Slope Smarts

The safety rules every winter sports enthusiast should know.

The good news is that more American skiers and snowboarders are wearing helmets than ever before (67 percent, according to the National Ski Areas Association – up 10% from just 3 years ago). The bad news? A helmet can’t save you from everything. Witness pro snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who suffered severe brain trauma in late 2009 even while wearing the proper gear. Play it safe by following these measures recommended by Jonathan Finnoff, co-chair of the Sports Concussion Program at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic.


“A lot of people start out at sea level, go on vacation at a high altitude and drink a bunch of beer at lunch,” cautions Finnoff. This can result in dehydration, disinhibition and slow reaction times.


Finnoff recommends having your bindings checked at a ski shop once a season. “If they’re too loose, they could pop off and hit someone or cause you to crash, and if they’re too tight, you might tear a knee ligament.”


Skiing or snowboarding out of control at high speeds often leads to multiple traumas, according to Finnoff. “Those are the people who get injured,” he says—even when they’re wearing a helmet.


The National Ski Areas Association’s 7-point “responsibility code” ( lists the important rules of the slopes, such as where (and where not) to stop, and who gets the right-of-way (everyone in front of you).

Helmet Stats

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Skiing Lake Tahoe

Two states, 15 ski areas and endless entertainment ring American’s favorite Alpine Lake.

In the 1950s, alpine skiing in America was a fringe, foreign sport and Squaw Valley an unknown rocky seam in the Sierras, high above Lake Tahoe. Then Squaw founder Alex Cushing implausibly launched—and even more implausibly won—a bid to host the 1960 Winter Olympics, a move he later admitted was little more than a marketing stunt for his fledgling ski area. Those Winter Games became the Sierras’ coming-out party, showing the world that America could more than rival the Alps. Skiers discovered that the saw-toothed range ringing Lake Tahoe ponies up more altitude than Innsbruck and way more snow than Chamonix.


Squaw Valley USA never looked back after those 1960 Olympics. It’s one of the nation’s leading ski areas, with 4,000 acres of steep bowls and granite knobs just 6 miles from Tahoe’s northwestern shore. Its precipitous runs have appeared in so many ski movies that the region has earned the nickname Squallywood.

But really, Squaw has everything. A network of more than 30 lifts leads to loads of sunny cruisers and intermediate tree skiing, too. You can glide to a mid-mountain ice rink at lunch, and at day’s end practically ski right into a steaming hot tub (if you happen to be a guest at the Resort at Squaw Creek). Then nab a table at the Six Peaks Grille, where chef Chad Shrewsbury uses molecular gastronomy techniques similar to those pioneered in Europe’s top kitchens. Luckily, you don’t need to understand his craft to enjoy it.


Just 2 miles south of Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows sits in its big sister’s proverbial shadow, with fewer lift lines and plenty of elbow room. This is the locals’ favorite ski area, and it seems content to stay out of the spotlight: Its day lodge is utilitarian, and its biggest stars are the ski patrol dogs that are trained for avalanche rescue. They’ve become such popular icons that patrollers hand out baseball cards with canine stats: Bridger, a 62-pound golden retriever, “likes powder, practicing my search-and-rescue techniques and rolling in the snow.”

Alpine Meadows skis big, with short traverses leading to huge expanses of terrain that you didn’t even notice on the trail map. There’s also plenty of inbound terrain that’s accessible via short hikes along the ridge. “What’s really great about Alpine is that only about the middle third of it is lift-served,” says local Paul Ehreewil as he glides off the Summit chairlift. “Don’t be afraid to just get out and explore.”


Tahoe never had the ultra-luxe lodging of, say, Aspen or Vail. But that all changed when Northstar-at-Tahoe opened the mid-mountain Ritz-Carlton Highlands. Nestled in a grove of ponderosa pines, the surprisingly unobtrusive hotel is patterned after grand mountain lodges like Yosemite’s Ahwahnee, with a soaring central “living room” that fuses beams, stone and natural light. Sunny patios are just steps from Northstar’s slopes, which offer everything from wide groomers to hard-charging bumps.

The Ritz-Carlton also includes a gondola to shuttle guests from the hotel to a recently built pedestrian village at Northstar’s base. The village is a perfect fit for this pleasantly mellow ski area: an idyllic family gathering spot with casual restaurants, shops and gas “bonfires” clustered around a skating rink.


