A travel guide for your trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Where to stay, what to eat and other can’t miss places.Read More
by Oui We Contributor Sam Spahr
Beach in the summer, hit the slopes in winter, view foliage in fall, and peep those blooms in spring… whoa, whoa, whoa, find the brakes here! It’s true: every destination has it’s peak attraction or crowning season, but for every peak there’s a valley called the off season, you’re new best friend.
This is usually the time when prices drop just about everywhere from lodging to rentals, and sometimes even food. Yes, please! Not only will you score a deal, but this is an opportunity to have the place to yourself. Off season means low traffic and more time and space for you to explore wherever you are. See this as a chance to meet the locals and discover your destination through seasoned eyes. Those who live and work in these vacation hot spots have developed something that almost resembles a subculture of the place itself. I’ve found that when the season is low, and if you’re kind, they’ll share a piece of it with you. Plus, you’ve made a friend, and who doesn’t like spreading the love?
So, If you’re in the mood for destinations that have a sexy secret, then welcome to valley my friends. Check out these suggestions to get your off season going:
Put Your Best ‘Buds First (Tastebuds Y’all): Winter in Napa Valley, California
Summer really draws the crowds in Napa, but if you can brave some rain and cooler temps then you will be oh-so rewarded! The rainy season means the grass truly is greener on this side. Just make sure you’re taking in the landscape from the tasting room of one of the many wineries. Upside? Being one of few visiting, you’ll receive the royal treatment garnering extra attention from the aficionados at the vineyard.
Relish in this moment; ask the questions you’ve always wanted answered about one of my personal favorite food groups. How often can you spend time learning about wonderfully talented people while scoring a peak into the rich world behind the booze? After all the indulging, make sure you’ve booked a place with a fireplace so you can cozy up next to the crackle. Retreat, relax, refill the glass.
Bonus: Get tickets to the annual Napa Valley Film Festival that takes place in November and treat yourself to some fine cinema, culinary demos, and you guessed it, even more wine tastings. You’ll get to view some amazing films in some truly unique venues (think an abbey and a farm).
Be One With Nature: Fall in Gulf Shores, Alabama
Go ahead, take a little stroll on a quiet beach and feel the breeze uninhibited by umbrellas and sun-seekers. Taste the salt in the air - get your fix quick though, because there is so much else to do! Step off the sand and you’ll find an outdoor wonderland. Barely minutes from the shore is Gulf State Park - which backs onto about 25 miles of paved trails to explore on bike or foot where you can spot dozens of critters in their natural home. Then, take in the wildlife from the lake where you can rent a kayak or paddle board. (Just try to stay on top of the water, chilly!)
Osprey are large, beautiful frequent flyers in this area and are easy to spot while you float in the secluded and serene lakes. In case you haven’t seen enough animal friends, you can cruise with the local dolphin population or head over to Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge to learn about the different sea turtles who come to nest here even into the fall season. You can likely catch a nest hatchling during this time as well. *Cue adorable coos* When it’s finally time to take a break, lay your head in one of the lakeside cottages in Gulf State Park. You’ll feel worlds away from the sky grazing condos and miles of beachfront.
Wanna Fly Away? Winter in Venice, Italy
There’s probably not a more authentic way to experience Venice than in the off season. Bring some rain boots, lots of layers, and a sense of humor because the city often experiences several floods they call aqua alta, high water. Traipse your way across constructed walkways or opt for floating transportation when the water rises, and remind yourself that for the city’s residents, this is just another day in the life. How many people can say they experienced Venice like a Venetian? Not many; when the crowds grow in the summer, the chance to truly take in the beauty, culture, and charm of its residents can be edged out by all the bustle that comes with moving bodies.
With no lines and little need for reservations, you’ll have to unique opportunity to be a bit more spontaneous and intimate with this ancient city. Allow the cold to push you into cafés and galleries you may have missed otherwise. Meet the local artists that keep the city afloat (no pun intended). Take a workshop or a class, and get creative in one of the most inspiring places in the world.
