Friday, December 29, 2017

Cinque Terre treats, the Italian way: with castles, scenery, seafood, churches, riots of color and stunning views

Photographers from all over the world are drawn to the colors and sea views of Cinque Terre, visited from Portovenere.


Cookie and Keller, happy in Porto Venere, Italy, near a famed Gothic church,
stunning beaches,caves, rocky promontories and a clifftop fortress.
Seafood is one of the draws of the exotic ports of Cinque Terre.

UNFORGETTABLE VIEWS of the bay inspired English poets more than a century ago, and continue to draw visitors from around the globe to the magic of Cinque Terre.
Lunch al fresco, featuring calimari, clams,
octopus and local greens in Monterosso.

Five picturesque townships bursting with color and charm look out on the Ligurian Sea, an alluring arm of the Mediterranean. 
WE SPENT  a few delightful days here, on the northwest edge of Italy's boot," recharging after a week of hectic touring. We jumped ship after a rejuvenating Royal Caribbean sail aboard Brilliance of the Seas, and returned to Monterosso.
Nestled between the  Italian Riviera (Liguria) and the island of Corsica, this quintet of enticing hamlets may be accessed by train or boat from La Spezia.
The castle of Porto Venere draws hikers to a stunning view.
We motored to Cinque Terre from the Brilliance, tracing the route Napoleon developed when he was assembling his navy in the late 18th Century.
We motored from La Spezia, also famous as an entree to Tuscany.  
We'd explored the wonders of Florence and its magnificent Uffizi Gallery many times so searched for a new discovery: enter Cinque Terre.
Winding streets with fun shops featuring
handmades are part of Cinque Terre's charm.

WE BOARDED our boat in the village of Porto Venere, known for its Regional Natural Park, a lovely protected area with trails and dive sites. The park encompasses Palmaria Island, dotted with beaches and caves. We walked past colorful shops and hotels to the Gothic-style Church of St. Peter, which sits atop a rocky headland. Nearby is the centuries-old Castello Doria, an imposing clifftop fortress with views of the Gulf of Poets. The wonders continue to entertain the senses -- grottos, tower-like houses, riots of bougainvillea,  delectable seafood, beautiful handmade linens and pottery, and romantic footpaths dating back to the Middle Ages.     Our favorite walk was the Via dell'Amore, dedicated to lovers. More info:
Fishing is an important career for many locals. We watched the owners of these boats repair their nets one sunny afternoon.

UP NEXT:  What do you know about Malta?  This small but interesting Mediterranean country is less than 100 kilometers from Sicily.  Nearly everyone speaks Italian, but  Maltese is the major language, a pleasing blend of several languages, including Arabic, because of the proximity to Africa. Other languages spoken are French and English, But its closeness to Africa inspires not only language, but Malta's art, architecture, food and temperament.. Join us each Friday  to explore, learn and live  as we offer  a fresh approach to travel, nature and the arts.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Magical Mission Inn in Riverside: Come catch the holiday spirit

Mission Inn is aglow and magical this time of year in Riverside, California

Cookie and Keller pause in front of the historic hotel.


FOR TWO DECADES, the historic Mission Inn in Riverside, Calif., has lit itself up for the holidays to the delight of thousands of appreciative onlookers.

People book rooms -- often a year or two in advance -- so they can live happily among the splendidly lit decorations for a day or two.
This year, the famous hotel has more than five million lights ablaze.
Carriages, beautifully decorated, and well tended
 horse's offer beauty and entertainment.

The lights accent  displays ranging from classic Biblical scenes to tableaux from the beloved "Nutcracker" ballet, to a fanciful Santa with reindeer and elves.
THE RICH history of the hotel dates back to 1874 when a when a Wisconsin civil engineer arrived in Riverside. C.C. Miller began work on an inspired water system, and with his family, started a small boarding house in the center of town.

A docent tour takes guests into lobbies, alcoves

Handsome, merry nutcrackers 
and friends provide color 
as they line the balconies and walkways.

The inn was popular with travelers and its reputation grew.  The Miller family accented it with their own art collection.
 In 1902, Miller's son Frank Augustus Miller changed the name to the "Glenwood Mission Inn" and started a much grander vision enlarging the grounds and adding buildings, in a variety of styles, He continued the expansion until he died in 1935. 
THE YOUNGER   Miller's architectural flair resulted in an eclectic structural blend  drawn from a variety of influences.  His study of historical design periods, revivals, influences, and styles created today's delightful property.
   The Spanish mission-style structure is the crowning jewel of a charming downtown which includes galleries, museums, bistros,  taverns and a performing arts center.
The inn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a State of California Historic Landmark, and is a member of Historic Hotels of America. Tours of the property are available through the Mission Inn Foundation, which operates the enterprise.  
Along with architectural styles and furnishings from around the world, the inn contains dozens of entertaining stories, which docents colorfully share.. /
Bright pastels dot the rocky terrain which rises from the sea in  Monterosso.

