July fourth marks the unofficial start to the Hamptons season, so we decided to pull together the outfits that will be in heavy rotation in our wardrobes this summer from the beach at Gurney’s to Surf Lodge. Think stripes, boho beach vibes and pastels and you can’t go wrong!
I’ve been eyeing this Misa dress FOREVER. It’s super versatile for any sort of beach vacation, but can personally see myself wearing it for dinner at The Crow’s Nest in Montauk. It’s $370.
As much as I love Manhattan, I itch to get away on the weekends, whether that means heading out East to The Hamptons, going hiking or flying somewhere for a long weekend. So, this past weekend, we decided to get away for the day just an hour and a half north of Manhattan to Cornwall, New York.
In this upstate town there is a world-class outdoor sculpture garden called Storm King Art Center that is truly breathtaking. Founded in 1960, Storm King is situated on 500 acres of land near the Hudson Valley, and it is home to massive sculptures from artists such as Alexander Calder, George Cutts and Mark di Suvero. The entire place is extremely peaceful (and very Instagrammable).
There are a few options of getting to Storm King if you don’t have a car to drive yourself. You can take the train, but it takes well over two hours and requires getting a cab from the station. Or, you can do what we did, and take a bus from Port Authority via CoachUSA. For $47 each, you will get transportation right up to the entrance of Storm King as well as a return trip and it also includes your entrance fee to the Center. It’s really great value and gives you more than enough time to explore the entire grounds.
We packed a picnic to eat not he grounds and a bunch of snacks and then set off for the bus ride, which takes 90 minutes door to door. There is also a cafe not he premises if you want to buy food there. We ended up buying wine there, which made the second half of the day a lot of fun.
This mirror fence was on of my favorite pieces and creates a really fun optical illusion when you take photos in it. If you search Instagram you can see a number of examples of this.
This exclusive, upscale Japanese restaurant is a splurge, but well worth it. The head sushi master, Hidekazu Tojo, is world renowned. He has made sushi for some of the world’s most esteemed people including Prince William and Kate, Steven Tyler, and Harrison Ford. On a recent Saturday, we were lucky enough to get the royal treatment from Tojo himself when we sat down to a private omakase experience at the restaurant.
First things first, Tojo is a lifelong innovator. He left Japan as a young man after learning about Japanese fine dining and began innovating on a centuries-old standard way sushi was made and served. Ever have a California roll? Well, you can thank Tojo. He created the California roll back in the 1970s and was criticized at the time for thinking outside the box. Now, that roll is ubiquitous worldwide.
If you visit Tojo’s, in addition to tried and true classic rolls, you’ll find creations that can’t be found anywhere else in the world, which makes it a truly unique experience.
We got to watch Tojo in action with his go-to Japanese headband at work behind the long sushi bar. After working diligently, he brought out a platter of creations for us to try. Among those was his famed California roll, smoke salmon, a quinoa (!) roll (yes, you read that correctly), an albacore tuna roll, and a crab roll.
Now, I usually use both wasabi and soy sauce with my sushi, but the quality of the fish as well as the way it was prepared made both of these accessories unnecessary. Let’s start with the salmon roll. Now, heading into this experience, I didn’t eat salmon because I never found it appealing. But, this salmon was world changing. The way the fish was smoked brought out a ton of flavor and it ended up being my favorite dish of the night.
Next, was crab wrapped in egg crepe and topped with fish roe. This was my boyfriend’s favorite roll. The crab has a ton of flavor and the roll it is in is hard to find outside of Tojo’s.
The quinoa roll was so different than anything I’ve ever tasted. It was tied for my second-favorite roll. It had a soybean seed wrap and was filled with quinoa, bell peppers, pickled cucumber, fish, asparagus and other flavors that really popped. It was truly a testament to Tojo’s innovation and his pulse on modern cuisine trends.
The tuna was lightly seared and then marinated in a secret sauce and topped with daikon radish, fresh ginger and onions. It pretty much melted in your mouth and had so much flavor.
I can’t believe I’m admitting this but even after ALL these rolls, Tojo sent us out two desserts, and we happily ate them. One was a sorbet and the other was an Asian crème brullee, both amazing.
After eating here, I can truly recommend that you make a reservation as soon as you book your flights so that you can guarantee a seat in the restaurant, which is frequently attended by actors, celebrities and politicians. It’s a hard table to secure but worth the effort.
If you are looking for the ultimate brunch experience, The Teahouse in Stanley Park should be on your “must” list. It’s the perfect way to spend the day and experience several of Vancouver’s tourist activities at once. It’s in the middle of Vancouver’s Stanley Park, which is a beautiful space that I spent a lot of time in during my stay. You’ll see in our prior guide, that we rented bikes to ride around the perimeter of the park and stopped halfway through at the Teahouse for brunch.
The building of the restaurant itself is super charming. It has indoor and outdoor seating, all of which has the water as the focal point. We went for brunch, but am also told that dinner is a great time to go and sit on the patio because it has great views of the sunset.
After a brisk bike ride in the park where we visited the famous totem poles and saw other sights, we parked our bikes at the restaurant and chose outdoor seating on the patio. After ordering brunch cocktails (mine: a gin cocktail with muddled cucumber, his: a bloody mary with shrimp cocktail garnishing) we set about exploring the menu.
