Fall festivals: five delicious ways to celebrate

fall festivalsThere’s something really depressing about seeing the last of the tomatoes, corn, and stonefruit at the farmers market, the withering vines in my neighbor’s gardens. But fall is also an exciting time for produce geeks, what with all the peppers and squash, pomegranates and persimmons.

If you love yourself some good food and drink, here are five reasons to welcome fall. No matter where you live in the North America, at least one of these is guaranteed to be coming soon to a town near you.

1. Hit a harvest festival
From the hokey (corn mazes, hay rides) to the downright debaucherous (late-night live music and beer gardens, camping in orchards), harvest festivals are a blast, no matter what your age. A great harvest festival will include delicious food; local craft beer, cider, or wine; farm tours and seminars; a children’s area and special activities; live music, and, if you’re lucky, a beautiful, bucolic setting in which to experience it all. Some festivals run the span of a weekend, providing an opportunity to take in more of the educational offerings.

Below are some of my favorite festivals, all of which have an educational component to them. Should you find yourself in Northern California in early October, it’s worth a detour to attend the famous Hoes Down Harvest Festival (Oct.1-2) at Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley, near Davis. It’s one hell of a party (there’s also a top-notch children’s activity area, so little people will have fun, too); definitely plan on camping in the orchard and bring your swim suit; the farm is located beside Cache Creek.

Other great celebrations of fall: Vashon Harvest Farm Tour (Sept. 25), Vashon Island, WA; CUESA Harvest Festival (Oct. 22), Ferry Building Farmers Market, San Francisco, CA; Annual Harvest Festival, Sustainable Settings (mid-Sept.; date varies, but mark your calendars for next year!) Carbondale, CO.

September 22nd, from 7:30-9pm, the 16th Annual Harvest in the Square is being held in Union Square; online tickets are still available until tomorrow at noon for what is one of New York’s premier food and wine events. Some general admission tickets will be available at the event for a higher price.

[Photo credit: Flickr user zakVTA]fall festivals2. Check out Crush
In North America, the wine grape harvest is held in September or October, depending upon weather patterns. In Napa Valley, “Crush” has just started, and with it, fall colors on the vines; barrel tastings; special winery tours, wine-and-cheese pairings, and up-close-and-personal views of the Crush itself. Even if you’re not an oenophile, it’s by far the most beautiful time to visit Napa and it’s neighboring wine region, Sonoma Country. For Napa wineries and event listings, click here. For California’s Central Coast wine region events, click here.

Check out wine harvest events in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Washington state’s Yakima and Walla Walla regions, and British Columbia’s Fraser and Okanogan Valleys (go to Wines of the Northwest for events calendar on all of the aforementioned); for New York’s Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley, and other regions go to Uncork New York!

3. Go apple pickingfall festivals
With apple-growing regions scattered all over North America–from Virginia and Pennsylvania to New York, Washington state, British Columbia, and California–there’s no shortage of opportunities to attend festivals or U-picks. This traditional fall pastime is a fun activity for kids and supports the local economy and foodshed. Put up apple butter, -sauce, or freeze a pie for Thanksgiving, but be sure to save enough for winter (all apples and pears are placed in cold storage once the growing season ends, so the fruit you buy later in the season won’t be freshly picked). Store in a cool, dry, dark place. P.S. Don’t forget to buy some cider doughnuts if they’re available.

Please note that due to unusual weather patterns (aka “global warming”) this past year, the harvest is delayed in many parts of the country, including Washington. Check with local farms before heading out.

4. Visit a cidery
If you prefer your apples fermented, there are some excellent craft cideries throughout North America. The tradition of craft cider distilling hails from Western Europe, but domestically, the hot spots are the Pacific Northwest (including British Columbia), parts of the Midwest, and the Northeast.
fall festivals
5. Feast at a farm dinner
For food lovers, few things beat dining outdoors in an orchard or pasture, surrounded by the people and ingredients that made your meal possible. Farm dinners are a growing national trend; they may be hosted independently by the farm (Washington’s Dog Mountain Farm, Colorado’s Zephyros Farm, and California’s Harley Farms Goat Dairy are my picks) or hosted by companies like Portland, Oregon’s Plate & Pitchfork and Boulder’s Meadow Lark Farm Dinners. Many farm dinners are fundraisers to help protect local agricultural easements or wetlands, but your participation also supports the farm and local foodshed.

