Categories
Experiential Travel

SmarterTravel Spotlight: Villa Lena in Tuscany

For travelers looking to reawaken their artistic impulses, Villa Lena is a haven and an incubator for creative individuals in Italy. Every summer, this agriturismo resort opens the doors of its 19th century villa and farmhouse studios to artists from all over the world to work and inspire their guests. Through this regular flow of creative forces, Villa Lena is a hotel where guests can’t help but find inspiration in the beautiful vistas and constant creation around them.

The Location

Villa Lena

Forty-five minutes from Pisa and an hour from Florence by car, Villa Lena is located in a quieter part of Tuscany in area known as San Michel. High up on a forested hill, classic Tuscan scenes of rolling vineyards and cypress trees expand in every direction. Mountain bikes are available for those who want to attempt the trail to the nearby town of Palaia for fresh-made gelato, but the best way to get around is to rent a car. The villa is also a short walk away from a nearby ghost town of Old Toiano, whose original residents were forced to evacuate in the 1940s and today is mostly occupied by a wild cat colony.

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The Residency

Every year, hundreds of artists apply from around the world for the opportunity to spend a part of their summer at Villa Lena. For six weeks, the chosen artists will have the time and space to work on their projects in exchange for running workshops and leaving an original piece of work behind for the hotel. The types of artists vary from musicians and painters, filmmakers and sculptors, and even bookmakers and floral arrangers. The scheduled workshops, screenings, and readings change from season to season depending on the skillsets of the different artists.

The workshops are a great chance to get hands-on with the art being created and are especially fun for families with young children or teens. If you happen to stay during the last weeks of the residency program, you may even have the chance to attend the Artist Aperitivo, when all the artists will open their studios and talk about the work they’ve created during their stay and present the piece they will leave behind.

As a guest, feel free to not only peruse the art left behind and peek into the studios, but to also strike up a chat with the artists who can be found intermingling with guests around the pool or in the restaurant. Because the artists are living on the property, learning more about their work and their process can really enhance your experience as a guest and open up new ways to perceive the scenery around you, whether that’s taking notice of the sculptural details of a fountain or spotting a specific type of wildflower on the trail. With the residency program at the heart of the resort, creativity is an abundant resource.

The Rooms

Villa Lena Rooms

Villa Lena welcomes all kinds of guests and is family and pet friendly. There are many different types  of rooms available that represent a wide range of price-points. At the more affordable end of the spectrum, the San Michele rooms are located above the restaurant and at the heart of the resort’s social scene with views of the old villa. A short walk from the center of the property, the Renacchi and Santa Maria apartments are perfect for large groups with their own quieter pool in-room kitchenettes. And closer to the property’s entrance, the brand new Fattoria building features deluxe rooms for those looking for a little more luxury, with a romantic bathroom dressed from floor-to-ceiling in Carrara marble. And at the top of the line, Casetta Bella is a private villa with a private pool and three bedrooms located on the far end of the property.

Dining

With over 2,000 olive trees, over four acres of vineyards, and an organic fruit vegetable garden, almost everything you consume at the San Michele restaurant comes right from the land. The set dinner at the San Michele restaurant, which is also open à la carte lunch, is one of the highlights of staying at the hotel. The menu is created daily in collaboration with the international chef-in-residence who is encouraged to incorporate new ideas into the Italian cuisine.

In addition to meal times, guests can learn more about their food by signing up to come along on a truffle hunt or attend a pizza-making workshop with the chef-in-residence. Not to be missed is the cocktail making workshop, where you can learn the history and significance of the Italian aperitivo while mixing and drinking your own Campari cocktails.

Price and How to Book

Room rates begin at 89 Euros per night, which includes breakfast, Wi-Fi, and dinner, as well as use of the facilities and access to the pre-scheduled artists workshops. Culinary workshops like pizza-making and truffle hunting are extra, but reasonably priced. If you’re driving through the area, you could also stop in for a meal at the restaurant or purchase a day pass to use the pool and other amenities like the yoga deck. Plus, you’ll still have a chance to chat with some of the resident artists.

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Jamie Ditaranto was hosted by Villa Lena. Follow her on Instagram @jamieditaranto.

Categories
Family Travel Outdoors Weekend Getaways

Here’s When Fall Foliage Colors Are Predicted to Peak in Your State

Autumn is many travelers’ favorite season of the year. Moderate temperatures, fun seasonal activities, pumpkin-flavored everything, and, of course, the foliage that makes fall a great season for road trips and weekend getaways. But, timing these excursions to coincide with “peak” fall foliage is always tricky, and this year looks to be trending later than usual in some areas, as well as short-lived for some others.

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AccuWeather says warm late-summer temperatures seem likely to delay foliage displays in the Northeast, one of the most popular destinations for leaf-peepers, and that the colors will be short-lived. Midwestern states will have more vibrant and long-lasting colors, according to Accuweather. And as for the mid-Atlantic, the Tennessee Valley to the Southeast will also be delayed thanks to warm early-fall temperatures.

Noting that “warm weather is predicted to stick around across much of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic this September,” AccuWeather foresees a “delayed foliage season in the Northeast–though, generally, a vibrant display is predicted, thanks in part to dryness anticipated before the turn of the leaves.” The same is true of the mid-Atlantic, and AccuWeather also predicts a “spotty” season in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s whats likely to happen in your neck of the woods:

Accuweather fall foliage map 2019.

The official foliage forecast from NewEngland.com echoes this prediction, saying that conditions this year are signaling “colors will come in a bit later than the historical average.” The site also offers a foliage prediction map for planning purposes. Late September to mid-October seem to encapsulate peak time, depending on the area you’re looking to visit.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel

Where to Stay in Germany: Lodging Tips You Need to Know

With so many tempting possibilities, deciding where to stay in Germany can turn into a dilemma. Should you choose ultra-modern hotels or charm-filled historic properties? Should you dream away your nights at country inns, fairytale castles, or pampering spa resorts? Even if you’re on a budget, Germany’s lodging options include hotels, B&Bs, and hostels that are among Europe’s very best. Or, for a change of pace, you can spend a few days on a farm or a countryside vineyard. Can’t choose? The best plan may be to mix and match as you travel through the country, sampling some of Germany’s best accommodations.

Traditional Hotels in Germany

Germany uses the international rating system of stars for hotels, from modest one-stars to five-star luxury. In one- and two-star hotels, you’ll find smaller rooms and perhaps shared bathrooms. From three stars up, hotels will have an on-site restaurant, luggage service, private bathrooms, and a reception desk that stays open at least 12 hours of each day. At four- and five-star hotels, you’ll enjoy room service and plenty of amenities, including robes and washcloths.

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German lodging standards are very high, and you can generally expect clean and comfortable rooms with breakfast included. Better hotels may serve a lavish morning buffet that includes eggs, meats, yogurt, fruits, and cheese. Many hotels in all price ranges have Wi-Fi, though sometimes for a fee.

Europeans still tend to smoke more cigarettes than Americans do, so if you’re sensitive to smoke, it’s worth requesting a nonsmoking room or floor when you make your reservation. Be aware that in a climate where air-conditioning is seldom necessary, many older hotels may not have it. If you are planning a summer trip, be sure to check.

Keep a copy of your reservation confirmation with you to make sure the promised rate is honored. Always check hotel sites directly for specials and deals, such as low weekend rates in cities when business travelers go home. During major events like Munich’s Oktoberfest or the Frankfurt Book Fair, rooms are scarce and rates can double or even triple. You can also find great deals on Germany hotels via TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) and Hotels.com.

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Germany’s Romantik Hotels

While star ratings tell you about amenities, they do not measure charm, and many older European hotels have great appeal. Among the most enjoyable places to stay in Germany are the aptly named Romantik Hotels, found in Germany’s major cities as well as in its smaller towns. The hotels in this group are all in historic buildings and owner-managed.

Another romantic experience is to choose a schlosshotel, or castle converted into a hotel. Germany has more of these special accommodations than anywhere else in Europe. You can find many of them listed at TripAdvisor, and at a site called Castle and Palace Hotels.

Note that some of Germany’s older hotels do not have elevators, so if stairs are a problem for you, make sure to request a room on the ground floor.

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Germany’s Country Hotels

The German countryside has so much beauty and so many attractions that it is well worth your time to plan part of your itinerary in Germany away from the cities. This will give you the chance to experience delightful places to stay such as gasthofs and gasthauses, atmospheric country inns that also serve good local food.

For a different experience, spend time at a countryside bauernhof, a farm that offers rooms for travelers. These are great fun for families, especially for city dwellers. You can also stay amid scenic vineyards at a winzerhof, a winery guesthouse. A site called LandReise is an excellent source for these types of lodgings (though it’s only in German; use the Chrome browser for translation). Bavaria alone boasts more than 1,000 farmstay listings, along with its own association and website to help find them: Farm-Holidays.com.

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Germany’s Spa Hotels

Ever since Roman times, visitors have been coming to Germany to “take the waters” in health spas surrounded by hot mineral springs said to have healing properties. “Bad” means bath, and hotels in cities such as Bad Reichenhall, Wiesbaden, and chic Baden-Baden share access to the coveted spa waters. Many of these cities also have diversions like casinos and fine eateries. Hotels vary from modest to super-luxurious. Check listings in each town to make your choice, as well as Booking.com.

Germany’s Budget Hotels, B&Bs, and Homestays

For those who are looking for a well-priced hotel in Germany, booking services like Expedia and Hotels.com offer good values in all price categories. Another good source is Best Western. The chain’s listings in Europe are not motels as they are in some parts of the U.S., but rather small hotels that have been inspected and are reliable. If you’re willing to stay outside the city center and take public transportation to get around, you can often find lower rates in better hotels. Just be sure that quick connections are near the hotel.

Germany has its full share of economical bed and breakfast choices, as well. B&Bs, also known as pensions, may be small hotels, but most often, they’re private homes with live-in hosts. They are a far more personal experience than staying in a hotel. The best way to find listings is by contacting the local tourist offices in the areas you plan to visit. You can also find listings at international online services such as BBOnline, BnBFinderBedandBreakfast.com or, of course, Airbnb.

At the lower end of the lodgings scale in Germany are zimmer, meaning simply “rooms,” in private houses, offered by families that have a spare bedroom or two. These can be especially handy if you’re looking for an overnight while touring the country by car. Watch for signs that say “Zimmerfrei” (room available), check with the local tourist office for locations, or try Homestay.com.

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Germany Vacation Rentals

Apartment and home rentals provide more spacious quarters and can be less expensive than booking multiple hotel rooms when traveling with family or a group of friends. The agencies and websites that specialize in offering these types of properties have listings ranging from studios in the city to villas in the country. Among the sources to try are AirbnbHomeAway, and TripAdvisor’s vacation rentals page.

Ask for references or read reviews from people who have previously rented the property that you’re considering. Be sure that someone will be on call to help in case of emergency, like a lost key or a plumbing problem. If you’re hungry for more information before making your reservation, read up about what you need to know about booking a vacation rental.

If you’re planning to stay in Germany for a week or longer, you could consider a house swap. A German family might be delighted to trade their home or apartment for yours, saving each of you a lot of money. Specialized agencies such as HomeExchange or Intervac have listings all over the world, including many in Germany. As with rentals, references from others who have stayed in the property are invaluable. Not quite sure how to arrange this type of accommodation? Read more about how to set up a home exchange.