UP NEXT:  Ah, Cinque Terre. Five villages of heaven on Earth.  Gorgeous pastels, picturesque villages, water, flowers, pleasant people, fabulous seafood.  Sounds too good to be true. But this lovely array of small, welcoming towns is a favorite of Cookie and Keller. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays when we post for each weekend.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Winter's home on the range; a photographic homage to Big Sky Country -- with tips!

A bighorn sheep nods to winter, near Nye, Montana, near the Beartooth Mine.  He was photographed on a recent visit. 



"For how can one know color in perpetual green, and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness...." John Steinback, "Travels with Charley."

Between snows, it's pleasant to wander the river, and maybe even catch a fish.
Beetween snows and melts, the deer are out to forage, making
them excellent material for an afternoon or morning of photos.

MONTANA IS truly a land for all seasons -- if one likes variety.
John Steinbeck loved our mountains and prairies -- and even found our cold winters  inspiring.
While his affection might have been partly bourbon induced, his sentiments have plenty of supporters. Right now, the temperature is zigging and zagging from freezing and below, to downright balmy.
Rain, snow, ice and gorgeous bursts of sun and thaw come with the territory this time of year. Thousands are reveling in it, when downhill and cross-country skiing are at their best, with the snow crisp but not icy, the welcome sun shining without melting the white.

AMONG THE virtues of wildlife viewing in the winter is the fact that the crowds of summer are vanished.  You can find parking and hiking even in the most normally crowded scenic viewing pull-offs.  There's a freedom, calm and, yes, sweetness in winter that the crowds and heat of summer sabotage.  

Bighorn sheep -- a male on the right -- enjoy a stroll in late autumn.
The male appears to be courting the female. The time was right.

Cross country skiing in the Beartooths
can make for an invigorating day.
This guy was late to hibernation -- or took a break -- to play in the snow.
He may have been unearthing something buried before to eat later.

PHOTOGRAPHERS, nature lovers and bird watchers  have long known that winter is prime time for viewing -- if one is  properly dressed.  Birds and critters -- except most bears -- are easier to see against the winter trees and rocky outcroppings often edged with white.  Animals such as rabbits and deer are spotted more readily because their coats aren't as easily hidden in winter.  Birds in the trees don't have the leaf cover of the other seasons.
     But patience is a virtue.
Keller says he always does his homework on an animal's or bird's behavior before setting out for "the photograph."
HE OFFERS these tips -- and he should know.  His work is well published and you view it here week after week. He has the essential patience for researching his photo shoots before hand.  I do  that when I prepare for an interview with an actor, musician, writer, painter or politician. Makes sense to apply the same advice to photography.
This chilly fellow at a feeder near 
our place in south-central Montana
appears to like the mix of seed.
A ranch near us is blanketed with snow for months. 
We often see the footprints of deer as we drive in or out.
"Getting to know something about the subject before I set out with my camera makes the difference between being ready and prepared to do justice to that “golden moment” and feeling utter failure and frustration.  (As when you stand not quite ready and watch your subject fly by or trot away.)"
In our safaris to Africa -- both Kenya and Tanzania -- Keller's advice was echoed by our naturalist tour guide-photographers.  In Masai Mara, a noted photographer said there is only
The promise of spring -- and the beauty of green -- kept 
Steinbeck returning to Montana, as it does us!

one certain way to get to know wildlife, even  after copious reading and research.
"You must spend time with them. Don’t just hang around for a few minutes, or pop your head out of a viewing coach.  Study the subject.  Read, of course. Then take every opportunity to be near the animal or bird, even in a preserve or zoo.
"Look at other peoples' photographs.  And if your subject isn't co-operating, try something else for a few minutes -- stand up, change position, move to the next clearing or spot. Sit quietly while the animals move around. Watch them. And wait. Your time to get a spectacular photo will come."

Riverside's Mission Inn is a wonderland
Of holiday lights and magical displays.

