Everyone has a different idea of what creates a memorable vacation. Some prefer to relax while soaking in some sun and sand, while others prefer the active life. Many find a fulfilling trip to be immersing oneself in foreign cultures, and still others find solace in the company of good friends at a familiar locale. No matter what defines your dream trip, it’s fair to say we could all use a vacation right about now. We spoke with some well-traveled locals about their favorite vacations and destinations; we hope it speaks to you as well and inspires you to go on that trip you’ve been dying to take!
Dr. Harold “Tony” Fusilier and wife Ann recently spent the Fourth of July week in sunny San Francisco, staying at the Ritz-Carlton Club along with family friends and their children. Ann says she chose the renowned hotel for its close proximity to Union Square, travel-friendly cable cars and wonderful opportunities for shopping and dining.

Many locals say they’re always on the hunt for a Galatoire’s-equivalent in their chosen vacation spot, and Ann seems to have found it’s kindred soul in San Francisco: Tadich Grill. She says the fresh seafood is what keeps the crowds happy and the reservation book full. For an evening of elegant dining the couple and their friends chose Aqua, where Executive Chef Laurent Manique charms guests with his good looks and complex, imaginative dishes based around high-end seafood like John Dory and Beau Soleil oysters. The final dining excursion of the weeklong jaunt was dinner in the Wine Cellar at Boulevard in the Embarcadero. The lively group kept things casual on July 4th, however, hanging out on Fisherman’s Wharf to watch the fireworks.

The adults on the trip enjoyed many museums, while the kids preferred a trip to Alcatraz with their dads. Ann says one of the highlights of the trip way a one-day excursion to Napa Valley, where they enjoyed a private wine tasting at the Swanson Vineyard Salon.

While the Fusiliers said a ‘great time was had by all in San Francisco, their hearts belong to Aspen.

“We love the winter season,” says Ann. “The summers are very special too with golf, fly-fishing, hiking and a music festival.”

Bayona co-owner Regina Keever says her love of travel and adventure is a deeply rooted one. “When I was 17, my parents took me on a three-month tour of Europe,” she says. “I hated it at the time; I wanted to be home with my friends! But I saw so many wonderful things and am so grateful for that trip.”

It was on that trip during her formative years that Keever explored one of her favorite countries, Egypt. She knew even at the time she wanted to return one day.

“I wanted to come back and see more that just the pyramids,” she jokes.

Last year she fulfilled this dream when she and her husband Ron took an extended Nile River cruise, exploring as many of the pharaohs’ tombs as possible.

“All of them are situated along the Nile, because back when they were built it was the only way they could be accessed,” she explains. “It’s 2,000 years of history and rulers just along the Nile. I highly recommend it.”

Keever says the most impressive tomb is Abu Sibel, more commonly known as the Temple of Ramses II. The two temples, situated near the Sudan border of Egypt, are one of the most recognizable images for tourists and Egyptians alike.

“They are one of man’s greatest achievements,” says Keever.

During their stay, the Keevers relaxed at the elegant Mena House in Cairo, part of the five-star hotel and resort Oberoi group based in India. Situated at the foothills of the pyramids, this former palace contains four restaurants, a sleek bar and the first swimming pool ever built in Egypt. They also
have a golf course within the 40-acre grounds.

As much as she loved this trip, Keever says her favorite destination of all time is Ravello, Italy, on the Amalfi coast in Salerno.

“It’s breathtaking,” she says. “Ravello is small but absolutely exquisite.”

The Palazzo Sasso is her favorite resort in town, and she’s stayed there twice. The 12th-century villa is situated 1,000 feet above the Mediterranean Sea in a cliff. The hotel’s restaurant is Michelen Star-rated, the highest honor any restaurant can receive.

Also along the Amalfi coast is the Villa Simbrone, a beautiful monastery-turned-resort that can only be reached by foot. Keever says her other favorite hideaway while vacationing in Italy is the Il San Pietro.

Between owning an award-winning restaurant and being its executive chef, Lilette busy man John Harris tends to keep his vacations low-key. Harris, recently nominated for a hefty James Beard Award, likes planning vacations that keep both he and his son Jack happy. He says one of his favorite getaways is a family friend’s lake house in Vermont.

