Halloween Happenings, Oktoberfest Take Center Stage in Fall Festivals

Historic Hudson Valley’s incredibly popular Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze will run for a record 45 evenings from late September through Thanksgiving weekend © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Halloween in Sleepy Hollow Country

SLEEPY HOLLOW, NY — Halloween in Sleepy Hollow Country is legendary, and this year, introduces new events including The Unsilent Picture. Historic Hudson Valley’s fall events, the largest in the tri-state area kick off Friday, Sept. 28, take place on selected evenings through Saturday, Nov. 24, and are expected to draw more than 250,000 visitors,

The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze®, the Hudson Valley’s biggest all-ages fall extravaganza, will run for a record 45 select evenings from late September through Thanksgiving weekend. The walk-through experience lights up the wooded pathways, orchards, and gardens of historic Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., where a small team of artists hand-carve more than 7,000 jacks and elaborate pumpkin sculptures. Visitors will see Blaze favorites, such as a giant spider web and the mammoth sea serpent. New additions include a medieval castle guarded by a flock of jack o’lantern owls, a functioning windmill, and a full set of Instagrammable zodiac signs all made of jack o’lanterns. (Van Cortlandt Manor is at 525 South Riverside Avenue, just off Route 9 in Croton-on-Hudson.)

Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze walk-through experience lights up the wooded pathways, orchards, and gardens of historic Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., where a small team of artists hand-carve more than 7,000 jacks and elaborate pumpkin sculptures, including this one of the Headless Horseman in jack o’lanterns © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Horseman’s Hollow takes Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” to its most terrifying extremes. Visitors walk a haunted trail where creatures lurk in the shadows, ready to strike fear into the hearts of those brave enough to venture into the darkness. Professional actors, award-winning feature-film makeup artists, and state-of-the-art special effects make the Horseman’s Hollow experience all too real. This 16-night haunted attraction at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., is recommended for ages 10 and up.

Horseman’s Hollow at Historic Hudson Valley’s Philipsburg Manor isn’t for the faint of heart. You never know what will emerge from the shadows © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow is The Unsilent Picture, a brand-new event for 2018. The immersive theater experience features an original black and white film starring Tony Award-winning actor Bill Irwin, accompanied by live music and a Foley artist. The movie, which was commissioned by Historic Hudson Valley and shot on location in buildings at Van Cortlandt Manor, is the center of this 16-night experience. It is recommended for ages 10 and up and contains scenes of drinking alcohol, smoking and snuff tobacco use, implied violence, and mature themes. (Philipsburg Manor is at 381 North Broadway (Route 9) in Sleepy Hollow.)

There are more opportunities to be captivated by Irving’s ‘Legend’ than ever before. Master storytellers Jonathan Kruk and Jim Keyes, accompanied by live organ music, bring to life The Legend of Sleepy Hollow during 45-minute afternoon and evening performances at Sleepy Hollow’s circa-1685 Old Dutch Church. Irving’s ‘Legend’ runs for 16 select dates in October and is recommended for ages 10 and up. The circa-1685 stone church is across the street from Philipsburg Manor, where visitors will park. Weekend afternoon performances are by Jim Keyes and weekday and weekend evening performances are by Jonathan Kruk.

Master storyteller Jonathan Kruk offers a dramatic reading of Washington Irving’s classic tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, at the Old Dutch Church © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Home of the ‘Legend’ is a daytime, all-ages experience at Washington Irving’s Sunnyside homestead in Tarrytown, N.Y. Visitors can tour the author’s home, embark on a literary-themed scavenger hunt, see a shadow puppet performance, and take part in historic games and Halloween-themed art activities. (Sunnyside is on West Sunnyside Lane, off Route 9 in Tarrytown.)

All events are held rain or shine. Proceeds support Historic Hudson Valley, the Tarrytown-based private, non-profit educational organization that owns and operates the historic sites that host these events.

These events have limited capacity and sell out. All admissions are by advance purchase timed ticket.

Blaze dates are Sept. 28-30; Oct. 4-31; and Nov. 1-4, 7-11, 15-17, 23-24. Online tickets are $22 for adults ($27 on Fridays and Saturdays), $16 for children 3-17 ($20 on Fridays and Saturdays), and free for children under 3 and Historic Hudson Valley members.

Horseman’s Hollow dates are Oct. 5-7, 12-14, 19-21, 25-31. Online tickets are $20 ($25 on Saturdays). Fast Track, a $15 per ticket upgrade, lets visitors skip the line in their time slot. Historic Hudson Valley members receive a $5 per ticket discount.

