• Trinidad Countryside, Cuba

    Kismet in Cuba

    <h3><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba-cienfuegos-trinidad-havana/" target="_blank">SCOUTING A NEW TRIP TO CIENFUEGOS, TRINIDAD AND HAVANA,</a> <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba-cienfuegos-trinidad-havana/" target="_blank">FATE WAS ON OUR SIDE.</a></h3> <p>Some days, everything just goes right—even when you don’t have any right to think that it will. That Tuesday in <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba-cienfuegos-trinidad-havana/" target="_blank">Cuba</a> certainly didn’t get off to a great start. The official agency steered our five-person scouting party to the all-inclusive Soviet-era mega-hotel with the mondo-buffet on the not-so-perfect north shore. We wanted the Caribbean coast. “Can’t be done.” We wanted boutique hotels in Cienfuegos. “They are all full forever.” We wanted to go where the motorcoaching hordes don’t. “But the industrial-size travel companies know what is best! Just look how many people they bring! They all are so happy!”</p> <p>So our intrepid little band did <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba-cienfuegos-trinidad-havana/" target="_blank">what you never used to be able to do in Cuba</a>: we ditched the pre-planned plan. And we headed south to make our own luck. Our local guide Manuel suggested we drop in on his friends Tony and Mailin at their <i>finca</i> in the Escambray Mountains because, as all good travelers know, when all else fails have lunch. No warning? No problem. Out comes Mailin with platters of olives and sausages and fresh bread. Somehow a bottle of red wine opened itself. Tony, it turns out, is a natural travel therapist.<br><br><img alt="Lunch in Cuba" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7l9&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002qoT" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <p>We bemoaned the crowds in some places. “No tourists come here,” he said. “Bring your friends to our home.” Are there any paths we could walk to get there? “No,” he said, grabbing his machete. “But I can make one.” And he took us to a vantage point overlooking the river that cuts through his property, where he used his machete to trace a trail-to-be that will start at the waterfalls, pass the neighbors’ coffee plantations, and wend back to this very table for lunch. Did I tell you how much we love Tony, Mailin and Fendi, their onesie-wearing chihuahua?</p> <p>But still there were no hotel rooms in Cienfuegos. Tony again: “Did I mention my friend who is in charge of all hotels in this part of Cuba?” Fast forward to our impassioned pitch to officialdom over breakfast the next day, and suffice it to say that <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba-cienfuegos-trinidad-havana/" target="_blank">Classic Journeys has priority access to the best boutique hotels in town. </a>Our luck lingered in Trinidad. A beautiful colonial town, it is. Pastel buildings, golden sunlight, cobbled streets. We happened on to a run of steps (like the Spanish Steps in Rome) just as the musicians started to play. None of us had to say “what if.” We knew it was a Classic Journeys moment that we could and would come back to again and again.<br><br><img alt="Cuban hotel" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7l9&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002qoY" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <p>At the Bay of Pigs, most people do the museum and move on. Hungry (are you sensing a theme?), we drove an extra 20 minutes to Playa Perdiz—which, as it turns out, has a pristine coral reef perfect for snorkeling. Add one splashy activity to the itinerary, please.</p> <p>Even in Havana, which we have visited too many times to count, we made a fantastic new discovery on this scouting trip. You know about the cult of classic cars in Cuba, I’m sure. In search of a tail-finned ride one day on short notice, a friend directed us to the Nostalgic Cars workshop. It’s an only-in-Havana collective of car fanatics, kind of a clubhouse/garage. Long story short, they’ve invited us back with our guests to talk cars and then hop in for a top-down cruise to Revolution Square and other sites in the city.<br><br><img alt="Car workshop" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7l9&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002qod" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <p><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba-cienfuegos-trinidad-havana/" target="_blank">I’m super-excited about our new trip to Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Havana. </a>We took some chances, made some connections that we already treasure, and created one of the most unique Cuban itineraries anywhere. If you come with us, I promise that you’ll experience Cuba the way we did…and nobody else does.</p>

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  • Gardens at Villa Rufolo in Ravello, Italy

    4 Great Garden Walking Tours

    <h2>A stroll through an ancient garden relaxes the soul and nourishes the senses. </h2> <br><img alt="Italian Lakes garden" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lM&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rPj" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br>  <p>We love a good walking vacation. It’s the best way to immerse yourself into the life and culture of a new destination. It’s also the best way to experience a beautiful garden — and we’ve seen many a beautiful garden. Here are four of our favorite garden walking tours:</p> <p><b>Villa Rufolo, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi/" target="_blank">Ravello, Italy</a></b><br><br>Overlooking Piazza Vescovado and with <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi/" target="_blank">magnificent views to the Bay of Salerno, Villa Rufolo is the cultural and historical center of Ravello</a>. Built by a wealthy merchant in the 13th century, the villa has been memorialized in literary works such as “Decameron,” by Italian renaissance author, Boccaccio. It’s storied past includes banquets for King Robert II of Naples and other Norman royalty and legends of hidden treasures.</p> <p>In 1851, Sir Francis Neville Reid, a Scottish botanist, fell in love with the property despite its state of disrepair and neglect at the time. He purchased the estate and began an extensive renovation on the property including the gardens.</p> <p>Know as the “Garden of the Soul,” <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi/" target="_blank">the garden of Villa Rufolo is bi-level with ancient walls</a> nearly hidden by cypress and lime trees. Reid stocked the garden with a variety of exotic plant species, which remain today. One such species is the Mediterranean cypress or pencil pine, which appears to originate from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. It was originally imported by the Phoenicians for its highly ornamental pyramidal form.</p> <p>Another beautiful plant in the gardens is the creeping or climbing fig. It originates in south-eastern Asia, is a vigorous climber with small, dark green heart-shaped leaves. Its aerial roots adhere to walls.</p> <p>The large-leaved lime or linden, is a deciduous tree with heart-shaped leaves with serrated edges. They produce fragrant whitish-yellow flowers in May and June, arranged in drooping clusters of two or more hermaphrodite flowers.</p> <p>Today, the <a href="http://www.villarufolo.it/" target="_blank">magical gardens and villa grounds</a> are open to the public year-round.<br><br><b>Gardens of Château de Marquessac, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/" target="_blank">Dordogne region, France</a></b><br><br><img alt="Gardens of Château de Marquessac" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lM&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rQ3" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>Step into the <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/" target="_blank">otherworldly landscape of the Gardens of Château de Marquessac</a>, designed by a student of André Le Notre, the famous designer behind the gardens of the Château de Versailles. The <a href="http://marqueyssac.com/" target="_blank">formal French-style garden</a> is up-ended — almost becomes a playful version of itself — with dramatic swirls and rounds. The garden is comprised of rosemary, santoline and 150,000 pruned box trees.<br> </p> <p>Once you recover from the wonder of this sight, you’ll notice the garden’s <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/" target="_blank">prominent cliff-side position overlooking the Dordogne River</a>. You’ll see four of the famed castles of the area, including <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/" target="_blank">Castelnaud, Beynac and Fayrac.</a></p> <p><b>Botanical Garden, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba/" target="_blank">Cienfuegos, Cuba</a></b><br><br>An 1899 meeting between an American sugar planter in Cuba and two Harvard professors established The Harvard Botanic Station for Tropical Research and Sugar Cane Investigation in Cienfuegos, Cuba.</p> <p>In 1920, the ties between the garden and Harvard became more formal with a large endowment provided by the sugar cane farmer and the recognition of the garden as part of the university. Harvard Biological Laboratory was constructed at the garden four years later.</p> <p>During the 1930s, the garden reached its peak of beauty and diversity as a tropical arboretum. It was used by professors, students and visiting fellows to study tropical botany. Local citizens made up the grounds crew. With the Cuban revolution in 1959 and later the U.S. embargo American involvement was restricted and Harvard terminated its support. Today garden is run by the Cuban government and is both a <a href="http://www.uh.cu/centros/jbn/" target="_blank">National Monument and a popular tourist destination</a>.</p> <p>More than 2,000 species of plants thrive in this amazing 230-acre expanse in the gently rolling countryside just outside Cienfuegos. It’s the <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba/" target="_blank">only plot on earth where you can see 280 kinds of palms </a>in a single setting. It’s also a marvelous place to spot hummingbirds, trogons and other birds.<br><br><b>Annapolis Royal’s Historic Gardens, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/novascotia/" target="_blank">Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia</a></b><br><br><img alt="Apple orchard" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lM&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rQ8" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>This 17-acre paradise, overlooking a tidal river valley, marks the first European settlement in North America. It’s <a href="http://www.historicgardens.com/" target="_blank">divided into themed areas</a> that tell the story of the area’s local history from a horticultural perspective of gardening methods and designs.<br> </p> <p>La Maison acadienne design is based on diary notes from the Acadian era and includes an orchard and willow hedge. It includes the only archeologically authenticated replica of a pre-deportation Acadian dwelling in the Maritime region — a 1671 time period when Port-Royal (later Annapolis Royal) was the center of Acadie.</p> <p>Herbs, flowers and heritage 18th-century apple trees fill the Governor’s Garden. They are arranged according to the traditions of the mif-1700s period, when <a href="http://www.historicgardens.com/" target="_blank">Annapolis Royal was the capital of Nova Scotia, then under British rule</a>.</p> <p>Other gardens include more than 3000 brightly colored annuals; hydrangea and day lilies; a rock garden; a heather bed and a rose garden with more than 270 cultivars.</p>

