5 Surprising New Secrets of Times Square
From Starbucks to Panera and from Adidas to H&M, it’s tough to think of a major retailer that hasn’t staked out a claim in Times Square. The familiar logos gleam so brightly on storefronts and billboards that it’s one of the few places on Earth that astronauts can spot from outer space. But a crop of talented restaurateurs, bartenders, and visionaries have, in the past few years, given Times Square a jolt of indie spirit so exciting that even jaded locals are braving the crowds and dodging selfie sticks to check out these new destinations. Here are a few that might come to define the area in the future the way the masked Marvel characters and super-sized M&M Store do today.
1. Tiki Fantasy: The Polynesian
The Polynesian (thepolynesiantiki.com) is a tropical affair decked out with teak wood floors and doors, rattan chairs, a lava-stone-topped bar, and Polynesian-art-inspired decorative touches. When you’re sitting at this spot in the Times Square Pod Hotel, and the bartender sets your drink aflame in its ceramic skeleton vessel, it’s really hard to believe you’re only one block from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, an enormous, less-than-charming transit hub—the Polynesian makes you think you're on a very different island. Since it opened in May 2018, the Polynesian has become a major destination for rum lovers, cocktail aficionados, and anyone craving a little tropical escape. But lest you think the tiki drinks here are the sticky-sweet party drink of vacation postcards, the cocktails were created by Brian Miller, one of the early pioneers of New York City’s cocktail renaissance in the early 2000s. His obsession with classic tiki culture and culinary artistry inspired him to design drinks that are equal parts playful and subtle. (Case in point: the Reggae Bus, an island interpretation of a Queens Park Swizzle, with rum, yellow Chartreuse, lime juice, mint, saffron syrup, and bitters.) The space is vast, so come with a group and order one of the large-format punches for the table. And if it's summertime, the terrace, which is equipped with its own separate bar, is a must.
2. A Giant World of Miniatures: Gulliver's Gate
Topless sunbathers soak up the rays on fire escapes, an overturned flatbed truck stalls traffic on the street, and cops investigate a suspicious package on a subway platform. These scenes play out on a minuscule scale at Gulliver’s Gate (gulliversgate.com), an attraction that opened in May 2017 (at no small cost—creating it came with a $40 million price tag). It’s not as well-known as the landmark museums throughout the city or some of the smaller, more specialized museums, but it should be. The miniature New York City is rendered in a 1:87 scale and includes plenty of familiar landmarks, like the New York Public Library and One World Trade Center. But it’s the painstaking attention the dozens of artists and craftsmen gave to capturing the details of the city—subway tiling, taxi cab hubcaps, pedestrians’ clothing and accessories—that make a massive impact. The NYC display is certainly the most expansive part of the sweeping museum, but there are also small reproductions of cities in Great Britain, Russia, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, complete with their iconic sites, old and new. (Look for buildings by Frank Gehry, I.M. Pei, Daniel Libeskind, and other celebrated modern architects.) Reservations required.
3. A Caffeine-Fueled Oasis: Optimistic Cafe
Blink and you’ll miss it: Optimistic café is one of those rare phenomena, a small but mighty café surrounded in every direction by outposts of the major coffee chains. Reasons stop by this hidden treasure are many: matcha lattes, artisan espresso drinks, cold brew on nitro taps, locally baked pastries, avocado toast, poached eggs with Egyptian spices and, if you’re so inclined, a side of halumi. And here’s the best part: Walking into the cheery space on 39th Street, a dense Garment District artery, feels like the moment Dorothy opens the door of her house onto Oz. There’s a lush “green wall,” tables and counters made of thick slabs of wood, colorful mugs, and minimalist design touches that give a Scandinavian accent to the whole affair.
