Healthy Holidays to Get Fit While You Travel

Monday February 3, 2014 at 6:06 AM | 3 Comments

This post is underwritten by First Choice

spa, Sabila Spa

Spa therapy for a healthy holiday

Who doesn’t love a vacation? Yet holidays don’t have to be filled with sinful eating and lounging around like a beached whale.

There are plenty of healthy dining options for travelers on an active adventure vacation. In the spirit of new year’s resolutions I’d like to share five places to travel for a healthy holiday. Who knows, you might have fun and lose a little weight during your vacation!

California spa vacation

I’m a northern California girl, but that doesn’t mean I can’t fly south for the sunshine, or in Ojai’s case, a pink moment sunset. Ojai, California holds a special place in my heart. This mountain community, 83 miles northwest of Los Angeles and east of Santa Barbara, is located in Ventura County. It is also home to Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. There are several spas to choose from in this community; the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is a luxury retreat offering healthy cuisine, tennis, golf and every spa treatment you can imagine. Read my review of Ojai Valley Inn and Spa here.


buddha, lumeria maui

Experience a yoga retreat at Lumeria Maui in Hawaii

Yoga & meditation retreat in Maui, Hawaii

Lumeria Maui is only a 30 minute drive from Kahului Airport, but it is a world away from all of your worries and stresses. This wellness retreat in upcountry Makawao surrounds guests in a welcoming embrace with its natural beauty, tropical plants, local garden and many buddha statues.

During my visit, I savored the nightly organic and healthy meals prepared by the Lumeria in-house chef and joined in with Hawaiian locals for master yoga classes.

New since my review, Lumeria has added a salt water swimming pool and Jacuzzi. See a detailed review and more photos here.

Horseback riding and Thai massage in BC Canada

When I flew into Kamloops Airport in British Columbia, I wasn’t sure what to expect. This was my first visit to Echo Valley Ranch, a luxury resort owned by English ex-pat Norm Dove and his Thai wife, Nan.
Originally purchased as a retreat for family and friends, the couple kept building on the 160 acre property, resulting in the opening of Echo Valley Ranch in 1995.

ban thai spa, echo valley ranch

Enjoy Thai massage at Echo Valley Ranch

Their executive chef creates fresh and healthy cuisine using plants from their organic garden and cattle, chickens, turkeys and pigs raised on their ranch.

I traveled to Echo Valley Ranch for the horseback riding offered throughout the property and bordering the Marble Range Park. Trail rides offer incredible views of British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon. Little did I know that the ranch is known for its Thai style massage at their Ban Thai Spa.

Drawing from Nan’s Thailand connections, many of the massage therapists specialize in this unique 90 minute Thai massage – a new and wonderful experience for me. See my Echo Valley Ranch review here.

Pico Island, vineards

Pico Island is Portugal’s highest point and offers great hiking

Hiking and riding on Pico Island, Portugal

Europeans love Portugal’s Pico Island for its terrific hiking opportunities. Pico Island holds the unique distinction of being the second largest island in the Azores and is the highest point in all of Portugal.

This was my first trip to the Azores and it was wonderful. If you have a chance to visit this chain of islands, you won’t want to miss Pico Island. In addition to hiking and horseback riding, there is whale watching and there are several museums on the island.

One of the most unique features about the island is the vineyards growing inside basalt rock walls next to the Atlantic Ocean. Crazy! Read my review of things to do on Pico Island here.


flamenco dancer, Esther Vélez

Learn to Flamenco dance in Seville, Spain

Flamingo dancing in Seville, Spain
My daughter had the opportunity to study Spanish in Seville, Spain through her university. I remember my trip to Madrid and Seville, Spain back in 2008. In addition to the beautiful public art and lovely architecture, I was fascinated with the Flamenco dancers and their colorful Flamenco dresses.

There are plenty of places to learn the art of Flamenco dancing in Spain and it is certainly a great way to get exercise. For those not interested in moving your body, the Museum of Flamenco Dance in Seville is a gem of a museum and offers Flamenco dance performances. This photo of Esther Velez was taken by me during a performance at the Museum of Flamenco Dance in Seville.

Do you opt for healthy holidays when you travel? Where do you recommend for an active adventure vacation? For European vacation planning, visit First Choice for all inclusive travel.

Article written by Nancy D. Brown. Photos courtesy Nancy D. Brown.

Inn at Dos Brisas, Luxury Ranch Resort in Texas Hill Country

Friday January 31, 2014 at 6:06 AM | 2 Comments

Dos Brisas ranch, adirondack

Pull up a chair at The Inn at Dos Brisas near Brenham, Texas

One hour northwest of Houston and 1.5 hours east of Austin sits The Inn at Dos Brisas. This luxury ranch resort is tucked away in Washington County, one of the wealthiest counties in Texas. After having stayed two nights at Dos Brisas, I can see why city slickers would slip away to Dos Brisas for a little hard earned rest and relaxation in the Brazos River Valley.

