If you find yourself in Bangkok over New Year's (and really, it's a much warmer choice than icy Boston), the Tower Club at Lebua, one of the city's most luxurious hotels, is offering specialty menus at its restaurants, Mezzaluna, Sirocco, Breeze and Distil, all high up in the skyscraper hotel and carrying pretty sky-high prices.
Available for one night only, the menu features things like Japanese Kyushu beef, Petrossian Imperial caviar, red king crab from the Okhotsk Sea and New Caledonia Pacific Ocean blue shrimp. The experience starts with free champagne at Flute Bar on the 64th floor, with spectacular views of the Chao Phraya River and city skyline. Prices are $980 per person at Mezzaluna, $903 at Breeze, $829 at Sirocco and $678 at Distil
“Clearwater Beach Uncorked,” the third annual food and wine event in Clearwater Beach, Fla., runs Feb. 7-9 in front of the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa, which should be enticing to food and wine lovers, as well as those with a philanthropic bent: A portion of the take goes to the University of South Florida-Manatee College of Hospitality and Technology Leadership, to help develop academic programs, scholarships, research grants and campus infrastructure. The event also partners with the leadership program to implement an educational component incorporating the event into the student fall curriculum.
The event will have an array of food samplings and selection of wines, spirits and craft beers from around the world, at its grand tasting village. Tickets are $85 for general admission, and $125 for VIP, which gets access to an area with exclusive restaurants and reserve wines, single-malt whiskeys and rare scotches, along with a swag bag. For information, check out www.clearwaterbeachuncorked.com
It's not often I get a man crush, something usually reserved
for sports figures. But Omar and Romulo, two burly boys weighing a combined
1,000 pounds, had me at the first kiss.
Omar and Romulo, along with Remo and Franco, are four massive sea lions that you can get up close and personal with – including getting bussed on the cheeks – at Coral World Ocean Park in St. Thomas, where you can also swim with sharks and sea turtles, do snuba diving and don a diving helmet and walk the ocean floor with sea creatures swimming about you.
The sea lion swim is popular, for good reason. These animals,
originally from Thailand, are a huge draw, literally and emotionally, truly
beautiful beasts with huge, soulful eyes and a remarkable intelligence level,
said trainer Kristine, who has worked there the last four years training, and
loving, these gentle giants.
For $126 per adult (includes park admission), you get some unique face time with some unique animals. After a quick introductory talk and guidelines (never pat the animals, they could be startled, only stroke them and never above the ears), you go to two large tanks. Here, for the first part of the encounter, you interact on the tank deck with Remo and Franco, the smaller of the four lions but not by much, exchanging hand-to-flipper high fives, making muscles as they stand on their chests making their own, giving them hand commands so they’ll emit throaty growls (not barks like California sea lions), rewarding them throughout by tossing them whole fish to swallow, the beasts lumbering across the deck to plunge back into the water on command.
Then it's over to another tank where behemoths Omar and Romulo await. Into the tank you go and the watery bonding begins, as you hug the pair, stroke their massive bodies, wave to them as they wave back, get doused when they each do the most genuine belly flops ever into the pool and, of course, get kissed, each planting a whiskered muzzle to your cheeks.
I've done a variety of animal encounters in my travels, mainly dolphins and while they are very easy to love, these gorgeous sea lions are even more so, with those big brown eyes and eagerness to be loved. They each have stories as well, the saddest of which may be Omar's. Sea lions often develop cataracts, Kristine told us, and the big boy is nearly blind as a result. They're setting up a special station at Coral World to perform corrective surgery in the coming months.
Coral World, located on the ocean, is also keenly concerned with the environment. It’s a coral nursery demonstration site for the Nature Conservancy’s Coral Restoration Program, the goal of which is to grow Elkhorn and Staghorn corals to deplete reef sites; assist in scientific research by tagging captured sharks that are released back into the wild, sharing data with the National Marine Fisheries Service; and serving as a rehab center for injured or sick turtles.
