This is the 70th anniversary year of the June 6, 1944 D-Day landings in France, arguably the most famous military invasion in recorded history and the turning point in World War II. CroisiEurope is marking the occasion with a day-long optional excursion on its most popular river cruises to Normandy. The excursions, which start at $130 per person as an add-on to the cruise itinerary, visits the French beaches of Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword, where the assault landed.
They can be booked for select April to October cruises which include the Paris to the Norman Coast five-day cruise, starting at $910 per person; the eight-day Seine Valley and Normandy Beaches cruise, starting at $1,645 per person; the seven-day Seine Valley and Winding River cruise, starting at $1,410 per person; the Winding Seine Valley seven-day cruise, starting at $1,410 per person; and the six-day ports of call in the Seine Valley cruise, starting at $1,144 per person.
The Normandy excursions start at Pont du Hoc where American troops ascended cliffs to destroy Nazi machine-gun outposts to clear the way for the rest of the invasion. From there, the tour travels to Omaha beach, a pivotal location for the invasion where guests will also visit the American cemetery that overlooks the beach from the cliffs of Colleville sur Mer.
Guest will also explore the landing jetties of Arromanches and Mulberry harbor where the British landed more than 2.5-million men and four tons of supplies. From here, guests can watch “The Price of Liberty,” a first-hand account of the war on France’s only 360-degree screen. The tour concludes with visits to Honfleur via Gold Beach and Juno Beach in Gray-sur-Mer, Courseuelles-sur-Mer and Sword Beach in Ouistreham Lion-sur Mer.
For full information, visit www.croisieuroperivercruises.com.
In Bermuda, February is the island’s annual “Love Month,” which includes a couples’ golf tournament at Port Royal Golf Course (duos get a 50-percent discount on greens fees); a “Champagne and Strawberries Afternoon Affair” at the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art; a “Love Train City Tour;” a “Lover’s Matinees” at Specialty Cinema; a love cruise around Hamilton Harbor; and a “Love Tales Walking Tour” in St. George. Check it all out www.gotobermuda.com
Rosewood Tucker’s Point is running an engagement celebration package that includes an 80-minute couple’s massage; daily breakfast on your balcony; and a private dinner customized by Chef Guido. The package, which offers much more, starts at $3,395 the first night, and $295 a night thereafter. Check it out at www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/tuckers-point-bermuda
More warm-weather offerings include Kamalame Cay in the Bahamas, with its “Lover’s Island Rendezvous,” at 20-percent off, which includes three-, four-, or five-night stay, free bubbly and chocolates, an afternoon on a small, private island, couples’ massage and private beach dinner. Three-night packages start at $2,669. Deal runs Feb. 1-28. Visit www.kamalame.com for details.
Also in the Bahamas, Deep Water Cay has an escape package starting at $5,308 for three nights that includes a stay in a one-bedroom cottage, private beach picnic for two and beachside cooking classes. Visit www.deepwatercay.com for details.
In the British Virgin Islands, you’ll find the “Sweet Surf” and “Sweet Sail” packages available from Jan. 31 through March 3. The surf package, which starts at $2,775 per couple, includes a trip to remote Josiah’s Bay for a private two-hour surf lesson. The sailing deal, starting at $3,425 per couple, includes a romantic, five-hour private boat charter on the Caribbean. Both packages include three-nights lodging in a one-bedroom, ocean-view suite; three-course dinner at Caravela at the resort; a 60-minute couples massage at Ixora Spa with 30-minute peppermint mocha or dark chocolate and coconut scrub; champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries on arrival; and breakfast for two each morning of chocolate pastries, hot items and beverages. Also included are unlimited use of sea kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, Wi-Fi, resort ferry and free airport transfers. Check it out at www.scrubisland.com
Bristol House Bed & Breakfast in Bristol, R.I., has a "Romance for Two" package which runs through February and offers two-nights lodging, daily breakfast, two one-hour massages, $50 dining certificate, flowers and chocolate. Rates start at $558. For info, visit www.bristolhousebnb.com
At Rhode Island's southern end, Ocean House in Watch Hill has its “Romance by the Sea” package, that includes a two-night stay in a deluxe room, welcome bottle of champagne, breakfast for two on Saturday, brunch on Sunday. Rates start at $745 per couple, and for info, visit www.oceanhouseri.com
Up in Kennebunkport, Maine, three hotels offer deals dubbed “Five Shades of Red,” where in addition to a two-night stay, you get a lazy man’s lobster dinner for two at One Dock, bottle of red wine and chocolate-covered strawberries, red velvet whoopee pie and red rose turndown and continental breakfast. Hotels are The Kennebunkport Inn, Grand Hotel and Boathouse Waterfront Hotel. Rates start at $339, $412 and $425, respectively. Package is good through March 31.