Hostels in Germany

Germany helped pioneer the idea of youth hostels, and today has more than 500 hostel properties that are among Europe’s most modern. While they still offer the bunk rooms that are popular with thrifty students, many hostels also offer private double rooms and family-style rooms that appeal to budget-conscious older travelers. Rates are modest and often include breakfast.

The best hostels book up fast, so reserve well in advance. Find listings at the German Youth Hostel Association or via Hostelling International, an organization that covers countries around the world. You may also want to consider investing in a Hostelling International membership, as this will allow you to stay worldwide at deeply discounted rates.

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–original research and reporting by Eleanor Berman

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Family Travel

Kid-to-Kid Travel Advice: Fun Things to Do in Berkeley with Kids

Berkeley may be best known for its world-class university and liberal politics, but it’s also a wonderland for kids. A visit to Berkeley with kids can mean constructing your own playground, feeding cows, or riding a (sculpture of a) whale.

Kids Give Advice: Activities in Berkeley with Kids

Kids know how to have fun. Here’s advice from 22 local kindergartners on the best places to go in Berkeley with kids.

Adventure Playground

Entrance to adventure playground
Berkeley’s Adventure Playground

[st_content_ad]Adventure Playground is a playground unlike any other. Here, kids can help imagine and build the actual playground. Existing wooden structures get new additions—checked out by the staff—daily. Kids can climb giant nets, swing from tires, scramble around on boats, explore structures, or help build and paint. There are also tables for kids who want to create take-home wooden projects.

What Kids Say: “Have you ever wanted to build your own playground? Go to Adventure Playground! You can ride a zip-line or, if you collect 10 nails, you can paint or build part of the playground yourself. It’s open on Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.” – Dylan and Dylan

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Bay Area Children’s Theater

Bay area children's theatre cast- beautiful oops
Bay Area Children’s Theatre Cast- Beautiful Oops

Shows at the Bay Area Children’s Theatre get kids excited about theater. Plays and musicals geared to kids include adaptations of popular books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Elephant and Piggy, and Pete the Cat. The BACT Berkeley Center is close to other Berkeley performance venues including Berkeley Rep and Freight and Salvage.

What Kids Say: “Did you know there are talking caterpillars in Berkeley? At the Bay Area Children’s Theatre, you can see Eric Carle’s Mr. Seahorse and other characters come to life. To plan your visit, visit bactheatre.org.” – Justin and Damari

The Berkeley Marina

Kite festival at the berkeley marina
Kite festival

With its 100+ acres of park space, seven miles of trails, and kid-favorite Adventure Playground, the Berkeley Marina is an ideal spot for families. The Marina is also home to a hotel, restaurants, the Shorebird Park Nature Center, and watersports classes.

What Kids Say: “Where can you see a pier and go fishing? At the Berkeley Marina. It’s also a great place to fly kites because it is so windy. The marina is a good place to go when it is sunny.” – Janiah and Baxter

Little Farm at Tilden Regional Park

Pig and children at little farm in tilden park
Little Farm in Tilden Park

Tilden Regional Park is full of family-friendly gems, including a miniature steam train, a merry-go-round, and a botanic garden. But it’s Little Farm that draws the most animal-loving kids. Pack celery and lettuce (the only approved items to feed these constantly snacking farm animals) and let kids visit with and feed cows, goats, and other animals. After you’ve done the Little Farm circuit, stop by the Environmental Education Center or go for a short hike to Jewel Lake.

What Kids Say: “Where can you feed cows, sheep, and goats? The Little Farm! There are baby chicks running around and hungry cows to feed. You can also feed goats and sheep, so bring lots of lettuce and celery. It’s open every day until 4:30 p.m.” – Keira and Jacob

Berkeley Farmers Market

Berkeley farmers market
Berkeley Farmers Market

Three farmers’ markets a week—with locations all over Berkeley—offer up the abundance of local farms year-round. Visitors to Berkeley with kids can explore, sample, snack, and play. Stock up on picnic supplies or find local items to take home as souvenirs. Ready-to-eat prepared foods and live music keep kids coming back.

What Kids Say: “From fresh fruits to warm croissants, the farmers’ market has yummy smells and tastes. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, you can eat lots of fruits and vegetables, hear live music, and buy treats. On Saturdays, it is open from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. On Tuesdays, the hours are 2:00 to 6:30 p.m. And on Thursdays, the farmers’ market is open from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m.” – Adeline and Eliza

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University of California, Berkeley

UC berkeley campus
UC Berkeley Campus

The UC Berkeley campus is the thriving heart of Berkeley. Kids love to race along the tree-lined paths, explore creeks and bridges, and lounge alongside students on the expansive grassy areas. Prefer something a little more structured? Sign up for a free public walking tour, available every day of the week at 10:00 a.m.

What Kids Say: “Where can you find a bunch of students or a Cal party? At UC Berkeley. You can have lots of fun on campus. You can go to Cal Day, or see dinosaur bones, or go to the top of the Campanile. It is open every day but not at night.” – Anna and Maya

The Berkeley Art Museum

doing art at the berkeley museum
Berkeley Art Museum

The Berkeley Art Museum has settled into its new digs downtown, close to all the action (and easily accessible by BART). Classes and the art lab let kids get hands-on with art. Best of all for families, the museum is free for kids 18 and under—and each child 13 and under can bring a grownup into the museum for free.

What Kids Say: “Where could you find amazing artwork in Berkeley? At the Berkeley Art Museum. The museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday.” – Laila and Wilson

Lawrence Hall of Science

nventors lab at the lawrence hall of science
Inventors Lab at the Lawrence Hall of Science

This popular science museum perched on the hill above the UC Berkeley campus yields kid-centric science exhibits and great Bay Area views. The Lawrence Hall of Science features exhibits that encourage kids to touch, climb, design, build, and test. Natural science comes alive for kids at this beloved center.

What Kids Say: “Where can you go to climb on a whale and see a view of the Bay Area? The Lawrence Hall of Science. Watch movies about sea monsters or make paper airplanes here. But the best part is climbing on the huge blue whale outside. The Lawrence Hall of Science is open every day except Monday.” – Raydan and Payson

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Cheeseboard Bakery and Pizza

Cheeseboard collective exterior
Berkeley’s Cheeseboard Collective

This Berkeley institution serves up baked goods in the morning, a global selection of cheese throughout the day, and, next door, pizza in the afternoon and evening. Next door to the Cheeseboard Bakery and Cafe, Cheeseboard Pizza serves up one kind of vegetarian pizza each day. The usually long line feels festive with the addition of live jazz.

What Kids Say: “What makes people crowd around the block? Pizza! There’s only one Cheeseboard in the whole world. In the morning, you can find fresh baked goods like cheese rolls, chocolate things, and pecan rolls. Yum! It is open every day except Sunday and Monday and is on Shattuck Avenue.” – Stella and Augie

Berkeley Public Library – Central Branch

Berkeley public library central branch
Berkeley Public Library Central Branch

An entire floor is dedicated to kids and children’s books at the Central branch of the Berkeley Public Library. The 1930s Moderne-style building and its contemporary addition offer enough room to read, play, and learn. The children’s library features a story room, kid-friendly decorative touches, and librarians who give great advice about reading.

What Kids Say: “Where can you go to be surrounded by thousands of imaginary worlds? The Berkeley Library! You can read all kinds of books, from storybooks to chapter books. The Berkeley Library has it all and it’s open every day of the week.” – Juno and Julian

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Live Oak Park

Sign at live oak park in berkeley
Berkeley’s Live Oak Park

Live Oak Park is part community gathering place, part playground, and part urban nature adventure. At this great place to go in Berkeley with kids, you’ll find two playgrounds plus basketball courts and a community center with a theater and art gallery. Bisecting the park is a creek with paths, bridges, and picnic areas in the shade of tall trees. A large grassy area provides room to run, play, and lounge.

What Kids Say: “Where can you play in water and climb under bridges? At Live Oak Park. There’s something for everyone: a twisty slide, bridges that cross over a creek, and swings. It’s open every day and the best time to come is on a sunny day.” – Wynn and Simon

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Food & Drink Health & Wellness Historical Travel Outdoors

9 Fun Things to Do in Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory

For locals in the charming and often rainy city of Portland, there’s one thing that excites the community more than a sunny day—one that’s clear enough to see Mt. Hood. There are many places in Portland to catch a glimpse of the stately mountain if you find yourself in town on a fogless day: Catch the five-dollar tram up to Oregon Health and Science University Hospital’s overlook or drive up the West Hills to Pittock Mansion. But to really appreciate the beauty of Mt. Hood, you should drive out to Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory.

If you’re visiting Portland and want to take a break from the city, rent a car and set your sights on The Territory. In this little corner of Oregon, there are even more lovable quirks to discover as you search for the mountain’s most picture-perfect angle.

Fun Things to Do in Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory

Whether you’re bringing the kids or hitting the wine trail, there’s something fun for everybody in Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory.

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Get Outside

Mt. Hood is the worlds’ second-most climbed mountain, attracting to its summit over 10,000 climbers every year. The summit can be reached through independent trails or with a guide service. If climbing to the 11,245-foot peak seems too hard, there are plenty of other beautiful and easy trails throughout The Territory. Head for Wildwood Recreation Site, or the Camassia Natural Area, which blooms with small purple flowers in April and early May. There are also plenty of biking trails that will take you through vineyards, along the Clackamas River, and through the backroads of the Mt. Hood National Forest.

Don’t have time for a hike, but still want a great view of Mt. Hood and the surrounding forest? Visit Jonsrud Viewpoint for a quick photo opportunity.

Eat

There’s no need to worry about leaving Portland’s restaurant scene behind when you head toward The Territory. For breakfast, in the town of Sandy grab a pastry at the kitschy Tollgate Inn Restaurant and Bakery or try the artisanal bread and pastries at Oregon City’s Grano Bakery and Market. For a meal with a view, head to the Stone Cliff Inn, a steakhouse that overlooks the Clackamas River and also happens to have a famously scenic parking lot: Just beyond the asphalt, you’ll find a mossy forest so picturesque, it was used as a shooting location in the movie Twilight.

If you’re in Oregon City for dinner, you can get a drink at Arch Bridge Taphouse and have Korean food from the next-door restaurant Soban delivered right to your table. And for pizza with fresh ingredients, head across the bridge to downtown Lake Oswego and try Pizzeria sul Lago.

The World’s 12 Dreamiest Desserts

Spend the Night

When it comes to places to stay, the Mt. Hood Territory runs the gamut. With over 2,000 campsites, log cabin bed and breakfasts like Hidden Woods, and larger hotels like Resort at the Mountain, there are many traditional accommodations to suit your fancy.

For an overnight experience way off-the-beaten-path, there’s Tiny House Village. The cluster of miniature homes offers travelers the chance to try tiny-house living out for themselves. Each house is less than 300 square feet, but all offer a full bathroom and kitchen. If you’ll need more space than that, there are plenty of dream-worthy vacation rentals in The Territory that offer private accommodations, like the woodsy Forrest Lodge located in the remote community of Rhododendron.

