Pollein Aosta Italy

Living like Locals in the Italian Village of Pollein

We left Courmayeur and headed slightly off the route of the official Tour de Mont Blanc, moving roughly 30 miles east to Aosta, Italy. My dad wanted to show us something special and had booked us three small rooms at a locally-run bed and breakfast in the mountain-side village of Pollein, about a ten-minute drive outside of Aosta. He had been to Aosta several times before and had always loved the beautiful town. However, on a whim, he decided to try a tiny, family-run hotel called Lo Teisson because the place looked charming and the price for three rooms was what we’d get for one tiny room in trendy, touristy Aosta.

We left after our excursion to the top of Monte Bianco on another gorgeous sunny day in the Alps, passing through tunnel after tunnel beneath the rocky alpine landscape until coming out at last in the Aosta Valley. As we navigated our way via google maps to Pollein, I started to feel a bit hesitant and unsure of exactly where we were going. Instead of driving into another beautiful Italian city with sidewalks, outdoor cafes, luxurious shops, and restaurants, we were heading into rural farmland. I had no idea what to expect.

After a couple twists and turns in the road, we wound up on Località Dregier, the one small road leading through the heart of Pollein and arrived to the warm, gracious smile of Viviana Filippini who runs the hotel with her family. Vivana told me her grandfather had once had a farm on this land and it was always a dream of her mother Nives to someday convert the property into a bed and breakfast.

In the 1940s, Nives father purchased the farm and raised cows in the stable that today has been converted into the hotel. The beautiful breakfast room was where the livestock lived and the family lived in the other half of the house facing the street. As a little girl, Nives remembers her mother baking all the time and neighbors passing by on the main street, stopping to chat and share a cup of coffee and her mother’s sweets. That memory is what sparked her dream of building a family-run bed and breakfast, serving freshly-baked goods just like her mother and giving visitors a taste of what life is like in a tiny Italian village.

Pollein, Aosta Italy

Heading into Pollein, down its one main street

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Skyway Monte Bianco, Courmayeur Italy

On Top of the Skyway Monte Bianco

On our last day in Courmayeur, we decided to take in the stunning surroundings of the Alps from the top of the Skyway Monte Bianco. Opened in 2015, the Skyway Monte Bianco whisks passengers up to the top of Punta Helbronner at 3466 meters/11371 feet where you can get a bird’s eye view of the entire Mont Blanc Massif. After two days of hiking in Courmayeur’s two valleys, Val Ferret and Val Vény along the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB), I wanted to show my son from high up above where we had been and where we were headed over the next week hiking along the TMB. We also planned to go to the top of Aiguille du Midi on the French side at the end of our trip when we were in Chamonix.

The “Road to the Sky” as they call it, is not cheap. Round trip tickets start at 52E for adults and 28E for children under 17. Then it is an additional 31 E to take the Panoramic Mont Blanc from Punta Helbronner to Aiguille du Midi, and another fee on the French side to continue down to Chamonix. Since we were short on time, we decided to only take the cable car to Punta Helbronner and back. However, as soon as we lifted off into the clouds and saw the sensational scenery around us, we realized it was worth every euro to ride up to the top of the sky.

Skyway Monte Bianco, Courmayeur Italy

Views along the ride up

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Golden Gate Bridge Drive

Exploring the Marin Headlands of San Francisco’s Bay Area

Early in August, we set off for our annual family summer trip and chose to spend a week exploring Northern California. We have been to San Diego and Southern California many times and have all loved it. This time, we thought we’d enjoy exploring the northern coast and the Bay Area.

With ten days to plan, it wasn’t hard filling up our time and were able to do a wide variety of things that pleased everyone in our family of four. From hiking the mystical Marin Headlands, to getting lost within the towering giant redwoods of John Muir’s famous quotes, and being mesmerized in San Francisco’s Chinatown, there was plenty of nature, culture, and togetherness for our family.

Over the course of nine days, we began our trip in Marin County moving next down the coast to Monterey and finishing up our journey in San Francisco for two days before flying home. It was a wonderful vacation filled with beauty and adventure.

With so much to do and see in the area, it can be a bit overwhelming to make the most of your stay. Here are some tips on what to do and see in the Marin Headlands before heading south down the coast.

First stop: Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point

After arriving at the San Francisco International Airport, we got our luggage, rented a car and headed 20 miles north on Highway 280 to the Marin Headlands across the bay from San Francisco. It was our first taste of real California traffic and we were quite thankful that we were heading into town in the middle of the day as opposed to rush hour.

