About Donna Sozio
Latest Posts by Donna Sozio
There’s an ancient Carnival parade in the traditional Swiss valley of Lötschental called the Tschaggatta. On February 7th more than 100 monsters roamed the valley villages from Blatten to Ferden. Clad in frightening hand carved wooden masks, larger-than-life furs, cowbells, and carrying sticks; they march through the valley and unleash a winter’s worth of mischief.
As intriguing as they are, it’s wise to stay out of the monsters’ way. Or you risk being thrown into the snow. Had I known that I wouldn’t have worn a bright pink bobble ball ski hat. I ate snow. Twice. In times past, onlookers who came too close would be doused with ash. Which made me grateful for just a dusting of white powder.
Dare I return, you’ll find me dressed in black, standing in the shadows where the monsters cannot see me. But I can see them.
One story of the origins of the Tschaggatta is that the monsters scare off evil spirits that arise from the long dark isolated winters of the past. Another legend is that bands of thieves living high in the valley descended in frightening masks to steal from the villagers. Either way, the church banned the Tschaggatta in 1865. But the monsters persevered. Today, with or without the church’s blessing, beginning February 3rd, the monsters get free drinks at bars.
For the Tschaggatta, I stayed at the three-star Hotel Lötschberg in the traditional village of Kippel. The monsters march right through its old town and the hotel is walking distance to Lauchernalp’s Wiler ski lift. The Lötschental valley isn’t only famous for its monsters. Winter enthusiasts have long enjoyed the open bowls of Lauchernalp’s ski paradise. You can ski and drink in views of more than forty 13,000 ft. peaks including, the “King of the Lötschental” the majestic Bietschhorn.
The village of Kippel is home to the famous Dorfkeller restaurant. Yet, had it not been completely booked that night, I would have missed out on the fantastic Restaurant Waliserkeller. Transported back in time, the walls were covered in Tschaggatta masks, Valais wine flowed, and after a long day tree skiing; I felt no guilt ordering the deliciously filling Fondue des Hauses. But the best was yet to come. Apricot liquor homemade by the watitress’ uncle. Not to mention, Restaurant Waliserkeller served the best gluhwein I ever drank. But the infamous uncle’s lips were sealed about his secret ingredients. Which is just another reason to return.
If I were to write a brochure for Lötschental, the headline would read “Come for the Skiing. Stay for the Monsters.”
Both are worth a second and third visit. Just leave your pink bobble ski hat at home.
*I was the guest of Lötschental Tourismus. All opinions expressed are explicitly my own.
*Photos are courtesy of Lötschental Tourismus.
If you fancy sipping champagne on a frozen lake, purveying handsome men yielding mallets and riding horses while battling for victory, then come to the St. Moritz World Cup on Snow. You’ll love it. I did.
Every January more than 12,000 polo fans, socialites, and fashionistas rub elbows on frozen Lake St. Moritz. Whether in the stands or the champagne tent, you’re surrounded by the Engadin’s snowcapped mountains dappled with six 5-star hotels and a sapphire blue sky reflecting ice crystals. It’s an otherworldly thrill as the hooves of dark stallions stir up clouds of white snow; charging down the polo field for an attack on goal.
But Ice Polo isn’t just an event. It’s a spectacle.
Haute winter style is on full display. Furs, Moon Boots, and outlandish hats, were this year’s must-haves. Don’t forget the jewels. Whether they were inherited from a great aunt, a Valentine’s gift, or you waltzed into Tiffany’s and bought your own diamonds – wear your ice! It is Ice Polo after all.
Just as important as the Polo and fashion is the social agenda.
Relax and catch some rays on fur-lined seats while listening to the light rock band. Hobnob in the Veuve Clicquot champagne tent. And don’t forget to secure an invitation to the ball. This year’s black tie event was held at the Hotel Kepinski that was light up in blue and raised over CHF 40,000 for the charity BEYOND.
If you are interested in the game of Polo and it’s your first time, fear not. Before each match at 11 AM and 2 PM, a presenter explains in English the strategy, riding style, and plays that you’ll see on the field. And if you (or any of your mates) think they can ride better than the players – swing your mallet on the mechanical polo horse to give it a go.
Champagne, stallions, fashion, snow-capped peaks, and a black tie ball… yes, St. Moritz’s Ice Polo is glitzy and absolutely romantic. What I enjoyed most was the warmth and spirit of the crowd. Indeed, you need not be intimidated by “Glamouritz”. Dripping in diamonds (or not, like me) everyone had champagne smiles and enjoyed the romance of an elegant day .