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After spending the last two years traveling America's most beautiful routes I feel confident in saying I've mastered the art of the road trip. How to pack your bags, your car, beauty tips while traveling, how to make it out of sticky situations in one piece and I'm in love with how good it feels to connect with the deeply routed people all over this big badass country.
I ended this year with a trip back to the country that spurred my interest in writing my book Wanderful to begin with - Spain - and here's the short version of how all of that came to be:
I spent the summer of 2014 finishing up my first book New Orleans Style. Here I was, given an opportunity to create something that would become my calling card as an author and in the spirit of my wanderluster Grandmother I studied the constellations, put my luck on a full moon and booked a one-way flight to the Mediterranean coast.
As I took off it occurred to me: every time I’d taken a trip I’d sought out a guide. Usually that came in the form of a book, or a magazine, and lots of google searching for travel blog posts on my intended destination - there were lots of lists of the best restaurants and bars, the museums to visit, and the tours to take - but what I hadn't found was a guide for the fashion loving bohemian types like me! Those interested in slow, experiential travel. So, I set out to make just that. Wanderful became the American road trip version of that, and what I wish for the readers is that they get out and see the wonderment that America has to offer.
2018 Dream Destination List
So now, 3 years later, it's the end of 2017 and I'm thinking where to next.?! I'm starting to brainstorm ideas for next projects and certainly intend to cover more international travel in 2018, and so to end the year Ben and I spent a few weeks in Spain - it's truly a country that sparks my inspiration like no other.
I've been poring through the Expedia blog to get ideas for 2018 travels and here's 5 destinations I'm adding to the list, and some of my magical girlfriends lending to that inspiration.
p.s. even if you're only planning one adventure this year, let these glorious destinations & ladies inspire the wanderlust in you.
My darling friend Keiko (yes the one that's alllll over my book) visited Santorini this year and every photo was a pure dream. I researched a bit and then this article grabbed me - romance? oui, please!
Glamorous seascapes, glittering horizons and white washed hillsides... I don't know what I'd do first: sample the local wines (the vines grow deep into the island’s ancient volcanic soil enhancing the flavors), swim in the Aegean Sea or rent a car to venture out to the blue umbrella-topped Red Beach and Oia.
This particular post on Italy has me wanting to spend weeks exploring the country but MIchaela's photos coupled with her the notes on Florence: a quaint apartment within walking distance of all one’s favorite gelato shops, tucked away restaurants with local fare of house-cured meats, and expertly curated cheeses and wonderfully stylish locals have me wanting to make Florence my first Italian destination.
Krystal is another one of my travel loving friends and my oh my does she ever make traveling look like an ethereal delight. Her blog is one of the most beautiful out there. Between she and Jasmine (my Aussie friend who's currently living life as a New Yorker) these two have given me a serious lust for Australia.
Krystal spent this holiday season traversing Australia, go take a look at her instagram to get some serious Australian summer inspiration, and in her recent post on Byron Bay she describes it like this: A coastal town, Byron Bay is located in the southeastern corner of New South Wales and offers all the sea-faring charm you’d expect it to — think Santa Cruz meets Montauk, with a dash of Venice Beach — where surfers live to surf [and] where families live in the most adorable beach-facing homes, shopping at the local farmer’s markets every Sunday." I want to go for the views (of course), the seaside meet jungle hikes and the bohemian inspired shopping throughout the area.
Amanda, who's gorgeousness graced the cover of my book (and who's also seen on lots of pages in the Pacific Coast Highway chapter), makes living the life of a world traveling photographer look incredibly connecting. This winter & spring she's leading Photo & Art tours and I'm fingers crossed, going to make one of these happen by end of Spring. Her Cuba tour includes balcony breakfasts, ocean swims, visits to artists collectives, and convertible rides. Si, si si!
Ana has been on a world traveling whirlwind this year. Go scroll through her 'gram for just a sec and you'll be hard pressed to actually decide which destination she makes look the best.
