Puerto Vallarta Viewpoint – Mirador Cerro de la Cruz, Scenic Overlook

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Shaped like a horseshoe, the Bay of Banderas sits in the State of Jalisco and offers over 50 miles of beautiful shoreline, ranging from jagged cliffs to sandy beaches. In its heart sits the city of Puerto Vallarta.

Puerto Vallarta is famous for many things, including its beautiful old town, El Malecon, the wonderful beachfront boardwalk, and its spectacular sunsets.

 

Needless to say, a viewpoint overlooking the Bay of Banderas and the colonial city promised to be spectacular, especially when you imagine the sun dropping into the ocean!

However, the day we set out to find the scenic viewpoint over the city, the so called Mirador Cerro de la Cruz, was cloudy and hot.

It hadn’t been easy to find information on how to get there beforehand, but with a bit of persistence, a sense of adventure, and a lot of sweat, we made it to the top. It was worth every drop of sweat, despite the cloudy skies!

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To make it easier for those wanting to visit the viewpoint after us, here is how to get there:

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From the Malecon, take Calle Aldama to walk towards the hilltop. Once you get to Calle Emilio Carrenza, take a left.

This is what it looks like where you turn left into Calle Emilio Carrenza. It is the beginning of the steeper, more dirt road part, of the ascent:

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Walk up the cobble stone pathway towards the white house, all the way to Calle Abasolo. There you turn right. From here it is a straight shot to heaven!

You’ll come by some awesome street art, as well as local houses. No need to worry, the people are really friendly and many of them offer water for sale.

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Calle Abasolo ends at the staircase which will take you directly to the viewpoint.

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On top, you will see the cross which gives the viewpoint its name, as well as the viewing platforms.

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A few tips for the road:

  • Wear sturdy shoes, the road is not always paved and it can get a bit slippery on the dustier slopes.
  • Have a sense for adventure, keep an open mind, show respect, and appreciation for different cultures.
  • To put safety into perspective,  my daughters and I, no man in tow, felt completely safe at all times.
  • Bring water, or have a few pesos to buy water from the locals that live there. I am sure they will appreciate it greatly!
  • Don’t forget sunscreen, hat, and bug spray.
  • If you are physically fit it will take about 20 minutes from bottom to top.

We’d love to hear how your experience was, if you end up going on this little adventure, just comment below!

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. She is also a Puerto Vallarta Specialist. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

Where to Honeymoon in September, October or November?

It used to be, that the summer months were the most popular, but lately, couples are choosing more and more to get married during the fall months.

With September being peak hurricane season, many ask where should we honeymoon in September or October? Is it safe to travel to the Caribbean during hurricane season? What do we have to expect from hurrican season? And, are there any alternatives?

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Of course, choosing a destination has a lot to do with the time a couple has available as well as their budget. It also has something to do with what they ultimately want to experience.

Some couples aren’t worried about hurricanes and don’t mind a daily afternoon rain shower. That is mostly what you should expect during hurricane season. However, every now and then a hurricane forms and eventually takes one path or another.

Nowadays, hurricane tracking is fairly reliable and a hurricane’s path is predicted days before it actually happens. This can be both, great if indeed the hurrican takes a certain path and the chosen destination is affected, upsetting if you change your plans, only to find that the hurricane takes a different path or has weakened.

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The most important thing to have in this situation is solid travel insurance. If you have a “cancellation for covered reasons” policy, chances are that you are only covered if the hurricane hits. Meaning, that if the hurricane is supposed to hit tomorrow, but you are traveling today, you have no option to cancel because “fear of a hurricane” is usually not covered.  If you want to have the flexibility to decide not to go because you are worried a hurricane might affect your honeymoon, you need a so called “cancel for any reason” travel protection plan.

But, which Caribbean island to pick during hurricane season? If you want an all-inclusive experience, go with Jamaica, the Negril side to be precise. The island’s Blue Mountains offer a natural, protective barrier to the other side of the island. They also catch most of the rainfall. If an all-inclusive honeymoon isn’t on top of your list, pick one of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Curacao or Bonaire). These are usually out of the hurricane belt and less prone to stormy action.

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Whichever destination you choose in the Caribbean, or along the Pacific Coast, there never is a guarantee though. Weather patterns have been changing and are no longer as predictable as they once were.

For those who want to stay away from hurricanes altogether I suggest a trip to Europe. Fall in Europe is the best, and depending on where you go, you can still enjoy a beach vacation.