The Unsilent Picture dates are Oct. 5-7, 12-14, 19-21, 25-31. Online tickets are $18. Historic Hudson Valley members receive a $5 per ticket discount.

Irving’s ‘Legend’ dates are Oct. 5-7, 12-14, 19-21, 25-31. Seating is very limited and there are three performances on weekday evenings and six performances on weekends. Online tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for children under 18. Historic Hudson Valley members receive a $5 per ticket discount.

Home of the ‘Legend’ dates are Sept. 29-30; Oct. 1, 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, 27-28. Online tickets are $16 for adults, $12 for seniors, $8 for children 3-17, and free for those under 3 and Historic Hudson Valley members.

Buy tickets online at www.hudsonvalley.org or by calling 914-366-6900 ($2 per ticket surcharge for phone orders and for tickets purchased onsite, if available).

Haunted Happenings in Salem

Probably the epicenter of Halloween is Salem and to accommodate all the people who want to experience its annual Haunted Happenings festival (more than 500,000 come from around the world for the festival), the entire month of October is devoted to it.  Events include a Grand Parade, the Haunted Biz Baz Street Fair, Family Film Nights on Salem Common, costume balls, ghost tours, haunted houses, live music, and chilling theatrical presentations.

Classic experiences include:

Cry Innocent: The People vs. Bridget Bishop, Old Town Hall, 32 Derby Square, daily thru October. The year is 1692. Bridget Bishop has been accused of witchcraft and you are on the Puritan jury. Hear the historical testimonies, cross-examine the witnesses and decide the verdict. Is Bridget Bishop capable of witchcraft? The outdoor arrest scene begins approximately 15 minutes before show time.

Cry Innocent at The Old Town Hall: Bridget Bishop has been accused of witchcraft and you are on the Puritan jury, just one of the Haunted Happenings events in Salem © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

October Nights At The Gables, include:

Spirits of the Gables: Get swept into Hawthorne’s tale of guilt, greed and revenge as the characters from The House of the Seven Gables (1851), come to life and recount their stories while you walk through the very house that inspired Hawthorne’s timeless novel.

Legacy of the Hanging Judge takes visitors back through Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birth home to the events of the infamous Salem Witch Trials, through the eyes of the author, whose own ancestor, Judge John Hathorne had a hand to play in the tragic events of 1692. The 35-minute performances begin every 10 minutes in The Nathaniel Hawthorne birth house. Combination tickets available. Reservations highly recommended.

House of the Seven Gables: Discover 330 years of Salem’s history as you experience the museum and collection of historic buildings. Built in 1668, this is the oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansion in New England. The House of the Seven Gables inspired author Nathaniel Hawthorne to write his legendary novel of the same name. (House Of Seven Gables, 115 Derby St. 978-744-0991)

The Witch House, home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, is the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the Witchcraft Trials of 1692. Corwin was called upon to investigate the claims of diabolical activity when a surge of witchcraft accusations arose. He served on the court which ultimately sent nineteen to the gallows. 310 1/2 Essex St.  (978) 744-8815

Witch Dungeon Museum. Experience the acclaimed performance of a Witch trial adapted from the 1692 historical transcripts. Most chilling is that it is real. 16 Lynde St.  (978) 741-3570.

There’s so much to do, you have to visit http://hauntedhappenings.org/ to plan.

Enhance your paranormal experience with a stay at the Hawthorne Hotel, one of Historic Hotels of America’s most haunted member hotels. Built in 1925, in the city notorious for the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, the hotel has ghost stories of its own, mostly attributed to the sea captains who were returning to their gathering place. In particular, rooms 621 and 325 have had reports of lights turning off and on and a general uneasy feeling throughout the rooms (www.hawthornehotel.com).

National Ghost Hunt Day at Lord Baltimore Hotel

Baltimore, Md.– Over the years, guests and staff of the historic Lord Baltimore Hotel, built in 1928, have reported sightings and supernatural activity. On September 29, 2018, the hotel, along with R.E.A.P. Investigations and Spirit Flows Studios, will kick off the Halloween season by taking part in the world’s largest ghost hunt as part of National Ghost Hunt Day. 

Activities include three different supernatural settings including an intuitive development class with Spirit Flow’s Amanda Jackiewicz at 5 p.m., which will teach participants how to strengthen their intuition and heighten their awareness and conscientiousness. Following the workshop, Jackiewicz will conduct a limited amount of individual medium sessions from 6-7:30 p.m.

