Come to Albania Now to See Emergence of a Young Country – Best Way to Experience Albania is on Bike Tour

The view from the castle of Gjirokaster, a UNESCO-protected living history city in Albania, overlooks a lush valley © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The view from the castle of Gjirokaster, a UNESCO-protected living history city in Albania, overlooks a lush valley © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, Goingplacesfarandnear.com

You wouldn’t necessarily come to Albania to see monuments and fabulous architecture, for museums that hold the treasures of civilization or the artifacts that trace your heritage (though one of the surprises are the important cultural and historic sites including a Greco-Roman city reclaimed from the forest overgrowth).

You wouldn’t necessarily come for fabulous beaches, though Albania possesses hundreds of miles of coastline along the Ionian and Adriatic Sea, and its own “Albanian Riviera” that reminds you of the French Riviera without the pretension.

You wouldn’t necessarily come for stunning and dramatic landscapes –though scenes abound of picturesque farmland that reminds you of Amish Country, dramatic mountains that reach into white clouds, sheer cliffs that drop to the sea, sunsets that take your breath away, villages carved into hillsides that look out to expansive galleys, giving a different hue to each of our days.

Beachgoers at Dhermi, on Albania’s French Riviera © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Beachgoers at Dhermi, on Albania’s French Riviera © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The scenery, the landscapes are strikingly beautiful to be sure – mountains that rise dramatically to white cumulus clouds, a coastline that follows the exquisitely aquamarine Ionian and Adriatic seas, valleys lush with immaculate farms with geometric patterns of color and texture. But most interesting of all are the contrasts without contradiction – farmers burnished by the sun to a leathery brown, working fields with hoes and spades or riding mule-drawn hay-carts up winding hillside roads while chatting on cell phones. In a country where a cinema or shopping mall or even retail stores are rarities, cell phones and cars (and car washes and petrol stations) are ubiquitous.

Certainly there are the beautiful landscapes, the picturesque countryside and stunning coastlines, ample historic and cultural attractions, and traditional tourist delights of beaches and sensational food.

Children playing at Lake Ohrid © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Children playing at Lake Ohrid © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

But the best reason to come to Albania is for The Now, to see a young country shaking off a tortured past – “an unlucky history/country,” is the odd phrase our guide, Junid, uses.

Come to experience a place, a people and a culture that is shrouded in mystery after decades of being imprisoned behind an Iron Curtain, closed off to the world,  under the thumb of a paranoid dictator, a place, a people and a culture that is either completely unknown or branded with misconceptions and false images.

To see that process unfolding is absolutely thrilling. Albania is not what it was 10 years ago, and is not what it will be in the next 10 years.

Surprises Abound

I was only in Albania a few minutes before I hear a story that proves foundational to my understanding: Albania, the only European country with a Muslim majority, was also the only European country to end World War II with more Jews than it had at the start of the war, because Albanians harbored Jews  from the Nazis at great risk to their own lives and that of their children.

“Every one of the 200 Jews living in Albania before the war was hidden and taken care of by their mostly Muslim countrymen and countrywomen,” Jim Johnson, president of BikeTours.com who has designed this special “President’s Tour of Albania” that I am on, tells me, as we are taken from the airport to our hotel in the capital city of Tirana. “In fact, nearly 2,000 Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler were welcomed not as refugees but as guests and were ‘hidden in plain sight’ –  made part of Albanian families and daily life. This endured even during the German occupation amid extreme threats by the Nazis.”

“The Jews were sheltered with their own children – which meant that if they were caught with Jews in their house, their own children would be killed,” our guide, Junid later relates when our group of five cyclists gathers for our first dinner together. “A lot stayed in the north – with Catholics. A lot went to Israel after the war. I’ve had groups where people went to back to the town where a family had sheltered their relatives.”

Why the Albanians would do this stems from an ancient code of honor, besa, that emphasizes “compassion and religious tolerance, that links personal honor to respect for and equality with others,” Junid explains.  According to The Code, guests must be protected, even if it means losing one’s own life. “Talk to an Albanian today, and you’ll find they still consider their compassionate role during the Holocaust to be part of their national honor.”

Biking through Albania presents dramatic scenery © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Biking through Albania presents dramatic scenery © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

That begins a series of wondrous surprises about a country that up until now has been largely completely unknown to Americans, who either have no impression or wrong impressions of Albania.

The first surprise is that Albania is a mere 75 minutes flight past Vienna in central Europe, where I switch planes from JFK. Geographically, Albania is part of the Balkans, bordered by Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro, and across the Adriatic Sea from Italy’s boot.

The second is discovering this country which for so long had been kept in isolation, shrouded in mystery. American travelers have come under the spell of Cuba and Myanmar – two other nations which have emerged from enforced isolation – but Albania deserves our attention to revel in how this young country is emerging.

The third surprise is that though Albania is majority Muslim (the only European country with a majority Muslim population), it is secular and tolerant of other prominent religions (Orthodox, Catholic), with a large strain of atheists stemming from when its Communist dictator, Envar Hoxha, (dictator from 1945-1985), banned religion altogether, burned down churches and mosques, murdered and imprisoned hundreds of clerics, and made Albania the first officially atheist country in the world. Even after the churches and mosques were reopened in the early 1990s, many remain atheists or keep their religion private. Indeed, I saw more women in headscarves in four days at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, than in two weeks traveling through Albania.

The rebuilt Catholic cathedral in Korca © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The rebuilt Catholic cathedral in Korca © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The fourth surprise is that Albania (the correct name is Shqiperia, or more officially, Republika e Shqipërisë) is not an extension of Greece, Turkey or anywhere else. The Albanian language, Shqip, is Indo-European in origin and bears little resemblance to any other language today. And even though the alphabet is based on Latin (with a few additions), the sounds the letters make are very different, so you can’t pronounce, let alone read the signs. (See www.omniglot.com/writing/albanian.htm).

Each day, though, Junid, attempts to teach us an Albanian word. I wind up with “gezur” (which approximates to ”cheers” when you drink).

But with only 3.5 million Albanians left in the country after millions fled when the borders were finally opened with the fall of Communism and with the way Albania was divided up shortly after independence in 1912, there are more Albanian speakers outside the country than inside (90% of Montenegro, half of Macedonia’s Parliament and 5% of Greeks speak Albanian).

Albania uses its own currency, Lek (at this writing, 1 Albanian Lek equaled 0.0082 US Dollar, or less than one penny). The median income, I am told, is $5,000 a year. I found the value of items roughly 1/5 of the cost here – so a glass of wine (actually extremely good) in a restaurant was about $2; a mug of beer (also extremely good), about $1; admission to a historic site for foreigners about $5 (about $1.50 for Albanians). You could have an entire meal in a fine restaurant for less than $8. In other words, a pleasant surprise is how inexpensive it is to travel here.

Ladies walking down the road © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Ladies walking down the road © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Biking through the country, I am struck with how pleasant people are, how easy-going, how unstressed. We think of Albania being poor – its reputation is being the poorest country in Europe – but we have more severe and graver poverty in the US. You don’t see the extremes of rich and poor here. You don’t see squalor, hovels, hunger or homelessness (though we do encounter a few panhandlers in the popular tourist towns.)

In one of the most popular holiday cities, Saranda,  when people come out at night (a custom in Albania), strolling the promenades along the Ionian Sea, it looks like Long Beach, Coney Island or Jones Beach – families, couples, gaggles of girls or boys. They stop at vendors selling popcorn, ice cream, toys, or sit in open-air restaurants and cafes. People are surprisingly scantily clad on the beaches and just strolling about – girls in tight, short revealing dresses, bare midriffs; couples showing affection, fellows wearing t-shirts that make statements of one sort or another; young people with tattoos. Most surprising to me is seeing fathers holding their infants and toddlers, and mothers who clearly have an equal status in their family, and how parents dote (even spoil) their kids.

Strolling the promenade in Saranda © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Strolling the promenade in Saranda © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

I am struck by how relaxed people are. Perhaps this is because of the comparative stability and freedom  – especially considering that the country underwent economic collapse and a civil war in the mid-1990s and is still considered one of the poorest, least developed in Europe. The situation seems stable even from 10 years ago, Junid confirms (I can relate to this, compared to the stress, hysteria and insecurity after the 2008 financial and housing collapse in the US, compared to the way people feel more secure in their homes and jobs now).

You don’t see ostentatious wealth or abject poverty. In some ways, Albania is described as a “subsistence economy” – people seem to have at least enough to get by, if not live comfortably. The Albanian people are polite, pleasant to one another (and to us), affectionate, fun-loving, like to laugh, seem easy-going, and dare I say, unstressed. It is as if a whole weight was removed when the oppression of Communism was lifted and people could be more free to show their emotions (I had experienced something similar when I first visited China in 1978, during the transition from the Gang of Four to the Four Modernizations, and then returned two years later to find the whole country transformed, as if a blizzard of fresh air had flowed through.)

Cell phones are ubiquitous in Albania, even on a donkey cart© 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Cell phones are ubiquitous in Albania, even on a donkey cart© 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Possibly the relative contentment I observe is related to the fact that there is very little consumerism – we see only one cinema (in Korca, considered the “Paris” of Albania, the most cosmopolitan city we experienced) and one place that could be construed as a “shopping mall” (also in Korca) – but what has become a ubiquitous item is cell phones. We see a man driving a donkey cart hauling hay talking on his cell phone; a woman in a field  leaning against her hoe talking on her cell phone.

Also cars, petrol stations and car washes which crop up in the oddest places. During the Communism regime, no one was allowed to own a car (except for the Communist rulers who also availed themselves of magnificent waterfront villas). That leads to incongruous sights like a man riding a donkey passing a Kastrati gas station.

Cell phones, cars are the ubiquitous consumer items. And apart from restaurants, tavernas, cafes, beach holidays and bridal gowns, there seems to be little else. Simple pleasures prevail (though in Dhimare, we see jetskis, paragliding from the mountaintop, and Mercedes cars)

Fresh trout from the farm is served at the guesthouse at Sotire © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Fresh trout from the farm is served at the guesthouse at Sotire © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

More surprises: how fantastic the food – literally fresh from farm or sea to table.  With 300 miles of seacoast (the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea where we bike), we are treated to an abundance of fresh fish—sea bass, mussels, shrimp, squid freshly caught from the sea, farmed trout that finds its way to our plate minutes after being netted, and a fish that is uniquely found in Lake Ohrid. The abundant farms – which use organic practices – make farm-to-table meats—especially lamb and pork— as well as fruit and vegetables plentiful. Albanian cooking blends Mediterranean cuisine with Greek, Italian and Turkish influences; seasoning is mostly subtle – garlic and chili peppers – flavorful but not too spicy.

And water! Albania is rich in water which flows from the mountain tops – we fill our bottles from eternally flowing fountains. Some 70% of the country’s electricity is generated from hydroelectric power. Every structure uses solar panels to generate hot water.

Another surprise: while few older people speak English, most of the younger generation takes English in school, and seem very plugged into the rest of the world. And they seem to be very welcoming to Americans – indeed, they named a street in Tirana, the capital, for George W Bush after he became the first sitting American president to visit Albania, and only the day before we arrived in the country, a bust of Hillary Clinton was unveiled in Saranda. People are very welcoming to us, as well, when they learn we are Americans, and many Albanians have relatives in the US.

Everything about Albania is surprising. I knew nothing about this country before I arrived (as I expect is typical of most Americans) – I didn’t even know what city to fly into (Tirana, the capital, where almost 1 million of the 3.5 million Albanians live.)

Albania is so unexpected: how fun-loving and friendly people are, how immaculate the farms and how delicious the fresh produce (organic!) we eat at each meal, how picturesque the mountains (70% of the country), how the fresh water springs just flow, we just fill our water bottles from the rushing fountains; how lush the country is, how easy-going the people are, how scantily clad beachgoers are, how women wear tight, short, revealing dresses and men wear (sometimes) t-shirts with in-your-face slogans,  and tattoos, how loving fathers are, how doting parents are of their children, how women seem to enjoy an equal relationship with their men. It is a majority-Muslim country that is secular, and tolerant; there are enormous Christian crosses dotting the countryside. How fascinating archeological sites like Butrint National Park, a UNESCO-protected city that extends back to Hellenic and Roman times (one of the most fascinating archeological sites I have ever experienced), and the UNESCO-protected Lake Ohrid area.

Other surprises we discover on our ride: Mother Teresa was Albanian (the international airport in Tirana is named for her), as was the scientist who found the drug that became Viagra (he was looking for a remedy for cardiovascular disease).

Sharing the road with a herd of goats © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sharing the road with a herd of goats © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

And the best way to engage, to discover Albania is by bike. Cars, buses would never come to these places – these back country roads, roads that have been bypassed by more recently constructed highways. They would go too fast to get any sense at all of moments that, on a bike, you can snatch up and savor, without the distorted unreality looking through glass windows. But from the perch of a bike saddle, you move at just the right pace, hear the sounds of cows mooing, the bleating of sheep; the bells attached to goats; have to sidestep goats or cows or donkeys walking on the road. You can smell the wild sage growing beside the road, and feel the moist coolness as you ride through the forest. We wave and say a cheery “hello” as we pass, and people wave back. You can stop – even chat- with a shepherd, or take the time to gaze and a scene and capture serendipity in a photo. Such was the experience of stopping to watch a funeral procession, a ritual of walking a goat around St. Naum monastery in advance of the annual feast day to honor the saint, kids frolicking on the Lake, a bride and groom posing for their wedding photos.

Each day is marked by very different landscapes, different tableaux – geographical and social – and distinctive experiences. You never know what you will see beyond the next turn in the road.

Here is another surprise: we are oddities as we ride through. Not because we are foreigners (it isn’t obvious that we are Americans), but because we are on bikes at all.

BikeTours,com

This was my third trip with BikeTours.com – which is not the bike tour operator but a broker that has assembled a catalog of local travel companies. They’ve done the search and checked out and selected top-notch companies to feature.

These are operators that supply the best bikes, itineraries, accommodations, meals, attractions at an excellent value (ie. about $150 a day, depending on choice of accommodations, and destination – or roughly half of what other tour operators charge).

BikeTours.com also provides superb pre-trip materials, coordinates the airport transfer, and if necessary, will steer you to a travel agent to book the air.

The self-guided Danube Bike Trail trip which I did with my two adult sons – charming bed and breakfast inn, accommodations, detailed directions, the guide spent 2 hours with us making sure the bikes fit and going over the route, suggesting places to visit.

The bike/boat trip through the Greek Isles was superb – great bikes fabulous guides, wonderful boat (wood hull, reminded me of a pirate ship), a fantastic itinerary.

Biketours.com’s president Jim Johnson riding his e-bike past a herd of goats © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Biketours.com’s president Jim Johnson riding his e-bike past a herd of goats © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

This trip to Albania, a specially tailored “President’s Tour” (tacking on a couple of days kayaking in the Ionian Sea and a loop around Lake Ohrid into Macedonia) is a guided trip, and included three meals daily (so much food we had to tell our guide to order less); admissions to attractions, superb bikes (hydraulic brakes, suspension, 30-gears on the hybrids, or, in my case, e-bike that gave me super powers for climbing hills), supported with a van that followed behind us, and charming, comfortable accommodations (WiFi!) – like a guesthouse on a farm and a luxury boutique city hotel.