Farm dinners are also held at wineries, distilleries, craft breweries, mariculture farms, and creameries; a tour should be included. The best part, however, is when the guests include everyone from the local cheesemaker, rancher, fisherman, or winemaker, to the potter who made the plates. It’s both humbling and gratifying to meet the people who work so hard to ensure local communities have a safe, sustainable food supply.

[Photo credits: grapes, Flickr user minnucci]

Wine Tasting Room Etiquette

European cheeses: holiday entertaining with the taste of travel

European cheeseI work part-time in a cheese shop, and I’m also a contributing editor at culture, a consumer cheese magazine. I can’t help noticing that, despite a still-sluggish economy, people don’t want to do without their cheese. Especially if they’ve fallen for a specific type during their (usually European) travels.

Not everyone who bellies up to the counter is a globetrotter or a cheese geek, but they’re all eager to try new things and learn about the animals and cheesemakers responsible, and what, if any, cultural role certain cheeses play in their country of origin. It got me thinking: why not show Gadling readers how to do a bit of armchair travel to Europe via their local cheese shop?

Cheese has long been associated with revelry, in part because of its cozy compatibility with beer, wine, Champagne, and certain spirits. With the holiday season upon us, I put together a list of some delicious, versatile, affordable European imports that will make any small party more festive. The best part? You don’t need to be any kind of cheese wunderkind to put together a banging cheese plate (suggestions coming up).

[Photo credit: Flickr user cwbuecheler]

European cheeseI usually allow about an ounce of each cheese per person, assuming there’s more food. If you’re throwing a big party, it may not be financially feasible to purchase certain products (and there’s nothing wrong with serving a mass-produced Gruyere or Gouda). Note that some styles of cheese are less dense than others, so depending upon price, you can get more dairy for your dollar.

If you can’t find these cheeses at your nearest grocery, Whole Foods (which have generally excellent cheese departments), or specialty shop, try online sources Murray’s Cheese, Cowgirl Creamery, Formaggio Kitchen, and Artisanal Premium Cheese. Click here for a national cheese retailer directory by zipcode.

In addition to picking some of my own favorites, I turned to one of culture’s co-founders, cheesemonger Thalassa Skinner of Napa’s Oxbow Cheese Merchant, for advice:

The Cheeses

France
Langres (cow): Traditionally served with Champagne poured over it (those decadent French!), this well-priced washed-rind is a little bit stinky, with a dense, creamy interior and tangy lactic finish. From the Langres plateau in the Champagne-Ardenne region.
European cheese
Holland
Ewephoria (sheep): Nutty, rich, with a hint of crystallization, this butterscotchy Gouda will convert even the ambivalent into cheese aficionados.

Switzerland
Appenberger (cow): This buttery Alpine-style cheese from the Schweitzer Mittelland region has a faintly grassy tang. A surefire crowd-pleaser.

Italy
Robiola due latte (a blend of cow and sheep or goat’s milk): A rich, mold-ripened number with a slightly sour, mushroomy finish, from the dairy-rich Piedmont and Lombardy regions. Top imports include those by Perolari due Latti, Robiola Bosina, and Robiola delle Langhe.

Spain
Leonora (goat): A loaf-shaped, mold-ripened cheese from the northwestern village of León. Creamy, tangy, and delightful, with a blindingly white, dense, chewy interior.