And it’s just a cool place to walk around, checking out the ocean views, getting up close but not too personal with the abundant and large iguana lounging about, checking out the butterfly garden, and even holding a wedding there if you’re so inclined.
But for me, nothing’s better than getting double kissed by Omar and Romulo. A man crush has never been more fun.
For more info, visit www.coralworldvi.com
Top two photos by Coral World, bottom photo by Paul E. Kandarian
There's the good, the better and the ugly with airport security. If you can take advantage of what's offered, it's good, better when it works flawlessly and conversely ugly when it does – but only to the passengers left behind watching you sweep by them. Ah, well.
At San Juan recently facing a three-hour layover, I opted to go outside in the sun before heading back to sun-starved Boston, which meant going back through security, the lines for which were getting pretty long. I asked if they had TSA Pre√, a program I use by dint of signing up ($100 for five years) for the Global Entry program, where you're vetted, deemed safe and get super-speedy entry through U.S. Customs, and in many airports, quick entry through security at Pre√ points, meaning you don't have to strip and disassemble your personal belongings to do it.
In San Juan's JetBlue terminal they don't have a dedicated Pre√ I was told – but they do have it. I went to the crew-only security podium and a very friendly TSA officer brought me through a long security line to the front, much to the supposed chagrin of other people waiting in line who probably wondered why I was so damned special, putting them in an uglier mood. I felt kinda embarrassed and even told the guy, “Hey, I have time, I don't mean to be a bother,” to which he laughed, “Too late, you're already a bother!” Imagine, a TSA guy with actual personality, if only more were like that.
So he cut me into the security line and even got me a tray for my belt and jacket, the only things I took off. I only had one bag (I detest checking bags and if you know how to pack light, you can fit everything into a carryon, trust me), so I left my laptop in it, ditto my plastic baggie of toiletries, ditto my shoes on my feet. Seconds later, zoom, through, done, walking away casually to, I suspect, the glaring, ugly looks of people stewing and sweating in line.
The good is Global Entry with TSA Pre√, the better is when it works so well, the ugly is the vibe you may get from passengers who don't know about it. All things considered, I can live with all three.
For Global Entry info, visit www.globalentry.gov
Holiday travel is seldom fun – even when you get there and stay with relatives or friends and run the risk of seeing one naked. No, we're not making this up, nor would we want to.
According to a recent survey conducted by Choice Hotels International, the most common issues reported by holiday travelers staying with people they know are getting woken up before they want to (39 percent) and having to wait in line for the bathroom (25 percent). But it also lists other anxieties that include accidentally seeing a relative naked (which really should top the list), eating a lousy meal, participating in awkward family traditions (think ugly sweaters), getting stuck in long conversations with people you'd rather not, sharing a room with a relative, sleeping on an air mattress, and the old favorite, fighting with family.
Not surprisingly, Choice Hotels suggests a stay at one of their franchises as an alternative. With more than 6,300 hotels in their fold, it should be easy enough to find a place where you won't run the risk of seeing naked kinfolk.
Sitting on the beach at Cap Juluca on the Caribbean island of Anguilla earlier this year, fat white clouds in a seriously blue sky, St. Maarten on the near horizon seemingly close enough to touch, I couldn’t imagine the place getting much better. After all, the luxury resort attracts celebs like Liam Neeson and Denzel Washington, drawn to the crescent beach on Maundays Bay that is so relaxing, once you’re on it, you don’t want to leave.
But they say it’s been improved. Cap Juluca, and its 69 newly refurbished beachfront guestrooms, was closed for a bit but reopened in November, with a refreshed signature restaurant, Pimms, which already has some pretty stunning sunset dining on the beach, and more live entertainment. Also redesigned was Blue, the open-air beachfront restaurant where all meals can be had (you must have the tuna tartar with salmon on a round of avocado) where they’ve added Wednesday-night beach barbecues, with live reggae music and dancing on the beach.
It’s a wonderfully relaxing place, where you can lounge in comfortable rattan beach chairs and attendants unbidden bring a cooler of ice and water, or anything of a more serious liquid nature you might require if you’re too lazy to make your way to nearby beach bars.
