Friday, October 25, 2013

Girls Getaway to Rancho La Puerta - Culinary Week

We visited Rancho La Puerta during culinary week and took part in several cooking classes
at the award-winning La Cocina que Canta. RLP always offers cooking classes but this week featured four guest chefs, an off-site wine tasting and dinner one evening at El Lugar de Nos in Tecate. We had the chance to cook with renowned cookbook authors Deborah Madison, John Ash and Marie Simmons. Madison taught us recipes from her Vegetable Literacy cookbook and encouraged us to play with her recipes, making substitutions inspired by our preferences and the season. I made Venetian cookies in her class, subbing blue cornmeal for yellow and replacing half the almonds with pine nuts for a little something out of the ordinary. Our lunch feast was like Thanksgiving for vegetarians, complete with the requisite food coma. There was no way I would make it to abs and cycle class that afternoon!

The next day, we fried avocado fritters to serve with paprika aioli with John Ash, James
Beard award-winning cookbook author and the Father of Wine Country Cuisine. It was our first time deep-frying anything, but by how quickly the fritters were snapped up, I think they were a success. Marie Simmons has published many beautiful cookbooks, including several on specific ingredients, from figs and honey to eggs. As a fig-lover, I was pleased that several recipes we made with her, from fresh fig quesadillas to a fig and tomato salad, included my favorite fruit.

As part of culinary week at the ranch, we also had the chance to go off-site twice. We had a spectacular dinner at El Lugar de Nos, where the chef is a former chef at the ranch. Their tacos were some of the best I’d ever had...thin, crispy and more reminiscent of quesadillas than the messy overstuffed tacos I’m used to in the States. Two varieties were served: one filled with pork, beef and lamb shoulder that had been braised for 84 hours and a vegetarian option with hibiscus flowers, caramelized onions and goat cheese.

Thursday we learned about Baja’s burgeoning wine scene at the Vine & Wine Museum and
then toured two local wineries, Baron Balch’e and the picturesque vineyard and inn at Adobe Guadalupe.The climate in Baja is best suited for red wines and I tasted a couple Bordeaux blends and Merlots that were impressive.

La Cocina que Canta’s Executive Chef Denise Roa did an incredible job planning the programming for culinary week. Every event was lively, fun and we also had  the chance to explore local wine and cuisine. It’s been such a success that Rancho La Puerta already has plans to make this a semi-annual event. Start booking your tickets for spring and autumn 2014!

Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago. To find out more about Amber, visit  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Girls Getaway to Rancho La Puerta

Just south of the border is the best destination spa and resort in the world, Rancho La Puerta. I’m
not just saying that. They were rated the best destination spa by Travel + Leisure for 2013 and they’ve won in three of the last four years. More than half of the people here are returning guests (some have been coming here for more than 30 years!) and after a week in paradise, I can see why.

Rancho La Puerta is in Mexico just an hour’s drive from San Diego, and the resort provides a comfortable shuttle bus from the airport. Someone from the resort will even collect your passport at the Mexican border so you don’t have to wait to go through customs. Who has time for that? Relaxation and beauty await!

The entire Rancho La Puerta experience is like summer camp for adults. Everyone eats in a
common dining at set meal times to build camaraderie. The gorgeous dining hall is a great place to meet other guests, all of whom I found to be lovely people. Meals are vegetarian with a few pescatarian options at dinner and the food is incredibly fresh and flavorful. All of the produce is from the RLP garden located at the cooking school, La Cocina que Canta. I was so well-fed but everything was also so healthy that I never felt bad about indulging. From a plethora of milk alternatives (almond milk was my favorite) at breakfast to an entire gluten-free spread, RLP will happily accommodate any allergies or dietary restrictions. 

Dinners were four-course affairs, with soup, salad, an entree and dessert. Some of my favorite entrees included barley and wild rice risotto with sauteed vegetables and yellowfin tuna with blistered tomato vinaigrette. Desserts, like fig tart with berry compote, come in small portions with minimal sugar and fat, but were so tasty I never felt like I was eating diet food. Some may come to RLP to lose weight, but the focus is really on overall wellness and nourishing your body.