UP NEXT:  The Mission Inn, in Riverside, Calif., is known for its lavish holiday decorations which feature five million lights and attract visitors from all over the world.  For two decades-plus, the Inn has championed the Festival of Lights, which besides its millions of lights features over 400 animated figures. Come have a merry look at Santa and his Elves, the Nutcrackers and fairies, palm trees and religious icons, all in the finest reds and golds. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for our weekly posts.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Mas la Boella -- spectacular Catalonia resort incorporates history, wine, nature, olive oil and modern amenities

The view from our balcony at Hotel Mas La Boella: tranquil, at sunset, welcoming, quiet, serene and beautiful.
The resort sports a noted restaurant and convention center, with an imposing 12th Century home as its centerpiece.
The estate's thoughtful design incorporates elements of
the 12th Century home and mill, honoring southern Spain's
 legacy of producing some of the world's finest olive oil.  
and courtesy Hotel Mas La Boella

ONLY AN HOUR-PLUS drive from bustling Barcelona, an oasis of calm and pleasure awaits.
Hotel Mas La Boella is a beautifully designed boutique hotel with 13 elegant suites -- each distinct and artfully decorated -- named after the estate's bountiful variety of grapes and olives.
We discovered this paradise while researching unusual places to stay, a tradition in our ten years of visiting southern Spain with its enticing array of boutique hotels and paradors.
DRAWN TO picturesque and historic Tarragona province, we were intrigued by the allure of La Boella. Foodies and olive fanciers, we loved that we'd douse our bread with oil made from the estate's own trees.  We appreciated that one of southern Spain's famed chefs creates the restaurant's delicacies.  Fragrant Tarragona wines and 300 other global offerings complement Manuel Ramirez' beautifully presented plates.
A simple, delicious appetizer olive
begins the feast at Espai Fortuny.

BEAUTY AWAITS the beholder everywhere.  Various elements are at play, all enhanced by nature.  The place has history -- a 12th Century country house is equipped with the latest technology.  So the hotel is pampering and serene, yet completely modern.  Our balcony offered stunning views of the olive groves, gardens and vineyards.  Our suite was beautifully enhanced with pleasing paintings evoking nearby nature. Yet we could be on line, catching up on work.
La Boella's stunning beauty extends inside and outside the estate.
Everything is constructed with the highest standards in the estate,
popular for weddings, parties, luxurious events and conferences.
We strolled the grounds, admiring the mill where La Boella's famous extra virgin olive oil is made -- and we toured the factory, enjoying a tasting after. 
Olive oil is serious business in  Mediterranean countries, each believing its product is superior.  We'd be hard pressed (no pun intended) to  find more delicious olive oil than that produced at La Boella.  We poured it over our beautifully cooked eggs.  We dipped our bread in it.  We became olive oil junkies in our several days there.  And we came home with bottles which we proudly and sparingly use, remembering a special time in a peaceful place.
Lauded Catalan chef, Manuel Ramirez, sets the tone for exquisite meals,
 artfully prepared with quality ingredients, including the estate's own olive oil. 
THE LOVELY HOTEL is recently constructed, but has the feeling of  age -- with lacquered wood, huge windows, gorgeous giant beds ("more for dreaming than sleeping," they say. And it's true.)
Breakfast at La Boella features freshly
made muffins and rosquilla (donuts.)

Service is an art at a La Boella meal.
Here, Cookie chooses cheeses for dessert.

WE ENJOYED leisurely meals at
the resort's highly regarded
restaurant, which even in late
autumn was frequented by locals
 as well as other lucky travelers.
Service is an art form at restaurant
Espai Fortuny, where we capped
the day with elegant, tasty lamb
   and fish, handsomely presented,
accented with the resort's greens. 

Olive oils, made on the estate's mill, and other condiments await guests.
La Boella's fine wines and extra virgin olive oils are sold in a lovely shop.

Stairway to the stars (and our suite) with a leather covered hand rail.
For more information: website:; email: 
Keller took this photo on our last
night at one of our most memorable
resorts:  peaceful, beautiful, satisfying. 
OUR HOME on the Costa
Daurada was as fragrant as it
was picturesque.  Orange trees,
lavender, magnolia, rosemary
and soothing sounds of a 
 fountain all beckon us back.


A bighorn sheep waits out the winter near Nye, Montana.

UP NEXT: Taking a break from winter, Montana is truly a state for all seasons and reasons, but our favorite times are when the sun shines brightly so we can look for birds, the leaves aren't yet on the trees (or have just been shed) and we don't need three layers of clothing to fend off the freeze.  Coming up: a look at Montana in all its seasonal splendors -- including the transition from autumn to winter, for many, the favorite time to view birds and wildlife, and truly feel the change of seasons. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a fresh look at travel, art, nature, family and whatever strikes our fancy.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Derby Hotel's Claris answers the question: 'What makes a great hotel?'