At Harbor View Hotel on Martha's Vineyard, they have a Valentine's Day prix fixe dinner deal for $48 per couple, which gets you things like sous-vide local lobster, pork tenderloin, chocolate macaroons and truffles. If you stay, rooms start at $179 a night, which includes dinner. Check it out at www.harbor-view.com.
Far away deals include one at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, with a “Celebration Retreat” valid for all nights from Jan. 20-Feb. 16 and after that, just on Friday through Sunday nights until the end of the year. Rates start at $651, and include in-room breakfast, welcome bottle of champagne and chocolates, restaurant and spa credits and more. For all details visit www.mandarinoriental.com/hongkong Paris is arguably the world’s romantic city and two hotels have deals for lovers. At Le Bristol Paris, where rates start at $1,200, you get one night, a welcome bottle of bubbly, chocolates and a special surprise, continental breakfast and a cocktail for two in Le Bar du Bristol. A “Romance in Paris” spa package is also offered, starting at $1,064 for two, which includes treatments, treats from the pastry chef, champagne and scented limited-edition Diptyque candle to take home. For all info, visit www.lebristolparis.com At the Mandarin Oriental, the “Love in Paris” package available for February includes a seasonal “Exotic Passion” cocktail, dinner, spa treatments and more. Rates are from $1,681, and for information visit www.mandarinoriental.com/paris
The Palais Namaskar in Marrakech, between the Atlas Mountains and Djebilet hills, has a romantic package available year round, that includes two-nights lodging; round-trip airport transfers; romantic in-room amenities; sliced fruits with cream; and a romantic bath with flower petals and candles. It also gets you breakfast in bed, a “Sunrise Retreat” with five hours in a VIP cabin with private hamman and two Namaskar Signature massages; and a “One Thousand and One Nights” dinner in the gardens or private terrace. Packages start at $1,344. For info, visit www.palaisnamaskar.com
Wine lovers may consider the Sonoma Coast Villa in Spa in California, with fully inclusive rates starting at $1,150 for the nights of Feb. 14 and 15, that gets you a room with fireplace, roses and chocolate truffles, private three-course dinner and one couples’ massage. Check it out at www.scvilla.com
If you seek more heart-pumping adventure of the adventurous sort, consider the Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms, South Carolina, where you can get a three-hour Morgan Creek paddle package and get two nights lodging and a three-hour kayaking journey with rates from $219 a night, or the “It Takes Two: Heart-Pumping & Pamper Package,” which gets two nights, massage and pedicure for two and a choice of a full-body conditioning workout or Vinyasa Yoga session. Rates for that start at $339. Visit www.wilddunes.com for info.
Gamble on love and money with “Lights, Limos and Love” at Harrah’s Resort in AtlanticCity, with the package running through Feb. 16 starting at $899 a night, which includes a $100 dining credit and limo ride to a personal light show and bottle of Etoile Rose Brut Champagne. Check it out at www.harrahsresort.com
By Megan Lisagor and Mark Repasky
“Sauce 1,000 îles,” read the menu, followed by “mayonnaise and ketchup” in parentheses. Far from ordinary lunch fare, the ingredients on this strange sandwich required explanation.
Fast food in France generally means grabbing a jambon beurre—ham and butter on a baguette—at the local boulangerie. While tasty in its simplicity, it’s not exactly a dish that draws travelers to Paris, or inspires much local excitement. Which explains the crowds at two newcomers: Frenchie to Go and Freddie’s Deli. Backed by big-name chefs—Gregory Marchand and Kristin Frederick, respectively—the restaurants are introducing Parisians to American flavors, pastrami in particular.
Both spots offer takes on the reuben with house-smoked meat that gets the royal treatment. Frenchie’s ($16) Euro-version calls for an Agent Provocateur beer, while the deli ($11.50, small size) stays true to the original; homesick visitors can pair theirs with a Brooklyn lager, or an icy fountain soda (considered exotic here). “Quality fast food is a big trend right now,” observed Frederick, who started the craze with her hamburger truck. “There are chefs reinventing classics like fish and chips, kebabs” and more.
Also in on the act, Verjus sells sandwiches from its wine bar that channel the East Village, Oakland and Seattle. For their part, New England fans will find a lobster roll ($30) back at Frenchie. Thankfully, butter is the only thing it has in common with jambon beurre.