Each day there are a multitude of activities to choose from, including a variety of fitness classes
(tennis to TRX to pilates), art classes (sketching or jewelry making) and classes focused on healing your body and soul (Feldenkrais, Watsu or meditation). Each morning you have the chance to join one of several hikes along and around Mount Kuchumaa, a sacred mountain of the Kumeyaay Indians. I took part in an organic breakfast hike that ended at La Cocina que Canta for a farm fresh meal of scrambled eggs, beans, granola, muffins and fresh fruit. The great food and watching the sunrise were definitely worth waking up at 5 am for!
At RLP, I could be as relaxed or busy as I wished. Lounging by the pool and getting spa treatments is a perfectly acceptable alternative to cardio workouts. Here, it’s all about personal rejuvenation, health and happiness. I enjoyed both a custom facial and back facial scrub that were very calming and cleansing.

Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago. To find out more about Amber, visit 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Great Wine-Region Getaways for Fall

Autumn is prime time to tour the vineyards that dot the nation's every corner, when temperatures are cool and foliage is at its most flamboyant. From the rocky coast of New England to the lush valleys of Washington State, find grape-stomping events, harvest festivals, cook-offs, and more. Thanks to the folks at Smarter Travel for these top wine destinations to get your (grape) juices flowing.

Russian River Valley, California

Popular year-round because of its moderate climate, the Russian River Valley is best visited during Russian River Valley Winegrowers website. Besides wine, autumn travelers can find fine dining and luxe accommodations, especially in Healdsburg, an epicenter where three of California's major wine regions (the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley) meet. Active visitors can take leisurely bicycle rides alongside vividly colored vineyards on Westside and Eastside roads or kayak in the Russian River, lined by crimson and gold leaves.
crush season, when trellised grapes are plucked and harvest festivities kicked off (and when fewer travelers are in the area than in summer). Located in the very heart of Sonoma County, this world-class wine region churns out cool-climate varietals shaped by temperate Pacific Ocean fogs. Smooth Pinot Noirs and rich Chardonnays have made the valley famous, and you've likely heard of some of the region's notable wineries, such as Kendall-Jackson, Sonoma-Cutrer, and Korbel. Smaller cellars and boutiques also abound; search for the right fit on the

Finger Lakes, New York

October brings explosions of color to the Finger Lakes' forested shores and scenic roads, making this
a popular getaway for city slickers in search of fall foliage (after all, it's mere hours from both New York City and Toronto). Recently voted by TripAdvisor as one of the top wine destinations in the U.S. (ranking up there with usual heavy hitters Sonoma and Napa), the Finger Lakes region has earned the admiration of wine enthusiasts for its distinctive terroir and resultant minerally Rieslings. Take one of three major wine trails that meander around Cayuga, Keuka, Canandaigua, and Seneca lakes, where the deep, cold waters and rolling hillsides provide the perfect microclimate for the area's signature delicate Rieslings and Gewurztraminers, seasonal honey meads, and fruit wines. Quaint 18th-century villages and homey B&Bs, cozy homes away from home after long days on the dusty trail, pepper the lakeshores, while outdoorsy travelers can hole up in one of the campgrounds, cottages, or cabins nestled in the surrounding state parkland.

New England Coastal Wine Trail

Stretching from Cape Cod through coastal Connecticut, this wine trail comprises a tight collection of nine wineries known for their European-style whites (the result of the trail's seaside location and cool climate). During fall, the scenic two- or three-day journey alternates between coastal vistas and serene country landscapes and takes you through miles of New England's signature fall foliage. In Massachusetts, sip Westport Rivers' Westport Brut RJR, a tart, many-medaled sparkling wine, which has been served in three White House administrations. Or take a spin southward to sample Newport Vineyards' slate of reds, whites, ports, and rich harvest ice wines before touring Newport's famed mansions just minutes away. Usually overrun by tourists in summer, the historic port and its thrilling cliff walk are ideal to visit in fall.