Portugal
Azeitao (cow): Yeasty, full-flavored, with a slightly bitter finish; a beer-lover’s cheese. From the village of the same name, in the Arrabida Mountains, near Lisbon.European cheese

England
Stilton (cow): Colston-Bassett makes perhaps the finest version of this historic, earthy blue cheese. It’s a classic British holiday treat, produced in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire. Stichelton is the equally delicious, raw milk version; it’s a bit more fruity and crumbly. But for another British tradition, go for a robust Cheddar. Keen’s (cow) is buttery, with a horseradishy bite.

Ireland
Coolea (cow): This dense, buttery, Gouda-style from County Cork has a sharp, grassy finish. Unusual and delicious.

Belgium
Wavreumont (cow): A smooth, full-flavored, monastic-style washed rind. Trappist beer, anyone?

Cheese Plate 101

K.I.S.S.: This is a fun little acronym I learned in culinary school. It stands for, “Keep it Simple, Stupid.” A foofy, cluttered cheese plate with too many accompaniments just detracts from the headliner. You can keep sides as simple as some plain crackers or a baguette, or add toasted almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts, and some preserves, or honeycomb or dried frEuropean cheeseuit or grapes or slices of pear or apple (in summer, use stonefruit such as peaches or cherries, or berries).

You can also go the savory route with dry-cured or green olives (Picholine are my favorite) and some salumi (add grainy mustard, cornichons, and a hearty rye bread for a winter supper). Forget the sundried tomatoes, pickled onions, pepperoncini, artichoke hearts, tapenade, stuffed peppers, or whatever else the local deli has in its antipasti bar. It’s overkill.

Stick to three to four cheeses that increase in intensity of flavor. You can do whatever you want: all blues, or all goat cheeses. For a diverse, well-rounded plate, try: One creamy/mild; one semi-soft or semi-firm with some kick, or a washed-rind/ surface-ripened; one hard-aged; one blue or something really punchy (taste this last, because the stronger flavors will obscure your palate). Your cheesemonger can help you pick things out and explain these terms to you, or click here for a glossary.

When pairing cheese with beer or wine, a rule of thumb is to match the intensity of flavor of the cheese to that of the beverage. The following are some suggestions for some of the more tricky, assertive cheeses.

Goat cheese: A good rosé will almost always work, as will a light German beer like Hoegaarden.
European cheese
Big, stinky washed-rinds: Pair with sweet bubbly; the effervescence will help cleanse the palate and won’t compete with the flavor of the cheese. If you’re drinking beer, go with a light pilsner or lambic.

Blue cheeses: Go for a sweet dessert wine (not Port) or Lambic beer with fruit, such as framboise.

For additional cheese plate ideas, click here.

[Photo credits: Neal’s Yard, Flickr user foodmuse; Gouda, Flickr user manuel/MC; cow, Laurel Miller; grapes, Flickr user lakewentworth; goat, Laurel Miller]

39 of America’s best drives

Summer is upon us, and that means it’s time for road trips. Even with gasoline prices nudging the three dollar mark, there’s no better way to spend a summer day or weekend than taking part in the American tradition of a great drive. With that in mind, Gadling has put together 39 great drives across the U.S. you’ll want to check out. So grab your keys and get out on the open road!

Duluth, Minnesota to the Canadian border

Heading northeast out of Duluth you’ll find one of America’s most beautiful waterfront drives. At Two Harbors, four lanes turn to two and the birch forest closes in. The next 130 miles include tunnels, waterfalls, a spectacular lighthouse and numerous other surprises that will make your day. Music: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan.

Trail Ridge Road, Colorado
An hour northwest of Denver, Trail Ridge Road is the highest paved through road in the United States, topping out well above timberline at 12,183 feet. The road is safe and easy to drive, but it’s only open during the summer months due to heavy snowfall. Be sure to check with the National Park Service for road conditions before making this trek. Music: Rocky Mountain High, John Denver.

