Weekend inspiration: Vail
When people think of Vail, they often think of snowy mountains packed with well-dressed skiers and snowboarders gleefully careening down the slopes. What many people don't know is that Vail is just as beautiful, with just as many activities in the summer.
Here's a perfect weekend in Vail, Colorado, on a sunny summer's day.
Vail is known for its upscale, impeccable hotel options. When we stayed for our last mural project, we were very lucky to have a suite at the Four Seasons Vail. The rooms are modern and spacious, the bathrooms feature deep, freestanding porcelain tubs with balconies overlooking the Rocky Mountains and there are coffee stations that will make even the pickiest coffee drinker happy. The lobby bar, Remedy, is a local favorite with stellar views of the hotel's stunning pool and green hiking paths. If you're looking for a smaller boutique hotel, check out the charming Austria Haus Hotel.
For dinner, we recommend going to Sweet Basil – largely regarded by locals as one of the best restaurants in town. Sweet Basil features fusion food with creative dishes such as saffron linguine and sakura pork tenderloin.
Vail is about 8,000 feet above sea level, so if the altitude hits you a few hours after your arrival, there are a number of things you can do to alleviate your symptoms. Stop by an oxygen bar for a quick O2hit or a hydration bar for an IV of saline and B12. Also, be sure to grab some electrolyte water, a portable oxygen cylinder, some ibuprofen and simple carb snacks (which are easier to digest at higher altitudes). We're native Coloradans, and even we were dragging our first night in Vail.
For your second day in Vail, call your hotel concierge about delivering fixings for a picnic for the following morning.
After you've packed your lunch, we recommend heading to eat at the charming Ludwig's Breakfast for a wonderful European-inspired brunch on an enclosed terrace overlooking Gore Creek.
If you're feeling pretty good with the higher elevation, we recommend an easy hike around town to get your (red) blood cells pumping. Stop by the Vail Nature Center and then walk along the winding path next to Gore Creek towards the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater and Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. Built in the 80s, the Ford's lived in Vail and wanted to leave a lasting legacy. Hence, they created the highest botanical garden in the U.S. and had an amphitheater designed to match the snow-packed peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
Wander through the perfectly manicured gardens, check out the amphitheater schedule and finish up at Patrick Dougherty's mystical art installation "Stick Works." This installation of woven wood makes you feel like you've stumbled across the home of a woodland nymph or an ancient fairy colony.
For lunch, spread out your picnic in the open park space next to Dougherty's masterpiece and watch aspiring fly fisherman practice their casts.
Most Saturday afternoons in the summer are filled with events. Check out vail.com to see what your Saturday has to offer. When we were in town, we visited the Vail Arts Festival, full of talented Colorado artists. We also got to experience the Vail Beer Fest, and with hundreds of craft brews represented, this event has something for everyone. As you walk through the town, be sure to stop by our newest installation in Vail — "What Lifts You - Vail Swings." Created at the entrance of the Vail Transportation Center (near The Solaris Hotel), you can't miss the bright, oversized flowers and butterflies floating along the cement walls.
For dinner, we can't recommend the sweet, home-cooked meals at Alpenrose enough. Alyssa and her brother Joshua run this cozy restaurant and are some of the kindest folks you'll ever meet. Every single detail, from the restaurant design down to the mugs, has been carefully planned and is designed to make you feel at home. Alyssa explained to us that most of the recipes are her grandmother's and are inspired by the Black Forest region of Europe. The menu features Italian ravioli, "Munich-style" schnitzel and traditional German pretzels. Plan for a long meal because you will want to linger over their apple strudel and Gluwein for dessert.
The Four Season's restaurant Fire has an incredible breakfast buffet with some of the best service we've encountered. Their croissants are buttery and soft, and their waffles are made to order with a myriad of topping options.
If you're feeling a little full from breakfast, we recommend a pedi-cab to get you to your next destination. Ben Donnelly runs Vail Pedicab, and when he's not showing folks around Vail, he's teaching adaptive skiing to disabled youth in the winter. Let Ben know you'd like to take a gondola ride and he'll get you to the base of the Eagle Bahn lift. Keep your phone out during the trip to take shots of the stellar views of the Vail valley on the way up. At the top there's a slide, a ropes course and hiking galore if you'd like some exercise on the way down.
For a quick lunch, stop by the Remini Gelato & Cafe about a block away from Eagle Bahn Lift. The owners of this European inspired cafe so desperately wanted their Italian coffee maker that they bought it a seat on a plane back from Italy. This Italian beauty of a coffee maker does make incredible lattes and silky-smooth hot chocolate. Their yummy ham and swiss sandwiches also can't be beat.
After lunch, head over to the Colorado Snow Sports Museum. This newly renovated museum takes you through the history of skiing, snowboarding and even fashion on the slopes. The exhibit about the 10thMountain Division is a piece of history Coloradans are very proud of. Before WWII, Charles Dole, the president of the National Ski Patrol, convinced the US government we needed a division of the armed forces that was adept at skiing and surviving harsh winters and mountain conditions in case of an attack by German forces. The Army developed and trained the tough-as-nails 10thMountain Division of the US Armed Forces at Camp Hale in Colorado. The men of the 10thMountain Division went on to found almost every ski resort west of the Mississippi, co-found Nike and even went on to became politicians (including Bob Dole).