There are still some scheduled departures left this year for “Albania’s UNESCO Sites with Rivers, Valleys, and Gorges ,” 9 nights, Level 4, averaging 37 miles/day (950E or about $1050) (www.biketours.com/albania/albania-UNESCO-tour).

BikeTours.com 1-877-462-2423 or 423-756-8907, 1222 Tremont St., Suite 100, Chattanooga, TN 37405, biketours.com.

(More to come: Day by Day Biking in Albania)

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com 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

 

Jewish Museum in Athens Honors Thousands of Years of History in Greece

This way to the synagogue – 3rd C BC. A replica of an ancient marker taken from the Agora, walking distance from the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
This way to the synagogue – 3rd C BC. A replica of an ancient marker taken from the Agora, walking distance from the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

I first became introduced to the concept of Jews in Athens when I meet Vassilas, my Context Travel walking tour guide. He meets me in the district which is known today as Monasteraki, but as we walk through the flea market area, he mentions that it was originally called Yusurum  named for a Jewish family of tradesmen who built a store in the area.

Athens did not have a “Jewish Quarter” per se, he tells me, sensing my interest, but just a few blocks away, there once were a few Jewish synagogues, only one that is still in use today. (There is also a Holocaust Memorial in a small pocket park there, at the bottom of a street that leads up to the Acropolis.)

There is limited information, he tells me, about Jews in Athens during antiquity; most of the Jews who lived in Greece up until modern times came after the Spanish Inquisition,  in1492.

Athens, Greece
Ruins of humanity’s first Parliament overseen by a temple, in the Agora, Athens, Greece © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

He is taking me on Context Travel’s “Everyday Greeks in Ancient Times” walking tour (www.contexttravel.com, info@contexttravel.com, 800.691.6036), and as and we stand before humanity’s first House of Parliament in the ancient Agora, ancient Athens’ political center, he points out that just off to the side a marble marker was found, indicating where one of the earliest synagogues very likely stood, dating from at least the 3rd C BC.

That’s when he mentioned that Athens has a Jewish Museum (not on any tourist map), but he put a dot on my map so I could walk there on my own.

When he takes me into the astonishingly fine museum at the Agora and points out a small decorated ceramic vessel that Socrates, himself, might have used to drink the poison hemlock, he gets me thinking: one of reasons why Socrates was executed by Athens was because he questioned its religious system of 12 gods. Plato, Socrates’ student, later wrote that Socrates said, ‘I hear the voice of a ‘god’ – a ‘demon’ (spirit) in me.” I wondered in that moment whether Socrates had been influenced at all by the Jews of Athens who would have believed in monotheism.

After my “Everyday Life in Ancient Greece Tour” with  Vassilas , I set out to find the Jewish Museum, indicated by the dot on a map

I don’t have a street address, and when I get to what I believe is the corner where it should be, I ask a private security guard who has no idea where it is. But an older gentleman overhears me and walks me around the corner to the Jewish Museum.

The Jewish Museum is only recently moved to this downtown location, but it offers a permanent collection and special exhibitions that tell the history of Greek Jews , which I am surprised to learn is the oldest Jewish community in Europe.

The Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens moved into this building in downtown © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens moved into this building in downtown © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Indeed, there is a replica of the marble sign from the Agora (the original is in the Agora Museum but not exhibited publicly), that dates from possibly the 5th C BC, which had set me on my quest.

Jews came to Greece before the destruction of the First Temple. They were merchants –

In Athens, Jews did not live in a Jewish Quarter, like in Corfu, Rhodes or Thessalonki, but lived around Athens, though they tended to live near the synagogue.

It is not known how many Jews lived in Greece at its peak – during the Holocaust, archives were burned. But prior to the war, Thessaloniki had 70,000 Jews; there were 29 communities.

Today, there are 5,000 Jews living in Greece – 3000 of them in Athens (a tiny number compared to the population). There are nine communities that are most active, with Jewish schools.

“It’s a challenge to keep the heritage,” a museum docent tells me. “Many come here and don’t expect fo find a Jewish community.”

It is 1:30 pm when I arrive at the Museum, which I discover is only open from 9 am-2:30 pm.  So I dash through to see as much as I can before it closes.

The Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens exhibits centuries-old everyday objects and clothes of the Jewish community © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens exhibits centuries-old everyday objects and clothes of the Jewish community © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The exhibits, which offer some fascinating artifacts, trace the history of Jewish settlement in Greece beginning 3 rd C BC. The collection contains more than 10,000 objects (some that can only be found here) pertaining to domestic and religious life. The oldest itemss are rare textiles and ante nuptial contracts from the 16th century C.E. Clothes and household items offer a vivid, personal picture of everyday life in the Greek Jewish communities from the mid-18th until the 20th century.

The exhibits are organized by themes, relating to history, the cycle of time and human life.

As I go about the museum (I only have an hour before it closes), I learn that in 48CE, there is evidence of the Apostle Paul preaching in synagogues of Corinth, Salonika  and Verola.

Later, when the Ottoman Empire took over, the Ottomans gave Jews equal rights with Christians (that is non-Muslims).

When Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain at the end of the 15 th C, they settled in the Ottoman Empire, including Greece – with most going to Salonika.

Greece became a state in 1832, and the Greek Constitution of 1844 gave equal rights in 1844. In 1882-1920, the Jewish community was recognized as a legal body During this period, Zionism took hold and many Jews emigrated to Palestine under Ottoman Rule.

The Greek government of Eleftherios Kyriakou Venizelos supported the formation of Jewish state, even before the Balfour Declaration. The Greek Foreign Secretary Niolaos Politis said in 1917, “The foundation of a Jewish State in Palestine would end the injustice that weights on the whole of humanity for over 20 centuries.”

A display honoring the Jewish Resistance in Greece, at the Jewish Museum © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A display honoring the Jewish Resistance in Greece, at the Jewish Museum © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Prior to World War I, the number of Greek Jews grew to 100,000 (65,000 in Solinika), and  enjoyed  “peace, speech, assembly freedom and were admitted into mandatory army service .”

Then the Holocaust came. Many Greek Jews joined the Resistance. There are video stories of survivors of Shoah and lsits of family names like Nissm, Aruch, Yussuroum , Matathias, Bakolas, Yeshua, Kostis, Braki, Felou.

Support of the Greek Government

The Greek government has been supportive of sustaining its Jewish heritage (this despite the neo-Nazi group that has been voted into Parliament).

The Jewish Museum of Greece was founded in 1977 to collect, preserve, research and exhibit the material evidence of 2,300 years of Jewish life in Greece. As a historical and ethnographical museum its main interest is to provide a vivid picture of Jewish life and culture as it was during those centuries.

The new building is organized in permanent exhibition areas with thematic modular exhibits, an art gallery, a periodic exhibition space, a research library, a space for educational programs, a photo archive and laboratory and a conservation laboratory.

“The idea of building a Jewish Museum of Greece was first conceived in the 1970’s by members of the Jewish Community of Athens,” the literature states.  The Museum that was first established in 1977 consisted of a small room next to the city’s synagogue and housed objects salvaged from WW II, including artifacts, documents and manuscripts of the 19th and 20th centuries, jewelry of the Jews of Thrace that had been seized by the Bulgarians in 1943 (returned to the Greek government after the abdication of the Bulgarian king and the establishment of a communist regime in the country).

Over the years under Nikos Stavroulakis, director of the Museum until 1993, the collection expanded with rare books and publications, textiles, jewelry, domestic and religious artifacts.

The Museum soon began to attract the attention of many visitors, researchers and donors. In 1981, the Association of American Friends was founded, followed, a little later, by the Association of Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece, with members of the Jewish Communities of Athens and Thessaloniki.

With substantial financial support from the Greek Ministry of Culture and the Associations of its Friends, the old building was renovated and, in late 1997, 20 years after it first opened its doors to the public, the Museum moved to 39 Nikis street, in the center of Athens.

The Museum’s collections include more than eight thousand original artifacts, testifying to more than 23 centuries of Jewish presence in Greece.

Centuries old temple artifacts of the Greek Jewish community on display at the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Centuries old temple artifacts of the Greek Jewish community on display at the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Besides a few objects which Asher Moissis, president of the Jewish Community of Athens, had collected after the war, the core of the initial collection was made up of items that had been returned to Greece by the Bulgarian government, after the establishment of a Communist regime in that country. These included personal effects, jewelry, domestic items, temple objects and documents, which belonged to the Jews of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace and were confiscated after 1941, when the area fell in the Bulgarian zone of occupation. The confiscated items had been meticulously recorded and became the first significant body of artifacts of the collection.

An ancient book depicting Moses holding the Ten Commandments on display at the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
An ancient book depicting Moses holding the Ten Commandments on display at the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

This core collection kept growing, mainly through the donations of individuals and communities, initially from the area of Thessaly, the island of Rhodes and the city of Ioannina. Besides rare 17th – 19th century books and publications, a significant number of ritual textiles was assembled, most dating from the Ottoman times (14th-19th centuries), and soon became one of the Museum’s main attractions for both visitors and researchers. In 1984 the Jewish Community of Patras was dissolved for lack of members and the interior of its synagogue, along with its textiles and ritual objects was bequeathed to the Museum. These religious artifacts are extremely significant, invaluable and irreplaceable, since they come, for the most part, from synagogues and communities, which no longer exist, according to the museum’s notes.

More donations from individuals and communities from both Greece and abroad continued to pour in, further enriching the collection. The Museum’s relocation to its new premises (1998) brought a renewal of public interest and more donations followed.

In general, the Museum has been receiving an average of 250-300 new artifacts every year, since the year 2000. Its unique collections, which are continuously being expanded, document more than four centuries of Jewish life in Greece, considering that the oldest textiles and antenuptial contracts date from the 16th century C.E.

Recent special exhibitions (on through September 2016) include “Hidden Children in Occupied Greece.”

Allocate at least two hours.

Jewish Museum of Greece, Nikis 39, Athens 105 57. Phone: 210 32 25 582, e-mail: info@jewishmuseum.gr, visit www.jewishmuseum.gr.

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/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

$15 Million Renovation Transforms Sea Crest Beach Hotel into Major Cape Cod Resort

Seacrest Beach Resort occupies 700 feet of Cape Cod’s Old Silver Beach on Buzzard Bay © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sea Crest Beach Hotel occupies 700 feet of Cape Cod’s Old Silver Beach on Buzzard Bay © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

Normally, it would be extremely difficult to pull yourself away from Sea Crest Beach Hotel’s substantial private section of on Cape Cod’s Old Silver Beach on Buzzard Bay, wonderfully set with a west-ward facing view (perfect for watching the sunset). But on this day, unusually strong winds and chilly temps (but still clear, sunny skies) make it an ideal day to bike the Shining Sea Trail.

Taking advantage of Seacrest Beach Resort’s new biking package to ride the lovely Shining Sea Trail © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Taking advantage of Sea Crest Beach Hotel’s new biking package to ride the lovely Shining Sea Trail © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Cape Cod is one of the best destinations anywhere to bike – there is the Cape Cod Rail Trail that goes for miles throughout the interior; the Cape Cod Canal trail that stretches more than six miles on both sides, and the Shining Sea Trail which for its variety and scenery and points of interest is my favorite of all.

Sea Crest now has a bike rental program (as well as a biking package, new this year), and is just about a half-mile from an entrance to the Shining Sea trail at the 9.5 mile mark – almost to the very end of the 10.1 mile long bikeway. The trail is named for Katharine Lee Bates, most famous for writing the lyrics to “America the Beautiful…. From Sea to Shining Sea” (whose home you can visit in Falmouth, along the way).

Gorgeous views abound along the Shining Sea Trail on Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Gorgeous views abound along the Shining Sea Trail on Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

This is one of my favorite dedicated biking trails anywhere. The Shining Sea Bike Trail hugs the shoreline from Falmouth to Woods Hole.  It offers the best of Cape Cod: for a time you are in woods, but can see the charming Cape Cod homes; you ride past the historic Bourne Farm (stop to visit if you have time), passed cranberry bogs, through Falmouth Center (definitely visit Katharine Lee Bates’ house which is now a museum and learn more about this fascinating pioneering woman), and along the beach, into Woods Hole, where the trail ends at the ferry (if you have time, you can take your bike onto the ferry for a 45 minute trip (about $25 r/t) to Martha’s Vineyard, where there is a 25-mile bike loop.  On our return ride from Wood’s Hole, we take a slight detour in order to ride past the picturesque and historic Nobska Lighthouse.

Dive, dive, dive: pretending to pilot ALVIN at the WHOI exhibit center in Woods Hole © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Dive, dive, dive: pretending to pilot ALVIN at the WHOI exhibit center in Woods Hole © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It’s lunch time when we ride into Woods Hole, which is a charming seaside village that has become a research center, with the Marine Research Laboratories, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), where you can visit the Aquarium, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), where you can tour a superb exhibit featuring ALVIN, the submersible that helped find and salvage the Titanic (as Eric was at the controls, pretending to captain ALVIN,

Barry Walden, ALVIN’s actual expedition leader spoke about how ALVIN was used in expeditions © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Barry Walden, ALVIN’s actual expedition leader spoke about how ALVIN was used in expeditions © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

a man looked on bemused, Barry Walden, turned out to be ALVIN’s actual expedition leader who spoke with us about how ALVIN was used in expeditions) and learn about ocean research.

(Starting at $174 per night (based on a two night minimum), the Shining Sea Bike Package includes an overnight stay for two at Sea Crest Beach Hotel, one day’s bike rental for two, bottled waters and a map of the Shining Sea Bike Trail. For reservations or for more information on Sea Crest Beach Hotel, visit www.seacrestbeachhotel.com or call 800-225-3110.)

Colorful History

Seacrest Beach Resort occupies 700 feet of Cape Cod’s Old Silver Beach on Buzzard Bay © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sea Crest Beach Hotel occupies 700 feet of Cape Cod’s Old Silver Beach on Buzzard Bay © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Sea Crest Beach Resort has such a contemporary appearance and ambiance – owing to a recent $15 million renovation – I am surprised to learn that it has been a fixture on Cape Cod for generations.

The Sea Crest Beach Hotel has a colorful history, populated with fascinating people including Henry Fonda, Latin Quarter owner Lou Walters ((father of broadcast journalist Barbara Walters) and Boston Celtics’ coach Red Auerbach.

Its story begins in 1927, when The University Players Guild (among them a young Henry Fonda, Margaret Sullivan, James Stewart and Barbara O’Neill), created a summer playhouse and tea room on Old Silver Beach, where the hotel stands today.  After the playhouse was damaged in a fire in1936, it was replaced and reopened as the Old Silver Beach Club, a Prohibition-era speakeasy. But this structure also was destroyed just two years later in the hurricane of 1938. The Latin Quarter, a club managed by Lou Walters, opened on the site in 1942. After a brief hiatus in World War II, the property reopened as a summer resort.

Red Auerbach, the famed Boston Celtics President, coach, and GM, along with partners Kenneth Battles and Steve Hill, purchased Sea Crest in 1963 and converted it from a summer destination to a multi-season hotel in 1971. After another change of ownership, Scout Hotels, which also owns or manages the Harborview and the Kelly House in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, the Harborview on Nantucket, and Plantation on Crystal River on Florida’s Nature Coast, as well as manages the Cape Wind (also in Falmouth on Cape Cod), acquired the Sea Crest  in February 2010, launching a new era for the family resort.

