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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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

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.

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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

Visit Hawaii: Which Hawaiian Island should you go to?

Hawaii is unique. Especially for a malihini (newcomer) it can be hard to determine which island to visit.

The first thing to do is asking yourself: What do I imagine my Hawaiian vacation to be like? What kind of pictures do I see in my mind?

  • Have you always wanted to see a live volcano?
  • Do you picture hula dancers on the beach?
  • Have you always wanted to play on one of the many phenomenal golf courses?
  • Or, are you a history buff and Pearl Harbor is a must?big island hawaii, kohala coast, dining, oceanfront, beach, hawaii Image credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Once you have a good idea of what it is you are looking for, check out the grid we created. This check-list allows you to determine what experiences are available on which island. Check the ones you are looking for, see on which island/s they are available. The island that offers the highest amount of experiences you are looking for should be your top pick.
aavtravel, hawaii, which island to go to, where to travel toYou should leave enough time to properly experience an island. The Island of Hawaii for example does not only have a lot to offer but is also quite big. Travel times are longer and you need a couple of days, if you want to experience most of what the island has to offer. If you only have a week, I would suggest sticking to one island. If you have 10 days or more, a combination of 2 islands is a great option. If you have limited time but want to see them all, you might be interested in one of the cruises.

hana, waterfall, maui, hawaii, hikingImage credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Every island is distinct in what it offers (from urban to rural and private), which makes choosing the right one a little difficult. Hopefully our grid makes finding the one that suits you best a little easier. No matter which moku (island) you decide to visit (or if you choose to island hop!) you will have an experience of a lifetime.

Written by AAV Travel’s Hawaii Expert


stefanie pichonnat aavtravel
STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the Hawaii Specialist at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. Having personally travelled to Hawaii she can help you create a wonderful experience. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

Review – The LikuLiku Resort Fiji

Rated number three in the Top 10 most romantic islands in the world by “Island Magazine” USA, Likuliku is not only beautiful but also unique to the Mamanucas. This adult-only island resort is located on its own island, located about 25 km/16 miles from Nadi International Airport. There are several options to reach Liku Liku including a daily catamaran ferry service departing from Denarau Port. Depending on what time your flight arrives in Nadi this is a great option, or if you come in too late you might want to choose a sea plane or private boat charter to avoid having to spend the first night in Denarau.

liku liku, fiji, malolo, aavexplorationsYour Getaway
As soon as you step foot on Liku Liku’s pier you will feel as if you have been welcomed home. You will be welcomed with a traditional Fijian song, drink, cooling towel and a beautiful shell necklace. Take a deep breath, it’s time to relax and let it sink in. You have just arrived at one of the world’s most beautiful resorts and you are here to stay – at least for a little while.

liku liku, fiji, aavexplorationsLiku Liku is the currently the only Fijian property with over-water bungalows. 10 private over-the-water bures are linked by a bridge pathway from the beach. Imagine sitting on your private deck directly over water. Your spacious Fijian style bure boasts a glass floor so you can watch the colorful fish swim by while sitting in your living room. Step out onto the deck and there’s a ladder for water entry. If you just want to relax, you can even enjoy the view of the lagoon from the bathtub.

liku liku, over-water, overwater, bungalow, bure, aavexplorationsLiku Liku also offers a fantastic selection of deluxe beachfront bures, set right on the pristine sand. These bures come with your own private pool and the ocean is just a few steps away. The Deluxe Bures and Overwater Bungalows are perfect for honeymoon couples wanting to romance and looking for that extra touch of luxury.

liku liku, bure, beachfront, fiji, aavexplorationsSoothe your Body and Soul
Feeling run down? Get rejuvenated by a Fijian style massage at the Tatadra spa (meaning House of Dreams–how does that NOT sound appealing?!). The experts will send you into a state of relaxation you didn’t know existed with their Pure Fijian products. While being pampered, you can bask in the warmth and be soothed by the breeze. All overlooking the beautiful lagoon. The best thing about it all, Fijian spa services are very affordable in comparison to any other location in the world.

liku liku, fiji, spa, aavtravelExperience LikuLiku
Get ready to indulge yourself with gourmet dishes that range from freshly-caught seafood to mouth watering breakfast pastries and mud-crab omelets with chilli and papaya relish. New Zealand born Ihaka Peri is the executive chef at the resort, and you can count on every meal being fresh and creative–all while eating beachside. There’s also a hotel bar. The Masima Island Bar is the go-to spot for sipping back fruity cocktails and it’s the place to be on a Friday night.

