Travel Savings Alerts Newsletter, September 2010 Issue
Travel Savings Alerts
P.O. Box 91033
Columbus OH 43209
ISSN: 1542-801X, Copyright 2010
All Rights Reserved.
Editor: Nicki Chodnoff
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|A Profusion of Pearls
Black Freshwater Pearls -- Treat yourself to this cultured stunner. Cultured black freshwater pearls dangle from a sterling silver chain and lend a lovely luster to this spectacular necklace. To make this the perfect accessory for day or night, the extender chain, with a matching pearl drop at its end, adjusts the necklace length from a 15 inch choker to a full 18 inches.
Expect to pay $300 to $500 at upscale stores and jewelry boutiques. Our price for this 15" to 18" Black Freshwater Pearl Necklace is only $139.
Order immediately to get your necklace from AAA Jewelry Outlet. Quantities are limited. Click here to order.
|In This Issue: |
Via del Gallo, Lucca, Italy
|Cannes, Geneva, London and Paris have two things in common. They were rated the most expensive cities in Europe, according to Hotels.com 2009 Hotel Price Index, an annual study on actual prices paid for hotel rooms, and they are some of the most desired cities to visit. With the exchange rate at its lowest since 2005, you may find deals on Hotels.com to Europe's most popular cities.
Here are some top European cities:
Barcelona, where hotel rooms were down 25 percent in 2009, has rooms from $73. The four star Hesperia Del Mar is a seven-story modern hotel on the seafront in Diaganal Mar and is recommended by 100 percent of past Hotels.com guests.
Capri, the little Italian island has become Europe's most expensive destination in 2009 where U.S. travelers paid an average $302 per night. You can find rooms from $84 at Hotel Bristol. This boutique hotel has sea views and has been highly recommended by all of Hotels.com past guests.
Cannes fell 17 percent year over year in 2009 and continues the trend into 2010. In Cannes, room prices start at $127 per room, per night, at the four-star Avangani Resort. Overlooking the sea, the hotel's outdoor pool is flanked by palm trees and pines. Hotels.com guests paid an average of $235 per room, per night, last year.
Dublin offers greater savings. Hotels were down 27 percent last year where the average room rate paid was $122. For a four-star hotel experience, indulge at the four star Gresham Hotel where rooms start at $93 per room, per night. In the heart of Dublin, this hotel is close to the Gate Theatre, Garden of Remembrance, and offers 20 percent off on food and beverages for overnight guests.
Geneva's falling prices dropped the city to the second most expensive European city to stay at in 2009. Prices fell 19 percent year over year in 2009 where average price of $249 per room, per night was paid. Deals at the Ramada Park Hotel Geneva start at $155. The four-star property offers a multilingual staff, currency exchange, and is near recreational activities such as sailing, golfing, tennis and water skiing.
London, the top visited European city by Americans, offers rates from $68 at the Jurys Inn Watford Hotel. You can have a four-star hotel experience at the Copthorne Tara Hotel London Kensington where rates start at $150 per night, below the average 2009 room rate of $185 paid by past Hotels.com guests last year.
Paris was the second most frequented European city by Americans last year and offered rooms at an average of $193 per night. Parisian hotels such as the Modern Hotel now start at $80 per room, per night. The property is close to Moulin Rouge, the Louvre, and Basilique du Sacre Coeur.
Trafalgar "Fair Dinkum Deals"
|With the launch of their new brochure, Trafalgar offers $600 per couple on air-inclusive vacations or $300 per couple on land vacations. The offer is valid on new 2010 -2011 Australia and New Zealand bookings when full payment on the entire booking (land or land/air) is made by Sep. 30, 2010. Both offers are combinable with Trafalgar's Early Payment Discount.
The 15 day Australia and New Zealand Panorama tour includes a luncheon cruise and snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, a Maori Hangi dinner and a tour of the glow worm grotto. Land-only prices begin at $3525 per person, double occupancy.
The 29 day Treasures of Australia and New Zealand includes all the above plus a TranzAlpine trip through the Southern Alps, a cruise on Milford Sound, a tour of Kangaroo Island, sunrise at Ayers Rock and Kakadu National Park. Land-only prices begin at $6999 per person, double occupancy.
Individual stopovers in Fiji and Hawaii are also available as add-ons.
Trafalgar's touring vacations include First Class hotel accommodations, transportation by motor coach, rail or cruise ship, daily sightseeing and optional excursions with local guides, and personal concierge services.
Trafalgar Tours or 866/544-4434.
