relaxation

Key West: My Guide to the Conch Republic

If the craziness of Miami has you longing for more laid-back vibes, the Florida Keys are just a short drive away. Key West, the southernmost island, fits the bill nicely with Duval Street bars and gorgeous sunsets in Mallory Square. I highly recommend Key West if you prefer flip-flops over heels, beach coverups to slinky dresses, and dive bars to bottle service. You can easily do this place in a couple of days (perhaps tacked onto a Miami trip) or spend an entire week. Only 90 miles from Cuba (technically closer to Cuba than Miami), this island actually makes you feel like you are in the Caribbean when you're really still in the U.S. No passports needed which makes it a tad easier to access. But there are a couple of items I'd like to address:

  1. Key West is not known for its beaches. That doesn't mean you won't find any, they are there, they are just not the pristine white-sanded beaches you envision when you think of the Caribbean. And actually, you can find prettier beaches at other Florida destinations.
  2. Key West airport is very small so don't expect flights to be cheap. This is especially the case over holidays and school vacations, unfortunately.

But don't let the facts deter you. Simply opt for some quality pool lounging and rent a convertible and hit the road (for the most scenic drive in the U.S.) from Miami or Fort Lauderdale where flights are much, much cheaper. Once you've made it over the final bridge in the keys, here's what you should do:

 

SEE

Duval Street- This mile-long street is Key West's main street that's full of restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. Definitely take a few strolls up and down and bar hop along the way. No need to chug that beer though--with a lax open container policy you can bring it with you to your next watering hole (plastic cups only!).

Mallory Square- The best place to catch one of Key West's beautiful orange sunsets. Live performers, carts selling everything from drinks that light up to Christmas ornaments, and happy people out enjoying life makes this a perfect place to start your night. Be sure to Google the time of sunset and plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before to watch the bright orange circle get sucked into the sea.

Southernmost Point - A life-size buoy marks this spot. Must get a photo with the view in the background. On a clear day you can spot Cuba (just kidding, but you are only 90 miles away).

Ernest Hemingway House - If you don't mind lots of free-roaming cats, and 6-toed ones at that, then visit the famous American writer's home where he lived from 1931 to 1939 and arguably wrote some of his best work. (907 Whitehead St.)

 

EAT

La Creperie - Both the sweet and savory varieties abound on the menu at this cute little cafe. The owner is from Brittany, France so you can expect these to be as authentic as they get without going to France. (300 Petronia St.)

Margaritaville - I mean, When in Rome! This Jimmy Buffett outpost is the original and in my mind is therefore the best. It offers live music most nights starting at 8p so why not enjoy your Cheeseburger in Paradise and order that Boat Drink? (500 Duval St.)

Ana's Cuban Cafe - A little hole in the wall near the Southernmost point serving up delicious made-to-order sandwiches, Cuban delights and breakfast. (1330 Simonton St.)

Kelly's Caribbean Bar & Grill - For any fellow aviation enthusiasts this is the place to visit because it is the original Pan Am headquarters back when Pan Am was the first American airline to fly an international route - Key West to Havana. The casual restaurant is also the location of the Southernmost Brewery offering beers brewed on the premises. (301 Whitehead St.)

Glazed Donuts - The gourmet donut shop craze made its way to the southernmost point of the continental U.S. to bring you both classic flavors as its name suggests and more adventurous flavors like Key Lime Pie (of course) and candied bacon. Espresso drinks too. Closed Mondays. (420 Eaton St.)

La Te Da - A classic choice if you're looking for a more upscale dinner on a charming, candlelit patio. (1125 Duval St.)

 

DRINK

Sloppy Joe's Bar - If there's only one place you go to while you're in Key West make it this iconic establishment. Casual bar by day, live music and dancing by night. (201 Duval St.)

Captain Tony's Saloon - Jimmy Buffett fan or not, this dive bar is a must with bras hanging from the ceiling and business cards covering the walls. Sometimes you'll catch a one-man band and his guitar and other times you'll spend way too much time trying to toss a coin over your shoulder and into the mouth of the fish that rests on top of the sign outside. (428 Greene St.)

