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Mexican Mantra: Take Your Yoga Practice to Mexico

Stand Up Paddleboarding is all the rage. It combines the tenets of yoga with the water world of surfing. Proponents swear to more focus, tweaked technique and stronger cores. Fitness retreats like this one near La Paz at Costa Baja Resort draw many to Mexico. Phot credit: Costa Baja Resort

Stand Up Paddleboarding is all the rage. It combines the tenets of yoga with the water world of surfing. Proponents swear to more focus, tweaked technique and stronger cores. Fitness retreats like this one near La Paz at Costa BajaResort draw many to Mexico.
Photo credits: Costa Baja Resort

I am posed in Downward Dog on a paddleboard atop the cerulean blue Sea of Cortez. Or, I was. Right now, I’m swimming with a throng of particularly colorific fish, whose threatening nibbles prompt me to heave myself out of the water and back on the board with heretofore unknown deftness.

I’d like to say that SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding) yoga is easier than it looks. But, it isn’t. That’s because this exercise combines two distinct disciplines: the spiritual-cum-pretzel-like ancient regimen of yoga and the au courant rage of standing on an over-sized surfboard afloat a body of water. It’s essentially meditative fitness. And, when the wave ripples beneath me, I struggle for balance—even when crouched in the resting mode called Child’s Pose. At Costa Baja Resort, a thousand miles from Tijuana, in Mexico’s Baja California Sur, I don’t care if I topple off the board and fall into the ocean’s depths. After all, who wouldn’t want to swim in what Jacques Cousteau once dubbed “the aquarium of the world?”

The yoga traditions at Rancho La Puerta, just across the border from San Deigo, are tried and true. The godmother of Western Yoga, Indra Devi, helped formulate the Ranch's programs in 1955, and her influences can be seen today.

The yoga traditions at Rancho La Puerta, just across the border from San Deigo, are tried and true. The godmother of Western Yoga, Indra Devi, helped formulate the Ranch’s programs in 1955, and her influences can be seen today.

Still, I try my best to balance. My instructor at this five-day retreat, Michelle Gierst, a yogini and superstar fitness buff, thinks the first fall should happen fast. “It’s a metaphor for life,” she says. “The sooner you fall in, the sooner you get back up on the board for downward dog.” She leads yoga retreats at Costa Baja, a five-star wellness resort, located just ten minutes from the still authentic Mexican pueblo of La Paz. Ensconced amid desert terrain, dotted with coco palms, with views of the purple-tinged Sierra Madre Mountains, this resort by the sea is easily accessible from Los Cabos—yet it feels a world apart. With a Gary Player-designed golf course, pools galore, and opulently appointed rooms, it might seem more a place for repose. Yet, many trek here, as I do, to exchange their yoga mat for a board and their gymnasium room for the ocean’s fluidity. This form of yoga increases focus, tweaks technique, and empowers its participants. Deep meditation can result simply from the sounds of the sea. As a change from your regular routine, SUP Yoga is simply a respite that keeps the habit interesting. An added bonus?  Do your asanas along Mexico’s Pacific Coast during whale watching season (January through April), and you may discover some migrating whales and a coterie of friendly dolphins masquerading as classmates. Five-day, four-night sessions include daily yoga and meditation classes, a spa treatment, and all meals including alcohol. $1042 and up. Costabaja.com

The mystical landscape of Mexico's Baja California enriches yoga  and wellness retreats. Set in desert terrain, on the Sea of Cortez and shadowed by the Sierra Madre Mountains, Costa Baja offers a variety of yoga retreats and packages year round.

The mystical landscape of Mexico’s Baja California enriches yoga and wellness retreats. Set in desert terrain, on the Sea of Cortez and shadowed by the Sierra Madre Mountains, Costa Baja offers a variety of yoga retreats and packages year round.

