Roof-Less, Wall-Less Hotel Room in the Alps

Sleep in comfort & under the stars — for a price.

SwissFlagSometimes when hikers backpack, we pitch our tent but decide to “sleep out” as long as temperatures are comfortable and it doesn’t start to rain. Well-heeled travelers have discovered the joy of “glamping,” luxury tent camping derived from Africa’s posh safari camps. But here’s a new one. My friend Ursula Beamish-Mader of Switzerland Tourism posted a link to a Travel & Leisure item called “This Swiss Hotel Room Has No Walls, But That’s A Good Thing.”

The concept is that a beautifully made-up bed, presumably with fine linens and hopefully a down comforter, is placed against one wall in a mountain hollow for “sleeping out” in comfort.  It’s a project of Null Stern Hotels (meaning “No Star”), which briefly operated a luxury hotel in a nuclear bunker that is now a museum.

I admire the imagination behind this outdoor accommodation (which did get noticed by T&L), but paying $250 a night is a bit much, IMO, even though coffee and a breakfast salami sandwich are reportedly delivered in the morning. Did I mention that the “facilities” are in a public restroom 10 minutes away?

If you want to see a picture, click here.

Hot-Foot It to Hawaii for New Lava Hike

Lava flow close-up on Big Island hike,

Kilauea, one of three active volcanoes on Hawaii Island, has been erupting for over three decades and presents ever-changing lava flows. New reports during the first week in July from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory noted an active lava flow across the southeast coastal plain of Kilauea.

Kileea-Lava

This newest lava outbreak provides upfront access for hardy hikers with Hawaii Forest & Trail. The company has revived its Kilauea Lava Hike to take advantage of the opportunity for fit hikers to experience this bucket list adventure. This new version of the challenging Kilauea Lava Hike traverses 6+ miles of rugged lavascape accompanied by professional and experienced Hawaii Forest & Trail guides.

The reward is  series of stunning views of Kilauea’s coastal plain on to the edge of the volcano’s molten lava flow, an experience that has been out of reach for several years. The hike begins at Hawaii Forest & Trails’ Kona headquarters, with an additional guest pickup available at Queen’s Marketplace in Waikoloa.

The company provides raingear, water and flashlights. Long pants and hiking boots are required. The 3.5-hour Kilauea Lava Hike returns to Hawaii Forest & Trail’s vehicle at about 6:30 p.m. when guests then head out for a local-style dinner in Hilo. Hawaii Forest & Trail’s Kilauea Lava Hike is priced at $192 plus tax per person. To reserve, call 800-464-1993,

Croatia’s New ‘Festival Island’

Almost “deserted” island becomes festival site.

In Colorado, Telluride is known for is nearly-weekly summer festivals. The island of Obonjan  6 kilometers from the city of Šibenik will fill that role in Croatia. Once used by the Scout movement and then known as widely known as the ‘Isle of Youth,’ it remained virtually uninhabited, occupied only by the island’s caretaker Mirko who has lived there with his dog, Jimmy, since 2008.

Yoga is to one of Obonjan's wellness offerings.
Yoga is to one of Obonjan’s wellness offerings.

This summer, this idyllic Adriatic island will come to life again, reopening to the public for an inaugural eight weeks for the Obonjan Festival  (July 28-September 6) and independent travelers. Glamping-style tents and air-conditioned Forest Lodges are available, starting at €70 per person per night. The festival features a fusion of creative and holistic pursuits that include art, food, music, talks, wellness activities and entertainment.  Click here for a schedule. Even though visitation is limited to just 800 people at a time, some expect a real party scene too.

FoMoInfo: +44 (0) 203 808 7333. To reserve, email bookings@otokobonjan.com.

Vail Ups Its Summer Ante

Epic Discovery Center unleashes new thrills.

