Just Back From…Key West, the Yolo travel shoe, and the woman who can help you plan an epic New Zealand trip when borders open this summer
THE YOLO TRAVEL SHOE
The traditional Friuliane slipper is probably the most Yolo shoe I can imagine—it's practical and beautiful, perfect for the constant traveler, and the person at home who wants to feel transported. When I first discovered this shoe in Venice, I fell in love—they're so lightweight, pack so easily and go with everything from dresses to jeans. And because they come in so many different colors, even when I'm traveling and always wearing the same black/navy/grey look, I feel like I have some life on my feet! My friends at Scarosso asked me if I wanted to do a collaboration I was thrilled: these are original, made in Italy friulane, literally made by hand by a women’s collective in the Friuli region—not machine made—which is very important to me. The shoe has been made in this region since the 19th century, and the style and fabrication has remained the same: with rubber soles and canvas or velvet fabrics. My capsule with Scarosso includes 3 pairs that represent the different moods of travel—from the seaside (blue and yellow), to the forest (green with navy), to sunsets (red and pink). For a limited time, you can find them here ($135). I hope wearing these slippers brings you joy and transports you, whether literally or in your dreams.
JUST BACK FROM…Key West
by Alex Postman
In April, I was looking for a last-minute beach vacation for my daughter’s spring break. I needed it to be domestic so we could avoid all of the Covid-testing rigamarole (I know too many people who’ve been stuck in Mexico or the Caribbean with positive tests), but ideally feel a little bit exotic. I also wanted to be pretty sure of warm weather, as previous years’ April trips with kids to Kiawah Island and the North Carolina coast had left us shivering under our beach towels.
I quickly zeroed in on Key West, which I’d first visited as a teenager, and remembered dying over Key Lime pie, my first taste of that fragrant little citrus (it was the ‘80s!) and wondering at the fact that Cuba—at the time, still behind the iron curtain—was just 90 miles offshore. I’d returned in college to visit a literary hero, the poet James Merrill—Key West has a long legacy of attracting writers, from Hemingway to Tennessee Williams, to its leafy residential alleys, and continues to host the annual Key West Literary Seminar (‘80s kids: Judy Blume still runs a bookstore there!). But I also couldn’t ignore the seedy/commercial side of the place—the bars lining Duval Street with drunks literally stumbling out, the sight-seeing trolleys, touristy cigar shops, the parrot-heads (Jimmy Buffet fans—there’s a Margaritaville outpost here), and throngs who gather every night at Mallory Square guzzling Long Island iced teas and sea breezes out of plastic cups to watch the sunset celebration.
But it also seemed like the perfect place to travel with teenage kids (my 16-year-old daughter was bringing two friends), since it’s so small—just 5 square miles—and entirely bikeable, so I could unleash them to head to the beach or lunch (or inevitably attempt to buy Jell-O shots from the ubiquitous drinks stands) on their own. Also, as it turned out, we’d be able to use the house of my friend Wesley’s father, which was a block from the water and perfectly situated near the south end of Duval Street.
We arrived in Miami, rented a car, and had a pretty seamless 3.5-hour drive down the legendary Overseas Highway of US Route 1, connecting Key Largo to Key West at mile zero. It really is as beautiful as everyone says, and I’d recommend driving it rather than flying to Key West, since that flight is so expensive and there are good seafood stops along the way, particularly on Islamorada. Our five days on the island were pretty perfect, exactly as I’d hoped. I found it to have a kind of Caribbean-meets-New Orleans-meets-unmistakably Florida vibe. While the girls self-sufficiently biked all over, I walked the bougainvillea-lined streets of the Old Town clocking colorful Bahamian-style shotgun shacks, two-story Victorians with gingerbread detailing, and stone mansions left over from when Key West was the richest city in the U.S. per capita, thanks to the 19th-century salvage industry (all of those shipwrecks on offshore reefs). There’s an undeniable charm in a place where bicycles, golf carts and chickens (there are an estimated 1,500 loose in town, descendants of those brought by early Cuban immigrants) have the right of way. I could still discover traces of writers who’d lived out the tropical literary salons of my fantasies from plaques adorning gates and houses, from (of course) Hemingway to John Hersey and Elizabeth Bishop. And I found I didn’t even mind the party vibes when we walked by the blaring bars on Duval, since the post Covid-exuberance felt refreshing and just part of the Mile 0, end-of-the-world spirit of the “Conch Republic.” I even ordered a G&T to go.