During these sessions, guests will work one-on-one with Jackiewicz to communicate with loved ones in the afterlife. For the final portion of the supernatural event, attendees will participate in a ghost hunt with the R.E.A.P. Investigation team led by Bill Reap beginning at 8 p.m. R.E.A.P. Investigations will hunt for ghostly activities throughout four areas of the hotel, including the Calvert Ballroom and the 19th floor, which are said to have heightened supernatural activities. At 10 p.m., the Lord Baltimore Hotel will join a live feed with more than 100 other locations as each conduct a ghost hunt at the same time.

Perhaps participants will get a glimpse of Lord Baltimore’s resident ghost: a little girl, wearing a long, cream-colored dress and black, shiny shoes, running by the open doorway, bouncing a red ball before her. There have been many times when guests have asked, “Little girl, are you lost?” and the hallway has been completely empty.

Event proceeds will be donated to Back on my Feet, an organization that helps to combat homelessness through the power of running and community support.

Tickets ($20-50 pp) can be purchased through Eventbrite at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/celebrate-national-ghost-hunting-day-at-the-lord-baltimore-hotel-tickets-49226293168.

Lord Baltimore Hotel is also offering a discounted guest room rate for National Ghost Hunt Day participants. Reservations can be made online through https://reservations.travelclick.com/85390?groupID=2360767#/guestsandrooms.

Held on the last Saturday of each September, National Ghost Hunt Day serves to enthusiastically commence the start of each new Halloween season.  Its noble intention is to globally observe the most haunted properties in the world while recognizing the novice, curious, experts and professionals that investigate paranormal activity in these iconic locations!  For more information, visit http://nationalghosthuntingday.com.

Historic Lord Baltimore Hotel is within walking distance of attractions at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Lord Baltimore Hotel is in the heart of downtown Baltimore, within walking distance of many local attractions. Originally built in 1928, the hotel was purchased in 2013 and completely renovated by Rubell Hotels. A member of Historic Hotels of America (historichotels.org), the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Lord Baltimore is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (20 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD, 21201 www.lordbaltimorehotel.com).

But what may be the most haunted of Historic Hotels of America members is 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa, in Eureka Springs Arkansas: “Guests who check out but never leave” at the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa include Michael, the Irish stonemason who helped build the hotel in 1885; Theodora, a patient of Baker’s Cancer Curing Hospital in the late 1930s; and “the lady in the Victorian nightgown”, who likes to stand at the foot of the bed in Room 3500 and stare at guests while they sleep. These are only three of the dozens upon dozens of spirits that guests and visitors have reported encountering in this historic hotel in the Ozark Mountains.

This mountaintop spa resort, which has also become known as “America’s Most Haunted Hotel,”  has been featured on popular shows like Ghost Hunter’s and Bio Channel’s My Ghost Story offers nightly tours that gain exclusive access to some of the most famous ghost sighting locations (recommended for 8 years and up; families with younger children should join the earliest tour.) And on October, 31, you can join a Halloween Séance.

For more haunted historic hotels, visit historichotels.org.

 Also in Eureka Springs, the 1905 Basin Park Hotel, which features a mysterious underground cave, offers a 90-minute Spirits of the Basin “ghost adventour” that combines a ghost tour with the adventure of paranormal investigation. It starts with a guided ghost hunt (in period costume) of the most haunted spaces and ends with a chilling ghost story told by candlelight and a sample of the bootleg liquor (http://www.spiritsofthebasin.com/)

Oktoberfest Weekend Celebrations Return to Hunter Mountain

Temperatures in the northeast have begun to trend cooler, and as the leaves begin to change, Hunter Mountain is hosting its long tradition of Oktoberfest celebrations.

Voted among the top 10 Best Oktoberfests in the Nation by USA Today, Hunter Mountain’s Oktoberfest weekends celebrate the arrival of autumn with authentic traditional German-American festivities, food and culture with a variety of entertainment options during all four free weekends. Oktoberfest weekends also occur in conjunction with specialty events alongside plentiful food and craft beverages, live music, artistic vendors, lawn games, our Scenic Skyride and much more.

Hunter Mountain hosts themed Oktoberfest weekends (photo courtesy of Hunter Mountain)

The Colors in the Catskills: Off-Road Edition is a new arrival for our second weekend of Oktoberfest (Sept. 29 & 30) and allows guests to explore Hunter Mountain’s vast trail network in the midst of fall foliage season. Lead by knowledgeable and experienced guides from Northeast Off-Road Adventures, guests can register their 4X4 vehicles to participate in off-road tours of Hunter Mountain. Additionally, drivers and passengers alike will be able to purchase exclusive camping packages that grant them access to camping right on the Mountain.

