Way, way off-Island: After a summer of hard work, Islanders take off

Ruth McGorty, publisher of The Real Estate Guide of Martha's Vineyard, and Vineyard Haven jeweler Diana Stewart, on camels in Morocco. You can't see it from here, but they were reading the Martha's Vineyard Times (with coverage of Hurricane Sandy) on the pink iPad. — Photo courtesy of Ruth McGorty


Traveling is one of my passions. I’ve been lucky to have time to travel, as the Real Estate Guide is a monthly magazine and I can take time off in between the issues. For me, traveling is not as much about escaping Martha’s Vineyard as it is an educational experience to see the world. My favorite way to travel is on a “small group adventure” with some of the national companies like Wilderness Travel, or National Geographic Adventures. They have so many great itineraries with all different styles of travel, all over the world. They pick out the best places, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time planning. You can learn so much from the local tour guides they work with…and it’s a great way to meet new people.Last year, my travel buddy Diana Stewart and I went to Morocco with National Geographic. We had a blast! There were 12 people on the trip from around the U.S. We toured in 4×4 SUVs through ancient cities, remote villages, and mountains.The highlight was a camping safari where we hiked or rode camels through the Sahara Desert for three days. It happened to fall on one of the biggest holidays in Morocco – “the feast of the sacrifice,” where they prepare a special meal of lamb. Even though we were in the middle of the desert, our local guides prepared the feast and shared it with us. Afterward we sang and danced around the campfire. The kitchen staff came out and played pots and pans as instruments. None of us could understand each others’ language, but it didn’t matter…we all just sang along anyway, and smiled and laughed. And all I could think was: Wow! If everyone could sing and laugh around a campfire in a culture they don’t understand, there’d be world peace.— Ruth McGorty, Edgartown; publisher of the Real Estate Guide for Martha’s Vineyard.

Squam Lake, New HampshireWe love Squam Lake, New Hampshire, because we can make fools of ourselves on the ice without feeling embarrassed the next time we run into someone from M.V. Youth Hockey at Cronig’s.—Billy Meleady and Nicole Galland, West Tisbury and Los Angeles; actor, and author, “Godiva.”

Naples, FloridaWe like Naples for its easy accessibility, great winter weather, the charm and walkability of Old Naples downtown, the beaches, its emphasis on the arts, good restaurants, abundance of tennis players and clay courts. Favorite restaurants: Campiello, Barbatella, Bistro 821. Happy hour: great food/drinks at AZN. Fun people watching from the bar at Handsome Harry’s.The iguana in the photo was a guest at a farmers market and the owner was gracious enough to let me torture my wildlife-averse husband with an up close and personal encounter.—Karla Araujo (with Randy Coleman), Oak Bluffs and Washington, D.C.; writer and artist.Paris and SarasotaIn Florida, I love the weather, natural and maintained beauty, cultural richness…lots to do…museums, galleries, opera, ballet, symphony, movies, shopping…beach. They’ve put a lot of money and care into maintaining the city and attracting and addicting visitors.Favorite restaurants in Sarasota: Indigenous, Café Epicure, Mediterraneo, Pho Cally.Favorite restaurants in Paris: L’Epi Dupin, Philippe Escoffier…the open markets;Tips: Go!—April K. Levandowski, Vineyard Haven; co-owner, LeRoux at Home/LeRoux Gourmet and Associated Stores.San Miguel de Allende, MexicoSan Miguel de Allende in Mexico is a colorful and magical place – much like the Vineyard. It is filled with history and art and music. I spend a couple of months there a winter, and my favorite thing to do is to sit in the Jardin, which is the central plaza. All of life passes by, Mexicans and gringos enjoying life together. And my favorite moment during the times of sitting in the Jardin are when the Mexican families arrive to spend time there – grown men and women holding their elderly parents’ arms, children chasing pigeons, little dogs running from one petting hand to another, mariachi bands in their tight black and silver costumes, and everyone just glad for the day and the magic.