After crossing the glorious Golden Gate Bridge in full fog, we pulled over at the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point on the edge of the craggy Marin Headlands overlooking the bay. Although it was quite busy, we had no problem waiting for a car to pull out and grab the spot. This is where we took our first photo of this iconic landmark graced in fog.

Golden Gate Bridge

Our first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. My daughter smiles proudly. 

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Val Veny, Courmayeur, Italy

A Taste of the Tour de Mont Blanc: Hike in Val Vény, Courmayeur

After an incredible first hike along our taste of the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB) into Courmayeur’s Val Ferret, we were thrilled to be doing our second hike in her neighbor, Val Vény. Val Vény is a pastoral valley of the Mont Blanc massif, that like Val Ferret lies southwest of Courmayeur. Val Vény was formed by two glaciers, the Miage Glacier and the Brenva Glacier which literally cut off the valley like an island by two massive moraine walls of the glaciers on each side. Val Vény is quite a magnificent place to hike.

After a filling breakfast of local cheese, cotta ham and fruit, we headed out to grab the local bus in the direction of Val Vény. This time we rode in the opposite direction of Val Ferret and followed the bus through yet another winding path inching us through the lush wide valley. About twenty minutes later, we reached the end of the line and got off at a tiny hamlet called La Visaille.

From La Visaille, we crossed a bridge and began our hike down a wide path sliced within a valley to the Rifugio Elisabetta, another stop along the TMB. It was another postcard-perfect day and I couldn’t have felt more alive. There is something about hiking and being surrounded by mountains that always makes my heart sing.

Val Veny, Courmayeur, Italy

Arriving at the start of the hike in La Visaille

Val Veny, Courmayeur, Italy

The start of the hike is breathtaking and gives you an idea of the treasure that awaits.

Val Veny, Courmayeur, Italy

Approaching Lac Combol

Val Veny, Courmayeur Italy

Val Veny, Courmayeur, Italy

My dad and son

Val Veny, Courmayeur, Italy

Me and Max

Val Veny, Courmayeur, Italy

A rifugio along the TMB

Val Veny, Courmayeur, Italy

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Val Ferret Courmayeur Italy

A Taste of the Tour de Mont Blanc: A Hike in Val Ferret, Courmayeur

Our first hike along our taste of the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB) was in the Val Ferret, one of two breathtaking valleys that cut through Courmayeur, Italy on the southeastern side of Mont Blanc. Known as one of the most stunning hikes in the area, especially if blessed with good weather, hiking in Val Ferret would set the tone of what would be a stunning eight full days of hiking around the TMB and leave me longing to go back.

We rose early to one of many mouth-watering, gorgeous mornings in the Alps. The sky was cloudless and eggshell blue and the view of the towering, snow-capped jagged Graian Alps pierced through the sky like lightning. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast of fresh Italian parma ham, local cheese, homemade bread, and sweets before lacing up our hiking boots and heading out.

Courmayeur, Italy

View right outside my hotel window in Courmayeur, Italy

Although we had rented a car for the week, our hotel recommended taking the bus to the start of our hike since parking is difficult on busy weekends in the summer. With our backpacks ready to go and a picnic lunch of fresh Italian baguette, local cotta ham, tomatoes, and Piave cheese, we set off. We caught the bus at the city hall (Municipio) stop located a few short blocks from our hotel in the direction of Val Ferret.

As we left Courmayeur, it was obvious that the rest of the fully packed bus was also heading to the Val Ferret for a hike. The thirty-minute ride was filled with fellow trekkers from all around the world, sharing stories of their routes and experience on the TMB. It was fun to chat and compare notes, and I especially was excited to meet fellow women older than me partaking in the tour self-guided. Everyone was filled with smiles and laughter. Obviously, their souls were happy and fulfilled from the fresh mountain air and stunning views afforded along the TMB. It made me even more excited to start our day and do our first hike.

The bus drove through a winding valley road and we got off at the stop marked Rifugio Bonatti where we would access the trail.

The air was fresh and pure, and as soon as I was off the bus and on the trail, I felt alive with excitement and anticipation for our day. I was in my element, and all I could think of was the famous John Muir quote: “The mountains are calling and I must go”.

 hike to Val Ferret Courmayeur Italy

Heading off into Val Ferret

 hike to Val Ferret Courmayeur Italy

Sensational views like this are common on a lovely day in Val Ferret

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Hiking in Val Ferret, Courmayeur Italy

Two Days in Courmayeur

Tucked within two valleys, the Val Ferret and Val Veny on the southeastern side of Mont Blanc in the Aosta Valley of Italy lies the lovely alpine town of Courmayeur. Known for its divine scenery and proximity to three iconic long-distance hikes, Courmayeur is the perfect place to base your stay for exploring its stunning alpine scenery.