Frenchie to Go, 9 rue du Nil, 01-40-39-96-19, frenchie-restaurant.com
Freddie’s Deli, 22 rue Crespin du Gast, 01-84-16-33-75, freddiesdeli.com
Verjus Sandwich, 47 rue Montpensier, 01-42-97-54-40, verjusparis.com
The Marti Istanbul Hotel is offering a special “culture package” to celebrate the 13th Istanbul Biennial, which runs through Oct. 20, and fills five venues in the city's downtown, bringing together 88 artists from around the world. The package, which starts at approximately $350 a night, includes the stay, buffet breakfast, half-day sight-seeing tour of Istanbul's old city or a museum pass valid for 72 hours, reflexology massage at SpaSoul, and a box of Turkish treats from the hotel's Gourmet Stop store.
The five-star hotel opened earlier this year in the cultural and commercial heart of the city, with interiors designed by Turkish designer, Zeynep Fadillioglu, and Turkish art. For information, visit www.martiistanbulhotel.com
Brown bear Sandro held a frozen watermelon to refresh himself in Rome's Bioparco Zoo on Tuesday. Zoo staff offered animals frozen and refrigerated fruit to refresh them as temperatures are expected to reach 100 degrees or higher this week.
Check out more photos below:
A zoo worker served frozen fruit and fish to brown bears waiting below, at Rome's Bioparco Zoo.
A black lemur licked frozen fruit to refresh itself.
Brown bear Luca held onto frozen fruit.
AAA's Meg Horne, Charlotte Nichols, and Linda Madonna were on hand Thursday to take your questions about traveling to Europe. Check out the transcript below.
At the Merrion, guests will received breakfast; a private tour of The Merrion's 19th- and 20th-century Irish art collection by expert from the National Gallery of Ireland; an afternoon "Art Tea" with pastries inspired by The Merrion's in-house artwork; and dinner for two at The Merrion's Michelin-starred Patrick Guilbaud Restaurant. The magnificently restored Georgian property is located downtown and within walking distance of most of Dublin's top sights.
The second night at Ballyfin, a five-star, 15-room country house hotel set on a private 600-acre estate, includes breakfast; a private tour of Ballyfin's 17th-century art collection by Irish art expert William Laffan; and a cocktail reception and five-course dinner for two in the Ballyfin's State Dining Room.
The package also includes transfers to and from airport and between The Merrion and Ballyfin. The cost for the two-night package is approximately $3,570 for two people sharing a room.
The Tudor Room, under the direction of Michelin-starred Chef Shane Hughes, offers our- and eight-course tasting menus. Hughes is is an avid forager, and his finds from Great Fosters’ gardens will provide true farm-to-fork dining.
The less formal Estate Grill serves a simpler menu, but it, too, draws from the bounty of the hotel's fields and gardens. Livestock, including Gloucester Old Spot pigs, Longhorn cattle, and Badger Face sheep, are raised on the property and the hotel has an apiary and greenhouses.
The hotel also serves daily tea in the Cocktail Bar, Main Hall, and Anne Boleyn room, as well as on the terrace overlooking the gardens in summer.
Plan on allowing enough time to tour the gardens when visiting the estate.
By Kari Bodnarchuk, Globe Correspondent
SATA Airlines added weekly flights from Boston to the Azores and to mainland Portugal this week. Fly to São Miguel, the Azores’ largest island, on a new flight that leaves Boston Thursdays at 10:15 p.m. and arrives in Ponta Delgada, the island’s main city, at 7 a.m. the next day. A new return flight leaves Ponta Delgada Thursdays at 3 p.m., arriving in Boston at 4:45 p.m. the same day. SATA has also launched direct nonstop flights between Boston and Lisbon. Depart Boston on Sundays at 8:50 p.m. and arrive in Lisbon at 8 a.m. on Monday. A new nonstop return flight departs Lisbon Mondays at 2:30 p.m., arriving in Boston at 4:45 p.m. 800-762-9995, www.sata.pt/en
Spanish Aracena doesn't have the "eat" reputation of Italy, but its Tuscan gold sunlight and Mediterranean larder are no less. A British couple Sam and Jeannie Chesterton discovered this in a tiny village on the edge of Sierra de Aracena National Park. They turned their arful hands to creating an organic homestead and guest house, Finca Buen Vino, where they've farmed, fed guests and taught them to cook for 20 years. Whether raising their own branded Iberian pigs, gathering chestnuts and mushrooms in the hills or spreading a picnic in an open field, everything they do is touched with rustic beauty.
Now their friend Tom Clinch, a Conde Nast travel and food photographer, is teaching 3- and 5-day photography workshops there in the fall and spring (schedule and prices). Put it all together, and you'll forget about Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong.
Meeting the single Brazilian business exec? Remains to be seen.
