Ask someone from New York City about bagels and they’ll tell you that the reason that bagels made in the area are so unique is the water. In other words, for the perfect bagel, you have to start by making it in New York! Fortunately, there are not many other favorite or popular bread recipes that are “location bound” and you can learn how to create delicious baked goods using recipes that can be put to use anywhere in the world.

Perhaps one of the most iconic bread recipes is for the type of bread known as the “baguette”. What many don’t realize is that a baguette is quite complex. Today, it is not made according to a single recipe, and takes its name from the shape. The word translates from early French and Italian, and both countries used the term to describe a little stick.

However, in France, the history of the loaf is fascinating. In the years following the French Revolution, the making of bread had to follow specific legal guidelines. Wheat flour could no longer be restricted only for the wealthy or elite, and the official formula had to include 3/4 wheat along with 1/4 rye and with the bran included.

When Napoleon came to power, he took further action and his government created standards for the making of everyday bread. It had to include specific ingredients and baking methods. Later leaders created laws about the kneading and aeration of the dough, as well as mandatory sizes and shapes.

Baguettes Today

Of course, you can enter ten different bakeries today and find “baguettes”, but they will not be the uniform loaves of that older period in France. Instead, what you find is a long and thin loaf with a crust that may be chewy or softer, and dough that is airy and leaning towards sour flavors.

However, a simple search for a “recipe” reveals that there is a huge debate about the best approach to this essential loaf. As one enthusiast said, “Despite the simplicity of its four ingredients – flour, water, salt, and yeast – the fermentation and baking process is complex, requiring the baker to take into account the weather outside, the temperature within the bakery, and the feeling of the dough.”

One food expert, however, has created a fail-proof “four hour” approach:

Recipe for Three Baguettes in Four Hours

1½ cups (12 ounces) water, heated to 115° F

1 teaspoon (⅛ ounces) active dry yeast

3¼ cups (14⅔ ounces) all–purpose flour

3 teaspoons (⅜ ounces) kosher salt

Light/neutral oil, for greasing bowl

½ cup ice cubes


Whisk water and yeast in bowl, let stand until foamy (ten minutes). Add flour and use fork to blend until all flour is absorbed. Let sit for 20 minutes. Add salt and put dough on floured surface, Knead till smooth – approx. ten minutes.

Remove to greased bowl, cover with plastic and put in warm spot to double in size, approx. 45 minutes.

Remove dough to floured surface, shape into 8″x6″ rectangle. Fold the longer side to the middle and the shorter to the center. Return to bowl, recover with plastic and allow to double in size, approx. 60 minutes.

Prepare oven by putting cast iron skilled on lower rack and baking stone on rack above it. Heat to 475 degrees.

Remove dough to floured surface and cut into three lengths – shaping each into 14″ baguette. Place parchment paper on rimless baking sheet and sprinkle with flour. Place loaves evenly spaced on paper. Cover to rise until doubled, around 45 minutes.

Remove plastic and slice loaves diagonally. Gently slide the parchment and loaves to the stone. Quickly place ice cubes in pre-heated skillet and close the oven door immediately. Bake 25 minutess and cool to serve.

Served warm with butter, baguettes are a dream, but you can also use them for some of the most delicious sandwiches imaginable. Classic combinations include:

Smoked ham, camembert and fig jam

Fresh mozzerella, fresh basil leaves, olive oil, red wine vinegar, sliced tomato (red onion is optional)

Roast beef, blue cheese (crumbled), watercress, red onion

Roasted chicken, garlic mayonnaise, provolone, arugula, roasted red pepper

Roasted eggplant, sliced artichoke hearts, goat cheese and tomato

HINT: When making any baguette sandwich, you can improve the outcome by making the sandwiches ahead and pressing them (wrapped) under a weight. This creates a dense and easy to transport meal with blended flavors and textures.

Where to find your perfect baguette

On St Martin, guests should visit the Parisienne Cafe in Nettle Bay or Sarafinas on the Marigot waterfront.

