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And there is also time for yourself. Guides are available (should you want one) to ensure that you don't get lost in the suq; they can direct you to the best bargains in Moroccan tiles or fabrics. Always seeking to improve her offerings, Markel tells me that this year she is adding an optional three-day literary salon at Jnane Tamsna. New York Times writer Alan Riding will be there, as well as other authors. Bookworms who like to explore a new culture should start booking now.
Balmy Breezes and A Pinot Noir Fest
Season swapping in New Zealand is an ideal way to spend a winter vacation. In December things are just beginning to heat up here, offering a hospitable climate to enjoy soothing air and a wonderful Pinot Noir festival.
Now in its fourth year, the Central Otago Pinot Noir celebration (pinot celebration.co.nz) is staged in the South Island town of Queenstown in Central Otago, one of New Zealand's fastest-growing regions for the Pinot Noir grape. Modeled after an established Pinot Noir festival held in the summer in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, New Zealand's celebration is still in its early years and is brimming with innocence and enthusiasm.
Be prepared for two packed days starting on the morning of Friday, Jan. 28, and ending sometime in the wee hours on Sunday as Saturday night's gala grand dinner winds down. The days offer ample opportunity for tasting wines from the 42 Central Otago wineries as well as those from some international guests, which this year include the British wine writer Jancis Robinson and some famous Burgundy producers. Many of the local bottles are quite rare and never make it out of the area, unless they are packed home in a suitcase. There are also winery visits, intense debates about farming and winemaking and a chance for the best chefs in New Zealand to tempt palates too.
A few words of advice. For starters, you're on your own for lodging, but the options are pretty spiffy. Matakauri Lodge is the tony spot of the moment, and it's located just outside town. It offers packages that include meals. Another fine option is the Dairy Private Hotel-- luxury smack in the middle of town but with a great right-at-home feel.
Most important, book early. The instant you make up your mind to attend the festival, start booking the air travel and accommodations. The event is limited to 240 people and usually sells out by the end of December. Even with the new direct air service from Los Angeles, this is a long way to travel, and you'll want to stay for more than a weekend. Besides great food and Pinot Noir, Central Otago is filled with worthy inns, spas, water sports and top-notch fly-fishing. So come prepared to stay a while. And once you arrive, arm yourself with tips from the locals who will befriend you over the weekend. One to get you started: don't miss a chance to grab breakfast at Joe's Garage in Queenstown.
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