A word to the wise: St. Moritz Ice Polo is a much-loved event. Book accommodation early. If you can’t find a room in St. Moritz, try the swank Hotel Misani in nearby Celerina.
*I was the guest of Tourism St. Moritz
*Photo credits belong to St. Moritz Polo World Cup on Snow
My sister and I are leaf peepers. I love saying that. I feel there is something so intrepid sounding about it. Almost, a little naughty. But what it really means is far less impish than peeping implies. In the Fall, my sister and I flew back East to well, look at leaves. We met at Logan Airport in Boston in brisk mid-October and drove off into red, yellow, gold, crimson, and orange maple tree heaven. To us, nothing sounds better than the crunch of leaves under our feet. And, almost nothing tastes better than warming up with a hot cup of New England clam chowder. That, and an Ipswich Ale.
Fall 2012 wasn’t the best year for leaves. Temperatures had been screwy and many of the trees had already lost their leaves. So, we decided not to head into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Instead, we drove off towards coastal towns for eating, shopping, and general cozying up in taverns… and of course, peeping. But for two Southern California girls, the bursts of color didn’t disappoint, even on the city streets. Truly, we were in East Coast leaf peeping heaven.
Day One: Marblehead, MA
After hitting up The Big Apple farm and bakery in Wrentham, MA for (still hot) apple donuts, steaming coffee, and a to-go apple crumble that (honestly) didn’t last a day, my sister and I headed to one of our all time favorite destinations: Marblehead, MA.
Who knew the “birthplace of the American Navy” is so romantic. But it is. There are over 30 quaint inns and unique family owned B&Bs. And if you are a history buff (like my sister), you’ll be in historical plaque bliss. Over 200 homes predate the Revolutionary war housing rebel residents who played a pivotal role in the independence of our country. While my sister read (almost) every plaque, I went shopping. After perusing a great selection of shoes, I wasn’t surprised to learn that in 1846 Marblehead went from fishing… to shoemaking. Indeed, a town after my heart.
Idyllic Marblehead, MA
We found a gem of a seaside B&B at a steal of a price. Suzy from A Lady Winette Cottage (built in 1890) welcomed us like long lost grandchildren. A perfect hostess, she knew just when to lavish us with stories of Marblehead and baked apples for breakfast and when to “disappear” to let us wind down from the day.
The Harbor Light Inn’s Tavern
The Harbor Light Inn is another quintessential must-see in town. Two Federalist Mansions connect through a formal dining room that is refined and inspires sipping a cocktail with your pinky finger out. Even if you don’t stay at the Harbor Light Inn, pay its tavern a visit for fine wine and sophisticated classic atmosphere. Upon walking in, I felt like I was back in the days when gentlemen threw coats over puddles.
While we don’t agree on everything, my sister and I both concur that the clam chowder at The Landing is hands down the best – and that verdict stands for two years in a row. Not to mention the harbor views are stunning. Another view-centric seafood haven is The Barnacle. Their bowl of mussels is sky high and filled both our bellies. Also the staff has the classic New England humor. When arriving with two Ipswich Ales, (a perfect accompaniment to muscles) she said dryly, “Look what I found.”
Day Two: Portsmouth
In a word, Portsmouth is flipping fun. Okay, that was two words. But it deserves it. There is so much to do. It is so varied and with great energy. There’s the harbor, the downtown, coffee shop culture, breweries, music scene, and great nightlife. Also the gorgeous white-steepled North Congregational Church was our “no-fail” marker for navigating the city and remembering where we parked the car. The cherry on top was the people themselves. My sister and I tried to “out-nice” them. But it was impossible. Even the graffiti “Rick Sucks” on a bathroom wall read next to it, “I bet Rick is a really cool person if you got to know him.”
Along the harbor and city streets, the trees glowed in fall colors against the gold leaf sign lettering. And the city popped at night. We arrived during the New Hampshire Film Festival and hit up the opening party at The Music Hall where we rubbed elbows with up-and-coming actors/writers/producers/directors. No Hollywood posturing there. The place is just packed with down-to-earth, genuine people.
Since there is no leaf peeping after dark, we cozied up at the Rudi’s wine bar and sat next to the owner, who treated us to grilled scallops with saffron puree after she caught us eyeballing hers. And for the history buff (my sister) Portsmouth didn’t disappoint. There were more than 70 points of history – plaques included.
North Congregational Church, Portsmouth, NH
In harmony with the “you can’t out-nice Portsmouth”, we stayed at the Marriott and it truly was the warmest and most welcoming check-in experience I’ve ever had. The ladies at the front desk set the bar high, just being their friendly-Portsmouth-selves. The next morning for breakfast we weren’t surprised when a local recommended the Friendly Toast on Congress Street. Amazing pumpkin pancakes and you guessed it, friendly service.
