About Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.

Latest Posts by Renee Blodgett

Valenti & Co, for Mouthwatering Northern Italian Dishes with a Twist

October 23, 2016 by  


For those of you who have been to the San Francisco Bay Area or live here, chances are you have your favorite foodie spots and even return to them often if you had a great experience. Because I travel so much, I’d have to say that perhaps that’s more the case with me because when I return from a trip, I tend to want to hibernate and not be in “exploration mode,” the way we are when we travel.

That means that I don’t review as many San Francisco or Silicon Valley restaurants as I’d like although we do weekend getaways to places like Sonoma, Carmel, Los Gatos, Napa, Mendocino and even further like El Dorado Hills and Lake Tahoe. Recently, we headed up to Spirit Rock, a fabulous meditation center about an hour or so from the city. Be sure to read my write-up on our experience — it’s such a beautiful place surrounded by nature and serenity on all sides.

Nearby are the darling little towns of Fairfax and San Anselmo California, both of which have some fun restaurants to explore and on a future trip, we’ll be sure to experience more. I discovered Valenti & Co in San Anselmo kinda by accident, but once I landed on their site and saw their delicious looking fare and commitment to local and organic ingredients, we had to see what they’re all about and so…..we did!

Above is a beef carpaccio with squash blossom, radicchio and goat cheese: photo credit: Valenti

The culinary maestro behind Valenti & Co is chef and owner Diulio Valenti originally from Northern Italy (Lombardy to be more precise) and the region’s influences are infused throughout his dishes.  He uses local organic produce and ingredients like olive oil and butter, grass fed BN Ranch beef, Liberty duck, pasture raised/soy free eggs and the high quality authentic Italian products. His seafood is Safe Harbor certified and comes in everyday from local and east coast small “day boats”. In addition, he cooks using only stainless steel cookware.

Esteban, Duilio, Carlos, Francesco in the Kitchen — photo credit: Valenti

“I still have a profound love and connection to my Italian motherland…

don’t think of myself as a chef nor as a restaurant owner: I’m a cook.” — Diulio Valenti

While the salads and appetizers were far reaching enough to pose a challenge when ordering, we went with the Carpaccio from grass fed BN Ranch beef, which they serve with arugula, grana and fresh truffle not to be confused with the dish above. Note that they didn’t skimp on the truffle and fresh is an understatement — it was so divine, I wished we had ordered two plates.

If we had of course, we wouldn’t have had room for the appetizer portion of Pappardelle with Braised Rabbit Sauce and Rosemary, which is one of Diulio’s house specialties. You can of course get this as a main course as well, but given our commitment to a low carb diet, we went with a small portion. A note to foodies who do have sensitivities or issues, they offer organic gluten free pasta as an alternative, which we applaud. If you love pasta, why should you have to suffer when you’re out? Bottom line, you shouldn’t. Bravo!

Also on the pasta offerings is Pizzoccheri, which is a typical Valtellina buckwheat earthy pasta and he serves it with Napa cabbage, potatoes and garlic butter (below) and the ever so popular with locals Potato and Truffle Gnocchi with gorgonzola cream and fresh Alba black truffle — no wonder people have “to-die-for” moments over this one. They apparently use Yukon gems from La Tercera Farms nearby. There’s also a scrumptious sounding Risotto with Lamb Sirloin Ragu, peas and parmigiano — the lamb is from nearby BN Ranch of Bolinas. We’re fans of all establishments that try their best to support local farms and serve fresh, local and organic ingredients as much as possible.

Photo credit: Valenti

Before I move onto non-pasta options, I would be remiss if I didn’t introduce you to his meatballs, which as he describes them, is “Not Your Grandma Meatball.” You can say that again. Expecting it to be Bologna style, we were shocked when these Mondeghili Milanese meatballs showed up sauteed in Tuscan Kale and tomato Passata. Wow, right? He starts with braised grass fed beef belly, twice cooks them, after which he binds them with herbs and breading and then shallow roasts them. The sauce tastes like it must have cream in it, but he simply skins the tomatoes and emulsifies them to get the result you see. Oh so fresh!!

While we were egging to go with the Roasted Local Petrale Sole with braised radicchio and fennel, served in a lemon emulsion, especially because they had great Chardonnays by the glass we wanted to try, we ended up with red meat and red wine instead. It was a tough callw ith the Cazadero Chard from Sonoma and the AnnaBella Chard from Napa starring me in the face. We did try some of their tasty Italian Prosecco (Andreola — Prosecco-Glera, Verdiso, Perera, Bianchetta — VENETO), which was a great way to BEGIN our evening.

Moving right along to those decadent meat dishes I was talking about, starting with the Pan Roasted Duck Breast with sauteed escarole, roasted figs (oh wow she says quietly with a big grin after taking a bite), sauteed in a Honey-Marsala sauce. They dry age the duck for a few days to add to the tenderness and use the honey and the fig to give the dish a sweetness that is absolutely lush and divine.  You might say that the fig and honey-marsala is a twist to a traditional duck breast dish and you wouldn’t be wrong, just like you wouldn’t be wrong saying that his meatballs most definitely had a twist, and a creative one at that! I also thought the kale addition was perfect given where we were in the world — after all, northern California is very health conscious and farm-to-table is far far from a new thing.

The Grass fed BN Ranch Beef from Bolinas was equally decadent and while he suggested go RARE, we went for medium rare and it was just like ‘butta.’ He serves the New York Strip Steak with truffle polenta fries and wild mushrooms (below). For those into veal, this is prepared the way they did in his old hood in Milanese Porta Vittoria.

We paired our mains with a 2014 Bordeaux Blend called Genuine Risk (Black Sheep Finds  – St. Ynez) and a 2011 Barolo “Lecinquievigne” Damilano (Nebbiolo da Barolo) PIEMONTE, which was possible because they luckily have the Coravin system so we could taste by the glass. It was oh so worth it!!

Unique sides include the Truffle Polenta fries mentioned above, but also their Dragon tongue beans sauteed with prosciutto, for something just a little different. What we passed up on that we’d love to try next time? The Heirloom tomato salad with mozzarella, olives and cucumbers of course as well as the Chanterelle mushroom and Yukon Gem Potato Soup with smoked prosciutto. YUM!! While we didn’t try any asparagus, take a look at his version of a side of Asparagus with poached egg – wow, right?

Photo credit: Valenti

“I cook with wine and sometimes I even add it to the food.” — Diulio Valenti

If you have any room left after that exquisite menu, there’s dessert of course. Truth be told, we didn’t have any room left but we opted to try a l’il dessert anyway, starting with the one we were told we HAD to try, their homemade Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta (we do love Panna Cotta after all and Anthony IS Italian after all). He served it with preserved wild cherries, candied lemon and raspberry sauce and shockingly, we finished it. (below)

They also offer a Nutty Biscotti with Pistachio, Hazelnut, Walnut and Fennel, as well as a warm chocolate cupcake with vanilla bean custard and orange preserve and a Hazelnut Semifreddo with pear puree and hazelnut praline. They insisted we try the first item on the DOLCI menu, which is a CrunchMisu — aka, in other words, a Tiramisu that crunches. Yes, really — have a look!!

I’ll leave you with one more over-the-top image for those with a sweet tooth. Below is a variation of the Panna Cotta, which while not available on the night we were there, it’s one of their creative concoctions that is so unusual, I had to include it here. How about a Panna cotta with saffron and crispy rice alla milanese? Yes, please, right?

Photo credit: Valenti


Valenti & Co.

337 San Anselmo Avenue

San Anselmo, CA 94960




All photo credits: Renee Blodgett unless otherwise noted.



Vail Resorts Should Be On Your Bucket List This Season

October 21, 2016 by  


With winter around the corner, it’s no surprise that I’ve been starting to think about whizzing down a mountain with a whole lotta fresh powder snow. Whenever I get inspired to take a trip, regardless of whether it’s a river cruise through Scandinavia or my most recent trip to Eastern Europe to experience its history and spa culture, an adventure typically turns into reality when I visualize myself in the destination, look at a calendar to check on feasible dates and jot down a few things I’d love to do when I arrive. There is obviously planning after the ideation stage, but once you “decide” on a destination and dream of it as if it’s going to happen, it doesn’t take much to move from visualization to actually booking your trip.