4. Cocktails in the Clouds: Dear Irving on Hudson
Dear Irving on Hudson (dearirving.com/dear-irving-on-hudson), a few blocks south of Times Square, occupies the 40th and 41st floors in the stylish new Alize Hotel, and with floor-to-ceiling windows and terraces for hanging out in warmer weather, you can bet you won’t forget the altitude. The locale is a spinoff of Dear Irving, a swish cocktail lounge that opened in Gramercy Park in 2015. Meaghan Dorman, who created the drink menu there, steps up again to design a selection of cocktails, some of which nod to New York’s classic history and others that pay tribute to the dynamic creativity driving the city today. Take, for instance, the imaginative Vice Versa: Brooklyn-made Dorothy Parker Gin, grapefruit liqueur, Luxardo Bitter, rosé cava, and grapefruit. The décor here is an ode to James Bond-inspired chic, with groovy, colorful furniture and Art Deco touches. So kick back with a Gibson, order a signature burger, and let the twinkle of the skyline inspire you.
5. Mindful Meat: Farm to Burger
There are burger menus, and then there’s the burger menu at Farm to Burger (farmtoburger.com), a farmhouse-chic affair also in the Alize Hotel. In addition to patties with inspired toppings, like onion marmalade and provolone on the Midtown variety, there are options like the Impossible Burger, the headline-making plant-based creation that actually looks and sizzles like beef, and a thoughtful kids’ menu. So that’s the “burger” part of the name. As far as the farm goes, servers will tell you that the all-natural beef they use comes from cows that were pasture-raised at Fossil Farms in New Jersey. There’s also a Kobe beef option if you’re looking for a splurge.
Locals Know Best: Portland, Maine
When Ed Suslovic moved to Portland, Maine, in 1992, it was like he’d died and gone to heaven, he says. Coming from Washington DC, this beautiful, relaxed urban enclave along the ocean was a jolting culture shock—the best possible kind. He fell so deeply in love with the city that he devoted his life to it, serving as city counselor, mayor, and state legislator. Today he teaches at the Muskie School of Public Service at University of Southern Maine in Portland and remains a committed citizen and, by default, ambassador. We checked in with him and got the lowdown of how to make the best of a visit to this gem of a seaside city. Eat—and Drink—Your Heart Out Regardless of whether you leap out of bed before sunrise to start the day or peel yourself out from under the covers later in the morning, every day in Portland should begin with a meal at Becky’s Diner. (“Nothing’s finer than Becky’s Diner,” Ed insists.) Becky’s is the kind of place where, on any given morning, you could sit at the counter and turn to your right and start a conversation with a lobsterman or dockworker, then turn to your left and gab with a federal judge. Becky’s captures Portland’s everything-for-everyone, open spirit. The food is as notable as the vibe. Breakfasts dishes never fail here, especially if any sort of eggs doused with Captain Mowatt’s, the local hot sauce named for a famous sea captain. If you like it, pick up a bottle to bring home at Leroux, a kitchen and home goods shop just down the street. And the homemade pies and cakes are simply “to die for,” Ed guarantees. New England charm is alive and well at cozy family-run restaurants throughout Portland. Take, for instance, Susan's Fish-n-Chips. "It looks like it's in an old gas station, but don't be put off by that. Oh my god--it's the best fried fish ever, just light and crispy. You sit down with other folks at picnic tables and next thing you know you'll be sharing tartar sauce with them." Or Anthony's Italian Kitchen, which has such a discreet location next to the city's court house and police stations that you wouldn't know it was there if you weren't looking for it. Ed has a list of reasons to love it: homemade everything, huge servings/guaranteed leftovers, and the show. More than just run a restaurant, the family, led by patriarch Anthony, who Ed estimates is nearing 80, puts on a cabaret show each night, so they serve up one-liners and songs along with dinner. Ruski’s is another casual local that is, in no uncertain terms, an institution. (“It's been there forever. And some of the people at the bar have been there forever, too,” he quips.) Ed hung out there plenty before he got into politics, but once he did start running for office, Ruskie’s is where he’d mingle with the locals. It’s a standard come-as-you-are dive bar, with night-shift workers washing down home-fries with PBR at 9AM