Sampling glamping in Nevada City

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Try #13, the Cowboy tent with a Western theme and a place to hang your hat. Whimsical touches like horses’ hooves decorate the walls. Photo by Eren Goknar.

 

About two miles from downtown Nevada City, InnTown Campground provides RV hook-ups, camping, and tents with wifi connections. If you love sleeping outdoors, but not on the ground, glamping may be for you.

Just remember that you still have to lug your toiletries to the restrooms and shower outdoors. There are two shower facilities, one that is handicapped accessible.

Owners Erin  and Dan Thiem provide heated mattress pads, but no heaters. Remember, even though you will sleep under a canvas tent, you still have to walk across the circular driveway to get to the two showers-one indoor and the other outdoor.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word means blending camp activities with the comforts of home, like plugs, wifi, pillows and a queen bed. We particularly liked the InnTown’s new heated mattress pad with dual controls, since it gets chilly in the Sierra Nevada hills at night. The tents sit on platforms and your bed has real mattresses and linen.

Nevada City

Settled in 1849 at the height of the California gold rush, founders decided on “nevada” because it meant snow, and so that Nevada City so it wouldn’t be confused with the state of Nevada. Because of the cold weather, the glamping tents at InnTown shut down from December until March, but the regular camping and RV sites are open throughout the winter.

Try out cooking at the kitchen, which has a homey, clean look and a table for your family to play games or eat meals. The cafe sells hot chocolate

People tend to know each other. Visit on July Fourth for the Hometown Parade and you’ll see  patriotic displays worthy of Mayberry, RFD, the fictional town set in small town America on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

With a population of only 3,200, Nevada City delivers big adventures with  a small-town vibe.  The three to four-hour drive from the Bay Area makes it easy to get there over a long weekend.

Though not as far nor as big as Lake Tahoe,  a river runs through it.The Yuba River becomes a popular swimming spot in the summers, when you can see cars parked on Highway 49 for a couple miles.

It’s a good place to see the fall colors of the Sierra Nevada hills, and while the kids might like camping, my favorite activity is wandering downtown past 19th century Victorians. The downtown feels like any  town you’ve seen in old westerns, but the roads are paved.

The Empire Mines offers docent tours,

Locals like to go to nearby Grass Valley for the Nevada County Fairgrounds. While the fair doesn’t start till August, the Strawberry Music Festival hosts several bands in May.

 

 

 

 

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The Spice Station: Mistress of spices in Silverlake District, LA

 

Silver lake District in Los Angeles projects urban grittiness, but there are some amazing finds here. I wandered into the Spice Station recently, after a day at the art museum.

It takes five minutes or so to find 3819 Sunset Blvd., because first you have to meander through a path, the lovely impressionistic courtyard covered with trellises and a fountain . After the courtyard, you will step into the actual store, filled with spices in apothecary jars.

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Owned by husband and wife team Peter Bahlawanian and Bronwen Tahse, the store carries 140 spices, teas, and tissanes.
I took home jasmine tea and Himalayan salt in packets. The small cottage is lined top to bottom with jars of spices.

DTLA art galleries and museums

More than 100,000 pieces of art in Los Angeles County Museum of Art 5905 Wilshire Blvd. guarantee that you’re not going to see all of them in this lifetime!

But pick and choose and take in the ones that call to you. Free admission on the second Tuesday of every month, otherwise it’s $15 for adults, $10 for seniors 62 and older.
Temporary exhibitions include one on Samurai armour, another on Pierre Huyghe, and a third on the Hudson River School. Visit lacma.org for additional information.
The streets around LACMA also contain lots of art galleries. Wander around for hours.

Providing comfort on the road

In travel, as in romance, it’s the little things that count.

Beyond the glossy brochures lie mundane travel discomforts. You might be able to coast with bad weather or steep admission prices, but it’s downhill once you add hunger, sleep loss, or misplaced items.

San Francisco’s Humangear comes to the rescue with travel gear bearing cute names like GoTote, GoToob, GoTubb and GoBites. Each one promises to help you civilize your adventures with amenities from home.

