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Author: Maria Diego

Hotel Review: Isla Bella Beach Resort

Diego Travel Hotel Review

Isla Bella Beach Resort

A Barefoot Luxury Resort in the Florida Keys
MARIA DIEGO

One of the best ways to experience the Florida Keys, Isla Bella Beach Resort is a 199-room resort that is located between Islamorada and Key West, just at the threshold of the iconic Seven Mile Bridge. Completely renovated in 2020, Isla Bella sets a new standard for modern luxury resorts in the Florida Keys, and provides a one-stop shop for your perfect beach vacation.

Perfect For: Families | Weddings | Multi-Generational Families | Bachelorette and Bachelor Parties | Couples | Boaters | Divers | Fishing

ISLA BELLA BEACH RESORT

Isla Bella

Location:

24.70539615,-81.1195734631537

Florida Keys

Isla Bella Beach Resort

Only a 1-hour drive (or 45 miles) from Key West International Airport (EYW) or a 2 hour 30 minute drive (or 115 miles) from Miami International Airport (MIA). We recommend renting a car, and when possible, flying into Key West and out of Miami.

7 Mile Bridge

Vibe:

We traveled to the Florida Keys frequently, since my parents lived there for 15 years.  Isla Bella Beach Resort was a welcome addition, as the Keys were sorely lacking in luxury hotel options.  Aside from Little Palm Island, which is adults only, Isla Bella Beach Resort is one of only a handful of resorts that we recommend to our clients traveling to the Keys.

While this is a nearly 200-room resort, the property is expansive, particularly for the Florida Keys, sitting on one mile of waterfront.  One thing to note is that the Florida Keys does not have any natural beaches, so any sandy beaches you find will have rock retaining walls or be man-made.  Fortunately, Isla Bella Beach Resort has a beach where you can wade into the water.

With the new renovation, Isla Bella Beach Resort is a premiere beach resort in Florida and the Florida Keys.  With its 5 oceanfront pools, there is a spot for everyone, whether you want to remain with an adults-only vibe, or join the kid-friendly areas of the resort.

The rooms and common areas are light, white and bright, with blue nautical accents that are perfect for the tropical blues of the Keys.

ACCOMMODATIONS:

Isla Bella Rooms

There are 14 different room and suite categories at Isla Bella Beach Resort, ranging from oceanfront balcony rooms to luxe beachside suites.  They also have a myriad of connectivity options, so when traveling with multiple families or kids, there is something for everyone.  When booking with Diego Travel, we can advise you not only on what room category will be best for you, but also where you’ll be most likely to get upgraded. 

Isla Bella Accommodations

We always love the beachside rooms, as you have a larger terrace and direct access to the beach and pools, whereas when you are in a balcony room, you will need to access through the hallway and elevator or stairs.

FOOD & BEVERAGE:

  • The Florida Keys is not particularly well-known for its cuisine.  A lot of fried catch-of-the-day and a concentrated interest in beverages often referenced in Jimmy Buffet songs, my expectations weren’t high for the food offerings at Isla Bella Beach Resort.  However, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality and variety of meal options.   

  • Isla Bella-Restaurants

  • Isla Bella-Food and Beverage

  • Mahina is their Polynesian-inspired and main restaurant, where I loved the Hawaaiian Style Ahi Poke and their crafted cocktails (for me, a mocktail!) at the bar that overlooks the ocean.  They also recently opened a new dining outlet, Sushi Cabana, that seats 55 underneath outdoor palm trees and umbrellas. 

  • The Marketplace is another eatery that provides grab-and-go snacks, drinks, and goodies to take home.  In this 5,000-square-foot open floor plan building, you can grab breakfast and schedule your day’s plan at the Watersports Activity Center, which is conveniently located right on property.

  • Isla Bella-Marketplace

ACTIVITIES:

  • One of my family’s favorite things about the Florida Keys is getting out on the water. I always tell people that if they’re visiting the Florida Keys for a great beach, they’ve selected the wrong destination.  The Florida Keys is unparalleled for domestic boating – snorkeling, fishing, sailing, scuba diving, kayaking and even stand up paddle boarding in the Florida mangroves.

  • Isla Bella-Boating

  • Isla Bella-Activities

  • Aside from watersports activities and lounging by the pool, we always recommend a day trip to Key West and one to Islamorada.  Clients who book their hotel stay with Diego Travel to use our custom trip planning to create a bespoke itinerary or read our Florida Keys Destination Guide for our dining and activity recommendations for the Florida Keys.
  • Isla Bella also offers an on-property activities schedule that includes fun things like beachfront yoga, sandcastle building, and gelato happy hours.  They also have activities for the adults like paint & sip for those 21 and up.

  • Plan My Trip To Isla Bella

    Plan My Trip To Isla Bella

WELLNESS:

The spa at at Isla Bella Beach Resort is light and airy, and they offer a full treatment menu from massages to facials.  They also have a special place for brides and bridal parties to get ready before a destination wedding.  The 4,000-square-foot spa has 5 treatment rooms with a steam room located in both the men’s and women’s locker rooms.  While next to the spa, they have a 1,000-square-foot fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment.

What  Sets  It  Apart:

Isla Bella Beach Resort Marketplace

This resort truly makes it easy!  The on-site marina is super convenient, so that you don’t have to drive off property to get to a boat.  In Islamorada, most resorts will require a short drive to a nearby marina, but I really like the fact that Isla Bella’s boat charters are right there. 

For families, Isla Bella is ideal for its room configurations.  No other property in the Florida Keys compares, and some rooms even have a kitchenette for those extended stays when you want to have some meals ‘at home.’  Rooms have a fresh, clean feel, which you don’t get at a lot of other properties.

Isla Bella-Diego Travel Guide

Diego Travel Loves…

In addition to everything already mentioned in this article about the Florida Keys, we love that this resort is a great destination for those who want a Caribbean vacation without needing a passport.  From the occasional steel drum bands you’ll find in the Keys, to the outdoor, laid-back easy vibe it offers, you can have a great sunshine-filled vacation without breaking the bank or leaving the country. 

Isla Bella Beach Resort Marketplace

How Much Does it Cost?

Rates start as low as $295/night for the entry-level rooms, but during high seasons can go up to $1500/night.  The good news is, as a member of Virtuoso, our clients receive exclusive access to promotional rates, as well as daily breakfast, a $100 hotel credit, and priority upgrade with your stay.  If you’re considering staying at Isla Bella, email us (hyperlink) to ask if there are any exclusive offers that are not available to the public.

Isla Bella Resort

Extras You’ll Get with Diego Travel:
  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Daily Breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom, served in the restaurant
  • $100 USD equivalent Resort credit to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
  • Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
  • Exclusive offers not available to the public

Book Isla Bella With Perks

Diego Travel Insider Tips:

Request rooms somewhere near the middle blocks. You’re far enough away from the main building to avoid the noisier areas, but not too far away to walk to the main restaurants and marina. 

You can do a guided run on the newly opened pedestrian stretch of the bridge that spans 2.2 miles. The guide has lived in the Keys for 14 years and while you run or jog together, he can provide insight to his favorite recommendations for the Keys. 

The cabanas are worth the splurge!  You’ll have poolside service and includes a Pelican cooler with drinks (8 alcoholic, 4 non-alcoholic, and 4 popsicles). The cost is $550 from 9 AM to 6 PM and accommodates up to 4 people.

Isla Bella Pool


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The Florida Keys

The Florida Keys

Why Your Next Vacation Should Be in The Florida Keys
MARIA DIEGO

February 3, 2024 

The Florida Keys are made up of 5 main keys that start at Key Largo, followed by Islamorada, then Marathon, then the Lower Keys and finally Key West. To drive from Miami to Key West takes about 3 hours, so all the Keys can be covered in one trip. The Florida Keys have had recent renovations to Little Palm Island and Cheeca Lodge & Spa and notable additions to the luxury hotel lineup over the last five years including Isla Bella Beach Resort, Tranquility Bay Beachfront Resort and The Islands of Islamorada.

Perfect For: Romantic Getaways | Honeymoons & Anniversaries | Fishermen | Scuba Divers

The Florida Keys Family Travel Guide

SS Truman

Getting There

Fly: From 1.5-3 hours by car from Miami International Airport MIA) or fly into Key West International (EYW). Alternatively all of the keys are accesible by private yacht or sailboat..

Recommended Stay: Weekend getaway to one week.

Elevation: 0 feet

Best Time of Year to Visit: March to November

The Florida Keys
  • 24.9780,-80.5497

    Isla Morada

  • 24.7110,-81.0897

    Marathon

  • 24.6237,-81.4007

    Little Palm Island

What to do

The biggest misconception about the Florida Keys is that there are plenty of sandy beaches. I hate to break it to you, but there’s not! The Keys are all about getting out on a boat for fishing, snorkeling, cruises and exploring marine and wildlife. The nightlife can be pretty great too, if you visit at the right times of the year.

  • Snorkeling

    From Key Largo to Key West, the dive spots in the Florida Keys are numerous and plentiful with fish and protected sea life. With dive spots like Hens and Chickens or Looe Key, your best bet is to go with a guide that can take you to a spot where you will see the most fish while snorkeling. Also, there are spots better suited for children if you’re traveling as a family. We also like taking stand up paddle boards with a few masks and snorkels and swimming in shallow areas in the bayside.

  • Fishing

    There are seasons for catching lobster and certain types of fish, and they have to meet size criteria prior to catching them. The local Coast Guard will pull you over and check your cooler, measuring each and every fish – it’s happened to us on more than one occasion – so unless you’re an experienced fisherman with a boat in the Keys, it’s best to leave it to the professionals and hire a company that specializes in fishing while you visit. An expert fishing captain will be able to take you to the right spot whether bottom fishing or trolling, and the Keys is a whole lot of water to take a shot in the dark.

  • Sunset Cruises and Sailing

    Another option if you’re not a huge fan of fishing is sailing or a sunset cruise. I am the black sheep in my family because I am the only one who isn’t a huge fan of spear fishing, free diving and line fishing. I usually stick to the boat, unless the water is over 80 degrees or I’m getting too sea sick from rough seas to stay on the boat. Then I go in for a swim. What I love most about boats is riding at sunset, especially on a calm day. If there’s one thing you shouldn’t miss while in the Florida Keys, is catching a sunset from either a boat or the view at Pierre’s or Morada Bay (more on that later).

  • Marine & Wildlife Sanctuaries

    If you love animals or are traveling with children, youre not going to want to miss a visit to a Wildlife Sanctuary.  While there are too many to count, the Florida Keys Wildlife and Environmental Area offers a hammock forest, coastal rock and mangroves with hiking, cycling and paddling trails.  The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in Key Largo and the Turtle Hospital in Marathon are two other must-sees and personal favorites.  Plus, each time you visit one of these places, the entry fee goes toward their maintenance costs so that you can help continue their mission.

Where to Stay in The Florida Keys

Little Palm Island

Little Palm Island

I wrote a whole blog on Little Palm Island because it’s just that special of a place. Little Palm Island is the only private island resort in the United States and an adults-only hotel, perfect for a weekend getaway, a honeymoon, or to celebrate an anniversary. With 30 suites that dot the perimeter of the island, every suite has a gorgeous ocean view. The resort just underwent a massive post-hurricane renovation and now features all-new cozy, romantic suites. The impeccable attention to every detail in its design is reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway and his era.

What you get when you book with Diego Travel:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Daily Full breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom, served in restaurant or via in-room dining
  • $100 USD equivalent Resort or Hotel credit utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
  • Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

Promotions Available for Diego Travel Clients:

Stay 4 nights and pay for only 3 nights!

*Book by February 29, 2024, for stays through December 26, 2024. Exclusions and blackout dates apply.

Isla Bella

Isla Bella Resort

Isla Bella Resort is a new property featuring 199 oceanfront suites. It’s very rare to find a resort with all ocean views, but Isla Bella did it beautifully. With a name meaning Beautiful Island, what more would you expect? The rooms and suites are spacious and airy, decorated bright white with accents of coastal blue. They come in a variety of options, from one and two-bedroom guest rooms to suites with a kitchenette, making an extended stay very practical. What I love most are the first floor rooms that have direct access to the oceanfront sand and pools. You have your own oceanfront porch where you can sit outside, read a book, and watch guests ride back and forth on the property bicycles. These ground floor options also allow for social-distancing, as you wouldn’t need to enter through common areas like the hallways or elevators.

Isla Bella’s property is large, with a “town square” area that consists of a large marketplace with a cafe, the spa, conference space, and retail shopping with the cutest beach and resort wear and any pool toys and floaties your kids might need. One of the coolest things about Isla Bella is its Watersports Activity Center. Like I mentioned earlier in the blog, if you haven’t gotten out on the water, then you haven’t experienced the Keys. Isla Bella offers all the water sports right there for your convenience with brand new boats, fishing equipment and even jet ski and kayak rentals. They are top-notch professionals and I highly recommend a stay here just to make use of this amazing water sports center.

What you get when you book with Diego Travel:

  • Priority upgrade to next room category at check in, subject to availability
  • Daily Full breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom, served in the restaurant
  • $100 Resort Credit, Per Stay
  • Priority early check In & late check out, subject to availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

4th Night Free on Premium Rooms in the Florida Keys

Isla Bella Beach Resort & Spa is excited to extend Diego Travel clients a 4th Night Free Promotion, on select premium guestrooms & suites, valid for stays through December 19, 2024!

Tranquility Bay Beachfront Resort

Tranquility Bay Beachfront Resort

Far from the crowds and tourist traps, yet within reach of the area’s best attractions, Tranquility Bay is a tropical escape situated in 12 waterfront acres in the heart of the Florida Keys.

Located one mile up the road from Isla Bella. Tranquility Bay offers a laid back vibe and an excellent alternative to vacation rentals. The property offers mostly 2 & 3-bedroom water/beach front Townhomes with full kitchens. The resort features 3 pools, minigolf course, beach bar and one of Marathon’s most popular restaurants, Butterfly Café.

What you get when you book with Diego Travel:

  • Discounted Rates

  • Daily $30 Food & Beverage Credit

The Cloister at Sea Island

The Islands of Islamorada

The Islands of Islamorada are in the heart of downtown Islamorada, close to the best restaurants and shops. I toured them prior to completion and let me tell you, these luxury private villas are guaranteed to be the place to stay in the Florida Keys. Each 3-story private villa has 3 spacious king bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms plus a fourth bunk or twin room. 11 of the villas come with an elevator and the open floor plan with full kitchen, dining and living room look out to the ocean. Swoon!

The Palm Beach area owners were thoughtful in not only the interior design, but the exterior design and landscape architecture. Each villa has privacy from the others, while all guests can enjoy communal spaces like an open beach, pool, and the Ocean House bar. Soon to be completed will be a restaurant and a new area of smaller 1-bedroom beach villas. I can also help coordinate docking your boat at their private marina during your stay. You’ll have direct ocean access to get out there fishing early each morning!

This is the perfect chic destination to come with the whole multi-generational family, for an extended family vacation. Each unit has a two car garage and wash machine/dryer, so it’d be easy to stay for a month or longer. Heck, I think I might just move in.

Ocean residences

Cheeca Lodge & Spa

Cheeca Lodge & Spa is one of the better known resorts in the Florida Keys and with good reason.  With an expansive ocean view, a 9-hole golf course, tennis courts, spa and now 5 pools, they make it easy and convenient.  The rooms vary widely from golf course view rooms to ocean-front suites, so tread with care and definitely use a travel advisor (that’s me!).  The in-the-know professionals know which rooms to ask for, with one suite in particular that stands out from the rest.  And no, I’ll never tell!  I reserve that suite for Diego Travel clients.  It’s also important to know that only the golf course view rooms are pet-friendly, so if you are planning on traveling with your furry family member, be sure to book this room. 