Narrowing down the menu was near impossible because so many of the dishes sounded amazing. With a little help from our waiter, who was amazing by the way, we settled on some Teahouse classics. To start, we had their mussels, which were prepared with tomatoes, garlic, fennel and a white wine sauce. These mussels were ginormous and packed with flavor. Really loved the broth.
For our mains, I ordered the steak and eggs and he got the duck and waffles. The steak and eggs came with scrambled eggs, a New York strip sirloin and a cabernet demi-glace sauce. It was ridiculously good and I nearly finished it, which is big news for me. The boyfriend’s duck and waffles were equally good, and the amount of food could have fed three people. It came with duck leg confit, bourbon bacon jam, Belgian waffles and a sunnyside up egg. We couldn’t finish all the food even though we gave it a really good try.
I loved the ambiance of the patio. They have heat lamps and blankets if there is a bit of a chill, but luckily for us, the weather was cooperating that day.
So, while we had raised our white flags and surrendered after brunch, the kitchen sent out not one, but three desserts for us to try. (Sensing a theme here?). We both swore we’d only have a bite of each, but approximately fifteen minutes later there was barely anything left on the plate, which speaks to the skill of their pastry chef. We had the chocolate Milano cake (this was my favorite and I wasn’t even in the mood for chocolate). It had a chocolate mascarpone mousse on the inside and an almond wafer crust. We also had a Tahitian vanilla bean crème brulee (yep, two crème brulees in two days, because vacation) and a lemon tart with candied lemon that had the most perfect lemon curd filling.
Having brunch at the Teahouse was truly a lovely experience. The service was top notch, as was the food and setting. Highly recommend making a reservation and a day of it.
In the charming Gastown part of town is Tuc Craft Kitchen, a great restaurant with a rustic feel in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Vancouver. The restaurant has an energetic vibe and communal feel and I really liked the decor with the exposed wood beams and lanterns.
The menu has tons of options. I went solo, so didn’t get to sample a ton, but loved everything I ate. The Cuban style breakfast sandwich was awesome. It could probably feed four people, so might be a good option to share. It had shredded pork shoulder, eggs and tomatillo cream. I went there the day after a wedding so was pretty hungover and craving bacon so I ordered a side of the bacon and wish I could have finished it because it’s exactly what I needed. Definitely appreciated the comfort food after a night out drinking and I’d also somehow gone on a four-mile run that morning miraculously, so felt OK eating carbs
I recently spent a long weekend in Vancouver for friends of my boyfriend’s wedding. I went into this trip not knowing what to expect of the city being that it was my first time there and in Canada in general. We spent three nights, which is the perfect amount of time and had a blast. Here’s my travel guide to the city.
Where to stay: Vancouver has a number of five star hotels and also Airbnb options. For those going the hotel route, the Fairmont, the Four Seasons and the W are all situated in a great part of town and will have all of the amenities you’re looking for during your stay. If you prefer something more local but still high-end, check out the Pan Pacific.
What to Do: Vancouver is known for its natural beauty and it’s a really fun place to be outdoors and very active to take in the mountainous landscape and the water. We spent a lot of time walking around, hanging in the park and riding bikes. Read below for some of our must-dos.
Rent Bikes and Explore Stanley Park: One of our favorite experiences during the entire trip was renting bicycles and exploring Vancouver’s famous Stanley Park. We rented our bikes from Bayshore Bike Rentals because it is the closest bike rental shop to Stanley Park and has a great array of bikes, helmuts, tandem bikes, etc. to choose from. Also, their rates are very fair, and it you end up late, they will charge you in fifteen-minute increments rather than for a full hour, which is unique among the bike shops in the area. Overall, their staff is great and super friendly.
After picking up two bikes, helmuts and baskets, we set off to explore the park. Now, we live near Central Park so I wasn’t sure how Stanley Park would stack up, but I was blown away by how beautiful it was. The park is TK miles to get around, and the entire perimeter is surrounded by water, giving you the most amazing backdrop for your bike ride. The perimeter of the park is a 6-mile loop, which we biked, stopping along the way to take pictures of the vista and visit different landmarks, such as their famous totem pole sculptures. We took our time and also stopped for brunch at the Stanley Park Teahouse (More on that below and in a separate food post) so the entire loop including a stop for a leisurely lunch took around four hours. It was a lovely way to get acquainted with Vancouver and its scenery while also getting an idea for the area’s topography. There were times that we were biking along the path and could literally smell maple from the maple trees.
This really was the perfect way to spend a day and something I’ll be recommending to friends who decide to visit the area. The park is also where the famous aquarium is, if that’s something on your agenda while in town.
Visit Granville Island: Our first full-day in town, we walked from our hotel in English Bay to the ferry terminal to get to Granville Island. This island is just a five-minute boat ride from Vancouver (and costs just a few dollars) and is a wonderful way to spend the day. Here’s a pro tip: skip breakfast before going to the island. We made the mistake of stopping in a shop in Vancouver for coffee and breakfast and were too full to eat in Granville’s famous food market, which has local stalls for goods such as cookies, savory pies, lobster, candy and produce. If we did it over, we would have shown up hungry and sampled the local fare before setting off to explore the rest of the island.