In Provence, Isle Blue recommends visiting the local village bakery since good baguettes are pervasive. Whether you are staying in a villa near Gordes, Bonnieux or Menerbes, and any other picturesque villa in Provence just follow the locals to experience the baking delights of the Luberon.

Provence in the south of France puts on quite a show in the springtime. Just uttering the phrase “spring in Provence” conjures up images of fragrant lavender fields, open-air markets, a leisurely outdoor café culture and that incredible, legendary light that still draws artists to the region. Provence is such an iconic destination for celebrating spring that the famed recording star Celine Dion named her new fragrance Spring in Provence after the season.

The Beauty of the Countryside

Visiting Provence in the spring means appreciating the awesome natural beauty of the countryside. You have only to visualize the art of famous Impressionist painters like Monet, Van Gogh and Cezanne to realize that flowers are everywhere, helped by a sunny skies and a favorable Mediterranean climate. You will see field after field of purple lavender, the preferred aroma for sachets and perfumes made in Provence. Hyacinth planted from bulbs is also prevalent, along with twisted vines of wisteria and bright red poppies. Bicycle down winding roads under azure blue skies and pass ancient olive groves and scenic vineyards to complete the picture of a classic Provencal landscape in spring.

A truly stunning sight in Provence are the flowering fruit and nut trees from the cherry blossoms that extend to the horizon to the magnificent but ephemeral almond blossoms. In May, the purple carpets of lavender come to life to welcome the summer.

Do as the Locals Do

Put on a long sweater and a scarf and join local residents at a bistro or café, where the arrival of spring seems to put everyone in a good mood. Be sure to ask for a table dehors (ouside) to enjoy the pleasant weather. Order a salad, some wonderful French bread and a glass of local Cotes de Provence rose wine. Visit an open air market bursting with produce like artichokes and asparagus, crusty baguettes and huge wheels of cheese, and pick up some Herbs de Provence for cooking. Spring is a favorite time of the year for art fairs, festivals and local celebrations, like wool festivals, flower festivals and olive oil festivals. Pack up a picnic lunch with some homemade quiche and find a scenic spot to create a wonderful memory of your time in Provence.

Where to Stay

Isle Blue’s favorite villas in Provence that deliver a truly elegant and luxurious stay are Lavendar Blue, Authentique, Les Restanques and Cherry Moon.

Forget any previous ideas about Mallorca. This small Spanish island sits like a jewel in the Mediterranean and is quickly becoming known as one of the chicest, most exclusive, and even most glamorous destinations in the region. A place of white sand beaches, flawlessly blue seas, gorgeous mountains and luxury accommodations, it is the perfect choice for an unforgettable holiday.

This is why clients of Isle Blue are encouraged to plan an escape to Mallorca, but to also look forward to the “luxe” lifestyle that they will enjoy from the moment they arrive.

Arriving in Mallorca

In dealing with how to get to Mallorca, most travelers arrive by air, landing in the Palma Airport that is served by carriers from the UK, many key European cities, and neighboring islands like Ibiza. You may also arrive by boat, as ferries from other islands as well as from the Spanish cities of Valencia and Barcelona make daily trips.

Clients of Isle Blue can make arrangements for transportation from the airport or may book a car and enjoy daily explorations through some truly gorgeous terrain that includes towering mountains and charming coastal roads.

What to Do in Mallorca

Naturally, most travelers arrive simply to hit the beaches of Mallorca. The primary spots are in the southern and eastern coastal areas, and they can be quite crowded during the peak summer months. However, you can find many quieter and more private beaches. Some of the top spots  include:

Sa Rapita

Es Trenc

Es Dolc (Colonia de Sant Jordi)

Es Carbo

Es Carabol

Cala S’Almonia

Es Calo de’s Moro

Cala Llombards


Porto Cristo

Cala Gat

Cala Mesquida

Cala Torta



Sa Calobra

Cala Tuent

Cala de Lluch AlcariSa Rapita

Each beach has a decidedly unique appeal and style. For instance, those who love rocky cliffs will love Cala S’Almonia. Those who want quiet and private, will adore Cala Llombards, Cala Gat, Cala Torta and the stunning Sa Calobra. Cala Tuent offers mountain views while others like Colonia de Sant Jordi and Sa Rapita are just moments from Palma de Mallorca.