Vail-logoSummer at Vail is getting a whole lot more exciting, mountain activity-wise, with the phenomenal $25 million Epic Discovery Center near the top of the Eagle Bahn gondola on the Lionshead side of the mountain. Some attractions are already open, others are slated to debut in the next few weeks. Unlike low-elevation parks, the air is clear and the views are stunning. Here are some highlights:

  • Game Creek Aerial Adventure.  Seven lines plus aerial bridges  through and above the forest habitat. Guides introduce the mountain ecosystem while guiding visitors through each course. The tour takes 3 to 4 thrilling hours.
  • Golden Eagle Zipline. If the Game Creek Aerial Adventure is to much of a good thing, try this collection of 1,200-foot ziplines at the top of Eagle’s Nest.
  • Little Eagle Zipline. Even shorter (200 feet) and tamer, this zipline is geared toward the littlest adventurers.
  • The Forest Flyer. New ride that 3,400 feet down the mountain in the Simba area (skiers know exactly where that is). The elevated track follows the natural contours of the land through the forest. Click here for a Vail Daily video of a ride on the Flyer.
  • Holy Cross and Eagle’s Nest Adventure Courses. Test strength and balance on challenging obstacle areas via ropes, bridges, logs and balance elements on a choice of easy, medium and difficult levels ropes courses. The facility is safe, since everyone is outfitted with a harness and a helmet.
  • Pine Cone Adventure Course. The low-to-ground, smaller version of courses features easier-to-navigate ropes, bridges, logs and other kid-friendly obstacles.
  • Eagle’s Nest Summer Tubing. If you love winter tubing on Vail’s Adventure Ridge or elsewhere, this new 550-foot-long course is the summer equivalent. There’s music the whole way down, and the Adventure Bahn hauls  you back to the top.
  • Marmot Mini Tubing. This multi-lane tubing hill features two runs, plus an easy-access surface lift hauls little ones back up top quickly and safely.
  • Mountain Goat Climbing Tower. This 25-foot tall climbing wall is  designed for beginner to advanced climbers of all ages and abilities.
  • Scenic Gondola Ride. Anyone, regardless of age, fitness or courage, can take this scenic ride to enjoy magical views of the Gore Range and Mount of the Holy Cross. The gondola (#19) rises from Lionshead up to Eagle’s Nest above 10,000 feet — and descends too for the return to the valley.

Click here for pass options for various ages and activities.

Chinese Owner to Privatize the Waldorf

Iconic New York hotel to be condo-ized.

Iwaldorf-new-logon London, the landmark Hotel Savoy underwent a three year, $354 million refit including new crystal chandeliers, gold leaf and polished marble floors, while the city’s exclusive Hotel Connaught has been renewed to the tune of £70 million, including a new wing with an Aman Spa.  In Paris. the splendid public rooms of the Four Seasons George V remain unchanged, while the 245 guest rooms have been brought into the 21st century.

WaldorfEntrance

Meanwhile, in New York, where greed rules, the legendary Waldorf-Astoria is slated to be closed next spring and many/most of its 1,413 rooms turned into pricy condominiums. In a real twist of irony, the owner is Anbang Insurance, located in the Communist-in-name-only People’s Republic of China. Cost to purchase the hotel: $1.9 billion. The plan to condo-ize it is an ultimately capitalist move. New York’s legendary Plaza Hotel underwent such a conversion — good for investors and condo owners but said for the city.

Even though the mother ship will close, the Waldorf’s prestigious name presumably will live on  dozen resort hotels from Florida to Hawaii, two in China, two in Puerto Rico, five in Europe, three in the Middle East and one in Panama. Also the Waldorf Towers, a luxury residential tower,  in New York is slated to remain open. For now, at least.

Two ElkFests. Two states. Two seasons.

ElkFest in Jackson, Wyoming is one of several spring events.

J-HoleElkFestEstes Park, Colorado’s ElkFest is in the fall during the rut when the the bulls issue their plaintive mating calls, the aspens turn golden and snow often begins to dust the high peaks. Jackson, in Wyoming’s wonderful northwestern corner, also has an ElkFest, but it is in spring when the wildflowers bloom and hibernating wildlife show up. ElkFest takes place May 21 – 22, followed the next weekend by Old West Days, May 26 – 30

Wagonloads of antlers along the streets of Jackson attract buyers from all over the world for ElkFest’s annual Boy Scout Antler Auction on May 21. Now in its 49th year, the auction typically features more than 10,000 pounds of the naturally shed elk antlers gathered by local Boy Scouts. That rustic antler chandelier probably was made with antlers gathered by the local Scouts. The majority of auction proceeds go back to the National Elk Refuge on the outskirts of town, which devotes approximately 25,000 acres to the preservation of winter range for elk and bison herds.

