Saturday, April 30, 2011

European Must-See Cities

When you tour Europe, you’ll find that your vacation doesn’t actually end. It's easy to make an itinerary of the top stops, from Paris to Prague, but you'll always run into somebody, somewhere, asking you where you've been—and what you thought of a certain city. That intriguing place, wherever it is, will go on the "next time in Europe" list, and you'll quickly find yourself planning an additional trip across the pond.

These stops have been determined as some of the most important in Europe, and you'll get the best of the continent in one fell swoop. Not too bad for an initial trip to Europe!

London's gotten a ton of press this year, thanks to the royal wedding and the upcoming Olympic games. This and next year are great time to visit the vibrant city, which has been perfected for high-volume tourism. Get your hands on the hot souvenirs and visit some top locations on the must-see list, as indicated by MSNBC.

Your Plan: “Two days isn't a huge amount of time in a city with so much to do but you should still be able to see highlights like the Tower of London, Tate Modern, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace as well as attend a West End theater show and enjoy the ethnic eateries of the East End.”

Where to Stay: features a master list of the best hotels in London, which include Brown's and 41 Hotel.

The City of Love isn't only for lovers, with its scores of hot restaurants, amazing galleries and museums, and the sights—oh, the sights! If you manage to carve out some time for yourself, try taking the train out into the countryside for an extra break—it's worth it.

Your Plan: “A high-speed Channel Tunnel train takes you to the sights in Paris. Overlooking the avenues from the Arc de Triomphe, seeing the Louvre or Versailles and a beautiful church or two is the least you can do.”

Where to Stay: Paris is famous for its fantastic hotels, but how about a cheat sheet? Not only is there a list of great hotels here, but some of the most luxurious hotels in the world are in Paris, including Hotel de Crillon (renovation completion expected Fall 2011) and Hotel du Louvre.

One of Europe's cultural and economic centers, Barcelona is the fourth most visited city in Europe after Paris, London, and Rome. High-speed rail makes it easy to zip around Spain, and you should have a look around Barcelona's international airport if you do decide to fly—it's lovely. Exploring Gaudi's famous architectural triumphs if you do one thing in Barcelona.

Your Plan: “An overnight ride of the rails and you’re at your next stop, colorful Barcelona, where the organic Modernista architecture and Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia will wow you. Don’t miss the Catalan cooking.”

Where to Stay: Barcelona buildings have incredible design features that make your stay interesting and still luxury-minded. Hotel designers are constantly pushing for innovative and green touches while still retaining Barcelona's architectural blueprint. Consider the Hotel Arts Barcelona and the Hotel Claris.

Ruins can be spotted all over Rome, and if you're a fan of ancient finds, Rome's your place. The aqueducts, famous statues, intriguing houses, and historical, sprawling apartment buildings just across the road from the Colosseum are all entrancing.

Your Plan: “The Eternal City; they say a lifetime isn’t enough to know it. During two days sightseeing in Rome, choose from among the monumental attractions of the Colosseum, Vatican City, Pantheon, Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain.”

Where to Stay: There are plenty of tucked-away spots in Rome, including the Hotel Continental de la Ville and the Rome Cavalieri.

Berlin's a progressive city with good-natured, friendly inhabitants. Stop by a pub and order their daily special—don't expect variety, that's the fun—and then try walking around the neighborhoods near Alexanderplatz. The Kaiser Wilhem Memorial Church was partially destroyed in a bombing raid in 1943, and it stands as it did after the war. (There's also a 1:10 scale model in Wernigerode, which is located in the former East Germany.)

Your Plan: “A full day riding the rails brings you to the sights of Berlin, Europe's most rapidly changing (and exciting) city. Must-sees include all the Berlin Wall galleries, memorials and museums, plus new city sights like the Sony Centre and Filmmuseum. At night, Kreuzberg is the alternative nightlife hub, while Prenzlauer Berg is more grown up.”

Where to Stay: Berlin is constantly changing, so take a snapshot of your luxury hotel before it morphs.

If you alternated your time in Greece between eating and viewing ancient monuments, we wouldn't blame you for it. But, for a full experience, you should try some of these top picks.

Your Plan: “The Greek capital is a treasure trove of ancient ruins with the magnificent buildings of the hill-top Acropolis heading the list. Below it stand more impressive remains, plus bustling flea markets and lively tavernas giving you a taste of more modern Athenian life.”

Where to Stay: Greek vacations don't get any better when you stay in the King George Palace.

Now that's a vacation! Pick from the creme de la creme of Europe, and you won't go home feeling unsatisfied. Consider London your pit stop before you head to continental European destinations. Don't forget that if you decide to see a city in Europe that you didn't plan for, there are great luxury hotels dotted all over—and cheap domestic flights abound.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Hideaway in Uruguay, Even in the City

When Uruguay comes to mind, you might first think of Montevideo, Uruguay's capital and a definite tourist hotspot. But besides Montevideo, Uruguay has a wide number of beach towns with quaint hotels and luxury resorts visited by a select number of South and North Americans in-the-know. If you are looking for a getaway, you will find one in Uruguay.

Carmelo lies on the shores of Río de la Plata and features plenty of tourist curiosities. With comfortable, temperate weather, the city is ready to receive guests year-round—and there happens to be a luxury hotel nearby, too. Carmelo is famous for its white sand beaches—perfect places to find peace—and when you get to town, you should check out Independence Square for a moment amidst the crowds.

Isla De Gorriti

This is a good alternative to Punta del Este if you're looking for a more peaceful break than Punta, even off-season. Beaches are quiet on the island, and you can also stroll by an eighteenth-century fort while you're there.

Salto and Paysandu
Got a thing for spas? These two cities have hot springs nearby that are considered therapeutic for long-term soakers and one-time visitors. The springs near Paysandu are slightly cooler than those located near Salto, which has cottage accommodations and grill stations for visitors who want to stay overnight.

Punta del Este
Sophisticated Punta del Este boasts miles and miles of beach and is quite the party spot in Uruguay, but that doesn't mean you can't find somewhere to rest and relax. Luxurious spas and corner restaurants are great for anyone seeking a moment from the buzz of the beach, but the miles of high-luxe tourist areas, off-season, are a true experience. Plus, if you need a break from countryside serenity for a night, this is the place.

Where Should Stay in Uruguay?
Your hotel should provide the ideal setting to find peace, whether it's by grabbing some z's by the seashore, having a drink in the hotel bar, or settling down into a deep king-sized bed.

The Four Seasons Resort Carmelo is one of Uruguay's hidden gems, and now you can enjoy Exclusive Complimentary Perks when booking through Nestled in a quiet region, the Four Seasons Carmelo provides the perfect balance of luxury and accessibility. While surrounded by eucalyptus trees and pines, the hotel is still just a hop and a skip away from the metropolis of Montevideo—and not too far away from Buenos Aires, either.

Thanks to great promos via WhataHotel, you can now extend your trip by getting a fourth night free at the Four Seasons. That means more time to explore their Pan-Asian spa services, watch championship golf, or hop on a horse to play jockey amidst the natural wonders of Uruguay. Children aren't just welcome at this resort, but they are cared for via the Kids for All Seasons day program for children. If you don't want to drive while you are on vacation—admittedly more relaxing—there will also be a shuttle service twice daily that runs from your hotel to the nearby city of Carmelo.

By booking a stay in Uruguay, you'll be in the perfect place to explore other South American destinations. The south of Brazil isn't far from the country of Uruguay, and neither is Argentina. While you're planning your trip, take advantage of closeby countries that can also boost your relaxation factor. Skiing in Chile, eating in Argentina, and horseback riding in Uruguay should get you ready to face the daily grind again.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fun Travel Tips

Some of us live for the weird-and-wacky facts when it comes to traveling. Yes, you can crack open a guide book and start reading from the beginning, but when you're seeing something truly amazing—and for the first time—you need to back up your wonder with a fact or two. BBC went around the world to get interesting factoids about popular tourist destinations the world over.

