Today is the official kick off of Christel House Week on the RCI® blog – my favorite week of content each year!
For those of you who don’t know, Christel House is an amazing non-profit organization started by RCI’s co-founder, Christel DeHaan. Through this wonderful charity, Christel House provides thousands of some of the world’s poorest children with an education and a chance to transform their lives for the better.
This week, to help bring Christel House to life, we will be featuring several videos from Christel House India in place of blog posts. In these videos - the first of which will be posted later today - you’ll meet one of the Christel House students as well as school staff. We encourage you to watch each video to learn more. And if you are moved to do so, you can donate to the organization here http://christelhouse.org/donate/rci.html. RCI will match all donations made by RCI subscribing members through Dec. 31, 2013 up to $25,000.
When Christel DeHaan founded RCI almost 40 years ago, she established a culture of giving back to the communities in which we do business. Today, we are proud to continue that tradition through the non-profit she created, and in the name of the thousands of Christel House children who represent the future for us all. Thank you for your support and RCI membership.
Don’t miss these eight English gardens—in full bloom in springtime each year.
The British have long been leaders in horticulture. Any trip across the pond should take in at least one of these romantic English gardens, all open to the public.
The turreted 16th-century castle at Sissinghurst in Kent, southeast of London, drew writer Vita Sackville-West here with her husband, Harold Nicolson. The well-groomed rows of tulips and primroses belie the couple’s unconventional lives. (She had an affair with Virginia Woolf and Nicolson had his own trysts.) Tour the Elizabethan mansion, then head to the White Garden, with its snowy delphiniums, hostas and rambler roses.
Spread over 10 acres in the rolling Cotswold Hills of west-central England, Hidcote was developed by Lawrence Johnston beginning in 1907. When Johnston arrived here with his mother, Mrs. Gertrude Winthrop, the property was surrounded by farmland. Johnston bought up land for the gardens bit by bit, over several years. This strategy gave Hidcote its famous compartments, or “rooms,” which range from the tiny White Garden to the Stream Garden, the Theatre Lawn and the Pine Garden.
In its day, this 375-acre estate west of London was the stage for major society events, thanks to its famous inhabitants, Waldorf and Nancy Astor. The formal gardens are the highlight: the Parterre, where triangular boxwood hedges separate beds of purple catnip and asters; and the Long Garden, with its ancient statuary and impeccably groomed topiaries. You can follow in the footsteps of monarchs, prime ministers and presidents by staying overnight—part of the storied mansion is now a hotel.
The home of the late Lady Elizabeth Brunner, a 20th-century pioneer of women’s rights and the environment, lies outside Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, just west of London. Ancient medieval towers form the backdrop for thickly planted beds of peonies, roses and clematis. The wisteria arbour—heavy with sweet-smelling blossoms in spring—is quite possibly the largest display of this climbing plant you’ve ever seen.
One of England’s most famous queens, Anne Boleyn, grew up in this moated 13th-century castle 30 miles south of London. The adult Boleyn lost her head in 1536 after failing to produce a male heir for Henry VIII. Today’s visitors can stroll through a romantic Italian garden, with the requisite topiaries and statuary. Kids love the water maze, and anyone can get lost in the traditional yew maze, with its 8-foot-high hedges.
This spot at England’s southwest tip, in Cornwall, has the mildest weather in the country. Tree ferns, bamboo, rhododendron and magnolias have thrived here since 1925, when owner Lt. Col. Edward Bolitho began stocking the gardens with species from such far-flung places as the Canary Islands and Burma (now Myanmar). The raised, western-facing vegetable beds, built in the 1820s, make the most of the winter sun.
This is not your typical English garden. It’s an educational charity with a team of horticulturists whose aim is to inform about the environment. The 35-acre spot in Cornwall is dominated by two giant covered biomes, or greenhouses. One holds a rainforest, where the tree canopy soars to 160 feet. The other mimics a Mediterranean climate, filled with grapevines and citrus and olive trees. More than a million visitors pass through each year to admire the gardens and take part in programs offered in collaboration with other eco-conscious groups.
