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

Mendocino’s Brewery Gulch Inn, a Cozy Romantic Getaway

January 21, 2016 by  

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Imagine a rustic inn with views like this one, but with all the amenities and coziness of home on the shores of northern California. Enter the Brewery Gulch Inn in Mendocino California, which contrary to it’s name, doesn’t have a brewery on-site. That said, it does boast a ton of history, from as far back as 1851 when logging was a big industry in the area. The eco-salvaged, virgin-growth redwoods from the time was what built the original Brewery Gulch Inn, which then and today, provides views of the Pacific Ocean and is nestled among spruce and pine trees.

The property is situated on a sylvan hillside overlooking Smuggler’s Cove and the Pacific — the large handcrafted wooden door at the entrance is mighty impressive. As you enter the main reception area, you’re greeted with more eco-salvaged redwood, a redwood and granite reception desk and a soaring glass and steel wood burning fireplace. If you had a chill before you arrived, the gentleness and great fung shui of the main lobby area is sure to warm you up. The main sitting area has plenty of light with its 14 foot ceilings, redwood-framed tall windows facing ocean views and artisan floors, which all have radiant heat and are stained in a deep, rich leather red. I loved the inside decor of the main building.

Below are photos taken facing the outside of our room after breakfast one morning. The charming feeling of the inn itself makes you feel as if you’re visiting a grandmother somewhere in the country, a place you’d like to sit back and relax for awhile while watching the days pass you by. They also have Rustic Adirondack-like chairs outside in the main sitting area as well as directly in front of the rooms, many of which face the sea.

Speaking of views, just down the road — a stone’s throw from the property — you can take in views like this one, where there are lovely trails you can hike or simply have a picnic. We were there in late December and while it was nippy, it wasn’t too cold to take leisurely afternoon walks.

The lobby area is frankly where you find yourself hanging out when you’re not taking in the natural beauty around the property. They offer a ton of games, movies, and books for you to partake in during your stay and hot tea, coffee and biscuits always seem to be on offer. In fact, they boast a 500+ DVD collection and to unwind you while you take in a movie, there’s landscape art and photography scattered throughout the property.

Take a look at the massive sized Scrabble and Chess Tables – we even went back in time one rainy evening and played Monopoly until after 1 am — t’was nostalgic to say the least!

The inn also provides scrumptious breakfasts every morning, and coffee is served in their charming Brewery Gulch mugs, which come in both dark green and blue. Scones are on the counter and there’s always fresh water infused with fruit and lemon. In addition to the bread baskets and scones, they have what they refer to as a classic BGI Breakfast, their signature dish in the morning, which consists of two organic eggs, BGI Millionaire’s bacon, Yukon Gold potato cake, fruit and toast.  You can also get other options as well such as a Peg’s Roast Beef Hash and Eggs, brown rice farina and even a Mango-Calamansi Lassi – YUM!!

What’s unique about the inn is that they offer breakfast and what they refer to as a light buffet dinner every day for guests which is included in the cost of your stay. Note that their dinners only run for an hour though and are on the early side, so you may not want to dine there every evening because of that limitation. That said, you should at least try it one night as the spread is delicious, fresh and healthy — they had turkey and beef, string beans, sauteed Asian style, cabbage salad and a variety of other healthy side dishes – oh so delish! And, of course, there is both white and red wine available as well for the duration of the meal. As you can see, they choose warm colors to add extra warmth to the overall experience. Two thumbs up!

They also offer picnic lunches, wine and cheese and romance baskets, have a gift shop of unique finds from around the area and a concierge on site to help you with activities like canoeing, kayaking, scuba diving, biking, golf, tennis, horseback riding, hiking, wine tours, spa appointments and more.

The rooms, albeit classical and traditional, also have a modern flare. Our room was apparently just remodeled so a new bathroom had just been installed before we arrived. Think clean lines in a classic Arts and Crafts style, but with the modern amenities you’d want and expect from a little luxury inn. The rooms also feature the eco-salvaged redwood, as do the windows and deck railings. What I loved about the beautiful wood throughout is that each timber seems to differ from the next, with mineralization adding subtle red, purple and blonde tones to the finish.

There are ten spacious guest rooms that are scattered across three levels. In our room and others we saw, there were gas-lit fireplaces and ours plus seven others have private decks.  Each room has a hardwood desk, leather club chairs in front of the fireplaces and alpaca throws. Even though it wasn’t too cold while we were there, it was nice to know that they had down comforters and plush robes. Although our room didn’t have a tub, five rooms showcase large two person tubs, which is great if you’re thinking of a romantic getaway.

One other thing to note is their hospitality. While we were there, we were working on a presentation which included video taping and they were so generous that they provided us with magic markers, scrap paper, tape, scissors and highlighters to make our practice sessions that much more efficient!

Two thumbs up! We’d return in a heartbeat.

DETAILS:

Brewery Gulch Inn

9401 North Highway 1

Mendocino, CA 

www.brewerygulchinn.com

707.937.4752 or 800.578.4454

5 California Wines We Absolutely Love…

January 21, 2016 by  

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If you’ve been reading us for awhile, you know that we love trying new wines from unknown spots around the world. We’ve covered wine in Portugal, Argentina, Australia and Hungary – some of the reds which never get exported are some of the best values I’ve found.

We love French Bordeaux and Italian Borolo’s (bring ‘em on) and it was hard to find a wine I didn’t fall in love with in South Africa on each and every trip. Remember that I lived in South Africa twice which gave me additional opportunities to taste their wines on a regular basis, including ones that never make it out of the country. And, this past fall, I got excited by Austrian winery Hopler when I was in Salzburg for the Sound of Music 50th Anniversary and now have some of their Gruner Veltliner at home. A cool factoid is that 70% of their wines are actually exported with the U.S. being the largest market.

Wine lovers know that the list goes on and on…..

While I’ve found gems in the least likely places like Upstate New York, we haven’t really covered this region yet, which is full of romantic getaway inns and B&B’s as well — it’s on the list. We’ve also done very little coverage on wines from Oregon, Paso Robles, Washington State, New Zealand, Spain, Germany and Chile, although all of these regions have bottles that will blow you away.  We even experienced a burgeoning wine growing scene just outside Jerome Arizona last year around this time — they even do tours of nearby vineyards in Wilcox, Jerome and Cottonwood. While still early and yet to prove themselves, my point is that there are many small regions around the world that produce fabulous wines, and yet Sonoma and Napa continue to produce some delicious and memorable wines year after year.

Northern California is easy for us since it’s so close to our backyard. Over the holidays, we explored a few wineries in Alexander Valley where the wine is less oak-infused and not as intense as some of its southern cousins because of the difference in soil. Along the trail east of Mendocino, we could have hit nearly thirty wineries and over 130 grape growers. Truth be told, as much as it’s great to discover unique wines with lovely texture and diversity elsewhere, California Cabs and Chardonnay’s remain among my favorites. Frankly, it’s a style I’m familiar with and simply love!

With that bias, let’s dive into some of my favorites;  some may be familiar to you and others may not. We reached out to them prior to the holidays as we were interested in exploring the best they had to offer, first at a gathering where others got to try them out and then over the last couple of weeks where we’ve been pairing them with various dishes.

Jordan Vineyard & Winery

If you’re a Chardonnay lover and familiar with California wines, you’ll likely know the name Jordan and if you’re not, order a mixed case from them and thank me later. I’ve been a fan of Jordan for as long as I can remember, so I wasn’t surprised to fall in love with their 2013 Chardonnay. They’re known for their scrumptious Chardonnay’s and it’s my favorite of their offerings.

They’ve been around for awhile (1972), and not atypical in the wine industry, the founders are a husband wife team: Tom and Sally Jordan. As story has it, they were inspired by French reds and wanted to be the first to create a Bordeaux-style California Cabernet Sauvignon. Located in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley, the vineyard has turned into a chateau that includes wine making facilities, guest suites, kitchen and dining areas all under one roof.

Actual “home” is Healdsburg CA, a charming town with a lot of fun restaurants, art galleries and antique stores.  Rather than the heavy oak-infused style you might traditionally think of, the 2013 Chardonnay is a lovely combination of passion fruit, persimmon and Granny Smith apples, with hints of Meyer lemon, Asian pear, honeydew melon and guava, a fruit flavor that is classic Russian River.  It was surprising and yet lovely to taste so much fruit in every layer and like the other Chards I’ve tasted from previous years, there is a creamy texture in your mid-palate, which is one of the characteristics I love so much about Jordan’s Chardonnay.

Their 2013 Chard is inoculated and fermented 14 days in roughly two-thirds French oak barrels and one-third stainless steel.  They did two months of sur-lie aging with some bâtonnage to heighten that creaminess for this particular year.

We tested it out with mixed salad (chopped romaine and spinach combo) with figs, avocado, pears and apples followed by grilled sea bass which we sauteed with fennel, dill and scallions. Green beans roasted with garlic ginger accompanied the seafood entree and we didn’t change wines throughout the course of the night — in other words, the Jordan 2013 Chardonnay happily serviced them all.

What I love most about their Chardonnay is its perfect balance and while there’s no doubt, the oak and vanilla of classic Chardonnay’s from the region are definitely there, I find that there are many more layers to surprise and delight, enough to melt my palette and take me away to another place for an hour or two. And, it lingers….deliciously so — two thumbs up!

Aged 100% in French oak for 6 months, 40% new oak, it is the combination of night-harvested Russian River Valley grapes, French oak aging and old-world wine making techniques that give you such a succulent finish and harmonious balance. The vineyard says it’s great to drink now through 2018 to take in the crème brûlée and preserved lemon characteristics that will develop with age.

Another thing to note is a great wooden gift box they offer. While the holidays may be over, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and there are plenty of other reasons aside to gift a box of delicious and memorable wine. Both the 2011 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon and 2013 Jordan Chardonnay exude elegance and seamlessness and we are huge fans of both.

The Chardonnay is all about passion fruit, persimmon, Granny Smith apples, Meyer Lemon, Asian pear, honeydew melon and guava and the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is round, soft, and refined with flavors of red currant, freshly cut herbs, vanilla bean and allspice. Oh so yum! The set includes three 750mL bottles of each wine, packaged in a labeled wooden gift box.

The Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon is no doubt, incredibly special as well. Every vintage of Jordan Cab seems to have a silky tannin and bold lingering finish.  The diversity of their collection of crus—estate vineyard blocks that have more clay-rich soils like the Right Bank of Bordeaux and family grower parcels on mid-slope, well-drained Sonoma County vineyards with mineral-rich, gravelly soils reminiscent of Bordeaux’s Left Bank—is what provides that new world Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon that they’re known for.

We tested it out immediately without letting it breathe, once in a decanter for about an hour and another time using the Vinuti aerator. The blend is so delicious that while the aerator did give it a kick start on its opening, the wine kept changing as time marched on, making every aspect of the experience rich and oh so lovely.

If you’re a big bold Cabernet lover, then you might be — like me — dreaming of a diverse collection like this at home. While we clearly don’t have any 1980-something’s in our wine cellar, a woman can dream can’t she? Applause, applause for both years we tasted between mid December and early January with several different dishes and cheese types. (aged goat from Spain, provolone, mozzarella, new Pecorino, aged Gouda from Holland, to name a few). A major two thumbs up!!

Details:

Jordan Winery

1474 Alexander Valley Road

Healdsburg, CA 95448

www.jordanwinery.com.

Portalupi Wines

The name Portalupi was relatively new to me before I first ventured to Healdsburg and accidentally fell upon their tasting room in 2012. It is run by husband wife team Tim Borges and Jane Portalupi who did their first release back in 2002 and the style of many of their wines is, well….Italian! I love the history of this winery gem which continues to grow year after year. Rich with stories from the old world, I discovered that their inspiration comes from their Nonna, Marina Portalupi, who immigrated to Northern California from Piemonte, Italy who brought with her among other things, a history of wine making.

They largely focus on Italian varietals and include great releases of Zinfandel, Barbera, Pinot Noir, Charbono, and Vermentino. What’s cool is that they have a portfolio of small artisan growers they work with, making it feel about as old world and traditional as it gets.

Portalupi launched Vaso di Marina, an Italian blend bottled in a milk jug, when they opened their tasting room in 2011 – how cool is that? The origin of Vaso di Marina goes back to Marina Portalupi, who first bottled her wine in Italy for the village in a milk jug. Just as she had done in Italy, when she opened Luna Park Grocery in San Jose, California, she kept a small barrel of her vino di tavola to serve in her store.

Apparently Barbera is also a very important varietal to Portalupi so we wanted to taste their latest, the 2014 Barbera, Pauli Ranch.  I had to laugh when I read their description of it: Gutsy with depth and muscle! Gutsy it is and whether you’re a fan of classic Barbera or not, the wine is a great compliment to classic meat dishes – we even loved it with a prosciutto and cheese platter which we had before our main course one evening at home. Their Barbera delivers a whole lotta berries, which we tend to love, especially blueberry and with it, comes hints of black pepper and sweet leather. A combination of earth and old world flavor, their Barbera is a great wine to pair with pasta since it cuts down on the acidity of the richer dishes that northern Italians love so much.

Other great big bold reds they offer which are worth mentioning is their Old Vine Zinfandel, Dolinsek Ranch (from 108 year old vines), Zinfandel from Marcucci Farms and the Zinfandel from Serres Ranch.

Our favorite? While the Barbera was unique and worth trying, I’m a bit biased since Zin’s remain among my favorites even when I’m not going with a red meat dish. We absolutely fell in love with their Old Vine Zinfandel which paired perfectly with our New York Steak with string beans and roasted garlic, pineapple and roasted pepper couscous. We had a light blue cheese salad with fennel and grapefruit to start. Frankly, we were tempted to open another bottle it was so good — Bravo!

Their 2013 vintage has medium tannins and exudes berries with white pepper – we so loved this wine and tested it out with a couple of meals as well as with a plate of olives and sharp, earthy cheeses. Worth adding is that it also boasts a 91 from Wine Spectator.

The tasting room is a real treat as well. What’s nice is that while it is located in Northern California, you’re brought back into old world Italy when you hear about its rich history and taste its Italian style varietals. They are open 11-7:00 daily for wine tastings and reservations are not required.

If you are interested in a Food and Wine Pairing, they also feature local artisan cheeses and hand cured salumi, which they purposely pair with 4 of their most appropriate wines and it’s only $25 a person.

Details:

Portalupi Winery

107 North Street

Healdsburg, CA 95448

(707) 395-0960

www.portalupiwine.com.

Cannonball Wines

Also based in Healdsburg CA is Cannonball, a wine we more recently discovered although they’re no newcomer to the scene. Winemaker Dennis Hill’s knowledge of the best California Cabernet Sauvignon climates, soil types and vineyards, coupled with great relationships with premiere growers, is what allow them to leverage fine grapes. Their Cannonball 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is distinguished and scintillating from being aged for 15 months in French oak, 35% new oak – oh what a treat!

To be honest, we were surprised by its kick and its depth right out of the bottle. While it got better and the layers started to shine the longer it was open, our palettes were happy the moment they met this young wine.

Their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is also worth mentioning, as it has a lovely blend of traditional California and old world Bordeaux. This vintage was aged 15 months in French oak, 35% new oak. Get your nose ready for a whole lotta ripe mulberry, spiced black tea and purple floral notes and your taste buds ready for cherry flambé, Oaxacan chocolate and roasted hazelnut, all with a long and unstinting finish.

They say it pairs beautifully with lamb chops, roasted duck, cassoulet, black and bleu burger, grilled eggplant, Stilton cheese and dark chocolate chip cookies. We drank it with grilled lamb infused with garlic gloves, accompanied with roasted squash and sauteed brussels sprouts together with a hefty arugula salad, Pecorino cheese, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms.

They also have a delicious 2014 Chardonnay, which has scrumptious pear, apple, vanilla, lemon custard, peach and soft oak tones, followed by a creamy texture. The wine was a bit more “fruit forward” than the Jordan (we felt so anyway) and diverse enough to pair with a number of dishes, but roast chicken or turkey is a great direction to start if you want to “play.”
The Chardonnay was fermented and aged in 50% French oak and 50% stainless steel with 40% going through malolactic fermentation and has an interesting blend:  Sonoma County (70% Russian River, 17% Alexander Valley and 13% Sonoma Coast).  The wine is 100% Chardonnay from Sonoma County with tropical notes like pineapple, Granny Smith apple and vanilla bean on the finish.  Also imagine nectarine and wild honeysuckle veiled with hints of almond although I didn’t get as much of the honeysuckle as I did citrus.  Some say that there are flavors of white peach, brioche and quince compote, as well as vanilla and saffron. Sure to delight your palette, Cannonball wines are also reasonably priced making them a great buy for every day drinking.

Want to give them a try? Head up to Healdsburg where there are plenty of other gems to try as well.  You can also buy online if you’re not in the Northern California area anytime soon. Now on our list for “every day drinking wines at a reasonable price,” I’d suggest you order both their red and white and then let us know what you think in the comments below. We also check Twitter regularly and oh btw, so does Cannonball. They are pretty prolific on social media which we think is great!  They actually encourage people to post selfies of themselves drinking Cannonball on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Go #Cannonball!

Details:

Cannonball Wines

1290 Healdsburg Avenue

Healdsburg, CA 95448

www.drinkcannonball.com.

Angels & Cowboys

What a great name you’re probably thinking – I know I was when I first heard it. There must be an interesting story here, right? Angels & Cowboys is a collaboration between Cannonball Wine Company co-founders, Yoav Gilat and Dennis Hill, and Northern California graphic artist, Michael Schwab. The Angels & Cowboys journey began with a sentimental namesake, a bold, mysterious icon and an appreciation for down-to-earth wines. It’s a name and a wine that brings out the rebel buried inside all of us.

We started with their Rose, and I’ll be honest, I’m generally not  a fan of Rose, even at the best of times and from some of the best vineyards, so was reluctant to try one from a brand I never heard of before. Truth be told, I have had a Rose here and there over the years that have blown me away, but it’s rare.

For their 2014 Rose from Sonoma Valley, the grapes were lightly crushed and left to macerate on their skin. Once the juice achieved its perfect pale pink hue and began to show fragrant phenols from the skin-contact, the juice was pressed off the must then closely monitored while it underwent a long cool fermentation. Upon completion of fermentation, the Rosé aged on its yeast lees for a little over two months, creating great depth and texture.

The Angels & Cowboys Rosé is classic Oeil de Perdrix with a color that is light blush of pale gray and pink and its aromas are bright, mineral and ethereal with hints of pink grapefruit, white peach and spicy floral. On the palette, you get flavors of citrus blossoms and pink grapefruit.  For dish pairing, there are so many directions you can go….from vegetable dishes and spicy ethnic foods to sausage, roasted chicken and tangy salads. It also goes well with curries, Tandoori meats, seared tuna, any sushi, baked tofu, crab cakes, shrimp cocktails and ceviche.

The second time around, we tried it with a variety of Indian curries and had several people taste it, including those who only touch Chardonnay — yes, really. We received a positive reaction from everyone around the table except for one, so it fared well among a fairly critical group.

Let’s move onto their reds, which I favored over their Rose, most notably their 2013 Proprietary Red from Sonoma County. This Grenache, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo blend is sourced from Carneros in both Alexander and Dry Creek Valley. We tasted the French oak, rich fruit (think dark cherry, raspberry and fig), with exotic spices and molten dark chocolate. This is one big bold bottle of wine and at 14.8%, you’re getting a smooth and rich blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Malbec.

I love old world styles and while this gem is clearly a new wine, it’s oh so delish in its jamminess and woody earthy berries and rich textures that leave such a warm feeling on the palette.  Food pairing suggestions include Duck confit, Asian BBQ, skirt steak, hamburgers, grilled vegetables, charcuterie, harder cheeses like cheddar and gouda, hearty pizzas and rich pastas. Yum!

Details:

Angels & Cowboys Wines

Healdsburg, CA

www.angelsandcowboyswines.com.