Doug Bosch of Houston originally purchased the Texas ranch as a family retreat back in 2000. As with all good things, Bosch and his wife Jennifer decided to share their hideaway with friends and one thing led to another. With a lot of TLC the property went from one large indoor riding arena with several buildings in disrepair to a Relais & Chateaux ranch resort with four casitas, five luxury haciendas, an outdoor swimming pool, a Forbes five star restaurant and wine cellar, along with an organic garden that would make any chef jump for joy.


The Inn at Dos Brisas

Red tail hawks soar overhead while blue herons wait patiently by the ponds for something to move. There is no shortage of food in the circle of life that is known as The Inn at Dos Brisas. Water oaks and cedar give way to orchards of fruit trees on this 313 acre luxury ranch.

After stretching his legs, walking some of the 20 acres of garden, the chef heads back into the restaurant. His basket is heaped with brightly-colored, organically farmed, produce that will soon adorn plates of food at the Forbes five-star restaurant on property.

Wine lovers should request the five course tasting menu, paired with unique wines to compliment each course. Check the website for current prices.

Dos Brisas, hacienda

Dos Brisas Del Lagos hacienda

Dos Brisas luxury lodging

After check-in, guests are escorted to one of five haciendas or four smaller casitas via electric golf carts. I’m sure a horse and carriage could be arranged on request, but why not save that experience for the next day, along with a glass of champagne or two? Oh, and did I mention there is a heli pad on the ranch?

Luxury Hacienda Del Lagos

At over 1,700 square feet, my hacienda – with a lake view – has everything my little heart could desire. A charcuterie plate and bottle of bubbly are waiting to welcome me to lone star state heaven. Should I soak in the 50 gallon tub in my enormous bathroom or grab a glass of champagne and head to my private plunge pool?

Dos Brisas, hacienda

Dos Brisas plunge pool and screened porch

Truth be told, I snacked on the house cured meats while relaxing on the swing bed in the screened patio while scanning the list of activities on tap for tomorrow. Sporting clay or horseback riding while I re-connect with my inner cowgirl?

As is typical of luxury resorts, expect daily housekeeping and turn down service, an in-room safe (though I never locked my door once) stocked mini bar with all sorts of Texas libations, flat screen tvs, dvd/Blue-Ray player, ipod docking station and two gas fireplaces.

I never did see the cow jump over the moon, but the king bed with Frette Italian sheets dropped me into slumberland mighty quickly.

Dos Brisas, breakfast

Dos Brisas gourmet breakfast, Texas style

Cowboy breakfast in room

One of my highlights of the trip was discovering the Butler’s Pass in my luxury hacienda. I won’t give away all the surprises, but lets just say this gourmet ranch breakfast never tasted so good.

Inn at Dos Brisas rates

Rates start at $450 per night for a Casita and $850 per night for a Hacienda. These rates include daily gourmet breakfast and one activity.

Insider Tip

With advance reservation, foodies may take cooking classes, sharpen their knife skills (selecting Japanese vs. Western knives), learn proper potato dish preparation, create professional sauces, bake breads, cakes and cookies or dive into a mixology class and craft the perfect cocktail.

Dos Brisas, cola

Texas libations at Dos Brisas

For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer @Nancydbrown on Twitter and follow @InnatDosBrisas.

If You Go:

The Inn at Dos Brisas (979) 277-7750
10000 Champion Drive (Off FM1155)
Washington, Texas 77880

Article written by, video and photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. I was a guest of The Inn at Dos Brisas.

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The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana

14 for 2014 — Ideas for Kid-friendly Trips

Tuesday January 28, 2014 at 8:08 PM | 0 Comments

Kicking it palapa-style at Dreams Nueva Vallarta.

Kicking it palapa-style at Dreams Nueva Vallarta.

Dreams Resort, Puerto Vallarta Mexico

For a great all-inclusive resort vacation, I highly recommend Dreams just north of Puerto Vallarta. We stayed for a week in this lovely paradise with enormous crystal clear pools, beach palapas, entertainment, all manner of activities and fantastic restaurant. To lounge and read with feet in the sand and a drink in a coconut shell while the kids splashed around or painted ceramics was, in a word, dreamy.

Train Town, Sonoma, California

Did you know that there’s an amusement park for the shorties in Sonoma! And it’s dirt-cheap! This adorable destination is located a mile from Sonoma Plaza. Zip though tunnels and over bridges on the quarter-scale railroad on your way to Lakeview, the miniature town and petting zoo.

There is also a Ferris wheel, scrambler, roller coaster, and carousel to further delight the young’uns.