Hog's Breath Saloon - Another Key West icon with, you guessed it, live music. Belly up to the outdoor bar and feel like you're in a treehouse. Don't be surprised if you get pulled into a conga line; this place can get rowdy but in a good fun kinda way. (400 Front St.)

Louie's Backyard - For a more refined evening, opt for glass of wine with a gorgeous view of the water. Head upstairs for said view and ask for a table on the balcony. You won't regret it. (700 Waddell Ave.)

Sunset Pier - Head to this colorful dockside spot for an ice cold boat drink and sit back and enjoy the sunset. (0 Duval St.)

 

SLEEP

Casa Marina - Off the quieter end of Duval Street is this grand Waldorf Astoria resort. The pool/waterfront area is one of the prettiest on the island and you can go swimming off the dock into the ocean (a plus when the shore is protected by coral reef). You even get popsicles delivered to your lounge chair. If you're worried about being too far from the action, perhaps a pedicab ride will change your mind. (1500 Reynolds St.)

The Reach - Located next door to the Casa Marina is another lovely Waldorf Astoria resort. Much smaller than the Casa Marina, especially the pool and waterfront, so guests at this hotel are welcome to use the facilities at the Casa Marina if they so wish. (1435 Simonton St.)

The Westin Key West Resort & Marina -  Located steps away from Mallory Square, this hotel is a great option if you prefer to be close to all the action. There is no beach here, but the pool is inviting. Guests can choose to have breakfast dockside at the property's restaurant, Latitudes, and watch the ships pull in. (245 Front St.)

Southernmost on the Beach - If the above options are a little too pricey, try for this stylish hotel. From appearances, it looks more like an inn but offers hotel amenities. It is located, as the name suggests, on one of the few beaches on the island just steps from the Southernmost Point. (508 South St.)

 

Last but not least, if you're lucky enough to be able to visit Key West during the holidays, I highly recommend you do so. Flights and accommodations are pricey but you're guaranteed endless merriment. Palm trees are decked out with Christmas lights, lampposts are decorated to look like candy canes and there are numerous New Year's Eve countdown celebrations to choose from (a pirate sliding down the mast of a schooner....um, yes please). Plus, Duval Street shuts down to traffic to allow for a big party in the street. I promise, this experience will not disappoint.

Whether or not you visit during the holidays, Key West really makes you leave your worries behind and gives you a taste for Jimmy Buffett/Ernest Hemingway-inspired life. It is a crazy but amazing little place that should be on everyone's bucket list. I mean, who can turn down a boat drink while taking in the gorgeous sunset? After all, if we weren't all crazy we would go insane.

Views for days on the drive down to the Keys

Views for days on the drive down to the Keys

The Southernmost Point was getting a fresh paint job unfortunately!

The Southernmost Point was getting a fresh paint job unfortunately!

Gorgeous tropical views abound in Key West

Gorgeous tropical views abound in Key West

Cruise ships docked near Mallory Square
Cruise ships docked near Mallory Square
A Key West sunset
A Key West sunset
Key West decked out for the holidays
Key West decked out for the holidays
Sloppy Joe's on Duval Street is a true Key West tradition
Sloppy Joe's on Duval Street is a true Key West tradition
Captain Tony's for all you Jimmy Buffett fans out there

Captain Tony's for all you Jimmy Buffett fans out there

The original Pan Am headquarters, wow!

The original Pan Am headquarters, wow!