Peju Wines

Based in Rutherford CA, this gem of a winery boasts a lot of history. Peju also has a 350 acre vineyard called Persephone in Pope Valley, a section of the Napa Valley Appellation a few miles to the northeast of Rutherford, and St. Helena separated by Howell Mountain and the Vaca Range. At an elevation of 2,000 feet, it is higher than Napa Valley, colder in winter, hotter in summer and without the abundance of water, but the region has been producing wine and wine grapes since the turn of the last century. Peju produces some delicious Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the classic Bordeaux blend from an area they refer to as the “HB Clone.”

Roughly 120 acres of the ranch was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in the late nineties, cloned from the HB Vineyard, as well as Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Zinfandel. I find that the textures and flavors from Pope Valley are a little more old world America — by that, I specifically mean earthy and full of mountain flavors.

I expected to first fall in love with their Cab, which I did but that wasn’t until spending two weeks with their 2014 Chardonnay, a mid-ranged bottle from Napa Valley which so easily pairs with a variety of dishes, including salmon, chicken and salads, which we made in abundance right after the holidays. The result of this 2014 Chard is just the way I like it – tons of vanilla and honeyed oak, but not so overbearing that you feel lost in an oak barrel like so many classic Napa Chards can do. Imagine a perfect blend of apple, oranges, vanilla and even a little peach and pear with the creaminess that the best oak-barreled Chards can deliver. Yum!

Their 2014 Chardonnay comes from the Persephone Vineyard and is aged 100% in French Oak, 25% new. You can get a case of it for only around $360 on site at their vineyard.

While we didn’t try it, their 2014 Sauvignon Blanc at only around $25 a bottle is a little fruitier for those who like less oak in the finish. Think pineapple, passion fruit, grapefruit and lychee on the nose and on the palate, guava, apricot and lemon tart. We’re keen to try it out on our next trip north.

Peju is so known for their red’s as well, from an inexpensive every day drinking wine like their Tess (Red Wine Blend) and Provence (California Red & White Blend), which is perfect for barbecues and lazy Sundays, to their richer 2011 Piccolo, the 2012 Cabernet and 2012 Zinfandel. The 2012 Cab, which is our favorite of the bunch is all about berries and anise, which I grew up on so anytime a l’il anise hits my palette, I feel comfortable and cozy regardless of whether the wine is best suited for the dish in front of me at the time. Oh so delish and rich, my palette was excited by its rasberry, cherry and anise blend, with just a little cocoa, caramel and mocha to make you want to kick back and sip it slowly all evening long.

Note that we first tested this Cab first immediately after it hit the glass, then through the Vinturi aerator and then an hour later after decanting it. It drank best at around an hour into the meal, which would be after letting it open for roughly an hour and a half in total. I was surprised how well the aerator did with this wine however, accelerating it just enough to make that first sip a little better, although I know purists would be more likely to agree with letting it open slowly in the decanter.

Their 2013 Barrel Experiment Cabernet Sauvignon looks intriguing to us although we’ve yet to taste it – rich and round, this one boasts flavors of plum, cigar box and creme de menthe for the more daring among you. Steak lovers should order some of their Cab, the 2012 Zinfandel (think blackberry, boysenberry, brown sugar, black pepper and green peppercorn) and their 2012 Reserve Cabernet Franc (dark fruit, violets, green peppercorn, raspberry tart, dried cherries, rosemary and sage). You won’t be disappointed.

We’re huge fans of the Peju family of wines and I always try to stop in when I’m near Rutherford to taste their latest and greatest. We were fortunate enough to be able to spread our tasting experiment out over the course of a month and a half, pairing both their Cab and Chard with a variety of dishes, from steak, lamb, veal, tartare, salads, sauteed earthy vegetables, cod, salmon and tuna respectfully.

Next time you get to Napa, put them on your tasting (and buying) list.  Their winery is incredibly historical and you feel it as soon as you enter their hand-crafted wooden doors of the new copper roofed, stone-faced tasting room tower. The ceiling is majestic and there are loads of books on food, wine and Napa Valley history to browse through; crystal decanters and wineglasses, wine openers and accessories, local olive oils, custom made mustards, and other delectables. Afterwards, meander up to the Brazilian cherry wood tasting bar and give your palette a treat. The Peju Province Winery tasting room is open daily from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., except on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. A $25 tasting fee is refundable with purchase of wine.

Details:

Peju Province Winery

8466 St Helena Highway

Rutherford, CA 94573

(707) 963-3600

www.peju.com.


Wellness Makes Big Splash at New York Times Travel Show

January 18, 2016 by  

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 This year’s New York Times Travel Show at the Jacob Javit’s Center in New York seemed to be busier than ever on opening day Saturday January 9. For the first time, The New York Times Travel Show created a Pavilion entirely devoted to Wellness Travel, with the assistance of wellness travel journalist and consultant Anne Dimon, CEO of Travel-to-Wellness.

I was thrilled that they dedicated an entire section of the conference to health and wellness since I’m a huge believer in holistic living, organic eating and exercise as a formula for being healthy and you can’t separate that approach to life when you’re on the road. Let’s take a look at some of the health and wellness gems I discovered at the show, some I had known for years and others, I hadn’t heard of before a month ago. If you’re not integrating wellness into your travel agendas, perhaps some of these retreats and experiences will encourage you to re-think how, why and where you travel.

Art of Living Retreat Center

The Art of Living Retreat Center is a unique wellness destination for travelers heading to America’s South Atlantic and lower Mid-Atlantic region. With a big focus on both spirituality and wellness, they offer a range of programs throughout the year that cater to guests who are looking for experiences of healing, personal transformation, inner peace, stillness and communion with nature, a favorite pastime of mine. They’re perched on a mountaintop in the Blue Ridge Mountains and are within driving distance of Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh and Washington DC. I’d also argue that it makes a great getaway retreat from Philly and New York City.

Part of the center is a Shankara Ayurveda Spa, a spa dedicated to the ancient healing traditions of Ayurveda. For those of you not familiar with Ayurveda, experience it — the results can be powerful! At Shankara, their main programs include weekend retreats and deep Ayurvedic cleanses, which gently cleanse, detox and revitalize the system with ancient combinations of therapies and diet. The cleanses last from 4-8 days and include personal consultations with an Ayurvedic Health Practitioner. There’s plenty of yoga classes on-site as well for the serious yogi’s among you.

In addition to on-site programs, yoga and spa facilities, they offer other unique retreats throughout the year. For example, coming up in February is a Sahaj Samadhi Meditation Retreat, where they offer an effortless meditation technique that infuses the mind with peace, clarity and creativity.  In March, they’re offering an Art of Living Happiness Program with Sudarshan Kriya where you can discover your unlimited power and freedom and a Yoga and Mindfulness Retreat, where you’ll experience yoga, Ayurveda and Living Yoga 4 Peace.  For the more advanced yoga practitioners among you, if you’ve ever thought of teaching, they offer a 30 day yoga teacher training and certification in April.

At the New York Times Travel event last weekend, they offered complimentary Ayurvedic assessments for guests who would like to know more about their personal constitution (called prakriti or dosha). Kim Rossi, the director of the spa, presented on “Increase Energy & Reduce Stress through the Ayurvedic Daily Routine” and “Natural Weight Balancing through the Ayurvedic Daily Routine.”

They have a unique offering called Taste of PK, which is deep Ayurveda Cleansing. It includes 3 nights and 4 days in a Spa room, daily meals, 5 Ayurveda Treatments customized to your needs, and daily Meditation and Yoga. Their Taste Of PK cleanses your system on the physical, emotional and even spiritual level through an ancient, time-tested regimen of healing time, therapeutic treatments, diet and Ayurvedic lifestyle education. This shortened version of the full Panchakarma offers an immersive experience in an Ayurveda lifestyle of health and wellness and a taste of PK with a more flexible schedule, which is great for people who don’t have enough time to dedicate to a longer program.

BodyHoliday in St. Lucia

BodyHoliday in St. Lucia is a unique combination of one of the world’s most beautiful islands, an all-inclusive resort that provides a truly luxurious and personal service, a Wellness Center that provides a range of treatments and a range of activities that could keep you busy from dawn until dusk.

This all inclusive resort’s Wellness Center has apparently been voted as one of the best spas in St Lucia and the BodyHoliday, one of the top all-inclusive resorts in the world. Renowned for their treatments, therapies and activities, they offer everything from archery to SCUBA, spinning to Pilates, and Ayurvedic treatments to Reiki. Twice a year, they also run a yoga retreat, two months dedicated to help yoga lovers improve their skills.

Set on a very private cove in the north west of the island, the BodyHoliday is very private and is centered around core pillars – relaxation, restorative beauty, exercise and good diet.   They currently run 6 specialized treatment courses that are designed around these key therapies and practices.  Dedicated to the pursuit of optimal wellness, BodyScience uses cutting edge technologies, such as DNA testing which is powerful. Combined with the preventative Eastern approach to well-being, the program takes a personalized health, fitness and nutrition programs to the next level.

A BodyScience program starts by the collection of a broad range of information about an individual’s physiology and biochemistry to identify imbalances in the body and mind that impact on wellness. BodyScience utilizes both Western science and Ayurvedic principles to gather all the data. Their programs are based on non-invasive diagnostics that are able to detect imbalances in key nutrient and hormone systems (including stress hormone assessment), heart and circulation health and stress reserve measurements. Correct “anti-inflammatory” diet, appropriate exercise, and appropriate food with natural and hormone supplements can make a huge difference.

By correcting sluggish metabolism people will tend to feel a sense of vitality and well-being that they did not feel before. One thing to add here is that given that I travel so much, I find that there are more foods in the states that encourage inflammation than ever before because of people’s reliance on fast food and processed food. A program like this could help you identify what you are eating that may be causing pain and other issues.

Some of their programs below:

The De-stress Health Program uses scientific lab tests to discover your body’s stress status at a physiological level. Based on the results, BodyScience provides a unique nutrition and lifestyle plan to help the body handle stress and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

The Fitness Program includes appropriate and reliable lab tests, which can give an insight into how your body is genetically pre-disposed to certain exercise regimes. It highlights any nutritional or functional deficiencies, so that you can address them, fuel your body appropriately and get the most out of your training. It is also possible from the tests to discover how the body recovers and repairs after training. The results can be further improved with the correct nutrients.

