Travel and Tourism

Outlander Art Retreat: Scotland

Hello my friends! I do hope you are well and that the holiday season is treating you kindly. I know it's crazy busy! We got the tree up early this year and the house is all decked out in lights and trim. So pretty!

In the midst of all the festive mayhem, I've been plugging along on a very, very important project of mine. A dream really....that has finally come to light. I've meticulously planned my first international Art Retreat for May 2017!!  Now, I just need guests to take along with me!

Who loves Art AND Outlander? Show of hands! Well, I do and I'm hoping some of you do too because that's what this Art Adventure is all about!

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I have found as an artist, that nothing inspires me more than travel and good stories! The Outlander books first captivated me (completely) when I was pregnant with my first daughter. I devoured the books and created art around the characters. I even named my second daughter, Claire. It's not a co-incidence!! ;)

A fan? Yup! A fanatic? Yeah, maybe but I thought why not combine two of my passions? A perfect excuse to travel with some like minded friends and see Scotland while creating art along the way!

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So who's with me? As Jamie would say..."Je suis prest!" (I am ready.)

If you want to read more about this extraordinary journey come check out the page here or click on the image below.  I've got a detailed day by day itinerary all planned out! It's dreamy!

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I hope to meet some of you in Scotland!

Happy Holidays and much love to you all!

xo,

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Sydney Love...

Hello there. I'm sharing more pics of Sydney today. My experiences there were completely amazing and I can't even express the joy and gratitude I felt. Pictures do a better job than I can with words...

the stunning Harbor.

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a stormy sky over Palm Beach.

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a magical tree at the Royal Botanical Gardens.

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feathers in the grass at Circular Quay.

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  the beauty of the Opera House.

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G'day.

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a beautiful morning at Balmoral Beach.

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gazing up at the Ferris wheel at Luna Park.

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a dear friend's charming beach cottage.

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a cake made with love to share with friends.

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bug-hunting with my best friend's daughter.

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exploring Manly Beach.

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sipping bubbles while...

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gazing at this lovely view.

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my last day.

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coming home.

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It was bittersweet to leave the place where I spent most of my childhood days but coming home to my family was wonderful. I got to see my old friends and their new lives. I got to meet their children and visit their homes. We shared many laughs about the old days but the best part was seeing how they have all grown into amazing, beautiful and successful women. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for dropping everything for my visit, showing me a fabulous time and welcoming me into their hearts and homes again. I felt truly blessed to be surrounded by their grace and love.

Have a lovely rest of the week and thank you for letting me share these with you.

xo,

Ivy

Room service at Dawn

Hi there! Happy Friday! Wanted to share a few more Instagram snapshots from my Sydney trip. One of my favorite mornings there we ordered a room service breakfast, promptly delivered at 6 am. Jetlag didn't really slow us down, it just had us going to bed early and waking up with the birds - which - actually turned out to be a gift. Watching the sunrise over Sydney harbor is quite breathtaking and enjoying a hot cup of tea in the snuggly hotel robe wasn't too shabby either...

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I have a thing for itty bitty jars - especially when they say "Made in Australia".

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What a magical way to start the day. I felt so grateful for this sweet indulgence.

Have a gorgeous weekend!

xo,

Ivy

Home again

Hi dear readers! Yes, I am home from beautiful Sydney and I'm still trying to take it all in. It is always a bit surreal when one day you are in another country and the next you are in your own bed. Always trips me out a bit. We actually got home a week ago but my family stayed on to celebrate Grace's 7th birthday...so...this is my first chance to sit down and post. I have dozens of photos and I promise not to unload them all at once but I thought today I would just share some of my favorite Instagram shots from the first day of our adventure.

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We landed at 6:07 am. Bright and early!  After enduring all the fuss of customs and luggage wrangling, we jumped into a cab and headed to the Four Seasons Hotel. Even though I was exhausted, my heart was beating fast with excitement! I was actually here. The view from our room brought me to tears. Of joy.

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Like good little travelers, we resisted the urge to stay in our room and sleep and instead went for a brisk walk in The Rocks district, discovered a sweet cafe, downed a few coffees and a tasty breakfast.

