Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Beautiful pottery from Cappadocia, Turkey

Avanos, a Hitite city in the World Heritage region of Cappadocia in Turkey, is an ancient town where people still live in rock houses carved into the famous basalt formations.

Its other claim to fame is that Turkey’s famous pottery is made here, so I really enjoyed our visit to Omurlu Ceramics on our recent trip to Turkey. Kizilirmak River, the longest in Turkey, starts at Mt. Arafat, flows through the town of Avanos, then makes a U-turn and goes back to the Black Sea. On the banks of this river is a red-hued clay used in making the pottery.

Different styles of pottery made at Omurlu
The Omurlu family has been making pottery for 200 years—that’s seven generations—and we met with Hassan, the oldest son who is now in charge. Pottery display and reception rooms are built into a cave, as is often the procedure in this region. Hassan explained that two artists work on each piece of pottery—one crafts the piece and another paints the designs. Creating one piece can take several months depending on complexity of the design.

Omurlu is one of only two places that can produce the Iznik tiles used in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Red clay from the river is an important component, and artists demonstrated their incomparable skill in creating collector items as well as functional pieces that are dishwasher safe.
The business is seven generations strong.

Hassan explained that there are different kinds of clay: Ceramic clay has chemicals, but Omurlu uses a quartz clay that is lead-free and absorbs higher heat resulting in more brilliant colors. A combination of 80% quartz and 20% red clay is used for many pieces.

A potter works intently to create
a new piece.
We watched as one of the potters created a piece on his wheel. Afterwards, Hassan played a traditional mandolin-type instrument called saz and sang Turkish songs while we waited for drinks—wine, tea, colas, or coffee-- to be brought in.

Later we learned that three types of designs are generally used on Turkish pottery:

Iznik has flowers, including tulip designs, the national flower of Turkey. Iznik type flowers can also be found on carpets, bowls, walls, and painted items. The Omurlu family style features intricate geometric patterns in vivid colors. The designs are creative and ornate and made of 80 percent quartz and 20 percent clay. Hitite style pottery uses primarily animal designs.
Each piece is handmade and unique, and the company can custom make a pattern in any size a client might want. Plates take anywhere from 10 days to one month to make, but the Omurlu family style designs are the most difficult and many take even longer.

Painting the intricate designs takes weeks, even months.
Since pottery of any kind is my weakness, I felt the need to bring home an example of the finest, most detailed pottery I had ever seen. I bought a bowl painted in family style, a brightly colored geometric pattern with raised dots that added to design difficulty, a piece that Hassan said took two months to complete. I received it a few weeks after our return and was once again struck by its beauty.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Bicycle tours make vacation healthy and fun


Today we have a guest post from Adam York at Sublime Public Relations, www.sublimepub.com

Biking is fun, green, and good for your health (an hour of moderate cycling burns about 600 calories). It’s also a great way to absorb a destination slowly and without barriers. Bike tours are becoming more and more popular worldwide and often organized around food, wine, and other themes. While avid cyclists frequently represent bike vacationers, regular travelers who are in decent shape can enjoy cycling tours, as well. 

Below are five cycling tours for all skill levels that offer amazing access to exotic locales by bike.

Riding in Sardinia beside beautiful scenery.
1. Mediterranean Island Hopping - Outdoor enthusiasts, photographers, and nature and water lovers will be dazzled by the dramatic beauty of Italian-influenced Sardinia and French-flavored Corsica as they tour these fascinating Mediterranean islands by bicycle. This coastal route showcases the best of northern Sardinia and western Corsica and their respective Italian and French cultures. http://www.ciclismoclassico.com/trips/bike-tour-mediterranean/      
 

History and beauty combined in a bike tour of Croatia.
2. Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula - Italy’s neighbor to the East, Croatia offers idyllic cycling through a medieval landscape of castles and vineyards, all with a beautiful view of the Adriatic Sea. The terrain on this peninsula’s coast is perfect for the cyclist who wants to combine slightly rolling and hilly terrain with images of Croatia’s history and unspoiled beauty. http://www.ciclismoclassico.com/trips/bike-tour-croatia-istrian-peninsula/     