Seacrest Beach Resort on Cape Cod offers indoor and outdoor pools © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sea Crest Beach Hotel on Cape Cod offers indoor and outdoor pools © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Committed to preserving its heritage and appeal as a family-friendly destination resort while adding amenities and improvements ideal for contemporary guests, Scout Hotels invested $15 million in renovations. Completed in 2013, the renovations transformed the hotel into a full-fledged resort, including Red’s Restaurant and Lounge, the whimsical, nautical décor in the guestrooms and throughout the hotel, upgraded indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and the largest meeting and events space on the Cape, the Nauset Center. 

A Full-Service Beach Resort

The Sea Crest Beach Hotel occupies an expansive, 700-foot long private section of Old Silver Beach along Buzzards Bay in what is otherwise a residential neighborhood  distinguished by the shingle-styled architecture of traditional New England cottages

There are 264 guestrooms housed in eight low-rise buildings, each named for a winning boat from the Buzzard’s Bay Regatta. Woven sea-grass headboards and a color scheme of crisp whites and sea-glass blues and greens reflect the hotel’s beachfront setting, while thoughtfully placed sea shells and objects d’art add touches of whimsy.

The hotel’s 264 guest rooms and suites, some with fireplaces and many with water view private balconies, makes it appealing   for families who seek a beachfront setting, couples drawn by the romance of the Cape, and meeting or wedding planners seeking expansive function space combined with superb dining and warm, personalized service. And the resort’s proximity to Cape Cod’s attractions makes it a great hub for longer stays.

There is also a three-bedroom/three bathroom cottage that sleeps up to eight and provides plenty of indoor and outdoor space for entertaining. it features a spacious living room, open kitchenette, washer and dryer, expansive deck, and a private backyard.

The hotel is loaded with amenities –the 700-foot private, white-sand beach; outdoor saline pool shielded from the wind, with pool deck and poolside bar (live entertainment, too); beautiful indoor, heated saline pool, kiddie pool and indoor/outdoor Jacuzzis; fitness center and a Pilates/Yoga room; Tween Room; outdoor movies on the hotel’s 16-foot screen during the summer months; Windsurfing lessons and water sports rentals; Beach volleyball; Bike rentals; Video arcade. In addition, tee times can be arranged at five 18-hole nearby golf courses.

Sea Crest Beach Hotel offers a variety of new and renovated dining environments: Red’s Restaurant & Lounge, a casual eatery named for former Sea Crest Beach Hotel owner Red Auerbach, the legendary Boston Celtics president and coach, showcases fresh takes on American Cape cuisine in seven distinct indoor and outdoor dining spaces, ranging from a family-friendly Main Dining Room to RED’S Room, filled with Red Auerbach memorabilia, for private events. It also includes a breezy Three Seasons Porch with wicker seating; outdoor seating for beachwear-friendly dining; a New England neighborhood-style indoor bar with television screens; and an outdoor poolside bar. Red’s Take Out provides guests the option of ordering selections to enjoy in their guestrooms; Ocean View Room, a more formal room, takes full advantage of the spectacular views through its wraparound windows; I-Café serves up fresh-brewed coffee and treats along with wireless Internet access and cable news.

Sea Crest offers a festive Shore Dinner Series where hotel guests and local residents alike can dig into traditional Cape favorites Tuesday nights at 6 p.m. through Sept. 6. Priced at $65 per person, the Shore Dinner includes: a 1 ½ pound Maine lobster; ½ pound of local steamer clams; ½ pound of East Coast mussels; Chorizo sausage; and native sweet corn on the cob with poached baby potatoes served with drawn butter, lemon and hot sauce. For $45 per person and $25 for children ages 12 and under, the meal includes a menu option without lobster and shellfish and features fresh-baked corn bread, Cape clam chowder, Angus burgers and jumbo beef hot dogs with all the fixings, garden salads and BBQ-roasted free-range chicken. Sliced summer fruit platters and warm just-baked cookies will follow the meal, and iced tea and lemonade will be served throughout the evening. Guests can end the experience by watching the most spectacular sunset on Cape Cod.  A full bar is available at an additional cost. Prices include tax and gratuity. Reservations are required and include a full-day parking pass. Reservations are available at Shore Dinner Tickets online, by calling 508-356-2111 or via email at shoredinner@seacrestbeachotel.com.

This year, the Sea Crest debuted a new “toes-in-the-sand” dining experience, Jamaican BBQ Night, for guests looking for a Caribbean-inspired night out. Every Thursday from through Aug. 25, guests can dive into a Jamaican-inspired buffet accompanied by Caribbean-themed live music. Priced at $35 per person and $18 for children ages 12 and under, the buffet selections include Jamaica’s national dish of ackee and saltfish, as well as island slaw, jerk chicken, jerk pork and traditional red beans and rice. Ice-cold tropical fruit punch and ginger beer fried plantains, banana pudding and sweet potato pudding will be available for dessert. A full bar will be available at an additional cost. Prices include tax, gratuity and a full-day parking pass. (Reservations are required. Visit Jamaican Night Tickets online or call 508-540-9400.)

Both weekly events feature the Cape’s freshest finds prepared by Executive Chef Glenn MacNayr.

Cape Cod’s Largest Event Space

With more than 30,000 square feet of event space, Sea Crest Beach Hotel boasts the largest conference facilities under one roof on Cape Cod. All feature sophisticated audio-visual technology, high-speed Internet access, complimentary Wi-Fi, and a full range of business services. Function spaces include:

Nauset Conference Center, an 11,800-square-foot, newly renovated meeting space that accommodates up to 650 guests and divides into five flexible rooms. The space has been completely redesigned to incorporate its waterfront surroundings, including updated breakout rooms and bathrooms, earth-toned carpeting, wall coverings with driftwood accents and air walls, lighting including unique “wave” chandeliers, upgraded audio/visual capabilities, new banquet chairs and group check-in desk, and new catering and dining options for event participants.

Sea Crest Ballroom is a newly renovated, this 6,450-square-foot space that accommodates up to 800 guests. It can be divided into three separate rooms and connects to the adjacent Ocean View Room and its outdoor deck.

Courtyard accommodates al fresco meeting breaks and cocktail receptions, as well as banquets for up to 150.

Sea Crest Beach Hotel offers superb settings for weddings, from barefoot-on-the-beach affairs to more formal ceremonies in the Sea Crest Ballroom. There are indoor and outdoor venues ideal for receptions, rehearsal dinners and bridal luncheons. Menus range from gourmet fare to New England clambakes and barbeques.

Sea Crest Beach Hotel is within an easy drive of the region’s largest cities: New York, Boston, and Providence. Boston’s Logan International Airport and Providence’s T.F. Green International Airport are both just over an hour’s drive away.

Biking to the Nobska Lighthouse on Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Biking to the Nobska Lighthouse on Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

For more information or reservations visit www.seacrestbeachhotel.com or call 800-225-3110.

For more information and trip planning, Falmouth Chamber of Commerce
20 Academy Lane, Falmouth, MA, 02540, 508-548-8500,
info@falmouthchamber.com, www.famouthchamber.com.

____________________

© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/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

 

Heritage Museum & Gardens is World-Class Destination Attraction on Cape Cod

Antique Cars, Adventure Park, Gardens, Hollywood Costumes and Hidden Hollow

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

 

Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
The gorgeous lily pond at Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, Cape Cod’s first settled village, is a world-class destination attraction that on its own qualifies to bring people to Sandwich, even if the village did not offer as many unique attractions as it does or Cape Cod did not have its magnificent beaches and bike trails (see story).

Heritage Museum hits on a spectrum of cylinders -the vast, stunning and notable gardens, the historic collections of rare automobiles, the art inside and out, the way the entire place engages people of all ages – such as at the Hidden Hollow, a giant tree house in a hollow where you are invited to participate in planting and other activities (you feel like an elf or those tiny creatures in the EPIC animated movie). There is also – imagine this – an adventure center where you can see the forest “from a squirrel’s point of view.”

The gorgeous lily pond at Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The gorgeous lily pond at Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Set on 100 acres of magnificent grounds and trails on the banks of Shawme Pond in Historic Sandwich. Heritage Museums & Gardens is the largest public garden in Southern New England..Heritage is especially famous for its Dexter Rhododendrons as well as an encyclopedic collections of daylilies, hostas and hydrangeas. Heritage also holds a nationally-significant collection of specialty gardens, water features and sculpture.

It is a place where kids have space to really explore, where parents and children can engage in activities together, where parents can feel like kids again riding a carousel, and where children of all ages can feel that sense of wonder and delight, where the best of Mother Nature and man’s inventiveness achieve a harmony.

CUT! Costume and the Cinema  

There are always special exhibits and this year’s is a blockbuster: “CUT! Costume and the Cinema,” which also provides a theme for many of the performances and special events throughout the season.

“CUT! Costume and the Cinema” on view at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich, features  43 costumes from the movies © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
“CUT! Costume and the Cinema” on view at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich, features 43 costumes from the movies © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Forty-three costumes represent five centuries of fashion and style as interpreted by award-winning costume designers and worn by favorite stars are on display along with props, movie clips and photos and movie memorabilia. You actually get to see the scene where the actor is wearing the costume. But unlike seeing the costumes on film (where you might only get a view from the front), you get to see them in 360-degrees around, in very close proximity, and can appreciate the texture, the sumptuous fabrics, the lavish lace and embroidery and unparalleled craftsmanship and creativity the detail,

Costume is the essential ingredient in the authenticity of a period film..They set the scene and help create the ambience. They also reveal clues about a character’s status, age, class and wealth as well as his or her role in the story. And in this exhibit, you also get to appreciate changing cultural mores over time and place. More than 30 characters from some 25 films are displayed.

You can see Keira Knightley’s and Johnny Depp’s costumes from “Pirates of the Caribbean”;  Kate Winslet’s from “Sense and Sensibiility”, Robert Downey Jr. from “Sherlock Holmes”, Minnie Driver and Emmy Rossum’s from “Phantom of the Opera”, Renee Zellweger from “Miss Potter.” Also, there are costumes that have been worn by Scarlett Johansson, Julie Christie, Maggie Smith, Heath Ledger, Ralph Fiennes Randy Quaid, Jude Law, Robert Downey, Jr.,

Anjelica Huston’s dress from “Ever After” provides an example of the technique of “slashing” – which was started by peasants who salvaged worn garments, and then was expropriated by the rich who embellished their sleeves with decoration.

Many of these costumes and their designers have won major awards including Oscars from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and BAFTAs from the British Association of Film and Television Arts (my only complaint is that the displays don’t credit the designers names or whether they won an Academy award for it).. The exhibition tour is organized by Exhibits Development Group, USA in cooperation with Cosprop, Ltd., London, England.

There are docents at the exhibit who field questions and respond to visitor requests – so, in response to visitors, they created a “cue sheet” of the movies, and a docent has swatches of comparable textiles so you can feel what they are like (do not touch the actual costumes). (I would have liked if they also would have provided the names of the costume designers and whether it won an award).

Many of these themes also animate weekly performances in an outdoor space where families like to bring picnics- especially the “Finding Neverland” and Beatrix Potter (“Miss Potter” who wrote the Peter Rabbit stories).,

Driven to Collect Antique Autos

One of the eternal delights at Heritage Museum is Driven to Collect, showcasing Heritage’s permanent collection of antique and classic automobiles, housed in a fantastic two-story building that is a reproduction of the Round Stone Barn at Hancock Shaker Village.

1915 Milburn Light Electric, one of the first cars specifically designed for women is displayed at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
1915 Milburn Light Electric, one of the first cars specifically designed for women is displayed at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The JK Lilly III collection includes antique cars going back to the earliest models, most notably that are not just rare but also are in superb condition. You can see the model of the car that Amelia Earhart owned, the 1932 Auburn boattail speedster like Errol Flynn owned. Most interesting to me is a 1915 Milkin Light Electric Car, one of the first specifically designed for women: it did not require a crank, was elegant looking, with big windows.

New this year are a 1934 Derby Bentley reminiscent of the cars, time periods, and luxury represented in the 2016 special exhibition CUT! Costume and the Cinema, and a special display of maps made from recycled license plates, created by artist Stephen Blyth.

1932 Auburn Boattail Speedster is part of the JK Lilly III collection on view at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
1932 Auburn Boattail Speedster is part of the JK Lilly III collection on view at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

This collection includes some extraordinarily rare cars, like the Dusenberg that was specially built for Gary Cooper in 1931 (at a cost of $14,000-imagine that, in 1931). There is a 1919 Pierce Arrow, (original price, $7,750), built by the company, founded in 1901, by George N. Pierce of Buffalo, who built bicycles and bird cages, and turned his latent genius to automobiles. Also notable in the collection is the 1909 White Steam Car Model M, the first “Presidential” automobile, complete with Presidential seal, used by President Taft.

The descriptions are wonderfully “user friendly” that will delight true automobile collectors and aficionados, as well as neophytes. The commentary discusses the innovations made in the car, such as how the 1932 Auburn “boattail speedster” has a hidden convertible top (an awesomely exquisite car purchased, originally, for $975). Children are invited to hunt for clues and there are interesting kid-friendly descriptions. And there is a Model T that you can pack into and pose for pictures.

Each month from May to October, there is an opportunity to go behind the scenes with curator Jennifer Madden for a tour of the antique auto collection storage. Jennifer shares little-known facts and stories about the 20 cars in this area, while participants have the opportunity to closely examine the vehicles. Participants will also learn how the collection was formed, the original purchase price of each vehicle, the work that goes into maintaining this world-class collection, and the ins and outs of moving the cars and preparing them for exhibit. Advance registration is recommended as space is limited.

Lilly, of the Indianapolis pharmaceutical company (he came to sail in Cape Cod and stayed), was a phenomenal collector. Indeed, you see local and folk art and a range of items on display (the exhibit changes) that rivals the Smithsonian in Washington DC.

J.K. Lilly, III founded Heritage Museums & Gardens in honor of his father, J.K. Lilly, Jr., who spent a lifetime amassing great collections of rare books, coins and stamps, as well as American firearms and military miniatures. A private man, his father built a museum behind his home and shared his collections with few others.

But JK Lilly III took a different approach when establishing Heritage Museums & Gardens. He hoped that his museum would provide a range of educational and enjoyable experiences for many visitors “beyond Sandwich and beyond Cape Cod.” In order to augment the collection he acquired from his father’s estate, Lilly collected thousands of items in a short amount of time. This allowed him to present a broad overview of his ideas about the “excellence and ingenuity of American craftsmen.”

Heritage Collection Showcases Americana

Children of all ages delight riding the 1908 carousel at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Children of all ages delight riding the 1908 carousel at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Heritage Collection, in a separate building (where there is also the historic carousel you can ride) highlights art and artifacts from Heritage’s collection of more than 12,000 items. Beautiful paintings, rare objects, and the famed military miniatures offer examples of American ingenuity and excellence, and collectively, provide a revealing portrait of American culture over time.

The Heritage Collection presents Heritage’s permanent collection in four themes that permeate American history – sense of place, home, work and conflict of ideas. Each object seen here, pivotal or humble, tells a story about our history, about ourselves, and like all good history, about our future. Exhibit highlights include: beautiful paintings, rare objects, carved birds by A. Elmer Crowell, and the famed military miniatures offer examples of American ingenuity and excellence. . Indeed, it is very much like the experience you have when you visit the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.