Underground Chicago

Lower Wacker Drive is unlike any other street in the United States. For one thing, it’s underground. For another, it runs north, south, east and west. Immortalized in movies like the Blues Brothers, it allows you to cross under one of America’s busiest cities in a matter of minutes with virtually no traffic. Enter north of the river under Michigan Avenue or south of downtown at Congress Parkway. Music: Sweet Home Chicago, Robert Johnson.Flint Hills, Kansas
The 45 miles from Emporia to Florence along US 50 in the Flint Hills will take you by surprise. This is America’s last remaining tallgrass prairie and looks like much of the heartland used to look. Go in the springtime and you’ll think you’re in Ireland. Return in autumn for a completely different experience. Music: Dust in the Wind, Kansas.

Down on the Bayou, Louisiana
It’s 85 miles from Baton Rouge to New Iberia, Louisiana but a more interesting 85 miles you won’t find anywhere. Head west on Interstate 10 over the Atchafalaya Swamp before descending into Lafayette, the capital of Cajun culture. You’ll want to enjoy a meal here before heading south 20 miles on US 90 to New Iberia. Follow the signs to Avery Island, a unique wildlife refuge and the home of Tabsco-brand Louisiana hot sauce. Music: Zydeco Gris Gris, Beausoleil.

An Island in the Sky, Texas
The Chihuahan desert of west Texas is a stark, unforgiving place but in Big Bend National Park miles of sand and cactus give way to a lush pine forest high in the cool crisp air of the Chisos Mountains. This sky island is as different from the surrounding terrain as an island is from the sea. From Fort Stockton, head south on US 385 to the park entrance at Persimmon Gap. From here it’s still 35 miles to the Chisos Basin. In the summer months, it’s best to make this trip late in the day to avoid the extreme desert heat. Be sure to fill the tank….this is big country. Music: Into the Great Wide Open, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Merrit Parkwa
y, Connecticut
In the far, far suburbs of New York City you’ll find one of America’s most beautiful highways. The Merrit Parkway runs from the New York – Connecticut state line approximately 37 miles to Milford. It is one of just a handful of American highways to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to it’s natural beauty and many stone arch bridges. Music: I Can’t Drive 55, Sammy Hagar.

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Head north from Portland on Interstate 205 and pick up Washington state highway 14 before heading east to Beacon Rock State Park. Stop and climb the easy trail to the top for great views of the Gorge. Continue on to White Salmon and cross the bridge to Hood River, Oregon. From here it’s a straight shot back to Portland on Interstate 84. Stops at Multnomah Falls and Bonneville Dam are pleasant diversions. Music: Given to Fly, Pearl Jam

Pasadena Freeway, California

Also known as California 110, this is the state’s oldest freeway. It has twists and turns, bridges and tunnels, mountains and canyons and more excitement than its better known brethren in southern California. From downtown Los Angeles, follow the signs to Pasadena. When you reach the City of Roses, turn around and do it again. Make sure the top is down. Music: I Love LA, Randy Newman.

The Bridges of Parke County, Indiana
Parke County, Indiana has more covered bridges (31) than any other area of the United States. Most are accessible to passenger cars. If that’s not enough to entice you, rumor has it that there’s no better place to sneak a kiss than on a covered bridge. Head west 67 miles from Indianapolis on US 36 to Rockville. From here, take any of the five covered bridge routes on a journey back to a time when life was simpler and the pace was slower. Music: Small Town, John Mellencamp.

– The above was written by Baja Publishing, Seed contributor.



North Shore National Scenic Byway, Minnesota
The North Shore National Scenic Byway, along Minnesota’s coast of Lake Superior, thrills drivers with 154 miles of towering cliffs, tucked-away cobblestone coves, roaring rivers and waterfalls, a 100-year-old lighthouse, and killer views of the world’s largest freshwater lake.

Thermopolis to Buffalo, Wyoming

Road-tripping from Thermopolis to Buffalo, WYspools past the rich reds of badlands and grassland greens before climbing into the deep browns of the dramatically rugged, beautiful Big Horn Mountains.