Elegance and style greet the eye at every turn, and antiques meet the latest in technology, at Barcelona's Claris Hotel.
Here's the spectacular view from the elevator as one whisks to one's room above an artful interior courtyard.
Below, right, Antoni Gaudi's famed Casa Battlo is within easy walking distance from the Claris.



That seemingly simple recipe for success is what puts Barcelona's lovely Claris Hotel in a league of its own.
The Claris is one of four uniquely appointed, art driven properties owned by Derby Hotels, a small and superbly run group of hotels in Barcelona, Madrid, Paris and London.
Each hotel contains a fortune in art, not surprisingly, for the owner is an art scholar, owner of one of Europe's most exclusive private art collections.
WE DISCOVERED these elegant hotels through fellow museum buffs, also travel writers. Their blend of old-world service, antiques, artwork, Catalan spirit and contemporary amenities is to be savored. 
Beautifully displayed and carefully lit
sculpture catch the eye at every turn at Claris.
 The source of our enthusiasm is a man named Jordi Clos.  As chairman and founder of Derby Hotels Collection, he displays an eye for beauty and class, sharing it with the hotels' fortunate clientele. The savvy Catalan businessman and his son are experts at knowing what makes a hotel unique.  First, give the well traveled visitor something special. Cultivate an atmosphere of personalized service. Make every guest feel welcome.   Create an aura that says "unique." The Claris does all this and more.
WE WERE offered cava or fresh-squeezed juice as we waited briefly for our room, a treat because we'd arrived several hours before check-in, following a Greek Isles cruise.  (A lesser hotel would have stored our bags and asked us to return later. Instead, we had our room in minutes.)  
Hotelier Clos is a renowned Egyptologist, collector and sponsor of art. 
Jordi Clos is a well known aficionado who shares his
 personal collection with clients in four stunning properties.
So for

 our week-long Claris stay, we were surrounded by world-class sculpture and paintings in the restaurants and public areas.  Retreating to our room, we relaxed amid gorgeous tapestry, antique mirrors, pre-Columbian sculpture and a headboard above the bed in
Elegance, artwork and superb service greet the Claris guest.
 the shape of a crown.  Perfect for this Leo -- fit for a queen. We marveled at the designers' sense of style, color and fabric, the weaving of a sense of beauty. 
WE'D BEEN TO  Barcelona many times, but wanted to revisit the famed Gaudi buildings and his Sagrada Familia, and we enjoyed strolling the hotel's distinctive neighborhood, the famed L'Eixample District. --
Breakfast pastry bar at the Claris:
croissants, rich grain breads made that
morning, beautiful sweets, even a
gluten-free section.

Sunset atop the Claris is a time for unwinding, enjoying a
cocktail, admiring stately boulevards and busy life below.

Clos also chairs the Clos Archaeological Foundation, which owns the Egyptian Museum of Barcelona, down the street from the Claris. This  collection -- open to the public -- exhibits the family's devotion to Egypt's culture.  (Clos has funded archaeological digs for a quarter century.) 
EACH OF the four Clos properties is well located.  In Barcelona, the Claris is the grand dame of the city's famed L'Eixample district, with its celebrated dining scene, high-end boutiques and diverse nightlife. 
Our suite featured a beautiful tapestry, sculpture, antiques
and modern amenities: flat-screen TV and espresso maker.

The Clos passion for art and culture  inspired
The Claris breakfast buffet befits
the hotel's sense of style and variety.
Above, Jimmy helps Keller plan.
his unique collection of hotels,  exhibiting  classical  artistic taste. Each hotel -- like the city it inhabits -- has its own personality.
 L'Eixample's Modernista architecture complements the Claris, blending the stately and modern and near  the famed Pedrera and Casa Battlo.
We pledged to return as we said a reluctant goodbye to Jimmy and Alvin in the breakfast restaurant. We'd miss the art, roses, Mediterranean cuisine, glorious spa, impeccable service -- the Claris class.

At Mas La Boella, a beautiful sense of serenity envelopes
the guest, in a retreat of olive trees, gardens and tranquility.
UP NEXT: While we're in Spain, come discover another treasured property, tucked away in the hills of Tarragona, southwest of Barcelona.  Mas La Boella is a small, distinguished property built around an olive plantation and  still working olive packaging plant. We admired beautifully integrated antiques, dined amid the trees and gardens and learned a lot about olive oil, as you will, too. Meanwhile, enjoy learn and live and visit us Fridays when we post for each weekend, a fresh slant on nature, the arts, family and travel.