Children of all ages will enjoy taking a whirl on the carousel in the building housing the Art collection (you can pretty ride as many times as you like).

Made by Charles Looff in 1908, the antique hand-carved carousel has been thrilling riders for a hundred years.

Gardens of Delights

The Fringe Tree at Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Fringe Tree at Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The grounds are simply breathtaking – magical even. I watch as a new garden is being created: it is a test garden for North American Hydrangeas – varieties not seen before on the market –to see how the varieties grow. We come upon a Fringe Tree – massive and delicate, like nothing I’ve seen before.

Most fun is how you come upon visual delights, from the Old East Wndmill, to the Labyrinth, to the Garden Maze, to Hidden Hollow, to a series of outdoor art-installations which connect to the natural world.

There is the most magnificent lily pond with a flume that creates a sculpted waterfall, outdoor art installations (that are like a scavenger hunt).

As you walk about the grounds, you come upon the Old East Windmill, built in 1800 in Orleans, Massachusetts, served that community for 93 years grinding wheat, rye, barley and salt from the local salt works. During the Civil War, the windmill also ground corn meal to be used as field rations for Union soldiers. In 1968, the windmill was sold to Heritage’s founder and moved to its present location.

Opened in 2004, the Hart Family Maze Garden was designed to capture the mystery and intrigue of exploration that characterizes a classical maze while providing a format for display of Heritage’s vine collection. Inspired by the site’s views of the surrounding landscape, the New England climate and the vines themselves, the maze uses a range of materials. A combination of evergreen and deciduous vines and hedges alternately create opaque walls and transparent windows the outside depending on the season. Throughout the season, the maze will feature such flowering vines as wisteria, clematis, honeysuckle, silvervine fleeceflower, Japanese hydrangea vine and five-leaf akebia.

Throughout the grounds, you will come upon these marvelous art installations – 10 in all – that have connection to the natural world and the environment – like a scavenger hunt for kids to find them all. Each year there is a similar, juried outdoor art show. This year’s is titled, “Natural Threads”.

Hidden Hollow

Hidden Hollow at Heritage Museum & Gardens is more than a tree house, but an outdoor education center © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hidden Hollow at Heritage Museum & Gardens is more than a tree house, but an outdoor education center © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Relatively new is Hidden Hollow – a giant tree house in a hollow in the woods where kids and adults engage in outdoor discovery activities like planting and STEM activities.

Hidden Hollow is a place for families to play in and explore the natural world. Hidden Hollow features a wide range of activity areas in which families can enjoy the outdoors together. Nestled in a two-acre dry kettle hole, its unique topography offers a stimulating and beautiful outdoor setting for discovery and learning.

Children can climb stepping stumps, navigate log balance beams, construct forts, create nature-inspired art, build with blocks, dig in sand, experiment with water, make music, engage in sensory investigation with plants, and more.

Children and parents engage in activities in the Hidden Hollow at Heritage Museum & Gardens  © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Children and parents engage in activities in the Hidden Hollow at Heritage Museum & Gardens
© 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Hidden Hollow is one of New England’s first certified Nature Explore Classrooms, a joint program of National Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation.

This national initiative was developed to advance the understanding and appreciation of the natural world and to provide children with meaningful and positive experiences with nature.

Indeed, you may well come upon the children from Heritage Museum’s new Relatively new: 100 Acres School, a private pre-school focused on STEM education, where the 100 acres of the museum and gardens are the outdoor classroom where kids get to experiment, learn about plants, etc. The curriculum is being tested for use in other cities and the plan is to develop an online curriculum that can be adopted more broadly.

Adventure Park: See Forest from ‘Squirrel’s Perspective’

There is also a new adventure park where you can see the forest from “a squirrel’s perspective”.

Located on four wooded acres on Heritage-owned land that has not been previously open to visitors, The focus of the Adventure Park is to provide a forest experience – in the air and on the ground -, with many opportunities for learning about forest formation, history, workings of a forest ecosystem, interdependence and interactions within forest ecosystems, forest succession and human impact on ecosystems

There are five aerial trails through the treetops.  Over 60 tree to tree bridges and 7 zip lines challenge your strength, strategy and balance.   Like a ski mountain, each trail is color coded for difficulty, allowing beginners to experts to select their own challenges.  Climbers as well as non-climbing observers will also enjoy the interpretive pathways on the ground, filled with educational information about the forest ecosystem.

The aerial trails afford views of some of the nicest Rhododendrons on the property. You get to see a typical New England forest ecosystem that includes several tree species, high bush and low bush blueberries, mountain laurel and other shrubs and may well see squirrels and chipmunks and a variety of local birds, including chickadees and finches, and if you are lucky, Heritage’s resident red-tailed hawk.

The Adventure Park is so popular, you need to buy a timed ticket (which you can do in advance).

Heritage’s history Goes Back to Early Settlement

The tract of land now known as Heritage Museums & Gardens played an important role in the history of the town of Sandwich. In 1677, Lydia Wing Hamilton Abbott was the first resident to live on the land. As the widow Hamilton, she resided with her two sons on a spot near what is now the Special Exhibitions Gallery just south of Upper Shawme Pond. She lived there in great poverty despite a second marriage and assistance from her family and the Quakers of the town. After her death, Lydia’s brother Daniel Wing, Jr., and his two sons, Samuel and Zeccheus, bought Lydia’s little house, now known as Orchard House. Samuel, his wife and six children lived in the house until the children married and moved away. Much of the Wing family farm remains part of the grounds of Heritage. Although members of the Wing family have not lived on the property for years, their heritage remains a vital part of our history.

The internationally-known Charles Owen Dexter, a successful textile manufacturer in New Bedford, was the next owner of the land. He bought the property, then known as Shawme Farm, in 1921. A true renaissance man, he was active in civic affairs as well as a photographer, violinist and yachtsman. At the age of 59, Dexter was told that he wouldn’t have long to live which led him to purchase Shawme Farm. However, despite the warning, he lived for another 22 years. Beginning in 1921, Mr. Dexter and his wife spent summers at the farm and for the next 15 years he worked in his garden hybridizing plants. He started with vegetables and expanded his interests to rhododendrons.

The Lilly family, originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, spent their summer vacations in Falmouth, so when Josiah Kirby Lilly wanted to found a museum dedicated to his father, he chose Cape Cod.

Lilly first thought that he would create an automobile museum, but after researching other institutions, he decided that it would not have a broad enough appeal. It was after his father’s death in 1966 that the idea of creating a public place to house several of the Lilly family collections began to take shape.

Driven to Collect is housed in a recreation of the Round Stone Barn from Hancock Shaker Village, at Heritage Museum & Gardens © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Driven to Collect is housed in a recreation of the Round Stone Barn from Hancock Shaker Village, at Heritage Museum & Gardens © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

After J. K. Lilly, Jr. died, his son bought the antique firearms and military miniature collections from his father’s estate. With architect Merton Stuart Barrows and landscape architect Philip Ansell, he planned the buildings and grounds to be a suitable background to showcase the collections. They decided on a replica of the Round Barn from the Shakers of Hancock Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts for the cars. A replica of the Temple of Virtue from New Windsor, New York, where George Washington awarded the first Purple Heart to a soldier, was selected to hold the antique firearms and the military miniatures. Plans were made to add the gatehouse (ticket office and museum store) and the Old East Mill, from Orleans. In 1971, to entice more women to the museum, Mr. Lilly bought the Charles I. D. Looff carousel. Housed in a building built especially for its display, the carousel would be joined by three galleries holding American art.

Today the Museum serves more than 100,000 visitors annually who come from around the world to visit.

An an outdoor stage, family friendly concerts are presented Fridays 9-5, offering an entire day of activity. The theme this year is movies, such as “Cinderella,” “Neverland,” and “Beatrix Potter Day.”  (And check out the schedule for special evening activities and lectures).

Bring a picnic or purchase food from the bistro-style Magnolia Café.

It is easy to spend a full day (or more) at Heritage Museums & Gardens, enjoying both The Adventure Park and the main museum grounds including the Auto Gallery, the Carousel, the Windmill, and the various gardens and indoor exhibits. You’ll need at least 2.5 hours for The Adventure Park and at least 2 hours for the museum (and you need a timed ticket to visit the Adventure Park). Save time and pre-purchase tickets.

And if you are planning to visit more than one time during the season, it is really worthwhile to purchase a family membership. (Open daily, mid-April to mid-October, 9 am-5pm).

Heritage Museums & Gardens, 67 Grove Street, Sandwich, MA 02563, 508-888-3300, info@heritagemuseums.org, www.heritagemuseumsandgardens.org.

See:

Time Traveling in Sandwich, Cape Cod’s First VillageDan’l Webster Inn & Spa is Perfect Time Capsule to Cocoon Visit

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/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

Time Traveling in Sandwich, Cape Cod’s First Village

Dan’l Webster Inn & Spa is Perfect Time Capsule to Cocoon Visit

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

Dexter Grist Mill, a working grist mill in Sandwich on Cape Cod since 1654 where you can still buy ground cornmeal © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Dexter Grist Mill, a working grist mill in Sandwich on Cape Cod since 1654 where you can still buy ground cornmeal © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It’s remarkably easy to feel you have stepped back in time and forget what century you are actually in, in Sandwich, the first village settled on Cape Cod, in 1637. Sandwich is an enchanting jewel where history, exquisite architecture, fascinating attractions abound in a compact, walkable town, a short distance from the delightful Sandy Neck beach as well as the Cape Cod biking trail. It is quintessential New England, an idyllic place to visit, to stay, to make your hub for exploring Cape Cod. What is more, it is a real place where people live year-round, not just in summer, giving it much more substance than a place built around tourists.

And so, when I sought to choose a place that would express quintessential New England – encapsulating its architecture, heritage and culture  – to a California girl who had never been to this part of the country before, I honed in on Sandwich.

It is also the first village you come to when you drive over the Sagamore Bridge – which means that you avoid hours of traffic that holiday-goers face getting to and from other popular places, like Hyannis, Chatham, and at the furthest point, Provincetown. Instead, you can make Sandwich your base and, if you have exhausted all the fascinating places to explore in Sandwich (not likely), you can have day trips to explore the Cape Cod National Seashore, bike the Cape Cod Rail Trail (Cape Cod is one of the best biking destinations anywhere) and, just 30 minutes drive away, Falmouth and Woods Hole which offer a score of other fascinating attractions as well as beaches.

Many of these quaint historic houses and buildings (including a church) have been turned into the most charming bed-and-breakfast inns, but if you want to extend your time travel back to when the Patriots were debating revolution, the best place is the Dan’l Webster Inn and Spa, very much at the heart of the village. It is also is the most substantial in size, amenities and services, offering the best of past and present.

The Dan'l Webster Inn & Spa in the heart of Sandwich, the first village settled on Cape Cod, combines the best of past and present © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Dan’l Webster Inn & Spa in the heart of Sandwich, the first village settled on Cape Cod, combines the best of past and present © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Dan’l Webster is a 48-room country inn which remarkably maintains its historic feel and character even though it is totally rebuilt (the original was destroyed by fire in 1971) and has undergone a $2 million renovation. Each of the 48 guest rooms and suites are appointed with exquisite period furnishings, canopy and four-poster beds, fireplaces and oversized whirlpool tubs.

The present inn sits on property that was once a parsonage, built in 1692 by Rev. Roland Cotton; in the 1750s, it was converted in the Fessenden Tavern, one of the first and most famous of New England’s taverns and a Patriot headquarters during the American Revolution (the Newcomb Tavern, just across the pond, served as Tory headquarters).

In the late 1800s, the inn, then known as the Central House, hosted famous visitors including President Grover Cleveland and poet Henry David Thoreau. In 1980, the Dan’l Webster was acquired by the Catania family, which operates the popular Hearth n’ Kettle Restaurants, as well as the John Carver Inn in Plymouth and, most recently, the Cape Codder Resort, in Hyannis.

The Catania family acquired the Dan’l Webster and have restored it with exquisite taste and respect for its importance – there are antique furnishings and Sandwich glass. The Catania family also acquired the historic house next door.

A marker outside the house tells the story: Nancy Fessenden married Capt. Ezra Nye in 1826 and moved into the house following their wedding. She was the daughter of the innkeeper (now the Dan’l Webster Inn). Nye was a famous captain who broke the speed record by sailing his clipper ship from Liverpool in 20 days, in 1829. The house was restored by the Dan’l Webster Inn in 1982 and accommodates four luxury suites, each named after prominent people associated with the inn, dating back to 1692.

The Dan’l Webster has become an award-winning hotel, spa and dining destination. Recognized as a Distinguished Restaurant of North America (placing it in the top 1% of restaurants in the country) it offers a choice of the casual Tavern at the Inn. the cozy Music Room or the more formal (and romantic) ambiance in a lovely glass enclosed Conservatory. The four lovely dining rooms offer a choice of settings; candle-lit, fireside dining in the Music or Webster Rooms garden-side dining in the sun or moonlit Conservatory, cozy dining in the tavern or au natural dining outside on the patio. Several times during the summer, it also offers dinner and live entertainment.

The Tavern at the Dan’l Webster Inn is an authentic replica of the two-centuries-old tap room where Daniel Webster made regular visits. It also served as the meeting place for local Patriots during the Revolution © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Tavern at the Dan’l Webster Inn is an authentic replica of the two-centuries-old tap room where Daniel Webster made regular visits. It also served as the meeting place for local Patriots during the Revolution © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Tavern at the Inn is an authentic replica of the two-centuries-old tap room where Daniel Webster made regular visits. It also served as the meeting place for local Patriots during the Revolution.

The menu includes traditional favorites such as prime rib and filet mignon, alongside creative, contemporary entrees and seasonal dishes. Its wine cellar received The Wine Spectator’s prestigious Award of Excellence.

Its full service Beach Plum Spa, which Cape Cod Life has named Best Day Spa since 2006!, features body massages (romantic and holistic healing), manicures, pedicures. The spa figures prominently in the inn’s getaway packages, such as a Girls Overnight Getaway (includes Cranberry Pedicures with Cosmo Martinis, 50-minute Massages, Beach Bliss Customized Facials, spa gratuities and $50 toward meals); Suite Deal Package (includes 1 night plus 50-minute Beach Plum Wellness Massages, spa gratuities, chocolate and $50 toward meals); and Countdown to Baby Package (select 1 or 2 nights plus receive Beach Bliss Customized Facials, 50-minute Massages like a Mama Massage for the Mother-To-Be, Cranberry Spa Pedicure, bottle of non-alcoholic sparkling wine, chocolates, spa gratuities, $60 toward meals and a special gift for the baby).

The Dan’l Webster received TripAdvisor’s 2016 Certificate of Excellence award for the 6th year in a row for dining and lodging., as well as the Cape Cod Life Reader’s Choice Awards as Best Bed & Breakfast/Inn and Best Resort/Hotel.

In addition to the Dan’l Webster Inn & Spa, the Catania family also owns and operates:

Cape Codder Resort & Spa in Hyannis (capecodderresort.com) which is opening a new indoor waterpark, and offers 260 stately guest rooms and luxury, fireplace suites, on-premise dining in the Hearth ’n Kettle Restaurant or Grand Cru Wine Bar & Grill, plus the Cape’s largest Full-Service Spa, the Beach Plum Spa & Med-Spa, catering to men, women and children

Cape Codder Residence Club (capecodderresidenceclub.com), a premier fractional ownership property, located on the site of the Cape Codder Resort & Spa so that owners enjoy the benefits of a luxurious one, two or three bedroom residence plus world-class resort amenities, concierge service and options to exchange accommodations around the world.