Through 2010, Warwick Melrose Dallas Hotel offers stays at one of Dallas' most known hotels from $86 per night, based on availability, including 50 percent off valet parking and wireless Internet.
Dates through December include a mix of weekday and weekend nights.
The $86 rate guarantees a "first-rate" room as the Warwick Melrose Hotel recently unveiled a multi-million dollar renovation to rooms and suites.
The historic Four-Diamond AAA hotel was built in 1924 and offers 184 guest rooms including 21 suites and a Presidential Suite, many with a dramatic view of the city.
Each guest room and suite features marble floors, terry cloth robe, make-up mirror and hair dryer, two-line speaker phone with high speed Internet access, personalized voice mail, cable television, ceiling fan, executive writing desk, in room safe, iron and ironing board, and refreshment center.
Warwick Melrose Dallas Hotel.
Through Dec. 31, 2010, business travelers can enjoy the Fiesta Americana Grand, Fiesta Americana and Fiesta Inn brands at city destinations. Rates start at $79 per room, per night, at select Fiesta Inn business class hotels; $108 at select Fiesta Americana properties; and $155 at select Fiesta Americana Grand destinations.
At all participating hotels, you will receive: a cocktail on arrival; free daily breakfast buffet; free Wi-Fi and local calling; free laundry service for two pieces per stay and unlimited access to the hotel's fitness center.
This promotion is subject to availability at time of booking, does not include taxes, does not apply for group reservations and is not applicable with any other promotional or discounted rate. Reservations must be booked before Dec. 31, 2010, for travel through Dec. 31, 2010.
Fiesta Americana or 800/FIESTA-1.
The marine life of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a beacon for diving enthusiasts. The Mariners Hotel in St. Vincent offers a seven nights, 10 dives package with savings of $106 per diver.
The best value "Summer/Fall Dive" package is $999 per person, based on double occupancy, and includes 12 dives with Dive St. Vincent; eight nights at Mariners Hotel with daily breakfast; roundtrip airport transfers and tax; and a 20 percent discount on dinner at the French Verandah Restaurant. This offer is valid for travel through Nov. 30, 2010.
Mariners Hotel - 800/223-1108 - is a beachfront boutique property on Villa Beach. Its 21 rooms feature private balconies and air-conditioning. The French Verandah Restaurant, located on the property of Mariners Hotel, serves French cuisine with Caribbean flair.
The La Soufriere volcano at 4,048 ft. dictates much of what divers will find on St. Vincent, above and below the waterline. The black-sand beaches are the remnants of past volcanic upheavals and the sheer cliffs extending below the water offer wall diving. The reefs have an abundance of black coral at relatively shallow depths. Most diving on St. Vincent takes place on the west and south coasts of the island, where currents are gentle and the surface is usually calm.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a string of 32 islands and cays in the southern Caribbean, 1,500 miles southeast of Miami.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Smart Destinations, the company behind Go City Cards and Explorer Passes, entered into a partnership with the Massachusetts Lodging Association to create the MLA Explorer Pass, designed for Massachusetts Lodging Association members. The MLA has more than 400 property members, which include hotels, motels, resorts, inns and bed and breakfasts.
The MLA Explorer Pass gives you the choice of any one attraction from a list of Massachusetts' top 54 destinations. You can choose either a premier attraction pass, $25 for adults and children or the signature attraction pass, $18 for adults and $12 children. The pass acts as the admission ticket for the attraction with nothing to purchase upon arriving.
The premier attractions include some of Boston's must-visit locations such as the New England Aquarium, Museum of Fine Arts or a two-day Beantown Trolley Pass. Signature attractions include sights and tours such as Fenway Park, a Charles Riverboat cruise and the SkyWalk Observatory.
Smart Destinations makes the process easy for MLA member hotels. After a MLA member purchases the MLA Explorer Pass, they are given a card. The guest then presents their card at their chosen attraction, the card is swiped and the guest is granted admission. Once the pass is used at the attraction, the card expires.
Go here to purchase cards.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) average domestic airfares in the first quarter of 2010 increased to the second highest January-to-March level since 2001, rising 4.7 percent from the first quarter of 2009.
Average fares are based on domestic itinerary fares, roundtrip or one-way for which no return is purchased. Fares are based on the total ticket value which consists of the airfare charged by the airlines plus any additional taxes and fees levied by an outside entity at the time of purchase. Fares do not include other fees, such as baggage fees, paid at the airport or onboard the aircraft. Averages do not include frequent flyer or "zero fares" or a few abnormally high reported fares.