Other Mexican Havens For Inner Balance:

Haramara Retreat

Unplug at Haramara Retreat, named a 10 best yoga getaway in the world by Yoga Journal. Spread over 16 acres that edge the Pacific Ocean in Sayulita–the Riviera Nayarit’s hippie chic surfing town north of Puerto Vallarta–Haramara has thatched-roof palapas complete with hammocks, open-air yoga studios with 360-degree views of the jungle and ocean waters, vegetarian-based gourmet meals and a rotating array of famous yoga instructors. With no electricity in the rooms or restaurant, turning off the external noise becomes second nature here. Customized private sessions, group classes, and locally derived food set the tenor for a successful mind-body experience. $1159 and up for two people when you book the 3-night Sampler Package, which includes two yoga classes, two daily meals, a 60-minute massage each, and $60 voucher to be used on site.haramararetreat.com

Rancho La Puerta

Yoga pioneer Indra Devi is considered by many to be the godmother of western yoga. Having lived in India and studied under the nation’s most influential yoga master, Krishnamacharya, she broke both east/west and male/female barriers by becoming a master herself in the mid-20th century. She brought her skills to Shanghai and Hollywood, and finally to Tecate in Mexico, where in 1953, she opened her own yoga estate —just across the border from San Diego. Today, her legacy can be experienced at the renowned Rancho La Puerta, located near Devi’s original yoga hideaway. At the Ranch—as it’s called by its guests–, Devi developed a strong yoga program in 1955, which the resort still honors. With 3,000-acres at the foot of Baja’s mystical mountains, salubrious Rancho La Puerta restores and revitalizes its guests with healthy cuisine and more than 80 activities, from hiking to cooking to kickboxing. But, yoga fans can take advantage of varied yoga classes and Devi-infused retreats year round, many of them embracing a theme, such as Spirit Week: Yoga and Everyday Mindfulness in February and Prime of Life Yoga in March $1,393 and up, includes meals and all fitness classes. Rancholapuerta.com

Resort at Pedregal

Perhaps Los Cabos’ most swank address, this resort took a hit during last year’s unbridled Hurricane Odile. But, the storied Resort at Pedregal reopened better than ever and artfully re-imagined. Be among the first to experience the 24-acre site and its beach front villas. A new culinary component called the Champagne Terrace specializes in bubbles and canapes, but don’t let it lure you away from your yoga practice. Sign up for the Yoga Getaway and be under the tutelage of the curative Luna Y Mar Spa. With three private yoga classes, including an evening outdoor yoga/meditation, a spa treatment, and a luxurious beachside room, and butler-style service, regeneration is bound to happen. $525 and up per night. theresortatpedregal.com

Becca Hensley spent her summers in Mexico’s colonial city, Puebla, with her ex-pat grandfather. A widely published freelance writer, based in Austin, she has been practicing yoga since age 17, when she met a yoga master from Rishikesh, India.

 

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All Things French in the South of Fifth – Café Nikki Miami

Photo credit Gianfraco Bianchi

All photos  Gianfraco Bianchi

Start your day in the South of Fifth, neighborhood that is, while you’re transported to the South of France at Café Nikki, a new French cafe in the courtyard of Nikki Beach. Newly opened, this cafe offers coffees, teas, and delicious bakery items including croissants, quiches, and pastries. Freshly baked bread by Zac the Baker is also available as well as Allain Milliat marmalades. I just recently learned, from a dear British friend of mine, the appreciate of a fine European marmalade made readily available in the States. The outdoor terrace setting provides the perfect spot for stimulating conversation and getting the day off to a great start. Or cozy up inside the cafe among stacks of books, comfortable seating, and the bountiful case of enticing baked goods. We all know and love Nikki Beach for its idyllic setting for Sunday brunch and dancing the night away and now we can start the day right at Café Nikki, a welcomed addition, oui oui!

If you’re one of the lucky few to call the South of Fifth neighborhood home, enjoy free coffee now through September 30, 2015.

For more information please visit, www.nikkibeach.com

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The Resurgence of Vodka – Why You Should Rethink Your Drink

Elyx Vodka Recipe

Driving Miss Daisy photo courtesy of Elyx Vodka

The craft cocktail scene has taken the nation, and possibly the world, by storm – is a good way – for the past few years. Bartenders or mixologists have bravely taken us out of our comfort zones and have gotten us to not only like, but prefer, spirits we would never think of drinking, let alone order at the bar. You know the drill, a vodka soda, a vodka tonic, etc and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, welcome to the “new” world of luxury brand vodkas and rediscover this classic spirit worthy of a sip or two.