Continue reading Two ElkFests. Two states. Two seasons.

Travel News from South Am-AIR-ica

Antarctic Airways trip offerings + new merged carrier.

AntarcticAirways-logoI learned a lot at last week’s media luncheon focusing on travels in Chile — nothing more interesting than Antarctic Airways. I didn’t know anything about this airline, even though it’s been around in one fashion of another for 35 years. Still, now that I do know, I find it exciting. From a base in Punta Arenas on the tip of the South American continent it flies to King George Island on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The flight takes roughly two hours, which makes it possible to take a day trip with five hours on the White Continent, as well as an overnight trip or 6-day trip that includes the King George Island  overnight. What it excludes, happily for most people, is a two-day crossing of the wickedly rough Drake Passage. King George Island is far enough south so that visitors see lots of penguins, icebergs, seals and seabirds, as well as visits to Villa Estrellas, a year-round civilian settlement. Overnights are at a comfortable “ice camp” on Collins Glacier.

LATAM-logoWhen I checked my E-mail after lunch, I found a message announcing the merger of LAN and TAM into LATAM Airways, a combination that creates South America’s largest air route system. It flies to and within Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia,  Ecuador and Peru. US gateways are Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, New York and Washington, DC. Once again, I wish Denver were on the list.

The Two Museums of Ghost Ranch

Anthropology & paleontology on campus.

ghostranch-logoI wrote a recent post about a short visit to Ghost Ranch. There was time on my group’s program to look in on two worthwhile museums that offer classes and workshops but can also be visited on a one-day entry.

Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology

Dr. Martha Yates
Dr. Martha Yates

Named after museum founder Florence Hawley Ellis, one of the first women to receive a Ph.D. in anthropology (University of Chicago, in 1934), this museum specializes displays ancient artifacts from Paleo Indian cultures reaching back 10,000 years.  Ellis and her students are best known for discovering an archaeological site north of the ranch. There, they unearthed a remarkable group of ceramic pots hidden in a lava field. – never happens. It was a remarkable site to have stumbled upon.”

Early pueblo pottery includes blackware, a type that continues to be produced today.
Early pueblo pottery includes blackware, a type that continues to be produced today.

The museum is named for the late Dr. Florence Hawley Ellis, long-time professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and original curator of this museum. Dr. Ellis initiated and led Ghost Ranch archaeology seminar from 1971 until 1990, and now, Dr. Martha Yates is in charge of the collection that includes finds from 20nold villages on the mesa between Abiquiu and Española.

The Museum of Anthropology excavation class Can You Dig It continues excavation on Ranch property sites and is part of our summer programming in July, open to all. We also offer a two-week Archaeological Surveying class in October, with the chance to hike through areas not open to the public and discover unknown, unmapped archaeological sites at Ghost Ranch.

Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology

Ghost Ranch boasts a dig-site a laboratory for sorting out and cataloging bones and a museum displaying both the process and the specimens. In 1985 an 8-ton block of plaster-encased dinosaur bones was hoisted onto a flatbed truck and moved from an on-site quarry to the main campus of Ghost Ranch. The Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology was built around it and named for amateur paleontologist Ruth Hall, wife of Jim Hall, the first resident director of Ghost Ranch.

It takes a trained eye to identify fossilized bones from a complicated digsite.
It takes a trained eye to identify fossilized bones from a complicated digsite.

The paleontological dig at Ghost Ranch is known world-wide. Resident paleontologist Alex Down, an ebullient man with a passion for paleontology, is currently at work on a large block taken from the quarry on Ghost Ranch. Visit the museum and watch fossil discovery right before your eyes. Treasures from the Triassic era  from 210 million years ago include two little dinosaurs discovered at Ghost Ranch decades apart are the bones of the Coelophysis,, which roamed the ranch 220 million years ago, were discovered in 1947. More recently, the Tawa Hallae and new, very well preserved, articulated skeleton of of Vancleavea, was discovered at Ghost Ranch. Newly renovated exhibits also highlight the recent discoveries of Tawa, a new species of small carnivorous dinosaur and Effigia, the archosaur species named okeeffeae (O’Keeffe’s Ghost).