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The feeling of being back in Sydney was rather indescribable. Surreal, bizarre, overwhelming, exhilarating. I was overcome with gratitude that somehow, in a matter of a few days, my dream of returning to my birth city had been actualized. I was in Sydney, with my beloved husband, staying at a beautiful hotel and only hours away from seeing my childhood friends. To quote my dear Aussie friend Jo - "I was completely spun out!"

After a very short nap, we got up showered and felt somewhat human again. We had to seriously rally because we were off to the Opera Bar for sunset drinks with my mates!

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The Opera bar was swarming with people, all taking in the gorgeous view, the warm sun and of course the lovely drinks. I scanned the hundreds of people looking for familiar faces. The butterflies in my stomach raged and my trembling hands were doing their best to steady a glass of white wine. I was nervous and excited at the same time. What would it be like to see these girls after 19 years!?

Just when I thought that perhaps we arrived before them, two hands fell on my shoulders and spun me around. In front of me was two of my girls. Claire and Natalie. We screeched, laughed and embraced in one hysterical mess. I'm sure we looked crazy but we didn't care. Before I knew it, another two friends arrived with bottles of bubbles, warm hugs and endless giggles. While the champagne flowed, we caught up with one another like no time had passed at all.

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The night unfolded beautifully! We ended up at a sushi place where we were joined by another friend. Chris celebrated his birthday there - the actual day had been lost in time when we crossed the date line!

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After that we meandered the Rocks, linking arms, sharing stories old and new and laughing about high school memories. My heart was flooded with happiness.  It felt good to be home.

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Okay more to come - I will break it up a bit so I don't bore you to tears - I promise.

What have you been up to while I was away? Anyone else travel or start a new Spring project? Do tell.

xo,

Ivy

Ranch life...

Hi all, Hope your week is off to a good start! As promised, here are shots from our trip to Brasada Ranch...(these are a mix of iPhone pics and shots with my Canon).

Central Oregon has a wild, rugged beauty to it. Gnarled Juniper trees with their soft blue berries, bristled sage brush and tall evergreens dominate the landscape.ranch1

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Grace got to go on her very first trail ride...

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and she tried out my camera on our photo walks together! It was too cute to see her snapping shots of everything.

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Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 3.02.39 PMClaire was a trooper too and loved being all snuggled up in her stroller for our long strolls around the property.

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My favorite photos were taken during the golden hour when everything seemed to glow with the warmth of the setting sun.

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This was the gorgeous view from our cabin's deck...sigh...

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Felt so very blessed to spend our Spring Break here. We will be going back to the ranch for sure!

Have a lovely Tuesday!

xo,

Ivy

Grace & Dottie

Hi there! How is week going so far? All is well, here at the Newports. Claire Bear is saying more "words" and is desperately trying to stand on her own. Grace is getting excited to celebrate her 7th birthday later this month so we are in party planning mode and my dear hubby is super busy but grateful for the work. As for me, I'm excited to start a new online art class with Jeanne Oliver on Monday! I've been absolutely dying to make some art but I always do better with a specific assignment and a deadline...must be programmed into my brain from art college! I'm hoping to gut my studio this weekend and prepare all my art supplies so I will be ready to dive in. Eeeek! Can't wait!! Okay, so I promised to share some photos from our trip to Brasada Ranch and I managed to get these done the other evening. This is Grace and the ranch dog, Dottie. Grace was completely smitten with her. Every chance she got she would beg us to take her up to the main lodge to visit her. It was really sweet to see the connection between the two of them...

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More photos to come...

Hope you have a beautiful Friday!

xo,

Ivy

Weekend away: Oregon wine country

Hi there! How's it going? Okay, so I promised I would be back with some pics from our little weekend getaway. I have to admit that my big camera was left in the hotel room because I am so addicted to Instagram. It was fun to capture the moments in a spontaneous (and easy) way with my phone! We stayed in the historic town of McMinnville at the 3rd Street Flats. They are beautifully decorated, European style flats full of gorgeous decor, charm and local art. The complimentary bottle of wine and chocolates didn't hurt either. Love this place and would stay again! We could walk to all the restaurants, bars, cafes, tasting rooms and shops!