We stopped by the Granville Island Brewery which was a lot of fun. My boyfriend tried a flight of the local beers while I had wine. We also sampled a local favorite called poutine which is essentially french fries in gravy with cheese curds. If you’re usually carb-free, you’ll have to make an exception for this because it’s delicious. For those interested, the brewery also gives tours.
After the brewery, we stopped by all the local artisans on the island. It’s really known for local artists, woodworkers, and other shops that are super interesting.
Stroll Around Gastown and Yaletown: Gastown and Yaletown are two great areas for shopping, bar hopping and eating and drinking. Both parts of town are walkable and it’s the perfect way to spend a leisurely day strolling around town and happening into their really cute and unique shops. I bought a lot of items I had no intention of buying, from gilded cactus planted to dresses.
In Yaletown, I particularly loved their flower shop, which is where I got the cactus vases. There is also a Soul Cycle there (!) and some really cute shops such as Friend Finds, which has the most delightful accessories.
In Gastown, check out Lululemon’s Lab concept, which has a factory in the back of it. I especially loved a little fashion boutique called Artemesia Clothing which has really unique, feminine designs. I bought an amazing dress there that I plan on wearing this weekend. Just next door to it is a lovely home store called L’Atelier Home which has bar cart accessories, candles and other unique finds. I also loved a shop called Old Faithful, the display is pictured above, that had great home accessories.
Where to Eat & Drink: It wouldn’t be a BVS Travel Guide without a guide to the best culinary experiences in the city. We sampled a lot of fare, and here are our must-dos. (Also, stay tuned for a more-detailed post dedicated specifically to the restaurants in Vancouver).
Tojo’s: First things first, go and make a reservation at Tojo’s the second you book your trip to Vancouver. It is the best sushi restaurant in all of Vancouver, and that’s saying a lot being that the city has more than 600 sushi spots. Its head chef, Tojo, is named one of the top 10 sushi chefs in the entire world, and he is responsible for creating the California roll. So, it’s only right you pay homage. The food here is amazing and really fresh. Thank us later.
The Teahouse in Stanley Park: We already told you that one of our favorite days in Vancouver was bike riding around Stanley Park. Part of that reason was because we stopped for a decadent brunch at the famed Teahouse in Stanley. The restaurant has the best views of the water and the park, not to mention the sunset. We went for brunch and everything we ate was just amazing and the service was impeccable. They have outdoor seating on their patio which makes you feel like you’re still partaking in the park. Rent bikes and make a reservation here on your trip, you won’t regret it.
Rodney’s Oyster House: Vancouver is known for its seafood and oysters are a staple on many of the menus. Head to Rodney’s for their oysters and bloody mary’s. There is one in Gastown and one in Yaletown, so this could serve as a much-needed break after a day of shopping in either part of town. We sampled a number of their oysters and tried all of their sauces with them. It’s a great vibe and a fun place to go with friends.
Tuc Craft Kitchen: Go and schedule yourself a brunch date at Tuc Craft Kitchen in Gastown. The brunch menu is killer as are their brunch cocktails. I also really enjoyed the vibe of the restaurant which is rustic but really hip with an energetic crowd.
Nestled in the post-card perfect hills of Santorini’s Caldera in Oia, is the Andronis Boutique Hotel, a five-star luxury hotel that we had the pleasure of staying in for three nights this July.
Andronis Boutique Hotel is in the most prime of locations In Santorini. It’s smack in the middle of the caldera: those white-washed homes in the hills and blue domes that you conjure up when you think of Santorini, and so many of the island’s other hotels aren’t located in this area so they don’t have the idyllic views you come to expect when you imagine Santorini.
Andronis is one of three hotels run by this boutique hotel group. It is built into the side of the mountain in all white with giant suites carved into the side of the cave, making the hotel part of the beautiful scenery in Santorini. It’s on Oia’s main stretch, meaning walking outside of the hotel puts you in the middle of Santorini’s best restaurants, bars and shopping. And yes, even the famed donkey trail.
We were greeted upon arrival at Andronis with glasses of chilled champagne and the most unbelievable views. This set the tone for the rest of our stay, where the staff went above and beyond to make our trip perfect.
The hotel itself is beautiful. Think white washed buildings and bright pink bougainvillea flowers growing throughout the archways and walls. Our room blew us away. It had arched ceilings because of the cave and a zen-like atmosphere. An example of the type of luxury service provided at Andronis: there is a pillow menu so that you can specify which type of firmness you prefer best while sleeping.
The bathroom was a showstopper. Gray stone and a giant shower with a rain drop faucet as well as a swim in-swim out jacuzzi that overlooked the Mediterranean ocean. We pretty much spent the end of each night in the jacuzzi sipping on Greek white wine and Ouzo. The bathroom has luxury, organic bath products and a killer blow dryer by hotel standards. Our room had an amazing outdoor deck with two sun loungers that fit the aesthetic of the hotel: they were light wood and really eclectic-looking. What we loved and missed once we left was that the views from literally any place you stand at Andronis are just breathtaking. This included the views from our terrace.
