Top picks is a new thing for us starting this year and we’re excited to be adding it into our editorial coverage. What does Top Picks mean exactly? Based on our experiences over the course of the year, we have identified our favorites in the following categories: Hotels & Resorts, Food & Wine, Style & Fashion, Products and Wellness, the latter being a growing focus for us. Moving forward, we hope to expand the picks for the year and incorporate feedback from other We Blog the World contributors as well.
HOTELS & RESORTS
In the hotel category this year, we have two favorites: Chateau Mcely in the Czech Republic and Castle Hill Inn in Newport Rhode Island. Let’s start with the exquisite Eastern European chateau. Smack in the middle of the Czech Republic countryside only about an hour outside of magical Prague is the magical Chateau Mcely, an elegant and luxurious five-star castle/eco-chic hotel. To get there, you’ll drive through rural Czech countryside and small villages, with old stone barns that look like they haven’t been renovated since they were built.
The interior is furnished a bit like a castle but using modern decor with soft romantic colors and if you’re someone who loves attention to detail, you’ll love this gem of a find. Meticulous every step of the way, you’ll find a creative discovery at every turn, all of which are extended into their 24 rooms. That’s right — it’s a small property despite its size which equates to peace, tranquility and serenity and a whole lotta decadence in between. My favorite part of the chateau is by far and away, the front porch with its plants and flowers protruding in every direction. While I was there for a few warm days in September, it is apparently open during the winter months and they use heat lamps to keep it toasty. I was lucky to get there between lunch and dinner, so I had that luxurious and I’d argue romantic porch all to myself. If you’re a poet, artist or novelist, take note — how could you not be inspired by this place?
Chateau Mcely’s inside dining room was about as elegant and luxe as it gets — the owners know how to pay attention to detail and they make sure you reap the benefit in every single room.
Outside, it’s about as majestic as it gets with its perfectly manicured lawns and gardens. People set up croquet while I was there and when a game wasn’t happening, water would spray in all directions to keep the landscape green and lush. The park area nearby can also accommodate football tennis and basketball.
A shot taken from the front lawn with Chateau Mcely in the background….let’s just say that I was a happy camper here sipping my morning tea.
Why We Chose It
Rest assured, you’ll be treated in 5 class style at this privately owned chateau which is great for a romantic getaway, a wellness retreat (the spa is fabulous) or even with your children in tow. It’s rare to find a luxe property that can cater to all three desires and this one does so in spades. Secondly, the food was amazing. Enuf said — check out our review of Piano Noble, their on-site restaurant. Lastly, the attention to detail was out of this world, from the internal design to the impeccable lawns, to the gardens, natural pool, hot tub and the elegant and ever so French covered patio, which apparently they use year round. Each room is also personalized, so depending on your style, you can opt for one that is a little more modern or a room that is more traditional with an old fashioned tub. Be sure to see our lengthy review of the hotel as well which has URL’s, useful information, website and more.
Castle Hill Inn
I love Newport Rhode Island and used to get there on many a’ weekend when I lived in Boston in my twenties. I hadn’t been back in awhile so it was a real treat to head back to this seaside town on the New England coast for a luxury family escape this past August. Set in a landmark Victorian mansion on 40 acres of waterfront, Newport’s Castle Inn is 1.3 miles from Brenton Point State Park and boasts breathtaking views of the ocean on all sides. What’s nice is that the property is on the outskirts of town, so it oozes with tranquility and serenity inside and out. Outside, it’s about as majestic as it gets and during warmer months, you can dine on the patio or simply have drinks.
This upscale traditional boutique property has rooms in the mansion as well as beach houses and cottages with kitchenettes. Amenities vary, but may include fireplaces, ocean views and/or 2-person soaking tubs. Full breakfast and afternoon tea are complimentary. Oh so decadent! Also part of the property and an integral part of its luxurious offerings is their spa, The Retreat at Castle Hill, which uses all natural Farmaesthetics products and since we’re big on natural, we loved this great feature of their on-site spa. (not a full service spa but you can get great massages and facials here). The other piece of magic is the property itself and the breathtaking views from the inn, especially around sunset.
At dusk or dawn, be sure to take in the views on the lawn if you’re there during a warmer month. Sink yourself into a chair, order a nice glass of wine and breathe it all in!! If you happen to be visiting during a winter month, the inside is equally divine and plenty of places to cozy up!!