The beautiful Casa Marina Hotel

The beautiful Casa Marina Hotel

The grounds and pool area at the Casa Marina

The grounds and pool area at the Casa Marina

The pool area at the Reach Resort 

The pool area at the Reach Resort 

The Westin Key West Resort & Marina
The Westin Key West Resort & Marina

I'm baaack & Luxe-for-Less in Miami Beach

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Greetings fellow Jetsetters! It's certainly been awhile but what can I say other than c'est la vie. Life sometimes gets in the way but it's time to get this thing started again. I've got lots to share with you though and hope to provide you with some inspiration for your next vacation. So with that... Miami Beach. South Beach. SoBe. That crazy, crazy place in South Florida that attracts energetic, party-types and bachelorette parties alike. In other words not me. I'm more of a Key West kinda gal. But SoBe happens to be home to the amazing 5-star hotel known as the 1 Hotel South Beach that a friend told me about after she experienced it on her last trip to SoBe. It sounded so dreamy I had to experience it for myself even if that meant going to Miami. With its prime location right on the beach and its 4 pools I had to choose from I didn't even really care if I ever left my lounge chair and ventured outside the resort. (Note: I ended up venturing off resort and surprisingly had a great time while maintaining a low profile, more on that later).

The main lounge at the 1 Hotel South Beach, a gorgeous place to relax

The main lounge at the 1 Hotel South Beach, a gorgeous place to relax

Love the plant life and wood details throughout the hotel

Love the plant life and wood details throughout the hotel

Such coziness in this area off the lobby bar

Such coziness in this area off the lobby bar

Before I go on you're probably wondering why anyone would ever go to Miami Beach in the summer, during hurricane season, and after announcement that Zika spread. Technically it was the end of the summer but regardless, there are a couple of reasons. For one, it's the off season so it's not as crowded, meaning you can pretty easily score reservations to that hotspot restaurant you've been dying to try but could never get a table at. Second, and my primary driving factor, you can afford a room at the luxurious 5-star resorts that would otherwise wipe your savings squeaky clean during peak season. In fact, many hotels do summer promotions and we were able to get our 4th night free. We even received a free upgrade to a suite because the hotel was not at capacity. Something that is hard to come by during prime time February and March!

Let us not forget we are in Florida with this lobby art…

Let us not forget we are in Florida with this lobby art…

Okay, so more about the hotel. The 1 Hotel opened in March of 2015 making it one of the newer kids to the block. It underwent a great deal of renovations to transform it from the Gansevoort into the rustic-chic, gray and white, beautifully-decorated, delightfully-smelling sanctuary it now is. The hotel prides itself on being eco-friendly which means most if not all reclaimed wood you see throughout the gorgeous interior is recycled, the mattresses are made from organic hemp and the sheets organic cotton, the room keys are wood rather than plastic, and a digital device is the chosen medium to deliver hotel information in your room instead of paper. They even claim to use non-toxic, natural cleaning products throughout the hotel. There's an onsite restaurant by celeb chef Tom Colicchio and there's even an organic juice bar in the lobby. I mean, what more could a girl ask for?

Delish fresh juice bar at the 1 Hotel South Beach

Delish fresh juice bar at the 1 Hotel South Beach

Fresh locally-sourced fruit stand in the lobby each morning

Fresh locally-sourced fruit stand in the lobby each morning

When we arrived to the hotel we were a little confused to see all of the lights were turned off and the lobby and lounge were lit by dozens upon dozens of Pottery Barn-esque lanterns. But we quickly learned upon check in that once every month on the night of a full moon the hotel shuts off the lights to conserve energy. They host a full moon party with specialty cocktails on the rooftop, you know, after they lead a yoga and meditation sesh. Pretty unique. I could go on and on about this property but needless to say we were very impressed and quite comfortable during our stay. I'm still dreaming of those Keetsa mattresses...

Sweet dreams are made of these organic hemp mattresses

Sweet dreams are made of these organic hemp mattresses

The standard king room comes with a very large sitting area

The standard king room comes with a very large sitting area

Spacious bathroom with lots of white marble and salvaged wood

Spacious bathroom with lots of white marble and salvaged wood

Deep soaking tub and glass-enclosed shower

Deep soaking tub and glass-enclosed shower

So if you're looking to have a fabulous stay in SoBe without putting (as big as) a dent in your wallet, strongly consider the off-season. Weather will always be a little risky at this time of year but sometimes it's worth the risk for the rewards (did I mention the weather was perfect and the bugs were not biting?) Also, stay tuned for my next post which will be about how to enjoy Miami Beach even if you don't like to party all the time.