Given that I live in northern California and it’s getting more hectic every day, I find that people in my circles are looking for ski escapes a little further away from the Bay Area yet still convenient. So many of our lives are 24/7, so when you want to escape, why not pick a destination that is further away from the crowds so you can truly unwind, whether that be for a romantic weekend getaway or a week on the slopes with the family. I’ve been wanting to ski a few mountains under the Vail Resorts umbrella for awhile now, tempted by breathtaking views and countless trails to their upscale restaurants and lodging. Frankly, as I get older, I don’t want to guess whether the resort is going to blow me away — I just want to stay in one that will exceed all expectations, from the slopes to the food regardless of the reason for the trip.

The wonderful thing about Vail Resorts is that the ever so chic and well renowned Vail isn’t the only choice — it’s only one of their world-class resorts. Other choices in the states include Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, and Park City. I’ve been to Beaver Creek oddly enough in the summer so while I did take the gondola to the top, I never skied down her slopes. Years ago, I took many trips to Breckenridge and Park City for work and ended up staying longer to ski — it’s a must for that bucket list and simply because it’s so much fun! We skied at Heavenly more recently and absolutely loved our experience but I’m eager to explore some of Vail’s other mountains and resorts. They own and operate nine mountain resorts and three urban ski areas in the states and two other countries. Imagine the options with 291 chairlifts and for ski addicts, it’s worth knowing about their six annual championships that they host, including the Birds of Prey Men’s World Cup Ski Races at Beaver Creek, the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships at Vail and skiing and snowboarding’s Dew Tour at Breckenridge.

Because they’re a massive network, improvements are happening all the time with over $500 million across their mountains in the last five years alone. They also extend into other areas and tout mountain resorts, lodging properties, retail outlets, transportation and real estate across seven states, including Colorado, Utah, California, Nevada, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

They offer something called an Epic Pass, which offers unlimited access to Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado, Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe; Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin, Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mt. Brighton in Michigan; and Perisher in Australia. The Epic Pass allows pass holders to visit any of the resorts on their own schedule. For more details, check out their Epic Pass page.

Foodies will be thrilled to learn that they have roughly 140 restaurants on their mountain resorts and in their lodging properties and they also have seven spas. (great for those female getaways). And, to keep you up to-date, they also have a great mobile app called EpicMix. They’ll take photos so you have the memories, size you up in a healthy competition, tell you how long the wait is at your favorite lift and let you race against Olympic champion skier Lindsey Vonn, in EpicMix Racing. Download links can be found under Resources below.

















Useful Resources:


Disclosure Note: this post is part of a Vail Resorts promotional campaign.


The 2017 Buick Enclave For Both Reliability & Luxury

October 13, 2016 by  


If you read our site regularly, you know that I’ve become a big fan of Buick cars over the last few years. We’ve tested various models, such as Buick LaCrosse we drove in New England in February during the dead of winter and last year’s Enclave model which we took to the Adirondacks last summer. I’ve had the great pleasure of being able to drive them on some of our family travel escapes, so we were thrilled to be able to test out the latest and greatest from Buick – their 2017 Buick Enclave, one of the best choices in their line for families in the luxury category.

The above shot was taken during our tour of the Finger Lakes in August in upstate New York

This mid-sized SUV can actually fit up to 8 people although we only needed it for four on this particular trip. That said, the extra space was a godsend for all the luggage we had on our summer getaway, which covered upstate New York, New Hampshire and finally Newport.  The first thing you’ll feel in the even more spacious 2017 Enclave is a sense of openness, partly due to the overall dimensions but also because of the incredible attention to design. Where things are placed in a car matters — it matters for safety and it matters for space! The “low and away” instrument panel keeps controls easily within reach and the luscious leather seats, warm wood tones, and brushed chrome accents create a sophisticated interior that is also above all, warm and inviting, as if you’re spending time in your own living room.  It was the first time we tried a bright and fun-colored Buick and we absolutely love the Crimson-Red — oh so divine!

Let’s get into the features and new features before we get into other things we loved and our experience driving it.


We like to start with this one because the purpose of this trip was a family getaway during the summer holidays, when EVERYONE is on the road. The holidays is the precise time you need to make the safest choices, especially when you have kids in tow. Take for example, the Enclave’s Front-Center Airbag which we love knowing is part of the car’s core. By far, one of my favorite features remains the Available Rear Cross-Traffic Alert technology which relies on radar to warn of approaching vehicles—when you’re backing out of a parking spot or driveway — and alerts you when one comes within 65 feet on either side. It’s thinking ahead, in reverse. LOVE THIS! Forward Collision Alert lets you know with both an audio and visual warning when you’re approaching a vehicle ahead too quickly, kinda like a high-tech way of reminding you to slow down and enjoy the ride. And, Lane Departure Warning provides both an audio and visual alert should your Enclave drift out of its lane without you first having activated your turn signal so you can stay the course, instead of straying into someone else’s land. This is especially useful for those longer night drives when you’re worried about nodding off.

Have you ever been side blinded? It happens, especially if the sun is too bright or it’s just too hard to see. Together with available Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Buick’s Side Blind Zone Alert technology uses radar sensors to help you avoid a collision. When a vehicle enters your blind spot, sensors on either side of your Enclave alert you by producing an icon that appears in your outside rearview mirror.

Tech & Entertainment

I’m in the tech world, at least half the time wearing my consulting hat in Silicon Valley. As such, I’m always aware of and eager to test out the latest technologies, wherever they happen to be. The fact is, we have gotten so used to having wifi available all the time, anywhere, anytime, that it’s frustrating not to have it in our vehicles. That said, you want the technology to be safe and you want to be able to use your cell phones hand-free. The Enclave has a 4G Wi-Fi Hotspot which definitely came in handy for the long drives up to the New Hampshire mountains. Ahhh yes, the kids were busy and quieter than normal, making for a more relaxing ride, that is until we decided to test out the Bose 10-speaker sound system and rear-seat entertainment system.

Let’s not forget Buick’s IntelliLink which allows you to navigate and connect to friends, family and music hands-free. natural language voice recognition. You can also organize your home screen so you can easily access the features you use most. Pandora and SiriusXM Radio (three-month trial standard) are all voice controlled, which is nice and let’s just say that we used them often, especially with kids.

Enter the Navigation Bay Navigation -- bravo! Anthony and I are both terrible at directions so what a treat to have this feature because half the time, our phone navigation, whether it’s the default one or Google Maps simply didn’t work or are not reliable — this is especially true in the mountains. We love the voice-activated turn-by-turn navigation, real-time traffic data, directions, and more. You can also save favorite routes and destinations, so you can get wherever you’re going faster and smarter.

The available Rear-Seat Entertainment System is just a WOW feature for kids when you’re on the road. Imagine having an eight-inch-diagonal LCD flat screen, DVD player with remote, two sets of wireless infrared headphones, a top notch Bose surround sound, audio and video input jacks and a three-prong household-style 120V power outlet all available for your kids so they can watch movies while you’re taking that long tiring drive? Fabulous right? We thought so — it’s almost like having a home-theatre in your backseat!  Rear Park Assist Technology was something we loved when testing out our 2016 Enclave as well — it’s a must have feature in any car if you are driving with children. It actually senses the distance behind your back bumper and any objects within eight feet of it, and then beeps to indicate how close you’re getting. The more frequent the beeps, the closer you are to a collision — and better prepared to avoid it.

Related to this is Enclave’s Standard Rear Vision Camera with active guidelines so you actually get a live image of what’s behind you on the Buick IntelliLink screen — shown is the Rear Cross Traffic Alert, to help you better navigate a straight course while driving in reverse.  This is so great when you’re trying to get out of a tight spot or a darker and hard to see spot, such as in a parking garage.  For those who travel a lot (et hem, all of you who read this site), the convenient MyBuick app allows you to view key vehicle health information, see where you parked, remote start your vehicle, monitor wifi, check data usage, send directions to your vehicle, get account details and more. It’s the best way to unlock your vehicle–and its full potential–right from the palm of your hand — a very nifty and useful way to keep everything organized.

Performance Kudos

While the All-Wheel Drive (AWD) system in the 2017 Enclave automatically activates when you need it most, it is better served during winter months or when the weather is wetter than a summer vacation. The system constantly monitors the traction of all four wheels, and if a slip is detected, will deliver power to the wheels with the best grip. StabiliTrak Technology applies quick, precise force to the brakes when it senses a difference between the direction of your wheels and steering wheel, while traction control applies selective braking to individual wheels to reduce wheel spin, also a godsend for really wet and unpredictable weather which we didn’t really encounter on this trip — both of these features were great when we drove our Buick through snow and ice in Connecticut in February. And oh yes, those heated seats!