Road to Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii
It can feel like tumbleweed Texas, lush Ireland or thick forests of the Pacific Northwest as each elevation–and biome–changes the scenery on Maui’s road to Haleakala National Park. Highway 378 climbs 10,000 feet above sea level with exhilarating zig-zags, stellar scenery and sudden fog.

Highway One, California

Get a sampling of the stunning (and less crowded) California central coast with a trek along Highway 1 from Cambria and the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery up to spectacular hiking at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. You’ll find a hidden waterfall, redwoods and may even spot a migrating whale while hugging the coast.

Highway 22 and 31, Michigan
Michigan’s Highway 22 and 31 wind through forest, dunes, orchards, wineries, harbors, and the quaint lakeside communities nestled along Grand Traverse Bay and the Lake Michigan shore: Glen Haven, Suttons Bay, Traverse City and Petoskey. Chicago’s turn-of-the-century elite families left a legacy pastel-colored Victorian mansions overlooking the gorgeous blue-green bays.

Mount Evans Scenic Byway, Colorado
You don’t need a trip through Rocky Mountain National Park to enjoy stellar alpine views. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway, just outside Denver, Colo., claims to be the highest paved road in the country at more than 14,000 feet. The road to get there spins through valleys and climbs through the Arapaho forest, framing up perfect views of snowy peaks.

Highway 135, Indiana

An easy drive from Indianapolis, Indiana’s Highway 135 loops and roller-coasters through covered bridges, state parks, Brown County’s art colony and the dense hardwood hills of Hoosier National Forest between Nashville and Houston. You’ll be craving bluegrass music, guaranteed.

Great River Road, Minnesota

Cruise below sandstone bluffs that border the Great River Road as it follows the Mississippi River south of the Twin Cities and through historic small towns on its way to Red Wing, Wabasha (remember “Grumpy Old Men”?) and Winona, Minnesota. Best bet: Go in March for world-class bald-eagle watching or in the fall for prime apple picking and antiquing.

Needles Highway, South Dakota

One of the nation’s most skillfully engineered scenic byways perfectly frames up views of Mount Rushmore like a postage stamp. South Dakota’s Needles Highway also spirals down pig-tail bridges, nudges past granite needles and purposely slows down drivers so they don’t miss the Black Hills scenery–or the mountain goats.

– The above was written by Lisa Meyers McClintick, Seed contributor.



Lake Superior Circle Route, Wisconsin/Minnesota/Michigan
This gorgeous stretch of road circles through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. This scenic tour takes you through picturesque villages, over crystal clear rivers, by spectacular waterfalls, over the highest mountains in the midwest, along panoramic beaches, and through towering forests. In addition, enjoy some great cafes, bakeries, and quilting shops.

Carson Pass Scenic Byway: Jackson to Woodfords
The Carson Pass Scenic Byway travels along through alpine forests and meadows and over the towering Caron Pass in the central Sierra Nevada region. Spectacular views of rocky peaks and lakes, coupled with volcanic landscapes, deep canyons and dense forests make this seventy-five mile long scenic drive as varied as it is beautiful.

Manitowoc Scenic Drive, Wisconsin

This drive tours the Lake Michigan shore from Sheboygan to Algoma, passing sand dunes, high bluffs, lighthouses, farms, and museums. The area’s flavor and history are closely tied to the lake through fishing, sailing, and ship building. Stop at one of the many specialty shops along the way to get a souvenir.

Door Country, Wisconsin

A drive through Door County, Wisconsin will provide you with views of over 250 lighthouses. In addition, 130 miles of the rustic Lake Michigan shoreline, limestone bluffs, and rocky shores will keep you awestruck for hours. If you need to stretch your legs, consider taking a tour of one of the many cherry or apple orchards who call Door County their home. Finally, wrap up your trip with a visit to Peninsula State Park, one of the largest state parks in Wisconsin.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park, located in northwest Montana, boasts some of the finest mountain scenery in the country. A drive through this mountainous terrain will provide you with views of more than 50 major glaciers and over 200 lakes. Top that off with a tremendous variety of trees and all colors of wildflowers in summer, and you have a natural setting of excellence.