The pool area is spectacular. There is an infinity pool and a separate pool overlooking the Mediterranean and lots of beach loungers and umbrellas to take the sun on. In another sign of how Andronis knows its clientele and caters to it: Vogue and other fashion and travel magazines are in a basket at the pool for guests to enjoy. The views from the pool are breathtaking and when the sun starts to set, the whole area is awash in a pink/red glow reflecting off of the mountains that is truly beautiful.
The pool staff is super attentive. From the second you sit down, they are over with chilled bottles of water on ice with lemons and lime. They also treated us to a bottle of their very own white wine. (Andronis also produces its own olive oil!) our first day after we arrived we laid out at the pool and took in the scenery while eating Greek salads from the hotel’s restaurant, and they were the most fresh Greek salads we’d had on our trip. The chef later sent over a Greek yogurt mousse with fresh berries that we are still talking about.
While we’re on the topic of food, Andronis had the most delicious breakfast buffet, which is included in the charge of your room. The breakfast area has every local delicacy available from spinache and cheese pies to local cheeses and cured meats, to our favorite: The Greek Yogurt bar featuring what they call the “Breakfast of the Gods.” Side note: Andronis has ruined Greek yogurt in America for me. the yogurt at Andronis was a million times better than what we get at home, and I made sure to have the breakfast of the gods each morning alongside delicious fruit and pastry. The breakfast of the gods is a toppings bar for the yogurt featuring everything from pistachios to coconut flakes to raisins and currants. Legend has it that the Greek gods ate this mixture each day to give them their energy. Whether the legend is true or not, it’s delicious.
Fresh-squeezed juices and a bottle of chilled champagne also are in the breakfast room for those who wanted to start the party early (Hint: we did). There is also an amazing omelette and egg menu that is made to order for those wanting eggs. We had every intention of ordering omelette but the Greek yogurt was too good for us to pass up!
The concierge and all of the hotel’s staff were super friendly and eager to help. They made us a reservation at their sister property’s restaurant, Lycabettus (a separate post on dinner there here), and arranged our transportation and activities for us. Aside from the two other hotels, Andronis has a few high-end boutiques in Oia with labels such as Pitusa, and those staying at an Andronis property get a 15% discount on shopping.
What we also loved was that Andronis is the perfect backdrop for any sort of vacation you would like. It has wonderful private areas, such as your own private sundeck (pictured above) and jacuzzis/private pools. Or, you can go to the main pools and strike up conversations with other travelers. It’s in the middle of the beautiful town, giving you access to everything you could want to do when in Santorini.
The Andronis is the definition of luxury and exclusivity. We would gladly recommend Andronis to readers, and have already recommended it to friends!
For those who haven’t been, Mykonos is considered the party island of Greece. And it is home to some of the most amazing beach clubs. Think gorgeous people, DJs playing beachy tunes and cabanas to take the sun and drink champagne in. The morning hours are very chill, then comes 4 p.m. and the music turns up, people start dancing and champagne corks sound all the way until 9 p.m. when the sun finally sets.
There are so many beach clubs in Mykonos that picking the right ones is key. You don’t want to end up at one of the fratty, college ones. Check out our must-visit guide to beach clubs in Mykonos below.
Scorpios is one of the newest beach club additions in Mykonos and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s got a distinctly Burning Man on the Mediterranean vibe. Think monochromatic shades of tan and sand, wooden cabanas, body painting, hammocks, fire circles and other-worldly slow beats with live drummers, etc.
Scorpios attracts the “it” crowd. Models, athletes, leggy Europeans, etc. During the day, you can rent a cabana by the beach. It is also the most spectacular place to watch the sun set. We wound up at Scorpios three of our four days in Mykonos, if that’s any indication of what it’s like. At sundown, the percussions pick up, but the vibe is still very mellow as people dance to tribal beats while watching the sun set under strung edison lights.
The dress code: hot bikinis and lacy coverups. Tie-up sandals also encouraged. Feather headbands? Do it.
Where do I start with Nammos? It was hands down our favorite day in Mykonos and the best party we went to (from what we remember). It may be because our early lunch at Nammos consisted of two glasses each of vodka on the rocks with Greek Salads. We then went shopping at Luisa, Nammos’s store which is stocked with amazing Missoni bathing suits, Eugenia Kim hats and Karen Walker sunglasses. The day got even better when we decided to order a bottle of vodka just for the two of us. So, by the time the party kicked off at 4, you can probably imagine the state we were in.
Nammos attracts a really affluent crowd. There’s a 120,000 pound bottle of Armand De Brigand Brut Gold on their menu, after all. It is also a celebrity hot spot. Once the beats picked up, out came a surprise bottle of Veueve Cliquot for us. That went down quickly as we danced to club music and swam in the ocean. We then wound up at a table that had approximately 16 bottles of rosé for us to drink while we danced and smoked turkish cigarettes and cigars. Next thing we knew, the sun was setting over the ocean.
Parts of Nammos are a blur, but a really, really fabulous one. We’re already talking about going back to Mykonos next summer and recreating this day. I may have lost a really expensive pair of sunglasses, and my friend may have lost her feather headband, but those are small prices to pay for the amount of fun we had. I’d put it high on the list of beach clubs to visit.