Cheeca Lodge & Spa recently purchased oceanfront casitas and bungalows, formerly part of The Moorings property.  These exclusive villas have their own pool, tennis court and beach (yes, actual beach!  On of the few real beaches in The Florida Keys and private too).  Two of these two-bedroom villas are beachfront, while the others are set back further on the property.  The great thing about these casitas is that guests have access to all of the amenities and restaurants at Cheeca, but guests at Cheeca do not have access to this area.  So, think of it as your semi-private VIP area but with additional resort amenities to enjoy like more pool options, golf, restaurants and of course the spa.

What you get when you book with Diego Travel:

  • Upgrade upon arrival if available
  • Daily complimentary breakfast for 2
  • $100 resort credit
  • Early check-in/late check-out

Book Your Florida Keys Hotel With Perks

The Georgian Room

Where to eat?

  • Key Lime Pie

    Let’s not beat around the bush and get straight to the good stuff – what the Florida Keys is best known for – key lime pie!  You may even want to taste-test your way down the Keys.  My kids and I are gluten-free, so I’d start my list with Key West Key Lime Pie Co.  They ship too!  Other Key West notables are Pepe’s Cafe and Old Town Bakery. 

    Further up the Keys is a locals’ favorite at the Green Turtle Inn, and whether you’re getting the key lime pie on the menu or anything else, you just can’t go wrong.  They are the same owners of the nearby Kayo Grill and SushiKayo Grill and Sushi, that has The best sushi I have had in the Florida.  Back to key lime pie though…A final mention is either of Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen’s two locations near Key Largo.  The key lime pie is to die for!

  • Fresh Fish and Seafood

    When you’re not eating dessert first, you may want to choose the catch of the day off of every menu.  Atlantic’s Edge at Cheeca for a fancier dinner with killer views or Islamorada Fish Company are two favorites for a fresh catch.  Some more casual, only-the-locals-go spots can be found at the Cuban restaurant Habano’s on the Creek (when you’re starving and coming back in from a fishing trip), Made 2 Order Cafe (another pull-up-in-your-boat for a quick lunch), or the Galley Grill between Key West and Little Palm Island. 

  • Restaurants With a View

    If the view is what you’re after, which you should be in the Keys, then you can’t miss these spots.  Hit Morada Bay or Pierre’s for their monthly Full Moon party – it falls on the Saturday nearest to the full moon of each month.  With a sunset view and an area of sand to party post-dinner, you can’t miss this monthly event.  Latitudes at the Westin in Key West has beautiful sunset views as well.

Plan my trip to the Florida Keys

A Few of My Favorite Things

The Florida Keys

The Florida Keys is different for everyone. Depending on if you want a resort that you land at and never leave, or your prefer to venture out and spend little time at your hotel, will determine the area that is right for you. My family has had a home in the Florida Keys for 15+ years, so the amount of time I’ve spend exploring each Key gives me an advantage while planning travel that is perfect for you.

Islamorada of The Florida Keys

My family’s home is located just north of Islamorada, in Tavernier. Islamorada happens to be my favorite spot in the Keys, just because I like the combination of bayside and oceanside boating there, and the array of top-notch restaurants and fun little shops. I’ll never forget bumping into Martha Stewart at Ocean Gardens where you can find Hemingway-era nautical antiques and a vast collection of hard-to-find shells. My dad wasn’t shy and struck up a conversation with her about the Florida Keys and what she loves about visiting. She told us that Ocean Gardens is always a must-see, so there you go!

Location

Key Largo is about one hour south of the southern most part of Miami, while Key West takes a full 3 hours to reach. So to drive from the northern-most key to the southern-most key takes about 2-2.5 hours, depending on traffic. The roadway is a 2-way lane, so holiday weekends can see traffic back up for hours. Locations are described by the locals as being at Mile Marker “__”, with the Key West starting at Mile Marker 0 and working its way up. So when you stop to ask for directions and you’re told, it’s at MM 87, you’ll know in which direction you need to head. It’s only North or South in the Keys!

Activities

Aside from the daytime activities I already listed, you can’t miss watching a sunset with a live band playing in the background. The Keys food is known for being fried, unhealthy, and yummy, and the drink menu plentiful. So plop yourself down at a bayside restaurant somewhere along the strip (my favorite is Pierre’s, at MM 82), order a drink, and relax. It’s also the perfect spot for a small destination wedding, which I can help you plan! Other activities I love to do with the kids is feeding the tarpon at Robbie’s, visiting the Turtle Hospital in Marathon  and Theater of the Sea for swimming with the dolphins and educating them about marine biology.

Beyond The Keys

Because of our network, Diego Travel clients get added amenities to many of the Florida Keys hotels and resorts. Depending on whether it’s your first time or tenth time to the Keys, we’ll make sure to plan your stay based on your needs. We love to combine a trip to the Florida Keys with Miami, the west coast of Florida with stops at places like Marco Island, Naples, or Captiva, or even a visit to the Happiest Place on Earth at Disney World in Orlando. Contact us to help plan your next Florida vacation to elevate your experience, VIP your travel, and make the most of your time at each destination.
 


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The Best Of Guide to Montecito, California

Montecito, California

The perfect combination of beaches and mountains just two hours north of L.A.
MARIA DIEGO

My husband and I used to travel annually to Santa Barbara and Montecito, California for his job. For many years, my brother lived in Santa Ynez Valley, a little known slice of wine country and horse ranch paradise just a one hour drive from Santa Barbara. Summers would be spent taking the kids on trail walks, pony rides, berry picking and leisurely afternoons at different wineries. For a few years, my parents rented a house for a month to gather the family and explore the Santa Barbara region. One of our favorite neighborhoods has always been and always will be Montecito.

This mountainous yet oceanfront town on the California coast is home to celebrities like Oprah and Prince Harry, with sprawling estates and impeccably maintained landscaping with a wildly European feel. All of these factors are why Montecito is such a special destination to me and my family. I want to share with you not only why I love it so much, but also how you can make the most of your trip to this California coastal destination.

Perfect For: Family Trips | Weekend Getaways | Road Trip | Romantic Getaways | Special Occasions

Montecito Travel Guide

Getting to Montecito

Getting There

Montecito is just 15 minutes from Santa Barbara airport which has direct flights from major hubs across the USA. Montecito is only a two-hour drive from LA, making it perfect for a weekend getaway from the city, or part of a longer road trip itinerary.

Fly: 15 min fromSanta Barbara airport (SBA) .

Recommended Stay: Weekend getaway to one week.

Best Time of Year to Visit: July to November

34.4205946,-119.62839097789907

Rosewood Miramar Beach

What to Do in Montecito, California

  • Watersports & Beaches

    Visiting the beaches is a must. Butterfly Beach or Miramar Beach are both popular. Although Miramar Beach Hotel services are for guests only, there is access to the beach for locals through the hotel property. Being located on the coast means it’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy some watersports like renting a kayak or trying out some surfing. Hotels like the Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel offer equipment rental so you can get out on the water on their beaches. Santa Barbara Harbor located nearby is the perfect place to set off on a fishing trip or whale watching tour. 

  • Montecito California-Beaches and Watersports

  • Montecito California-Shopping

  • Shopping

    Montecito is ideal for shopping lovers! There is a range of shops from Maison K to Mate Gallery and my favorite shop in the country – Wendy Foster, which has a couple of locations on State Street, Montecito and Los Olivos in Santa Ynez Valley.

    Don’t miss the Montecito Country Mart where I found some amazing vintage Gucci Glasses! There’s also so many boutiques and shopping outlets in the hotel resorts which are well worth checking out.

  • Missions and Gardens

    Blessed with an ideal Mediterranean climate, Santa Barbara is famous for its beautiful gardens including the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Lotusland and Casa del Herrero. Santa Barbara is also home to the Mission Santa Barbara, a Franciscan mission founded in 1776 known as the “Queen of the Missions”.

  • Mission Santa Barbara

  • Montecito Farmer's Market

  • Santa Barbara

    Being so close to Santa Barbara, you can spend an afternoon or even a full day there relaxing on the beaches, getting out on the water, exploring the town’s boutiques and cultural attractions or enjoying the huge range of culinary experiences on offer. Santa Barbara has six weekly farmers markets, fresh seafood coming in daily and not to mention the range of local ranches and vineyards. 

  • Santa Barbara Zoo

    If you’re traveling with kids, the Santa Barbara Zoo is a must-visit. There’s a miniature zoo train ride, giraffe feeding and several other animal encounters to make it a memorable family day out.

    Make sure to ask at your resort about activities and upcoming events too.

  • Santa Barbara Zoo

  • Santa Barbara Wineries

  • Wine Tours or Tasting Experience

    The climate around Montecito and Santa Barbara is perfect for growing grapes and there’s a range of wineries and vineyards you can visit. Alternatively there are tasting rooms in Santa Barbara if you’d prefer to stay closer to resorts. California wines are some of the most famous in the world, making this a great addition to your Montecito itinerary.

Where to Stay in Montecito California

Where to Stay in Montecito, California

Montecito and Santa Barbara are home to some amazing hotels and resorts such as the Four Seasons Santa Barbara, The Bacara Resort, which was recently taken over by the Ritz Carlton, and smaller boutique properties such as Belmond El Encanto and San Ysidro Ranch.

San Ysidro Ranch

San Ysidro Ranch

Set back in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the San Ysidro Ranch is perfect for those travelers who seek out the smaller, more secluded and boutique locations. Setting foot on the ranch, tucked away in 550 acres, you feel at one with nature which is a huge focus of the property.

The San Ysidro Ranch has been welcoming guests since 1893 and it absolutely capitalizes on that historic charm as part of the luxurious, secluded experience. With 38 vine-covered cottages across the hillside, surrounded by lush gardens buzzing with bees, each cottage comes with its own large stone fireplace, four-poster bed, private patio, sunken spa and outdoor shower. The vaulted ceilings and stone fireplaces bring a touch of mountain chalet style to the easy, open-plan California living.

San Ysidro offers three dining options which combine farmhouse ranch style decor with award-winning cuisine and a famous wine cellar! Dining under the twinkling lights on the terrace in summer, or by the huge stone fire in the winter, you’re guaranteed a unique dining experience that’s perfect for romantic occasions.

One of my favorite things about the property is the unique experiences they offer for guests. Their Signature Salon and Spa, Private Dining and Exclusive Wine Tasting are also ideal for couples getaways, romantic treats and special occasions. The amenities on the resort also include a heated swimming pool, fitness studio, yoga classes, live music every night and lawn games and minigolf.

The Ranch is also a great option for those who prefer a more active vacation. The resort has botanical gardens on the property to explore, plus access to 17 miles of hiking trails on their doorstep. There’s also bicycle rental and access to the private golf course at Montecito Club.

Book the San Ysidro Ranch with Diego Travel to receive the following:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Continental breakfast daily in the Stonehouse, for two guests per bedroom
  • $100 USD Food & Beverage credit, to be utilized during stay (not combinable, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
  • Personalized selection of the right cottage for you, thanks to my personal relationship with the team at San Ysidro Ranch
  • $100 bonus when you book with Diego Travel
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

We recommend the San Ysidro Ranch for:

Couples | Small Weddings | Honeymoon | Anniversary | A Tranquil Escape from the City | Privacy & Exclusivity | Romantic Getaways

Four Seasons Santa Barbara

Four Seasons Resort: The Biltmore Santa Barbara

*NOTE the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort is currently closed for renovations

 Located in Montecito itself and on a property of 22 acres, the Spanish Colonial style, open fires and terracotta tiles give you the feeling that you’ve stepped straight into Europe. The courtyards woven between villas and bungalows give this a relaxed yet luxurious feel which ties in perfectly with the mountainous backdrop.

The Four Seasons offers a combination of Rooms, Bungalows, Villas and Suites. The entry-level Jungle and Garden rooms are surrounded by leafy greenery, immersing you in a jungle oasis. While the ocean view rooms are the next step up and allow you to enjoy your ocean view from your own private terrace.

The Bungalows are perfect for four adults or two adults and two children, while the Fremont Bungalow is the ultimate secluded experience with two bedrooms, a large terracotta tile patio, a fire pit and a heated plunge pool.

The Ty Warner villa offers 180-degree ocean views, a private pool and a large outdoor patio and entertaining area. For just two adults, this is the perfect retreat for couples.

If you can tear yourself away from the beautiful rooms, the resort offers six food and drink options including the Italian-inspired Bella Vista which offers organic California cuisine with panoramic ocean views. The Coral Cafe and Bar is perfect for families and casual light bites throughout the day.

The Four Seasons resort at Montecito is home to one of the largest hotel swimming pools in the world at its Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club. Here you’ll find a 50m Olympic sized oceanfront pool, fitness centre, yoga classes, sauna and steam rooms, a kids pool and direct access to Butterfly Beach. Plus there is a range of spa and wellness treatments for the ultimate relaxation.

Book the Four Seasons Santa Barbara with Diego Travel to receive the following:

  • Daily full breakfast for two people per bedroom, served in a hotel restaurant or through In-Room Dining
  • Hotel/Resort Credit* (based on room category booked) enriching your clients’ stay with their choice of experience – from spa and dining to recreation:
  • Guest Rooms: USD 100 credit per stay
  • Suites and Specialty Suites: USD 200 credit per stay
  • Private Retreats: USD 200 credit per bedroom per stay
  • Upgrade of one category, based on availability at time of check-in**
  • Complimentary standard Internet in all guest rooms and premium Internet in all suites

We recommend the Four Seasons Santa Barbara for:

Couples Getaways | Honeymooners | Special Occassions | Business Trips  |  Larger Groups or Incentive Trips

Rosewood Miramar

Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel, Montecito

The first thing that strikes you about the Rosewood Miramar Resort in Montecito is the effortless luxurious beach-living vibe that exudes from the hotel, the decor, its location and the amenities. The Rosewood Miramar was the property I was most excited about visiting and it was without a doubt, the highlight of our California coast road trip.

With 160 rooms ranging from Guest Rooms to Beachfront Bungalows and the Ambassador Suite, there are accommodation options to suit various price points and group sizes. They even offer the option of Studios to cater for groups of three.

The Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort is Montecito’s only truly oceanfront resort property and boasts direct access to Miramar Beach. The hotel also offers a range of outdoor activities to complement its beautiful location, including family beach yoga, sunset beach walks, sea kayaking and Hobie Cat rental and even private charters so you can sail the California coastline.

I love that the Rosewood Miramar Beach resort is also the only 5-star Forbes spa in Santa Barbara, so you can expect nothing but five star treatment at the Sense Rosewood Spa and wellness centre which boasts a fitness centre and adults-only pool as well as a huge range of rejuvenating spa and wellness treatments.

Our stay at the hotel was incredibly relaxing thanks to its beach location and the amenities on offer, plus the added bonus of six restaurants available at the property, so we rarely needed to venture far for dining. Caruso’s is the gourmet option which we were treated to on the first night of our stay and the food was just incredible.

