Winter Weddings and Honeymoons Under the Caribbean Sun

Romantic Retreats - Destinations

Despite the shorter days and bone-chilling weather, options for winter weddings and honeymoons don’t need to be limited.  With numerous packages and specials available at some of the most idyllic and romantic resorts in theCaribbean, AMPR has scoped out the best to help check off a few more items on that wedding planning list. Whether that special day is shared with friends and family, or just between the two, couples will be at ease knowing that the perfect spot to start their new lives together is a short distance away.

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Haywood County, North Carolina

Active & Adventurous - Outdoors

Make Mountains of Memories and Recharge in the Valley 

North Carolina mountainsI will never tire of the mountains—any mountains. I have a special fondness for the ones just up the road from me, in part because of their proximity. The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia have provided me innumerable hikes, overnight stays, paddles, memories, and breathtaking views. Only the desire for new sights turns the familiarity into a negative. Fortunately, just a little farther south are mountains every bit as beautiful, with new-to-me peaks and hikes, towns and drives, restaurants and accommodations.

The mountains that run through Haywood County, in western North Carolina, are still part of the Appalachian chain—the Blue Ridge and the Great Smoky Mountains. Thirteen of the county's mountain peaks reach at least 6,000 feet—more than any other county east of the Mississippi River. Its mean elevation—3,600 feet—means cooler temperatures, with 71 degree average in June. It offers outdoor recreation and vistas galore as well as towns for creature comforts. Dining ranges from down-home to fine; lodging from campgrounds and cabins to motels and B&Bs.

My visit to Haywood County demonstrated the area's diversity. I began in comfortable cabins and finished at a motorcycle campground; roasted marshmallows, ate at a pancake house and dined at a B&B; rode horses and a Yamaha FJR; went fly fishing and browsed unique local shops—nd a whole lot more!

The two most active towns where tourists can roam are Waynesville (named in Where to Retire magazine's America's 100 Best Places to Retire, 3rd edition) and Maggie Valley. 



Home Base



North Carolina waterfallMy favorite way of enjoying the mountains is a hike: see the flora, the fauna, and the views; hear the birds and the breeze; feel the fresh air—all while improving fitness and burning calories (to prepare for the fine dining awaiting at the bottom of the mountain).

Haywood County has thousands of miles of hiking trails, from leisurely to strenuous. Along the county's northwestern edge winds the Appalachian Trail. Two national parks, a national forest, and two wilderness areas have a place in the county, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cataloochee Valley.

Our hike took us to Graveyard Fields, not so-named because of any dangers in hiking there but for the history of the area. Several hundred years ago, one story goes, a windstorm blew the trees down, leaving upturned rootballs that looked like gravestones. Another tale claims that logging left only stumps, and the moss that grew over them created the illusion of a graveyard. A fire that ravaged the area later destroyed even the stumps, leaving the “bald” fields that you see today.

Two options at Graveyard Fields, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, are the short hike to the Lower Falls and the longer trip to the Upper Falls. We turned left, towards the Upper Falls, a moderate trail with some elevation change, winding near the stream through open, grassy areas dotted with blueberries and views of the mountains, and ultimately to the bottom of falls, a pleasant place to rest and enjoy the scenery and sound of the water over the rocks. If you're up for the challenge, you can climb up the steep, rocky hillside on either side of the falls for a view from the summit.

Cataloochee RanchIf you want to enjoy the mountain views from atop a horse, you can visit Cataloochee Ranch. The mountaintop lodge adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts wildflowers, rhododendron tunnels, lush forests, and mile-high vistas. Unfortunately, fog and light rain obscured the view entirely the morning we were there. We rode the well-behaved horses on a short loop on the grounds of the ranch, wistful that we could not see the views. Our steeds were indeed well behaved, but not as lethargic as some of the trail horses I've ridden. In fact, the ranchers say they have more spirited horses for experienced riders. 

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Motorcycles in Haywood County, North Carolina

Active & Adventurous - Motorcycle Mania

Made for Motorcycles

North Carolina mountainsIf Benjamin Franklin had been born a couple of centuries later, he would not only have said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” he would have added, “Mountains are proof that God love us and wants us to ride motorcycles.”

Motorcycle riders thrive on the twists and turns and roadside views that mountains provide. Forty-six miles of the 75-year-old Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), a motorcyclist favorite, wind along the southern edge of Haywood County, North Carolina. The highest point on the BRP—6,053 feet—is in Haywood County. In fact, here lies one of the world's most renowned motorcycle and sports car roads, the Tail of the Dragon: 318 curves in just 11 miles.

After I checked out from Boyd Mountain Cabins, I met several old friends for a gathering of Yamaha FJR riders at the Blue Ridge Motorcycle Campground, conveniently located just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

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France Cruises Promotes Family Cruising

Family Memories - Destinations

France Cruises Promotes Family Cruising

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - July 2010 – France Cruises is now offering a variety of family cruises to fit any taste and any budget.

Experiencing a vacation with family can be one of the best ways to learn about each other and make life long memories. France Cruises recommends trying a barge cruise. Because these cruises are chartered, they can be conveniently tailored to any family, making vacationing a breeze. There are many cruises to fit any budget; from a casual cruise starting at $6,795 for a family of four to an ultra deluxe cruise starting at $37,900 for a family of six. Plus, having your own chef means meals will be both enjoyable and flexible. If you have a picky eater, you will find no problem having their few favorites available at mealtimes. And there are always many activities to keep everyone completely satisfied. Here are a few of the many cruises France Cruises offers.

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German Expressionism Exhibit at VMFA

Treats for the Mind - Museums & Exhibitions

Six DancersBold, brilliant, but flat color outlined in black and distorted human forms became the trademark of the German Expressionists. It was a rebellious reaction, a statement against their predecessors, the French Impressionists, who could only think about color through the prism of light. And they were also telling the Cubists to make room. The Expressionists were coming through with an important new art movement, designed to express often violent emotion and personal inner vision.

A major focus on German Expressionism began in the United States about ten years ago when Ronald S. Lauder and Serge Sabarsky founded the Neue Galerie in a historic Fifth Avenue mansion on New York’s Museum Mile. Now, rivaling the breadth of the Neue Galerie collection, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has acquired nearly 250 paintings and sculptures, including works on paper, as well as books and print portfolios. Several of the masterpieces from The Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection of German Expressionism were unveiled on May 1, 2010 when Richmond’s VMFA re-opened its doors, revealing its stunning renovation and expansion. The entire collection will eventually get its own permanent space.

VMFA Director Alex Nyerges commented that the collection is “so rare that it is almost indescribable. The collection is of not just national but international importance.” International loan exhibitions are a distinct possibility.

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