Heaven in Hawaii: Napili Kai Beach Resort, Maui

A double rainbow arcs over Napili Bay on the west coast of Maui. We witnessed this beauty from our ocean-view lanai. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Let me start by saying this: I cried when my husband and I checked out of Napili Kai Beach Resort on Maui’s west coast.

I’ve stayed in many wonderful hotels on gorgeous beaches, but this low-key, low-rise, plantation-style resort on secluded-by-Maui-standards Napili Bay was so perfect for us that when I turned in our room keys, I felt like flinging myself over the reception desk and begging the staff to let me stay.

The Napili Kai building blend unobtrusively into the island landscape. Buildings higher than three stories are banned from Napili Bay, so development has never become an eyesore. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Napili Kai had everything we as a couple love: a quiet, sandy beach with good snorkeling; luxurious but unpretentious accommodations; cultural and environmental appreciation; a good restaurant with fresh, local ingredients; friendly people (both staff and other guests); and all-included resort amenities like beach chairs, towels, parking, and many activities (the hotel’s motto is “we don’t nickel-and-dime you.”

Blissing Out on Ocean Time

Ken and I stayed in casual luxury in a beachfront studio unit: king-sized bed; fully equipped kitchen; huge, two-chambered bathroom with walk-in shower; and a lanai—oh, the lanai with its unparalleled ocean view facing west for excellent sunsets. Two of the three nights we spent at Napili Kai, we got Thai takeout and enjoyed Panang curry and cold Aloha Beer (brewed in Honolulu) in the loungers on our lanai while watching the sun sink below the horizon.

At night, we turned off the air conditioning, opened the lanai doors, and slept to the sound of waves lapping against the black lava rock outside.

At sunset, a man lights the torches along the beach at Napili Kai. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Because our internal clocks were three hours ahead of Pacific Time, it was easy to take advantage of early morning at the beach. Each day, Ken and I watched green turtles surfing near the shallow rocks close to shore. Their heads bobbed on the surface; fins flapped above the whitecaps. Occasionally one rolled in the surf. I assume it was for fun and not hunting, because green turtles are herbivores. As they munched on algae and seagrass, they seemed to savor the act of cavorting in the waves.

We got to view the turtles from an underwater vantage when we snorkeled along the two reefs in the fairly calm waters of Napili Bay. The first thing we saw was a trio of Moorish idols, the most impressive and elegant of tropical fish. We also spotted puffer fish, a dragon eel, butterflyfish of several varieties, red sea urchins, and purple or yellow coral. But the most unique experience was snorkeling with a pair of turtles. They glide through the water so gracefully that they seem more like angels than reptiles.

Riding the Wave of Hawaiian Culture

Local children learn Polynesian dances and perform weekly at the Napili Kai. ©Laurel Kallenbach

What sets Napili Kai apart from many other beach resorts is that it highlights traditional Hawaiian culture. Most mornings, the hotel serves coffee, tea, and fresh pineapple in the Beach Cabana and presents cultural demonstrations such as lei making, wood carving, tapa cloth making, and palm weaving.

Napili Kai also helps perpetuate Hawaiian culture through its support of the nonprofit Napili Kai Foundation, which shares Hawaii’s cultural legacy with Maui’s children. Every Tuesday, Napili Kai guests can attend a free, onsite hula show in which young kids and teens perform authentic songs and dances of Polynesia with live adult musicians. Though the performances aren’t as polished as a professional hula show (I must say that the teen performers are extremely good), the costumes are colorful and the representation of Tahitian, Samoan, Maori, and Hawaiian cultures is satisfying.

George Kahumoku plays 12-string slack-key guitar and sings weekly. ©Laurel Kallenbach

There’s more: Napili Kai presents the Masters of Hawaiian Slack-Key Guitar concert series every Wednesday. Hosted by Grammy winner George Kahumoku, Jr. (who was featured on the soundtrack of the movie, The Descendants), this was an opportunity for Ken and me to hear live, island vocal and guitar music. (“Slack-key” is a style that originated in Hawaii, in which the player loosens the tuning of the guitar strings.)

We loved the sound. Hawaiian guitar music has a gentleness and warmth that can only come from hearing the waves and feeling tropical sea breezes on your shoulders. Now, when the temperatures are below zero, just hearing Hawaiian music takes me back to Napili Kai, my ideal place for relaxing Maui style.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

A crescent-shaped slice of Maui heaven: the laid-back beach and cabana of the Napili Kai. The water and snorkeling were wonderful right from the beach. ©Laurel Kallenbach

 

15 Ways to Get Romantic at a Colorado Eco-Ranch

Nothing's more romantic than a private cabin in the woods at Devil's Thumb Ranch in the Colorado Rockies.

Just 65 miles west of Denver, Devil’s Thumb Ranch sits on 5,000 acres near the Continental Divide in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The eco-resort offers sustainable, luxury accommodations in its 52-room luxury lodge, 16 ridge-top log cabins and at the budget-friendly Bunk House.

