Our vacation to Europe started off as a visit to Paris for my sister in law’s college graduation. It quickly turned into a two-week, two country vacation. Here is how we did it!
Where we went: Paris, Rome, Cortona (Pergo), and Venice.
I admit to being nervous about a multi generational international trip. Yes, I was also nervous about traveling with my in-laws for two full weeks. I heeded the advice of my coworker David and took some “alone moments” with Heather, Giovanni, and Isabella. I organized this trip for all 13 of us. Not something I recommend. My advice: Use a professional Travel Advisor. I know a few if you need a recommendation.
Europe Express (***Disclaimer I now work for Europe Express) – We booked air, transfers, hotels, and some sightseeing through the groups department. Bottom line, THEY GET IT! They deploy at TEAM (sales & operations) to plan and execute your group. Because they have offices in Europe, I was provided with around the clock service and assistance when needed. Air: We flew Air France nonstop from Seattle to Paris. The experience was simply divine. As you would expect from Air France. At 5 years old, Isabella even liked it.
Paris – Les Jardins du Marais was our home in the city of lights. Located in the heart of Paris’ trendy Marais district, brimming with art galleries, chic restaurants and designer boutiques, the luxurious Jardins du Marais Lifestyle boutique hotel is close to many historic landmarks, including the Place des Vosges, the Musée Picasso, the Carnavalet Museum and the Bastille. A haven in the centre of the city, the Jardins du Marais has 265 fully renovated rooms and suites overlooking lush private gardens, which add charm and character to this “little village” and create an ideal setting for leisurely strolls. Decorated in contemporary, the lounge, bar, and restaurant are perfect for business meetings or stylish events, with a contemporary and harmonious blend of elegance and comfort.
We got multi day passes for museums, the metro, hop on and hop off tour (this came in handy w/ a 5-year-old), and river cruise tickets through Europe Express. We also booked reserved time slots for the Eiffel Tower. Highly recommend you do this in advance. While Heather & I had been to Paris years ago, this was a great way to see the city with our kids.
Rome: Our accommodations in Rome was the trendy Palazzeto Degli Artisti. The Palazzetto degli Artisti was born from a new idea of hospitality which combines all modern comforts together with an innovative spirit in an atmosphere of ancient beauty. The building was built at the beginning of the nineteenth century, in the heart of ancient Rome, in the very characteristic historical quarter of Rione Monti. From the rooftop terrace you can enjoy a breathtaking view and your gaze gets lost amid the ruins of the Foro Romano, Piazza Venezia and Colosseum. Location, location, location!
We rented three Vespas so that we could explore Rome from a different perspective. Not for the faint at heart, but VERY FUN! This was the best $45 we spent. We booked our Vatican & Colosseum VIP entrances through the AMAZING Select Italy! On our second day in Rome I whisked Heather, Giovanni, and Isabella off for a private cooking lesson. Cucina Romana, booked through Select Italy was a high point of this trip. When in Rome… Cook as the Romans do! Many of Italy’s classic dishes were created and perfected here in the capital city. Learn how to cook alla Romana, spend some time with the master chefs at La Cucina di Casa di Valeria Cooking School, where we participated in the preparation of a traditional Roman meal using fresh and seasonal ingredients. This school is known for teaching young Italians who have moved away from their families how to cook authenticly. You are not a client here! You are a guest in a dear friend’s home who happens to be teaching you how to cook. Perfection. Our favorite Rome restaurants: Trattoria Otello alla Concordia (recommended by a dear friend who is a famed travel writer) & La Bottega del caffe: These were the best meals we had in ITALY. Hands down!
Pergo (Cortona): After a few days in the eternal city, we boarded a train we booked with Rail Europe (1st Class) through Europe Express to our Villa in Pergo. A town at the base of Cortona. We were guests of some dear Seattle friends who rented La Ripa (this villa) for a year. The only word that comes to mind to describe this villa is HEAVEN! While you can’t rent it, A Season Away is who I recommend you call in order to rent a villa. My friend Kevin Abell owns A Season Away and his team knows how to ensure you have the right villa and a great Villa Host!
We booked the Gelato & Vino experience through Select Italy and it was so much fun! It may sound like a strange combination but gelato and wine are two of Florence’s best creations. Why not explore them together? Our evening began with a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the world famous gelateria, GROM, where owner Mario introduced us to “Italian ice cream.” Next, we visited the historic wine bar Enoteca Alessi, where our tasting began. In the company of our own private guide, we embarked on a tasting menu that included four wines, various appetizers and three different types of gelato. This 45-minute private tour and tasting experience was a great way to learn about the food and wine of Florence, and ideal for any level of foodies!