Mt Everest
Did you know that the movement of the tectonic plates is actually pushing Mt Everest higher and higher? It is growing by about 4 mm a year, which probably makes those who scaled it years ago consider going back for another round, just because.

BBC Says: “A trip to Everest Base Camp brings you face to face with countless climbers, a colourful tent city and truly extraordinary mountain views. Because the mountain is still stretching skywards, save your legs; hike those foothills sooner rather than later.”

Lodging During Your Trip
Consider checking out the best hotels in China, Tibet's neighbors, when touring this neck of the woods.

Mexico City
Mexico City is sinking faster than Venice! Who would've thought? The soft lake bed beneath the city is not stable, which means that Mexico City sinks an average of 10 cm a year—10 times faster than Venice. When you visit the Angel of Independence, you'll see 23 steps added to the monument to help visitors reach it—the city is sinking around it.

BBC Travel: “Fight that sinking sensation by floating on the ancient canals at Xochimilco. Each weekend, this World Heritage Site transforms into fiesta-filled waterways packed with party boats, musicians and marimba players.”

Lodging During Your Trip
Presidente Intercontinental Mexico City

Vatican City
Vatican City isn't just a place where you can visit an ATM and have the option of punching away in Latin. In addition to that little curiosity, you'll find the the Vatican Swiss Guards are dressed in traditional garb inspired by Raphael—yep, the one from the Renaissance.

BBC Travel: “Point out the population (800), number of citizens (450), licence plates (SCV, CV, international abbreviation V) and flag (yellow and white), not to mention the anthem (Pontifical Hymn) and coins, which are legal tender throughout Italy and the European Union.”

Lodging During Your Trip
Hotel Majestic Roma

Want to tango? Buenos Aires is the place to do it. Exploring the city is a must-do, obviously, but the tango has quite a few rules of etiquette. Will you explore the world of Argentinian dance with a tall, dark stranger?

BBC Travel: “Gentlemen, fix the lady with a long look; if she returns your stare, just give a gentle nod. Ladies, sit with your legs outstretched so a man might stumble at your feet. An encounter occurs; an invitation can follow.”

Lodging During Your Trip
Faena Hotel + Universe

The London Metropolitan Railway was the first subway in the world, making it an essential visit for train enthusiasts and London lovers alike. Despite the press Paris gets for its subway, it was actually the fourth erected in the world.

BBC Travel: “Riding today's Circle Line from Paddington to Covent Garden and the London Transport Museum retraces part of that original route. The museum has one of those original sulphur-belching engines, the Metropolitan No 23.”

Lodging During Your Trip
Andaz Liverpool Street

Well, we all know that Venice is sinking, although certainly not as fast as Mexico City. Taking a gondola might be a totally touristy thing to do, but general water taxis are a regular necessity for Venetians.

BBC Travel: “But as you go grandly down the Grand Canal, ponder a few factoids. Each elegant craft is made from 280 pieces of eight different types of wood. The left side is larger than the right by 24cm, producing a list to starboard, while the slender, raised bow means increased maneuverability.”

Lodging During Your Trip
Ca'Segredo Hotel

Uluru's red cast is actually rust, which helps it glow red at sunset. This monolith—the world's largest—has a reddish hue due to oxidization in the desert. Russet red would quickly turn to a sad grey if it weren't for the chemical transformation.

BBC Travel: “It is curious to think that without a little rust, Uluru would not be red at all.”

Lodging During Your Trip
Sheraton on the Park

Now just tuck these facts into the back of your mind, book a trip to somewhere exotic, and get ready to dazzle your friends with your knowledge. Unlike a boring travel guide, these little tips about Mexico City, Vatican City, and Mt Everest will impress in a minimum number of words. Actually, they'd be great for Twitter, too, so why wait to share?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ultimate Retreats for a Royal Couple

The royal wedding is almost here, and that means our favorite soon-to-be newlyweds are getting an unusual amount of attention. Commemorative plates, funny gag gifts, and even PEZ dispensers are put to work showing off Kate Middleton and Prince William's impending nuptials. Even if you aren't into monarchy-related news, you might as well vacation like them: did you know that the flower budget alone for the royal wedding is $1.5 million? If that's the case, imagine how much is budgeted for their vacation!

The crowds for the royal wedding make lines longer and tourist places much more crowded this April, but what does that mean for travelers arriving in later 2011? You'll still be able to pick up those coveted Prince-William-and-Kate tchotchkes, but you won't have to jostle into position for the prime pick.

Hotel Options
Four Seasons Canary Wharf: With gorgeous views and top service, you know that this hotel would meet the approval of Kate Middleton and Prince William.

The Connaught: Offering Exclusive Complimentary Perks, The Connaught is perfectly situated for luxury shopping in the city. Go to the same types of shops that Kate Middleton chooses on the high street, and then take in a meal: this ultra-luxurious hotel offers Michelin-starred food at their exclusive restaurant.

Wild animal safaris and fun excursions in Kenya's varied habitats are perfect for families taking the kids on a honeymoon. If you're getting married for a second time and want to take your children along, Kenya is one of the best places to go. It's also perfect for young adventurers like Prince William and Kate Middleton!

Hotel Options
Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club: Majestic mountains will be in your view when you stay at the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club. Originally a residence of William Holden, you can now book a room to enjoy a fusion of glamorous decor and modern convenience.

Fairmont The Norfolk: The Norfolk still has its own private tropical gardens, and it remains one of the most popular meeting places for safaris. The royals love Africa, and Fairmont The Norfolk is one such place they'd love to visit.

The Seychelles
Did you know that William and Kate went to the Seychelles to work on their relationship in 2007? Similar destinations have been suggested for their honeymoon of choice, although their pick will remain a true mystery... until the media gets hold of the news, that is! With awesome beaches and divine hotels, it's easy enough to imagine a romantic getaway here.

Hotel Options
Banyon Tree Seychelles: Have you ever dreamed of a luxury spot with a private swimming pool? Banyan Tree Seychelles has all that and more. The hotel has villas perched on an elevated location for a prime view, and the eclectic, African-fusion restaurant is definitely different from the standard hotel fare.

Fregate Island Private: A 20-minute flight from Mahe gives you an opportunity to bask in the true quiet of a private island. The island has only 16 private villas and a presidential villa, making your stay at the island resort calming and guaranteed not to be crowded in the least.

Canada is a beautiful place to visit come summer, and a stay in one of the cities provides cool breeze on the patios, an opportunity to get romantic, and a time to learn more about our neighbors to the North. You can't beat some of their offbeat, cultural gems surrounded by wide-open spaces past city limits—and that includes the cozy resorts near trails and meadows.

Hotel Options
Four Seasons Vancouver: Located in Vancouver's commercial center, you'll find everything within reach at the Four Seasons Vancouver. Get an overnight free shoe shine, and don't forget to visit their decked-out business center.

The Fairmont Banff Springs: Situated on a UNESCO Heritage Site, the Fairmont Banff Springs is called “The Castle in the Rockies” and feature spas, golf courses, and fine dining.

You can enjoy royal-worthy vacations all year long, despite the quickly-approaching royal wedding. Even though their honeymoon is at an undisclosed location, soon we'll know where they went—and that means we can add another location to our list.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pizza Wars

Do you have a refined taste for... pizza? It might seem like a Chicago vs. New York-type battle when it comes to the best pizza in the nation, but we can get some pretty good pizza pies at more destinations than the Windy City and the Big Apple—if we are willing to experiment, of course. Americans spent $336 billion on pizza just last year, and when Travel + Leisure readers voted on the top places to eat pizza in the U.S., they were divided between 20 popular “pizza towns” in the United States.

