“Destination Rejuvenation” in November’s Whole Living Magazine


If you are looking for some vacation inspiration, look for my latest published-on-paper work in this November’s Whole Living magazine, on newsstands now.

Sarah Engler writes a fantastic piece about why one has to get away (and highlights a family who has turned vacation into their careers), and I found 15 amazing destinations for reinvigoration, from salsa dancing in Mexico to family adventures in the Galapagos (see pages below).

What a fun article to work on; there are more creative, green and exciting places to visit than ever before. Feel free to ask me for recommendations!



My Perfect Rug: A Travel-Shopping Story from The Souks of Marrakesh

Starre Vartan wandering Marrakesh.

The most fun I’ve ever had shopping is in the souks in the old city of Marrakech. The souks have been a bargainers mecca for hundreds of years, and I imagine a Victorian version of myself being just as enchanted with the wares as I was as an iPhone-toting modern woman. There’s something about the souks that just doesn’t lose its charm over the years; I remember stories that my grandma told of haggling at such marketplaces when she was travelling via Pan Am’s ‘around the world’ ticket. Now it was my turn, and I hope that my friend’s kids will one day tell me of their own trips to the souks of Marrakesh. I have more hope for the future of the world if magical places like these continue to exist.

Marrakesh street
A typical street; loved the light here, and the crouching man on the right.

I entered the souks through the wide open-plan Djemaa el Fna square, a giant open trapezoidal space edged with terraced cafes (and even a KFC/Pizza Hut), carts laden with dates, figs and nuts galore, huddles of smoking, tea-drinking men in long white and beige-colored djebellahs, and plenty of Aussie, British, French and Kiwi tourists; Americans were not well-represented (as they tend not to be, well, anywhere except at cheesy Caribbean resorts).

The drama of the souks is immediate and overwhelming in the best possible way. I left the big sky of the open square behind me, and entered the mostly covered, narrow streets of the souks, where donkey-led carts, Japanese scooters and people carrying gigantic loads on their shoulders mixed with men and women shopping from the narrow storefronts on either side. Not that there was room for this kind of traffic, but we all made concessions, including pedestrians who would hop out of the way of a zooming, noisy scooter or ornery donkey. Some shopkeepers advertised their wares, while some sat quietly, waiting in their tiny, ancient booths for passersby to take in interest.

Shops tended to sell a single item; handmade slipper/shoes, or jewelry, pottery or lamps and lanterns. The souks of Marrakesh (and in any city where you’ll find them) sell to tourists as well as locals, so this is no Disneyland of shopping – you can get that at upscale ‘malls’ in other parts of Marrakesh, but here the deal you make – or not – is the real thing.

My father, Gerry Vartan, waits patiently while I search for just the right rug….

I had to stop at one of the slipper-makers, and picked up a pair for a couple of dollars that were silver and gold patterned, threaded together in an intricate pattern, and which I now wear as my winter around-the-house shoes. I also bought an extremely lovely giant flower of an amythyst cocktail ring and some pillow covers.

But I was on a mission with a larger prey – the perfect rug. But of course, I couldn’t buy just any hand-made floor covering. After walking into, and out of five rug stores, which were the dominant store in the souk, my father was looking a bit tired. I had met him and my stepmom here in Marrakesh, and knowing my father and my penchant for shopping, she had wisely begged out of the mission. After a young boy had pulled what seemed like the millionth rug from the pile and unrolled it for me, and I had shook my head in disappointment, my father pointed high on a dusty shelf. Good thing perseverance runs in my family.

starre marrakesh
Starre Vartan’s perfect vintage Moroccan rug.

I had been describing to the shopkeepers I saw that I really wanted a Moroccan rug in shades not of orange, yellow, cream and red, but of purple, green, black and pink – but those are not common colors for rugs these days, which is why the search had been so fruitless. But once my dad’s spotted rug had been pulled down, and unrolled, I was rewarded for my vision. A vintage rug, somewhat worn, in shades exactly as I had described, was before me. The rug-seller thought I was a bit mad, as the floor covering was over 30 years old, but to me, it was perfect.