John Carver Inn & Spa (johncarverinn.com) a full-service resort with indoor Pilgrim Cove theme pool and spa located on the site of the original Pilgrim settlement, only steps away from Plymouth’s many historic attraction

The Hearth ‘n Kettle Restaurants (hearthnkettle.com), in Hyannis, South Yarmouth, Orleans, Plymouth, and Weymouth, serving “Cape Cod Fresh” cooking for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Dan’l Webster Inn & Spa 149 Main Street, Sandwich, MA 02563, 800-444-3566, info@DanlWebsterInn.com, www.DanlWebsterInn.com.

So Much to Do in Sandwich 

It’s remarkable how much there is to explore within steps of the Dan’l Webster Inn’s front door (where you will find a carriage, as well as stocks the Puritans used) – especially on a quiet, cool summer’s night with the glow of street lights.

Here you see the major ingredients to settlement: homes that bear the names of the ship captains who commanded the packet ships and clippers that made this area a mercantile center; the Sandwich Glass Museum, where a revolutionary process made glass available to the masses; the Dexter Gristmill, so important to farmers, it made the village a hub; a perpetually flowing fountain where residents come even today with their jugs to fill the pure water; scores of churches, several which have been converted to private uses, like the Belfry Inn and Bistro in a former Catholic church (built 1901), and the First Parish Meetinghouse, dating back to 1638, which, improbably, has become a private home (and during our visit, we take advantage of an estate sale).

The First Parish Meetinghouse, which dates back to 1638, is a private residence today © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The First Parish Meetinghouse, which dates back to 1638, is a private residence today © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Many of the homes have historic name-plates and dates – a program by the Sandwich Historic Commission to highlight the depth of history in Sandwich and to recognize the original owners who built Sandwich and are an interwoven part of its history. It really connects the buildings to the people, so they are not simply structures but embodiments of a personal story.

What built Sandwich, though (and likely the reason that so many of its magnificent buildings reflect the prosperity of the early-1800s) was that in 1825, Deming Jarves built a glass factory (down by the site of the current Boardwalk). The factory grew rapidly to be one of the largest producers in the country with over 500 workers producing over five million pieces of glass annually by the 1850s. The technique made Sandwich glass objects affordable to the masses. By the 1880s, labor strikes, an economic depression, and new factories being built further closer to natural gas fuel sources forced the factory to close.

The Sandwich Glass Museum houses original pieces created during the 1800’s and provides demonstrations of glass blowing techniques. The museum’s theater shows a great documentary of the history of Sandwich. Throughout the village there are several glass blowers and artists with open studios to visit, creating a dynamic center for contemporary glass art (120 Main St., 508-833-1540, www.sandwichglassmuseum.org).

A short walk from the Dan’l Webster Inn is the Dexter Grist Mill, a working grist mill since 1654 where you can still buy ground cornmeal, or draw fresh water from the well (as many locals do for their personal supply).

The Hoxie House, built in 1675, was lived in until the 1970s but was never modernized with electricity or plumbing. This saltbox is named after a whaling captain who owned the house in the mid-1800s. it is now a wonderful little museum house showing what family life was like in the 1600s.

Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Most fascinating is how many major religious buildings there are in Sandwich, and how many have been converted for secular use, very likely in keeping with Sandwich’s own tradition: the Puritan authorities of Plymouth branded Sandwich a “lax” town because church attendance and support were low, Native Americans were allowed to worship and Quakers were not shunned as in other Puritan communities. Indeed, at a time when the Pilgrims promoted anything but religious freedom and persecuted non-Puritans, Sandwich allowed Quakers to worship freely. The Sandwich Quaker Meetings are the oldest continuously kept Friends Meetings in the United States.

Most interesting is the building that was originally the First Parish Meetinghouse, dating back to 1638. It boasts a most magnificent clock tower, a gift to the people of Sandwich in 1808 from Titus Winchester, a former slave who had been freed by his master, Reverend Abraham Williams in 1784, and went on to great success. The four-faced clock we see today was installed in 1878 by Jonathan Bourne, a New Bedford whaling tycoon. It has since become a most extraordinary private residence, and we happen by as an estate sale is going on.

Benjamin Nye Homestead & Museum, is the 18th-century home of one of the first 50 men who settle in Sandwich (I take note that it is the same name as the Captain Nancy Fessenden married).

Also, the Wing Fort House, built in 1641, the oldest house in New England continuously owned and occupied by one family (63 Spring Hill Rd., 508-833-1540).

A short distance away, you can visit the Green Briar Nature Center & Jam Kitchen (6 Discovery Hill Road off Route 6A), which celebrates author and naturalist Thornton W. Burgess, who wrote the Peter Cottontail stories. There are nature programs, nature trails, a working 1903 Jam Kitchen, jam-making classes (508-888-6870, www.thortonburgess.org).

We also get to sample a regional specialty of Cape Cod: quahog –a clam exclusively here. A local restaurant, Marshland, has own recipe, showcased on the Food Network which has brought foodies from far and wide. It is a homey place that is a cross between a diner and a café and offers really marvelous home-cooked food.

I relish the proximity of the Dan’l Webster Inn to the Cape Cod Canal and the 6.2 mile-long paved path for biking, roller blading or just walking (the banks of the canal are also popular for fishing). It is close enough to bike from the inn to the start of the trail. Along the trail, you can visit the Aptucxet Trading Post, built by the Pilgrims in 1627 to facilitate trade with the Dutch at New Amsterdam and the Narrangansett Indians.

Cape Cod Canal © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Cape Cod Canal © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Cape Cod Canal is a marvel (there is a visitor center on the mainland side that tells the history). The canal was constructed in 1914 – up until then, there were a tragic number of ships that were wrecked trying to sail around the peninsula. But it is astonishing to learn that interest in building the canal dated back to the earliest settlers: in 1623, Pilgrims scouted the area as the place best suited for a canal. In 1697 the General Court of Massachusetts considered a formal proposal to build a canal, but no action was taken. In 1776, George Washington, concerned about its military implications, had the location examined. But it wasn’t until 1909 that construction started (60 Ed Moffitt Dr., 508-833-9676, www.capecodcanal.us). 

Not to be Missed: Heritage Museum & Gardens

In a village of many substantial attractions and places of interest, what truly stands out is the Heritage Museum & Gardens – a destination attraction that can stand on its own to draw people to Sandwich, just as the beaches draw people to Cape Cod. It hits on a spectrum of cylinders – the vast, stunning and notable gardens, the JK Lilly III collection of cars and art, as well as art inside and out, the way it engages people of all ages – such as at the Hidden Hollow, a giant treehouse in a hollow where you are invited to participate in planting and other activities (you feel like an elf or those tiny creatures in the EPIC animated movie).

The gorgeous lily pond at Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The gorgeous lily pond at Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

This year, the special exhibit on view is “CUT! Costume and the Cinema,” featuring 43 costumes representing five centuries of fashion and style as interpreted by award-winning costume designers and worn by favorite stars, which are presented along with props, movie clips and photos and movie memorabilia which you can see in very close proximity. There is also – imagine this – an adventure center where you can get a “squirrel’s perspective” of the forest. You should allocate the better part of a day to visit. (Heritage Museums & Gardens, 67 Grove Street, Sandwich, MA 02563, 508.888.3300, www.heritagemuseumsandgardens.org, open daily (See story).

Sandwich offers easy access to other marvelous places to visit on Cape Cod, but you should spend at least a day on the other side of the Sagamore Bridge, in Plymouth, to visit a score of historic attractions associated with the Pilgrims, including the Mayflower II (only recently reopened) and Plimoth Plantation (one of the best living history museums anywhere).

For more information, contact Sandwich Chamber of Commerce, 508-833-9755, www.sandwichchamber.com, info@sandwichchamber.com. 

See next: Heritage Museum & Gardens is Not-to-Be-Missed Attraction on Cape Cod

____________________

© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/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

 

 

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Engages Visitors in Vermont’s Living History

Come aboard the Philadelphia II, a replica of a Revolutionary War gunboat at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Len Ruth portrays the first officer of the Philadelphia © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Come aboard the Philadelphia II, a replica of a Revolutionary War gunboat at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Len Ruth portrays the first officer of the Philadelphia © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

There is so much history around the Basin Harbor Club, a grand resort that celebrates its 130th season this year (see story 7/1), and much of it is encapsulated at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. It’s a great place to go, especially if it should rain or as a mid-day break. Children will be especially engaged, there is even an Adirondack-style cabin and a maritime playground, among the buildings arranged over a four-acre area that look like their own village.

Hands-on exhibits pay homage to the native peoples – the Contact of Cultures 1609: Abenaki Culture through the Centuries, housed in an 1818 stone schoolhouse from Panton, Vt.; the Hazelett Watercraft Center (featuring a 1902 ice yacht); the Key to Liberty Exhibit which describes the Revolutionary War in the Champlain Valley and the fate of shipwrecks from the 1776 fleet; Steam to Gasoline; a Nautical Archeology Center where you can peer into the Conservation Lab; a working 18th century-style blacksmith shop and more.

The crowning jewel here is the working replica of the 1776 gunboat Philadelphia II, which was built here on site (they have an active boat-building program that youngsters can engage in).

I am lucky enough to arrive just after a school group and find a costumed interpreter on board. Len Ruth portrays the first officer of the Philadelphia. He carries a sword as a symbol of his rank.

The Americans invaded Canada in 1775 taking everything but Quebec City. Then the British forced the Americans to retreat.

A replica of the Revolutionary War era gunboat, Philadelphia, is on view at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. The boat was built here at the museum; the original is in the Smithsonian © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A replica of the Revolutionary War era gunboat, Philadelphia, is on view at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. The boat was built here at the museum; the original is in the Smithsonian © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The gunboat Philadelphia was built in 1776 to prevent the British from continuing down from Canada at Champlain & Albany. Boats like these helped to slow the British down, but by the end of 1776, the British controlled Lake Champlain.

The hull was put together in a week, then it was rowed up to Ticonderoga for rigging and guns, then the mast. Only 8 of these gunboats were built.

The Philadelphia would have had a crew of 45 (it’s so small, it is almost impossible to conceive of that many onboard), and this would have been theor home for 6-8 weeks. We have put 45 reenactors onboard for a weekend. We had questions when we built it – how did it sail, how it ran. It was the least comfortable reenactment.”

Why so many crew? Half would have to be awake at any time. It took a dozen men to row – the oars were 20 ½ feet long and they had to stand to row, so they switched off after an hour.

One gun, 2,500 pounds, required nine men to operate; the bow gun, 4,000 lbs., required 12-13 man crew. The boat had at least four small guns, though they don’t know how many it had exactly because when it sunk, the crew were rescued by the Row Galley Washington and they stripped the boat. When the sunken ship was recovered, it had only one gun on it.

He points to where a center plank at the bow is split and says that the original Philadelphia, at the Smithsonian, ironically has the exact same split in the same plank.

He also tells us a fascinating story about Ethan Allen of the famous Green Mountain Boys, who apparently became a hero of the Patriot cause because he was upset that the British Parliament would not honor his purchase of land from New Hampshire. (Who knew?)

The museum also has long-boats, built by high school age kids, and a boat-building program.

They also built the whaleboat for the Charles W Morgan (at Mystic Seaport). “The kids built it, fit it and delivered it.”

Lake Champlain Museum offers engaging exhibits, an archeological laboratory, and various buildings to explore over a four-acre lakeside campus © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Lake Champlain Museum offers engaging exhibits, an archeological laboratory, and various buildings to explore over a four-acre lakeside campus © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Founded in 1986 to preserve and share the maritime heritage of the Champlain Valley, The Lake Champlain Museum offers engaging exhibits, hands-on learning opportunities, an archeological laboratory, and various buildings to explore over a four-acre lakeside campus. It is open daily from the end of May 21 through early October.

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 4472 Basin Harbor Road, Vergennes, Vermont 05401, 802-475-2022, www.lcmm.org.

See: Basin Harbor Club Marks 130 years as Luxury Summer Retreat on Lake Champlain, Vermont

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/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

 

Basin Harbor Club Marks 130 years as Luxury Summer Retreat on Lake Champlain, Vermont

 

Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years, offers a mixture of activity and tranquility © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years, offers a mixture of activity and tranquility © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

We come to the Basin Harbor Club by driving down a four-mile Vermont country road lined with classically picturesque farms. As we enter the grounds, we are overcome by the breath-taking beauty of the landscape and the surprising realization of just how enormous this place is – spanning 700 acres along Lake Champlain, with its own harbor and marina and beaches. Basin Harbor Club is more of a vacation village, a compound, than a mere resort.

Then there is the absolute sense of peace and serenity that rushes over us when we enter our very own cottage, Sunny Pines, which bears the date 1938 etched in stone, set in the woods on a cliff, from which we can gaze out over Lake Champlain from the balcony and through the French windows from the living room. A master bedroom and second room on the first floor, and a spiral staircase down to another sprawling room with two queen beds. Perfect for our multi-generational family.

Basin Harbor Club has been greeting guests for 130 years. A seasonal resort open from May through October, Basin Harbor Club offers 77 individual cottages and another 47 guest rooms in a gracious manor house – accommodations for about 350 people at one time.

Sunny Pines, one of 77 unique cottages at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sunny Pines, one of 77 unique cottages at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Each of the 77 cottages are different – built in the 1920s and 1930s according to the specifications provided by the original families who were invited to Basin Harbor Club by the Beach family and came back each summer to escape city heat.  In those early days, the first cottages were rustic – the equivalent of today’s glamping – wood with canvas roofs on a concrete slab. But today, the cottages are luxurious, each with its own history and sense of style, exuding grace and charm, most have fireplaces and decks or screened porches and are equipped with complimentary WiFi; refrigerators and coffeemakers (just don’t look for a TV).

I must confess that I had always imagined Basin Harbor Club, which is a member of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America (historichotels.org, 800-678-8946), as more rustic – more like a camp than a resort village. Instead, Basin Harbor Club manifests gentility, refinement, class, yet it is relaxed, casual, comfortable and completely unstuffy. You instantly feel you belong here. For the precious time you are at Basin Harbor, you feel less like a guest and more like you are at your summer home. All the activities they offer may make you feel you are in an adult camp, but the service, facilities, dining experiences make you feel like a country squire.

Guests, many who come year after year, generation after generation, are treated to a first class experience from top to bottom – from the exquisite, immaculately maintained grounds, to the impeccable service, to the top quality equipment and facilities.

I can’t list all the instances where we were greeted so warmly – like Ryan Baker who helps us get sunfish and kayaks into the water and sets us up with bikes, and Jamie McCatherin who leads us on a 2-mile hike on the opposite shore in the Adirondack State Park, Glenn Spence of Vermont who greets us warmly as we are deciding what to take from the buffet for breakfast; and the fellow working to ready the pool who runs to the front desk when I  ask what time the Escape cruise departs.

The cheery attitude starts with Bob Beach who I chance to meet not long after we arrive, as I explore the property. He is walking along to the marina with his two golden retrievers and engages in pleasant conversation. I find him again chatting with my kids playing shuffleboard. Later he tells me this is one of the ways he constantly gauges what might need adjustment, improvement or what services to add.