The $328 first-quarter 2010 average fares were down 8.3 percent from the all-time high, not inflation-adjusted, of $358 in the third quarter of 2008. Adjusted for inflation, first-quarter 2010 fares were down 25 percent from 1999, the inflation-adjusted high for any first-quarter since 1995. The first quarter 2010 average fares were up 8.9 percent from the post-9/11 fourth-quarter low of $301.39 in 2005. Airfare records go back to 1995. Second-quarter 2010 average fare data will be released on Oct. 28.
Of the top 100 airports, based on 2009 originating passengers, the highest fare is Huntsville, AL while the lowest fare is Atlantic City.
Air fares in the first quarter of 2010 declined 5.6 percent since the first quarter of 2001, compared to an overall increase in consumer prices of 23.5 percent during that period. In the 15 years from 1995, the first year of BTS records, air fares rose 10.5 percent compared to a 43.7 percent inflation rate. In 1995 dollars, the average air fare in the first quarter of 2010 was $228, compared to $297 in 1995 and $301 in 2000.
Airfares for the top 100 airports.
The Marina Inn at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach, SC offers the “Fabulous Fall” package for people looking to avoid summer crowds and enjoy the warm coastal weather.
The package is available through Nov. 4, 2010, and includes accommodations in a grande guest room with your choice of : breakfast for two each morning; admission for two at the Carolina Opry; or 50 percent off the charge for the second night's accommodations.
Package rates start at $149 per night. There is a two-night minimum to be eligible for the "Fabulous Fall" package and $20 is added to the rate on Friday and Saturday nights.
The AAA four-diamond Marina Inn at Grande Dunes offers 200 rooms and suites with terraces from every room that overlook the marina or the golf course. The property is located between the Grande Dunes marina and the Atlantic Ocean, minutes from Myrtle Beach's top attractions.
Marina Inn at Grande Dunes or 866/337-4954.
NFL Team Branded Growth Chart |
A great keepsake to capture a child's growth through the years and show your team spirit.
Available for all 32 NFL teams plus the Ohio State University, the large growth chart (54" long by 15" wide) easily hangs
on any surface with removable adhesive tabs. A pink version for all 32 NFL teams is available for girls.
The growth chart comes with 14 removable footballs that adhere directly onto the chart.
Footballs, placed at the child's measurement each year, include a place to write the date and child's age, when measured,
and a place for a photo!
NFL team and Ohio State University growth charts are available at ke specialties llc
The foundation for the National Business Travel Association (NBTA) and Concur, a leading provider of on-demand Employee Spend Management services, released an annual study of car rental, hotel and meal taxes in the top 50 U.S. travel destination cities. The study reveals that travel taxes and fees enacted on travel-related services - often to fund unrelated local projects - impose an average increased cost on visitors of 56 percent over general sales tax.
The full report is available exclusively to Concur clients and NBTA members.
The study provides different views of travel taxes to help you make informed choices. The top 50 markets are ranked by overall travel tax burden, including general sales tax and discriminatory travel taxes, and by discriminatory travel tax burden, excluding general sales taxes to count only taxes that target car rentals, hotel stays and meals. Separate data are offered for central city and airport locations, as the tax regimes are often distinct.
The research shows the U.S. cities where travelers incur the lowest total tax burden in central city locations, factoring in general sales taxes and discriminatory travel taxes, are:
- Fort Lauderdale, FL
- Fort Myers, FL
- Portland, OR
- Detroit, MI
- Honolulu, HI
The cities that impose the highest total taxes on travelers are:
- Chicago, IL
- New York, NY
- Boston, MA
- Seattle, WA
- Minneapolis, MN
Travel taxes imposed specifically on travel services above and beyond general sales taxes. The U.S. cities with the lowest discriminatory travel tax rates in central city locations are:
- Orange County, CA
- San Jose, CA
- Burbank, CA
- San Diego, CA
- Ontario, CA
The cities that impose the highest discriminatory travel taxes on travelers are:
- Portland, OR
- Boston, MA
- Minneapolis, MN
- Indianapolis, IN
- New York, NY
National Business Travel Association.
World Nomads, the National Geographic Channel and JoJo's Adventures Bhutan offer budding photographers the chance to go on assignment with wildlife photographer Jason Edwards to the Kingdom of Bhutan.
In addition to an all-expenses-paid assignment for a week in Bhutan, the qualifying candidate will receive $2,000 Australian dollars worth of Pentax photographic equipment . The best photos will be published on the National Geographic Channel's Australian website. The winner will have a chance to get a foot in the door at National Geographic.