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That first night we ate at the beautiful and romantic La Rambla! Spanish Tapas and fancy cocktails. Yes, please.

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Now don't laugh but the whole point of this trip was, yes, to be romantic and go wine tasting but it was to also work on the re-design of my blog. I rarely ever get Chris' undivided attention (and talent) so I took advantage of the situation and we parked at the Cornerstone cafe to geek out together and actually get some things accomplished! Grace & Ivy will be new and improved very soon! ;)

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After a little hard work, we had to go play and taste some wine so we packed up our laptops, hopped in the car and ended up in the tiny town of Carlton.

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We stopped into two places we had never tried before. Absolutely loved the French style Burgundy wines at Scott Paul!

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And a ten sample (yes ten!) wine flight with chocolates was a delight at Seven of Hearts!

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That night we got all dolled up and dined at Thistle. I LOVED this place. Intimate, delicious, charming with a totally vintage vibe. I was right at home.

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What a wonderful treat to get away with Chris! It felt amazing to recharge, re-connect and get inspired.  Thank you to my fabulous brother and his beautiful fiancée for taking our kids for the entire weekend!

If you haven't gotten away with your partner lately...try and plan something. It is so worth it!

xo,

Ivy

Friday Escape: Maldives

Okay so are you ready for your Friday Escape? I am! Thank you so much to those of you who left suggestions. I really appreciate it. I made a list and we will be visiting all the lovely locations you recommended. Today, thanks to one of my fabulous readers, Hera, we are going to the Maldives!

This gorgeous Island Nation is in the Indian ocean about 250 miles south-west of India. Amazing crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches and decadent resorts...it's a little slice of paradise. Let's go!

I know...it doesn't look real. I've only seen this kind of beach as a screen saver!  This must be where they get those shots!

We are staying at the Alila Villas Hadahaa resort. The resort is located on one of the tropical islands in the North Huvadhoo Atol. It's reputation is stellar and many celebrities have stayed here...so it should be perfect for us.

Luxury - check. Amazing - check. Could never afford it in real life - check.

That's it up ahead...see the little villas that are built right over the ocean! I booked us in one of those...of course. Only the best for my Friday escape travelers.

Welcome to the resort...wanna go see our Aqua Villa....

Isn't it beautiful? Let's go inside...

Yeah... this should be just fine. Follow me and I'll show you where I will be spending most of my time...

So fabulous right? The colors of the water are so stunning! Who's making cocktails? Oh heck, I'll just have some brought over to us.

So what do you think? A couple of hours on the deck then we can hit the beach, a sunset soak at the spa followed by a massage then we will hit the bar and restaurant for dinner...sound like a plan?

The two restaurants at the resort, Battuta and Relish serve up Maldivian and Moroccan inspired cuisine. Yum! I love trying new dishes. Want recipes? Go here or here.

I ordered this delectable Moroccan chicken and chickpea dish with spicy avocado! Recipe.

That was delicious! Let's stroll back to our villa. I am totally ready to fall asleep, listening to the waves...

Wow look at those stars. This place is magical. Okay...lets see take a vote...raise your hand if you never want to leave!

Hope you enjoyed this little jaunt to the Maldives. Pretty amazing place huh? Thanks for coming along.

I hope you have a perfect weekend.

xo,

Images via here and here.

Friday Escape: Ravello, Italy

Hello Friends! Happy Friday! Sorry for the late post, internet troubles this morning. ugh. Okay, are you ready for your escape?

Look, I know we have already been to Italy on one of our Vicarious Vacations...but who can get enough of Italy? I mean, really. I know I can't, especially since I've never actually been there.

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So, yeah you bet I'm going to go there vicariously as much as I can! Besides, this place is a completely different feel to our last trip. I think you will love it!

Enough chit chat. Today, we are going to Ravello, Italy, along the Amalfi Coast. Map here.

Breathtaking isn't it?

I've got us booked into the Hotel Palazzo Sasso.  It was ranked #8 in the World's Best Hotels for 2010 by Travel + Leisure...so I think it will fit our extremely high standards! Let's go check it out.

The Hotel, which is actually a 12th century villa, is perched 1000 ft above the glimmering Mediterranean sea. Drop dead gorgeous views are a given!