Top Pizza Cities

Chicago deep-dish pizza is basically the stuff of legend, with its amazing thickness, its special crust, and its combination of rich flavors. If you've been eating New York-style pizza all your life, trying Chicago pizza will ensure a memorable trip to Chi-Town.

Experts Say: “Some pizza lovers might find the decadent, deep-dish Chicago pizza extreme—but most fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Even so, the Windy City offers plenty of thin-crusted and gourmet-style pizza places too. As some kind of proof, the city ranks in the top 5 for being diverse.”

Where to Stay
Park Hyatt Chicago: Get a room with a view at the Park Hyatt Chicago, where you can find some of the best amenities and features of any hotel in town. Their downtown Chicago restaurant has been recognized by national publications.

Ritz Carlton Chicago: Soaring high about Michigan Avenue, the Ritz Carlton Chicago offers 24-hour business center access, newspaper delivery, and long-term luggage storage.

New York
If you try one kind of pizza in your life, it should be New York-style pizza (author's opinion only, of course). Famous for its thinness, its flavor, and the pride NYC residents have in it, it's an easy way for tourists to fill up before seeing all the sites.

Experts Say: “You can’t walk more than a block in the Big Apple without passing a pizzeria—and there are precious few chains (unless you count all those variations on Ray’s). These thin-crusted slices—fold yours lengthwise to look like a local—are probably the best bargain in the city, costing scarcely a couple bucks.”

Where to Stay
Sofitel New York: The midtown Manhattan hotel is close to some of New York's hottest attractions, and why wouldn't it be a popular stop for the well-to-do? Offering a fabulous Art Deco dining experience, this is a prime spot for experiencing the best of New York.

Jumeirah Essex House: The Jumeirah Essex House opened its doors after a decade of true luxury in American history, the 1920s, and has been flawlessly restored to highlight its rich 1920s past.

Philadelphia pizza can be hit-or-miss for the tourist who doesn't know quite where to go, but we'll try to help you get a handle on things. 5th-generation Tacconelli's Pizzeria is a good place to start your Philly pizza exploration, since they regularly get rave reviews for their oven-made pizzas cooked in an oven used to bake Italian immigrant's Giovanni Tacconelli's bread in the early 1900s.

Experts Say: “One of the classic East Coast thin-crust pizza cities, Philly seems to attract visitors who would rather eat than drink: its cocktail hour ranks a lowly No. 27. Locals, meanwhile, would perhaps rather eat than exercise or make chitchat.”

Where to Stay
Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia: This classic hotel is smack dab in the middle of it all, positioned close to the financial and commercial district, but still well-placed for shoppers and movie-goers.

Sofitel Philadelphia: This downtown Philadelphia hotel is a four-star luxury hotel lying just on the corner of Philadelphia's French quarter. Each of their well-appointed guest rooms features French bath amenities and a well-stocked mini bar.

Savannah might surprise you when it comes to pizza eateries. The city ranked high on the list of pizza towns in the United States, and we can't help but wonder if the high population of students helps pizza sales move at a quicker pace.

Experts Say: “Must be all those fresh coastal breezes—to AFC voters, everything in this Georgia city tastes great. Its neighborhood cafés ranked No. 2 in the survey, and its burgers and barbecue join pizza in the Top 10.”

Where to Stay
When you're trying out Savannah, don't forget to swing by Atlanta, too!

Old-time Boston isn't famous for its pizza, but its rich cultural makeup does boast a fair number of Italian immigrants. Pizza pies are easy to find, and rustic variations with a New England twist are definitely part of the artisan pizza movement in this city. Keep an open mind and try a slice!

Experts Say: “This city full of history boasts great neighborhoods, many with longtime Italian roots. That means plenty of old-school pizza options, such as legendary spots Regina and Santarpio’s.”

Where to Stay
Fairmount Copley Plaza: Since opening in 1912, the Copley Plaza has delivered exemplary service to a stream of high-ranking guests from around the world. Look into the Fairmont Gold, which is a lifestyle experience service offered by the hotel.

InterContinental Boston: Boston's past is at your fingertips when you stay at the Intercontinental Boston. The hotel has its finger on the pulse of the international scene, but it is located right on the historic waterfront.

Pizza Quotes

John Vakidis, a Dallas-area sales consultant: “Chicago-style pizza beats New York pizza any day. The crust has more flavor, and people would drive 50 miles to eat it. Most New York–style pizza tastes like cardboard, and I wouldn’t drive five minutes for it.”

Alex Hayden, a Seattle photographer: “Both styles have their merits. But New York’s is obviously better.”

Peter Reinhart, a cooking instructor: “Pizza is really changing, thanks to an artisan movement. The focus has really shifted to the crust, creative toppings, and local ingredients. Some people say that deep-dish is more of a casserole than pizza, but who cares? It’s still really good.”

With all these opportunities to try new pizza, perhaps you could lift your loyalty for just a single vacation. The artisan movement delivers new and unusual pizza-cooking techniques and recipes all over the United States, and if you have a good basis of comparison in New York or Chicago, you can be an even better judge.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Things to See and Do in Portland

Heading to Portland will give luxury seekers a chance to experience a unique side of the Northwest. While Portland has top hotels available to book with all the modern perks, the surrounding city doesn't have a one-size-fits-all feel. From the art galleries to the wide-open parks in Portland, a city-meets-great-outdoors vibe provides the perfect backdrop for lazy couples' vacations and family getaways.

First things first, what is there to do in Portland, Oregon?

Yamhill National Historic District: Recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, the Yamhill National Historic District is a fine place to check out some of Portland's most famous older buildings and historic sites. Parks abound in this area, as do historically-accurate and well-preserved homes.

Portland Farmer's Market: What's making waves right now at the Portland Farmer's Market is the “new pie in town,” Divine Pie. Consider picking up one of the famous desserts, like key lime or chocolate hazelnut, and serving it up back at the hotel for a treat. Divine Pie has a dedicated following in Portland and is definitely worth a try!

Fan Feedback: "Whether you’re into raw food pies sweetened with agave nectar, or butter laden pies filled with meatballs, the 2011 Portland Farmers Market has everything your little heart desires."

Chapman and Lownsdale Squares: Talk about stepping back in time. When first opened by the city, Chapman Square was only intended for use by women and children, while Lownsdale served as a meeting place for gentlemen. Today, no such restrictions exist.

About the Spot: "The Plaza Blocks were lively places where orators held forth and citizens assembled. They are characterized in part by several large old elms and gingko trees. [...] Today the Plaza Blocks are still a busy gathering place, although men and women can now safely coexist in either of them."

Japanese Garden: This traditional Japanese garden covers 5.5 acres and is found within Washington Park. With five major subgardens, this tranquil spot is a great destination for an afternoon stroll.

3D Center of Art and Photography: Classes, workshops, and observation opportunities abound at the 3D Center of Art and Photography, a great place to take children while vacationing in Portland. Get your goofy glasses ready; you're going to need them!

Expert Notes: “Once a month, the center also participates in First Thursday by offering free admission to all on that Thursday from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Most First Thursdays are also the first day of a new exhibit in the center gallery and theater. On March 3, a photographer from New York City will be at the center to talk about a new exhibit.”

Pittock Mansion: This French-style chateau has 22 rooms and is open for tourists to explore. Completed in 1914, the house featured many high-tech additions for the time, including a “central vacuum system.” The house remained a family residence until 1958, when it was purchased by the city of Portland. It features a vista point, sprawling gardens, a reservable party room, and paths outside for exploration purposes.

Vera Katz Esplanade: This pedestrian and bicycle path is part of an urban renewal initiative and features the longest floating walkway in the United States.