Photo courtesy of Elyx Vodka

Photo courtesy of Elyx Vodka

In the recent past, we wrote about Ultimat Vodka, a fine vodka that we, personally, enjoyed on the rocks with a simple twist in the stunning Riedel glasses that accompanied the cobalt blue decanter-style bottle. Welcome Elyx by a brand we know and trust, Absolut. The bottle alone is a work of art and one worthy of being on display. The brand debuted at a pop-up club of  Ian Schrager’s EDITION Hotel in Miami during Art Basel.

Curious about the copper pineapple pictured above? It’s symbolic of the filtration process done by hand in a 1921 copper rectification still, or a Column 51, as it’s called, and made entirely of copper.  The copper purifies the vodka and lends a silky texture and taste. While we enjoy a mixed drink, we enjoy this luxury vodka martini-style, up, cold, and a little dirty. For those who are more adventurous behind the bar, we’ve included a fabulous cocktail recipe below. As Keith Richards says, “I’ll have a screwdriver and throw a hammer in it!”  Take our word for it, this is is one heck of hammer!

Recipe:

Driving Miss Daisy

4 PARTS ABSOLUT ELYX
2 PARTS SWEET VERMOUTH
6 PARTS HIBISCUS FLOWER TEA
3 PARTS SUGAR SYRUP
2 PARTS FRESHLY SQUEEZED LEMON JUICE
2 THUMBNAIL SLICES GINGER

COPPER PINEAPPLE VESSEL, GARNISHED WITH EDIBLE FLOWERS

SHAKE AND STRAIN INTO COPPER PINEAPPLE OVER CUBED ICE. CAP WITH CRUSHED ICE AND GARNISH

 

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Fast Cars and Fabulous Hotels – Porsche and Four Seasons Pair Up

Porsche Headquarters Atlanta, GA

Porsche Headquarters Atlanta, GA

You already know we are big fans of Atlanta, when we wrote about a weekend getaway there,  and while there a stay at the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta is the icing on the cake! When we learned that the stunning hotel hooked up with Porsche we couldn’t wait to find out more and share the news with you, our wonderful readers.

Porsche Experience Center

Porsche Experience Center

Porsche brings an extraordinary driving experience and has upped the ante with their Porsche Experience Center located in Atlanta, GA. The center features a 1.6 mile driver development track, a fine dining restaurant, classic car gallery, restoration center, human performance center, and driving simulator lab.

Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta

Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta

Pairing up with Four Seasons and their “Extraordinary Experiences” program was a natural fit for Porsche. Customers of the Experience Center enjoy special VIP treatment at this Midtown Mecca including special rates and amenities, spa discounts and food and beverage credits. Fast cars + a fine hotel = a fabulous fit!

For more information please visit,  www.porschedriving.com/centers/Atlanta or www.fourseasons.com/atlanta

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Up Next: Asheville Wine & Food Festival August 20-22

ChefChallenge4-28

We continue our adventures in good taste exploring the country’s best wine and food festivals. One to add to the list is the Asheville Wine and Food Festival, set in the beautiful backdrop of the North Carolina Mountains. In its 7th year, this year’s festivities kick off with ELIXIR, a craft cocktail contest which reveals the area’s best mixologists. Local distilleries including Blue Ridge Distilling, Davis Valley Distillery, and TOPO Distillery will be present.

Asheville

On Friday evening, enter Candyland , with the festival’s SWEET event celebrating desserts, champagne, wine, spirits, and shopping. We’re most excited about Saturday’s Grand Tasting, a three-tier tastings taking place at the U.S. Cellular Center located in downtown Asheville. Local and international wineries, area breweries, regional distilleries, restaurants, artisan food producers, chefs, and more will all be present showcasing the best delectable eats and quenchy drinks. We can not wait!