The Das Laufwerk Eurocar Rally and 18-time Grammy award winner Jimmy Sturr return to Hunter Mountain for the third weekend of Oktoberfest (Oct. 6 & 7) to rock the stage and showcase some of best European cars our guests have to offer. The Das Laufwerk Eurocar Rally is open to guests and completely free to attend! All European car models are welcome and will have access to exclusive parking in a reserved lot located close to the Hunter Mountain base lodge. Guests attending this weekend of Oktoberfest will have a chance to see the finest in German engineering including Audis, Volkswagens, Porsches and much more.

The final weekend of Oktoberfest (Oct. 13 and 14) will celebrate wineries from around New York State with our Wine Tasting on the Mountain event. This year’s wine tasting event will host wineries from Long Island to the Finger Lakes. Similarly to our Ciders in the Catskills event, guests will be able to purchase VIP tasting packages which provide them with a voucher for 20 wine tastings, a commemorative wine glass and t-shirt as well as admission for one to our Scenic Skyride.

Admission to Oktoberfest is free and gates open each weekend at 11 am – 6:15 pm Saturdays and from 11 am– 5:15 pm Sundays. All four Oktoberfest weekends are held indoors and outdoors, rain or shine.
Located in the heart of the Great Northern Catskills, Hunter Mountain is a four-season resort. Throughout the spring, summer and fall, Hunter Mountain offers a variety of outdoor activities, weddings, group retreats, festivals and concerts while surrounded by magnificent views of the Catskill Mountains. The 3,200’ summit of Hunter Mountain provides panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and is accessible from May – October via the Scenic Skyride. An easy 2 ½ hour ride North of New York City, Hunter Mountain can be a day trip or overnight getaway for sightseeing, relaxation, hiking, fly fishing, zip lining and much more.

Hiking up Kaaterskill Falls, one of the hikes on the Hudson River School Art in the Catskills, NY. New York State offers a weekly foliage update © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hunter Mountain abuts the Catskills Preserve with spectacular hiking. Follow the Hudson River School Art Trail (my favorite trails are in the North-South Campground and Kaaterskill Falls).

Further help planning a visit is available from Greene County Tourism, 700 Rte 23B, Leeds, NY 12451, 800-355-CATS, 518-943-3223, www.greatnortherncatskills.com and its fall hub http://www.greatnortherncatskills.com/catskills-fall-foliage

The I LOVE NEW YORK weekly foliage report – a detailed map charting fall color progress, vantage points for viewing spectacular foliage, suggested autumn getaways and weekly event listings – is available at www.iloveny.com/foliage or by calling 800/CALL-NYS (800/225-5697).
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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

A Mother-Daughter Spa Retreat in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains

The Adler Dolomiti Spa & Sport Resort nestles into Italy’s Tyrolean Alps (Photo by Geri Bain)

By Geri Bain

“Those snow-capped mountains are Austria,” says our guide as my 23-year daughter Jenny and I pose beside our e-bikes. The effort-boosting electric bikes had make it possible for a non-marathoner to pedal up amazingly steep slopes to Alpe di Siusi (a.k.a. Seiser Alm), a 2,000-meter high alpine meadow. This is just one of many guided hiking and e-biking options offered for varying fitness levels at no charge to Adler Dolomiti Spa and Sport Resort guests. In winter, these include ski and snowshoe safaris. Alpine skiers can tap into Dolomiti Superski, among the world’s biggest interconnected ski areas. Here, a single ski pass provides access to 14 kilometers of interconnecting trails and lifts, including Saslong, host to two annual FIS World Cup ski races.

About a 1.5 hour’s drive from Innsbruck and roughly three hours from either Munich or Venice, the resort is set in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains. Part of the Tyrolean Alps, the region feels as much Austrian as Italian, and for good reason. It was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of World War I. German and Italian are two of the official languages in the region. The third is Ladin, whose roots go back to days when this land was part of the Roman Empire; it is still spoken in a number of formerly-isolated valleys.

E-bikes make it possible to pedal up the steep Alpine slopes of the Dolomites (Photo by Geri Bain)

This a region of wild beauty, with 18 peaks over 3,000 meters and expansive high meadows. Nestled along its deep river valleys are small villages with flower-box adorned chalets and ancient churches. No wonder this region was named a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in 2009. It offers nature at its most accessible thanks to a system of interconnecting lifts and bus routes, with free tickets provided by local hotels, and well-laid out, sign-posted routes for hiking, e-biking, skiing and other outdoor activities.