Panormos is a beautiful beach club overlooking Panoramas Bay. The decor is impeccable: Wooden beach loungers, a gorgeous restaurant (pictured above) with views of the turquoise bay, a great shop. and good vibes.
Visually, we thought Panormos was the prettiest of the beach clubs we visited and we liked the chill vibe during the day. There are lots of people in their late twenties and thirties ordering bottles of rosé and champagne. We loved that it had a very Grecian feel to it — the champagne, for instance, was served in a brass boat surrounded by bunches of grapes and strawberries. There is a DJ and a saxophonist playing to the beats.
Like Nammos, the energy picks up around 4 p.m., unless it is one of the days that they have a night party. In that case it will close around 6 so that they can set up. The restaurant requires reservations, so keep that in mind, as do the beach loungers. Don’t try just rocking up and getting a chair — it’s a bit of a process, so reserve in advance.
Planning A Trip to Greece? Check out our Travel Guides:
We recently spent five nights in Iceland and it was a vacation unlike any other. The terrain is beautiful, but hard to navigate because of the snow and ice conditions. And, so much of what you’ll want to see and experience if outside of Reykjavic, which is the best place to stay on your trip, but makes it harder to do sightseeing. So, we decided on having the best of both worlds: we stayed the entire time in Reykjavic so that we would be in close proximity to great shopping, restaurants, bars and hotels. And we did a massive amount of research on the best tour operating group to bring us outside of the city for all of our sightseeing an excursions. As I mentioned, we spent weeks researching the best tour guides because the excursions are often full-day affairs and can be expensive. We decided to book every one of our tours with Discover Iceland and were so pleased with our experience.
Discover Iceland has a range of options for your tours, and they offer plenty of itineraries. If you’re on a budget, they offer bus tours to many of their itineraries. Or, you can do what we did and have a private tour in a Super Jeep. We decided on the more expensive Super Jeep option for a number of reasons. First off, there were four of us and we liked the idea of keeping it to just us and a guide who would also drive us. We also liked that a Super Jeep could access parts of Iceland and roads that a large bus can’t navigate, so we got to see a bit more and off road a bit, which was super fun. We also were able to customize the tour a bit, deciding to stay a bit longer here or a little shorter there depending on our interests. It was totally the right call for all of these reasons, plus some you’ll see below. Many people are conflicted about whether to rent an SUV and try to do the sights on their own. I can confidently say after being in Iceland during the winter that you should absolutely not try to attempt the tours on your own. The conditions can be absolutely brutal and totally dangerous and it’s safest and easiest, to leave it to the professionals at Discover Iceland who seamlessly navigate the terrain and conditions day in and day out.
The first tour we did was of Iceland’s famous “Golden Circle.” If you only have time for one tour, let this one be it. It gives you a look at some of Iceland’s most iconic sights, one more beautiful than the next. Our driver, Ivar, picked up up promptly at our hotel at 8:30 a.m. in a ginormous Super Jeep with giant tires equipped to navigate the snow and we set off outside of Reykjavik. We loved that our guide was extremely familiar with Iceland’s geography, traditions and history, and he helpfully pointed things out along the way and even told us local lore and tradition as we headed to our first stop, Thingvellir National Park. Driving to the park in a Super Jeep was a ton of fun because there had been snowfall the night before, so it proved to be an adventure. The park itself, which is a Unesco World Site, is beautiful and we saw where people dive between tectonic plates and were able to roam and take some beautiful pictures.
Next, we visited one of the sights I associate most with Iceland and was most excited to see: Gulfoss Falls. This massive waterfall is just astoundingly beautiful, and all the pictures I had seen of people posting it on Facebook and Instagram don’t do it justice. When we arrived, it was snowing extremely hard and the snow obstructed the views a bit. Ivar gave us as much time as we wanted to take in the waterfall and he even kindly took a bunch of group photos for us, which was really appreciated. He became our unofficial photographer throughout the trip, which was another benefit of booking a private tour through Discover Iceland. He let us stay until the snow cleared and we got unobstructed views of the falls. One of the things you learn about Iceland within a day of being there is that the weather is unpredictable and can change drastically minute to minute.
After the waterfall, we did one of the coolest things we did during the entire trip. We got snowmobiles and drove them on a giant glacier for an hour. We paired up in groups of two and set off onto a beautiful glacier with the help of a guide and halfway through we switched drivers with whoever was on the back of the snowmobile. This was such a unique and exhilarating experience, especially given that we did this in the middle of a really big snow storm. It was unlike anything any of us has ever done, and it gave us some major bragging rights when we came back to the U.S.
After snowmobiling we checked out Iceland’s famous Geyser Strokkur, which are natural wonders. Luckily for us, the main geyser exploded within just five minutes of us getting there, so we were able to see the show relatively quickly. Ivar showed us another waterfall on the way back to Reykjavik, which was also just stunning and we got beautiful group pictures under it. My friend even snuck behind the back of the fall. We were back at our hotel by 6:30 p.m., just in time to shower and get ready for dinner and a night out on the town.
