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Category: Travel

Europe’s Best Apres Ski

Our virtuoso travel advisor, Carrie Mandela, a seasoned explorer with an unquenchable passion for curating unforgettable journeys is at it again. With a keen eye for detail and a knack for uncovering hidden gems, Carrie transforms ordinary vacations into extraordinary adventures. Her wealth of travel knowledge and commitment to personalized service make her the go-to expert for creating bespoke experiences. In this article, Carrie shares her insights on the best après-ski spots in Europe, providing a glimpse into the enchanting world of post-skiing indulgence. Read on to discover the perfect blend of exhilarating slopes and cozy havens, handpicked by our travel virtuoso for your winter escapades.

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Design Your Travel Blueprint for 2024 and Beyond

Plan Japan
Daigo-ji Temple | Kyoto
Discover the Land of Endless AllureThis year, Japan is a standout in the travel scene. While the cherry blossoms often steal the limelight, each season in Japan presents its charm. Kyoto’s heritage sites radiate tranquility, Tokyo’s avenues hum with life, and Hokkaido’s landscapes captivate — a tapestry of experiences awaits every traveler. Sakura SeasonCherry blossom season is beautiful wherever you find a thicket of the spring-blooming beauties – but the most famous destination for this is Japan. The trees hit their peak in Tokyo from the end of March to the beginning of April. Himeji CastleKyoto
Himeji Castle, Hyōgo | Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto
Sakura,” as the blossoms are called, are a sign of renewal, and their quick blooming season is a reminder of the transience of life, both of which are important tenets of Buddhism. It’s why the blossoms are so revered and sought out by the Japanese – and why visitors who want to take part in the annual ritual need to book far in advance to see it for themselves. Gastronomic WondersBut flowers aren’t the only reason you’ll visit Japan. The food culture is strong thanks to the high quality of ingredients and the attention to detail and presentation that make every meal an exceptional one.

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Amanemu – Ise-Shima | Tea Ceremony – Aman – Kyoto
And the fine dining is unforgettable. Japan has 411 Michelin-starred restaurants and another 428 that boast Michelin’s Bib gourmand ranking, noting excellent meals for under $50. Build a trip around food, and you’ll never go wrong. Watch the Netflix documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi to get you excited about your mouth-watering trip. Echoes of Tradition immersing yourself in Japan’s deep-rooted culture is at the heart of your journey. Make Kyoto your first stop: walk through the torii gates of the ancient Fushimi Inari shrine, enjoy the ceremony and ritual found within a traditional wooden teahouse, admire the colorful kimonos of the geisha, and slow down and find your Zen in the famous raked gardens.

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Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto | Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Nara Park
A popular day trip from Kyoto is to Nara, Japan’s first capital, full of historic treasures, including UNESCO world heritage sites. Wild deer are considered sacred in Nara Park and have become the symbols of the city. Buy a bag of deer crackers to feed them, and you’ll become fast friends. Winter Wonderland Hokkaido, the northern jewel of Japan, is a winter enthusiast’s dream. Blanketed in powdery snow, this region transforms into a picturesque wonderland. Beyond skiing and snowboarding on its renowned slopes, travelers can marvel at the Sapporo Snow Festival’s grand ice sculptures or take a tranquil walk in the snow-laden Otaru Canal. And when the cold gets intense, there’s nothing more comforting than a bowl of Hokkaido’s signature miso ramen to warm your spirits.

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Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono – Hokkaido | Takayama

Another great spot is Takayama, a stunning small town near the Japanese Alps with an old town full of traditional wooden homes and shrines. Refuel on the go by picking up some mitarashi dango (rice balls grilled in soy) from a street stall. Takayama is often voted one of the most beautiful cities in Japan. Another top experience is onsen, and there’s lots to choose from: Japan has over 3,000 hot springs. Taking part in the hot spring ritual allows visitors to soak up more of the local culture. Onsen’s are oases of calm, and most will insist visitors strip down to their birthday suits before slipping into the hot baths.