The “other” sights and activities on Mallorca could fill your entire holiday too, however. A day in Palma de Mallorca is one in which you are surrounded by delicious foods, wonderfully historic architecture and scenery, and a European culture that is unique to the island. You might also want to pay a visit to Valldemossa – the village where Frederic Chopin spent so much time. Nearby you can also see Calvia, Puigpunyent and Soller – gorgeous mountain villages popular with those “in the know”.

Naturally, you must sample the finest restaurants and local dishes in Mallorca. Paella is a perennial favorite here, and you can enjoy an endless variety of styles when you sample the restaurants of Palma. If you would prefer a farm to table experience, the villages around Algaida have amazing options. Other good spots include the village Lloseta (be sure to dine on fresh fish), Caimar, a good place for local produce, and Petra, a spot for heartier fare.

You can also head to any local markets and purchase the fresh fish and local produce to use in your meals prepared in your villa, or even arrange for a chef to use these amazing foods to create unforgettable Mallorcan dishes to your liking.

Keep in mind that there are many “agrotourism” spots all over Mallorca. These are country estates where travelers may stay, but where they may also sample some of the most delicious foods and dishes imaginable. The villages of Soller, Lloseta, Campanet and Deia are great spots for enjoying their cuisine.

Mallorca is a place that is all about enjoyment, scenery and the sea, and with your Isle Blue villa, your holiday is going to be an unforgettable escape.

Where to Stay

Isle Blue is offering a special and exclusive summer deal on the exquisite and prestigious villa La Mola located in Puerto de Andratx, Mallorca. The villa includes an elite chef service, complimentary watersprots activities, private shuttle service, pool, jacuzzi, and a fabulous setting known to host VIPs and royalty. La Mola is offering a last minute special of 40,000 euros per week regularly between 49,000 and 62,500 euros per week on any 3 week reservation prior to August 1st of 2016.

What do you think of when you close your eyes and envision your next Caribbean holiday? White sand beaches, flawless sunrises and sunsets, warm waters, gorgeous weather, and of course, at least one classic or iconic cocktail. After all, a holiday in the Caribbean is going to bring you directly to the locations where many of the key ingredients are made or found.

Just think of the most famous – Pina Colada, rum punch, Planters Punch, Bahama Mama, and so on. These are drinks that feature coconut, pineapple, rum, coffee, grenadine, citrus…ingredients that naturally occur or were once the primary products of the regions. A visit anywhere requires you to sample some of the native foods and drinks, and though cocktails of the Caribbean may not be “everyday” menu items for those who live there, they are a wonderfully delicious way of enjoying “local foods”.

What are some of the most iconic? A simple list would feature:

Rum punch (there is a different recipe for almost every island)

Pina Colada

Bahama Mama

Planter’s Punch


…and many more!

Let’s look at the recipes for some of the best to help you choose just the right drinks to enjoy on your next visit to the Caribbean.

Rum Punch

You will discover that there are recipes that use as many as four or five different kinds of rum. An iconic recipe would include:

1 cup lime juice (fresh)

2 cups simple syrup

4 cups orange juice (fresh is best)

3 cups dark or amber rum

4 dashes bitters

freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Blend together in a pitcher and serve over ice.

Pina Colada

To say this is an iconic cocktail is not an overstatement, and it uses some of the most delicious ingredients imaginable.

2 cups ice

1/2 cup fresh pineapple, cubed

2 ounces pineapple juice

2 ounces coconut cream

1 1/2 ounces white rum

1 ounce dark rum.