The Dialogue Walk is punctuated by contemplative quotes (Photo by Geri Bain)

In addition to the resort’s guided expeditions, we go off on several of our own hikes—armed with maps and directions from the hotel staff. One day we take the “Dialogue Walk” up the mountain behind our resort. The walk features quotes from Mother Teresa, a Cherokee, and others, carved into paving stones and rocks along the way, designed to prompt meditation (and for us, the first step is to translate them into English).

Another day, we follow the Val Gardena Railway trail, which has tri-lingual explanations of the region’s history. It runs the length of the valley, past small towns, pastures and pretty pocket playgrounds, and through steep stretches of forest. Our steepest climb is up the pilgrimage trail to St. Jacob’s Church, which surprises us with gaily painted story boards along the way and rewards us with awesome views.

Woodcarvings of all styles and sizes are sold in picturesque souvenir shops (Photo by Geri Bain)

Our home base, the Alder Dolomiti Spa Hotel & Resort, is in the center of the picturesque, pedestrian-only center of Ortisei, a picturesque village in the Val Gardena (Garden Valley). Here, the region’s three cultures are evident. The Alpine art of woodcarving is displayed in traditional and modern forms in shops, adorning homes and churches and in the Museum Gherdeina, which showcases Ladin culture. Restaurants, both at the resort and around town, feature local cheeses, German-style sausages and regional varieties of mushrooms in creative Italian pasta dishes.

The Adler Dolomit Spa & Sport Resort (photo courtesy of Adler Dolomiti)

The Adler Dolomiti has been a family-run property since its opening in 1810, when the area first became known as a center for mountaineering and skiing. It has its own tiny museum with artifacts from the early days of the hotel and the region. We chose to stay here based on a stay at its sister property in Tuscany (Hotel Adler Thermae),where we had enjoyed its combination of complimentary guided outings, thermal pools, themed saunas and farm-to-table dining, and it is a great choice here as well. While each resort’s architecture, activities and cuisine reflect its region, the basic style of stay is similar.

Adler Dolomiti is ideally situated to provide stunning mountain views from every angle (Photo by Geri Bain)

At the Dolomites resort, cozy fireplaces and lodge-style decor combine with excellent free Wi-Fi and huge window walls to create a welcome blend of the traditional and modern. Our standard room feels like a suite, with a separate seating area and patio and spacious modern bathroom. The half-board plan we are on includes a daily expansive daily breakfast buffet and multi-course dinner as well as a teatime buffet and guided excursions including equipment. There’s even a complimentary kid’s program. During our stay, we set out after breakfast each day either on one of the hotel’s tours or one of their suggested self-guided hikes for which they provide maps, suggestions on places to eat, and a packed picnic lunch, if desired. Each day we return to a welcoming teatime spread of cheeses, meats, breads and other goodies.

The Adler Dolomiti Spa & Sport Resort’s pools, hot tubs and saunas are a world unto themselves (Photo by Geri Bain)

Before dinner each day, we make sure to allow time to enjoy the resort’s Water & Wellness World,” a park-like expanse of relaxation rooms, hot tubs, and indoor and outdoor hot tubs and pools with tucked away waterfalls and massaging jets and themed saunas and steam baths, each infused with distinctive scents such as organic hay, floral blossoms and lavender and lime—all available at no charge. We are surprised to learn while bathing suits are worn in pools and hot tubs, for health reasons, in the saunas, towels, but no swimsuits are permitted, and except in for a women-only spa area, all are co-ed.

The underground salt grotto offers a tranquil retreat. (Photo courtesy of Adler Dolomiti)

We especially love the outdoor hot tub, where we enjoy meeting fellow guests as we take in the mountain views, and find the underground salt pool and grotto magical, and worth the nominal entry fee. There are also free yoga, Pilates and other classes and a fitness center with cardio and strength training equipment at the gym; with more time, we might sample them, but we do carve out time to indulge in several of the spa’s excellent and reasonably priced massages, wraps, facials and other treatments, many featuring local ingredients.

Bounteous buffets offer diverse choices at every meal (Photo by Geri Bain)

Local ingredients also take center stage in the dining room. We love the expansive buffets, always complemented by waiter-service menus. The diverse cultures and local bounty are reflected in everything from fresh-baked dark and light breads to apple strudel. Each evening brings a new set of delectable surprises, with the chance to try regional dishes such as venison with lingonberries, spaetzli, dumplings with a local smoked ham called speck, and creative pasta dishes.

The resort shares facilities with an adjoining, 30-room adults-only sister property, Adler Balance, a medical/holistic health center focused on preventive medicine and anti-aging. There’s also a small sister lodge tucked into the Alpe di Suissa, for those looking for a total escape into nature.