Expert Advice: “Built in 2001 the esplanade runs along the east bank of the Willamette River between the Hawthorne and Steele bridges, and features a 1,200-foot walkway that floats atop the river, a boat dock, and public art. Pedestrian crossings on both bridges link the esplanade to Waterfront Park, making a 3-mi loop. Take MAX light rail to the Rose Quarter station.”


The Nines: This amazing hotel is in the perfect location between the MAX light rail and the Pioneer Square, and it features more than just impeccable décor. The hotel's large contemporary art collection complements all the guest rooms, including 13 luxury suites. Global dining options include an Asian fusion restaurant.

The Heathman Hotel: The Heathman features a select number of guest rooms and suites for the discerning traveler, and it is situated right in the heart of Portland's financial and cultural district. Easy access to hot spots won't just save you time, but will enrich your stay in both the business and creative fields.

Hotel Modera: This small hotel provides a quality stay with all the benefits of a larger luxury chain. The Hotel Modera features over 500 pieces of modern art, plus unparalleled concierge service and an array of close art-related destinations. Walk around the downtown district to experience all that Portland has to offer.

Sunriver Resort: After staying in Portland, head to a unique Northwest destination that boasts plenty of year-round outdoors activities for families and couples alike in the Cascade Mountains. The Sage Springs Club and Spa offers superior golf, skiing, and exploring for everyone, plus a fantastic Oregon setting.

Portland certainly is a must-visit for anyone visiting the Northwest, and its charm is surpassed only by its touristic offerings for the casual traveler. With great rest to be had at ranked luxury hotels, you'll be able to take in more of what Portland has to offer—and that's a lot.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bars of Barcelona

Barcelona's a hugely important tourist stop in Spain, and there are plenty of reasons why, from the architecture to the modern enclaves with green-minded touches. There's another reason to visit the city, however: the number of fantastic hotel bars to visit, no matter what luxury hotel you choose to call your home base during your vacation.

Bar To Try #1: Hotel Duquesa de Cardona's Brisa del Mar
Why Try It? This romantic boutique bar is great for honeymooners.

Their Tastiest Offering: The Cardona blends pineapple juice, grenadine, rum, Malibu, and blue caraçoa.

What the Experts Say: “The sixth-floor Brisa del Mar space is split into two parts by scented lavender boxes; one area is for sunbathing and splashing around in the pool (guests only), the other for dining and chilling out over drinks.”

Bar To Try #2: Me by Melia
Why Try It? This hotel bar has a beautiful view and is open to restaurant customers, making it a perfect place to grab a drink before dinner.

Their Tastiest Offering: The cava by Agusti Torrelló is the thing to try at ME.

What the Experts Say: “Enclosed by glass walls on the 24th floor, this starkly minimal space has fabulous views over the city's New Technology district in Poblenou, and makes a cool stopping-off point before dinner at the hotel's gourmet restaurant, Dos Cielos.”

Bar To Try #3: W Barcelona
Why Try It? This bar turns into a party by midnight, and it's cleverly designed to give you great views.

Their Tastiest Offering: Fruity cocktails

What the Experts Say:
“Evenings start slow and segue into full-on fiesta mode by midnight.”

Bar To Try #4: Hotel Villa Emilia
Why Try It?
This cozy hotel bar is still sleek—try it on Wednesdays for live piano music.

Their Tastiest Offering: Get a mojito!

What the Experts Say: “The Zinc Bar is an intimate space enclosed by terracotta walls and palms. Big Dedon sofas with safari prints, plump cushions and free Wi-Fi make it a great spot in which to combine work and leisure.”

Where to Stay in Barcelona

El Palace Hotel Barcelona: This hotel has been refurbished for the ultimate guests experience. 42 of the newly-renovated accommodation options are suites or junior suites, and this hotel is both close to the city center and advantageously positioned for an easy airport connection. 1920s style brings back memories of an old-fashioned continental Europe.

W Barcelona: Modern, artistic, and inspiring, the W Barcelona is befitting of such an avant-garde city, with its sleek bar, special WET pool, and intuitively-designed rooms with top-notch entertainment systems. Don't forget to hit the Munchie Box in your suite on a quiet night.

Majestic Hotel and Spa Barcelona: If you love to explore your destination on foot, then the Majestic Hotel and Spa Barcelona is your place. 303 luxurious rooms await, and they've been chosen in the past by a number of sophisticated visitors like Catherine Deneuve and even the Dalai Lama.

Hotel Arts Barcelona: Barcelona hotels have a great reputation already, but the Hotel Arts Barcelona gives other luxury locations a run for their money. If you love a room with a view, no matter where you're staying in the world, then this hotel is a can't-miss booking.

Hotel Miramar Barcelona: Opened in 1929, the Hotel Miramar Barcelona has entranced guests for the better part of a decade. Enjoy views of the Mediterranean from your private balcony, take in the modern furnishings and picture windows, and catch the details added and refined by a 2006 renovation.

Le Meridien Barcelona: Le Meridien Barcelona fills your world with the brightest of colors and easy access to Barcelona's Harbour, the theatre, and restaurants galore. The famous Las Ramblas street is close by and allows easy access for the curious visitor.

Now that you have your possible hotel options and a long list of places to score delicious cocktails, you won't have trouble filling your schedule in Barcelona. Our recommendation is to fill in your time with a visit to some of the hottest cultural and artistic spots in Spain—perhaps alternating that with a tipple or two at night.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Conde Nast Highlights “Best Of” Destinations

Conde Nast's exacting standards always result in some exciting and innovative “Best Of” picks... and they include lodging all over the world. Conde Nast's choices are interesting and truly global, and what's even better is that some of their selections are featured on as destinations with perks. For the budget-conscious consumer looking for a slice of luxury, that means you can enjoy Conde Nast's “bests” plus additional touches to make your stay more comfortable.

Tasty Bedtime Snack? Try sweet treats at the Ocean House.
The Ocean House is considered one of the last seaside Victorian hotels, and it's not simply a relic of bygone years. Perched high on the bluffs, this hotel recreates a lodging experience from last century, offering a glimpse back in time. This beautiful resort location epitomizes classic New England oceanside hotels.

Conde Nast Recommends: “After a $140 million rebuild that meticulously replicates the original 1868 resort—right down to the painted yellow exterior, stone-by-stone reassemblage of the lobby fireplace, and all 247 windows placed precisely in their original positions—the Ocean House is that rare hotel hybrid that oozes Victorian-era elegance yet banishes any stuffiness thanks to up-to-the-minute mod cons and friendly yet professional service.”

Best Disappearing Act? The TV at the Matakauri Lodge is cleverly concealed.
This lodge is on Conde Nast's list at least in part thanks to its incredible, extensive renovations. The Matakauri Lodge has both suites and villas with private verandas, but it's not just a stop for the wealthy in the middle of nowhere. Au contraire—it also features high-class spa facilities and a restaurant with some of the best cuisine in Queenstown.

Conde Nast Recommends: “The lodge maximizes its scenic surroundings with a number of gorgeous viewing platforms: a large infinity pool (though it is rarely warm enough for swimming), a pretty courtyard with a massive outdoor fireplace next to the dining and lounge area, and the accommodations themselves.”

Best Hotel Beer Named After a Dog? Montage Deer Valley's funny pick.
Montage Deer Valley just opened in December 2010, and you can enjoy this mountain resort year-round. While great skiing is sure to be had here, summertime brings an opportunity to explore the surrounding landscape, including trails and quiet mountain roads. Suites go up to 3,200 square feet in size and offer both mountain and valley views.