Blend all in a blender and divide between two cocktail glasses.

Bahama Mama

This is also another that emphasizes rum, but also tropical fruits.

1/2 ounce coconut flavored rum

1/2 ounce rum (your choice of dark or white)

1/2 ounce grenadine syrup

1 ounce of fresh orange juice

1 ounce fresh pineapple juice

1 cup crushed ice

Using your blender, pulse and combine all of the ingredients and pour into a tall glass, over ice if desired.

Planter’s Punch

This is a drink that many believe originated in the United States and then made its way to the Caribbean area. It uses tropical flavors and rum, making it perfect as a holiday cocktail.

1 1/2 ounces dark rum

1/4 ounce grenadine (or 1/4 ounce simple syrup)

2 ounces orange juice (fresh) or you can use pineapple if you prefer

Pour the ingredients into a mixer with ice, shake to blend, and then strain the fluids into the serving glass – pouring it over ice. Some add club soda at the end to give a bit of fizz.


This is a newer cocktail that has emerged out of the growing interest in tropical flavors and unique combinations of perennial favorites. It is amazingly simple and delicious.

1 1/4 ounce Bailey’s Irish Cream (or other Irish cream liqueur)

2 ounces of Pina Colada mix

2/3 ounce of crème de bananes liqueur

Pour everything into a cocktail shaker filled half way with crushed ice. Shake well and then strain the drink into a chilled cocktail glass and serve immediately.

To find the local favorites, simply find your local beach bar and your new best friend (the bartender) to create a memorable drink for you.

Enjoying drinks before, during and after your Caribbean holiday will allow you to savor the differences in the flavors, and will certainly inspire you to make many return journeys to this wonderful part of the world.

Where to Stay

Our favorite Caribbean islands to relax, drink and unwind are St Barts, BVIs, St Martin, Barbados and Turks & Caicos.

If you are planning a stay in one of the luxury rentals in or near Barcelona, you may feel overwhelmed at the many activities, shops, restaurants, and historic sites to visit. Naturally, you can speak with your concierge about the best options for your particular wishes, but you can also simply opt to spend a day walking through the historic Gothic Quarter of the city, taking in charming scenery and sites.

The oldest part of the city, the Gothic Quarter is a very popular choice for guided and self-guided walking tours. It allows you to discover some of the most amazing aspects of the city’s history and culture, and it is a truly enchanting experience.

Whether you decide to take your Barcelona Gothic Tour on your own or with a knowledgeable expert, be sure that it done during a sunny day or in the early evening, and this is because you head through many medieval lanes and plazas, meaning that good lighting is imperative to a good experience. Here are the following gothic spots in Barcelona that should be visited.

Your Barcelona Gothic Tour Must See Itinerary

Placa Nova

A good place to begin is in this amazing open air spot. It is the largest plaza in the entire quarter and it is in the shadow of the Barcelona Cathedral and also the Collegi de Architects with a frieze designed by Picasso.

Placa de Sant Felip Neri

This is one of the loveliest of the smaller squares and often described as the most charming in the entire barri (quarter). Some of the buildings around the square were relocated from other areas of the city during the 1700s and 1800s, and not many of them are actually gothic. There is a fountain and many trees to enjoy here, and the Museu de Calcat (the Shoe Museum) is a wonderful stop.

Casa de L’Arcadia

A 1400s era construction that has Gothic, Renaissance and even modern design elements. The city’s archives are contained inside, but it is not open to the public.

Placa de la Seu

The plaza in front of the Cathedral, and is a perfect place to rest before or after a tour.

Museua Frederic Mares

A museum for those interested in the Gothic, it has a courtyard from the 1200s and one of the city’s nicest cafes – the Café d’Estiu.

Palau del Lloctnient

This is not open to the public, but is a stunning example of gothic architecture.

Temple d’Augustus

A truly medieval building, it has Roman columns hidden in its inner courtyard (the only remaining pieces of their temple). It is on the highest point in the city and a must.