With old-West flair, Devil’s Thumb Ranch employs both cutting-edge technology and old-fashioned conservation to exist lightly on the land. The ranch’s buildings, pool and hot tubs are heated with renewable geothermal energy. Waste water is purified through sand filtration. Some buildings are “recycled” historic structures that have been remodeled for modern use. For instance, the special events center is a reclaimed, 1850s-era barn.

Cozy rooms and cabins feature all-natural interiors.

Wood and stone interiors bring nature indoors at Devil’s Thumb Ranch. Pine from beetle-killed trees becomes gorgeous wall paneling and ceiling beams. The floors are recycled spruce.

The décor has a cowboy theme: The lodge, spa, guest rooms, restaurants and cabins feature antique furnishings (including old saddles and cowboy boots). Artwork and metal work are commissioned from local artisans.

Then there are details such as eco-friendly cleaning products, sustainable restaurants, recycling and water-conservation programs, low energy-use lighting, and recycled asphalt for paving.

High-Altitude Romance

When you’re visiting this outdoorsy resort, green programs may be the last things on your mind. Focus instead on saying “I love you” (during winter) in these ways:

  1. Lounge in your luxurious, mountain-style room or woodsy log cabin. Many have private fireplaces, decks and breath-taking views of the Continental Divide.
  2. Snuggle under all-natural down comforters on your ergonomically correct mattress.
  3. Explore more than 65 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on groomed and tracked trails at the Devil’s Thumb Ranch Nordic Center.

    Unwind in the Ranch Creek Spa.

  4. Steal some time together in the 10,000-square-foot Ranch Creek Spa with the Bonnie and Clyde couple’s massage. (Spa products are all natural and nourishing to the skin at high altitudes.)
  5. Take a horse-drawn sleigh ride across the 5,000-acre property to dinner.
  6. Enjoy a gourmet dinner at the Ranch House Restaurant and Saloon, in an original log cabin. The food is organic and local; 85 percent of the restaurant’s meat and game comes from Colorado producers.
  7. Book an intimate private dinner in John L’s Wine Cellar (its entryway is a giant wine barrel constructed of recycled cherry wood). Pop a cork and pop the question!
  8. Stargaze from the outdoor hot tub.

    There are miles of cross-country ski tracks to explore at Devil's Thumb Ranch.

  9. Limber up together with yoga class. The studio has incredible mountain views.
  10. Challenge each other to a game of checkers in the Game Room.
  11. Snowshoe under the full moon along any of the groomed paths. Not there during full moon? About 2.5 miles of pathways are lit, including those between cabins and the dining areas and activity centers.
  12. Cuddle in front of the fireplace (built of stone from mountain rock slides) in your room or private cabin. The chimneys are EPA-certified to emit 60 percent less smoke pollution.
  13. Watch a film in the 37-seat movie theater in the Main Lodge.
  14. Race each other down the sledding hill or twirl on the outdoor ice-skating rink.
  15. Get married. Devil’s Thumb is an incredible winter or summer wedding venue. Your wedding party can enjoy a romantic getaway, complete with horseback riding or sleighing, skiing or hiking, and rejuvenating spa treatments.

    Wedding bells ring at Devil's Thumb Ranch—winter or summer.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Photos courtesy Devil’s Thumb Ranch

Wisconsin Fish Boil: Local Food with Local Flair

Door County's eco-friendly White Gull Inn serves a local fish boil on Fridays in winter.

Door County's eco-friendly White Gull Inn serves a local fish boil on Fridays in winter.

A local culinary tradition that stems from Door County’s Scandinavian settlers, a fish boil is a concoction of history and culture on a plate. Caught by local fishermen, the Lake Michigan whitefish is cooked outside over an open fire—and half the fun is watching it happen.

My friends and I attended the Friday night fish boil at the White Gull Inn in the town of Fish Creek. When we arrived, the whole red potatoes had already been boiling for a couple of hours over the fire right outside. However, soon they announced that it was time for the fish to go onto the fire, so I bundled up and braved the cold outside to watch. (Even though the flames are warm, the mercury on the thermometer hovered at 11 degrees the night of my fish boil dinner.)

Tom Christianson, the Masterboiler for White Gull Inn for 13 years, lowered a pot filled with chunks of whole fish into the boiling, salted water. Over the 10 minutes that the fish cooks, the fish oil rises to the top of the water. That’s the Masterboiler’s cue to splash kerosene on the fire, which causes the flames to soar (very dramatic on a dark, wintry night!). The super-hot flames make the pot of fish boil over so that the fish oil spills out, and the result is a less fishy taste for the remaining fish.

Curious note: Masterboiler Tom looks like Santa wearing civvies. Could he be moonlighting in Door County? He claims to live in Green Bay, Wisconsin—but can we be sure it’s not the North Pole?

Tom Christiansen throws kerosene on the fire to boil off the fish oils in the pots.

Tom Christianson throws kerosene on the fire to boil off the fish oils in the pots.

Chow Time

After Tom and helpers took dinner off the fire, it was time to go through the buffet line and fill my plate with fish, red potatoes, wintry cole slaw (super fresh, with tangy onion and crunchy cabbage) and lemon. Teapots with melted butter awaited at the table.