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Onsen, Yamagata | Ryokan Onsen, Kawaguchiko Lake(Good to know: you’ll need to cover up tattoos with a sticker patch, but some onsens are beginning to allow tattoos. Check before you go.) While gaijin, or foreigners, may find the art of communal bathing odd, in Japan, it is a beloved part of everyday life. Might as well dive in!
The food, the culture, the natural settings – what’s first in your Japan trip?
Your Travel Blueprint
Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy
Dreams to Destinations – The Power of Planning AheadThe perfect journey begins with the perfect plan! As we edge closer to another year, it’s the ideal time to start laying out your “blueprint” for travel in 2024 and the years that follow. And why navigate the vast world of travel alone? When you team up with me, you’re unlocking more than just bookings. Dive into hidden gems, exclusive travel perks, and local insights that aren’t readily available to most.
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Top: Puerto de Santiago, Tenerife, Spain | Bottom: Porto, Corsica, France

If you’re a creature of habit (St. Barts again?), let’s find you something incredible in the Canary Islands, Tenerife perhaps? If you like your Italian-influenced Mediterranean islands (try Sardinia) or French – then Corsica may be your next favorite destination. A long-term plan not only unveils hidden gems and my exclusive perks but also elevates those monumental life events.

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Top: Wilderness Chitabe – Botswana | Hotel Grande Bretagne – Athens, Greece
A significant milestone or important holiday deserves something special – sing happy birthday with a sundowner on safari; toast the years while standing amid Greece’s marvels, basking on its sun-kissed shores, or getting lost in the vibrant rhythm of Athens. Or what about heli-skiing down the champagne powder of the B.C. backcountry? Those are experiences no one forgets. And those big trips are ones to book a year or two in advance with me. This gives your travel family something to look forward to, and the advance-plan document helps us keep an eye out for better pricing and availability. Now, that’s definitely worth nailing down a two-year plan for. Dream trips aren’t left to chance. Use your travel blueprint to uncover the best of what the world has to offer.
Last-Minute Magic
Christmas Market | Salzburg, Austria
Need a Festive Getaway? I’ve Got You CoveredI understand life’s whirlwind pace – work, family, day-to-day chores. So, it’s only natural if you momentarily forgot to book that festive trip you’ve been dreaming of. If you’re now pondering, “Where should we ring in the holidays this year? What choices do we still have?” – you’re in the right hands. With the festive season on the horizon, it’s prime time to lock in those travel arrangements. While early planning usually ensures the best rates and options, my insider expertise means I can still find those secret spots even at the last minute. Late bookings might indeed have a slightly higher tag, but the delightful experiences and hidden opportunities I can access are well worth it. And remember, the sheer excitement of a last-minute festive escape? Absolutely priceless. Be it for the upcoming festive season or any other time of the year, let me chart your journey.
Carrie Mandala
Happy Travels,
Carrie Mandala
ElmRock Travel

A Glamorous Adventure: Come With Me To Milan Fashion Week

Milan, the fashion capital of the world, recently played host to the spectacular Milan Fashion Week, and I was fortunate enough to be right in the heart of the action with my amazing host Yelena Feurman of Yelena New York. From luxurious stays to exclusive previews and delectable dining, my fashion-filled adventure was nothing short of extraordinary.

Grand Hotel de Milan: A Luxurious Stay

My Milanese journey kicked off with a stay at the opulent Grand Hotel de Milan, where sophistication met history. Nestled in the heart of the city, this elegant locale offered a perfect blend of classic charm and modern luxury. The impeccable service and lavish surroundings set the tone for the fashionable days ahead.

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La Double J Flagship Store: Prints and Patterns Galore

A visit to the la Double J flagship store was a feast for the eyes. Known for its vibrant prints and eclectic patterns, the store was a treasure trove of unique and bold fashion statements. Exploring the racks of the latest collections was a delight for any fashion enthusiast. The fantastic store manager, Gaia shared so many wonderful looks with me. She curated an entire wardrobe of fabulous finds that were so signature La Double J. I could have taken everything home with me!!!!

Dinner at Paper Moon: A Culinary Extravaganza

For a culinary indulgence, I dined at the iconic Paper Moon, a celebrity hotspot known for its delicious Italian cuisine. The elegant ambiance and mouthwatering dishes made it a perfect choice for a sophisticated evening.

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Gucci Fall 2023 Preview: A Glimpse into the Future of Fashion

The highlight of my Milan Fashion Week experience was an exclusive preview of the Gucci Fall 2023 collection. Witnessing the avant-garde designs and creative genius of the fashion house was a truly mesmerizing experience.

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Armani Hotel Restaurant: Fine Dining with a View

Another evening was spent at the Armani Hotel Restaurant, where fine dining met panoramic views of the city. The culinary masterpieces and the chic ambiance made it a memorable gastronomic affair.