Interior & Design

Buick has something they call QuietTuning Technology, which combines triple door sealing, acoustic laminated glass, and specific suspension tuning to help reduce, block, and absorb noise and vibration.  We mentioned its spaciousness above (can seat up to 8), and that means comfortably so, accommodating elderly family members as well. Enclave’s available simple and intuitive eight-way power-adjustable driver seat and front passenger seat allow you to move the seat fore and aft, raise or lower it, and adjust the height of the cushion’s forward edge. It also “remembers” driver seat and outside mirror positions for up to two drivers, saving the information in the Enclave remote-entry key fob so everything is just as it should be when you take the wheel. How cool is that?

The personalization features with the Enclave is pretty extensive from recalls on mirrors to music and regular destinations stored inside your Nav system. Also, there’s individual temperature controls for driver and front passenger seats which is great for us, because Anthony is always hot and I’m always cold. While we didn’t need the heated steering wheel on this summer getaway, it was an essential during our winter trip last year.

For all the specs and options, check out their customization specs page: http://www.buick.com/suvs/enclave-mid-size-luxury-suv/features-specs/options.html!

Join Our Journey….

See the Buick Enclave in action in the Finger Lakes, New Hampshire and Newport Rhode Island.


Just outside Newport Rhode Island

Above, just outside Ithaca New York and below, driving through the Finger Lakes region! We also posted a bunch of shots of our Buick experience on our Instagram account as well.

Useful Links:

  • http://www.buick.com
  • http://www.buick.com/suvs/enclave-mid-size-luxury-suv.html
  • http://www.buick.com/experience/news.html
  • https://www.facebook.com/Buick/
  • https://twitter.com/buick
  • https://www.instagram.com/buickusa/
  • https://www.youtube.com/buick

Wellness Travel: Danubius Health Spa Resorts in Mariánské Lázně

October 12, 2016 by  


Wellness and spa travelers will likely have heard of Mariánské Lázně and its probably on their bucket list if they haven’t already been. Located outside Prague in the Bohemian countryside, it is world renowned for its abundance of natural medicinal sources with more than one hundred mineral springs within the wider vicinity of the town and around forty springs in the town itself. All these mineral springs are cold acidulous springs with temperatures between 7°C and 10°C and the springs differ in chemical composition, which obviously affects the impact it has on your body when drinking it, which btw, most of the people who go to this town, do for healing purposes. In other words, it’s part of the experience and why people show up!

You don’t need to be ill or have a medical condition to come to a spa town like this one, for there are plenty of traditional spa treatments you can experience, healthy food you can eat and serene walks you can take that will nourish your soul if you simply want to a little R&R. Meet Marienbad’s original spa experience, which is housed in the Danubius Health Spa Resort (original property) up on a hill with breathtaking views of the town below. One of the most traditional spa buildings in Mariánské Lázně, the hotel faces the town’s colonnade and lush green park, with a spa, swimming pool, restaurant and cafe on-site.  There’s 108 rooms and suites, a WiFi zone (although I managed to connect in my room), laundry service and parking spaces if you decide to rent a car.  And, the building itself is ever so majestic that you feel fabulous just entering its doors.

The thing about staying in one of the Danubius properties is that depending on what and how you book, you can access the other hotels in the Danubius group, which is a great added benefit, especially if you book for an extended stay. For example, while we stayed at the hotel known as Centralni Lazne, we were able to experience the amenities of other properties, including the mineral baths at Nove Lazne just down the street. Others in Danubius group include Maria Spa, Nvezda, Imperial, Pacifik, Butterfly, Vitava, Svoboda and Labe. Nove Lazne is probably the most luxe of the bunch and where we took an official tour and bathed in the Roman Baths.
Part of what you get from a comprehensive ‘health and wellness stay’ are complex lab tests, 24 spa treatments per week, access to qualified medical staff and specialists, health lectures, 24 hour on-call service from doctors and nurses, mineral drinking “cures” directly in all the hotels, special prevention programs for kids and more. While it was sunny and warm when we stayed there in September, you can connect to the hotels underground, avoiding the streets if you prefer privacy or if its cold outside. I tried it both ways, walking a couple of blocks down to Nove Lazne in my bathrobe and slippers (for fun) and returned to the Centralni Lazne via back hallways, which can be a bit confusing the first time around. Getting lost is part of the fun, at least if you like to explore new places that is and aren’t in a rush.
The below shots were taken of the courtyard area to the side of the hotel — flowers are abound in this pretty hillside property.
 This was the view from my bedroom balcony….

The hotel rooms at the Centralni Lazne location aren’t as decadent and luxe like as the ones at Hotel Imperial in Karlovy Vary and not as chic as Nove Lazne but they simple and classically lovely!

This is a shot taken from the fourth floor in a sitting area that lies between two sides of the hotel, each hallway leading to its own elevator.

The Health Spas (there are several, but all linked)

The largest and most original spa in the area, they have 24 treatment cabins which have original tilting from the 19th century. The building that the hotel and spa reside in today is the very same location as the original spa building from 1812. There’s also a Premier fitness center with cardio exercise, fitness and exercise equipment on the premises as well. In addition to traditional massages and more relaxing spa treatments, you can sign up for more medicinal ones, such as mineral baths, peat packs, natural dry carbon gas baths, mud treatments, electrotherapy, relaxation, acupuncture, dry carbon baths, mineral baths, on-site mineral springs, gas injections, water treatment and a host of other more intense procedures and therapies depending on your needs. 

At every hotel, Centralni Lazne included, you have a fountain for drinking the thermal waters right on the premises.  You also have access to the original Roman Baths from 1896 with three pools, a whirlpool and bubble baths as well as saunas in three different temperatures, a steam sauna and a sanarium.

About Healing Mud

Peloids are inorganic and organic pottages, which are used for compresses and wraps. They are made of peat and other mud, which can be found around the springs.  For treatments, you typically have them applied for 20-30 minutes once they have reached the  40°C. Peat wraps are used for treating locomotive system disorders, gynaecologic complaints and respiratory system disorders. Special treatments are offered in the form of peat vaginal tampons, which are used for treating chronic gynaecological inflammations and sterility in women. Yes, really. We actually visited the location that specializes in this very treatment and women apparently come from around the world with hopes of getting pregnant after a series of treatments. Below, a nurse explains the procedure to us in Czech with an English translator. (to avoid confusion, she is not working at the Danubius property but at a facility that specializes in fertility treatments).

Notice how you can walk between properties via underground hallways to go to a wellness, spa, medical or aqua facility at another Danubius property.

Oxygen Therapy @Maria Spa

We had a unique oxygen treatment at the Maria Spa, which was easily walkable from our hotel. They have a few different therapies that deal with natural dry carbon gas, which helps to improve blood circulation, kidney activity and sexual functions, in addition to having an anti-inflammatory effect. It can also be administered via an injection to reduce pain, improve localized circulation and accelerate healing. We didn’t do a treatment that intensive, because many of the more invasive procedures and therapies require a doctor’s referral.

Our group did a simple oxygen experience that involved sitting in a small area where our noses were hooked up to intranasal tubes. A little uncomfy at first, but we quickly got used to it especially as the meditative music started playing. The idea is that you inhale extra oxygen through the tube, all while relaxing in a chair. The air being inhaled is enriched with about 40-60% oxygen at a reasonable level of humidity. An increased supply of oxygen into the body enhances the immune system, improves heart activity and the elasticity of the lungs, helps improve your mind’s efficiency and is meant to be excellent for overall health. Sometimes a vitamin drink is also offered as part of the treatment, although we didn’t consume anything other than water after our oxygen therapy experience.

While we breathed in the oxygen, a video was shown against a smokey transparent screen, sharing the tradition and history of the spa, building and Marianske Lazne itself.

The Roman Baths at Nove Lazne

Who doesn’t love to soak in a bath, especially one with so much decadence and beauty around you? Romanesque statues hide in corners, the tiles are rich in all directions and there’s a touch of elegancy and luxury in the air as you make your way from room-to-room. Between relaxing lounge areas, three saunas, two hot tubs, two Roman baths, a steam room and more, there’s no shortage of things to try out here.

