The Candlelight Inn in the Napa Valley, California

December 23rd, 2011

By Michelle Morañha Winner & Maralyn D. Hill

First-time visitors usually squeal with joy when they find the Candlelight Inn. Tucked in at the end of a non-descript street in suburban Napa town, the California Tudor’s elegant rooflines and manicured gardens invite guests to sit and stay awhile in its comfy parlor. Although on the edge of Napa, its legendary wineries and vibrant downtown beckon nearby.

Napa Valley's Candlelight Inn

Candlelight Inn is one of those secret finds you’ll want to key into your phone or little black book. Imagine the sublime synergy created at this B & B, with a trained butler who is also   the concierge, Scott, and a dragster-racing hot-rod owner, Sam, who likes to cook. The lengthy hospitality industry background of the owner and staff shows throughout. Thoughtful touches like the plate of sweets, savories, and wine left in the fridge for you, and the fresh flowers in your room, are personable ways to show hospitality without being too in-your-face, a quality common to many B&B operators. You’ll soon feel like you are staying with friends, in this comfortable and well-decorated non-stuffy atmosphere. Ask for the “secret” cottage, a very private stand-alone suite situated along the Napa Creek at the property’s edge, or any of the large well-appointed rooms with fireplaces and jetted tubs that open up to your private deck and the azure pool beyond.

It’s a great season to visit Napa. The town is dressed in its best party dress to celebrate Cabernet season, with tiny lights sparkling everywhere. There are celebratory festivities and wine aboard Napa Valley Wine Train.  Scott and Sam have put up a Christmas tree in the inn’s big mullioned window and lined up huge baskets of poinsettias spilling out the front door.

Bill Boerum at Beau Wine Tours has polished up the limo and iced down the bubbly, ready to take you on exceptional wine tasting to some private cellars. Later, you can make your way to some favorite Napa restaurants: Oenotri, Carpe Diem Wine Bar, Graces Table, Cuvee, La Toque, and Eiko’s, for some terrific food and, of course, a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Make plans to visit soon.

In the meantime, head over to CityRoomGourmet to learn how to celebrate Cabernet season in Napa with Candlelight Inn’s famous cheese puffs!

Best New Airline to Paris … OpenSkies, “Oui”!

December 21st, 2011

Fly the Open Skies!

By Michelle Morañha Winner and Maralyn D. Hill

The thought of going to Paris in shoulder season kept playing a tape through our minds. Would it be chilly along the Champs Elysees?  Would long lines into the museums truly be gone? Would the magic of Paris still be there?

Our group of 2 couples, comprised of 4 journalists, soon found that Paris wears many faces and would be fantastic anytime of the year.  But first we had to get there. The positive responses to our queries began with the all-business class airline “OpenSkies,” a subsidiary of British Airways. Never heard of them?  You are not alone, but Parisians and U.S. East Coast-based business folks have been using this direct to Paris airline since its debut in 2008. Decide on one of the daily flights from Newark, New Jersey, to the less frantic than Paris’ Charles de Gaulle, Orly Sud, and a jaunt to Paris is easy. In the complementary OpenSkies pre-flight lounge in Newark, you’ll see in-the-know wine brokers, Asian and American businessmen, and many Parisians of all ages hunkered over laptops or enjoying a glass of champagne, croissant sandwich, or a steaming cup of cappuccino. Flights are discounted for certain routes during shoulder season, which makes a good value now an outright bargain. Check the website frequently.

In flight food service

In the air, flying roomy albeit older Boeing 757s, two classes of service provide different experiences. The fully reclining Biz Bed (to 180 degrees) with duvet cover is available for a higher fare that includes, individually plated meals, nicer amenity kit, and noise cancelling headphones.  But our seats in Biz Seat section were large and comfortably reclined to 140 degrees with only two seats on each side of the aisle. We had all of the complementary wine, meals, and amenities, including iPads with movies and games that  rival  most U.S. airline domestic business class, but without the hefty ocean-crossing  price tag of  international business class.

Our cabin attendants to Orly were two great looking aloof young men, but on the way home, we were welcomed and looked after by two lovely women wearing sharp suits and big smiles. This was an ideal way to go to Paris for value conscious travelers, interested in a comfortable overnight flight.

While transferring to baggage claim, we asked a few of the other passengers about their experience. They were happy with the price, comfort, and service. That was the best testimony of all.