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Etro Fall 2023: A Sneak Peek into Sublime Elegance

As a delightful bonus to my Milanese journey, I had the privilege of a preview of the Etro Fall 2023 collection with my good friend, fashionista, and PR Maven, Lizzi Bickford Meadow. Sublime is an understatement for the ethereal pieces that graced the runway. The fusion of rich textures, intricate details, and a palette that danced between bold and muted tones left me eagerly coveting the entire collection.

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Vintage Shopping Extravaganza

Milan’s fashion scene isn’t just about the latest trends; it’s also a treasure trove for vintage enthusiasts. I spent an afternoon with my friend Lizzi exploring hidden gems in vintage shops, discovering timeless pieces that added a unique flair to both of our wardrobes.

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Amici Della Pizza: A Slice of Local Delight

No trip to Milan is complete without savoring the local pizza, and Amici Della Pizza did not disappoint. Tucked away in a charming corner of the city, this hidden gem served up the most delectable slices, capturing the essence of authentic Italian pizza and an amazing tiramisu as well.

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Duomo Galleria Shopping and Duomo Delights

The Duomo Galleria, a shopper’s paradise, offered a perfect blend of luxury and local finds. After a day of retail therapy, I marveled at the breathtaking Duomo di Milano, an architectural masterpiece that I could admire right from the vicinity of my hotel. The intricate details and sheer grandeur left me in awe.

My Milan Fashion Week escapade was a symphony of style, luxury, and culinary delights. From high-end fashion previews to savoring the best of Italian cuisine, every moment was a celebration of the city’s unparalleled charm. Milan, you stole my heart, and I’ll carry the memories of this glamorous affair forever.

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All You Need To Know About The New European Passport/Visa Rules!!

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VISA for Europe??? Our luxury travel advisor Carrie Mandala has some news for us…

By now you have probably heard that starting in January 2024 U.S Passport holders will need to obtain travel authorization to enter the European Union. 

The European Union has implemented a new security program, European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), that requires U.S. passport holders to obtain a visa prior to travel.  This is similar to the visa European tourists are required to get when traveling to the U.S.

What does this all mean…

You will now need to apply online for a visa through the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) website 

ETIAS is not a visa in the traditional sense. It is an online application that most applicants will receive approval within minutes, but some could take up to 14 days and additional information may be requested. All communication is through email. If you are denied you will be emailed the reasoning and there is an appeal process. 

The visa will cost about $8.00 and will be good for multiple entries for up to three years or until a passport expires, whichever comes first. It allows you to spend up to 90 days within 180-day period. All travelers will be required to have an ETIAS. It is linked to your passport and both documents will be needed to gain entry into a country whether coming by land, sea or air.

Once you receive your ETIAS travel authorization you should double-check that all information listed is correct as any mistakes may prevent entry. They encourage you to apply on the earlier side to ensure there is no disruption to your travel plans.

At the end of the day for most people, it is one more thing to add to the TO DO list.

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International travel has surged and the demand for passports is at an all-time high. Unfortunately, this is taking a toll on the processing time. Passports are taking up to four months to receive and have some travelers in a panic.

Here are some tips to hopefully keep you out of the chaos:

  1. Your passport must be valid 6 months after your trip return date
  2. You are eligible to renew your passport starting 1 year prior to your expiration date. I would suggest if you do not have pending international travel to go ahead and start the process then.
  3. Always opt for the expedited service.
  4. If you are 2-3 weeks out from your trip – start contacting your local state representative for assistance. They have been very helpful for many in getting their passports back in the nick of time.
  5. They say that emergency appointments will be given 2 weeks prior to travel – you must have proof of international travel – the problem is appointments are hard to get due to the demand and some travelers have had to travel domestically to get one.
  6. When in doubt working with a passport company from the start can be helpful. They do charge additional fees.

Bottomline check your passports now, set an alarm on your calendar and RENEW early.

What Exactly is Virtuoso Travel?

I recently sat down with one of our Blog Sponsors, Carrie Mandala a Virtuoso Travel Advisor. More people and families are traveling more than ever, and Carrie is here to make your trip more memorable. I was able to ask her some questions about booking a luxury vacation. She was so helpful and interesting.

