Desert Glamping in Oman

 

One of the things I was most excited about on our trip to Oman was spending a night in the desert, an activity that has long been on my bucket list.  I did lots of research on which camp would be best for us because there are a lot of desert camps in the Wahibah Sands (also known as Sharqiya Sands), a sea of sand that stretches across 12,500 square kilometers.

We found some quite luxurious camps with air conditioning, bars, and one even had a pool…but the reviews of these places had a common theme:  “It was so nice after they turned off the generators!”  That’s right, it’s the desert so any power has to be supplied by generators and they are noisy…not exactly the peaceful desert night we had envisioned.  In the end, what we were dreaming of was an intimate, authentic desert camping experience and we found just that at the Nomadic Desert Camp.

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This turned out to be the perfect choice and was exactly what we were looking for.  The camp is owned and run by a Bedouin family that has lived in the Wahiba Sands for generations.  We met in the afternoon at the meet up point in Al Wasil where we had to have air let out of our tires in preparation for desert driving.  Lukasz was very excited about this part of the adventure!  You must have an SUV to drive in the desert, but if you don’t the camp can provide transport at an additional cost.

After an exciting drive, we were shown to our thatched hut, a little room woven from date palm leaves, with four single beds, a dresser, and mosquito netting.  The camp had no electricity but did have running water with shared toilets (the hole in the ground kind), sinks, and showers.  It was perfect for one night, but some of the families there had made the camp their base for the week which might have slightly worn off the charm for us… but seemed to be just fine for them!

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The camp was lovely and peaceful and the kids couldn’t get over how fun this giant sandbox was!  After getting settled, it was time to go for a drive to meet some of the family’s camels and to watch the desert sunset.

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Driving through the dunes for a camel meet and greet. 

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Hello, lovely!  

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I had no idea how sweet camels could be!  This girl was three years old and she absolutely loved to be cuddled.  Whenever we would stop petting her and start to walk away she would follow us and nudge us asking us to pet her some more.  So cute!

 

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Before we left we got to try camel milk, which tasted mostly like cow’s milk just warm and a little sweeter.  I was surprised that our adventurous six-year-old didn’t want to try it, but absolutely shocked when our picky three-year-old walked right up to try it…and liked it!

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After lots of camel snuggling, the sun was starting to set so we drove to the base of a big dune where we climbed up and watched the beautiful show.

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A dune upon a dune for the best view!

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The way the sand changed colors with the setting sun was so beautiful.

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After the sun set, we made our way down the dune and our guides were waiting with a small fire where they had made coffee to serve with dates.  There was a very peaceful, relaxed vibe in our small group and fortunately for us there was another family with two young girls so the kids quickly made friends.  They were so excited to see a lizard scamper across our circle and were on the lookout for more wildlife, but apart from camels that’s all they saw.  The drive back to camp was interesting in the dark, but luckily it was short!

Back at the camp we had time to get cleaned up a bit and then dinner was served buffet style under a tent.  The food was plentiful and delicious, actually probably the best meal we had in Oman.  After dinner, our guides had prepared a fire with cushions all around to lay back and get a glimpse of one of the clearest skies I’ve ever seen.  We were served hot tea and it was really one of the most magical nights…until the boys got a bit too giddy and then it was time for us to retire to our hut!

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The next morning we awoke bright and early to a delicious breakfast, including freshly baked Arabic bread.

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Baking the bread for breakfast.

After breakfast it was time for the camel ride, and the boys could hardly wait.  I was personally a bit nervous for the camel ride, but after seeing how gentle they were the day before I was convinced to give it a go!  The guides led us on about a 15 minute loop through the desert, which was just perfect for the kids and they absolutely loved it.

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This kid talked non-stop, he was so excited!  And weeks later is still talking about camels.

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After the ride it was time for us to pack up and say goodbye to the desert and our friendly hosts, but it was certainly a unique and wonderful stay!  It was exactly what we had envisioned for a desert camping glamping experience and we would highly recommend it.  This camp was one of the cheaper ones I came across, probably since they don’t have to pay for the generator or the swimming pool ;), which was even more of a bonus.  The meals and camel ride were also included in the price of the stay.

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Definitely a highlight of our Oman adventure!