Other Amenities

In addition to traditional and medical spa services, there’s a cosmetic salon, hair studio and place to get those pedicures and manicures done. Restaurant Goethe offers both Czech and international cuisine, a dietary corner, buffet-style breakfasts and evening meals. They have regular dance nights or piano concerts in the lobby bar and there’s a conference center casino linked to the hotel with five function rooms that can hold 800 people. Below, my delicious caraway soup which I had at Goethe for lunch one day, followed by coconut and chocolate balls of course.

One of my favorite memories of the property (Roman Baths aside of course), was sitting outside in their adjacent cafe and watching the world go by as I sipped on my creamy cappuccino.


Danubius Health Spa Resort Centrální Lázně
Goethovo nám. 16/1, 353 43
Mariánské Lázně-Marienbad, Czech Republic
Useful Articles and Links for Spa & Wellness Travel in the Czech Republic
Note: I was a guest of the hotel however all opinions expressed are entirely our own.

Chateau Mcely, For Luxury & Serenity in the Czech Countryside

October 12, 2016 by  


If you’re planning to head to the Czech Republic and hadn’t thought about venturing out of Prague, then reconsider. Chateau Mcely is an elegant and luxurious five-star castle/eco-chic hotel nestled in the countryside about an hour’s drive from the center of Prague. To get there, you’ll drive through rural Czech countryside and small villages, with old stone barns that look like they haven’t been renovated since they were built. In other words, when you arrive, you’ll feel like you’re a lifetime away from the city and from anywhere you’ve ever experienced. I think the spot is ideal for a romantic getaway quite frankly but if you are solo and want a hidden gem that is quiet, relaxing and meditative, then this is a great choice as well, especially given their picturesque pond and separate spa building where you can escape to heaven for a few hours.

The interior is furnished a bit like a castle but using modern decor with soft romantic colors and if you’re someone who loves attention to detail, you’ll love this gem of a find. Meticulous every step of the way, you’ll find a creative discovery at every turn, all of which are extended into their 24 rooms. That’s right — it’s a small property despite its size which equates to peace, tranquility and serenity and a whole lotta decadence in between. My favorite part of the chateau is by far and away, the front porch with its plants and flowers protruding in every direction. While I was there for a few warm days in September, it is apparently open during the winter months and they use heat lamps to keep it toasty.

I was lucky to get there between lunch and dinner, so I had that luxurious and I’d argue romantic porch all to myself. If you’re a poet, artist or novelist, take note — how could you not be inspired by this place?

Lunch on the patio — I was so comfortable and happy I didn’t want to leave despite having a pampering spa appointment using all natural products on my schedule on my first afternoon.

While I wanted to have every meal on oh so alive and luscious patio bursting with plants and light, Chateau Mcely’s inside dining room was about as elegant and luxe as it gets — the owners know how to pay attention to detail and they make sure you reap the benefit in every single room. Exquisite!

Breakfast consisted of cold meats, homemade breads from a local baker, croissants and muffins, eggs, sausage, organic fruit, veggies and yoghurt, but there was also a choice of caviar, smoked salmon and champagne, all of beautifully presented on a stylish buffet table in the main dining room.

A Natural Wonderland

Outside, it’s about as majestic as it gets with its perfectly manicured lawns and gardens. People set up croquet while I was there and when a game wasn’t happening, water would spray in all directions to keep the landscape green and lush. The park area nearby can also accommodate football tennis and basketball.

A shot taken from the front lawn with Chateau Mcely in the background….let’s just say that I was a happy camper here sipping my morning tea.

There are some lovely walks you can take from the main property, including to the nearby organic garden, children’s play area and a whole outdoor section dedicated to outdoor weddings. You’ll also stumble upon a beautiful fountain on your walk. It was pure bliss!

The English park with an area of five hectares holds small tournaments in croquet, petanque, badminton or tennis on the multi-pitch. The surrounding St. George Forest is great for mushroom picking, flower gazing or simply reading a book. They cater to kids as well if you decide to go there with your family in tow — there’s the Under the Daisy children’s playground and the adorable Princess Julinka’s Cottage with a nearby hammock to relax in — shown below. There are also complimentary bicycles on the property as well which you can use to ride around the nearby towns or simply get lost in the countryside.

The views and sunsets are exquisite as well.

The Rooms

Each room is personalized, so depending on your style, you can opt for one that is a little more modern or a room that is more traditional with an old fashioned tub. Here are some examples of their rooms.

Chateau Mcely’s Luxury Spa

They apparently have a local Nine Flowers tradition that inspired the owner of Chateau Inez Cusumano who then went on to create several branded therapies at the spa. If you love flowers, be sure to visit during the warmer months so you can catch them in bloom. Since the spa building is separated from the main chateau and you need to walk down to it, I’d also recommend going during Spring, Summer or Fall to take advantage of the walks as well as the natural pond that sits just outside the main spa building. I relaxed here after my treatment and it was hard to leave even with a five star dinner waiting.

The treatment room is more like a spacious wooden bungalow with perfect fung shui and relaxing energy in all directions. There are a couple of massage tables, making it perfect for a romantic massage for two session should you be thinking of Chateau Mcely for a romantic getaway. Notice the large soaking tub to the left of me and imagine rose petals in a soapy bubble path with your name on it. Your next question would have to be: where do I sign up? They have three exclusive therapeutic suites: Honey, Pearls and Silk and the spa is open everyday from 8 am to 8 pm, which gives you a lot more flexibility than some luxury spas for booking slots. They have an outdoor whirlpool, a wooden sauna and an herbal steam room adjacent to the spa bungalow. The Pearls Suite is on the ground floor and has a steam bath inlaid with onyx, the Silk Suite is on the top floor in the tower and the Honey Pavilion is in the English park and features a large wooden tub and wood-burning fireplace.

The lovely natural pond outside….

The outdoor hot tub

For sale near the reception…

A few great therapies and treatments worth mentioning include the BEACH GODDESS, a detoxifying and slimming ritual, MELT VELVET, a sensual ritual with warm wax and POPPY DREAMS, a ritual for deep sleep and silky smooth skin. These are over and above more classic treatments like restorative, aroma and herbal massages, facials, body peelings and private workouts with a private trainer.

I went for a therapy they call the ROSE RITUAL. After a cleansing rose body peeling that leaves your skin feeling ultra smooth, firm and radiant, you’ll be wrapped like a baby bunting while having a Rosehip Honey peeling and regenerating Rose Serum. After a shower, they give you a full body massage with Melissa Balm containing rose and chamomile. Roses are apparently known for gently fighting against depression, sadness and feelings of uncertainty. They use all natural skincare products, all developed at Chateau Mcely, using local medicinal plants and rare natural ingredients from around the world. Not only are their spa treatments natural, but everything about the place “feels” natural, from the outdoor jacuzzi under the stars, to the tennis court shaded by an old Turkish hazelnut tree to their open-air fitness center. The swimming lake as noted above, is all natural and there’s an enchanting little cottage and hammock reachable via a short walk as shown above. In other words, it’s an eco-chic green hotel with a 17th century castle wine cellar, scrumptious food, forest hiking, bicycle trails and five star spa experiences all in one place.

Did I mention the natural cosmetic making classes, the praline making and cooking classes, leadership conferences, a secret alchemical elixir tasting in the Alchemist Club, cognac on the roof-top observatory or the “Plant your company tree” program in the chateau park? Like I said, they ‘get the details,’ and it shows in everything they do.

Culinary Heaven @ Piano Nobile

The main restaurant on the premises Piano Nobile was apparently declared the best restaurant in 2014 to serve a seasonal a la carte menu using top notch ingredients from local suppliers.  They were also rated as one of the best five restaurants in the Czech Republic this year by Maurer’s Grand Restaurant Guide. Executive Chef Honza Sterba and his staff use fresh herbs from their gardens, make marmalade in-house and use fresh organic ingredients from neighboring farms, including fish from nearby lakes, delicacies from an organic sheep farm in the area and others.  Here are a few photos entice you however be sure to read this independent write-up on my dining experience on Piano Nobile which includes the menu, wine and visuals in more depth. It was absolutely decadent and delicious — in other words, it’s worth a side trip from Prague for the food alone, although you’ll absolutely want to stay in this stunning countryside chateau surrounded by gardens and quaint natural pond. Two thumbs up; I will be back!!