Day Three: Newport, Rhode Island
I love Newport. It had so many different faces: history, wineries, bays, wharfs, taverns, and it seemed, a bar on every corner. We stayed at the renovated 1893 Victorian Blue Jewel on Pelham Street on the Historic Hill. Newport is a walking town. We parked our car once and didn’t think about it for two days. We headed out the door, turned right and walked down the hill to Bowen’s Wharf and hit up (another) The Landing for sunset cocktails. Once you enter, keep going past the massive lobster tanks until you see a hopping bar with an ocean view.
The Landing at Bowen’s Wharf, Newport, Rhode Island
That night we followed a local’s advice to Zelda’s. We hobnobbed with Newport’s boozy sailor crowd at the bar while waiting for a table. Red-faced crusty men flirted with us, made sure our wine glasses were full, and advised us what to order. Zelda’s didn’t disappoint. It was delicious and since there are antioxidants in wine, it was also nutritious. Skipping breakfast, the next day my sister and I indulged in a seafood festival at Bowen’s Wharf. We stuffed ourselves with quahogs, clam cakes, and shot oysters with the fisherman. I even scored a $6 steamed whole lobster. The only catch was that I had to crack it myself.
Newport, Rhode Island
To burn the calories, we did the legendary Cliff Walk. Along the way, we were invited to sample fresh pressed apple cider from someone’s driveway. When I say “fresh” I mean that I threw apples into a press from the 1800’s, turned the handle, and out came the most delicious apple cider I’ve ever tasted. After the walk, we moseyed on over to The Chanler and felt upper crust in the bar lounge area. Not much leaf peeping that day. But even the most professional of peepers can take a day’s detour.
Shopping in Newport you never know what you will stumble upon. We found everything from “The Largest Man Cave Specialist in New England” to a store that specialized in Miami sequin fashion. Think pink on peach and glitter on gloss. And yes, there was even a shoe store that sold the ubiquitous New England ladies clog. Indeed, something for everyone.
New England Leaf Peeping Do’s and Don’ts:
*It was dark at exactly 6 P.M. every night so budget your time so you aren’t pulling into town with only an hour or two of daylight.
*Do not try to find anything (especially your hotel!) in the dark, unless you have a GPS. New England country roads are confusing enough during the day. Let alone when they are dimly lit at night.
*Some amazing leaf peeping is actually by the sea, not just in the mountains. Try a harbor cruise to see the trees from the sea.
*Weather in New England can be schizophrenic. Layer.
*Book hotels ahead. There actually is a Leaf Peeping Season.
*Mix with the locals. They know where the leaves are peaking. And where to get the best quahogs.
*Photos are courtesy of the Harbor Light Inn, Marblehead Chamber of Commerce, Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, and Discover Newport. Photographer credits belong to Jeff Folger (Marblehead) and Tammy Byron (Portsmouth).
First, let’s do the math. Holiday Math as I like to call it. It’s the good kind.
It already cost you upwards of $500 just to step foot onto the magical isle of Maui. After you have taken in the fragrance of your fresh pikake flower lei, applied your SPF 30 Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen, and hoped in your rental car, you might ask yourself the question, “How do I make the most of my holiday without breaking the bank?” While traveling on your well-deserved holiday, you certainly don’t want the issue of money to create stress. After all, you’re on vacation!
Well, the answer includes a little planning ahead, this guide, and yes, even a little Holiday Math. The trifecta will help you make the right choices about choosing tours, restaurants, and activities that are worth it, so when you open your wallet you’ll feel good about it.
Tip #1: Book fewer but more memorable activities.
In Maui, you get what you pay for. There are equal opportunities for unique memorable experiences; just as much as “cattle call” less-than luaus. My best advice is to do fewer but more extraordinary activities like select dinners and sunset cruises that you will treasure for a lifetime vs. packing in your days (and exhausting yourself) trying to do it all.
Tip #2: Don’t leave anything for “Next Time.”
Unless you own a Westside timeshare, the phrase “Next time” is usually a figment of your imagination. Especially, if you have kids. “Next time” is a kinder, gentler way of breaking it to yourself that it’s not in the budget. But when you do your Holiday Math before you go, you’ll feel good knowing that you got the best price for something worthwhile.
Tip #3: Sign-up for Living Social + Groupon deals before you go.