and countless regulars stopping in for Allen’s Coffee-flavored brandy and milk over ice, a traditional tipple in the region, at all hours. Across the intersection from this old-school stronghold is Little Giant, a gastropub with a grocery shop that Ed describes as an “upscale take on the corner store.” Owners Brianna and Andrew Volk also run Portland Hunt and Alpine Club, a cocktail bar that’s made a splash on the national drinks scene. Ed views the juxtaposition of Ruski’s and Little Giant as an illustration of what’s great about Portland today: the old and the new coexisting in harmony. “They couldn’t be more different and I love them both,” Ed says. A Small Neighborhood, a Big Impression Once upon a time, it was easy to pass through Woodfords Corner and barely notice it. But in recent years—including some under Ed’s mayoral watch, the city worked to change that. A turning lane was removed and a small pedestrian plaza was installed in its place. There’s a light sculpture and other small pieces of public art. Now, not only is it more pedestrian-friendly, it’s actually attracted businesses to addresses that once housed pawn shops or tattoo parlors and made Woodfords Corner a destination. You can always find your way there if you look for the iconic clock tower of Odd Fellow’s Hall, an old fraternal lodge visible from a distance. Right next door is Woodford Food & Beverage, a French bistro-style eatery that Ed describes as a casual neighborhood hangout, but you don’t have to be a neighbor to feel like one. “You’ll go in there and pretty soon people are inviting you to join them at a table for dinner,” Ed says. The restaurant was the original location of Valle’s, a famous chain that started in the 1950s. A nostalgic retro-tinged style gives the Woodford F&B its a charming old-timey vibe. Nearby is Big Sky Bakery, located in a fire station, making this another business that’s made the most of one of the street’s beautiful old abandoned spaces. Like any bakery worth its weight in chocolate chip cookies, Big Sky is popular with kids, but not just because of the sweets. On any given day, you’ll spot pint-size patrons crowded around a small table playing with dough the bakers put out for them. Break for Art The Art of the Matter. About six blocks from Woodfords Corner is Deering Center which, locals will tell you, used to be its own town. Today it’s merely a neighborhood, but one that offers quite an impressive array of things to check out given its small size. As Ed tells it, Deering Corner’s claim to fame is its main thoroughfare, Stevens Avenue, ostensibly the only street in the U.S. where you can go from kindergarten to college without leaving the drag. There’s an elementary school, a high school and one side of the University of New England’s main campus. UNE in particular is worth a visit because of the University of New England Art Gallery, a small outpost with frequently rotating roster of shows, many by young artists, and what Ed describes as a very interesting and interested staff, so go by and say hi. Day Tripper Much as he loves everything about Portland, Ed has all sorts of recommendations for things to do and see and eat outside the city limits, most of which you can do in a single day. His relaxing itinerary for what he considers an “ideal Maine summer day” starts with picking up coffee and donuts in town at one of the two donut shops in town and heading north about an hour up Route 1 to Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg. “I love it because it’s the biggest, most expansive beach in Maine, and at low tide, it just becomes immense,” he says, noting that you can get out of your car and walk over the dunes and still not be able to see the ocean because it’s so far away. Climb the sandbar and check out an old stone Colonial-era fort just around the bend. That’s just one of the many jaw-dropping visions to behold. Islands and lighthouses dot the oceanscape for miles. Nearby you have your choice of low-key lobster joints, but you’ll want to save your appetite for your trip home because a stop in Brunswick for a classic American meal at Fat Boy’s Drive-In is a must. “After a long day, you’re all sandy and salty and sunburned .” To hear Ed tell it, you pull up, put your headlights on, give the waitress your order, and she’ll bring your burgers (Ed deems them “phenomenal”), onion rings, frappes, and the rest to your car and you eat it there. It’s a piece of history, he says, but warns that after generations, it’s presently on for sale. Legions of loyal fans are hoping that the new owners carry out its legacy. Especially Ed.