Why We Chose It
Attention to detail is our first reason. Inside, the decor is very traditional with old wood paneling, flowered wallpaper and old fashioned lights. Who said architecture and design didn’t make a difference to how you feel when you’re having a drink, experiencing a meal or simply sitting by a warm cozy fireplace with old fashioned antiques in every corner. The other logical reason is the view of the ocean — after all, how many properties can boast five star reviews in nearly every direction? The bar scene is also a ton of fun during the summer months and the food we tried was delicious (fresh salads and seafood are my top picks). Lastly, it feels OH so New England to me in all the ways I miss — it’s as if time has stood still at this luxe property just outside town and in a good way – bravo!
FOOD & WINE
Internationally acclaimed chefs may be upset to find that we have 3 American picks (one in the south, one on the East Coast and one in California) this year and only 2 international restaurants and this is largely because more of my personal travel this year was in the United States. If I had to select some top picks over the last five years, plenty of gems would have made this list from Curacao and Japan to Berlin, Dublin, Montreal, Normandy, Bali and more. With that in mind, be sure to check out our Food and Wine section where you can literally select regions of the world to browse through, restaurant reviews by country and by city and more.
Kevin Rathbun Steak
This trendy, fun place is located along the Beltline in Inman Park, so you can stop by for drinks and appetizers after a lovely walk past murals, nature and take in all that it has to offer, from kids playing to cyclists. The inside is chic with brick walls and cool art and when the weather is warm, you can sit outside on their lovely patio which we did when I was there last month. It has apparently been recognized as one of the top steakhouses in the states — I loved the ambiance inside….and out!!
Why We Chose It
The food is beautifully presented and the service is casual but attentive, the staff being a seasoned staff with plenty of experience across two continents. While I was in heaven with both the presentation and taste of my beet salad, the Shrimp Stuffed Calamari appetizer stopped us in our tracks. It was so delicious we couldn’t talk for awhile — imagine the combo, but then adorned with white beans, slabs of bacon and grape tomatoes in a light basil broth.
Also worth noting is the Roast Cervena Venison which was so incredibly tender — they prepared it with celery root gratin and vanilla bean glazed beets in a cherry reduction.
The desserts were insanely delicious, most notably their decadent vanilla bean creme brulee. Wow!
Why We Chose It
Basil in Carmel
If you read us regularly, you know we’re huge fans of farm-to-table dining, organic food, restaurants who source from local farms and chefs and establishment owners who pay attention to where food comes from. We applaud restaurants who take the time to think through their menus, buy high quality organic ingredients and support nearby communities and farmers.
Chef Soerke Peters is the co-owner and main chef at Basil, which is officially called Basil Seasonal Dining and located off the main drag in Carmel-by-the-Sea California. Nestled in the middle of an alley off the main shopping street (get there early to view for creative window shopping and cafes), this cute and casual, but authentic and local gem features locally grown produce and organic ingredients. A certified Green European style restaurant, Basil boasts a seasonally rotating menu, which also features gluten-free and vegan alternatives. They also have an elegantly curated list of local wines to complement their fresh, wild and sustainable seafood and grass-fed beef, which have been raised on family-owned ranches.
The place has a whole lotta charm, first and foremost because it’s tiny and has warm inviting paintings on the wall, including a large image of Soerke Peters himself. They compensate for their small space by having a large outside dining area in a quaint courtyard and they have heat lamps for those who get cold easily. Be sure to read my extensive review of Basil from this past summer.
We sat inside by the window to do a l’il people watching while we waited for courses to come, starting with a little pure basil with garlic, olive oil, and spinach sampler. Their Lamb Meatballs did not dissappoint, prepared with red onions and fresh goat cheese. Blissful!! The local Monterey Abalone small plate is scrumptious as well. He prepares this dish with vermouth, parsnip puree, sweet corn and an asparagus-potato hash. Note that they tend to use a lot of potatoes in their dishes here, but done in new, fresh and creative ways. Basil too of course!
The Grilled Quail wrapped in Bacon and the Grilled Octopus (first photo displayed above) from Spain spoke to us. The Octopus looks like it was pulled fresh from the boat an hour ago (literally),but if you grew up in an Italian household where your grandmother served Octopus with those crazy white delicious Cannellini beans, then you’ll be all over this dish. He gets his beans from Coke Farms nearby and drizzles it with Quail and Olive basil oil.