Tiny buttons, pills, or earplugs will fit into the .9 cubic-inch small size GoTubb ($7). My personal go-to, these BPA and PC-free containers house rings or earrings, typical items that go missing on trips.

Fill the medium-size tubs ($16), which hold 5.3 cubic inches, with pennies from heaven or vitamins.  You can also store food in the GoTubbs.  Humangear suggests herbs or spices, or maybe bring ketchup on safari with you. I have filled them with almonds and cranberries to tide me over until we find someplace to eat.

Organization nuts (sorry, pun intended) can also label the tubs on an indented area, which resists wearing off.

To retrieve your stuff, just squeeze the soft cover with one hand – there’s no need to screw off the top. That’s a real plus for seniors and boomers with arthritis. The tubs come in three-packs in colors like urban black, pastel orange/red/clear or green/blue and transparent.

GoToobs, similar to the translucent ones already sold at drug stores, allow travelers to carry beauty products, soap, toothpaste or food. If you’ve ever tried to remember what clear liquid is in a carry-on bottle, you’ll appreciate the dial on the collar. You can turn it to “soap,” “shampoo,” “conditioner” or “sun,” to keep track of what’s in the tube.

The tubes , which run from $7 to $19, also come in TSA-approved 1.25-ounce small, two-ounce medium or three-ounce large cylinders.  The medium size has a suction cup. The squeezable silicone tubes fit into snug spots and the hard collar is dishwasher-safe.

Unless you’re on a cruise, you may not know what time you’ll be eating your next meal.  GoTotes let you bring nutritional bars, nuts, apples or whatever tides you over while waiting for the tram, bus, or cab.  The blue medium-sized bag ($32) expands to seven inches wide when open and sits  11.25 inches by eight inches when flat. A strap snaps together for hanging.

Unlike many lunch bags, these durable fabric containers will stand up  when open, making them easy to park on uneven benches or picnic tables.  The interior pockets can hold utensils like the GoBites nesting fork and spoon made from BPA-free nylon.

Use the  ($8) Duo fork and spoon set together to make a handle long enough to scoop out take-out food.The ergonomic fork will tear food in half, so parents don’t need to worry about bringing knives that can into the mouths of babe For more information, visit humangear.com. Some travel GoToobs and GoTubbs sold at REI or Whole Foods.

 

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From left to right: the GoTote, which opens flat for stability, the GoBites spork, GoTubb for smaller items, and GoToob, where you can store shampoo or other liquids.

 

 

Visiting Bergama/PergamonWorld Heritage site

It was 90 F during July, the month of Ramadan, as we drove our rented Fiat into Bergama, Turkey. A few women walked around the busy town in beige raincoats with colorful headscarves, managing not to droop in the July heat.

That contrasted with the scene  we just left in Yalikavak, on the Bodrum Peninsula. There, Europeans and Turks sunbathed without their tops, and few Turks wore conservative clothing.

We  headed to Bergama, population 60,000, once the ancient city of Pergamon, home to several civilizations: Byzantine, Islamic, Roman and Greek, as well as serving as the Hellenistic capital of the Attalid dynasty. Parchment was invented here

Sandima 37, a cute bed and breakfast that served typical Turkish dishes on our private patio. It  had a pool and the room was really a suite, complete with living room and large bathroom. The

We spent one night at the newly opened Pannonica Jazz Bistro listening to jazz and old standards. The next evening, we went downtown shopping for mobile phones and hand-embroidered pillow cushions.

Gallery Mustafa, on Dr Alim Ekinci Cad, no48, sells iconic suzani and Ikat pillows and  to start shopping in Bodrum City..

At Xuma Beach, people moored their yachts all day  in the blue Aegean, making me think, “must be nice.”

BERGAMA BOUND

Poised on a 330-meter-high ridge overlooking the Bakirçay River valley, Pergamon in its heyday held palaces, a theater, a library and temples devoted to Trajan, Dionysus and Athena.

Bergama landed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list June 25, 2015. The ancient city and its “multilayered cultural landscape  alongside Bursa and Cumalikizik” were noted for their importance to the birth of the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century.