Willamette Valley, Oregon

Dotted by small towns, rich farmland, and forests of golden aspen and scarlet huckleberry shrubs, Oregon's Willamette Valley is equally well traveled by adrenaline junkies, who seek out the area's adventure activities, and gourmands, who nosh their way through numerous restaurants and wineries. Already a top wine-producing region and a glorious visit in fall, the valley was dubbed "the Burgundy of the states" by Wine Enthusiast for its highly rated Pinot Noir varietal. The region is known for its many sustainable, biodynamic labels as well as its independent, unpretentious vibe. Explore the main wine trails on the Willamette Valley Visitors Association website or order the travel guide to help you navigate the vineyards, shops, and more. And, with a characteristic nip in the air, the Willamette Valley is a place to be outdoors during fall: Hike the McKenzie National Recreation Trail, picnic along the McKenzie River Highway, or drive along I-5 with its covered bridges, wooden barns, and signature red-and-gold foliage.

Yakima Valley, Washington

Another Northwestern gem, the Yakima Valley is a true original, a remarkably diverse expanse that makes up the first official wine-producing region in Washington State. Here, at the ends of narrow country roads threading their way through sun-soaked miles and forested acres of orange and butter-yellow leaves, find dozens of wineries that espouse the region's progressive, pioneer spirit—many producing wines that are certified sustainable, organic, and salmon-safe, an important designation for the Pacific Northwest. Visitors can scale Red Mountain for eco-friendly wines from Terra Blanca, or get a taste of the back roads on the Roads Less Traveled route; this itinerary takes you to Sleeping Dog Wines and its resident "guardian cat." At the end of whichever winding drive you choose, stop in historical Yakima city for its North Front Street boutiques, tasting rooms, and galleries, or tour the local farms for Pacific Northwest produce, including grapes, apples, and pears.

Monticello Wine Trail, Virginia

With a palette of red sassafras and deep-purple sweet gum, the Monticello Wine Trail, dating back to the dawn of the Revolution, welcomes visitors seeking cooler weather and peaceful tasting rooms along snaking Virginia roads. When famous first settler Thomas Jefferson settled Monticello estate, he envisioned the area as thriving wine country to compete with Old World vines. Now, the region is considered the birthplace of American wines, and boutique wineries sprinkle the countryside along with AAA Four Diamond B&Bs and restaurants, moderate hiking trails, and fruit orchards. The Monticello appellation is broken up into four major loops—Northern, Eastern, Western, and Southern—that wend through the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding historical towns. The Southern loop contains some of the region's oldest vines, including Jefferson Vineyards, established in 1774 (try its consistently popular Viognier and Rose, both of which feature only fruit grown in Virginia). But be sure to begin with a visit to remarkable Monticello before hitting the road (tickets start at $24 for adults and $8 for children).

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Five Top Off-Peak Fall Destinations

Along with sweaters and pumpkin-spice lattes, fall brings travel deals galore. In select regions, a short-lived harmony of still-somewhat-summery weather and slashed shoulder-season prices creates the perfect conditions for the frugal traveler. This year, Smarter Travel identified five especially fabulous destinations where off-season pricing is ripe for the pickin'.


One of the most cost-prohibitive parts of a Caribbean vacation is often the flight, but, generally, the
more flights available to an island, the more competitive the fares to get there. Barbados' extensive service via most major U.S. carriers—including JetBlue, American, Delta, and US Airways—makes it a budget-friendly pick for beach-seeking travelers, especially during fall.
When peak-season fares for travel in January were tested, the lowest available fare came to $500 round-trip. Fares for about $100 less were readily available for late October and early November departures.  Add to that the many seasonal price drops and deals that spring forth in Barbados come fall and you have even more reasons to visit. The Barbados Tourism Authority is offering a wide-ranging "free spending money" deal for those who visit the island before December 21: Receive up to $200 per person when you book with participating hotels, car-rental providers, and attractions. On top of that, lower seasonal prices provide even more savings: For example, at this participating Cassia Heights Island Villa, nightly rates are $150 cheaper in fall compared to winter.