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Try Goat Yoga

If you’re traveling by car, take a break to stretch your legs with the help of Oregon’s furriest yoga instructors. At Beaver Lake Stables, you can try Goat Yoga. It’s just like a regular yoga class, but with goats. As you move through your crescent poses and downward dogs, baby goats will run around the room causing mischief. They jump up and on to anything, from haystacks to people’s backs. It’s an experience far from zen, but also a form of animal therapy that gets the whole room laughing. It can be a little messy, but is a great bonding activity, especially for families. The level of yoga is pretty basic, but even more experienced yogis will get a kick of this unconventional yoga class.

Go Wine Tasting

If you think Portland takes its beer seriously, just wait until you try the wine fermenting in The Territory. You can spend the whole day driving through vine-covered countryside, stopping by the taprooms of family-owned wineries like Whiskey Hill and St. Josef’s. When it comes to Oregon wines, the one to look out for is Pinot Noir: Grown on foggy, cool-temperature slopes, Oregon Pinot Noirs are appreciated for their subtlety and earthy cranberry tones.

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Celebrate Tulip Season

If you’re planning a spring trip to Portland, don’t leave without a visit to Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm. Here’ you’ll find rows of rainbows at one of Mt. Hood Territory’s most-famous farms. If you happen to be visiting during Tulip Fest, you’ll find food trucks and special activities for kids. Make sure to check the calendar for fun events like photography classes, special dinners, and wine tastings.

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Shop in Oregon City

 

Not only will you find some of The Territory’s best restaurants and brew houses in Oregon City, you’ll also find great shopping. A recent winner of the Great American Main Street Award, this small city offers a lot of fun for the casual shopper at its many independently owned shops. Vintage lovers can find their next great statement piece at Refinery, pick up jeans at Denim Salvage, or try on all the hats at the one-of-a-kind shop You Can Leave Your Hat On. If you’re into high fashion, visit The House of Rose, where you’ll find beautiful tailor-made designer coats and suits, as well as leather accessories.

Ride the Oregon City Municipal Elevator

If you’re spending some time in Oregon City, a ride on the UFO-shaped Municipal Elevator is a must. The elevator was built to connect downtown to Oregon City’s upper-level McLoughlin neighborhood. Riding the elevator is totally free, but it doesn’t go anywhere without its friendly operator onboard, so make sure to check the operating hours. Once at the top, you’ll find an observation deck with information on how this strange structure came to be, but the best part of riding it is walking along the McLoughlin Promenade. Well-kept by the community, the promenade is a lovely walking path to take in views of Willamette Falls.

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Visit the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

Hundreds of years ago, Oregon City was arguably one of the most popular destinations for American travelers. For those that embarked on the Oregon Trail, Oregon City and the fertile Willamette Valley were worth the dangerous cross-country journey by wagon. At the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, visitors can learn all about the trail. The museum has plenty of interactive exhibits that will give you a sense of the kind of life people lived on the trail, and kids especially will love making their own candles and Lincoln Log cabins.

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Jamie Ditaranto visited Oregon’s Mt. Hood territory as a guest of the Clackamas County Tourism & Cultural Affairs. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

Categories
Arts & Culture Cities Family Travel Food & Drink Historical Travel Theme Park Weekend Getaways

10 Must-See Dallas Attractions

So much to do, so much to see. The best places to visit in Dallas and its surrounding cities deliver everything from high-brow culture to Old West heritage. Soak up the wonder of the natural world at area parks, lakes, gardens, zoos, and aquariums, or treat the family to a few thrills at an amusement park.

Dallas Attractions You Must Visit

Boredom isn’t an option at these Dallas attractions.

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Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

Dallas arboretum and botanical garden

[st_content_ad]There’s no better way to spend a sunny day than amongst the greenery and vibrant floral beds of this 66-acre horticultural haven. This popular wedding destination and favorite among Dallas tourist attractions features 19 enchanting gardens celebrating every sort of flora and fauna conceivable: roses, tulips, crepe myrtles, magnolias, azaleas, perennials, ferns, Japanese maples, and more, according to the season. Cherry blossom season is a perennial favorite; year-round, the beautifully manicured lawns give way to fountains, sculptures, and waterfalls. To complete the experience, plan a picnic on the grounds or book a three-course afternoon tea.

Dallas World Aquarium

Dallas world aquarium

All manner of aquatic life—including coral, seahorses, anemones, and Indo-Pacific fish in every color of the rainbow—is on display at this family-friendly Dallas attraction. Visitors will also see tropical birds, penguins, otters, sloths, and even the odd monkey at the Dallas World Aquarium. The Orinoco rainforest section is a particular highlight, but if you’re in a more daring mood, head to the Mundo Maya exhibit. Here you’ll discover boa constrictors, rattlesnakes, and crocodiles, not to mention a massive, 400,000 glass tunnel that only the most fearless visitors walk through while sharks and rays swim overhead.

Dallas Zoo

Dallas zoo

Animal enthusiasts are in luck: Both Dallas and neighboring Fort Worth have sizeable zoos with interactive exhibits, special seasonal events, and attractions tailor-made for small children. Dating back to 1888, the Dallas Zoo is the older and larger of the two. Highlights include an African-inspired savanna exhibit housing elephants, lions, and giraffes; for a small fee, visitors can feed the giraffes by hand. Little ones can be ferried across the 106-acre grounds by the T-Rex Express Mini Train, while a monorail provides a safari-style experience at this Dallas attraction as it glides past hippos, chimpanzees, crocodiles, and African birds.

Fair Park

Fair park

If you want a real slice of Texas life, visit during late September through late October, when the State Fair of Texas descends upon Fair Park for 24 days of Cotton Bowl football rivalries, car shows, rodeo and livestock events, concerts, petting zoos, a 55-foot-tall animatronic cowboy named Big Tex, amusements and arcades, and mind-boggling culinary creations like deep-fried bubblegum and funnel cake bacon queso burgers. The rest of the year, Fair Park hosts festivals, concerts, and musicals. It’s also home to the largest Ferris wheel in North America, scenic gardens and swan boats, a children’s aquarium, and museums.

Fort Worth Water Gardens

Fort worth water gardens

Architect Philip Johnson, designer of the Amon Carter Museum as well as the John F. Kennedy Memorial near Dealey Plaza, created this urban oasis in downtown Fort Worth. Large slabs of stone lead visitors down to three water pools, including a quiet pool for meditative moments. Cascading waterfalls, fountain jets, and Indiana Jones-esque steps contribute to the sense of adventure.

Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District

Fort worth stockyards national historic district

The FW in DFW stands for Fort Worth, located about 30 miles west of Dallas. Known locally as “Cowtown,” the former Chisholm Trail trading post retains much of its Old West roots. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Stockyards, where cattle drives happen twice daily and the streets are lined with steakhouses and Western wear shops. Mosey on down to Billy Bob’s Texas for the full honky-tonk experience featuring live country music performances, line dancing, and bull riding. Traveling with kids? Rodeo events, a petting zoo, Old West reenactments, and the labyrinthine 5,400-square-foot Cowtown Cattle Pen Maze will keep the little buckaroos busy.

Moody Performance Hall

Moody performance hall

Opera, dance, orchestras, theater—you name it, Dallas has it. The Dallas Arts District is a hub for performing arts, and Moody offers a nice cross-section of the disciplines. The 750-seat theater hosts musicals, classical music concerts, ballet, cultural events, and other performances from Dallas’ most artistic minds.

Reunion Tower

Reunion tower

If you’ve ever seen the Dallas skyline, you’ll recognize Reunion Tower right away. Resembling a 561-foot-tall microphone, the tower is notable for its observation deck offering 360-degree panoramic views of the metropolis below. Higher up this iconic Dallas attraction are two revolving restaurants for diners who don’t mind heights: the casual Cloud Nine Cafe and Wolfgang Puck’s elegant Five Sixty. The latter is one of the city’s premier date night destinations, because nothing says romance like a rotating view.

Six Flags Over Texas

Six flags over texas

Six Flags is now a global amusement park chain, but the very first one got its start in Arlington, roughly 15 miles west of Dallas. Named for the six flags that have laid claim to Texas, the theme park is best known for its Warner Bros.-branded thrill rides, including Harley Quinn’s Spinsanity and Superman: Tower of Power. For those too little—or too squeamish—for the big coasters, Looney Tunes characters and family-friendly amusements provide plenty of fun without the fright. Six Flags also owns nearby Hurricane Harbor, a water park packed with slides, wave pools, and lazy rivers.

Southfork Ranch

Southfork ranch

One of the biggest Dallas attractions isn’t actually in Dallas. Southfork Ranch, the fictional home of the Ewing family from the iconic TV show Dallas, is about an hour’s drive. The soap was indeed filmed at what is now billed as “the world’s most famous ranch,” and visitors are welcome to take guided tours of the Ewing Mansion, get an eyeful of the gun that famously shot J.R., and saddle up for a trail ride. The sprawling property also doubles as a convention center and event space.

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– Original reporting by Erin Donnelly

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Budget Travel Experiential Travel Health & Wellness Outdoors Peer-to-Peer Travel Solo Travel Student Travel Sustainable Travel Travel Trends

What It’s Really Like to Quit Your Job to Volunteer Abroad

Ever wonder what it would be like to drop everything, quit your job, and travel abroad indefinitely? It’s a pricey proposition, but adventurous travelers can bring down the cost by finding ways to volunteer abroad and travel.

[st_content_ad]If you’re not sure if voluntourism is for you, or wondering where to begin, you’re not alone. I talked to two people who are traveling the world as they volunteer abroad. And while both made no secret of the challenges, they also sang the praises of this worthwhile adventure.  Here’s how a Texas teacher and a British project manager made their dreams of volunteering abroad a reality.

Taylor Carroll has been teaching in Tanzania and is now joining a surf outreach program with  International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ) in South Africa, both as part of his year volunteering abroad. Hannah Cox and her partner recently left the United Kingdom to work on organic farms (WOOF) across Europe on an overland journey to Bhutan—which she details in their  blog.

What It’s Like to Volunteer Abroad

What was your job before you left, and how did you decide to quit and volunteer abroad?

Taylor: “I was an 8th grade math teacher in Dallas for three years. I had always wanted to volunteer abroad. Originally, I looked into the Peace Corps. I decided on using International Volunteer Headquarters because the time frames were flexible, and I had more destinations to choose from.”

Hannah: “I was a freelance Project Manager for a creative agency. Although I loved the job, it was never my passion—travel was. I decided that if I worked really hard for a year or two, started some side hustles, and cut back on luxuries, I would have enough money to get away and explore the world. I’ve never been interested in marriage, kids, or a mortgage, so when everyone I knew started to settle down, I knew it was time to leave.

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What did your boss say when you quit to volunteer abroad?

Taylor: “My boss, although not thrilled that I wouldn’t be there the following school year, understood: She had previously volunteered in Namibia. She wished me the best of luck.”

Hannah: “I think most people thought I was joking, because I wanted to travel overland and such a great distance (U.K. to Bhutan via rail and road), without much of a plan. Many people’s reaction was ‘Oh I wish I could do that’ and I just thought ‘You can!'”

What was the first thing you did after you made the decision to go?