Let's go see our suite! When you travel vicariously, you should always stay in the most extravagant room, don't you think?

Please, go out onto our private terrace...the view is simply superb...

I know...amazing. I have a feeling we will back here later with a glass of something fabulous to watch the sunset!

So, since we got here so early, let's have breakfast out on the main dining terrace.

Shouldn't everyday start like this?

After we enjoy our lovely breakfast I thought we'd go on a bit of a boat ride. Gotta get some one on one time with the Amalfi coastline...

Come with me down to the lower terrace...my gorgeous friend Marco is picking us up. (Yes, Marco is imaginary...but just go with me on this one...)

Here he is now...perfect timing...meet imaginary Marco...( cue - giggle and toss hair)

Ciao!

Off we go!

Ooh...look it's the beautiful city of Positano up ahead!

So pretty! We may have to come back here sometime.

Well, I'm starving and although, Marco provides eye candy, he doesn't do much for my rumbling tummy so let's head back, eat a huge lunch and go into a food coma next to the pool. Plan?

Sit back, enjoy the Mediterranean sun and relax. I told Marco to go whip up some cocktails for us...he should be serving them any minute! ;)

I hope you enjoyed our little getaway! Thanks for coming along!

Have a wonderful weekend!

xo,

Images via HotelPalazzoSasso

Off to New Mexico

Hello Friends! Hope your Monday has been bearable. Mine has consisted of running errands, doing laundry and packing but I can't complain because we are preparing to leave for New Mexico tomorrow morning.

Grace is very excited! We will be visiting my Grandmother, Aunt and Uncle who I haven't seen in forever! We are hoping to explore many of the artistic communities there, as well as the Gila National Park. I have my camera packed so I'm hoping to capture some lovely shots to share. In the meantime, I wanted to leave you with some beautiful images from New Mexico!

I will try and pop in and do some posting but I'm not sure of the internet connection...so we'll see! We will be back the first week of February!

Have a wonderful week!!

xo,

Images: 1, 2, 3, 4

Escape to: Santorini

Now, don't get me wrong. I love Portland. Yes, I even can deal with the rain...but I'm only human and sometimes on a dreary, wet day like today, I can't help but dream of the sun, warm sand and an exotic destination. We haven't been anywhere in a long time so, while this isn't a full on Vicarious Vacation...I thought we'd revisit Greece for a moment. Sit by the pool, sip a drink and feel the warmth of that glorious sun on our faces...ahhh...sounds so good. Last time, I took you to Hydra Island and that was spectacular but today we are going to peek in on the island of Santorini and a gorgeous resort called Vedema. Let's go...

Oh Greece...how I love your blue and white! Cobblestone streets and blooms everywhere, I'm in heaven.

Oh yeah...this looks like our kind of place...

Yes...more blue and white. It's so fresh and I find it rather hard to get sick of, especially with all that sunlight pouring in! Let's check in.

Of course I got us a gorgeous suite! Only the best! I love all the white in these rooms with the splashes of bright color. I feel tanner already!

A cocktail poolside you say? I'm so there!

Santorini as night falls...so gorgeous right?

Ahhh...okay, I feel a tad better. It's nice to just escape for a minute isn't it? Hmm...I might have to plan little escapes for us each Friday. We deserve it don't we?

Have a fantastic weekend!

xo,

Vicarious Vacations #3: Hydra town, Greece

Happy Friday and welcome to another Vicarious Vacation. I can't even express how excited I am to travel with you today! Our destination promises beauty, relaxation and of course some amazing food. We are off to the Greek island of Hydra. A completely car free town, that is known for its magical architecture, stunning beaches and wonderful walking trails. Rental cars are so last year...let's use our feet and explore this gorgeous destination! We may have to forgo our stilettos but it will be worth it!

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Let's board the ferry and I'll tell you more about the island on the ride...