The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire reside in this 175-room mansion in Derbyshire, in north-central England. Visitors are welcomed inside to view the Devonshire Collection, family treasures that range from Old Master drawings to Enlightenment-era scientific instruments. Outside, a cascading fountain falls 200 yards down a hillside, and 5 miles of paths take you past formal hedges and rare plants, and alongside streams and ponds. Bring a picnic to eat on the lawn—the Duke and Duchess encourage it!
Plane travel can be cheap, if you know the latest low-cost players—and their tricks.
The air travel business is constantly being reinvented. The rise of low-cost carriers is a trend that stands to continue. And that’s not just in North America, but also in Europe and the newest hotbed, Asia. Familiar names—Southwest, JetBlue, AirTran—have been joined by brands like Ryanair, AirAsia, Zoom and Oasis. A few of the new budget-minded airlines have even cracked the transatlantic and transpacific market, a traditional stronghold of the major airlines.
How can these upstarts afford to drop fares so low (on some flights, the taxes cost more than the fare)? Most limit themselves to economy-class seating and skimp on in-flight service—there’s no free lunch (or any other meal, for that matter), and many charge extra to check bags. The airlines also rely on Internet-based bookings and fast turnarounds, since there’s no money to be made sitting at the gate.
The number of lower-cost competitors that fly between North America and Europe has risen over the past few years, after an “open skies” agreement between the U.S. and European Union let airlines choose routes with greater freedom. In the Pacific, V Australia began offering flights from eastern Australia to the U.S. West Coast just a few years ago. This all means that flying on the cheap has gotten easier. Just remember to pack a lunch.
-My son in “Jackdaws Castle” on the grounds of Highclere (“Downton Abbey”).
Here’s how to dress like Kate Middleton or Prince William—from inexpensive to cream of the crop.
You may not have attended the wedding of the century, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dress like you belonged there. Follow Kate Middleton’s shopping trail through London to score everything from fast-fashion frocks to couture classics.
Your first stop is Topshop, bordering central London’s Oxford Street. The budget-priced chain with a rabid following has stores in 20 countries (including one in the United States, in New York City), but this frenetic multi-floor emporium is the mothership. Some 300 new women’s and men’s styles, both original designs and knockoffs, arrive every week. After a photo was released of Kate wearing a Topshop dress, the style sold out within hours.
Nearby is Whistles, run by ex-Topshop brand director Jane Sheperdson. The regional chain offers floaty, feminine styles in beautiful fabrics, such as the $150 off-white blouse worn by the future queen in one of her official engagement portraits.
For mid-priced classics like the petal-skirt ivory dress Middleton wore in the more formal engagement portrait done by Mario Testino, head to Reiss, another British chain. Its strikingly modern flagship store opened in 2007 at the former site of the London College of Fashion.
Next, make your way to Fenwick, a small, refined department store that started as a ladies’ tailor shop in 1891. The beloved, if a tad fusty, store was given a dose of hipness by major renovations last year. This is reportedly where Kate bought the sapphire silk jersey dress by Issa London that she wore for her first engagement photo op.
Middleton is also a fan of Alice Temperley’s designs. Find the feminine but edgy styles at the Temperley London boutique, set in a series of converted mews homes down a Notting Hill side street.
FIT FOR A PRINCE
Once you have the royal styles, turn your attention to your male companion. William favors pricey Italian cashmere sweaters, a look you can get for less at Uniqlo. This Japanese chain, which also has stores in the United States, sells minimalist, logo-free cashmere basics for less than $100.
To dress like a true British gentleman, of course, you must turn to the tailors of Savile Row. Prince William’s shirts from Turnbull & Asser are likely custom-made, but you can buy similar shirts off the rack there. (Turnbull & Asser also has stores in New York City and Los Angeles.) And for the ultimate splurge, have Gieves & Hawkes, the official tailor to the royals since 1809, whip up a bespoke wool suit for about $5,000. It’s what you would have worn to the wedding anyway!
“Downton Village” – filmed in picturesque Bampton (~35 mi. north of Newbury).
The ‘Downton’ sites run along Church View Lane. Heading south from Church Close, to your left, one of the homes is used as the “Grantham Arms” pub. To your right is St. Mary’s Church. Just after it and down a lane to the right is Churchgate House (Crawley House). Further down is the Bampton Library (Downton Hospital), plus other buildings used for the post office and the “Dog and Duck” pub.
Parking is extremely limited, with tour buses complicating things during the day. By heading there after Highclere (arriving ~5:30 pm), it was quiet, parking was easy, and we had a lovely and solitary stroll around. At one point, all I could hear was the crunch of my shoes on the pavement, the wind rustling the leaves above, and the chime of the church bells echoing through the village.
Bampton along Church View, with the library (Downton Hospital) entrance on the right.
-The “Etruscan Temple” on the grounds at Highclere (“Downton Abbey”).
The indomitable Dowager Countess, lovely Lady Mary, and troublemaking Thomas – to “Downton Abbey” series fans, following their adventures is not so much a pastime as it is an obsession. Much of the attraction is the outstanding beauty of its settings. We were lucky enough to visit the filming locations for the Grantham Estate and Downton Village, experiencing their splendor for ourselves!
Below are our highlights and some visitor tips for each “Downton Destination.”
“Downton Abbey” – filmed at Highclere Castle in Newbury (~70 mi. west of London), the ancestral home of the Earls of Carnarvon.
Our view on arrival at Highclere:
Come back to the RCI Blog this week to see more “Downton” photos, plus stories and photos from RCI subscribing members who have also visited England - cheers!
-Butterfly bushes and hydrangeas in the Highclere (“Downton Abbey”) gardens
The storybook English countryside offers some great places to get outside and stretch those leg muscles.
It’s the pinch-yourself, is-this-really-so-lovely kind of scenery in these hills, about 65 miles west of central London (and easily reached by car). Immerse yourself by walking the Cotswold Way, a 102-mile National Trail that dips and climbs through the sheep-dotted landscape from one adorable honey-gold village to the next.
Some walk the entire distance over a week or so, staying overnight in B&Bs along the way. (You can even arrange to have your luggage transferred from one spot to the next.) But shorter loops have been designated that fit nicely into smaller chunks of time, say, 2 to 5 hours. Find more details, maps and information on distances and levels of difficulty at Cotswold Way
Choosing where to walk in this South East county can be a challenge. The area (just half an hour from central London by high-speed rail) is dense with compelling historical landmarks, such as Canterbury Cathedral, and scenery, including the White Cliffs of Dover.
This is the land of Charles Dickens, so it’s a great time to tour the many locations in Kent that inspired the novelist. There are guided walking tours of Higham, where Dickens lived from 1857 until his death, in 1870, and a self-guided audio tour of nearby Rochester, which made an appearance in many of his books (look for the Elizabethan mansion that inspired Miss Havisham’s house). For other explorations, footpaths crisscross the county, offering everything from short walks to day-long hikes.
A national park in North West England, the Lake District encompasses a large part of Cumbria county. This densely scenic area has inspired countless poets and writers—Wordsworth, Coleridge and Beatrix Potter among them. The fastest way to get there is to fly to Manchester and then drive (about an hour and a half).
Ask 10 people to recommend walks in the Lake District and you’re likely to get 10 different (extremely enthusiastic) answers. Some will tell you not to miss the routes through the heartlands, while others will encourage you to seek out the places many visitors overlook, like the Western Fells. There are thousands of walking routes throughout the district, so your best bet is to hire a guide (available for a half day or full day). That way you’ll learn all sorts of stories and myths and pick up tips like the best place to stop for a pint after you’ve gone the distance.
This Florida beach town charms visitors with an all-natural, laid-back beauty.
Just when you’re sure you’ve seen all that Florida’s sand-spun shores have to offer, along comes Vero Beach. Located on a lush stretch of Atlantic coastline, 140 miles north of Miami and just over 2 hours southeast of Orlando, this quirky, sophisticated town is often unfairly overlooked. But not everyone misses its charms. Sea turtles, snowbirds and surfers alike are lured by its balance of nature, culture and healthy living—a rare combination for a beach town.
From November through April, the population of Vero Beach booms with part-time residents who flock here from out of state and abroad for the fine winter weather. The young, trendy set from Miami and Fort Lauderdale is discovering the town, too, for weekend escapes from busy South Florida. But at its heart, Vero Beach remains a kicked-back natural beauty.
The scattering of hotels and condos here rarely rises above a few stories. And mixed in with the waterfront mansions are original Florida bungalows that look like places where Hemingway might have lived. Follow a hand-painted sign to a riverfront fish market or a streetside stall with fresh coconuts for sale—in Vero Beach, you never know what you’ll find.
LIFE'S A BEACH
Vero’s best-loved public beach is South Beach Park, at the end of the 17th Street Bridge. This pretty stretch of sand is nothing like the building-lined Miami-area beach with the similar name. The parking lot overflows on warm sunny days, but you’ll find plenty of room on the beach once you move beyond the boardwalk lined with sea-grape bushes.
On another day, it’s worth the 25-minute drive north to see Sebastian Inlet State Park, where anglers crowd a long pier to fish, and board riders find one of the East Coast’s finest surfing spots. The wild beach here is backed by dunes thick with native plants.
Between these two parks is the 248-acre Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, where some 20,000 sea turtles lumber onto the beach each year to nest. (In June and July, rangers take visitors on nighttime walks to watch the turtles laying their eggs.)
“X” MARKS THE SPOTS
In 1715, a fleet of Spanish galleons loaded with untold riches was en route from Havana to Spain when the ships were sunk by a hurricane just off Vero Beach (hence the area’s nickname, the Treasure Coast). Salvage divers still ply the waters here while beachcombers sweep the sands with metal detectors, hoping to get lucky.
As it happens, the chance of finding something is temptingly real. The oceanfront McLarty State Treasure Museum sits on the site of the wrecks’ survivors’ camp, and displays weapons, belt buckles and pieces of eight (Spanish silver coins) from the 1715 fleet. But the most interesting exhibit is a binder at the welcome desk brimming with news of recent finds. “When the Spanish made jewelry, they really packed it in,” says docent Myrna Lisevic, pointing to a 2007 newspaper clipping about a local woman who found a 69-carat emerald while combing the beach for sharks’ teeth.
That emerald—along with many other treasures recovered from Florida wrecks—is nearby at Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum. Check out the kid-friendly pirate displays and take turns lifting an authentic Spanish gold bar.
Treasures of a different kind are displayed at the Vero Beach Museum of Art. The permanent collection is mostly early-20th-century American works, while visiting exhibits often tie in marine and nautical themes.
“Where’s the best place to get sweet potatoes to cook for him?” a customer with a lab pup under her arm asks an organic farmer at the Saturday-morning Farmers’ Market OceanSide Vero Beach. It’s set across from an oceanfront park, and live music fills the air as people sample everything from Indian River grapefruits and orange-blossom honey to edible organic flowers and smoked fish dip.
A short stroll away is the Laughing Dog Gallery, whose exquisite objects (hourglasses, jewelry, chandeliers) are created exclusively by American artisans. Stop by Stephen Bonanno Sandals for handmade footwear encrusted with shells and beads. Or drive across the bridge to the mainland’s revitalized historic district along 14th Avenue, where you’ll find paintings, one-of-a-kind clothing and jewelry by local artists at Tulaa Gallery & Boutique and vintage teapots at Tea & Chi.
INTO THE WILD
“I feel like a nature-show host on a kayak whenever I go out on a trip,” says Kristen Beck of Kayaks, Etc. Wearing a leather safari hat jauntily embellished with an osprey feather, she leads a 2½-hour paddle around Vero Beach’s watery wonders. The Indian River Lagoon, between Vero Beach and the mainland, is North America’s most diverse estuary—home to 700 species of fish, 300-plus species of birds and a third of the nation’s endangered manatees.
Beck also offers a tour along the St. Sebastian River (a few minutes from the beach), where palms curve from the banks, kingfishers dive and manatees bob to the surface around you. You’re practically guaranteed to spot alligators. (“They’re hunted for barbecues; they don’t want anything to do with us,” assures Beck.) The waterway has been on nautical charts since the 1500s, when Spanish sailors filled their casks with drinking water here. Wild descendants of the hogs they brought with them can be heard snuffling through the surrounding forest. “None of our animals are animatronic,” says Beck. “Welcome to the real Florida.”
My buddies and I go on a football trip every year. We recently went and saw a Miami Dolphins game and booked our trip at the Wyndham Palm-Aire in Pompano Beach. When we arrived, we were amazed at our room. We had plenty of room for four and we were living large! We sat poolside every day and went out on the town every night. It was a great four days of sun, partying and football. What more could guys want!
-Tyler M. from Sarnia, ON, Canada
This seaside Florida town has moved far beyond its former spring-break-hotspot heyday.
When in Fort Lauderdale, it never takes long before you hear a reference to the city’s once apt (and recently reinterpreted) motto: “Where the Boys Are.” That 1960 movie about a gaggle of Midwestern college girls who came to Florida’s Gold Coast for unfettered fun inspired countless spring break pilgrimages to Fort Lauderdale.
Winter months see fewer visitors, even though temperatures hover around 75 degrees. A recent spate of luxury hotel openings has transformed a once-uninspired beach town into one of South Florida’s most sophisticated destinations.
These days, a more fitting mantra for Fort Lauderdale’s sun-spackled stretch of endless waterways (more than 300 navigable miles in total) would be “Where the Boats Are.” With 100 marinas and boatyards and more than 40,000 resident yachts, it makes sense that the city has also been dubbed the Venice of America. Wherever you find a perch along the waterfront, a wake will surely roll your way.
The best way to get your feet wet is to hop on the Water Taxi, which plies the Intracoastal Waterway and New River, making 13 stops from the Galleria Mall and Las Olas Boulevard to the Convention Center. The most impressive stretch of the Intracoastal is known as Millionaire’s Row, showcasing manicured properties with lavish mansions and yachts moored out front.
Ride the Water Taxi to the end of the line and get off at Riverwalk, which hosts the Urban Market every Saturday, selling everything from handmade soaps to Peruvian street food. The waterfront esplanade runs alongside several downtown highlights, including the Museum of Discovery & Science, home to an IMAX theater and the largest living Atlantic coral reef in a museum, and the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, displaying works by American Impressionists and visiting Latin American artists.
The Jungle Queen offers several fun family outings to explore the area’s waterways, with the requisite touch of kitsch that makes it a local institution. Every evening, the two-story riverboat leaves the Bahia Mar Beach Resort on a tour of the river and canals, ending at a private riverside location where a buffet and alligator show are on the menu. It’s a sit-back-and-soak-it-all-in kind of affair, with the captain providing commentary along the way.
PEDALING AND DOG-PADDLING
For something less sedentary, rent a beach cruiser bike from Fun Rentals for a few hours to explore the 2 miles of promenade along the ocean. The showers every few blocks make a cool-off swim in the ocean all the more appealing.
Another prime place to take a dip is the W Fort Lauderdale hotel, where Sunday pool parties, open to the public, draw hipsters to what’s arguably Florida’s sexiest pool (in the hotel’s lobby, you can peer through portholes cut into the ceiling above for views into the pool).
Pedaling back south, turn west at the Las Olas Bridge to access the Finger Islands—narrow residential streets with names like Isle of Venice and Fiesta Way. Here, canals that were dredged in the 1920s are lined with a patchwork of old Florida bungalows (disappearing fast) alongside enormous Spanish Mediterranean mansions.
Take a break at Colee Hammock Park, just off Las Olas Boulevard, where kids kick soccer balls and families picnic and strum guitars under banyan trees and rustling palms.
SHOPPING THE BOULEVARD
The city’s most sociable street, Las Olas Boulevard, is lined with establishments that range from diners and trendy restaurants to needlepoint shops and European couture. Seek out shops like Blue, the outpost of Key West jewelry designer David Symons. His organic pieces are displayed alongside eclectic beach finery such as colorful sarongs from Kenya. During the 1970s, the owner of Moda Mario dressed the stars of Miami Vice. Nowadays, the real-life yacht set stop by for prêt-à-porter European clothing and hard-to-find brands for men and women. Celebrity of Las Olas is a sure bet for swimwear, with an ever-present sale rack of good buys. And follow the scent of molten chocolate to Kilwin’s, an ice cream and candy shop whose peanut-brittle waffle cones take the cake.
If you’re visiting on a Sunday, be sure to hit the Gourmet Farmers Market. Residents catch up on neighborhood news while browsing the handful of tented stalls. Though the range of products is small, the quality is high: The guacamole guy pounds his dips to order, with a mortar and pestle used by the indigenous people of Colombia. From Argentinean empanadas filled with ham and cheese to ceramics from Provence, the items for sale here are as diverse as Fort Lauderdale’s residents.