Courmayeur is actually a series of small hamlets peppered throughout the valley with a historic central village within the heart. Linked by both a tunnel and (for the more stunning view) a cable car to its counterpart, Chamonix, on the other side of Mont Blanc in France, Courmayeur offers a great mountain holiday any time of year.

Before the opening of the 11.6 kilometer-long tunnel in 1965, Courmayeur was relatively small and isolated. Today Courmayeur is known as one of the best ski resort towns in the Alps as well as a wonderful base for hiking, biking and exploring the divine beauty of the Italian Alps.

Why Go

When dreaming about an idyllic European town, Courmayeur is just what comes to mind. Courmayeur is a charming town awash in history, quaintness and ethereal beauty. It’s pedestrian-friendly walking streets are filled with lovely shops and boutiques, and a multitude of open-air cafes and restaurants that dazzle any foodie. Her lovely stone villas and glorious architecture all set against the sensational backdrop of the Italian Alps make Courmayeur the perfect place to base your stay for the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB) or for those who want to refuel and relax in a lovely intimate Italian town.

Courmayeur, Italy

View right outside my hotel window in Courmayeur, Italy

Courmayeur, Italy

View from our hotel down Viale Mont Bianco one of the main streets into town.

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Hike to Lac Blanc in Chamonix

A Taste of the Tour de Mont Blanc

Known as one of the greatest multi-day treks in the world, the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB) is a circular tour of 105 miles/170 kilometers around the mighty Mont Blanc massif traversing three countries – Italy, Switzerland and France, over the course of 10-12 days. Passing through some of the most divine high alpine scenery on earth, the TMB is one of the most stunning multi-day treks of all and is a dream for many avid trekkers.

Ever since my dad and I did the lesser-known Tour de Vanoise back in 2012 (located in Savoie, the eastern Rhône-Alpes region of France), I had dreamed of doing the popular TMB.  My father too had wanted to complete some of the TMB after scaling Mount Blanc in 1998. Thankfully, the opportunity finally arrived this summer and better yet, it would be not with two generations of trekkers but three.

On July 4th, my father, 14-year-old son and I left for a ten-day intergenerational hiking trip to Mont Blanc, devising our own Tour de Mont Blanc to fit our needs. Armed with maps, internet resources, and guide books, we set off and had a magnificent time. I learned a lot along the way about what works and what can be improved with planning your own Tour de Mont Blanc. Here is what I discovered and my thoughts on planning your own Taste of Mont Blanc.

Tour de Mont Blanc

My dad, me and my son on our own Tour de Mont Blanc.

Why Go

At 15,771 feet (4807 m), the mighty snow-capped Mount Blanc soars 12,000 feet (3700 m) over Chamonix, dominating the region and controlling the weather in all the surrounding valleys. As the masterpiece of the Mont Blanc massif, an area measuring 29 miles (46 km) long graced with numerous peaks and aiguilles, jaw-dropping sheer rock walls, ridges and tumbling glaciers, the TMB is known as one of the most stunning multi-day treks in the world.

What makes Mont Blanc even more unique is her incredible location at the crossroads of three European countries – France, Italy and Switzerland – giving the trekker a unique cultural experience as well as extraordinary views. Two distinct towns converge below Mont Blanc: Courmayeur (Italy), and Chamonix (France). Given its high elevation, with 11 summits measuring over 13,123 (4000 m), most of the surrounding area is snow and ice-covered with glaciers pouring down the steep mountain-sides creating a magical, breathtaking scenery that delights the eyes and fills the soul.

If you have one long-distance trek to do on your bucket list, then the TMB is the one for you.

Tour de Mont Blanc Val Veny, Italy

With stunning views like this on the hike through Val Veny in Italy, the TMB will never disappoint.

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Hiking in Aosta Valley, Italy

The Power of Intergenerational Travel: Me, My Dad and Son Hike Around Mont Blanc

It was yet another beautiful day hiking in the Alps. The sky was a robin’s egg blue dotted with powderpuff clouds. A gentle breeze kissed my face and the stunning scenery of the Alps made me continually want to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t all just a dream. It was our third day of hiking during a ten day intergenerational hiking trip around Mont Blanc. So far our trip could not have been more surreal.