So here is the list that I went down with, gathered from Wesley and other friends and contacts who know the place. Since we were a group of 5 and I didn’t plan ahead, we got shut out of some of the better restaurants. But we still ate well despite winging it, and most everything else you do here doesn’t require advance booking.
Cuban Coffee Queen. There are three locations of this tiny Cuban counter-serve spot in town, with strong coffee and pressed Cubanos.
Frenchie’s. The most delicious smoked salmon and cheese breakfast sandwich and croque monsieurs served on their leafy back patio.
La Grignote. Newly opened by a young couple with an on-site bakery.
Glazed Donuts. Inventive flavors like hibiscus syrup, candied bacon, and the sugar-shocky Key Lime pie donut.
Blue Heaven. This is a laid-back local favorite Caribbean-American brunch/lunch/dinner place in a leafy backyard with chickens and cats roaming between chairs and occasional live music. They don’t take reservations and we tried twice to get a table – must be good!
Moondog Café. Organic eggs and bakery on-site. It’s next to Hemingway House so get there when it opens.
Salute. It’s less about the food than the location, on Higgs Beach, where you can have a rosé and bowl of pasta without having to pack up your beach gear.
Louie’s. A great outdoor patio for a drink overlooking the water around sunset (though it faces east). Put your name on the list for small plates of conch salad or fried artichokes upstairs.
El Siboney. We had a really good authentic Cuban meal here. The atmosphere is basic but cheerful and the ropa vieja is 100%.
Café Marquesa. Definitely the best meal of our trip, from a chef who used to head up Peninsula Grill in Charleston. We had incredible shrimp and grits and she-crab soup, and super tender osso bucco. If it’s not too hot, get a table outside on the porch. It’s in a small hotel, which we didn’t realize until we went to the restroom.
Hogfish Bar & Grill. We didn’t get to Stock Island, one Key over, but this is supposedly a bit of old-world Keys, a seafood and taco shack on a dock.
A&B Lobster House. Open since 1947 and milks that vibe, with an old-school cocktail bar and lamp-lit tables. We had serious sticker-shock at the steaks and lobster (both Florida and Maine), but it is a fun setting for a martini and shrimp cocktail or oysters Rockefeller if you find yourself downtown and feeling peckish.
Little Pearl. This had been highly recommended but we didn’t make it, a pleasant spot in Old Town away from the hubbub with a seafood-focused tasting menu.
Mallory Square: Sunset here is something you could say you need to do once since it’s such a signature of Key West, but I’m not sure that’s true—it’s crowded and chaotic (parking is impossible) and not the way I personally like to enjoy sunsets! The teens enjoyed it, though.
Hemingway Home. A couple people advised against visiting the home-museum where the legendary novelist lived with second wife Pauline Pfeiffer for most of the 1930s. But we really enjoyed it! It may depend on your tour guide and how you feel about cats (there are many six-toed descendants of his original pets). Our guide was a colorful storyteller who brought to life Papa’s larger-than-reality escapades, as well as his daily work as a writer—from photos of a trip to Africa that featured some disastrous, life-altering plane rides (crashes on consecutive days!), to the swimming pool that more or less sunk his marriage, to the austere writing studio (with gorgeously old manual typewriter) where he wrote To Have and Have Not. Also, you should probably like cats.
Little Truman Whitehouse tour. History geek alert! This visit to President Truman’s tropical Camp David was a highlight. The rooms are preserved in perfect ‘50s primness and reflect the house’s use as both a political salon (there’s a hidden gaming table) and strategy room. Between World War II and the end of his presidency, Truman spent almost half a year, across eleven trips, at this relatively modest house. You'll see the iconic "The Buck Stops Here" desk sign and the "Dewey Defeats Truman" newspaper front page, the Presidential limo, and learn how Truman, hush-hush diagnosed with heart problems two years into his presidency, started his day in Florida (a tipple).