Martha's Vineyard

A favorite summer-vacation spot for the first family, this cosmopolitan resort island in the Atlantic peaks in July and August. Needless to say, when flashing motorcades and crowds of Manhattanites and Bostonians invade the beachy fishing community, prices for rentals and hotel accommodations become quite prohibitive. But in September and October, when the weather is a bit brisk but still perfect for sipping a martini on an oceanfront patio, those of us who don't use "summer" as a verb can find some super-cheap travel deals.  Compare fall rates to summer rates at countless local hotels to see what we mean. Lower fall seasonal prices are on offer at nearly every Vineyard property, it seems: Third nights are free at Winnetu Oceanside Resort; starting nightly rates at Hob Knob drop from $425 in summer to $250 in fall; and second nights are half off at Ashley Inn in September.
Even flights can be quite affordable during this time of year. We spotted round-trip airfare from New York to Martha's Vineyard starting at $151, whereas August airfare came in at around $367 round-trip.


It's hard to overstate the price difference between high- and low-season flights to Europe. For
example, we found flights to Berlin from New York in October for less than $700 round-trip on Air Berlin—a much more palatable price than the well-over-$1,000 fares we saw this summer. But airfare certainly isn't the only aspect of Europe travel that becomes less expensive as temperatures drop. Many river-cruise companies, which offer a budget-friendly way for Americans to avoid unfavorable exchange rates year-round, roll out steeply discounted fares in autumn.
Check out the reduced fares and two-for-one airfare discounts on week-long Rhine cruises this fall. Rates for a veranda cabin on a Rhine getaway with Viking River Cruises are slashed from $7,599 to $3,856 per person in October. Nearly everything, from meals to excursions to onboard activities, is included in the price.


Chicago's full fall calendar pairs well with the seasonal price drops it experiences this time of year. Chicago Gourmet—a huge food and wine event in Millennium Park—takes place at the end of September. Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks seasons kick off. And, at the end of fall, the popular Magnificent Mile Lights Festival heralds the start of the holiday season.  Fortunately, deals aren't hard to find: Hotels all over the city are offering special fall rates and packages, plus seasonal price drops. At the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, take advantage of a third-night-free offer, or receive a $50 hotel credit for every day you stay at the Waldorf Astoria


Hawaii is one of the best off-peak destinations for fall because, despite what the abundance of travel
deals might lead you to believe, the weather is pretty amazing. A top pick for autumn travel is laid-back, lush Kauai, which sees fewer visitors than some of the more popular Hawaiian Islands.
In lieu of hundreds of high-rise hotels, Kauai offers plenty of charming guest cottages and cute B&Bs. The period from the end of summer to just before the holidays is an excellent time to find deals and lower seasonal rates for Kauai's quirky rentals and hideaways. There are plenty with lower nightly rates for the fall season, including this adorable private cottage listed on Airbnb, at which rates drop to as low as $65 per night in September (compared to $95 per night in winter and spring), and this fabulous rental, at which rates dip to $175 in fall (from $215 in summer). Additionally, the Hawaii Tourism Authority website features an extensive list of seasonal accommodation specials for fall stays on the island, including room discounts, free nights, and price breaks on tours and activities.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

12 Days til Christmas Getaway Giveaway Returns For 7th Year

With the holiday season approaching, women’s stress levels start to rise.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in the holiday craze, but the Girls Getaway Guide has a way to give back to women everywhere and help remind them how important it is to spend quality time with their gal pals.

The Getaway Girl® Casey Wohl has launched her Seventh Annual “12 Days ‘til Christmas” holiday promotion.  In an effort to help beat the holiday madness, The Getaway Girl® will host a countdown to the big day.  Women everywhere can visit the Girls Getaway Guide online at to sign up for nearly $12,000 in fabulous travel vacations, which are sure to provide welcome holiday cheer during this stressful time of year.  The promotion has officially started with an open online entry form, and prizes will be given away Dec. 2-20.  On each of the days leading up to Christmas, a terrific Girls Getaway Guide vacation prize will be awarded to a lucky winner.  Prizes include trips to Cancun, Portugal, the Bahamas, Aruba, Puerto Vallarta, Niagara Falls, Mall of America, Orlando, Florida Keys, Eleuthera, and Florida's Emerald Coast.

      This year, prizes have been donated by: Palace ResortsRadisson Aruba Resort, Casino & SpaHawks Cay ResortMartinhal Beach Resort & HotelEleuthera Vacation RentalsCasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & SpaHilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & SpaGaylord Palms ResortBimini Sands Resort & MarinaOrlando Premium OutletsRosen Shingle CreekCountry Inn & Suites and Rosen Centre Hotel.