After that it only got better with our final selection from Select Italy! My wife’s two sisters and future brother in law joined us for the full day Brunello di Montalcino Wine Tour and it was simply beautiful. Noble and seductive, Brunello di Montalcino is a grand red wine that is born in the heart of the hills around Siena. It is the work of one man, Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, whose patient efforts first brought this wine to light in 1888. We celebrated his invention on this full day wine excursion to Brunello country. Departing and returning to our villa (they can pick you up from your Florence or Siena hotel or villa) first stop is the spectacutlar Talenti Vineyards. A visit to the cellars and a guided wine tasting of their fine Brunellos was included. Riccardo Talenti’s love for his winery forces you to fall in love with life all over again. This was followed by a walking tour of the village of Montalcino. Here we were captivated by picturesque, narrow streets surmounted by the medieval fortress, La Rocca. Lunch at the Taverna Grappolo Blu in Montalcino introduced us to authentic local dishes like the thick, hand rolled spaghetti called pinci. After a delicious lunch we headed to the organic winery, SanPolino. In a serene setting of rolling hills blanketed in olive groves and vineyards, the British owners maintain the modern art of organic farming. We purchased lots of wine and perfect olive oil.
Venice: Heather and I could not take our girls to Italy without a quick overnight visit to Venice. Upon our arrival, we zipped off to lunch al fresco at the Westin Regina & Europa. It is our favorite Venice spot for lunch. The chef knew we were coming and prepared a special three course menu just for us. Yes, we felt we had ARRIVED! Afterwards, we checked into our favorite hotel in Venice, Hotel Danieli. This hotel is how I want every hotel to be. The service is a great combination of attentive and relaxed. Just what you need when you are on vacation. Our last bit of perfection was a private mask decorating lesson with the Mask Atelier at Tragi comica. We organized this through Charming Venice. This Destination Management Company can arrange conventions and private excursions that you can’t get through other Destination Management Companies. Exclusivity and high touch service is what they do best!
We returned to La Ripa for a final two nights to celebrate my in laws’ 30th wedding anniversary. Icing on the cake!
What I know for sure, travel connects through shared expierences and my family is more connected having had this vacation!
I know my previous “K List” entries have included at least 3 items, this one only includes one such item. That’s becuase of all the things I currently think are great, this is in a category all its own! That’s how good it is.
One of my dear and trusted travel industry journalist sent out a tweet and referenced Suite Arrival. I asked her for more info and she sent over her thoughts. Intrigued, I contacted the company and told them I was interested in learning more. The Chief Concierge, Michael Lewis promptly replied and gave me lots of useful info.
Insert my week long trip to Orlando for work.
I don’t like to pack for long business trips. Mainly because it reminds me I’m about to be away from my family longer than I want to. However, I really don’t like packing and keeping up with all of my many “products” I need & use daily.
I went to Suite Arrival’s web site and searched around. It was easy to use and surprisingly informative. In other words I found more products that I just can’t live without! I selected the Organic Arrival kit. Top end priced at $18.68, because you can customize it if you are like me and don’t need hair gel. Ha! I placed my order within minutes and checked off my “products” list!
Upon arrival at the hotel the clerk handed me a small box! Insert my excitement. I love opening boxes! Everything & MORE was in the box. No only did I get my shower gel, shaving kit, and fantastic toothpaste. I also got a facial moisturizer that made the humidity of Florida disappear! It was organic to boot!
Why I will use them again & why you should:
- Choice – I can select from over 60 brands
- Selection – From Old Spice to Oscar Blandi (Kids, Fruits, Nuts & even a fabu tea selection)
- Time Saver – Takes only minutes
- TSA – No need to worry about those pesky 3 ounce limits
- Leaks – Won’t happen
- We all love gifts – Treat yourself to a welcome surprise (Luxury in a box!)
On your next trip, give them a try! What I know for sure: That was some of the best money I’ve spent in travel in a long time.
My family and I are off to Europe (Paris, Rome, Tuscany & Venice) for vacation! Get ready for Europe the Kier way in mid August!
In September we attended an auction in support of the Matt Talbot Center with Trevor & Tracie (and a few other friends) as our guests. At the start of the live auction they announced the winner “Golden Ticket” winner. As fate would have it, Trevor & Tracie had the “Golden Ticket” and were allowed (as per the rules) to select any live auction item from the list. They selected the Napa trip and Heather & I said we’d join them in Napa to celebrate Trevor’s birthday!