Audubon House. Worth it both to see how ship captains lived at the early 19th century height of Key West’s affluence, and also view their amazing collection of Audubon prints, which commemorate John James Audubon’s 1832 visit to Key West.
Books, Books, Books at The Studios is owned and run by Judy Blume. You won’t be the only ones to go in and tell her what she meant to you as a child.
The Tropic Cinema on Eaton is a non-profit focusing on art-house movies and conversations with filmmakers.
BEACHES & WATER
Zachary Taylor Beach and Fort is a state park, with a lovely location and nice breeze. Take a lunch to eat at the picnic tables—there is also a snack bar, bathrooms, and umbrella/chair rentals. Bike over if you can, because the line of cars gets backed up. It’s a small fee to get in, but probably the best beach on the island.
Higgs Beach. Easy to access and you can jump off the pier and get lunch at Salute.
Southernmost Beach is public; though it seems like it belongs to the hotel, it doesn’t.
Smather’s. It’s the longest beach—in the direction of the airport—but very exposed if you don’t get there in time to rent an umbrella.
Kayaking: Lazy Dog is the outfit to go out with on a tour or rent solo, though they can sell out a week ahead. Key West Eco Tours at Geiger Marina is great and has a nice place to eat when you finish, as does Keys Kayak and Canoe tours.
Rent a Private Boat with Captain and explore mangroves, sandbars, snorkeling, fishing and rope swings on the bay side. Boat for 8-10 people costs $350, the captain is another $250, but the places you go are supposed to be amazing.
Snorkeling: Fury is the big company that does this and all the other water things. We booked them for a half day of snorkeling but then had to cancel due to weather.
Dry Tortugas: As a protected park, it’s much wilder and less crowded than the Keys and the snorkeling is supposedly fantastic. You can easily get there by ferry.
Fishing: The Cora Beth will take you locally for yellowtail, snapper and grouper. Great crew and cost is $75 with pole rental.
Before finding Wesley’s dad’s house, I was looking into hotels (and also had vetted hotels for previous stories I’d edited). Key West is not a great hotel town, since it’s predominantly big resorts and small B&Bs, but a couple of cute options include…
Ridley House, a historic pillared home in Old Town that was recently upgraded by Kimpton. The hotel group has been acquiring and glowing up a bunch of traditional properties; another cute one is Winslow’s Bungalows, which runs across several historic homes.
Eden House. A classic, wood-paneled Key West house built in 1924 as the Gibson Hotel. The more historic rooms appear to have more charm than the modern ones.
Sunset Key Cottages are on a private island close to the mainland. Some have more character than others (you’re at the whim of the various homeowners) but the beach-access is amazing and you’re away from the circus.
A couple of weeks ago I was at the Solage in Napa Valley, where I had The Best Guacamole Ever. Like most, I’ve had my fair share of the stuff—but their version, which is whipped, was a revelation. I asked the head of food and beverage of Pico Bar, one of the restaurants within the resort, how they made it, and further, why all of the food there was so outstanding. He told me that all of the kitchen staff are such a tight team and are obsessed with trying out different versions of the Mexican food they grew up with—riffing on their grandma’s recipes. I’m hoping for a cookbook someday!
1-2 serranos (depending on heat)
3 limes, juice + zest
1 bunch cilantro
1/4 cup olive oil
salt to taste
To whip the ingredients, place everything in a blender or food processor. Season to taste, and garnish with seeds, nuts, goat cheese, herbs, or edible flowers if you like.
Sarah Farag, Owner & Director, Southern Crossings New Zealand
A little more than two years ago, our son Sam set off to spend his junior semester abroad in Wellington, New Zealand. It was January of 2020, and I dove into planning a big family trip there for spring (their fall). Asking around, I kept hearing that Sarah Farag of Southern Crossings was the go-to travel specialist for the island nation. Well, not only did Covid shut down our trip, it shut down Wellington University, and Sam had to come home after only a few weeks. Someday we’ll get there, and in the meantime, Sarah can help me keep dreaming about it, especially because New Zealand announced just yesterday that (at last!) they are reopening their borders to all tourists on July 31. —A.P.