Anyone, from any country, can apply to enter this contest. It is open to photography students or non-professional lovers of photography. You must be at least age 18 with a good level of fitness as there is trekking involved. This is a scholarship, a learning experience, so probably not suitable for professional or semi-professional photographers. Online applications will be accepted through Oct. 17, 2010. The Scholarship recipient and the best entries will be published on the WorldNomads web site Nov. 1, 2010.
To apply, shoot a series of photos (maximum of five) that tell a story about a place you have visited. The place maybe in your own community or much further away. The judges will be looking for: originality, the ability to convey a story through photos and technique. Add your photos to the Worldnomads web site. First create a journal where your photos will be hosted, and fill in the entry form. Upload your photos as a Flikr set or directly in the journal. Then write, in 300 words or less, about your photos and why you should be chosen. Your written response will have significant weight in the judging process.
One winner will be flown to Paro, Bhutan, to meet with JoJo's Adventure guide for a seven-day trip Dec. 5 to 12, 2010. You will work alongside Jason Edwards photographing rare and endangered wildlife in the Phobjikha Valley including the White Bellied heron (200 left worldwide and 30 live in this valley) and Black Necked cranes. The trip will also include historical architecture and traditional Bhutanese culture.
Find contest information here.
VIA Rail Canada's rail passes let you take a road-less road trip with multi-day travel passes throughout the entire VIA network.
The following rail passes and promotions are offered by VIA Rail Canada.
VIA Rail's 2010 Canrailpass gives you access to the entire VIA system. The pass includes seven trips in Economy class anywhere in Canada within a 21-day period. Passes for adults during the peak season (through Oct. 15, 2010) begin at $ 910, while the off-peak period (Oct. 16, 2010 through May 31, 2011) start at $ 568. Children, students and seniors can purchase off-peak passes from $ 511, while peak season passes start at $ 819.
If you are looking for a shorter trip, or to hop between major cities in central Canada, VIA's Corridorpass, allows you seven trips in Economy class within a 10 day period in southern Quebec and southern Ontario. For a single price, you can plan up to seven segments of rail travel to Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls. Prices start at $ 325 for adults or $ 293 for children, seniors and students.
Seniors (age 60 and older) are entitled to a 10 percent discount on all classes at full fares except Business class. Bigger discounts are also available to Seniors on special fares.
Students between the ages of 12 and 25 are entitled to year-round discounts. Students over 18 years of age must show an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) to qualify
Fall officially arrives Sep. 22, 2010, but in Ohio the unofficial fall arrival is when the first leaf changes color. Staff at the eight Ohio State Park Lodges are on "autumn alert" at the beginning of September as they watch for leaves on the state's 125 species of hardwood trees to turn vibrant shades of yellow, orange and red.
Xanterra operates Ohio State Park Lodges in Southeast, Southwest, Northwest, Northeast and Central, Ohio. All of the lodges offer value-focused packages and deals throughout the fall season.
Perfect for older travelers, all eight lodges offer the "65 SAVES" special. If you are 65 or older, you can stay overnight in a standard room at any lodge Sunday through Thursday night for $65 per night plus tax. Use promotional code 65SAVES when making reservations.
For golfers, parks with golf courses feature a Park and Play package. Based on double occupancy, this package features lodging for one night and 36 holes of golf (18 holes of golf per person) with a cart. Deer Creek State Park Lodge's Park and Play package is priced at $152 for a standard double room Sunday through Thursday through Oct. 31 and $132 for a standard double room any day of the week Nov. 1 through Apr. 30, 2011.
Some packages highlight in-park and nearby offerings. For example, the "Malabar One-Night" package at Mohican State Park Resort includes one night of accommodations, breakfast for two, admission for two to Malabar Farm and a Louis Bromfield book from the lodge gift shop. The package starts at $119 for a weekday stay in a standard double room through Oct. 31 and $169 for a standard double room on Friday or Saturday through Oct. 31. The home of author Louis Bromfield, Malabar Farm State Park is adjacent to Mohican State Park. The park includes Bromfield's 32-room house and a working farm. You must provide your own transportation to Malabar Farm.
Click here to reserve rooms in state parks or 800/282-7275.
|The Ixtapan Spa Hotel and Golf Resort, in Ixtapan de la Sal, Mexico, gives you 12 organic treatments for 12 cents when you book their four night Spa Classic package at $115.50 per night with all meals . The offer is valid Sep. 19 through Oct. 2, 2010, on specific dates only. Other deals and packages are found online.
The historic spa destination, high in the Sierra Madre Mountains, is known for its value spa, golf and fitness packages.
