Serenity in Alaska: Winterlake Lodge Review

Wednesday October 8, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 0 Comments

Living in Lake Placid, New York, the home of forty-six High Peaks and a multitude of beautiful lakes and streams is not exactly a shabby existence, but my husband and I decided to venture to Alaska because it has been in the number one spot on my bucket list since I was ten years old. Fortunately I have a cousin who is a travel agent, Susan Halperin Travel, who set us up on what would be the trip of a lifetime. Knowing me as she does, Susan recommended a rustic, backcountry Alaskan lodge forty miles from civilization; accessible only by floatplane, weather permitting, or ski-plane in the dead of winter. With that, I was set on going to Alaska.


"Winterlake Lodge", Alaska

Winterlake Lodge in Alaska


Within the wild

After eighteen hours of travel and a night at the comfortable Captain Cook Hotel in downtown Anchorage, we boarded our Rust’s Flying Service floatplane from Lake Hood. Rust’s Flying Service has ten planes available for travel and sightseeing expeditions. The flight was forty-five minutes over one hundred miles of open terrain, with lots of water as it had been raining the past two weeks. We landed on Finger Lake and were enthusiastically greeted by the owners Carl and Kirsten Dixon’s daughter Carly, and several engaging employees. We were treated to hot drinks and warm cookies just baked in their large kitchen where they not only offer a daily cooking class, but produce the most delicious meals planned by Kirsten, a Cordon-Bleu-trained chef. We were shown to our cozy cabin- Happy River- where we had a log bed, private bathroom, oil-heated stove and a fabulous view of the lake. We immediately donned rain gear and met our guide, Josh. For the next three days, Josh took us out in an electric boat where we were entertained by three river otters, swans, loons and a beaver working on a dam he had built. We began to feel the serenity within the wild.

"Finger Lake" airplane

Floatplane lands on Finger Lake, Alaska


Winterlake Lodge activity

Our days at Winterlake Lodge were up to us and our guide. Activities could include any of the following: hiking easy or more difficult trails right behind the Lodge or on part of the historic Iditarod trail, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, Alaskan bird watching, wildlife viewing, nature exploring including wildflowers, berries, mushrooms, woody frogs and helicopter excursions for salmon fishing or glacier landings with hiking. The guides are all extremely knowledgeable about every aspect of the natural surroundings and clearly love what they do. Of course you could also sit in the Main Lodge, relax and take it all in, read a great book or play some board games available there. After only being there a half of a day, we felt at home and taken care of as if we were part of the Dixon’s family. Everything was so personalized. Complimentary yoga was offered daily at 6:30 am in the wellness room, complimentary massages were available to all guests, and the use of the hot tub and sauna completed the total spa experience. Three meals a day were provided in the Main Lodge. At 6 pm wine and cheese tasting with cheeses from Murray’s Cheese Shop in Manhattan and homemade appetizers were offered. Throughout the day coffee, tea, cold drinks and snacks were available at the coffee bar. You were never hungry. If you chose a day trip as we did, lunches were packed and enjoyed on top of a glacier where we were at one with nature and essentially captured the entire Alaskan experience.

"Winterlake Lodge", Alaska

Relax inside Winterlake Lodge


Gourmet cuisine in Alaska

Being somewhat of a “foodie” I feel that I must do justice to the culinary experience. All and any dietary restrictions or requests were met with the greatest of pleasure. Milestones were celebrated with a special dessert of your choice along with the daily scrumptious dessert. My husband’s 60th birthday was celebrated with apple pie and homemade vanilla ice cream- his favorite. Each meal was prepared with great thought and creativity and presented flawlessly. My favorite dessert was a combination of lemon cake, meringue, stewed blueberries and fresh homemade blueberry ice cream with freshly grated parmigiano cheese sprinkled on top for the finishing touch!!! Out of this world! I cannot say enough about the exceptional cuisine that we enjoyed over our three day stay.