Kettle-Moraine Scenic Drive, Wisconsin

This 115-mile drive follows the Kettle Moraine, a long ridge of forested hills that mark where two great arms of the last glacier butted up against each other. The route follows the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive developed and maintained by the Kettle Moraine State Forest staff. Along the way you’re likely to learn more about glacial geology than you ever thought you’d know.

Amish Country: St. Charles-Harmony-La Crescent-Spring Grove, Minnesota

A stretch of road provides a 77-mile ramble through the wooded hills and intimate hollows of southeast Minnesota’s “bluff country.” Crossing the great rift valley of the Root River at Lanesboro, the drive passes through Amish farm country near Harmony and loops north and east through small towns and secluded valleys to the Mississippi River.

Sonoma-Napa Valleys Scenic Drive: Santa Rosa to Hopland, California
A scenic drive and wine tasting extravaganza! This 132 mile scenic drive loops through the wine country of Sonoma and Napa and follows three California highways. Winding through rolling mountains and dense forests, the scenic drive also passes through Clear Lake, the largest natural lake entirely within the state. Along with wine tastings, there are numbers state parks and sites including Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga.

Sonoma-Mendocino Coast Scenic Drive: Marin City to US 101, California
This California scenic drive starts on the Marin Peninsula just north of the Golden Gate Bridge and follows Highway 1 up the beautiful Pacific coast. The highway passes through historic sites, redwood forests, wave carved coves, quiet sandy beaches and much more. From Muir Woods to Point Reyes National Seashore there are tons of state parks and beaches to visit and be awed by.

Monterey, California to Morro Bay, California
Traveling through California from Monterey to Morro Bay is a scenic drive that tops them as the best of the west. Beginning south of Monterey, the highway takes you along the Big Sur where the Santa Lucia Range meets the Pacific Ocean. This scenic drives offers an abundance of marine life, sandy beaches and breathtaking views.

– The above was written by Kathryn Gierok, Seed contributor.



Ocean Parkway, Long Island, New York
Starting at Jones Beach in the west, you can cruise East along the Atlantic Coast dune line of Long Island. Multiple beach stops along the way include Tobay, Gilgo and Oak Beach. It’s straight, desolate, with magical salty ocean breezes.

Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur, Northern California
There’s only one road that takes you through the sparse and exclusive community. Breathtaking views of the Pacific bluffs on one side and the Santa Lucia Mountains on the other. Multiple state parks for camping, hiking and sightseeing all along Highway 1.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota. Miles and miles of (super) natural rock sculpture. Endless arrays of wildlife, especially endangered and protected herds of buffalo. If you’re lucky enough to ride West towards Sturges during bike week, you’ll have an escort of 150,000 bad-ass bikers.

Independence Pass, Aspen, Colorado
One of the highest paved roads in the country, with an altitude of over 12,000 feet. Hairpin turns in bad weather combined with unforgettable views of the Rockies give you Ansel Adams beauty and pure adrenaline in the same ride.

Ecola State Park, Oregon Coast
Also an extension of the Pacific Coast Highway (named Route 101 in Orgeon). Breathtaking views of the Northwest Pacific Coast. March starts the spring run of brilliant whale watching.

2nd Avenue, New York City
After 10:00 PM, take the RFK Bridge (formerly the Triboro) into Manhattan with the stunning New York City skyline on your left. Take the FDR drive South, get off at 116th street. Make a left onto Second Avenue. Roll down the windows, crank up the tunes, drive all the way downtown and feel the city rhythm under your wheels.

Florida Keys, Route A1A, South Florida
A one lane road into and out of paradise. Traffic and roadwork can get ugly, but what’s the rush? Warm breezes, lazy palms and the bluest of blue water as far as the eye can see in every direction. Spring breakers on the move add a party flavor.