Book the Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel with Diego Travel to receive the following:

  • Exclusive Rosewood Elite Amenities
  • Complimentary one category upgrade upon arrival, based on availability
  • Daily USD $30 breakfast credit for up to two people per bedroom
  • $125 Sense Spa credit per stay
  • Welcome note and amenity from the Managing Director on behalf of Diego Travel
  • Diego Travel Welcome Box for First-Time Clients

We recommend the Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel for:

Small families | Honeymooners | Romantic Getaways | An escape from the city

Belmond El Encanto

EL ENCANTO, A BELMOND HOTEL

El Encanto became a hotel in 1918 and as a 105-year-old property, it manages to effortlessly combine historic charm with a touch of Hollywood, perched high in the Santa Barbara Hills of California. Offering unparalleled views of the American Riviera.

The rooms combine Spanish colonial style with laidback California craft. The resort effortlessly manages to exude glitz and glamour, while giving you the relaxed coastal California vibe as you unwind poolside at the zero-edge pool, enjoy the local wine and cuisine or stroll in their seven acres of secluded gardens. Views of the American Riviera from high in the hills, adds to that feeling of luxury and exclusivity that Belmond achieves to effortlessly.

The resort offers a great amount of flexibility for groups such as families or small wedding parties, with rooms and suites able to be adapted depending on your group and the number of bedrooms needed. Despite the size of the resort, the luxurious feel of the bungalow-style suites help you feel at home while also exuding glamour and elegance.

Book El Encanto with Diego Travel to receive the following:

  • Diego Travel is a Belmond Bellini preferred partner and we get our clients access to exclusive promotions that can’t be booked online
  • Additional Belmond Bellini amenities
  • Priority upgrade
  • Daily breakfast included
  • Resort Credit
  • When you book your stay with a minimum spend, you’ll receive a $500 gift card toward a future Belmond Hotels stay
  • Guests who purchase a luxury experience with Belmond worth a minimum of $5,000 USD will receive a $500 USD gift voucher per booking to be used on a future stay at any other Belmond Property

We recommend the Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel for:

Groups of Couples | Large Groups of Friends | Families with Older Children | Destination Weddings | Romantic Getaways | Special Occasions

Where to Eat in Montecito California

Where to Eat in Montecito, California?

  • Caruso’s

    Caruso’s, Rosewood Miramar’s 1 Star Michelin restaurant offers oceanfront al fresco dinning . Its light and stylish decor is reminiscent of mediterranean beachfront restaurants and offers some of the best ocean views of the American Riviera.

  • Jeannine’s Restaurant and Bakery

    Jeannine’s has been a Montecito institution for over 30 years. With Cafe menus serving breakfast and lunch, as well as a bakery full of cakes, scones and sweet treats, it’s great for breakfast or snacks on the go while you’re exploring Montecito and beyond.

  • Bree’osh Bakery Cafe

    A sumptuous bakery cafe you have to visit! With pastries, buns and quiches and all available at curbside pick up, Bree’osh is an easy way to grab something to eat on the go.

    They also offer baking and cookery classes if you want to try something a little different!

  • Honor Bar, Montecito

    Open from 11 AM till late, the Honor Bar serves sandwiches, burgers, pizza and light bites during the day and also offers a great range of wines, beers and cocktails in the evening too.

    With a slightly more formal dress code, this is a great option for romantic evening meals if you’re looking for somewhere outside the resort.

  • The Stonehouse

    The Stonehouse is located in the historic 19th-century citrus packing house at San Ysidro Ranch, with creek views and a dining experience that feels as if you’ve stepped into the vineyards of Italy.

    The unique take on American style cuisine is award-winning and consistently voted the top dining experience in Santa Barbara. With open fires and an ocean-view terrace, this is a truly romantic dining experience.

  • Rancho San Ysidro Restaurants

  • Bouchon

    Bouchon is a top choice in Santa Barbara with passionate owners, Amy and Mitchell, catering for any dietary requirements and producing spectacular dishes.

A Few of My Favorite Things

  • It’s the perfect city escape. Being less than 2 hours from LA, it’s an ideal destination for a weekend break by the ocean.
  • The relaxed vibe. Santa Barbara is a favorite destination for the same reason, but Montecito has something special. Thanks to its smaller size and with hotels like Rosewood Miramar Beach being right on the waterfront, you really have the opportunity to unwind and relax.
  • The Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel. Being the first truly beachfront resort in Montecito already makes this hotel special. But each detail is so thoughtfully prepared throughout the property that it really was the highlight of our California road trip.
  • With the beach and mountains both nearby, there’s plenty to do in and around Montecito and Santa Barbara for any kind of traveler. Whether you’re a hiker or surfer planning an active vacation, or if you’re looking forward to enjoying some downtime on the beach or by the pool on a more relaxing getaway, Montecito can offer you both.
Montecito is a great option for families, couples or special occasions. With the choice of hotel resorts, and having the mountains and the beach on your doorstep, there’s enough adventure or relaxation to design your perfect California coastal getaway. Contact Diego Travel today so we can help you book your perfect Montecito vacation.
 


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Hotel Review: Mauna Lani

Hotel Review

Mauna Lani

A Barefoot Luxury Resort on the Kohala Coast, The Big Island, Hawaii
MARIA DIEGO

Mauna Lani, part of the Auberge Resorts Collection, is a newly redesigned open-air resort nestled in the center of the Kohala Coastline on the island of Hawaii. Best known for its outdoor activities, luxurious accommodations, and family-friendly atmosphere, I’m going to review what we loved about our stay at Mauni Lani and share some insider tips that will make the most of your visit to The Big Island.

Perfect For: Families | Weddings | Multi-Generational Families | Groups | Couples | Golfers | Surfers

19.9464,-155.8673

Mauna Lani Overhead

Mauna Lani

Mauna Lani location: Located in in the center of the Kohala Coastline on the island of Hawaii.

Getting There: Only a 25-minute drive (or 23 miles) from Kona International Airport (KOA), Mauna Lani is easily accessible as a non-stop option from many major hubs in the continental Unites States. We recommend renting a car if you plan to explore, or we can set up airport transfers for you, if you’re just looking to relax and stay on property.

Mauna Lani Vibe

Vibe: We traveled to Mauna Lani with our three kids and both grandmothers, and it was a perfect resort for this multi-generational trip. Walking into the grand open-air lobby, you’ll feel an instant sense of place of having arrived to your Hawaiian home away from home.

While this is a 333-room property, it does not feel that big, and I will explain why. The resort was originally designed in the shape of an arrow, which points in the direction of Tokyo, where the original owners resided. This orientation actually allow more than 90% of the rooms to have ocean views, with the advantage of unbeatable sunset views. The two pools on property are located near each other, with the adults-only pool set back away from the ocean. With the location of the Surf Shack and the Kalahuipua’a fish ponds, the resort feels centered around one hub. This is advantageous because it makes the property feel intimate and boutique-like, where families can gather and not feel lost on a sprawling property.

With new ownership and a $100 million renovation, Auberge’s first Hawaiian resort reopened in 2020, just before the start of the pandemic. Because of this timing, the resort has stayed under the radar for the last few years with growing popularity as word spreads about the renewed spirit at this classical resort.

Accomodations:

There are 12 different room and villa categories at Mauna Lani, ranging from the mountain view entry-level rooms to the oceanfront two-bedroom residences. When booking with Diego Travel, we can advise you not only on what room category will be best for you, but where you’ll be most likely to get upgraded.  We can also advise on the advantages and disadvantages of booking the poolside rooms vs. the CanoeHouse-side rooms.  As a Diego Travel client, you will be able to choose your room’s orientation, as opposed to booking direct on the hotel website. 

Mauna Lani Villa

Food & Beverage: 

I want to start by saying that my expectations about food were not very high going into my stay at Mauna Lani. I don’t know why, but perhaps past experience at other Hawaiian resorts didn’t inspire much confidence. Our family arrived hungry late at night after a delayed travel day. We devoured a large family-style steak dinner in HāLani restaurant, where servers buzzed around us and attended to every table with lightning speed.

Halani at Mauna Lani Resort Hawaii

For adults traveling without kids, Hā Bar is located perfectly between the adults-only pool and family-friendly pool. It was a gathering place and the perfect spot to have a leisurely conversation and watch the sun set.

Canoe House Mauna Lani

Finally, the CanoeHouse was one of my favorite spots at the resort. With an expansive grass lawn that lies between the sea and the dining tables, it is the perfect spot for golden hour family photos and a shared Japanese-inspired meal to enjoy stories from the day’s adventures. Kids can play freely while the adults enjoy cocktails with dinner, and the 180-degree ocean views from the outdoor tables really cannot be beaten. We enjoyed dinners at Four Seasons Hualalai and the Fairmont Orchid, but the sunset views from CanoeHouse are simply the best.

Mauna Lani Food

The next morning, brunch was just as busy. Even though service at breakfast was lackluster, the buffet had endless great quality options. I developed a routine of strong Hawaiian coffee and a colorful Acai bowl almost daily. The best part about booking your stay with Diego Travel? Every day, the same plentiful breakfast is complimentary.

Mauna Lani Bar

The Market is another eatery that provides grab-and-go snacks, drinks, and goodies to take home. We loved the convenience of The Market because as any parent can attest, kids are always hungry between meals. With the convenience of the bracelets that are given to you at check-in, our kids could visit The Market as often as needed. Remember how I talked about the resort being centered around a hub? The Market is perfectly located so that I could watch them enter and exit from my poolside lounge chair, so I didn’t have to accompany them every time they wanted a gluten-free white chocolate macadamia nut cookie… and yes, my kids bought all of them. Every day of our vacation. Note to advise the hotel to make more next time we go for a visit.

Canoe House Hawaii

Wellness: The spa at Mauna Lani was basic. They offer an abbreviated menu of massages and facials that incorporate local, organic ingredients. There are two separate Goop outlets at Mauna Lani, so skincare products from Goop are featured in spa treatments. The spa is small and simple and gets the job done if you are looking for a relaxing massage. I came home with a jar of body cream that was made locally and smelled delicious.

Whales of Mauna Lani

  • Surfing Lessons Mauna Lani

  • Surfing Lessons Mauna Lani

We also loved the complimentary kids club, Holoholo Kids Crew, for kids ages 5-12. It was perfect for us because it spanned our kids’ ages. While they have a fantastic indoor space with plenty of arts & crafts and games for the little ones on rainy days, they spend most of the time outdoors with the kids, exploring the Hawaiian beach and learning about nature and the Hawaiian culture. Kids 4 and under can play in the kids club, but they must be accompanied by an adult. During summer months, kids also eat free at all dining outlets, which is huge bonus when you’re feeding several children!

Mauna Lani Boat Charter

The Mauna Lani also offers sunrise canoe paddles, pickleball and tennis clinics, tennis camp for kids, golfing, turtle releasing (again, this is seasonal), canoe snorkeling in the reef, historic biking tour (which we did), and a Ukulele lesson, just to name a few more things.

Hawaii

Activities: One of my family’s favorite things about Mauna Lani resort are the activities here. My husband is a die-hard surfer, so most of our personal vacations are prioritized around surf breaks. At Mauna Lani, there were two options for surf breaks that are directly infront of the resort. One is a few minutes’ walk and the other is a 5-10 minute walk, and they’ll also take you by golf cart if needed. The Surf Shack offers rental boards and some of the best kid-friendly surf instructors we have ever experienced. Our youngest, who was 5 at the time, became confident in the waves and consistently stood up on a tandem (sharing a board with the instructor). Our kids have had lessons at other resorts, and no other instructors compare to those at Mauna Lani.

  • Mauna Lani Kids Club

  • Mauna Lani Kids Club

One of the highlights of our entire trip was the private boat charter that we took aboard Kalama Kai to go whale watching. Our four-hour charter sped by in a flash as we saw dozens of whales traveling in different pods, each showing off different whale behaviors. Our visit was in February, which is one of the peak months for whale watching, so keep in mind that this is a seasonal activity. Like much of Hawaii, many things are seasonal, such as surfing, whale watching, and rain, so you can always consult with me to find out best times to visit.

Swimming with Turtles Mauna Lani

Off property, there is so much more to explore beyond on the Big Island of Hawaii, such as volcanos, ‘Akaka Falls State Park, Parker Ranch Rodeo, Waimea Farmers Market, Nāhuku lava tube, and more. Stay tuned for my Hawaii Destination Guide for more details of what to do during your time on the Big Island.

What  Sets  It  Apart: This resort truly makes it easy! Everything is very convenient and focused on family-friendly, without being too in-your-face. There were plenty of adults-only groups as well, so it wasn’t overtly family-friendly (ie: there are no water slides here), yet there is something for everyone. However, if you also just want to read and nap by the pool or in front of the ocean, it is the perfect relaxing environment to do so..

For families that want to surf, Mauna Lani has surf breaks in front of the resort. No other luxury hotel on The Big Island has this convenience, so for our surfing family, this pro is a big one! It’s one place we will return to…

My only two complaints about the entire resort were that the rooms could be larger, but this is Hawaii and Hawaiian entry-level rooms are typically small! If you’re wanting extra space, I highly recommend the ocean front suites or the 2-bedroom villas, where you’ll have full butler service and access to your own Moke cars. My second complaint was the prominent display of inappropriate products at the goop shop at a family-friendly resort. I took my kids to browse and quickly shuffled them out of the store, and I heard another family talking about the same. However, I loved the merchandise they carried in the upstairs Milo shop and at the Market

Mauna Lani Pool
Mauna Lani, Kona Hawaii

How Much Does Mauna Lani Cost? Rates start at under $700/night for the entry-level mountain view room, but the Mauna Lani frequently offers exclusive promos for Diego Travel clients, with free nights that are combinable with our preferred partner amenities. On the high end, the 2-bedroom villas start at around $5,000/night.

Diego Travel Loves: The sunsets sitting on the lawn at Mauna Lani overlooking the Pacific Ocean are magical!

In addition to everything already mentioned in this article about Hawaii’s best luxury hotel, Mauna Lani, we can’t forget to mention, Mika, the resort’s yellow lab mascot.  She makes a daily appearance at the resort to greet guests, and is just as personable as the rest of their warm and sincere staff. 

Their attention to detail and peaceful setting all make for a perfect Hawaiian vacation.

Sunsets at Mauna Lani
Diego Travel Extras at Mauna Lani

Extras You’ll Get with Diego Travel:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Daily Breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom
  • $100 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
  • Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
  • Welcome box for new Diego Travel clients with custom trip planning

    Our current exclusive promo is on all oceanfront & residence bookings.  You’ll receive a bottle of Billecart champagne, one Sunrise Canoe Paddle for four, one-day use of an oceanside Hālau daybed (the one mentioned in my insider tips), and one MY Menu Tasting for two (excludes alcohol). Residence bookings will also get a half-day excursion on the powerboat Kalama Kai. These Diego Travel perks equate to thousands of dollars in value…and this is in addition to the extras you’ll get by booking with us!  For other room categories, they are also offering 20% off rates + kids eat free all summer long, so book your last-minute travel now to take advantage.  Plus remember, direct hotel bookings are complimentary, so you literally have nothing to lose by booking your stay through Diego Travel.

    Mauna Lani Beach Cabana

    Mauna Lani Insider Tips:

    You won’t want to miss the Hale Ho’aloha Lū’au. Invest in the VIP ticket for priority seating, wine, welcome cocktail, family-style pupus, entrées, desserts and keepsakes. 

    There is a complimentary laundry room that stocks detergent right off the hallway behind the front desk.  There’s nothing better than returning home with a suitcase full of clean clothing!

    The cabanas are worth the splurge! You’ll have poolside or beachside service with a fully-stocked cooler, fresh towels and a comfortable space with plenty of shade.  I have my preferred cabanas in my notes, so when you book your stay with us, I will be sure to snag these for you. 

