” and “Sunset Coolers” are served in goldfish bowls to the sound of sails coming down 50 feet away as beautiful yachts head for evening shelter at the Bitter End Yacht Club on nearby Virgin Gorda. This is one of the world’s most famous sailor’s Mecca’s and the parade of glorious yachts in the evening is well worth the dinghy ride.

Bitter End Yacht Club

Virgin Gorda is on the other side of the channel. The Bitter End is a family run all inclusive fantasy camp for sailors offering over 100 boats of all sizes for the guests to play with.  Guests stay in cottages dotted along the sunset side of the hill, with several restaurants, gift shops, excellent hiking along the ridge and excursions of all types. One of them is to The Baths at the other end of the island. 50’ tall smooth round boulders are jumbled along the point of the island with caves and paths through them and a beach on either end. The Baths is a truly amazing natural formation that no island tour is complete without.

Bali Lo, on Necker Island

Just around the corner from there is glorious Necker Island. On top of the cliffs is one of the most beautiful buildings in the BVI, a Balinese design constructed for the pleasure of about a dozen guests. Staying there is one of the sweetest adventures that I have ever had in these islands. Might be because it came from the imagination of Richard Branson, himself famous for excellent parties, incredible food, beautiful uncontrived surroundings and a luscious joy of life. It is actually difficult to get there as you can’t get a room, you have to rent the whole 57 acre island and it is usually booked by famous people in search of paradise and the outrageously elegant and yet refreshingly simple life offered there. Well, that and the fact that just about anything that a guest can desire will be provided and all secrets will be kept.

Peter Island is a private resort, but much more accessible to visit. At 1800 acres the island offers 20 coves for private exploring with sugary beaches accessed by kayak, windsurfer or sailboat. Tennis, volleyball, diving along with luxurious accommodations and a full service spa are part of your stay.

If you are not interested in a private island, or an island that you share only with other guests, there are still many choices in the BVI. I love Lambert Bay on Tortola. Small cottages are separated from the ocean only by a line of tall elegant palms that are lit at the top at night, two restaurants and a tavern on the sand as well as a swim up bar in the pool make this sunset facing cove pretty complete. You feel alone in the universe as you look out to sea without another building in sight, and yet a 15 minute taxi ride will get you into the heart of the romp and frolic that Tortola has to offer.

The manager told me a wonderful story about an elegant dinner party that they had at one of the beach side restaurants at Lambert Bay. Evidently the guests were very dressed up, and seated along the edge of the open air restaurant facing the sea when the newly installed lights among the palm trees came on. It created a lush dreamy effect high up in the palm fronds just as he hoped. Slowly he began to notice guests bending over from the tables, dozens of them looking at the floor. Evidently this was the full moon night of the turtle hatch, and the babies seeing the brightness in the trees came into the dining area in stead of heading for the moon over the water. The whole party became about scooping up the tiny, minutes old babies and then wading into the water in their evening clothes to release them. Now they are careful not to turn on the lights during the hatch, but it created a legend all over the island about this magical dinner.

Many of the islands are uninhabited, or sparsely populated but almost every one has a place worth putting on a mask and snorkel, and some are even tank for shallow water diving. If this is what you are after find your way to Cooper island Cistern Point or The Devil’s Kitchen at the end of Manchioneel Bay. Sail Caribbean Divers on shore will be glad to outfit you and offer maps and even guides. Next door, Ginger Island has a site that will make you feel as if you left the known planet called Alice in Wonderland, named after the huge colored sea fans that make you feel so small. They can also take you over to Salt Island which is inhabited by one man who still harvests salt the way they did for hundreds of years, and out to the Wreck of the Rhone. Here is a ship that sank in 20-80 feet of water in 1867. The iron ship is now completely covered in choral, although clearly recognizable as a graceful sailing vessel lying on the ocean floor.

Certainly there is good entertainment above the water, in fact the BVI is a fisherman’s paradise. Bone fishing for the guy who likes to match wits with the invisible shallow water speed demons, and Wahoo, Yellow or Black Tuna or even Marlin for those that like to match muscle with the big guys. You really haven’t lived until you have gone after some of these guys with medium to light tackle though! Anagada, way up at the end of the chain is probably most famous for Bonefish, Permit and tarpon caught on a fly rod. Garfield’s Guides will be happy to show you the best spots if you make your way there. And don’t miss the enormous Anagada Lobster, but don’t go after those with a fly rod!

The BVI almost defines paradise and is worth taking your time to wander through. If you want to sail yourself you can do an internet search under “bare boat charters BVI” and find hundreds of places to get boats. Ferries are pretty reliable given an understanding of “island time” and of course you can fly into Tortola or St. Thomas to get them. Bring a sense of adventure and be ready to play. The BVI is kindergarten without the teachers, fun at every turn. With any luck at all we might meet at the golden hour with something icy in our hands and our feet warm in the sand!

Contact Information:
S/Y Arabella http://www.cruisearabella.com/

Jost Van Dyke – Foxy’s & Ivan’s No Stress Bar http://www.b-v-i.com/JostVanDyke/default.htm

Tortola – Bomba Shack, Lambert Bay http://www.bvitourism.com/tortola/beach-bars

Anagada – fishing http://www.bvitourism.com/anegada

Cooper Island – Beach Club http://www.cooper-island.com/

Salt Island http://www.virginislandsmap.com/saltisland/links/about.htm

Beaches of the BVI http://www.bvitourism.com/other-islands/beaches

Virgin Gorda – Bitter End Yacht Club http://www.beyc.com/

The Baths   http://www.b-v-i.com/baths.htm

Necker Island http://www.virgin.com/subsites/necker/

Peter Island http://www.peterisland.com/

Winter’s Silver Lining – The Purple Mountain’s of Arizona

As I look out the window I am acutely aware that the six months of gray skies, cold temperatures and precipitation of some sort has begun. It is 15 degrees, everything is dim, and snow is spitting from the sky. And to think that just days ago I was surrounded by golden sunlight, endless blue sky, plum colored mountains and rolling golf links surrounding a graceful resort, several shops, a few restaurants and a lovely new spa. This is Tubac, Arizona.

Every morning we woke early to the warm breezes of an Arizona day. We walked out of our suite, and into a small village area where the scent of fresh bacon in the breeze brought us to the sunny breakfast room. We usually chose to sit outside and watch the brilliance unfold as cows wandered around the golf course and waiters brought fresh healthy things as we considered our options for the day.

One morning we crossed into Nogales, Mexico for a bit of bargaining in the shops. Mexican traders will drag you in off the streets saying “You are my first customer of the day, special discounts. Almost Free”. They are shameless flirts, will offer you tequila “made by my uncle” and give you small gifts for purchasing with them. If they don’t have the size of something you like, they will dash out into the street, haggle with another merchant, and sell you his product. They offer advice and suggest restaurants as long as you promise to return to their shop later. Go ahead, be shameless too. It’s fun and it’s the Mexican way.

One morning we rode bicycles down the short dusty road into Tubac. What a delightful little town spanning the range from Mexican hand crafts and traditional work, to stunning contemporary artistry. We had lunch at a fresh air bistro enjoying fresh Mexican cooking and the exotic wind vanes of another artist bending the light gently in the soft mid day breeze. Jewelry, leather and clothing of all types and price ranges was to be found in southwestern buildings, adobe shacks and modern lofts off the dusty streets.

Another morning we played golf on the beautiful course that surrounds the entire village resort. The course is a beautiful rolling landscape that surrounds the houses, hotel suites and inner village of the resort and is itself surrounded by towering purple mountains. Its most interesting feature to me was the ever present “girls” grazing next to the greens. They are practically pets right up until they become a fresh part of the restaurant menu, tender and delicious right off the hoof!

Every afternoon at the Tubac Resort, we went to the new spa, a lovely tile and mesquite building with tall windows and a balmy solarium in the center of the resort village. Treatments are perfectly designed to sooth sun drenched skin and golf tired muscles. Wonderful gentle falls of water ran down the walls infusing the air with moisture and the relaxing sound like very gentle rain. Pitchers of iced water filled with limes were at hand before and after treatments as we sat in cloud soft robes.

My first treatment was called Tui Na. Sara’s strong hands soothed the whole length of my body. She infused the air with different aromas blending calming herbs with long smooth strokes and greener scents with deep tissue work. Interesting guitar music softly filled the room to stimulate several senses at once. For 80 minutes this process eased from quiet and peaceful to energizing and back to soothing. The end result was a head to toe body hum that lingered for days.

Another afternoon I had one of the most refreshing facials that I have ever had. We had learned to come quite early to enjoy the ambiance of the spa and the comfort of the solarium before treatments. The spa room was as calming as I had found it the day before. Today though, I was offered a choice of scents for the air and the cleansers and lotions. I chose something light and floral which just barely lingered all evening. The treatment itself was soft and smooth and left my skin feeling calm and soothed, very nice.

There are very nice shops at the resort as well as in the town. We bought clothes there to remind us of the delicious stay in the purple mountains of southern Arizona. We enjoyed every minute of our time at the Tubac Golf and Spa Resort, and as I turn to the window again, I can barely believe that I left. My mind takes a small holiday into the possibilities of staying out there for the winter…..  It’s pretty easy to get to though, so I might just have to go back before the daffies start emerging!

 For more information or reservations you can visit: http://www.TubacGolfResort.com