Taylor: “Within two months I sold my car, all of my belongings, canceled all my services, and moved my official addresses to my parents’ address (travel credit cards, bank statements, forwarding address). I tend to be pretty methodical, so I made several lists of everything I needed to do before stepping on the plane, and then I ranked them by level of importance and time sensitivity.”

Hannah: “I started a small e-commerce business with my best friend, who also wanted to escape her job. I took on more freelance work so that I was earning as much money as possible in a short amount of time. I researched volunteer programs in the countries my partner and I were visiting that would allow us to spend time with local families and really get to know and understand the culture.”

What was it like when you arrived for your volunteer opportunity?  

Taylor: “I arrived in the middle of the night. I was given a brief show around the volunteer house in Arusha, Tanzania, and then slept. Waking up in the morning, I was welcomed by both new and seasoned volunteers and the staff. The high point was making connections with the other volunteers and the locals. I will remember them always and all their wonderful personalities. I’m smiling now thinking about it and laughing at all the outrageous times. But the low point is realizing that no matter how hard you prepared, or thought through the issues that you would face, that the problems are going to be more complex than you imagined.”

Hannah: “So far we’ve volunteered at three WOOF farms—two in Denmark and one in Finland. Meeting new people is always a bit nerve-wracking, but we made sure only to apply to farms that took on small groups of volunteers, and were very clear about working hours, facilities, and opportunities/tasks while we were there. We made sure to communicate well with all our hosts in advance, and tried to go above and beyond what was expected of us.”

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What’s the day-to-day of volunteering like?

Taylor: “There’s a mixture of bright moments of feeling useful, and dull moments of feeling useless. You learn to weigh yourself not by doing what you thought you would, but doing what you’re able to. I tried my best not to have any expectations about the experience. I wanted to be as open as possible and not be disappointed if the experience or set up didn’t match the preconceived picture I had formed in my head.”

Hannah: “WOOF volunteers often end up fulfilling the roles that farmers just don’t have time to get to. For example, in our first host home, we spent weeks fixing old cattle fences. On our second property, we helped build some new greenhouses and paint a kitchen. Our third hosts had us weeding fields. Most of the work is quite physical, which I struggled with sometimes. But you only work four hours per day, giving you plenty of time to rest and enjoy the countryside.”

Do you think you’ll return home when you’re “done”? Why or why not? 

Taylor: “After Tanzania and South Africa, I’m traveling to Morocco and Italy. I’m not completely sure I’ll know what I want after that. I am open to other options if they seem like a good fit for me at the time.”

Hannah: “I have no idea! WOOFing has only broadened my horizons; we met some incredible people who have inspired us to volunteer further afield. There are so many opportunities overseas to volunteer that I think I’ll struggle to do all the ones I want in this lifetime.”

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Is volunteering abroad a good environment for making friends?

Taylor: “I haven’t met many others who have quit their jobs and are doing a whole year of volunteering. Most of the volunteers seem to want to gain a broader world perspective, some just want a cheap vacation, some have big hearts and want to do as much good as possible … I think it’s a fantastic environment for making lasting relationships. I have already met so many unique individuals who I plan to see again.”

Hannah: “It’s a great environment for meeting people who are looking at the world with a different viewpoint. Talking to farmers about the issues they face is very different to working in an office—there is no way for them to ‘switch off.’ People who volunteer also tend to be more interested in learning about a culture, and the communities they visit, rather than the tourist trail.”

What’s the hardest part about volunteering abroad? What’s the best part?

Taylor: “Some days it’s just not what you thought it was going to be. You can feel a little lost. The best part is when you get over those hurdles and remember what originally brought you down this path. Finding your own strength is always empowering. I’m lucky enough to have had several of those moment already, and I’m not even halfway through my year of volunteering abroad.”

Hannah: “The hardest part for me has been the physical aspect because I have chronic pain issues. While movement is a positive thing for me, some mornings I felt I couldn’t face another day weeding in the rain. But meeting our hosts and their friends has given us valuable life lessons and friendships. I think it’s impossible to really get to know a country as a tourist, and volunteering affords a real opportunity to get under the skin of a nation.”

Editor’s Note: These answers have been condensed for clarity.

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Associate Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Categories
Miscellany

Charming Bed and Breakfast (Woodlake, CA)

Author: Ann Cooper
Date of Trip: May 2006

I visited Wickyup Bed and Breakfast (www.Wickyup.com) in Woodlake, California, in the foothills just near the entrance to the Sequoia National Park. This beautiful one hundred year old craftsman home built by the owner’s great, great uncle, a State Senator from Illinois, by the name of Harding was so charming and lovely, full of warmth and elegance, that I really wanted to stay much longer. Monica and Jack Pizura are the owners and are so very gracious and informative, and really take the time to insure a wonderful experience. The attention to detail by Monica and Jack insured a memorable time. The house is located on an organic orange ranch with lovely gardens surrounding the home. Jack’s whimsical copper sculpture greeted us as we entered the driveway and more are here and there around the house.

The candle light breakfast is scrumptious, and we lingered to hear stories about organic farming and the history of the area. The dining room is paneled with this very rare port orford cedar wood which glows warmly by the light of the candles. The port orford cedar paneling is all over the downstairs, adding to the charm and beauty of the house.

In analyzing our stay there, it’s not just the beauty and charm of the home, but the warmth and charm of Monica and Jack which make this bed and breakfast so outstanding. They really love what they are doing and take so much care with their guests. It’s probably my very favorite bed and breakfast and I’ve stayed in many all throughout the United States. So, as you can see, I would highly recommended a visit to Wickyup.

Categories
Budget Travel Peer-to-Peer Travel

4 (Almost) Free Ways to Travel

If the recessionary mindset has taught us anything, it’s that we still have expansive travel desires even when our wallets are slim. Enter the working vacation, where callous-palmed travelers don the sun hat and gloves of the temporary laborer, and pay for their camp grub and modest accommodations by picking heirloom tomatoes or keeping leaf-eating beetles at bay. Or forgo the work and embrace the free. Below are a few ingenious ways to take a vacation for next to nothing.

WWOOF

Harvest 22 varieties of figs in Malibu. Help build an off-the-grid dwelling at 10,000 feet in Colorado Springs. Rake wild blueberries and make wine in Phillips, Maine. What is this strange bourgeois migrant labor, you ask? There are some 1,400 farms associated with WWOOF-USA, the American chapter of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and thousands more across the planet. The exchange: You work for a half day, and the farm owners, whom you’ve hopefully vetted (and they you, crazy eyes), provide food and shelter. No previous experience extolling the virtue of the soil is needed, but you do have to be at least 18 years old to work on your own. (Those younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult.)

The length of a farmstay is determined by you and your host, and can vary from a few days to a season. Gaining access to WWOOF-USA’s online database of farms costs $30 for a one-year membership.

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Workaway

If you’re able to get cheap airfare (or some other cheap overseas travel — merchant marine ship, anyone?) you might enjoy exchanging a few hours of work per day for food, accommodations and the opportunity to learn about the people and places you visit. Workaway.info states as one of its goals an aim “to promote cultural understanding between different peoples and lands throughout the world.” Set up to facilitate travel and foreign language immersion, the network of families, individuals and organizations seeks volunteers to paint, build, baby-sit or plant. If it needs doing, you may be asked — in a foreign tongue — to do it.

To become a Workawayer, it will cost a single person 22 euros for two years’ access to hosts. The cost is 29 euros for a couple or two friends for two years.

Couch Surfing

If you’d rather not do any work harder than lifting your backpack and hoofing it to your next destination, you might want to consider couch surfing, which could or could not involve sleeping on a sofa. CouchSurfing.org describes the concept as a network of travelers and hosts “fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect,” but basically it’s a way to find free places to stay while you travel. Travelers share their homes, bikes, car rides, museum passes, fun times and more. It’s free to register.

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Home Exchange

One of the biggest expenses in any trip is lodging, but if you’re willing to stay in someone else’s home — and let him or her stay in yours — you can crash for just about free. Home exchange networks such as Intervac and HomeLink International will coordinate a house swap with travelers around the world who might want to stay in your house while you stay in theirs, and all you’ll pay is an annual membership fee. Cost savings aside, a home exchange is also a great way to live like a local; you’ll be in a residential neighborhood rather than a downtown hotel, with a kitchen where you can cook for yourself rather than dining out every day, and sometimes you can even borrow the owner’s car or bike during your stay.

See Home Exchange: A How-To Guide for more information.

Not interested in sleeping on a stranger’s couch or getting your hands dirty on vacation? Check out these nine creative ways to save on your next trip.

Ever been on a volunteer or working vacation? Tell us about it below.

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Booking Strategy

Where to Stay in Austria: Lodging Tips

Austria may be smaller than the state of Maine, but it packs a wallop when it comes to accommodations. There are Baroque palaces fit for a king, alpine villas surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery and spa hotels that bring an extra dimension of wellbeing to the travel experience. For families, a stay at a working farm could be a bonding adventure that’s talked about for years, while couples might relish the seclusion of a rustic mountain hut. There are many options for budget travelers, including inexpensive hotels and guesthouses, rooms for rent in private homes, and hostels in virtually every corner of the country.

No matter where you stay, you can expect accommodations to be tidy and neat in true Austrian fashion. Keep in mind, however, that because Austria is hugely popular among skiers in winter and hikers and nature lovers in summer, you’ll want to book well in advance for these peak seasons. If you’re a free spirit or you find yourself traveling on the spur of the moment, it’s useful to know that local tourist offices can usually book accommodations for free or a small charge.

Note that some properties have minimum stays of two days to a week, especially during peak times, and that those in rural areas are often best reached by car. Read on to learn where to stay in Austria.

Austria Hotels

Austrian hotels run the gamut from modest accommodations (one- and two-star hotels, sometimes with a shared bath down the hall) to grandiose luxury properties like Hotel Sacher Vienna, established in 1876 and awarded five stars for its fine dining, spa, concierge service and other amenities.

Some hotels are nondescript blocks, especially postwar constructions around major train stations, while others are strikingly contemporary, like the DO & CO Hotel Vienna across from St. Stephen’s Cathedral or the budget design hotel roomz Vienna. Many are bedecked with endearing Austrian flourishes, from stucco detailing and chandeliers in the breakfast room to deer antlers and antiques in the lobby. Efficiency and English-language proficiency are trademarks of Austrian hospitality.

There are many chains with properties throughout the country, including Austria Trend Hotels, which offers lodging in several price categories and levels of comfort. There are also many privately owned hotels with plenty of personalized service and charm, like Cityhotel Trumer Stube and Hotel Amadeus, both centrally located in Salzburg. In small towns and villages, family-run operations with a restaurant often have the word gasthaus or gasthof (guesthouse) attached to their name. Don’t be surprised to see staff dressed in national dress — the dirndl.

If you want to stay in a historical hotel with character, Romantik Hotels & Restaurants has 22 member properties in Austria, including Romantik Hotel Gmachl on the outskirts of Salzburg, in operation since 1334 and the oldest family-run business in the country.

For families, Kinderhotels offers about 40 properties in Austria ranging from luxury hotels with spas to alpine farmsteads, located mostly in resort and rural areas and offering English-speaking nannies, free childcare, and family-oriented programs and facilities.