Love Beer? Here's How to Sleep at a Brewery (Really)
Europe is spilling over with taverns—the suds flow downstairs while travelers tuck in for the night upstairs. Although that tradition sailed the Atlantic and found an early foothold in the United States, it nearly went the way of the black rhinoceros during Prohibition. These days, though, the craft beer craze is rekindling this custom, with "bed-and-brews" offering accommodations steps away from a great pint. Here are a few places to stay on your next U.S. beer-centric vacation. 1. Fredericksburg Brewing Company: Fredericksburg, Texas (Courtesy Fredericksburg Brewing Company) At this bed-and-brew, the restaurant host doubles as front-desk staff for the dozen guestrooms in the building. The Fredericksburg Brewing Company founders established the brewpub in 1994—shortly after Texas legislation allowed them to do so—and followed it later that year with a bed-and-brew, which makes this inn the granddaddy on this list. The tavern-style lodgings, housed in a restored 1890s building, fit right in with Fredericksburg’s German roots. Most of the guest rooms branch off a central hallway just like the boarding houses of yesteryear. Upon check-in, guests get a token for a pint of beer in the pub for each night’s stay. From $99; yourbrewery.com. 2. The Source Hotel: Denver, Colorado (Courtesy Stephan Werk Media) The influential New Belgium Brewing Company, an early name in craft brewing, usually brews from its Rocky Mountains perch in Fort Collins, Colorado, but in the fall of 2018, it opened its inaugural Denver brewery at the Source Hotel, where guests can help themselves to a complimentary craft beer at check-in. There’s a tap at the front desk, which has a perfect view of the brewery’s 10-barrel system. But most of the pints are poured upstairs at the hotel’s eighth-story restaurant and bar, The Woods, which also houses New Belgium’s barrel-aging program. Most menu items—both the food and cocktails—feature New Belgium beers as an ingredient. And even if they're not beer-infused, all the dishes here are designed to pair with the house brews. That thoughtful attention to craft extends far beyond the brewpub. The hotel sits adjacent to The Source, an 1880s foundry building that now houses an artisan market. From $249; thesourcehotel.com. 3. McMenamins Brewery: Portland, Oregon; Troutdale, Oregon; Bend, Oregon; Bothell, Washington; Kalama, Washington (Courtesy McMenamins Brewery) With 26 breweries dotted across Oregon and Washington, McMenamins is a bold-faced name in the Pacific Northwest’s crowded brewing scene. It also operates a dozen hotels, seven of which have breweries on site. (And look out for a new one opening April 2019 in Tacoma, Washington). The hotels offer Beer 101 Overnight packages, which include two taster trays of guests’ choice of handcrafted ales plus a growler filled with their favorite to take home. Brewery tours are also available, but guests may prefer to spend their free time wrapped in a bathrobe, pint in hand, roaming the eccentric properties. Each McMenamins hotel has a unique past life. The Kennedy School in Portland, for instance, once housed an elementary school, and the Elks Temple in Tacoma, Washington, is a former lodge for that fraternal order. From $70; mcmenamins.com. 4. Woodstock Inn, Station & Brewery: North Woodstock, New Hampshire Guests get the full North Country experience at this property that includes a brewery, the Main Bar brewpub, which sometimes features live music, and 40 unique rooms and suites located across six buildings on the property. The accommodations are outfitted with cozy quilts and stone fireplaces, and all lie within easy walking distance of the brewery, which offers daily tours that end with a sampling session. From $96; woodstockinnbrewery.com. 5. Brewery Creek Inn: Mineral Point, Wisconsin (Courtesy Brewery Creek) Guests may sample Brewery Creek’s farmhouse ales at check-in before climbing the stairs to one of five homey rooms above the brewery. The brewery/inn building dates to 1854, when Mineral Point was an industry town and the limestone