Change is afoot in the Eastern Europe outpost of Bulgaria. Its 20th century history was marked by the power struggle between paternalistic Russia and wary western Europe (which sought to break up the Russian stronghold and thus carved away Macedonia to the Balkans), but the country is now slated for entry into the European Union in 2007. And as the Financial Times reports, the Black Sea coastal beaches have recently become prime real estate for investors:
The Moscow government has already invested in this area of Bulgaria's coast, with plans to build two five-star hotels on a promontory enclosing the south side of the beach. And more buyers – institutions and individuals from Russia, the UK, Ireland, Spain and France – are circling, eager to get in on Europe's latest emerging market property boom.
Investment in upscale development is good news for Bulgaria's economy, and in addition, the government has realized the importance of legislation protecting the coast: banning high-rise buildings, creating new zoning regulations, and setting aside green space. Looks like Bulgaria is on the path to becoming Europe's new second home hot spot.
Pay $5 for a snack box with a cardboard-tasting sandwich and mushy apple? I don't think so, say many luxury travelers, who are opting for delightful gourmet take-out meals offered by their upscale hotels. As the Miami Herald reports:
...the posh Peninsula Beverly Hills sells takeout platters of blue fin tuna, poached salmon and Cobb salad in narrow cardboard boxes with suitcase-like handles for about $20. Guests at the Hotel Plaza Athene in New York can order a chicken club or shaved roast beef sandwich packed with monogrammed cloth napkins and a reusable thermos from the hotel's "Goodies to Go" menu. Hotels aren't just filling doggie bags with food from their restaurant menus. Some are devising special dishes that travel well and stay tasty at room temperature.Now that's a way to build loyalty among your (happily-satiated) clients.
Holy week in Seville takes place in the eight days between Palm Sunday and Easter (April 9-16 this year): an incredible celebration and melancholy observance at the same time. The cloaked Cofradias (Brotherhoods)-- their eyes and faces hidden by huge conical hats-- process through the city's narrow, winding streets. Some barefoot, burdened with crosses, or huge fantastic floats of the Virgin Mary or Jesus, kneeling in penitence as they circle from their church to the Cathedral of Seville and back-- passing mobs of citizen revelers and eager onlookers. The streets are absolutely packed with extended families (from infants to grandmothers) who gather to watch the processions of 57 brotherhoods carry 116 marvelous floats through the streets. To witness this religious ritual is a once-in-a-lifetime must. Where to stay in the exquisite historical city of Seville? The Hotel Alfonso XIII, of course! Built in 1929, the posh royal palace was inaugurated by the King for which it was named. A fixture on the Conde Nast Traveler Gold List, the hotel is the essence of opulence. (Hurry, rooms are still available! My pick are the Moorish-themed rooms, with their tasteful and elegant furnishings.)
Hotel Alfonso XIII, Official Site
Hotel Alfonso XIII, Five Star Alliance
The rumor mills are churning, and our friends at the TravelPost Insider have picked up on this tantalizing tidbit. Stop the press: Brangelina may be tying the knot this weekend on the shores of Lake Como. What's in store at the elegant and perfect Villa d'Este? The 16th century aristocratic residence could easily be the most romantic place on earth. Draped in accolades, and revered worldwide, the villa overlooks 25 acres of picturesque gardens and the heart-stopping blue vistas of Lake Como. Rooms are simply magnificent, with period furniture, sumptuous silk and satin fabrics, some with balconies and terraces.
Villa d'Este, Official Site
Villa d'Este, Five Star Alliance
Tony Ryan-- founder of Europe's beloved and enormously successful airline Ryanair (this is the airline that paved the way for the new model of competitive low-fare carriers, after all)-- is investing in a new low-fare airline in Mexico. Viva AeroBus will take off in September, servicing major Mexican domestic markets as well as big US cities like LA and Houston.
Seriously, this is the hideaway. According to Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report, anyway. Las Amandas was recently voted a "2006 Hideaway of the Year," and is the frequent haunt and luxurious retreat for celebrities galore. Halfway between Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast, the 70-acre resort is set in a lush ecological reserve chock full of exotic flowering plants, pristine beaches and lagoons. Its 14 suites and six villas-- beautifully designed with Mexican artifacts and antiques-- are linked by yellow mosaic-lined walkways winding through graceful gardens. Most are equipped with private terraces and verandahs. For a limited time this spring, get four nights for the price of three! The "Spring Escape" includes a welcome cocktail upon arrival, a fruit platter and flowers in suite, daily Continental breakfast and a romantic candlelit dinner for two on the beach. Unlimited horseback riding, tennis, gym and croquet are included. Rates depend upon the suite selected and range from $360 to $1,400 per suite, per night.
The beautiful and scenic California coastline near San Luis Obispo is also Cali's fastest-growing wine region. But the cat's not yet out of the bag-- the rolling hills and undulating countryside are still peacefully quiet. No Napa traffic jams here. To explore these tranquil environs-- just about halfway between Lalaland and San Fran-- take a room at the charming Villa Toscana, a luxe bed and breakfast that boasts just eight romantic suites. Overlooking the vineyards, the rooms are opulently decorated, each named for one of the estate's award-winning wines. To really do it right, reserve the private winemaker's residence: a two-bedroom, 2.5 bath suite, with a detached two car garage, private courtyard, patio, and Jacuzzi.
It's hot. It's hip. Welcome to the new Strand Ocean Drive Hotel, a chic and stylish boutique hotel on Miami's South Beach. The unique hotel is comprised of four different historical structures (and one new building) with each suite featuring a unique design theme so—and get this!— you can change the style and ambience each time you visit the hotel. Whatever your whim. Thus, at 1024 Ocean Drive, you can savor the Retro style of the 1960s. Next door at 1036 Ocean Drive, you can join the martini-set in the classic Art Deco style of the 1930s. At 1052 Ocean Drive, get a taste of the contemporary, with the hip new five story structure. And at 1060 Ocean Drive, you can soak up the Mediterranean Tropical style of Miami. Now through April 7, 2006, the hotel is offering a cool giveaway. If you sign up for The Strand Ocean Drive mailing list, you are entered to win an iPod shuffle. They're giving one away each week for a month. Hop to it!
On its sun-soaked perch overlooking Miami, Coral Gables-- aka City Beautiful as it was dubbed when it was founded in 1925-- is a lot more than its 6.5 million square feet of office space, high-end boutiques and University of Miami campus. This is also the Latin American business headquarters of oodles of multinational companies (try 175 of them). It's a lush and beautiful spot, with a Mediterranean style aura. Starwood just announced plans to convert the 157-room Colonnade Hotel-- long known as the scene for important social and business events-- into a new Westin. What can guests expect at the new Colonnade, slated to open in late 2006? Why-- Westin's signature Heavenly Bed, of course, along with luxurious services, products and amenities that are all in line with Westin's new brand message of "renewal." Hence, the high thread-count sheets, down duvet and down pillows, plush bathrobes, and the newest Heavenly Bath: "a custom-designed dual showerhead that offers a choice of spray options from light mist to massaging needles." But smokers, beware. As of February 2006, Westin's paved the way for smoke-free hotels across North America.