Conde Nast Recommends: “Though its European-manor sensibilities eschew log cabin stereotypes, the hotel drips with original art idealizing the Western lifestyle of yore—Carl Rungius vistas, John James Audubon's bird prints, and cowboy scenes by Frederic Remington.”

Best Musical Amenity? Le Royal Monceau, Raffles' tuned acoustic guitars.
Le Royal Monceau recently received a fantastic renovation to improve service and general guest experience, leaving you with a gorgeous masterpiece of a hotel to explore while in Paris. As if Paris isn't exciting enough, you also get to choose from five dining and bar options, later retiring to your suite with a coveted-in-the-city private balcony.

Conde Nast Recommends: “The spaces brim with contemporary art—photos, paintings, collages—and there's a terrific bar, several beautifully decorated (if very expensive) restaurants, including the French-specialty La Cuisine, a smart boutique shilling art books and design objects, and a Clarins spa.”

Best Eclectic Buy? The vending machine at Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas sells artwork and fashion tape.
This Las Vegas hotel boasts nine different paces to dine and a staggering 2,995 rooms, so if you like to roam, this is the place to get lost! With aid of the Tao Group designers, the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas has three pool environments, a great number of room styles, and private terraces on select suites. You're right in the middle of the action with a booking at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas.

Conde Nast Recommends: “Terrace one-bedrooms have Japanese deep soaking tubs overlooking the Strip. Premium View rooms in the West Tower look straight onto the Bellagio fountains next door, which means front-row seats to the water show several times a day.”

If you're stumped for hotel inspiration, why not choose something to which Conde Nast's added their seal of approval? That and the additional perks with a booking deliver a vacation to remember.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Vote for Innovation Awards

Conde Naste is known for being, shall we say, picky about who and what they promote around the world, travel-wise, and they are a trusted name in the world of adventure travel. Sophisticated and discerning, their staff knows what's what—and they always let us know where the best places are to go at certain times of the year. Now Conde Nast is looking at the Innovation Awards, which invites readers to vote on their favorite design or innovative plan that makes traveling even better. Conde Nast explains:

“Regardless of where and why you travel, the experience is enhanced by design and innovative thinking: applied to airplanes, trains, museums and restaurants, the shops we seek out, the gadgets we tap on or tune into.”

Transport: Options include the Straddling Bus, which is a bus positioned 2 meters above the highway to save space. Cars can pass below it, allowing for much more room on the roadway. Other options include the Double Decker Train, which saves emmissions and carries more people, and MINI Scooter E Concept, which is charged using a normal electrical socket—and that starts using a Smart Phone!

Sustainable: Hydrophobic sand never gets wet, which means that agriculture could completely change in water-poor regions. Meanwhile, Conde Naste highlights other innovations like eco-friendly sunglasses that aid sight-restoration programs in other parts of the world. The Between the Waters project involves collecting chemically populated water from a water source and making it drinkable using refining techniques.

Infrastructure: The Lincoln Road parking lot, designed by Herzog and de Meuron in Miami, can hold 300 cars and has an innovative design, while the Dubai Metro has a lot of new stations and many more on the way. The Mexipuerto Multimodal Transport Hub in Mexico City allows for a smooth transfer of passengers from one mode to another.

Culture: The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has a new interesting glass-and-steel wing, and the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania has an outstanding collection of offerings from Australian modernists. Meanwhile, the Lightwell Reading Room in the London Library is making waves for its newly-renovated space.

Sponsored by Marriott
Conde Nast's contest has been sponsored by Marriott, which also owns a 49% interest in the Ritz-Carlton hotels, highlighted on with various perk options. Let's take a look at some of the best, shall we?

Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman: Located near the great Seven Mile Beach in the Grand Cayman Islands, this hotel is hidden on the western Caribbean Sea and takes you back to the explorer days. Crystal-clear waters are perfect for divers and water sports enthusiasts, plus the beach baskers, of course.

Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain Hotel and Spa: This luxury resort is seven stories tall, affording great views of the Manama City Center. The lush, green urban landscape below includes 23 luxury villas for your booking pleasure. 245 rooms and suites in the main building give you even more options.

Ritz-Carlton New York (Battery Park): The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park hotel is conveniently located downtown to receive guests with a jam-packed New York schedule. After a 10 million renovation to guest rooms and suites, you can be sure of ever-improving standards of service.

Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island: Amelia Island's Ritz-Carlton is marketed as a spot where "southern charm meets sea and live oaks." This beautiful resort appeals to history buffs and nature lovers alike, with its expanse of tidal marshes stretching beyond the fine golf course and manicured lawns.

Ritz-Carlton, South Beach: If you're coming to Miami for South Beach, then you need to stay in South Beach! The Ritz-Carlton South Beach is situated to lend views of the Atlantic Ocean and has been restored from its original 1953 state--better than ever, and ready to explore.

Don't forget to vote for the Innovation Awards at Conde Nast Traveller!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Man-Made Wonders of the World

Some travelers find themselves wanting to see more than solely the most popular places to visit. They want something that steals their breath away and impresses fellow travel-lovers, and while places like Machu Piccu are clearly a must-see for explorers, there's more to view at international spots. These man-made world wonders are only explored by a small number of savvy travelers, and you could be one of them.

The Other Macchu Piccu: Choquequirao, Peru
These ruins date back to the 15th century, and they were only visited by 7,000 people last year. This area is the same size as Machu Piccu, but it was only visited by 1% of the people who visited its sister site. You'll have to be in good shape to visit Choquequirao, which is located 20 miles away from the drop-off point.

What the Experts Say: “You’ll pass arid country full of cacti and agave before the vegetation turns lush. Take a breather to spot the occasional condor, and exhale with the jagged, snow-capped Vilcabamba Range in the distance.”

Lodging Options for a South American Trip
Hotel Monasterio: Continuing the theme of “I can't believe how old this is,” stay in a former monastery built in 1592, which happens to be perfectly situated for those planning to visit Machu Piccu in addition to Choquequirao.

A Special Mayan Complex in Guatemala
This particular area seems to still hide wonders after all this time, and it's the home of five Preclassic Mayan cities called El Mirador, Nakbe, Xulnal, Tintal, and Wakna, which predate the famous Tikal by a minimum of 1,000 years. Even more amazing? A limestone frieze that dates back to 200 B.C. was discovered just recently.

What the Experts Stay: “The little-known Mirador Basin, hidden among 2,000 years of jungle growth in northern Guatemala, is called the Cradle of Maya Civilization — and for good reason. Among their astounding innovations are super-size temples and pyramids, including La Danta, the largest-known pyramid in the world measured by volume, and the remains of the world's first highway system.”

Where to Stay in Guatemala
Combine your trip to Guatemala with a stay in Belize and Mexico, choosing hotel like the Ka'ana Boutique Resort.

A Royal City in Iran: Naqsh-e Jahan Square
Since Iran is incredibly challenging to visit for Americans, it remains hidden “in plain sight,” which necessitates getting a guide and arranging a trip through an agency. This particular royal city features four breathtaking structures and exquisitely-decorated royal rooms that are guaranteed to impress history buffs and luxe lovers.

What the Experts Say: “Ali Qapu's grand covered balcony was where the shah and his guests would watch polo matches, horse races — even public executions. […] Even more impressive is its sixth floor Music Room, covered with ornately decorated stucco niches and cutouts in the shapes of pots and vessels that once reverberated the sounds of the ensembles who performed there.”

Where to Stay in Iran
Contact to find the best travel options to visit the Iran and the rest of the Middle East, including Syria and Jordan.

Cambodia's Oldest Temple
Angkor Wat is the star of Cambodian temples, but Sambor Prei Kuk features standing temples predating Angkor by as much as 600 years. The three-hour ride from Siem Reap means that fewer tourists visit the special spot—only 5,000 in total last year.