Tell us about you/your company.
Southern Crossings specializes in tailor-made travel for the most discerning travelers in New Zealand, the islands of the South Pacific (Fiji, French Polynesia and the Cook islands) and, with our Sydney-based team, Australia.
I was raised in New Zealand in a family with an insatiable passion for globetrotting – that clearly rubbed off! I have been incredibly lucky to have traveled several countries and continents, but also always return with a real appreciation of the fabulous part of the world I am privileged to be able to call home. So, it was almost inevitable, and a genuine passion for me to share our region’s vast treasures and little-known hidden gems with visitors from around the globe.
In a career that has always been in travel, I started with Southern Crossings more than two decades ago and am now very proud to be the principal owner and director of our New Zealand business – whilst also still loving personally curating clients’ exceptional journeys in our extraordinary part of the world.
What’s the entry level to talk to you?
I organize itineraries “from touchdown to take off,” including hotels, transfers and touring. The starting cost is in the region of NZD$1500 per day for two guests; however, with the rising price of luxury globally and travelers’ renewed appetite for bucket list travel, the sky really is the limit.
I do charge a planning fee of $500 for our fully customized itineraries. This fee is then credited towards travel arrangements booked.
What is the sweet spot of your expertise?
Tailoring personalized and exclusive experiences that truly resonate to provide a real connection to our people and places.
A favorite experience/trip you’ve planned that best represents your travel philosophy…
Our travel philosophy is to “enrich and inspire by creating extraordinary journeys”–essentially, to curate bespoke travel experiences that enrich the lives of both our travelers and the people and places they visit. As such, one of my experiences that really stands out is an exclusive glamping experience that I recently curated for an adventurous couple who wanted to experience it all AND get away from it all in New Zealand’s spectacular Southern Alps.
Everything—from the couple’s tented suite and facilities to the private chef and concierge (whose tent was set up out of sight but only a radio call away)—was helicoptered in to the carefully selected remote location in the heart of Mt Aspiring National Park. Enjoying complete privacy in their stunning pop-up campsite, they explored terrain where perhaps no-one had ever set foot before them, and quite certainly no-one had ever stayed before. Following their three-night off-the-grid stay, all trace of the campsite was disassembled and removed, leaving only the softest of footprints and lifelong memories.
A favorite hotel/lodge/house you love and go back to again and again…
There are many places that I love and am privileged to be able to return to time and time again. However, two stand-out New Zealand lodges for me are:
Wharekauhau: This Palliser Bay luxury lodge on the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, set on a working Romney sheep station that overlooks the Pacific Ocean from the foot of the Remutaka Mountain Range, is rural New Zealand in a nutshell! With spacious cottage guest suites, this is a place where I feel I can really kick my shoes off, curl up on the comfy deep sofas and unwind with a glass of wine by the cozy fireplace ... or get up early and explore the outdoors with everything from a spot of tennis or croquet, to hiking and mountain-biking, wine touring or wildlife spotting. My teenage boys also love beach fishing, archery, clay-target shooting and exploring with ATV Quad Bike adventures over open fields and dramatic black sand beaches. Our international clients love combining an introduction to a classic kiwi sheep station with food and wine experiences that showcase some of New Zealand’s finest produce.
In complete contrast, but sharing the same approach to hospitality, is Blanket Bay on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by the stunning snow-capped Southern Alps. Whilst the setting is different, the experience just as representative of New Zealand at its finest. Dramatic alpine peaks and stunning lakes on the doorstep, Queenstown only minutes away, remote trout-filled rivers and New Zealand’s iconic ‘Sounds’ only a short heli-hop from here, inviting adventures for every level of adrenaline-seeker: from hiking and horse-riding, jetboating and mountain-biking, heli-skiing and skydiving, fly-fishing and golf. Meanwhile, the warm lodge interiors invite you to really unwind, from the day spa to the wine cave, the hot tub to the lounges in the lodge’s Great Room enjoying nature’s ever-changing cinema beyond.
The most memorable meal you’ve had while traveling…
There are so many! But a perennial personal favorite is the degustation dining at Otahuna Lodge, just minutes from Christchurch, surrounded by the Wairapa wineries and the fertile farmlands of Canterbury’s patchwork plains. Chef Jimmy McIntyre’s fabulous culinary creations draw on the best and freshest New Zealand produce with daily, seasonally-driven menus from the estate-grown and locally sourced produce.
A not-to-be-missed favorite experience…
Again, where to start!?! But without doubt one of my favorite experiences has to be the Kiwi Night Walk at the Landing Residences. This guided nocturnal kiwi-spotting experience gives Landing guests the opportunity to see New Zealand’s flightless fluffy brown icon in its natural habitat (so much so that many New Zealanders have never seen a kiwi in the wild). Renowned for being an elusive creature, the New Zealand Department of Conservation has identified the Landing property as having one of the most abundant populations of Northland Brown Kiwis in the country (in no small part, thanks to the Landings’ extensive bush regeneration and replanting programs), and as a result, sightings are almost always guaranteed.
Underrated Location, overrated location, personal favorite, recent discovery?
Underrated Location: Often in the shadows of its South Island neighbors (Lake Wanaka or Lake Wakatipu), the less well-known Lake Hawea is arguably one of the most scenic lakes in the country. Visitors to the region can enjoy a wide range of outdoor adventures in spectacular nature and untouched wilderness experiences all to themselves. From here, it is also easy to access popular local walks such as the infinitely photogenic Blue Pools Track or hike to Mt Isthmus peak (that offers views to rival its better-known, and more visited, Roys Peak). Whilst Hawea township may not have the range of restaurants and nightlife of Wanaka or Queenstown, this is part of Lake Hawea’s appeal, and we match guests with their ideal stay, from the delightful cottages of Lake Hawea Station (a showcase for sustainable farming) to the spectacular architecturally-designed Mt Isthmus fully-serviced luxury private villa (which is worth the trip in its own right!).
Overrated location: Rotorua. A popular destination on many visitors’ must-see lists as the gateway to its geothermal geysers and bubbling hot pools, its surrounding forests, lakes and waterways. However, the city itself is more of a commercial hub, so for a more tranquil and indulgent stay, I will usually advise clients to stay at one of the stunning lodges outside the city that still provide easy access to all that draws visitors to the region.
Personal favorite: I love the diversity of our destination, how New Zealand delivers everything from beaches to fjords, snow-capped alpine peaks to sheep-dotted farmlands. But my personal happy place is always somewhere where I can see the sea. So, for me, it has to be the beautiful Bay of Islands. This North Island region has beautiful beaches and sparkling waterways, wonderful coastal walks and idyllic cruising grounds that invite hiking, sailing, fishing and golf (in addition to many great local courses, New Zealand’s famous Kauri Cliffs golf course is also easily accessible from here). The Bay of Islands is also rich in history: from Maori culture (including the significant Waitangi Treaty Grounds) to New Zealand’s first grape vines (I can now happily also recommend some of New Zealand’s finest new wineries in the area). The region has a wide choice of places to stay: on land and sea! From spectacular private villas to boutique stays that offer a true connection to the laidback local lifestyle. Living in Auckland, I love that the Bay of Islands is close enough for a long weekend, but that it also feels a million miles from the cares of the rest of the world when you’re there.
Recent discovery: Flockhill homestead – a brand new private lodge that has been architecturally-designed to showcase and enjoy the breathtaking natural surroundings. The property provides access to rarely visited parts of the country from beautiful Lake Pearson and Castle Hill to the Arthur’s Pass National Park.
What is something you wished we all knew or were better at as travelers?
To slow down .. and allow time in our itineraries to really enjoy and get under the skin of a destination, to enjoy a long leisurely lunch among the vines or chat with local producers at colorful farmers’ markets, to hike spectacular wilderness and stop to really indulge their passions (from fishing to golf, cooking to art). I think many travelers still set out (on their first visit to New Zealand) with the mindset that this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip and that they need to see and do it all. The reality is, we know that many of our clients will return again and again.
How do you want people to reach out to you?