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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Hello from New Orleans!
Every year for the last 3 my fam travels in for our holiday celebration, and let's be honest - take any family - even one that's been plenty of times before - to New Orleans and the #1 thing on everyone's list: French Quarter boozing. It's fair. Half my family lives here, the others can't wait to get here, and in the spirit of keeping things sane I always create an itinerary with a list of other things to do before everyone arrives (keepin' 'em off the streets ya know).
Ask most people about their New Orleans knowledge and it's all beads and Bourbon Street... or that one time at Mardi Gras... and if they haven't been, that's what they want to know about. But truly: there's soooo many other beautiful ways to experience this city. And to me, it's the most magical time of the year (maybe even above Mardi Gras... GASP). I mean it though: the twinkly lights, the fog rolling in, the sometimes strange Creole or Cajun Christmas traditions, and the food - there's a pot of gumbo on at everyyyyybodies house from about the 22nd on. If you're visiting town and can't quite score an invite to a locals house for gumbo, Reveillon Dinners, a wonderful 19th-century Creole French tradition, are still celebrated in restaurants all over the city and are another brilliant way to enjoy the food of the city.
This year as I plan for our family time there’s 3 additional New Orleans to do's that are topping my list. Here they are, and if you find your way down here around this time of year (and I highly suggest you do) you won’t be disappointed.
Christmas in New Orleans
This may be one of the most glam things I'll do all year long. There's nothing quite as elegant as a Christmas Tea in a historical setting reminiscent of a royal. New Orleans has quite a few fabulous hotels offering Afternoon Tea, my favorite place for it: The Ritz Carlton Davenport Lounge. The Davenport Lounge hosts Tea 7 days a week, at 11 a.m. & 2:30 p.m., with a harp performance on the weekends. Reservations are required and can be made online.
This year the Ritz is offering a limited edition TEALEAVES Nutcracker and Organic Sugar Plum Fairy tea for the holidays (and I'm wrapping up the set as a gift AND giving away a set of the same over on instagram). My sister and I will be make a day of it, attending the Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker at the Sanger Theatre.
A Tour of the Lights
Canal Street, the original "Main Street" of New Orleans, and the old dividing line between the neighborhoods of the Creole & French-descended residents and those of the newer-arriving Americans (this is where the term "Neutral Ground" originated btw) is the center of New Orleans' lights. Start here, then take a walk over to the Roosevelt Hotel. The lobby runs for an entire city block and includes thousands of twinkling white lights. They're hanging from the ceiling and in the birch trees running along corridor, it's one of the most magnificent sights! From the Roosevelt, take a trip over to Celebration in the Oaks in City Park if you've got time, or stay at have a cocktail at the Sazerac Bar (okay, you knew there'd be some booze on the list).
Christmas Eve Bonfires on the Levees
This one is probably my favorite - and another Creole tradition: on Christmas eve bonfires (that take sometimes weeks to build) are set ablaze along the Mississippi River levees. The intention: to light the way for “Papa Noël,” the Cajun Santa Claus on his flight to Louisiana. Maybe I'm biased but I'm pretty sure this is one of the most beautiful Christmas traditions in America, hundreds of fires, families and so much wonderment. There's lots of places to enjoy the fires, our preference is a ways out of the city in St. James Parish - give yourself some time to get out there, and plan for a full evening of festivities and joy.
I'd love to hear from you guys! How are you celebrating?! And what places do I need to add to my list for 2018!?