Spectacular mountain scenery on Going to the Sun road in
Glacier National Park. Credit: The Cycling House
3. Glacier to Yellowstone Cycling - Riders will cross the Continental Divide over Going-to-the-Sun highway in Glacier National Park then parallel the Rocky Mountain Front all the way to Yellowstone National Park. The rewards are abundant with stunning views, glimpses of wildlife (grizzly bears and more), and a chance to pass through almost every type of terrain in the park, from large glacial lakes and cedar forests to windswept alpine tundra.   http://thecyclinghouse.com/trip/glacier-yellowstone/     
Cycling in France gets you out of the city and into small villages.
Credit: Hide & Seek
4. Provence by Bike - The bicycle outfitter Ride & Seek has introduced a tour in the Provence region highlighting some of the “most beautiful villages of France” as ordained by the group Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Destinations include St.-Rémy-de-Provence, Ansouis, Les Alpilles and the ruins of Glanum. Time off the bikes will allow for wandering the streets of St.-Rémy, birthplace of Nostradamus and the site of the sanitarium where van Gogh painted his final work. http://www.rideandseek.com/local/provence     
Customize tours to your skill and interests when exploring
Mediterranean islands. Credit: Ciclisima Classico

5. Chile Wine Adventure - Explore the best of the Santiago valley region on this active wine and cuisine adventure. Enjoy biking through vineyards, trekking in the Andes, culinary tasting experiences and sightseeing on a week-long Chile tour. Visit well known museums and hidden gems as you soak in the beautiful landscapes and quaint villages which make this region unique and intriguing.  Rides can customize and increase the biking distances for more advanced cyclists. http://www.adventure-life.com/tours/chile-wine-adventure-3335

 Some photos provided by Adam York

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Visit the fairy lands of Cappadocia, Turkey


When we booked our Oceania cruise sailing from Istanbul, Turkey to Lisbon, Portugal, going to Cappadocia wasn’t on our radar. But it’s one of the most amazing areas, both for its incredible landscape and its long history.
Cave house are still in use in parts of Cappadocia, Turkey.
We flew from Istanbul to Kayseri, a city in the center of Asia Minor, the cradle of civilization. The first settlement of humanity dates back to 8000 B.C., although 32 different civilizations have lived there over the centuries. Kayseri is one of the richer cities of Turkey because of trade, most importantly with handmade carpets, the pride of Turkey.

Caps are easily seen on these fairy chimneys.
The unusual, even unearthly landscape of Cappadocia is the result of early eruptions of Mt. Aegis, which put volcanic ash into the soil. Weird landscapes have resulted in “fairy chimneys,” basalt formations that have not eroded like ash. In varying shades of gray and tan with rock strata often visible, some fairychimneys have dark-colored pointed triangles on top called caps. These are almost totally basalt and protect the yellow part, which is volcanic ash, from eroding. The cap may fall down causing the death of a fairy chimney, but then a new chimney starts to grow from it, so it’s an ongoing process. Because the rock is soft, people in ancient times (around 2000 B.C.) carved homes and churches in the ash using only primitive tools.
Cappadocia is one of the best places in the world to take a
hot air balloon ride--so intriguing.
Early one morning we went for a hot air balloon ride. More than 30 balloon companies fly up to 150 balloons on any given day. Because of rain and thunder the previous night, some had canceled, but the morning turned out perfect: clear and sunny with a slight breeze. Balloons of all colors filled the sky as we drifted toward the valley, between rock walls, and over fairy chimneys in a spectacular ride.

It’s a great way to see layers of multi-colored rocks that give a clear picture of the geology of the  area. Volcanic spires and pinnacles, craggy cliffs, and cave houses glowed in the soft morning light. The land is fertile, so we saw many green patches under cultivation (we landed in a farmer’s field) despite an eerie, desert-like feeling in the area.
Creating and painting pottery is a tedious process at Omurlu Ceramics
in Cappadocia, Turkey.
During our three-day visit we toured a variety of places that I’ll describe in more detail in future articles. Avanos is locaed on the Kizilirmak River which provides red clay used to make Turkey’s famous pottery and tiles for the Blue Mosque. Each piece is carefully crafted and hand-painted, often taking months to complete. At Goreme, more than half of the population lived in rock houses and fairy chimneys until 10 years ago, when the government forced them out.