 

Pin it for later…

desert glamping

 

 

 

Luxury in the Mountains of Oman

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We spent an incredible 10 days in Oman and will have a full itinerary coming soon, but in the meantime I wanted to highlight a couple of our favorite Omani adventures.  After a night in the capital to adjust to the time zone, we headed for the mountains for some luxury and relaxation.  The drive is easy, only about 2.5 hours from Muscat, but it does require an SUV for the last part.  After passing a security checkpoint, the road curves steeply up for the last 45 minutes before you reach the Alila Jabal Akhdar, which sits at 2,000 meters above sea level.

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The designer retreat is located high in Al Jabal Al Akhdar translated as Green Mountain, which is a bit misleading as it is mainly barren, rocky limestone.  There are, however, a handful of villages on the plateau that live up to this name and are extremely fertile producing pomegranates, roses, figs, almonds, apricots, apples, grapes, lemons, peaches, and walnuts.  The most notable thing when you arrive here and step out of the car is the more comfortable temperatures-at night there was even a slight chill in the air.  We had only been in Oman for one night, but the more comfortable temperatures were definitely welcome!  I can imagine this must be quite an escape in the height of summer.

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When we arrived, we were welcomed in traditional Omani fashion with kawha, a strong and bitter coffee flavored with cardamom, and dates.  Then it was time for a tour of the stunning surrounds.  The hotel is set on the edge of a canyon with jaw dropping views down into the gorge and across the Hajar Mountains.  The remote location of the hotel only adds to the magical and exotic feeling of the place.

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The hotel has 86 rooms (suites and villas only), but still manages to feel small and intimate.  We were shown to our canyon view suite and immediately decided we’d be happy to stay for the remainder of our trip in this calm and blissful setting.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the plans or the budget so we decided to make the most of our 24 hours here!

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Our first mission was to hit the pool and this infinity pool with canyon views was just perfect.  I had read reviews about the water being cold, but that issue seems to have been resolved as the water was a very comfortable temperature.  There was also an indoor heated pool with jets, like a large jacuzzi.  Sun beds, loungers, and drinks from the bar or your in-room mini bar made this a pool you could hang out at for a while!

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After a fun afternoon of swimming, the boys had a chance for bath time in the beautiful soaking tub before dinner.  Who wouldn’t love to relax in this tub?!

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We watched a gorgeous sunset over the canyon and then headed to dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Juniper, named for the juniper trees that grow in the mountains of Jabal Akhdar.  Our booking included half board, but thankfully the food was not buffet style-you could either order a la carte or share the tasting menu.  We opted for the tasting menu and two kids meals and everything was good and well presented.

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The kids had already stayed up past their bedtime so we didn’t have a chance to stop in the bar for a night cap, but I loved the design.  We went to bed along with the kids because I had plans the next morning to get up early for sunrise yoga.  The spa offers free yoga at 7 am on certain days-generally on the weekends, but since the hotel was quite full for the Easter holidays they offered it all week.

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This was one of the highlights of the trip for me!  I love yoga anyway, so having a yoga class on a deck overlooking the canyon listening to the birds chirping was just incredible.  Yoga mats, towels, and bottled water were provided and after the class there was fresh fruit and hot tea.

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The other bonus of getting up early was watching the sunrise in this stunning location.  After some sunrise photos and getting zen’d out at yoga, I read on our balcony with some coffee while waiting for the guys to wake up for breakfast.  I can’t imagine a more perfect morning!

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Breakfast was a nice mix of a small buffet and an a la carte menu along with lots of yummy fresh juices.  After breakfast we had promised the kids they could check out the kids club so we dropped them off for an hour and went for some gym/pool time.  The kids club included tons of toys, dress up costumes, art supplies, a foosball and air hockey table, xbox, and movie room and they also organize activities like walks around the area throughout the day.  Our two didn’t want to leave!

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The hotel also does a cute little ‘passport’ for the kids, that looks just like a real passport.  The kids collect stamps for different things-checking in, kids club, eating a good dinner, etc., and when they fill a page they get a treat from the restaurant-either cookies or a milk shake.  They loved it!

There is an almost 3 km trail completely within the grounds of the hotel called the Butterfly Trail that we wanted to explore, so after checking out, we loaded up the car and hit the trail.  The scenery was incredible and there were fun stops along the way for the kids including the traditional hanging clay jugs to drink water from, view points, and play grounds.  The kids also loved finding the painted white butterfly trail markers.