It is hard to imagine anything that should be added – everything you could want for a vacation retreat is already here.

In addition to the big things – a wonderful, walkable 18-hole, par-72 golf course that is sufficiently challenging but not frustrating, where you actually feel good about your game after your round (“It’s one of the most enjoyable courses in the state,” Herb Kessel, a regular, tells me. “You don’t get beaten up. It’s one of my favorite courses in Vermont.”); driving range (PGA instructor as well as electric carts available); outdoor lap pool heated to a perfect temperature; tennis courts; a marina with kayaks, canoes, sunfishes, paddleboards, waterskiing and tubing; diving board and two trampolines in the lake; plus bikes (top quality mountain and hybrid), and the Escape which takes people out on hour-long narrated cruises as well as special sunset cruises for groups) – there are also the pleasant diversions you happen upon, such as disc golf, badminton, croquet, ping pong. And while there isn’t an elaborate full-service spa, there are massage services available.

And that’s not even half of it. Basin Harbor spans 700 acres along the shores of Lake Champlain – one of the largest lakes in the country, which, because of where Basin Harbor is positioned, only a ½ miles across at this point, utterly stunning views of the Adirondack State Park on the New York Side. Just as you come to the entrance, you see the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, founded by Bob Beach and is a substantial and important museum, with among other things, a perfect working replica of the 1776 gunboat Philadelphia (the original, razed from where it was sunk in Lake Champlain, is in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC).

Basin Harbor even has its own air strip – people come in their private planes just for lunch or a round of golf, and one family used to fly in their DC-10. (New England Aero Club has a fly-in with 200 planes and do aerial acrobatics.)

Hiking along the shore of Lake Champlain at Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vt., © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hiking along the shore of Lake Champlain at Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vt., © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The resort abuts Button Bay State Park, adding a whole other dimension to the stay. You can connect with hiking trails or bike into the park (though you are supposed to go in through the entrance off the Basin Harbor Road and pay the entrance fee). Bob Beach suggests going there (about 2 miles from the resort) for the sunset.

The hiking along the lake is utterly gorgeous – especially when the weather turns stormy and we watch the rain descend from clouds at first far away, over the Adirondacks to the east and Green Mountains to the north, and then closer and closer until we are caught in quite a deluge. No matter. It is tremendous fun. We find the gravel road from the Nature Center, and soon are on a scenic country road made all the more dramatic because of the breaks in the rolling clouds, the brilliant colors of the wet grass and soil, the blue mountains in the distance. Once out on the Basin Harbor Road, there are classic looking farms making the scenes even more picturesque.

Basin Harbor Club offers a guided hike on the New York State side of Lake Champlain, in the Adirondack State Park © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Basin Harbor Club offers a guided hike on the New York State side of Lake Champlain, in the Adirondack State Park © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

You can be even more ambitious: kayaking 1 1/2 miles across Lake Champlain to the New York State side where Basin Harbor owns a tiny portion of the Adirondack State Park, where you can beach the kayak while you hike to a wonderful rocky promontory (locals jump into the water from here, about 75 feet up, but it is really dangerous). Or, you can take advantage of the guided hike Basin Harbor offers, where they take you over by motorboat and you hike two miles through the woods to another cove (hiking a small spur to an overlook from which you can peer into an eagle’s nest).

As for biking, you can do a four-mile loop from Basin Harbor, or go out to the Champlain Bikeway – really a designated portion on the road (Basin Harbor has excellent hybrid and mountain bikes for rent).

Basin Harbor Club on Lake Champlain offers tranquil places just to be together © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Basin Harbor Club on Lake Champlain offers tranquil places just to be together © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Basin Harbor Club offers all of these wonderful activities and amusements, but what it is best at is simply offering the space, ambiance, not to mention time just to be together. There are quaint sitting areas positioned to take advantage of the best views –with colorful Adirondack chairs, including some giant ones that make you feel like a small child, and child-sized ones. There are gorgeous gardens and colorful, whimsical mobile art all around that makes you smile, makes you feel peaceful, and places where you can light a campfire.

Space, ambiance and time are a powerful formula for forging bonds of family and friendship. Many Basin Harbor guests are regulars who return year after year, same week, same cottage each year.

In fact, this September, a couple who met at Basin Harbor Club as 10 year olds – one family from Massachusetts and the other from New Jersey – and came back the same week each year, then came back as counselors and became engaged here last July 4, will be married here.

Weddings here are idyllic –the setting is absolute exquisite on a vast lawn with views of Lake Champlain, lovely gardens (there’s always an indoor site in case the weather doesn’t cooperate). A wedding coordinator is available who can arrange for florist, photographer and such, as well as organize special activities – like bringing the bride and groom into the wedding on vintage Chris Craft boats, the rehearsal dinner followed by a hayride and bonfire (a sample itinerary is on the website), and arrange such novel activities as hot air ballooning or even sky diving.. “Our wedding planner assists with all the wedding details, whether it’s a traditional ceremony, elopement or our shotgun wedding.”

The facilities, the space, the setting and activities make Basin Harbor ideal for multigenerational family getaways, reunions, executive retreats, team-building programs (they can arrange for a ropes course), for incentive programs and corporate meetings, and especially think tanks. Self-contained with lots of activities so never bored, but also not distracted. As much or as little, as busy or as lazy as you like. Indeed, Basin Harbor strikes you as an adult summer camp, but actually, children have their own camp.

Children’s Programs 

Lots of resorts say they have a “kids camp” but here at Basin Harbor, it quite literally is a camp – each of five age groups has its own bunkhouse or headquarters. The 3-5s have the larger playhouse and playground; the 9-12s (preteens) have a building away from the other siblings (near the Red Mill Restaurant). Teenagers have their own “den” but because they tend to be “unpredictable”, Basin Harbor hosts a mocktail reception on Sunday when counselors meet so the teens can plan their own activities for the week together – kayaking, hiking and such.

Kids Camp is available for five different age groups, from 9:30am-1:30pm and/or 5:00-9:00pm (so there is also time for families to be together). The program runs daily from mid-June through Labor Day and on select weekends in spring and fall. Activities include arts and crafts, fishing, sports, games and educational hikes. The program is included for guests on the FAP (Full American meal plan) and the MAP (breakfast and dinner plan).

Activities Galore 

Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In classic resort style, there are all sorts of organized activities – bird-watching, geocaching, a ga-ga ball pit, night golf, barn dances, narrated lake cruises, art classes, wellness classes, property tours, history talks, dogs walks, and so much more.

Jamie McCatherin, whose title is Entertainment Ambassador, hosts guided hikes, special events, brewery tours, pool parties, arts and crafts programs and such.

“We tell the activities director not to take it personally if people don’t participate,” Beach says. That’s because there are so many things to do, to explore, to discover.”

Beach calls it “Active tranquility – do as much as you want to do. We offer a lot to do. It doesn’t matter if people don’t show up.”

Choices for Dining 

Basin Harbor is a classic resort where most guests still take advantage of a meal plan (MAP, which is breakfast and dinner, FAP, which is breakfast, lunch and dinner, or bed-and-breakfast). Led by Executive Chef Christian Kruse, the formal dining experience in the lakeside Main Dining Room has been enjoyed by generations.

During the summer months, the tradition of jacket and tie is maintained for gentleman over the age of 12. Outdoor dinners are enjoyed three times weekly and the Red Mill Restaurant offers casual, bistro style dining overlooking the grass airstrip.

Nearby Vergennes also offers several charming restaurants, cafes and eateries, including Antidote, Black Sheep Bistro and 3 Squares Café.

Five Generations of Beach Family History

Basin Harbor Club is celebrating its 130th anniversary this season – a mind-boggling reality. That puts Basin Harbor Club at the very beginning of tourism in America, coinciding with a rising middle class born of the Industrial Revolution and rise of American cities.

At a time when Gilded Age monied elites had their cottages in Newport and Bar Harbor, their “camps” in the Adirondacks and Cape Cod and private retreats on Jekyll Island, the first and second generation at Basin Harbor pioneered a new sort of tourism that catered to the rising middle class.

Bob Beach is the 4th generation host at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Bob Beach is the 4th generation host at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The 4th and 5th generations run the Basin Harbor Club now –Bob Beach and sister Pennie Beech and her daughter, Sarah Morris, who is the director of sales. They can be seen about. During the course of our all-too brief stay, I meet Bob with his 2 golden retrievers, his wife and daughter. Indeed, some 120 of the 240 employees at Basin Harbor live on the grounds.

I sit down with Bob Beach who tells me the history of Basin Harbor Club, which is also his family history:

Basin Harbor was a working farm when Beach’s great great aunt Ardelia Beach purchased it in 1886. She began offering rooms to city folk looking to get away and experience farm work in exchange for food. Her nephew, Allen Penfield Beach, came to work in the 1920s and eventually took over. While attending the University of Vermont he implemented changes, including giving up farming altogether and transforming the property into a full service resort with stables, golf course, airstrip and cottages built from guest sketches.

The history of tourism is also manifested in Basin Harbor’s golf course: in 1916, Basin Harbor had 3 holes of golf on what was a sheep meadow; then in 1927, they built a nine-hole course; in 1955, they added the back nine. The course, 6,500 yards long, was redesigned by famed designer Jeffrey Cornish. Now, a new superintendent has been making changes to make Basin Harbor a “noteworthy” golf destination. Part of this involves making the course faster – making the greens putt at 11 mph (“people like fast greens”) and cutting the fairways to less than 3/8 inch for faster play. There are practice greens, PGA certified instructors and electric carts are available. The BHC Golf Program is ideal for all levels of play. Daily clinics are open to men, women and junior golfers.

Bob Beach speaks of the challenge of being 4th and 5th generation hosts, maintaining a 130-year old institution. “Travelers are different today. Each generation brings new things. We have never been opposed to making changes, but we don’t make changes just for the sake of change. We have a certain tradition we continue. It’s a sense of stewardship.”

There is history all around: one of the larger stone buildings was the oldest operating inn on Lake Champlain when Ardela bought her farm; and in a small garden just below the shuffleboard courts, there is a stone marker, ”Site of Naval Shipyard, 1804-1812. Erected 1938”

Beach tells me of a shipwreck right in the cove, and once a week (on Monday), the hour-long narrated cruise on the Escape, turns into an expedition, using a ROV camera to view the wreck.

Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

That afternoon, we get to take the 1 ¼ hour narrated cruise on the Escape (daily at 2:30 pm) is not only really interesting but also wonderfully scenic, as we come close to the dramatic stone cliffs on the New York State side where the captain points out an eagles nest and where an eagle is sitting in a tree, pass small private islands, see the vast Swift Gilded-Age mansion and 450-acre estate, and get a view of the gunboat Philadelphia II docked at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. The views are breathtaking.

Lake Champlain, we learn, is the largest lake in the US after the Finger Lakes and played an important role in colonial times, Revolutionary War period, and economic development of the region. Great steamships used to ply the waters, and even before the Erie Canal, a 60-mile long canal was built in 1823 to connect the Lake with the Hudson River, which created a waterway extending up to Canada.

Pet-Friendly: Basin Harbor Club is also the most pet-friendly place you can imagine. I meet a man walking his cat who comes every year – the cat is particular – it wants to stay in the room they had the year before.

For a daily fee of $15 per dog, BHC offers a resort vacation for your pets with activities and amenities including: biscuits made in Vermont, games of Pick Up Mitts, hundreds of acres available for playing and Fanny’s Beach — their own swimming area.  

Seasonal Events: Rocktoberfest (Bacon & Beer Festival), Festival of Fidos, Barbeque Bonanza, American Girl Teas, Harborween; and regular daily programming also offers guests a wide variety of entertainment.

Meeting Space: Over 9,000 square feet of meeting space provides an ideal setting for traditional board meetings, as well as multi-day retreats featuring activities like lake cruises and lobster bakes, team building, golf tournaments and banquets. You can arrange a small party or reserve the entire resort, with lakeside parties, beach bonfires and cocktail cruises. 

Come aboard the Philadelphia II, a replica of a Revolutionary War gunboat at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Len Ruth portrays the first officer of the Philadelphia © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Come aboard the Philadelphia II, a replica of a Revolutionary War gunboat at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Len Ruth portrays the first officer of the Philadelphia © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

So much to do! In addition to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum right at Basin Harbor Club, nearby attractions include: Dar John Strong Mansion Museum; Crown Point State Historic Site; Fort Ticonderoga; Mount Defiance; Carillion Cruises; Mount Independence State Historic Site; Chimney Point State Historic Site. Other sightseeing attractions: the Shelburne Museum, the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory. Basin Harbor also has created biking routes; wine & beer routes; local cheeses; and historic drives 

Access: Set on the shores of Lake Champlain, surrounding a private harbor, the resort is just 45-minutes from Burlington International (BTV), Vermont’s largest commercial airport. BTV serves major commuter airlines, with connections from most cities in the Northeast. The resort is also accessible by private aircraft — Basin Harbor’s own 3,200-foot grass airstrip is one of the best in New England — as well as by boat. Greyhound and Megabus lines serve the Vergennes/Burlington area; transportation to Basin Harbor is available at a nominal fee. Basin Harbor Club is five hours from New York City metro; and 2 ½ hours from the Albany area.

Basin Harbor is a place you don’t want to leave and can’t wait to return.

Basin Harbor Club, 4800 Basin Harbor Road, Vergennes, VT 06490, 800.622.4000 or 802.475.2311, www.basinharbor.com

See next: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/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

Mountains of Art: Discover Vibrant Art in Villages along the Nation’s Oldest Hiking Trail

A country road just beyond the gates of Basin Harbor Club resort, Vergennes, Vt., provides exquisite views to inspire your own landscape © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A country road just beyond the gates of Basin Harbor Club resort, Vergennes, Vt., provides exquisite views to inspire your own landscape © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

MONTPELIER, Vt. –People are more inclined to associate Vermont with snow and the outdoors, but chasing along the spine of Vermont’s beloved Green Mountains, towns and villages that were established as farming and ski communities have grown into some of the state’s most thriving arts hubs. Understandably, in Vermont, the arts are as rich as the soil and steadfast as thru-hikers on the Long Trail. The state’s landscape – with its valleys and dynamic mountains – has both inspired and integrated the arts into its environment. In this light, the Vermont Arts Council and the Green Mountain Club, stewards of the nation’s oldest long distance hiking trail, the 273 mile Long Trail, have partnered to provide arts and outdoors enthusiasts a collection of recommended communities that offer excellent arts and hiking opportunities.

With its abundance of outdoor recreation, it’s fitting that Vermont is one of the “healthiest states,” in the nation according to the United Health Foundation. A lesser known fact is that in Vermont, you’re often in the company of artists. Vermont ranks third in the nation for artists as a percentage of its workforce, second for fine artists and writers, and eighth for both musicians and photographers.

For many weekend or day hikers, the abundance of towns that have both trailheads and dynamic arts provide a perfect pairing for an immersive vacation. A traveler can experience natural beauty by foot along the trail and explore art “hands-on” at workshops, festivals and concerts.