    Let’s Get Planning!

    Mauna Lani Beach


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    Ireland

    Ireland

    A Destination Guide to Authentic Ireland Beyond Dublin
    MARIA DIEGO

    Covering 32,595 square miles and a population of just over 5 million people, Ireland is a lush, green country dotted with grazing sheep and medieval castles. Historically a very poor country, the Emerald Isle as it’s aptly nicknamed, is rich in culture, folklore and charm. Most visitors want to cover the country of Ireland in a week-long visit, but I’d like to argue that this expansive destination requires a bare minimum of two weeks to cover it all, and four if you cover it well. From Dublin to Waterford, Cork to Killarney, you’ve covered just the bottom portion and have barely made a dent. Take time to see Dingle, Lahinch, Galway and the Aran Islands, and you’re still not quite there. If you want to take a deep dive into Ireland’s history, visit Northern Ireland to Belfast and beyond. In this guide, I’ll take you from Dublin to the West Coast of Ireland and highlight our favorite hotels, things to do, and places to eat in Ireland. If you really want to create your dream Irish vacation, you can start by filling out this form to get started planning.

    Perfect For: Honeymooners | Anniversary Trips | Golfers | Couples Trips | Family Vacations | Travel with Teens | Corporate Groups | Incentive Travel

    Antique car at Sheen Falls in Ring of Kerry Ireland

    Getting to Ireland

    Ireland is one of the easiest destinations for travel, with non-stop flights from many hubs in the United States and around the world. With non-stop flights from the East Coast into Dublin being just under 7 hours, it’s an easy overnight trip to start your time in Ireland in the morning. I typically recommend to start in Dublin and fly out of Shannon airport (airport code SNN), as you won’t have to backtrack to Dublin, and you can clear United States customs in Shannon airport. It’s truly the easiest in terms of international travel.

    When is the Best Time to Visit Ireland?

    From March to May and September to October may be the best time of the year to visit, to avoid the crowds but still enjoy warmer weather. June thru August is peak season, but with the warmer weather comes more crowds. Ireland has a temperate (albeit somewhat rainy) climate year-round, so it makes for a great destination at any time.

    Ireland

    53.3498006,-6.2602964

    Dublin

    Boat Tour in Ring of Kerry Ireland

    Ireland Luxury Travel Guide

    What to do in Ireland

    • Dublin Highlights

      Trinity College and The Book of Kells is one of Ireland’s greatest treasures.  The sight of the Long Room, one of the world’s oldest libraries, and its collection of books spanning thousands of years, is quite breathtaking and well worth the visit.  When we plan your stay in Ireland, we can pair you with a local historian to guide you through the local’s Dublin and focus on the highlights that are relevant to you.

      If you love your spirits, you’ve come to the right place.  Dublin is home to the Guinness Storehouse, Jameson Distillery, and the Irish Whiskey Museum, so whatever your beverage of choice may be, Dublin has you covered.  We like to avoid the crowds of group touring and pair you with a local to explore one of these well-known establishments, but ends with a local pub crawl to the neighborhood gems that you’d otherwise never stumble upon.

      It wouldn’t be a trip to Ireland without a stop at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  The Patron Saint of Ireland is well-known around the world, but learning about his life story in this setting is an unforgettable experience.  Did you know that St. Patrick was not actually Irish?

    • CLIFFS OF MOHER

    • Ring of Kerry

    • Cliffs of Moher

      The famous Cliffs of Moher are a must-see while exploring the West coast of Ireland.  You can see the Cliffs by hiking along the trail that runs above their rugged bluffs, taking a group tour with the Doolin Ferry Co, or a private seafari with picnic lunch.  Seeing them from the sea is spectacular and I highly recommend it.  We can also combine the Cliffs of Moher with a visit to the Aran Islands, depending on how much time you have, which by the way, one week in Ireland does not allow you to see it all!

    • Ring of Kerry

      The scenic drive around Southwest Ireland’s County Kerry around the Ring of Kerry is simply stunning.  From Killarney to Kenmare, you’ll pass castles, breathtaking vistas, and plenty of wildlife.  Pro Tip: During the summer months, tour buses are required to drive in a counter-clockwise loop around the Ring, so if you are driving, we suggest starting in Kenmare and doing your day trip in a clockwise circle.  To avoid these crowds altogether, we can arrange for a private helicopter tour around the Ring of Kerry, where you will be able to fly over the Skellig Islands, where Star Wars was filmed.

    • Golf Ireland

    • Irish Castle Tour

    • Golfing in Ireland

      There is no shortage of premiere golf courses in Ireland.  With our partnerships, we can get golfers into the best courses and even helicopter you from one course to the next to make the most of your time on the Emerald Isle.  When the McManus family purchased Adare Manor, they invested a million pounds on each hole on the drainage system alone.  I was particularly impressed with The Padel Club at Adare Manor, where your rainy days will not be ruined with their indoor Sports Simulation Room.

    • Irish Castles

      Everyone wants to see an Irish castle or two when traveling to Ireland, but opportunity abounds to actually stay in Irish castles as well.  What we recommend will be based on how much time you have to spend in Ireland (no, two weeks is not too much), what your budget allows, and the logistical routing of your tour through the Emerald Isle. 

    • The Burren Ireland

    • Fly Fishing in Ireland

    • The Burren

      While there are just so many things to see and do in Ireland, a noteworthy mention is a visit to The Burren.  Recently described to me by my Irish friend as “The Sedona of Ireland,” this vast landscape is a bedrock of cracked glacial-era limestone with fossils, caves, rock formations and archeological sites.  You won’t want to miss a lunch stop at The Burren Perfumery, a boutique outpost that makes the best locally sourced perfumes and cosmetics in perhaps the whole world (and their tomato soup and gluten-free pastries might just be the best I’ve ever had!).

    Oil nut bay

    Where to Stay in Ireland

    There are so many great options in Ireland, but no hotel is a one-size-fits-all.  I love to get to know my clients, the type of hotels they’ve loved in the past, and what they are looking for in order to curate the best stays.  These are just a selection of hotels we love to book for our clients, though there are so many more not mentioned in this guide.

    Rosewood Little Dix Bay

    The Shelbourne, Dublin

    Quite easily the most prestigious hotel in Dublin, The Shelbourne has stood the test of time for nearly 200 years.  Located in the heart of Dublin, it’s always a favorite amongst frequent travelers to the city and boasts 246 rooms with 10 meetings spaces, perfect for corporate groups or business travelers.  When booked with Diego Travel, our clients benefit from their STARS amenities listed below, all while earning their Marriott Bonvoy points.  A win/win for you Marriott loyalists.

    Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following STARS Amenities:

    • Exclusive Marriott STARS offers
    • Daily full breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom
    • Complimentary lunch or dinner for up to two guests per bedroom, once during stay, excluding alcohol, taxes and gratuities (minimum 3-courses & value of $100 USD)
    • Welcome note and amenity
    • Priority Early Check-In/Late Check-Out
    • VIP Status
    • Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using the Travel Planning Service

    Diego Travel Recommends The Shelbourne For: Corporate Groups | Destination Weddings | Couples Groups | Multi-Generational Families | Incentive Trips | Golfers

    Moskito Island

    The Merrion Hotel, Dublin

    About half the size of The Shelbourne yet still situated in the city-center, The Merrion Hotel is home to the 2-Michelin Starred restaurant, Patrick Guilbaud, and a favorite home away from home for many of Europe’s elite.  The Merrion Hotel offers intimacy, privacy and a nice indoor pool and spa.  The lobby feels like stepping into someone’s home, as opposed to The Shelbourne which feels more like a traditional hotel.

    Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following Virtuoso Amenities:

    • Upgrade upon arrival, subject to availability
    • Full Irish breakfast buffet or A La Carte breakfast for up to two people per bedroom
    • USD 100 credit – a lunch or dinner for up to 2 people in The Saddle Room restaurant
    • Welcome note and amenity
    • Priority Upgrade if Available
    • Priority Early Check-In/Late Check-Out
    • VIP Status
    • Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using theTravel Planning Service

    Diego Travel Recommends The Merrion Hotel For: Romantic Getaways | Anniversary Couples | Those Looking for Privacy | More European Clientele | Spa & Wellness Enthusiasts | Golfers

    The Cashel Palace Ireland

    Cashel Palace

    Meticulously restored with glowing splendor, this Relais & Chateaux manor house dating back to 1732 sits in the heart of Ireland, between Dublin and the west coast.  Perfect for a 1-3 night stay on your way to the Ring of Kerry, this hotel is just perfection.  King Charles stayed at Cashel Palace just days before our stay, and I can attest that this lovely property is well, fit for a king.  From the lovely and caring staff, to the chic interior design, to its gorgeous and inviting spa and indoor/outdoor pool, it’s no wonder that countless celebrities have chosen to stop here to sip coffee while they enjoy views overlooking the iconic Rock of Cashel. 

    Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following:

    Our personal relationship with the team at Cashel Palace will ensure that your stay is sseamless.

    Adare Manor

    Adare Manor

    This 840-acre estate will have your jaw drop upon arrival.  Adare Manor was awarded the Forbes 5-Star in 2023 and won the Conde Nast Resort of the Year award in 2022, and once you stay here, it’s easy to see why.  No expense was spared in the restoration and reopening of this grand estate and because of the pandemic, they were able to spend even more time on its restoration and perfecting every detail before the world reopened.  It would be easy to spend a full week at this resort alone, which is not uncommon for repeat visitors to Ireland.  Flying in and out of Shannon makes a singular visit to Adare Manor extremely easy and accessible. 

    • Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following Virtuoso Amenities:
    • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
    • Daily Full Breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom
    • Complimentary Afternoon Tea for up to two guests per bedroom, once during their stay, served in the Gallery (must have minimum value of $100 USD equivalent)
    • Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability
    • Complimentary Wi-Fi
    • Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using the Travel Planning Service

    Diego Travel Recommends Adare Manor For: Golfers and Sports Enthusiasts | Weddings | Honeymoons | To See and Be Seen | Multi-Generational Families | Spa & Wellness Enthusiasts

    Dromoland Castle

    Dromoland Castle

    This 97-room castle located in County Clare is close to the Cliffs of Moher, Limerick, and Galway for day trips.  It recently underwent a renovation and offers a brand new boutique and updated spa.  We loved being greeted by the Scottish bagpiper, and the live music in the bar and by the fireplace each evening.  It’s an easy place to settle in with a cocktail in hand after a day exploring all that Ireland has to offer, or just the grounds of the estate by horse carriage. Only 8-miles from Shannon airport, it makes for the perfect final stop in Ireland before your return home. 

    Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following Virtuoso Amenities:

    • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
    • Daily Full Breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom
    • $100 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit utilized during stay
    • Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability
    • Complimentary Wi-Fi
    • Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using the Travel Planning Service

    Diego Travel Recommends Dromoland Castle For: Romantic Getaways | Anniversary Couples | Traditionalists | Golfers | Couples Groups | Smaller Castle than Adare Manor with a Similar Location

    SHEEN FALLS LODGE

    Sheen Falls Lodge

    Sheen Falls has been a Diego Travel favorite with its prime location to the Ring of Kerry in County Kerry, and their commitment to sustainability.  This 18th century fishing lodge is nestled between a cascading river and Kenmare Bay, where guests can never tire of the quintessential Irish landscape views.  My clients recently described the moment of sitting out on their balcony drinking a glass of red wine and listening to the babbling creek below as a favorite memory from their recent trip.  My favorite memory from my stay at Sheen Falls Lodge was having dinner with Sheila, the sales director, and the general manager, and the way they made me feel like family.  The live music for after-dinner drinks was a special treat too – and the perfect way to end a day after touring the Ring of Kerry! 

    Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following Virtuoso Amenities:

    • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
    • Daily Breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom
    • A tour of Kenmare in the hotel’s 1936 Vintage Buick (must have minimum value of $100 USD equivalent)
    • Complimentary bottle of house wine in room on arrival
    • Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability
    • Complimentary Wi-Fi
    • Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using the Travel Planning Service

    Diego Travel Recommends Sheen Falls Lodge For: Romantic Getaways | Anniversary Couples | Base for Ring of Kerry | Riverfront Rooms | Groups | Local and Authentic Experience

    BVI Villas

    Gregan’s Castle Hotel in The Burren

    An 18th century manor house that has been welcoming guests since the 1940s, this boutique hotel is warm and inviting and makes you feel like you’re stepping into someone’s home.  The meal we had here was one of the best, and my daughter and I explored the grounds, creating magical little fairy beds out of leaves for them to come and visit us overnight.

    If you’re feeling energetic, meander down the local lanes by bike into the Burren valleys or the nearby towns.. Electric bikes can be provided for a more leisurely ride. You can follow along a guided trail or hire a guide to take you where the locals go and see where the day takes you…don’t be surprised to see more than one new type of Irish wildlife along the way.

    Diego Travel Recommends Gregan’s Castle Hotel For: Romantic Getaways | Anniversary Couples | Those Looking for Privacy | Bed & Breakfast Style Experience | Reconnecting with Nature

    BVI Villas

    Ashford Castle

    This 13th century Castle is located 45 minutes from Galway city. Once the Estate of Lord Ardilaun and the Guinness family, Ashford opened as a luxury hotel in 1939.  Since then, generations of family members have worked in the hotel, and they take pride in the longevity of their staff.  There is a 32-seat cinema, a library, Spa, Billiard’s room, and cigar terrace to name a few of its features – enough to feel like you’ve been transported into the Irish version of Clue.

    Don’t miss the unforgettable Hawk Walk at the Irish School of Falconry or the truly immersive experiences they offer into Irish culture.  And an insider tip: for larger groups with a range of budgets, Ashford Castle offers a number of options that will work for you.  Contact Diego Travel to find out more about this.

    Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following Virtuoso Amenities:

    • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
    • Daily Breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom
    • $100 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
    • Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability
    • Complimentary Wi-Fi
    • Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using the Travel Planning Service

    Diego Travel Recommends Ashford Castle For: Romantic Getaways | Anniversary Couples | Honeymoons | Multi-Generational Families | Corporate Groups | Weddings

    Ireland’s Best Restaurants and Bars

    Where to eat in Ireland?

    • RICHMOND RESTAURANTBased in the beautiful Portobello of Dublin, experience contemporary modern cuisine. Richmond Restaurant creates a welcoming atmosphere in the newly renovated building where your tastebuds will be treated to skillfully prepared dishes that would excite anyone’s palate.

      MR. FOXThey serve a seasonal set menu at €70 per person. Vegetarian menus are always available upon request. Reservations are encouraged.

    • Nova on Oil Nut Bay

    • FADE STREET SOCIALCreative dishes from homegrown produce in a stylish, signature chef–run restaurant & bar.

      SOLEOriginal, upmarket venue featuring carefully sourced meat & seafood dishes, plus cocktails & wine.

    • BURREN PERFUMERYWhile this small boutique perfumery is set within the heart of The Burren, what makes this family-owned and operated small business so special is that they source all their ingredients locally and offer the most delectable lunch dishes and pastries in their tiny café.  Well worth a stop!

    A Few of My Favorite Things

    Ireland

    The People

    Arguably one of the nicest countries in the world, the warmth of the Irish is what will make your trip to Ireland that more unforgettable.  I count myself lucky to have several close friends in Ireland, and every time I’ve visited, they drop everything for days to spend time with our family.  To visit Ireland as a tourist is lovely, but to truly experience the real Ireland involves partnering up with a local and spending one-on-one time in conversation, while on a walk or in a pub.  I don’t believe that the tourists who see Ireland in large groups and on tour bus will have this experience, so planning a fully curated and personalized trip that will immerse you into the native language is imperative for a true Irish experience.