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While certainly on the pricey side (especially at the Easter holidays), this was probably the most incredible hotel we have stayed at.  After seeing pictures and write ups, we decided it was worth the splurge for one night and I’m so glad we did.

The only thing I didn’t like about the hotel was that before arrival they ask you to fill out a checklist of your preferences.  I completed the online questionnaire about a month before our stay (long enough to completely forget about it) and there were questions about everything from pillow to bath to food preferences.  I didn’t think much of it and then upon arrival, the coffee table in our room was completely decked out with snacks and drinks.  We realized that the alcohol was not complimentary is it was a good sized bottle of gin and the price was listed on the mini bar menu, however there was no pricing information anywhere for the food.  We assumed it was complimentary and then at check out found the charge for the “welcome snack platter.”  A bit cheeky of the hotel since we had never ordered it, simply answered their questions about what snacks we like.

Other than that, we enjoyed everything else about our stay and would definitely recommend the hotel for a very unique luxury experience!

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The juniper tree the restaurant is named after. 

After we checked out of the hotel we made our way to the nearby Diana’s view point, which is famous for Princess Diana’s visit to the spot in 1986 and now currently inside the grounds of the newly built Anantara Hotel.  The view is of the terraced villages that produce the roses and fruits mentioned at the top of this post and of the canyon and surrounding mountains.  The views are absolutely stunning and we had decided that we would also stay and have lunch at the hotel.

We had been tempted to stay at this hotel instead of the Alila as their introductory prices were better than prices at Alila, but once we visited we knew we had made the right decision.  We preferred the smaller, more intimate feel at the Alila.  The food at lunch was good, but the service was incredibly slow, and very expensive.  The views however, really are amazing and the location is well suited for trekking and hiking on the nearby terraces.

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It was a wonderful start to our trip and in the next post I’ll share the details about our overnight adventure in the desert!

 

 

The 2017 Wanderlist

We’ve got a new name around here and a new look coming soon-changes that I’m very excited about!  We’re just back from an incredible spring break trip to Oman and I’m still sorting through the hundreds of pictures, but posts will be coming soon about our trip.  In the meantime, here’s a list of some of the places on our wanderlist for this year.

–Oman

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Oman is not a place that has been on our bucket list, but after a friend who lived there recommended it and after seeing some amazing photos, we were intrigued.  I love the popular tourist destinations as much as anyone, but there’s just something about traveling “off the beaten path” that is so exciting.  It turned out to be a great decision and a wonderful family destination that I’m so happy we added to our wanderlist.

–Cassis

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photo by Jeanne Menjoulet

Cassis is a small town in the south of France that we added to our list after seeing pictures from friends of the stunning Calanques, cliffs along the sea that you can hike along.  We are going over a long weekend in May and looking forward to discovering this beautiful scenery.

–Montenegro and the Balkans

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photo by amira_a

Montenegro has long been on my list and we thought we would go last year but since flights were expensive, we wound up in Menorca instead.  This year, we’ve allotted more time to the trip and found it much more cost effective to fly into Dubrovnik (only a 2 hour drive to Kotor) and while we are at it explore a bit more of the Balkans.  Montenegro is said to be similar to Croatia before it exploded in tourism popularity.  Since we are renting a car, we will make a loop and also check out Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the interior of the country.

–Lavender Fields of Provence

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photo by Salva Barbera

Seeing the lavender fields of Provence has been at the top of my list since we moved here, but there is such a short window from when the lavender blooms to when it is harvested that we haven’t yet gotten the timing right among other plans.  This is the year we’ve made it a priority and hopefully the lavender will cooperate!

–Cinque Terre

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photo by Raffaele Sergi

Cinque Terre is made up of five small fishing villages in Italy and it has become so extremely popular in the travel world that we’ve been undecided on whether or not to make it here.  I want to see for myself some of the places that I’ve become so familiar with by now in photos, but I don’t want to fight crowds to do it.  I’ve recently read about a place on the Ligurian coast that feels very similar to Cinque Terre but without the crowds, so I’m not sure yet which place we’ll end up at!