Photo courtesy of the Hotel Indigo

Photo courtesy of the Hotel Indigo

Fantastic accommodations at the nearby Hotel Indigo put us right in the center of the action. I’m especially excited for this decadent weekend as a celebration of the big 4 0 -1 as I like to call it, i.e. turning 39. Hoping to cheers and celebrate with you there. For more information and for tickets, please visit Asheville Wine & Food.

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Bali Hi: An Island Resort in Paradise

Photo courtesy of Royal Davui Island Resort

Photo courtesy of Royal Davui Island Resort

Grahame Southwick comes to our rescue.

Actually, I think he just wants to join our party on a secluded pocket-sized cay in the South Pacific.  Surrounded by a cobalt expanse so varied in blues it might have been painted by David Hockney, we relax atop blankets sipping bloody marys and nibbling Lilliputian quiches. Though the waves roar and a siege of black and white gulls cackle away, nature mutes its own noise, fusing the cacophony into a meditative silence. On a breakfast picnic, we’ve taken over this cloistered islet as if we were the Swiss Family Robinson shipwrecked in the possession of a master chef. In truth, its our hotel, Royal Davui, located on its own private island nearby (just a bit bigger than this one) that arranged our outing. They have supplied this breakfast repast of Babette proportions. We’ve spent the morning searching for shells, sunning and storytelling, and now its time to return to civilization—that is if you consider Royal Davui, an 8-acre island with 16 vales (villas) perfectly perched on volcanic cliffs , a new spa, pristine beaches, a tree house restaurant, and fairytale foliage, to be “civilization.” I call it heaven.

Photo courtesy of Royal Davui Island Resort

Photo courtesy of Royal Davui Island Resort

Enter Grahame Southwick: adventurer, shark wrestler, sailor, tuna fishing entrepreneur, fifth-generation Fijian, and owner of  Royal Davui, located just 45 minutes from Nandi by helicopter. He docks his rotomodeled, fiberglass 14-foot Hobie Wave—one of two the hotel has on hand for guests to sail,–and points out that this sandy cay might disappear with the tide. We help pack up the crusts and detritus from our meal, and stand with Grahame on the sand. The sun illuminates his handsome, weather-worn face, while he tells us about the wrecked ship he salvaged from the sea, carried to Royal Davui, then resunk near the reef just to add extra romance to the already fish-flocked waters—a clear boon for divers.  Suddenly, as if summoned by a bell, his eyes widen. Grahame focuses on the vista—as if for the very first time. “Just look at that,” he says. He gestures to the horizon, which features a mesmerizing blanket of blues as far as the eye can see.–and absolutely nothing else.  We internalize his passion for this island nation, an archipelago of more than 300 islands, only 100 of them occupied. Fiji. Not Tahiti. Not Hawaii. This is a world apart. Though its time to sail back, we ponder the gravitas of this setting, and the strange loud quietude. Though in the middle of nowhere, we are everywhere. Here, on this Fijian motu, the world feels entirely enormous, but comfortingly intimate, too.

Photo courtesy of Royal Davui Island Resort

Photo courtesy of Royal Davui Island Resort

 

So, clinging to Grahame’s fast speeding sailboat (did I mention he’s a world class Hobie racer?), we rollick through the waves to the tranquility and romance of adults only Royal Davui. When we return, legions of staff (the guest to staff ration must be 3-to-1) greet us ebulliently, as if we’ve been gone a very long time—or as if they thought we’d never return. But, then, that’s what happens in Fiji. People welcome you—like family. When they say “bula (their catch-all word, like aloha, which translates to welcome), they mean it. Still, this amicable spirit feels more embracing on Royal Davui than anywhere else.  They don’t just welcome you at this have onf barefoot luxury—they adopt you.  So, like family we enjoy our stay. We retire to our villa’s private plunge pools, tropical drink in hand; we grab snorkeling equipment and take to the reef; and we cuddle up in the love shack—a hidden spot overlooking the Pacific with couples in mind. One day we visit a neighboring island village to attend church—and watch the local children’s choir croon. Some days we do nothing at all.