liku liku, fiji, pool, aavtravelThere’s plenty of aquatic activity to go around on the island. For adrenaline junkies there’s: water-skiing, wakeboarding, jet skiing and kneeboarding (all at additional costs). Or for a more relaxed time on the water, rent a kayak or try windsurfing.  Take a swim in either the hotel pool or lounge in the lagoon. High tide is the best for snorkeling off the beach, near the jetty or off your own over-the-water bures. The area is a protected marine reserve, so you’re guaranteed to see lots of rainbow-colored fish. If you are an avid scuba diver and want to dive on a daily basis, LikuLiku might not be your best choice. However, if you want to dive for a day, scuba diving is handled off the island, but it’s definitely worth looking into to. They have lessons for all levels of experience that range from going deep to Maolo’s barrier reef, or checking out calm inner reefs. You can expect to see lots of colorful, hard coral, turtles, reef sharks, manta rays, moray eels and of course, tropical fish!

There’s just as much excitement back on land! Discover the ancient archaeological sites that spread across the island, hike the nature trails or plan a guided bush walk. If you want to experience the Fijian culture you can also visit the island’s two villages. Or if you really want to slow things down, taking a nice long walk along the beach is highly recommended–take in the paradise that surrounds you, feel the warmth of the sun, breathe the Fijian air, and dig  your toes in the sand.

Convinced?
Liku Liku is a wonderful place to relax and unwind. The luxurious, adult-only atmosphere is very romantic and perfect for a peaceful getaway. Allow yourself to be seduced by LikuLiku’s luxurious charms. Great dining, upscale rooms, serene spa experience, and who can forget the all the great activities? Your paradise awaits!

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Written by STEPHANIE JELLETT
Stephanie Jellett is interning as a travel writer and social media manager at AAV Travel. You can contact her at stephanie.jellett@maine.edu

 

in conjunction with AAV Travel’s Fiji Expert
stefanie pichonnat aavtravel

STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the South Pacific Specialist at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

Turtle Bay Resort — O’ahu North Shore, Hawaii

Five miles of sandy beaches, natural authentic beauty, and completely remote, Turtle Bay Resort is the only hotel and resort located on the North Shore. Situated an hour north of the bustling cities of Honolulu with its busy Waikiki beachfront, you’ll get to experience what it feels like to escape from the world and immerse yourself in the laid back island lifestyle.

Imagine sitting on a beach chair, enjoying the sun and a fresh breeze, sipping a Kona Big Wave, overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean whilesurfers are trying to catch a wave. This is one of the many experiences you can have at Turtle Bay. Talk to the staff and you will quickly understand the magic of the place. Many have left their high-paying careers in big cities to come here to find the perfect work/life balance.

 

Turtle Bay

Aloha!
Aloha! Is likely the first greeting you will hear arriving on O’ahu. Hawaiian’s are proud of their native language and they love it when visitors know a little bit about it. The most challenging part for English speaking people is the pronunciation. This Hawaii language guide can help with it.
Aloha and mahalo are very important. Whether you’re passing a local on the street and say aloha, or paying for dinner and thank your waiter by saying mahalo, having those two words in your vocabulary will go a long way.

Here are a few other common Hawaiian words to help you out:

  • Pehea ‘oe — How are you?
  • Maika’i no au — I am fine
  • ‘Ono — Delicious or tasty
  • Malihini — Newcomer or visitor
  • KOkua — Help or need of assistance
  • Kala mai ai’u — Excuse me
  • Aloha au ia ‘oe — I love you

Experience Turtle Bay Resort

Under new management since 2010, millions have been invested into upgrading this unique property.Today you can expect sleek, sophisticated rooms and an overall modern, luxurious, casual surfer vibe. The resort has 452 up-scale, oceanfront accommodations. Choose from either beachfront cottages and villas or pick a guest room or suite–majority of the rooms at Turtle Bay have a stunning ocean views as well. What’s really spectacular is going to sleep to the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore–and it’s not from a sound machine that’s on repeat, you’re really listening to the soothing sounds on your front door.