After some brave haggling on my part (I’m not much of a deal-maker, but I did my best), the rug was mine, and currently graces the floor of my bedroom. It’s perfect. And sometimes when I’m sitting around on it of a cool evening, I think about where it lived before my space in Connecticut, and what it had seen before making the trans-Atlantic trip with me.

Summer Rayne Oakes Hits the Road: Mozambique, Madagascar, and More


Summer Rayne Oakes, the model, activist and entrepreneur, usually looks quite professional when I see her, dressed in eco fashions and attending parties and speaking on panels. But there’s another side to the glamazon. Though she’s based in New York City, she spends tons of time on the road, flying to Mozambique regularly for a project there, and when she’s on the road, she’s just doing what we all do – try to keep comfy and travel light.

I met with Summer at Brooklyn’s Blackbird Cafe (her choice) and she appeared wearing a simple black dress and some insect-motif jewelry (Oakes unabashedly loves bugs!). But where does she love to go when she’s not channelling Brooklyn chic, and what does she wear?

Summer as Tomb Raider!

Mozambique is a favorite destination and which, she laughs, is a “huge place”! She discusses Mozambique with such wonderment and detail, it’s as if she never left after her last trip. She loves the Inhambane, south of Mozambique, where both the Barra Reef and Tofu Beach are located. She told me that you can swim with white sharks and admire the “lazy beaches.” The towns are often empty, peopled by locals, and not tourists. She prefers that to resorts or “postcard” places, which Summer Rayne’s not a fan of, explaining, “They’re too neutered”. Just north is the Parque Nacional do Limpopo, where Summer has done work with Greg Car, and if one keeps going north to IIha de (Island of) Mozambique, this UNESCO’s World Heritage Site can be explored.

Travel for Summer isn’t just about a beach and sun, but about being immersed in nature and local culture. When she traveled to the Dominican Republic she hiked Pico Duarte (the highest point in the Caribbean), finding herself literally immersed in the clouds, surrounded by “… a mix of pink, orange, and sorbet [like] clouds.” I interrupt her here, not to stop this rather magnificent illustration, but to wonder aloud, how difficult it must be to see first hand the destruction and poverty in these places. Summer nods. “You see what needs to be protected and what you don’t want lost.”

Some of Summer’s essential travel gear.

Summer likes the sense of visiting places consistently; she only wishes she knew more languages, which is her 2012 working resolution. She’s a low maintenance traveler, anti wristband. Unless attending events she travels with few things, stating, “Frugality comes with the type of travel I do.” Often she returns lighter than she left, giving away her shoes at the ends of trips. Her travel hairstyle is keeping her hair in a braid and smiling while she says it, tells me she doesn’t shower every day. “When I travel I like to feel like I’m creating and giving. I’m not on the phone, so I like the change of mode that traveling produces. I like doing something tangible, it feels potent.” Summer calls her frequent trips to places like Mozambique and Madagascar, (which she’ll travel to for the first time this October), “high impact trips.”

Cuval: Chic, Classy, Ethical Travel Bags


Cuval makes the most perfect, sweetest travel bags I’ve ever seen. Whether your trips involve jetting halfway around the world or just heading out of town for some toes-in-the-sand time, these totes are must-have. I don’t need to convince you – just take a look!

The hip bag. Defintely not your mom’s fanny pack!

I’m obsessed with the belt bag and the backpack specifically – due to my travel- loving ways. All bags are made with a combination of 100 % natural Turkish leather and mill-end fabrics (which means that if they weren’t used here, they would end up in the landfill!). I had a chat with Ayse Ozgunes, the designer behind Cuval, about her lovely line.

The perfect chic travel backpack? YES!

EC: Can you tell me how you got the idea to make the belt bag and what you use it for?
A: I am following trends and have a strong intuition about what models and colors are going to be hit for the season, I kind of knew that belt bag is going to be a great fit for FW2011. Also since I started designing bags, fanny packs, waist bags, belt bags were one of my favorite models to work on. They are very practical and perfect for a night out where you would like to set your body free from bags to dance like a queen!