Tony Kantorski pulls his red pickup truck alongside the market every week. In the back are coolers holding grouper filets, Key West pink shrimp and a Florida favorite: stone crab claws that he’ll crack open for you with the back of his ice scoop and serve with a spot of lemony mustard sauce. You’ll get about 6 big claws for $10, a bargain compared to restaurant prices. It’s a high-life indulgence served in laid-back Florida fashion—much like Fort Lauderdale itself these days.
While staying at Vacation Village at Weston, we visited Monkey Jungle outside of Miami. This cute mama and baby came up and ate right out of our hands!
-Penelope W. from Guyton, GA
A Town on Overdrive
Daytona Beach has become synonymous with motor sports—the city is the headquarters for NASCAR and the Grand American Road Racing Association and home to the Daytona International Speedway. Fans flock to the area for the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January, the Daytona 500 and Budweiser Speedweeks in February and the Coke Zero 400 in July. Two.wheelers (Harleys, not Schwinns) take over town during Bike Week in March and Biketoberfest in October. Clearly the city has earned its spot on the so.called fun coast of northeast Florida; there’s plenty to experience whether you’re on wheels or not.
START YOUR ENGINES
Take a tour of the Daytona International Speedway. Options range from 30 minutes to 3 hours and can include a tour of the infield, pit road, garages and victory lane. The Richard Petty Driving Experience is for those who would rather get behind the wheel of a NASCAR race car, for anywhere from 3 to 50 laps.
GOLF LIKE A PRO
LPGA International has been the home course of the LPGA golf tour for almost 20 years. There are two world-class, 4-star courses here, open to LPGA members and guests alike, and tee-time fees start at only $30.
The offerings at the Daytona Beach Boardwalk include a brand-new roller coaster, an arcade that has classic games, and a Ferris wheel that gives riders outstanding views of the area. There are fireworks every Saturday night and free concerts all summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
WHET YOUR APPETITE
The seafood restaurant Our Deck Down Under is located under the Port Orange Bridge, right on the Dunlawton Causeway. Locals flock here for reasonably priced sandwiches, salads and raw bar items, not to mention the house-smoked barbecued pork ribs and jalapeño bacon-and-cheese grits. A historically intimate dining experience can be had at the Cellar, an Italian restaurant set in the onetime home of President Warren G. Harding. NBA star Vince Carter opened an eponymous restaurant with a very smart design: One side is a sports bar with comfortable seating and plenty of TVs; the other side, an elegant steak house. The menu ranges from the expected chicken wings and jalapeño poppers to flat-bread pizzas, salads, pastas, seafood, and steaks. The build-your-own-burger option at lunch is a local favorite.
SEE THE LIGHT
A short drive away, visit the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse—at 175 feet high, it’s Florida’s tallest lighthouse. Visitors who climb the 203 steps to the top are rewarded with panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Daytona International Speedway: 1801 W. International Speedway Blvd.; 1.877.306.RACE; daytonainternationalspeedway.com
Richard Petty Driving Experience: Daytona International Speedway, 1801 W. International Speedway Blvd.; 800.237.3889; drivepetty.com
LPGA International: 1000 Champions Dr.; 1.386.274.5742; lpgainternational.com
Daytona Beach Boardwalk: 12 N. Ocean Ave.; 1.386.253.0254; daytonabeachboardwalk.com
Our Deck Down Under: 78 E. Dunlawton Ave., Port Orange; 1.386.767.1881; ourdeckdu.com
The Cellar: 220 Magnolia Ave.; 1.386.258.0011; thecellarrestaurant.com
Vince Carter’s: 2150 LPGA Boulevard; 1.386.274.0015; vincecarters.com
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse: 4931 S. Peninsula Dr.; 1.386.761
We spent a beautiful day in Cozumel during our week at Playacar Palace. The east-side of the island is beautifully unspoiled. The views are breathtaking.
-Ronald W. from Lethbridge, AB, Canada
One of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever experienced!!!
-Maragret B. from Newmarket, ON, Canada