Placa del Rei

This royal palace includes a museum (the Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat) and is close to the Chapel of Santa Agata – a 1300s gem.

Meson del Café

If you are in need of some food and drink, this café is a perfect spot. Built in 1909, it offers one of the best cups of coffee in the city and serves a wonderful breakfast or luncheon.

Placa de Sant Just

Here you find Esglesia dels Sants Just I Pastor, dating to the 1300s, it is the oldest in the city. Be sure to look at the front of Palau Moxo just opposite the church and enjoy its beautiful carvings. There is a well at the base of the building, and it is the oldest source for fresh water in the city.

Meson del Café

If you are in need of some food and drink, this café is a perfect spot. Built in 1909, it offers one of the best cups of coffee in the city and serves a wonderful breakfast or luncheon.

Placa Sant Jaume

Two Roman streets once met here, and the Palau de la Generalitat is also a stunning gothic structure.

The Casa del Canonge leads you to a lovely bridge, and this allows you to reach the Placa de Ramon Berenguer el Gran with its horse statue and some Roman walls and towers. Museua Frederic Mares – A museum for those interested in the Gothic, it has a courtyard from the 1200s and one of the city’s nicest cafes – the Café d’Estiu. Pati de Llimona – With a 1400s gallery and some Roman ruins, it is an interesting stop.

That seems like many points, but most visitors can easily manage the Gothic Quarter in a few hours – with a stop for coffee! Ask your concierge and book a tour of this lovely neighborhood.

Where to Stay in Barcelona

Isle Blue recommends the W Hotel or Arts Hotel as an ideal spot to experience Barcelona. The gothic section is a short walk away or hop on one of the touring buses that are easy to jump on from  the Barcelona hotels.

Did you know that St. Martin is often described as a gourmet capital of the Caribbean? It is not a huge surprise to those who have already paid a visit. With direct connections to France (a global cuisine capital itself) and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, it is naturally influenced by European cuisine. And with the amazing foods and ingredients readily available, it is little wonder that travelers can sample impressive foods while visiting.

Of course, the many different cultures of this Caribbean island, which is actually two separate constituencies or collectives (depending on the nation), ensure that the food is going to be one of the most unique “fusion” cuisines available.

Perhaps nowhere is the amazing diversity of St. Martin’s cuisine seen than in the “lolo”. With a remarkable history dating back to the plantation period on the islands, these establishments were once homes and shops belonging to former slaves that slowly transformed into food stands, restaurants and bars that serve authentic Caribbean specialties.

They are always very small, often on the beach or alongside the road, and they are completely causal offering picnic tables and disposable plates and cutlery.

As one expert wrote: “the lolo is a small traditional restaurant where you can taste the flavors of the local cuisine.” This is why it is of the utmost importance to do a bit of planning, ask around for suggestions, or just go out and sample the lolos of St. Martin on your holiday.

Visitors to Isle Blue can discuss the latest trends and “hottest” spots with their concierge, and make arrangements for a visit during the day or evening.

The Food

What can you expect when you dine in one of the lolos of St. Martin? It is going to be unlike the gourmet and four-star establishments, but you may see some remarkable similarities. Fresh ingredients, locally sourced are the main focus, but these will be prepared in different ways, depending on the individual lolo. Beef and pork ribs are hugely popular, along with chicken, fish and even crabs that are available at the many different spots.

The focus of most “plates” will be the fantastically grilled and barbecued meats. The typical plate will also include a few “sides” and these can vary quite widely. You will see salads of many kinds, pasta salads, rice and bean dishes, pasta dishes, and coleslaw. One thing you also have to sample with each lolo is the “johnny cake”. This is a staple of Caribbean cuisine and you can have it fried or baked. It is a yeast bread that is often shaped like a large biscuit, and is much heavier or denser than a white flour bread. It can also be made with some corn meal as well.