Scary footage of an ice climber losing his grip upon ascent and falling to safety emerged over the weekend and has gone viral. Remarkably, the climber is fine.
According to USA Today, ice climber Mark Roberts was hit by a chunk of falling ice at Snowdown in Wales on Feb. 24, and tumbled for more than 100 feet down the rocky slope without sustaining any major injuries. Thirty minutes after the incident, the climber was airlifted to a hospital.
Roberts, 47, shared the remarkable video clip with the British Mountaineering Council in order to preach safety in mountaineering.
Put yourself behind the wheel of an Aston Martin and tour some of the iconic locations featured in “The Spy Who Loved Me,” “From Russia with Love,” and “Skyfall.” On the Luxury Ashton Martin 007 package, you’ll drive an Aston Martin DB9; stay two nights at Isle of five-star Isle of Eriska Hotel, a castellated mansion on a private island; learn how to make the ultimate martini; and even take a speedboat trip to Duarte Castle, the family seat of the alleged real-life inspiration for 007.
The itinerary suggests picking up the car in either Edinburgh or Glasgow and visiting Glencoe, setting for the final scenes in "Skyfall," before arriving at the Isle of Eriska. While at Eriska, cruise to Duart Castle, the MacLean clan seat restored in the early 20th century by Sir Fitzroy Donald MacLean. The exploits of Fitzroy Hew MacLean are said to have inspired Ian Fleming’s creation of James Bond and 007.
On your final day, return to Edinburgh or Glasgow visiting the moor made famous in “From Russia with Love," the loch by Crina where the boat chase through the Bosporus was re-enacted, the Rest and Bet Thankful Pass depicted in “Skyfall," and the naval base shown in “The Spy Who Loved Me.”
The Luxury Aston Martin Weekend package, offered by custom tour operator McKinlay Kidd (866-922-8538), is available from April through October. Rates begin at approximately $1,650 per person, based on double occupancy
By Kari Bodnarchuk, Globe Correspondent
Stay at the new Radisson Blu Nantes, a boutique hotel in western France, and you can dine in a room that once served as a grand courtroom and see a wine cellar that used to be the trial judge’s chambers. The 1851 building functioned as the Nantes Court of Law until 2000. Now, the former Palais de Justice has 142 guest rooms, a restaurant, and a spa and Turkish bath. Other amenities include Le Préambule bar, which serves wine and cocktails, and complimentary high-speed Internet. Travel less than a mile to reach the train station and about 6 miles to access the airport. Rates from $190 per room per night. 800-333-3333, www.radissonblu.com/hotel-nantes
By Megan Lisagor, Globe Correspondent
So much of travel is about living a cliché, about experiencing a specific idea of a place. A trip’s success can hinge on how close it comes to meeting or exceeding those expectations. In this regard, Paris is almost always a sure thing; it’s “an idea of happiness we hope to get to, and the small miracle is that, when we get here, the images we get are not entirely wrong,” writer Adam Gopnik explains in the anthology “Americans in Paris.”
Living here for two years, I seem to have applied this attitude to all of France, perhaps explaining my fixation with seeing Champagne by bicycle. I had a picture in my mind of coasting through the countryside, which led me to a tour organizer offering a package that included tastings with small and large producers. The rate, however, was prohibitive (nearly $400 per person)—even for a special sister’s weekend without the kids—and there weren’t any cheaper choices.
I reluctantly refocused my energies on our accommodations, deciding to stay outside of town at the Hôtel les Avisés (59, rue de Cramant; 326577006; www.selosse-lesavises.com), which cost almost the same as the tour for a double room and opened last year. It’s about a 15-minute taxi ride from the train station in touristy Épernay; we weren’t sad to leave the city, which boasts several big-name houses (Moët & Chandon, for one) but strangely not much else. The stores seem to have cornered the French market on creepy mannequins.
In contrast, the hotel is situated in Avize, a small village in the Côte des Blancs, without a single tourist trap, or shop for that matter. It’d look right at home in an Elle Decor spread, with furnishings that feel both comfy and chic in shades of white and grey. The pièce de résistance is the restaurant, where we had breakfast and dinner. The latter was a sophisticated steal at $70 for the prix fixe, which covered a bottle of bubbly and a procession of dishes starting with foie gras.
The food and surroundings would’ve been enough to leave me satisfied despite my earlier visions. But then Anselme Selosse—who runs the estate with his wife, Corrinne, and makes an exclusive Champagne on the premises—showed us to the shiny bikes. Selosse directed us across the street, where we rode on paths through the vineyards past buckets brimming with grapes harvested during the vendange. Back at the hotel, he showed us barrels frothing over.