EC: Where would you wear the backpack and what would you pair it with?
A: I would wear the backpack during the day time, to work, to school, to travel as it would be the most convenient model to carry around especially if you have too much personal items to carry – like a laptop and/ or extra pair of shoes!

And it can be paired with many options, if you want to dress it down you can wear skinny jeans, a white t-shirt, with Bensimon/Converse sneakers and of course a nice brown leather jacket and if you want to dress it up you can wear brown/beige pants a jean shirt with your riding boots under your favorite trench coat. Oh! and you can also use this bag in versatile ways! On your shoulder, on your back or as a clutch when you take out the belt part!


EC: Why are you interested in designing with ethical materials?
A: To be honest I am not trying to stress the ethical value of materials only but the ethical idea behind the brand. I use my local force in terms of sourcing, manufacturing, and producing. Of course I always double check where the material has been made, who will benefit from my purchase and who will benefit from their purchase if they buy one of my bags. I respect earth, people and workforce.

Check out their full Fall/Winter 2011 collection here. So much more goodness!

Harvest Time! 36 Hours in Stowe, Vermont for Waterhole Swimming, Hiking and Farmer’s Marketing

VT license platecrop

Along with the ‘big city’ of Burlington, Stowe is the epitome of Vermont’s many facets; conscious, cosmopolitan and cozy. I love visiting the Green Mountain state any time of year (well, except mud season!) but there’s no time like August, September and October for a trip to what I think of as “The Promised Land” (because every time I go, I get to do all the things I promise myself I will do! How often does that happen?).

When I visit Vermont, I’m lucky enough to have excellent tourguides in my friends who have moved there over the last few years from New York and Connecticut. Holistic health expert Cara Joy, a good friend I met in 9th grade honors English class, drove me around, pointed out the best places to eat, and took me on a waterhole tour of mega proportions. Read on….


Our first stop was Moss Glen Falls, which, as you can see are a huge waterfall that you can swim at the bottom of, or climb into. After a 5-hour drive from my house in Connecticut, the mountain-cold refreshment was intense! And delicious, not to mention instantly calming many of my worries away. Among alternative health practitioners, it is noted that the negative ions surrounding places of water movement are excellent for stress-relief.

These almost perfectly circular potholes were caused by hundreds of years (or more!) of water action on the rock that has now moved and left these behind. This tiny one held an ecosystem within its depths.

Our second water-hole stop was Bingham Falls, where we did more wading than swimming as it was getting late in the day and the sun had already retreated from the deep, narrow gorge the falls and stream flowed in. But such a place of simple beauty, and because we were nestled in the Earth, it felt miles away from anywhere.

Such beautiful rock formations are like works of sculpture.

There was plenty to see at Bingham Falls – besides the main waterfall area, it’s easy (a bit steep) to go check out the rest of the stream as it meanders, crashes, swishes and plunks down through natural flumes, into small and large pools, and in and around smoothly-worn rock.

I know I’m not the only one, but I am so attracted to waterfalls! And never get sick of watching them flow….

Starre Vartan contemplating a crossing….

We were getting hungry after our swimming and hiking around, so we headed into town to enjoy margaritas and a giant bowl of guacamole at Frida’s, which had a fun Frida Kahlo theme (unibrows and festive Mexican decor!). An antique car show had closed off the main street and so we wandered and checked out the cars and watched the old folks and little kids dance to the live music while enjoying wild blueberry ice cream.


Early to bed did NOT mean early to rise! I slept incredibly well in the quiet farmhouse my friend lives in, clocking almost 10 hours of shut-eye. Delicious! And time to get moving. Cara and I headed to the bottom of Pinnacle peak for a hike to the top, about 1.6 miles, all uphill. But we knew it would be worth it! (Neither of us had made it all the way, but in the winter we had snowshoed the same route and remembered it well).


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