Where the Wild Ones Are – Bearizona (Williams, Arizona)

December 16th, 2011

Bear at Bearizona wildlife park

By Karin Leperi

In the historic town of Williams, Arizona – less than 60 miles from the South Rim entrance to the Grand Canyon – is the only park of its kind in the Southwest.  Billed as a drive-thru wildlife park and conservation adventure, Bearizona is an outdoor thrill that appeals to all ages – from toddlers to seniors and everyone in between.

A wild wolf - yes, wild!

Bears, Bison and Wild Animals – Oh My!

I decide to stop at Bearizona on my way to the Grand Canyon to see what the buzz is all about.  A gated haven for various North American animals in their natural habitat, I am anxious to see the bear, bison, wolves and mountain goats – especially the albino bison.

The 160-acre wildlife park opened May 22, 2010, and is the vision of Sean and Dennis Casey, two brothers from South Dakota. This is the same family that developed Bear Country USA back in 1972.

For $16 per adult and $8 per child over three years old, you drive through a three-mile security-gated enclosure and experience a close-encounter with icons of the North American plains and wilds. In addition to the bear and bison, Bearizona is home to Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep, Dall Sheep, and American Burro. The free-roaming animals give you the feel of being on safari in the forest.  And where else can you witness herd and pack life from the safety of your car and a managed wildlife park?

During the drive-through portion of the park, you’re not permitted to get out of your car as this is for your own protection.  Neither can you roll down windows to pet or feed the wild creatures.  (Some people seem to forget that these animals are wild.) Obscured fences and metal cattle-guards separate the different habitats so that the bison, bears, and wolves don’t enact the laws of survival in front of your eyes.

Kit Fox

I watch transfixed as first burros, wolves, and sheep, then bison, and finally bear prowl the grounds and wander around the vehicle, posing periodically for my camera. There was really nothing between these creatures of the wild and me – other than a vehicle and rolled-up windows that were washed spotless before coming.

After completing the three-mile drive, I next come to a 20-acre walk-through area, where bear cubs, bobcats, red fox, and lynx are on display in enclosed habitats surrounded by rock walls and trenches. A first-class raptor show is also staged here and it’s best to time your visit around this crowd-pleasing presentation.  After the show, the trainer brings out a hawk, owl, and kestrel for close-up photos and will entertain any questions about raptors.


Accreditation and Green Practices

Bearizona recently received accreditation from the Zoological Association of America in recognition of their excellent park facilities, continuing conservation efforts and educational programs as well as Bearizona’s standards for great care for the animals.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Bearizona also subscribes to best practices for economic, environmental, and social sustainability. For example, Bearizona has been designed to showcase environmentally friendly construction such as their use of recycled materials and vehicles in developing many of the animal habitats.

A recycled RV was used for the security cabin while old busses and cars, about fifty tons of recycled scrap material, have been used to create a giant waterfall and rock sculptures in various habitats.  And a water reclamation system collects 120,000 gallons of rainwater annually while solar photovoltaic cells produce 20,000 kilowatts of solar energy each day.

Somehow, it’s just nice to know that my visit to Bearizona not only permits me an encounter with the wild, but that it is also focused on sustainability and compatibility with the environment.

TIP:  It’s best to go to Bearizona in the early morning or late afternoon, when animals will be more active and feeding times arouse and stimulate the hungry, complacent and elusive wildlife. Plan to spend about 1-3 hours to experience both parts of Bearizona.

Pine Country Restaurant

Top Off the Day with Pie from Pine Country Restaurant

After my wild encounter at Bearizona, I head into Williams for a home-style meal and slice of homemade pie at Pine Country Restaurant.  Amazingly, it is Sunday night about 9:00 pm and the place is humming and hopping. (Note to me: A great sign regarding the food.)

This is a family-owned operation, where owner Dee Seehorn prepares generously-portioned meals and whips up or bakes around 50 types of scrumptious pies – all in-house. My friend and I are on a mission to find the best pie. In the process, we sample five different slices and agree that the cherry-apple-peach combination with a scoop of vanilla ice cream is absolutely tops. Runner-ups include: double butterscotch, cappuccino cream, and Oreos and cream.

Cherry Apple Peach Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream from Pine Country Restaurant

A sugar-free pie is featured each day for those watching calories and sucrose intake. Be sure to ask about this guilt-free option.




1500 E. Rt. 66

Williams, AZ 86046


Pine Country Restaurant

107 N. Grand Canyon Blvd.

Williams, AZ 896046



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