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She also gave me a link where NS Lifestyle readers can create accounts and book Virtuoso hotels directly. You will get all the same benefits as if I did the booking myself. This is great for a straight hotel booking – there are no fees. A more complex trip would need a consult, Carrie.

Tell us a little bit about Virtuoso Travel.

· Virtuoso is a by-invitation-only travel network for the top 1% of travel agencies. It connects the top agencies/advisors with vetted suppliers worldwide. 

In addition to Virtuoso Travel

In addition to Virtuoso, my host agency Travel Experts is an industry leader and is a member of many preferred partner programs that provide my clients with many additional amenities. Lastly, just recently, we are thrilled to announce that ElmRock Travel, as an affiliate of Travel Experts Inc., has been named a Forbes Travel Guide-endorsed agency. FTG is the only independent global rating system for luxury hotels, restaurants, spas, and ocean cruises. The coveted Five-Star, Four-Star and Recommended awards are earned through incognito inspections on FTG’s hundreds of exacting quality and service standards. We are honored to be recognized by the global authority on luxury hospitality for our commitment to providing our clients with exceptional experiences.

How does a travel advisor work? What can you tell me about the process you use? What costs are associated with hiring you, and the value you bring?

Working with a travel advisor is a collaborative effort. The more information you can share the better I can assist with trying to find you the perfect trip for you. I do charge planning fees based on the complexity of your trip starting at $350.00 and have a trip minimum of $15,000 per trip. As you can imagine a lot of time in effort goes into creating an itinerary or trip ideas. The planning fee covers my time. You can think of it as in the way that you hire an interior designer or lawyer. 

What will the process of booking with you look like?

It starts with a conversation and then evolves. Not everyone is a perfect fit and that is okay. Just like anything in life.

How is your service different from that of other advisors?

Good question – I can’t speak to others and their process, but I think communication, responsibility and accessibility are strong traits that I am proud of.

Do you have any special areas that you have a niche in?

My connections are in the luxury market space.

Do you make yourself available to your clients before, during and after the trip

If truth be told I am available to a fault, so absolutely. I hate to have people disappointed and it is an honor to have you trust me with your most prized assets…time and money. 

How do you decide which destinations are a good fit for your client?

That all comes down to the client. I like to say, “not every destination is for every client, but there is a destination for every client.” It comes down to the more information you share the better one is able to advise. I think I have heard it all!!!

Do you book authentic experiences/itineraries? or just plane and lodging?

Yes, I do complete itineraries and authentic experiences. The more time you give the better of an itinerary you will have. Last-minute requests can be hard as it all comes down to availability. There are lots of travelers these days so it becomes challenging.

Do you book Honeymoons?

Yes, the best trips to book. Everyone is happy and excited. My advice to all newlyweds – “go as far as you can and for as long as you can. Never in life will you be this free.”

To get an idea of the scope of your work, what was the most extravagant trip you planned? And, what was the simplest?

Extravagant would be multi-generational families trip to Africa and simplest hotel booking.

Is there ever a destination that you advise your clients not to go to?

Yes, there are certain destinations that need to be done in certain ways. If a client is not able or interested then we are not the right combination for this experience. That is okay. This just happened for a prospective client and Cuba.

What are the most popular couples, family, and singles destinations

Mallorca, San Sebastian (Spain) – couples

Charter a Gulet in Turkey – families

Ibiza – singles

Your readers can create accounts and book Virtuoso hotels directly. They get all the same benefits as if I did the booking myself. This is great for a straight hotel booking – there are no fees. A more complex trip would need a consult.

Preparing for Your First Family Trip Abroad

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Going abroad with our children is an exciting adventure. Some of us do it for the first time when our kids are very young, perhaps even babies. Others decide to wait until they are older. Some, of course, never do it, preferring to enjoy all that their home country has to offer while saving money on much cheaper options. Whenever you do it, a family holiday can be a magical experience, as well as a great way to spend time together away from all other distractions, and while you could argue that there’s something more glorious about seeing somewhere further from home, it’s also safe to say that there’s more stress involved. 

When we go abroad with kids, there’s a lot to think about, whether they are babies or teens. You might worry about keeping them happy and comfortable on the flight, finding food that they’ll enjoy, and keeping them safe. You may also have concerns about buying everything that you might need at your destination. So, here are some tips to help you enjoy your first family trip outside of your home country. 