Finding the Lolos

You will find the most famous lolos in Grand Case, on the north side of town and close to the public parking lot. The “biggest” names are Sky’s the Limit, Au Coin des Amis, Rib Shack, and Talk of the Town. You will also want to sample the smoky meats of Pedro’s at Orient Beach and also Johnny B Under the Tree in Cole Bay.

Grand Case has many others, and some are tucked together in the outdoor market areas, with up to six under a single roof. The color of the table tells you which restaurant or lolo you’ll order from, and this may be a great way to spend a day – sampling the “cheap eats” that may become your new favorites. Most offer a full plate with at least four side dishes for no more than $15 per plate, and beer for just a dollar or two more!

Although you might find a dizzying array of suggestions about the ideal time to pay a visit to the Amalfi Coast (with the consensus pointing towards April through June), you can enjoy an unforgettable holiday in this area of Italy throughout the entire summer season (from June until early September).

Clients of Isle Blue should understand that their villas ensure they don’t run into the issues that usually lead experts to indicate an earlier time of the year. For instance, most advise visiting earlier than July or August because of the flood of travelers who make their way to the region during the summer months. However, in a private villa on the Amalfi Coast, you won’t live with a crush of people at the pool, long lines at the hotel restaurant in the morning, and difficulties navigating out of town.

Instead, you will be able to leisurely awaken to the gorgeous Mediterranean skies, enjoy your breakfast (whether you opt to make your own or book one of our chefs), walk to your private terrace or pool, and plan your day. You can speak with your concierge to determine if hiring a car is a good solution, or book a driver and pre-arrange everything from hiking or cycling excursions to vineyard tours.

Why Summer

Though the late spring and early summer seasons are quieter, and the scenery just as wonderful, a summertime visit in July or August means you enjoy the many different events and things to do that occur only at this time. The local festivals that celebrate food, wine, flowers and other unique issues are at their peak in the summer. So too are the international festivals such as the different musical events, film festivals, sports activities and so much more.

Late summer, such as in early to mid-September still counts, and it is a time when the temperatures dip a bit and when there are fewer travelers. It is a harvest time too, and if you are visiting to really delve into the cuisine of the Amalfi coast, this might be a perfect moment.

The Amalfi Coast in Summer

Because the coast is under 50 miles in length, and close to Naples, you will want to be sure to plan your days wisely. Midday temperatures, during summer months, can be quite hot. This is why you may want to head out earlier in the day, avoiding a lot of the traffic, and reach your midday destination in advance.

If you are heading to Positano for the amazing food and scenery, or to use the amazing stairs to navigate up and down from shore, an arrival earlier in the day avoids the crowds. You can also leave town in the afternoon, via a small private boat and visit the Spaggia di Lauriot cove where unforgettable swimming and dining can be found.

If traveling to Ravello, you can reverse the time line since most travelers depart by mid afternoon, making it a wonderful town to explore during the evening. Sorrento is a great place to embark on a journey along the coast, while Amalfi is a good destination for a visit to the Grotta dello Smeraldo or Capri. If you do go to Capri, skip the tourists and head to Anacapri where there are gorgeous villas and many wonderful cafes.

Touring the Amalfi Coast is best done at the peak season, but you won’t have to fear the crowds as a client of Isle Blue. Your private home will give you everything a high end hotel offers, with the added benefits of quiet, tranquility and total peace. With villas offering large grounds, chefs and staff, and convenient settings close to the coast, your dream summer holiday is within reach.

Did you know that the BVIs (British Virgin Islands) have more than 50 islands in total? Many of them are tiny and uninhabited, leaving them open for exploration, picnicking and pure, tropical enjoyment.

Of course, this leaves you with a great deal of terrain to explore, if that is of interest to you. However, you can also experience more than days of sailing when you book a stay in one of the Isle Blue luxury rentals. With inland and waterfront properties, you can spend your days trekking spots like Gorda Peak, exploring the famous “Baths”, different caves, and even doing day hikes on other islands. You can surf, dive, and snorkel in the flawless and safe waters or enjoy some free time sampling the local foods and beverages, shops and boutiques.