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  • Streets of Trinidad, Cuba

    6 Ways to Experience Cuban Culture

    <p>With the normalization of relations between the Unites States and Cuba, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/blog/travel-to-cuba-now/" target="_blank">now is a great time to plan your Cuba vacation</a>. Here are six things to do for the best sightseeing and cultural experience in Cuba.</p> <h3>1. WATCH STREET PERFORMERS</h3> <p>Dressed in colorful costumes and shaking to the beat of the conga, these performers take over the streets of Old Havana daily. Be sure to catch at least one performance while you’re there. Jump up and join in the fun!<br><br><img alt="Cuban playing drums" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lY&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rY2" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <h3>2. CRUISE THROUGH THE VIÑALES VALLEY COUNTRYSIDE</h3> <p><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba-travel/" target="_blank">The Viñales Valley offers dramatic views of rocky outcroppings surrounded by lush mountains.</a> You’ll see tobacco fields and witness traditional farming methods in action including oxen pulling rickety carts and hardened farmers cutting leaves by hand.<br><br><img alt="Vinales Valley" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lY&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rYH" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <h3>3. TAKE A RIDE IN A VINTAGE CAR</h3> <p>Take a short two-hour tour in the city or an all-day affair in the Viñales Valley. <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba/" target="_blank">Drivers are knowledgeable about Cuban history, customs and culture</a><br><br><img alt="Classic car" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lY&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rZ0" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <h3>4. PEOPLE WATCH AT PLAZA VIEJA</h3> <p>Formerly used primarily for military exercises, this lovely plaza is now home to restaurants, cafes, bars and even a microbrewery. The architecture is eclectic and colorful and the stained-glass windows will certainly catch your attention.<br><br><img alt="Man playing guitar" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lY&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rYW" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <h3>5.SAMPLE STREET FOOD </h3> <p>You’ll find a wide variety of street food in Havana. Don’t miss the traditional <i>bocadito de jamon</i> (cured bacon and ham sandwich), <i>chicharritas de platano</i> (thin slices of fried plantain) and <i>pan con lechon</i> (roast pork sandwiches sprinkled with pork juices). Top off your delicious meal with sweet churros.<br><br><img alt="Cuban street vendor" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lY&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rYb" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <h3>6. TAKE A DIVE</h3> <p>Akin to its culture, Cuba’s coral reefs seem trapped in time. They are unspoiled and healthier than any other reefs in the Caribbean. You can see goliath groupers, whale sharks and hundreds of other fish in this decadent and brightly colored seascape.<br><br><img alt="Snorkeling" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lY&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rYg" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <p><b>TRAVEL TIPS FOR THE NEW CUBA</b></p> <ul><li>Be sure your travel purpose falls within one of the 12 approved categories, have a schedule of activities and keep your receipts. The easiest way to ensure you’re in compliance with the most current rules is to use a tour company that makes the arrangements for you.</li><li>You may return to the U.S. with no more than $400 in souvenirs including up to $100 in alcohol and/or tobacco products.</li><li><i>Casas particulares</i>, or bed-and-breakfasts, are great places to stay to be immersed in Cuban culture. There are many options in Havana, Trinidad and Cienfuegos.</li><li>Carry cash. ATMs are scarce and most businesses do not accept credit cards. Check the exchange rate before you go, British pounds and euros often have a better rate than U.S. dollars.</li><li>Check with your cell phone carrier in advance to see what your options are for using your phone. Verizon is currently offering roaming service, and other carriers seem poised to hop on the bandwagon.</li><li>WiFi is spotty at best and often you have to pay for it — and it’s not cheap. You might just plan to unplug and enjoy the trip.</li></ul> <p><a href="https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_new.pdf" target="_blank">For more info, check out this document from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.</a></p>

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