Chateau Mcely ***** 

Mcely 61 289 36 Mcely 
Czech Republic

+420 325 600 000 


Useful Articles and Links for Spa & Wellness Travel in the Czech Republic



Note: I was a guest of the hotel however all opinions expressed are entirely our own.

The SAND Conference Hits San Jose/Silicon This Month

October 11, 2016 by  


The SAND Conference (aka Science and Non Duality for those new to the event or concept) is one of my favorite events of the year. The event weaves in dialogue around consciousness, mind/body balance and meditation with science, art and technology all in one place — you are bound to think about the world in a new way by the end of the weekend. From experiential classes on sound, art, meditation, Qigong, yoga, breathing, and tantra, to lectures on Quantum Physics and everything in between, SAND brings together an incredible group of smart and caring thinkers that will leave you more than just a little transformed.

Held every year in San Jose California, be sure to read up my recap of SAND 2015, SAND 2014 and SAND 2012.

Speakers range from Middle East-born Hameed Ali (A. H. Almaas) who is an author and founder of the Diamond Approach, a spiritual teaching that utilizes a unique kind of inquiry into realization, where the practice is the expression of realization, world renowned guru Deepak Chopra who has published more than 70 books on consciousness and spirituality, Matthew Fox, an internationally acclaimed theologian who was a member of the Dominican Order for 34 years,artist and non-duality teacher and speaker Rupert Spira who has studied the teachings of Ouspensky, Krishnamurti, Rumi, Shankaracharya, Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta, Robert Adams, and more, Berkeley University Mathematics professor Edward Frenkel, teacher and author Jac O’Keeffe, Advaita Vedanta spiritual teacher Francis Lucille, Richard Rohr, a globally recognized ecumenical teacher focused on Christian mysticism and the Perennial Tradition and countless others.

You’ll find yourself surprised by the depth of discussion as well as the diversity of disciplines beyond traditional consciousness, including mathematicians, psychologists, therapists, medical doctors, physicists, and more. For example, while Dr. Larry Dossey is an MD, he has been deep into the exploration of Mind/Body Interventions, and served on the board of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health.  He lectures around the world on among other things, How Our Individual Mind Is Part of a Greater Consciousness and Why It Matters.  

Dr. Menas Kafatos who is a Professor of Computational Physics and Director of Excellence at Chapman University, has authored and co-authored numerous books including The Conscious Universe, The Non-local Universe and Principles of Integrative Science, which weaves these two very important worlds together. Imagine hearing a talk by a physicist one hour and then from Buddhist and Professor Robert A.F. Thurman, Ph.D., who teaches Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University.

From workshops and interactive activities to morning yoga, expressive dance and Buddhism to the in-depth exploration of non-duality and science and how they are increasingly meeting in a growing complex world.

The event is run by husband wife team Maurizio and Zaya Benazzo under their Neti Neti Media organization, which is a conscious conglomerate of filmmakers, scientists, philosophers and explorers all committed to expand the potential of humanity. Their mission is to create media and public gatherings to inspire, connect, and facilitate the emergence of a new spiritual paradigm which is based on the timeless wisdom traditions of the world, informed by science, and grounded in direct experience. The scope of NetiNetiMedia is to define new realms of understanding that will allow us to go beyond form, beliefs and concepts into recognizing our true nature.

The Travel Guide to the Turks and Caicos Islands

October 11, 2016 by  


I’ve been wanting to explore Turks and Caicos for awhile now, largely because I didn’t know much about the islands and it felt a bit more off-the-beaten path than the rest of the Caribbean. Minus the major cruise route of Grand Turk and the easy-to-fly into Providenciales which is where the main airport is located, and you will be pretty remote. There are apparently two unused airports, one in Middle and one in North Caicos, where I stayed in August.

The Turks and Caicos Islands is considered a British Overseas Territory. I spent most of my time moving back and forth between Middle and North Caicos Islands, which are now connected by a road. It’s important to note however that until 2008, boat was the only way to get between the two. Now, there’s a causeway which makes it easier to get around which is useful because there aren’t many places to eat or sleep in either place, which is the polar opposite of Providenciales, where there are plenty of mid-level and luxury options available. As mentioned above, cruise ships come into Grand Turk, the wealthiest stop in the Turks and Caicos — of the one million visitors every year, 600,000 go to Grand Turk and roughly 400,000 head to Providenciales.  This guide mostly reflects North and Middle Caicos, which is a bit more remote, quiet and untouched than Provo and Grand Turk but I do provide a short synopsis on East, West and South Caicos as well as the tiny island of Salt Cay.

Below, the boat ride from Provo over to the North and Middle Caicos Islands….

Providenciales (Provo)

Providenciales, or more commonly known as “Provo”, covers an area of 38 miles and is the most developed island in the Turks and Caicos. The island is dotted with stunning white sand beaches, and because it is so developed, there are numerous restaurants, spas and shopping facilities, luxe properties, a championship caliber golf course, and full service grocery store, which is not the case on Middle and North Caicos.  On the north shore of the island, near Grace Bay, you will find the most beautiful beaches, as well as a long coral reef, which is rich in aquatic life. Towards the south of the island sits Chalk Sound, a large lake with striking turquoise water and small cays. When you head to the south of the island, you’ll pass by Sapodilla Bay, Copper Jack, Discovery Bay, Turtle Tail and Long Bay, where there are many options for villa rentals if you want to be a little more remote or if you need more space and have a family in tow.

The two main and oldest settlements on the island are the Bight and Blue Hills, which exude a sentimental feel and flavor of Caribbean villages. There is plenty to do here, mostly focused on water activities of course, such as deep sea fishing, diving, snorkeling, boating, swimming and other water sports. There’s the Princess Alexandra Marine Park, which is also the playground of “Jo Jo” the famous bottlenose dolphin.

Above, Grace Bay Beach, credit: www.uncommoncaribbean.com

You can also visit the world’s first Conch Farm where you can learn how to grow conch from tiny veligers to four-year-old adults.  A cool factoid is that you can find engraved stones by shipwrecked sailors on the top of a hill overlooking the now abandoned Marina Inn near Chalk Sound and Sapodilla Bay. For historians, check out the old ruins nearby — there are two sites of plantation houses built by Loyalists, Cheshire Hall and Richmond Hill. Then there’s the “Hole” at Long Bay, which is a deep and wide Limestone chimney with mysterious salt water at the bottom.

North Caicos

To get over to North Caicos, where I stayed at the basic but beautiful beachfront property Pelican Hotel, you need to catch a boat (it’s a bit like a fast ferry really) but it’s small, so it’s important to reserve in advance just in case. From there, you’ll take a taxi (Mack’s is the only taxi in town but be sure to negotiate anyway — they may quote you around $150 to get to Middle Caicos) or you can rent a car from Al Rental Car, also the only game in town and the rates are around $75 a day. Hotels and restaurants are few and far between and include the infamous Miss B’s, My Dees, Blitz, Last Chance Bar & Grill, the sports bar which is owned by a man named Clifford together with Miss Susie, who also owns and runs the Pelican Hotel, which also has a small restaurant.  We ate at all of them course given the limited options.  As for hotels, there are lots of abandoned properties unfortunately and it looks as if they were started with good intention but stopped due to lack of funds.

Above, lying in the hammock on the beach in front of Pelican Beach – taken on my iPhone

A friend of mine from the technology industry absolutely loves the Turks and Caicos, so much that he held an event here focused on Astronomy and Photography, which is tremendous due to the dark night skies and great visibility. He likes to refer to the Turks and Caicos as the Island of Unscalable Ideas. Let’s face it, there’s only 1,800 people living on North Caicos and a mere 200 on Middle Caicos, so I guess there should be no surprise that there’s not a plethora of restaurants, spas and hotels.

There are lots of churches here however and you’ll probably be surprised to learn that there’s Baptist and Jehovah Witness congregations scattered throughout the island. The largest group however is the Church of God the Prophecy which we learned a bit about from Patrick, who became our driver for most of the trip. He also happens to be Pelican Hotel owner Miss Susie’s brother. If you’re not catching on yet, you’ll see that this is a place where everyone knows everyone else and their business. Crime isn’t an issue here because of its size and perhaps because of people’s strong faith, but most likely because you couldn’t get away with a crime if you tried. Apparently there was one break-in at a local ATM and they knew who it was before having to start an investigation.  It was the only ATM on the Middle and North Caicos and today, there’s none because of that incident. Note to self for planning purposes – make sure you have plenty of cash with you before you leave Providenciales.