    Equestrian Experiences

    Whether you’re an avid horseback rider or a beginner, Ireland’s passion for all things equine is abundant throughout the country.  From thoroughbred racing to side saddle programs, Ireland offers it all and some of the world’s most beautiful horses.  Cashel Palace even has their own equine concierge, which will arrange tickets to the races, or private lessons in a nearby horseback riding facility for you.  I can’t think of a more breathtaking setting than to ride horses through th emerald hills of Ireland.

    Fishing

    While I did not talk about this hotel in my reviews, Ballynahinch Castle is the ideal option for a remote escape for nature-lovers.  Set on 700-acres in Connemara, it is one of the finest fisheries in Ireland, and the Ballynahinch Catchment drains an are of 68 square miles and is a diverse system of interconnected rivers.  The Ballynahinch Estate has sole fishing rights to the river.  Several other options throughout Ireland, and planning with Diego Travel ensures your itinerary is crafted exclusively for you.

    Dining

    While I mentioned a few of our top picks for restaurants, it’s worth it to say that I have never had a bad meal in my multiple trips to Ireland.  The last time I was there, I met with the president of the Ireland tourism board, who told me they worked tirelessly over the last two decades to recruit top talent into their culinary programs.  They really make a focus on using local ingredients, so the farm-to-table plate can really be experienced at nearly every luxury hotel and higher end restaurant in the country.  Many of my clients say they are pleasantly surprised by how well they eat in Ireland, so be sure to carve out enough time to enjoy longer meals at leisure along with a pint or two.

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    Hotel Review: Nihi Sumba

    Hotel Review

    Nihi Sumba

    A Luxury Indonesian Retreat at The Edge of Wildness
    MARIA DIEGO

    Nihi Sumba was the highlight of our 3-week trip to Indonesia. After almost two weeks in Bali, we spent 7 nights in Nihi, a perfect way to end any vacation in Indonesia, and definitely the grand finale, so save it for last. Nihi Sumba is an off-the-beaten-path remote resort that provides unique experiences that you cannot find anywhere else. The breathtaking landscape at this resort is indescribable, with a sign that greets you as you enter the property that reads “Nihi Sumba: At the Edge of Wildness.”

    Perfect For: Families | Honeymooners | Romantic Getaways | Surfers and Adventure Seekers | A Quiet Escape | Those Who Want to Give Back to Communities

    Nihi Sumba Location

    The remote location of the Indonesian island of Sumba makes the destination hard to get to, but worth the trek.

    Getting to Nihi Sumba

    Getting There: A 1.5 hour flight from Denpasar (Bali) to Tambolaka, the main airport on Sumba, and then a 1.5 hour drive to the resort. We booked our flights directly with Nihi, which I highly recommend as these are small Indonesian airlines that we can’t book in the GDS, so they handle all the logistics. They provide VIP arrival service upon landing in Denpasar and even though we arrived to Bali long before our trip to Nihi, they still provided the VIP arrival service, which was amazing. After the 1.5 hour drive through the villages of Sumba, arriving here will feel like you’ve arrived to a slice of heaven on earth, making the trek to get here well worth it.

    -9.7530,-240.8156

    Nihi Sumba

    Nihi Vibe

    Vibe: Nihi is all about the experiences they provide, from picking you up in an open air jeep with coconuts as your welcome drinks (and coconut holders in the jeep to boot) + handmade granola bar snacks wrapped in banana leaf pouches. They have a nightly themed dinner from the the white party to the Sumba Foundation dinner. Nihi is the ultimate in barefoot luxury. It’s not fancy, but service is another level. Each villa has a private butler or “captain” that tends to your every need. Our kids roamed free while we were there. It’s that kind of place. Our captain would magically appear when needed or follow the kids from behind when they wandered on their own, but never felt imposing.

    Accomodations: 23 villas make up the property and they’re all unique. The nicest entry level villas are Kanatar 1, perfect for honeymooners, and Lumba. Many of their villas can be 2, 3 or 4 BR villas as they’ll close off rooms. As each villa is privately owned, it’s best to consult with me in order to hand-select the right option for you. Mandaka is the owner’s 4 BR and is the nicest, and can also be made into a 2 BR.

    Nihi Sumba Villas

    We stayed in Raja Kanatar 2, and it was perfect for us as we had all 3 kids in the downstairs bedroom and had privacy with the upstairs bedroom. Bathrooms are outdoors but completely private, though some villas have indoor bathrooms, so if you prefer that, just let me know and I can match you to the proper villa.

    Raja Kanatar 2

    Food & Beverage: 

    There is a wide variety of food and beverage and they are very accommodating for every type of diet. I was shocked to have so many choices on a remote island, but after a week stay, I didn’t begin to feel bored by the menus. My favorite was the poke bowl for lunch each day, which was served with fresh-caught tuna and the most delicious ingredients – with the perfect amount of spice! Dinners each night changed, and if you ever have any request, they are sure to prepare it for you.

    • Nihi Restaurant

    • Nihi Restaurant

    Nihi Spa

    Wellness: Don’t miss the spa safari – best spa experience I’ve ever had. They take you to a separate location 10-15 minutes drive away, or you can hike in which takes about an hour (they charge $75 to hike in because you have to go with a guide). They have oceanfront villas set up and they serve breakfast or lunch, depending at what time your service is, and you can do either half or full day. The spa menu is on a chalkboard, which you select 4 services and then you’re literally transported to heaven.

    The experience is indescribable and other-worldly. As a fellow traveler told me, “It felt like I floated out of my body…” For days that you don’t want to take a full day to treat yourself to magic, you can also opt for a massage in a smaller spa area next to the main pool, or in your cabin. We did both! And in fact, pricing on massages was so fair that I treated myself to a daily massage while we were there. They were the best I have ever had in my life.

    • Nihi Spa Menu

    • Nihi Spa Menu

    Nihi Surfing

    Other experiences we loved were Lololupu Waterfall, chocolate making, sunset horseback rides, swimming with the horses, and releasing sea turtles, which we got to do 3 times in a week – and given that there’s never more than about 80 guests on property, it’s pretty spectacular.

    Things to Do in Nihi Sumba: Nihi Sumba is an iconic surfing destination. Directly in front of the resort sits a perfect reef break known as “God’s Left” offering up to 300 meter exhilirating rides through hollow sections and rippable walls. Beginers can take surfing lessons directly infront of Nihi Sumba when the swell is small or take a short drive to Nihi’s Coconut Cove, where guests can spend half a day with breakfast or lunch tended by Nihi’s staff. There are not many places where a empty world class surf spot sits infront of a luxury resort.

    • Golf at San Ysidro Ranch

    • Golf at San Ysidro Ranch

    • Golf at San Ysidro Ranch

    • Golf at San Ysidro Ranch

    Sumba Foundation One of the highlights for me was the way Nihi resort supports the community and the owner, Christopher Burch, founded the Sumba Foundation which provides resources that go directly back to the community. They aren’t pushy about it and request your participation in a very tasteful way. They provide a twice weekly visit to the Sumba Foundation school and medical clinic where you participate with about 100-200 kids. For us, it was a life-changing experience and so well done, not just for us but for our kids as well. They also have the weekly Sumba Foundation dinner that shows a short video on where the Sumbanese were 20 years ago to how far they have come. In large part to the Sumba Foundation, the island is thriving and the community’s happiness is contagious.

    Sumba Foundation

    What  Sets  It  Apart: We never go back to the same place twice, but before we checked out, I was already working to book our return visit. The majority of people who go to Nihi Sumba become annual visitors. It’s hard not to want to return, the place is truly that special. I don’t get emotional about leaving many places, but Nihi was one place where I teared up when we had to leave.

    I would say the people are what truly distinguishes Nihi Sumba into its own category. Our captain, Sarney, felt like family by the end of our stay, and we connected through social media and still keep in touch. We have already requested her for our next visit, and our kids are safe wandering under her watchful eye. Everyone from the manager, to the bartender, and the guests who visit, had a similar energy of peace and gratitude for the slower pace and the majestic beauty of the island. It felt like being on sacred ground, and the commonality of sharing that experience with strangers creates a bond that is indescribable.

    Bouganvillea at Rancho San Ysidro
    Bouganvillea at Rancho San Ysidro

    How Much Does Nihi Sumba Cost? Rates vary greatly depending on the room category and whether you are visiting in dry or wet season, or during wave season. Entry level villas, which are still incredibly spacious, start at about $1,083 per couple per day, with full board – meaning meals are already included!

    Diego Travel Loves: When it comes to sustainability, which seems to be a big buzz word in travel now, many properties talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.. At Nihi Sumba, they truly deliver on the goal of practiced sustainability without sacrificing the luxury comforts you might be used to while traveling.

    I also love that each day included two organized activities for our kids that were included with the rates. Every day at around 10 AM and 3 PM, the kids had the chance to go for about 2 hours to paint, hike, make chocolate at the on-property chocolate factory, or do something with the horses. While they don’t typically love kids clubs, this felt different and was immersive in island culture and also allowed them to interact with other kids from around the world. 

    San Ysidro Ranch California
    San Ysidro Montecito California

    Extras You’ll Get with Diego Travel:

    • Priority upgrade at time of arrival
    • Daily full breakfast for two guests per bedroom 
    • $100 USD resort credit
    • One 60-minute massage for 1 person
    • Early check-in/late check-out subject to availability
    • Complimentary Wi-Fi

      Nihi Sumba Insider Tips:

      Nihi Sumba Insider Tips:  The most important thing to know about Nihi is that each villa is unique and varies on location, view, proximity to the main pool/restaurants, number of stairs required to reach it, etc.  Please reach out to us at Diego Travel to guide you to make the right choice on the villa that will be right for you and your party. We can also assist with combining Nihi with the rest of your Asian vacation, no matter where you plan on traveling to beforehand.

      Nihi Sumba

      Summary

      If you have any questions about visiting Nihi Sumba or Indonesia in general, I’d be happy to answer any questions or help book your stay so that you get all the added value mentioned above. Plus, we make an intimidating trip to Indonesia worry-free and take all the stress out of your planning by including assistance with international and domestic flights, pre- or post-travel, and answering any questions you might have about entry requirements or in-the-know details. Contact me at maria@diegotravel.com or complete our Trip Design form in order to get started planning.

      San Ysidro Ranch Dinning

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      Hotel Review: San Ysidro Ranch

      Hotel Review

      San Ysidro Ranch

      An exclusive hideaway in the foothills of Santa Barbara
      MARIA DIEGO

      Tucked away in the tranquil setting of the Santa Barbara foothills, San Ysidro Ranch is a luxury escape like no other. With 38 unique cottages set on 550 acres of a leafy ranch with citrus groves, miles of hiking trails and a running creek and waterfall, the privacy and luxury of this boutique property is one of Santa Barbara’s best kept secrets.

      Perfect For: Couples | Small Weddings | Honeymoon | Anniversary | A Tranquil Escape from the City | Privacy & Exclusivity | Romantic Getaways

      34.4467,-119.6229

      Rancho San Ysidro

      San Ysidro Ranch location: Located in Montecito in the foothills of Santa Barbara.

      Getting There: Fly direct to Santa Barbara Airport SBA or drive 2 hours north from Los Angeles.

      San Ysidro Ranch

      Vibe: As a property that doesn’t do any advertising and is focused so much on privacy, San Ysidro Ranch exudes understated exclusivity, privacy and intimacy. With just 38 individual accommodation options all with private entrances, luxury and impeccable service is the reputation that precedes San Ysidro Ranch, making it a favorite for romantic getaways, discreet city escapes and luxury stays in Santa Barbara.

      Accomodations: All 38 cottages boast sunken hot tubs, large four-poster beds, an outdoor shower, indoor shower and tub, a large stone fireplace, air conditioning and three meals a day included. The luxurious nature of this property promises no hidden resort fees or parking charges, the only additional costs at check out are excursions and alcohol.

      Half the cottages are standalone, and the rest share just one wall. But with private, gated entrances and enclosed gardens for each, the privacy of each cabin is never sacrificed.

      Rooms at San Ysidro Ranch

      Every cottage is uniquely decorated with an understated homely feel. While the patio for each cabin is intended to help guests get reacquainted with their senses as they immerse themselves in the tranquillity of nature.

      If you’re looking for a slightly bigger space, the Hibiscus, Orange, Kennedy and Terrace cottages are all 2 bedroom properties. While the Ivy Cottage is a 1 bedroom suite and the Warner Cottage is a presidential suite with a private pool, jacuzzi and kitchen.

      San Ysidro Ranch Bathroom

      The historic Churchill Cottage is a favorite for history and book lovers as Winston Churchill once stayed there and the library decor is a stunning English history aesthetic.

      As well as their own private entrance, all 38 cottages on the property come with their own parking space with electric car chargers for each. Every property is also pet-friendly.

      San Ysidro Ranch Cottages

      Food & Beverage: 

      Head Chef, Matt Johnson, has been at San Ysidro Ranch for 18 years and his passion for food is reflected in the incredibly high standard of dining at the property.

      San Ysidro boasts two restaurant options with an additional option for private dining also available.

      The Stonehouse is located in the historic 19th-century citrus packing house, with creek views and a dining experience that feels as if you’ve stepped into the vineyards of Italy.

      Rancho San Ysidro Food

      Aside from the award-winning dining experience, San Ysidro also stands out thanks to its world-renowned wine cellar which is the only property to hold a Grand Wine Award and is also the only place in the world that has two vertices of Pertruce from Bordeaux. The 12,000-bottle wine cellar houses an extremely rare collection of wine and spirits, perfect for any oenophiles.

      For those in search of food offerings in nearby Santa Barbara or Montecito, Bouchon offers a spectacular menu with wine pairings. Lucky’s is also a popular option for a white linen dining experience offering a steakhouse menu with an old Hollywood feel, located on the Coast Road in Montecito.

      Also located in Santa Barbara is Paradise Springs, the first bi-coastal winery in the US, offering wines from its California and Virginia locations.

      Rancho San Ysidro Restaurants

      The unique take on American style cuisine is award-winning and consistently voted the top dining experience in Santa Barbara. With open fires and an ocean-view terrace, this is a truly romantic dining experience.

      The Plow & Angel is all about delicious comfort food, located in a cosy stone cottage with fireplaces and wooden fixtures and fittings.

      Private dining is available in the Old Adobe, a historic California landmark dating back to 1825 and one of only three of its kind remaining. The Old Adobe can be rented for an evening with prices starting at $750.

      Lunch at Rancho San Ysidro, Santa Barbara, CA

      Wellness: The story behind the spa at San Ysidro is a testament to the impeccable service that goes above and beyond in every sense.

      The full service spa was only built during the pandemic because so many women were traveling to Montecito to see hair stylists after their usual salons in Santa Barbara were closed. The owner wanted to provide the best possible experience for the locals, so he built the full-service luxury spa which now guests can enjoy too.

      From massages and facials to hair services, the salon and spa is focused on continuing the theme of tranquillity and rejuvenation.

      San Ysidro Boutique

      Golf at San Ysidro Ranch

      Things to Do in San Ysidro Ranch: A stay at San Ysidro means the opportunity to build your own luxury escape, whether you’re looking for daily hikes, sunset cruises or horseback riding in the foothills.