–Namibia

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photo by Heribert Bechen

We’re not sure yet what the travel plans will be for the second half of the year as we are still not certain where we will be living.  However, I’ve become completely obsessed with the idea of visiting Namibia after reading some travel articles and then finding this description of an amazing family trip there.  I had convinced Lukasz we should go there this past spring break, but unfortunately with limited accommodation you need to plan well in advance.  So now I’m already plotting for next spring break!  Or maybe 2019.  Either way, it’s definitely well on the list. 😉

So that’s our tentative travel plans for this year along with lots of weekend and day trips to the gorgeous Swiss mountains.  I’d love to hear what’s on your Wanderlist!

Happy Travels!

Pin this for travel inspiration…

wanderlist pic

 

Weekend Escape to the Piedmont

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Spring is a perfect time to make an escape to the Piemonte region of Italy and with forecasts for rain everywhere in Switzerland last weekend, when we saw sunshine and 70’s in Italy we decided it was a great plan for a weekend getaway!  We booked a last minute stay at the lovely Antica Locanda San Pietro and it was the perfect choice for a low key, fun family weekend.

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We arrived just in time for a gorgeous sunset and an apero of local wine plus a fantastic cheese tray with homemade focaccia bread.  After this great start, we knew we were in for a good weekend ahead!  The hotel is only two years old and consists of only six rooms which is a perfect size to really feel at home.  Our room was perfect for a family with a spacious master and a separate room with a pull-out couch for the boys to share.  The hotel has an outdoor pool that opens in May, a spa area, and a lovely garden where the staff were kind enough to let the boys and dog run around like it was their own.

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When we first arrived we walked around the very tiny village which had the most beautiful view of the nearby town of Govone along with blossoming hazelnut trees.

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I love this picture because it perfectly captures our joy in discovering and exploring new places!

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The hotel has its own restaurant so to make things easy when I booked the hotel (that afternoon!), I requested to have dinner there.  We had a slight miscommunication upon arrival and wound up with much more food than we had anticipated along with veal and rabbit although I had said I don’t eat meat and had thought that I ordered only pasta!  So in case you go, just know that it is a set daily menu that consists of five courses so if you have any dietary restrictions (or don’t want quite so much food), just be sure to tell them in advance.  The food that I did eat was very good though and they even did special menus for the kids.

The theme of the weekend was clearly lots of food because the next weekend we woke up to this for only us and one other couple!

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So lovely and so filling that we had to go find a town to explore and walk it off!  We were in the Piedmont this past fall and visited Alba so this time we went to Alba’s former fierce rival, Asti.  We enjoyed walking the town, including the small square and the pedestrian-only shopping streets, and seeing the medieval towers-but I must say that if you have time for only one of these towns, I’d recommend Alba.  It’s a bit more intimate and charming and has a nicer Saturday market.

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Of course you can’t go to Italy without getting gelato and we were excited to find our favorite Italian gelato place, Grom, right in the center of town.

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After a fun morning exploring Asti, we headed over to the charming little village of Moncalvo for a quick walk around.

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For the afternoon our lovely host, Monica, booked us a wine tasting at the Ponchione winery in the nearby village of Govone.  Going to a wine tasting in the US recently reminded me of how different wine tastings are in Europe versus there.  Just like most everything else, Europeans take a more laid back, relaxed approach to wine tastings.  Whereas in the US you can just show up at a winery, pay a fee, do a tasting, and be done in 15 minutes, in Europe most of the time you need to make an appointment for the wine tasting.  The reason is so that the winery can prepare for you as it is a much longer, more drawn out affair.  Depending on the size of the winery (with smaller ones spending even more time and giving you a very personal experience), you can expect snacks, a tour, explanation of the wines, chatting with the grower or staff member, and in our experience (especially with tastings in Italy) it’s normally never under an hour!

The tasting at Ponchione was unique because we met the winemaker at his tasting room and then we went up for a very fun tasting in a ciabót, a small hut in the middle of the vineyard where traditionally the growers tools would be stored.  In this case, the ciabót has been renovated as a small tasting room on the top of a hill with 360 degree views of the hilly vineyards and even the Alps in the background.  It was a gorgeous setting and I can only imagine how wonderful it would be on a sunny summer day with grapes hanging heavy on the vines.