After an interesting history lesson, head over to the 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirits bar for a proper whiskey. While you're at it, toast the brave men of the 10th Mountain Division for their heroism. For dinner, head over to Mountain Standard. The service is stellar and the generous comfort food is the perfect way to end a trip to this summer mountain getaway.
Eric Rubens (@erubes1) is a MileagePlus member based in Southern California. He is a photographer/videographer who loves meeting new people and traveling the world.
When planning a vacation, one of the first steps is picking a theme. If you're in search of mountains, many look to the Rockies, Swiss Alps, or Dolomites. If a tropical vacation is desired, Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean may be calling your name. There are so many beautiful destinations in this world, but is it possible for one of them to be blessed with incredible mountains, picturesque beaches, and some of the best wildlife viewing in the world?
Cape Town is one of the few places I've found that seems to have it all. With the iconic Table Mountain and Lion's Head rising out of the city, there are hikes leading up to majestic views down the African coastline. The beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay are some of the most incredible beaches on this planet. If wildlife peaks your interest, there's Boulder's Beach, home to one of the only land-based penguin colonies in the world. Did I mention the safari is a short trip away? Add in an exchange rate that is very favorable and you have all the makings of a trip you'll never forget.
Camps Bay Beach
Planning a trip to Africa for the first time can be both intimidating and a bit challenging. I found very few of my friends or family had been, which made my voyage to South Africa even more exciting. Cape Town is home to a hip urban scene, a vibrant melting pot of culture, and jaw dropping landscapes that'll make you wonder why you didn't visit sooner. There's no city quite like it, and this list of top things to do will make sure you maximize your time in the Mother City. Several theories exist regarding the origin of Cape Town's nickname as "The Mother City." Some say it can be traced back to the beginning of the city's history as a trading hub in the 17th century, or its status as South Africa's first metropolis. But many locals have their own theories – one running joke is that it takes nine months to get anything done in the very laid back city.
View from the top of Table Mountain
#1: Take a hike or tram up to the top of Table Mountain
This iconic mountain rising from the city is arguably home to Cape Town's best views. The 2 to 3-hour hike to the top makes for a fun activity if you're up for it. Otherwise, take in the view from the aerial cableway, complete with 360-degree rotating floor and running every 5 minutes from the base. Once up top, there's plenty of walking trails, souvenir shopping, and food and drinks. Table Mountain is known for the blanket of fog that rolls over the peak, so weather at the top can change quickly. Make sure to check the weather before heading up and bring a jacket, since the wind can be intense!
Penguins at Boulder Beach
#2: Visit the penguin colony at Boulder's Beach
Even though it's an hour or so drive from the city, visiting Boulder's Beach and its nearly 2,000 penguins is an unforgettable experience. Watching the penguins lounge on the beach and come in and out of the waves makes for some incredible pictures and a unique encounter. You can also swim in the nearby waters and will often come face to face with members of the colony.
#3: Wake up for a sunrise hike up Lion's Head
One of the most bucket list-worthy activities on a visit to Cape Town is catching sunrise atop Lion's Head. It's a challenging hike and not for those with a fear of heights, but you won't soon forget the view from the summit. If you're willing to scramble and make your way up the final ladders, 360-degree views of the city await, and the sunrise over the city is one for the ages.
#4: Explore the Cape Winelands and the beauty of Constantia
South Africa has some of the best vineyards in the world. Even though the towns of Franschooek and Stellenbosch get the majority of the press, nearby Constantia is home to the oldest wine estate in the country, Groot Constantia. Its proximity (just 15 minutes from the city center) makes it perfect for a day trip. The city sightseeing "Hop-On Hop-Off" bus tour has a purple line that connects through this region, so getting here is easy! If wine tasting isn't your thing, the Alphen Trail is a beautiful trek through the countryside and sure to put you in a relaxing mood.
Chapman's Peak Drive
#5: Take a road trip down Chapman's Peak Drive
One of the most beautiful drives awaits just south of Cape Town. Carved into the cliffs and winding along the ocean, this road between Hout Bay and Noordhoek offers majestic views of the coastline. Just make sure to keep your eyes on the road since the sheer beauty can be distracting!
#6: View the diversity of flora throughout Kirstenbosch Gardens
The flora and fauna of South Africa is some of the most diverse in the world, and no place showcases it better than Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Tucked along the slopes of Table Mountain and widely recognized as one of the most impressive gardens in the world, Kirstenbosch is home to over 7,000 species of plants. The newly completed Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway allows you to walk above the tree line. If you visit in summer, try to make one of the Sunday concerts in the gardens, which are a hit with locals and visitors.
V & A Waterfront
#7: Shop your heart out along the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
Known as one of the biggest tourism hubs of the city, the always bustling V&A Waterfront is home to many of Cape Town's finest restaurants, shopping, and the launching point of many tours. There are countless ways to spend your time here, but make sure to stop by the V&A food market, where over 40 vendors sell gourmet street food from around the world.