For the first time, we saw  women in shalwars  (loose trousers that narrow at the ankles). A large AKP (the Islamist Party for Justice and Development) banner straddled the city centre, a dusty, congested intersection with intersecting streets. We stopped for directions to the Hera Hotel, but the directions  to go right and then straight only succeeded in leading us to the Red Basilica, not the place we wanted to spend the night.

Bergama is home to the Askleipion, or healing center; one of the highest amphitheaters in the world; the Red Basilica; and other ruins. Pieces of the  Zeus Altar, transported to Berlin by the German engineer, Carl Humann, who discovered the Turkish site in 1855. The altar, built in the second century A.D. under King Eumenes II, has been restored and sits in the Pergamon Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island. Scenes on the frieze illustrate the life of Telephus, supposed founder of Pergamon and son of Hercules and Auge.

The Turkish government has been trying to reclaim the altar for quite some time, arguing that the structure should be back where it was built.However, the officials agreed to the

A VISIT TO OLD TOWN

Right above the Red Basilica, built under the reign of Hadrian, are the windy, narrow streets of Eski (Old ) Bergama. Our reservations were for the old stone Hera Hotel.

It didn’t look like we were going to make it up there, though, because a couple of the streets were narrower than our Fiat! The city map we had proved useless, as some roads were one-way.

Bergama is known for its silk as well as its wool carpets. We passed a few rugs displayed outside the shops. Women wearing printed cotton shalwars and headscarves sat on stoops, waiting for sundown, when, according to Islam, they could break their fasts. Men sat in cafes nursing their coffees.

Finally, we found the cute Hera Hotel with its sign in Greek lettering, on Tabak Kopru Street. Two friendly women helped us with our luggage. Each room had a god or goddess assigned to it, and ours was Artemis, goddess of the hunt, forest and hills.

We weren’t fasting like most people, but we were starving, and asked where we could eat. The younger woman told us to follow her up the steep, meandering streets to Les Pergamun, Hera’s sister hotel, where Kybele Restaurant was open. We ordered kebabs and a regional eggplant specialty, which were nothing special. The owner introduced himself, and I felt slightly guilty eating in front of the staff. The waitress assured us that she wasn’t fasting.

The next morning, we rode a gondola to the top of the Acropolis, enjoying a sweeping view of the 10,000 seat amphitheater. For only 15 Turkish Lira, about $5 each, we arrived at the ruins of the Zeus Altar, the white marble Temple of Trajan, finished under Hadrian II’s reign from AD 125-138.

Not mentioned much in the guidebooks are the lovely painted doors. All the front doors in the old section feature different designs and colors that add a joyful feeling to the rundown buildings.

When in Vegas, do as the Venetians do

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Cute teddy bear gondoliers for sale at the Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes, Las Vegas

Floating beneath a blue sky with fluffy, painted-on clouds, we obeyed the gondolier, Pepe, when he told us to kiss as we passed under the arched bridge.

Customers boarding the next gondola smiled their amusement, but we were just part of the act at the Grand Canal and Shoppes at The Venetian and the connecting Palazzo hotel, situated on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip.

The waterway runs indoors past shops ranging from Barney’s New York to Tory Burch.

Our private gondola ride cost $80, but visitors can share a boat for less. As we stepped in, Pepe, a true showman, posed with us for two photos, which we later purchased for $65. The cashier threw in the 3D frame for “free.”

The temperature hit triple digits outside and the sky was blindingly sunny, but inside the climate-controlled Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian and Palazzo hotels, it could have been dusk.

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The clouds are ceiling paintings, but the canal is real at the Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada

Like so much in Vegas, things are not always what they seem.

Every so often Pepe broke into a familiar song like “That’s Amore” and ended with the theme song from “Lady and the Tramp.” His voice was quite good, so I asked what he did when he wasn’t singing on the Venetian’s Grand Canal.

“I work on cruise ships,” he said in charmingly accented English. “But my American wife doesn’t like me to travel far, so I work here, too.”

A FAMILY AFFAIR, EXCEPT FOR THE CASINOS

Nestled between the Wynn and Harrah’s – and just 20 minutes from McCarran International Airport – the five-star Italian-themed Venetian rises up 36 floors, with 38 diverse restaurants, 160 shops and several pools. The Azure Luxury Pool deck includes three pools, a hot tub and a poolside cafe.