Vermont Arts & Hiking Hubs, North to South:

Near the Long Trail’s northern terminus, in the Jay and Montgomery region, you’ll find a variety of local artists: woodcutters, potters, jewelers, musicians and weavers. Venues exhibiting on a regular basis are The Artist in Residence Gallery in Enosburg Falls, Mountain Fiber Folk – offering locally made fiber arts as well as extensive supplies – in Montgomery Center, the Wooden Horse Arts Guild in North Troy, and the Memphremagog Arts Collaborative in Newport. Also, tune into the talent of local and visiting musicians at Now Playing Newport.

For many thru-hikers, this leg of the Long Trail is a serious accomplishment – reaching the Vermont-Canadian border signals the end of a 273 mile journey. But the Long Trail can also be enjoyed for day or overnight hikes. Follow the Long Trail north from Route 242 to the summit of Jay Peak to see the panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. It’s a moderate climb to the summit and back (3.4 miles round-trip) but worth the effort. If you want to spend a night on the trail, Laura Woodward Shelter is another 1.5 miles north of the summit.

The villages of Jeffersonville and Cambridge have been havens for landscape painters for the last century. Visitors will see plein air artists along the roadsides, particularly in autumn. Travelers will be surprised to see the region’s latest public art, a large-scale mural reinventing an old silo in Cambridge. Visit the Cambridge Arts Council to learn about classes and upcoming festivals. Also, the Mary Bryan Gallery and Visions of Vermont Gallery offer exceptional opportunities to appreciate or purchase the works of local artists and special exhibits.Smugglers’ Notch Resort offers various multi-age and discipline craft and painting classes with local artists Nancy Schade and Cheryl Pecor.

Hiking through Smugglers’ Notch to Mount Mansfield, the state’s highest peak at 4,393’ is a highlights of the Long Trail. At the top of in Smugglers’ Notch, along Route 108, the popular 1.1 mile Sterling Pond Trail leads to beautiful, high mountain pond. For an extended hike from Sterling Pond, hikers can continue on a 3.5 mile loop along the Elephant’s Head trail with spectacular views. Cliffs and dynamic boulders make this region popular for bouldering, rock and ice climbing.

In Stowe, catch a performance at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center; take a class or tour the latest exhibit at Helen Day Arts Center in the village, visit Green Mountain Fine Art on Main St. or enjoy the West Branch Gallery & Sculpture Park, a contemplative place to stretch your legs in all seasons. Some of the several additional galleries and studios to explore include Stowe Craft Gallery, Robert Paul Galleries and Little River Hot Glass Studio.

The summit of Mount Mansfield is readily accessed following the Long Trail south from Route 108 in Stowe. Hell Brook Trail, one of the state’s most challenging hikes, reaches the summit from Route 108 in 2.1 steep, scrambling miles. The Stowe Pinnacle is located nearby on the Worcester Range and is an excellent day hike offering sweeping views of the Green Mountains and the valley below. Before you set out on the trail, make sure that you stop by the Green Mountain Club Visitor Center on Route 100 in Waterbury Center for maps and expert advice!

The Mad River Valley is home to several arts spaces, including the Artisan’s Gallery, Mad River Glass Gallery, Walker Contemporary Gallery and Luminosity Studios in the Old Church. Waitsfield is also the headquarters of the month-long fete and year-round exhibit space, the Vermont Festival of the Arts Gallery. There’s also Mad River Antler, “natural shed antler artistry,” Waitsfield Pottery, as well as private ceramics lessons and raku at the Naked Potter.

Hikers in the Mad River Valley will enjoy steady ascents and miles of ridgeline payoffs on the 11.6 mile Monroe Skyline, a popular and strenuous “gap to gap” hike traversing the Long Trail north from Lincoln Gap and Appalachian Gap. Peaks include Mount Abraham, Lincoln Peak, Mount Ellen and General Stark Mountain. Also in the region, explore rock-top vistas atop Burnt Rock, accessed via the Hedgehog Brook Trail in Fayston (5.2 miles round-trip), For an easier hike, follow the Long Trail south from Lincoln Gap to Sunset Ledge with views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks, 2.2 miles round trip).

The Middlebury region is brimming with arts offerings a close distance to State and National Forests. Meet artist Jean Cherouny for a private printmaking or painting workshop or peruse group class offerings at Middlebury Studio School. Visit the Middlebury College Museum of Art and Mahaney Center for the Arts; explore and shop at Edgewater Gallery and get to know Vermont Artist Woody Jackson’s works beyond his cows of Ben & Jerry’s fame. At Rikert Nordic Center, the trails lead to the historic Robert Frost Summer Cabin. While walking in this Vermont Poet Laureate’s footsteps, it’s easy to understand the inspiration this area has offered to so many visiting writers, students and athletes.

The Long Trail crosses Rt. 125 at Middlebury Gap. Hike north along the Long Trail and a spur trail 0.8 miles to Silent Cliff for excellent views of the Green Mountains and Champlain Valley. This region is home to Breadloaf Wilderness, well known for its black bear and moose populations. Day hikers will enjoy Branbury State Park and U.S. State Forest Silver Lake Campground. Visit the Green Mountain National Forest Middlebury Ranger Station for additional recommendations and wayfinding.

Hikers descending from Killington cross Route 4 in central Vermont, where they can head to Rutland’s extensive Chaffee Art Center and visit Paramount Theatre for national acts appearing in an exquisitely restored 1912 opera house. Also along Route 4, the Crossroad of Vermont Byway, there’s the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center situated at an historic marble quarry and massive sculptures to explore in the outdoors at the West Rutland Art Park.

At 4,236’, Killington Peak is the Vermont’s second highest summit. On a clear day, the Adirondacks and the White Mountains of New Hampshire are visible. The Appalachian Trail and Long Trail share the same footpath in this part of the state and come within 0.2 miles of the summit. A spur trail will get you to the summit and is well worth the extra climb. Another excellent hike is the 2.2 mile Deer Leap Trail off of the Appalachian Trail with great views from Deer Leap Rock, also a popular destination for rock climbing. South of Killington, from Route 140 in Wallingford, the Long Trail passes through the White Rocks National Recreation Area and leads to a magical garden of rock cairns. Here, you can photograph the existing collection of cairns or…. enjoy creating your own!

Campers at Jamaica State Park can head into the village and venture into Elaine Beckwith’s Gallery and dine at the Garden Cafe, a culinary-art-space and market. Or, head into Manchester to visit some of the town’s abundant arts offerings, including Hills Alive, a rich and diverse calendar of cultural events and opportunities offered year-round, Southern Vermont Arts Center and the Museum of Creative Process. Additional villages near trailheads include Weston, with its Weston Playhouse and Village Green Gallery, as well as Martha’s Folk Art and Mountain Painters & Artisans Gallery in Londonderry.

The Long Trail is conveniently accessed just outside Manchester Village, from Routes 11 and 30. Hikers can take the 6 mile round trip to the summit of Bromley Mountain for beautiful views of the hills and villages below. Other nearby day hikes include Stratton firetower and the rock outcrop of Spruce Peak. Another fine option is the Old Rootville Road trail from Route 30 in Manchester Center leading to Prospect Rock. The hike is 3.5 miles round trip, and features a waterfall and excellent views of Mount Equinox and Manchester village.

There are dozens of arts opportunities in Bennington and eastward heading into the mountains along Route 9, the Molly Stark Byway. In Old Bennington, catch a show at Oldcastle Theater, visit Robert Frost’s memorial and catch a bird’s’-eye view from Bennington Monument, the tallest structure in Vermont. Tour the extensive Native American art collection and Art of the Animal Kingdom exhibit at Bennington Center for the Arts & Covered Bridge Museum, and see the world’s largest collection of Bennington pottery and Grandma Moses paintings at Bennington Museum. Shop at Fiddlehead at Four Corners, a contemporary craft and fine art gallery in the heart of historic downtown district.

Just outside of Bennington, the 3 mile round trip Pine Cobble Trail offers a picturesque vista of the tri-state area. For a more dynamic hike, access the Long Trail from Route 9 and follow it 1.8 miles southbound along a steep trail to an even steeper rock staircase up to popular Harmon Hill, with views of Bennington and the surrounding countryside. Continue on and in 12.5 miles, you’ll reach the Vermont-Massachusetts border, also known as the southbound terminus – or for most Long Trail thru-hikers, the beginning – of the Long Trail.

If Vermont’s arts and peaks have “piqued” your interest, visit VermontArtsCouncil.org, VermontArts2016.com and GreenMountainClub.org.
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Letter from Abroad: A Grand Concert at La Scala in Milan, Italy

Seeing a performance at the famed La Scala theater in Milan, Italy, is a grand experience that transports you back to the Belle Epoque. Designed by Giuseppe Piermarini, the theater opened in 1778 (photo by Leiberman-Nemett)
Seeing a performance at the famed La Scala theater in Milan, Italy, is a grand experience that transports you back to the Belle Epoque. Designed by Giuseppe Piermarini, the theater opened in 1778 (photo by Leiberman-Nemett)

By Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Nemett

Seeing a performance at the famed La Scala opera house in Milan, Italy, transports you back to the Belle Epoque.

After collecting our tickets in the box office, we began the night with a perfect Negroni and aperitivo snack in the bar of Ristorante Teatro alla Scala. With about ten minutes until curtain, we walked through the ornate grand foyer adorned with marble columns and tall narrow mirrors lining the walls. We entered the theater itself just early enough to first glimpse the orchestra through the open doors of the palci, the balcony boxes lining the horseshoe auditorium.

The demographic of the crowd skewed older than some opera houses in the United States with most of the audience in their 50s to 80s. Everyone was dressed as you would expect at La Scala: men in jackets and women in dresses.

We walked to our seats in the front right side of the Orchestra. Though we were fairly close to the stage, the sound didn’t feel as full as we imagined it could have. During intermission we were able to move up to one of the balcony boxes, where the sound was significantly richer than in the orchestra section.

First glimpse the orchestra through the open doors of the palci, the balcony boxes lining the horseshoe auditorium (photo by Leiberman-Nemett)
First glimpse the orchestra through the open doors of the palci, the balcony boxes lining the horseshoe auditorium (photo by Leiberman-Nemett)

The amazing acoustics in the gallery is only one aspect of the experience sitting in the balcony boxes of La Scala. We were lucky that the show we saw did not have a sold out house so we were the only 2 in our box and actually got to sit at the front with a great side view of the orchestra. Hundreds of burgundy jacquard-wallpapered cubes line the horseshoe of the 6 rows of boxes. It felt like an elaborate film set with each box its own scene. Sitting in a closed room with only a few others (or in our case just one companion), you are simultaneously watching hundreds of little boxed narratives in the panorama of the audience, while realizing you are within the same composition of boxes and one of these stories yourself. Hundreds of moments all within their own world, theater-goers hang out of the boxes with arms draped around the cushioned ledges, all watching and listening to their shared soundtrack.

The Teatro alla Scala was founded under the auspices of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, to replace the Royal Ducal Theatre, which was destroyed by fire on February  26 1776, which until then was the home of opera in Milan. The cost of building the new theatre was borne by the owners of the boxes at the Ducal in exchange for possession of the land on which stood the church of Santa Maria alla Scala (hence the name) and for renewed ownership of their boxes. The theater was designed by the great neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini  (1734-1808) and opened in 1778.

What is not widely known is that you can visit La Scala’s museum. The current exhibition is “Riccardo Muti: The years at La Scala” (on through October 16). The museum is open daily except on: Christmas, New Year’s and Easter Sunday and certain holidays..  It is open from 9 am to 12.30 pm (last entrance at noon) and from 1.30 pm to 5.30 pm (last entrance at 5 pm). The auditorium can be seen from the boxes excepted when rehearsals or performances are in progress. (Information: Tel +39 02 88 79 74 73).

La Scala’s program includes not only opera, but also symphony concerts, academy concerts, ballet, programming for children, and other cultural events. The programming is also not only the famous Italian composers. Though Verdi and Puccini frequent the lineup (or the season), upcoming performances at La Scala include Benjamin Britton’s Turn of the Screw (Sept 14 – Oct 17, 2016), George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (Nov 13-23, 2016), Mozart’s The Magic Flute (Sept 2 – 25, 2016) and Marriage of Figaro (Oct 26-Nov 27, 2016).

You can see the schedule and purchase your tickets in advance online. Ufficio Stampa Teatro alla Scala, Via Filodrammatici 2 – 20121 Milano, tel. +39 02 8879 2412, fax +39 02 8879 2331, www.teatroallascala.org.

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/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

 

Grand, Historic Loews Don CeSar, St. Pete Beach’s Famed ‘Pink Lady’, is Classic Beach Resort

Loews Don CeSar (the "Pink Lady") in the golden light of the setting sun on St. Pete Beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Loews Don CeSar (the “Pink Lady”) in the golden light of the setting sun on St. Pete Beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin

In urgent need of some R&R? Cure it with a two-night/three day stay at Loews Don CeSar, not just a grand historic hotel, but a true beach resort with all the amenities and activities for a luxurious, pampered stay. Better yet, for a complete vacation, plan a seven-day stay and balance out days relaxing on white-powder sand beach and lounging around glorious pools, spa treatments and yoga, with visits to the myriad cultural and scenic attractions close by, in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa.

From the moment you cross the threshold, walk down the stairs into the lobby, a feeling of peace and tranquility sweeps over you.

The Don Cesar has been welcoming guests since 1927. But as in so many of these grand historic hotels, they are living links to the past, and are in essence timeless.

Sophistication and casual elegance evoking the Gatsby Era at the Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sophistication and casual elegance evoking the Gatsby Era at the Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It may seem cliché, but you step through the lobby and you are in the world of those who came before: F. Scott Fitzgerald (remembered with a nightly Fitzgerald Reception at the fine dining restaurant, when you can experience a cocktail and a nibble), Clarence Darrow, Lou Gehrig, even Al Capone.

You feel their presence. But the hotel has a unique personality, a character of its own – you can’t help but think of the stories these walls hold.

The Don CeSar exudes casual elegance and Southern Charm – ceiling fans, a beautiful courtyard garden that leads to the pool area and beyond, the white-sand beach and the Gulf of Mexico. Elegant, yet casual (not stuffy or stiff), comfortable, welcoming, and one of the most beautiful hotels anywhere.

Gracious, That’s the word to describe the experience.

Wendy Hessinger leads "Yoga on the Beach" © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Wendy Hessinger leads “Yoga on the Beach” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

A classic beach resort with activities offered throughout the day. Checking in, I am given an “Activities” schedule with a long list, day by day, of activities, all included in the $25/day resort fee: Yoga on the beach (9am), kayaking and paddleboarding (8-10 am), aqua fitness, sunset yoga, daily history tour of the hotel, Sea Life tour, Kidding Around Yoga, Kidz Kraze, Restorative Yoga, Star Gazers (that’s just Monday’s Schedule). The activity schedule changes through the week: Body Toning Tuesday, Legs, Bums and Tums; Noodling Around (Kid and Parent Aqua Fitness), Zumba, Beach Yoga Sunset; Drive in Movie on the weekend.

There are activities for the children as well: included in the resort fee is a half-day at Camp CeSar activities program. There are also aqua fitness programs for kids and families, educational talks. Kids Night Out are also available Friday and Saturday nights (6-10 pm).

Some special activities are offered by reservation and for a fee, such as Culinary Kids, Pint Size Picasso, and Waterside Music Makers.

There is a free shuttle service (available 9-5) that takes you into downtown St. Petersburg (here’s where you can easily balance the beach with the extraordinary cultural attractions of St. Petersburg).

