You’ll soon be able to journey right into space to get up close and personal with the stars. But not all of us have that kind of cash just lying around. Despite the rampant light pollution, there are still places here on earth that are great for taking a break to marvel at the night sky. Here are a few of those spots, as designated by the International Dark-Sky Association.
Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, New Zealand
The park, in combination with the Mackenzie Basin on the South Island, is an international dark sky reserve and has had outdoor lighting controls in place since the 1980s. With 23 peaks around 10,000 feet or higher and city lights a long way off, the reserve is a popular stargazing spot and seeks to honor the traditional role of the stars in navigation and folklore in Maori culture.
The Ring of Kerry makes for a fabulous drive full of natural wonders in the daytime. When night falls and the daytrippers are gone, a different but just as spectacular scene plays out overhead. It’s no wonder neolithic monuments tracking the movements of heavenly bodies dot the Iveragh Peninsula. On clear nights, visitors can see the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye.
Ramon Crater, Israel
Situated in the Negev Desert, the crater is actually a geological feature unique to Israel and the Sinai Peninsula called a makhtesh formed by erosion. The desert landscape has proved much more difficult to settle than the densely packed north of Israel, and neighboring communities have made a commitment to preserving the light conditions to promote astrotourism. Interpretive programs and stargazing tours are offered on site.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
At the confluence of the Mojave and Colorado deserts, the park is just far enough away from the bright lights of Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego to put on an outstanding nighttime show. Each November, Joshua Tree is home to the Night Sky Festival. The event this year features an astrophotography workshop and astronomy sessions. At the Star Party on Nov. 10, astronomers will tell the stories of the sky while onlookers can see for themselves through the 20 telescopes on hand.
Elqui Valley, Chile
At the southern edge of the Atacama Desert, about 250 miles north of Santiago is the Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary. It was the first — the total is now four — place to be designated as a dark sky sanctuary. Several observatories line the mountainous terrain, where outside light is kept to a minimum and certain areas are at times off-limits to the public. The sanctuary not only preserves some 90,000 acres for celestial study, but it is also home to several threatened and endangered species.
By Landa Mauriello-Vernon
It’s an oenophile’s dream to taste favorite vintages on their own terroir. As lovers of food and wine ourselves, we’re experienced when it comes to enjoying the world’s best wine regions. It’s a tough job, but we’ll go to great lengths to ensure time well spent for our travelers. From our journeys, here are a few of our favorite wine tours with Virtuoso-preferred partners.
Step out of your room and into a vineyard at Casa de Uco, a wine resort in the Uco Valley. In the foothills of the Andes, under a brilliant blue sky, you can taste wines in their natural habitat and learn how much difference even subtle changes in the landscape make to grapes growing within a few hundred yards of each other. Make your own blend at The Vines Resort & Spa, where you can also ride with the Gauchos. There’s plenty of great steaks and fresh produce to pair with your Malbec.
Marlborough, New Zealand
Abercrombie & Kent’s Wine in the Wilderness private tour whisks you away to a remote beach in Abel Tasman National Park. A hike in between a gourmet lunch and a dinner loaded with seafood and local wine helps you burn off the calories while taking in some majestic scenery. Visit a handful wineries outside Picton on ShoreTrips’ 6-hour Marlborough Wine Country Immersion tour. After lunch at one of the world’s southernmost wineries, you’ll stop off at a boutique chocolate shop. It makes for a perfect day trip or shore excursion.
Napa & Sonoma, California
With accommodations at Meadowood Resort and Vineyard and Farmhouse Inn over the course of five days, American Excursionist’s Napa & Sonoma for Connoisseurs leaves no leaf unturned as you get tasting tips from a master sommelier and spend a morning among the vines. At meal times, savor the fruit of those vines at Michelin-starred restaurants as they complement farm-to-table delights. Wine is tops on the list of activities, but cheese and seafood are wonderful in supporting roles.
Bordeaux. Burgundy. Champagne. Côtes du Rhone. France has more than its share of excellent wine regions. Chocolatine’s Tour de France of Wine features vintages from six of those regions at a tasting just footsteps from the Louvre in Paris. In 2 hours, your sommelier will teach you everything from how to read a label to which grapes grow in which regions and why they thrive there. Even if it all goes in one ear and out the other, at the very least you’ll get to taste some extraordinary wines.
Cape Winelands, South Africa
An hour outside Cape Town lie some absolutely gorgeous landscapes that producing world-class wines. The 26-room Mont Rochelle hotel and vineyard offers A Romance Getaway in the Cape Winelands that includes a picnic lunch with a tasting of three varietals. To help you relax even further, there’s also a couples’ hammam session featuring Cape Malay spices and essential oils. Combine the three-night stay with a honeymoon safari or just a break from the city during a Cape Town trip.