The 12 treatments for 12 cents Spa Classic package includes:
- 3 weight reducing massages
- 2 facials with fruit and vegetable purees and simultaneous reflexology
- 1 loofah with sea salt and local oils
- 1 fango with herbs and warm mud
- 1 hair treatment with tomato rinse
- 1 nail treatment with local oils
- 1 manicure
- 1 pedicure
- 1 hair styling
All meals, fitness classes, morning walks, bottled water and golf and tennis lessons are included during these special dates.
Not included are government taxes of 17 percent, tips and transfers from Mexico City and Toluca Airports.
Ixtapan Spa Hotel and Golf Resort or 800/IXTAPAN.
NFL Team Branded kleen kits
Fight against bacteria and flu germs with National Football League team branded hand sanitizer kleen kits. Produced by ke specialties llc, a kleen kit consists of a 2 ounce bottle of hand sanitizer, an 8 ounce bottle of hand sanitizer and a 40 count canister of wipes, available for all 32 NFL teams plus The Ohio State University.
The 2 ounce bottle (TSA approved for 3-1-1 carry-ons) or 8 ounce bottle of hand sanitizer easily fit into a pocket, purse or back pack and the 40 count canister of wipes can be used at home, while tailgating or at work.
NFL team and Ohio State branded kleen kits are available at ke specialties llc.
The Cayman Islands' first boutique cottage hotel, Cotton Tree, offers a 30 percent discount on its two-bedroom cottages for stays in December and January, if you book by Sep. 31, 2010.
After applying the travel discount, individual cottages are $665 per night. Taxes are additional. A three-night minimum applies.
The four 1,600 square foot cottages resemble fully-equipped houses and feature classic contemporary furnishings, French doors, plasma TVs, state-of-the-art appliances. A media library of books, music and DVDs; breakfast items (coffees and teas, juices, eggs, cereal and yogurt) pre-stocked in the cottages; WIFI and local calls; fresh fruit; bicycle rentals; Wii and roundtrip airport transfers are also included.
Located on the northernmost point of Grand Cayman, 10 minutes from Seven Mile Beach, Cotton Tree has four pastel, plantation-style cottages steps from the Caribbean Sea in a garden setting of tropical flowers and trees. Amenities include a freshwater swimming pool, fitness center and yoga and spa pavilions. Hotel services such as a reception/concierge, bellhop, housekeeping and turndown on request are also featured.
Cotton Tree or 345/943-0700.
Luxe Worldwide Hotels make it affordable to spend leisure time exploring cities with their special "Mix Business with Pleasure" promotions for business travelers.
Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel - Los Angeles, CA - Through Dec. 31, 2010, get one night free with a minimum four night stay. Rates from $199 per night includes Continental breakfast for two. Taxes are additional.
Hotel Griffon - San Francisco, CA - Rates from $269 includes welcome basket of San Francisco goodies; two welcome drinks; two tickets on the Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise; Macy’s shopping pass; and free WiFi. Offer valid until Sep. 30, 2010.
The Bristol - San Diego, CA - Valid through Dec. 30, 2010, rates from $338. The packages includes Superior Series guest room; two adult passes to the San Diego Zoo; full breakfast for two and nightly turndown service.
Hotel Monticello - Washington, DC - Rates from $160 and valid until Sep. 30, 2010. Includes breakfast, free Internet and one bottle of Champagne. Taxes additional.
The Lofts - Columbus, OH - From $79. Includes two movie passes to Arena Grand Movie Theater and $25 dining card to Arena District restaurants. Taxes additional.
Cosmopolitan Toronto Centre Hotel & Spa - Toronto, Canada - Rates from CAD $179. Includes Continental breakfast for two; two martinis; valet parking; 15 percent off spa services. Offer valid until Dec. 31, 2010.
The Listel - Vancouver, CA - Rates from CAD $230. Stay two nights and get 15 percent off or stay three nights and get 20 percent off. Includes accommodations for two in a Museum or Gallery Floor room or suite, a CAD $100 gift certificate for dinner, and a free CD featuring Vancouver’s renowned jazz artists. Taxes additional. Offer valid until Dec. 31, 2010.
Casa Vieja - Mexico City, Mexico - Rates from $150 US. Includes American breakfast; free Internet; newspaper; welcome cocktails; welcome amenities. Offer valid until Sep. 30, 2010.
Megaro Hotel - London, UK - 137 pounds through Nov. 28, 2010. Rates include Continental breakfast, free WiFi Internet access, bottle of water, newspaper. Taxes additional.
Hotel De Buci - Paris, France - Rates from 180 euro. Includes breakfast; a bottle of wine and fruit basket. Taxes additional. Offer valid until Sep. 30, 2010.