Here are some of my top choices:

IRELAND

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Great for nature lovers, couples on a tighter budget, couples afraid of long flights, and couples worried about language barriers.

How long does it take to get there? A quick 6- 7  hour flight from the East Coast will take you there.

ITALY

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Perfect for romantics, history buffs, art lovers, music lovers, food lovers… need I say more, the country screams amore and passion. Fall is less crowded, the weather mild, prices lower.

How long does it take to get there? Expect a little over 8 hours from the East Coast

GREECE

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For a laid back, sunny, island hopping experience. Sipping ouzo, nibbling on olives, watching a donkey go by. The perfect setting for a romantic, relaxing honeymoon. However, keep in mind that once October hits, many hotels, shops and even ferries shut down

How long does it take to get there? Expect a little over 10 hours from the East Coast

PORTUGAL

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Douro River – image courtesy of Viking River Cruises

For a romantic river cruise along the Duoro River where vineyards abound and harvest season is in full swing. Lisbon is also one of the most stunning cities in Europe!

How long does it take to get there? Expect a little over 6 hours from the East Coast

PARIS, LONDON & AMSTERDAM

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For a three city power pack cultural experience. Each unique, each worth a visit. Super easy to connect via high-speed trains. Track Royals in London and have High Tea at Kensington Palace, stroll book stalls along the Seine in Paris and enjoy dinner atop the Eiffel Tower, and ride a bike in Amsterdam and check out the Anne Frank museum.

How long does it take to get there? Expect between 6 – 7 hours from the East Coast, depending on which city you fly in and fly out of.

stefanie pichonnat aavtravel

 

Written by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of  AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm, specialized in creating and customizing honeymoons. You can contact her at stefanie@aavromance.com

 

 

Mask Making in Venice

Venetian masks are world famous and a symbol and tradition of Venice. There is no avoiding them when in the city, as every street vendor and souvenir shop carries multiple versions, from the cheapest mass production piece, to the more expensive, unique and handcrafted version. Nowadays, masks are mainly worn during carnival. However, as long as the Venetian Serenissima Republic lasted, until 1797, they were part of the everyday Venetian life. During those days, Venetian nobles put on the masks to be whoever they wanted to be and turn their life into and aventure, gamble, and add a little bit of spice and risk to the everyday life.

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A few of today’s mask artisans open their workshop doors and offer classes. They can range from the actual making of the mask with paper mache, to learning the decoration techniques used. It is a wonderful experience for both old and young.

I wanted to do something special, memorable and had setup such workshop for my children and myself. We had picked a small mask making shop owned by Giorgio Galasso who has been making masks for the past 20 years.

Arriving at his shop is like stepping back in time. Instructions say find the San Zulian church, follow the wall, turn into a small square, and there you are. No street name, number, and most definitely not a place Google Maps knows how to find.

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The artist’s workshop is tiny and although Giorgo says he accommodates up to 5 people in the summer, it seems like 3 are plenty. Giorgio is an older man, long black grey hair, the features of his face almost like a mask. He wears a black framed set of reading glasses, and you immediately feel like you are working with someone who truly knows his craft.

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In broken English he explains that before you start, you have to make a plan. You start with a vision of your mask which you then complete in several steps. He works with my two children, aged 10 and 12, as well as myself, and easily succeeds in making us feel confident in our abilities. We spend a good hour decorating our masks, learning about the different techniques, and materials used. One of my daughters works in the window and becomes the attraction for many passersby, who oftentimes end up entering the small shop, and buying one of Girogio’s masks.

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Once done the masks have to stay in the shop for about an hour to dry. We head for lunch and pick them up on our way back to the hotel.

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We were truly pleased with the result. It is a unique and memorable souvenir to take home from Venice. The masks will always remind us of  the experience which is one we will never forget.

stefanie pichonnat aavtravel

Written by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. With her extensive travel experience in Italy she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

 

Venice for a day – A Daytrip from Milan

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It was still dark when we arrived at Milano Centrale. Thanks to the Excelsior Gallia’s location we only had to stroll across the street to make it there. The air smelled moist and crisp on the early mid-February morning.

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Milano’s train station is impressive, a humongous historical building dating back to 1912 when its architect, Ulisse Stacchini, came up with the idea to create  the “Cathedral of Movement”. With 11,000 m2 of marble and the central arch spanning over 72 meters Milano Centrale is easily one of Europe’s most beautiful train stations.

Crossing the deserted hall, which seemed somehow dark, despite the bright, artificial lights, we made our way to the platform.

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The ride from Milan to Venice Santa Lucia station takes about 2 hours 30 minutes. In the early morning hours the landscape had a romantic touch, covered by a layer of mist which softened the classic Italian shapes and colors, almost like a painting. In the distance a view of the Dolomites, the stoic mountain range which is home to some of Italy’s best skiing areas such as Cortina.

Once the train starts crossing the water from Venice Mestre to Venice Island it’s time to get excited. Venice’s train station is very welcoming with its bright, airy and clean setting. As you cross the arrivals hall and step out into the open, you are immediately greeted by the city’s romantic beauty. It almost hits you by surprise, it’s as if you stepped right into a postcard.

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There is daylight now, but the sun still sits low. A romantic mist lingers over the canals, making the skyline of domes and towers of the city look like a pastel water color painting.

Since we hadn’t made any plans, we decided to hop on one of the water buses, the so called Vaporettos, to get closer to the Grand Canal and St. Marks Square. The waterbus system is extensive and  very much like a subway or bus system in a larger city. Instead of hoping onto a train though you are embarking and disembarking a small, one story, passenger ship. Whilst public transportation usually is a quick way to get around, this is different. The Vaporettos are extremely slow.  And, just like a subway or a regular bus, they fill up and get crowded at times, making it not the most comfortable and convenient way to travel.

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Venice’s streets and canals are confusing. To have a map is essential and to look at it often is crucial. It is extremely easy to get lost in the many small passages and sideways. Quite honestly though, Venice makes getting lost as charming as can be. There are so many squares, palazzos, beautiful houses, canals and bridges, always something to see. It is hard to take your eyes off or wonder, if this place really exists. Getting lost also means that you lose the crowd of tourists and all of a sudden find yourself in a more residential area, where flowers are delivered by boat and old people stand at the street corner thoroughly engaged in a chat.

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Presuming that it wouldn’t be busy in February, I was surprised how many tourists were crowding around the major attractions such as St. Marks Square and the Rialto bridge. It quickly becomes clear that Venice is attractive, no matter what time of the year. Some of the lines to enter attractions seemed almost ridiculously long. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must look like in summer. At the end of the day I felt utterly charmed by Venice, it is truly unique and one of the most romantic cities. However, it likely wouldn’t have had the same effect on me during the summer, when it is overrun by tourists and some of the canals exude bad odors.

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stefanie pichonnat aavtravel

 

Written by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. With her extensive travel experience in Italy she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

Finding Paradise in Tahiti – The Brando – Tetiaroa

Imagine a place, far far away, somewhere close to the equator, in the middle of the South Pacific, 17.0000° S, 149.5500° W to be precise.

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A place where you will find yourself blinking your eyes, just to make sure it is real.

A place with colors so intense, like you’ve never seen them before.

A place where you hear the gentle lapping of  waves, the light humming of a honey bee every now and then, and a bird screech ever so often.

A place filled with the smell of sea salt, warm air, and tropical plants.

A place where you become one with nature, where time seems to stand still, and all of a sudden you feel at peace with yourself. It is as if you had arrived in paradise and the paradise’s name is Tetiaroa.

Beach at The Brando

The atoll of Tetiaro is located in French Polynesia, also referred to as Tahiti, in the outer parts of the Society archipelago to be precise. Until about 2 years ago, the atoll was known by very few (non Tahitians that is).

Marlon Brando had discovered this paradise when scouting possible locales for the movie “Mutiny of the Bounty.” He was immediately fascinated by this particular collection of motus, their incredible beauty and unique ability to make one feel that much closer to paradise. In 1967 Marlon Brando succeeded in acquiring the atoll and for many years Tetiaroa was his paradise, a place where he, his family and close friends, could escape to.

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Marlon Brando however, wasn’t just a wealthy celebrity. He was also a visionary. He dreamed of an island paradise that would be a model of sustainability. He wanted Tetiaroa’s natural beauty and everything it had to offer, preserved. He wanted to create a center for research and education, that eventually could benefit the entire world.

Although Marlon Brando died in 2004, his dream to create a self-sustaining, top-class, luxury resort that acted as a center for guests, residents, as well as scientific research, became reality. Today, Tetiaroa is likely one of the most unique resort properties you can imagine. Not only is it unlike anything else, it is also very exclusive and the hotel buzz is brimming with many people wondering, if this concept and idea can survive.

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Whether it will or not, only the stars can tell (and there are plenty on Tetiaroa where stargazing is at its best). And whilst the idea might seem crazy to some, the product and concept is solid. The resort is top-notch, every detail paid attention to. The food, despite the fact that you find yourself miles out in the South Pacific, is flawless. The service is impeccable and very personable. You feel welcomed to paradise from the moment you step off Air Tetiaroa’s plane.

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What originally seemed like a place that could quickly become boring, turned almost immediately into a place you would never want to leave.

Here are a few of my favorite images taken during my stay.

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stefanie pichonnat aavtravelSTEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating customized travel itineraries. Having personally traveled to Hawai’i, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, and Tahiti, she can help you create a wonderful South Pacific experience. To plan a trip contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

Long layover at Tom Bradley International Terminal LAX

15 hours at LAX – oh how I was dreading spending my time at the airport!

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Let me begin from the start though. Picture a small group of travel professionals selected to embark on an educational adventure to Tahiti. Needless to say a trip like that involves a schedule planned into the smallest detail. Resort visits, inter-island flights, ferries, excursions, dinners with hotel executives, networking trade shows… 8 fully packed days.

Because of that, I did not want to miss my flight to Papeete and hence decided to leave the Midwest very early in the morning, for a late at night flight from LAX. I landed at LAX around 8am. It took me a good hour to retrieve my luggage and make it to the new Tom Bradley International Terminal.

The good news is, I was early enough to catch the Air Tahiti Nui gate agents who had just sent off a morning flight. They allowed me to check-in more than 12 hours prior to my actual flight, thus giving me the golden ticket, the boarding pass, that would give me access to the terminal.

Before doing anything else I had to have some breakfast. I settled for an over priced yogurt/granola breakfast from Larder at Tavern which well, was just okay. Since I wanted to do some work  that day and I had brought my laptop and quickly found a comfortable space with view of the runway.

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10 hours into the layover I have to say, Tom Bradley International Terminal is absolutely great. The amount of daylight you get in this terminal makes you forget that you are inside. The architecture and design is simply stunning.

Here are my top things to do (when not working):

  • Food (I was looking for reasonably priced options)  and found these faves:
    • ink.sack: A great selection of gourmet sandwiches prepared to order. Priced reasonably which is truly a treat at this airport.
    • 800 degrees: Typical Neapolitan pizza, the perfect airport comfort food.

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  • Water (admittedly, I am picky, spring water is a must have). There is definitely a shortage of spring water in the newsstand areas (Dasani and Smart Water is the choice and those price around $3/4 for a bottle). Fiji is the only natural water I could find and it has to be purchased from one of the food vendors. $5.50 (incl. tax) is pretty much the street price.

You will also find Starbucks, pinkberry smoothies/ice cream, as well as Vanilla Bakeshop (selling cupcakes and other sweet indulgences).
In addition there are a lot of upscale dining options, including a sushi bar, Petrossian caviar,  and many fun bars to choose from.

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Shopping options are plenty and mainly high-end

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Wifi at LAX is free only for 1 hour. If you are staying longer you will have to purchase a Boingo Plan. I ended up subscribing to Boingo’s monthly plan which turned out to be less expensive than the 24 hour option. I used it again on my return layover and then cancelled the plan after my return.

Electricity is available all across the terminal, however, make sure to check that the outlet is working. I’ve encountered several that seemed to be malfunctioning.

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I do like to workout and feel the need to move around. I found that it is really easy to walk laps throughout the terminal as well as integrate stairs into the workout.

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Having spent pretty much an entire day at this terminal I can tell you that it is very peaceful and relaxing. At no point did I feel it was noisy or rushed. That is until the evening hours, when the terminal started to fill up with the late night flight passengers. It was still easy to find a spot, but it definitely started to feel more like a terminal. One of my favorite evening perks was the live duo, playing some classic cover songs which sounded great throughout the main hall.

For those traveling with children you will be happy to know that there is a designated kid zone area. However, I was a bit disappointed. It is stuck in the darkest back area with absolutely no daylight whatsoever.

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The one thing I feel would put this terminal over the top, is an outdoor area somewhere. A little bit of fresh air would have made this layover perfect.

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I had originally planned on spending my day at the United Lounge, however I am so glad that didn’t work out, as I am sure, the time in the terminal was more relaxing and interesting. Plus, I got to enjoy the pretty sunset.