building housed mining materials—a far cry from the working brewery of today. During their stays, guests can sample beers and schedule a personal tour from the brewer/proprietor, who lives on site. This year, the inn plans to start offering tours to other regional breweries and award-winning cheese makers, too. (It is Wisconsin, after all). From $112; brewerycreek.com. 6. Calistoga Inn Restaurant & Brewery: Calistoga, California (Courtesy Calistoga Inn) Even in the heart of Napa Valley wine country, beer is top of mind for some travelers. This turn-of-the-century European-style hotel has all the charm of Napa Valley, with a micro-brewery (Napa Valley Brewing Company) on site. Seventeen guest rooms are arranged on four floors above the ground-floor pub and there’s a private cottage located behind the hotel. The proprietors are also constructing a second bar to serve guests on the popular patio and beer garden during the height of summer. Lodging packages include tastings of the breweries four house beers and seasonal creations. From $129; calistogainn.com. 7. Norwich Inn: Norwich, Vermont Established in 1797, the Norwich Inn has welcomed some esteemed guests throughout its storied past, including President James Monroe, who is said to have dined there in 1817 during a tour of frontier New England. The inn brewed small-batch beers on the premises even then, but the most recent chapter in its beer history dates to 1993 when Jasper Murdock’s Alehouse, the inn's present-day eatery, began producing English-style ales. The alehouse now brews in a historic adjacent livery building, then pumps the suds underground to its taps. The menu items here pair with house-made beers like the signature Whistling Pig Red Ale. The inn is comprised of three buildings and the main one evokes its 1890s beginnings with Victorian-style furnishings. From $144; norwichinn.com. 8. 1777 Americana Inn: Ephrata, Pennsylvania Set in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, this inn has, during its 240-year history, been a military shop, stagecoach stop, hotel, restaurant, and doctor’s office. Today, the Colonial-era building is a rather traditional bed and breakfast — complete with four-poster beds — but it also has another “b” in its backyard: the Black Forest Brewery, known for its tavern-style ales. The brewery lodging package includes Black Forest Brewery logo pint glasses and a growler, a tasting-room credit, and a county-wide brewery trail guide. From $125; 1777americanainn.com. 9. BrewDogs DogHouse: Columbus, Ohio At BrewDog’s hotel, aromas of fermenting sour beer rouse guests in the morning. The Scottish beer company has such a solid base of committed fans that they funded the construction of the Columbus hotel through crowdfunding. The 32 guest rooms are inside the brewery building—and select rooms overlook BrewDog’s sour beer facility, BrewDog OverWorks. Lodgers can head downstairs for breakfast dishes paired with beer. If they opt to stay in, beer is still close at hand via in-room BrewDog taps. (There’s a fee for the drafts). The hotel also stocks room fridges with BrewDog’s founders' favorite beers. If that wasn’t enough already, guests can also shower with locally made craft beer soap. That’s taking suds to a whole different level. From $182; brewdog.com. 10. Dogfish Inn: Lewes, Delaware Dogfish Head Brewery is one of the beer industry’s best examples of the trajectory that countless brewers dream of: scrappy upstart to cool corporate darling. The company established a basecamp for beer lovers when it opened its own inn less than seven miles from the brewery in 2014. The inn’s 16 rooms have the brewery’s signature off-beat approach—and its dedication to craft creations, including a signature coffee that blends Columbian beans, chicory, and dark-malted brewers barley and is available only at the inn. An inclusive lodging package grants guests a private tour of the brewhouse, the barrel-aging room, and bottling line, as well as a VIP tasting and priority seating at Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats for lunch. From $169; dogfish.com.