As my dad and son climbed up the steep path leading us higher and higher above the dazzling aquamarine Moulin Dam far below, all I could think about was the reward for our efforts. A view of the legendary Lac Mort, a high alpine ice-covered lake at 2843 meters (9327 feet) above the Aosta Valley on her perch in the Italian Alps. But then, after two hours of hiking and only twenty minutes to go to our destination, the wind began to change. We could see a series of rain-laden clouds off in the distance over the Aosta Valley. I checked the radar and knew we would be fine however my dad grew nervous. He had been caught in a ravaging thunderstorm atop a mountain before and swore he’d never do it again. He wanted to turn back.

Hike in Aosta Valley to Lac Long

My son and dad on the long hike up from the glorious Moulin Dam to Lac Long

We had just reached the first of two alpine lakes, Lac Long, and it was stunning. It would only take another twenty minutes to reach Lac Mort but my dad said we couldn’t go. An argument brewed because I hate to not complete a hike especially when I knew we could make it before the rain. But I had to respect my dad’s decision despite my displeasure and disappointment. Upset, we turned around and headed back without ever seeing the prize.

Me and my son Max at Lac Long in Aosta, Italy

We were painfully close to the prize destination

I didn’t talk for the next hour of the hike down to the car and purposely held back on my pace letting my dad and son go ahead. Yet it was at that moment when I fully realized the true beauty and power of intergenerational travel.

From a distance, I observed and listened to my dad and teenage son talk about life, the world, their hopes and dreams. Slowly my disappointment and anger eased and instead a deep sense of gratitude grew. For this is what it is all about and why it is so incredibly meaningful to travel as family. This unburdened time together in the middle of nowhere. Sharing our common love of nature and mountains, creating bonds that somehow are often harder to create at home. It is magical and priceless.

 

My Dad and son talking away

Me and Max

The trip ended up being all I had hoped for and more. It gave me precious time to reconnect with my teenage son, spend more time with my dad and realize what an incredible gift all of these priceless memories are. I look forward to sharing my stories in the upcoming months and reliving the beauty of not only the Alps but of spending sacred time with family. Stay tuned.

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Travel Guide to “Go Slow” in Caye Caulker, Belize

After an exhilarating time exploring the wild jungles and mysterious Mayan ruins on mainland Belize, it was time to soak up some surf and sun on one of Belize’s many cayes (islands). I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to end my wonderful week in Belize than in Caye Caulker. Located roughly 21 miles northeast of Belize City, Caye Caulker is one of 400 cayes along Belize’s 180-mile long coastline and after Ambergris Caye is the second most visited. However, don’t let her popularity fool you. This tiny island offers island and ocean loving travelers a wonderful refuge to swing away lazy afternoons in a hammock or take an adventure of a lifetime swimming with nurse sharks and sting rays in the nearby Belize Barrier Reef. Best of all, Caye Caulker still has retained her laid-back island charm despite the upswing in tourism. Whether a few days or a week, there is plenty of things to do in Caye Caulker. Check out my guide on how to go slow, as the locals say,  in Caye Caulker.

Caye Caulker, Belize

The motto in Caye Caulker is “Go Slow” and after a few days on this lovely, tropical paradise you will easily slip into this mentality.

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Tikal

A Day Trip to Tikal: Discovering Tikal’s Tantalizing, Mysterious Past

After almost a week in Belize exploring the ancient Mayan masterpieces of Lamanai, Xunantunich and the depths of the mystical underworld of the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave, one would think that I’d had my fix of Mayan ruins. However, as soon as I realized that one of the grandest ancient Mayan cities of all, Tikal, was right across the Guatemalan border from our base in San Ignacio, I knew I’d have take a day trip to Tikal. With over 3,000 buildings spreading across 212 square miles of thick rugged jungle, Tikal is the largest and most restored archaeological site of the pre-Columbian Maya Civilization. Yet, the plot thickens. Recent LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) mapping has revealed that the ruins of Tikal are even grander and more magnificent than ever imagined.

Deep beneath the jungle canopy lies 61,000 hidden structures representing part of a vast network of ancient Mayan cities that were perhaps the most advanced civilization of its time. The historical and archeological significance of the findings is immense. Could Tikal be even grander than the ruins of ancient Rome or Egypt? With all the mysteries surrounding Tikal, I knew I’d have to see for myself.

Grand Plaza Tikal Guatemala

View of half of the Grand Plaza of Tikal, the most excavated area of the ruins. 