Oahu Hawaii Turtle Bay aavtravel travel Not only do you get five miles of pure beachfront beauty to walk along, the resort also has endless activities that you can keep yourself busy with, such as: horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking and tennis. You can even go to surf school and learn how to catch a wave. Water sports include: snorkeling, paddle boarding, kite surfing, kayaking and fishing. There’s also a 36-hole championship golf course designed by pro golfers George Fazio and Arnold Palmer near by. You can also learn some of the traditional Hawaiian culture by trying hula and ukulele lessons and lei making.

The Nalu Kinetic Spa will give you a multi-sensory experience: hearing waves crashing on the shore, beautiful views of the swells, and the new Wave Therapy will gently rock you back and forth as if you were floating in the ocean. It’s a great way to experience the ultimate relaxation. The spa was also named one of the nation’s top 10 Organic Spa’s in 2013–and there’s good reason for it! There are various kinds of treatments that you can choose from, whether you want a private seaside massage, body wraps, reflexology, or couples massages, you’ll be guaranteed to find something you’ll love and the treatments are reasonably priced.

Oahu Hawaii aavtravel travel Have you ever dreamed of having a private beach wedding? At Turtle Bay, you’ll be guaranteed to get just that. Ranked in the top 10 of Hawaii’s best honeymoon destinations, tying the knot beachside or at the oceanfront chapel will feel like a dream come true; it’s the perfect romantic couples escape. After ‘I Do:’ Imagine yourself, just recently pronounced man and wife. You get ready for a private dinner on your lanai with your own personal butler as you watch the sunset. Afterwards, you walk hand in hand down the beach, feeling the soft sand between your toes and listening to the soothing sounds of the waves coming on shore. You come back to your cottage and it’s decorated with rose petals leading to your own personal exotic spa….where you relax and toast to your new life together as a married couple.

Oahu Hawaii Turtle Bay aavtravel travel Haleiwa
Just a short drive from Turtle Bay Resort, Haleiwa (pronounced hah-lay-EE-wah) is a small community and is also known as the surfing capital of the world. Though this town may be little, it definitely brings its A game! Don’t expect to find Waikiki here, expect a laid back surfer town instead. There’s no shortage of shopping in downtown Haleiwa, whether you’re looking for high-end shops or affordable authentic Hawaiian-made gifts to bring back home, you’ll be sure to find something! Surf shops, art galleries featuring local artists, and specialty shops are also located downtown. If you are into photography and want to take home a authentic North Shore souvenir stop by Clark Little’s gallery. His images are amazing!

Oahu Hawaii aavtravel travel Turtle Bay’s Webcam is a great place to catch a glimpse of the waves (heads up: the link first runs an ad before connecting with the webcam).

Or, if you like videos, check out this clip about a typical day at Turtle Bay Resort:

Have you ever stayed at Turtle Bay or visited the North Shore? Share your experiences with us, leave a comment, we’d love to hear from you! Dreamed of planning a vacation to O’ahu and its magical North Shore? We can help! E-mail us at info@aav-travel.com or visit our website at www.aav-travel.com        

A Visit to Barcelona

When my friend asked me late last year if I wanted to join her on a trip to Barcelona I did not hesitate. Not only had I been fascinated by the city I visited over 20 years ago for just one day, but also had I received more and more client requests for this area. Movies like Vicky Cristina Barcelona and the fact that Barcelona is a major departure port for Mediterranean cruises has increasingly put the city on a map. Trust me, the trip and city did not disappoint!

park guell barcelona aavtravelDespite it being early spring (mid-March) the temperatures were fairly comfortable and the weather quite good. Although it is considered off-season, the city was packed with tourists from Europe, particularly lots of student groups.

Barcelona has come a long way in its recent years. It is a very creative and passionate place. Despite its multicultural appearance few English is spoken and we found ourselves in quite a few funny situations.

One of the main challenges are the streets and numbers. Once you find your path thru the maze of streets and squares, success is not guaranteed, as house number do not follow any particular rule. Sometimes number 3 is next to number 550, and some buildings have no numbers at all. We quickly learnt that the key to success was knowing your cross streets.

