Hearst Castle looms over California's northern coastline // © 2010 Janeen Christoff
Hot-air ballooning in the rain // © 2010 Janeen Christoff
Giraffes at Lion Sands Game Reserve // © 2010 Janeen Christoff
Trees in MacMillan Park // © 2010 Janeen Christoff
Lovers show their amore with locks on Lovers Lane in the Cinque Terre. // © 2010 Janeen Christoff
This year was a year of new explorations and a year of visiting places that I never thought I would get to see. It also included some of the most amazing sights and places I have ever seen. It’s pretty safe to say that 2010 might have been one of my best years in travel. Hopefully, there are a lot of other people who agree with me and who also had a banner travel year and will continue to in 2011.
Cappadocia, Turkey. Cappadocia wasn’t even on my travel radar but, this year, after going to Istanbul, I had the pleasure of staying at the Museum Hotel, a cave hotel in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. From my room, which was literally a cave, I could see the renowned fairy chimneys dotting the landscape and the hot air balloons taking off in the early mornings. I myself was able to ride in a hot air balloon and, because the journey was in the rain, it is one of my most memorable travel experiences of the year. I don’t think that too many people can say they have taken a hot air balloon ride while it’s sprinkling!
Safari, South Africa. I haven’t always dreamed of seeing the Big Five. In fact, going on safari kind of petrified me. I am no fan of bugs or tiny creatures crawling around in the night and, when I was a child, I had a terrifying incident with a wild boar in Catalina, Calif. However, even though it’s not an experience I would generally seek out, when presented with the opportunity I was not going to turn it down – as long as I didn’t have to sleep outdoors. We arrived at Lion Sands River Lodge in the early afternoon, so one of the first items on our agenda was to head out into the bush and try to see the Big Five. We didn’t have to wait long to encounter wildlife – within five minutes, we spotted a family of giraffe. A half-hour later, our group saw a lion sleeping off his feast of water buffalo (which we also saw and which might be one of my least favorite encounters of 2010 – the smell was horrific). In our three days at Lion Sands Game Reserve, we saw the Big Five and more. While the game drives were amazing and both exhilarating and relaxing, I have to say that my favorite moment was during my stay at Lion Sands’ Ivory Lodge when, from my deck, I saw a family of elephants frolicking in the Sabie River. It was positively thrilling.
Vancouver Island, B.C. Like most Americans, I take a vacation with my family every year. This year, we were lucky enough to do a driving trip around Vancouver Island, B.C., which I discovered is a terrific destination for children. We rented a car and took B.C. Ferries to Nanaimo and, from there, we were headed to Tofino. The three-hour drive was a bit of a concern for the girls, who I thought might get bored just staring out the window as we drove along, but the drive turned out to be a thrill. In MacMillan Provincial Park, we saw giant Douglas fir trees and we got the girls out of the car to walk along some of the fallen logs. We also stopped in Coombs at a local market where they have goats on the roof. The Coombs Country Market is a must-stop for anyone on a Vancouver Island road trip. There literally are goats grazing on the roof of the market, which my girls got a big kick out of (and so did my husband). We stopped for ice cream, a little shopping and, of course, to stock up on snacks for the road. Once in Tofino, my family and I couldn’t get enough of the late-night surfing that was taking place right outside our window at the Pacific Sands Beach Resort. Then, we drove from Tofino to Victoria, stopping at Wild Play, a fantastic park with ropes courses and zip lines. The girls had a fun time playing. There are several Wild Play parks throughout Vancouver Island, and I highly recommend stopping if you are driving with children – it’s a great way to get some energy out and to take a break from driving. Our final stop was Victoria, where my daughters enjoyed the Princess Tea at the Fairmont Empress hotel. The tea has left a lasting impression on my eldest daughter who continues to have tea parties almost daily and who always remembers to hold her pinky finger in the air.
Central Coast, California. It’s always a fun city break to spend a weekend exploring California’s Central Coast. A short three-hour jaunt from Los Angeles gets you to San Luis Obispo with its charming Old Town area and farmers market. A little way beyond that is Cambria, Calif., and Moonstone Beach. Cambria is one of my favorite places. The tiny town just a mile or so off the beach offers quaint shopping and dining experiences. If you visit Cambria, you can’t miss out on Hearst Castle. I remember visiting once when I was a kid and, of all the tours of museums I had taken, it stood out as one that I really enjoyed, and I remembered why when I visited this time around. Our guide was entertaining and funny and enlightened us with all the fun facts about the castle – the things you really want to know such as where did Clark Gable sleep and why is there always ketchup on the table? My favorite place at the castle is the indoor Roman Pool. It’s all I can do to not jump in.
Tuscany, Italy. I have always said that, someday, I would like to own a villa in Tuscany. Even before I visited the region, I knew that it was somewhere I wanted to spend a lot of time. So, this year, I jumped at the chance to visit the region again on a Trafalgar tour. While experiencing the company’s new At Leisure tours, I had the chance to once again visit some of the region’s most spectacular sights. Although I love wine tasting and culinary programs, my favorite visit during this trip was the walk along lover’s lane (Via dell’Amore) in the Cinque Terra. Walking along this path from the Riomaggiore train station, visitors can see a trail of graffiti and lovers professing their amore by leaving locks secured along every fence post along the way. It is such a unique way to show someone you care. If visitors are interested, the train station sells locks for lovers.