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STAY ON A PRIVATE RANCH IN THE NEW MEXICO DESERT

[RODEO, NEW MEXICO] — A coupla weekends ago, I went on a bird-watching road trip along the southern Arizona and New Mexico border with my best college buddies. Three were into birding, two of us were along for the beer.  This time of year, this part of southern Arizona skirting the Mexico border is a world class birding destination as all the most exotic birds migrate back north through a concentrated flyway. It was like shooting birds in a barrel (figuratively speaking, birders don’t shoot, except pictures). My friends bagged Life Birds in the high double-digits. Painted Pony Resort We lucked out by staying at this really cool guest ranch Painted Pony Resort just across the New Mexico border in Rodeo, New Mexico. It was in

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TAKE A TOUR THROUGH THE TERRACED VINEYARDS OF PORTUGAL’S DOURO RIVER VALLEY

[DOURO VALLEY, PORTUGAL] — I see all these Instagram peeps hitting Porto taking pictures of the big bridge, climbing up its steep hills, drinking some port and then bolting. But really what they’re missing is a day trip (or longer) up the Douro River to visit the incredible, hilly stair step vineyards of the Douro Valley, one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. I dunno, I’m over wine tours, once you see a few, they’re all the same to me — “Is that French oak or American? How long in stainless??” — poke me in the eye with a stick…but that’s just me.. But the Douro Valley is different. Hilly. Steep. Flinty mounds of luscious green heaven pouring down to a mellow meandering river.

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A FOUR DAY D-DAY TOUR OF NORMANDY

[Caen, France] — The cold morning wind was biting our faces as we walked up to the big bronze plaque. Our incredible guide Mathias Leclère, whom we just met ten minutes ago, pulled us over to chat in the protection of a wall dug into the hill. “Over along that ridge, German troops lined the tree lines, all the way to that bell tower in that village over there. Below us, all of these fields had been flooded by the Germans in anticipation of an invasion.” Mathias calmly shouted amidst the blowing winter wind, a little sleet stinging our faces. “Just behind us, 13,000 U.S. paratroopers had just landed in the middle of the night. It was pitch black, no moon. The ack-ack anti-aircraft fire

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AN ADVENTURE HOTEL HIDDEN IN COLORADO’S CANYON LANDS

[GATEWAY, COLORADO]  — Okay, where the hell did this place come from?  Gateway Canyons Resort. Out of nowhere this over-the-top location has popped out of the blue over the last couple of years. Once the private ranch of the founder of the Discovery Channel, he has slowly built this from a small, in-the-know conference center with a handful of rooms into a full-on resort, adding chunks of rooms and facilities each year until it is now one of the best resorts I’ve been to in the U.S. This is Colorado?? I thought it was all about mountains and skiing?  Yup. But then there’s here. Western Colorado is a blurred line into the canyony parts of Utah. An hour south of ridgy Grand Junction — Colorado’s Orchard

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STAY ON A RENOVATED FARMSTEAD IN PORTUGAL’S ALENTEJO REGION

[ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL] — Leaving the pine-canopied coastal lands of Comporta, you drive straight across the heart of Portugal’s beautiful Alentejo region. Covering 30% of the country, this is Portugal’s bread basket. 10,000+ square miles of endless fields of cork, olives, wine and wheat.  When you read any article on Alentejo, you will undoubtably see bright photos golden wheat and dark green cork trees, mine will be no different. I’m here to visit one of Alentejo’s best boutique hotels. It almost feels like a movie filter, everything all gold, dark green and brown. The pounding sun almost making everything a little fuzzy. The uniform bright white architecture of Portuguese house of buildings, starkly contrasting with the golden fields and green hills.   Driving Across Alentejo Driving

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VISIT ONE OF THE PRETTIEST HILLTOWNS IN PORTUGAL

[Alentejo, Portugal] — From this hilltop, the highest in the region, you can see forever. That’s why this little town has been important throughout history. And not just history, but pre-history.  Monsaraz in Alentejo is the site of one of the oldest settlements in Portugal, going back to neolithic times when people were tilting stones to the sky and calling it home. Or temple. Or tomb. There are some of the best neolithic sites in the world scattered all over this region. This was such a strategic location that it has been fought and won over many many times by the conquering hoards. First, the pagans, then Romans, then the Goths came and slaughtered, then the Arabs, then another collection of Arabs, then Jewish conquerors, Christians

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AN AIRY OASIS IN THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS OF MOROCCO