Hotel Opera - Madrid, Spain - Rates from 89 euro. Includes free Wifi Internet; welcome drink; free use of gym and sauna; VAT included. Offer valid until Sep. 30, 2010.
Luxe Worldwide Hotels or 866/LUXE-411.
Tween Waters Inn on Captiva Island has a late-summer promotion. Through Oct. 7, 2010, you can get a fourth night free plus a $100 dining credit.
Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa extends the Seeing Is Believing package through Sep. 30, 2010. The two-night package includes a 20 percent discount off room rates, a certificate for one free night redeemable Oct. 1 through Dec. 22, 2010, a daily $50 resort credit and waived cancellation fees. Rates start at $127.
At Sandpiper Gulf Resort on Fort Myers Beach, you receive a third night free Monday through Wednesday or a fourth night free Thursday through Sunday plus one-hour jet ski rental discounts. The offer is based on double occupancy and applies through Dec. 17, 2010.
Seaside Allsuite Resort on Fort Myers Beach offers a fourth night free for up to four people through Dec. 17, 2010.
Casa Playa Beach Resort on Fort Myers Beach gives a fourth night free plus a 40 percent pet fee discount. The special is based on double occupancy through Dec. 17, 2010.
At the Holiday Inn Downtown Historic District, in Fort Myers, you get free dinner for two at the hotel’s Palms Bar & Grille with a minimum two-night stay, double occupancy. The rate is $79 and is available through November 2010.
The fall Mini Week savings at Abaco Beach Villas on Fort Myers Beach offers three free nights when you pay for the first three nights. The rate is $250 to $295 for up to six people, available through Nov. 13, 2010. .
The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel FL or 800/237-6444.
As travelers are still budget conscious, the Mansfield Convention and Visitors Bureau offers ways to save money on the road with Free Stuff. The new section on their website, featuring a big red button labeled Free Stuff lists everything free in the area.
Ohio's Mansfield and Richland County are home to the farm where Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married and where you can spend the night in a haunted former state prison where Hollywood movies are shot.
Here are some of the free experiences.
Charles Mill Lake Park and Pleasant Hill Lake Park - free swimming, parkland and boat ramps
Crafty Clutter and Creative Outlet Native Arts - free gifts
Fatboys Raceway - free admission
Hidden Hilltop Alpaca Ranch and Alta Florist and Greenhouse - free tours
Malabar Farm State Park - free hiking trails, bird aviary and special events
Squirrel's Den, Cooper's Mill and Eatmor Bundt Co. - free samples
Mansfield Convention and Visitors Bureau or 800/642-8282.
Save when you book the Affordable Luxury package to Ireland by Sceptre Tours. The package includes a six-night stay at the Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt, roundtrip airfare to Dublin and rental car. Savings are up to $700 per person or $1,400 per couple for travel Nov. 1, 2010 to Feb. 28, 2011.
Platinum Package - upgrade to a suite, one dinner at Gordon Ramsay's Restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, automatic rental car with unlimited mileage and a GPS navigation rental for $250 per person.
You can add a seventh night at the Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt and an extra day car rental for $99 per person. You can upgrade to business class on Aer Lingus for an additional $499 each way per person.
The Affordable Luxury package is geared toward those who want the five-star experience. The Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt is 16 miles from Dublin City, in Wicklow and set amidst one of the most scenic and historic estates in Ireland. The Affordable Luxury package includes six nights in a Deluxe room at The Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt; roundtrip economy class airfare to Dublin; and a manual shift car rental.
Affordable Luxury is priced from $799 per person based on double or triple occupancy for New York or Boston departures (other gateway cities are available). The price for four or five travelers is $829 per person and includes a connecting Deluxe room and a suite. This package is available for travel Oct. 1, 2010 to Apr. 30, 2010 at slightly higher rates. Taxes and fees of up to $185 per person are not included. Above prices are for select Monday and Tuesday departures. Discounted rates for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's are available. To ensure availability, you are advised to book by Sep. 2, 2010.
To enhance the Affordable Luxury experience, you can get the following upgrades:
Gold Package - upgrade to a suite, automatic car rental with unlimited mileage and a GPS navigation rental for $75 per person.
Sceptre Tours or 800/221-0924.
Summer in Tuscany - sounds romantic, doesn't it? Summer crowds in Tuscany. Er. . . not quite as romantic sounding.
Three-star sights in the best-known Tuscan cities and hill towns are often swamped by visitors, especially in high season. Happily, there are ways to avoid the tourist crush, as my husband and I found when we spent two weeks in July based in northwest Tuscany, making Lucca our base for one of those weeks.