      Horseback riding with a picnic lunch or boating cruises at sunset are a favorite for couples on a romantic getaway.

      And if you don’t want to leave the property, San Ysidro still offers onsite events daily, such as the Belvedere cocktails and live music 3-7pm each day or 17 miles of hiking trails with ocean views

      What  Sets  It  Apart: The first thing that should be mentioned that sets San Ysidro apart from the rest is the impeccable service. Not only are privacy and discretion constantly maintained, but the staff go above and beyond to make your stay as comfortable as possible.

      Housekeepers have just four rooms each to clean, meaning the attention to detail is of the highest standard, as well as staff turnover being incredibly low, thanks to the property’s great incentives for staff.

      The owner is onsite and oversees everything, ensuring the standards remain at the absolute highest, while the guard house maintains security on the property at all times.

      Morning yoga, access to the Montecito Country Club, exquisite dining and exclusive excursions are all details that the property provides that sets it apart from other luxury properties in the area.

      Bouganvillea at Rancho San Ysidro
      Bouganvillea at Rancho San Ysidro

      How Much Does San Ysidro Ranch Cost? Rates start at $2495 with meals included.

      Diego Travel Loves: The uniquely designed accommodation, stellar service and emphasis on privacy is what puts this in the top 5 properties I’ve ever experienced.

      The owner is passionate about ensuring everything at the property is impeccable, the staff are committed to your comfort and privacy, while the dining, spa and excursion options are really the details that go above and beyond any other California luxury boutique hotel experience!  

      San Ysidro Ranch California
      San Ysidro Montecito California

      Extras You’ll Get with Diego Travel:

      • Personalized selection of the right cottage for you, thanks to my personal relationship with the team at San Ysidro Ranch
      • $100 bonus when you book with Diego Travel

        Rancho San Ysidro Insider Tips:

        Book at creekside cottage to guarantee creek view rooms.

        San Ysidro Ranch

        Summary of Our Stay at San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, California

        It is rare for me to feel so completely blown away by a property, but San Ysidro Ranch achieved exactly that.

        Everything about the property is a special experience and you feel so catered for and cared for as a guest, from the rooms to the dining experiences and activities offered.

        San Ysidro Ranch Dinning

        The property radiates exclusivity and luxury but in the most understated way, making you feel at home but also a word away in the peace and calm of this retreat into the foothills.

        A stay at San Ysidro is a very special experience.

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        Rwanda

        Rwanda

        A Destination Guide for Your African Safari Vacation
        MARIA DIEGO

        Rwanda, a country no larger than the size of Maryland, is often referred to as the land of a thousand hills and is located in East Africa. Best known for its gorilla population, Rwanda has a lush terrain of rainforests and farmland, spotted with microclimates of misty haze that hang over the hills like a mystical dream until streams of sunlight break through the grey clouds, exposing a magnificently green landscape that can be viewed from its thousand hilltops. Rwanda shares a border with Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and is the second safest country in all of Africa. Rwanda is a country with a painful past and colorful yet complicated history, and the people of Rwanda are deeply connected to each other, having lived through a trauma that left both visible and invisible wounds that will continue to be felt for generations to come. I’ll go into further detail about the Rwandan genocide when I cover things to do in Rwanda, but the most notable highlight of my experience in Rwanda was the joyful hope and resilience that exuded from every Rwandan’s infectious smile. With Micato Safaris, a leading tour operator in Africa for 30+ years and one of Diego Travel’s top travel partners, we are able to plan an unforgettable trip to Rwanda that will change the way you see the world.

        Perfect For: Adventure & Thrill Seekers | Destination Weddings | Luxury Honeymoon | Couples Groups | Multi-Generational Families with Older Children | Anniversary Trips | Those Who Have Already Done Safari | Teens Ages 15+

        Getting to Rwanda

        Getting to Rwanda

        Getting to Rwanda isn’t easy, and my total travel time from Miami exceeded 24 hours, but the trip is well worth it. Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, has several non-stop flights from major European airports.

        Once in Kigali, I recommend a minimum one night in Kigali in order to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial and acclimate to the time change. Unless your time is seriously limited, then you could take a private helicopter from Kigali airport onto One and Only Nyungwe House. One & Only Resorts, a Diego Travel preferred partner, has the perfect pairing of resorts in Rwanda that I cannot recommend enough. You can find out more about my stays under Where To Stay in Rwanda. When you utilize Diego Travel’s trip planning service, we handle all of the logistics of travel to the Rwanda, taking into consideration the number of nights you have, your budget, and facts you may not even be aware of that might add a roadblock to your trip unless you utilize someone in-the-know.

        Rwanda

        -1.96357,30.1348

        Kigali

        Rwanda Chimpanzee

        The Rwanda Luxury Travel Guide

        What to do in Rwanda

        Rwanda has four national parks including Volcanoes National Park, best known for its population of gorilla families, Gishwati-Mukura National Park, Nyungwe National Park, which crosses over into Uganda and is home to 4 different species of primates including chimpanzees, and Akagera National Park. The national parks of Rwanda make up nearly 9% of its land, and each national park in Rwanda has a slightly different biodiversity. Volcanoes National Park encompasses five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains and is home to a growing gorilla population, all thanks to the work of Dian Fossey and continued conservation work of her foundation. If you’re after more than just gorilla and primate trekking, you can find the Big Five in Akagera National Park, making Rwanda a destination in and of itself. Many people make the mistake of tacking Rwanda onto the end of a larger safari trip as a sort of addendum to quickly see the gorillas, but it’s much more deserving of a minimum 8 nights to properly experience the country.
        • The Ellen Degeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

          Dian Fossey was a leading researcher of gorillas and conservationist who spent two decades studying and protecting the gorillas, until her death in 1985.  Her research and activism against the poaching of gorillas was what led to their continued growth, and to this day, Rwanda has the strictest rules in place to protect the gorilla population.  The Ellen Degeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is made up of three buildings – an interactive museum for the general public where you can learn about gorillas, their behaviors and habitat, and also learn about the life of Dian Fossey.  

          The second building is home to a cafeteria for the many schools of children who come through to learn about gorillas, as well as classrooms and lecture halls where future generations can participate in the continued conservation of the species.

        • ELLEN DEGENERES CAMPUS OF THE DIAN FOSSEY GORILLA FUND INTERIOR

        • ELLEN DEGENERES CAMPUS OF THE DIAN FOSSEY GORILLA FUND

        • The final building on campus houses labs and office space for primatologists and university research students, who study things such as gorilla stressors which they are able to do by measuring cortisol levels in fecal samples, knowing exactly what the gorillas were doing at the moment the fecal sample was collected.  When I asked if exposure to tourists affects the gorillas stress level, Veronica, the modern day Dian Fossey and director of the campus who has spent the last 30 years of her life with the gorillas, smiled and replied, Happily not.  They are unaffected by tourism because we maintain tight control of their exposure.“

          As a Diego Travel client, you can get an insiders tour of the areas that arent open to the public, as well as access to the rooftop viewing deck, where you can sip cocktails and munch on canapés with gorgeous volcano vistas in the background.  The campus also has meeting space, so if your company is thinking of a destination for a small work retreat, Rwanda is ideal and Diego Travel can help you plan it.

        • Gorilla Trekking

          Following the tour of the campus, the main highlight and life-changing experience of your trip to Rwanda will be the gorilla trekking.  There are currently 12 gorilla families that you can observe, all named after the leading silverback gorilla of the group.  Permits to see the gorillas cost $1500 USD per person, with a minimum age of 15 years old.  There is a daily maximum of 90 tourists allowed to enter the national park, broken up into groups of 6 people or less, and accompanied by 1-2 guides.  Once the gorillas are spotted, the group has exactly 60 minutes to observe them.  This guarantees that each gorilla family is exposed to humans for no more than 1 hour on any given day.  

          Gorilla trackers who sleep in the national park forest communicate with the guides via walkie-talkie, providing an estimated location of each gorilla family.  Given the gorillaslocation at time of the tourist groups departure, they can predict whether a trek will be easy, medium or hard, allowing you to choose your difficulty level.  However, because gorillas can quickly change course, it is oftentimes unpredictable, as was the case on one of my treks.  

        • Gorilla Trecking in Rwanda

        • Gorilla Baby

        • Porters will also accompany each group, providing someone to carry your backpack and help you climb what can be a very steep incline.  The guides will lead the group with machetes, creating a hiking path as you cut through what can be thick bush full of stinging nettles.  I highly recommend wearing thicker canvas-type pants, knee-high hiking socks, and ankle hiking boots, and the hotels I recommend for my clients provide gators to protect the lower part of your legs. Even if you feel that you dont need a porter, for just $10, youre providing a salary and supporting the community by utilizing them.  Many of todays porters are also ex-poachers, who have been retrained to earn a living in a sustainable way that supports wildlife instead of harming it.

          Ill discuss my personal experience of the gorilla trekking under the summary of my trip, but going just once wasnt enough for me.  After falling in love with the experience, I returned the following day for a second trek.  Each trek experience was completely different from the other, and Im so grateful that I had the chance to do two gorilla treks.

        • Chimpanzee and Monkey Trekking

          Chimpanzee trekking means a 4 AM wakeup call because catching the chimps just as theyre waking up is key to a good experience.  The chimpanzees were my first foray into seeing the true wildlife in Africa, and to describe the sound of the rainforest at sunrise, with heavy rains falling around us, would be fruitless.  You just have to experience it. 

          As a city girl, I was very poorly equipped to hike in heavy rainfall.  At 4:30 AM, I groggily stumbled into the hotels reception to grab a to-go breakfast and a cup of coffee from the beautifully set up station, only to be given the up and down from a gorgeous South African woman, dressed appropriately in head-to-toe Patagonia gear.  Dont you have any other pants? Those are awfully baggy and will be soaked within minutes,she told me.  I shook my head and self-consciously nibbled on my gluten-free lemon poppyseed muffin as I silently pondered how in the world I got it all wrong.

        • Chimp

        • Rwanda Artisan Community

        • Local Artisan Communities

          Because the majority of the land in Rwanda is farmland, a highlight of your trip will be the farm-to-table dining.  Aside from food, the artisans of Rwanda gather and build co-ops or communities where they sell handwoven baskets, hand-carved gorilla statues, and Imigongo painted traditional artwork, using terracotta, black and earthy color tones with the primary ingredient being cow dung.  We had a chance to create our own, and lets just say Im not going to quit my day job.  I did, however, do enough shopping to fill the handy Tumi Just In Case bag I always pack.

        • KIGALI GENOCIDE MEMORIAL

          The genocide of Rwanda was a mass ethnic killing of an estimated 1 million Tutsi.  The division of ethnicities within Rwanda was not based on facts, but rather an invention of the Belgian colonialists since the 1940s, who divided the Rwandans into three groups based on physical traits.  Their plan to divide the population and ultimately rule over them was a slowly seeping process of infiltrating hatred amongst Rwandans.  In 1994, following a series of events that created a perfect storm, there was a 3-month period in which neighbors and friends turned on each other and brutally murdered the entire population of the Tutsi people, or anyone who was associated with them. 

        • Rwanda Genocide Museum

        A visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial is a crucial first stop on your trip to Rwanda.  It creates context for your entire vacation, and will allow you to have a 360 degree understanding of who the Rwandan people are, where they came from, and how far they have come.  

        While not easy, I am definitely going to recommend a visit to all of my clients at the start of their trip.  The memorial was set up as a place to honorably bury about 250,000 Rwandans who died during the genocide, but also allows families a place to visit and reflect, and honor those who died during this tragedy.  

        A Note About Security in Rwanda

        While the 1994 genocide is a stain on Rwandas history, present-day Rwanda is a state of security and unity.  I have never felt so safe while traveling, as hotels require several security checkpoints, and even to enter the airport area requires everyone to get out of the vehicle while it is driven through a security scanner.  All the hotels and national forests were patrolled by armed security, making a stay in Rwanda very safe.

        One&Only Gorilla’s Nest

        Where to Stay in Rwanda

        One of the best destinations in Africa for a truly luxury and exclusive experience is in Rwanda.  While there are many beautiful properties around the world and luxury hotels and accommodations, it is the staff at the One and Only hotels and resorts that will make your stay so special.

        One&Only Nyungwe House

        One and Only Nyungwe House

        One and Only Nyungwe House, pronounced young-way with an non the front, is perfect for honeymooners, anniversary trips, bucket list trips, and even great for families.  The property allows children about 10 years and older, but keep in mind that they will not be able to visit the chimps and gorillas until 15-years-old.  One and Only Nyungwe House is 23 rooms and suites set on a 10 hectare working tea plantation.

        When we arrived after a 30-minute commercial flight from Kigali, and about a 45-minute safari jeep ride to the property, we were greeted by drummers and dancers, and just like the song of the chimpanzees in the rainforest, their song brought on a wave of emotion that instantly filled my heart with joy and my eyes with tears.  I cannot describe the experience in any other way, but I know that I never wanted it to end.

        Dee, the propertys South African general manager, greeted us with a hand held over her heart, as the rest of the staff lined up with the same gesture and handing us a damp hotel towel and welcome ginger tea.  Dee welcomed us into their homewhere she explained that between our two stays, Nyungwe House is the heart, whereas Gorillas Nest is the arms and legs.”  

        As we were led on a tour of the propertys spa, library, pool, and rooms, Dees infectious laugh was sprinkled between stories as she described the Nyungwe experience.  This unique gem of a property certainly felt like a peaceful sanctuary of treehouses nestled into the edge of the forest, where you commonly see Colobus and Mangobee monkeys visiting your terrace.  

        Ill discuss some activities we did on property in the summary of our stay, but as a general rule, I would recommend a minimum of 3-nights at Nyungwe House, especially if you plan on doing the chimpanzee tour and really relaxing on the property.  For more time for relaxation after your long journey, youll really need 4 nights for the adventure + relaxation pieces.

        Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following One&Only Preferred Partner Amenities:

        • Exclusive One&Only Offers
        • Daily Full American breakfast for up to two people per bedroom
        • USD $100 food and beverage credit
        • Welcome note and amenity
        • Priority Upgrade if Available
        • Priority Early Check-In/Late Check-Out
        • VIP Status
        • Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using the Travel Planning Service

        Diego Travel Recommends One&Only Nyungwe House For: Honeymooners | Small Destination Weddings | Couples Groups | Multi-Generational Families with Older Children | Anniversary Trips | Adventure Seekers | Incentive Trips

        One&Only Gorilla’s Nest

        One and Only Gorillas Nest

        One and Only Gorillas Nest is my favorite hotel in the world.  There, I said it!  Everyone always asks me that question and before visiting this property, I truly didnt have a favorite.  Well, it depends on what style,Id say.  Or Id ask, For a boutique hotel or a resort?”  For One and Only Gorillas Nest, it doesnt matter who you are or what your taste is, I can pretty much guarantee youre going to love it and never want to leave.  

        We landed by helicopter on the propertys helipad after a 40-minute helicopter ride from One and Only Nyungwe House, again greeted by tear-inducing African dancers and drummers with the staff impeccably dressed in suits with their hands held over their hearts.  If there ever was a moment when I felt like a celebrity or the President of the United States, this was it.  Speaking of celebrities, Bill Gates was one of the propertys first guests, which speaks to the calibre and privacy that the resort offers.  