On our second day, we were scheduled to do a private Super Jeep tour of Iceland’s Grand South Coast tour with Discover Iceland. We woke up early in the morning and looked out the window of our hotel to learn that in the few hours we were asleep, Iceland was hit with a blizzard! More than a foot of snow had come down overnight, which was the most snow Iceland had had in decades. We went down to the lobby of our hotel and found that guests who had booked tours for the day with other tour companies were upset because almost every tour that day was canceled because of the conditions. Ours, however, was not. We were ecstatic because this was the only day of the trip we could do the Southern Coast tour and Discover Iceland made every effort to make sure we’d still get to go out and do the tour and do so in the safest manner possible. Because many roads were closed, Ivar got to us a little late, but he gave us notice that he would be around an hour late, which was totally fine. He extended the tour an hour on the back end to make up for it.
Then we started the most memorable part of the trip — driving to the Southern Coast in the aftermath of a blizzard. The entire country was in white out conditions and covered in a blanket of glistening snow. For much of the day, we were the only vehicle on the road and had full access to the terrain.
Our jeep bounced up and down as we drove over glaciers and through feet of snow. It was so memorable and fun, and the entire time we felt safe because we were going at a reasonable speed and Ivar kept checking the tire pressure, etc. We drove to a beautiful glacier where there was an ice cave that we could peek inside, which was really cool. Then, we went to a black sand beach, which is something my friends and I were really looking forward to doing since we booked our flights to Iceland. It was beautiful and the waters were wild because of the storm with giant swells crashing on the black sand. We then stopped by a volcano that was responsible for the disruption of most trans-Atlantic flights a few years back. It was a wonderful, and truly adventurous day.
We also were able to stop every time we saw Icelandic ponies on the side of the road and take photos with them because we had the Super Jeep. (All the photos in this blog post are photos we took ourselves while on the tours.)
The last tour we did with Discover Iceland is the Northern Lights tour on a minibus. The Northern Lights are famously unpredictable, and they don’t come out every night. In order to see them, you have to drive a few hours outside of Reykjavik into complete darkness, which we do not recommend attempting on your own. I liked that Discover Iceland allows you two tries at seeing the Northern Lights. So, if you go out with them on a night that the lights don’t show up, they allow you to go out with them again one more time free of cost, so you get two attempts for the price of one. I also liked that their office gave us updates throughout the day about the odds of us seeing the lights given the clarity and weather patterns.
The bus picked us up at 8:30 and we were off. We liked that it was a small bus and the driver was really entertaining. Next, we drove a few hours into complete darkness and pulled up next to a lighthouse near the coast. Shortly after arriving, we were treated to a show from the Aurora Borealis. We were extremely lucky to see them on or first attempt within minutes of arriving. Shadows of green magically appeared in the sky and slowly created patterns in the sky. It was frigidly cold the night we went, so it was nice to be able to pop in and out of the minibus to warm up. Our driver even made us hot chocolate to keep us cozy. Having seen the Northern Lights, we were pretty much able to cross off every item on our Iceland bucket list using Discover Iceland as our guides for each step of the way. i would gladly recommend them to my friends and readers. Their customer service department is super responsive and helpful and they will also help guide you to the tours that will best achieve the itinerary you want to see. If you have the ability and budget, I would say to definitely do the Super Jeep tour as it was the highlight of our trip.
One of the things that we were most looking forward to when we booked our trip to Ireland was seeing its scenic Cliffs of Moher. For those not in the know, allow me to acquaint you with the Cliffs. Located in the Southeastern edge of Ireland, the Cliffs provide some of the best views of the Irish countryside and coast. My friend and I had seen stunning photos of the Cliffs and this was one of those non-negotiable “have to see” items on our Ireland bucket list.
We only had one day where it fit into our itinerary and luckily we were able to find a tour guide to give us the exact, custom-tailored experience we were looking for. Cue: Jim Parsons of Ireland West Tours. In addition to seeing The Cliffs of Moher, we wanted to see the Burren region of Western Ireland and we also wanted to spend some time in Galway. Jim was the perfect person to make our dream itinerary come true. He was super quick to respond to our email outlining what we’d like to do and see, and he suggested that we take a train from Dublin to a stop near Galway where he would pick us up himself. From there, we would drive to the Cliffs and the Burren region, and he would drop us off at the end of the day in Galway’s city center so that we could grab dinner and bar hop before making our bus to Cork later in the evening.
I can’t stress enough how thoughtful Jim was in helping us achieve all of our itinerary goals. His expertise and knowledge of the reason was clutch, because we didn’t know or understand the geography of Ireland at all, and were having a hard time planning out the logistics. He responded to us quickly and conscientiously and before you know it, we were on our way.
Once we got into Jim’s car, I learned how he got into the tour business. Essentially, he had been a cab driver in Ireland for years and grew up in West Ireland. He and his wife were on an anniversary trip in Thailand and did a bus tour and felt as if they didn’t have the autonomy to see the sights they wanted to see and they felt like they were being corralled and sent to markets where the tour guides got kickbacks. The next day, they did a semiprivate tour, but wound up being the only people on the tour with the guide. The guide allowed them to customize the trip, seeing exactly what they wanted to see. That’s when the idea dawned on Jim to replicate the same experience back home in the area he knew and loved.