He is known for his unique goat dishes which change all the time. The dish we tried was served with creamy polenta, the polenta so smooth it just melted in our mouths. Add to this scrumptious treat, local Chantelle mushrooms and Broccolini and we are still thinking of this flavorful dish over a week later. It’s worth noting their Organic Beer Selection, which includes IPA’s, Belgian Blonde Ales and Lagers from Salt Lake City Utah. Their cocktails are apparently memorable as well — don’t miss out on their Signature Cocktail, the Passion Fruit Basil-Tini, which is made with rum, passion fruit and of course, fresh Basil.
We We Chose It
This little eatery is a little on the small side, but it makes up for it with its outdoor very Euro-style patio. Bearing in mind that Carmel is typically warm enough to eat outside year around, it’s a huge plus. His food was SO fresh, so organic and so green-inspired (they source from local farms), that it would be enough to select this gem of a find on her entree flavors alone, never mind his exquisite presentation, but when Soerke came out with a bowl of his homemade Vanilla Gelato which he poured some Basil Olive Oil over while we watched, he put me over the edge. OMG! This combination was to die for, so much so that I polished it off on my own and left the cobbler for Anthony. Charming, authentic and down-to-earth with the freshest and greenest food you’ll find in the area. Don’t forget to read more about Basil and see some more fabulous foodie shots here.
Our international top picks this year goes to Valoria in Prague and EPIK in the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana.
Valoria Castle & Garden Restaurant
What I had in mind wasn’t quite the chic Valoria Castle & Garden Restaurant when I first arrived in Prague, but my experience at this gem with breathtaking views was above and beyond what I expected. Quite frankly, it couldn’t have been a better choice for my first night in Prague. Thanks to the guys at Lindner for the recommendation.
Located in the top section of Neruda Street in house No. 40, St. John’s Cellar, the restaurant is based on a Baroque cellar. It started as a town house with a terraced garden and it is uniquely based adjacent to the walls of Prague Castle, which ultimately provides for stunning views of the city and an even closer view of Lesser Town Square and Prague’s famous towers on both banks of the Vltava River. There’s a whole lotta WOW in this exquisite view, especially while dining outside on a warm summer or fall evening. You can vividly see the majestic dome of St. Nicholas Cathedral in nearby Lesser Town Square.
The food combines the best of Czech and French recipes and this is extended into their wine menu offerings as well. Their beef carpaccio was served with sun dried tomatoes, capers, arugula and parmesan cheese. A Czech chardonnay was paired with this, which was oak barreled for six months (I asked). It was a Pinot Vinarstvi Gala although I also tasted the Chardonnay Vinarstvi Baloun.
The Czech cuisine list was small but included beef with root veggies, cream, cranberries, bacon and onions and Veal Cheeks made with dill,cream and whipped egg whites. While it was a very warm evening and I was sitting outside, I was too tempted by the Wild Boar since they offered it and I always think of Eastern Europe when I think of boar. I knew it wouldn’t disappoint and it didn’t.
Why We Chose It
While Valoria didn’t deliver the “best” meal I had in Prague, it combined the best ambiance, service, food, views, wine and attention to detail – let’s just say, I was incredibly impressed despite countless other bites and meals during my 2.5 week stay. While the dishes were not quite as mouth watering as michelin star La Degustation, which I also reviewed, the food was indeed, divine. The long open courtyard, which extended from the inside of the restaurant, faced the best of what this part of Prague had to offer the eye. It exudes old world charm while maintaining an air of elegance; this combo is one of the things that makes this restaurant so attractive, and that’s before you even see the sweeping views. Read my review on Valoria, see my extensive Prague foodie and restaurant guide and of course, another huge favorite from my trip: Piano Noble at Chateau Mcely as mentioned above. Oh yeah and the desserts were to die for, which included chocolate with orange, cocoa, almonds and vanilla, Peanuts with chocolate, caramel and Sabayone, a vanilla creme brulee with fruit, sorbets, a cheeseboard selection and chocolate fondant with raspberry sorbet. Need I say more?
EPIK Restaurant in Punta Cana
You don’t typically think of the Dominican Republic for its abundance of michelin star restaurants or award-winning chefs, however I put this beautifully decorated high end restaurant inside the Hard Rock Hotel’s casino on the list for a couple of reasons, starting with their decadent and memorable Corazon Espinado cocktail, which was made with oaky and smokey tequilla (my preference), Don Julio, Cointreau and smoked sea salt. And, how about that amazing saffron garnish?