FUN FACT #1: I actually asked to be downgraded from my suite to the king room I paid for. While normally I embrace free upgrades, this one I'd recommend against unless you plan on spending a lot of time here. It had a large, fully-equipped kitchen but as a tradeoff the bathroom was small and lacked a soaking tub (um, hello, don't they know I LOVE soaking tubs?) I also preferred the decor in the king rooms to that of the suite.

FUN FACT #2: JetBlue Getaways saved me $500 on this trip for the same exact flights and hotel room I was going to book separately. I wanted to fly into Fort Lauderdale anyway so I could rack up some JetBlue points and just out of curiosity decided to peruse the Getaway option. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that you can pair your FLL flights with hotels in Miami. Definitely check this out, you never know what kind of deal you will score. And if you use your JetBlue mastercard you could earn enough points for a free future flight by simply purchasing this one Getaway package.

Terrariums like these scattered about the hotel

Terrariums like these scattered about the hotel

OTHER HOTELS WORTH MENTIONING

The Miami Beach EDITION - Technically part of Mid-Beach, this place is will be where I rest my head on my next trip to SoBe. Loved the work that boutique-hotel-designer Ian Schrager and hotel giant Marriott did together. The decor was spectacular, the Matador terrace was serene and the bowling alley and ice skating rink in the basement was just amazing. This 5-star hotel is not much cheaper than the 1 Hotel, so I would also recommend this one during the off or shoulder season.

Kimpton Surfcomber Hotel - A little more budget-friendly, this trendy 4- star Kimpton hotel is also a good choice even during the busy season. Its oceanfront location near 17th Street puts you a little closer to the action than the above options.

Nautilus, a SIXTY Hotel - Very tastefully decorated, this 4-star hotel is located close to the action of South Beach but just slightly off the beaten path so that you can comfortably and fabulously stay under the radar at a reasonable price.

The Angler's Hotel - Another stylish 4-star Kimpton property makes another more budget-friendly, good option closer to the action. I love that you can count on Kimpton for that great boutique experience but note that this property is not beachfront (although the beach is a short walk).

Looking down on the beach from the pool area at the 1 Hotel South Beach

Looking down on the beach from the pool area at the 1 Hotel South Beach

Guadeloupe: The other French Caribbean (Part I)

Usually when people think of the French Caribbean or Les Antilles as they are known in French, they are referring to St. Barths or St. Martin. But those two islands make up only half of the French overseas territories. The other half is represented by the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe (and French Guyana in South America). Up until recently, one would have to take several (expensive) flights to get to these islands and with the popularity of St. Barths and St. Martin, both Martinique and Guadeloupe got overlooked by Americans. Furthermore, most people I talked to had never even heard of them. But thanks to Norwegian Air's cheap, direct flights from Boston, we Americans are now able to discover this other part of the (beautiful) French Caribbean. Guadeloupe is a butterfly-shaped island (technically two islands joined by a bridge) located just south of Antigua. The left or west "wing" known as Basseterre is made up of lush, tropical mountains, rainforests, golden and black-sanded beaches and an active volcano. Conversely, the right or east "wing" known as Grande Terre is more flat and where you will find the white-sanded beaches you associate with the Caribbean. It is also where you will find the island's resorts (and tourists, subsequently) which are primarily located in Le Gosier and Sainte Anne. Located in the middle of the butterfly is where you'll find the island's capital of Pointe-à-Pitre and the international airport where you will land in just over 4 hours (from Boston).

Our group consisting of 3 couples was in search of the white sandy beaches but not really the tourists so we ended up staying on Grande Terre but away from the hotels and resorts in a town called Le Moule. We wanted to have as much of a local experience as possible so we decided to rent a private villa. Yes, we had to procure our own food, but going to the grocery store or the local market was a super fun way to experience local life. Plus, our kitchen was so nice it was practically begging us to use it! And everyone we interacted with was so so so nice and welcoming which made our stay that much more enjoyable.

Finding a villa to rent was a little difficult at times due to a language barrier but I ended up finding a great rental agency, Villa Prestige Antilles, through a property I inquired about on HomeAway. Julie from Villa Prestige Antilles was wonderful to work with and she knew English which was really helpful. We were all blown away by the villa she recommended for us (actually not the one I originally found) and overall could not have been more happy with the place and our week stay.

Belle des Alizés was a 3-bed 3-bath villa with an amazing patio and infinity pool overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The view was absolutely breathtaking and the highlight of this property. All the amenities were super modern, clean and looked as if they had barely been used. The kitchen came fully equipped and we had a brand-new grill on the patio which we got lots of good use out of. The bedrooms were well air-conditioned and two of the bedrooms had en-suite bathrooms with walk-in showers and rainfall shower heads. It was definitely one of the nicest homes we've ever stayed in with a view we could never get sick of.

The villa, despite being away from the tourist towns, was centrally located in a quiet neighborhood, about a 5-minute walk to the beach, a 2-minute drive to a grocery store and a 5-minute drive into the town of Le Moule. We didn't spend a lot of time in town, other than the daily visits to the produce stand (fresh banana daquiris anyone?) and the boulangerie for fresh baguettes. I mean, what's a trip to France without the baguettes? There were a few nights that we decided to venture out for dinner and drinks but we decided to go to the nearby town of Saint François which had a cute marina and lots of delicious options. It was definitely more touristy than Le Moule but still felt authentic (more on that later).

Sound amazing? It was and it is. But before you book your plane ticket, there are a few things you should know about Guadeloupe that makes it different from other Caribbean destinations:

  1. Most tourists are from France or French Canada and there are hardly ANY Americans. I think this is because, prior to Norwegian Air's service, it was tough to get to from the States and generally expensive. Which brings me to....
  2. Guadeloupe is technically part of France so people speak French, the local currency is the Euro and there is definitely a European vibe. Do not expect a lot of English being spoken however, unlike Paris where people are rude to English-speakers, the locals (and French tourists alike) are so friendly and really do make an effort to communicate through their broken English and our broken French.
  3. There are very few resorts or mega-hotels and none of them are the chains that we Americans are used to. No Westin, no Marriott, but there is a Club Med if you're really hell-bent on staying at a resort. We visited Club Med to check out the facilities and while the beach was very nice, the hotel otherwise was not very impressive. Private villa rental is the way to go on this island.
  4. A car is a must for getting around, even if you're staying at a resort or at a place in town. But be warned that the roads are somewhat like those you'll find in Europe--narrow, windy and equipped with hidden speed traps. But overall you will be happy you rented one.

The above may deter some but honestly these are the things that made Guadeloupe great and truly unique. Personally, I loved the European vibe and it was super rewarding to exchange some words in French (and actually understand them). And being in a place that is technically part of France meant we ate and drank well too--the Carrefour was stocked full of French cheeses, fois gras, the most delectable butter imaginable, great wine and other yummy French treats (like my fav Krema Régal'ad chewy fruity candies). The pharmacy carried the good sunscreen and skin care products too! For us, it was a win-win.

Overall, Guadeloupe is such a great and relaxing island that you could easily spend an entire week just floating in your infinity pool sipping some French bubbly but there's also lots of good exploring if you do decide to venture out there. Stay tuned for my next post, which will feature a couple of recommendations to do just that. In the meantime, enjoy my pictures :)

The view from our pool
The view from our pool
The patio/terrace of the villa with a lovely infinity edge pool

The patio/terrace of the villa with a lovely infinity edge pool

Modern living room inside the villa
Modern living room inside the villa
Fully equipped kitchen with a bar that leads to the terrace
Fully equipped kitchen with a bar that leads to the terrace
Master bathroom with walk-in shower and rainfall shower head

Master bathroom with walk-in shower and rainfall shower head

Floating all day is hard work

Floating all day is hard work

View of the beach from the villa

View of the beach from the villa

Bringing pool floats with us was the smartest decision made all week!