Choose a Safe Destination

At the moment, finding a safe destination has a whole other range of concerns. You might want to check current Covid-19 infection levels and local restrictions, as well as the likelihood of facing a period in quarantine either when you arrive or when you get home. Many families are choosing to delay trips abroad until next year when the rest of the tips on this list will still be relevant. 

Of course, even without a global pandemic, there are other safety considerations when traveling abroad, and you should always take your time to do some research before booking. Find a safe area, with positive reviews, and good access to health and security services, and consider staying in an English-speaking hotel for further support. Checking local news sites is always a good idea if you want to get a feel for how safe a destination is, away from the ever-positive travel guides and adverts.

Make Sure it’s Family Friendly

The accommodation that you choose should be family-friendly. Ideally, it should offer a kid’s club (even if you don’t use it, it’s a sign that they prioritize kid’s needs), a safe pool, a room with an extra bed, or cot and other things that you might need. Make sure your hotel offers food that your children will enjoy, and that there’s plenty for them to do. 

Besides this, check if the location offers you to safeguard your luggage or not. For instance – places like Paris offer you the liberty of securing your luggage with luggage storage Paris services while you enjoy traveling. Seek details about such services from your travel agent in advance.

Think About What You Want from Your Holiday

A holiday with children isn’t the same as a holiday with just your partner or your friends. It isn’t even the same as a trip with family members who have children. It’s different. But that doesn’t mean that all family holidays are the same. Before booking your trip, think about what you want from yours. Do you want to spend a lot of time in the hotel, enjoying the facilities on offer? Do you plan to try local activities, or explore the surrounding area? Do you want plenty of tourist hotspots? Think about the kind of holiday you want and look for a destination that gives you what you need to achieve your family holiday. 

Don’t Expect it to be the Same

Your days of being able to lay by the beach soaking up the sun, drinking cocktails, and reading in peace are over. So are your days exploring local nightlife? Prepare for a very different holiday and you won’t be disappointed. 

Pack Carefully

When you are on your own you might wing it by packing your Emigre gear, knowing that you could probably get everything you need or at least something close to your destination. When you’ve got kids, things are different. They might need specific medications or sunscreens. You might also need nappies, creams, and wipes, and they’ll certainly need a sunhat and shades. Think about what your kids need, and make sure you pack them. If there’s no laundrette on site, you might want to take some hand wash detergent to prepare for accidents. Make sure you have all of these Travel Essentials for Family Getaways and you should be fine. 

Take Some Home Comforts

Your kids might need some home comforts to help them to stay comfortable and sleep. Younger children might want a teddy or blanket. Older kids might want a favorite toy, and teens probably just need a phone charger. 

Pay for Insurance

When you travel with kids’ insurance can be essential. Make sure any health needs, unexpected cancelations, or other issues are covered. 

Prepare for the Journey

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Traveling with children can be stressful, and you’ll definitely need your holiday by the time you arrive. You might decide to drive, but most people fly, in which case, these tips might help. 

Hand Luggage

Your hand luggage is very important when you’ve got kids. Make sure passports, tickets, and other documents are easy to find, that you have the cash to hand, and plenty of snacks for the journey. You’ll also want some activities to keep the kids happy, and any nappies and toiletries that you might need, and a spare set of clothes, just in case. Remember, if you are paying for a seat for your child, they also get their own hand luggage allowance. 

Plan 20-Minute Activities

Kids have very short attention spans, add that to the excitement of a flight, anxiety, and any nerves that they may have, and keeping them calm might be difficult. So, plan activities in 20-minute blocks. Pack books and games, as well as electronic devices to keep them occupied. 

Carefully Consider Snacks

Snacks are a very useful tool when it comes to keeping kids happy. But, think about it carefully. You don’t want anything too sticky, too smelly, or too likely to make them hyper or sick. 

Don’t Stress

If you stress and worry, everything will be worse. Keep calm, take it as it comes, and try to enjoy yourself. 

Get on the Plane Last

Many airlines will let passengers with young children get on the plane first. This can be a mistake. Let them burn energy running around the airport for as long as you can before they have to sit still. 

Know the Rules

Make sure you know what you are allowed to take on the flight, and what has to go in the cabin bag. Check with the airline before leaving home if you have any doubts. 

Don’t Strive for Perfection

Your holiday is unlikely to be perfect. Things will go wrong, there will be stress and the kids will get upset. This doesn’t mean that the whole holiday is ruined. Forget perfection and let yourself enjoy the adventure.