There are lots of things to see and do in Barcelona. The main attractions, e.g. Sagrada Familia, Balto House, Picasso museum, Guell Park can be visited in 1 to 2 days. Apart from these wonderful sites, Barcelona is famous for its phenomenal nightlife.

sagrada familia barcelona aavtravelTaking advantage of our jet lag (EST – 6 hours behind) it was easy for us to go to dinner at 9pm and then check out the different bars and locales. Some of the coolest things we did was eating Calçots at Can Xurrades and then strolling the Gracia neighborhood, famous for it bars and restaurants where you can find locals and expatriates mingle until the early morning. We also went to the Aire de Barcelona, an old restored Roman hammam (bathhouse) for a 10pm to midnight session. It was fairly strange to receive a 10pm massage and then soak in different baths until midnight. What was even weirder, is that some people came in at midnight and stayed until 2am. Another event not to miss is an evening of Flamenco, we were enchanted by the performers at Palau de Musica.

In addition to Barcelona itself there are a few easy day trips that you can do. My top would be Sitges. It is a small picturesque town along the coast which can be reached in about 30 minutes by train from Barcelona. Sitges is a very cute town with excellent shops and a very nice beachfront where you will find plenty of restaurants to sit outside and soak up the sun. Some of the best Paella is served at Cal Pinxo.
sitges barcelona aavtravelThere would be much more to tell but I think everybody should make their own experience. However, these are my main tips and conclusions:

  • Getting from the airport to town is easy and takes about 30 minutes. The cab is probably the most convenient way and at EUR 30 reasonably priced. Know where you go though as language can be an issue.
  • Cab fares are generally low and offer a great way to get around town particularly for shorter distances. The subway is EUR 2 per person/way and if you are only going 2 stops a cab for 2 is usually equal to that (EUR 4).
  • Study your map before you go and know where you want to go. It will come in handy.
  • Barcelona is generally safe, even at night. We walked around a lot, even late at night and had no issues. The only place I felt unsafe was walking the beach front between Hotel Arts and the W at night. Everybody will warn you about pick pocketing. Keep your purses close and make sure they are zipped close.
  • Try to get off the beaten tourist path. It is so worth it. Not only are you going to have much more fun (the Spanish are super friendly and fun) but you are also going to pay way less.
  • Spaniards are passionate. There is a lot of public display of affection.
  • Make friends with some English speaking locals and have them give you tips. Alberto Jimenez at the Mandarin Oriental and Jordi Baldó from the Soho Hotel both proved to be great resources.
  • Know your cross streets and do not rely on the cab driver to know your hotel and its location.
  • Try Cava. This Spanish sparkling wine is delicious, inexpensive and there are lots and lots of different brands to try.
  • It is not always easy to find “free wi-fi”. That being said, if you heavily rely on it, pick a hotel that offers wi-fi.Posted by: Stefanie Pichonnat can be reached at 812-917-2149 or stefanie@aav-travel.com

Celebrity Honeymoon Spotlight: St. Barths

St. Barthélemy, or St. Barths in English, is known to be a top celebrity destination attracting many with its high-end accommodations and yacht harbor. It is listed  among the top eight honeymoon destinations for celebrity couples.

Pictured below is the famous Eden Rock resort, one of the world’s top 100 hotels. This unique property offers 34 individual accommodations “on the rock” and is a haven for gourmet food.

aavtravel eden rock st. barths

To no surprise the island comes with a hefty price tag. However, off-season pricing drops drastically. The busy island atmosphere slows down from the heavy party scene, with bustling streets and busy shops and restaurants. It turns into a quaint and very relaxing island getaway. Personally I think it is the best time to go. Instead of traffic jams and overcrowded parking areas, you get vacant, secluded beaches, great dining and excellent off-season bargain shopping. Whether you decide to stay at one of the many hotels, rent a private villa, or stay at one of the guesthouses, the island is sure to enchant.

Some of its recent A-list honeymooners included Nick Lachey and Vanessa Minnillo.  Power couple Jay-Z and Beyoncé also known to enjoy St. Barths’ atmosphere. Another couple who chose St. Barths for their private relaxation is Real Housewives of New York’s star Bethenny Frankel and Jason Hoppy who honeymooned there in 2010. They stayed at the Hotel Guanahani & Spa which consists of 68 creole-style, colorful cottages.  Bethenny raved about her stay and about the service when she visited.

Posted by: Stefanie Pichonnat. For help with your travel planning or questions she can be reached at 812-917-2149 or stefanie@aav-travel.com