The 15 villas housing the guestrooms stretch the length of the beach, set back amid palm trees and other landscaping, each of Greek design, cool and bright, made of white stucco with arched openings, white stone patios and dark, louvered doors. You don’t get a key unless you ask, it’s reportedly that safe, and it’s one less thing to lose on the beach.
All rooms were repainted with clean lines, splashes of color, new amenities, furnishings and new Frette linens and towels, along with abstract art and great views of the Caribbean. My one-bedroom unit was elegant and simple, navy-colored accents breaking up white walls and dark molding and French doors opening to that beckoning beach beyond.
If you’ve got a large party, and the money, check out the new Jonquil Suite, a 3,290-square-foot villa with two master bedrooms, full kitchen, dining terrace, Jacuzzi and huge, freshwater infinity pool.
Pimms is the go-to dining spot here, a Wine Spectator 2011 Award of Excellence winner, where the pan-roasted lobster with basil-butter sauce is sublime. Next to it is the Spice Lounge, Moroccan in style, and over in the main house is Maundays Bar, dark and moody and a great place to snag a rum cocktail and sit on the veranda gazing at that sky-blue ocean.
Cardigan Connor is the activities director, a retired cricket champion (who will patiently explain a game to Americans like me who haven’t a clue how it’s played), and known for his work as a trainer and masseuse with famous guests like Steven Tyler, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgewick.
With the celebrity drawing power the luxury resort has, it’s pretty pricey, rooms running from $1,000 a night on up in high season. But deals can be had, such as the one running through Dec. 18, the “Tangled Up in You Package,” starting at $2,753 which gets you five nights in a private pool suite, private boat journey, beach dinner and more. If you want to stretch out your holiday, and have nearly $15,000 to do it, check out the 12-night Julucan Christmas and New Year’s deal, or the shorter one just for New Year’s, seven nights starting at $9,620. Other, less financially frightening deals include “More Maundays,” with seventh night free for booking six, good from Jan. 5-March 31; the “Discover Cap Juluca” package starting at $495, and a host of others. Check them all out at www.capjuluca.com
you do, you’ll likely find yourself back on that beach, St. Maarten seemingly
close enough to touch. Which you can now do. The resort just added a new luxury
cruiser, the Juluca Pride, to take guests on private charters to it and nearby
St. Barths. It just could make leaving the beach a little bit easier to take.
Photos by Paul E. Kandarian, from top beach at Cap Juluca, lunch at Blue, and Pimms restaurant.
Welcome the New Year in Scottish style at the Isle of Eriska, a five-star, Relais & Chateau hotel on a private island near Oban in the Scottish Highlands.
The Hogmanay package, Dec. 29, 2013–Jan. 3, 2014, includes lodging and meals, as well as a champagne reception, triathlon, traditional Hogmanay treasure hunt and farewell to 2013, a New Year's Day golf competition on the hotel's waterfront course, dinner, and ceilidh, and a traditional lunch on Jan. 2. The inclusive five-night package is roughly $1,800 per person.
I have always been fond of fiction writers who are grounded in a certain place. Indeed, I think that their stories are often the best airplane and hotel reading material when visiting that place. That's why I always try to have a Donna Leon mystery novel featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti on hand when I'm headed anywhere near Venice. Now I have a book to keep me company when I'm at home and want to be reminded of that watery city. My Venice and Other Essays (Atlantic Monthly Press, $26) was published just last week.
In fairness, only about a quarter of the book contains essays about life in Venice, but they are so keenly observed that they almost make me homesick for a city I've only visited. Even the other essays on subjects as varied as men, America, books, and music have the same kind of keen observation that many expatriates cultivate. Although Leon grew up in New Jersey, she's spent most of her adult years overseas, fleeing to Venice from Iran when Khomeini came to power in 1979.