Naturally, anyone considering some exploration of the BVIs has to base their choices on their location. You have several factors to consider. The first is which type of island appeals to you? Flat, coral islands like Anegada or tall, volcanic islands like Tortola or Virgin Gorda?

The next choice is which of the main islands you wish to visit and stay.  Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda are home to the largest array of amenities and accommodations. To reach the BVIs, guests would need to fly directly into Tortola or more commonly fly into St Thomas then take an easy ferry ride to your desired island.

After arrival, your “top things to do in the BVIs” will usually begin with “sailing”, especially because this is the sailing heart of the entire region. You can book day sailing adventures and even lengthier tours of the entire island chain – most depart from Tortola and make their way to Virgin Gorda and Peter Island.

Scuba diving is also another main activity and means of exploring the BVIs beneath the waves. Famous for a few exploreable shipwrecks, you may want to speak with your Isle Blue concierge to choose a scuba or diving firm that can provide the best experience.

If you will get your fill of the sea from your waterfront villa or with trips to the best beaches, you will certainly want to do some trekking. Virgin Gorda is one island offering some of the best and safest treks, and because of its geographic diversity it is the perfect spot to plan a few hikes. You can head to the stunning beauty of The Baths, the seaside boulders that create an almost maze-like experience of caves and pools. Set at the south of the island, they put you at a scenic distance from the volcanic hills to the north.

Gorda Peak is more than 1300 feet and gives you a 360-degree view of the entire island chain. You can also take a day trip to nearby Peter Island, enjoying a sunrise sail or cruise and a day of hiking before heading back at dusk to take in the flawless sunset!

We did mention beaches, and most visitors agree that the finest and safest of all beaches are found on Tortola and the western side of Virgin Gorda. Typically uncrowded, you may feel as if you own your own private beachfront. Of course, there are not many tourist services at the beaches, and you will need to bring a picnic to ensure you have ample food and water.

Whether you explore the BVIs from the comfort and luxury of your private pool or terrace, the deck of a ship, along a trail on an uninhabited island, or anywhere else, you will find natural beauty, tranquility and a level of peace rare to other regions of the Caribbean.

As a traveler planning a visit to St. Lucia, you will have probably found an unprecedented number of photos of the “Pitons”. They are two volcanic “plugs” that are among the most photographed features of the island of St. Lucia. They are steep mountainous features connected by the Piton Mitan Ridge. The larger of the peaks is called the Gros Piton while the smaller is the Petit Piton.

They are famous for their natural beauty and appeal, but are also a popular destination for hikers and climbers. Though part of a UNESCO World Heritage site on the island, they are accessible and open to those who would like to explore their stunning beauty.

As a guest of Isle Blue, your “explorations” may be limited to views of them from your private pool or patio, but your concierge may also be able to help you plan more in-depth and up close experiences.

Visitors are welcome to enjoy guided hikes into the Pitons, including the peak of Gros Piton which stands at more than 2500 ft and rates as the second highest on the island. Though higher than its neighboring Petit Piton, Gros Piton is actually easier to tackle. It has a welcome center that can tell you about the wildlife and the geology of the island, and you can then choose which guided tour, though the two-hour trip to the top is a hike that will give you unprecedented views of the island.

Petit Piton is a bit of a different story. It stands at just over 2400 ft in height and sits in the middle region of Soufriere Bay and north of Gros Piton. It is far steeper, and you will find that it is more of a climb than a hike – meaning it may not be well-suited to all travelers. There is not a very well-marked trail on the mountain, and anyone venturing up the heights will want a local guide for safety and for the most functional climb. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely! Though a much smaller area to enjoy views, it is considered to offer better scenery and sights, including Piton Bay.

