Tag Archives: hiking

Travel: Turks and Caicos

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New England winters are very vibrant – there is always a lot going on around the Seacoast! In addition, it’s a great time to work on a project (Craig does woodworking and I do stained glass) or just cozy up under an afghan and read a good book next to the woodstove. But winter this year stretched out a little longer than usual and we desperately needed a warm-weather break. Neither of us is enamored with glitzy resorts or all-inclusive destinations. We prefer exploring the culture and cuisine of a Caribbean island that offers great beaches, good hiking and excellent snorkeling. A direct flight is nice too, but not always possible. So, we decided to explore Turks and Caicos this year, which is rumored to have the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Turks and Caicos is an archipelago of 40 low-lying coral islands in the Atlantic Ocean, a British Overseas Territory southeast of the Bahamas. The gateway island of Providenciales, known as Provo, is home to expansive Grace Bay Beach, with luxury resorts, shops and restaurants. Scuba-diving sites include a 14-mile barrier reef on Provo’s north shore and a dramatic 7,000 foot underwater wall off Grand Turk Island. The official language is English and the currency is US dollars. But Providenciales (“Provo” to the locals) was too developed for our tastes (it had a Club Med and similar resorts, high end shopping and expensive restaurants), so we headed for North Caicos – accessible by ferry and very undeveloped.

Our Airbnb host arranged a taxi to meet us at the airport and deliver us to the Caribbean Cruisin’ ferry on the eastern end of the island. She asked if we wanted to stop at a grocery store on the way, but we assured her we would do provisioning on North Caicos. The IGA on Provo is huge with a spectacular selection of food products. (Note to self: Definitely stop and shop on the way to the ferry next time.) The ferry ride gave us our first glimpse of the beaches along the shore. We’ve traveled all over the world, but I must admit, they were most definitely the best we’d ever seen. In fact, the beaches stretch from six to 14 miles along the coast of the islands and are made of soft, white sand like talcum powder that come from the eroding limestone on the islands. The water is a neon aqua and was mesmerizing! When we arrived at the ferry landing on North Caicos, our rental car was waiting (also arranged by our Airbnb host). We followed our host’s Mom to the house and were pleasantly surprised by the location (in the middle of a village named Whitby), and amenities (short walk to the beach, coffee, fruit and bagels in the fridge). The warm, salt air was a delight. We quickly changed clothes and went for a tour of the island and a search for a grocery store.

North Caicos (and the next island over, Middle Caicos) are mostly undeveloped. North Caicos only boasts a population of 1,500. A recent hurricane had frightened the hundreds of flamingoes and they relocated elsewhere in the Caribbean. The huge land crabs roamed across the unpaved roads in the evenings and many of the cement block houses were abandoned. But, we were in a perfect location – within walking distance actually to a grocery store (that got fresh produce on Mondays) and both a great, casual restaurant, the Silver Palm, and the Pelican Beach Bar that served the most amazing pina coladas!

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We stocked up on basic essentials at the grocery store and a bottle of the local Bambarra dark rum at the liquor store and headed back to the house.

Our first full day was spent on the beach, just walking and swimming, and then back to the house to read on the patio. We dined that first night at the Silver Palm Restaurant where the owner/chef Karen and her husband, Poach, spoiled us with fresh seafood (conch fritters and whole fried snapper) and information about the island. Her rum punch is legendary!

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The highlight of our vacation came on Monday with a fishing trip. We had hired a local, Captain D, to take us out for inshore fishing. Trip Advisor reviews raved about him and said that he would clean all the fish you could catch and send it back to your Airbnb rental with you. We were excited about feasting on our own fresh-caught seafood all week. We chartered him from 9-2, spent most of the time fishing and then went snorkeling off the boat (waters were a little choppy) for about an hour before returning to the launch area where he cleaned our fish for us. We caught three good-sized barracuda (the largest one was 32 pounds!) We had seen barracuda with their scary teeth while snorkeling in the past and didn’t know they were edible. Apparently, predator fish at the top of the food chain can carry dangerous toxins, but these fish didn’t pose any problems for us. Captain D told us a few ways to cook the fish, but we opted for the charcoal grill at our rental house and a little lime juice. It was delicious!