Driving from Galway to the Cliffs was half the fun. Jim pointed out abandon castles and gave us history of the region along the drive. It was clear immediately that he had grown up in the surrounding area because he knew the history inside and out. Being city girls, we “oohed and ahhed” every time we saw country animals grazing in the fields. So, we’d have Jim pull over pretty much every time we saw wild horses, sheep, cows, you name it, so that we could snap photos, and selfies, with the livestock. He was endlessly patient with us on this.
Before going to the Cliffs, we went to an area called The Burren. The Burren is in County Clare and it is filled with natural limestone throughout the region. It was here that Jim told us about the unusual temperature in the Burren because of all of the limestone. There are also rare species of plants and fauna in the area.
When we got to the Cliffs it was raining pretty hard, but we were determined to get to the top and take in the views. A little wind and rain never hurt anybody and we persevered and broke an umbrella along the way. We got to the top with wet hair and a definite chill, but it was totally worth it and has made for a funny story since. The green of the cliffs contrasted against the turquoise waters are really otherworldly.
At the end of the day, Jim drove us back to Galway. We explained that we wanted to have dinner and check out some bars before heading to Cork, and he made sure to drop us off in just the right spot in Galway so that we could hit up its famous bars and restaurants in one fell swoop. We had the best day and would gladly recommend Ireland West Tours to our readers!
The second half of our trip to Ireland brought us to Cork, where we had the privilege of staying the the historic Maryborough Hotel & Spa.
The hotel has such a rich history dating back to the early 1700s, and I loved that staying here made me feel like I was stepping back in time to a country retreat. The country manor was built in 1710 and was the original house of the Newenham family. When you walk into the lobby, there is a beautiful fireplace framed by two comfortable arm chairs and everything keeps with the period the house was built when the Newenham’s walked its halls. I particularly loved looking up at the elaborate crown molding and the beautiful ceilings.
Our room was enormous with a separate bedroom and sitting room with high ceilings, exposed beams and even a fireplace. The sitting room was so charming, and they provided us with a vintage tea set with a pretty pink flower pattern and loose tea which was such a nice touch. Our first morning we put up some water and sipped tea in our plush robes before setting out for the day. It made us feel distinctly un-American, in a good way.
Despite the hotel keeping the decor aligned with its history, and sourcing furniture and other pieces from that time, we loved that it had modern fixtures in all of the right places. An example would be the bathroom, which was wstunning and fully stocked with Espa bath products. We loved the beautiful shower and bath, and even threw in some of the divine bath crystals they provided us with, which came in handy after a long day in the cold exploring the scenery on the Ring of Kerry.
The hotel sits on eighteen acres of property that is beautifully manicured and green every which way you turn. In addition to the grounds, they have a greenhouse extension call the Orangery which is the perfect venue for weddings, corporate events or other functions such as a bridal or baby shower. Our hotel room overlooked the Oranegry and we were in awe of its beauty. In the daylight, the sun drenches the interior.
The staff just went above and beyond our entire stay, from greeting us warmly, to arranging transportation each day, to opening the restaurant up early. There were delicious macaroons and cookies as well as wine laid out in our room upon arrival, which was such a sweet gesture.
We had the most exquisite dining experience at Maryborough’s restaurant, Bellini’s. In the mornings, it is where they serve breakfast. We were fortunate that the staff was attentive enough to open the restaurant up an hour early for us before our Ring of Kerry tour one morning so that we could get a healthy breakfast in. They have a wonderful buffet, with a selection of yogurt parfaits, hot and cold cereals, fruits, meats and pastries and also have a hot menu you can order from. We sampled from the buffet and then ordered up an egg scramble with hot bacon and blood orange tea before our tour, which kept us really full.
Dinner at Bellini’s was next level. I loved that the ingredients are locally sourced from neighboring farms and that they take a moment to spotlight where they source their ingredients. I started with the roasted parsnip and apple soup which was warm and flavorful and got the chill out of me after a long day outdoors. My friend had the pan seared scallops to start which were prepared with tomatoes and rocket oil.
There were too many amazing main dishes for us to settle on one each, so we picked two to share and were blown away by how well they were prepared. We learned early on that Ireland is cow country and the beef is delicious and tender, so, we ordered the Hereford Fillet of Beef, which was served with carrots, celeriac, truffle puree and tellicherry emulsion. We also had the duck breast with fondant potato, butternut squash, fennel and beetroot. I have to say, these dishes were so good that we cleaned out plates, including the carbs and that’s how you know it was good. But seriously, each dish was cooked to perfection, the flavor profiles were rich and interesting and everything was perfectly seasoned.
So, you would think that would be enough for two girls about to go out on the town, right? Wrong. We were stuffed, but the dessert menu was so good that we ordered the gingerbread baked Alaska to split. There’s a reason that Bellini’s won restaurant of the year just recently.
The Maryborough has one of the nicest hotel gyms and spas I’ve ever set foot in, and after reading everything we ate above, you can imagine we made good use of it. It’s another example of where they really splurged and create a modern gym and spa environment worthy of the finest hotels. The gym is gigantic and has beautiful polished wood floors, state of the art machinery and ample space to do floor weights and exercises. We spent a few hours in the gym on the treadmill, stair master and floor space. They also had foam rollers which came in handy given it was the end of our trip and our legs were super tight. The spa and steam rooms were also wonderful and added to the relaxing vibe of the hotel. For those looking for group classes, they offer spin class and others as well. There is spa water on hand, both lemon infused and orange infused.