Skiers and snowboarders line up like slalom poles along Heavenly’s California Trail to pose for snapshots. Perched 3,500 feet above the south shore, this run delivers the most glorious view: glittering blue Lake Tahoe, laid out in its entirety before you. Put simply, Heavenly Mountain Resort is huge. Its 4,800 acres of terrain stretch across Nevada and California and offer base areas in both states (when’s the last time you saw a “Welcome to California” sign tacked to a slope-side tree trunk?). Most folks seem content with Heavenly’s ample cruisers (meticulously groomed to wide-wale corduroy), which leaves areas like Milky Way Bowl—with its perfectly spaced pines and chalky snow days after a storm—blissfully empty even on a busy afternoon. Save some time in your ski day to check out the mid-mountain tubing park, one of the speediest and friendliest in the West.

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How to Rock the Rockies


A wintery Lake Louise, in Banff National Park near Canmore.

The Canadian Rockies are such a majestic sight that even the most jaded traveler will turn into the one who takes photographs from the airplane. There are 5 national parks in this part of the Rockies, and the peaks are a must-see destination for outdoors enthusiasts.


Just an hour’s drive from Calgary, Canmore is considered a commercial hub in these parts, with more than 70 restaurants and unique shops. One of these is the Ammonite Factory, which specializes in jewelry made of ammolite, also known as Alberta’s official gemstone. The unusual menu at Crazyweed restaurant includes Vietnamese meatballs, spicy Indian noodles, and Moroccan roast chicken. The Trough, an intimate spot downtown, serves rack of lamb and Alberta beef tenderloin. An equally tasty but more reasonably priced meal can be found at Mountain Mercato, a specialty food market with a café that dishes up soups, salads, and paninis.

All that food is fuel for the real star of the area—the skiing. Canmore underwent a much-needed rebirth to prepare for the 1988 Winter Olympics. Three top ski spots are nearby: Nakiska (the setting for the Olympic alpine events), Lake Louise and Mount Norquay—the only one with night skiing. Lake Louise and Norquay, both in Banff National Park, have recently added winter tube parks, where speed freaks can zip down the mountain on rubber tubes (then use the lift to go back up).

PANORAMA, British Columbia

Panorama, 2 hours southwest of Banff, has one of the largest vertical drops in North America (4,000 feet). Skiers and snowboarders fly down the slopes by day and night. Those who prefer lower-altitude activity should check out the Panorama Nordic Centre, at the base of the mountain. After exploring the miles of cross-country trails, skiers visit the Hale Hut, known for its hot chocolate.

For a proper drink, stop by Greys Restaurant at the Earl Grey Lodge, and stay for dishes such as rainbow trout and flank steak tacos as well as a lovely selection of wines (many Canadian). T Bar & Grill, in the Pine Inn, is the spot for slope-side casual dining.


Fairmont Hot Springs has what may be one of the best locations an active person can ask for—it’s situated in the Columbia Valley, between the Rocky and Purcell mountain ranges and Columbia and Windermere Lakes. Those hot springs are found at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, where an outdoor pool, open year-round, is fed by mineral-rich waters. A dip in thermal waters is sure to soothe sore muscles after a day on the slopes. Panorama’s 14 trails all funnel to this resort, and your ski pass gets you into the pools for free.

Options for après-ski dining abound. The latest is From Scratch, which has become a favorite for its gourmet pizzas, pork ribs, and Thai curry. Hoodoo Lounge & Grill holds several all-you-can-eat nights (crab on Tuesday, ribs on Friday); accompany your meal with the locally brewed Arrowhead beer. For a more upscale experience complete with killer views of Mount Nelson, head 20 minutes north to Elements Grill at the Copper Point Resort, in Invermere. If the weather cooperates, you can dine outdoors on the patio or even enjoy a poolside cocktail.

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Photo Tips: Let it Snow

On a blustery day, don’t pack your camera away.

By Bob Krist

For most casual photographers, a drop in temperature is usually accompanied by a drop in motivation. But as my old city editor used to bark at us photographers hanging out in the newsroom during a snowstorm, “It’s a … winter wonderland out there! What are you doing in here?” He knew, of course, that cold weather can make for hot pictures. Here are some tips for shooting in winter.


In bright, snowy conditions, it can be a challenge to get the proper exposure. That’s because the camera meter is calibrated for subjects of average reflectance, so when it measures something that’s much brighter than average, like a snow covered field, it still thinks it’s an average scene and underexposes. As a result, your snow scenes may appear distinctly gray instead of white. To avoid that, you can override the meter by using the exposure-compensation button (usually indicated by a “+-” sign) to program a +1 compensation. This will help render the whites as white instead of gray.

