Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Stuff of Dreams: Banff's Lake Louise

A glacial beauty: Moraine Lake, Alberta, Canada
If a photo is worth a thousand words, I should just shut up now.

This photographic deliciousness is brought to you courtesy of the Canadian Rockies, where I recently returned from checking the top-box on my must-visit list.

For years, I’ve been lustily googling the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, which is tucked in Alberta, Canada’s Banff National Park, in a twisted sort of tourism foreplay. I knew that someday I’d make my way to this decidedly rugged northern destination, but I wasn’t expecting the opportunity to arrive so soon.

As often happens with spontaneous travel plans, it took a life-altering, sinkhole of emotion to inspire this trip. It was a getaway in the truest sense – a plea to the universe to instill once more a sense of wonder and goodness in me – which it helped to do, incredibly.

If you’re looking to wander, if you’re looking to settle into a satiated state of awe, if you’re looking to realize your smallness, this is the place.

When to go:
Of Lake Louise’s roughly four million annual visitors, approximately half arrive within the months of July and August. The park will be busy, but the warm(er) temperatures and sun make the high season worth the expense and occasional crowds.

How to get there:
We flew into Calgary, Alberta, not realizing that it was the weekend of the iconic Calgary Stampede (holy cowboy boots), before renting a subcompact for the hour-and-a-half drive into Banff National Park.

Where to stay:
Because most of our trip was based at Lake Louise, we stayed at the only hotel on the water—the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. We went fancy and booked Fairmont Gold rooms, located on the seventh floor, and completely enjoyed the complimentary breakfasts (banana-date smoothie, anyone?), happy hour hor du’evres and private concierge services. Having acknowledged that a stay at this hotel would be a pretty penny no matter what, we clearly decided to indulge. Our room, 757, had a partial view of the lake, a spacious space with king bed and an inviting bathroom with separate soaking tub and large shower.

Read about Fairmont Lake Louise's 5-Green-Key rating and green initiatives here.

(As a side note, we met a very helpful Banff local, Tanya, during our Minneapolis layover, who owns the Kicking Horse Hostel in nearby Golden. While our travels didn’t take us her way, I can recommend her accommodations as warm and hospitable if they’re anything like her personality. )

Where to eat:
Our first meal was a picnic lunch compiled at Lake Louise village’s Samson Mall (I use the term “mall” very loosely here) grocer. Rice crackers, cheese, fruit and wine was all that we needed.

At the Fairmont, we dined at the Fairview Restaurant, an upscale option with stunning windows overlooking the lake (think beef tenderloin, veal and duck) the more causal Lakeside Restaurant (tapas, cocktails and a lovely $89 seafood tower), as well as the Glacier Saloon (actually, we headed here for drinks). One evening, we picked up pre-made sandwiches and hummus at the 24-hour hotel deli.

Naturally, we purchased a few bottles on wine to bring along at a liquor store in Calgary before heading into the price-hiked Rockies.

What to do:
We were content to sit and stare at the lake, and that’s actually what we did for a large percentage of our trip. (With drink in hand, of course.) But equally stunning as Lake Louise was Moraine Lake, located off the same exit, where we canoed (cheaper - $40 without any stringent time watching – and far less crowded than at Lake Louise) and enjoyed our picnic lunch.

At Lake Louise, we also canoed ($45 per half hour and $55 per hour, with an additional hour’s fee if you returned five minutes late), but especially enjoyed hiking to the Plain of Six Glaciers teahouse, which took roughly 2.5 hours to ascend to, and an hour and a half to descend from. At the teahouse, we relaxed with Banff Tea Co.’s “cherry festival” green tea, which you can purchase as Kyoto Cherry Blossom Festival Green Tea in the company’s Banff store, and warm biscuits. The no-electricity teahouse was bustling when we arrived, considering its location in, ahem, the middle of nowhere, but relaxing on their narrow patio tables was my favorite experience of the trip. (Thank goodness, they accept Visa and MasterCard.)

The Lake Louise gondola is an option for folks wanting a look at wildlife. We talked to several people that had spotted grizzlies on their visit. The gondola in Banff, an hour or so away, was better for scenic vistas.

On our last day, we drove Icefields Parkway, the highway toward Jasper National Park, which offered stunning views of glacier-tipped mountains and Caribbean-blue lakes. We paid $50 each to tour a glacier on an ice truck with tour company Explore Rockies, which may be worthwhile if you’ve never been atop a glacier before. (If you have, please realize that all glaciers look the same and save your money.)

Have you visited Lake Louise? If so, please share details on any other area lodging in the comments. 

Passing the city of Banff, inside Banff National Park

Canoeing Moraine Lake on our first day

iPhone snaps along the scenic drive, naturally

Waiting in line -  ahem - to canoe Lake Louise

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in the distance

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Turning Dusty Tech Gear into Green... Cash

There’s something about the long days of summer, with windows propped open and ceiling fan whirring, that leave me feeling a bit claustrophobic indoors. My solution, year after year, is to de-clutter like nobody’s business, one-upping my spring cleaning by filling bags of donated clothing, peddling my “like new” wares on eBay and recycling the massive stacks of deemed-indispensable magazines that have accumulated over the past 12 months.