"Winterlake Lodge" Alaska

Finding serenity in Alaska

If you are thinking about going to Alaska, which in itself is impressive for its sheer size (it is 1/5 of United States total land area), and want an experience that combines activities and excursions, cuisine elegance with extraordinary taste and relaxation, then Winterlake Lodge should be at the top of your list. This rustic, luxury lodge epitomizes and exudes all within the wild to help you find your serenity. I have found mine.

If You Go:
Within the Wild Alaskan Adventure Lodging (907) 274-2710
Winterlake Lodge, Alaska

This is a guest post by Dr. Karen Cooper. All photos courtesy Karen Cooper.

Cruising Alaska: Active Adventure Travel

Friday October 3, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 4 Comments

“I’m not the cruise ship type.” I heard this statement over and over during my trip to Alaska with Un-Cruise Adventures. I met an 18 year old traveling with her aunt; celebrating her high school graduation and an 80 year old retired teacher from New Zealand sailing solo. Both guests were cruising Alaska with active adventure travel in mind.

“Last year I cruised Antarctica in a small ship,” said Barbara deCastro of New Zealand. “I had to try Alaska. I wanted to compare our fjords with Alaska. They are totally different. Ours are beautiful, but so are these. Alaska’s glaciers are much bigger.”

Two active adventure travelers; yet two unique Alaskan experiences were had on the same ship. What keeps people coming back? “The sort of people who sail on small ships are nice people,” deCastro noted with a smile.


"Safari Endeavour" Alaska, cruise

Guests aboard Safari Endeavour are all smiles. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown


Small ship cruise benefits

One of the benefits of small ship cruising is the flexibility the captain has with itineraries. Our original itinerary had Safari Endeavour sailing to George Island and Elfin Cove. At 25 knot winds Captain Barrett Whitten determined that it was too windy for this destination, instead, he would steer our 232 foot ship to Idaho Inlet. Once here, our expedition guides re-grouped and we were offered “Plan B.”


Itinerary change to Alaska's Idaho Inlet. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown

Itinerary change to Alaska’s Idaho Inlet. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown


Tracking bears in Alaska

I signed up for the “Skiff and beach walk” adventure on Chichagof Island.  I pulled on my Kamik rubber, waterproof boots, rain gear and personal flotation device (PFD) and headed downstairs to the EZ dock boat launch.

Insider Tip

For those of you who don’t own foul weather gear, Un-Cruise Adventures had plenty of travel gear stocked in their lending library. I also packed my own healthy travel snacks, a water bottle and binoculars – all unnecessary, as Un-Cruise had all of these items ready and waiting for every guest.

With the smell of Sitka Spruce hanging heavy in the air, we walked the beach in search of animals. Armed with bear spray and a camera, our Expedition Guide Kenneth O’Brien led us into the Alaskan rain forest. Chichagof Island is known for housing a dense brown bear population. We saw evidence of the bears in the form of bear scat, claw marks on trees and moss covered bear tracks, but no bears were actually sighted on this particular outing.

Upon return from our bushwacking adventure, passengers were greeted with hot chocolate or coffee – with or without alcohol. Ahh, the benefits of sailing on an all-inclusive small ship. Another benefit of sailing with Un-Cruise Adventures is a complimentary massage offered to every guest. Two of the first floor staterooms were converted to spa rooms. Did I mention that Safari Endeavour also boasts a sauna and not one, but two hot tubs on the 3rd floor deck? Soaking in a hot tub while cruising by glaciers – now that’s a conversation starter for your next cocktail party!


"Chichagof Island" mushroom

Colorful mushroom on Chichagof Island. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown


Alaska" bear tracks

Tracking bears in Alaska. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown

Does cruising Alaska on a small ship appeal to your sense of active adventure?
For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @Nancydbrown and follow @UnCruise on Twitter.

If You Go:

Un-Cruise Adventures (888) 862-8881
3826 18th Ave
W. Seattle, Washington 98119

Article written by and photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. I was a guest of Un-Cruise Adventures. All opinions are my own.