It was educational and experiential just as I’d envisioned, unlike the Disneyfied version we encountered on our big-name tour that afternoon. And yet, I hardly read a write-up about the place in all my research. Perhaps it’s the herd mentality that directs travelers to the same so-so spots (in this case, Épernay and Hôtel Jean Moët). Granted, les Avisés is relatively new. Whatever the reason for the low profile, it improved on the image in my mind, as real gems do.
No one likes sitting straight up in an airplane seat for nine hours. But Turkish Airlines makes it bearable with great food and an amazing selection of movies, games and other diversions on the little screen in the seat in front of you designed to keep those people busy who just can't sleep on a plane unless they're lying down. And that would be me.
I was on a Turkish Airlines flight out of JFK to Istanbul recently, a bit more than nine hours outgoing, around 10 coming back, and I have to say, the seats in economy class were a little on the tight side. Granted, I'm a shade more than six-feet tall and fidgety even when not confined to a small space for nine hours, but these seats had me squirming to find a comfortable enough place to catch some z's. While it didn't work for me, all around me where sleeping passengers in vertical, or near-vertical positions, so it can be done. Helping could be the snooze kit they pass out, with eye shades, ear plugs and socks.
What sets Turkish Airlines apart is the food, exquisite throughout, no matter the class level. Granted, first-class food is likely more remarkable (they have chefs on board), but the economy-class fare was the best I've ever had, from choices of roasted chicken or fish, with roasted vegetables, and all other manner of Turkish food, including kebab, eggplant cooked a variety of ways, cheeses (including the most delicious Turkish white cheese), tomato, olives, you name it. And that's just dinner. When the sun popped up later in the flight as we neared Turkey, out came breakfast, with delicious omelet and side dishes, all filling and perfectly prepared. All along the way you could have any alcoholic beverage you wanted; for my money (well, no money, booze is free) I found Turkish wine surprisingly good.
It's no surprise then that last year, Turkish Airlines beat out 18 other carriers from around the world as the best provider of in-flight food in a poll done by flight-comparison site, Skyscanner. Also last year,Skytrax World Airline Awards gave the carrier second place in economy-class catering, premium economy-class catering and business-class catering. Turkish Airlines is growing as well; it has four U.S. gateways (N.Y., L.A., Chicago and Washington) and adds Houston in April.
Another huge plus: A whopping assortment of movies and TV shows to watch on the little touch screen before you, which also has games, live BBC programs, documentaries, science shows, Wi-Fi access (supposedly for a fee, but I got it free for some reason, no complaint here) and nose-camera view which is fun to watch on takeoff and landing. Back and forth I saw four full-length movies, from the mainstream ("Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," a wonderful film) to the little-known ("Another Earth," an engrossing drama and Sundance winner) to the exquisitely ethnic ("Istanbul," made in 2011 starring Dutch actress Johanna ter Steege as a jilted wife who stumbles her way to Turkey).
If you have to be in a cramped seat for nine hours, well fed and entertained is not a bad way to spend it.
In Great Britain, afternoon tea is a tradition, a relaxing way to recharge the body's batteries while savoring a three-tiered silver tray usually laden with three-bite sandwiches; scones ready to lavished with clotted cream and jam; and exquisite pastries and chocolate bonbons.
While gadding about on a BritRail pass, I used afternoon tea as a way to immerse in the United Kingdom's rich heritage and indulge in five-star experiences, without coughing up $500 or more for a hotel room. Almost anyone willing to ante up 15 quid (about $30) can do the same. Even better for the budget bound, afternoon tea can substitute for a late lunch or an early dinner. I experienced each of these properties simply by sipping afternoon tea. You can, too.
The Arch, London: On the exterior, these seven Georgian townhouses facing Great Cumberland Place appear quite ordinary and stiff upper lip British. But inside this five-star boutique hotel, just a couple of blocks from Hyde Park and Oxbridge Street and across from Madonna's London pad, designers let loose with contemporary vigor, vibrant colors and patterns, and original works by emerging British artists.
After a boutique binge in Marylebone or along Oxford Street (where you might get lucky and see Princess Kate), celebrate your finds over afternoon tea in the casual yet chic Library, where you can thumb through art books, or in the tony Le Salon de Champagne, with its champagne ceiling mural, modern armchairs, and secluded leather banquettes. Be sure to wander the public rooms to check out all the art - and see who might be lounging about.
Bodysgallen Hall, Llandudno, Wales: The stone pine tree in front of Bodysgallen Hall, one of three historic hotels owned by The National Trust, is approximately 600 years old. The hotel's oldest section was built in the late 13th century as a guard tower for Conwy castle. Over the centuries, it's expanded to a 220-acre estate with wooded parklands and an exquisite, private, 20-acre formal garden, dating from 1678.