Complete cities were created underground
for protection during frequent wars during
the 9th to 13th centuries.
 
Carpet making is a skill in danger of dying, so the Turkish government sponsors schools to teach young women how to knot fine carpets from silk, wool, cotton, or combinations of natural materials. We saw this in action at Martis Turkish Rug School and factory.

Goreme Open Air Museum has some of the best preserved examples of cave churches, most quite small but decorated with fading frescos and paintings directly on the rock walls. Another example of how important the rock landscape was to early Turks is found at Derinkuyu, an underground city which could house 10,000 people for up to six months during times of war.

I bought trivets and a few other souvenirs at Pigeon Valley, which gets its name honestly. Trees sparkle with blue “evil eye” trinkets, supposedly good luck charms. Throughout Cappadocia we observed lots of poplar trees, which are used to make furniture. When a son is born, the father plants a poplar tree as an investment for the son’s future education or wedding.

Catch some good luck with an "eye" to
ward off evil.
We made a photo stop at Zelve, an important settlement and religious area between the 9th and 13th centuries. It once spread over three valleys and contains numerous pointed chimneys with large stems. It’s now abandoned since unstable formations make it too dangerous for people to live there. At the end of our tour we flew back to Istanbul from Nevshehir, a city with a small airport used primarily by tourists.

Cappadocia (pronounced cap-a-dok-i-a) is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and I’d highly encourage visitors to Turkey to include it on their itineraries.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier








 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Enter now to win a fly fishing vacation in Colorado


Access to 2,000 natural lakes, 800 reservoirs and 9,500 miles of streams—including 321 miles of Gold Medal Trout Waters— makes Colorado a prime fishing destination. Enjoy remote access to stunning streams with mountain views, hire knowledgeable local guides to share their secrets, and discover a holiday or weekend getaway that encourages a balance of ease and adventure. Anglers can find success whether from the dock or shore, a pontoon or raft, or with your feet firmly planted on the river bed.

Win a Fly Fishing Getaway

Win a fishing getaway with Black Canyon Anglers/Gunnison River Farms. The package includes a 2-night stay, dinners for 2, and a 3-hour intro to fly-fishing. Enter before June 22, 2015 at 11pm:  http://gvwy.io/l0p81i

IRGS Fly Shop and Guide Service will make sure you have
a great fishing trip.
The Basics:

When casting in Colorado, what you reel in is limited only by how many hours you spend on the water. What you find on the end of your line may include rainbow, cutthroat, brown, brook or lake trout; splake, kokanee salmon, grayling, mountain whitefish, wiper, walleye, saugeye, yellow perch, crappie, bluegill, green sunfish, channel catfish, smallmouth and largemouth bass, white and rock bass, northern pike, or tiger muskie. Catch-and-release fishing is supported on Colorado waters. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) fishing regulations outline what you can and can’t take, how you can take it, and how you can help preserve Colorado waters for future fishing. Remember to pick up your fishing license, available at one of over 700 licensed vendors statewide.

Fishing is great at Gunnison River Farm.
Big Fish Stories on the Gunnison

With more fish than people, the rivers, streams, ponds and lakes of Delta County present some of the finest fishing on the Western Slope of the Rockies. It’s the quantity and variety, escape from the crowds, diverse fish species and strong fly hatches that make the area exceptional. For an all-in-one fishing experience, stay in cabins at the beautiful Gunnison River Farms, a 1000-acre paradise, and enjoy white-water rafting and 3.5 miles of private river fishing in the stunning Gunnison River Gorge with on-site hosts, Black Canyon Anglers.