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How Intrepid Travel is Changing the Way We See and Impact the World

Intrepid Travel -one of the world’s largest adventure travel companies – is changing the way we see and impact the world. With over 1,000 tours in 120 countries, Intrepid has done wonders to promote responsible tourism and help make a positive impact on where they travel.  As part of the Intrepid Group which includes fellow tour operators Urban Adventures, Peregrine, and Adventure Tours Australia and runs The Intrepid Foundation, Intrepid is on a mission to change the way people see the world by delivering sustainable experience-rich travel products while also harnessing the power of travel to benefit the places and people they visit.

As a global leader in sustainability within the travel industry and a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact, Intrepid is dedicated to being a company committed to purpose beyond profit. Some of Intrepid’s accomplishments in responsible travel include becoming a carbon neutral business in 2010 and becoming the first global travel company to ban elephant rides on its tours in 2014. By 2016, Intrepid’s philanthropic fund distributed more than AU $6 million towards healthcare, human rights, child welfare and environmental and wildlife protection programs in the communities in which it operates. In June 2018, the company launched vegan tours and most recently, in August 2018, Intrepid became a certified B Corporation making Intrepid the largest Travel B Corp in the world.

I heard about Intrepid Travel by fellow travel blogger Alison Armstrong, the beautiful mind behind Adventures in Wonderland  who has written about her own experiences traveling with Intrepid to China last year. Wanting to learn more, I reached out to Rebecca Shapiro, the Senior Editorial Manager of Intrepid Group North America. We talked for over an hour about all the amazing work that Intrepid is doing to change the face of travel and improve the world. Here is what she had to say.

Intrepid Travel Tour in Iran.

Intrepid Travel Tour in Iran. Photo courtesy of Intrepid Travel

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2020 Mother-Daughter Trips to Peru with GOOD Travel

Next summer of 2020, join GOOD Travel on one of their upcoming Mother-Daughter Trips to Peru!  As an avid traveler and mother of two kids, it has always been a dream of mine to show them the world and instill a love of travel and exploring new cultures while they are young. These are my children’s formative years and I know that time is going all too fast. Before I know it my kids will be out in the world and I want to do my part in spending as much time as I can with them and teaching them some lifelong lessons at home and abroad. That is why I can hardly wait to bring my 12-year-old daughter Sophia to Peru with me next summer on a GOOD Travel trip.

I first went to Peru in 2001 not long after the horrendous 9/11 attacks. I recall being a bit fearful to travel out of the country in such a difficult time yet I didn’t let it stop me. Instead, my dad and I went on a father-daughter trip to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu setting off a lifelong passion to explore the world and understand it. I hope to be able to give these opportunities to my own children as travel has changed my life and made me who I am today, a global citizen, humanitarian and writer.

Machu Picchu Father Daughter Travel

My Dad and Me at Machu Picchu circa 2001

What makes GOOD Travel trips so unique is that their mission is to do good, give back and interact with the local communities within the destination. This is very important to me as I view these travel experiences as the best. In Peru, GOOD Travel is proud to have partnered with Peruvian Hearts to bring a once in a lifetime mother-daughter trip to this amazing country.

The trip will provide moms and their daughters (ages 6 to 16) with the unique opportunity to spend time immersed in Peruvian culture with the girls involved in Peruvian Hearts projects. Activities are developed with various age groups in mind to ensure unique experiences for all.

Every aspect of this trip – from the hotels to Machu Picchu to the llama hikes to the chocolate making – has been designed to ensure that the local community, economy and environment benefit from your visit. I personally can’t think of a more impactful way to travel.

Meet GOOD Travel

GOOD Travel was founded in 2013 by four women from Peru, USA, South Africa and New Zealand. Their vision is to transform the tourism industry into a force for GOOD by promoting and facilitating travel that gives back to the local community, economy, and environment.

Highlights of Mother Daughter Trip to Peru

  • Spend time with like-minded moms in a true community of travelers.
  • Group size averages 8 moms and 10 daughters to ensure a personalized experience.
  • Hike one of the 7 wonders of the world, trek with llamas, make chocolate, visit indigenous communities, shop in local markets … all with your daughter!
  • Experience a fun, enjoyable, real vacation without having to worry about what is happening next and having everything (except airfare) included in the cost upfront.
  • Understand the culture in Peru – something you cannot do from a tour bus.
  • Create memories that moms and kids will share for their lifetimes.
  • Show your kids how to be responsible travelers, kind and compassionate friends, researchers of new cultures, explorers of new experiences and appreciative of all they have. And prove to our formidable enemy – time – that we moms can connect with our kids in meaningful and memorable ways.
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