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

Photo Jun 10, 11 56 33 AM

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!

Photo Jun 10, 12 03 51 PM

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

MiradorDeLaCruzMap

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:

Photo Jun 10, 12 23 32 PM

 

Photo Jun 10, 12 22 08 PM

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.

Photo Jun 10, 12 17 36 PM

Photo Jun 10, 12 18 03 PM

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

Photo Jun 10, 11 51 11 AM

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

Photo Jun 10, 11 56 49 AM

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?

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.

hurrican-tracking

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.

jamaica-087

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

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.

ITALY

Venice004

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

34879528

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

wisteria_douro_river_valley

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

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

 

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.

europewinter2016_4234europewinter2016_4234

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.

europewinter2016_4215europewinter2016_4215

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.

europewinter2016_4249europewinter2016_4249

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.

europewinter2016_4250europewinter2016_4250

europewinter2016_4245europewinter2016_4245

europewinter2016_4201europewinter2016_4201

europewinter2016_4253europewinter2016_4253

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.

europewinter2016_4208europewinter2016_4208

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

Venice004

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.

Venice000

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.

Venice001

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.

Venice003

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.

Venice005

Venice009

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.

Venice017

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.

Venice013

Venice010

Venice007

Venice016

Venice012

Venice019

Venice015

Venice014

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.

the brando, tetiaroa, french polynesia, tahiti, private island, castaway, atoll, motu, marlon brando, brando

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.

the brando, atoll, tetiaroa, tahiti, brando, aavtravel, french polynesia

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.

The Brando, private villa, tetiaroa, aavtravel, french polynesia, tahiti, plunge pool, paradise

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.

The Brando, tetiaroa, tahiti, french polynesia, beach, stargazing, aavtravel, paradise, private island, luxury

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.

the brando, tetiaroa, entrance, tahiti, french polynesia, aavtravel, palmtrees, private islandTheBrando030

TheBrando034

TheBrando026

TheBrando061

the brando, private island, tetiaroa, tahiti, aavtravel, all-inclusive, romance, private island, french polynesia

TheBrando064

TheBrando068

TheBrando066

the brando, tetiaroa, excursion, aavtravel, french polynesia, tahiti, all-inclusive, luxury, private island, tetiaroa foundation

TheBrando051

the brando, spa, tetiaroa, french polynesia, tahiti, aavtravel, bird house

TheBrando001

the brando, tetiaroa, french polynesia, luxury, all-inclusive, private island, aavtravel

TheBrando062

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

Sneak Peek of what’s to come: Tahiti, Tetiaroa, Bora Bora, and more

As I am sitting in my office chair, typing on the laptop, my hands slightly chilly from the cooler fall like air, I cannot help but feel the excitement in me grow. This December, I will have an incredible opportunity. Granted, I get quite a few of them and they are always exciting. But this one, this one, I have been waiting for, for quite a while. It is one of these opportunities that only gets extended to very few specialists, and truth be told, most of the time they are located along the West coast, not necessarily from the Midwest.

tetiaroa, tahiti, brando, aavtravel, french polynesia

Photo courtesy of the Brando Resort

Thanks to Classic Vacations and the Tahiti Tourism Board, I will be traveling to Tahiti coming December. I will get to experience Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Tetiaroa.

Tetiaroa will be our first stop. It is a privately owned atoll in the Windward group of the Society Islands and up until recently was solely enjoyed by its owners, the Brando family. Marlon Brando had discovered the atoll whilst looking for movie locations for the Mutiny of the Bounty in 1960 and eventually purchased the atoll a couple of years later.

Last year however, The Brando resort opened, and now over 50 years later, we all have the opportunity to experience this small piece of paradise.

brando resort, french polynesia, tahiti, tetiaroa, aavtravel, atoll

Photo courtesy of the Brando Resort

After Tetiaroa we will be heading to Bora Bora, a volcanic island, surrounded by sand-fringed motus (islets). Bora Bora is famous for its spectacular scenery with Mount Otemanu, a dormant volcano, as well as scuba diving and some of the most prestigious luxury resorts.

sea turtle, tahiti, brando, aavtravel

Photo courtesy of the Brando Resort

As the leaves are starting to turn, and as it is getting chillier outside, I cannot wait for this exciting adventure to start!