To be sure you’re not overdoing it, check some of the images you’ve just shot: If portions of a picture are “blinking” in the playback, that means those areas are overexposed. Ease back on the exposure and check again to make sure the “blinkies” have disappeared. And once you’re indoors, don’t forget to reprogram your exposure compensation to its normal setting.


Nothing adds drama to a landscape like shooting it through a snowstorm. To ensure good results, first protect your camera and lens from falling snowflakes. Many camera manufacturers make waterproof housings that let you use your digital point-and-shoot underwater. If you don’t have one of these, a Ziploc freezer bag will also offer good protection. Use a quart-size bag for a smaller camera, with a hole punched in the bottom to expose the lens. Then, put your hand through the open zipper to handle the camera and its controls.

Don’t worry if the sun isn’t out when you’re shooting your snow scenes. An overcast sky actually gives better results, because the soft light meshes well with your digital camera’s limited ability to record a wide range of tones (for example, white snow under bright sunlight).


If you want to emphasize the shades of blue that appear in a snow scene in the late afternoon or at twilight, try setting your camera’s white balance to “tungsten,” normally used when shooting under warm, incandescent light bulbs. Most cameras—even simple point-and-shoots—offer you the option of customizing white balance instead of relying on “auto.” Because the scene is already a gray or blue tone, the tungsten white balance will further emphasize those twilight blues, giving you rich, moody color. Again, don’t forget to return your white balance to “auto” when you’re finished.


After you’ve spent a few hours shooting outdoors in the cold, don’t let your camera fog up and become covered with harmful condensation once you return to the warm indoors. Just keep your camera sealed in the camera bag, a plastic bag or even your coat pocket until it heats up to room temperature. That way, the moisture will accumulate on the outside of the bag rather than on or inside the camera. And you’ll be ready to head out and capture that winter wonderland again at a moment’s notice.


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Hear Lingaraju’s hopes and dreams

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Learn about Christel House India from Lingaraju

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Meet Lingaraju and his family

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About Christel House India (Jaya’s)

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Christel House Week Kick Off – Meet the amazing children of Christel House!

GeoffToday 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 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.

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Over the Hedge

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!


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Budget Air Boom

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.


  • Search individual airlines’ sites for fares. Many aren’t listed on the big travel aggregators such as Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity or Kayak.
  • Plan travel dates for savings. Some websites show which days offer the lowest fares.
  • Book early. Fares increase as the departure date approaches.
  • Before you buy, compare the rates at major airlines—they often match reduced fares in competitive markets.
  • Expect extra fees for meals, checked baggage, even advance seat selection. (A few carriers include an insurance charge unless you click the box to opt out.)
  • The cheapest tickets are non-refundable, but you can change your travel dates for a fee.


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“Jackdaws Castle”

Jackdaws Castle

-My son in “Jackdaws Castle” on the grounds of Highclere (“Downton Abbey”).

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A Royal Shopping Spree

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.


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!


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“Downton Village”

“Downton Village” – filmed in picturesque Bampton (~35 mi. north of Newbury).

Bampton Sights:

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.

Bampton Tips:

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.


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The “Etruscan Temple”

Etruscan Temple

-The “Etruscan Temple” on the grounds at Highclere (“Downton Abbey”).

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Design a Dreamy “Downton Day”

Samantha VThe 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.


Highclere Sights:

  • Castle – We toured the state rooms (Saloon, Drawing Room, Dining Room, Library), the Gallery and bedrooms (including Lady Mary’s!) before descending back down the famous Oak Staircase.
  • Egyptian Exhibit – The 5th Earl of Carnarvon sponsored the excavation that found King Tutankhamen’s tomb. We viewed highlights of the trip, artifacts and worked with our son to ‘excavate’ buried relics!
  • Grounds – Highclere has about 1,000 acres of parkland, woodlands and spectacular gardens.  We expected the Castle to be the highlight – but the grounds won us over!


Highclere Tips:

  • Watch the website – tickets sell out fast. Summer 2014 dates are posted on the website, with tickets on sale around April 2014.
  • The castle has admittance ‘windows,’ but the grounds are open all day. To avoid peak crowds, we arrived 45 minutes after the morning opening and we even had some of the state rooms to ourselves. Then, we enjoyed lunch at the on-site tea rooms and spent a leisurely afternoon exploring the grounds.
  • Highclere is accessible by train from London (plus cab), or by car. Bus tours also do Highclere and Bampton in one day.


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!

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Butterfly bushes and hydrangeas


-Butterfly bushes and hydrangeas in the Highclere (“Downton Abbey”) gardens

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England on Foot

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.


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Destination: Along Comes Vero Beach

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.


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.)


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


“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.”

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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

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