At most hotels room rates include hearty Austrian breakfasts, usually featuring a buffet of cold meats, cheeses, breads, eggs, cereals, yogurt, coffee and juice. In rural areas, hotels may also offer room rates with halbpension (half board, with breakfast and dinner) and vollpension, which includes all three meals.

Austria Hotel Resources:
Austria-Trend.at
DOCOHotel.com
HotelAmadeus.at
Kinderhotels.co.uk
RomantikHotels.com
Roomz-Vienna.com
Sacher.com/hotel-sacher-vienna
Trumer-Stube.at

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Austria Spa Hotels

Spa accommodations, which often come with the bonuses of high altitudes and fresh air, can be a great way to rejuvenate both mind and spirit. Spa hotels feature everything from treatments using ingredients found only in the Alps to guided Nordic walking tours.

Sporting one of the most whimsical settings is Rogner Bad Blumau, designed by the late renowned Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser and offering 11 different indoor and outdoor thermal pools. Krone in Au, combining traditional and modern architecture, has a rooftop spa with panoramic views in addition to weekly programs that might include guided tours through the village, nature hikes and winter lantern-lit walks.

Austria Spa Hotel Resources:
Blumau.com
Krone-Au.at/en
Vitality-World.com
WellnessHotel.com

Austria Castle and Palace Hotels

With Austria’s long imperial history, it should come as no surprise to learn that many of its hilltop fortresses, lakeside manors and Baroque palaces have been turned into one-of-a-kind accommodations. Standouts include Hotel Schloss Duernstein, originally built in 1630 and occupying a lovely spot on the Danube River, and Vienna‘s famous Schonbrunn Palace, which offers one guest suite complete with two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchenette and views of the palace’s magnificent park.

Austria Castle and Palace Hotel Resources:
Austria-Trend.at/Suite-Schloss-Schoenbrunn/en/
CastleandPalaceHotels.com
Schloss.at

Austria Apartments, Vacation Homes, Cottages and Huts

Travelers who like thinking outside the hotel box or wish to stay put for a while will find a wide range of options in all sizes and prices, from old or renovated to completely new, with breathtaking alpine scenery often a bonus. Some are former villas, like the Chalet Villa Orania, built as a holiday getaway for a Dutch composer and now offering eight luxury apartments near a ski lift. Others are former farms or hunting retreats that have been repurposed for vacationers. Some are even rustic and secluded alpine huts where you fire up the wood stove yourself.

There are also vacation homes (called a ferienhaus) perfect for families or friends traveling together, with thousands of listings in cities and villages throughout the country. Fully equipped apartments are also very popular for extended stays, whether in Vienna or in villages like Krems.

Austria Vacation Rental Resources:
Bergfex.com/oesterreich/unterkuenfte/
HomeAway.com
Huetten-Mieten.at
www.Huettenpartner.at
SalzburgerHof.com/en/apartments-alps.html
www.UrlaubaufderAlm.com
VRBO.com

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Austria Farmstays

There are multitudes of farms across Austria that welcome guests, each one reflecting the owners’ individual styles and preferences. These include farms that are oriented toward children (with chickens to feed and cows to milk), wineries, organic farms, herb farms and barrier-free farms. Some offer horses to take care of and ride, while others feature recreational and health opportunities from bike riding to steam baths. There are even farms without livestock for travelers with allergies or for those who like country living without the animals.

Austria Farmstay Resources:
FarmHolidays.com

Austria Budget Accommodations

Budget travelers should note that in popular tourist destinations like Salzburg and Innsbruck, the most affordable accommodations are often on the outskirts of town but usually well served by public transportation. In addition to the many lodging options described above, like one-star hotels and self-catering mountain huts, there are other money-saving options for bargain seekers. Foremost is the pension, usually a small, family-owned accommodation without a restaurant (but serving continental breakfast to overnight guests); rooms may or may not have private bathrooms.

In smaller towns, it’s also not unusual to see a sign that says “zimmer frei,” hung outside private homes to indicate they have a room to rent to travelers. These are virtually always with shared bathrooms down the hall and may or may not include breakfast; credit cards are generally not accepted. These can offer singular chances to get to know Austrians better.

There are also many hostels in Austria. Many are privately owned, especially in tourist destinations and in larger cities, like the Wombat’s City Hostel near Vienna’s famous Naschmarkt or the family-run Hostel Ruthensteiner Vienna near the Westbahnhof.

Dozens of hostels are members of the Austrian Youth Hostel Association, many with both dormitories and private rooms (which may even have a private bathroom). Some require membership, while others let you stay for an extra fee. There are three hostels in Vienna alone, but most of them are in villages close to recreational facilities, like the St. Gilgen on Lake Wolfgang and the Bad Gastein, near ski lifts, river rafting and a thermal spa.

Austria Hostel Resources:
HostelWorld.com
OeJhv.at
Wombats-Hostels.com

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–written by Beth Reiber

Categories
Booking Strategy

Where to Stay in Poland: Lodging Tips

Like many countries in Europe, Poland offers a wide range of lodging options. From palaces to hostels, there’s a choice for every budget. Poles are inventive, welcoming and friendly, and a healthy post-Soviet economy means that many older properties have been renovated or upgraded, while plenty of new places have opened.

Before you choose your Poland lodging, consider your budget, your experience and your travel style. Hotels are a good choice if it’s your first time in the country, since staff will likely speak English and be able to help with restaurant reservations and sightseeing options. For a more personal touch, try a bed and breakfast or guesthouse. There’s also a big network of farm lodgings, and more independent types can opt for an apartment or classic Polish vacation hut. You can even try staying in a monastery.

In most instances breakfast will be included with your stay — but be sure to confirm that there’s no extra charge. The price you’re quoted should also include all taxes and any additional fees, but again, be sure to confirm when booking. Read on to learn more about where to stay in Poland.

Poland Hotels

Whether you want to stay in a grand hotel with Old World style or a sleek boutique property, Poland’s hotel scene has something to fit every taste. You can even find something Soviet-era dreary, if you so desire!

Poland’s major cities have seen a boom in international hotel brands, but there are still plenty of family-owned, one-off properties too. Of the big names, you’ll see more Accor properties than any other — primarily its value brands Ibis, Novotel and Mercure, operated in partnership with the Polish hotel group Orbis. There are also plenty of Best Western properties, as well as Hilton, Marriott, Holiday Inn, Radisson and Sheraton hotels.

On the higher end, Warsaw’s Bristol Hotel is part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection, and the Raffles Hotels & Resorts group is renovating the historic Hotel Europejski, also in Warsaw, set to open in 2016.

If you’re looking for a local hotel group, consider Qubus for modern, mid-range, business-style properties or Gromada, with similar but slightly less expensive properties. For something less cookie-cutter, we encourage you to seek out individual hotels, which can range from quirky to gorgeous. They’re often located in older buildings, some of which have been renovated with amazing results.

Poland has a mandatory classification system for hotels, ranging from one to five stars. The criteria cover external aspects, technical elements, service, room specs and public spaces. Most notably, four- and five-star properties are the only ones required to have air conditioning, a daily change of linens and a minibar or refrigerator. Only five-star hotels are required to have in-room safes. More stars mean larger rooms and perks like laundry service, pools, spas and newspapers.

Poland Hotel Resources:
AccorHotels.com
Booking.com
Hotelarze.pl/en/regulations/hotel-1.php
QubusHotel.com/en/
Raffles.com
Starwood.com
TripAdvisor.com

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Castles and Palaces

Poland’s rich history means that you’ll find castles and palaces all around the country — and many have been turned into lodging options. Often, you can stay in a splendid property (or in some cases, a formerly splendid property!) for far less than you might in other European countries.

Many have been turned into resorts, with pools, spas and even horseback riding. A few are in or near big cities, but typically they’re located in the countryside.

Settle in at the luxurious neo-Gothic Paszkowka Palace, south of Krakow, or opt for Renaissance-Baroque Palace Krobielowice, just 12 miles from Wroclaw and home to a nine-hole golf course. Or maybe you’d like Hotel Castle Ryn, where an indoor pool is located in the Gothic vaults and antique weapons hang on the walls of the three-lane bowling alley (let’s hope you’re not playing with a sore loser). The list of possibilities is impressive — so you’re sure to find a grand castle or palace that fits your fantasy.

Poland Castle and Palace Lodging Resources:
CzarnyLas.pl/en/
Krasiczyn.com.pl
PalacKrobielowice.com
Paszkowka.pl/en
Wiejce.co.uk
ZamekKrokowa.pl
ZamekNaSkale.com.pl
ZamekNowecin.pl/en
ZamekRyn.pl
ZamekSobieski.pl/?l=en

Guesthouses and Homestays

Want something less grandiose and more personal? Then you might want to opt for a guesthouse or homestay.

Under the official Polish rating system, guesthouses (or pensions) are lodgings with seven or more rooms, and their rating system is similar to that of hotels, from a low of one star (basic facilities) to a maximum of five stars (more space, more privacy, more amenities). The ambience can range from hotel-like to what Americans think of as a bed and breakfast or inn.

Polish hospitality is usually phenomenal, so if you choose a homestay, you can expect your hosts to go out of their way to make sure you have a good trip.

In addition to the resources below, tourist information offices in Polish cities can usually help you find guesthouses or homestays.

Poland Guesthouse and Homestay Resources:
Airbnb.com
Booking.com (filter search results by “Guesthouses” or “Homestays”)
Homestay.com/poland
TripAdvisor.com

[st_related]Homestays and Farmstays[/st_related]

Poland Farmstays

Because Poland’s feisty farmers resisted collectivization during the Soviet era, many family farms stayed intact (which wasn’t the case in some other former Soviet countries). Today, there are more than 2 million farms in Poland, and nearly 10,000 are set up to host guests. Hosts usually offer a meal option, so you might be treated to homemade bread and cheese, milk straight from the cow, just-gathered honey and trout fresh from the river.

Some farms offer the opportunity to help with chores, while others offer workshops like beekeeping, mushroom picking, pottery, painting or sculpture. They can also offer excursions ranging from river rafting and bird watching to biking or cross-country skiing.

Poland.travel classifies farm lodging in four categories, with Category 1 being very basic, while Category 4 facilities have a private bathroom, kitchen area and TV. Farmhouses are in a separate lodging category and usually have three or more bedrooms, a fireplace, a kitchen and a dining room. They may also come with a sauna or hot tub.

We’ve listed some resources below, but you can also try Googling “agroturystyka (place name).” In addition, there are opportunities to volunteer on Polish farms through the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms organization.

Poland Farmstay Resources:
Agritourism.pl
Booking.com/farm-holidays/country/pl.html
Poland.travel/en/farm-holiday/
WWOOF.pl

Poland Apartment and Home Rentals

The boom in person-to-person rentals has definitely reached Poland, and you’ll find plenty of options to choose from. If you’re more of an independent type, or you have previously visited the country and are confident that you can go it on your own, this could be a great choice.

In addition to the person-to-person services, in large cities you’ll find buildings of serviced apartments available to rent through online resources like TripAdvisor and Booking.com.

Here are a few things to consider when booking an apartment or home:

– If you don’t like lugging your bags, inquire about whether there’s an elevator. Many older apartment buildings won’t have that luxury.