Interestingly, my dusty Blackberry and iPod - long without subscription services and years from fully charged – continue to take up real estate in the depths of my desk. Meaning, while I’m playing auction photographer with my old Coach handbags, there’s cold, hard cash just chillin’ in the other room, requiring little more than a trek to the nearest ecoATM before it turns, Cinderella-style, into more stash for my travel fund. (Up to $260 per device, in fact.)

How likely is it that some outdated tech gear is being held hostage in your home? I’m going to guess pretty likely, since roughly 396 million devices are expected to be inactive or idle by the end of this year… with a devastatingly low 80 million making it to a recycling program.

If you haven’t yet, consider collecting your used tech gadgets for a quick buck today. Easier than digging spare change out of the couch cushions, this tactic may actually garner you a good return. And even better than the moolah, say some, is the fact that ecoATMs has kept 500,000 lbs of electronic devices – that’s three space shuttles worth – out of landfills.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pay-to-Plant at St. Regis' Princeville Property

Here's an interesting take on eco initiatives - pay-to-plant opportunities offered at St. Regis Princeville.

Not unlike the star-naming certificates peddled by astronomical societies in years past, which came at a hefty price, tourism companies are now offering the chance to plant a rare native canopy tree within Limahuli Garden's forest restoration preserve. The tree planting has a price tag of $100, but guests are gifted with a certificate to commemorate the special occasion.

Would you lay down a Benjamin to plant roots in Princeville? My personal preference would be to help plant trees in a restoration forest for free via a voluntourism project... or to purchase and plant a tree in my own backyard in honor of a memorable moment.

More info from St. Regis on the Limahuli Garden...
Over the past 100 years the Lower Preserve has seen a major decline in the population of native plants, primarily due to the introduction of feral cattle in the late 1800s. Ten years ago, in an effort to restore this area to a more natural state, Limahuli Garden began an aggressive plant restoration project, which garnered national recognition.The forests in the mountains above Hanalei contain some of the rarest plants and birds on the face of the earth and with the gift of green initiative The St. Regis Princeville Resort also furthers its commitment to protecting the precious biodiversity that exists on Kaua’i. The resort property is an ardent supporter of the work of Limahuli Garden and Preserve.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

April 22, 2014

Here's hoping that your day is filled with simple goodness. 

Whether your hitting the farmer's market, mapping out your spring garden, cycling town, bird watching, cleaning up beaches, strolling a nature trail or plotting to star gaze, be sure to take a moment, inhale deeply and appreciate the beauty we've been gifted.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Guide to California's Greenest Vineyards

If you can't make it to Napa Valley this spring, your next-best bet will be a far more minimal investment in new book, Down to Earth: A Seasonal Tour of Sustainable Winegrowing in California.

Published by the Wine Institute, the 253-page hardcover ($40) is an armchair traveler's dream. Packed with lush photography by George Rose, the green guide highlights current sustainable winegrowing programs and terms before outlining 15 California vintners and growers committed to the greater good.

For instance, Honig Vineyard and Winery's low-impact philosophy includes bat and bird boxes as a first line of defense against insects, has "planted" an acre of solar panels and issues an annual Green Report Card for its third-generation, family-owned business. All of this, of course, is merely dessert to the vineyard's acclaimed Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, explains author Janet Fletcher.

Meanwhile, Bonterra Organic Vineyards, an organic winery owned by Fetzer (sidebar: my first true wine crush was the vineyard's Gewurztraminer) began its eco efforts as early as 1990, gaining traction just as the term "organic" began to surface in mainstream grocery stores. Today, the company complements its practices with biodynamic gardening, too.

Whatever your preferred sip, and whenever your next west coast visit, this informative read is sure to inspire.

On that note, I'm off to uncork a bottle.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sipping and Swimming in Alexander Valley, Cali.

Having grown up with a weekend home on a lake in northern Michigan, I can attest that one of life's greatest (and simplest) pleasures involves a glass of wine and a steady tide.

So, I would imagine that Francis Ford Coppola's Alexander Valley winery, which has debuted an outdoor pool - surrounded by rentable "cabines," or European-style changing rooms - is like a Disneyland for adults. The park, which sits amid the operation's sustainably farmed vineyards, offers 3,600 feet of swimming space for families. Of course, dining, bocce and winery tours (naturally) are natural punctuation to a day of swimming.

Coppola's vineyards, one of the first to adopt green practices, have been at it for more than 30 years. The property's 24 acres adhere to the California Sustainable Winegrowing Program guidelines, while a long, long list of operational practices support eco-friendly efforts. (Think: a closed-loop waste system that recycles composted grape pomace as fertilizer and reclaimed winery waste water for irrigation.)

So, all of this begs the question... do you start with Disney and recover at Coppola? Or prep for animated anxiety with a day-long chill session? Either way, let's agree that any west coast family trip requires balancing both.