Couples Getaways That Actually Rock
The traditional "romantic getaway" is a bore, and we're here to put it out of its misery. These days, when you and yours hit the road, chances are you're not that interested in chocolates on your pillow or a complimentary bottle of bubbly. Adventure, self-improvement, and bragging rights to friends are higher on both of your to-do lists. From driving a race car to sleeping in a tree, from dabbling in legal weed to learning actual survival skills, here are the trips every couples should take. 1. NASCAR Fantasies (Walter Arce/Dreamstime) You can’t hurry love, they say, but adrenaline junkies already in love can experience speed in its own right at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia (atlantamotorspeedway.com), about 20 miles south of Atlanta. There’s a range of opportunities at this professional race track, from backseat ride-alongs with a pro in a NASCAR race car to doing a few high-velocity laps around the speedway on your own. Not to worry—plenty of instruction is provided. And the best part? Nobody has to fight about driving directions. 2. Treehouse Dreams (Courtesy Henry County Convention & Visitors Bureau) The landscapes of Georgia's state parks will take your breath away, for sure, but there are few better views than the ones from above, like you'll get from a vantage point the treetops. Yes, up in the branches. At Georgia's 100-acre Panola Mountain (gastateparks.org/PanolaMountain/Excursions), you can lock on your harness, climb up a tree, and settle in for the night in incredibly unique, secluded boat-like quarters with the ZZZs in the Trees program. If an overnight at high altitude is too much, daylong tree climbing lessons will get you back on the ground faster than you ascended. 3. Toke Up and Chill More and more states are passing laws to make marijuana legal, but few can compete with Colorado, an early adopter, when it comes to the variety of ways and places to go green. An influx of the cannabis curious has turned Denver's pot tourism is a budding industry, if you will. You can hire a livery service like THC Limo (greentripz.com) to get your trip started the moment you leave the airport or go high into the mountains with bud-friendly charter S.U.V.s (420friendlyskiresorttransportation.com). You and your honey can take part in stoner painting classes (puffpassandpaint.com). Chefs at select restaurants will prepare cannabis-centric multicourse meals, or you can hone your own cooking skills at Stir Cooking Schools, where instructors include graduates of the prestigious Johnson & Wales culinary school. Apps like Weedmaps (weedmaps.com) and Leafly (leafly.com) can help you navigate the city’s many dispensaries. But it’s the dizzying array of activities offered on My 420’s three-day tours (my420tours.com) that get the highest ratings. A “cannabis concierge” will custom design an agenda that can include everything from cannabis oil massages to dinners to visits to growing labs to make sure you go home mellow. 4. Learn How to Survive With Each Other (Milosk50/Dreamstime) For tens of thousands of years before it was a blockbuster television series (for tens of thousands of years before there were televisions, in fact) you had to be a survivor just to, well, survive. At Boulder Outdoor Survival School (boss-inc.com), you’ll get back to nature in gorgeous, remote southern Utah and learn how to make it work for you. BOSS’s website makes it explicitly clear that this is not a Rambo-style boot camp or a prepper’s course for the apocalypse, but nor is it for the faint of heart. Or the faint of will. You and yours will get schooled in the basics with living skills courses (7 or 14 days), which teach basic survival; a 14-day program called Desert Navigator that involves trekking with compasses and maps; and general field courses (7, 14, or 28 days) that set you free in nature without tents, sleeping bags, or technology. For the truly committed, there's the ultra-intense, 72-hour survival rescue course. Get through any of these together, and you know your relationship is ironclad. 5. Three-ring Circus for Beginners There are plenty of reasons to plan a trip to Santa Fe—the weather in the wintertime, the vibrant modern-meets-folk-arts scene, the epic margaritas, the knockout landscape. And, lest we forget, the circus school. Seriously. Wise Fool (wisefoolnewmexico.org) offers a variety of classes, with lessons in everything from handstands to juggling to aerial skills (care to swing in a hoop, anyone?) to soaring on a trapeze. Classes, which run about 90 minutes, are available throughout the year on a drop-in basis and cost $12 to $15 per session. (Pro tip: There’s typically more space in daytime than nighttime classes.) Couples can also schedule private lessons. Gift certificates are available. Just make sure that if it inspires you to run away and join the circus, the decision is mutual. 