– In summertime, ask about air conditioning if that’s important to you. Also inquire about Wi-Fi and phone service if you need to be connected. If there’s no phone, consider how you will contact the agency or host if your own cell phone doesn’t work (or is expensive to use) in Poland. Carry the emergency number with you at all times, just in case you lose your keys.

– Question the rental agent or host about street noise. This can especially be an issue in Krakow’s Old Town, where bars are popular with partiers from around Europe, thanks to bargain airlines. Ask about restaurants, bakeries and other shops in the neighborhood, proximity to public transportation (in cities) and where the nearest market can be found. Check out online reviews or ask for references if you want to be really thorough — but remember, previous guests may have had different needs or expectations than you do. For more information, see Booking a Vacation Rental: What You Need to Know.

Poland Vacation Rental Resources
Airbnb.com
Booking.com
HomeAway.com
RentFlatPoland.com
TripAdvisor.com
VRBO.com

[st_related]Vacation Rentals: A Traveler’s Guide[/st_related]

Cottage and Cabin Rentals

Poles have a fondness for rustic getaways, whether in the mountains or countryside, and you can join them by renting a cottage, hut or cabin. These range from well equipped and charming to not much more than four walls. In most cases, you’ll need wheels to get to your vacation hideaway, but once there, chances are you’ll have a great time communing with nature like a local.

Poland Cottage and Cabin Rental Resources:
Airbnb.com/s/Poland?type=cabin
DiscoverZakopane.com/dzen.html
Novasol.co.uk/holiday-cottages/poland.html

Monasteries

Although many Poles are devout Catholics, there aren’t as many opportunities as you might expect to stay in a monastery — but there are a couple of options.

The working monastery Opactwo Benedyktynow w Tyncu, in the Krakow area, accepts guests. See their contact information below. You can also stay in a former abbey, now transformed into the Hotel Podklasztorze, in Sulejow.

Poland Monastery Resources:
Tyniec.Benedyktyni.pl/en/day-in-the-monastery/ (email: tyniec@benedyktyni.pl)
HotelPodklasztorze.pl

Hostels and Tourist Houses

There is no shortage of budget housing in Poland. You’ll find hostels in the major cities, along with tourist houses. The latter, by regulation, have a minimum of 30 dormitory spots; hostels don’t have a minimum number of places. Both types of accommodations offer only basic services.

Poland Hostel and Tourist House Resources:
HIHostels.com
HostelBookers.com
Hostels.com
HostelWorld.com

[st_related]Getting Around Poland: Transportation Tips[/st_related]

Poland Camping

You’ll find campsites in nearly every corner of Poland. Most are associated with the Polish Camping and Caravanning Federation. They’re often located in scenic spots: near the seashore, by a lake, next to a river or at the foot of a mountain. Campgrounds are rated from one to four stars, with four being the top category. Ratings reflect the quality of services and the site’s convenience to desirable destinations. (A few campsites are classed under an old system as either “1” or “2.”)

Etiquette dictates that you maintain nighttime silence from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., and that you follow basic camping common sense, like not littering or taking up more than your allotted space.

Poland Camping Resources:
Eurocampings.co.uk/poland
PFCC.eu

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25 Ways to Save on Europe Travel
Planning a Trip to Europe in 10 Steps

–written by Gayle Keck

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.

Categories
Senior Travel

In Praise of Arvgarden B&B (Pennsylvania)

Author: Donald D. Deixel
Date of Trip: October 2007

Our 2007 travel plans were pretty much determined by financial considerations; two elderly retirees considered the shrinking dollar and increasing costs against our fixed income and quickly decided against anything that would involve buying tickets on planes, trains or ships this year.

It became clear that our ten-year-old car would be getting us wherever we wanted to go, but the skyrocketing price of gas and our reluctance to drive at night or for more than a couple of hours at a time without a sightseeing break put a further crimp in our thinking.

Starting from the New York suburbs, we narrowed down our choices and finally selected a ten-day circular tour of the parts of Pennsylvania we had never seen. That eliminated all of the tourist destinations that would come to mind first: Philadelphia, the Poconos, Gettysburg and the Penn Dutch country. Considerable research produced an itinerary that met all our requirements.

To keep the budget down we planned on most nights being spent at low-end motels, Super-8’s mostly (averaging about $70 a night), but we allowed for a couple of splurges. One was for our first night away from home in Scranton at the historic Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel, converted as the name implies from the imposing classic showplace where Lackawanna Railroad trains once roared through. Our Saturday night there was a fun experience, but hardly a B & B, since the $25+ Sunday brunch was not included in our bill of $122 including parking and tax.

Scranton surprised us with its attractions, although it was quiet on an October Sunday. We particularly enjoyed going down into a coal mine, and the Steamtown National Historic Site. Unfortunately we were too late in the year for the Houdini Museum and too early for the Dunder Mifflin ‘Office’ Convention.

Next stop along scenic US Route 6 was to have been the French Azilum near Towanda, but it too was closed for the season. It was just as well because we never saw a signpost directing travelers to it or even to the scenic overlook above it. This is a reconstruction of the site where aristocrats from the French Revolution sought refuge from the guillotine and there are costumed reenactors (before Labor Day!).

And then we were on our way to our next and last splurge, the Arvgarden B & B near Wellsboro. We had aimed for Wellsboro as a well-known vacation center and lovely small town that is the gateway to Pine Creek Canyon, the so-called Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, and found this B & B on a website among a number of others in the area. We chose it because it isn’t in town, and because it advertised itself as being a ‘working sheep farm’! How cool is that? A friendly exchange of e-mails and phone calls confirmed our reservation for Sunday night.

Distances were short and directions were clear and we arrived a little after lunch. (A side note: lunch had been at a cute little place on the highway that seemed to be a local hangout to judge by the pickup trucks in the parking lot. After a big breakfast in Scranton, we weren’t up to the daily special – a full chicken dinner for $5.95 — but our less demanding hamburgers added up to under eight dollars. When we declined the friendly waitress’s offer of pie and coffee, she said disappointedly, “But they’re only fifty cents each!” We knew we weren’t in New York any more, or maybe not in 2007.)

We found the Arvgarden as promised out in the country but in a somewhat suburban area, across the street from a cemetery. The large contemporary house is set an 118 acres with barn and other farm buildings and views in all directions and there was not a soul in sight. We started to explore and discovered our host, Keith Cooper, waving from out near the sheep pens, where he was busy moving his flock from one enclosure to another for fresh grazing. Hund, the sheepdog had apparently completed his job and came racing to greet us, but we didn’t see much of him after that since he lives in the barn, not the house.

We walked down and met Keith half way and were introduced to his animals: about a dozen new youngsters, several dozen more out in their pasture, and the three impressive rams in their private shed. The most surprising thing was that each of the sheep wore a natty overcoat! We learned that since these are a rare breed from New Zealand called Corriedales, their wool is too highly prized to be allowed to be exposed to the elements; serious weavers and knitters reserve their shearings years in advance.

We got a real education on raising sheep from Keith and later from Hilma, when she returned from delivering lambs to the butcher. That, of course, was after we were introduced to our room and the house which Keith had designed himself for use as a B & B as well as for their own large family reunions. The four guest rooms and sitting area are separate from their own living quarters, and since we were the only guests that night, we had plenty of space to ourselves. The accommodations and furnishings reflect a Swedish style in keeping with Hilma’s heritage and the long history of Swedish immigrants in that part of Pennsylvania; that also explains the name.

On the parlor table was a wooden puzzle — you know the kind where you have to rearrange four odd-shaped but identical pieces into a square. I’m the puzzle person in our family, but it frustrated me and I gave up. A little later, Gloria called me and said, “Look!” A perfect square, to my chagrin. That may have been the best part of her stay.

In the afternoon, we rambled over their acreage that wasn’t being grazed. The Coopers gave us advice on an evening visit to Wellsboro and places to eat as well as the very important directions on getting ‘home’. On our return, we reported back on our visit to town , talked some more about the Coopers’ long list of interests and local involvements, and as a good-night treat went out to gawk at the night sky in an area almost free of ambient light and passing jets. The Milky Way dazzled; the stars were beyond counting.

The next morning breakfast was outstanding, with many courses and featuring delicious lemon pancakes. We sat much longer at the table than we had planned and regretted not a minute of the interesting conversation. We were told the best short cut to Pine Creek Canyon and the State Park on its edge, and bade the Coopers farewell. (Did I mention that we never noticed the absence of a television set!)

Pine Creek Canyon may be the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, but it surely is not THE Grand Canyon. This is a beautiful natural area, quite unspoiled, with great facilities for hiking, biking , horseback riding although we did none of them. Sadly, the weirdly hot weather in early October meant that the autumn foliage we had been looking forward to was hardly evident; it also meant that we had taken all the wrong clothes, flannels instead of shorts, and weren’t too eager for physical activity. I found the history and geology of the canyon of great interest. From its Ice Age origins to its use as a transportation corridor before the Revolutionary War to float the tall straight pine tree trunks down to the Susquehanna and then to Chesapeake Bay where they were loaded on ships to be taken to England for use as masts on the ships of the British Navy, when it ruled the seas!

Briefly, our scenic and historical adventure continued to the nearby Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, the Kinzua Dam near Warren, the Drake Oil Well site in Titusville (where oil was first discovered), Pittsburgh (of many great sights and horrible traffic patterns), Fort Necessity National Battlefield (where George Washington commanded and lost his first fight), Fallingwater (Frank Lloyd Wright’s amazing masterpiece) the Inclined Plane in Johnstown (where our car rode down the mountainside on a funicular, and the site of the famous flood), Altoona and the Horseshoe Curve (an engineering marvel that revolutionized rail travel), and Hawk Mountain near Allentown to see the migrating raptors on our last morning.

A great trip on a limited budget, and our B & B a stay was a high point.

Categories
Booking Strategy

Where to Stay in Switzerland: Lodging Tips

From charming to luxurious, from rustic to high-tech, Switzerland lodging options are as splendid and varied as the country itself.

You want traditional? Spend the night in a room where watchmakers have worked for centuries, or bunk with a farm family who move to the high Alps with their cows each summer as their ancestors have always done.

You want adventure? Hike along the glaciers at the base of the Matterhorn to remote huts with limited services. You want luxury? Check into the five-star accommodations where the world’s rich and famous spend their holidays.

Below is a sample of where to stay in Switzerland.

Luxury Accommodations

Switzerland is a respite for many of the world’s celebrities because the locals and the paparazzi keep their distance. And because this is an international banking destination, luxury accommodations are in abundant supply.

For 170 years, Baur au Lac in Zurich has welcomed guests to its five-star setting on the lake. This is where Alfred Nobel received the idea of awarding prizes for outstanding achievements and composer Richard Wagner debuted part of an opera. The Pavillon Restaurant, known for its French cuisine, has a Michelin star.

The Gstaad Palace Hotel in Gstaad is equally historic and luxurious, once a favorite of actress Sophia Loren. With multiple restaurants, an elegant spa and access to ski lifts, it is a seasonal resort open in summer and winter. In addition to guest suites in palace towers, the Gstaad Palace grounds include the Walig Hut, a 200-year-old alpine hut once used by farm families caring for their cattle in summer months. It is rustic and historic, and just a few steps away from modern luxury.