If you see a dinner or a tour that is on your Maui bucket list, grab it, and book it. Often once a special runs, popular restaurants & tours will pack out and book up. So make sure that you can take advantage of the special while you are on Maui. Again, check cancellation policies to see how flexible they are with changes in reservations.
Tip #4 Book online to save.
Once you know your budget, hit the Internet. Most tour operators’ online prices are considerably lower than same day rates, especially when traveling in groups. Always, get their cancellation policies in writing, if it’s not already posted on the website. You might save enough online to add in another boat ride or the splurge of splurges: a helicopter ride.
Next, I’ve put together my list of Aloha Splurges: Pricy, but worth every penny list.
The Aloha Splurge:
Mamma’s Fish House: Prepare to be spoiled. From a torch lit private bay, lingering purple sunsets, and a menu on a first name basis with their fishermen, you are in for a magical night. Wear your Aloha print. You’ll feel so swank like you stepped out of an original Shag painting. Don’t forget your camera, these are the pictures that are framed and put on Christmas cards. Entrées start at $30
Lahaina Grill: Located in downtown Lahaina, if you want a buzz, this place is hopping. You even need to make reservations at the bar. Voted “Best Maui Restaurant” for over a decade, you’ll soon discover why. The Maui onion and sesame seed crusted ahi is to live for. As is the pineapple upside down cake. It’s fine dining with generous portions and everything I tasted was exceptional. Entrées start at $31
Just the drive to upcountry Maui is an experience in itself. As you trade the beach for pine trees, bring a sweater as temperatures can drop. You’ll enjoy a farm tour, harvest your own greens for a fresh delicious salad, and then dive in to a custom menu prepared by your private chef. Fold your napkin down to reserve your seat at the community picnic table with an ocean view under a canopy of vines. Don’t forget to bring wine (it’s byob) and if you like, some to share. If it’s a bit nippy, the Aina coffee roasted on property will warm you up. And save room for the handmade truffles for desert. Decadent. $50/pp
Aloha Budget Dining Options:
Thai Food by Pranee: Located in the heart of Hana, this is a local’s favorite. Truly causal dining, with a view of the jungle and an outside garden, you don’t need to go to Thailand (just drive the road to Hana) for fish curry this good. Get there early as the seafood specials always sell out. Entrées start at $8
The SeaHouse: Hosting happy hour from 2-5 PM, nosh on fresh Poke Tacos, Polynesian Chopped Salad and Coconut Crème brulee each under $7. Then wash it all down with a $7 Pina Colada, a creamy desert in itself. The sweeping ocean view is free.
“Fresh Fish” Stands: Every time you see a hand painted sign saying, “Fresh Fish”, put your blinker on and pull over. You’ll find a local’s truck with a cooler packed with 1.5 pound zip lock bags of ruby red ahi for $20 and white mahi mahi for $15. Sear it in your kitchen and enjoy some of the freshest fish on the island for pennies a plate.
The Aloha Splurge: Feast of Lele
This isn’t your ordinary luau. First, you’ll hear the sound of a conch shell as a canoe rides a wave in at sunset. With your own private white linen table, you’ll feel like you are at a private dinner show, rather than a group luau. Executive chef James McDonald prepares a sumptuous 5-course meal from all across the Pacific. And don’t blame it on the open bar… but romance is definitely in the air. $120/pp
Aloha Budget Option: Dinner at SeaHouse and Slack Key Show at Napili Kai
Not technically a luau, but half the price, is another unique experience. Have a sunset dinner at the beachfront SeaHouse restaurant and then attend George Kahumoku’s Slack Key Show. It’s an intimate experience where you’ll feel like part of the Maui ‘ohana as the musical guests “talk story” and their friends are invited on stage to sing, play, and dance the hulu. $60/pp
The Aloha Splurge:
Ocean Rafting Snorkel Trips: There are so many advantages to going on an ocean rafter boat for a snorkeling excursion. They get you where you want to go (and fast!) with typically less than 20 people aboard, including staff. Personally I love to sit on the side of the boat, hold on, and feel the wind in my hair. With an ocean rafter, the boat driver can get you in and out of tiny spaces, so you can see more caves and other gorgeous bays than with a traditional boat. Tours begin at $120/pp
Kai Kanani Sailing Cruise: This is one of Maui’s most well-known and loved catamarans known for their exceptional service and fantastic food. The staff prides themselves on making every guest feel welcome, like it’s your own private boat for the day. They also have their schedules down so that you won’t be arriving at Molokini and other destinations the same time as 20 other boats. Tours begin at $76/pp
The Aloha Budget Suggestion:
Beach Entry Snorkeling: When you know where to go, there are some fantastic snorkel spots that are easily reachable with beach access. Two of my favorites are Black Rock on Kaanapali and Turtle Cove just down from Napili bay. Remember, not to touch the sea life or stand on coral.