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At 25 Euros per person, it was one of the priciest tastings we have done, but the stunning and unique setting made it worth it…in addition to the feast that Maurizio had prepared for us including amazing focaccia bread that his wife had made, spinach fritters made by his mother, and local cheeses.  It was incredibly family friendly as he had even brought cups and waters for the kids and was happy for them to dig in the dirt and play in the vineyards as we got down to the serious business of wine tasting.  We loved the wines and came home with some that we are looking forward to enjoying this spring!

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We had a wonderful day and topped it off with a dip in the hot tub before dinner (thankfully fish this time) and another lovely sunset.

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On Sunday we woke up to a gorgeous day and we did not want to leave, but all good things must come to an end!  After another big breakfast and some relaxing, it was time to head out.

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Since our move to Geneva, Lukasz and I have acquired a taste for snails (shocking I know!) and I had read that the nearby town of Cherasco is Italy’s snail capital.  It also looked like a very historic village so we decided to visit the town and have some lunch.

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The town was very sleepy and picturesque and we had fun wandering the streets, finding views of the mountains on the edges of the town, and buying the traditional chocolates, baci di cherasco.

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We ate at Osteria Lumaca, known for their snails, and it didn’t disappoint.  Lukasz had the lumache prepared different ways and we decided we prefer the whole snails French style, dripping in garlic and butter…but I had the pasta with snail sauce and it was amazing.  Even our little foodie tried it and gave it two thumbs up!

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We had a fantastic last minute getaway to the Piedmont and cannot recommend this area highly enough.  Less popular than Tuscany, but with the same beautiful, hilly scenery, wonderful wines, warm people, and slightly lower prices.  What’s not to love?!

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5 Tips for a Family Adventure in the Arctic

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We’re approaching the three year mark living in Geneva, which means the future and where we will be living starts to be a little uncertain for us.  So with our sense of wanderlust, that means that we have been seriously assessing our bucket list and trying to cross off the things we have left that we want to see the most.  Lukasz was lucky enough to cover Finland for work at one point so he has had some great experiences in the Arctic…but the boys and I haven’t and I had two dreams for an Arctic adventure-1) to see the Northern Lights and 2) to dogsled.  Spoiler alert…unfortunately both of those items are still on my bucket list (!) but we had a wonderful adventure anyway in Northern Norway.

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We flew into Tromsø, Norway mainly because it was the most convenient and cost effective way for us to get to the Arctic.  Tromsø lies 350 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle and is the largest city in Northern Norway.  Because of its position on the sea and the warming effect of the gulf stream, Tromsø has a milder climate than other places at the same latitude.  Tromsø is also known as one of the best places in Northern Norway to view the northern lights.

When we went we had the craziest February weather that the locals we spoke with had ever seen.  A warm front had come through and melted all the snow just before we got there and we arrived to rain and incredibly strong winds.  There is normally at least a meter of snow on the ground in February, so it was very unusual.  We were a little bit panicked as to what we would do all week with no snow since all of our plans centered around snow activities, but in the end we still had a lot of fun.  Here are five tips for making the most of a family trip to the Arctic no matter what the weather!

  1. Rent a car and stay outside of the city.

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To really experience the beauty of Northern Norway (and increase your odds of seeing those magical Northern lights), you need to get out into the gorgeous countryside. We stayed three nights in one of these charming cabins on the Lyngenfjord in the tiny fishing village of Koppangen.  Looking out onto the sea, it truly felt like we were at the ends of the earth and in fact I loved the directions to the cabins which included “drive until you reach the end of the road and then you have arrived.”

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As I mentioned, the weather was not ideal when we arrived late Sunday night and unfortunately when we woke up Monday morning it was even worse.  We spent the day getting groceries for our couple of days at the cabin and just driving around to enjoy the scenery since it was too windy and rainy to be outside.

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Still gorgeous even in terrible weather!

As the sun set around 3 pm, we went back to the cabin to try and make plans for what we could do with the rest our time if the bad weather kept up.  We spent the afternoon playing games we had brought to the cabin, having happy hour with Arctic beers for the grown ups, and some afternoon sauna time.  All in all not a bad day.

We debated some options for the next day including driving two hours south to Northern Finland where we could take a snowmobiling tour and stay overnight the next night but the forecast looked about the same for there and we would be trading our charming cabin for more of a hostel type accommodation so we decided to just stick with where we were.  We also had a better forecast for the Northern Lights were we were so we kept our fingers crossed and hoped the lights would come out for us.