Bringing pool floats with us was the smartest decision made all week!

The silver lining of the rain shower....a rainbow!

The silver lining of the rain shower....a rainbow!

Hotel Spotlight: the Captain Fairfield Inn

The holiday season is always so hectic, especially when you live across the street from the Boston Pops, so my husband and I like to spend a night away from it all. When he asked where we should go this year, I didn't really have a specific place in mind. My only pre-requisites were that wherever we went had to have a fireplace and a large soaking tub, the perfect recipe for de-stressing. So, we stumbled on the Captain Fairfield Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine. Not only did they have both of the things I was looking for, but they were fabulous. The Captain Fairfield Inn is technically part of a chain, Lark Hotels, but feels like a family-run B&B. There are only about 10 rooms, give or take, breakfasts are usually included and it feels more like a friend's home than a hotel. That's the angle Lark Hotels takes with all of its properties, including 76 Main in Nantucket which I've also had the pleasure of staying. These properties aren't just any B&B though, they are decorated with taste, using only the latest trends from the interior design world. Another reason why I love staying with them.

Kennebunkport is known for being mostly a summer destination (after all it's where the Bush's summer) and not necessarily a winter hot spot. But we benefitted from that with friendly off-season rates therefore being able to take the largest room at the inn, the Lark Suite. We also learned quickly that Kennebunkport goes all out for Christmas and the quaint little seaside town was beautifully decorated to the nines. It made for a very festive atmosphere and we were delighted with our decision. I highly recommend it, and if you go here are some ideas of how you can spend your time:

  1. Take a leisurely stroll around town. There are several cafes to have a cup of coffee, restaurants for a bite, and cute shops to browse. Not to mention, the water makes a pretty backdrop.
  2. Relax fireside at the Inn with a good book. There is a constant supply of coffee and tea for you to help yourself and there is even freshly baked sea salt chocolate chip cookies in the afternoon. Or just get a bottle of wine :)
  3. Drive to nearby Ogunquit, another quaint little seaside village for exploring. The pizza and craft beer at Cornerstone is delightful.
  4. There is no spa at the Inn but don't let that prevent you from taking a relaxing bath. Bring along some salts or a soak and you won't even know the difference. Because, when do we ever make time for that at home?
  5. Take a scenic drive along Maine's coast. In the Kennebunkport area, there is Cape Porpoise Pier and of course the Bush Compound on Walkers Point. Just a little way's out you've got York's Nubble Light, Biddeford's Wood Island Light and Timber Point, which has a nice path for those looking to stretch their legs.

So, the next time you're looking for a mini getaway, definitely consider the Captain Fairfield Inn in Kennebunkport or any other of the Lark Hotels in New England, California or Nashville. To learn more about the Captain Fairfield Inn and other hotels in the Lark family, visit their website.

Entering town

Entering town

The marina....Love KPT <3

The marina....Love KPT <3

Shops along Western Ave.&nbsp;

Shops along Western Ave. 

Restaurants along Western Ave.
Restaurants along Western Ave.
Colorful storefronts
Colorful storefronts
The tree all decorated

The tree all decorated

More decorations along Ocean Ave.
More decorations along Ocean Ave.
HA! I wish it worked this way in Boston, although it’s pricier than a meter!

HA! I wish it worked this way in Boston, although it’s pricier than a meter!

The cozy living room at the Captain Fairfield Inn

The cozy living room at the Captain Fairfield Inn

The Lark Suite at the Captain Fairfield Inn. love the wallpaper!

The Lark Suite at the Captain Fairfield Inn. love the wallpaper!

Walk-in shower with marble hex tile floor, subway tile walls, and large soaking tub. HEAVEN!

Walk-in shower with marble hex tile floor, subway tile walls, and large soaking tub. HEAVEN!

Cape Porpoise Pier, Kennebunkport

Cape Porpoise Pier, Kennebunkport

Main Street, Ogunquit

Main Street, Ogunquit

Nubble Lighthouse, York

Nubble Lighthouse, York