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Fans of mythology will recall that Hydra was actually a nine-headed sea monster, sister to Medusa. Yikes! Don't worry though, no such beast inhabits this majestic island.  Of course, the word Hydra is also derived from the Greek word for water...which is a little more appropriate. The island of Hydra is in the Argo-Saronic Archipelago, between the islands of Poros and Spetses. Map here. Popular with artists, Hydra town, is home to quaint tavernas, chic boutiques and a gorgeous coastline.  Being completely car free, (except for the town's garbage collection trucks) one must get here via ferry. Donkeys...yes, donkeys and water taxis are the only forms of transportation once on the island.

Looks like we are approaching the island. Beautiful isn't it?

Yah! We're here! Let's go check into our hotel...change into some comfortable (but cute) shoes and go exploring.

Welcome to the Hotel Miranda. Nestled amongst the white washed cottages of Hydra town, this historical building dates back to 1810 and was originally built by a wealthy sea-captain. Its 18th and 19th century artwork and furniture only add to its nostalgic charm.

That's it up ahead...

I got us lovely suites, that are simple and elegant.

Isn't that white stone archway wonderful? I love the clean white walls with the contrasting dark floors and furnishings.

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Great view from our rooms! Love the bougainvillea...

Okay ready to head out? Let's go!

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You will see this blue and white architecture all over the town. Charming isn't it?

So pretty! Let's stroll down to the harbor...I think there is an open market today.

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My tummy is a rumbling...so...let's go find some gorgeous place to have lunch and soak up some sun. I'm thinking ocean side...

Welcome to the Sunset Restaurant. Famous here and highly prized by the locals and tourists alike.

Don't worry...I got us a better table than that. Only the best for us vicarious vacationers!

Images via Sunset Restaurant

How's this? Not too shabby eh? Amazing view - check. Sunshine - check. Now for some food and drink!

Is it too early for Ouzo? No, of course not. We have to have a toast after all...and what better than ouzo to kick off lunch. Ouzo is Greece's national drink and has a strong anise or licorice flavor to it. You don't need much of this potent little liquor before you understand why the Greeks love it so! The expression "Opa!" is often used upon toasting, which translates to happiness and good life!

Let's start our meal with a traditional Cretan Salad...recipe here. So lovely, crunchy and fresh. I swear I could eat feta cheese all day...

Have you ever heard of Haloumi? Well, it's a Greek cheese that originated in Cyprus. It's made with a blend of goat and sheep milk, which gives it a mild, salty flavor and because of its high melting point, it can be fried or grilled. At the Sunset Restaurant, they serve it with tomatoes and pitta bread...shall we give it a go? (recipe)

When on the Grecian islands, one must take advantage of the fresh bounty of seafood! Lobster spaghetti is a true Greek delight! Recipe. Sweet, succulent lobster meat, freshly made pasta, tomatoes and fresh herbs. Yum!

On to dessert...although not on the Sunset Restaurant's menu, I couldn't resist including one of my all time favorite desserts (which also happens to be very Greek) - Baklava. I adore this stuff. Recipe.

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Wasn't that an amazing Greek meal. I'm stuffed.  How about a hike up to an old monastery ending up with a nap on the beach?

We could ride this cute little guy...but I didn't spend a fortune on these hiking sandals for nothing. Come on, we've got calories to burn.

Almost there...

This monastery was actually built in 1813, by the monk Ierotheos. Of the four monasteries on Hydra, this one is the most famous and frequently visited. Four monks still reside here. What a peaceful existence it must be, nestled among the mountains, overlooking the town.

So beautiful...

I am ready for some down time. Let's head to the beach to work on our tan and have a little snooze.

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I think Mandraki beach will do nicely. Can you believe the color of the water! Stunning! Sit back, relax and enjoy the sounds of the waves.

Thank you so much for coming to Greece with me. I hope you enjoyed our little adventure on this jewel of an island.  Next week we head off to a new destination. It will be the last of this series (for now at least). Where are we going? It's a surprise! Make sure you come back on Friday so you don't miss it.

Have a fantastic weekend!

xo,

audio via freesound.org

Gallery of images can be viewed here.

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Vicarious Vacations #2: Ronda, Spain

Happy Friday! Ready for our next fabulous trip? I am! Today we are headed to Ronda, an ancient city in the Spanish province of Málaga. Map here. Spending time with you in Tuscany last week was simply amazing but we have much to look forward to today.  Strolling through this historic town, we are sure to encounter breathtaking views, sip Spanish wines and munch on traditional delights. A dash of culture and a little history are on the agenda too. We have to be well-rounded travelers right? Okay, enough chit chat...let's go!