Just like you do when you visit family. (royaldavuifiji.com)

Fun Facts:

Drink Kava, the “relaxing” national beverage which looks like mud and tastes like dirty socks. Residents meet and greet you with it, and sip it all day.

The official language of Fiji is English—though Fijian is spoken. Literacy rate is almost 94 percent.

Fiji’s waters are home to over 1,500 species of sea life.

Fiji’s waters are home to over 1,500 species of sea life.

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The Perfect Summer Sipper – Apricot Sour Recipe from The INN

Photo Courtesy of the INN, Montgomergy Center, Vermont

Photo Courtesy of the INN, Montgomery Center, Vermont

School’s out, vacations have started, and the days and nights of sultry summer have begun. Here at VODA we think the best way to beat the heat is with a crisp, cool cocktail and this one from The INN located in Vermont fits the bill perfectly!

Combine:

1.5 oz dried apricot-infused brandy

1.5 oz whiskey

2 oz home-made sour mix

Orange slice

Maraschino cherry

Directions:

To infuse the brandy, simply soak a bottle of standard brandy overnight with dried apricots. The longer the soak the better; it won’t go bad.

For the sour mix, make a standard simple syrup and mix that 1:1 with lemon/lime juice and two egg whites in a mason jar.

Leave enough room in the jar to shake with air.

Garnish with orange slice and cherry.

There’s still time to book a summer getaway to the INN. Located in beautiful Montgomery Center, Vermont, this quaint inn has just 11 rooms. Its surroundings are picturesque and provide the perfect setting for relaxing and sipping on a summer cocktail. The INN is offering a “Three Nights for the Price of Two” package now. For more information visit, www.theinn.us

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La Nuit En Rosé Sails Into New York

Photo credit Guillaume Gaudet

Photo credit Guillaume Gaudet

It’s summer and it this is the sultry season for sipping rosé while enjoying some of the seasons most succulent summer foods. In this all Rosé and Rosé Champagne event, La Nuit En Rosé is sailing into New York’s Hudson River on the Hornblower Infinity Yacht on Thursday, June 25 – Saturday, June 27. This almost all-sold out event returns this year with even more to offer including VIP Rosé Wine Pairing Dinner, a VIP Lounge, more than 150 rosé wines, and live entertainment. There’s still space available to attend Saturday’s general admission cruise from 1 PM – 4 PM, so don’t miss out!

Stemmari Rose bottleshot

 

Rosés from Italy, France, and New York will be featured at the event and will include STEMMARI ROSÉ 2014 Sicily, Italy; Château Sainte Marguerite, Cuvée Symphonie Rosé 2014 Provence; Cru Classé Côtes de Provence, Domaine Montrose rosé 2014; Languedoc Roussillon, Pays d’Oc; Bridge Lane Rosé 2014 New York, North Fork of Long Island; Ca’ del Bosco Annamaria Clementi Rosé Italy, Lombardy, Franciacorta Riserva DOCG. All of these wines retail for under $25 with the exception of the last mentioned, which sells for $100.

Rosé wine sales are at an all time high in the U.S. with reason! These easy-sipping wines are the perfect pair to chilled summer foods including seafood, salads and sushi. They are elegant to the eye and on the lips and are always best served well chilled. La Nuit’s founder, Pierrick Bouquet created this event to celebrate what is called the “rosé lifestyle.” Food is provided at the event by exquisite restaurants including STK, Butter & Scotch, and my personal favorite Fig & Olive. Dress code is none other than “Pink Chic.” Don’t miss this one! For more information visit, http://nuitrose.com/events/2015/la-nuit-en-rose-new-york

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Weekend Getaway Where to Go Next – Atlanta

The fifth annual Atlanta Food & Wine Festival gave us reason to find our way back to this hot city often referred to as Austin’s sister city. I’d describe it as a grown-up version of Austin – the older sister who exudes confidence and grace while still retaining their fun-loving, playful side. In the all too short weekend visit we packed a lot into a city that has loads to offer and we share our must-dos with you below.