Wohl is the Travel Correspondent for the nationally-syndicated TV show, Daytime.  She has also been featured on radio and television programs such as CBS Radio, Better TV, The Daily Buzz & NPR.  Her travel topics cover everything from holiday travel to pet travel to girlfriend getaways.  Wohl has received print and online media coverage on nearly 80 national news sites and publications, such as Woman’s Day, Parenting,, Huffington Post,, Hotelier Magazine and  For more information, visit

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Unique Fall Festivals

While most people are flocking to harvest fairs and Oktoberfests, set your sights on something different this festival season. Here are a few unique fall festivals, both stateside and farther afield, that are worth traveling for.  Many thanks to the folks at Smarter Travel for this information.

Lewes Bonfire, Lewes, England (November 5, 2013)

On one night each year—November 5—Brits build enormous bonfires to mark the uncovering of Guy
Fawkes' gunpowder plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in the 17th century. And the biggest celebration of all happens in Lewes, where more than 80,000 people come to see raucous parades with full costumes, flaming torches, fireworks, drum beats, and burning effigies of Fawkes made from old clothes and newspapers. Lewes Bonfire also commemorates the town's Protestant history when 17 burning crosses are carried through town in memory of the 17 martyrs burned at the stake in the Marian persecutions in Catholic England. In Sussex, the official bonfire season runs 10 weeks every fall and various area societies organize pyro-themed festivities. The Battle Bonfire Society's annual parade lights up the infamous Battle of Hastings site late into the night.

Don't Miss: Autumn views of Bodiam Castle and the countryside's fall foliage along the Kent & East Sussex Railway.

The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze, Croton-on-Hudson, New York (October–November 2013)

New York's Sleepy Hollow Country lights up the season with more than 5,000 hand-carved jack-o'-
lanterns during the Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze. The elaborate display at the historic Van Cortlandt Manor in the Hudson Valley runs 25 nights to sell-out crowds. Sip on hot apple cider as you walk through the Tunnel O' Pumpkin Love or check out the carved dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park-themed section. Special sound effects, synchronized lighting, and an original soundtrack add to the glowing spectacle. New this year is an exhibit of more than 20 pumpkin-inspired sculptures created by local artists.

Don't Miss: This fall's other Sleepy Hollow-themed events. Tour the Horseman's Hollow haunted house at Philipsburg Manor and see a dramatic retelling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow performed in the candlelit Old Dutch Church across the street. Washington Irving's grave site at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is within walking distance.

Jidai Matsuri, Kyoto, Japan (October 22, 2013)

For a quick history lesson on Kyoto's 1,200-year past, there's no more visually stunning and
entertaining display than the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Ages), where time literally marches on in chronological order through the old streets of Kyoto. From your spot on the curb, watch thousands of people in period dress representing every era pass by in a grand pageant. You'll see the costumes and customs of the samurai, commoners from feudal times, and women in elaborate kimonos. A military band strikes up ancient imperial court tunes as the masses stream from the palace to the Heian Jingu Shrine in one of Kyoto's biggest festivals of the year. Inside Asia runs tours during the festival.

Don't Miss: Leaf peeping in temple gardens and across Japan's mountainsides. The peak period is late October through late November, when skies are dry and temps hover around 70 degrees.

Dia de los Muertos, Mexico (November 1–2, 2013)

A huge holiday in Mexico, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, dedicates the first two days in
November (All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day) to welcoming back the spirits of the dearly departed. Altars are built and grave sites are decorated into works of art, with candles, purifying incense, brightly colored marigolds, and creative displays of loved ones' favorite foods to help guide the spirits back. You'll find late-night grave-site parties and elaborately decorated altars in public squares throughout Mexico, but the city of Oaxaca is one of the most renowned spots to celebrate this traditional holiday.

Don't Miss: Riviera Maya's celebration. Close to Playa del Carmen and Cancun, the eco-archaeological park Xcaret honors the dead with music, dance, and food. Crowds of locals and visitors gather to walk by torchlight past altars and into a graveyard warmed by the heat and light of thousands of candles.