Book afternoon tea and be rewarded with a double treat: Experiencing Bodysgallen both inside and out. Sit in the entrance hall or upstairs drawing room, both with elaborate fireplaces, magnificent oak paneling, and stone mullioned windows. Request a copy of the historical brochure from the front desk, and browse through the history while sipping and nibbling. Afterwards, mosey through the other public rooms. Having tea entitles you to explore the gardens and parklands, usually reserved for overnight guests. Highlights include a rare 17th-century herb-filled boxed hedge parterre, rockery with a water cascade, walled rose garden, several follies, and 17th-century Terrace Walk with views to Conwy Castle and Snowdonia.
Plas Maenan Country House, Maenan, Wales: After a day poking around the Conwy Valley countryside, finish up with tea at James and Caroline Burt's masterfully restored Edwardian manor house overlooking Snowdonia National Park and the Conwy River. Tea is served in the elegant living room, near doubletake-producing life-size faux sheep lounging by the fireside. I shared tea with Paul Wakely of Cambrian Tour Guides, who introduced me to slathering clotted cream and jam not only on the scones, but also on the homemade shortbread, "brilliant!" as the Brits say. If the service seems a bit royal, that might be because James is retired from service to the Queen.
Plas Maenan has an interesting history, but perhaps most intriguing is that it is home to one of the largest colonies of endangered lesser horseshoe bats in the British Isles. If you stick around until dusk, you might see as many as 500 emerge from an old tunnel complex under the hotel's terrace. About that tunnel complex: Reputedly, it was used to store treasures from the National Gallery during World War II.
Chester Grosvenor, Chester, England: Top-hatted doormen welcome guests to this five-star hotel, owned by the Duke of Westminster's family and located within the walls of Chester, a city with a history dating back to its origins as a Roman fort in the first century. The hotel's black-and-white timbered facade fits in well with Chester's numerous Tudor buildings, some original, others Victorian-era restorations. Inside, the décor is contemporary, but accented with a half-ton, 28,000-crystal Georgian chandelier and original artwork selected from the Duke's collection.
Afternoon tea at the Arkle Bar And Lounge or upstairs in the gallery is a treat. While the Traditional Afternoon Tea is a decadent offering of scones, finger sandwiches, and sweets, the Gentleman's Afternoon Tea is a far heartier affair, with crusty sandwiches, addictive chips (fries), Cheshire cheese, and more substantial sweets, and it's not limited to men. A friend and I ordered one of each tea to share, which resulted in a decadent and quite filling meal. Afterwards, even if you're full, pop into Rococo Chocolates, the only non-London shop for one of England's finest chocolatiers.
Great Fosters, Egham, England: The royal connections for the mid 16th-century main house (converted to Elizabethan design in the early 20th century) are deep - witness the original royal crest of Queen Elizabeth I inscribed above the main porch and dated 1598 Great Fosters served as a hunting lodge by King Henry VIII, so there's some irony in taking tea in the Anne Boleyn Room, where the magnificent 16th-century ceiling include Boleyn's personal crests.
While the interior is reason enough to visit, the gardens are the real calling card. A moat, likely of 6th-century Saxon origin, now forms a border for the gardens, including yew hedges and a knot garden created in the 1920s in the Arts and Crafts style. Cross the wisteria-dressed Japanese bridge over the moat, and arrive in the circular sunken rose garden, a masterpiece that when in full bloom is an especially sensual treat. Keep wandering to find hedges with secret rooms.
Want to linger at any of these properties? Specials, off-season rates, and online deals often bring room prices down to within splurging range: I've found rates of less than $250/night double, with breakfast.)
One of the fastest, easiest, and least stressful ways to get around Europe is by train. On three recent trips over the pond, I used BritRail as well as SwissRail passes and individual tickets, both purchased through Rail Europe. Rarely were trains late, most were extremely clean, and all had some level of food service, making the journey easy.
That's what I love about traveling by train: ease. No need to adjust to driving a reverse standard on the opposite side of the road. No hassles about parking. No reason to stop for bathroom or fuel breaks. No need to break the bank with a rental car and petrol. Sure, I sacrificed some independence?the opportunity to detour off a planned route to explore a promising lure?but I was able to experience some of Europe's most scenic train rides, such as Scotland's West Highland Line, from Glasgow to Oban, and Switzerland's Glacier Express, from St. Mortiz to Zermatt.