When I sat down, I looked in wonder at my fish dinner—the perfect locavore meal. (I was also drinking an Island Wheat beer, which is light in flavor and in its environmental footprint, as it’s made from wheat grown on Door County’s Washington Island.)

The White Gull Inn staff serves up the just-cooked potatoes and fish.

The White Gull Inn staff serves the just-cooked potatoes and fish.

Then I had to come to grips with one of my childhood phobias: fish bones. Nervously I eyed my plate, but just before I panicked, a very nice lady came to our group’s table and offered to de-bone the fish! I breathed a sigh of relief as she deftly peeled out the big bones. (In truth, a few tiny ones remained, so I did have to pick my way around those—but at least I was able to enjoy the flaky, sweet meat.)

To top off the meal: gooey and sweet/tart Door County cherry pie. Mmmm…

Eco-Kudos for White Gull Inn

Though I didn’t stay there, the White Gull Inn looks to be a quaint and comfy B&B, and it’s also earned high scores from Travel Green Wisconsin. Some of its environmentally conscious measures include:

  • Serves local and organic food products
  • Use of energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs
  • Recycling program
  • Dining room provides water on request only

Voice your opinion: What’s been your favorite local food tradition?

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance travel writer

Door County’s Most Romantic B&B: Eagle Harbor Inn

Ready for sledding? Welcome to old-fashioned country Eagle Harbor Inn.

Welcome to old-fashioned country Eagle Harbor Inn.

Eagle Harbor Inn, located in the quaint Door County, Wisconsin, town of Ephraim, is the cutest, most romantic place I’ve ever stayed—and in December it’s decorated in full Christmas regalia to boot.

As the temperatures outdoors hovered at 8 degrees, I’m cozied up under a forest-green throw in front of a roaring fire that the innkeeper built just for me in the Fireplace Room. (Too bad my husband was unable to come on this trip; it would have been the icing on the cake if he were by my side, sharing a glass of wine.)

As I sip tea and nibble on some homemade peanut brittle, the embers are crackling and Christmas music plays softly in the background. Evergreen-and-ribbon garlands wind through the stair banusters; candy canes peep out of confectionary boxes.

I enjoyed writing this blog entry by the fire.

I enjoyed writing by the crackling fire.

In the adjacent sitting room, the floor-to-ceiling Christmas tree is decorated in a nostalgic, traditional way that makes me feel right at home. It’s not a bushy tree—there’s lots of space between boughs—and the decorations are simple: popcorn strands, a few colored ornaments, old-fashioned colored lights, antique cookie-cutter ornaments. No fancy color schemes. Just a simple tree. It’s all so beautiful that I want to cry.

On one table is a three-quarters-finished jigsaw puzzle of an Amish snow scene—begging me to sit and find the next piece to fit into the picture. On the coffee table in front of the Christmas tree is a Scrabble board that invites a couple to settle in and match their vocabulary skills.

Antique cookie cutters decorate the Eagle Harbor's Christmas tree.

Cookie-cutter tree ornaments

Eagle Harbor Hospitality

As if all this country inn atmosphere weren’t enough, I’m staying in the lovely Serena room, which features a fireplace—gas, not real wood like the one I’m enjoying at the moment—a lovely four-poster bed and a two-person Jacuzzi tub.

The Serena room is named after one of the former owners: Serena Christiansen, who grew up in Norway and arrived in Ephraim in 1884. She and her husband, Ole, turned their home into an inn they named Hillside Hotel, which eventually accommodated 40 people.

All ready for Santa

All ready for Santa

The biography on my bed stand says Serena “had the laundry done by 6 a.m., breakfast prepared by 8 a.m.—and she baked pies, muffins, rolls, cakes and 14 loaves of bread a day in addition to meal preparation, milking the cows, and tending to the guests.” Serena’s tireless hospitality lives on today at the Eagle Harbor Inn.

Cheery, Cherry Breakfast

Nothing kicks off a sunny winter morning like a good breakfast, and the Eagle Harbor’s are top-notch. Every day they serve homemade granola with dried cherries (cherries are famous in Door County). Yesterday I enjoyed cherry-stuffed French toast, which was truly decadent. It was accompanied by cherry juice, naturally!

Cherry-stuffed French toast with Wisconsin smokehouse bacon and maple pecan butter was heavenly.

Cherry-stuffed French toast with Wisconsin smokehouse bacon and maple pecan butter

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

P.S. I’m so carried away by the romance of the Eagle Harbor Inn that I nearly overlooked the fact that it’s certified green by Travel Green Wisconsin, a voluntary program that certifies and recognizes tourism businesses that are committed to reducing their environmental impact. Travel Green Wisconsin awards points for various social and environmental measures followed; you can see the ratings of all participating Wisconsin businesses on the website.

P.P.S. Share with other readers your most romantic destination by leaving a comment below.

The Eagle harbor inn has romantic rooms, a pool, sauna, and conference center.

The Eagle harbor inn has romantic rooms and suites, a pool, sauna, and fitness room.