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I have to admit, one of my favorite meals in Berlin is Currywurst. Instead of my regurgitating (sorry) the specifics, check out this NYT video and article. Says it all:

Video: http://video.nytimes.com/video/2011/01/26/world/1248069590973/currywurst-on-the-street.html

Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/27/world/europe/27berlin.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper

Yountville, CA

Yountville, CA

January can be a quiet and beautiful time in Napa Valley. For an easy pick-me-up, plan to visit a spa or savor the abundance of food offerings (or better yet, do both!). Here’s a great way to get started – January is Napa Valley Restaurant Month:

Napa Valley’s Official Tourism Website

Burgenland: Typical Scenery

Burgenland: Typical Scenery

The final leg of my 6-day Austrian Destination Summit was dedicated to a seldom visited region in Austria – Burgenland. This area, located in the eastern-most part of Austria, is coveted for its culinary, wine, musical and outdoor activities.  Bordered by Hungary and populated since WWII by people from formerly eastern block countries, Burgenland is relatively new to tourism from english-speaking regions, and is a wonderful mix of cultures.  This is definitely part of the charm.

As we traveled through Burgenland, I could not stop thinking about how it reminded me pre-1990’s Sonoma Valley, CA. The scenery, food, wine and family-run businesses were all familiar sites:

Burgenland - Deutschkreutz: Winery Igler/Schaflerhof

Deutschkreutz: Winery Igler/Schaflerhof

Deutschkreutz: Well respected for its red and full-bodied white wines, we stopped at a winery for a lovely three-course wine pairing lunch. Like many wineries in the region, Winery Igler/Schaflerhof is family-owned, friendly, uber-modern and sits within the Pannonian basin.

Need proof of the region’s wine quailty? Check out Robert Parker Wine Advocate which awarded a 2009 Blaufrankisch 95 points.

Also keep an eye open for a new-comer in the wine scene: Gruner Veltliner (originated in Austria, but is now grown by U.S. wineries as well). If you live in the San Francisco area, check out The Slanted Door (Ferry Building). They have an impressive wine list which pairs perfectly with their flavorful dishes (and notice the nice selection of Austrian wines).

Rust: Steppe Lake

Rust: Steppe Lake

Raiding: This town is the birthplace of Franz Liszt and houses a museum and new concert hall in his name. The curator of the museum provided us with a brief history lesson of this child prodigy (and apparent sex symbol of his time). This was followed by a mini-concert in their new concert hall. For Liszt fans, 2011 represents the 200th anniversary of his birth, so there will be many exciting events taking place in Raiding.

Stekovic Family Farm: Coming from Northern California, I really enjoy artisanal foods. So this family farm really hit the spot for me – homegrown tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers turned into yummy snacks. Not only did we get to knosh on the product, we received a bit of a lesson in how to best grow tomatoes (hint: do not water them). By the way, I shared these goods with friends over Christmas, and they absolutely loved their beauty and unique flavors.

Rust: This 16th century village is well known for its stork nests on the chimneys. Not only that, it is full of incredibly colorful townhouses with Baroque and Renaissance facades. After a brief walking tour, we had a fabulous wine pairing lunch at family-run Restaurant Hofgassl (be sure to check out the video). Housed in a 17th-century building, this culinary experience was capped off by a visit from the award-winning Feiler-Artinger Winery owner (who happens to live next door).

Eisenstadt Highlights

Eisenstadt Highlights

Eisenstadt: This charming little town (and capital of Burgenland) would be a good place to stay for a couple of nights while you go visit the surrounding countryside or partake in one of the many music festivals. During our brief stay, we enjoyed a fun tour of Schloss Esterhazy. Joseph Haydn was prince Esterhazy’s music director for over 40 years, so his presence is strongly felt in this palace. The entrance of Schloss Esterhazy epitomizes Austria: Traditional setting, injected with interesting modern elements. We ended our Eisenstadt tour at the beautiful and incredibly unique baroque Bergkirche, where Haydn’s mausoleum can be found.

Neusiedl: Our final dinner was at the authentic family-run restaurant, Restaurant Nyikospark, known for its excellent seasonal and local food. They also own a small hotel which offers lovely simple (and cheerfully bright) rooms and for those so inclined, cooking classes. Best yet: You first go visit local farms to source your menu!