The essays are mostly short and mostly slight -- it is hard to be ponderous when commenting cattily about one's neighbor's penchant for throwing garbage in the Grand Canal -- but they have the kind of friendly intimacy of a letter from a friend far away. Like a poem, an essay is not between two pages, but between two people. Have a look at My Venice. It may speak to you as well.
It's one thing when a hotel has style, luxury, first-rate amenities, great location and food. It's another when it has mind-reading bartenders like Ed Zynko.
Telepathic powers may be overstating it, but at a recent stay at The Study at Yale on Chapel Street, New Haven, a five-year old boutique hotel nestled in the thick of Yale's cultural center, we were at the bar Thanksgiving night where Zynko, a veteran barkeep with 25 years experience, asked what we want. I was specifically vague, saying “something with rum.” Five minutes of intense creation later, Zynko whipped up the best rum punch I’ve ever had, and since I go to the Caribbean quite a bit, that's saying something.
He created a concoction of equal parts spiced rum, dark rum, and white over-proofed rum, orange juice, a double dose of lime juice, grapefruit juice and cranberry juice, touching it up with six dashes of bitters, then grating a lovely crust of nutmeg over all and garnishing it with fresh fruit that included a skewer of three Luxardo imported maraschino cherries, the finest I've ever tasted.As if I didn't love the hotel at that point, Zynko's rum punch sealed the deal. The bar is at the side of the Heirloom, the hotel's restaurant, which uses heritage growers and neighboring artisan suppliers from Connecticut and New England for Chef Carey Savona's farm-coastal cooking, with a wine collection from around the world. The restaurant is on the hotel's first floor with floor-to-ceiling windows, next to a lobby with plush chairs and couches and a wall of books you're welcome to browse, pull up a chair and read. That's by design, more hotels are providing comfortable reading areas and things to read these days, as a way of getting you to stick around awhile. The lobby also has a small cafe, and a Mac in the corner facing the street for guests to use.
The rooms aren’t terribly expensive, starting around $150, nicely appointed and warm toned, contemporary in style with ergonomic reading chairs by a wall-to-wall working desk (a basket of Study-embossed pencils is a nice literary touch), with larger rooms and suites having bookshelves crammed with reading material. Our fourth-floor room looked out over the New Haven skyline, church spires abounding, and a thicket of slate-roofed brick buildings surrounding us.
The Study is in the belly of the arts center at Yale and embraces it within: The hotel has the Aisling Gallery, a space offering Yale School of Art and Architecture students the chance to show their works on a rotating basis. Nearby are august arts sites such as the Yale University Art Gallery, Yale Peabody Museum and Yale Center of British Art, among many others.
The city itself has lots going on, including seasonal attractions such as free horse-drawn sleigh rides around New Haven green on Saturdays in December; Holiday Mart/Projects Storefront through Dec. 22, where local art, jewelry, home décor, vintage clothing and more is displayed, along with art workshops and live music; and caroling, Santa visits, and holiday-themed shows at the Shubert Theater, as well as regular arts and restaurant weeks.
New Haven is a surprising place, if you know where to look. To find out more, visit www.infonewhaven.com. And stop by The Study for a drink. Ed Zynko will know exactly what you want.
Photos from The Study at Yale
A Canadian Airline called WestJet put on a remarkable, and heartwarming, stunt. Each of the 250 passengers boarding flights out of the Toronto and Hamilton International Airports were treated to a very real visit from a virtual Santa Claus.
The airline set up electronic Santa chat boxes in the terminals of the two airports, where passengers (children and parents alike) were able to tell Santa what they want for Christmas this year, according to Mashable.com. While the planes departed for their destination, 150 WestJet employees reportedly went on a shopping spree to purchase personalized presents for everyone on board.FULL ENTRY
The reading and birthday party are free and open to the public. In lieu of gifts, guests are encouraged to bring towels, blankets, or toys for donation to the Animal Rescue League Boston Shelter. The event takes place at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, 138 St. James Ave., Boston.
Passengers were literally dancing in the aisles Thursday as JetBlue launched its new service from Fort Lauderdale to Haiti.