Cast and Camp:  

Pitch a tent, pack your cooler and grab your fishing pole. Colorado has 42 State Parks and many of them offer campsites near the shoreline. Chatfield State Park and Lake Pueblo State Park are featured on “America’s Top 100 Family Fishing and Boating Spots.” Just outside Denver, Aurora Reservoir was named “The Best Park for Fishing” by Westword in 2012. In Ridgway State Park, fish the productive tailwater of the Uncompahgre River set against a backdrop of stunning peaks and vast wilderness.

Luxury on the Line

Visit the recently opened Fishing Camp on the Tarryall River—the newest Broadmoor Wilderness Experience Property – where guided fishing on five miles of pristine, private waters is complimented by sunrise cowboy coffee and campfires under clear, starry skies. Head to Dunton River Camp for “glamping” in beautiful tents nestled into woods 30 feet above the river and enjoy some of the best fly-fishing in North America on the West Fork of the Dolores.

Enjoy quiet time and privacy at Lake City, Colorado.
Whether casting for the biggest catch or looking for a place to slip silently into a stream and enjoy some solo time, Colorado is an angler’s paradise. The state's breathtaking scenic landscape boasts natural hot springs, the headwaters of seven major rivers, many peaceful lakes and reservoirs, 11 national parks and monuments, over 850 visitor-friendly farms and ranches, and 58 mountain peaks over 14,000 feet. 

For more information visit www.COLORADO.com  Media are invited to visit the Colorado Media Room for story ideas, news releases, image gallery, and other resources.

Information and photos courtesy of Anne Klein

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Getting down and dirty with nature at the Galapagos Islands

Rugged shoreline at James Bay on Santiago Island
“Come quickly,” our naturalist guide called to my husband Larry and me as we kayaked in sparkling turquoise water off the shore of Santa Fe Island in GalapagosNational Park. “A baby sea lion has just been born,” she gushed.  Tour guests in the panga (rubber raft) with the guide had just witnessed the amazing delivery.
Most islands, including Sombrero Chino, were home to sea lions.
This was the fifth day of our eight-day expedition to explore several islands in the eastern portion of the Galapagos archipelago located 600 miles from the western coast of Ecuador. Wildlife viewing is a highlight of any tour in the Galapagos; and we had seen plenty of land and marine creatures. But observing an actual birth was an unexpected bonus.

Blue footed boobies were plentiful on Santa Fe island.
We quickly paddled our kayak to the appointed spot and saw the furry baby snuggled under its mother. While we missed the actual emergence witnessed by the others, we still felt lucky to observe the earliest moments of this new life. Experiences like this made our Galapagos adventure with International Expeditions a trip to remember.
A puffed up frigate hopes to attract a mate.
We didn’t really get dirty, although we did get wet and sandy at times during our nature quests. Each day was filled with hiking and snorkeling as the MV Evolution sailed from one island to another, most uninhabited by humans.  Instead of people, iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, crabs, turtles—even penguins and flamingoes--populated the sandy beaches and volcanic landscapes over which we trekked. 

Soft white sand on Mosquera Island, home to hundreds of sea lions.
Puffed-up frigate birds, Darwin’s finches, elusive hawks and owls, and boobies (the red-footed and blue-footed varieties) provided entertainment during our twice-daily walks. We watched rituals such as frigates inflating their huge, red pouches and blue-footed boobies awkwardly dancing before mating. Beautifully colored fish, sharks, rays, tortoises, and sea lions turned our daily snorkeling excursions into playful episodes.
Swimming with sea turtles off Champion Island
Every day consisted of a morning walk or hike after breakfast followed by fresh fruit juices and snacks, and snorkeling before lunch.  Several of the guests relaxed (okay, splashed like little kids) in the hot tub after snorkeling.  After a short siesta, we did an afternoon hike, most often on another island.

Golden sunset at Commorant Point
Each evening our guides presented an informational program about what we had just seen and would see the following day, with an emphasis on land conservation and protecting indigenous species. After dinner we were free to enjoy the bar, swap experiences, or lounge on the outside decks looking at the night sky. Since we were kept busy and active, we appreciated whatever downtime we had.
A bit of silly fun after snorkeling
Larry and I traveled on a small ship (only 20 guests--with a maximum of 32), which allowed us to explore in friendly, manageable groups of 10. If you want to take children, look for trips specifically designed for families, including on small ships. If you think there won’t be enough onboard amenities to satisfy tweens and teens, consider a larger ship—one carrying 100 plus passengers--although the number of hikes and snorkeling opportunities may be limited.