What the Experts Say: “If you do want to visit, the new Isanborei community tourism project provides local English-speaking guides who will take you around the temples on a tuk tuk. If you’re looking for a truly authentic experience, opt for one of their homestays — you can live with a family, learn how to cook traditional dishes, and even help harvest rice.”

Where to Stay in Cambodia
Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor: For over 75 years, this hotel has remained a popular destination for those planning on visiting the Angkor temples. Visit Angkor and Sambor Prei Kuk to compare.

We're sure that you'll get some special attention with these out-of-the-way sites under your belt, but it's not just about bragging rights with your friends. Exploring Cambodia, Iran, and Guatemala are priceless experiences, and these expert suggestions will have you knowing wondrous spots like a local.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hot Air Balloon Rides in Australia

To catch some of the best views in the world, you have to try ballooning. Thrill-seeking without being overly dangerous, ballooning lets photography fans snap away undistracted, while adventure lovers can get the wind in their face and take in magnificent mountain views. Travel tales just aren't complete unless you've seen something amazing, and this would be it for an Australian trip.

The new ballooning adventure in town getting good buzz is offered at Rawnsley Park Station, which Condé Nast suspects is the perfect place in Australia for “great views.” Flinders Ranges, which lies north of Adelaide, is the biggest mountain range in Australia and is most efficiently explored by air. Notoriously challenging-to-please Condé Nast gushes:

“The hot air balloon flights leave daily before sunrise and gently float across the outback, giving fliers time to take in the scenery and native wildlife below as the sun comes up.”

Besides ballooning options, there's more to do in the park, with hiking, trekking, four wheeling, and mountain bike treks being some of their most popular available trips. With so much on the potential adventure traveller's to-do list, it's likely that you could spend a few days exploring the scenery, having a few screams, and getting some impressive panoramic views of Australian land.

Other Activities in Australia
If you're looking for adventure, Australia's the place to go. Besides ballooning, see if any of these trips around the outback or ocean suit you, adding them to your schedule as time and budget allows. This is going to be one incredible trip!

Outback-Exploring: While the outback might seem dry and remote, it's one of the best places in the world to catch a jaw-dropping sunset. The “Sunburnt Country,” as it's known, is host to a bevy of indigenous plants, cool animals, and curious rock formations.

Helicopter Flights: If ballooning isn't your thing, perhaps taking to the air doesn't need to be ruled out entirely... you can always zoom upwards for a view of the desert and mountains in a helicopter instead.

Aboriginal Tours: Learning about the native Australian people is easiest when one hires an expert guide with Aboriginal roots. Ayers Rock is one of the most popular Aboriginal landmarks in Australia and captivates scores of tourists each year.

Horseback Riding: View Australia like the settlers did, on the back of a horse. We dare say that you'll have the better deal, since you won't get lost in the process!

Featured Lodging in Australia & New Zealand
Australia's hotels include high-rise modern masterpieces and unpretentious bungalows, and your best choice would be cherry picking around the country. On a multi-city stay in Australia and New Zealand, try a series of luxury hotels—all with perks, of course—that allow you to experience the wide variety of upscale lodging options.

Where to Enjoy Nature

Lizard Island: 24 beaches are sure to satisfy soft-sand lovers, but the personal island retreat also happens to be king for deep sea fishing, diving, and snorkeling. While you'll feel like you're in the middle of paradise, you can still find a luxurious spa treatment on Lizard Island.

Longitude 131: The snazzily-named Longitude 131 is the prime place for rest at the edge of paradise. The five-star resort sits on the border of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, putting you in a prime spot to watch the sun setting over Ayers Rock.

Blanket Bay: Adventure lovers will swoon over the list of things to do at Blanket Bay, which boasts activities to improve spiritual and mental well-being in nearby New Zealand. Highlighted in top-notch magazines the world over, Blanket Bay is a stunning lodging selection.

Where to Spend a Citified Stay
Sofitel Queenstown Resort: You might feel a touch of French influence while you are at the Sofitel, and that's the intention. This Queenstown resort adds a slight European flavor to its lodgings for ultimate cosmopolitan appeal.

Park Hyatt Melbourne: In one of Melbourne's historic districts, the Park Hyatt Melbourne is bordered by sumptuous gardens and overlooks a primarily Victorian neighborhood. Gorgeous!

Four Seasons Hotel Sydney: You won't have to walk far to get to some of Sydney's prime shopping and business centers when you stay in the Four Seasons Sydney. Great views are the prize at this stunning hotel, located near the historic Rocks district.

Australia awaits, regardless of whether or not you choose to visit for prime ballooning season. With an array of exciting sights to see and things to do, Australia can and should be visited at any time of the year. Choose your hotel, and you're halfway there.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sydney, the World's Best City?

To some, Australia's only drawback is its distance from the rest of the world, but that can be seen as a hidden benefit, too. Pristine and tucked-away, Australia's appeal comes in part from its natural wonders, plus its rich culture. In fact, the capital city of Australia, Sydney, is even considered a candidate for the “best city in the world," according to CNN.

Why Go to Sydney?

Towering Buildings; Unparalleled Views
The Sydney Tower is filled with water to help it handle major sways from winds, and a skywalk stroll could leave you with wobbly knees. The 880-feet tower (268 meter) can also be enjoyed from indoors if you'd rather not venture outside—and there's a restaurant, too!

Pet-Friendly Cafes

If you're an animal lover, you know how hard it can be to travel with your pets. Sydney boasts not just pet-friendly parks, but cafes that feature pet playgrounds and custom-made doggie drinks. Fido couldn't be more spoiled while on vacation.

Interesting Nightlife
Do you dare dance in a morgue? The Kinsela was once home to Charles Kinsela, an undertaker, and now it provides quality nightlife in a spot with high ceilings and Art Deco touches, including one room called “The Chapel.” The veranda is a perfect spot for a good view of the city, and if you love going here? Additional unadvertised events in surprise venues give you a chance to party in warehouses or at the beach.

Independent Theatres Abound
Support thespians! Independent theatres make Sydney tick, and there are plenty of performances to see when you're in town—whenever that is. The Stables at Kings Cross and The Old Fitzroy are two famous options for the enthusiastic theatre fan. You can also catch a performance at The Tearoom Gunners' Barracks.

Seafood Is Super Plentiful
Want some good fish? You can't get much better than Sydney, where you'll also see some creative choices for cooking, displaying, and eating whatever's fresh from the sea. Inexpensive prawns will make you swoon.

Where to Stay in Sydney?
Hotel options are plentiful, but why make a mistake when you can stay at one of the best in Sydney?

The Observatory Hotel: Near the business district, the centrally-located Observatory Hotel offers visitors an ideal base from which to both work and explore. This boutique hotel offers unsurpassed luxury.

Four Seasons Hotel Sydney: Overlooking Sydney Harbor, the Four Seasons Sydney has an array of perks in addition to breathtaking waterfront views. Their luxurious spa is a must-stop.

Park Hyatt Sydney: Located near the historic Rocks district of Sydney, the Park Hyatt offers great tranquility while still remaining close to the action. This five-star destination boasts some of the largest hotel rooms and suites in Sydney.

Sheraton on the Park: This hotel is located directly across from Hyde Park and is a wonderful place to stay with family and friends. The contemporary hotel features an upscale lounge and a pristine health club to help you unwind.

What's stopping you from visiting Sydney, and then heading to the rest of Australia? It's a country that everyone should visit in their lifetime. With all the perks available when booking through, now's a better time than ever.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Celebrating the Royal Wedding

The royal wedding date is sneaking up, and that means journalists are ready to go to London, fans are preparing to camp out for a great view, and tourists are planning on visiting for a piece of the action. This is a great year to go to the U.K., since there’s a lot of buzz about the royal wedding and about the impending Olympics. With the country in a celebratory mood and lots of great things for tourists to see and to do, this is a perfect time to start deal searching. Booking a package now means that you can take advantage of some quality bargains--bring on the perks, the luxurious settings, and the dream concierge service.