While the timing of the launch with Christopher Columbus's landing on Hispanola may have seemed significant to JetBlue marketeers, what matters to Haitian-Americans is the prospect of lower fares as a result of much-needed competition. In the past, fares to Port-au-Prince were often higher than to neighboring Santo Domingo, with little off-season variation because of the country's minimal dependence on tourism.
The Haiti route makes Fort Lauderdale the largest provider of air service to Haiti, according to an airport official.
The Frog Pond isn't the only skating show in town: in Cambridge celebrates its annual opening of The Rink at The Charles Hotel Dec. 15, offering free ice skating and skate rentals from noon to 6 p.m., with performances by the Harvard Figure Skating Club and free hot chocolate. Children can hit the activities room for cookie decorating from noon to 3 p.m. Adults are welcome to check out a new specialty, “Apres Skate” cocktails in the Noir lounge nightly from 4 p.m. To 2 a.m., created by the lounge's general manager, Archie Almodovar.
The 2,900-square-foot rink is open through March 16. For regular rates and packages, visit www.charleshotel.com
Photo from The Charles Hotel
Uncommon Journeys, a provider of unique North American rail and cruise travel, has teamed up with American Cruise Lines' Queen of the Mississippi to create the 2014 Riverboat and Train schedule, a series of three riverboat-and-train itineraries showcasing the first paddlewheel riverboat built for overnight travel in a decade. The packages include food and entertainment while aboard the riverboat Queen of the Mississippi.
The “American Legends” tour is an 11-day trip in July, with fares starting at $4,795 per person, that includes train travel to Chicago from any midwestern city, stays in Chicago and St. Louis and sightseeing trips, and a seven-night cruise from St. Louis to St. Paul aboard the Queen of the Mississippi, with stops in Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota.
The “Journey to the Great Smoky Mountains” runs in September, a 13-day trip starting at $4,895 per person that features train travel from any city in the United States to Atlanta, stays and sightseeing in Atlanta, North Carolina and Tennessee, and a seven-night voyage on the Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi rivers on the riverboat, with stops in Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri, before finishing up in Memphis. At the end of September into early October, the “Fall Colors on the Mississippi runs, from $4,895 per person, with free train travel from any eastern or midwestern city to Chicago and two-nights stay in that city, train travel from Chicago to St. Louis and seven nights on the Mississippi aboard the riverboat, stopping in Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Each package includes a professional tour manager to handle details, from hotel reservations to sightseeing. For complete information, visit www.uncommonjourneys.com, or call 800-323-5893
By Alexa Dibenedetto
A 14-foot Gingerbread Macaron Nutcracker will soon welcome guests to the lobby of the Ritz Carlton on Boston Common. The festive, giant holiday decoration is the creation of executive chef Andrew Yeo and his pastry team. It’s flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, ginger, clove and almond, and is covered in more than 2,000 macarons.
So what does it take to build a 14-foot edible decoration?
- 20 pounds of almond flower
- 100 pounds of powdered sugar
- 20 pounds of granulated sugar
- 5 pounds of water
- 4,106 egg whites
Visit the Ritz-Carlton Boston Common at 10 Avery Street to pose for a picture with this the towering dessert and try your best not to take a bite.
Getting to Logan Airport is rarely fun and seldom easy. But before heading off on a trip to the Caribbean in early November, we found a little bit of both, and got a great meal in the bargain at a new, old restaurant.
Facing a ridiculously early flight, we opted to stay the night before at the Hyatt Place on Forbes Road in Braintree, a relatively new hotel opening in a complex of upscale places, including Joseph A. Bank and Starbucks. For less than $130, we got a decent room in the shiny new hotel, ample space with a king bed, giant HD TV, glassed-in shower, higher-end digs for a reasonable price. From there, we'd drive a quarter mile to Logan Express, to catch the 3:30 a.m. bus.
We walked over to the Legal Seafood in the same building as the Hyatt, and found out it had just opened four days earlier, the latest branch of the Boston-bred restaurant empire that started in 1968. It will replace the older Legal next door, which is still in use through the holidays, slated to close Jan. 31.