—Jan Pogue, Edgartown; publisher VineyardStories.com Paris, FranceMartha’s Vineyard was Judy Hartford’s favorite vacation spot until she and her husband moved here. Now Paris, France is her favorite. Why? “Its beauty, antiquity, language, food, neighborhoods, wines, chocolate. I first went in 1989 and have gone back to France about five times since, including Provence and other regions,” says Judy, who went almost four months without a day off this past summer.In France, Judy rents an apartment on VRBO.com to share with friends. “It feels like living there,” she says. As for restaurants, “There is no end. I like just walking and choosing places…or picking up crepes at the crepe wagon.”Tips: Most important is to be respectful of the foreign culture. Try to speak the language, even a few words. She’s found only warm, receptive people in France.—Judy Hartford; owner, Bananas Clothing/Gallery (Vineyard Haven, West Tisbury); private psychotherapist.Palm Springs, CaliforniaThe picture is me and my sister, Cynthia Mascott, outside the famous Mervyn’s in Palm Springs. No one goes to Mervyn’s for the food (their cream of mushroom soup served to me last February was straight out of the Campbell’s can). It opened back in the 20s and has served the rich and the glam and the lounge lizards of Palm Springs all this time.I love PS for its old western and Spanish architecture, its setting under snow-capped mountains. The little old town has an art museum, outdoor cafes, a bookstore, shabby chic, and just outright chic shops. The whole place is a sort of surreal Durango meets Barcelona.—Holly Nadler, Oak Bluffs; writer.Jamaica and HawaiiAnnie Schwenk’s favorite destination is Jamaica. She stays at the Blue Harbor B&B in Castle Garden, near Port Maria. “Noel Coward used to own it,” she says. “There are lots of movie stars, a funky atmosphere, home-cooked meals, and lots of history.”Annie loves Jamaica for the food, the ocean, the mountains. She loves the spirit of the people, their humor and resilience.She also loves Hawaii, especially Oahu and the Big Island, and has stayed in different places over the years, from renting a condo to camping on the side of a mountain. “The people are so wonderful,” she says. “They capture a real ‘aloha spirit.'” She enjoys walking and just being in nature.Tips: Don’t miss the observatories at the volcano Mauna Kea on Hawaii; great place to stargaze. Be sure to stop in any florist shop to buy the most beautiful flower leis. She loved buying a gardenia to wear in her hair.—Annie Schwenk, Oak Bluffs; owner, Laughing Bear (clothing store).El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, SpainIn the picture, I am holding my pilgrim’s certificate in Santiago. In May I walked the last 100 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago in Galicia, Spain, with an old friend. One of my favorite stops was in Melida where we ate lunch at Pulperia Ezequiel. The dark restaurant was full of pilgrims we’d seen over the past few days of walking. Everyone sat at long wooden tables where we ate heaping portions of boiled octopus and potatoes from wooden planks with a local white wine served in terracotta bowls. Bellies full, we rested by the church, then continued to walk through spitting rain and cuckoo song.—Laura Wainwright, West Tisbury; author, “Home Bird,” published by Vineyard Stories.Sarasota and ItalyMichael Hunter has gone as long as 90 days without time off. For Halloween, he’s off to a condo he owns in Sarasota, where he also “always spends New Year’s Eve.” But he says his favorite destination is Italy (or maybe India). “I spent most of April in Italy and loved it,” he says. “I also found India amazing. I was fortunate to have spent years as a fashion stylist on location all over the world; in two years went to Hawaii 13 times.”Favorite hotel in Italy: Hotel Parco des Principi in Sorrento, designed by famed Italian architect and furniture designer Gio Ponti.Loved the Amalfi coast for its “gorgeous scenery,” amazing food and wine.Tips: “April is a great month to travel there,” he says. “It’s not overwrought with tourists and you can watch it bloom. Leave some wiggle room in your schedule to allow for spontaneity. He rented a house from VRBO.com. He also suggests checking out airbnb.com.