The head bartender was top notch and really “listened,” something that I find less and less the more I travel, so when you find someone who customizes a drink to your taste in a way that delivers punch again and again, it’s worth applauding. The food options were as healthy as they get, from Grilled watermelon and goat cheese salad and Coconut Sea Bass and salmon ceviche served with passion fruit, mango and habanero to start, to a pan roasted Chilean Sea Bass with edamame and Roasted Chicken Breast with Bourbon mustard sauce and roasted cumin carrots as mains. Oh so delish and oh so fresh!!
Their desserts didn’t disappoint either and we had a pre-fixe menu because I was there with a group of ten or so. Bbelow, we sampled a combo of their Triple Brulee, which included Vanilla bean, chocolate and toffee. You could also opt for their White Chocolate Tiramisu, which combined espresso, Khalua and peanut praline. Can you say decadent and divine? And, the chef’s plates were all so beautifully presented.
Because I was dining with so many, I also had an opportunity to taste their Alaskan King Crab Cakes with lemon and their Mushroom Truffle Pasta, that albeit a bit rich, had me at hello with its housemade ingredients, infused with truffles, and topped with poached egg and parmesan. WOW! Their coffee was also very fresh as well.
Why We Chose It
It’s rare to find such decadence at an all inclusive and while this was one of their high end restaurants in the hotel, it is worth mentioning because of its island location and the fact that it’s part of a large hotel property. After all, it’s pretty easy to find Michelin star options in NYC, Paris, Montreal, Tokyo, Stockholm and San Francisco, but what about at a resort that is far away from an urban center along the Caribbean coast? Secondly, their mixed drinks were surprisingly good, not quite at the award-winning level of one of my local haunts on San Francisco’s Valencia Street, but oh so memorable nevertheless. I was also surprised by the over-the-top service and attention to detail.
PRODUCTS – Technology
iRobot Roomba 980
I’ve known about iRobot for years now, since it’s earliest of days when I was in tech marketing back in the greater Boston area, which is where the company is based. I’ve always been a fan from afar, after all, I have worked on robot products over the years and have my fair share of experience with artificial intelligence and recognition products from my work with Dragon and beyond. I didn’t have an opportunity to truly play with their iRobot Roomba 980 until this past year however and I’ve become obsessed with it, so much so that I even named it Rocky and he’s become part of the furniture so to speak. This incredibly smart device has transformed my life at home — literally. Be sure to read my write-up from earlier this year.
While it’s not a new product on the market, it saves me so much time and helps to keep our home dust-free. If you’re busy, travel a lot and like a clean house, then this is a must buy!!
Having grown up with a conventional oh so English grandmother, we used to get on our hands and knees and scrub floors before guests would arrive — a mop simply wasn’t enough for some reason! The Roomba 980 is the first of their product line to combine adaptive navigation with visual localization, cloud connected app control, and increased cleaning power on carpets. The Roomba combines adaptive navigation with visual localization for up to two hours, recharging and resuming as needed until it cleans an entire level of a home.
The Roomba also features brushless, dual counter‐rotating debris extractors that grab dirt from any floor type while reducing hair tangles and brush maintenance, which is great in the kitchen and bathroom, especially if you have pets. iRobot’s HOME App allows you to connect Roomba 980 to your Wi-Fi network, so when cleaning schedules don’t match social or work schedules, you can start a cleaning job from anywhere, anytime. This was one of the nifty features that we thought would be great for mobile warriors and avid travelers who are constantly on the go.
Why We Chose It
Bottom line: this product changed my life. Rocky (as I call my very own) runs around the house while I get work done or can do something else, whether that be fixing things or simply relaxing. It keeps going and going and is incredibly smart, returning to where you started him off in a room. He is also smart enough to navigate around furniture, clean under beds and couches that are hard to get to and can move seamlessly between throw carpets and hardware floors. It’s simple to use, doesn’t take up a lot of space and works flawlessly. I LOVE this product! Need I say more? It’s my favorite product pick of the year.
Grill lovers will be excited about the Grillbot, an automatic cleaner for your grill which comes in a variety of fun colors. The concept is relatively new as Grillbot has only been around since 2014. Like the iRobot, you simply place the Grillbot on your grill, close the door and let him go! See my write up on the Grillbot. The grillbot does all the grill cleaning for you so you don’t have to. The device goes back and forth across all areas of your grill until it’s clean, it’s fully-automatic and begins as soon as you push the button. The default time is ten minutes however you can also set it to clean for twice the time if your grill is particularly dirty or larger than average. We’ve used it at least 20 times so far and each time, ten minutes was ample to get the grill clean.