The new Legal is a smashing place, long, wide open, bright and airy, with huge rectangular stainless steel bar mercifully fronted with leather armrests so your forearms aren't assaulted by cold steel. There is also an oyster bar, and food bar, along the exposed kitchen. In summer, giant sliders will open to allow deck dining. In all, the place seats 220.
The staff was first rate, start to finish, and when our wait staffer, Erica, wasn't at our table tending to our needs, other servers stepped in. Legal Seafood fare is always good, and I was very pleased to find out, very friendly to people like me with celiac disease, with a pretty extensive gluten-free menu. Restaurant manager Emily Duranleau told me Legal was on the cutting edge of offering gluten-free options long before many other places were.
It is rare for a restaurant to offer gluten-free fried food, e.g. clams, chicken, fish, but here they do courtesy of using brown rice flour and cornmeal. Also rare is getting gluten-free bread in restaurants, but here they have pretty good dinner rolls, flavored by garlic and onion, that rival regular bread anywhere else. We didn't eat heavy, going with a chicken caesar salad, and the “vegetarian box,” with sesame soy stir-fried veggies, Thai red coconut curry sauce, cashews and shrimp. Dessert was a chocolate mouse, rich and grainy, with velvety chocolate at its core, which we feared would keep us up past our 2:30 a.m. wake-up call. Luckily, it did not.
So far, so good, and it got better. The Logan Express trip has gotten cheaper in recent years, including chopping the daily parking rate to $7 from $11, and offering a 10-pack of commuter tickets for $75, saving $35 off the regular price, a boon to frequent fliers like myself. At 3:30, the bus was jammed with mostly airport workers, looking like they'd rather be anywhere else. We tourists stuck out, by our casual attire and the smiles on our faces, heading into a day that would bring snow to Boston but us to a sunny place in the Caribbean.
Trips to the airport are rarely fun and seldom easy, but combining a stay at the Hyatt, dinner at the new Legal Seafood and a seamless ride on Logan Express, it sure came close.
Thinking about a safari in Kenya? Mahali Mzuri, the newest addition to Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Limited Edition collection of private retreats, is offering a free night with the purchase of at least four nights. Mahali Mzuri is located in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, a reserve in the Maasai Mara ecosystem. Guests gaze over a river valley that attracts elephants, hippos, wildebeest, zebras, giraffes, lions, elephants, and cape buffalo.
Each of the 12 luxury tents include a bedroom with stocked minibar, bathroom with soaking tub and separate shower, living area, and large deck. The tents are linked to the main lodge, dining areas, disappearing-edge pool, and spa via boardwalks and pathways.
The offer, available through Dec. 21, includes all meals and beverages, including top-shelf champagne, daily game drives, bush walks, WiFi, transfers from the Mara North air strip, and all taxes. Rates begin at $590 per person, per night.
The Wildcat Inn and Tavern’s “$50 and free” promotion is back for a third straight year, and it has to be one of the best dine-and-stay packages we’ve seen in all of New England.
Here’s the deal: Spend $50 or more in the tavern or dining room at the Jackson, N.H. inn, and you’ll receive a free room for two for the night. Other than calling in advance - at least 24 hours - and making your reservation, it really is that easy, and it’s also available on weekends.
Even better, should you only spend $30-40 on food and drinks, your room for the evening will be only $10-20 depending on how far you get to $50. The deal is good through Dec. 15, and reservations can be made for more than one night.
For more information, visit wildcattavern.com/50andfree.html, and to book, call 603-356-8700 or 603-383-4245.
The Upper Rhine Valley not only claims the first written references to the sale and lighting of Christmas trees, but also has a Christmas market history dating back hundreds of years. Held during Advent, the four weeks prior to Christmas, these seasonal street markets brighten the darkest days of the year. They’re the place to make merry, shop with friends, and share the holiday magic over steaming mugs of mulled wine.