If you want to buy property here, it’s apparently fairly easy and straightforward and at least on Middle and North Caicos, it’s not expensive yet. As far as finding the best deals, you’re all set if you know Clifford and if you stay at the Pelican, you’ll quickly run into him since he runs a business with Miss Susie, who is never far from the front desk. If you can’t find her there, she’s bound to be in the kitchen, where a large black stone kettle sits on the large commercial stove ready to be flamed up for a l’il afternoon tea. Remember all of their connections to Great Britain after all. That means of course that people “get” tea here, which is an added bonus if you happen to be a British traveler or are a tea lover.

Last Chance Bar & Grill is off the side of the road just before you hit the causeway to make your way over to Middle Caicos, hence the quirky name. I imagine that this was particularly more relevant when boat was your only option of transport between the two, although the drive can take around 45 minutes depending on how you drive, so it’s worth planning for the trek.

Above, solo beach time in and around Pelican Beach – let’s just say that the water was warm, the sand pristine and the size of the shells mind boggling, and these massive sized shells were literally everywhere.

While there were plenty of serene, tranquil moments in the hammock reflecting on the day gone by, walking along the beach’s edge without another soul in sight while breathing it all in, or simply swimming on my own, I met some of the most amazing group of people I have ever met at a conference. While ‘sort of’ dedicated to astronomy and we did plenty of night gazing, the group was a mishmash of talent and beauty, including technologists, a scientist, physicist, healer, astrologist, teacher, medium, engineer, journalist, marketing guru and more. This un-conference was made up of activities like poetry reading and drawing, but also swimming, cooking, learning about artificial intelligence and healing. Together with a passionate group of individuals, we made time for silly fun, Margaritas and Pina Coladas and floated around in a bright colored blown up pink flamingo that man named Grasshopper (yes really) happened to find somewhere.

Also on North Caicos, two thumbs up for the local music and their Pina Coladas – while they don’t seem to have fancy glasses that most Caribbean destinations proudly serve, they were oh so scrumptious!

Let’s also not forget those morning yoga sessions, where meditation and the art of breathing were also the order of the day. How can you not be grateful in a place like this? It was truly magical! (taken at Pelican Beach Hotel outside between the two inside lounge and sitting areas of the main property)

Due to the fact that the west, south and east sides of North Caicos consist almost entirely mangrove wetlands and shallows, all the beaches on the island are found on the north coast. Unlike many of the Middle Caicos beaches, the coasts of North Caicos are situated farther back from the barrier reef and deep water, so are a bit more sheltered from the ocean swells.

Middle Caicos

To get to Middle Caicos, you take the causeway where you’ll come across what that same friend refers to as suicide birds who walk on the road and are especially hard to see at night.  Bottle Creek is the main town in between North and Middle Caicos and there really isn’t much there; in fact, if you blinked, you might just miss the K-12 school and gas station which is randomly placed in the middle of nowhere but can at a minimum, can tout fabulous views.

Also on this stretch, you’ll find items along the side of the road, including boats, which you’ll occasionally see stashed (or should I say parked) in the middle of thick bushes.  Apparently cotton was planted here during British Colonial Times of old (until around the 1700′s) but very few farms still exist today. When the Brits left, all of the slaves were freed and that group today are referred to as “belongers.” In other words, they get first dibs on jobs and other things in the community.

At night, driving can be a little tricky because there are no traffic lights so you need to be alert to catch those suicide birds and dogs who may start to randomly chase your car, day or night.  Also at night, crabs are known to cross the road as well, so if night vision isn’t your thing, get someone else to drive. There’s also a stretch the moment you get to Middle Caicos where you’ll get hit with surreal silver lights along the road, which is a small paved patch and of course, patches of old road is interspersed with new road, so it feels a bit unfinished in parts.

There’s apparently a cult here called the Jews. Yes really. The group was formed by 47 people who moved down from the Midwest who believe when “the reckoning day will come,” they will be saved and Middle Caicos will be spared.  Occasionally they’re in the news despite the fact that it’s a small cult but on an island of only 200, 47 makes up a significant portion of the residents given the numbers.

Worth seeing here is a lovely bird sanctuary and the lush mangrove tress. There are three different types to be on the look out for: black, silver and ones with reddish colored leaves.  Middle Caicos is the most ecologically oriented and also happens to be the largest of the Islands, at 48 square miles.  There are beautiful limestone cliffs with long sandy beaches in the north and swampland and tidal flats in the south.  It also boasts the largest cave network in the Bahamian Archipelago.

Be sure to check out Mudjin Harbour, which is a half-moon lagoon that has a lovely beach that juts out from the land and hooks up with an offshore cay. Limestone caves include stalactites, stalagmites, bats, owls and salt lakes that link up with the ocean and there are remains of huge Lucayan Indian settlements. One site excavated near Armstrong Pond in the 1970′s contains a Lucayan ball court. Middle Caicos also contains ruins of Loyalist plantations including the Haulover Plantation with ruins of chimneys and homes, and a well shaped like a horse. There is a trail that links Middle Caicos with North Caicos during low tide you can actually walk between the two islands, which we didn’t do but would be on my list if I ever returned. There’s also a Frigate Bird colony on the south part of the island where you can spot Flamingos, Egrets, Sand Pipers and others. In the northwest, there are stunning inlets, marshes, mangroves and in land ponds, a large reason for the abundant bird life in this area.

Half our group stayed at the Blue Horizon on Middle Caicos which a bit more upscale than Pelican Beach on North Caicos, but it is also a lot more remote. They offer villas here (be sure to read my write-up on the property) which are oh so lovely with different size and price options depending on your needs. It makes for a great romantic getaway, a perfect spot for any artist or writer to get some alone time, as this place allows for truly reflective moments and inspiration, and could also be a nice getaway for a family if you want to introduce your kids to the powers of nature and astronomy. Remember that in most urban areas and even small towns, we have so much noise and light pollution in our skies that we don’t see the stars in the same way you will in the Turks and Caicos. A few shots taken below are of the area in and around Blue Horizon’s property, which has a restaurant overlooking the ocean.

Walking down to the inlet where you can swim on a beautiful sandy beach that is protected.

Bone Fishing

Middle Caicos is apparently famous for bone fishing.  Who knew? Bone fishing is no doubt, an art and the first step is to pinpoint the prey. It turns out that bonefish anglers don’t rely on luck, but rather a keen sense of sight and the ability to cast a fly rod pretty well. With fish living in shallow water, the banks of the Turks and Caicos attract bone fishing lovers from around the world.

It is said that on a clear day  you can spy bonefish up to 100 feet away. If you don’t see the silvery fish directly, it turns out that you might see its shadow on the sand or bits of sediment lurking, which are all signs of feeding bonefish as they dig up crab and shrimp. No, we didn’t go bone fishing due to lack of time, but I’m keen to learn more about it and who knows, perhaps even try it on a future trip to the Turks and Caicos.

Photo credit: Island Life and Times

The Indian Cave

Near the old cotton fields, there’s a well known Indian Cave off the main road into Middle Caicos. It’s a bit Indiana Jones-like in spots but not really overwhelming or frightening largely because it’s high and consists of only a one single gallery cave with tons of openings and skylights.  Like nearly all sinkholes and caves found in the Turks and Caicos, Indian Cave was created by what is called the Karst Process: the slow action of slightly acidic rain water that dissolved the the limestone. Inside, you can find barn owls, bats, Cuban crows, yellow crowned night herons and anis, as well as giant blue land crabs although we didn’t come across any during our visit.

It feels damp when you’re inside, which makes it easy for native plants and papaya trees to grow. They believe that there were habitants here pre-Columbus and in the 1990′s they did an archeological dig which resulted in some fascinating finds, including ancient pottery, bones and fossils of many animals, such as an extinct tortoise and giant iguana, small reptiles, owls, parrots and hawks.

I was mesmerized looking up although there was plenty to explore in the nooks, crannies, walls and floor of the cave as well. The lighting when we were there was magnificent and it was hard to leave, knowing that it would be a very different place after the sun went down.