Relaxation is the order of the day at Adler Dolomiti (Photo courtesy of Adler Dolomiti)

With all its pools, saunas and other facilities and its landscaped gardens, we are surprised to learn that Adler Dolomiti only has 130 rooms. Perhaps that’s why it never feels crowded and the service is personal. It’s also nice that fellow guests quickly begin to look familiar. We are told that the resort caters to families with children’s programs and some family-friendly accommodations, yet we are here during a school holiday and only see about a dozen kids.

E-biking up the Alpe di Suissa was one of the many activities travel writer Geri Bain and daughter Jenny enjoyed during their stay at Adler Dolomiti.

Speaking with fellow guests, we meet people from as far away as Australia, along with England, the U.S. and France. Understandably, most come from Italy and Germany, and we speak with a number of couples and families who come here several times a year. We agree that if this were within driving distance of our home, we would too! 

Daily breakfast, multi-course dinner, teatime buffet, spa juices and snacks, and guided excursions on foot and e-bikes (and in winter, on skis and snowshoes) were all included in our half-board plan. And for families, a kid’s program is also included in the rates. For more information, visit www.adler-dolomiti.com/en.   

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

A Mother-Daughter Cruise Aboard Windstar’s Star Breeze from Athens to Venice is Chance to Share History and James Beard Cuisine

Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze is anchored just off the Old Port of Dubrovnik (photo by Geri Bain)

by Geri Bain

My 23-year old daughter Jenny and I have carved out two weeks to travel together, something we haven’t been able to do since she graduated high school. Setting our sites on Greece and Croatia, we decide a cruise will let us see the most with our limited time—and still be relaxing. We select a ten-day sailing from Athens to Venice on Windstar Cruises’ 218-passenger Star Breeze motor yacht (www.windstarcruises.com); it maximizes the time in each port, often staying on long after the larger ships depart, and goes places larger ships can’t.  Plus, Windstar Cruises’ partnership with James Beard Foundation promises (and delivers) gourmet cuisine.

We fly to Athens two days before the ship’s departure and check into the elegant Grand Bretagne Hotel (www.grandebretagne.gr) in time for a late breakfast at its rooftop terrace restaurant, where the views of the Acropolis are as amazing as the extensive buffet spread, which even includes spanakopita.  At 11 a.m., our waitress suggests we look across the street and we catch the formal changing of the guard at the Greek Parliament building. Conveniently located on Syntagma Square, the hotel also is within walking distance of everything we want to see in Athens, and we enjoy being able to stop back “home” in between sightseeing for a cool drink in the lobby or a refreshing dip in the pool.

After settling in, we head to the Acropolis, but lines are long, so we go to the Acropolis Museum at the base of the site. The museum displays original treasures and finds from the Acropolis that were moved inside for safe-keeping. That evening, we join a free 2.5 hour walking tour (www.athensfreewalkingtour.com) with Euphrosyne, an excellent guide who is both informative and entertaining and gives us great touring tips.

Taking her advice, the next morning, we are at the side entrance of the Acropolis at opening and find virtually no line and have the site almost to ourselves for almost an hour, and on our last morning, we take her suggestion and walk up the wooded trails of Philopappu Hill for amazing views of the city. We also love strolling through Plaka, Athens’ old town, especially the picturesque Anafiotika area with its steep narrow streets lined by white-washed houses with brightly painted shutters. It’s especially pretty at night when strings of light twinkle about the small restaurants and shops.

Windstar Star Breeze’s cabins are large, with sitting and sleeping areas, a walk-in closet and a marble bathroom with a full-size tub (photo by Geri Bain)

We are sad to leave Athens but excited to board our ship. Our standard cabin is much larger than we expected; there’s a true walk-in closet, a marble bathroom with a full-size tub, and sleeping and living rooms that can be separated by a curtain. We also are happy to find there are no assigned dining times and tables and surprisingly, five different places to dine—plus room service. Throughout our cruise, we enjoy meeting our fellow passengers, and it seems the crew somehow learns everyone’s names almost spontaneously.

The well-preserved Theatre of Epidaurus still hosts performances. (photo by Geri Bain)

The next morning, we are excited to wake up and find our ship docked in the center of Nafplio. We will be here from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.  We start with a pre-booked four-hour tour to ancient Epidaurus, where we learn that theater was considered integral to good health in ancient Greece–just one of the fascinating tidbits our guide Elsa shared. Most of the temples and buildings are in ruins, but the Theatre of Epidaurus, among the largest and most beautiful of the ancient theaters, is still in use today. Guides usually demonstrate the near-perfect acoustics, but we are lucky. Just when Jenny and I reach the top row of the theatre, a group of German students stand in the center of the stage and sing, their lovely harmonies reaching us loud and clear.