Frauenkirchen: St. Martin's Therme & Lodge

Frauenkirchen: St. Martin's Therme & Lodge

The Burgenland region is made for the outdoor enthusiast as much as the food / wine / music enthusiast. In addition to swimming, biking, hiking and sailing, you can take the thermal waters (again, just like Sonoma Valley). An outstanding place for this is St. Martin’s Therme & Lodge. Here you can enjoy numerous spa treatments, go on a Night Discovery Tour in the National Park (animal tracking or star gazing) or just enjoy the array of birds which stop here on their way to or from the Serengeti in Africa. I really enjoyed the modern touches of this place and loved the various thermal water areas (particularly sitting outside at night with the color of the water changing around me and the full-moon shining above).

A friend of mine recently told me she and her husband are going to participate in the Ironman Race in Klagenfurt Austria (July 3, 2011). As an Austria specialist, I can make putting together a trip around an event like this seamless, enjoyable and unique. Let me know if I can be of assistance!

Rust: Storks

Rust: Storks

 

Eisenstadt: Schloss Esterhazy

Eisenstadt: Schloss Esterhazy

Deutschkreutz: Winehostel Moritz /Wine Inn Moritz 

 

 

Deutschkreutz: Winehostel Moritz /Wine Inn Moritz

So why am I focused on Graz, a city which was Europe’s Cultural Capital in 2003? Because it is relatively unknown and is a great “off-the-beaten-track” destination for people who love food, wine, music and other cultural experiences. I recently came back from an Austrian Destination Summit (developed by the Austrian Tourism Board) and had the opportunity to visit this very unique city in southern Austria. Graz is only about 2.5 hours from Vienna (car or train). Whichever way you enter the city, do not let your initial impressions lead to disappointment. Your patience will be paid off once you reach the historic center and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Graz Old Town

The historic center is not only comprised of many different architectural styles, it is packed with wonderful sensory experiences such as farmers markets, bakeries, boutiques and museums. Our group got to know Graz via a 3-hour walking food and wine tour:

  • Der Steirer: Appetizers at this charming wine bar and market highlighted Goose Pate and Smoked Salmon.
  • Aiola Restaurant: The Entree included lightly fried Perch and a creative Cucumber & Beet Salad, all within a stylized modern setting.
  • Schlossberg: Dessert was made of light Almond Pastry, Chestnuts, Caramel and Raspberry. The view over Graz was the icing on the cake.

The day ended with window shopping through the old town and a Styrian Wine Pairing Dinner at Restaurant Landhauskeller. This was a particularly interesting experience considering the historic setting, old Styrian recipes and a wine sommelier who explained each of the wines we were pairing with our dishes.

Our final stop the next morning was to visit the unique and world-renowned Landeszeughaus Graz (Armoury Museum).

Here are some visual highlights from our day+ in Graz:

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Final Note: If you are a foodie who is looking for a new cultural experience, let me know so I can introduce you to Graz’s exclusive hit event – The Long Table – which takes place in the summer and highlights their culinary offerings in an al fresco, white table cloth setting right in the center of old town.

I recently returned from the 2010 Austrian Summit – the first annual (hopefully) event hosted by the Austrian Tourist Board. I’ve always been a fan of Austria, so whether or not I would attend this 6-day industry event was a no-brainer. There were about 45 Virtuoso/Signature/Platinum AMEX travel advisors from the U.S., Australia and Canada. Our objective was to get to know Austria’s various provinces and, more specifically, revel in her cultural, musical, and culinary delights. This translated into an opportunity to hear from each of the local Austrian Tourist Board members, meeting key Austrian suppliers, and enjoying activities we could recommend to our clients. All of this information provided me with invaluable contacts and loads of ideas for future itinerary planning. The first three days were devoted to Imperial Vienna; here were some highlights:

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  • Architecture: Walking around Vienna we were introduced to an array of styles including Medieval, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Modernism. While Vienna in many ways has always reminded me of Paris, you can’t help but sense the overwhelming Imperial tones in this city. I also love how they beautifully junxtaposed the historic buildings with modern elements.
  • Coffee Houses: There are many to choose from, but I spent time in Demel this trip. Established in 1933, I love the elegant small rooms, great coffee, and light desserts (really … not too sugary either).
  • Christmas Market: The markets were just being set up, but fortunately we were able to enjoy the large market in front of the Rathaus.
  • Giant Ferris Wheel: No visit to Vienna would be complete without visiting the Giant Ferris Wheel. One of the options available is to have a romantic or group gathering (8 – 10 people) with champagne and appetizers in one of the historic old cars while it goes through its 30 minute turn.
  • Vienna Philharmonic: It was magical to be able to observe the Vienna Philharmonic practicing at the Musikverein Concert Hall.
  • Elmayer Dance School: Ball season is huge in Vienna. We learned how to do the waltz at Elmayer Dance School, and even learned a few things about etiquette, such as how to kiss a ladies hand. This may sound old-school, but it is still a serious business in Vienna!  The majority of the balls are in the December – March timeframe and certain tickets must be purchased far ahead of time.
  • Spanish Riding School: The gorgeous and elegant white Lipizzaner horses at the Spanish Riding School were incredibly friendly. I loved being able to walk around the stables and snuggle up to them (or them to me) and then go into the stadium and watch them go through their morning exercise. You can also buy tickets to  attend 80+ minute performances. I’ve been wanting to see them for years, but they were always out-of-town performing or romping around the Austrian hills on vacation (so plan ahead!).
  • Museums: There is an endless array of museums to visit in Vienna, but two I throughly enjoyed were the Leopold Museum (Gustav Klimt paintings and Art Nouveau decorative arts were my favorites) and the Liechtenstien Museum (lovely intimate setting with Baroque focus).
  • Dinner at Schonbrunn Palace: Our elegant dinner at the baroque World Cultural Heritage Site – Schonbrunn Palace – was preceded by a private “Imperial” tour. We were then wisked off to The Gloriette Cafe which is housed in a structure set behind the palace and overlooking the expansive gardens. In the background live classical music was being played, which included a quartet of women playing electrical violins/cellos/violas while singing opera or contemporary music. This whole setting transported us all back to the age of the Habsburgs.
  • MoZuluArt: This was the most memorable part of our visit to Vienna. Mozart infused with Zulu music. Who would have thought? Check them out:

The group then separated into West (Salzburg, Innsbruck and Tirol) and East (Graz in Styria and Burgenland) caravans and went off for a three-day adventure. Since I have already extensively visited the West, I chose to go East. Boy was I glad I made that choice! The food, wine, musical and cultural experiences were very unique. Stay tuned for more information on “GRAZ AUSTRIA: EUROPE’S 2003 CULTURAL CAPITAL” and “BURGENLAND: UNDISCOVERED CULINARY AND CULTURAL EXPERIENCES”.

Cruise Business Picking Up in San Francisco (San Francisco Chronicle – September 24, 2010)

Love to hear more cruise ships will be stopping in San Francisco in 2011.  Crystal Cruises, a luxury cruise line, is one great example of increased interest. This is both a sign of how the cruise business is doing (a corner has been turned) and the increased demand for travel closer to home. This article highlights the importance of such business to the travel industry in San Francisco: http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-09-24/business/24087017_1_cruise-industry-news-oivind-mathisen-cruise-business

Switzerland is one of my favorite summer destinations. Unbelievable scenery; excellent organic and simple food (Italian, French, German and collage of these); art and culture; and the best train infrastructure around. So I was excited to have one of my clients ask me pull together a one-week ski trip to Switzerland for the end of December 2010. After identifying what he looks for in his ski resorts (broad variety of apres ski activities; cozy atmosphere; advance skiing options; powder, not ice; ease of getting to the gondolas), I went off and did my homework. It became clear very quickly that Zermatt was the place. First, you catch the train right at the airport and after a 3.5 hour train ride, you reach the pedestrian town of Zermatt.  And most importantly, it not only checked off many of his boxes, it is one of Switzerland’s highest ski resorts which all but guarantees snow in December. There are many great accommodation choices from hotels to B&B’s to chalets. But if it ski-in, ski-out you are interested in, then the Riffelhalp Resort is the place to stay.

View from Riffelalp Resort

View from Riffelalp Resort

Riffelalp Nostalgie Room

Riffelalp Nostalgie Room

Riffelalp Resort: Restaurant Bosco

Riffelalp Resort: Restaurant Bosco