We also love the nifty carrying case as well which is optional. The handle is so handy that rather than use valuable storage space in an inside closet or the garage, we simply hang it on a hook on the left of the grill so it’s easily accessible. There are replaceable wire brushes which are easy to swap out — you simply pop them off to clean and apparently you can even toss them right in the dishwasher for cleaning although we haven’t tried that yet. There’s also a rechargeable Lithium Ion Battery, which they include with your Grillbot, making it easy to charge when he loses steam. The grillbot comes with three strong high-power electric motors, which cuts through the grease to really get your grill clean. Truthfully, we were surprised that it cleaned so well.
Why We Chose It
It saves us time…a lot of time. We tend to grill 200 days a year or more, and so having a nifty device we can simply throw on the grill, pull down the cover and walk away, is a godsend. And, it actually works. There are two settings so you can opt for a quick clean or a more thorough clean depending on the state of your grill. It also comes in a variety of fun colors, which we always applaud. I’m so bored of black and silver, it makes me crazy sometimes. It’s as if designers forget that women use these products too. It’s quick, easy and with its convenient carrying case, when we’re done, we simply hang it up to use for the next time.
Dyson V6 Absolute
Another cleaner you might be thinking – really? Hey, given the growing issues of poor air quality, including our homes and offices, it’s no wonder I’ve been paying more attention this year. Dyson is noted for having some of the most powerful cleaners on the market and so, we decided to put one to the test. In particularly, they are known for their “super suction” and have a variety of stand-up models, including cordless models. Dyson machines now have smaller multiple cyclones than ever before, which create greater centrifugal forces and capture more microscopic dust (this is critical if you have allergies) than any other cyclones. Those if you who have had to push one of those heavy vacuums around know, they’re clunky, hard to move around and can’t make it under tough to reach spots.
The Dyson v6 Absolute is a little different in that you move it a bit like a push mower. A Dyson Ball machine is different in that it rides on a ball, pivoting on a single point, which allows the machine to move in any direction. That’s the first godsend but once you get down to different models, there’s a whole lot more.
Photo credit: DigitalTrendss
One of the coolest parts about this upright machine which comes apart, is that it’s cordless, the first godsend for avid travelers. It’s very quick to get through one room, largely because it IS cordless and because it’s much lighter than traditional stand-up vacuum cleaners. There’s also a lot of options to choose from when cleaning, including a soft roller cleaner head, which is invented for hard floors, another feature that we love! The soft roller cleaner head removes large debris and fine dust simultaneously.
Why We Chose It
Included in our holiday gift guide this year, the Dyson also made THIS list because of its ease-of-use and functionality. I don’t know how many times I angst over getting a vacuum cleaner out since I have to plug it in, unravel the chord and then drag it around and quite frankly, they’re heavy. This Dyson simply hangs on a wall and charges when you insert it into its wall slot — the best place for it is obviously a cleaning cupboard or closet with a door. Even in our San Francisco quarters, we made it work. When I want to do a quick clean, especially to clear out stagnant dust in corners, I can grab the Dyson (chord free) and do a quick clean within minutes without the hassle I’ve been facing for years. It’s a godsend for anyone who likes a dust-free house. Between this and the iRobot, I’ve saved hours of time every month on keeping both home and office clean.
Just a month or so ago, we got our paws on this fabulous gadget that allows you to take incredible 360-degree selfies and capture special moments on vacation or while on an adventure trip. Meet the Insta360 Nano, the world’s first video camera which shoots and live-streams perfect HD 360-degree stills and video directly from your iPhone. The compact, sleek camera simply clips onto an iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 6, 6 Plus, 6s or 6s Plus and you can then share your images and videos instantly with your social media followers on Twitter and Facebook. They recently announced support for Android as well – YAY!
Even if you’re not a super early adopter and haven’t yet picked up one of those virtual reality headsets, you’ll be happy to note that the Insta360 packaging is easily converted into a Google Cardboard VR viewer, to let followers, friends and family instantly experience your immersive video masterpieces. How cool is that? They tout their new Insta360 Nano as the most innovative, affordable and convenient mobile panoramic and VR video camera available. Note that it takes TF cards and they recommend the Samsung and Kingston cards.