Fast forward to the end of April, I had not reserved a hotel for us. The one hotel I wanted to stay was sold out.
I sent an email to everyone I know who may have a connection in Napa. Lots of advice insued from where to camp to $1k per night accommodations. My friend David Keuhner, Founder & President of Destination Cellars sent me an email that said relax and he would make a call. How many times have we all heard that. Boy was I wrong! I now owe David a life of gratitude for him not only saving my trip but, making it the trip of a life time!
About Destination Cellars: Is for those who savor a great wine experience, insist on the best service, and celebrate life at it’s most fulfulling. Their team works with discrimination individuals & organizations, creating unique escapes, singular wine purchases, once in a lifetime experiences and unforgettable events.
Below are my recommendations on how you too can have the trip of a lifetime!
Getting there: We flew Alaska Airlines from Seattle on one of their many non-stops from Seattle to Oakland. Yes, Oakland is better if you are going only to Napa. I used to live just south of Napa and often flew in and out of Oakland. Insider tip: Its a shorter drive to Napa from Oakland vs. SFO!
Where to stay: Because of my friend David’s amazing connections, Heather & I were the guests of Freemark Abbey winery in their guest cottage. This is not open to the public, so it can’t be booked. However it was one of the best parts of our trip. The only other hotel I would recommend is Bardessono! This 62 room gem in Yountville is “green, luxurious, and peaceful.” All the things you want in a hotel in wine country. From the in-room spa services, farm-fresh restaurant ingredients to the rooftop pool, Bardessono is the hotel I recommend!
How to do it: Book one of the chauffered driven car services, like we did to ensure you don’t get arrested for DUI! There are PLENTY of police looking for those who enjoyed too much wine behind the wheel. We recommend Napa Valley Tours & Transportation! Our driver Michael Basayne was not like a driver at all. He was more like a long time friend who was showing us around his home town. His hospitality was a special treat. Thank you Michael!
Where to eat: Napa is known for its famously expensive restaurants and we didn’t go to any of them! St. Helena has great restaurants that are more like eating in someone’s home. Our FAVORITE meal was at Cook. My braised shortribs melted in my mouth and I was in HEAVEN! Cook is reasonably priced ($140 for 4 people with wine) and a local favorite for its Fridays Only BLT. We had the best time over a fantastic meal that I can’t stop talking about. We had other meals while we were there. But none of them compare to Cook! Our honorable mention: Ristorante Allegria in downtown Napa. Also
Wineries we love: Freemark Abbey is where it started and ended! The story of Freemark Abbey is deeply intertwined with Napa Valley’s rise to prominence. Those who forged Freemark Abbey were citizens of Napa in the greatest sense—people who passionately believed in the land, in their craft, in community and in the value of a handshake—a long-honored and increasingly rare ethos of winegrowing that continues at the winery today. As one of the first sixteen wineries in the Napa Valley, Freemark Abbey possesses a long history that is deeply entwined with the region’s ascendency to fame and was the only winery invited to present both red and white wines in the 1976 Paris Tasting, the event which put Napa on the map. We like the 2005 Cabernet Bosche for its dark cherry, black currant, cinnamon, aromatic cedar and green olive with hints of dark chocolate and cigar box. Good depth of flavor with black fruits, chocolate and integrated oak spice. Lively, with elegant tannins and a very long, clean fruitful finish! We purchased and drank two bottles the first night!
Caymus is a must stop on your list as well. With its rich winemaking family history and private, seated tasting room and passionate staff you will feel like you are part of the family! Each of us couples walked away with a box! We recommend the 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: aromas are layered with pipe tobacco, log cabin fires, and brown spice that leads to the impression of richness and complexity.
Sequoia Grove was our final stop and we felt right at home. Also a bit buzzed! Simple environment and friendly staff, with great wines to boot! Again, we left with another box of wine! We recommend the Rebellious Red because we all have a bit of rebel in us!
We can’t wait to return next year for Trevor’s birthday when we will start at Cardinale!