“It’s so nice,” he says. “You don’t have to go anywhere or do anything. We can just hang out, cook and relax.”

Recently Harris and his son took a Mardi Gras vacation to New York City, where they saw funnyman Will Farrell’s Broadway hit, You’re Welcome America: A final Night with George W. Bush. And, of course, dined at some culinary gems.

“Jack is great, he’ll really try anything,” says Harris of his son’s adventurous taste buds. They were put to the test at East Village hotspot Kanoyama, which Harris says is his favorite place in New York, and possibly anywhere. They tried the chef’s amoasake menu, a Japanese tasting menu offered in
upscale restaurants.

Other culinary highlights from Harris’ trip were the contemporary 11 Madison Park, run by Danny Meyers, and Mario Batali’s Babbo.
“Their sommelier Luca is a New Orleans native,” says Harris.

Stay-cation discoveries

If a far-flung adventure isn’t in the cards due to time or budget constraints, there are great choices for a vacation closer to home. Spend a weekend away from it all in beautiful and quaint White Castle at the historic Nottoway Plantation, the largest remaining antebellum mansion is the U.S.

Completed in 1859 by a Virginia farmer who made his money in sugarcane, the Inn boasts 64 pristine rooms, lush and expansive grounds, three separate dining options and all the amenities one could want from an award-winning bed and breakfast with Old South charm. Choose from rooms in the main house, the mansion’s wings, the overseer’s cottage or, for a special occasion, opt for one of three suites. Don’t forget to take the guided tour, included with every room, and learn about the home’s intriguing and possibly haunted past.

Travel across state lines to scenic Natchez, Miss. to stay at the intimate Monmouth Plantation, registered as a National Historic Landmark. Built in 1818, the home has 30 rooms and suites for guests and is surrounded by 26 acres of well-manicured lawns and gardens. This destination is consistently ranked by national magazines as one of the best inns in the U.S., and Travel and Leisure magazine even included it on their list of the “Top 500 Hotels of the World”. Antebellum touches are everywhere in the well-restored and authentic plantation, with some of the antiques being original to Monmouth. Tranquil blues, regal golds and clean whites decorate each room, as do deep wood tones on the bed frames and tables. There is also a croquet lawn, an ornamental lake, and a secluded suite in the Carriage House, so you can choose your level of inclusion with other guests. Complimentary Southern breakfast is served each morning in the Garden Room, as well as drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the Quitman Study in the evening and a five-course Chef’s Table in the ornately appointed dining room.

Another great getaway location is St. Francisville, a small town in West Feliciana Parish that is culturally rich and steeped in history. The town, which traces its earliest settlers back to around 1785, was originally established as a cotton port and was very wealthy until the time of the Civil War.

Though few architectural structures are intact from that time today, the town’s center is still worth the trip. Main Street is chockablock with mom and pop stores, art and antique galleries, small cafes and beautiful flora and fauna. The town is a mere two hour away from New Orleans, so why not make a day or weekend of it? Be sure to bring your camera!

If you plan on being out of town for a bit, don’t trust your beloved pet to just anyone. While friends may be convenient, the kind folks at Canine Culture have spa-like amenities for doggies when you leave for your vacation. The store, opening a second Tchoupitoulas location this summer, offers daycare, boarding or even just bathing, along with cage-free boarding, three playrooms, kitty condos and live-feed webcams, so you can watch your pet frolic.

Brush up on your French with native speakers at the Alliance Francaise. Sessions run about two hours each, and there is one nearly every day, making it easy to work around your work or home schedule. They even offer Saturday classes, and all are available at three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Advanced-level teachers can help with everything from simple phonetics to complex conversational French, and even help when all you need is basic vocabulary to help you navigate your way to a tasty baguette or quiche.

Whether you opt for a getaway nearby or far, far away, don’t forget vacations are all about relaxing and enjoying some quality time with those you hold near and dear. Don’t stress about it; you’ll have plenty of time for that once you return.