The Weight Management 360° Program uses scientific laboratory tests to evaluate hormones, genetic predisposition to weight gain, inflammation and food sensitivities all of which are important considerations when striving for optimal weight loss and maintenance. Based on laboratory test results, you receive your own personalised dietary and exercise plan, which addresses any biochemical imbalances and subsequently influences how you achieve and maintain your healthy weight.

The Healthy Aging Program identifies where your body needs extra support to slow down the aging process, and to function optimally. The results form the basis of a detailed bespoke health plan that is designed to restore more youthful function and support your body in ageing gracefully providing vitality whilst also looking great.

The Digestive Health Program investigates the cause of your symptoms and discomfort by using state of the art laboratory tests. Based on the results, you will be provided with a personal nutrition and lifestyle plan with the aim of restoring digestive health and comfort.

The Detox Health Program uses scientific lab tests to discover your body’s detoxification status. Based on the results, you receive a nutrition and lifestyle plan to help you optimize your detoxification.

They also do something called Ayurveda Ecstasy which is from South India. It is a two day program that focuses on your physical, mental and emotional levels using the best combination of four of the most popular Ayurveda therapies – Synchronized Abhyanga massage, Mukhalepam, Udvartana and Shirodhara.

Photo credit: www.telegraph.co.uk

Canyon Ranch

I’ve always been a fan of Canyon Ranch’s mission and have heard nothing but positive things from friends who have spent time at one of their properties. For those not familiar with them, they’re among the top in wellness resorts and now, they have properties on land and at sea. At the New York Times Travel Show, they co-hosted a relaxation lounge in the Wellness Pavilion and offered complimentary hand treatments from some of their top Canyon Ranch in Lenox massage therapists.

They also boast a number of philanthropic and community partners which help them provide such extraordinary experiences at their resorts.  Although I haven’t been to one of their locations yet (it’s on the list), the experience goes beyond your traditional spa experience. Canyon Ranch Founder Mel Zuckerman dubbed this distinction the Special Personalized Adventure. Expert Program Advisors are on-site to help you create an agenda that is personalized for your needs, interests and issues.

The property I’ve known about for years, largely because I lived in Boston for so long, is Lenox Massachusetts, however they also have a resort in Las Vegas and the Sonoran Desert around Tucson Arizona (below). Outside the country, you can veg out in Kaplankaya, Turkey or on a cruise ship — it’s called SpaClub at Sea.

Above, morning yoga at their Arizona location — don’t discount the power that a natural and pure environment can have on your well-being.

2016 is set to be an exciting year for Canyon Ranch and they highlighted many of the projects and initiatives at the show, including The Residences at Bellefontaine, their first condo living community at the Canyon Ranch in Lenox and the launch of their first international property, Canyon Ranch Wellness Resort at Kaplankaya.

They offer something they refer to as the Life Enhancement Program, which is designed for people who are looking for a first-hand experience in all-healthy living. This enlightening, engaging experience has helped thousands of people take positive, permanent steps toward reaching – and often surpassing – personal aspirations. The highly effective Life Enhancement Center preventive health program is currently being adapted by the Canyon Ranch Institute, for residents of one of the poorest neighborhoods in North America, in the South Bronx.

On-site, regardless of which location you choose, you can tap into a wealth of experts who help you improve your fitness, nutrition, stress, mood, sleep patterns and more. Their team draws on Western medicine as well as Eastern traditions, energy healing, spiritual awareness, lifestyle and proven alternative practices.  I’ve also know some people who head to Canyon Ranch to heal from sickness, surgery or an injury and they are known for this — people in my circles always return feeling renewed and transformed and since we’re all about Transformative Travel here at We Blog the World, we’re excited about the opportunity to take a look at one or two of their properties in more depth this and next year.

Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain

I love Ritz Carlton’s Dove Mountain property in Arizona although I may be a bit biased. Anthony and I had an incredible few day escape there last summer, where we relaxed in the desert, took in spa treatments and ate healthy dishes every morning and night. When you head off to a spa, whether it’s the luxury one at home you splurge on every month or when you’re on vacation, it needs to be more than just luxurious and pampering. Pampering goes without saying, but imagine a whole lotta pampering and service, but surrounded by remote desert tranquility where the environment itself supports your system in a nurturing and balanced way. Oh yeah, and the sunsets are incredible!

While we were at the Dove Mountain property, we were also surrounded by some of the rawest desert nature you’ll ever encounter in the United States and they offer evening and morning hikes out into some of the desert trails nearby by an expert guide. Because it’s dry heat, if you suffer from arthritis or achy joints and pains, your body will love the low humidity in this decadent southern Arizona resort.  See my resort write-up/review from this past summer, which includes some shots of our restorative hike.

I lived in Arizona for a stint of my life and have been to Phoenix and Sedona countless times over the years, but have never been so taken away by the size of the cactus that sprawls in all directions. I think that the nature which surrounds a spa (if not in a city center) is a critical part of your spa experience. The air, the sun or lack of it, the kinds of trees and soils…..all play into what kind of experience you’ll have at the spa, perhaps including what products they’re most inspired by.

The Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain property has both a dry sauna and a fairly large steam room. They also have a lovely inside relaxation room with lemon and rosemary infused water and herbal teas or two areas outside — the pool itself which has comfy outdoor beds and cabanas or a smaller same sex area where there’s a hot tub and access to both the steam room and sauna. The lovely thing about the resort is that while it attracts many families, it has an adult only outdoor pool behind the natural stone walls of its spa on the opposite side of the property. You’ll notice at the spa pool, you are surrounded by beautiful and pure nature in every direction — it reminded me a bit of Enchantment Resort and Spa in Sedona, which apparently sits on land that is part of a vortex, believed by many to be a very healing and transformative experience.

The other lovely thing about Dove Mountain’s spa pool is that it’s natural salt water, rather than chlorinated water. They also have a fabulous salt water jacuzzi at the spa pool, which has a cascading waterwall – oh so lovely for the sore muscles and joints. The other thing worth noting is that the resort has an extensive Fitness Center on-site, which is larger than most 5 star resort gyms. Equipment includes Cardiovascular & Strength Training which you can do in the gym itself or nearby studio, which they use for classes, including yoga.  There’s Elliptical trainers, Stationary bikes, Treadmills, Free weights, Weight training machines, and a Movement Studio.

Every day, they offer Yoga, Pilates, H.I.I.T., and Zumba. We had a private yoga class while we were there, largely because we wanted the individual treatment. We also opted for a full body assessment by one of their advanced trainers. It’s not a whole lotta fun learning what your optimal body fat percentage is, but it’s important to know what it is if you’re going to make any vital changes in your diet and exercise regiment.

The spa pool has a private entrance to it from the spa, making it a quiet escape from the larger outdoor pools on the property which tends to get traffic from a lot of families. You can choose to have your treatment in either an indoor or outdoor treatment room, and there’s an over-sized treatment suite for couples and small groups – complete with a private fireplace and courtyard. As noted, the luscious serenity pool terrace where guests are able to view ancient Native American carvings in nearby rocks.

We both had the HOT STONE MASSAGE, a treatment I’ve always been a fan of over the years, but not all spas offer it.  Here, they call it a Hohokam Stone Massage,  which is based on Native American traditions. Warm (I’d say closer to hot) mineral-rich basalt stones are used to give your body-earth energy.

Kurotel Longevity Medical Center and Spa 

This health center has been honored with a coveted Crystal Award for Best Wellness Travel Property in South and Central America, and a Country Award for Best in Brazil at the 2015 Wellness Travel Awards. Apparently, Kurotel also won a Category Award for:  Best for Beauty & Anti-Aging, Best for Fitness, Best for Going Solo, Best for Healthy Cuisine, Best for Medical Services, Best for Men, Best for Outdoor Adventure & Activities and Best Overall Healthy Living Program. Whoah Nelly, if that impressive list isn’t enough to bring you down to Brazil for a whole lotta rest and relaxation, then let’s learn a bit more about the people behind the center and the spa itself.

Photo credit: Spas of America

Longevity Medical Center and Spa medical director and co-owner, Mariela Silveira, MD, was invited to speak about the center’s innovative approach to Brain Health at this year’s New York Times Travel Show and although we were in touch prior to the show, I never managed to meet with her on-site, although I did visit their booth.

In addition to her talk, Kurotel hosted a table in the Wellness Discovery Path, where they answered questions about brain health with suggestions on how to keep the good health of one’s memory. The Center also ran a contest offering show attendees a chance to win a 5-night wellness retreat at the Center in Brazil.  And, they had a fun social media activity at the show, where you showed your support for Global Wellness Day by posting a photo with a “I Say Yes” sign and using hashtags to share the news on your favorite social media channels, which I did of course.

Founded by Dr Luis Carlos and Neusa Silveira, a husband and wife team, Kurotel has a 33 year history built on helping people live longer, healthier and meaningful lives. Inspired by the European Kur tradition, which focuses on preventative and rehabilitative medicine, the peaceful mountain sanctuary offers a scientific approach to health through optimistic lifestyle changes and balanced health. Combining wellness, longevity and medical services, the center offers treatments, assessments and healing therapies including everything from stress to sleep problems, addiction to smoking, cancer recovery, brain health, longevity and weight control.

Photo credit: www.tripadvisor.com.au

They have doctors and holistic practitioners at your disposal on site and a team who creates activities that combine different therapies to bring attendees into pure relaxation, beauty, wholeness and renewal. Services include facials, body treatments, relaxing or reducing therapies as well as something they refer to as the Water Circuit: a sequence of therapeutic baths which refers to European stations.

What I love about this place is that it appears to be broad in it’s activity and offering approach – in other words, because they are also close to nature, they offer outdoor recreational activities as well in a natural environment, which can be very healing in itself.  From hiking, special dinners, artistic performances and dance classes to forums, lectures, swimming, tennis and functional cooking classes, they go beyond traditional health, wellness and spa treatments. It appears to be all about balance and integrating a healthy approach to your life through that balance, from exercise, knowledge, food, supplements, healing therapies, body work and more.