The Sunsets

Speaking of the sun setting, there are so many great places to catch breathtaking sunsets here every night however many swear by the views and sunsets at Pumpkin Bluff in North Caicos. The beach that runs along here is absolutely breathtaking and in between, you’ll come across limestone hills and cliffs like much of North Caicos. The water is clear and warm and it’s also centrally located, but is still somewhat secluded, so the chance of you having to share the beach with a ton of others is low depending on what time of year you visit.  Of course, the beach at Blue Horizon is also a stunning spot as well as from any of the nearby trails where you can walk to from there on Middle Caicos.

Below, a group shot taken at Pumpkin Bluff!


You can hire a boat from to take you out to more remote waters of the Barrier Reef for either diving if you have equipment or snorkeling – Miss Susie helped us set this up and our driver did have snorkeling gear to accommodate around ten of us. Compared to Provo, snorkeling on North Caicos and Middle Caicos comes up a bit short. Middle Caicos does offer some really excellent sites when the ocean conditions are flat and calm, but such conditions can be especially uncommon during the winter months. The only decent site on North Caicos is Three Marys Cays which we explored one day.

Above, on the boat out to the coral reef

Because it was fairly windy, the waves were fairly rough at times, but once you made your way under the water, a magical wonderland of fish and coral emerged. I used my Olympus Tough TG-4 waterproof camera which I first reviewed last November to take these shots. We were lucky to see a black fin shark, stingrays, brain coral and plenty of small colorful reef fish in yellows, neon greens and bright blues. Be sure to read my separate write-up on Snorkeling in the Turks and Caicos Islands, which has a lot more photos of my experience.


The Turks and Caicos is known for its unpolluted skies and one of the reasons it is such a great place to visit if you’re an astronomy lover. There’s apparently a light pollution app that shows you where to find the most unpolluted skies, aka the darkest skies around the world. Although I did bring my Canon 7D with me and a few tripods in case others could use, I never managed to quite capture the incredible stars from my camera despite magic moments under those dark skies. We mostly star gazed at Pumpkin Bluff and from Blue Horizon on Middle Caicos. Another great spot is Wild Cow Run, where you can spot the Milky Way and catch great shots of stars like Jeff Pulver managed to do below.

Photos by Jeff Pulver (Instagram feed here: http://www.instagram.com/jeffkenipulver) | Collage of Jeff’s photos by SpiritSoulLove on Instagram: http://www.instsagram.com/spiritsoullove

West Caicos

While I didn’t visit West Caicos, it supposedly has the best diving spots despite the fact that it’s only nine square miles and uninhabited. On the island is Lake Catherine, a nature reserve that boasts incredible bird life.  There are also ruins on West Caicos called Yankee Town, which include an osprey’s nest crest, a sisal press, railroad and steam engine, all apparently evidence of civilization that once existed on the island.

Photo credit: Turks and Caicos Tourism

Salt Cay

This is a super tiny island at only 2.5 square miles and incredibly remote. Since I didn’t go here during my last trip, this information has largely been collected from the tourism board and their suggestions for what to do and see. According to them, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported back in time.

In the 1600′s, this island was apparently the center of the Bermudian Salt Industry, and while not much is left, you can still see the olden wind mills, a majestic white house which is still owned and preserved by descendants of the original Bermudian Salt Rakers and most of the homes are built in Bermuda style. There’s only around 80 inhabitants, so you could likely meet them all if you tried.

“Be Transported Back in Time!!”

Visit the ruins at Taylor’s Hill for one of the most breathtaking views on the island. This is a great spot for whale watching from January through April when whales come flocking to the waters in and around Salt Cay and birding is the other big thing of noteworthiness here.


Photo credit: Turks and Caicos Tourism 

Grand Turk

As mentioned above, Grand Turk is where all the cruise ships stop, so it’s more commercial and built up than any other spot in the Turks and Caicos. It is also the first place that Christopher Columbus stopped on his way to the “New World” in 1492.  Cockburn Town is the main hub where you’ll find historical architecture, Colonial style buildings, ruins, the Turks and Caicos Museum and operators where you can book a diving trip, which it is very known for with its protected coral reef which apparently drops to around 8,000 feet in some spots. Depending on the time of year you go, you can also catch humpback whales even from the shores. You can also taste conch and learn about the importance of conch in the area and its history.

Although I didn’t try them, I’ve been told that Oasis Divers offer good expeditions with dives that have visibility averages of 100 feet and water temperatures of between 82°-84° in the summer and only down to 74°-78° in the winter. Apparently they dive in small groups and you can see a variety of marine life, from Manta Rays, Spotted Eagle Rays, Nassau Groupers and turtles to stingrays, schools of horse-eyed jacks, puffers, trumpetfish, snappers and more.

Photo credit: Oasis Divers

East Caicos

This place looks stunning and also very remote, so it depends on whether you want access to more restaurants, activities and people, or be completely off the grid, or in the case of North Caicos, in between, although remember even on North Caicos, there are very few restaurants and no ATM. East Caicos is an uninhabited island but is larger than the other remote islands of the group at 18 square miles. For the most part, it is made up of swamps and mangroves although there is a 17 mile beach on the northcoast of the island, but mostly used by sea turtles to lay their eggs because of so many mosquitos – be forewarned.  Close to Jacksonville in the northwest of the island, there are a bunch of caves and although there was once a sisal plantation and a cattle industry here, it is now deserted.

Photo credit: Turks and Caicos Tourism

South Caicos

South Caicos is all about deep sea and bone fishing, birding, history, seafood dishes and diving.  They also refer to South Caicos as “The Big South,” since it is the fishing capital of the islands, so there’s no shortage of seafood here, from fresh fish to lobster and conch. South Caicos is also home to the annual Big South Regatta each May.

The harbor town Cockburn Harbor boasts a ton of history — check out the 18th century Commissioner’s House where Queen Elizabeth once stayed, the old salt works, the iguana preserve on Long Cay, the Boiling Hole, which fed the salt pans that once made South Caicos the islands’ largest producer of salt and of course its bird life. If you love flamingoes, then this is a great spot to photograph them. You’ll notice remnants of both British and Bermuda heritage, which is also reflected in the architecture and narrow streets.

For snorkelers and divers, marine life you may be able to see here under the sea include sharks, eagle rays, loggerhead turtles, spotted rays, octopus and barracudas. Unlike some of the more remote islands, there are connecting flights, a TCI Ferry and boat charters to get here.


Photo credit: SouthCaicos.com


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The Travel Guide to Karlovy Vary Beyond Thermal Springs & Storybook-Like Walks

October 9, 2016 by  


Since the Medieval Era, Karlovy Vary has been renowned for the healing properties of its thermal spring waters in removing toxins and purifying the body. Rich in minerals, potassium, calcium and magnesium, the water has been referred to by Europeans as ‘The miracle mineral water’ since as far back as the 18th century. An added benefit of Karlovy Vary (also known as Karlsbad), is that the town and surrounding area is remarkably beautiful with its storybook-like promenade and houses that run along the river. It makes for a great side trip from Prague since its easy to get to and is relatively close by bus or car. Additionally, this western Bohemian picturesque town is surrounded by both cultural and nature activities in addition to its positive wellness benefits. Stunning, right? Join me on a journey through Karlovy Vary where I’ll recommend fun things to do, see, eat and drink there, the latter being the main reason people go and I don’t mean alcohol.

The architecture is another thing about Karlovy Vary; see the uniformed yet beautiful row of houses that run along the river and well, me…hamming it up in the foreground.

We stayed at the Hotel Imperial Spa and Health Club which sits on a hill on the outskirts of town and is surrounded by mountain views on all sides; it is quite simply put, majestic and breathtaking, and well worth a visit. To get to the center of town, you can drive, or you can take a tram down which is a short walk from the hotel. You’ll want to spend some time at the hotel if you do opt to stay there, largely because the natural environment and views are so stunning that it makes it hard to leave paradise. They also have a pool, two hot tubs, a gym and fitness center, tennis court, a traditional English bar and more to keep you busy on the premises. Take a look at this view from my bedroom balcony – enuf said!

Let’s start by exploring the first reason people come to this Czech spa town — the WATER!!

Thermal Waters

There are thermal waters throughout the town but unlike spa town Marianske Lazne where all the springs are cold, much of Karlovy Vary’s water is hot.  Since the 16th century, the spring and the geyser of hot mineral water was covered by many structures: the Baroque building, the Classicism colonnade, cast-iron or a temporary wooden colonnade.  This geyser apparently yields an average of 2,000 litres of mineral water per minute and currently, it is the only source used for bathing however the Hot Spring is also used for drinking cures. The Colonnade area contains a total of five containers with thermal water at the various temperatures of 72, 57 and 41 °C. Due to the pressure, this column of hot spring water can spurt up to 12 meters.