Iguanas populate almost all the Galapagos Islands.
Our ship, the MV Evolution is in the background.
A Galapagos Island adventure is a nature-filled voyage to remote, protected, and sometimes desolate areas. This may not be everyone’s ideal vacation, but if you appreciate seeing wildlife in their natural habitat and experiencing a variety of island topographies, it’s a destination you’ll enjoy exploring. It’s a photographer’s paradise, too, so be sure to bring your camera.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Summer or fall--visit delightful Lake Geneva and famous lakes of Walworth County, Wisconsin


Crunching colorful leaves on the shoreline path of Geneva Lake. Hitting golf balls beside the banks of Lake Como. Sounds like I was miraculously transported to the famous waterways of Europe.
Walking along the shore of Lake Geneva reveals lovely scenes like this.
But I was actually visiting the famous lakes of Walworth County in southeastern Wisconsin.

Surrounded by million-dollar mansions and boasting brilliant fall foliage, nine-mile-long Geneva Lake is the second deepest lake in Wisconsin and the hub of activity for the town of Lake Geneva.
 Recently named one of Travel + Leisure’s Top 10 Most Beautiful Towns in America during Fall, Lake Geneva (the town's name reverses the words) also has ample shopping and restaurants, world-class resorts, historic buildings and museums, farm and winery tours, and outdoor recreation opportunities to attract visitors in every season.

Lake Geneva reflections highlight the beauty of fall colors.
Apple and cherry trees bloom in spring, and trees become a blazing kaleidoscope of color in fall. Fresh snow provides the basis for downhill and cross-country skiing and a world-class snow sculpting contest during Winterfest.
Here are a couple of highlights you can experience when visiting the area:

Mail jumpers must be quick and agile to make their deliveries.
Lake Geneva Mailboat tour. For nearly 90 years mail has been delivered by boat every day from June through September to about 40 homes around the lake. The fun part? The boat doesn’t stop, so the mail jumper must complete a delivery before the boast has passed by the pier.

Black Point Estate is reminiscent of
early visitors to Lake Geneva.
Tour of Black Point Estate. Built in 1888, this stately home located on a bluff overlooking Geneva Lake was inhabited by members of the original family until it was donated to the state for preservation in 2005.

Yerkes Observatory. Home to the largest refracting telescope in the world, the history of how this place came to be is as interesting as its creation of modern astrophysics.

Lake Walk Tour.  An old law requires the winding path around Lake Geneva be open to the public. As a result, walking on the shoreline takes walkers into the backyards of beautifully manicured, expensive lakefront homes.

Yerkes Observatory has a fascinating history.
Zip though the air. Soar among an explosion of fall color on Lake Geneva Canopy Tours. Eight zip lines, five sky bridges, three spiral staircases, and a “floating” double helix stairway are highlights of this spectacular forest adventure, which our guides assured us were popular year-round.

Zip lining is an amazing experience in any season.
Golfing, biking, kayaking, boating, fishing, and hiking. With three notable lakes in the county (Delavan Lake is the third), there are many opportunities for a variety of outdoor recreational activities in every season. Golf courses are abundant, and biking is a favorite way for visitors to get around.

Lush golf courses attract many visitors.
If you live in the South, this is a perfect destination to escape hot summer days. Or plan a visit in the fall to see why the town of Lake Geneva has received numerous accolades.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Reasons to visit the Galapagos Islands



Hundreds of sea lions romp on the white sand of  Mosquera Beach.
If you love wildlife, on both land and sea, and enjoy being outdoors, the Galapagos Islands should be on your bucket list of places to travel.  I checked Galapagos off with a trip there in February, and here are several reasons you should consider this destination, too.

Flamingos grace the island of Floreana.
·         It’s all about the wildlife. Sea lions, iguanas, too many species of birds to remember, tortoises, and so many colorful fishes make each day a time of discovery.  What a delight to realize that penguins and flamingoes also inhabit different islands.