[OURIKA VALLEY, MOROCCO] — The road out of Marrakesh is a great unwinding. Leaving the crowded and bustling Medina behind, the criss-crossing crowded intersections and roundabouts, vehicles of every different size and shape. Donkey- and horse-drawn carts take their place alongside screaming mopeds, belching buses and trucks loaded with construction supplies and produce. Vendors selling everything out of their trunk on the side of the road or at a waiting stoplight. Well-dressed Moroccans and expats enjoying a coffee in the many outdoor cafes. It’s an insane cacophony.   Then you pass thru the suburban apartment blocks, women in full headdress walking their kids to school. Guys repairing cars on a wide sidewalk. Then the sprawling Palmeraie, a palm grove of several hundred thousand trees, huge

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THREE PERFECT DAYS IN ESSAOUIRA MOROCCO

[Essaouira, Morocco] — “Will we be able to see the goats in the trees?” I’d read about them for years, had seen picture and always wondered: “Why are the goats in trees?”  🙃 Now I wanted to see them. The drive from the Atlas Mountains was long and a little painful, you basically have to drive back through Marrakesh, then two and half hours driving across the barren plains to Essaouira on the coast. But as we were getting close to Essaouira, the driver quickly pulled over to the side of the road. GOATS!     After the initial fun reaction, we soon realized this was a tourist sham. The reason why the goats were bleating was because they were put up there by the

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COOL THINGS TO DO IN MARRAKESH

[MARRAKESH] — The first time I came to Morocco a few years ago, I was cranky. And a little scared. My TAP flight from Lisbon had a painful five hour chair-less layover in Casablanca and it was close to midnight by the time I pulled up to the hotel. It was hot. I was sweaty and sticky. The traffic was insane, snarled with scooters and lorries and donkey carts as the driver pulled over, fumes spewing when I opened the car door. I got out, bleary eyed, we were next to a busy gas station, cars lined up, honking out into the street. All the shops were boarded up and men were screaming at a completely jammed bus terminal across the street. A garish fluorescent light

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MONFORTE D’ALBA — THE PERFECT BASE FOR EXPLORING PIEDMONT

[PIEMONTE, ITALY] —  Mid October is a busy season here in Barolo. Most of the grapes have already been picked, but because of recent rains there’s more to go. A couple of hot days of sun and we’re good to go. Laying down for a nap, I can hear gargling tractors drive by on the famous Via Ginestra, their rattling trailers rushing to the crushing. This is also the beginning of truffle season, here in the white truffle capital of the world, everyone securing their stash like drug dealers. I walked into Monforte d’Alba for a quiet lunch in the busy piazza. After shaving luscious white truffle tubers like pencil fines, Alberto, the owner of the wonderfully named Grappolo d’Oro hotel (The Golden Grape) said,

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HARVESTING GRAPES IN PIEDMONT ITALY

[PIEMONTE, ITALY] — Two hours off my overnight flight, I was still goating and my Terrier hair was going in every direction. My GPS had inexplicably sent me through a frantic detour through the Centro of the Turin on my way to the land of Barolo and I was running late. Pulling down the gravel road and into the parking, my friend and host Jon and his 8 year old son greeted me as he sprinted down the steps of his house, Casa Gialla. “Oh man, glad you’re here. I was just heading to a wine tasting, want to come along?”  “Certo.” We raced across the ridges of the steep hills, the sun bouncing off the crazy quilt patterns of vineyards filling every hilltop, valley,

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STAY IN YOUR OWN PRIVATE TENT CAMP IN THE SAHARA

[THE SAHARA, MOROCCO] — I was sitting there polishing off my second Negroni — a Negroni in the frickin’ Sahara Desert — watching the blazing sun rapidly sink over the darkening horizon when here comes Ahmed, barreling over the lip of the nearest dune, in bare feet (!). Huffing, he says “Monsieur Dan, we have one more surprise for you tonight. Please come. Oh… and bring your camera.” As if I needed more surprises that day… we start charging off through the sand towards the quickly setting sun.     We follow a path along the dune ridges, lanterns illuminating the way, the darkness arriving freaky-fast, almost like a light switch. We top the lip of the ridge and I shriek like a little girl. Ahmed giggles with

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AN AMAZING KASBAH IN A MOROCCAN DESERT OASIS

bouti[SKOURA, MOROCCO] — After a long, bumpy slog over the Atlas Mountains from Marrakesh, I got out of the dusty Mercedes van in an indiscriminate parking lot outside a great mud-walled compound. Walls up to the sky. This is it? I wondered under my breath. This is the place I’ve heard so much about? And then, with silent porters in linen tunics grabbing my bags, a great wooden door opened from the thick walls. A donkey groaned downed by the road we just passed. “Hello, my name is Florent. You can call me Flo.” a slight, chicly-dressed young Frenchman with up-turned collar addressed me. Peeking inside, everything became clear. “Oh, this is it. This is definitely it.”     I follow Flo through the thick