2. Play in the snow and enjoy nature…and watch for those famous Northern Lights!

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Thankfully on Tuesday we woke up to much better weather and those crazy winds had finally died down.  This was the day we were supposed to go dogsledding (the owner of the cabins, Alf, had arranged it with a place that only takes small groups out and is much cheaper than the tours in Tromsø), but unfortunately there was not enough snow left to do it.  The good news was that Alf was able to take his snowmobile and pack down some of the snow behind his house to make a sledding track for us, so we were able to take the kids out for some sledding and fun in the snow that remained.  In some places it was still quite a lot of snow, but the quality of it just wasn’t good from all the rain and warm temps.  You would take a step and simply sink down in it.  At any rate, we spent a fun couple of hours sledding and walking on the trail along the water’s edge.

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When there is much more snow, you can use these super fun looking kick sleds where the kids can sit in front and you walk/run behind it and jump on the rails for a ride when you pick up speed.  The property also had snow shoes, which would be a great way to get out and explore the surrounding mountains.  When researching our trip, I had read to make sure and plan plenty of activities so you’re not just sitting around waiting for the Northern Lights to show up.  Alas, we tried to cover our bases-but you can’t control the weather!!!  We were happy just to be able to get outside so that was a big improvement!

As for the Northern Lights, you need two things to be able to see them…1) the electromagnetic activity that causes the lights and 2) clear skies to see them.  Unfortunately for us, that evening there was plenty of activity but the clouds just wouldn’t part to give us a clear view.  The cabins have a hot tub that was so fun to sit out in and watch for the lights and when the activity finally started we could see the sky lighting up behind the clouds, but no clear views of them.  The nice thing about renting a car for a trip like this with kids is that if there are forecasts for clear skies and high activity somewhere, you can get tips on where to drive and wait for them and the kids can just relax or sleep in the car until the lights come out.  We didn’t wind up having clear skies a single night out of our trip, which is just all the more reason I need to plan a trip back to this beautiful part of the world!  Next time we will stay for longer as I think that’s the best way to really increase your odds of seeing the lights.

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Would have had front row seats to the show if those clouds just would have parted!  

3.  Take a boat ride

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Since this was our second trip to Norway, we knew that one of the best ways to experience the fjords is to get out on a boat!  We had read that the views of the the Lyngen Alps are stunning from the other side of the fjord so on Tuesday after playing in the snow, we headed out on a car ferry with no aim other than to see the views and drive around a bit on the other side of the fjord.  The kids of course loved the car ferry…we packed lunches and ate them on board and we enjoyed the views from the top deck too, which was one benefit of having such warm temperatures!

The scenery here was absolutely breathtaking and I was in photog heaven!!  It was fun to just drive around and find beauty around every corner.  I can only imagine how beautiful it would be covered in deep snow!

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On Wednesday we enjoyed a leisurely drive back to Tromsø, taking the slightly longer route so that we could see the scenery that had looked so gorgeous on our late night drive in when we arrived.  It definitely didn’t disappoint!

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4. Experience the “City”

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Tromsø is certainly more of a town than a city with a population of around 75,000 but it also has the world’s northernmost university that makes it feel like a young and fun little town.

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We stayed at the Radisson Blu, which was a good base for exploring the town.  A highlight for the boys was Polaria, the most northern aquarium in the world.  While it is quite small, there is enough to keep small children entertained for a good hour or two including a couple of movies about the Arctic and the Northern Lights, Arctic sea life, seals that have a feeding show daily, and a small play area with slides and soft toys.

After an outing for the kids, we decided we needed an outing for us as well so we ventured to Mack, the world’s northernmost brewery, for a pint.

Also worth visiting is the interesting Arctic cathedral on the other side of the bridge into Tromsø.  And we really enjoyed a dinner at Da Pinocchio-service was great, pizzas were delicious, and they had a small play corner for the kids.

5.  Go Meet a Reindeer

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One of the first things I booked for this trip was a tour with Tromsø Arctic Reindeer Experience mostly based on their excellent reviews on Tripadvisor.  The indigenous Sami people own the reindeer that roam in Northern Norway and this is an experience where you get to meet the reindeer in their winter pasture and learn a bit about the local Sami tribe.  This type of thing can sometimes be a bit hokey, so I wasn’t quite sure how it would go, but I have to say it was absolutely the highlight of our trip.