        The owner of One and Only Gorillas Nest is from Dubai and literally spared no expense to perfect every detail in a way that I have never seen before.   Craig, the area manager who oversees both Rwandan properties, gave us a tour of the locker rooms at Club One, the main pool, gym, and spa amenities area, and I commented how even the mens locker room used dark wood while the ladieslocker room was white and bright.  He paused and raised an eyebrow, saying, Funny you should mention that.  Theres a story behind it actually.”  He went on to tell us that after the installation of the locker rooms was complete, the owner was visiting and realized that the location of the ladiesroom would require them to walk on a pathway with no overhang (for a total distance of about 15 feet).  He didnt like the idea of the ladies getting wet in the rain, so swapped the mens and womens rooms, which required a complete de-installation of cabinetry from each room.  

        The interior decorator, Hurburtus Feit, who lives in Paris and primarily does residential projects, incorporated different patterns and textures throughout the hotel and purposely gave it the residential feel for which he is so well-known, creating a cozy retreat that makes you feel like youll never want to leave.

        Initially the idea for the resort was to build 42 rooms, but after considering that the property lends itself to privacy and exclusivity, they decided to build just 21, allowing for a sense of place within each space.  The entry level room cannot even be considered entry level, as all rooms have a sitting area with fireplace, great outdoor deck, and outdoor shower.  Some of my favorite details about the Forest View Lodge, where I stayed, was the view, the best bed sheets Ive ever slept in (I looked at the tag and unfortunately they are made exclusively for Gorillas Nest) and the design details like the gorilla doorstop and hand-carved pen, the gluten-free snacks especially made for me and left at the self-serve bar, fully stocked with the finest china and glassware, and the heated bathroom floors.  They even have a Dyson hairdryer in the bathrooms, and speaking from experience, I know that many of my clients will love that!  

        Aside from the Forest Lodge, they also have a Double Queen room, which is essentially a 2-bedroom with shared bathroom and living room.  The second bedroom has a powder room off it as well, which would be perfect for older kids.  The property has 5 Virunga suites, with one being in a cluster of 3 rooms, perfect for a family or group traveling together.  The Virunga Suites are gorgeous, and would be a better option if you need more common space.  Finally, the Silverback Suite is the top suite on property, with a full outdoor pool looking over the best view on property.  It also has a kitchen that can accommodate a kosher diet, or for someone who needs to eat their meals in villa, a private chef can prepare their food there.  

        What makes One&Only Gorillas Nest so special though is not the property itself, but rather the people and the experiences that they provide.  Everyone is so kind and genuinely happy for you to be there, that every moment, word and action is made with such heartfelt intention.  The staff addresses you by name, and offers a subtle bow with the signature hand over heart as they smile and ask if you need anything.  When the sun goes down and the chilly evening settles in, they pick you up in a golf cart, a heated water bottle wrapped in beautiful African fabric is placed over your lap as they wrap your shoulders in a soft wool blanket.  Post-trek youll be met at the reception as they seat you on a bench where they remove your boots and dirty socks to replace them with your choice of African slides or white flip-flops.  By that evening, your hiking boots magically appear in your room, looking as clean as the day that you bought them.  

        One final note about One and Only Gorillas Nest: we stayed 3 nights but I secretly inquired with Micato Safaris about staying on a 4th night.  There are commercial flights that run to Kigali, but unfortunately there wasnt any running the day that I needed it; 3 nights was not enough, especially considering that I did two gorilla treks, so when we plan your vacation to Rwanda, I highly recommend staying on 4 nights if you plan on doing the second gorilla trek.  

         

        Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following One&Only Preferred Partner Amenities:

        • Exclusive One&Only Offers
        • Daily Full American breakfast for up to two people per bedroom
        • USD $100 food and beverage credit
        • Welcome note and amenity
        • Priority Upgrade if Available
        • Priority Early Check-In/Late Check-Out
        • VIP Status
        • Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using theTravel Planning Service

        The Retreat Kigali

        The Retreat Kigali

        One of my favorite hidden gems of the trip was The Retreat in Kigali, a boutique hotel built by two American ex-pats, Alisa and Josh Ruxin, who work with local non-profits and started this project to create a hospitality training program for organizations such as Orphans of Rwanda.  They currently employ a staff of 145 for just 20 rooms, that range from an entry-level Deluxe Room to a Luxury Pool Villa, with rates starting around $300 USD per night.  This quaint property is the 5 star version of its sister hotel next door called Heaven.  A restaurant with excellent food and some more 3.5-4 star accommodations, Heaven is a great option for the more budget-minded traveler.

        Rwanda Traditions

        Summary of Our Stay

        Upon arrival to Rwanda, we had to undergo a PCR Covid test per the current regulations. Diego Travel clients can be set up with VIP Fast Track arrival service to whisk you through customs and have the PCR testing done. Our flight arrived into Kigali at night, so we stayed 2 nights in Kigali upon arrival, visiting both the Genocide Memorial and having lunch at Heaven, located next to The Retreat. While it may seem excessive, we needed additional negative Covid tests to enter the national parks, in order to protect the primates as they are highly susceptible to human diseases. It’s astonishing that we share 98% of the same DNA, so given their small population, we need to protect them from any danger, such as coronavirus, as much as we can.

        One&Only Evening

        The commercial flight into Nyungwe was not as easy as I would have thought. The Rwandan processing is slow, whether it’s through security checkpoints or checking into hotels. As we were traveling with Micato Safaris, they did a fantastic job of keeping our documents in order and because they provided each destination with our documentation in advance, there was less wait time than what one would typically experience. Some things are unpredictable though, such as our bags taking an hour to get unloaded from the plane upon arrival into Nyungwe, so my advice is to pack your patience when traveling to Africa.

        Rwanda

        Arriving to this part of the country was the first time experiencing the ‘authentic’ Rwanda, seeing women balancing baskets on their heads and men pushing bicycles loaded up with kilos of potatoes. Seeing little children running behind their older siblings on a tea plantation, and frantically waving at us as our green safari jeep sped by. “Canesa, canesa,” they’d yell in Rwandese. “Wishing you health and happiness,” the greeting Rwandans use. Mothers carrying babies wrapped on their backs, and women and men bent over to pick tea leaves in the fields. The endless hills are astonishing and climb higher and higher as you make your way to Nyungwe House.

        Arriving at One&Only Nyungwe House

        I already spoke about the arrival to Nyungwe House, but the emotion that overcame me I can neither put into words or ever forget it. The sense of being in Rwanda makes you somehow feel at home, even though you are worlds away.

        Much of your stay will be had around the dining table or around a fire. While I started off the trip a complete stranger to all of my travel industry companions, I left feeling more connected to them because of this. We shared conversation, we shared great food, but most importantly we shared the unique experience of witnessing these magnificent animals in the wild together.

        One&Only Nyungwe House

        To return to the experience of the gorilla trek, since that is the sole reason why most people visit Rwanda, I would like to explain a little bit more about the process so you know what to expect. The allowed hour felt like a blip, and Craig recommend to us, over the glow of the fireplace the night before, to allow ourselves 15 minutes to take photos and video, but then to just set it aside and be present with the animals. This was the best advice I could have gotten, even though it was definitely hard to do. While the permit cost is very expensive, it’s important to note that it’s meant to keep the number of tourists to a minimum and a portion of the proceeds goes toward the conservation of the national parks and the gorillas. For example, 5% goes toward the farmers who surround the national park, as sometimes the gorillas will escape the wall of the national forest and destroy the bamboo or farm crops. This 5% covers that cost to maintain or repair any damage, so that locals are incentivized not to harm them.

        Rwanda Gorilla Safari Guide

        As I mentioned I did two treks, and while I don’t want to go into huge detail about them, as it was such a special experience that I want to selfishly keep some things for myself, I will say that the two treks were completely different. The first was about a 3 hour hike up steep inclines of thick mud and stinging nettles. When we arrived to the Sabinyo gorilla family, we were in tight quarters with them, all huddled together on the side of the mountain. The proximity was so close that a baby, a mother and the silverback, Sabinyo, all brushed beside me as they made their way through. On my second trek, it could not have been more different. The gorilla family this time was Mahowza, and as we were approaching the national park, the family was migrating down directly toward us. We took about 20 steps inside the wall and there they were. The guides told us to hand over our backpacks and walking sticks to the porters, as poachers used to beat them with sticks and so the sight of them still makes them defensive. Since the backpacks contain food, you keep that away from them as well. We then followed them as they formed a line of about 18 gorillas, who proceeded to walk out of the national park and onto the farmland, where they happily destroyed a field of bamboo, clawing and gnawing and licking it as they rolled, climbed, and played with each other.

        Commodore Perry Estate Austin Texas

        Aside from the gorilla trekking, the properties arranged other activities so that we could experience it all, such as archery, drum circle, and spear throwing. Have you ever thrown an African spear? It’s not as easy as it looks, and God knows how they ever killed any animals using that method. We painted, we took a course on tea picking and tasting, we had yoga class and massages. While both places were amazing, Delice at One and Only Gorillas Nest was the best massage I’ve ever had in my life, so much so that I asked her if I could take her home with me.

        • Food at One&Only Rwanda

        There was one waiter, Jean, at One and Only Nyungwe House whose excitement and happiness was so contagious, you couldn’t help but fall in love with him. Josh, a travel companion, asked him, “Do you love your job?” He beamed ear-to-ear with his wide vibrant smile and said, “I love it too much!” Being there with people like that just made your heart melt, and made me realize that while they have so little, they have more than we will ever know. The key to happiness, or that sense of being that all of us eternally long for yet never attain, belongs to the people of Rwanda. Jean, the Patricks, Esperanz, T, and so many more, have kept a piece of my heart with them. Someday I’ll return to experience it again.

        If you are ready for your trip to Rwanda, please contact me here to begin planning your incredible life-changing journey. Book your next Micato Safari with Diego Travel to receive a $200 per person gift credit to the Micato online safari store towards the purchase of  apparel and gear.

        Let’s Get Planning!

        Rwanda Landscape

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        Hotel Review: Chablé Yucatan Resort

        Hotel Review

        Chable Yucatan Resort

        A beautifully modernized historic hacienda
        MARIA DIEGO

        Chable Yucatan is a masterfully restored archeological masterpiece and little-known health, wellness and spa retreat tucked away in the Mayan jungle of Mexico. The team at this luxury resort’s mission is to not only offer a luxury hotel stay, but to elevate your mind, body and soul by creating luxury experiences in a way that you have never experienced. A stay here will unequivocally connect you with nature and balance your being to embrace the spirit of this enchanting property.

        Chable Yucatan

        Chablé Yucatan is located about 30-minutes from Merida airport in the Yucatan Peninsula.  Merida has non-stop flights from Miami…

        If you’re flying into Cancun, you can still plan a split-stay visit between Chablé Yucatan and Chablé Maroma, as they are about a 3-4 hour drive between them, and the hotels can arrange for transfers.

        20.7571,-89.8690

        Chable Yucatan Location: Chable Yucatan is located about 30-minutes from Merida airport in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Merida has non-stop flights from Miami.

        If you’re flying into Cancun, you can still plan a split-stay visit between Chable Yucatan and Chable Maroma, as they are about a 3-4 hour drive between them, and the hotels can arrange for transfers.

        Bicycle at Chable Yucatan

        Vibe: A beautifully modernized historic Mexican hacienda, Chable Yucatan, has been a pet-project of a renowned architecture and design team who took 15 years to lovingly restore this property to its current splendor. You may find yourself completely disconnected and elatedly riding a bike through the luxury resort’s winding paths to the soundtrack of chirping birds and jungle wildlife.

        Accommodations: Chablé Yucatan consists of 40 casitas, family villas, a presidential villa and a royal villa.  All accommodations have their own private pool, with family villas being a two bedroom with adjoining living room.  The presidential and royal villas are both three bedrooms and offer complete privacy.

        • Chable Yucatan Room Exterior

        • Chable Rooms

        • Chable Yucatan Bathroom

        • Chable Plunge Pool

        Ixi’im Restaurant at Chable Yucatan
        Wellness Restaurant at Chable Yucatan

        Food  &  Beverage: One of the highlights of Chablé Yucatan is the food. It is authentic Yucatecan gourmet food prepared in a fresh way than your typical tacos and guacamole that you’ll find elsewhere in the Riviera Maya and Cancun. Each morning, they deliver your preferred choice of coffee or tea with breakfast pastries that you can enjoy at the hour you indicate upon your arrival. Post wake-up coffee, you’ll have a poolside breakfast and/or lunch at Ki’ol, which translates to healthy in Mayan and has an ever-changing menu of fresh selections from the gardens.  

        The Wellness Restaurant next to the spa and fitness center is another healthy option offering vegan, gluten-free, and fresh juices and smoothies. At Ixi’im, which means corn in the Mayan language, is an impressive display of 3,475 bottles of tequila that is as jaw-dropping as it seems. Illuminated by fire and candlelight, this restaurant was a highlight of the trip. 

        While I don’t drink tequila, I was definitely tempted to at both nights we had dinner here. Sikar is an after-dinner stop to taste the finest selection in whiskey, cognac, brandy and hand-made cigars.  Perhaps my favorite of all the culinary options at ChabléYucatan was the Casita Maya, where you’ll experience an extended course authentically Mayan and Yucatecan meal prepared right in front of you by two women. It was such a special experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who visits!

        Wellness: The focus of wellness at Chablé Yucatan surrounds the sacred cenote found on property, and every treatment room has its own private balcony overlooking the water. Prior to your treatment, you’re welcome to make use of the circuit, carefully guided by a personal attendant through a series of Mayan rituals that alternate between heat and cold, from sauna and steam room, to ice plunge pool and showers. Each treatment begins with a shamanic ceremony performed inside a large conch shell-like structure, as your therapist describes the 7 elements and their significance. Following this beautiful ceremony, you’ll be guided to your treatment room where you’ll begin with a foot bath and served a rice drink, meant to nourish the mind, body and soul.

        Wellness Chable Yucatan

        • Nature Walk at Chable Yucatan

        • Melipona Bees at Chable Yucatan

        • Cenote

        • Uxmal

        • Celestún

        Activities: I was surprised by the number of activities available at Chablé Yucatan, having visited the majority of the haciendas in the Yucatan region before and expecting a similar experience. However, Chablé Yucatan offers a 9-course golf course, pickle ball, tennis, miles of nature paths to either walk, run or ride.  

        There is a melipona bee sanctuary, one of very few of its kind, meant to preserve this sacred bee and its honey of healing properties. They have a temezcal, used to perform ancient Mayan ceremonies, which I highly recommend. There’s a main pool, a spa pool for adults only, and the private pools that each villa offers. If you’re looking to just relax, eat and drink, then you might enjoy the cigar bar for a post-dinner treat.

        Finally, there a multitude of excursions that you can easily do from Chable Yucatan, from enjoying the charm of the colonial city of Merida, to taking a refreshing dip at a one of the nearby cenotes (underground rivers), to visiting flamingos at nearby Celestún to exploring Uxmal, one of the most important prehispanic Mayan cities. 

        Perfect For: Honeymooners, anniversary trips, destination wedding, culture enthusiasts, adult groups, and even family trips. Our kids loved it, but they are used to a more adult-friendly vibe and tend to refuse any kids club.  Small business conferences or incentive trips would be amazing here. The property has a convention center with two meeting rooms, one with a maximum capacity for 50 and the other for 100 people, but they can easily combine to host groups up to 150.  

        Chable Yucatan Horse Stable
        Chable Yucatan Bar

        What Sets It Apart:  The setting of the Mayan jungle is truly spectacular, but the way Chablé Yucatan was designed is truly what sets it apart.  The resort could be at full capacity, but you’ll still feel complete privacy.  We felt safe enough to let the kids wander on their own, and the service by every team member was at another level.