The 18,000-square-foot TAO Beach deck was so hot – pun intended – people lined up to enter. The new TAO Asian bistro has received rave reviews. Amenities on the deck include 12 air-conditioned cabanas complete with high-definition plasma TV, minibar, masseuse and sunglass cleaning. Yes, sunglass cleaning. Celebrities reportedly love this pool, which closes at sunset. During peak season, the TAO nightclub opens its doors Thursdays through Sundays.

A third pool deck, the Venetian, features spouting fountains and chaise lounge-side drink service, as well as the luxurious cabanas. The larger pool was filled with children the day we visited, but there’s also a smaller one.

In fact, The Venetian welcomes families, except in the casino.

The outdoor area features replicas of Venice landmarks – St. Mark’s Campanile, the Doge’s Palace and the Rialto Bridge.

The king suite we stayed in included a sunken living room with pullout sofa and three flat-screen TVs, the smaller one in the 150-square-foot bathroom. There’s even a phone near the toilet. The palatial bathroom includes a vanity. A lighted mirror has settings that change from day to night, so you can make up your face appropriately.

The remote-controlled Roman shades hold cachet for gadget lovers, and the in-suite dining is round the clock.

Rooms – all renovated over the past few years – start at $355 a night for the 650-square-foot king suite, which can run a little more depending on whether you have a desert or Strip view. Furnishings are pretty plush – you can sleep a long time in those Egyptian cotton sheets. The hotel’s Bella suites have two queen beds.

The Venetian’s penthouse suite spans the three top floors, with a master bedroom, multiple TVs, a fireplace, a second bedroom and two marble bathrooms with jetted tubs. And you don’t have to pay for snacks.

After you have gotten over the huge rooms, think about visiting the concierge desk for show tickets. “Lipshtick,” with comedians like Roseanne Barr, the musical “Rock of Ages,” the Sinatra-centric “Frank The Man. The Music” and Smokey Robinson’s Motown revue “Human Nature” are all on the bill at The Venetian this summer.

STRIP SEARCH

Although The Venetian includes shops, pools and shows, the food is definitely worth a mention. Try a New York strip steak at Wolfgang Puck’s Cut. The meat was tender and the service solid. We ended the meal with a banana cream pie with banana crème brûlée that was sweet but not too rich.

Other choices include Napa Valley chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cafe and restaurant, where our breakfast included a basket of four different artisanal breads that could only be baked in California.

For lunch one day, we stopped at db Brasserie on The Venetian’s restaurant row and experienced great service. Our appetizer of three cheeses – from sheep, cow and goat – was especially impressive. Although we didn’t have time to eat there, hotel staff recommended Morel’s French Steakhouse & Bistro.

Like other hotels on the Strip, The Venetian hosts dozens of conventions annually. Airlines like Southwest schedule 15-17 flights daily to Sin City. In fact, I sat next to the marketing person for Cars.com on our flight to Vegas. She recommended visiting the Fremont Street Experience, a light-show extravaganza near Las Vegas’ old downtown, where the Golden Nugget and other casinos are still in operation.

Despite its attractions, we had to leave The Venetian at some point, so we took a taxi to “Zarkana,” the new Cirque du Soleil show at the ARIA Resort & Casino. The costumes, colors and zany clowns reminded me of the French classic movie “King of Hearts,” in which the inmates are let out of the local asylum.

The acrobats performed with military precision and discipline as they flew through the air swinging from trapezes they then transferred to colleagues. Other Cirque du Soleil shows were sold out, including “O” and “Le Mystere.”

Tip: Do visit the concierge for discounts. The Cirque show we attended was 30 percent off that day because it started late, at 9:30 p.m. Celine, the concierge, warned us not to take the Vegas monorail tour, because you could see more riding a bus down the Strip.

If you go to Viator.com and search “Las Vegas,” you’ll find lots of outdoor activities. One can sign up for a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon for $344 or a scooter tour of Red Rock Canyon for $249.

Las Vegas presents so many choices, but the Liberace Museum isn’t one anymore – it closed down a few years ago. At any rate, it’s one of those places where you can never get too much of a good thing.

