A Professional Pilgrim’s Favorite Places

Posted on October 1, 2019

All hotels are not created equal. Most of them are at least ok and lots of them are way more than that. The same goes for attractions, restaurants, museums, and the other sites we travelers visit as we make our way around the world. For this issue of Ranch & Coast, I wanted to share my own “Best Of” — my personal favorite worldwide travel experiences. That sounded like fun until I started making lists of candidates. Then lists of lists, broken down by category, continent, and country, until I gave up. Decades of roaming defied organization. In the end, I closed my eyes and let my mind wander over Europe, then Africa, the U.S, South America, Asia, and the South Pacific. Every time I felt myself smile, I opened my eyes just long enough to make a quick note on a nearby pad. Here’s the result.

Best Boutique Hotel — The George, in Christchurch, New Zealand, was my home for a week this past July. I loved my spacious Park Suite with a floor-to-ceiling view of the beautiful lawns and majestic trees in the city’s beloved Hagley Park. In addition to having the best location in town, The George also has the kindest staff I’ve ever encountered. thegeorge.com

The George Hotel overlooks a beloved park created in 1855

Best Turtle Sighting — I’ve snorkeled with sea turtles on several continents, but the hands-down best experience was at Honolua Bay, just north of Kapalua on Maui. Here, in super clear water, my family and I swam with young sea turtles whose patterned bronze shells were works of art. hawaiisnorkelingguide.com

Best Walking Tour — Jimmy Napoli, an “A. Ham” expert, leads “Hamilton’s New York” walking tours of lower Manhattan. They’re educational, stirring, and incredibly funny. A surprising number of 18th- century historical sites remain in NYC, and to find them preserved among the concrete canyons of Wall Street adds to their emotional impact. hamiltonsnewyork.com

Best Airport Hotel — The sleek Grand Hyatt DFW has made connecting flights possible on several occasions. In one instance, the first flight out of SAN arrived at DFW too late to get the only flight to Cozumel. So, we overnighted in style, enjoyed the runway view from our room, and continued on in the morning, refreshed. dfw.grand.hyatt.com

Best OMG Moment — Machu Picchu took my breath away. I’m not a newbie. I’ve seen more than my fair share of famous sights, but I have to admit that my first look at the iconic Incan citadel left me speechless. I came through a passageway and looked up and — OMG — there it was. ancientsummit.com

Machu Picchu took my breath away

Best Romantic Dining — Paris is the City of Love, and the most romantic place to dine is Le Jules Verne on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. Here, “French gastronomic flair” is created by triple Michelin-starred chef Frédéric Anton. However, it’s the view of Paris that makes this the perfect place for a magical interlude. restaurants-toureiffel.com

Le Jules Verne is the perfect spot for lunch in the City of Love

Best High Fives — Bhutan’s Tiger’s Nest Monastery lies 3,000 feet above the valley and 10,000 feet above sea level. It was first built in 1692 and has become an iconic symbol of the country. Almost every visitor to Bhutan considers trying to reach it on foot, but access is via a difficult, rutted path. I was sure it was beyond my capabilities, but planned to walk part way with my husband and our guide, Leki Phuntsho. What I didn’t know was that Leki had other plans for me. Every time I tried to quit, he urged me on until — miracle of miracles — we all made it to the top. Then, it was big smiles and high-fives all around. You can reach Leki at leki@bhutan4joy.com.

It was first built in 1692 and has become an iconic symbol of Bhutan

Best Museum — The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg tells the story of 20th-century South Africa. Here, film footage, photographs, and text panels illustrate the state-sanctioned system based on racial discrimination and the struggle of the majority to overthrow this tyranny. apartheidmuseum.org

Best Wine Tasting — One summer, our family rented a house in Radda in Chianti, an adorable town in the heart of the Chianti Classico region about an hour south of Florence. I’d like to say we hiked and went to museums every day, but the truth is our focus was on the sweet fruit in season and the amazing wine. One unforgettable highlight was touring and tasting at Colle Bereto Winery with director Bernardo Bianchi. We loved his Chianti Classico and, because I sent two cases home to La Jolla, we continued to enjoy it and our memories of that day on special occasions for several years. Email Bernardo to book your tour at colle.bereto@collebereto.it.

Colle Bereto Winery is a scenic spot to sample Chianti Classico vintages

Best Sightseeing Bus Tour — I’m not normally a bus tour traveler, but when I found myself in steamy D.C. in August, I had to reconsider that position. I wanted to see the monuments lit up at night, but walking around in the dark in 90-degree heat didn’t seem like a good idea. Instead, I opted for the Monuments by Moonlight night tour, offered by Old Town Trolley Tours, and I loved it. The open-air vehicle provided great views and the guide was thoughtful and informative. trolleytours.com/washington-dc/night-tours

The Lincoln Memorial is one of the highlights of the Monuments by Moonlight tour

Best Romantic Hotel — The Taj Lake Palace Hotel is a vision of white marble seemingly floating in the middle of a lake. Built in Udaipur in 1746 by a youthful maharana with an entourage of lady friends, this is easily the most romantic destination in all of India, if not the world. The hotel, with its airy balconies, Monet-like gardens, and seductive sit spots, invites guests to take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy the moment. tajhotels.com/en-in/taj/taj-lake-palace-udaipur   Elizabeth Hansen

The Lake Palace Hotel in India was designed for romance


Colle Bereto Winery: Photo courtesy of Colle Bereto Winery     The George Hotel: Photo courtesy of The George    Le Jules Verne: Photo courtesy of Le Jules Verne     All other photos courtesy of Adams / Hansen Stock Photos