Back in Nafplio, we accomplish our daily workout at the Venetian-built Palamidi Fortress, which fell to Ottoman control when the architect, who the Venetians neglected to pay, got his come-uppance by showing the Ottomans the way in. The fort is accessible by bus, or via stairs from Old Town; locals tell us there are 999 steps but we lose count! We quickly realize how hard it would have been to conquer. Once scaling the nearly 800-foot outer walls, intruders would reach not one fort, but a maze of enclosures. Areas that seem like they will connect, never actually do. Many times, we follow a path that seems to link to the next area only to reach a huge chasm or high wall, forcing us to retrace our steps. Our frustration is offset by the ever-changing and stunning views of Nafplio, the Aegean Sea, and the surrounding hills.

Geri Bain and daughter Jenny at Palamidi Fortress overlooking Nafplio.

Old Nafplio, the first capital of the modern Greek state, (from 1823 until 1834, when the capital was moved to Athens) is one of our favorite ports. We visit the site of the first Greek parliament. Saint Spyridon church and the small Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation museum, but what we most enjoy is strolling amid the pretty Venetian architecture, with its characteristic red roofs and colorful windows. We dine at Kastro Karima, tucked into a back street. It has scrumptious moussaka, and at reasonable prices.

Our next two ports of call are the ancient sites of Delphi and Olympia, which served as unifying forces for the many independent city states that made up Ancient Greece. Both were places the ancients would gather to pray, make offerings to the gods and compete in Pan-Hellenic competitions. As at Epidaurus, our Windstar Cruises excursions featured knowledgeable guides who shared insights with our group (about 20) about ancient and modern Greece during bus rides as well as at the sites.

Ancient Delphi perches high on a mountain overlooking a fertile valley (photo by Geri Bain)

Built on a high mountain slope guarded by steep jagged cliff faces, the site of Delphi is as awe-inspiring for its natural beauty as its temples. The extensive site is best known for the Oracle of Delphi, where people came from around the ancient world seeking advice. The Oracle’s messages often were cryptic and could be interpreted to provide opposing meanings, so accuracy was high.

In ancient Olympia, walking through its open-air park strewn with marble pillars, platforms and statues, our guide reconstructs the site and events of the past. We learn that ancient athletes also cheated by doping and that their traditional race attire was none (nudity) and only men could enter the athletic competitions.

Magna Grecia Farm hosts an all-ship party, complete with traditional dancing (photo by Geri Bain)

The hills surrounding ancient Olympia are striped with olive groves and vineyards. We see them up close at a complimentary all-ship lunch at Magna Grecia Farm, a family-owned operation producing olive oil and wine. We see how olive oil is produced then have a family-style feast with tastings of olive oil, wine, ouzo, wonderful local sausages, tzatziki and a zesty chicken and rice dish. After lunch, a traditional Greek dance troupe performs and then leads us all in a line dance around the room that seems right out of the movie “Zorba the Greek”.

At Corfu, our last port in Greece, we hit our first bad weather on an island bus tour and walk around the beach in the rain before heading back to Corfu’s Old Town, guarded by two forts. Fortunately, the rain stops as we explore Old Fort and the pretty marina at its base, and then slowly shop our way back to the ship.

It’s all photographers on deck for the leisurely cruise through the Bay of Kotor (photo by Geri Bain)

Rough seas delay our departure for Kotor, and after taking off, we hit the only rough seas of the trip. I get a bit seasick but once in bed, the rocking is no problem. The next morning is clear and the approach to Kotor through the mountain-framed “fjords” (geologically a once-submerged river-carved canyon) is thrilling. Everyone is on deck, taking photos of gleaming white cliff-top churches and small villages nestled into rocky coves backed by steep mountains.  Around a final bend is the walled city of Kotor, its ramparts rising in hairpin-turns to a mountaintop fort.

Picturesque Perast comes into view as we sail through Kotor Bay (photo by Geri Bain)

Before exploring Kotor, we head to the nearby maritime town of Perast and its famed Our Lady of the Rocks, a powder blue domed Catholic Church and museum on a man-made island a short boat ride off shore. According to legend, a lame fisherman was cured by an idol of the Virgin Mary he found at the bottom of the bay. In reverent gratitude, the town built an artificial island over the spot and to this day, sailors make offerings here and in an annual ceremony, fill their boats with rocks to add to the island.