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GO BALLOONING HIGH ABOVE PORTUGAL’S ALENTEJO REGION

[ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL] — The ancient town of Monsaraz sits high on a hilltop in Portugal’s Alentejo regio, the tallest point for miles around. Just miles from the Spanish border and surrounded by thick castle walls, it overlooks one of the most beautiful parts of inland Portugal, including the giant Alqueva reservoir — the largest manmade lake in Europe. Some consider Monsaraz one of Portugal’s most picturesque villages and it is one of it’s oldest. People have been living in this region since pre-historic times, with ancient monoliths strewn all over the land. Then the Romans came and took over, then Visigoths, the Jews, then Christians, then Muslims again… everyone wanting a piece of this strategic hilltop. Surrounded by thick protective walls, the castle goes back

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THE PERFECT BEACH VACATION IN COMPORTA PORTUGAL

[ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL] — Driving out of Lisbon airport in your rental is absolutely crazy, with GPS or not. After an overnight flight (or two) you exit the terminal into the bright Portugal sun all bleary eyed, you get your car and just go.  The GPS is playing catch up, while the traffic is not, bearing down on your tail like a dog in heat. The roads are like a plate of dropped spaghetti, turning off in every crazy direction, with signs that don’t match what the GPS is telling you.  After a couple of roundabout orbit corrections, you finally break free of the tangle and head south for the Tagus River. Suddenly, the bright blue sky opens up, the traffic disappears and you’re back to

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THE PERFECT VILLA TO RENT IN COMPORTA PORTUGAL

[ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL] — It’s the pine trees that get ya. They are everywhere in Comporta. Big billowy umbrella pines that quietly sway in the breeze.  Besides the rice fields, Comporta is known for its pines. And because development has been strictly controlled, the remain its dominant feature. There are no massive hotels or major housing estates, just slivers of streets carved out of the trees, often with protective easements that protect the privacy forever. When I first saw this villa on Airbnb, I thought “Oh wow, this is nice…” and kinda like finding a puppy at the pound, I knew this would be the place we’d rent.  Wasn’t quite sure of the area at first — had a hard time figuring out distances on Google

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WHERE TO EAT IN COMPORTA PORTUGAL

[ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL] — We’d spent our first day in Comporta at Pégo Beach, one of the best beaches in the area. Still a little jet-lagged after arriving the night before. We rented chairs and lulled ourselves to sleep with the waves while quietly reading/not reading  our books. The sun was high, it was the end of June, but the steady breeze kept the temperature in the 70s. Unbelievably perfect. Families played beach games as we shake-and-baked in the soft warm sand — so opposite from the rocky beaches of France and Italy. Around about noon, my stomach growled. “I believe it is time for us to eat,” I said, knowing that one of the best restaurants in Comporta sat not 70 meters from where we

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STAY IN A STUNNING KASBAH IN THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS OF MOROCCO

[KASBAH TAMADOT, MOROCCO] — Pulling out of the crazy busy dark corners of Medina of Marrakesh, the sky suddenly opens up. Endless palm trees paint the sky like clouds. Vast estates with long pink mud walls line the highway for miles.  And that’s when you first see them, the Atlas Mountains, snow capped even in the 80 degree spring heat. Beckoning from a distance to come up to the cool crisp air. Soon the road thins out, the estates give way to small hamlets, dirt orange mud-walled buildings stacked like books up the hills. Traveling fast in the air-conditioned wifi-enabled van, I spy an old man on a donkey pulling livestock like it was a Christmas Card, which is kinda jarring when you’re in a

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THREE GREAT HIKES IN ALTA BADIA IN THE ITALIAN DOLOMITES

[ALTA BADIA, TRENTINO] — After a four hour hike down the mountain, it was finally time for a late lunch. Stanky and sweaty, I rolled into this cute little rifugio out in the woods, accessible only by foot or the brave souls driving up the narrow less-than-one-lane path — so tight the cars forced the hikers to lean their butts and packs over the wood rail fence lining the lane as they passed. I was hangry by then 👹 so hearty venison medallions in a juniper sauce, grilled mushrooms and rustic polenta seemed just perfect. And a couple of glasses of Lagrein to wash it all down.  About as good of a meal as it gets, especially in a place so inaccessible. The sun casting

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TWO GREAT HIKES IN VAL GARDENA IN THE ITALIAN DOLOMITES

[VAL GARDENA, BOLZANO] — We were on a long gondola ride heading up a long valley of undulating hills outside of the beautiful town of Ortisei, no doubt perfect ski runs in the winter. But it was summer, off season, so everything was super lush and green, hardly anybody around. The lift pauses at one skier drop-off then continues on, up up up and over a steep massive wall of granite, still shaded by the stark morning sun, darkening the interior of the gondola so much that you had to take off your sunglasses.  Suddenly, you pop over the ridge and you’re thrust into the bright summer sun. Stammering to get your bearings again. We scrambled off, the hustling gondola nipping at our heels like a

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