Shermans Travel listed some of the best tourist options in the U.K., perfect for celebrating the royal wedding in style.

Viewing Parties: The Stafford is selling tickets to a viewing party at the hotel, where guests can watch wedding events unfold and feast on canapes accompanied by sparkling wine. The outdoor courtyard will be decked out for all-day festivities.

Experts Say: “Those not lucky enough to score an invite to the ceremony will be glued to their TVs on April 29 – or if you prefer, The Stafford’s TV. This St. James’s area gem (whose American Bar is rumored to be a favorite haunt of Prince William and Kate Middleton) is throwing a viewing party.”

Travel Like a Royal: If you’re up for a carriage ride, you can try a copycat carriage excursion that whisks you through London with some of the glamour of a real royal trip. Booking a carriage ride through the city is just part of the journey, since it’s recommended in tandem with a trip to the Tower of London to learn about Prince William’s lineage.

Experts Say: Be sure to book high tea!

Jewelry Shopping: Brown’s Hotel in London has a great package to try for Kate and Prince William lovers. The Royal Wedding Celebration Package includes a private appointment to the royal jewelers’ place, plus limousine transport, afternoon tea, and a special keepsake album.

Experts Say: “The shop is just one stop on the hotel’s “royal points of interest map,” which also includes Buckingham Palace and Clarence House (the official London residence of William; his father, Charles; and his brother, Harry).”

London Hotels with Perks

If you prefer guiding yourself through London without a package, try these luxury hotels via

The Metropolitan London

The Metropolitan London, favored by business travelers and pleasure-seeking tourists alike, is serene and high-tech. Positioned at posh Park Lane, the Metropolitan London features a warm, yet modern, interior for guests. The hotel is sleek and regularly ranks for its exceptional cuisine.

41 Hotel
Did you know that 41 is considered “as close to the Royal Family as you can get”? It's true. The luxury hotel is within walking distance to many London landmarks, and it's directly opposite Buckingham Palace. What an exciting place to be when London is buzzing with activity!

The Athenaeum
Do you prefer a small, family-owned hotel instead of a larger one where you can blend into the background? The Athenaeum has home-away-from-home comforts and interesting features, too, which includes the Living Wall Garden and award-winning afternoon tea. Scone, anyone?

One Aldwych
Covent Garden is a prime spot in London for touristing, since you're right in the center of it all. Some of their suite options include a private dining room, gym, or terrace, and you can easily walk to one of London's major theatres or the opera from your hotel. A contemporary art collection and inspired floral arrangements complete the hotel's beauty.

Four Seasons London at Park Lane
The Four Seasons at Park Lane just celebrated their opening at the end of January, and that means wonderful service and immaculate rooms for every guest that crosses their threshold. This hotel boasts panoramic views of the city and an extremely efficient concierge service.

This year, post-royal wedding, you’ll still have your pick of some great royal-related tourist pieces for display or sale. While many are commemorative, why not put a Kate Middleton and Prince William mug into action instead of keeping it on display? If you decide to make use of your new find, it’ll be easier to remember that luxe trip to London.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The New Hong Kong

The new Hong Kong is modern and thrilling, with an abundance of change yet a long, rich past. The “Fragrant Harbor,” well-known in the past for its spices and now for its high-rise lifestyle, is always adding to its international offerings. Considering Hong Kong’s ever-changing skyline and voracious appetite for the new (and newer), it comes as no surprise that there are internationally-lauded shops and fantastic local restaurants tucked into corners all over the city. In a constant state of flux, Hong Kong appeals to a mass audience with its varied offerings.

In a recent feature, Hong Kong's interesting contrasts were highlighted. The city, despite its push for the new and the modern, is home to a 40% park land, which protects macaques, porcupines, and boar. Good food is everywhere, as is good shopping, although Hong Kong still grapples with Shanghai's placement on the world stage, financially-speaking.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed Hong Kong experts to find out what they recommended in the city, and it's a perfect primer to stay informed on one of the most vibrant cities in the world.

Alan Lo, Restauranteur, Recommends...
4 Wan Chai Market (Cross St. and Wan Chai RD)
This is one of the remaining street-level wet markets in Hong Kong, and it's a good place to get dried sausage (a traditional Chinese pick) and dried eggs.

Yiu Fung Store (3 Fu Ming St., Causeway Bay)
Got a sweet tooth? Try the “super” plums that locals love, or delicious confectionery masterpieces.

Carol Lim, Fashion Insider, Recommends...
Rise Commercial Building (5-11 Granville Circuit, Tsim Sha Tsui, off Granville RD)
This building is a home accessories haven and a good place to go retro browsing. Leave some room in your suitcase!

Lily and Bloom (LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham ST)
Get back to the '20s with Lily and Bloom. Lily's a cigar and whisky room; Bloom is a tasty raw bar. Will is be both or just one for you?

Alain Ducasse, Chef, Recommends...
Hong Kong Space Museum (10 Salisbury RD)
The Planetary Dome is impressive, and you should swing by the OMNIMAX threatre to catch a fun featured flick while you're there.

Tim Ho Wan Restaurant (Shop 8, 2-20 Kwong Wa ST)
This new local restaurant has spicy dim sum as a menu exclusive and is a casual stop for the weary traveler. Noshing quickly and without pretensions can still taste good.

Daniel Libeskind, Architect, Recommends...
Fook Lam Moon Restaurant (35-45 Johnston RD)
Thousand-year-old eggs and the “best duck” make this restaurant a good Hong Kong destination for the hungry.

HSBC Main Building (1 Queen's RD Central)
The Norman Foster-designed hotel has an amazing lobby, designed with the help of Feng Shui experts. Built in the '80s, it's still an awe-inspiring sight today.

Suggested Hong Kong Hotels
Raring to get to Hong Kong? Now all you need is a place to stay...

Four Seasons Hong Kong
This Four Seasons boasts water views, which are often talked about in Hong Kong tourist guides, and a must-see for all visitors. Overlooking Victoria Harbor, Four Seasons Hong Kong offers exemplary service and exclusive perks when booked via

A multi-million dollar refurbishment left the Intercontinental Hong Kong with premier dining offerings and a feng-shui inspired spa. 92 harbor-facing suites are perfectly positioned for view lovers, while others can request business-perfect rooms for the busy travel who never really steps away from the desk.

Near the Victoria Harbor, the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong has been a luxury hotel presence in the city since the early 1960s. With suites reaching up to over 3,000 square feet, the Mandarin Oriental remains poised to accommodate your every request via concierge and IT butlers.

The Landmark Mandarin Oriental
Considered one of the best hotels in the world, the Landmark Mandarin Oriental is located right in the central district for easy access and sightseeing. While you're in the action when you step outside, the hotel has been planned to deliver calm in bustling Hong Kong.

Hong Kong isn't easy to navigate, nor is it cheap, but it remains an exciting whirlwind for any traveler. With such great offerings, Hong Kong remains an outstanding place to shop and eat, not to mention view the city from one of the Hong Kong's famous rooftop restaurants or publicly-accessible skyscrapers.

For more Hong Kong travel tips, check out the Wall Street Journal's feature.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Eco-Tourism Exploring

Through the jungle, around the rushing brooks, guided by a native guide who’s lived near or in the same forest his whole life. Is it the standard vacation? No, but ecotourism destinations are the perfect way to stay green when on holiday. With options like rainforest exploring, trekking in the shadows of the Australian Blue Mountains, and staying in a sustainable camp in Africa, you're not going to be left without a plan for long.