For more information, visit Venetian.com or lcva.com.

Autry National Center describes the West, both cowboys and Indians

Museums delight kids, too

If you’re visiting relatives in a strange city over the holidays, take advantage of the local museums. Most hire family education directors whose job it is to come up with ways to entertain you and your children while encouraging the kids to soak up the exhibition.

During a recent trip to Los Angeles, we mixed up a stop to the Gene Autry National Center with stops at the Spice Station in Silverlake District and Flick’s Papetrie.

Gene Autry Museum in Griffith Park

Right across from the LA Zoo sits this museum dedicated to the American West: the Autry National Center. Currently there’s a nostalgic Route 66: Road and Romance exhibit to capture your imagination.
Other exhibits include the Floral Journey: Native North American Indian Floral Bead Work, running through April, 2015, and “Kim Stringfellow’s Jackrabbit Homestead.”

If you grew up watching television and motion picture Westerns, you will be delighted to see costumes worn by John Wayne, Paul Newman and Gary Cooper in “High Noon.” I was surprised to see life-sized versions of the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

The large museum is no amateur outfit. It has 500,000 artifacts and pieces of art from the West and includes two research libraries.
Check the calendar for lectures and family fun days. Coming up next will be a class on “Planning Your Route 66 Trip,” with photographer and road historian Jerry McClanahan and Jim Ross on Sat., Dec. 6 at 2.
Families are invited to American Indian Games at the Autry on Sun. Dec. 7. Free with museum admission, which is $10 for adults, $6 for seniors 60 and over. Check out new exhibits at http://www.theautry.org.

The Spice Station, Silverlake District

The Silverlake District has a certain urban grittiness, but there are some amazing finds here like the bulk spices at the Spice Station.

It takes five minutes or so to find 3819 Sunset Blvd., because first you have to meander through a path, the lovely impressionistic courtyard covered with trellises and a fountain and then you get to the actual spices in apothecary jars.

Owned by husband and wife team Peter Bahlawanian and Bronwen Tahse, the store carries 140 spices, teas, and tissanes.
I took home jasmine tea and Himalayan salt in packets. The small cottage is lined top to bottom with jars of spices.

DTLA art galleries and museums

More than 100,000 pieces of art in Los Angeles County Museum of Art 5905 Wilshire Blvd., guarantee that you’re not going to see all of them in this lifetime! But pick and choose and take in the ones that call to you. Free admission happens the second Tuesday of every month, otherwise it’s $15 for adults $10 for seniors 62 and older.
Temporary exhibitions include one on Samurai armour, another on Pierre Huyghe, and a third on the Hudson River School. Visit lacma.org for additional information.
The streets around LACMA also contain lots of art galleries.

The Four Seasons in Punta Mita, Riviera Nayarit, Mexico: It’s a jungle out there

“Uno, dos, tres,” counts Miguel, the water aerobics instructor at the Four Seasons’s Nuna infinity pool in Punta Mita, Mexico.  He nudges the guests to hoist their floating  barbells in the air, calling out, “come on, we’ll do a Spanish lesson, too.”

I feel for Miguel, whose real name is Inty Perales. He asks me to take the noon aerobics class but I don’t want to go by myself. Soon, two blond women swim over, though, then an Argentinian man shouts that he will take the class, one of many on tap at the resort daily.

It wasn’t easy convincing this group to join in. Just a few minutes earlier, for example, I  was floating in the crystal-clear water, clutching a frozen mango smoothie – all that I wanted to hoist in the air. And yet, there were the “chocolate delights” we received from room service the night before adding calories to my frame.

Waiters intermittently  brought swimmers and sunbathers water bottles, frozen chocolate cappuccinos and cool rolled towels. It’s easy to eat healthy here, since the four restaurants, Asamara, with a Mexican – Asian fusion, Bahia, right on Cuevas beach, Ketsi, a casual cafe, and Tail of the Whale, the a la carte eatery upstairs at the golf clubhouse.

The resort makes a good family venue, since there’s a kids’ camp, as well as the Lazy River and other activities the little ones can do while the adults play.