The concierge can arrange for golf or tennis at the nearby Isla del Sol country club.

Of course, there is the beach with the most beautiful white-powder sand, the texture of talc, and two pools, heated to a perfect temperature.

Tranquil setting at Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Tranquil setting at Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The pool area is gorgeous – with lush tropical gardens, tall palm trees sheltering, opening up to the beach and Gulf beyond.

It is frankly hard to pull yourself away from the pool – two actually, both heated, both large enough for lap swimming. My favorite of the two is set off a little, tends to be quieter, and situated with the most magnificent view (I just get this wonderful feng shui feeling here). It is one of the prettiest pools anywhere, with the Pink Palace as a backdrop on one side, and palm trees and the Gulf on the other side.

There is iced, fruited water available and even magazines at the pool – plush robes in your room to wear to the pool.

This is in every way pampered luxury –you are quite literally fawned over by a genuinely friendly and helpful staff.

There is a game area with billiards, ping pong tables, chess, and other games – under shelter in case of a rain shower, you can still be outside.

Loews Don CeSar pool © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Loews Don CeSar pool © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

There are a variety of shops to take care of immediate needs – a small general/convenience store, an Ice Cream shop (actually where the original entrance to the hotel was located, which still has the original flooring) where you can also get a bagel, muffin or cereal for breakfast, lovely clothes shops and sports stuff in case you forgot something.

In the evening, there is nightly live music in the lobby lounge/bar, laid out to be extremely comfortable and casual. (We are told that the Don CeSar has a signature drink, Old Smokey: take old cigar box and barrel-aged bourbon that spends two weeks behind the bar; then hose in cherry wood smoke, let it sit so the Bourbon is infused with cherry smoke, then the open box and chill with a snowball ice cube.)

After being awed watching the sunset from the beach, I stroll into the Maritana Grille for the Gatsby Reception. The bartender this evening is serving a Harvey Wallbanger and a nibble (seared pork belly with maple and sherry vinegrette).  The Harvey Walbanger is a classic cocktail consisting of Vodka Galliano, orange juice that goes back to the 1950s; concocted by Donato “Duke” Antone who owned Duke’s Backwatch Bar in Hollywood on the Sunset Strip. Duke, who also invented the Rusty Nail and the White Russian, named it after a surfer named Tom Harvey.

The fine-dining restaurant – a beautiful seaside motif with large fish aquarium – has a varied American menu. On this evening, it was featuring  Venison, Long Island Duckling, Snapper, and offered a wine tasting menu ($65, $95 with wine pairing).

A Grand Hotel With History

A couple enjoys the nightly Gatsby Reception at the Maritana Grille where the bartender this evening is serving a Harvey Wallbanger © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A couple enjoys the nightly Gatsby Reception at the Maritana Grille where the bartender this evening is serving a Harvey Wallbanger © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Don CeSar was a founding member of Historic Hotels of America in 1989, which began with just 32 members and now has 260 members in 44 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico (HistoricHotels.org).

HHA hotels are invariably my favorite places to stay anywhere I go. They tend to manifest the charm and high standard of hospitality (an old fashioned sensibility and refinement) of bygone days, as well as a deep connection and sense of place. Each of the HHA members has its unique personality and character.

The Don CeSar was awarded HHA’s “Historic Hotel of the Year” in 2015 in the 201-400 room category

This largely reflects the acquisition and management of the Don since 2003 by Loews Hotels, which owns the Don with Prudential Insurance. The new owners invested millions in renovations and new facilities – opening the stunning 11,000 square foot Spa Oceania in 2008, the only beachfront luxury spa on the Gold Coast of Florida. Multi-million dollar investments included the meeting spaces, the Maritana Grille, its fine-dining restaurant, the Lobby, Lobby Bar and Sea Porch restaurant, and guestroom redesign.

The sense of responsibility to care for these entities is powerful – you can’t rest on laurels or prior reputation and the fact of the matter is that age does take its toll, as does the need to cater to new generations of guests. There is the constant push-pull of progress and preservation. As is the protectiveness of patrons. When they renovated the lobby, changing out dark wood colors and carpets and bronze-and-crystal chandeliers for a white wood paneling reminiscent of Southern plantation-style cool elegance, light floors, brighter colors and modern blue-and-clear glass chandeliers people were up in arms that they were disposing of “history” – except that the bronze chandeliers only dated back to the 1986 renovation.

“People were upset because they felt they were discarding history,” said Jeffrey Abbaticchio, Director of Public Relations. “We have to give much more attention to preserving the charm and character of hotel.”

It exposes the special challenge of caretaking for a historic hotel, especially one that means that much and has been so much a part of a local community.

That is the balance that modern hoteliers have to strike but there is the clear recognition of their responsibility as caretakers and their respect for these unique entities.

“We have to give much more attention to preserving the charm and character of hotel.”

Historic hotels like The Don CeSar typically have their tales of survival – dramatic snatches from the wrecking ball (indeed, the Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg, which opened in 1927, also became a VA hospital and has a similar tale of being saved just moments from being demolished, in 1972).

This is the case of the Don CeSar – long known locally as “The Don” and “The Pink Palace.” It surprised me to learn how in its 80 year history, it only spent about half of that as a hotel, and from the beginning, struggled to survive – the Great Depression, World War II, economic recessions.

You speak of these kinds of properties as “The” – as in “The Don” – and as if they are people, with their own biography, rather than structures or institutions. They have personality and character. Unique. Authentic. They are closely connected to their community, which in fact, rallied to “Save the Don” from the wrecking ball in the 1970s, after being shuttered and closed for four years, a blight on the neighborhood.

The Don’s struggles began not long after coming into being, the fruition of a dream of its founder, Thomas Rowe, I learn from Susan Quinn, a long-time concierge at The Don CeSar who conducts history tours of the hotel.

Born in Boston in 1872 and orphaned at age 4, Rowe was sent to live with grandparents in Ireland, returning to the United States to become a real estate speculator in Florida, during the early boom of the 1920-6 years. Partnering with a local attorney, Walter Fuller, e turned a $21,000 investment into $1,050,000, and then sought to fulfill a longtime dream in building a lavish hotel.

Tthe Loews Don CeSar, a historic resort © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Loews Don CeSar, a historic resort © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

He patterned his “Pink Lady” (as “The Don” continues to be known) after the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach, styled as a kind of Mediterranean palace. An opera lover, he named the Don CeSar after a character in one of his favorite operas, “Maritana,” written by a Scottsman (today, its fine-dining restaurant is named the Maritana Grill). He planned for construction costs to be $450,000, but instead, the hotel cost $1.2 million to build – wiping out his resources, so that he had to mortgage to raise the $250,000 needed to furnish the property so it could open.

He devised an ingenious system though, because he had spent $100,000 to buy 80 acres surrounding the hotel, and turned to developing small Mediterranean-style homes on property just south – you could buy the lot for $5000 and build the house on it for $5000 more.

A view of the Loews Don CeSar pool and grounds © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A view of the Loews Don CeSar pool and grounds © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

He opened The Don CeSar in 1928, immediately drawing an “A” List of celebrities and important people: F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda (today, the Maritana offers a 5:30 pm Fitzgerald Reception, featuring a cocktail and nibble), famed attorney Clarence Darrow, baseball great Lou Gehrig and Al Capone.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Rowe devised an ingenious method of staying afloat: he offered for the home owners who had taken mortgages from him to cash out at a fraction of the amount owed in order to accumulate the cash he needed to make it through the Depression. And another thing: when the hotel would otherwise be low-occupancy in spring, he leased it out to the New York Yankees for spring training, at $8/day including breakfast.

Rowe, who came to St. Petersburg for his health and to speculate when he was in his 40s, lived in the hotel (his wife, a university-educated woman, stayed in Virginia, because she didn’t want to live in a backwater). In May 1940, he suffered a heart attack and insisted on staying in the hotel. Legend has it he intended to will the hotel to his employees, and he wrote a new will, but it was not witnessed, so his wife inherited the property. She appointed her lawyer to take charge of the corporation, who brought in his own management team. Then Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, and World War II hit.

Instead of the hotel’s 300 rooms being totally occupied for the season, all but 100 room reservations canceled, and the government went after her for taxes stemming from her husband’s refinancing scheme. Her attorney sought to negotiate a deal with the Navy to take the Don CeSar for officer’s housing, but the Army wanted it for a hospital, and used eminent domain to take it over, purchasing the building for the assessed value of $450,000. The army disposed of everything, even the hotel register with its famous signatures. The property later became an Air Force Convalescent Center (actually becoming a model for dealing with the condition now known as PTSD), and then a Veterans Administration regional office, from 1945 to 1969.

By 1969, the VA abandoned the hotel – set up a chain-link fence around and a guard – and it deteriorated terribly, a blight on the community.

In 1971, local residents and former employees formed a “Save the Don” committee to prevent the hotel from being demolished. June Hurley Young, realizing that locals had never known the Don as a fine hotel, wrote an article that was finally published in a paper under the headline, “Pink Elephant or Sleeping Beauty”. It  came to the attention of  William Bowman, a Flying Tiger during war, who was building new hotels in the area. He purchased the decrepit property in 1972, just two weeks before the hotel had a date with the wrecking ball.

“It cost $3.5 million to fix up –he  replaced every window, waterproofed, added air conditioning so the hotel could stay open year round,” Owen said.

The Don CeSar reopened on November 24, 1973. The following year, the Pink Palace was admitted to the National Register of Historic American Places.

1973 was the year of the Oil Embargo and a recession. It wasn’t long before the Don CeSar was foreclosed but continued to operate. It changed hands several times until in 2000, it was taken over by Prudential Insurance.

Finally, in 2003, the Don CeSar became a Loews Hotel, which owns 15% and manages the luxury property, and brought it up to the standards of today’s luxury travelers.

(Both Rowe and Bowman are honored in a display case that has their picture and their history with the hotel. A new eatery, the Rowe Bar, is an indoor/outdoor bar which will serve different Juleps, different nonalcoholic “-ades” (lemonade, etc), communal bowls of cocktails, have fire pits and overlook the sand dune.

Don CeSar has 277 rooms. They may be a tad smaller than we have become accustomed to (because people didn’t come to a resort to spend time in their hotel room), but have every amenity imaginable – plus robes, mini-bar, Keurig coffee maker, safe, ironing board, a flashlight, lush mattress and bed linens, flat screen TV and free WiFi, even the shampoo has the perfect scent.

The Don CeSar is pet-friendly and offers pet menus (Bow Wow beef; Chow chow mein),  pet room service and pet massage, in room.

The Don CeSar now has a second property, the Loews Beachhouse Suites, located just about a quarter mile up from the Don CeSar (finishing up a renovation by mid-February), which is also a pink building on the beach. A free shuttle van is offered between the two Loews properties, so Beachhouse guests have the use of the Don CeSar’s facilities.

An Idyllic Place for Destination Weddings 

The sun seems to melt into a space beyond the water © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The sun seems to melt into a space beyond the water © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The ambiance, services and facilities at the Don CeSar are so magical, it is no wonder how popular the luxury resort has been for destination weddings. The hotel hosts some 425 wedding-related events a year, and accommodates weddings as large as 300. There are four people on staff just to help coordinate destination weddings, and an event company, Cheers, on call to handle elaborate events.

The planners can organize everything from releasing doves to special transportation.

“What’s popular lately are Indian weddings – people arrive by horse, do henna. We just hired an executive chef from India (most recently he was at The Breakers) so we can provide authentic Indian food,” Jeff said.

The fifth floor, with its enormous picture windows that look out to St. Petersburg and down the St. Pete Beach coast, and which once was a massive open dining room that could sit 1400 at a time for dinner, has been turned into a series of meeting and function rooms ideal for weddings, conferences and events (38,000 square feet of function space). Indeed, during our stay there were wedding and conferences underway.

A Complete Vacation 

Each morning of my stay, I go down to the beach for 9 am beach yoga with Wendy Hessinger, and then aqua fitness which Wendy also conducts (an interesting routine using noodles). She also conducts sunset yoga on some days.

But there is so much going on in the area to round out your stay: take advantage of the free ride into St. Petersburg (about 20 minutes)  which goes to the Sundial, a centrally located entertainment center with movies, excellent restaurants, and walkable to just about anything you want to get to (or you can hop on the Downtown Looper trolley, to take around the downtown)  and enjoy an enormous selection of cultural attractions  (Dali Museum, Chihuly Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg Museum of History, Florida Holocaust Museum, emerging arts districts, among the highlights. They are currently rebuilding the famous Pier, which is due to reopen in 2018.)

Or just hop a delightful trolley-style bus to Passa-Grill, a tiny charming village with a block-long “downtown” at Historic 8th Street ” (truly “Old Florida”) where the locals go to the beach, fish, look out to see dolphins and manatees, watch the sunset and hang out at waterside watering holes like the Paradise Grill. At Passa-Grill you can go out for deep sea fishing or take a tour boat to Shell Island. Or continue on to Fort de Soto where you can visit a Civil War-era fort.

Another popular activity is taking a sailing cruise to see dolphins or the sunset cruise. The Don CeSar has an arrangement with Dolphin Landings which offers two-hour cruises.

Winter, the plucky dolphin and star of "Dolphin Tale" with her prosthetic tail at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, one of the major attractions near the Don Cesar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Winter, the plucky dolphin and star of “Dolphin Tale” with her prosthetic tail at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, one of the major attractions near the Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is just about 30 minutes away to the north, in Clearwater Beach (you can take the trolley bus to get there, switching at 75th Avenue). For shopping, go to John’s Pass (150 shops and restaurants in a small area), reached by the trolley bus, midway between St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach.

Or plan a day trip to the Ringling Museum and historic mansion in Sarasota nearby.

Busch Gardens Tampa theme park (one of the best zoos with great roller coasters and entertainment) is less than an hour away (The Don CeSar has a partnership with Busch Gardens and offers a package that includes tickets, but you need a car or the hotel can arrange transportation).

Another idea is to split your stay between a beach holiday here at the Don CeSar and a theme park holiday in Orlando, staying at the Loews Portofino at Universal Orlando, another favorite hotel (which manages to create a resort atmosphere in Universal Studios theme park with sensational pool that creates a beach effect).

(For more vacation planning information, Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater: 8200 Bryan Dairy Road, Suite 200, Largo, FL 33777, 727-464-7200, 877-352-3224 www.visitstpeteclearwater.com.) 

But frankly, it is hard to pull yourself away from the Don CeSar

The St. Pete beach is absolutely magnificent – and one thing I notice is that the buildings are set well back from the beach and are low level for the most part, not blocking – peaceful. One day as I walk, I come upon a beach-volleyball regional tournament.

A Great Blue Heron appreciating the sunset on Don Cesar’s beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A Great Blue Heron appreciating the sunset on Don CeSar’s beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The beach is also the place to go for the sunset – get out there 20 minutes before because you would be amazed at how fast the most brilliant colors come and go as the sun seems to dash to the horizon, seeming to melt into a slot just beyond the water’s edge.

The Loews Don CeSar is ideal for couples, gal getaways, destination weddings, honeymoons, family getaways, family reunions, any special occasion, pre-baby getaway, or just about any excuse to have a holiday.

Loews Don CeSar Hotel, 3400 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach, Florida, 33706, 727-360-1881, reservations, 800-282-1116, www.loewshotels.com/don-CeSar.

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com , www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/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

 

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