We We Chose It
Bottom line, this product is super lightweight and is just SO much fun. I’ll be honest with you, it took me awhile to get the hang of how to use it, but bear in mind that as much as most of my adult life has been working with technology companies, I’m a bit of a luddite if I have to follow a guide. It’s not immediately intuitive however within an hour or two, I started to really get the hang of it, so much so that I got addicted to taking shots even in places that might nor warrant a 360 view. The above shot was taken on a December trip to the Dominican Republic when we did an early dawn air balloon ride and I managed to get about a dozen different angles and variations of the same shot depicted above. Truth be told, I could have kept going! Once you get your creative juices flowing, there’s no end to what you can create. Remember that it supports video too!
MyCharge For Extended Battery Life
Let’s face it, I have a bunch of extended battery life gizmos in a variety of colors and sizes. The Razor Platinum, which is crafted from anodized aluminum, isn’t that lightweight to be honest. That said, it has a couple of outlets so you can charge more than one device and the juice lasts for awhile, which is a godsend for the kind of travel I do. In other words, it’s worth the slightly extra weight. It’s still pretty compact especially given that all the connectors are buried in the device itself so you don’t lose the connecting cables or in my case, spend your time searching for them at the bottom of a day pack or purse. The 13400mAh RazorPlatinum is the most powerful portable charger in the myCharge lineup and can also power a laptop. The USB-C port delivers a 36W output and is able to fully charge a MacBook in 100 minutes which is simply put, a godsend for travelers.
You can charge any tablet, smartphone or other device via the RazorPlatinum’s standard USB-A port. Additionally, you can recharge the RazorPlatinum via the MacBook 29 watt adaptor in just two hours. It’s compatible with the MacBook, Tablets, Smartphones, USB-C and USB-A Devices. Their hyper-charge is ultra-fast….they tout that they’re 65% faster than competitors and the device maintains battery power for up to a year. How cool is that?
Their Style-PowerXTRA is one of their more stylish versions, which also works with all smart phones and tablets and is 2.5x extra battery. It’s also lot smaller and lighter than the MyCharge Razor Platinum and is a good choice for those shorter trips. A fabulous choice for a girlfriend, daughter, fashionista or family member is their fun colored 2200mAh Style Power portable charger. It has an integrated USB recharge cable, which allows your smartphone to be charged approximately 500 times. We love its size — super compact and light, the Style Power is a great solution for people on the go and like to travel light.
Why We Chose It
We love the power and the speed of their more powerful chargers and I particularly love the fact that it’s so compact, all of its bits and pieces folding down into the device itself. I hate extra chords…..is everyone listening? I HATE extra chords. I also love the fact that they have a variety of options to choose from including a few fun colored ones for simple and quick chargers like the one shown above, when you simply want a little extra juice for a dinner out on the town. For longer trips and if you’re doing some adventure shooting where your smart phone acts as a back-up, you need to be charged all day long. MyCharge is a godsend for people who fall into that category, which includes me. I’m a fan!
Fashion/Style & Wear
We love love love this brand! The name Aetrex doesn’t quite sound like a shoe brand when you first hear the name, but it’s because of it’s long history around comfort and wellness. Their mission? To literally create the healthiest shoes on the market today. Let’s just say that they’re so comfy, it feels like you’re wearing slippers. They offer casual, dress, sandal, athletic and therapeutic footwear for both men and women and all styles use their cutting edge technologies and are all about customization and adjustability. Originally known for the landmark development of arch supports and medically-oriented footcare products, Aetrex is known for their pure comfort but also great design, a rarity to find both in one shoe.
Aetrex is also renowned for its over-the-counter Lynco Orthotics that are recognized as the #1 orthotic system on the market which means that they are often recommended by doctors and pedorthists — what a more perfect shoe brand for travelers, right? See some of the sandals we fell in love with here.
Our favorites include the Skyler Boot for women, which comes in a few different color combo choices: barley, black and merlot and the Autumn Ankle Boot in Cognac (below). This trendy ankle boot has a burnished toe and a stacked leather heel, with a ton of comfort built in like every other model Aetrex makes. In addition to the warm cognac color (my personal fave), the boot also comes in Iron, Black and Merlot. There’s also rubber outsole for traction and a reasonably sized two inch heel — no need to be in pain while looking stylin’, at least not anymore. We love their variations!!