Each market comprises dozens of vendors housed in wooden stalls trimmed with lights and garland and grouped along cobblestoned streets or clustered in village squares. Unlike shopping malls, with their blaring pseudo-carol Muzak tracks, Christmas markets are outdoors, and the usual background music blends squeals from children riding a carousel, live singers, and bleats from sheep in a living nativity scene. In many ways, they’re similar to farmers markets, but the available products include not only local cheeses and charcuterie, but also handcrafted wooden toys, turned bowls, blown glass, nutcrackers, ornaments, even hats and scarves.
Like any good holiday gathering, food and drink are the heart of every market. The aromas of onions and sausages sizzling in an open pan and wine simmering with anise, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon perfume the air. Vendors offer tastes of cheeses, meats, foie gras, potted duck, and smoked fish, and sell hot soups and stews and local dishes.
But if food is the heart, than sweets are the honey that binds the market together. Traditional breads and cookies, rooted in centuries-old recipes passed down through the generations, vary by town and country. The one universal is manala, a spiced brioche shaped like a little man given to children on Dec. 6, the feast day of St. Nicholas. Other temptations include: Alsatian bredele, the collective term for more than a dozen varieties of traditional Christmas spiced cookies; Christollen, an iced Christmas brioche made with candied fruits and cinnamon; berawecka, bread made with dried fruits marinated in kirsch; and leckerli, a hard, sugar-glazed biscuit made from honey, nuts, candied fruit, and kirsch, created in Basel in the 15th century.
With a train pass, it's easy to hopscotch the markets in Baden-Baden and Freiburg, Germany; Strasbourg, Obernai, and Colmar, France; and Basel, Switzerland, nibbling and sipping the delicacies offered at each, while simultaneously browsing, buying, and savoring the season. Add a sprinkle of snow, and the Upper Rhine Valley not only shines, it sparkles.
Most of us will likely spend more than we probably want to on other people this holiday season. But there are a bunch of travel deals this time of year where the money you spend will at least be on yourself. And OK, on those you love, if you take someone along.
Down in DC, The Mayflower Renaissance Hotel’s Edgar Bar & Kitchen celebrates its first Thanksgiving with a holiday menu conceptualized by Chef Andrew Morrison, formerly of the Fairmont Pittsburgh, and Maison Blanche and Le Mistral in our nation’s capital. Edgar opened last December, and the Thanksgiving menu features, naturally, turkey, and some more creative things like butternut squash and apple bisque, along with themed drinks such as “Pass the Turkey,” with Wild Turkey 101, cider, cranberry jelly, sage and thyme. Dinner is $45 per person, and the hotel (named after the historically famous ship that led to our nation’s very first thanksgiving), is running a “Stay for Breakfast” package as well for the weekend, rates starting at $139. For info, visit www.RenaissanceMayflower.com, and for info on Edgar check out www.edgarbarandkitchen.com
Up in New Hampshire, travelers can kick off the shopping season with deals at hotels and shopping centers throughout the state, including at the Centennial Hotel in Concord (Black Friday rate of $109 a night and free breakfast); Saco River Motor Lodge in Center Conway, rates from $69; the historic Wentworth by the Sea Hotel and Spa in New Castle, with rates from $209; and a shopping spree contest that will dole out three $500 sprees, including two-night lodging and dining. For all info, check out www.visitnh.gov.
Martha’s Vineyard off season is less crowded – and way cheaper. The historic Harbor View Hotel, sitting atop a picturesque bluff in Edgartown, is running a deal for those booking stays between Nov. 29 and Dec. 2. You can save 20 percent off room rates on one- or two-night stays and 30 percent on three-night stays for travel between Dec. 1 and July 10. The hotel is noted for Water Street, its signature restaurant with smashing water views, and Henry’s Hotel Bar. Visit www.harbor-view.com for information.