Taste&Travel Tours — Food, wine, and culture in the Roman countryside

Wednesday October 1, 2014 at 2:02 PM | 5 Comments

Castle by the Tyrrhenian Sea on our Taste&Travel tour.

The Santa Severa castle by the Tyrrhenian Sea on the Taste&Travel tour.

On my trip to Italy last summer, my friend Milos, a native of Bracciano, (a beautiful medieval city 30 km north of Rome and my new favorite place), took me on one of his Taste&Travel food, wine, and culture tours.

Hmmmm… a tour through the Roman countryside to meet purveyors of local, artisanal foods and wine, discover medieval fortresses and castles, wander among the ancient ruins of an Etruscan city of the dead, and take a dip in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Ummm, ya, count me in.

An Etruscan urn.

An Etruscan urn.

Milos picked us up in his dusty red Honda and we set out on the road. Several miles outside the city, pavement dwindled into a gravel road lined with olive groves, mountains looming in the distance, sun-kissed grasses swaying in the light summer breeze. So, this was the countryside of Lazio. It was gentle and pastoral, reminiscent of Sonoma County, another favorite place.

As we turned into Formaggi Valleluterana, the “slow food” pecorino cheesemaker, we were hit with the rich, musky aroma of sheep’s milk. We were greeted by Giancarlo Gentili, the third generation owner of the tidy farm. I was told he’s also a fan of Bukowski. Random.

 Giancarlo Gentili, is a Slow Food purveyor who makes pecorino cheese.

Giancarlo Gentili, is a Slow Food purveyor who makes pecorino cheese.

At Gentili’s command, the herd of 600 bleating sheep that produce 250 liters of milk per day, filed in an orderly procession to be milked. After the work was done, Giancarlo sat with us sipping a dry red as we sampled three types of house made pecorino. He surveyed the  beautiful landscape with his eyes, lifted a glass and smiled, “Siamo in grazia di Dio.” We are in God’s grace.


How do you follow that? You move on to the gates of heaven, of couse! We arrived at Tenuta Tre Cancelli next, an elegant winery at the foot of a volcano, with coastal breezes coming in from the eastern sea. The “tre cancelli” or “three gates,” refer to the moon, sun, and heaven. Here, on another divinely-inspired swath of land, Liborio De Rinaldis and Silvio Pulcinelli continue the Estruscan tradition of eating and drinking with gusto and refinement. Their luxurious ruby red Pacha is a blend of Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and Merlot, named for the deity identified with Dionysus and Bacchus, the Greek and Roman gods of wine.

The ancient interior of one of the Etruscan cities of the dead.

The interior of an ancient Etruscan necropolis — city of the dead.

After walking among the vines and sipping delightful wines, it was time to make a pilgrimage to the Etruscan ruins — the “cities of the dead.” Here I learned about a civilization my American, public school education never mentioned, the sophisticated pre-Roman civilization that existed from 700 BC until it was assimilated by the Roman Republic in the late 4th century BC. One of the many things the Etruscans are known for was the unique way they honored their departed. We visited the archeological museum as well as the fascinating necropolis, permanent homes for the dead — little houses where tombs are carved to resemble residential interiors, lavishly designed with stone couches and chairs, sculptures and frescoes.


Our custom tour finished with a bottle of rose on the beah beside the Santa Severa castle (that was also a shelter for cats, much to the delight of my nine-year-old daughter) and a dip in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Taste&Travel offers three organized tours — Etruscan Coast, Ghost Towns, and Lakeside Villages each with a gourmet lunch at a local restaurant. Or, you can customize a tour based on your interests.

Abbondanza i miei amici!


Taste&Travel tour hosts Milos Zadrahdka and Lune

Taste&Travel tour hosts Milos Zadrahdka and Lune Fe Magrini.


Milos Zadradka and Lune Fe Magrini

Villa delle Grotte, 15 00062, Bracciano (RM)






This post was contributed by Lisa Dion of and BraccianoandBeyond. Photos by Dan Dion.