The Dustin Chukka Boot is a lovely soft brown suede but is light-weight, easy to clean, and water-resistant for challenging weather situations, all of which make them a perfect choice for avid travelers. They also have certified slip resistant soles, which make them safe in slippery conditions when you’re on the road — think rainy European city in the dead of winter. Aetrex’s “Healthy 3” is incorporated in each style of their boot or shoe.
Why We Chose It
There’s a boat load of technology built into the Aetrex brand (aka Healthy 3 as mentioned above and beyond) to make them as comfortable and sophisticated as they are, both from the way they’re made (aka quality) and comfort. Comfort and cushioning is infused throughout and you’ll feel as if you’re wearing slippers when in fact you have boots on — same goes for their other shoe types. We also love their sandals as noted above, so be sure to read our summer review. They are ever so comfortable. Their service is also through the top; Aetrex is responsive, they listen and try to match you up with options that best cater to your taste. They’re beautifully designed but also about as comfy as it gets – this is an award-winning combination in our opinion and we remain huge fans of this brand.
Wooden Watches by Original Grain
Interestingly enough, we had a few watches in our Holiday Gift Guide last year but only one gem this year: Original Grain. We’ve been mesmerized by the authenticity of wooden grain watches for over a year now and only just got around to getting a top notch brand in this season. While there are a growing number of wooden grain watches, we LOVE the styles coming out of Original Grain. Have a look and you’ll see why!
Truth be told, there are more options for men but they are so elegant and so beautiful, we couldn’t help but want to dive in. Each watch is handcrafted from a variety of sustainably sourced exotic hardwood from around the world. We also love that with Trees for the Future Non-Profit Organization, they plant ten trees for each watch sold, which provides both food and jobs people around the globe. Bravo bravo! Our favorites out of the men’s line are their Ebony wood in black and Vera Wood (both are decadent and so worth having as an accompaniment to your wardrobe!!)
Check out the Zebrawood Rosegold watch out of their women’s Minimalist line? The watch also comes in Ebony/Gold, Rosewood & Chrome and Dark Ebony & Gold….all of them decadent, luxurious, and chic!
Why We Chose It
There’s so much to love about this brand. First off, they have uniquely engineered insoles that are a blend of natural latex and cork that are designed to replicate the shape of the foot, just like the footprint we leave when walking the sand. This is one of the reasons they are so incredibly comfortable, which is a godsend for travelers. Each shoe has Hallux support, an elevated footbed center, great arch support, deep heel indentation, great flexibility, durability and shock absorption and a Latex sponge layer. One of our favorites among the men’s shoe line is the ever so comfortable but also stylish Naot MAGNATE, which is a deep rich brown/black leather laceup wingtip shoe.
Handpainted treatments on Naot’s new Handcrafted Collection create a one-of-a-kind look and each pair is a little unique since they are individually made. The Magnate has padded technical lining in the front for comfort and moisture absorption and their removable, anatomic cork and latex footbed is wrapped in pampering suede and molds to the shape of the foot with wear. The shoes in Naot’s Executive Collection features a 1.75″ TPR sole with a metal shank and they use a hand-sewn strobel construction making it strong and extremely flexible. Comfortable? You betcha!
Why We Chose It
Let’s face it, we’re not new to Bluff — in fact, we reviewed them two years ago for the first time and we put them in this year’s Holiday Gift Guide as well. Bottom line – these pants for men are an avid traveler’s godsend! Bluff’s Chinos are built for life on the go and they come in Charcoal, Stone, Blue, Khaki, and Gold. Designed to look and feel just like cotton, they are constructed with a distinct stretch that allows them to bend and move with your every step and yes, Anthony tested them out again on a long weekend trip since we didn’t have more time before this guide was slated to be published. They’re 100% technical, breathable quick-dry polyester with nylon pockets and just like the previous pairs we reviewed, they dried quickly and YAY, no wrinkles.
They have a hidden internal security pocket that is zipped up and out of view (we LOVE this for avid travelers), and a rear zippered pocket sized for an oversized travel wallet. Also a great godsend for travelers is their discrete side pocket storage which fits passports and most smartphones as well as a hidden loop to clip keys or a security badge inside your front pocket. We also love that they’re all manufactured in the states and are machine washable.
These guys started with traditional style pants in Regular and Relaxed Fit. They’re rugged yet refined, which is one of the things that Anthony loved most about them and yet they’re super lightweight and wrinkle resistant. They’re also built to ward off stains, and thrive in the heat which is great when you’re heading to those super hot destinations. Their pockets, like the Chinos, are hidden and secure and have a side pocket for your phone, passport or other gadgets. The other great thing about their traditional pants is that they come in a ton of colors, including dark and light gray, khaki, velvet brown, black and navy blue as shown below.