Perhaps you’re traveling for business and trying to squeeze in a pleasure trip. Maybe you won’t be back to that part of the world in a while. Possibly you can only get away for a few days. Or you just want a few more days to relax before you head back to work. Whatever the reason, you can explore these destinations in less than a week, either on their own or as part of a longer trip.
Channel Islands, California
Off the coast from Los Angeles, this archipelago is home to a national park and the resort island of Santa Catalina. More than a million visitors arrive on Catalina annually, doing boat tours, snorkeling, and SCUBA diving and enjoying the beach or a nice wine mixer. Five of the chain’s eight islands form Channel Islands National Park. Lindblad Expeditions offers five-day/four-night itineraries out of L.A. on its Base Camp Channel Islands program, which combines wildness and wellness. Mornings begin with yoga or another exercise, and afternoons feature hiking or biking with sightings of rare flora and fauna all along the way.
Fogo Island, Canada
In the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, northeast of New England, Fogo Island makes for a short getaway from the East Coast. Virtuoso-preferred Fogo Island Inn has summer promotions to help you take advantage of the longer, warmer days. For minimum stays of only three nights, the inn is offering workshops with multidisciplinary artist Bruce Pashak with its An Artful Summer or excursions with a naturalist guide in its Flora & Fauna Encounters package. Either shows you the wilds of “an island, off an island, at one of the four corners of the Earth” without spending all your vacation days.
About 1,000 miles west of Lisbon in the middle of the Atlantic, these islands weren’t known to the Portuguese until the 14th century. Mark Twain detailed his 19th-century visit in The Innocents Abroad. Now, they’re a place to stop over for a few days on either end of a trip to Europe, or a long weekend from the East Coast. Each of the nine main islands has a different claim to fame, but there’s an abundant supply of activities out of doors and on the water. Ponta Delgada is the capital, largest municipality and home of the main commercial airport for the Azores. It’s also home to a lively culinary scene.
It’s a long way to New Zealand and Australia. Maybe those are on your bucket list and you’re not going to make it back to that area of the world again. Or maybe you’ve sat through that interminable flight over the Pacific one too many times and need to break up the travel. Either way, these islands in the South Pacific make for romantic stopovers to help you relax before an action-packed itinerary Down Under. On the way home, a couple of days on the beach or lagoon can help you ease into getting over that jet lag or stave off the return to real life. In a pinch, Hawaii isn’t bad, either
Fly Emirates for your safari, and you can plan a stopover in the ultra-posh, oil-rich city. Where else can you go to the Louvre and the beach and ski indoors? Emirates provides a meet & greet service, a welcome pack, hotel accommodations and airport transfers. Check out a polo match, a great Friday brunch or hit the waterpark at Atlantis The Palm. Spend a day or two, then head out to one of 150 destinations from there.
Since living in California, Daniele and I have discovered we really like Zinfandels! Hence, our trip to do wine tasting in Lodi, otherwise known as “the Zinfandel capital” of California.
Macchia winery was referred to us and was our first stop. We loved everything about it from the quaint decor, the excellent customer service, the bocce ball court outside, the two Zinfandels we tried on the tasting list to their motto, “It’s All Good!” I am sure we will be saying that while drinking their two Zinfandels we took home with us!
Our next stop was Klinker Brick Winery. It was busy when we arrived. The Cabernet here was a hit, although I did also enjoy the two Zinfandels I tried. The Cabernet won in making it home with us. The customer service was not the best, which hindered a great experience here, but we met a friendly lady on a beautiful horse outside who recommended we go visit Oak Farm. Her dog, a lab/terrier mix, came to greet us before she did. We showed him some love by petting him as well as her horse before they went on their walk.
We took her suggestion and were off to Oak Farm. We were impressed when we arrived. It was a beautiful upscale winery, a bit more modern in decor than the others we had visited. We had great customer service here and enjoyed the wines we tried. We took home a bottle of a Zinfandel that was rated 91 points by Wine Enthusiast. It was not on the tasting list, but we figured with that rating, we would enjoy it!
Our ride was a little over two hours from where we live to Lodi. It was well worth the drive for us. We saw some new places and experienced a couple of great wineries and wines. Meeting the lady on the horse was an extra added bonus. I love these types of spontaneous encounters that are friendly, while providing you with a referral for a place that we happened to take delight in. Cheers to the Zinfandel capital!