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Written by AAV Travel’s Owner

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelSTEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating customized travel itineraries. Having personally traveled to many destinations worldwide, she can help you create a wonderful vacation experience. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

Day Trip to Eilean Donan Castle via Loch Ness and Kyle of Lochalsh

Eilean Donan Castle is peacefully perched on a small tidal island in the Western part of the Scottish Highlands.  Located close to the village of Dorny, it sits right where three lochs meet; Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh. With this fairy tale setting, it is no wonder Eilean Donan is one of the most photographed castles in the world, and  considered one of the most romantic ones as well.

eilean donan, scotland, castle, aavtravelHowever, let me start at the beginning of our day trip to this legendary castle. Chances are, that unless you are headed to the Isle of Skye via the Skye Bridge, Eilean Donan will not be on your travel route. So either you happen to pass by the castle because you are headed towards the gateway to the Hebrides, or you have consciously made the decision to visit Eilean Donan Castle. For us, it was the latter.

Departing from the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, Aviemore to be more precise, the round-trip to the castle was projected to take between 5 – 6 hours driving time. As I am not a fan of driving the same route twice, we decided to loop through the Highlands.

aviemore, scotland, cairngorms, aavtravelThe morning was cloudy and grey with raindrops every now and then. The first thing that hits you when you get out of the house on one of these cloudy mornings is the fresh air. It is thick, moist and thoroughly refreshing, like drinking water straight from its source. The second thing one notices, are the clouds. Even on days when the sun is shining, there is a good chance that you will spot some clouds, usually big and dark. A very gentle reminder to never forget your raincoat or umbrella.

We started by heading towards Inverness and on to Loch Ness. I have been to Loch Ness before, and quite frankly it is one of those destinations you feel you absolutely have to go to, but you really don’t. The loch is huge and dark and has a rather gloomy appeal. The road along the lakeside is pretty, but not spectacular. From my previous visit I knew to abstain the urge to visit Urquhart Castle. It is not worth the time or the money. Instead we stopped at the Loch Ness Exhibition Center which made for a great break. The exhibit was interesting and my children were clearly enchanted by the many Nessie souvenirs available.Loch Ness Exhibition Centerloch ness, nessie, souvenirLeaving Loch Ness, we headed West through the Highlands and along Loch Cluanie. Before driving into the rural areas of the Highlands, you need to make sure to fill your tank. You might even want to pack some food and drinks. Gas stations are a rare find and food stops scarce. Every now and then you might come along an Inn but you really need to keep your eyes open.

We arrived at Eilean Donan during low tide. The sight was breathtaking!

eilean donan, castle, scotland, low-tide, aavtavel, loch Due to its unique location, one expects to find the castle deserted. It being overrun by cruise passengers is not really something you would expect. However, just as we arrived, about 100 Holland America cruise passengers were about to embark from their tour buses. As you can guess, it put a little damper on our visit. If you take away one thing from reading this post, it is to make sure you plan your visit around the cruise schedule, or any major tour bus arrival, particularly during the high season of July and August. I think it will greatly enhance your experience.

eilean donan castle, loch alsh, scotland, aavtravelDue to the many people cramming through the castle, we did not get a full inside experience. However, my children had an awesome time, trying to uncover the mysteries following a scavenger hunt map, given to them at the entrance. Thanks to the scavenger hunt, we discovered the secret spy hole, as well as a little troll in the wall.

eilean donan castle, troll, scotland, children, loch, aavtravelWe walked around the castle and enjoyed the view of the 3 lochs.  This particular image has Loch Duig as a backdrop, the most Eastern of the three. eilean donan castle, loch duig, scotland, aavtravelThis view is of Loch Alsh, with Kyle of Lochalsh and the Isle of Skye in the distance.

loch alsh, scotland, eilean donan, loch, aavtravelHere you see Dornie on the right, the village by Eilean Donan, and the bridge that crosses over Loch Long.

dornie, loch alsh, eilean donan, aavtravelAs my daughter would say, we were “starving” after the visit and headed to Kyle of Lochalsh to find some food. Much of it was closed, and we ended up having lunch at the Lochalsh Hotel. It was nothing to write home about but filled our empty stomachs.

kyle of lochalsh, hotel, scotland, aavtravelThe hotel overlooks the sailboat harbor of Kyle of Lochalsh, and in the distance has a view of the Skye Bridge, with Kyleakin on the other side, and the Cuillin mountains on the Isle of Skye in the far back.

kyle of lochalsh, loch alsh, skye bride, isle of skye, aavtravel, scotlandWe did not stop on our way back to Aviemore. However, the route via Loch Carron took us through the rural Highlands, taking us high up over passes, and down again into vallies with streams and lochs. Every now and then a flock of sheep. We returned back late that afternoon to Inverness via Achnasheen and later Loch Luichart.

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. With her extensive travel experience in Scotland she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com