Only 15 miles from bustling Pisa and less than 50 miles from Florence, Lucca is a walled city of moderate size but outsized charm. A good part of that charm lies in exploring this pedestrian-friendly city on foot. The massive walls, which once protected Lucca from invaders, now defend it from the plague of the automobile, for within the city walls, traffic is strictly controlled. The core of the city consists of one piazza after another, some large and impressive, some modest and intimate, all linked by a web of cobblestone streets. Tourist buses may roll in and disgorge day-tripping groups in outlying piazzas in the morning, but the majority of people along the Via Filungo, Lucca's main shopping street and pedestrian thoroughfare, are locals going about their daily business.
The ancient roots of the city are Etruscan, though the most notable imprint is Roman, as seen in the large circular piazza that was once an amphitheater and in place names such as San Michele al Foro (forum). Later, during the Middle Ages, Lucca enjoyed remarkable economic stability and prosperity, becoming rich from silk production and banking. From the 12th century onward, with the exception of a few short periods of foreign rule, the city was an autonomous republic, with only nominal outside interference until Napoleon I gave it as a principality to his sister, Elisa Bonaparte, in 1805.
Lucca beguiles visitors not with any particular checklist of "must-see" artwork or museums (although it does contain a number of fine churches), but by its gentle aura of orderly charm. Narrow streets open onto unexpected vistas - a beautiful church facade here, a stately group of 19th-century storefronts there. On hot July afternoons, we took frequent refuge at various cafes, gelaterias, and pasticerrias, simply sitting and watching the world go by rather than exerting ourselves. We could do this guilt-free, serene in the knowledge that in Lucca, il dolce far niente (sweet doing nothing) trumps hectic, purposeful tourism.
The majestic, encircling city walls are by far Lucca's most distinctive feature. The original thin medieval walls were considerably augmented in the 16th and 17th centuries, to an impressive width of 100 feet, which ensured that the walls could withstand any artillery bombardment (and indeed no military force even attempted to breach them). But by the 19th century, the ramparts no longer served any useful military function, so Marie Louise of Bourbon commissioned an architect to transform the wide swath along the top of the ring wall into a stately tree-lined promenade, some two-and-a-half miles in circumference.
Today, strolling or biking along the ramparts comprises one of Lucca's unique delights. Bicycle shops just inside the northern city gate rent sturdy biciclette for very reasonable rates -2.50 eruo per hour or 12.50 euro per day. Pedaling the circumference of the city walls takes a mere 20 or 30 minutes at a leisurely pace, however, so you might also consider another pleasant bike path just outside the city, alongside the banks of the Serchio River. This flat, scenic route meanders through outlying villages and farms for a number of kilometers, and indeed ambitious cyclists could follow the river path for quite some distance.
In addition to the city walls, Lucca was once famed for its towers. There were once more than 100 towers, each a symbol of an individual family's wealth and prestige. Now just a handful remain, but the ones open to the public are well worth exploring. The most notable, Guinigi Tower, sports trees growing from a rooftop garden. Ascending 227 steps to the top provides marvelous views over the town and surrounding countryside. By purchasing a 5 euro combination ticket, visitors can enjoy not only this view but an equally fine one from a second clock tower nearby.
Lucca's wealthy families built not only towers but villas as well, many of which dot the surrounding countryside. Visiting the villas which are open to the public, such as Villa Mansi, Villa Grabau, and Villa Bernardini, makes an agreeable excursion for a day if you have a car at your disposal. In Lucca itself, lovely Palazzo Pfanner, dating from the late 17th century, is set in a jewel-box of a garden. (Entry to the garden is 4 euro; 5.50 euro for house and garden.) Indeed, this garden may already seem familiar if you've seen the film adaptation of Henry James' Portrait of a Lady. Although small, the garden is so carefully designed and artfully planted that I spent an agreeable hour sitting in the shade of a pine tree, admiring the central fountain and contemplating the bounty of Mediterranean plants.
Another of Lucca's most unique sights is Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, a large oval piazza built on the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheater. Coming into the piazza takes on a bit of drama, as it is entered through one of four vaulted gates said to have been the entrances once used by gladiators. From a narrow passageway, a wide vista opens to colorful cafes and shops ringing the piazza, which is one of the most pleasant places to sit and enjoy a glass of wine or perhaps a cup of espresso.