You are transported by bus from the Radisson Blu to the Sami camp about 25 minutes outside of the city.  Once you’re there you meet a few of the members of the Sami tribe who explain all about feeding the reindeer.  Then you have about an hour to feed the reindeer and you can also choose the option of going for a ride in a sled pulled by reindeer.  We had chosen to do the sledding but unfortunately no snow still!  Even without the sledding experience, it was still a wonderful day.

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After feeding the reindeer, the kids got to try their hand at lassoing-which they thought was so awesome!  Then there was a delicious lunch around a fire consisting of reindeer stew or a vegetarian stew that was fantastic, plus cake, coffee, and hot chocolate.  After lunch a member of the tribe spoke about local Sami culture and passed around some of their gorgeous handicrafts.  He also led us in a joik, which is a sort of folk song the Sami express to honor someone or something in their lives.  It was beautiful and quite moving.  Everyone we met at this experience was so incredibly kind and welcoming and most especially, they were so wonderful with our children.  I cannot say enough about how special the experience was and I would absolutely recommend it!

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Sadly, we learned on the bus back into town about the perilous position this particular Sami tribe is in.  The Sami people do not own the land they work, they are simply granted the rights to use the land by the government.  However, the government has plans to turn this land that this particular tribe uses into an industrialized harbor.  The Tromsø Arctic Reindeer Experience started as a means to use tourism to show the government that the land has value as it is and hopefully to change the government’s mind and allow the land to remain untouched.  So even more reason to go visit and to support this wonderful place!

So that’s our trip and our top recommendations to have an amazing trip to the Arctic-no matter what the weather!  I’ve got big ideas to hopefully return one day and do a road trip through Northern Norway and into Northern Finland and maybe we will get lucky and see those mystical lights next time. 🙂

A Week in the French Alps (and my skiing saga)

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The week between Christmas and New Year’s, we headed for the mountains to the family friendly resort of Le Grand Bornand.  Unfortunately this was the third winter in a row that there has been no snow at the end of December in the Alps, but luckily the resort had snow cannons so the boys could still do the ski school we had signed them up for.

We stayed in the basement apartment of a chalet that we had found on AirBnB and the accommodations were cozy and charming.  The family who owned the chalet was so sweet and they even left a bottle of local wine and a wheel of local Reblechon cheese for us.  The village in the Haute Sauvoie region is one of the largest producers of this cheese and you can see the little farm shops selling their cheese throughout the village and its surroundings.

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We never really went on vacations when I was growing up, let alone winter vacations so it’s a new experience for me.  Living in Geneva, this type of holiday is now pretty much mandatory and as a family we have really enjoyed the winer fun!  The boys love staying busy with winter activities-this time it was ski school (first time for the little one and the big one was so pleased with himself and his great progress)-and in the afternoon we had some relaxing time playing games at the chalet, sledding, or going for an easy hike.  It was great and quite relaxing!

Before we left we had debated canceling due to the lack of snow but I’m so glad we still went.  There was enough manufactured snow to keep us busy and we had gorgeous sunshine every single day.  After a gloomy couple of months in Geneva, it was wonderful to soak up some Vitamin D!

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And here goes my skiing saga…

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This is my third season skiing since we moved here and I feel like I am not really much better than when I started, nor do I enjoy it any more.  Learning to ski as an adult is hard!!!  I can’t seem to get out of my head and get over the fear factor and the whole time I’m skiing I feel anxious.  I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to feel like that, but I don’t know how to get over it.  Meanwhile my kids make it look so easy and have no fear…my older son (who is 5!) has already far surpassed me and my abilities.  I feel torn between wanting to stick with it and conquer my fears and just giving up and sticking with the winter activities I do enjoy like snowshoeing and winter hiking.

I do know that every year when the ski season is over I feel so happy to have my weekends back again!  I thought it would just be something we did while we lived in Geneva, but now that the boys have learned how to ski (and I see how important it is to get confident while you’re young!), I feel like ski holidays might become a part of our lives.  Definitely not yearly but enough to keep up their skills.  Will have to decide if I will continue or just be content to enjoy the mountains and the aprés ski.  Anyone have any advice?!

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Whether skiing or not, I do love the mountains and feel so lucky to live only an hour away from such gorgeous mountain scenery!

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