A few things I took a shine to this month:
Hotel 41 – This hotel is one of those places you can’t stop yourself from describing as an “understated oasis,” even if you can’t imagine what an overstated oasis would look like. The lighting is low and kind, the service is nimble, and the rooms have the sort of excellent decor that you want sit in all day and skip meetings for. Or better yet, decorate your own bedroom. The hotel lobby is small and to the point, check in/out, concierge service and the staff with ready smiles. The bar is the place to be on Thursday and Friday nights with a staff that is right there when you need them, and happy hour menu that has exactly what you are looking for and the $$ you like. Don’t be surprised if you bump into celebs there enjoying a drink as well. I did! It is a half a block away from the center of Times Square, yet feels like miles away because you hear not a peep from all the tourists or the cars. On the other side of the hotel is the New York Times (my favorite newspaper). It is not expensive like most other NYC hotels and you would never know that by the service. This is my new favorite NYC hotel and look forward to my return. Insider tip: Stay in one of 2 Penthouses! They are worth every extra penny.
AuthentEscapes – This is not your parents tour vacation! Tuscany with Bocelli & Ferragamo. Machu Picchu with Shannon Sharpe. Charter the Time Bandit from Deadliest Catch. My friend and travel industry trail blazzer Malaka Hilton has started the true Insider Expierence travel company. Hilton is as smart as she is funny and knows a thing or two about luxury travel, you see, she owns one of Florida’s premiere luxury travel agency and is the “go to woman” for insider access! I have worked with and traveled with her, so I can attest to the fact that she has the ULTIMATE insider connections! At last year’s ESPY Awards & VIP reception, that I attended with Hilton, I found myself chatting with Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Stevie Wonder, and Mike Tyson. Although, the Tyson encounter was a bit overwhelming to say the least.
Harnn – Talk about ultimate! Harnn is natural home spa products with inspirations from the Essence of Asian Heritage. Unique Asian approach to well being bases on establishing the natural balance of the body, mind and environment for health, happiness and natural radiance. Made from such products as Rice Bran Oil, Pmegranate, Lemongrass, and Black Tea, these products are the BEST and HEALTHIEST one can find. I know because I have used some of these products myself! Traditional Asian arts provide inspirations for unique & award winning packaging to delight the mind and enrich the expierence. Created in 1999, Harnn has become a world leading Natural Home Spa product brand with exclusive soncept shops and flagship stores in 22 countries. The only store thus far in the USA is in Bellevue, WA. Simply walk in and see for yourself. You will be inspired to buy all that you can carry. If you don’t live in the Seattle area, you can order online!
Enjoy The K List!
It all started very innocently, our dear friends Trevor & Tracie gave us a massive gift certificate to Canlis. They did this because they know we not only enjoyed good food, but needed a fancy night out alone. I was a bit apprehensive about going again because the last time we were there a year ago, we were seated near people who drove us crazy. On the left was a local TV anchor whose voice drives me insane. On the right was a couple who berated each other the entire dinner and talked openly about wanting a divorce. Mind you, this was our Anniversary!
My first preferred “date night” was postponed because my wife want to go to the salon prior to us going. So I took to Tweeting about my excitement of going as I thought I could get some joy from it since we were not going when I wanted to go. I quickly found that Canlis is active in the Twitter community and we engaged in exchanging Tweets!
Heather went to the salon, I rushed home from the office to pick her up and off we went. From the moment we arrived and was greeted by the valet, we were instantly reminded why we loved coming to Canlis. Don’t worry about a valet ticket, they remember who you are and what you drive. Our server Siri greeted us and we knew at that moment we were going to have a great experience. She was professional with the perfect balance of personal. We chatted about the family dinner Canlis has for all the staff prior to opening. Her three-month old daughter and our kids. We felt like we were reconnecting with an old friend and not having our order taken.
The food was so delightful, we simply shared ooh’s, aah’s, and our food with each other. I can only say it was FANTASTIC! The wine list is to die for and the setting is unmatched in Seattle!
For the first time I shared with my wife about my happiness I was finding in my new job. How this was my dream and how much I appreciated her supporting me living my dream. A dream that started in December of 2005. To now be living it was beyond joy for me. I owe my success in large measure to her greatness and love!
We discovered on the desert menu that they offer our FAVORITE Starbucks coffee (Casi Cielo) brewed in our FAVORITE way, Clover brewed. A brew process Starbucks created and only available in some 16 stores in the entire US! Siri also advised us that Casi Cielo is a blend that was created specifically for Canlis and has a limited public release. Yes, that release has ended and we discussed our sadness at not being able to get it in the stores any longer this year.
When we walked outside, our car was there! On the dash was a bag of Casi Cielo and a note from Siri that read: “Hope this makes for a great Saturday morning!” Yes, Siri it did. But not just because of the coffee but, also because of your excellent service and the great food at Canlis.
What I know for sure is that restaurants are most often good for one thing, at Canlis they are GREAT at all they do!