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Photo credit Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta

Stay

Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta

What better way to check into a property on a Friday afternoon then to start off with happy hour … in the Spa! Monday through Friday this midtown Mecca offers spa happy hour complete with two 25 minute treatments of choice and a glass of sparkling wine or sparkling cider for the teetotalers. It’s just the right prescription for kickstarting the weekend in a stress-free and fun state. Rooms are casually comfortable with all the luxuries of home (or what one could wish for at home). Bathrooms are adorned with ample-sized vanities and marble bath and showers with brass features. Service is, as always, top notch! www.fourseasons.com/atlanta/

Ritz-Carlton Atlanta

Get a taste of the downtown flavor at this ornate jewel box of a property situated in the heart of the city on Peachtree Street. We loved the look of the terrace dining at the Atlanta Grill. Flawless check-in with a welcome glass of Prosecco sets the tone. Views from top-floor rooms are like none other – we overlooked the ferris wheel and felt like we were part of the city skyline. The complimentary hotel car gets you where you need to be in comfort and style. www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Atlanta/

Eat

Atlanta Grill at the Ritz-Carlton

This is the place to dine downtown. Pick a seat in the cozy, yet elegant dining room or choose a more casual perch on the terrace overlooking the city streets as you watch the action below. Chef Shaun Thomas under the direction of Executive Chef, Ramesh Kaduru, turned out bites so delectable we swooned even more over each course. Sommelier Brian White offers gracious hospitality as he guided us through the interesting wine list and offered his suggestions to complement the courses perfectly. We sipped a French rosé from Provence paired with Chef’s rabbit terrine and were delighted with the Vacqueras Blanc, Chateau de Montmirail, Rhone Valley white wine we enjoyed with grilled octopus. Brian steered us in the right direction with a Russian River Valley pinot noir that enhanced the “Fish n Grits” style grouper.

 

Photo credit Katie Lesnick

For dessert, he shared with us a very special, and small production, Patron Anejo Tequila, one of his own personal bottles. It was the perfect ending to a perfect meal. www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Atlanta/Dining/AtlantaGrill/

Lure

Be sure to make reservations at cool and hip hotspot. I cozied up to the bar and ordered  a well-crafted margarita while waiting for a table. A well-rounded, seafood-centric menu tempted us to keep things simple as my dining companion and I shared several courses including Cobia Ceviche, Yellowfin Tuna Crudo, and Tuna Conserva salad. Service was friendly and efficient. Get there early if you wish to get a seat at the three-deep bar. www.lure-atlanta.com

The Café at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead

Be an uptown girl (or boy) for the evening at this upscale outpost for fine, yet comfortable dining. Enter through the lounge with live music wafting through the air as you find your seat in the main dining room. We couldn’t resist a sushi start as we eyed the sushi chef and fresh offerings passing through the lounge area on our way to the dining room. We started with the Ritz Roll – Spicy Tuna topped with Tuna and, of course, Caviar. Dinner was a rich Halibut paired with Lafite, Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux, France suggested by sommelier Linda Torres. My dining companions were content with a rich Bordeaux that complimented a classic burger and beet salad. www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Buckhead/Dining/TheCafe/

Play

Piedmont Park

It’s all about the balance. Situated in midtown, Piedmont Park sits on 189 acres and plays host to a variety of events and is the perfect backdrop for a stroll or jog. We laced up our running shoes and sweated out some of the previous night’s toxins. In addition to the walking and jogging paths, the park has picnic areas, tennis, playgrounds, and the Lake Clara Meer dock. Don’t miss this little slice of heaven on your visit to Atlanta. www.piedmontpark.org

Photo courtesy of  High Museum of Art

Photo courtesy of High Museum of Art

High Museum of Art

Known as one of the leading museums in the Southeast, this stunner has more than 14,000 pieces of works in its collection. Not to be missed are the Gordon Parks photography exhibition, the Coca-Cola bottle exhibition, and the Los Trompos installation on the Piazza. www.high.org