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As for hiking, we mostly walked along the beach although we did hike the Middle Caicos Cross Island Trail which wound along the coastline and across pitted limestone cliffs.

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We saw only one other couple on the beach the entire week we were there It was heavenly and very, very relaxing for us. We definitely plan to return some day.

 

Travel: Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast

In mid April, I traveled with my daughter, Gretchen to Castello di Spannocchia (www.spannochia.com ) – an educational center based on an organic farm in Tuscany, 1,100 acres of forests, pastures, and crops of which 900 acres are harvested for forest products; 130 acres are cultivated for grains, legumes, and animal pasture; and 15 acres are dedicated to grapes, olives, and fruit. In addition to maintaining 800 olive trees and a large vegetable garden, Spannocchia raises local heritage breeds of farm animals and produces regionally-recognized salumi (salt cured pork) products. We were there with 20 others to attend a two-week oil painting workshop led by Stan Mohler (www.stanmoeller.com), our favorite local Seacoast artist. Most of the participants stayed in the Villa, but because Gretchen’s partner Daniel and her five-year old daughter Avery were accompanying us, we opted to rent one of the rustic farmhouses on the property.

We prefaced our workshop by spending three days in Rome to explore Italian history, culture and cuisine. Rome was very crowded and although it was early in the season, there were a lot of tourists and groups of school children everywhere. Notable sights we saw were the Roman Forum, where Caesar and other Roman diplomats conducted business and lived, the Pantheon, actually a place of worship but also an architectural marvel with its unsupported domed ceiling, the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican and the Coliseum, where the gladiators fought with each other and with animals (apparently it had sawdust on the floor to absorb the blood from these battles).

When we left Rome, we rented a car and drove to Spannochia where we spent the next two weeks receiving instructions in painting techniques from Stan before spending the day outside in front of our easels attempting to capture the magic of an Italian landscape with a brush and a palette of colors. I was by far the least experienced artist there, but it was inspiring none the less. Daniel watched Avery during the day while Gretchen and I painted. They visited the donkeys, pigs, and chickens, shopped for groceries, took walks and naps. We returned to the farmhouse each day to a fabulous meal that Daniel had cooked!

At the conclusion of our workshop, Gretchen, Daniel and Avery headed to Florence and then to the Italian Rivera to explore. I flew down to Naples to meet Craig just as his flight was arriving from Boston. He had been unable to join me on the Amalfi Coast when I did my culinary arts internship in 2007. I was eager to show him the area, where I had lived and worked and to do some hiking, in particular the Sientiera degli Dei, or Path of the Gods, along the cliffs above Positano.

During our two-week stay in Positano (dubbed citta verticale because the city is virtually built on the side of a mountain) we hiked, took a cooking class and visited a buffalo farm where mozzarella is made. Bufala mozzarella is the best in the world and the buffaloes were treated like royalty! They had “showers” each morning, like the veggies in the supermarket are sprayed with water, got massages, listened to classical music, slept on rubber mats and got itchy backs scratched with large brushes like you’d see in a car wash.

Craig and I really enjoyed the cooking class, which was taught by the chefs at our hotel restaurant, Buca di Bacco (www.bucadibaco.it ). We made eggplant parmesan, gnocchi (potato dumplings) with fresh pesto, homemade tomato sauce, pizza, and an almond cake. Then we got to eat lunch and they provided wine and champagne.

One of our hikes was up hundreds of steps to the top of Positano and another was through a valley where there were remains of paper mills.

The city of Amalfi used to be world famous for its rag paper and it was the primary industry in the area. When all the paper mills closed, the area shifted to raising lemons. The Sfusato di Amalfi lemon is h-u-g-e – like a grapefruit and is more fragrant than the lemons we have in the US. Most of it is used to make a liqueur Limoncello, which is served ice cold.

The last hike that we did was 7.8 miles along the ridge of the Lattari Mountains overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. The hike took us 6 hours and ended with 1700 steps down to the beach and back to our hotel.

It was an amazing trip!