Train travel makes it easy to meet locals and fellow wanderers, to strike up a conversation with a seatmate and pickup some insider recommendations on sights to see and places to eat, as well as routes to take.
Then there's serendipity. While waiting for a train in Abergavenny, Wales, I wandered into the station's Whistle Stop Café for a cup of tea to pass the time. When the owner realized I was American, he broke out singing Oooooklahoma? a real treat, what a voice! And the main station in Zurich, Switzerland, is a foodie paradise, with dozens of vendors selling fresh and prepared foods, breads, sandwiches, and ethnic favorites; a budget find in this pricey city.
Trains aren't the right choice for everybody, but they're worth considering as an efficient, green, and fun way for exploring Europe.
Here are a few tips for rail travel in Europe:
Class status: I've traveled in both first and second class, and while first offers a few perks and more comfort, in most cases, the routes and views are the same. Look also for trains that travel the same routes, but without the scenic train status. Tip: If taking one of the long-haul Virgin trains operating between England and Scotland on a busy weekend, opt for the 15-pound First Class upgrade fee, when available, to enjoy more space and free Wifi.
Scenic and specialty routes: Some Swiss trains that travel along especially scenic routes have observatory cars and will allow upgrade for a fee. I did so, and had the entire car to myself. Tip: If the budget is tight, look for regular trains that travel the same routes as the designated observatory-car ones. Of course, that won't work on Switzerland's Chocolate Train, a delicious day trip connecting Montreaux, Gruyeres, and Broc.
Reservations: Make seat reservations during holidays and on popular trains, or risk standing for the journey; fees may apply. Reservations may be made up to two months in advance.
Deals: Check the Rail Europe, for example, currently there's a 2 for 1 Swiss Fall Pass special valid on four-day and four-day flexi passes.
Bonuses: Some multi-day train passes include free or discounted travel on boats, busses, and private trains and/or admission to museums, theme parks, tours, and even accommodations.
Luggage: Many stations, especially those in smaller towns, do not have elevators or ramps, so little or lightweight luggage is definitely an advantage. It's also easier to store small pieces at your seat, either underneath or in the rack above. If you're storing luggage in the racks near the doors, it's wise to keep an eye on it.
Train splits: Train cars may be added or dropped en route. Always confirm your destination with the conductor.
Lodging: If you're trying to avoid taxi fees, look for accommodations within walking distance of the train station or on public transit routes. If walking, be sure to know the topography. The first time I visited Edinburgh, the easy walk to the hotel proved to be uphill all the way.
Overnight trains: Save on a hotel room and maximize touring time by taking an overnight train between destinations.
Air & train: When researching options for getting to a European destination, if cost is an issue, consider other arrival airports paired with a train to your final destination. For example, if you can snag a great deal to London, consider taking the Eurostar to Paris.
As fireworks lit up the nighttime, London sky Friday during the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games, perhaps only a handful of the millions watching around the globe managed to catch a glimpse of a very odd object hovering over the stadium.
As the above video clearly shows, there was an unidentified flying object in the midst of the pageantry, but there's no word yet as to whether it was a blimp in the distance, or in fact, alien life forms trying to get a peek at Hope Solo. Sure, perhaps it's just an unmanned, aerial camera, but dismissing it as such sort of ruins the fun, doesn't it?
It's a natural curiosity many of us have when checking into a hotel. Open the top drawer of your room, and naturally you'll find one of the best-selling books of all time.
The Bible? Uh, no.
"Fifty Shades of Grey?" Well, yes.
According to NBCNews.com, a British hotel has replaced the Bible with the steamy, summer hit by E.L. James in its 40 guest rooms.
Jonathan Denby, owner of the Damson Dene, told NBC he had purchased the hotel from a Methodist group about a decade ago and had been wondering how to replace the Gideons Bibles in each of the room.
"I was thinking originally of putting in a book by Ayn Rand - 'Atas Shrugged' was my first thought," Denby told NBC News.
"(But) because everybody is reading 'Fifty Shades of Grey,' we thought it would be a hospitable thing to do, to have this available for our guests, especially if some of them were a little bit shy about buying it because of its reputation."
Of course, the move hasn't come without controversy. The Rev. Michael Woodcock , the parish priest at a local church recently told the Wesmorland Gazette, "It is a great shame that Bibles have been removed from rooms and very inappropriate to have been replaced by an explicit erotic novel."
The Isle of Eriska is a 300-acre private island at the mouth of Loch Creran in Benderloch, West Argyll. It's tethered to the mainland by a tidal causeway and a bridge that rumbles your arrival when crossed. The access road ebbs and flows through a woodland colored by giant rhododendrons, before arriving at the Big House, a magical 19th-century Scottish Baronial mansion that's now a five-star, Relais & Chateaux-member, family-run hotel.