Photo credit Andrew Thomas Lee

Photo credit Andrew Thomas Lee

Empire State South

Also in midtown is the a gem of an adult playground with indoor/outdoor areas. Inside candlelight tables set the mood for intimate dining with friends while the lively bar provides a perch for those looking for a more energetic vibe. The outdoor space is dressed with patio tables and chairs, adirondaks, and a bocce ball court runs straight through the middle of it all. Cocktail service is not provided outdoors – the only flaw at this dynamic dining and drinking spot. Drinks are prepared with care, the bites are to die for, and the wine list is well thought out. Add this to the list on your next visit to Atlanta! www.empirestatesouth.com

Photo credit Nicole Carbon

Photo credit Nicole Carbon

Intermezzo

Linger and lounge at Intermezzo – one of the best people watching spots in all of midtown. It sits on the corner of Peachtree Street. Pretend you’re in Paris as you find a seat on their outdoor terrace lined with marble-topped cafe tables adorned with a petite vase of flowers. We took refuge from the rain and sipped on a sparkling rosé cava, it is was divine. www.cafeintermezzo.com

Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

Photo credit Nicole Carbon

Photo credit Nicole Carbon

It’s not too early to start making your plans for next year’s festivities taking place June 2-5, 2016. In its fifth year, the festival stunned with world-renown chefs from the Southeast. We sipped and nibbled our way through the South. In addition to the tasting tents, don’t miss the seminars. These are led by top industry professionals in a fun, yet educational setting. We attended Eric Crane’s and Andrew McNamara’s “Acid is Your Friend” seminar and learned all about what “quenchy” wines are and why you should be drinking them now. Crane is an advanced sommelier and Director of Training and Business Development for Empire Distributors and McNamara is a Master Sommelier and Director of Fine Wine for Premier Beverage Company. We learned that, “alcohol is a social lubricant,” and high acid wines do not cause dry mouth often associated with high tannic wines. With high acid wines, “conversation flows,” so these are the perfect dinner party wines. Examples of high acid wines that we tasted included Veuve Cliquot Rosé, Pewsey Vale Riesling, and Luc Belaire Rosé. Yum and quenchy! There’s so much more to this dynamic city that we didn’t yet experience and are happy to have reason to go back for more! www.atlfoodandwinefestival.com

 

 

 

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Shoeless Swank: Even Brides Go Barefoot at Parrot Cay

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Photo Credit Parrot Cay

It might be just a dream. Or, at least a gauzy memory inspired by a chick flick.

I have one foot out of the diaphanous mosquito netting that wraps my Balinese style bed, before I recognize that this is reality. I awaken at a villa that overlooks the azure Caribbean Sea on a beach with bridal-bouquet white sand. That swirl of white crescent and bit of blue out my window couldn’t be more apropos. That’s because I’ve come here to attend a wedding—and the scene set by the landscape is nature’s altar. At Como’s Parrot Cay, a private island retreat in the Turks & Caicos’s my childhood friend will tie the knot. It was her brilliant idea to buy out all 1,000 intimate acres of this tony resort, to make the entire isle her own for this fete of a lifetime. Though this will be her day, my stay at this gorgeous resort to celebrate her big moment, seems more like her wedding gift to me.

A half hour’s boat ride from Providenciales, Turks & Caicos’ biggest island and home to its airport, Parrot Cay occupies its own remote island–just one of this nation’s forty-odd cays and islets. Set amid the worlds’ third largest coral reef, far flung enough from other resorts and islands to feel like Robison Crusoe’s home, the serene resort beckons as a haven. It’s the place for celebrities to hide out (though visit and you’re like to glimpse one), for honeymooners hankering to focus on one another, and for families who understand the concept that sometimes doing nothing at all is really doing everything.

