March 22, 2006
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
That's right: experience the 2006 Giro d'Italia and ride with Lance Armstrong! Trek Travel-- offering cycling vacations of a lifetime on grand tours through Europe-- designs fantastic Italian cycling adventures. From May 9-May 15, savor the best of the Italian countryside, delightful cuisine, scenic cycling, and quality time with badass champion Lance. The trip details for "Giro d'Italia with Lance Armstrong": 7 days, 6 nights, starting in Piacenza and ending in Forli, moderate (40-70 miles per day), $8500 (double occupancy).
It's that time of year again. MGM Mirage-- which now owns over half of the hotel rooms on the Strip-- is spending a whole lot of cash on its Vegas spring cleaning. $800 million on upgrades, in addition to the $7 billion they're shelling out for the Project CityCenter development, expected to open in 2010. After all, you've got to spend money to make money, as the Las Vegas Sun explains: "the idea is to continue to attract big spenders." Last year they spent big bucks on upgrading a wing of MGM Grand, building high-end Skylofts, adding two restaurants from Chef Joel Robuchon, and serious upgrades at Mandalay Bay. What's in store with this year's spring cleaning? Renovation of the outdoor pool and beach area at Mandalay Bay to add a bunch of new deck space and cabanas. Remodeling of the Rumjungle bar and revamping of the 3950 restaurant, with the addition of a celebrity chef. A new nightclub at Luxor. A new restaurant and bar at Excalibur. A new Japanese restaurant at Mirage. And the biggest upgrade of all: a Cirque du Soleil show inspired by the music of the Beatles, to debut in May at the Mirage.
It's not too late to start planning your New Year's Caribbean vacation. The expert travel agents at Five Star Alliance notice that the hot properties in the Carib, Mexico and Central America fill up absurdly fast. Try late Spring/early Summer fast. A trend that is repeated every year. So if you're thinking sunshine for you and your family over the holidays and New Year, especially for places like the Four Seasons Guanacaste in Costa Rica or Peter Island or Amanyara (Turks and Caicos) or anything St. Bart's-- act fast.
Here in Washington we're already going gaga over the annual flowering of the Cherry Blossoms. The festival doesn't get rocking until next weekend, but the flowers are a-blooming and travelers are enjoying the best time of year to visit the nation's capital. Below I've compiled some articles for your perusal and pleasure:
National Cherry Blossom Festival, Official Website
The Washington Post, "2006 Cherry Blossom Guide"
Fodor's Travel Wire, "Think Pink: Spring Cherry Blossom Festivals"
Fodor’s Travel Wire, "Essential Washington, D.C."
The Informed Traveler, "Luxurious DC Cherry Blossom Package at The Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington"
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.
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
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.
March 16, 2006
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
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!
March 13, 2006
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Amidst the rowdy hordes of spring-break revelers, tacky t-shirt stands and shops spilling flamingo kitsch, wary sun-seekers may despair: where is the colorful, whimsical Key West of old?! But step away from the mobs on Duvall Street, the wet t-shirt contests and "clothing optional" bars and tacky sunset scene of Mallory Square-- where the shadow of an enormous Carnival Cruise ship looms-- and the palm-lined alleys and side-streets reveal the other side to Key West's Old Town: white clapboard Victorian houses framed by fuchsia bougainvillea blossoms, Gypsy roosters clucking and crowing alongside the city's famous fat lounging cats, art galleries and Cuban coffee shops, friendly and eccentric locals.
The best dining in Key West-- hands down-- is Cafe Sole, located off the beaten path on Southard and Francis Streets. Chef John Correa learned his magic in Provence and Bordeaux, and superb dishes-- like Hog Snapper smother in a red pepper hollandaise sauce-- reflect his culinary training. For the island's best brunch, head to Blue Heaven in Bahama Village, where you can devour blueberry pancakes and lobster benedict in a flowering, friendly backyard-- full of whimsy and good cheer.
Shopping? Don't despair on Duvall. A few steps away on Petronia Street, Besame Mucho is one of the world's most pleasant boutiques. The fragrant interior is full of fine jewelry, exquisite Provencal soaps, Kiehl's products, luscious gourmet candies and beautiful Moroccan shoes. Indeed, as the slogan goes: "shop here once and life will be a joy forever.”