6. Carnivores' Delight Lots of foodies head to California for the wine, but those looking beyond the glass can test their mettle with farm life in Siskiyou, a tranquil county in the state’s northernmost region. Schedule a summertime escape at Belcampo Farms, where the three-day Meat Camp (belcampo.com/meatcamp) each June delivers a thorough education on grilling, butchery, and knife skills. But it’s not entirely rugged. You’ll retire to luxury tents to reboot for the next day. For even more committed aspiring butchers, old-world traditions and sustainable agriculture are the foundation of Camp Charcuterie (campcharcuterie.com), a seven-day full-immersion experience in France where you'll learn farmstead charcuterie production, hands-on butchery, food-safety measures, and more from a roster of top-notch chefs and butchers. Those that can’t get up and disappear to the French countryside can learn at the workshops and classes offered at different culinary schools and markets around the U.S. The Chopping Block (thechoppingblock.com/butchery-boot-camp), which has two locations in Chicago, holds day-long bootcamps that teach basic techniques like cutting, trimming, de-boning, and more, then wrap up with a meal participants cook themselves. Fleishers Craft Butchers (shop.fleishers.com) has a busy calendar of intensive classes—both hands-on and demo-based—in New York City and Connecticut. 7. Drink Up American History (Volgariver/Dreamstime) Each year, hundreds of thousands of whiskey-lovers flock to Kentucky to indulge in the embarrassment of riches that is America’s bourbon heritage. While there is an official Bourbon Trail of distilleries as well as an Urban Bourbon Trail that guides you through Louisville’s various whiskey bars, you’re left on your own to explore. For a full guided experience, Louisville-based Mint Julep Tours (mintjuleptours.com) offers more than just distillery visits, though each stop at one of the historic bourbon maker includes a tasting and even, if you're lucky, a chance to pull whiskey straight from the barrel, all of which makes the tour a worthwhile decision. You can customize your day to include particular distilleries as well as a visit to a local cooperage to watch barrels get raised and charred or a mixology class. They’ll take you from stop to stop (typically three to four in a day) in a posh SUV. 8. Take a Very Modern Look at an Ancient Roman City Pompeii, the ancient Roman city in southern Italy that was nearly wiped out by a volcano eruption in 79 AD, is a sweeping archaeological site regarded as one of the greatest snapshots of ancient life, what with it essentially frozen in time in the moment it was buried under ash. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it sees about 2.5 million visitors each year. Few, however, experience it in action, getting an intimate view of how it likely functioned thousands of years ago, the way you can with Flashback Journey to Pompeii (journeytopompeiitours.com). Snap on a 3D virtual reality headset and you’ll be whisked back to the center of a bustling metropolis. You can join a small group or opt for a private tour. And with Pompeii situated near Naples and surrounded by small villas, there’s no reason not to plan a romantic Italian getaway while you’re at it.
All Aboard! There's Excellent Wine To Try on These Trains
“All aboard!” These words are music to the ears of anyone who appreciates the romantic nostalgia of a train excursion. And who wouldn’t? No other mode of transportation allows you to experience the varied landscapes of a country so intimately. Now imagine this journey with a glass of wine in hand, accompanied by hors d’oeuvres or a multi-course meal, and you have a recipe for a delicious adventure. Plus, it’s a responsible way to imbibe since you don’t have to worry about driving around wine country. From the California coast to the Deep South, through Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley and up to Canada, each of these trains not only offers stunning scenery, but an unparalleled wine-tasting experience. 1. Napa Valley Wine Train: California (Napa Valley Wine Train) This list wouldn’t be complete without mention of Napa Valley’s finest luxury train. With its polished reputation and carefully curated menus, it’s no wonder that Napa Valley Wine Train is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Step back in time as you board the retro coaches that were once used on the Northern Pacific Railway, and prepare to drink and dine in splendor with a variety of different tours, from an Italian-themed Legacy tour that includes a visit to Robert Mondavi winery to an Estate tour that focuses on French winemaking traditions. Tours generally run between three to six hours, and each option includes a multiple-course lunch or dinner along with a tasting at one or more wineries. From $150 for the gourmet express lunch train; winetrain.com. 2. Wine on the Rails: Tennessee A collaboration between local music-festival producer Muddy Roots Music and the Tennessee Central Railway Museum, this is a wine train ride that won’t easily be