Blue-footed boobies perform an awkward dance.
Females have darker feet than males.
·         You can’t miss the blue-footed booby, whose funny dancing routine reminds you why its name means “clown.” Oh, there are red-footed boobies and nasca boobies, too.

Red-footed boobies and nasca boobies were plentiful, too.
·         Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to witness the birth of a sea lion, blue-footed boobies mating, nesting bird feeding time, a rare owl, frigates inflating their red throats in a mating ritual, and other special animal behaviors.

I was so close when snorkeling I could touch
 the sea turtle under water.
·         Snorkeling with sea lions and turtles was a highlight of the excursion.

·         Even when landscapes are rather stark, there’s a certain beauty in the rock and lava formations, rugged cliffs, and desert cacti.

Black sand beach at Chino Sombrero Island.
·         Beautiful beaches ankle-deep in soft white sand or black sand beaches, depending on which island you’re visiting, lead into bright blue water.

·         Learn about Charles Darwin’s legacy. His theories came from a relatively short visit but have impacted science for centuries.

Tortoises live in protected areas on land and grow to
more than 100 years old.
·         See turtle breeding programs in action as you remember Lonesome George, the tortoise who lived more than 100 years but was the last of his species when he died in 2012.

·         Shop in the quaint town of Puerto Ayora, enjoy an ice cream, or visit the outdoor fish market.

We traveled on a small ship with International Expeditions.
·         Daily hikes let you experience the topography and specific wildlife inhabiting each island you visit.

·         Option to choose a small ship (30 or fewer people) or a larger vessel (120 plus passengers) depending on the activity level you’re comfortable with.

A trip to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands is a nature-filled voyage to remote, protected, and sometimes desolate areas. But no matter which islands you visit and what activities you do, it’s a journey that reminds you how fragile our environment can be and that we must protect natural places like this for future generations. You’ll remember the trip for a long time.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Island hopping along the Florida beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel


Florida’s Lee County has so many islands that it’s hard to know which one is best for the type of getaway you’re hoping for. Are you looking for romance, independence, family fun, isolation, or escape? A daytrip, vacation, or long-term stay?

Searching for shells on Sanibel Island
Here are some descriptions of beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, along Florida's warmer Gulf Coast, that will help you decide where to find your fantasy, or visit www.FortMyers-Sanibel.com .

Roughing it: Are you invigorated by the scent of campfires and the embrace of a sleeping bag? Head to Cayo Costa, all-natural and untethered to the mainland. Marinas on Pine Island and Captiva Island can provide water taxi service. Call far enough in advance and you may be able to reserve a cabin, which isn’t all that much more luxurious than tenting– meaning both options are primitive. You’ll have to pack everything you need in and out. Restrooms and cold showers are the only conveniences provided by the state park.

Kayak at Captiva
Living in the lap of luxury: Captiva Island has some of the plushest accommodations the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway, so if you’re looking to do nothing but laze on the beach, maybe play a round of golf or go yachting, reserve your room and luxuriate. Don’t forget to schedule a massage while you’re at it.

Or just relax and enjoy the ambience
Going rural: Fruit and tree farms, no stop lights, miles of countryside, even a cattle farm – Pine Island feels like you’ve traveled inland rather than out-island. Long and roomy, its lack of natural beaches means less traffic (aside from sometimes bustling Matlacha) and more affordable dining and lodging.

Bare footing: If your idea of a getaway involves going shoeless the entire time, Fort Myers Beach has the perfect dress code for you. Okay, you may have to slip on some flip-flops from time to time, but the fine white sand and casual attitude give you permission to dig your toes in the sand and make a barefoot fashion statement.

Beaches are for romance, too.
Shopping, sipping, supping: Historic charm, cute shops and great restaurants is the formula that draws travelers off the main roads to Gasparilla Island, home of the sophisticated little beach town of Boca Grande. Browse shops, have lunch, and buy ice cream in historic venues such as a railroad depot and movie theater. Rub elbows with the locals at a beach bar, then, spend the night in the grande dame Gasparilla Inn, circa 1913.