They even have a Post-Cancer Program which this past year, received the international certification Cancer Aware by Wellness for Cancer, as a complete program for post-cancer treatment. There are exercise classes, guidance on how best to prepare healthy meals conducted in an experimental kitchen at their Spa Bistro and plenty of doctors, nutritionists, fitness trainers, physical therapists, dentists and psychologists on-site to guide you towards a healthier and more holistic lifestyle, guidance you can take home and implement into your daily lives.

Color Spa

Color Spa is a multi-product brand that marries the ancient modality of colored light with smart tech for a 21st century interactive experience that provides an instant energy tune-up. I’ve always been a fan of the use of color for adding creativity, energy and relaxation to whatever activity you’re doing. I find that people are often afraid of color and tend to stick to more muted and conservative colors on a regular basis — from keeping their walls white or off-white in their homes, to sticking to black and white clothing rather than a purple sweater with a colorful necklace instead. People often argue that it’s easier or safer, or that they simply don’t have the time or know how to get creative with color. “It takes effort,” said one woman I talked to at the New York Times Travel Show when we spoke of the dynamics of color.

And so, as someone who loves art and has had plenty of it plastered on walls over the years, and repaints rooms all the time, I’m a huge fan of the power that color can create in one’s life. The team behind Color Spa has published a book called Color Spa: Color Yourself In, that articulates the basics of co-founder Robyn Lee’s process. She says, “What light and color offer is communion with our primary energy. Just being in colored light instigates healing, brings equilibrium to body and soul and shows us that light is natural medicine.”

The above shot is of Robyn Lee, one of the main forces behind Color Spa doing a demonstration at the New York Times Travel Show in the Wellness Pavilion where I spent most of my afternoon on the last day. The photo may look a little “funky” but it’s because we were in an area sectioned off by curtains where she had beams of lights in different colors facing another set of beams of lights in different colors and the result was a soft muted color spread in all directions – kinda fun! The reason she created this environment, was to let people experience a type of “color therapy.”

Color Spa has several parts:

  • Mobile App which uses your smartphone for an instant energy tune-up. (pictured above)
  • Spas: for clients at destination spas or on a wellness cruise, instead of a mud bath, you can step into an immersive Color Spa treatment that cleanses and refreshes with colored light and sound.
  • Workshops: an in-depth session on the relationship between colored light and our seven chakras and an energy healing real-time. They offer this for groups, corporations, cruise ships and at wellness retreats.

There’s also two not-for-profit applications:

  • Custom Coach: a bus that is an interactive, mobile light show. It tours to schools, museums, hospitals, shopping malls – and gives the general public, (especially under-privileged kids in poorer neighborhoods) an experience.
  • Larger Lightshow/Workshop: like Oprah’s The Life You Want Tour, this is a full-scale show that combines Robyn Lee’s teachings, guests and a scaled experience, booked in large venues. A percentage of each performance is apparently donated to charity.

Color Spa is a unique experience as it opens a window to the people on a gently therapeutic level where consciousness is the currency, engagement the process and personal balance the result. Below is a shot taken at one of her workshops.

 Photo credit: Emily Hewitt

Wellness Travel is exploding as a category and it’s no surprise. I’ve been committed to it as a way of life (not simply a travel category on our site) for years. With processed food being an unfortunate “go to” in the western world and fast and “always-on” schedules encouraging more time on mobile devices and laptops, where we work longer hours per day than ever before, it’s no wonder that our bodies are breaking down and craving that necessary relaxation break. It’s no longer just about spa getaways in today’s hectic world; a massage or facial here and there isn’t enough to reset our stressed body from the months of tension and stress that regularly get thrown our way.

By experiencing creative, non-traditional therapies, learning about healthy diets you can incorporate into your life at home and when traveling, making time for exercise and nature, we stand a chance – a more successful chance – at living a holistic and healthy life where we can feel at peace with the world. This is part of travel or should be! Learning more about the negative impact of things in our environment like plastic, processed meals, chemicals in our food and beauty products, hormones that get pumped into the livestock we eat and the ill-effect of EMFs from our cell phones, is all key to living a better life.

Be sure to read my recent article on 15 Tips for Healthy Travel, a piece I wrote about the power of silence and nature during a recent Yoga and Wellness trip to Jamaica, and my detailed article that outlines what you need to know about EMF emissions and the health risks many are experiencing as a result of high EMF’s from things like smart meters, cell phones, powerful modems in homes and more.

Being aware is necessary in today’s toxic environment. Having that knowledge and experiencing it first hand, which you can do through some of the wellness companies above, is critical to your well-being and happiness in life, on and off the road.

Stay in Luxury European Hotels For Less This Year

January 16, 2016 by  

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If you’re planning your travels for this year, you’ll be glad to know that the Corinthia Hotels Annual Sale is on again for 2016. The sale went live on January 11, 2016 and extends through March 24, 2016, offering guests who book directly through Corinthia.com a 50% discount on room rates across its five-star properties in Malta, Budapest, Lisbon, Prague, and St. Petersburg.  Their prized London hotel overlooking the London Eye and hailed by many as one the most luxurious hotels in the city, will offer a sweet deal of a 30% off and both are valid for stays until December 31, 2016.

Furthermore Corinthia Hotels promises a few more perks such as complimentary room upgrades, extended check-outs, and discounts in its restaurants and bars, available exclusively through the website.  Rewards vary per hotel and are available subject to availability. From London to St. Petersburg to Malta, the hotels are situated in some of the coolest places in Europe and here are some of the great rates on offer at their various locations.

  • Corinthia Budapest: Rates start from €87 per room per night: www.corinthia.com/hotels/budapest/book-direct/
  • Corinthia St George’s Bay (Malta): Rates start from €85 per room per night: corinthia.com/hotels/malta/malta_stgeorgesbay/book-direct/
  • Corinthia Lisbon: Rates start from €77 per room per night: www.corinthia.com/hotels/lisbon/book-direct/
  • Corinthia London: They are running a 30% off scheme, with rates starting from £383 per room per night.
  • Corinthia Palace Hotel and Spa (Malta): Rates start from €70 per room per night: www.corinthia.com/hotels/malta/palace-hotel-and-spa/book-direct/
  • Corinthia PragueRates start from €80 per room per night: www.corinthia.com/hotels/prague/book-direct/
  • Corinthia St PetersburgRates start from €64 per room per night: www.corinthia.com/hotels/stpetersburg/book-direct/

So, if you’re looking to pamper yourself and get some serious luxury for bargain prices in some of Europe’s hottest destinations this year, get busy planning and booking!!

 Brought to us by our friends at Corinthia Hotels.

 

Harman’s AKG N60NC Noise-Cancelling On-Ear Headphones for Travelers….

January 13, 2016 by  

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We’re fans of both AKG and JBL headphones by Harman and were excited about their latest – the Everest Elite 700, which we included in our annual Holiday Gift Guide round-up this past year.  We thought we’d also look at the AKG N60NC headphones since they are noise-cancelling on-ear headphones designed with travel in mind.

The AKG N60NC headphones deliver AKG superior sound while also utilizing best in class active noise cancelling to minimize the disruptive sounds encountered on everything from planes to trains. The other fabulous feature for travelers are their 30 hours of battery life, a godsend for those long flights and layovers. And, apparently when immersing yourself in your music for long stints, the N60NC can still be used in passive mode after the battery dies out.

Accented with premium material such as aluminum, memory foam and leather, it is also fairly lightweight as well, another great feature for avid travelers. In addition, these premium headphones come with a 3D-Axis folding mechanism, a fully-accessorized travel package, a one button universal remote/mic cable and a USB charging cable.

The headphones reduce ambient noise especially when travelling to create a perfect sound environment where you can be alone with your music and yourself. While we put these to the test in the passenger seat of a car for a long drive and in a noisy house over the holidays, we’ve yet to test them out on an airplane, but that’s our goal for an upcoming trip. In noisy environments, we felt a sense of solitude while wearing them and were able to focus on the music we were tuning into rather than the chaos happening around us.

Designed for convenient transport and storage, they’ve thought of the traveler here too. The headphones have a 3D folding mechanism and soft carrying case, making it that much more flexible to pack into your carry-on luggage or purse.  I also love the passive mode, which allows you to still use the headphones using their nifty audio bypass cable. When the battery charge is low, a quick-charge via the USB keeps you from ever running out of power. There’s also an in-line, one-button remote control and microphone which is compatible with most smartphones.

Another nice add-on which is handy is their inclusion of a flight adapter, so you’re never without peace and quiet on the road.

Included in the box is the AKG N60NC headphones, a carrying pouch, a flight adaptor, a USB charging cable and a 3.5 mm detachable cable with universal mic/remote and the cost is around $250.  We’re looking forward to testing out some of their latest in-ear headphones soon. Let’s see what CES 2016 will bring. More details at www.akg.com.

WBTW Round-Up of the 2016 New York Times Travel Show

January 13, 2016 by  

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I missed last year’s New York Times Travel Show since we were about to embark on a 5 week long journey cross country — our hashtag for the tour was #WBTWxAmerica for those interested in seeing photos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We left New York the week before the event, and only a day before the city got hit with a snowstorm. This year, we were proud media partners of the event since it remains one of my favorite travel shows in the industry.

I love the fact that the show is a great mix of trade and consumer content and brings together some of my favorite destinations in the world all under one roof. Despite the fact that is an American East Coast event, countries as far away as Taiwan and Japan showed up, there were wellness offerings from gems like Tahiti, St. Lucia and Bali, plenty of South American representation, and it took me nearly a day to make my way through the Africa aisle alone. From learning cool facts about specific destinations and exploring the latest from African safari tour companies, which we’ll be expanding in 2016, I could have easily spent a full day in discovery mode.

Below, Arthur Frommer, from the infamous Frommer’s Guides, opened the official consumer day of the event, which included a formal ribbon cutting at the entrance on Saturday morning, January 9. Some of my personal highlights are outlined below – as always, questions or comments, leave them in the comment section or feel free to tweet or email me @weblogtheworld.