And, as long as you're heading to the wine region, why not check out some of the other sustainable establishments dedicated to our favorite elixir? I've just got my hands on a fabulous book that explores several of the area's greenest wineries. It's on my reading list; can't wait to share it with you soon!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lonely Planet Names Top 10 Eco Stays in 2014

Costa Rica's Lapa Rios Eco Resort

Are you gearing up for a grand getaway? Luckily, the makers of my favorite guidebooks - Lonely Planet - has named its "Top 10 Eco Stays for 2014." And isn't this a doozy.... one of my former travel clients, Costa Rica's Lapa Rios Eco Resort, tops the list (woo-hoo!).

The winners were selected by Lonely Planet authors and editors; and these folks have seen a resort or two in their day. It goes without saying that they're stamp of approval is a confident one.

Who else made the list?

1. Lapa Rios, Peninsula de Osa, Costa Rica
2. Bulungula Backpackers, Dwesa Nature Reserve, South Africa
3. Chole Mjini, Chole Island, Mafia Archipelago, Tanzania
4. Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, Aguas Calientes, Peru
5. EcoLodge Chepu Adventures
6. Maison Anglaise, Taroudant, Morocco
7. Earthship Rentals, Taos, New Mexico, U.S.
8. Dana Guest House, King's Highway, Jordan
9. Nuli Sapi, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea
10. Baikaler Eco-Hostel, Listvyanka, Siberia, Russia

Have you made it to any of these properties? And if so, would it rank in your top 10?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Four Eco Accessories to Tote Today

You know the drill. Taking a green approach to travel is something every traveler should do in order to protect the destinations that they visit. While tourism can have positive effects on an economy, there are also harmful effects on the environment if travelers don’t consider sustainability and the environment when they head off on vacation. One easy way to do this is to tote "green" accessories on the go.

Consider the below eco-friendly travel accessories next time you're packing up:

Portable solar-powered battery charger and solar-powered backpacks
Mobile phones, cameras, laptops and media players are some of the important gadgets brought along on trips. If used often, their batteries require serious charging. Enter solar-powered backpacks, which can easily charge all of your important electronics while inside the pack. While most solar bags only charge handheld devices, Voltaic Systems offers solar bags that are compatible with most laptops too.

Luggage made from recycled materials
Eco-friendly luggage doesn't mean sacrificing style. Company Planet Earth offers bags that are made with low VOC and recycled materials. If you need a bag that's waterproof and sturdy for storing electronic devices, you can check out GreenSmart bags, which offer insulated and waterproof messenger bags and backpacks that are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic bottles.

Hand-wind or hand-crank flashlights
When you're out in the woods, camping or in an isolated area, a functioning flashlight can be invaluable. You don't need to use battery torches; instead, use a hand-wind or hand-crank flashlight. The batteries will recharge by repeatedly cranking and winding the handle on the side of the flashlight, and you can buy these flashlights online at Quicksales. Some models come with a USB port for juicing up mobile phones.

Reusable water bottles
Staying hydrated is critical. Opt for a reusable water bottle with a built-in filter to reduce plastic bottle waste. Plastic waste currently has a huge detrimental effect on not only the land and oceans, but also wildlife; this is why it’s vital that when we travel, we reduce the amount of plastic bottles we use.

Before heading out on your next trip, quickly audit your current gear. Can you swap out some of your wasteful "stuff" with the above, eco finds? Small tweaks add up, and by investing in even one or two green items, you'll be doing good while you're on the go.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

All Natural Skincare for Guys

I'm typically a bit gender skewed on this blog, but I couldn't pass up the chance to mention this clever brand of men's all-natural grooming products. After all, most of the earth-friendly skincare that's peddled by big box retailers is specifically designed to appeal to women. Makes me wonder, why should guys continue to slather themselves in chemicals?

Here's what I dig about ManCave's line of skincare goods: They're made without parabens, sulphates, synthetic dyes, petrochemicals and ingredients from animal sources; and they're cruelty free. As you might have predicted, they smell great, too. If you're a dude, that is. Pricing runs around $10 per product.

For more options in natural men's skincare, mosey on over to the "green" section of and find brands like Every Man Jack (check out their perfect-for-packing travel kit) and Pacific Shaving Company.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Perfect Tote: Canary Yellow + Cork

I'm a big fan of popping corks. But before toting around Pelcor's punchy canary cork-skin bag, I hadn't thought much about the versatility of the stuff. (Okay, let's be honest, I'm not even sure if I realized cork came from a plant.)

All natural, recyclable and waterproof, it turns out that cork - when used as a "skin" - is the ideal renewable material for tough-love totes. And let's not omit the obvious, the edgy eco vibe it lends is lovely. (Bonus points for being biodegradable, too.)

This cheery option, part of the "sunshine capsule" by Pelcor ($92), lugs books, packs beach essentials, and neatly folds up for easy stowing in a suitcase. Although, admittedly, I'm also drooling over this trendy duffel ($202) and uber cool cork umbrella ($148). 
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