Photo Credit Parrot Cay

Photo Credit Parrot Cay

With 75-rooms and suites—some that dot the very edge of the beach–, a colonial style main house, and a handful of two-and-three-bedroom villas and larger estate houses, which scatter down the shoreline like tide-deposited seashells, Parrot Cay makes the perfect place for a destination wedding of any size. Since an island buy out can service approximately 200 people, weddings held here tend to be small—even at their largest. But, couples do bring groups of more diminutive proportions as well, holding ceremonies on the beach, on the verandahs of sea-facing villas, and in the spa. Some brides and grooms come alone, choosing to borrow staff to serve as their witnesses—and letting the hotel wedding planners organize every romantic detail.

Photo Credit Parrot Cay

Photo Credit Parrot Cay

For this wedding extravaganza, I’ve brought my family. And, why not? There’s plenty to amuse kids here. Besides sandcastle building, the resort offers a bevy of complimentary beach toys and activities, from Stand-Up-Paddleboards to sailboats to bikes, and staff can organize scavenger hunts around the island, and outings to kid-pleasing places like Iguana Island, where giant lizards roam en masse like the dinosaurs of yore. Wedding guests, groomsmen and maids can likewise entertain themselves. Besides an infinity pool, ringed by linen-capped day beds, Parrot Cay offers daily Pilates and yoga, and customizes itineraries to include sunset cruises, snorkeling expeditions, diving outings, and deep sea fishing adventures. The Shambhala Spa, renowned for its principles of Ayurvedic wellness, offers a number of treatments ideal for wedding parties and guests with a penchant for unraveling the knots. The bride and I both choose the Javanese Royal Lular Bath—a Balinese wedding tradition, which involves being scrubbed with ginger, turmeric and sandalwood, before being slathered with yoghurt.

For the few days before the wedding, I set up housekeeping at one of the three-bedroom villas, rumored to be owned by Keith Richards. Of course, he’s not in residence, and I’m not doing much housekeeping, as the villas come with their own handy butlers. Ours is called Robert, and he’s been trained at one of London’s most prestigious academies of butlerdom. One thing he apparently learned in London is mindreading. Just at the moment I feel a pang of hunger and hear the sounds of my children astir, Robert arrives cheerfully balancing a large tray holding strong coffee, eggs benedict and house-made granola with apples and nuts. As I sit beside our villa’s personal pool, nibbling my breakfast, and looking out at the sea, I thank my old friend, the bride-to-be for planning a wedding in a destination that’s also fun for me.

Photo Credit Parrot Cay

Photo Credit Parrot Cay

After some pre-wedding day activities, and plenty of lounging in the sun, I receive a message from the bride, which she sends to everyone. “Don’t you dare wear shoes today,” she says. Though I’ve packed some heels I bought just for this event, I understand. After time spent at this barefoot chic retreat, I comprehend that its elegance is stripped down to nature’s essence, that to hobble through the sand in four-inch heels, would be to disrupt the cadence of a wedding in paradise. So, with my gossamer formal wear, I don flip-flops, and so do my kids. We arrive to the main beach to see it simply transformed. There’s a sheer white carpet leading to an arch bedecked with artful assemblages of white blossoms. The air smells of frangipani. Though a violin softly is played, the waves whispering as they meet the sand create soul-stirring background music. White lounge chairs in a row beckon. Some columns, wrapped in filmy material contrast with the ocean beyond. And, the bride and groom, highlighted by the sapphire expanse, appear as flowers themselves. A short but beautiful ritual ensues. It ends when the local celebrant says, “By the laws of these islands and the laws of your hearts, I declare you husband and wife.”

And then, the party begins.

For information on a legal marriage in the Turks & Caicos, see the marriage certification page at: http://www.turksandcaicostourism.com/license-requirements.html. Keep in mind that one option is a symbolic wedding ceremony, which is ideal, too, for vow renewals.

Parrot Cay:  Consider the Kurnia Package, which organizes the wedding ceremony for up to ten guests, US $3,500; For more information on wedding packages offered by Parrot Cay, go to their website: http://www.comohotels.com/parrotcay/events-and-facilities/weddings-and-celebrations/ceremonies-and-packages

Seeking out the most romantic locales to tie the knot in the world, wedding expert and travel writer Becca Hensley has attended weddings in a plethora of far flung destinations. She always packs more than one pair of shoes.

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