Bike paths let you explore the beaches.
Family biking: Sanibel Island has added another 2.4-mile segment to its shared use path, bringing the total to more than 25 miles. Most of the path is separated from the roadway by vegetation, making it a safe trail for families to pedal along. It runs the length of the island – from beaches and nature attractions to shops and restaurants. The newest segment links two city parks away from all vehicular traffic.

Information courtesy of Tamara Pigott, Lee County VCB.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Woodlands near Houston gears up for summer visitors


Water features prominently at The
Woodlands Resort.
Driving into The Woodlands, 27 miles northwest of downtown Houston, you’re immediately struck by the scarcity of signage along main roads. The master-planned community was designed to take advantage of its heavily wooded landscape, so shopping centers are tucked behind mini-forests, and few signs tell what businesses are hidden there. It’s a feature both welcome for its attractiveness and potentially confusing to newcomers. But the balance sheet weighs heavily in favor of the design George Mitchell chose for this development more than 50 years ago.
The idyllic, wooded setting has been a primary draw for corporate events and leisure travelers for many years, so it’s not surprising that strong growth necessitated expansion of The Woodlands Resort. Larry and I visited recently to check out changes and improvements that were completed at the end of 2014.


Beautiful landscaping add to the attractiveness of the resort.
It’s easy to see why the $75 million renovation project has turned The Woodlands Resort and Conference Center into a popular destination for meetings and family vacations. During the 20-month project several major changes took place including adding a new wing of 184 guest rooms and suites, renovating 222 existing guest rooms, designing a 3,000 square foot living/gathering room that connects the three guest wings, creating a lazy river that winds 1,005 feet through the surrounding forest, and opening a high-end steak house with an outdoor patio adjacent to the 18th hole of Panther Trail, the resort’s signature golf course.
Soothing landscapes are found throughout the property.
During our visit, we enjoyed happy hour at Robard’s (4-6 p.m.), the new 136-seat steak restaurant and lounge.  Some patrons are regulars as the restaurant is open to the public, not just resort guests. Draft beers were $2 off and wines $3 off regular prices, or sip on a Texas Pear Margarita for $6. Even better was the Iron Skillet appetizer, a zesty bolognais sauce with meat, topped with Mozzarella cheese and served with homemade French bread. Yummy! entrees are in the $30-45 range.

Rooms have been added or renovated to follow the same standard.
We also savored the sumptous breakfast buffet and dinner in The Woodlands Dining Room (steak for Larry; salmon for Beverly). Other food outlets include The Royal Mile Grille for lunch and The Bistro for drinks and appetizers. Cool Water Café located poolside at Forest Oasis Waterscape is open seasonally.
Robard's is the new high-end steak restaurant at The Woodlands Resort.
Plentiful water features throughout the property had a cooling effect, which is probably needed more during the summer than our May visit. But listening to the soothing sounds of spraying water from our balcony and while walking around the property was a pleasant plus.

Golf at the Oaks course on a pleasant, sunny day.
While there we played the adjacent Oaks golf course, a new member of Club Corp. It features large, rolling greens, generous fairways, and numerous bunkers. Majestic oak trees line the fairways and hide most homes from view. However, if your ball disappears into the trees, chances of finding it are slim. Bordering Lake Harrison, the 18th hole is a good example of the course’s natural beauty.
An exquisite mural adorns one wall of the lazy river course.
This summer families will especially enjoy the five swimming pools with spas, waterfalls and slides. The new lazy river with spiral plunge slide is already getting rave reviews from guests of all ages. Energetic guests can work out at the Fitness Center or settle for supreme relaxation with a massage at the Health Spa (thanks, Roxanne!).

There’s really no reason to leave the resort, but if you need more entertainment venture out for world-class shopping at The Woodlands Mall, Market Street, or Old Town Spring. Perhaps you’ll want to attend a concert at the nearby Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. More than 194 miles of jogging and biking trails wind throughout The Woodlands, too. And if business brings you to The Woodlands Resort, you'll find full conference facilities.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier