The Fifth Day of National #PlanForVacation Day: Grasmere, UK

There is a good chance that you are either reading this post to find out “why Grasmere and where is it,” or you love, as I do, the Lake District, and know exactly what I am talking about.

If you want to start at the beginning and learn more about the Lake District, visit our earlier post. Less developed and popular than Windermere, Ambleside, or Keswick, Grasmere successfully preserved a “best-kept secret” appeal. A couple of shops, some restaurants, basically a quaint and sleepy village. It’s a good place to get away from the crowds and immerse yourself in what the Lake District is all about when you are not exploring its stunning valleys, lakes, glens, rivers, and mountains.

If you are a lover of poetry, there is a good chance you know William Wordsworth’s work. Grasmere was his home for 14 years, and he referred to it as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found.” He lived with his sister and wife, in a place called Dove Cottage. Today, his former home is a small museum, highlighting his work but also life in the Lake District. A visit allows you to take a step back in time and get an idea of what his poetry was all about.

Rothay Garden Hotel and Riverside Spa is where you want to:

  • Head back to after a day’s hike
  • Sleep in on a rainy day
  • Warm up by the fire when it is chilly outside
  • Read a book in the garden when the daffodils bloom
  • Relax, soak and marvel at Grasmere’s beautiful fells from the gorgeous spa
  • Enjoy award-winning fine dining while marveling at spectacular garden views

It’s a place where you can take a thoroughly enjoy taking a break from it all and indulge your “introverted” self.

Our pictures were taken on a rainy day, so we are adding the hotel’s video for another perspective. The sun does shine in Grasmere too!

photo mar 30, 6 28 11 pm

This is the fifth destination highlight of twelve, leading up to the National #PlanForVacation Day on January 29, 2019. Don’t let your vacation days go to waste, plan a trip!

stefanie pichonnat aavtravel

Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel; a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. The UK is a long time favorite of hers, having traveled all over. You can contact her at

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?

sandals emerald bay, exuma, bahamas

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.


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.


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:


doolough ireland aavexplorations

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.



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



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



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


subway station, metro , louvre rivoli, paris

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


Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of  AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm, specialized in creating and customizing honeymoons. You can contact her at



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

“Into the Woods” – Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

“Into the woods, it’s time to go, I hate to leave, I have to go. Into the woods – It’s time, and so I must begin my journey”. Those lines kept on going through my head as I watched my daughters running along, disappearing into the thickly spread pine forest near Glenmore. The air was moist from the sprinkling rain, the undergrowth was covered with dew drops, and the smell of pine, moss, and grass, was overwhelmingly fresh.

Glenmore Forest Park CairngormsThe idea that day, was to take a stroll along the Ryovan Pass to the Ryovan Loch which is known for its vividly green color. People say that its color is due to the fact that the local fairies wash their clothes there. Always on the lookout for fairies, we were eager to head that way. I didn’t have much information on how exactly to get there, but knew that we had to park by the National Outdoor Training Center, at Glenmore Lodge.

Once parked, we looked around and simply took the first hiking path spotted. It so happened to lead us up a hill. We climbed through the thick of the pine forest for a good 20 – 30 minutes before emerging on a dirt road, higher up the mountain.

glenmore, crairngorms national park, loch morlich, aviemore, aavtravel, scottish wildflowers, lupinesThe view that greeted us was spectacular! With Loch Morlich and distant mountain ranges. We decided to follow the dirt road further uphill. It soon stopped and led us onto a smaller path through more woods.

cairngorms, hiking, aavtravel, scotlandScotland has so many areas of incredible beauty and it is one of those places, where getting off the beaten path means you will be on your own. The entire landscape is there for you to soak up, and enjoy. It still has a very untouched feel and radiates an incredible energy. It is as if you get to the heart of nature, where everything is pure and you can feel the pulse of the earth and smell of the air as it is supposed to be.

cairngorms, scotland, glenmore, aviemore, hiking, aavtravelcairngorms, scotland, glenmore, aviemore, hiking, aavtravel

scottish lupins, flowers, cairngorms, scotland, glenmore, aviemore, hiking, aavtravelcairngorms, scotland, glenmore, aviemore, hiking, aavtravelWe had set out to find a loch colored with fairy water that day, but found an incredible place uphill instead. We never doubted that fairies must live there.  We even spotted a small stream with reddish water. And maybe, just maybe, fairies are as meticulous in separating their laundry by colors as we are.

If this peaks your interest and you want to learn a bit more about Cairngorms National Park and what it has to offer check out some of these videos


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



Oxford Park n’Ride: A Short Visit to the University Town of Oxford

I had it all planned out. We would leave London early morning, and get to Oxford around 10am. I already knew that driving into Oxford was a bad idea because of parking, and had decided on Thornhill Park n’ Ride as gateway to the university town.