The Big Apple has seasonal deals, too, notably The Muse Hotel and 70 Park Avenue, with The Muse’s extended Cyber Monday package for travel throughout January and available for booking Dec. 2-15, offering 20 percent off the best-available room rate; and the “Power Shopper” program at 70 Park Avenue, which offers car service to shops, unlimited coffee from the hotel’s new Silverleaf Coffee and Tea Café, where you also get two wind-down cocktails after all that shopping, and a 30-minute stretching session. The package is available through the end of December and rates run from $629 a night. Visit www.themusehotel.com and www.70parkave.com for details.
New Year's Eve goes Latino over in Boulder, Colo., where the St. Julien Hotel and Spa has a New Year's special starting at $424, available for Dec. 31 (21 and older), and gets you lodging, the local Latin band Quemando in the ballroom, two drinks, Cuban street food stations, champagne toast and ball drop at midnight. Visit www.stjulien.com for info.
If you’re thinking warmer, and this time of year, who isn’t, there are deals to be had in toastier climes including at Abaco Beach Resort and Boat Harbour Marina in the Bahamas, with its exclusive 24-hour offer from midnight Dec. 1 to Dec. 2, which nets you the resort’s new “Turtle Crawl” experience with a minimum four-night stay, a $500 value. The offer is valid for travel through March 31, 2014. For information, check out www.abacobeachresort.com
A deal can be had at Ocean Club Resorts in Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean, where if you book at www.oceanclubresorts.com and use promo code “CYBER,” you get 20 percent off all room categories and a $200 hotel credit for stays of five or more nights from Jan. 3-Feb. 7, or 25 percent off junior, one-, two- and three-bedroom rooms and $200 credit for five or more nights from May 1-Dec. 18. Ocean Club was named among Travel + Leisure’s Top 500 Best Hotels in the World, which also named it the top hotel for Caribbean locations. Ocean Club has two properties in Turks and Caicos, a mile apart from each other on Grace Bay Beach, where guests at one can use the services and amenities of the other as well.
Over in Bermuda, travelers get a third, fourth or fifth night free on stays booked through April 25, for stays Dec. 1 through the end of April. Third-night free hotels include Clearview Suites & Villas, Elbow Beach Bermuda, and Rosewood Tuckers Point Resort, among others. You can get a fourth-night free deal at Cambridge Beaches, Pompano Beach Club and The Reefs Resort & Club, and a fifth night at Mazarine by the Sea, Rosedon Hotel Bermuda, The Royal Palms and Coral Beach Club. For all info, visit www.gotobermuda.com
Also in the Bahamas, Nassau Paradise Island hosts the third annual Bahamas Speed Week Revival Dec. 4-8, a unique event showcasing some of the world’s most iconic race cars. This year, racing returns to Nassau for the first time in nearly 50 years with the running of a Formula Junior race, and Austin Healey race, a classic/vintage mini race and an “All-comers” race. In addition to racing other cars, enthusiasts can race the clock in the Fort Charlotte Hill Climb overlooking Nassau Harbor. When booking an air-inclusive minimum four-night stay at any of Nassau Paradise Island’s participating hotels, visitors get $250 in instant savings. Select properties also offer other promotions during speed week. Bookings must be made before Dec. 2. For information on racing stuff, visit www.bahamasspeedweek.com, and for lodging, www.nassauparadiseisland.com
Last year, I spent New Year’s at Panama City Beach in Florida, and joined the Panama City Beach Biggest Loser RunWalk. And I wasn’t alone: About 40,000 folks gathered for the New Year’s Eve Beach Ball Drop alone. This year, the run-walk happens Dec. 29, the ball drop, Dec. 31, and other events will include the 2013 Run for the Redfish Half Marathon and 5K on Dec. 7; the “Optimist Christmas Parade” Dec. 14; and New Year’s Sail Dec. 31 where you relax on a boat offshore watching fireworks. Hotel deals can be had at the Bay Point Wyndham Resort, with 20 percent off regular rates; Edgewater Beach and Golf Resort, with rates running from $79 a night from Dec. 27-Jan. 2; and the Watercrest Resort with rates from $169 a night through Dec. 31. For all info, lodging and deals, visit www.visitpanamacitybeach.com