She visited Lisbon this year after discovering her grandmother's family originated there, and she shared her experience on "meadering" through Lisbon in this post. I researched a bit more, found this 48 hour guide to Lisbon, and coupled with the inspiration from Ana's photos - Lisbon climbed (easily) onto this list.
I can't wait to get the planning underway. I've got some good tools I've been using for booking too - so I'll be back to share those soon! In the meantime, any places you think I need to add to the list? Tell me, tell me, tell me!
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Notes on a lovers' lifestyle....
SHOP BEACH MAXI DRESSES
Books to read: The Vacationers (Emma Straub), A Winter in Majorca (George Sand), Wild Olives: Life in Majorca with Robert Graves (William Graves), Turning Up at Dawn (Tomas Graves), The Rocks (Peter Nichols), Living in Style Mallorca (Christine von Auersperg)
9 am: the sun's starting to pour through the curtains and there's 3 things on my mind: a café solo from the coffee man we've started calling "our coffee man", a sugary sweet ensaimada from the bakery one door over from him (it's similar to a beignet I suppose and a delicacy in Mallorca), and the beach, of course. After we wander along through the sleepy streets of Arta, inevitably we'll decide which beach on this island will be ours for the day.
I peer out of the window, and as expected, the sun's waves are dancing upwards and calling me out, I push open the shutters and the sounds of the village are just starting to join in on what the sun's started: the zip zip and then zooooom of our neighbors moped, the children down the alley being hustled along to school and I settle back into the thinking of "oui, si, oh yes, I could live here - like this - forever."
This trip is different for me, technically - we're on vacation. We drink rosé with lunch, a local red with the late afternoon tapas, and we share a bottle more at night with whatever seafood dinner we're having. One day in and we were fully settled: food + wine, morning trips to the market and seaside drives, long soaks in our oversized bathtub at night: and we've said to each other over and over "vacaciones con mi amor!"
I thought quite a bit about what to share with you here, and truly, a trip to Mallorca in the off season means we had the beaches often to ourselves, we hiked Torrent de Parreis (plan a day for it) with just a few others, and our trips into the Serra de Tramuntana involved us, a few cyclists and locals, and only the occasional tour bus hair pinning up the winding roads directly at us.
I won't give you a "must see" list - the island is a bit more than that - however here's a few things I'll add to your list if you visit:
The Markets: Arta on Tuesdays, Sineu on Wednesdays, there on the weekend? Check around, you'll find one
The Beaches: Cala Gat at Cala Ratjada, Cala d'Or, Cala Pi, Cala Banyalbufar, Cala Deia, Sa Calobra and honestly I could go on and on (and on)
The Beach Towns & Villages: Arta (we stayed in an Airbnb that was an absolutely dream home), Deia, Fornalutx, Pollenca, Sineu, Santanyi, Valldemossa, & Port de Soller
Rent a car, it's cheap, and you can get anywhere.
One day we sat on our rooftop all afternoon - at sunset I looked down into the alley ways, the smoke rising as the neighbors lit their evening fires and commented: "there is something very Jim Jarmusch about this place..." a while later I opened another jar of olives and came across this quote: "if anyone tells you there is only one way, their way, get as far way from them as possible, both physically and philosophically."
In that moment, I pulled myself closer into Ben, the sun bounced down over the hazy mountain and then fireworks lit up the sky - we found ourselves running into the plaza to see what it was all about. We trailed along to find a wedding party second lining through the village! And right there in our small town of Arta ... tears fell from my eyes, a mix of wine and wonder and because this world offers so much. Love and celebration: that stuff happens everywhere, and today it was all ours and each of these lovers sharing this little island with us.
These travel diaries are often the hardest to write, why? because they're mine... no one else to photograph or interview or get local stories from... it's just me (and Ben, usually) out there experiencing the world and hoping to share the best of what we've found and experienced (even when we're on vacation) with you.
Gracias, always, for being here.
*wardrobe for this trip was provided by Ophelia Swimwear. Shop their collection at their newly launched online storefront.