Why We Chose It
We’ve been fans of Bluffs for awhile and the fact that the quality remains top notch the second time around, we had to give it a 5 star this year. After all, male travelers should know about this incredibly useful brand so they can travel, wrinkle free. They come in great neutral colors that make it easy to match with a small wardrobe when you’re on the go. Also, they now also offer shorts, blazers and shirts although we haven’t tested those out yet. Bottom line: they’re well made, don’t wrinkle, dry easily, are flexible options for light travelers and their service is awesome!
PRODUCTS – Wellness
Aroma 360 Diffusers
Most diffusers work by heating the essential oils and the Aroma 360 folks take a different approach. Since essential oils are very delicate and volatile, they tout that the therapeutic benefits are destroyed when they are heated, as well as their ability to disperse well in large areas. The molecules fall as they come in contact with the cool air, shortening the life of the scent. We’ve been playing around with one of the Aroma 360 diffusers, which uses cold air diffusion. They offer a variety of models, so you can select one that best works for the amount of space you have and they come in both silver and black.
The Picasso 360 is larger and the most robust solution is the one they call Museum which will scene every square inch of space via a HVAC system. We tested out the Mini 360, which works with open areas of up to 600 square feet. It is compact enough to put anywhere, especially since it’s tall and slender — only 2.5 inches in diameter and 12.2 inches tall.
Why We Chose It
Bottom line, we love the design. While this was the first thing that drew me to the product, it ended up on this list because it works as well as it looks. Elegant, it seamlessly blends into a home environment. The bottle holds quite a bit of oil so you don’t have to replace it or fill it up as often as you do so many other diffusers on the market. There’s also a nifty remote control which allows you to adjust the intensity of the essential oil aroma in the air and you can also modify its frequency. There’s an option that allows you to turn it on for 15 seconds and then off, and then on again and so on. We love the flexibility and the combination of beauty and wellness benefits in one package.
Edens Garden Aromatherapy
If you read us often enough, you’ll learn that I am personally a big fan of Aromatherapy. Edens Garden essential oils can be used for a myriad of purposes, from incorporating them with other ingredients for oily hair, as a shampoo, perfume, a hair serum for split ends, as a nail strengthener, for stretch marks, a skin toner, acne or clogged pores. Essential oils can also help with things like cold sores, blisters, tired feet or as a hand sanitizer.
We are not suggesting that they will aid a particular ailment or disease (I’m not a doc) so check with your own healthcare practitioner on what they best suggest for you as each individual responds to things differently. Their bottled blends tout that they serve a range of uses for everything from releasing anxiety to promoting flawless skin.
I have always loved lavender essential oil for relaxation which you can put in a diffuser or toss a little on a damp cloth and breathe it in before going to bed. They offer a variety of options from mixed blends to pure individual oils, like Lime, Pine, Rosemary, Lavender, Sandalwood, Pachouli, Sage and more. All have their merits and benefits. A few examples they offer in their literature for wellness include using lavender, coconut oil and honey as a face wash, a combination of Neroli, Sandlewood, Sweet orange, vanilla, EGCO and cane sugar as a sugar scrub, using Bergomot, Vetiver, and Jojoba on your wrists and temples when facing anxiety, or massaging a mix of Caraway, Grapefruit, Peppermint and EGCO on the stomach when faced with indigestion issues. They also suggest that Vanilla Jasmine or Rose Geranium can uplift your spirits, Ginger and Grapefruit can energize you, Clementine and Peppermint can help with fatigue and coffee oil, Neroli and ECGO can help with aging fine lines. Yes, really. I can’t speak to whether this works or not since I didn’t try it, but I’m game.
Why We Chose It
I love essential oils and they had a great selection from blends to pure oils. I was looking for particular oils in this case and they seemed to have them all so I didn’t need to search in ten different places to seek what I needed – bravo! Variety and their attention to detail (benefits each type of oil may deliver, website, etc) was also a huge plus!
NOTE: For other products we love, be sure to check out this year’s Holiday Gift Guide as well as last year’s holiday gift guide, where you’ll discover our precious finds, from food/wine, entertainment, technology, kitchenware and accessories to beauty, wellness, perfumes, bags, clothing, shoes and jewelry.