With triple digit temperatures producing high humidity, sluggishness reigned last Labor Day, producing very little labor.

 

Lots of choices, even during low season

The 45-minute drive from busy Puerto Vallarta International Airport takes you past Nueva Vallarta and Banderias to the gate for Punta Mita, which actually means ” gateway to paradise.”

Other resorts in the area include the St. Regis Hotel where you can dine in the award-winning Carolina restaurant.

The world-class Four Seasons resort spans 17,000 square feet and sits next to two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses with ocean views. Besides the “adults-only” Nuna pool, two others exist for guests’ pleasure.  Parents and children can navigate the Lazy River on inner tubes. Two fine sand beaches feature  bamboo “nesting swings” and canopied double beds. Ten tennis courts and a 55-foot yacht charter round out the recreational possibilities.

 

September marks the low season — high season starts in November — so nights often included intense showers and thunderstorms after sultry weather. We watched the choppy Bay of Banderas from the hammock of our oceanfront casita, a room I highly recommend.

The casita showcases Mexican hand-crafted items, like the blue embroidered bedspread.

Citing rough weather,  tour operators canceled our plans to visit the Marieta Islands, an archipelago and UNESCO MAB Biosphere  reserve.. The uninhabited islands were formed by volcanic activity but in the 1900s the military began test bombing. In the 1960s, scientist  Jacques Costeau led a successful fight to stop the explosions.

The Hidden Cave Beach lands on many “best beaches” lists. The bombing caused lots of caves and tunnels.Vallarta Adventures (www. vallarta-adventures.com) sponsors whale-watching, scuba-diving and fishing trips and a popular tour of the Marieta Islands. Vallarta Adventures also sponsors canopy trips for some extreme zip-lining.

You can also watch dolphins, whales, and sea turtles sleeping in the sun. The national park allows snorkeling, diving and kayaking. The boat ride to get to the islands takes an hour.

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Enrique Alejos, a gastronomic and ecological enthusiast who claims to be the world’s only cultural concierge, hosts history lectures   and tasting classes. He explores Aztec and Mayan contributions to chocolate and tequila.

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Concierge Enrique Alejos pouring Sangria for guests attending one of his lectures at the Four Seasons Hotel, Punta Mita

At a tequila tasting, guests sip from shot glasses to see if they can sense tobacco, eucalyptus, apple or pear notes. A wilder, more intense Napa Valley experience, complete with Sangria.

Alejos tells the group,  “my job is to make guests fall in love with Punta Mita.”

He also teaches the history of chocolate, which comes from Mexico.

The concierge also manages the resort’s turtle-release program, a particular favorite with families. A staff member described Alejos as “a sponge” with an encyclopedic knowledge of Huichol art and healing traditions. On any given day, Alejos discusses the history of Mexican chocolate or mescal and the Mayans.

Tequila must come from blue agave plants registered in one of five states, including the highlands of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. “The plants must be grown above sea level. Each agave will take ten years to grow.”

Apuane Spa pours on the tequila

The on-site Apuane Spa features beauty treatments like the Mayan Mud mani/pedi and the “Man for All Seasons”men’s 50- or 80-minute facial.

One can also choose the Punta Mita manicure, which uses tequila to exfoliate and soften hands. Stressing the healing properties of the spirits, Linda says, “some grandmas rub tequila on your body if you have pain.”

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Signature treatments include the “Timexpert” anti-wrinkle, collagen and face-lifting facials; and the “Hakali” massage, which uses the local Huichol Indian floral hakali or nopal, cacti known for their healing qualities.

Guests might also enjoy a massage on the beach, an amazing experience on the newly revamped Manzanillas and Cuestas private beaches. Canopied day beds provide shade from the heat, woven swings invite couples to share . There are tables for snacks, served at the beachside surf shack.  At night, the resort sets a bonfire on the beach.

The palm trees, thatched roof and tiki lights add to the ambience of a tropical vacation. General Manager John O’Sullivan said the team wanted “to elevate our oceanfront address with a paradise experience on the beach.”

It’s probably one of the few places in the world with secluded suspended nests, a place to take in the tiki torches and candles.

For more information, visit fourseasons.com/puntamita or