forgotten—thought the details may be fuzzy, depending on how many glasses you've had, that is. As you depart Nashville, sit back and enjoy a tasting on this 1950s passenger train while live music accompanies your voyage. Spontaneous dancing has been known to erupt in the aisles, and as you reach your destination the revelry continues with a tasting at the Del Monaco Winery in the tiny town of Baxter. (Population: 1,200ish.) Passengers are encouraged to dress in vintage attire, making the experience all the more unique. From $60, which includes a commemorative wine glass and other goodies; wineontherails.com. 3. Grape Escape Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad: Ohio This wine train takes you through the beautiful Cuyahoga National Park between Cleveland and Akron, delivering spectacular scenery along the way, from forests to rolling hills and the winding Cuyahoga River. Each Saturday, two-hour excursions offer tastings of five different wines paired with light appetizers. Themed tours take place on select Saturdays, during which you can sample wines from Africa or South America, or stick a little closer to home with some of Ohio’s best wines on a Buckeye State of Wine tour. For beer-drinkers, there’s also an Ales on Rails journey. From $60; cvsr.com/take-the-train/grape-escape-ales-on-rails. 4. Cross-Canada VIA Rail: various routes across the country The VIA Rail, the only passenger train that travels the length of Canada year-round, is often referred to as Canada’s best window, and it is easy to see why, as breathtaking views are easily the main attraction on every route. A Sleeper Plus ticket allows you to enjoy complimentary tastings of Canadian beer and wine as well as musical acts and special cultural presentations. For those with more of a champagne budget, a Prestige Class ticket also includes a personal concierge who will ensure that your journey is beyond memorable. From $479 for a Sleeper Plus ticket on the Winnipeg-Edmonton route, with other routes available; viarail.ca. 5. New Hope and Ivyland Railroad Grapevine Express: Pennsylvania Late summer and early fall are ideal times to enjoy a leaf-peeping foliage tour, and luckily, the Grapevine Express operates from August through the end of October. As you board this vintage diesel locomotive and make your way to the first class parlor car, you’ll be offered a glass of wine and a spread of gourmet cheeses, fruit, and artisan crackers. The hour-long nonstop round-trip excursion begins about 40 miles outside of Philadelphia and travels through the historic Bucks County woods. The adventure is both educational and entertaining, and you'll learn about the history of the area through on-board narration. From $75, which includes two glasses of wine and a souvenir wine glass; newhoperailroad.com/grapevineexpress. 6. San Diego Winery Train Tour: California Take in the magnificent scenery of the California coast from the comfort of your seat as you travel to several urban wineries and wine bars in San Diego. The green and eco-friendly train runs along the city’s coastal route, following the same path as the local commuter train, and makes four stops for a total of 15 tastings. The trip lasts approximately five hours and includes a light Italian lunch as well as a behind-the-scenes view of the wine-making process and a presentation on wine appreciation, sometimes from one of the winemakers themselves. You'll also have an opportunity to soak up some culture on a guided, historic walk to each winery. There's a beer train trolley tour as well, which stops at four local breweries. From $98, plus the cost of the train ticket; sandiegobeerwinespiritstours.com. 7. Royal Gorge Route Railroad Wine Dinners: Colorado This leisurely three-hour ride on Colorado’s scenic steamliner route takes guests on an epic adventure along the mighty Arkansas River deep within the granite cliffs of the Royal Gorge. A selection of themed wine dinners is offered throughout the year, each featuring meticulously chosen entrees paired with award-winning wines. And this is serious business—every year the team scouts the best wines across the United States and the world, selecting those that best complement their style of Colorado cuisine. From $199, which includes the five-course dinner with wine pairings; royalgorgeroute.com/dining/wine-dinner. 8. The Winery Train: New Jersey Journey along the Delaware River to one of New Jersey’s smallest wineries: the charming Villa Milagro Vineyards. Once there, you’ll enjoy a tour with hors d’oeuvres and tastings, but you’ll also likely be distracted by the panoramic views. On the train ride back, you’ll have the option of stopping at the Ol’ Susquehanna Mine to relax in the grove and enjoy a picnic, so you might want to pick up a bottle or two while you're at the winery. Trains operate from May through October and they run every 90 minutes, so you can stay as long as you like and get on board a later train.All-inclusive tours from $35; 877trainride.com/winery.htm.