Visiting the “Lungs of Our Planet”
The rainforest is disappearing, despite conservation efforts. Combining a trip that benefits local preservation groups is an informed and responsible choice in the ever-changing global climate!

Ecotourism Experts Comment: “Often called the 'Lungs of our Planet' the remarkable Amazon rainforest surrounds Earth's largest river system and supports thousands of plant and animal species in the 1.2 billion acres it occupies.”

Take Your Break in... Salvador. Located in the north of Brazil, Salvador was the stage for complex historical events, some of the first colonial settlements in Brazil, and the birth of a rich Afro-Brazilian culture. Try staying at Pestana Convento do Carmo Hotel, which is the first luxury historical hotel in Brazil. Colonial architecture blends with traditional Brazilian touches at this spot located in a neighborhood steeped in culture.

Diving in the Galapagos
Giant turtles and nationally-protected islands make the Galapagos a traveler's dream.

Ecotourism Experts Comment: “Visiting the Galapagos is the eco-traveler equivalent of making a pilgrimage to Mecca. Some 97 percent of the islands are protected by the Galapagos National Park Service.”

Take Your Break in... Peru. The Galapagos lie west of Ecuador, and that means you should definitely take the time to explore this pocket of South America. Peru's luxury hotels will surprise you, because they combine stunning settings with modern convenience, plus a fascinating blend of culture wherever you look. The Hotel Monasterio was built as a monastary in 1592 and happens to be a great spot for those planning on visiting Machu Picchu and Cuzco during their stay in Peru.

Viewing Wildlife in Botswana
African big game doesn't have to be seen solely on safari.

Ecotourism Experts Comment: “Elephant herds, leopards, lions, zebras, hippos, white rhinos, and chacma baboons are just some of the glorious creatures you will encounter in Botswana.”

Take Your Break in... the Khwai River Lodge. This particular lodge keeps the eco-friendly sentiment in mind by blending into the forested background, leaving you in Africa's true wilderness. The Khwai River floodplains stretch out below the luxury hotel by Orient-Express, and you'll be in a prime position to spot wild dogs, elephants, buffaloes, lions, leopards, and cheetahs. Lounge on a private deck with a hammock and easy chair, keeping your eyes trained at the expanse of forest and plains around you. Who knows what you might see?

Exploring the Riches of Costa Rica
Costa Rica's true wonders are a rich climate, stunning landscape, and miles of beach.

Ecotourism Experts Comment: “Costa Rica's renowned back-to-nature ethos has helped make the country virtually synonymous with the concept of ecotourism. It has more than held true to its name, which means 'Rich Coast.'"

Take Your Break In... “The Place Near the Ear Trees.” The hotel Paradisus Playa Conchal Resort is situated in one of Costa Rica's least-populated provinces, in an area called "The Place Near the Ear Trees" by native inhabitants. Boasting one of the last parts of tropical dry forest in Central America, this province is a must-explore for travel junkies. The resort is elegant and well-situated, with nearby lakes, beaches, and wildlife refuges.

For more inspiration, the International Ecotourism Society website is waiting. Read up on vacation options and then cross-reference with to plan a vacation that supports green efforts, but that still allows time for rest. Isn't that the way it's supposed to be? You can hike all day, but do take some a break to bed down in a luxurious location, particularly in times between tours.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The English Countryside Getaway

The English Countryside is an awfully romantic and mysterious place, remarkably unchanged over the years. Even if your life is complicated in the city, you can uncomplicate it with a trip to the rolling hills of England. While things have become more convenient and more accessible, the British countryside is still an oasis of calm. Maintaining the look of the past, English getaway destinations are more than simply manicured manor houses--they’re a balance of the past and present.

CNN recently profiled top destinations in the English countryside, and many of their selections are featured on as luxury accommodations with perks. As CNN says, “Crumbling estates have been restored into plush, contemporary hotels. [...] Such is the mood afoot in England, with old-fashioned pubs serving inventive cuisine and upscale stores and spas catering to a cosmopolitan crowd. Today, Wilde be damned, the English countryside is very tempting indeed.”

Places to Go in the English Countryside

Hay Barn Spa Daylesford, Gloucestershire
The Hay Barn Spa is located on an outstanding 1,500 acres of land, which is home to an organic farm and a "tiny" day spa. Much of the buildings and products on the property are sustainable or organic, making your footprint lighter in the countryside.

CNN Says: “Daylesford now has a café, a cooking school and a clothing store, and it's become a destination for a certain London sort (Kate Moss, Liz Hurley, Kate Winslet) who makes the 90-minute drive from the city or has a country home nearby.”

Hix Oyster and Fish House Lyme Regis, Dorset
Located three hours from London, this restaurant is one of the places to go in the countryside to try some of England's local delicacies--nettles, anyone? Try the balcony seating for lunch, and perhaps some cod or sole.

CNN Says: “Perched above the horseshoe-shaped harbor, the restaurant has drawn a discriminating crowd, and Hix also hosts cooking demonstrations and supper clubs led by well-known writers, artists and chefs.”

Giffords Circus Cirencester, Gloucestershire
This 1930s recreation of a touring circus is an intimate affair, and the performances have been going on for a decade now. Expect dancing horses and acrobats for $35 per adult ($20 children).

CNN Says: “With just 360 spectators, the performances have a magical intimacy, the storytelling appealing to adults and children alike, and after evening shows, guests are invited to dine with the cast in a fairy light-strewn tent.”

Amberley Castle Amberley, West Sussex
Mistletoe Lodge provides a private dining space for just a couple, surrounded by the gardens that have made Castle Amberley famous. This Cotswold spot should be reserved in advance, of course, but it's worth the trouble to dine under a thatched tree house, in poplar trees. Do you think the server has trouble making it up and down to deliver the delicious English meals?

CNN Says: “The British love of garden follies -- fountains, aviaries, pavilions -- has had a resurgence in recent years as a spate of fanciful creations have emerged across the country.”

Cary Arms Babbacombe Beach, Devon
The Cary Arms is said to have a "New England feel," and that itself is intriguing. This vacation destination is enjoying a revamped popularity with locals and travelers alike.

CNN Says: “But the UK coast is back with this 1920s seaside inn that's been redone by its new owners, Lana and Peter de Savary. The de Savarys clearly know luxury -- Peter reconceived Scotland's Skibo Castle as a lavish members-only club -- and they've injected some panache to the modest inn.”

Places to Stay While Exploring

Royal Crescent Hotel
This hotel is a good transitional stay while you’re moving from one countryside location to another. Located in Bath, the Royal Crescent feature “secret gardens” and wonderful English afternoon tea for enthusiastic explorers who need sustenance before the next expedition.

Summer House Country House and Spa
Now’s your time to relax in the countryside, surrounded by quiet and luxury. This former private home has charm and quiet to offer those checking out the Dorset countryside, and those who need a day in can play croquet, swim in the heated indoor pool, or visit the health spa.

Old Government House Hotel
This luxury hotel is a perfect place to finish up a trip touring the English countryside. You can visit plenty of beaches while you stay at the Old Government House Hotel, and you’ll even be able to view the outline of the French coast from private gardens. Hope for a clear day to top up your tan while you’re there!

Radisson Edwardian Manchester
Need a break from the country for a night? The Radisson Edwardian Manchester is in the city center and retains the Halle Suite, which was originally where the Halle Orchestra used to strum and croon the night away. It’s now a special events room, making the Edwardian a perfect place to stay for those attending conferences and shows at the hotel.

Exploring the English countryside is great, but you know what’s even better? Staying in a luxury hotel after a day tromping through the fields and riding horses on the trails. Plan whatever suits your fancy in the English countryside knowing that, when you retire, you can get re-charged and rejuvenated in just a night’s rest.