Anyone who pays a visit to the Pitons will need to begin their journey near the charming fishing villages of the Anse Le Raye region, and the town of Soufriere is a must see stop. It offers a botanical garden and public baths, both created by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte. There are tours into the rainforests nearby, and you can visit the lovely Marigot Bay as well.

This town is actually a very popular spot for visitors to St. Lucia with its proximity to a working plantation, tours along historic carriage ways, and the nearby waterfalls. Diamond Waterfall is among the loveliest of them all, and it is close to the sulfur springs where you are able to take volcanic mud baths while surrounded by the lush tropical greenery. Speak to your concierge to discover how guests of Isle Blue villas can enjoy time in the Soufriere region, hikes or climbs into the beautiful Pitons, and tours of the rainforest, beaches and fishing villages.

Of course, another way to enjoy the Pitons is from the water. Sunset cruises depart from different areas along the bay, and you can book a private sunset sail or dinner cruise that lets you take in the impressive scale of the mountains along with the overall beauty of the setting.

Whether from land or sea, or from your private terrace or pool, there is little that can compare to the beauty of the Pitons of St. Lucia, and you may even want to consider a stay in a villa that is within sight of these majestic beauties.

If you have made plans to stay in one of the luxury rentals during your visit to the Riviera Maya, you will be surrounded by beauty and comfort. Each property is close to beaches and natural scenery, historical sites, and lovely towns or small cities. You can enjoy days spent leisurely by your private pool or in the shade of your comfortable patio, but you do have to dedicate a bit of time to day trips in the surrounding region.

Why? This is home to some of the most amazing ruins dating to the Mayan civilization, there are remarkable natural preserves and mountain scenery, desert areas, and then there are the “cenotes”.

Pronounced “say-NO-tays”, they are entirely natural features that the Mayan people considered holy places. As one expert explains: ” Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula is low and relatively flat with no surface rivers or streams. However, below the ground run the three longest underground water systems in the world… A cenote is a natural sinkhole created where a cave ceiling has collapsed, a window to this spectacular world.”

The ancient people thought that a cenote was the entrance to the underworld, where gods dwelled, but today we understand them to be wonderful and unique ecosystems as well as time capsules. Located in jungles and some distance inland, many cenotes contain fossils of marine life, proving that they were once part of a enormous reef.

Today’s Cenotes

As someone who has chosen to holiday in the Riviera Maya, you must make a point of visiting some of the best cenotes of the region. They vary in size and “development.”  Some, such as Rio Secreto are heavily developed with many tourist amenities and tours. Most sites require an entrance fee and some have facilities where you can dine or find food and drink.

Among the most beautifully preserved and worthy of a visit are:

Grand Cenote

Near the impressive area of Tulum, this is an easy to find spot that offers a small restaurant, some changing rooms, and rest rooms. You will want to pay a visit if you were hoping to enjoy views of stalactites in addition to clear waters. This is also a place where sea turtles are frequently encountered.

Ponderosa El Eden Cenote

This requires a short hike to reach the main entrance. This is a rarity as there are no dining facilities, so be sure to pack a picnic. There is an island in the middle of the cenote, and the water is noted for its stunning clarity. There are many plants, eels, fish and turtles to discover.

Dos Ojos Cenote

This is a good spot for those who enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving. It consists of two cenotes that are joined by a massive cavern between. There are wooden decks and stairs, and even picnic sites with hammocks. Be sure to arrive early, though, as this is a popular spot.

Chaak Tun Cenote

This is near Playa Del Carmen and requires a lengthy drive on a dirt road to reach it. It is popular with tourists, but most are gone by early afternoon. When you purchase your ticket, you will be given safety gear and will have to follow the wooden walkway into the cave. You will enter a courtyard and a lush jungle area full of native birds. Snorkeling is safe, fun and easy here, and you will want to look for the statue of the Virgin of Guadelupe that is tucked into the bottom of this cenote.

The cenotes are amazing and unique, and your Isle Blue concierge can help you plan a visit or even arrange for some snorkeling or diving at lesser known spots.