#8: Make your way to the Southern tip of Africa
If you're up for an adventure, take a trip to The Cape of Good Hope. You'll most likely encounter penguins, baboons, and who knows what else along the 1.5-hour drive. The weather can be very unpredictable, so make sure to check it before making the trip south. While there, visit the lighthouse and if you're hungry grab a bite at the appropriately named Two Oceans Restaurant.
#9 Take a tour of historical Robben Island
Even though the prison has been shut down since 1996, a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Cape Town's most popular tours. Tours take around 4 hours including a ferry ride to the island famous for housing Nelson Mandela for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned.
-Use the "hop on hop off" bus for an easy guided tour of the city. The route takes you to many of the best spots throughout Cape Town and allows you to explore at your own pace. Buy tickets ahead of time to save on fare!
-Cape Town has some incredible boutique hotels and bed & breakfasts. My favorites are: Tintswalo Atlantic, 52 De Wet Luxury Boutique Hotel, and Derwent House Boutique Hotel.
-Make sure you don't carry too many valuables on you if you're walking around at night. Although beautiful and mostly safe, there is still a good amount of opportunistic crime throughout the city. Always pay attention to your surroundings.
Opinions expressed by the author are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of United.
Planning a Caribbean vacation around hurricane season isn't necessary if you head to Dutch-affiliated Curaçao. The southernmost of all Caribbean islands — just off Venezuela's coast — is rarely even grazed by hurricanes. It also has an ideal tropical climate with average winter highs in the 80s (and water temperatures to match) and only about one inch of rain a month.
Curaçao will be more accessible beginning December 7, 2019, when weekly nonstops begin from New York/Newark on United Airlines. The new seasonal service on 737-700 aircraft makes Curaçao the 21st Caribbean island destination for United, which already flies to the other two nearby "ABC islands" — Aruba and Bonaire. Why choose Curaçao? Because like the island's famous blue liqueur, it's colorful, exotic and appealing.
Jet lag won't be an issue for Americans flying to Curaçao because it's in the same time zone as New York. Nor is it a long flight — about five hours nonstop from New York/Newark. Upon arrival you can take a taxi, rental car or hotel shuttle from Curaçao International Airport to your accommodations — a resort (reserve early), boutique inn, vacation house or B&B. Most are in Willemstad, a coastal city only five miles from the airport.
Forts above the port
Straat Curaçao Getty Images/iStockphoto
The historic city center and harbor areas of Curaçao's only city of Willemstad are designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site, mostly for the 17th to 19th century Dutch colonial architecture of the houses and forts. The houses are painted a rainbow of bright colors in the Caribbean tradition, and the city is packed with forts — Fort Amsterdam (built in 1636), Fort Beekenburg (1703), Fort Nassau (1797) and Fort Waakzaamheid (1803). All four offer stellar views and are free to visitors.
On the waterfront
Curacao colorful houses Getty Images/iStockphoto
Along with forts, the harbor area is home to the oldest continuously operating synagogue (and museum) in the Western Hemisphere, an African art museum that tells the story of the slave trade through West African art and artifacts, and a maritime museum. These visits can be followed by a tour and tasting at the Curaçao Distillery, where you'll see how the peels of the native Laraha bitter oranges are turned into curaçao liqueur.
Snorkel from the sand
Two people snorkeling off coast of tropical island Getty Images
The chief allure of this 38-mile-long island is, of course, the ocean. Besides sunbathing at any of the dozens of powder-sand cove beaches, you can wade right in and snorkel in the turquoise, bathlike sea, usually around 80 degrees. Visibility is up to 100 feet, a snorkeler's dream. More adventurous types can snorkel or dive from day boats that head to prime diving sites like the Mushroom Forest (mushroom-shaped coral), Blue Cave and several shipwreck spots. There's also a nice aquarium on the shoreline where marine life is seen up close in their natural habitat —from land or aboard a minisub that dives 1,000 feet.
Curaçao is a convenient tropical destination for Americans because U.S. dollars and credit cards are commonly accepted, English is widely spoken and no visa is required. But the local culture and cuisine are still exotic enough to be intriguing with local specialties like stewed iguana and cactus soup served in restaurants and from food carts in Willemstad.
If you go
One of our most treasured events of the year is here – Fantasy Flights! Our Fantasy Flights bring holiday cheer to children in need by taking them on a special trip to the "North Pole." Each station creates a North Pole with care, in preparation for all the children who will soon be there…
Our participating stations this year are HNL (Honolulu), FRA (Frankfurt), CLE (Cleveland), DEN (Denver), IAD (Washington Dulles), LAX (Los Angeles), SFO (San Francisco), MCO (Orlando), ORD (Chicago O'Hare), GUM (Guam), EWR (New York/New Jersey), NRT (Tokyo-Narita), PHX (Phoenix), IAH (Houston), MCI (Kansas City) and SAT (San Antonio).
Please stay tuned for stories, photos and more from these magical events. #UAFantasyFlights