Written by AAV Travel’s South Pacific Expert

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 soon Tahiti, she can help you create a wonderful South Pacific experience. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

24 hours in Paris – Paris is always a good idea!

paris, il de la cite, notre dame, seine, aavtravelI will never forget my very first time in Paris. I had just turned 14 and my parents decided to take my sister and I to the City of Lights for a couple of days. It was sometime in the 80’s and the TGV, the high speed train, had just been introduced. This new, super fast train, made traveling from Bern to Paris non-stop and a breeze.

Quite a few memories remain from that visit. Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen and Le Magasin Tati, shopping heaven for bargain hunters, or teens on a limited budget. The incredible grandeur of Versailles impressed me forever with its lavishly decorated halls and perfectly manicured gardens. Dinner in a typical French restaurant, somewhere along the Seine river. A charming French waiter who traced a heart of whipped cream on my dessert, timidly asking my parents if he could take me out that night. Me, deeply embarrassed and the laughing stock of my sister. Needless to say, the trip left an everlasting impression.

ile de la cite, paris, seine, river, aavtravelA couple of years later, I returned to stay for a year. The city was still beautiful; but had become somewhat more menacing. I spent my mornings working as a nanny in one of the suburbs and the afternoons perfecting my French at the Alliance Francaise in the 6e arrondissement. Most of my free time I spent roaming around Paris, discovering every nook and cranny, meticulously following the different walks suggested in Michelin’s Guide Vert. For almost a year, I discovered Paris inside and out. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

I’ve returned many times since but this summer was going to be different. I was headed in that direction with my girls and it was their very first time. We only had about 48 hours but I absolutely wanted them to see Paris, even if it was just for a day. It was an incredible experience to watch them get excited, show interest, and wanting to discover more.

Here are a few pictures from our day visiting some of my personal highlights in the city. Enjoy!

carousel, merry-go-round, bercy, paris, aavtravelOur first stop, the carousel at the Parc de Bercy. This is probably Paris’ newest park which is beautiful and consists of 3 different gardens, The Romantic Garden, The Flower Beds and The Meadows. There was no chance we could leave the carousel, without enjoying one of the enormous “barbe à papa” (cotton candy or loosely translated, daddy’s beard).

barbe a papa, cotton candy, paris, bercy, carousel, aavtravelNext on the list was one of my very favorite places in Paris. La Place des Vosges, home to Victor Hugo’s house, located in the area called Le Marais.

le marais, place des vosges, paris, aavtravelplace des vosges, playground, le marais, paris, aavtravella place des Vosges, paris, marais, aavtravelWe headed towards Les Quais de la Seine, the boardwalks by the Seine river where until today, you can find merchants selling old books, magazines, posters and paintings.

quais, seine, marche, livres, paris, aavtravelseine, parisLively St. Michel made for the perfect lunch stop. We opted for Indian food at Le Safran and enjoyed a lovely lunch in their upstairs area.

Indian food, paris, safran, restaurantLe Louvre was already closed when we got there but no matter what, it is beautiful to look at. I remember the controversy of the pyramids when they first installed them and today they are an integral part of these ancient buildings. If you go, make sure to check out La Pyramide Inversée, the inverted pyramid as well, which acts as a skylight.

louvre, paris, aavtravellouvre, pyramides, paris, aavtravellouvre, road, paris, aavtravelWe went on to Le Jardin de Tuileries (the Tuilerie gardens) where the summer carnival was in full swing. We did go on the Ferris wheel which was incredibly overpriced and honestly said, not worth the money. I was however able to get some nice shots. Can you spot La Défense,  Le Musée d’Orsay, Les Invalides, Opéra Garnier and Sacré-Coeur?

tuileries gardens, carnival, jardin des tuileries, paris, aavtraveljardin des tulieries, tuileries, musee d'orsay, paris, gardens, aavtravelmontmartre, opera, paris, tuileries, aerial view, aavtravel, parisDawn was setting in as we headed North to the Montmartre area, one of my absolute favorites because of the incredible view. subway station, metro , louvre rivoli, parisThat evening, it was incredibly busy due to it being Le 14 juillet (Bastille Day).

sacre coeur, montmartre, paris, aavtravelparis, montmartre, view, aavtravelWe decided to head back to the Tuileries to watch the fireworks and walked towards Pigalle where the Moulin Rouge is located.

mourlin rouge, pigalle, paris, aavtravelWe enjoyed the fireworks from a distance and then traveled back to the hotel for a last night in Paris.

eiffel tower, paris, by night, aavtravelBonne nuit mes amis! We had a great time, short but sweet. We will be back!

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 France and Paris, she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact Stefanie at stefanie@aav-travel.com