Eastern Europe

I was thrilled to see my pals from Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia on-site; we went on a press trip with them a few years back and loved it — see my coverage of Estonia and Lithuania. They also served scrumptious cheese from the region which I dared not say no to — food is such an integral part of travel for me, that I can’t separate the two. Speaking of food, Dubrovnik is having a Good Food Festival from October 20-23, 2016, where you’ll get dinner with a famous chef, taste traditional and not so traditional dishes, take part in gastro tours, entertainment and live musical performances and have an opportunity to attend workshops and presentations. More details at www.tzdubrovnik.hr.

Croatia was promoting Wellness Travel among other things, which was exciting for us since we are not only expanding our Wellness coverage significantly in 2016, but it’s a personal passion of mine and has been for years. Be sure to read my Wellness Travel Round-up of the show, which is going live next week.

I also got enticed by some of Adriatic’s tours, which does land tours to Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Albania and Macedonia and charter cruises of the area. They specialize in excursions to Croatia and the Balkins, including island hopping, which had me at “hello.”

Niche Touring offers fully guided travel for small groups, which makes for a much more intimate setting, something we applaud. They too focus on Croatia, but to off-the-beaten-path hidden places often not found on a typical tourist itinerary. Their tours emphasize the history, local food, and culture of each region, shared by the Croatian people you meet along the way. We’re keen on reviewing one of their tours as I was impressed by their big heart and personalized approach to tours of the area, which include both water and land experiences.

I didn’t have time to visit the Hungary or Czech Republic booths, although I have been in recent years and they remain on my fabulous destination list, so if you haven’t been, be sure to read our coverage (Hungary and Prague specifically). Our content on Russia isn’t deep but it’s worth a meander as the content is full of rich photographs and history. And, my last trip to Berlin Germany this past year included more time in East Berlin than West, so be sure to read through our coverage over the past year.

Europe

I’ve lived in Europe, traveled through the continent extensively and have had long stints in Amsterdam, Corfu, Innsbruck and London, where I studied for many years. In fact, I’ve been to every country except for Norway which is very much calling to me — seeing new images of northern fjords makes it hard to resist. If you’re eager to see what I’m referring to, there’s no better place to start than Instagram – do a search for #Norway and you’ll be blown away.

This past year, I went to Germany and Austria, so be sure to browse through my articles of Berlin, Vienna and Salzburg, including a fabulous one on Salzburg’s 50th Anniversary of the Sound of Music and the previous fall, I went to Normandy and Brittany, where I took so many enticing photos, you’ll be booking your flight to France tomorrow. High on my “return list” over the next two years are Greece, Italy, Switzerland and Spain. Who knows — maybe one will even be a winter trip. It was great running into Michael Gigl from the Austrian Tourism Board aka @AustriaTravel at the show.

I didn’t spend time with destinations at the show because of my strong familiarity of the countries, however I did talk to a few tour companies and river cruise companies who are offering some interesting itineraries in Europe today. I’m far from a cruise expert although hope to experience a few of the higher end cruise lines so we can do a unique comparison based on “physical/experiential”, “fine touches” and “wellness” in 2016 and 2017. On my hot list right now are RIVER CRUISES. Watch for more from us in that area as we begin to explore what some of the leaders in river cruising are doing in Europe and Asia.

For example, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises operate a fleet of 21 river cruising cruise ships along the rivers of Europe, Russia, Egypt, and China. All inclusive Scenic offers unlimited drinks and butler service for guests and Viking River Cruises apparently has six new Viking Longships making debuts in 2016 across Europe. Avalon operates 15 ships in Europe and eight more in the Galapagos, Mekong Delta, China and Egypt and AmaWaterways has an impressive list of options through European rivers as well. Itineraries across river cruise companies range from major cities like Amsterdam, Budapest, and Vienna to delightful, small towns and villages like Austria’s Durnstein and Germany’s Breisach.

Africa

Africa, in particular, South Africa has always had an emotional hold on me, largely because I spent an exchange student year abroad in South Africa during my most formative years, lived there again just as Apartheid was lifted and led a blogging tour there roughly a decade later. I also taught English in Kenya, saw some of the most surreal desert scenery on the edge of Somalia, slept on beaches in Lamu, Pemba and Zanzibar and saw gorillas up close in Uganda and Zaire before the western world had an opportunity to.

I have gone on life changing safaris in Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa where I watched elephant trunks swaying in unison over a river for hours and was transformed by a tree standing alone in silence along the Namibian Border. I was swept away by the hospitality and insights of the people of Zimbabwe and it’s majestic Victoria Falls, ate so many avocados and bananas on Dizzy and Wally’s farm in Zambia that I could barely walk, and I was brought to tears by the generosity and warmth of the Malawi people where we camped on a beach for more than a month. In the nineties, I marveled at ancient tombs in Egypt and fell in love with the markets of Morocco — the list goes on. It’s clear that I have a bias but with good reason. Africa is a magical continent and it boasts far more than safaris and Stellenbosch boasts some of the best wine you’ll ever taste.

The girls from Zambia were a hoot and I could have talked to them for hours and after seeing stunning photos of Botswana, my heart cried out to be there with nothing more than me, a tripod and my Canon 7D. I’ve been wanting to go to Madagascar for years as well as to some of Mozambique’s more remote islands where they boast luxury experiences worth having. And, if I got an invitation to Mauritius, I’d be packing my bags tonight.

Morocco and Egypt had plenty to take in (Egypt handed out fun t-shirts) and I learned about luxury properties in Casablanca I didn’t know existed.

African tour companies were in full force, from offering a variety of options, whether it be glamping in the bush, safaris, photo tours, luxury resorts and spas to cruises departing from Cape Town. Uber Luxe Safaris were offering unique itineraries, from chimpanzee trekking, a canopy walk in the Nyungwe Forest National Park, Birding, Water Fall Trails, tea tours and hanging with monkeys. Uber Luxe Safaris is based in Rwanda and specializes in authentic luxury experiences in East Africa.

The Zulu Nyala Private Game Reserve looked compelling. Nestled between the wilderness reserves of Mkuze, Hluhluwe, St. Lucia and South Africa’s Sodwana Bay, the reserve boasts elephant, rhino, buffalo, hippo, giraffe, leopard, cheetah, antelope and more. The privately owned reserve is home to over 40 different species of animal and bird life and on-site, they have 50 ethnic-styled suites and panoramic views from common areas in the Lodge. They also have a tennis court, craft and curio center, a games room, which is great if you’re traveling with kids in tow, a pool, a bar and reading lounges.

I chatted with the guys from Eyes on Africa for awhile who offer tours to Namibia’s Etosha National Park, Sossusvlei red sand dunes, South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Livingstone and Vic Falls, River rafting and helicopter flights in Zimbabwe and Zambia, canoe rides along the Lower Zambezi River, Mount Kenya, Amboseli National Park, Zamzibar, Selous, Africa’s largest wildlife reserve, the Serengeti for the Great Migration, Kilimanjaro and the Ngorongoro Crater, island hopping in the Seychelles and swimming with whale sharks in Mozambique among other experiences.

I was also enticed by Bush Butlers, who I might add were the only ones who served Biltong at their booth – two thumbs up! They offer tailor-made safaris and tours to a number of intoxicating locations, from Tanzania, Kenya and Bostwana to Uganda, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. They cater to your needs, which include family style safaris, luxury safaris, or beaten track adventure style trips.

Some of the highlights include seeing hippos in Gabon, viewing gorillas in Uganda, ballooning in Namibia, taking in Madagascar’s Baobabs, seeing the world’s largest land migration in Tanzania’s Serengeti, scuba diving with whale sharks and manta rays, and catching tiger fish on the mighty Zambezi River. I can assure you that going through the Namibian Desert in a 4×4 Explorer will transform the way you look at the world.

Original biltong from South Africa – I was in heaven!

Antarctica

While I still haven’t been to Antarctica, we have a bunch of coverage on We Blog the World from other writers, so be sure to read through them and take in the photos. The images are breathtaking and before seeing them, it wasn’t a big priority on the list, but today, it’s in the top 10. Hurtigruten is one company I discovered at the show that encompasses all things Antarctica. They’re known as a leader in polar exploration and offer new Discovery Style Voyages, which is great for people with a true spirit for exploration and learning, but without the rigors of a full expedition.

Photo credit: ESTHER KOIJKMEIER.

MS Midnatsol is the ship, which holds a maximum of 500 travelers, and they start and end in Punta Arenas at the tip of Chile where I visited a few years ago. I’d encourage you to take the time to explore Chilean Patagonia including Torres del Paine if you venture that far south. The ship explores some of Chile’s deep fjords before making it’s way to the more wild and beautiful Antarctica. Remember how I said that Norway was calling to me earlier on? Note to self: Hurtigruten also sails to Norway, visiting 34 small ports, most of which big ships simply can’t enter.

Asia

Truth be told, I didn’t spend as much time in the Asia section as I had hoped, but did visit Japan, Taiwan who always has a big booth at the show, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. There were some great dance and music performances on-site all weekend and many countries were giving out bites, with all the spices from home. Oh so delish!

Malaysia had a colorful area with cultural backdrops where you could dress up in a traditional costume and have your photo taken – my favorite was this little girl who was eager to pose in front of the camera. Adorable!

While China can be overwhelming given the country’s size, I find that it’s worth spending time with locals who specialize in tourism since they have detailed maps, which you often can’t find online and can elaborate on some of the gems outside traditional hot spots like Shanghai and the Great Wall. I spent time with the rep from the region of Henan, which is central and to the north of the country, which touts a number of unique excursions and adventures. We may explore this region in more depth and consider a trip in the future.

Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan Airlines was holding a fun promotion at the show, which involved social media; simply engage your audience with a photo and hashtag #SriLankanUSA2016 for an opportunity to win a trip. Here, I learned a lot more about Sri Lanka than I expected and it’s risen to the Must Visit List, so stand by as we do a little more research and plan for a future trip.