Below, a few examples of spa cups which you can purchase throughout the town and the region, although Karlovy Vary is probably the most widely known.

People visit the spring with their spa cups and fill it up on the spot, sipping slowly over the course of around five minutes and then they refill their cups. They strongly recommend that you consult with a doctor before drinking the water cures as some may have a negative impact depending on conditions you may have. On the Orchard Colonnade, we tasted the Snake’s Spring which was about 30 degrees C and has less minerals than the other springs, but a higher amount of CO2.  We visited all of the springs on what’s referred to as the Mill Colonnade, which include the Rock Spring (53 degrees C), the Libuse Spring (62 degrees C), the Prince Vaclav I and II Springs) and the Mill Spring, which was originally only used for baths.  There are also springs on what they call the Market Colonnade, the Chateau Colonnade, and the Thermal Spring Colonnade, where the Vřídlo Spring aka the Thermal Spring lives, which is at a piping hot 72 degrees C. 

The Imperial Karlovy Vary where we stayed, uses almost 20% of the thermal waters, which is the biggest consumer of the thermal mineral water in Karlovy Vary for balneology use. The Thermal Spring is led directly to the Hotel Imperial and Spa Resort Sanssouci.

Here’s a video of me tasting Spring number 9 in the center of town at the Mill Collonnade.

Below, is a video of the hottest spring in Karlovy Vary, which is not used for drinking.

Western Bohemia Spa Towns & Energy

Sure, there’s Podebrady in Central Bohemia, Luhacovice in Moravia (fabulous wine here too btw) and Janske Lazne in the north but Karlovy Vary and heavenly Marianske Lazne, which is drivable and makes for a good four day excursion away from Prague, is a must do for your bucket list, especially if you’re into wellness. After all, this is where you fill up that spa cup of yours and sample sample sample. As mentioned above, they do recommend medical supervision so best to chat with your doc about your visit before you begin tasting (they strongly suggested it everywhere we went although we did taste of course, just not in large quantities)

As a spa town, there’s no shortage of treatments you can take from traditional massage to bubble baths (which we did at Hotel Imperial on our first day), to facials, mud wraps and more. Most hotels also have jacuzzis, pools and saunas.

Pool at the Imperial — two hot tubs are to the left and in the corner, there’s a thermal bath tub where you can relax in thermal waters with an appointment

A Stroll Down the Promenade

Strolling through town serves two purposes: first, its beautiful, so it will be a feast for the eyes, but secondly, you’ll pass some of the fountains in the town where you can fill up on that healing water everyone talks about. The quiet promenade sits between the ornate facades of noble houses in bright happy colors, all of which are surrounded by richly decorated colonnades. Add Mlynska Colonnade to the visual magic and you’ve got a storyland-like town with a whole lot to offer. Here, you can experience the town’s hot healing water by simply filling it up in your porcelain “spa cup,” which looks a little different than a traditional tea cup. When you do fill up your cup at whatever fountain you happen to be at, you might feel a bit in awe knowing that Peter the Great, Maria Theresa, Goethe and yes, even Beethoven and Bach have drunk from the same source.

The river is just such an exquisite walk — if you look left, you’ll have the best views of nature and architecture and if you look right, you’ll be hit with shops and cafes galore.

 There are also plenty of bistros and cafes, including Cafe Elefant, which apparently has a notable history.

Then there’s those picturesque storybook-like houses that line the collonade and the river for about as far as you can walk through the town itself….

Below, a magical fountain in the center of town, too hot and too thermal to drink, but what a majestic presence it has.

Traditional Kolonada

Ever have a traditional Czech wafer? Other European countries have them too but the Kolonada is the most traditional delicious one I’ve ever tasted. In downtown Karlovy Vary, they have a shop where you can buy the traditional wafer as well as an assortment of a zillion different flavors, from vanilla, hazelnut and cinnamon to chocolate, tiramasu (which I had to buy), lemon and more.

Wafers were inherent to spa life in the 18th century and at the time, they were the most favored sweets. Let’s face it, communion wafers were produced since the Middle Ages on an open fire in a metal forceps called oplatecnice but later, oplatecnice started to be used for cooking round wafers. Baking molds are made of bronze and round wafer sheets are aged at a certain temperature and humidity for four weeks before sintering with nut mix that is poured manually today. One word to describe the tasting experience: Scrumptious!! I returned to the states with four boxes.

The Moser Glass Museum and Glassworks Factory

Let’s face it, if you’ve traveled long enough or are an art or glass lover, you’re bound to know about the world famous Bohemian glass. Truth be told, I’ve always been more of a pottery and ceramic lover than glass, but when you’re in Bohemia, you can’t not marvel at the artistry, especially since it’s a cut above other glass works you’ll likely see on your journeys. It’s such a cut above the rest, that I even bought myself a little bowl before leaving the Czech Republic. One of the best places in the country to learn about Bohemian glass and to purchase it, is at Moser Glass Museum and Glassworks Factory

Here, we had a full tour of the factory which included seeing how the glass was blown in real-time. It was so fascinating and the tour was done so well and in-depth, that I wrote a separate piece on it which you can find here – you’ll also be able to watch some video I shot of the experience, well worth watching.

Outside, a glass spectacle that greeted us as we arrived.

Inside, there’s no shortage of incredible glass pieces you can purchase after you marvel at “glass making in the real-time.”

Becher Museum

The town’s herb liqueur Becherov has been around since 1807 so can boast a long history with the drink both locally and worldwide. The percentage of alcohol in Becherovka is around 38% and essential to its specific taste are Karlovy Vary spring water, good quality spirit, sugar and a special blend of around 32 herbs and spices. The recipe is a closely guarded secret, which apparently only two men at the Becherovka factory know.  Herbs included in the traditional recipe come from nearby fields and farms but also from Asia and Africa and they’re mixed with alcohol and macerated for about a week. The Karlovy Vary water is important to the mix as is the right amount of sugar and alcohol of course. Apparently they don’t include any preservatives or artificial colors just like the early days of creating the liqueur.

The museum includes a tour, which gives you a comprehensive overview of the history behind the drink and the family that made it famous: the Bechers. Also included in the tour is tasting, everyone’s favorite part. You typically drink it cold on its own (we did during our tasting) but it’s also popular as an ingredient in mixed drinks. ‘Beton’ – Becherovka and tonic – is a popular concoction in some parts of the world, but Becherovka can also be mixed with other sodas or juice for example.

Even though the herbal creation is still produced by the Jan Becher company, the brand is now owned by Pernod Ricard. It tastes like there’s ginger and cinnamon in the mix but it’s hard to figure out every spice in this textured drink. Becherovka is known as the “thirteenth spring” and its creator, Josef Vitus Becher, spent two years to improve its recipe before launching it into the market. While there is the traditional and original liquor, which we tasted, there’s also a lemon version as well as a sweeter one they tout all women will love, although none of the women in our group did. Truth be told, everyone preferred the original recipe although the lemon variation is a nice alternative for a post meal drink in place of a dessert.

In addition to purchasing it at the factory and museum, there are places you can get it downtown well of course — Kolanada wafers and Bechers together anyone?

Details: Jan Becher Museum | T. G. Masaryka 57 | 360 01 Karlovy Vary | +420 359 578 142 | http://www.becherovka.com 

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

Did you know that Richard Gere was in Karlovy Vary in 2015 to help celebrate the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival’s 50 year anniversary? It is known to be one of the most prestigious in the world and every July, celebs flock here to walk the red carpet, party and watch films.  Each year the festival presents the premieres of more than 200 new films from around the world, and the “best” gets awarded what they refer to as the Crystal Globe during the closing ceremony.  Attendees include film and social celebrities and film fans and during the several day event, there are concerts, ceremonies, parties and press conferences. For example, last year, they had 415 filmmakers, 1,064 film pros and 588 journalists, so its clearly an event that is widely covered by the press.

We took a tour of the Hotel Thermal, which is where the bulk of the event is held, but screenings are held virtually throughout the city. Of the 200 films that were shown, 166 were feature films, 34 were documentaries, 21 films received their world premiere, 25 had their international premiere and 9 their European premiere.  Below are a few shots we took during our tour through the hotel in the areas where the festival is held every summer.

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