Luxury Hotel Resources:
SwissDeluxeHotels.com

[st_related]10 Best Switzerland Experiences[/st_related]

Budget-Friendly Hotels

Switzerland is a country where most travelers have to watch their budgets a bit, but that doesn’t require you to sleep on the train or in a youth hostel.

Aigle is a village in the heart of Swiss wine country, a short train ride from Lausanne. There you’ll find Hotel du Nord, a recently renovated three-star property with 24 guestrooms and an intimate little lounge for sampling the local Chablais wines.

The Hotel Weisshorn, named for one of the significant peaks near the famous Matterhorn, is right in the center of Zermatt. The rooms are clean, the bathrooms efficient and a good-sized continental breakfast is included in the price. Sure, you’ll have to carry your luggage up at least one flight of stairs, but that burns the calories from your last cheese fondue.

Budget Hotel Resources:
MySwissAlps.com/hotels/budget

Adventurous Lodging

Hut walks, or hut-to-hut hiking, are a wonderful way to explore the ruggedness of the Swiss Alps but still sleep in the comfort of a bed, have a flush toilet and eat a meal. A system of huts (some as big as barns) offers an adventurous experience — along with a roof over your head — along some of the more famous trails and hiking regions.

The Berner Oberland region is ground zero for many of Switzerland’s best hiking trails. A good trail map will highlight these huts that seem to be situated in just the right increments for a good day’s hike, some tucked away in cozy settings, others literally clinging to mountain peaks. Reservations are highly recommended, especially in the summer months.

The oldest hut operated by the Swiss Alpine Club is l’A Neuve Hut on Switzerland’s southern border with Italy near the village of La Fouly. Actually, it’s about a three-hour hike up the mountains from La Fouly, but the homemade bread, the tomato fondue and the handmade quilts to snuggle under are worth the hike.

The Hornli Hut, at 10,000 feet in the Pennine Alps, provides the best up-close view of the Matterhorn. It sleeps about 140 people on a busy night and can be reached in about three hours from the Riffelhorn stop on the Gornergrat Bahn from Zermatt.

Alpine Hut Resources:
Sac-Cas.ch

[st_related]9 Easy Hikes That Will Take Your Breath Away[/st_related]

Historical and Spiritual Lodging

History geeks will find an exceptional choice of lodging options to feed their love of all things old. Almost every village or town of any size has a B&B, guesthouse or lodge that dates back hundreds of years, but some of the most intriguing are affiliated with the Catholic church. A night in a monastery, surrounded by centuries of peace, prayer and reflection, will surely provide one of your best nights’ sleep ever.

The Benedictine Monastery St. Johann in Mustair, on Switzerland’s eastern border with Italy, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating to the reign of Charlemagne. The convent and its chapel are home to the world’s largest series of medieval frescoes. The nine guestrooms allow married couples or individuals to participate in the daily lives of the nuns, if they wish, or simply to seek solitude and reflection in the peaceful surroundings.

Only female travelers are invited to spend the night with the Dominican Sisters of Bethany on the Klausen and St. Jacob’s pilgrimage trails near Lake Lucerne. All rooms are double, so if you are traveling alone, you may be paired with another woman. Hospitality is this order’s mission, so food and services are provided with utmost care.

Historical and Spiritual Lodging Resources:
GoodNightandGodBless.com
U-D-S.ch

Farmstays

Few images of Switzerland are more traditional and appealing than a herd of cattle wearing elaborately decorated cowbells grazing in the pristine meadows above an alpine village. These are not just tourism posters, but the actual lifestyle of hundreds of farm families who, each summer, move with their cows to the higher elevations for richer grass and, therefore, better flavored milk and cheese.

Some families open their remote alpine huts for overnight guest stays, allowing you the opportunity to take part in this centuries-old tradition for just a day or two. Milk the cows, make the cheese and sleep on a straw mat, just like the family does. One community where this is possible is Chateau d’Oex in the French-speaking region of western Switzerland, just north of Lausanne.

If you like the idea of the farm but don’t want to do all of the work, hop off the train at Visp and walk about two miles to the Gentinetta family farm. It’s a delightful place with chickens, donkeys, ponies, cats and a big beehive. You will sleep on a clean, straw-filled mattress and awake to the most wondrous of country breakfasts.

Farmstay Resources:
Chateau-dOex.ch/cheesepaths
Farm.MySwitzerland.com/on-the-farm/Visp/HofGentinetta-340661

[st_related]Homestays and Farmstays[/st_related]

Only in Switzerland

Few products shout “Switzerland” more than a watch or timepiece crafted with Swiss precision. The watchmaking region, precisely named Watch Valley, is in the western part of the country between Geneva and Basel. Numerous hotels, vacation apartment and B&Bs located in this area allow you plenty of time to explore and shop.

Maison DuBois, a delightful bed and breakfast that was once a watchmaker’s home, is considered the oldest structure in Watch Valley. Breakfast is at the original tool table that dates to the 1700s. The inn has five rooms, some tucked away under deeply sloping rooflines. Not all have private baths, but you can’t beat the authenticity.

Resources:
MaisonDuBois.ch
WatchValley.ch

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–written by Diana Lambdin Meyer

Categories
Booking Strategy

Where to Stay in France: Lodging Tips

Bienvenue en France! Welcome to France!

As the most popular tourist destination in the world, France offers up plenty of lodging choices — from basic hotels to luxurious chateaux, plus a few unusual options thrown in for the adventurous.

Before you choose, consider your experience, your budget and your travel style. Is it your first time visiting France? You may want to start out in a hotel, where you can get sightseeing advice and help with language challenges such as making restaurant reservations. If you’ve been before, you might choose an apartment in a less touristy area where you can live like a local, shopping the markets and doing a bit of cooking. Enjoy connecting with the people and the culture? Choose a bed and breakfast, rural gite, farmstay or even a monastery.

Below are some France lodging options to get you dreaming.

France Hotels

France certainly has plenty of luxury hotel choices, from grand palace hotels to luxurious inns and manors via groups like Relais & Chateaux and Chateaux et Hotels de France.

The Relais du Silence (country inns and manors) and the Logis de France (known for quality restaurants, often with an owner in the kitchen) offer great mid-range options, and are frequently family-operated.

There’s no shortage of international chains, with Best Western offering some surprisingly stylish choices. And French chains, like Sofitel, Novotel, Libertel, Mercure and Ibis, are located throughout the country.

The hotel star rating system can be helpful. It grades hotels on 246 different inspection points, including customer service, accessibility and foreign languages spoken.

One-star hotels are usually smaller economy properties, which may have either shared or ensuite baths. The minimum size, not counting bath, is nine square meters (about 97 square feet). Generally, they won’t have a restaurant (though a continental breakfast is typically offered) and the reception desk may not be staffed 24/7.

Two-star hotels are also usually smaller properties and have the same room-size requirements as one-star hotels. Staff members must speak an additional European language, and reception must be open a minimum of 10 hours a day. Most rooms will have a telephone and TV, and there may be a restaurant — but no room service.

In addition to meeting the two-star requirements, rooms in three-star hotels must be 13.5 square meters (145 square feet) including bathroom, with better decor and an all-day restaurant. These hotels are usually better situated and, outside of cities, can include amenities like parking and swimming pools.

Four-star hotels have a larger size requirement (minimum 16 square meters including bathrooms, or 172 square feet) that brings the room closer to what you’d expect in an American hotel. Room service is generally available, as well as a concierge, fitness center and valet parking.

In five-star hotels, rooms must be at least 24 square meters (258 square feet) including bathroom, with top-of-the-line service and staff that speak two foreign languages, including English. Air conditioning is required, and amenities like Jacuzzis, DVD players and 24-hour room service are standard. These hotels are in prime locations and often have multiple restaurants.

A few exceptional five-star hotels have been awarded Palace status, due to factors like a Michelin-starred restaurant, an on-site spa, historical significance, highly personalized service and more employees than required for five-star status. These are the legendary ultra-luxury hotels of France.

[st_related]12 Unforgettable France Experiences[/st_related]

A few things to consider:

– After reading the room-size requirements, you’ve probably realized you may be more cramped than in a typical U.S. hotel.

– You won’t likely find king-size beds in anything less than a four-star hotel. Most rooms have twins or double beds (grand lit).

– Rates are typically quoted per room, but are quoted per person if they include room and board. Hotels include taxes and service and the minimal per-person, per-day tourism tax.

– Don’t expect air conditioning in lower-priced properties — always ask, if that’s an important feature for you.

– Ditto elevators. Budget hotels often only have stairs.

– A continental breakfast is served at most French hotels, but there is often an extra charge for it, which can be exorbitant compared to popping into a nearby bakery. Always ask if the breakfast is included. If not, you can opt out, though hotels generally expect that you won’t. If you do, be sure to double-check your bill for breakfast charges.

– If you arrive before 7 p.m. on the day of a confirmed reservation and discover that no rooms are available, the hotel is obliged by law to find you a room at a comparable price. (Let’s hope this bit of knowledge is never needed!)

[st_related]What Not to Do at Your Hotel[/st_related]

France Hotel Resources:
AccorHotels.com
BestWestern.com
ChateauxHotels.co.uk
LogisHotels.com
RelaisChateaux.com
RelaisduSilence.com
TripAdvisor.com

France Bed and Breakfasts

Known as chambres d’hotes, B&Bs are a well-established lodging option in France. You can expect charming surroundings and a warm welcome, with budget options ranging from basic to luxurious. Although you’ll find a few B&Bs in cities, most are in smaller towns, villages and countryside locations. The included breakfasts are often heartier than hotel offerings, with cheese, pastries, yogurt and homemade jam — though very rarely hot items like eggs. For an extra fee, some B&Bs will serve you dinner, or table d’hote, usually served family-style. For more information, see Bed and Breakfasts.

France B&B Resources:
BedandBreakfast.com
BedandBreakfast.eu
ChambresdHotes.org
KarenBrown.com
Pour-les-Vacances.com

French Gites

A wonderful (and usually less expensive) alternative to hotels is the system of gites, mostly in rural areas. Traditionally, gites were part of a converted farmhouse or another building on a farm or vineyard. Now you’ll often find them in villages or as free-standing cottages. Gites can have multiple bedrooms and are usually set up with everything you need to do your own cooking — but may not include linens (or may charge extra to provide them). Some proprietors meter and charge for gas and electricity; there may also be a cleaning fee, or you may be expected to give the place a thorough cleaning before you leave. The minimum stay at many gites is one week, though some rent for a weekend.

Proprietors typically live on site or nearby and, though usually very welcoming, may have limited English skills. Gites de France, the largest syndicate by far, has a rating system of one to five stalks of wheat, ranging from basic to very comfortable, and also indicates languages spoken.

France Gite Resources:
Accueil-Paysan.com
CleVacances.com
Gites-de-France.com

France Apartment Rentals

Many apartment rental agencies serve France — especially in Paris. And the boom in person-to-person rentals has hit the countryside as well. If you’re a first-time visitor or you don’t speak the language, we recommend going with an established agency — one that can provide 24-hour service in case of a problem or emergency. (We list a few below.)