Image via flexijourney.com

Let me introduce you to Ronda. No, it's not the girl from accounting but rather an incredible city dating back to Neo-lithic times. Yes, I'm talking cave paintings and they have real ones here seen in the Cueva de la Pileta. From the Celts, to the Romans and the Moors, this city has a long standing in the history books.  Perched 750 meters above sea level, overlooking the El Tajo canyon it offers majestic views of the surrounding valley.

Now that you have been formally introduced, let's check into our hotel...

I searched and searched to find us the perfect haven. Just outside of town I found this jewel - Hotel la Fuente de la Higuera! Expensive? Of course, but if you are going to vicariously travel you have to go BIG!  Isn't it gorgeous?

Listen to the beautiful sounds of the Spanish countryside...(this is an actual recording from this area in Spain)

[audio http://graceandivy.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/33196__dobroide__20070325-windy-forest-stereo-021.mp3]

We must come back here to watch the sun set over the valley and delight in a large glass of wine...

The grounds are simply divine...let's go inside and check out our room!

Oh my...

Images via hotellafuente.com

I hope this will do! Now, come on let's head back into town and explore. I'm getting hungry, as usual.

To cross into Ronda we will traverse one of its three impressive bridges.

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Let's go exploring...

Listen to the sounds of the city...

[audio http://graceandivy.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/69960__dobroide__20090325-walking-00.mp3]

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Oooh...look at this beautiful, hand painted pottery! All the gorgeous colors of Spain...might have to get some of these. Shop for them here.

Speaking of dishes...I'm getting a tad peckish... and I just happen to know that Don Miguel is the place to eat!

Images via DonMiguel

Perched along the cliff side this dramatic hotel and restaurant are famous for the fantastic views and traditional cuisine. Let's try some local dishes! Are you game?

Let's start with gazpacho. Mmm...a lovely cold tomato soup that got its start right here in Southern Spain. Recipe here.

We simply must have the Paella! It's quite famous here! A sumptuous mix of seafood, spiced sausage and meats, fresh herbs and rice, get ready to seriously eat your fill!  Recipe.Let's wash it all down with a fine bottle of Spanish wine. In Ronda, wine is a serious business with a 6000 year old history. They even have a Museum of Wine! This is my kind of place.

What's that? Your sweet tooth is complaining...no worries, let's feast on some Churros con Chocolate!

Translation: Fried dough dipped in warm, rich, chocolate...sigh...drool. Recipe.

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What's next? Oh right...we have to get our culture/history fix.

Did you know that modern bullfighting originated here? Ronda's bullring is the oldest and most ornate in the country. In the 18th century bullfighters went from horseback to the pedestrian matador that we think of today. Ronda's own famous fighter was Pedro Romero, who apparently slayed many thousands of bulls without injury. You may think that this bullring sees regular use but today, the sport is more of an annual event. I'm sure the bulls appreciate this.

Every girl likes a spa but how about an ancient bath house? Sound intriguing? Let's take a little walk and head below the city to the Arab Baths dating back to the 11th century.

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These bath ruins are some of the best preserved in Europe. Amazing aren't they? It's no coincidence that the baths are at the entrance to the city, since Ronda was the gateway to a large Muslim population who believed that one must purify themselves upon entering.  It's fascinating to understand what it took to heat the waters. I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to anything anthropological, so if you are curious and want to learn more watch this video.

Okay all that eating, drinking and learning has made me rather tired. Let's head back to the hotel and nap, poolside.

Ahhh...that was a lovely trip wasn't it? I so enjoyed learning about this incredible town. So full of history!

What did you like on our trip? Have you ever actually been to Spain?

Thank you for joining me. Next week we will be headed to beautiful Greece! Don't miss it!

xo,

p.s. If you are wondering why I didn't take us to the big cities of Spain or Italy, it is because I am trying to focus on the more hidden spots...the not so obvious destinations. I feel like it gives us more of a sense of discovery...finding secret places to explore. Make sense?