        How Much Does Chablé Yucatan Cost? The high season for Chablé Yucatan and Merida in general is November through April. The low season will be hotter with periods of rain, which brings more bugs. Rates will really be season-dependent.

        Shopping at Chable
        Hacienda Chable

        Diego  Travel  Loves: Every aspect of Chablé Yucatan was thoughtfully planned, from the soundtrack of chic background music, to the pristine landscape architecture. And the landscape lighting at night! It creates a whole new magical experience that transforms the property into a magical wonderland of illuminated trees under a vast sky of twinkling stars and fireflies. I cannot think of another resort that pairs current and hip design while still maintaining the integrity of a historic restoration quite like Chablé Yucatan.  

        Extras You’ll Get with Diego Travel:

        • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
        • Complimentary Full Breakfast daily for two guests per bedroom, served in restaurant
        • $100 USD equivalent Resort/Hotel credit to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
        • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
        • Complimentary Wi-Fi

        Paletas at the pool of Chable Yucatan

        Chablé Yucatan Insider Tips:

        • Chablé Yucatan lovingly supports local communities by carrying Mexican-made and hand-crafted products in its boutique.  Try to pick up something while you’re there to support Mexico’s artisans, along with a bottle of melapina honey.  
        • I also highly recommend the Mayan dining experience at Casa Puebla, where you’ll be treated to 4-5 courses of authentic Mayan dishes by two women who prepare the meal right in front of your eyes.  We weren’t able to finish the last course, but oh my, was it worth it!  
        • For a large family or group, rent the Royal Suite, which incorporates ruins found on the property in its own private pool.  You’ll be the only ones able to see these ruins, as the villa is completely private to you.

        Chablé Yucatan Pool

        Summary of Our Stay at Chablé Yucatan:

        While visiting Mexico and working remotely for a month, we wanted to do something special for our daughter’s 10th birthday. After the 3+ hour drive from the Riviera Maya, we were greeted with fresh Lima juice, a fragrant blend between lemon and lime, only grown in this region of Merida. There’s no translation in English for this particular fruit, but when you taste it, you’ll know. Upon check-in, we were asked to fill out a form asking our preferences for morning coffee and pastries, preferred activities and dining times, and any dietary restrictions. I’m always curious, as a travel advisor, if this information gets relayed to every staff member, and I can say with certainty that it did.

        Let’s get a drink

        As they gave us a tour of the property and finally our private villa, the feeling of having arrived overcame us. This is the life! The kids fell instantly in love with the idea of running off on their own to explore by bike, and we felt safe enough to let them do so. On my daughter’s actual birthday, we surprised them with the Ruta Verde tour, which is a guided tour starting at the gardens, where we picked the lettuce, herbs, and vegetables that they would prepare for us at our Mayan lunch. Then we visited the deer, as they foster about 30-40 on property at any given time, before sending them to a deer sanctuary or back into the wild.  After the deer we had a private tour of the bee sanctuary, where we learned about the melipona honeybees and how they were regarded in ancient Mayan times to hold medicinal powers. Our last stop of La Ruta Verde was at an area of trees, where we were each handed a ribbon to tie onto a tree to set an intention. It was such a beautiful and unforgettable experience for all of us.

        Chable Yucatan Gardens

        We planned to stay at Chablé Yucatan for two nights, but shortly after arrival, we extended our stay another night.  As a travel advisor and seeing so many hotels and resorts around the world, I have to admit that I rarely do this. A 2-night stay at any given property is pretty normal, but it just wasn’t enough for this hotel. I fell madly in love and I think you will too. It really is one of my favorite resorts in the world, and when you book your stay with me, you’ll have access to special promotions like 3rd night free plus your Virtuoso amenities mentioned above. So it’s always worth it to reach out to find out how Diego Travel can help elevate your stay. Contact us now to get started planning your next getaway.

        Let’s Get Planning!

        Chable Yucatan Night


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        CHABLE YUCATAN

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        Hotel Review: Blackberry Mountain

        Hotel Review

        Blackberry Mountain

        A Wellness Retreat at a Luxury Mountain Resort
        MARIA DIEGO

        Blackberry Mountain, the sister property of the Tennessee resort, Blackberry Farm, is located in the Great Smoky Mountains just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. This luxury American hotel is the perfect fusion of a wellness retreat, outdoor adventure hub, and gastronomic delight. Whether you’re visiting for a special celebration like an anniversary or honeymoon, enjoying a family vacation, or need a solo getaway to disconnect, this All-American boutique resort is a soon-to-be staple in travel. So dust off your hiking boots and pack your bags because now is the time to visit before its popularity spreads like wildfire. 

        Perfect For: Active couples | Fitness-oriented travelers | Adventure-seekers | Family vacation with kids young and old | Wellness retreat | Honeymoons

        • 35.7305,-83.8162

          Blackberry Mountain

          Blackberry Mountain is located less than 30 minutes from Knoxville, Tennessee and McGhee Tyson Airport.  Between Blackberry Mountain and Blackberry Farm, you’ll have about a 30-minute drive if you’re doing a split stay.  You can also fly into Nashville and take a 3-hour drive east.

        • 35.6955,-83.8488

          Blackberry Farm

          Blackberry  Farm is a 4,200  acre  estate located on  the  Great  Smoky  Mountains,  30  minutes  outside  of  Knoxville, Tennessee. 

        • 35.8096,-83.9966

          Mc Ghee Tyson Airport (TYS)

          Blackberry Farm is easy to get to with direct flights to Knoxville from more than 25 cities and a 25 minute drive fromMc Ghee Tyson Airport (TYS) airport.

        Blackberry Mountain Location: Blackberry Mountain is located less than 30 minutes from Knoxville, Tennessee and McGhee Tyson Airport.  Between Blackberry Mountain and Blackberry Farm, you’ll have about a 30-minute drive if you’re doing a split stay. You can also fly into Nashville and take a 3-hour drive east.

        Vibe: Blackberry Mountain is all about wellness activities, outdoor adventures, and holistic wellness.  While you could certainly visit this luxury Relais & Chateaux hotel just to eat well, visit the spa, and enjoy the mountain views, you’ll make the most out of your stay at Blackberry Mountain by taking advantage of its endless on-site activities.  Even though it is the ultimate in luxury travel, the vibe is casual with friendly service and a down-to-earth attitude with guests dressed the part for mountain hikes, not really dressed to impress.

        Accommodations: Blackberry Mountain consists of 23 cottages, 6 cabins, 12 two to five-bedroom homes, with an additional 14 tree houses being added by September 2021.

        Food  &  Beverage: Three Sisters, named for the Great Smoky Mountain’s three peaks and site of Blackberry Mountain, is the luxury resort’s main restaurant and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It is located in the main building of Blackberry Mountain, along with the reception, Nest spa and the main pool that overlook the vast mountain views.  Three Sisters’ most popular menu items are the avocado toast for breakfast, and the mouth-watering burger with the local Blackberry Farm cheese is the most popular lunch item.  The Firetower is located nearly 2,000 feet further up the mountain at Blackberry Mountain’s highest peak that overlooks the horizon and the town of Knoxville.  Menus change daily at both restaurants and are based on Tennessee’s seasonal ingredients.  During warmer months, you can also take a bag lunch or picnic down to The Valley, or pick up a quick drink or snack inside The Outfitter, Blackberry’s Mountain’s retail shop.

        Wellness: The focus of Blackberry Mountain is on wellness and in my opinion, it’s program far exceeds other wellness resorts I have visited. If you want to turn inward, the most recommended activity (trust me, I ask everyone!) was the soundbathing in the yoga loft.  You can attend lectures and workshops that include foundations of health, holistic nutrition, create calm, herbal tea blending, and movement workshops.  Creative presence classes like meditative watercolors, mandala stone painting, mindful clay sculpting, mala making, and guided journaling.  They also have a holistic doctor onsite that can reprogram your nervous system and provide acupuncture therapy.  Yoga classes range from Vinyasa, aerial, aromatherapy, Pranayama, hot flow yoga, and ropes wall yoga.  Convinced yet?  I want to go back!

        Activities:  There is something for everyone at Blackberry Mountain, from tennis and pickleball to hiking trails, indoor basketball and rock climbing, a yoga loft and a holistic studio called Embodiment Lab. One of your first stops at the property should be to The Outfitter located at The Hub, where you can pick up food and beverages to-go and map out your day with Blackberry Mountain’s concierge team. Blackberry Mountain’s newest addition is The Valley, where you’ll find a swimming pond with two water slides, the option for waterskiing, a family pool, and an arbor adventure course that will test your fear of heights and have you zip lining through the Great Smoky Mountain’s trees. Sadly, my fear of heights overcame me, but I happily snapped photos of my husband going through the course with both of my feet planted firmly on the ground. For the less adventurous, there is an art studio with pottery and painting classes, different workshops for the culinary arts and writing and of course, there is Camp Blackberry for the kids.

        What  Sets  It  Apart:  Blackberry Mountain is defined by the people and the level of service and warm hospitality that they offer.  You won’t find anything like it anywhere else, besides Blackberry Farm.


        How Much Does Blackberry Mountain Cost? It’s a common question, and a lot of people might be curious about the cost of Blackberry Mountain and Blackberry Farm.  First off, both properties are almost entirely all-inclusive (save for lunch at Blackberry Mountain, and alcoholic drinks and some activities at both properties).  Prices vary greatly depending on the time of year you plan to go, with October, Thanksgiving, and summer months being peak season.  The most economical time to go is a mid-week stay in early December, late January, or the month of February, with nightly rates starting at $695 plus taxes and fees per couple.

        Diego  Travel  Loves: The homes at Blackberry Mountain are a great value and an excellent option if you’re traveling with more than two people.  I have toured nearly all the homes and can point you in the right direction based on your interior design style and room configuration needs.  There are two 4-bedroom homes that sit side-by-side with great views, so if you’re traveling with a large group, these are often the preferred pick. Both 2-bedroom homes, Wild Crab Apple and Linden, actually have an additional 2-bunk (4 twins) room, which allows for two families to comfortably fit into these smaller homes.  If you’re looking for a bit more fun, book Outasite for its downstairs game room with a shuffle board and the only house with a hot tub.


        Extras You’ll Get with Diego Travel:

        • 5% off published rates
        • $50 spa credit
        • Upgrade at time of check-in, subject to availability
        • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability

        Blackberry MountainInsider Tips:

        • Goats Hill has the best sunset views and is a little-known spot that is popular for proposals.  As a Diego Travel client, the team at Blackberry Mountain can work with me to set up these private moments that will make your stay all the more special.  
        • Most of Blackberry Mountain’s morning wellness and fitness classes are included with your stay, so get up with the sunrise and take advantage!
        • Hike Cats Paw Ridge and you’ll be in for a surprise!  Allow for two hours to take this beautiful hike.
        • While we didn’t get a chance to do it, sign up for the sound bathing.  It was recommended to us by multiple staff members while we were there, so we’ll take their word for it and sign upnext time.

        Summary of Our Stay at Blackberry Mountain:

        Ever since my trip to Blackberry Farm last year, I have been dreaming of a visit to Blackberry Mountain.  My clients oftenask me to explain the difference between Blackberry Mountain and Blackberry Farm, so the only way to truly know how to answer this question was to experience it for myself.  Since Blackberry Mountain’s opening in February 2019, it has become increasingly popular with the Blackberry Farm fans, and as it turns out, a popular hot spot for celebrities looking for a private mountain retreat.  I knew we were off to a good start when our driver entertained us for the thirty-minute drive with stories of transporting celebrities accompanied with a deep and contagious laugh that would put anyone in a good mood, even after the longest of travel days.

        We arrived to Blackberry Mountain with an appetite, and were the only ones in Three Sisters restaurant, named for the three Great Smoky Mountain peaks and site of the resort.  At Blackberry Mountain, the only thing not included in your stay are the lunches, alcoholic beverages, spa treatments, and certain activities.  All the morning activities are included in your stay, so take advantage of this and sign up for your activities of choice prior to your arrival to ensure availability.  We signed up for the Stretch and Release: Hips class because I have chronic hip pain thanks to carrying around three babies for the last decade and a lot of sitting at my desk.  Our private class wasn’t intended to be so, but we got lucky and it allowed us to gain a lot of useful information from our knowledgeable instructor and learn about their holistic and complete health and wellness program.

        While a typical stay at Blackberry Mountain is meant to disconnect from your device and reconnect with your loved ones and nature, working while traveling is part of the deal for me, so we spent our first afternoon comfortable in our spacious yet cozy Thunderhead Cottage before heading up to the Firetowerrestaurant to catch the sunset and dinner.  The wind was biting, and there had been a somewhat rare snowfall prior to our arrival, so the stairwell was closed off to the tower, but we still enjoyed 360-degree views from the highest point, nearly 2,000 feet above the main area of Blackberry Mountain.  If you like a perfect sunset view and want a more remote and romantic lumberjack-cabin-in-the-woods vibe, then I would recommend the Watchman cabins.  

        The following day we explored the nature trails, ate delicious uninterrupted meals, stopped into The Hub where we chatted with staff about different things to do around the Blackberry Mountain property for those looking for high-energy activity and adventure-enthusiasts, but also those seeking a restorative, peaceful, and restful stay geared toward wellness and health.  Blackberry Mountain seems to marry these two orders seamlessly.  In the afternoon, we took some time in the spa, which felt like a year of Covid-angst and worry melted away with each strong stroke of a hand.  By the time we met each other back in the spa’s waiting area overlooking gorgeous mountain views, we felt like we’d finally disconnected and settled in and could have stayed for another week.

        Dinner on our final night was back at the Three Sisters, which does a masterful job of switching up the menu on a daily basis and making things fun and exciting each meal.  When the dessert menu came along and three options were gluten-free (unheard of in the GF world!), I just had to order all three.  And why not?  It’s included in the stay…so indulge we did, just confirming that the Relais and Chateaux status of Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain is well-deserved.

        On our final morning we made the most of every moment and woke up with the sun, going for a short hike before breakfast and then taking the golf cart down to The Valley, the newly developed area of the resort offering a swimming pond in the summer with two slides, pickle ball and tennis ball, a swimming pool, and a brand new arbor course.  While I’ve always been afraid of heights, it had been awhile since I’d challenged this fear and though that this would be a great time to do so. The highest point of the course was only 40 feet, and the minimum age requirement is only 8-years-old to participate, so how hard could it be?  I found out once I got up to the first post, after having gone through a 15-minute training on safely harnessing and using the gear. As it turns out, a phobia only gets worse with age (who knew!?) and my phobia of heights is a real thing.  Our guide, Hall, was nice enough to lie to me and told me I was not the first person who had to back down at the last-minute.  Not only was he an expert naturalist, climber, and adventurer, he was a fantastic psychologist as well, who kindly assisted me down without crushing my confidence.


        Once my husband bravely completed the course, albeit winded and admitting how challenging it was, we had a full 15 minutes to spare so Hall pointed us toward a hidden waterfall, where we had just enough time to hike down and bask in its beauty.  As we stood there watching the beauty of the relentless flow of water, I couldn’t help but think about the next time we’d return.  Maybe in the summer months with our kids, when the mountains are green and summer activities change the whole experience.  Regardless of the time of year you go, it’ll be worth it to reach out to me to help you plan your trip, not just for the discounted rate and added amenities you’ll get with your stay, but for the insight we can now provide having experienced both properties.

        Design My Trip!


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