Like most visitors to Tuscany, of course, we sought out the local cuisine. Lucca is famed for its olive oil, in particular, and its generous use lends a distinctive flavor to many of the region's best-known dishes. Other notable regional products include faro (a grain similar to barley), pecorino cheeses, and porcini mushrooms. One characteristic dish that visitors should certainly sample is tortelli luchese, rich meat-filled ravioli topped with a hearty meat-based ragu.
On the third weekend of each month, Lucca hosts one of Italy's largest antiques markets. Scores of dealers set up stalls in the lovely open space of Piazza San Martino and several piazzas nearby, and the bartering commences. My husband, who loves nothing better than to bring back some recondite "find" from each trip, spent hours perusing the stalls, questioning dealers on this bauble or that, before finally settling on a quaint (but regrettably heavy) antique cast-iron toy.
Musical performances are worth seeking out in Lucca, for the city, the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini, stages any number of concerts in piazzas, churches, and concert halls throughout the year. Stop by the Tourist Information Bureau in Piazza Santa Maria for a full listing of the week's concerts, which almost surely will include at least once Puccini-based recital. We enjoyed attending something a little more modern than Puccini, a Crosby, Still, and Nash concert, one of Lucca's lively outdoor Summer Festival concerts.
While it's tempting to while away any number of days within the confines of the city walls, before long the many attractions within driving distance assert a pull. Highly recommended are excursions north into the Garfagnana, a narrow valley just north of Lucca which runs through the Apuan Alps. Perhaps the most remote part of Tuscany, the landscape here is unlike any other in Tuscany, clad in dense forests with picturesque towns such as Barga and Castelvecchio di Garfagnana lying alongside the Serchio River.
Be sure to stop at one of Garfagnana's most striking sights, the "Ponte del Diavolo" or Devil's Bridge near Borgo a Mazzano. A remarkable feat of medieval engineering, it's said that the builder struck a deal with the devil to help him finish the bridge on time. In return, the devil would claim the soul of the first one to cross the bridge. Guilt-stricken, the builder confessed the pact to the local bishop, who took matters in hand. On the day the bridge was finished, the bishop drove a pig across the bridge. Furious that he'd been thwarted, the devil threw himself into the waters of the Serchio Rover and has never been seen since.
The Apuan Alps hold other glories, all within striking distance of Lucca. We traveled the coastal road up to Pietrasanta, where Michelangelo came to quarry marble in 1518 and where today visitors still find a rich tradition of sculpture as well as work in bronze and mosaics. The town's vibrant arts scene has attracted artists from all over Italy as well as abroad, and many striking pieces commissioned by or donated to the community can be seen by taking a short stroll through the center of town. Four long parallel streets dating back to Roman times form the core of Pietrasanta, with the Piazza Duomo at its heart. Above the town and visible from the central piazza, an ancient castle sits perched in the hills.
Continuing from Pietrasanta, we kept to the marble theme by visiting Carrara, where the world's most famous marble quarries are found. Approaching Carrara, it seems that the mountains ahead are capped in snow. In fact, there is no snow - only the gleaming white marble exposed by quarries, with marble dust and chips coating the areas below in pure white.
For an education in marble and its properties, as well as a complete history of the marble quarries and industry in the area, stop by Carrara's unique Museo del Marmo, or Marble Museum (4.50 euro entry). Then for a closer look at the actual quarries, head north to one of three principle marble "caves," which are not "caves" in the English, subterranean sense, but rather quarries. The roads winding up to the quarries feature a number of marble-related businesses, such as marble-working concerns and, of course, any number of gift shops featuring every imaginable knick-knack that can be fashioned from marble.
Still another easily managed daytrip (perhaps an overly popular one in the summer) is Viareggio, an orderly seaside resort featuring many charming Art Deco buildings as well as excellent seafood restaurants and, of course, bathing establishments. We marveled at the orderly rows of chairs and umbrellas set along the beach, seeming so uncharacteristically Italian to us. Each person, it seemed, had his or her allotted patch of sand, the sunbathers arrayed in regimented ranks. More to our liking was Viareggio's pleasant seafront promenade, the place to make the evening passaggiata.
Last but not least is Pisa, a mere half-hour's drive from Lucca but seeming much further away in mood, for here we found throngs converging single-mindedly onto the Campo dei Miracoli, with thousands milling around the famous Leaning Tower. Leaving Pisa and driving back to Lucca later in the day, we heaved a collective sigh of relief. For while we'd been dazzled by Pisa's five-star sights, it was Lucca's low-key charms that we longed for once again.
Useful websites: Lands of Lucca and Versilia
Lucca-area agriturismos (rural accommodations)
Venere.com, an excellent resource for booking accommodations
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