Visiting Magical, Mystical Chimayo

Northern New Mexico’s healing place of pilgrimage.

002France has Lourdes. Spain has Santiago de Compostella. Quebec has Ste.-Anne de Beaupré. Guatemala has the Esquipulas. And New Mexico has the Santuario de Chimayo with its jewel of a small adobe church in a rural village in the northern part of the state. It represents a culture that continues across the state line into Colorado’s San Luis Valley. Close-knit villages cling to their traditions and their Catholicism, Franciscan-style, because… Just because.

The Sanctuario de Chimayo is set on tidy grounds.
The Sanctuario de Chimayo is set on tidy grounds.
Primitive hand-made crosses and other articles of faith hang on the chainlink fence along the path from the parking lot. I saw similar offerings along a sidewalk in Oklahoma City near the Murrah Building memorial site.
Primitive hand-made crosses and other articles of faith hang on the chainlink fence along the path from the parking lot. I saw similar offerings along a sidewalk in Oklahoma City near the Murrah Building memorial site.
Stations of the Cross.
Stations of the Cross.
The complex can accommodate an overflow crowd during Holy Week.
The complex can accommodate an overflow crowd during Holy Week.

The tale from the early 19th century involves a member of the mystical Penitente sect. A friar praying in the valley saw a light on a nearby hillside and went to investigate. Digging at the source of the light, he found a crucifix with the image of a black Christ, like that in the pilgrimage place in Guatemala. The Chimayo find was therefore named Our Lord of Esquipulas. Legend has it that local priest took the crucifix south to Santa Cruz, from which it disappeared three times, only to be found back in its hole in Chimayo. The inexplicable and magical return demanded to be recognized, and it has been.

Continue reading Visiting Magical, Mystical Chimayo

Iceland’s Famed Blue Lagoon Expands

Top draw for tourists, locals and even stop-over visitors now bigger.

BlueLagoon-logoBack in the day of the old cheap-fare Icelandic Airlines, there wasn’t anything to do during the stop-over that  required passengers to get off the plane, the only things to do in the tiny terminal were to eat a snack, buy some souvenirs or postcards and stamps. The Blue Lagoon, now one of the island nation’s top attractions, did not exist.

In 1976, a pool began to form from excess water from the then-new Svartsengi geothermal power plant. Five years later, locals started bathing in it, and word spread about the water’s healing powers. In 1992, the Blue Lagoon company was established and an official bathing facility was opened for the public.

Now, 40 years after hot thermal waters collected just  finished the popular attraction just 12 miles from Keflavik International Airport and twice that distance from the capital of Reykjavik has greatly expanded, adding to by half to its original size to now 8,700 square meters. You do the math.

The expanded Blue Lagoon includes new features. Photo: Iceland Naturally
The expanded Blue Lagoon includes new features. Photo: Iceland Naturally

This is just the first phase of a massive renovation to be completed in the spring of 2017. The Blue Lagoon now consists of three distinct but unified areas. First, the main area of the spa has been fully renovated and now features an in-water silica mud bar for visitors to try the rejuvenating properties of Blue Lagoon’s iconic mineral-rch waters.

A new lookout point extends eastward from the lagoon’s main area to lava cliffs on the south shore and beyond. This new horizon of geothermal enchantment provides spa-goers with a more peaceful, more private experience. The final area is within a lava cove on the south shore. It  is completely dedicated to Blue Lagoon’s unique in-water massages; the cove’s seclusion creates a tranquil, meditative environment for guests to enjoy one of Blue Lagoon’s unique spa treatments. In addition, the complex includes the Lava Restaurant (fine dining), the Blue Cafe for light bites and a view of the steaming water,  the Lagoon Bar with indoor and in-the-water service, and a shop where local spa products can be purchased.

Important Note: The national carrier of the island nation, Icelandair, has many more destinations on both sides of the Atlantic and therefore more transient visitors. If you plan on experiencing the Blue Lagoon, pre-booking  is necessary. Click here to see pricing options and to reserve.

Award-winning travel blog. Colorado-based Claire Walter shares travel news and first-hand destination information from around the corner, around the country and around the world.