Camping in Big Sur, California

I’m not much into camping, but it gets us outdoors, it’s affordable, and kids love it. Fernwood on the Big Sur River offers different levels of lodging —cabins, tent cabins, campground, and a motel. We scored a nice site next on the riverbank to pitch our tent. The kids went tubing, climbed trees and simply explored. Upstairs the hill at the lodge are shops (with lattes in the morning), a restaurant, and a tavern. A nice getaway for nature lovers who also love city amenities.

Legoland, Carlsbad, California

These Danish plastic bricks have taken the world and my son’s bedroom by storm. And Legoland California Resort in Carlsbad, Calif is up there next to Disneyland as the ultimate children’s fantasyland. It’s home to to more than 60 rides, shows and attractions and they debuted their first U.S. hotel there last spring. Continue the fun straight into your hotel room!

A salute from Legoland, Carlsbad, California

A salute from Legoland, Carlsbad, California

Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Acres (71,028 to be precise) of pristine coastline are located on the Point Reyes Peninsula in Marin County. The water is best explored with a wetsuit but since kids are generally impervious to cold, why bother? Pack the sand toys and have a castle contest! The hikes range from easy/moderate to difficult and the views are spectacular. Plan ahead and reserve the Windsong Cottage yurt for an unforgettable family getaway.

Ocean Beach dunes/Java Beach Café, San Francisco, California

Being a city dweller close to the ocean, taking the kids to the beach is one of my favorite go-to adventures. Our usual routine is grilled cheese and soup at Java Beach Café then watching the sun set on Ocean Beach. There is a treacherous undertow on this beach (with scary riptide warnings), so the kids mostly stick to rolling down and hiding in the massive dunes.

Kids’ Suite at the Hotel Union Square, San Francisco, California

I love this room! If you’re visiting San Francisco with little ones, this is the place to stay. It’s spacious, cheerful l and equipped with all manner of well-curated kids’ toys and books. From baby toys to a Wii, there is ample in-room entertainment. Then, just step out the door into bustling Union Square for great shopping and restaurants.

The kids' suite at the Hotel Union Square in San Francisco.

The kids’ suite at the Hotel Union Square in San Francisco.

New York City

Last summer, I hit the road with the kids for a (very, very hot) summer on the East Coast. My daughter was the right age (eight) for NYC and fell in love with it. My little guy not so much — I ended up leaving him with my mom while Parker and I explored the city on foot, subway, taxi cab, and the Staten Island ferry. We had a blast. There so much to do there with a curious kids — Central Park, the Museum of Natural History, Empire State Building. Even driving through Times Square at night is a thrill.

Fairyland, Oakland, Califoria

Oakland’s adorable Fairyland is where Walt Disney got his inspiration for Disneyland. It is sweet and kind of run down but in a charming way. It definitely skews toward the really young crowd. Take the train to get the lay of the land then visit one of the shows. There are lots of rides, play areas, and a decent café on the premises. Oh, and good luck getting them out of the giftshop!

Boston, Massachusetts

I come here frequently to visit family and one of our rituals is to take the kids to the Boston Public Gardens to ride the swan boats. After, we go for chowder at Union Oyster House that claims to be the oldest restaurant on the East Coast. It certainly looks like it could be with its low ceilings and narrow passageways. You can gaze out the window and picture Paul Revere riding down the cobblestone streets out front.

 Ice Skating at Embarcadero or Union Square, San Francisco, California

This is a fun way to while away the afternoon during winter break when they kids have been cooped up. The Union Square rink is especially festive during the holidays with the humungous Christmas tree nearby. The Embarcadero is less crowded though, and you are right across for the Ferry Building Marketplace for lunch.

Chinatown, San Francisco, California

This is one for slightly older kids who like to explore on foot. It’s always pretty crowded but there are so many interesting and outrageous sites. A bunch of live frogs in a bucked anyone? A must stop is at the Fortune Cookie factory, a teeny hole-in-the wall on a narrow pedestrian alleyway where you can watch the old ladies make the cookies and taste a sample. Don’t forget to have lunch at one of the many dim sum counters.

Coastal Maine

While I might avoid it in the dead of winter (like right now where it’s 10 degrees), Maine has a beautiful austerity. Summer in charming Oqunquit or Kennebunkport is where it’s at. The kids loved the hot summer weather and enjoyed Portland, a laid back Northern town with gorgeous brick buildings, cool people and great seafood restaurants. Maine in fall is lovely also with a spectrum of colorful leaves on the trees.

Ogunquit Harbor, Maine

Ogunquit Harbor, Maine

San Francisco Insider Tip:

Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, Ca

While it might seem too touristy for us adult folk, kids love Fishermans Wharf. For some tips that we all can enjoy, I suggest a trip to the Musee Mechanique, a collection of 200 antique penny arcade machines. There is also a restored WWII submarine, the Hyde Street Pier with its collection of vintage sea vessels, and the cool Aquarium of the Bay nearby.

Post contributed by Lisa Dion of