Audio via freesound.org

http://www.flickr.com/photos/deftgurl/4603347839/#

Vicarious Vacation # 1 : Casole d'Elsa

Happy Friday and welcome to our Vicarious Vacation. Today, I'm going to whisk us off to the quaint, little town of Casole d'Elsa in the hills of Tuscany. Strolling down the ancient cobblestone alleyways, decadent wine tastings, a visit to the Siena marketplace, a brush with history and of course a large helping of the local food are all on the agenda. Sound good? Okay, come on!

Image via casalecapita

Let me tell you a little bit about this beautiful town. Casole D'Elsa is located in the Tuscany region in the province of Siena. Conveniently located between Florence and Siena, it provides a peaceful respite from the bigger, touristy cities. See map here. Pedestrian friendly streets, intimate cafes and a few notable historic attractions should keep us busy but not overwhelmed. Leaving plenty of time to soak in the Italian sun, sip Chianti and gobble up the local delicacies. Now where are we staying, you ask? Well...

I hope you don't mind but I booked us into a rather fancy hotel just outside of town. I think we deserve it, don't you? Welcome to the Relais La Suvera. Steeped in history this medieval fort turned sumptuous Mediterranean villa is our place of relaxation and refuge after all that sightseeing. Sigh...isn't it simply dreamy!?

Ready to see your room? Images via Relais La Suvera

Fit for a princess right? Okay, freshen up and let's go exploring. I know you are tired from the trip but it's nothing a glass of Chianti can't fix! Besides, we have massages scheduled later at the spa. Yes, even medieval fortresses in Italy have spas!

Let's go for a walk...

Press play to listen.

[audio http://graceandivy.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/italian-walk.mp3]

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Am I Hungry? Of course I am! This place looks charming...let's stop here - Osteria del Caffè Casolani- and have some treats.

Here's what I'm thinking...wine, cheese & cured meats. The local cheese -Pecorino di Pienza and fresh cold cuts such as salumi di cinta senese, will make the perfect blend of tastes and textures. Creamy and nutty in flavor, the Pecorino is a perfect pairing with the saltiness of the meat and sweetness of the wine.  The celebrated local wine is aptly named Erta, meaning steep slope, indicative of the agricultural landscape of the region. A completely organic wine, it is a lovely blend of 95% Sangiovese grapes and 5% Merlot. Subtle herbal notes and deep cherry overtones will delight your palette! Want more...why don't we try the testaroli? It's a crepe like pasta usually combined with pesto. Yummy! This place is famous for it!

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Now to walk off all that scrumptuous food...

Ooh...before we go...is that a little bakery I see?

We had better stop in and grab some dessert! This region is known for its pastries and traditional sweets. One of the oldest treats around is the famous Panforte margherita!  This "spiced bread" is a magical combination of dough, almonds, candied fruit, cinnamon, all spice and a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar. Isn't it beautiful?

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On to some history...

This is the Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta, which dates back 1161! The original Roman bell tower still remains with the upper half of the building being constructed in the 14th century. Inside are the sacred tombs of Beltramo Aringhieri, by Marco Romano, and of bishop Tommaso Andrei, by Gano di Fazio.

Directly next to the church lies the Museum of Sacred Arts. A beautiful collection of religious art can be enjoyed here, including the works of Alessandro Casolani and sculptor, Marco Romano.

Got your culture fill? Let's go to the Siena Markets!

Press play to listen to the bustling market square...

[audio http://graceandivy.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/31429_fonogeno_mercato_di_montevarchi2.mp3]

How gorgeous is that fruit?

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Don't you love all the amazing colors and textures?

I don't know about you but the hotel spa is calling my name...let's head back and end our trip on a relaxing note.

You go on and get your massage. I'm heading down to the hot pool for a nice soak...so lovely...

Images via Relais La Suvera Spa

I hope you enjoyed your day in the Tuscan countryside. Loved vicariously traveling with you! I learned a lot and loved seeing this little corner of the world. The village of Casole d'Elsa was enchanting, the food delectable and the Siena markets were utterly inspiring.

Join me again next Friday, when we head to Spain!

Have a beautiful weekend!

xo,

audio files via freesound.org

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