Our two-night stay went by too quickly, but we have only the fondest memories. Our last morning we had a 5am bus to catch to Dublin. In a sign of the type of service you can expect at The Maryborough, the staff was up and early and had prepared two to-go breakfast boxes for us complete with scones, croissants and fruit to take on our journey. Completely top notch stay all around.
We were very fortunate to spend two nights at one of Ireland’s most famous, and luxe, hotels this March: The Shelbourne. Situated in the middle of City Center, The Shelbourne is walking distance to nearly everything you’d want to visit in Dublin.
Everything about the Shelbourne indicates luxury and a five-star stay, but we also really loved how they seamlessly incorporated the history of the building with modern luxuries and conveniences. Once you walk into the hotel you immediately pick up on its vibe and point of view. Stunning crystal chandeliers hang from the ceilings and there are ample fireplaces throughout the lobby, creating cozy little nooks for guests. One of our favorite things to do was to get a glass of wine and sip it by one of the cozy fireplaces pretending to be ladies of leisure.
They keep a small museum in the lobby celebrating the hotel’s storied 200-year-old history. (It was opened in 1824). It’s where the Irish Constitution was drafted in 1922 and the hotel also has historic guest registers on display, photos and letters from famous guests. Fun fact: Both John F. Kennedy and Princess Grace have stayed at the hotel, meaning you’ll be able to have a stay fit for royalty.
At reception, we were greeted with a fresh glass of lemonade and then were shown to our room. Our bathroom was stocked with luxury Elemis bath products and had a full shower and a free-standing bath. The hotel stocks the bathroom with bath salts if you want to soak, which is a nice touch.
Our room was gigantic. Not even just gigantic for a Manhattanite (I could probably fit four of my apartments inside our room), but objectively large. The bed had fine linens and the comfiest mattress and pillows you could ask for. I absolutely sunk into it after a long day and night exploring the city and its pubs and it made it all the more harder to get out of bed in the morning.
We secretly loved that every person we met in Dublin would give us a knowing look after they asked where we were staying and we responded in unison, “The Shelbourne.” I can’t tell you how many times local Irish men were impressed with our choice of hotel, and usually responded with something along the lines of “Of course you two are staying at the nicest hotel in Dublin.”
We loved the location and rarely took taxis anywhere. On average, we racked up 8 miles a day in walking to all of the museums, monuments, churches etc. Just a few blocks away is Grafton Street, which is home to Dublin’s best shopping.
Across the street from the hotel is St. Stephen’s Green, a beautiful park that we went on daily morning runs in. For those who prefer other forms of exercise, The Shelbourne has a wonderful gym and swimming pool and also offers workout classes such as spinning, tabata and pilates. There are also swim-focused classes if you prefer to be in the water.
Their bar room was one of the prettiest bars I’ve ever been in. High ceilings with chandeliers that looked like they were dripping diamonds are throughout. The most intricate crown molding lines the walls and there are cozy fireplaces. We made it a habit to have a glass of wine here each night before heading out.
One of the activities we did at The Shelbourne that we would highly recommend, even if you end up staying elsewhere, is their Afternoon Tea. Shelbourne is considered to have one of the best Afternoon Teas in Dublin. They host it in their Lord Mayor’s Lounge, which has comfy oversized upholstered chairs and large windows letting in the sunshine. For two hours you have a choice of unlimited teas (our favorite was the strawberry and cream blend) and you have savory tea sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam and an array of the most beautiful desserts (raspberry macaroons stuffed with jam and cheesecake or salted caramel mousse, anyone?)
They have a number of seatings, but this is what we recommend. Book the 3:00 seating, sightsee all morning, skip lunch and have tea instead. Better yet, pair it with their champagne or a few glasses of wine, like we did. Be sure to book this well in advance if it’s something you’re interested in experiencing as it does fill up weeks in advance.
Shelbourne’s breakfast was such a highlight each morning. They host it in their Saddle Room and it includes a hot and cold buffet where you can find all the items to make a traditional Irish breakfast (eggs, bacon, sausage, blood pudding, mushroom, tomatoes), a selection of fruits and yogurts and pastries, etc. They also have a menu you can order omelettes, eggs benedict, French toast and other breakfasts from and a range of delicious juices. We started each day with a healthy breakfast to fuel us up for hours of walking around Dublin and hitting up all of the museums. We also loved that they had a full juice bar offering.
For those looking for a little pampering, The Shelbourne has a beautiful spa and a new salon where you can get blowouts before a night out. The spa offers everything from couple’s massages to waxing and facials. The salon was super chic and soothing. All white with a beautiful embellished fireplace and classic feel. Their blowout menu features styles that emulate Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot and Jackie O, among others.
The staff at the hotel are super friendly and attentive. Whether it came to making sure our tea was always immediately topped off or turn down service each night complete with chocolates bedside and slippers laid out, it was truly five star.
Looking to book a trip to Ireland? Make sure to check out our complete Travel Guide here.