Central America and the Caribbean

Panama has been getting more visibility lately as has El Salvador so I spent time gathering information on eco-friendly lodges, resorts and wellness getaway ideas for both countries.

The Dominican Republic  was handing out a salted cod concoction!

Cooking demonstrations were part of the agenda on both days for a variety of destinations including Latin America. On Saturday, they had a Taste of the World Kid’s Kitchen where Robert “Chef Bobo” Surlves and Spoons Across America engaged children in hands-on tasting and cooking classes. There were number of other cooking presentations as well, from Taiwan and South Africa to upstate New York and Lebanon.

Anguilla presented me the biggest surprise from the Caribbean Region. A place I knew so little about before the New York Times Travel Show, I left with a burning desire to visit — after doing a little digging, it seems like an ideal location for a romantic getaway or a wellness retreat.

It’s Better in the Bahamas, so they say….

North America

We love Canada and there’s a ton of coverage on We Blog the World so be sure to read through the articles, which cover a variety of regions from the west to the east coast and everything in between. We also have coverage of some of the southern Arctic region as well.  As for the U.S., remember that we drove across country earlier this year, so in 2015 alone, we hit around 20 states between our trip and other side trips on both coasts separate from our journey. It’s hard to say what my favorite memory was, but rest assured, there was no state that didn’t hold a precious gem of some kind, whether it be blues music, food, culture, dancing, fashion, theater, thermal baths or nature.

There is a ton of coverage on our trip, which includes New York, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, New Mexico, Arizona, California. If you’ve never done the drive, I strongly encourage it and feel free to hit us up for tips. Below, a shot of a break we took at dusk on the way from Oklahoma to Texas.

This year, hot on the list is New Hampshire, Vermont, more Upstate New York (we’re biased remember) and Long Island (I’ve yet to really explore), Pennsylvania and North Carolina. A trip to New Orleans would also be a nice plus if there’s time between our international travel.

South America

As lame as it sounds, I only visited one booth in South America – Argentina, a country I’ve been wanting to visit for years…..of course, they were pouring fabulous wine wine from Mendoza on Sunday and serving cheese, crackers and salami to accompany. I love the Argentina Tourism PR and marketing team as well as the guys from Aerolineas ArgentinasOne of these days, you’ll find a wealth of rich photography taken on my Canon 7D from an extended stay in Argentina, so stand by.

Above, I refer to Ines Segarra as the Head of Fun for Argentina, although her official role is the Director of Tourism based out of New York. 

That doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention to other countries on the continent. Also high on my wish list is Peru and Colombia, although we have plenty of coverage on We Blog the World on both from other writers. At the show, I talked to a few tour operators about some of the excursions they offer to the region. I loved my time in Chile and Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands, so be sure to read our coverage of both countries, where there are plenty of engaging stories and photography from other writers as well.

At some juncture, I want to see and experience Bolivia’s Salt Flats or Salar de Uyuni in Spanish. It is located in the Daniel Campos Province in Potosí in southwest Bolivia near the crest of the Andes and they were formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is apparently covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness and is beyond surreal. While this photo is sure to blow you away, you’ll find plenty of other breathtaking images on the web and on Instagram.

Photo credit: Huffington Post

Below, saying YES to GLOBAL WELLNESS in the Wellness Pavilion, a new section of the show this year. (see my write-up for the specifics).

Also in the Wellness Pavilion, I attended a light experience with the folks from Color Spa — more details in the wellness travel post.

There was an entire section dedicated to fun things for kids to experience across cultures.

Of course, color was exploding left and right at the show, from beautiful cultural costumes of each country to food demos and musical performances.

Trade Day

Trade Day is simply what it says it is….the day those of us who are in the travel trade come together to learn from each other and network. It is typically held the day before the official show opens, and tourism boards, government officials, cruise lines, safari companies, hotels and resorts, chefs, authors, journalists and others in the travel biz, partake in conversations centered around marketing, sales, operations, logistics and best practices.

To give you a snapshot, I attended panels on Travel Media in the Digital Age with Facebook’s Mike Rooney, PhocusWright’s Lorraine Sileo, and TripIt’s Lauren Moreno, a session on Wellness Travel with Anne Dimon of Travel to Wellness, Brian Povinelli of the Westin and Bonnie Levengood of MSC Cruises, and a Culinary Tourism discussion with TravelSommelier‘s Darren Humphreys, Parla Food‘s Tim Ries, Friends of the High Line Stephanie Schneiderman, and Tia Stephanie of Tours Cultural Journeys to Mexico and Colombia.

The cruise lines showed up in force and we heard from Cruise Planner‘s Michelle Fee, Celebrity Cruises Michelle Homoky, Wendy Whitener of Carnival, Ken Muskat of MSC, Lisa Falango of Royal Caribbean, Anthony Viviano from Princess & Cunard Line, and river cruising specialists, Cindy Christen from CroisiEurope, Cindy Sullivan from Globus, Susan Shultz from American Cruise Lines, John Restuccia from Uniworld, Chris Greco from Rauck and Kirsten Karst from AmaWaterways.

Other sessions included a focus on Europe, the Caribbean, Asia, Latin America, Hawaii, Florida and National Parks. Speaking of Florida, they had a great chef at their booth who was preparing delicious popcorn with shrimp and papaya. YUM!

I’ll end with a visual of where this piece began — below is a shot of Arthur Frommer doing the ribbon cutting on Saturday morning. Bravo and kudos to the New York Times Travel Show team. If you haven’t been before, it’s a must attend, so be sure to watch for announcements on next January’s date and the details.

 

Wine Find: Austria’s Höpler Will Delight Your Palette

January 11, 2016 by  

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We’ve been wanting to add more wines to our collection for awhile now, but ones that no one knows about and I had never heard of until….now. During my trip to Austria this past fall, I had a blast sampling some of Austria’s sparkling and dessert wines although truth be told, they’re lower on my wish list than say a big bold California Cab or an Italian Barolo. I wasn’t convinced that a wine from Austria could turn my head never mind excite my palette. That said, I did hang my hat at a number of delicious restaurants (see my Salzburg restaurants round-up) and let’s just say that my palette was nothing short of excited.

Back in 2013, we ran a piece on Austrian wine tasting and I attended a top notch Austrian dinner in a funky loft on Van Brunt Street in Brooklyn last October, led by top Austrian Chef Gutenbrunner (also founder of the KG-NY Restaurant Group) and the Austrian Tourism Board and every wine selection was out of this world. From Gruner Veltliner Sekt, NV, Szigeti, a sparkling wine with our appetizers, to a 2012 Spatrot Klassik Gebetshuber and a Sauvignon Blanc Umathum, which we had with rabbit to a 2010 ZweigeIt Eiswein, Hager Matthias which we paired with our plum strudel served with homemade buttermilk sorbet, it was all good.

It’s time to meet my favorite Austrian wine, a gem of a find called Höpler which I first had the privilege of tasting at the infamous Obauer Restaurant, where we went to town on a several hour lunch that included Quail Egg with Balsamic Apple Jelly, Lamb Terrine, chicken with sesame and a Venison with cabbage terrine sampler. If you’re interested in seeing photos of that oh so delicious meal, check out my restaurant write-up.

During our over-the-top lunch at Obauer, we paired our appetizers with the Weingut Hopler 2014 Pinot Blanc, which was perfectly balanced and the 2012 Pinot Noir from Weingur Hopler was incredibly smooth with the Deer-Ragout. Worth noting is that Obauer has the only MASTER Sommelier in Austria.

Höpler Wines

Based in Breitenbrunn, Austria, the Höpler Winery is located on the northwest bank of the Neusiedl Lake in Breitenbrunn, Burgenland.  They produce a diverse spectrum of wines which is roughly broken down into 55% white wine, 40% red and 5% sweet wines. I had an opportunity to hang with Christof Höpler during my trip who set me up with some of their wines to taste on my own home soil. The truth is that 70 % of Höpler’s wines are actually exported and the US is the largest end market, followed by Holland, Scandinavia, the Baltics and Germany.

Another cool factoid that I learned is that the winery produces the house wines for the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont as well as for the Estonian prime minister. Some of their more well known customers have included Jamie Oliver “Fifteen”, Marco Pierre White “Marco”and the Queen Mary II and now, a not so well known customer, ME. I decided to do a blind test with Anthony recently as we were preparing both cod and snapper at home, our “lighten things up” approach to cooking after a series of heavier dishes over the holidays.

Bear in mind that Anthony’s Italian palette prefers some of the crispier Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio varietal wines more than I do and while he can easily do an oak-infused Chardonnay from northern California as happily as I can, he is a bit more flexible with white wines than I am. I heard him comment from the other room, a rarity….and it went something like this — “Wow, where did we get this wine from? This is amazing….”

No, it wasn’t one of the wines we purchased for my birthday but one that guests did taste at the holiday gathering although he didn’t have a chance to sample. I did try it at the holiday party, but didn’t have time to properly pair it as I was more focused on hosting than tasting. Let’s just say that I was curious about how it would pair with our double course fish dinner, which we were serving with pan-fried string beans, garlic and ginger and a mozzarella, tomato and basil salad, one of our favorites.

WOW went my palette and surprisingly enough, even after we moved onto the Pannonica several days later, we couldn’t get the Hopler’s white 2014 Gruner Veltliner out of our heads. When I tried their Pinot Noir in Austria, it was light as expected, but had enough legs to pair with the lamb terrine and venison I had in Austria. Back in the states, while Gruner Veltliner presented the biggest surprise, their red Pannonica was also a delight. A medium bodied red, this delicious Austrian gem from Hopler paired well with a cubed steak with turmeric and broccoli combo we prepared in San Francisco.

Two thumbs up for their surprisingly delicious wines and if you’re not one of those serious oak barreled kind of wine lover, then you’ll be as happy as a clam with Höpler.

Above is Christof Höpler at a wine tasting event — I met him in Salzburg where in addition to serving us their best at Obauer, he poured at The Sound of Music 50th Anniversary Gala this past October.

Top restaurants such as “Blue Dragon” in Boston or “Georges” in La Jolla near San Diego serve his wine from the vines of Burgenland. Last year, nearly 40% more bottles of Höpler were sold in the USA than in 2014 and their winemaker spends more than ten weeks a year in the states visiting wholesalers and customers. In other words, its popularity and distribution is growing state-side. For more information on their wines, visit http://www.weinraeume.at and http://www.hoepler.at/. Here’s a list of their distributors including the states towards the bottom.

Details:

Höpler GmbH

Heideweg 17091

Breitenbrunn Austria

+43 (0)2683 23907 

office@hoepler.at

WÜSTHOF Knife Sets in African Blackwood, a Kitchen Must Have

January 8, 2016 by  

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Over the holiday season, we discovered German-made WÜSTHOF, top-of-the line precision-forged knives for chefs and foodies alike. Truth be told, this brand is far from new. They’ve been around since 1814 passing the business down from family generation to generation in Solingen Germany. Chefs I know love them and recommend them highly so we wanted to put them to the test. They didn’t arrive in time for our holiday products deadline, otherwise we would have surely included them in our Annual Holiday Gift Guide. That said, we were able to use them between Christmas and New Year to prepare a number of dishes, from Pecorino cheese and salami platters to baked ham and turkey.

All of their knives are made from full tang, high-carbon stainless steel with bolster to add balance and weight. The new Precision Edge Technology (PEtec) enhances the blades sharpness by 20%, so they’ll last twice as long. Each knife also features a computer controlled cutting edge to ensure the final edge of the blade is precise and uniform from the tip to the heel of the knife. And, each knife blade is completely buffed & polished by hand. What else is cool is that each knife is designed to meet a specific need in the kitchen, so you can custom your collection based on how you cook, what you cook and how often.

Form follows function with each blade designed with the proper shape for its intended purpose. We fell in love with the African Blackwood set which comes in 5, 7 and 9 pieces.

7 PIECE IKON SET in African Blackwood (Grenadill)

The jewel of the WÜSTHOF collection, IKON has beautifully designed handles made of African Blackwood (Grenadill), which is known for extreme density and has a distinctive wood grain. So many knife sets only come in the lighter wood grains and frankly, just don’t stand out from the crowd, visually that is. While the quality of your knives is paramount, you also want your knife collection to look fabulous on your kitchen counter or butcher block.

The IKON full-tang knives which come with this set, are precision-forged from a single piece of an exclusive high-carbon stain-free steel and feature a distinctive, double bolster. The double bolster design provides exceptional balance for effortless cutting. Worth noting if you’re used to dull knives, be careful when you first use the IKON knives, whether that be for cutting or simply handling when moving from sink to its holding spot in the wooden block. They include cardboard holders as well, which we used in the beginning until we got accustomed to the knives’ significant, acute sharpness. In fact they’re so sharp that I tend not to use them for hand cutting things that don’t require an extremely sharp knife although I suspect this will change over time as I learn how to use them more efficiently. What a difference they make when it comes to hard cheeses, hard vegetables like carrots, breads and meats – we’re impressed!

The 7 piece set that we tested includes a 3 1/2″ Paring Knife, 6″ Utility Knife, 8″ Bread Knife, 8″ Cook’s Knife, 10″ Double Bolster Steel, stain-free Steel Come-Apart Kitchen Shears, the 15-Slot Walnut Block, and an IKON Wood Care Kit. Another thing to note if you’re not used to wooden handle knives, they recommend you wash by hand only and try not to soak the wooden handle, focusing on the blade itself.  The half bolster allows for the knife to be honed and sharpened the entire length of the blade and the heel bolster provides added balance.

THE IKON PAIRING KNIFE   

</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>	Paring knife</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>	- 4986 / 09 cm

The IKON 3 and a half inch Paring Knife tapers to a point at the tip and is easy to handle, making it the perfect knife to trim, slice and peel small produce such as garlic cloves and herbs. We used it for garlic, ginger, oregano, basil, small leeks, and scallions and it worked like a charm. While the block itself is made in a beautiful Walnut wood, bear in mind that the knives in this set also have African Blackwood handles.

THE IKON 8″ BREAD KNIFE 

The IKON 8 inch Bread Knife slices through bread or baguettes with minimal crumbs. The serrations along the edge help guide the blade through tough crust without compressing the soft inside, one of the best features about this knife and I’d add, if you cut bread frequently, is reason alone to spend more on a high quality bread knife.

We’re not huge carb eaters anymore (read up on my protein/exercise regime and how I lost weight and regained energy after 6 weeks of restaurant reviews on the road), however when we entertain, bread is always part of it. Anthony is Italian so when we visit his family, bread is also an integral part of the dining room table as well. And, we have plenty of Dutch, French and German friends so baguettes are often part of the furniture when we’re around them, together with great cheese and fruit that is. Regardless of whether you’re gluten intolerant or stick to a low carb diet, chances are you’ll always be in need for a quality bread knife when you’re entertaining. The fact that its top notch sharpness with its extreme precision serrations alleviates a crumb mess is worth having in your collection alone.

<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
	8"</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>	Bread knife</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>	- 4966 / 20 cm

 

IKON 6″ UTILITY KNIFE

The IKON 6 inch Utility Knife is smaller than a cook’s knife but larger than a paring knife, making it the perfect knife for a wide variety of cutting tasks. A utility knife is much like a versatile paring knife and is perfect for mincing shallots, onions and herbs as well as cutting vegetables or cutting small meats. Quite simply put, it’s a perfect size, so we put it to the test on all kinds of things, from carrots and potatoes, to onions, apples and dicing up chicken prior to a stir fry. It’s an ideal knife to have in your collection regardless of the types of dishes you prepare on a regular basis – it’s versatility is second to none.

<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
	6"</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>	Utility knife</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>	- 4906 / 16 cm

 

IKON 8″ COOK’S KNIFE 

The IKON 8 inch Cook’s Knife is the workhorse of the kitchen, or what many chefs refer to as the essential kitchen knife. The cook’s knife is an indispensable all-purpose kitchen knife that can be used for chopping, mincing, slicing and dicing. Due to the weight and balance of the knife, it is also perfect for heavy duty work such as cutting thicker vegetables and meats. This was one of our favorites of the included knives in this collection, largely because of its versatility. If you had to start with two knives and move on, I’d suggest the Cook’s Knife and the Utility Knife above, although if you cook frequently, a sharp high quality pairing and carving knife is a godsend.

<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
	8"</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>	Cook's Knife</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>	- 4996 / 20 cm

WÜSTHOF considers the IKON knives to be the cream of the crop of their collection — you can check out more of their individual knives sold separately or in a collection in the IKON section of their site. They offer different options including Classic IKON, Classic, Gourmet, Grand Prix II and Pro. WÜSTHOF also has a useful online Learning Techniques and Knife Skills Guide that is worth reading.

KITCHEN SCISSORS

We also fell in love with their Kitchen Scissors – not only are they beautiful to look at, but functional and handy for a variety of common tasks in the kitchen and they fit neatly in the included wooden block.

</p><br /><br />
<p>	Kitchen shears</p><br /><br />
<p>	- 5557

IKON 10″ STEEL for SHARPENING

There’s also a spot for the 10 inch steel sharpener in the wooden block. To ensure that your knives stay beautifully sharp. the CLASSIC IKON 10 inch Double Bolster Steel should be used regularly. Over time, knives will deteriorate and lose their edge. Honing re-aligns the microscopic teeth in the blade that can’t be seen with the naked eye. By regularly honing your knives, you will maximize the time in between sharpening.

 

<br /><br /><br />
	10"</p><br /><br />
<p>	Steel</p><br /><br />
<p>	- 4468 / 26 cm

The difference between honing and sharpening your knife depends on whether your knife needs regular maintenance or if you need to reset a dull edge. A honing steel will re-align the microscopic teeth and can be used frequently, even after each use. A sharpening steel will actually take a small amount of steel off the blade, creating a new edge. When using a steel, you want to make sure the steel is at least as long as the blade you are either honing or sharpening.  The difference between a diamond steel or ceramic steel and honing steel, is that a diamond steel and ceramic steel will actually grind away material from the knife, allowing it to reset the edge.  Ceramic sharpening steels are slightly less abrasive and will gently sharpen knives in comparison to a diamond sharpening steel resulting in a finer edge.

Not only did we learn the difference between a proper chef’s cut during this process, but we learned a lot about sharpening and taking care of fine knives as well, which is a must read if you upgrade to the cream of the crop in knives. Is the upgrade from your regular kitchen knives worth it? Most definitely if you’re a foodie in any way and we know from our readership stats, that there are a bunch of you. After all, think about how much time we spend in the kitchen. While we’re learning more and more how important it is to choose high quality, organic food and ingredients, we know too that the quality of our utensils make a huge difference when preparing meals.

The IKON collection is our favorite although there are many options to choose from. While we recommend getting a block/kit to start and add to your collection from there, you can also purchase individual knives, which includes sandwich knives, fillet knives, peeling knives, steak knives, carving knives, sausage knives, oriental cook’s knives, salmon or ham slicers, cleavers, among others, in addition to the types of knives we mention above.

One knife that would have been particularly useful over the holidays is also available in the IKON collection – the Boning Knife. This is ideally intended for boning chickens or de-breasting turkeys. The Scalloped Paring knife is also great around party times of the year, as its short scalloped edge is great for lemons, limes and small vegetables. Also handy is the traditional cleaver, which is a heavy knife with a thicker edge for chopping through large cuts of meats and bones (pictured below).

<br /><br /><br />
	6"</p><br /><br />
<p>	Cleaver</p><br /><br />
<p>	- 4680 / 16 cm

For meat lovers, they have a stunning knife set collection, which includes four 4 1/2″ steak knives and a walnut chest — simply beautiful!

If you’re more into black or simply want to spend a little less, a great option is the WÜSTHOF Starter Knife Set. WÜSTHOF offers a wide range of options depending on your needs so be sure to check out their site http://www.wusthof.com/ for the particulars including how to sharpen, how to take care of your knives, how to choose which ones are right for you, how to order and more. We’re huge fans — two thumbs up!!

 

 

 

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