While some exclusive hotels are undeniably stuffy, the Isle of Eriska is warm and welcoming, with a genteel ease that matches the soft patina of age. It's the kind of retreat where well known British actresses can escape, and other guests will pretend not to recognize them; the kind of place where a slew of Wellington boots is available at the door for guests to borrow while walking the island's trails. While staying here admittedly is a splurge (from $536 per room in summer, including breakfast and afternoon tea; check for specials), it's possible to experience the island without booking a room. Many of the hotel's amenities are open to the public, allowing anyone a peek at this magical property, with its expansive views over Loch Linnhe and the Morvern Mountains.
The Big House is everything you'd expect, grand in stature, expansive, and country-house elegant. Wood-burning fireplaces warm the public rooms: cozy nooks and grand salons, a piano room, paneled hall, book-packed library lounge, and glass-in conservatory, and a fine dining restaurant. A former stable has been converted to a spa, with an indoor swimming pool, and a restaurant serving lunch. Another outbuilding houses an indoor putting green, full-size tennis court, three badminton courts, and facilities for other sports. Outside are gardens and woodlands, with nature trails dipsy-doodling around and across the island. Sightings of deer, seals, and even otter aren't uncommon. And everywhere are jaw-dropping views of mountains and sea.
Non-guests may have lunch in the casual Veranda Restaurant, with its dream views; enjoy a spa treatment; or play a round on the recently refurbished nine-hole golf course, on which nearly every hole has a water view. Of note: A special golf academy, Sept. 7-9, will include indoor and outdoor group lessons with a PGA professional, lunches, and mini competitions.
Also open to the public for dinner is the hotel's main dining room, named Hotel Restaurant of the Year in the 2011 Scottish Restaurant Awards. Chef Simon McKenzie's menu emphasizes locally sourced foods and changes daily. A four-course gourmet meal with tea or coffee is $73, and that includes the farmhouse cheese trolley, with about 40 cheeses sourced from Britain and beyond. Afterward dinner, retire to the lounge for the nightly entertainment: A family of badgers arrives at the conservatory door for their 10 p.m. milk and bread.
While you can easily drive to the Isle of Eriska, I recommend the West Highland Line train to Oban, a spectacularly scenic route that edges the River Clyde and Loch Lomand, passes through glens and villages and by castle ruins. It eases you into the Scottish Highlands and sets the stage for arrival at the Isle of Eriska. Passage is included on BritRail passes, but due to the train's popularity, it's wise to reserve a seat.
In case you missed National Tartan Day, which was April 6, and Scotland Week, which runs through April 14, you can save some coin on traveling by rail through Scotland, with a deal, Freedom Scotland Travelpass. You can save 20 percent with an extra free travel day for those buying a pass through May 10. The extra-day promotion extends passes by an additional day of rail travel valid in standard class for either four days (within eight days) or eight days (within 15 days). With the offer, guests can get creative with their destination stops while en route to popular spots like Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Stirling. To book, call 866-938-7245 or visit www.britrail.com/passes/britrail-freedom-of-scotland
National Tartan Day was created by Congress in 2005 to honor the contributions of Americas of Scottish descent who played a key role in the development of the United States, which includes Patrick Henry of “Give me liberty or give me death” fame; Andrew Carnegie, steel magnate; Thomas Alva Edison, inventor; and a variety of U.S. presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Lyndon Baines Johnson and Woodrow Wilson.
In tune with the season finale of "The Bachelor," Rail Europe is offering two themed packages: The Bachelor Romance Package and the Peaks of the World Package, which allows travelers to ride the rails and experience the romance of Switzerland like the guy on TV did. In the finale, bachelor Ben Flajnik went by train from Interlaken to Zermatt and stayed at the Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa.
With the romance package, travelers ride the same rails and stay at the same place. It includes a four-night stay at the Victoria-Jungfrau or the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, plus a first- or second-class rail component. Travel is valid through July 12 and is only bookable online at www.raileurope.com/promotions/the-bachelor.html. Prices start at $2,793 for first-class rail component and $2,696 for second-class rail component.
Romantically inclined travelers can also take advantage of Rail Europe’s Peaks of the World Package, which includes a four-night stay at a three- or four-star hotel, a free upgrade at the hotel, plus a first-class rail component. Those traveling from April 14 through June 15 get a free hotel upgrade from three to four star. Prices start at $1,017 for 1st class rail component and $920 for 2nd class rail component. Check it out at www.raileurope.com/rail-tickets-passes/peaks-of-the-world/index.html