Back in Kotor, we are happy to find that the entire walled Old City of Kotor is a pedestrian zone. Its twisting medieval streets are easy to navigate since all roads lead to the main plaza, Arms Square, with its iconic Clock Tower or the square of the Cathedral of St. Tryphon, consecrated in 1166. The town traces its history to Roman times but it was the Venetians whose influence we see and we enjoy spotting the Winged Lion of St. Mark, symbol of the Republic of Venice emblazoned around the city, especially on its Baroque and Renaissance style palaces.

For our daily workout and photo op, we climb the fortified path to the Church of Our Lady of Remedy where the views of Kotor’s red-roofed Venetian homes and the fjords beyond are amazing. We’d planned to continue on to San Giovanni Castle, a bit higher above the city, but the sun is setting and we return to see the city lights reflected on its marble streets and sidewalk restaurants filling with patrons.

The walled city of Dubrovnik was built for defense (photo by Geri Bain)

We wake up the next morning at 8 a.m. anchored just off Dubrovnik. We have 12 hours here and have decided to explore it on our own. After breakfast, a five-minute tender shuttles us to the dock right in the heart of the Old Port, where Fort St. John guards one end of the harbor and Fort Revelin, the other. A walled cliffside city, Dubrovnik is stunning for its setting as for its pretty red-roof topped buildings that climb up and down its hilly streets.

The entire Old City is a pedestrian zone and despite massive bombings by Serb and Montenegrin soldiers in 1991, Dubrovnik has rebuilt itself back into the spectacularly frozen-in-time city you see today. No wonder Dubrovnik was selected as the setting for so many famous “Game of Thrones” scenes.  We marvel that for a relatively small city, Dubrovnik packs in a lot of museums that can offer fascinating perspectives, often in bite-size 30 to 60-minute visits. Among my favorites was the Jewish Synagogue. (Note, if you plan to walk the city walls and dip in and out of museums as we did, check out the Dubrovnik pass.)

The other thing about the city is its extreme hills. I wish I’d worn a Fitbit because by day’s end, we must have climbed up and down at least sixty flights of stairs following the guard’s walkway around the walls of the city, climbing the stair-stepping streets of the city, and exploring St. Lawrence Fort, which defends one of the ancient harbors from a promontory facing the city walls. The walls, reinforced by towers, forts and bastions, started in the 10th century and improved right up until the 17th century, rise to over 80 feet in places and we make a point of mounting each of them. All those vantage points make for stunning vistas—one more amazing than the next—and a great workout.

Our final stop before Venice is Hvar, and we are only there from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. so we make sure to get up and out early. Our ship anchors a short distance offshore from Hvar, a small gem with its marble streets and Venetian architecture. Despite being a trendy destination these days, it feels like a small town. We see children walking to school and locals chatting in waterfront cafes.

Of course, we have to hike up to the mountaintop Fortica Španjola (Spanish Fortress). Like the town, most of what is standing was built under Venetian rule, which lasted from the 15th to 18th centuries. Then we pick up towels and water at the Windstar launch and walk to a recommended beach, just outside town. The water is calm and refreshing and the beach is beautiful.

Windstar’s Star Breeze sails into Venice as explorers and traders have done since the heyday of the Venetian Empire (photo by Geri Bain)

The next morning, we are up at 6:30 a.m. so we can be on deck as we cruise into the city of Venice, just as explorers and traders traveling routes like ours had done in the heyday of the Venetian Empire. We are greeted by thick fog and I feared we wouldn’t get to see the sail in. I needn’t have worried. Everything stops when the fog is too thick. After a leisurely breakfast, we wait. Finally, the captain announces we will be sailing into Venice shortly and soon, we are sailing past St. Mark’s Square.

Nafplio, Kotor, Corfu, Dubrovnik and Hvar were all strongly influenced by the Venetian Republic for centuries and by the time we arrive in Venice, we recognize the grand buildings, richly-decorated churches and marble streets that characterize a Venetian city. Each port is stunning, but as we take in the splendor of the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Square, and the ornate architectural details at every turn, it is obvious that Venice was the capital of the Venetian Republic in every way.

Looking back at our cruise, Jenny and I are happy with our choice of ship and itinerary and marvel that we could comfortably explore nine different ports in ten days. We never visited the small casino and apart from the well-attended, informative port talks, our favorite entertainment was the lively Crew Show. Like the ship, the show was sophisticated yet informal, mirroring much of what we enjoyed about Windstar. We also enjoyed getting to know our fellow passengers; while they tended to be more my age than Jenny’s, the ship’s friendly, low-key ambience was just right for a mother-daughter cruise.

For more information on Windstar Cruises, visit www.windstarcruises.com,

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