—Michael Hunter, Oak Bluffs; owner/curator PIKNIK Art & Apparel, Edgartown.Tallinn, EstoniaI’m in Estonia now, which is my favorite destination. I especially enjoy staying at Metsatu Resort, a working farm near the Village of Otepää, in the heart of Estonia’s cross-country skiing countryside. (metsatu.edicypages.com)For a hotel — the White Elephant Guest House at Metsatu. I like it because it offers scenic beauty, a restful, uncrowded atmosphere, a lake for small boating, trails for sport and nature study — a very relaxing place to tune out of an increasingly chaotic world. My favorite restaurant is in Tallinn, Estonia — The Olde Hansa. The food and drinks are great, with a medieval flair and music to match; the staff is dressed in period [costume]. My most recent itinerary was from Boston to Stockholm via Icelandic Air; then a short flight to Tallinn (then rent a car or take the bus). I’ve also enjoyed stopovers in Iceland, Sweden, Finland, the UK, and Ireland. All are a hop, skip and jump from Estonia. Friends from the Vineyard have visited Estonia by ship, cruising around the Baltic.Ivo Meisner, Oak Bluffs; proprietor of the Book Den East.Orlando, FloridaJoanne Sardini’s all-time favorite destination is Orlando. She says she and her husband are “just big kids, and like to go as often as they can.” Joanne, who recently took her first full day off since March, says she took her 60-year old father to Disney a couple years ago, and they had a great time. Because she’s in the hospitality industry she tries to stay in different hotels each time she goes. She loved the Dolphin, a Disney property, which has water shuttle to Epcot and a “super spa.” Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville in Orlando is her favorite restaurant. Great margaritas!”This is a great time of year to go to Orlando,” she says. “Especially for people in the restaurant or hotel industry. There’s a food and wine festival at Epcot.”—Joanne Sardini, Edgartown; general manager, Vineyard Square Hotel and Suites.Tulum, Mexico and the Cape Verdean IslandsI’d say we have two favorites…One, Tulum Mexico — the only place we actually loved enough to visit twice (easier to get to than other destinations and truly dreamy). Generally, I like to say I do not want to vacation anywhere more than once as there is such a long list of destinations I want to explore…But our most favorite had to have been our trip to visit the Cape Verdean Islands (Boa Vista, Sao Vicente, and Santo Antao)…my eldest daughter’s father is from the Islands and we were able to visit and meet with cousins and various family members which made it a most memorable and unique experience for our entire family.Best tip to traveling: We have often made vacation plans with other close friends who more often than not have children of similar ages, so not only were we as adults happy and entertained, so were all the kids….always someone to do something with and never a dull/boring moment. So traveling with friends has always been a bonus for us. Also, do your research — ask a thousand questions of rental agent/home owner/hotels, even if they are silly. The smallest of details can make it a deal breaker. If you are traveling far and spending lots of money, you want it to be a great experience! For our trip to Cape Verde, we went through a Cape Verdean travel agency out of Providence. That made it far easier as they know every detail of the territory versus me just buying an airplane ticket direct from the airlines. The travel agency gave us some great suggestions and recommendations and in the end saved us a lot of money.Next vacation, we’re kicking around a couple of ideas…Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Madrid/Morocco, Japan. Obviously very up in the air — so many compelling and interesting places to visit and one trip a year. It’s sometimes overwhelming to decide which one. We usually do our annual “family vacation” during February break as we have two children — a sophomore in high school and a third grader. Can’t miss too much school, so vacation has to land during one of the two vacations.—Kara Dougherty-Merry; owner, Pandora’s Box, Menemsha; and Suka, Edgartown.Cruises to Alaska and the MediterraneanWhen the kids were teenagers, we took grandma and cruised to Alaska. The kids loved it because they found a big group of kids on the ship that they could spend their time with.My other favorite was a cruise in the Mediterranean with my mom, who was quite ill at the time. We were part of a family group of three old ladies and three younger ladies. The ship was perfect.—Kathy Retmier; owner, Cruise Planners of Martha’s Vineyard.Add to our list!We’d love to hear your favorite off-Island destinations. And we welcome questions for any of the travelers we featured. Heading to Morocco or Squam Lake or Tulum, and want advice from other Islanders? Send questions for Ruth, Nicole, Kara, or any of our other travelers, and we’ll do our best to get them answered. Send to: onisland@mvtimes.com.