If you don’t like lugging your bags up winding steps, inquire about whether there’s an elevator (in Paris they can be scarce), and remember that the French “first floor” is the American “second floor.” (The American first floor is known as the rez de chaussee, or ground floor.)

Question the rental agent or host about street noise. Ask about restaurants, bakeries and other shops in the neighborhood, proximity to a Metro subway station (in cities) and where the nearest market can be found. As with hotels, air conditioning is rare, but most rentals come with free Wi-Fi, and many also have free international phone service. If there’s no phone, consider how you will contact the agency or host, since a U.S. cell phone may not work in France. Carry the emergency number with you at all times, just in case you lose your keys (sacrebleu!).

Check out online reviews or ask for references if you want to be really thorough — but remember, previous guests may have had different needs or expectations than you do. For more information, see Booking a Vacation Rental: What You Need to Know.

France Apartment Rental Resources:
Airbnb.com
AtHomeinFrance.com
Paristay.com (Paris only)
RothRay.com (Paris only)
SNRT.fr/residences-loisir.html
VRBO.com

Farmstays in France

You’ll find more than 1,500 farmstay choices listed at the association Bienvenue a la Ferme (Welcome to the Farm). Some are B&Bs, some gites, and others just offer camping facilities. The website has different classifications to choose from: “Bacchus” brings up vineyards and winemakers, “Rando” indicates locations good for walking or hiking, and “Bio” sends you to farms that are organic. You can also search the site for fermes auberges, which offer meals in a farm setting featuring the owners’ products. For more information, see Homestays and Farmstays.

France Farmstay Resources:
Bienvenue-a-la-Ferme.com

French Monasteries and Convents

Looking for an unusual escape? Try staying at a monastery or convent. Usually priced per person, they’re a particularly good deal for single travelers — with an added level of security for women traveling alone. While some are spartan, others have amenities like private baths or even swimming pools. Full or half board is often available. As you might expect, there are more choices in rural areas and smaller towns. Be sure to check out any rules of the community (curfew, for example) before committing.

France Monastery and Convent Resources:
GoodNightandGodBless.com (online listings in multiple countries)
Guide-St-Christophe.fr (online listings by geographical department; French only)
MonasteriesofFrance.com (guidebook; no online listings)

French Barges

Who says your accommodation has to stay in one place? Rent a barge and take a lazy trip down one of France’s canals. Peniche is the French word for barge, and penichettes are smaller barges designed for easy canal and river cruising. You don’t have to be an experienced sailor, and no license is necessary to ply the waters — you just need to be patient and ready for a relaxing trip. Barges move slowly (about four miles per hour) and have to wait to pass through locks, but they give you a real taste of the countryside in the style of days gone by.

Barges come equipped with kitchen equipment and linens; many even have bikes, though there may be an extra charge. You can usually tie up for free at villages or towns to shop and explore. Be sure to ask about one way vs. roundtrip pricing; inside and outside steering; and air conditioning and any extras, such as fuel, parking or cleaning fees. Best tip? Bring heavy (preferably waterproof) gloves for handling ropes and locks, since sewage from older barges goes directly into the canals.

France Barge Resources:
BarginginFrance.com
FranceAfloat.com
French-Waterways.com
LeBoat.com
Locaboat.com
Nicols.com

Camping in France

You might not think of camping when you think of France, but there are thousands of campsites in the country, rated from one star (cold-water showers may be a possibility) to four (larger camping areas, plantings, English-speaking management, more on-site amenities like a store). CampingFrance.com lets you search by destination and amenities, including beach-side spots, swimming pools, saunas and camps with clubs for children.

[st_related]Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay[/st_related]

France Camping Resources:
CampingFrance.com
FranceCamping.org

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Paris Travel Guide
Getting Around France: Transportation Tips
Top 25 Ways to Save on Paris Travel

–written by Gayle Keck

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network.

Categories
Booking Strategy

Where to Stay in Canada: Lodging Tips

Canada lodging is similar to that of the United States, ranging from business-class hotels and luxurious spa resorts to small inns and B&Bs. But what Canada has that its neighbor to the south is missing are the grand, early-20th-century railway hotels that were part of the charm of train travel across the sprawling nation.

Canada is among the countries of the world with the lowest population densities, which means that there are plenty of pristine natural locales for resort hotels, lodges and campsites. Read on to learn where to stay in Canada.

Canada Hotels and Motels

History buffs have the railways to thank for so many lovely hotels in Canada. During the height of the train travel era, the railroad companies constructed massive, chateau-style properties with towers, turrets and other charms of classic European architecture, adding glamour and style to cross-country rail trips.

Nearly every major city in Canada has at least one historic grande dame that would make even the stodgiest business traveler regret staying at a big-name chain hotel (though there are plenty of those too). With a name like the Empress, you’d expect nothing less than stately regality from the massive chateau sitting along the inner harbor of Victoria, British Columbia. Built in 1908, the 464-room hotel is one of the oldest in the country. Others of note are the Royal York in Toronto and the Fort Garry in Winnipeg.

The boutique hotel trend is catching on in Canada. With quirky marketing campaigns and a penchant for baffling grammar, ARC The.Hotel in Ottawa has 112 chic guestrooms with Egyptian linens, iHome docks and pillow-top beds. The all-suite Executive Hotel Cosmopolitan in Toronto follows the principles of feng shui.

The Hotel-Musee Premieres Nations in Quebec, meanwhile, melds modern charm with the aboriginal art of the Huron-Wendat indigenous community.

Mid-range chain hotels are commonplace in cities. Outside of urban areas, you’ll find your usual range of budget hotels and roadside motels of varying quality.

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The Canada Select Accommodation Rating Council sets national standards for hotels, rating properties on a scale of one to five stars (in half-star increments). Participation is voluntary; currently properties in 10 of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories partake.

There are only 34 five-star properties rated, for example (whereas the website FiveStarAlliance.com highlights more than 100 luxury hotels throughout Canada). That being said, the council — along with another rating organization, the Canadian Star Quality Accommodation — is useful for narrowing down hotel options throughout the country.

Canada Hotel Resources:
CanadaSelect.com
CheckInCanada.com
FiveStarAlliance.com

Canadian National Park Resorts and Lodges

You could drive across Canada for days and see nothing but untouched landscapes. Then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, up pops a magnificent resort with views stolen from postcards.

Every province in Canada has at least one spa resort, and some of the best are near national parks. Among the most well regarded is the 45-room Spa Eastman, a health and wellness resort overlooking Mont Orford in Quebec. Compare that to the posh Wickaninnish Inn on Vancouver Island, which offers spa treatments in rooms overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The Marriott-run Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, also has a beachside setting.

If a spa isn’t your thing, smaller lodges abound. Banff National Park has some of the most alluring lodges in all of Canada, including Chateau Lake Louise and Fairmont Banff Springs.

Be sure to book in advance during the summertime and during Canadian holidays. As with other hotels, the best rates are found in the off-season.

Canada Resort and Lodge Resources:
LeadingSpasofCanada.com
Pc.gc.ca (Parks Canada)

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Canada Ranches and Farmstays

If you only associate dude ranches with the western United States, think again. Western Canada also has a rich ranching history, including plenty of spots that offer dude ranch experiences for travelers.

Five generations of a family have run the century-old Reesor Ranch on the prairies of Saskatchewan. You can join cattle drives or go horseback riding along rolling meadows before retiring to a rustic log cabin. At the Sturgeon River Ranch, a working cattle farm near Prince Albert National Park, you can embark on a multi-day outback horse trip to see wild plains bison, elk, moose and bear. Or stay put on the property to watch or help with typical ranch activities, including branding.

Not into cattle? Le Gite de l’Ardora on the Acadian Peninsula of New Brunswick offers three guestrooms in its 150-year-old house on a farm with cows, geese, ducks and golden retrievers.

Many small farms and ranches don’t have fancy websites but instead are listed through provincial tourism groups, such as the British Columbia Guest Ranchers Association or Tourism Saskatchewan.

Canada Ranch and Farmstay Resources:
BCGuestRanches.com
CanadaRanches.com
GuestRanches.com
TourismSaskatchewan.com

Canada Camping and Huts

All of Canada’s national parks offer government-run campgrounds, and there are also private campgrounds throughout the country. Parks Canada runs campsites at 25 national parks, and the website Camping-Canada.com lists campsites elsewhere, including provincial parks and private campgrounds of varying quality.

Some are open year-round, while others only operate spring through fall. Advance reservations are suggested, especially in the peak months of July and August. Quite a few parks offer campsites on a first-come, first-served basis; arrive early if you plan to wing it.

In most wilderness areas, you can rough camp wherever you’d like.

Meanwhile, the Alpine Club of Canada runs a batch of backcountry properties for mountain hikers and others seeking rustic lodging in remote places. They’re called “huts,” but really they are small lodges and log cabins. One of the most famous huts is the historic Abbot Pass Hut, a stone cabin that’s a three- to six-hour hike up a steep mountain pass. It sits between Banff and Yoho National Parks.

Huts generally offer dormitory-style sleeping arrangements, outhouses and communal cooking facilities. They cannot accommodate many people, so reservations are essential, and each hut has rules you’ll need to follow (such as quiet hours and how to dispose of waste).

Canada Camping and Hut Resources:
AlpineClubofCanada.ca
Camping-Canada.com
Reservation.ParksCanada.gc.ca

Canada Bed and Breakfasts

B&Bs are as commonplace in Canada as they are in the United States. Quebec City is especially known for them — here they’re called gites du passant. One of the best known is Auberge Place D’Armes, on a cobblestone street in the center of Quebec City. Its 21 rooms are housed in two buildings, one of which is almost four centuries old.

Canada Bed and Breakfast Resources:
BedandBreakfast.com
UniqueInns.com

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Canada Lighthouses

Canada has hundreds of lighthouses, many of which are no longer needed for maritime purposes in an age of modern technology. Some sit abandoned, others have been declared historic properties and about a dozen have been converted into lodging for visitors.

The Tower Room and the Keeper’s Quarters at the West Point Lighthouse on Prince Edward Island are in the lighthouse itself, which is also a museum; the property offers 11 other rooms in the adjoining building. At the northernmost tip of Newfoundland is the Quirpon Island Lighthouse Inn, which has converted a lightkeeper building into a six-room inn. The guesthouse at the Lighthouse on Cape d’Or has stunning views of the Bay of Fundy and neighboring cliffs from its four rooms.

Canada Lighthouse Resources:
CapedOr.ca
LinkumTours.com/site/
NewEnglandLighthouses.net/lighthouses-with-overnight-accommodations.html
WestPointHarmony.ca

Canada Hostels

Canada has more than 200 hostels. Approximately a third of them are run by Hostelling International (HI), and the rest are independent (though often members of the Backpackers Hostels Canada network). Some are suited to students, with dormitory-type lodging, and others are more like budget inns with private guestrooms.

One of the most fascinating is the Ottawa Jail Hostel, a historical landmark where guests are “incarcerated” in 20 cells with bunk beds. Like the jailbirds before you, you get free breakfast and access to communal bathrooms.

Offering hostel-like accommodations, some universities also rent out dormitory rooms during summer break. Backpackers Hostels Canada maintains listings on its website.

Canada Hostel Resources:
Backpackers.ca
HIHostels.com

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