Rent a Stand Up Paddleboard: It’s easy to learn and in gentle waters, SUP is a great way to experience a view of Maui from the sea. Even an hour rental is enough to feel like you did something adventurous in the water. Make sure to check for water safety with the lifeguard. Currents can be strong and not always visible from land.
THE SPLUGE OF SPLURGES:
A Helicopter Ride: For me, there is no substitute. Tours start at $148
I flew with Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours through the Iao Valley and to the neighboring island of Molokai. We passed over reefs spotting five manta rays from the air, hovered over mind-blowing gorgeous needle waterfalls, chased rainbows, and went shark spotting. It’s amazing how close the pilot can maneuver in and around the valley, ridges, and waterfalls. I talked about it for days and took over sixty pictures. If you want to make the pilot smile, ask if you can fly “through a rainbow”. It gets a chuckle every time.
*Photos are courtesy of The Maui Visitors Bureau, Feast at Lele, Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson, Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Ron Dahlquist, Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Ron Garnett, and Mamma’s Fish House, and O’o Farms
*I was a guest of The Maui Visitors Bureau.
I had spent many an afternoon day tripping on Napili Bay indulging in (dare I say) one of the best beachfront happy hours at the SeaHouse Restaurant. But every time the sun set, I became increasingly envious of the folks with the signature blue and white stripped towels and Mai Tai smiles who were staying at the Napili Kai Resort.
As I traded sand for concrete and drove away in my rental car, I always longed to be one of the lucky ones who lingered past sunset. Which made the decision about where to stay on my next trip to Maui a slam dunk.
Truth be told, not much beats mornings at “The Kai”. I enjoyed a Kona coffee that (and don’t tell my Italian grandmother) rivals the best espresso on an ocean front balcony that made me feel like I could walk on turquoise water to Lanai, a neighboring Hawaiian island. Then I grabbed my snorkel, mask, and yes, a blue and white stripped towel and strolled along a black lava path arriving at the next cove to swim with Hawaiian sea turtles. My beach-to-beach “commute” was the right prescription for heavenly relaxation.
Yet, if swimming with turtles isn’t your thing, simply head in the opposite direction. Take the “beach trail” that leads you past more pristine crescent beaches ripe with sunset weddings and afternoon rainbows. Or just stay where you are. Become a part of the Napili Kai ‘ohana and join a variety of popular events like their putting green party with thirst quenching 50-cent cocktails.
At “The Kai”, it’s also 100% okay to go solo. Bury your toes in the sand and your nose in a book. Either way, guests who can stay anywhere on the Maui choose to stay at the Napili Kai. A longtime treasured getaway, the bay hasn’t changed much since the 1960’s due to visionary restrictions on building codes and a genius ban on noisy motorized water sports. This keeps the magical stretch of light soft sand and brilliant clear swimming waters seemingly as pristine as they ever were.
A few tips to enjoy the Aloha of The Napili Kai:
*Feel free to daytrip. Come for an early breakfast at The SeaHouse Restaurant, voted best in Maui in 2011. Then lounge on the beach until happy hour, which begins at 2 P.M.. Order the poke nachos and flash Rick a smile. He’s been pouring the perfect Mai Tai at the SeaHouse since 1974.
*Give stand up paddling a whirl. Touring the bay from a board is a completely unique experience. Generally, the bay is quite forgiving for beginners with gentle rolling waves.
*Wednesday nights, if you find the tropical air filled with music, follow the notes to The Master’s of Hawaiian Music Slack Key Show where George Kahumoku Jr. “talks story” and serenades guests. Or pop over (complimentary for guests) to the Napili Kai Keiki Hula Show every Tuesday.
There are a variety of rooms available on Napili Kai’s beachfront ten acres. A mix of beautifully appointed studios, hotel rooms, and one-and two-bedroom suites are situated in classic low plantation-style buildings. Most suites have kitchens. But most importantly nearly every room (96%) offers an ocean view.
It’s the Aloha spirit and heart of “The Kai” not to nickel-and-dime guests. The resort’s grounds, pools, and beach is exceptionally maintained but there are no resort fees. Also, parking and wi-fi are always free.
For me, the most important feature of any resort is how I feel after my vacation is over. After just three nights at the “Kai”, I drove away feeling a connection to a down-to-earth heavenly paradise that will draw me back to it again and again.
*Photos are courtesy of Napili Kai Resort.
*I was sponsored by the Maui Visitors Bureau.