When my daughters and I rode the chairlift to the top of the Passo Tonale resort this summer, it was easy to see that this would be a great place to ski. On the edge of the Dolomites in the Italian Alps, the area around Ponte di Legno is a dramatic series of limestone mountains, river valleys, pine forests and mountain meadows. It has ski resorts at the pass and right on the edge of town. That’s fine for winter activities, but this mountain terrain is also perfect for summer fun.
It wouldn’t be Italy if there wasn’t a town square where everyone congregates in the mornings and evenings. Ponte di Legno’s is known as September 27 Square (Piazza 27 Settembre) to commemorate a battle with the Austrians in 1917. The piazza straddles the River Oglio, literally. The river runs under the stone piazza, which joins both riverbanks in a seamless merger of cobbled lanes and shops. Outdoor cafes edge the central fountain and look out to the mountains dominating the horizon. We started all of our mornings there, being served every day (and in the evenings too) by the same reliable waiter. (He was always there. When did he sleep?) Continue reading »
The other day I accompanied my daughter’s 6th grade class on a field trip to Calaveras County where we wandered among the big trees (giant sequoias) and camped in the forest by a meadow in one of California’s pristine state parks. I expected awe and inspiration, and a lot of kid fun, and I got that. But I also got some things I didn’t expect.
That’s usually the way with travel. You have some notions about what you’ll experience and at some point the path diverges and you end up someplace you hadn’t planned. A side trip in Calaveras County took me to the Fiji islands, the California 6th graders gave way to a Fijian Sunday school, and I was left awed by the redwoods and the sea. Continue reading »
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It’s climbing season again on Mount Everest, and like most years, it looks to be a busy time at high altitude. The peak period for reaching the summit is a few short weeks in late April and early May, and reports say at least 32 expeditions are planned from the Nepal side. That makes for quite a crowd trying to inchworm its way up the mountain. Tempers, no doubt, will flare.
Just a few days ago, in a widely reported story, things did get out of hand when a crowd of Sherpas fought with three foreign climbers in a dispute over fixing ropes on the route high up the mountain. In a story for National Geographic News, Brot Coburn provides good context for understanding the relationship between Sherpas and foreign climbers, one that has been and continues to be positive in almost all respects. Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book from 1997, Into Thin Air, illustrates how badly things can go wrong when the mountain gets crowded and the weather changes.
But most of us don’t need to worry about the crush of climbers on the route above base camp. Elite mountaineers climb, the rest of us hike — or trek, as they say in Nepal. Continue reading »
As we rolled through the holidays into 2013, I’ve been having daydreams of the Swiss Alps. A few years ago I took my family there in the summer and found the most extraordinary playground on the slopes of the Matterhorn. We spent a blissful day picnicking, hiking, and watching the kids enjoy the slides, swings, ropes, and other playground paraphernalia, all beneath a backdrop of that amazing mountain.
More recently I hiked with friends in the Jungfrau region, basing ourselves in Mürren on the flank of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, what has to be one of the most scenic settings on earth. At other times I’ve explored Geneva, Lausanne, Luzern, St. Moritz, Gindelwald, Appenzell, Chur, and other places, but I’ve never been there in winter. Continue reading »
Many golf dreams begin and end with Pebble Beach. I remember as a kid in snowbound Minnesota watching Bing Crosby and his pals on TV frolicking in the seaside sunshine playing golf with the pros at his annual “clambake”; I remember watching a U.S. Open or two and other PGA events, and I know that that’s where my California dream started. I had to play Pebble Beach.
A few years ago I got my chance, and on one glorious weekend I played Pebble, Spyglass, and the Links at Spanish Bay. All three courses are managed by the Pebble Beach Company, but at the time I’d forgotten about the fourth course in the fold, Del Monte Golf Course, the granddaddy of them all just a few miles inland. Continue reading »
For years I’ve been hearing about the dry snow in Utah, how the mountains around Salt Lake City have the best ski conditions in the West, how Park City and other nearby resorts produce the most memorable ski experiences.
But I live in San Francisco and can be on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe in less than four hours. Lake Tahoe, the place with more ski resorts and ski acreage than any region in the USA, plus the glorious spectacle of the lake from many peaks. Why run off to Utah, or Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or Big Sky, Montana, or Vail or Aspen or Whistler, BC when I live so close to such a winter wonderland?
One reason this winter was the pitiful snowfall in the Sierra. Another was a group of friends from college days who wanted to meet there for a reunion. So, with tickets booked far in advance, I had powder dreams reminiscent of Warren Miller films and couldn’t wait to get going. Continue reading »
One of the great pleasures of travel is reading about places, whether on the road, before you go, or after you’ve returned. The UK’s daily Telegraph recently posted a list of great expat travel books, both memoirs and novels, to get you started dreaming or reminiscing.
And of course a reliable source for superb travel reading is Travelers’ Tales, whose annual Best Travel Writing collections take you all over the world and back. Or Townsend 11, a new e-book series from a San Francisco writers group.
So sit back at home, en route, or abroad, and prepare to be carried away.
Recently I joined a mini reunion of college pals in Sun Valley, Idaho for a trifecta of outdoor activities: mountain biking, fly-fishing, and river kayaking.
Read all about it in the San Francisco Chronicle travel section: Sun Valley’s Summer Rush.
With all of the uncertainty shaking up the world right now (hasn’t it always been this way?) in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Japan, and recently in Egypt and Tunisia, you begin to wonder where you should travel these days and what places you should avoid. The renowned author of many novels and travel books, Paul Theroux, has an answer: go just about anywhere.
He wrote in a recent New York Times essay that if you’re willing to put up with some discomfort and able to be flexible with your movements, the rewards of travel in troubled places are enormous. Such travel can show you the utter stupidity of much human conflict and the inspiring ways people manage to live their lives.
And isn’t that ultimately why we travel? To understand life on our planet and see how others express their humanity?
Rough travel can be, well, rough, and sometimes the lessons learned come only in retrospect, but they are lessons worth learning, now and in the future.
I had coffee this morning with Nikki Rose, old friend and fellow San Francisco transplant who’s spent most of the last decade in Crete, her ancestors’ land. Her specialty? Cooking!
Since 1997 she’s worked to conserve Crete’s cultural and natural heritage through her own version of a slow food movement, engaging more than 40 small business and individuals in “Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries” to offer visitors a taste of traditional Cretan cuisine. Ingredients come from local organic farms, and chefs put a modern twist on the old cuisine so there’s always a tasty surprise.
Her programs have received sustainable development awards from the likes of National Geographic, and she’s booking tours for the summer. Visit artisan food producers, organic farmers, rural communities that have been inhabited for 4,000 years, and take botanical hikes in the land of the Minoans. Explore ancient sites, too.
And of course, eat well.