Interstate 15 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas
Classic road trip stuff. Grab your friends, pack all the necessary accoutrements, rent an old convertible and be the American Dream. Start in the afternoon, get that magic Sierra sunset and hit the Strip by nightfall.

I-87 North, Upstate New York
In September/October, the entire Adirondack region is afire with Autumn color. Beautiful side exits take you to Saratoga, Woodstock or Fort Ticonderoga. Stop for an hour to go apple picking – it’s a must.

The Road to Hana, Maui, Hawaii
This might be the most incredible drive in the United States. The first half is all flora, fauna and waterfalls. The ride back through volcano country is psychedelic, martian-like and wrought with peril if not taken seriously. The remote rainforest village of Nahiku is heaven on Earth.

– The above was written by Drew Moss, Seed contributor.

[Image credits: Nicholas T, Wolfgang Staudt, Mi Pah, puroticorico, thomaspix and [le]doo ]

More travel deals for Black Friday and Cyber Monday

The folks over at the LA Times have rounded up a few more great travel deals for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And what better way to recoup from this most hellish of shopping weekends than by looking forward to a discounted vacation?

Shell’s Vacation Hospitality’s Black Friday Sale runs today with discounts of up to 50% off at 26 of its resorts located in Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire, Texas, Wisconsin, California, Mexico and Canada. Sample deals include a $79 per night room in Napa Valley, $84 per night on the Big Island of Hawaii, and $64 per night in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. There are some blackout dates around the holidays and the rooms must be prepaid and are nonrefundable.

Gap Adventures’ sale runs from Black Friday to Cyber Monday and offers 20% savings on selected tours. 12 days in Laos can be had for $999 per person, 8 days in Thailand is just $479, and 20 days in India is only $1099. Over 25 tours are discounted, and include locations in South and Central America, Asia, Africa and Europe. Prices don’t include airfare and are only valid on select departures in December, January, April and May.

Sonesta, a resort company that operates two properties on St. Maarten, is also offering 50% off for bookings made through Monday. The discount is valid for stays from December 18 to March 31. Stays over Christmas and New Year’s require a 5-night minimum, but at just $138 (down from the usual $275), the total price is much more affordable.

Think local for a low-cost wine-tasting trip

When most people think of going on a wine-tasting trip, their thoughts tend to head west – to California, Washington, and Oregon. It’s not surprising. From Napa Valley in California to Walla Walla in Washington, these states are some of the biggest producers of wine in the US. But if you don’t live in one of these states, there’s no need to venture far from home for a weekend of swirling and sipping. In fact, almost every state in the US has at least one winery, so you can enjoy a low-cost wine tasting vacation in a long weekend. Check out these wine-tasting regions in every corner of the country.

Midwest
The Midwest states have traditionally been agriculture centers. Now many farms are trading potatoes and corn for grapes, and opening their doors to tourists. Illinois is home to around 80 wineries located on six wine trails within a few hours of Chicago. Most of Michigan’s 50 or so wineries are located in the west and southwest, near Traverse City or along the coast of Lake Michigan. Even Missouri has five wine trails scattered around the state.

Northeast
New York’s Finger Lakes area is the jewel of the northeast wine region. Nearly 100 wineries are spread along three main wine trails, which surround four beautiful lakes. Not to be outdone, Maryland has almost 30 wineries open for tastings, and even tiny Rhode Island has five.

Southeast
Kentucky is now making a name for itself in the wine world, with over 30 wineries clustered in the north central area of the state. Florida is home to over 15 scattered wineries and Virginia, the largest producer in the region, has nearly 150 wineries on several easy to follow trails.

West/Southwest
Grapes in Arizona? Yep, there are over 20 wineries in the state, most just south of Tuscon. New Mexico has almost 40, most of which are clustered around Albuquerque and Taos, and Texas is home to over 80 wineries, predominantly in Hill Country, south of Austin. Colorado, which has over 60 wineries, boasts the highest grape-growing elevation in the country, and even Nebraska has more than 30 wine producers operating in the state.