It would be a lie to say I wasn’t nervous. My two girls (10 & 8) in the back seat, my 70 year old mom in charge of navigating, and me driving on the left hand side for the very first time. Not necessarily a dream combination. Nevertheless, we made it without a scratch and in good spirits.

Oxford’s Park n’ Ride was managed a bit different from what I knew. First off, instead of remembering your parking spot number you had to remember your license plate. Once at the parking meter, you enter that number and a camera then searches for your car on the lot which hopefully you will recognize. You choose your car and then make a payment. The meter was supposed to accept both, credit cards as well as cash, however, it did not want to accept any of my cards. I would hence suggest to bring some cash as it appears to be the safer bet.

The bus fare into Oxford is extra, and less than £3 for a roundtrip. Children are free. The ride takes about 15 minutes and takes you right into the center of the university town. Before you hop off, you might want to ask the driver where the return stop is, as it can be a bit tricky to locate it among all the different buses and stops.

This is a photo-log of our day in Oxford. Enjoy!

st mary's church, oxford, church, aavtravelcollege library, all saints church, oxford, england, church, aavtraveloxford, blooms, flowers, england, aavtravelOrnate doorway at Christchurch College OxfordOxford010 Oxford006 christchurch, college, oxford, harry potter, aavtravel oxford, halls, beer, aavtraveloxford, market, food, england, aavtravelmagdalena bridge, punting, cherwell river, row boatboat hire, oxford university, exams, good luck


A tale of Beatrix Potter and the Lake District

England’s North West is well developed with big cities and industrial hubs such as Manchester and Liverpool. But not far from the hustle and pollution, you find an area of incredible nature almost untouched by urban development. Some of that is thanks to Beatrix Potter, the famous children’s book author, whose many tales (e.g. The Tale of Peter Rabbit) are set in the Lake District.
lake district, UK, great britain, england, lake, aavtravel, beatrix potterIn the early 1900’s, after the tragic loss of her fiancé, Beatrix retreated to the Lake District and started breeding sheep and farming her own land. When investors started arriving in the Lake District, she became a fierce conservationist. Her acquired wealth allowed her to  buy up many farms and their lands. From the beginning Beatrix worked closely with the National Trust, envisioning the long-term preservation of the area. After her death in 1943, 4000 acres of land and countryside, including 14 farms, were given to the National Trust. Ever since then, these farms and land are still conserved and  managed by tenant farmers, just like she had wished.
lake district, sheep, england, uk, great britain, aavtravel, beatrix potterBeatrix Potter was a woman well ahead of her time that wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself and what she believed in. I always wondered what inspired such passion, creativity and determination. A visit to the Lake District was long due, and I quickly understood what must have been driving her.

Once you leave the interstate to enter the Lake District, you are greeted by rolling green hills and miles and miles of romantic stone walls separating land patches and enclosing sheep and cattle. The air is fresh, almost moist. The light is intriguing and changes constantly. Lakes await around every bend. Whilst there is a main road connecting some of the main areas, it is well worth choosing the shortest,  instead of the fastest route. The Lake District’s back-roads take you across hills, by farms, along a lake, or across a pass. You’ll see miles and miles of land, but hardly ever a soul. Getting off the main road is an experience you don’t want to miss. However, be warned, the smaller the car the better, because many of these roads are one lane and very narrow even when there are two lanes.

lake district, sheep, england, uk, great britain, aavtravel, beatrix potterThe Lake District is a heaven for hikers, bikers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Many of the trails lead you across flock of sheep, grazing on the green grass, rolling hills, and meadows adorned by wild flowers. The light and cloud scenery is spectacular and ever changing. The same goes for the weather. You might set out on a sunny day, but can find yourself soaked by rain an hour later. As long as you expect changing weather, layer your clothing, and have adequate rain gear, you should be fine. Given the terrain and weather, I would definitely recommend a pair of hiking boots instead of tennis shoes.

lake district, Windermere, lake windermere, england, beatrix potter, hiking, aavtravelSmall towns, like for instance Windermere or Ambleside, offer hotels as well as guest houses and B&B’s. There you will also find restaurants as well as shops where you can stock up on souvenirs, hiking gear, or supplies.
Windermere, england, shopping, aavtravel, lake districtold england hotel, windermere, lake district, england, uk, aavtravel, beatrix potterOur day in the Lake District was amazing, and I will be returning soon to discover more of what this beautiful part of England has to offer.

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 Great Britain she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact at