Nestled between emerald green paddy-fields, luscious palms and meandering canals is George Kutty's homestay, at the heart of the Keralan backwaters, in the village where Arundati Roy grew up. For $10 a day, guests are provided with ensuite, air-conditioned rooms and invited to share mouth-watering meals with the Kutty family, freshly prepared from the sumptuous fruits, spices and vegetables, which burst from their garden. Days can be spent navigating the waterways on the Kutty's canoe, exploring the surrounding villages and exquisite wildlife or venturing into the nearby, bustling market towns of Kottayam and Alappuzha. George Kutty's enthusiasm and knowledge is truly boundless, providing visitors with a priceless insight into and understanding of rural Southern India; its culture, traditions, religion and day-to-day life.
Keeping with our summer vacation rental trend, I also found another great deal in the heart of Rome's historic centre. We had some friends joining us from the States that particular week, so the two bedrooms worked out perfectly, seeing as at E1200/week, we basically ended up paying only slightly more than a quadruple room in a B&B... with our own privacy of course, freedom, peace of mind, and the kitchen was lovely too. We love to cook and it was about 5 minutes from Campo de'Fiori's market, so every day we got to enjoy fresh ingredients and try some of the tricks we learned in our very own cooking lesson booked through the agency (they found a WONDERFUL chef who speaks perfect English and was loads of fun)!
The apartment was beautiful, very artistic and luxurious, and the jacuzzi tub was a definite plus. As mentioned, the agency was fabulous and took care of everything for us, the keyholder was a very nice lady who helped us get our bearings, and the private transfer they booked for our friends went smoothly as well. The location, especially for the price, couldn't have possibly been better, and it made returning to Rome the adventure we'd hoped it to be. We definitely plan to use Leisure in Rome on our next trip to Rome, and we hope they still have the same great deals on Bernini!
Via Dei Cartari
and for pictures: www.leisureinrome.com/luxury_apartments-in-navona_square/navona_square_apartment,S,235.html
I'm normally a hotel sort, but an opportunity came up this summer to travel Italy for PLEASURE (instead of business for once) and to keep the costs down, we decided to try something different in a few places.
Le Macchie is a beautiful Tuscan villa split into separate apartments. It's right in the middle of the national park and so absolutely tranquil and peaceful, the minute we arrived we knew we'd made the right decision. Stunning emerald views as far as the eye can see, and we even had a swimming pool to enjoy when the midday heat was on.
The location while peaceful, is still not so far from towns that you can't enjoy a day trip, and the company we used to book our various holiday rentals was excellent and professional. They were also very kind in arranging private olive oil and wine tastings and I must say I'm hard pressed to think of a more fantastic week in my life. The price was very good too.
Here's a link to the people I used with some photos: www.italiancollection.com/en/Le-macchie.html
Last week we walked to Lago Pilato under Monte Vettore in Le Marche, an ancient glacial lake, where legend has it that Pontius Pilate drowned himself. Nowadays it is home to a unique freshwater shrimp.
The circular walk is 20km and quite a challenge in places, but the spectacular scenery makes it all worth while. We have walked various sections of the gran' Anello (a 120km ring) in the Sibillini Mountains of Marche. There is a great map for the area, the 1:25,000 scale Club Alpino Italiano map of Parco Nazionale Dei Monti Sibillini. You can buy it in any local tabacchi around the national park or buy it in advance via www.sibillini-walks.com/index.html.
There is also a guidebook that explains the nine-day route, but if not, try this link where you can buy it direct from the National Park emporio.parks.it/product_info.php
There are some great rifugi (refuges) that you can stay at: www.parks.it/parco.nazionale.monti.sibillini/Esog.php or eat at. Many of them are newly restored.
On our hiking holiday we ate at 3 rifugi at Monte Amandola, at Ragno near Pintura and Il Tribbio at Lake Fiastra and have to say that the food at all was superb.
If you contact the national park they will also arrange a guide if you need it. Alternatively, Spring CAI and the National Park organise excursions and treks. The CAI walks can be found on the board on the right in sarnano as you enter the centro storico. The national park guided walks are listed on this page and need to be prebooked via the email address. www.sibillini.net/chiedi_sibilla/indexVisiteGuidate.html
If you need more information, free walking itineraries or a lovely place to stay on the edge of the park try www.villasanraffaello.com/free-time/marche-hiking-walking.html
Sarnano, Macerata, Le Marche, Italy
Casa de la Justa is a small family run bed and breakfast in the beautiful Lecrin Valley. Great location for Granada and the coast. Laidback and relaxing place to stay. The house is a restored village house, with plenty of outdoor and indoor space to relax. G7 footpath close by, also great for cycling.
I stayed in a Canary Wharf Apartment from them. We were on a strict budget as our stay was for 10 days. The site found us a decent deal and the self catering apartment owners were very professional with check in - which is what we were most concerened about before flying into London. The price was good and the kids had plenty of space. Amenties promised were provided and the apartment was very clean and tidy. Not tremendously luxurious even though they said it was on the luxury side. Highly recommended nonetheless.
This is a nice cheap place to stay in Santa Elena from where you can easily visit the Monteverde attractions.
The rooms are basic and have shared bathrooms, but they are in quaint little wooden cabins set in a nice garden which has beautiful views over the forest.
There is a shared kitchen if you want to cook for yourself and which is a good place to socialise with other travellers.
They organised a horse riding trip with a local guide for us which was really worthwhile.
Shetland's former capital is a village with 1,000 inhabitants and a small but busy boatyard. Very much a working community, Scalloway has much to attract the visitor in terms of history. Its hotel, located between the equally excellent museum and second hand bookstore/post office, offers great food at good prices. Much use is made of local produce, and the cuisine is Scottish/French - good attention to detail, and very attentive and friendly service. The hotel provides separate public bar and dining room - and the food can be enjoyed in either. The dining room has an air of formality about it, but is very family friendly. An imaginative menu, good cooking, and throughtful presentation. Three courses for two plus wine, coffee and an excellent selection of local cheeses - just under £100. Highly recommended.
Main St, Scalloway, Shetland, ZE1 0TR
A lovely lady called Tabu has you to stay in her home.
We stayed in her spare room and she cooked us the most delicious crab curry for supper!
We talked into the night about her life and her family who have lived on the same plot of land for generations.
During the day we snorkelled and borrowed a couple of bikes to wander up and down the Bolominski Highway and hang out in some of the other nearby villages. We even managed to catch a local game of rugby sevens.
A great experience and two nights we won't ever forget.
Again, when you feel like really pampering yourself and giving yourself a five star holiday, L'Elisa is amazing. So peaceful, so relaxing, and really elegant. It's got every amenity you can dream of, and the wireless access throughout is great. I always love anywhere with a pool too, and it's truly beautiful to look at as well as swim in. The rooms are amazingly comfortable. I just love the sheer elegance of the place; decor, rich fabrics, it's got a very fairy tale feel to it, which goes with the general ambiance of Lucca itself, so it's very appropriate. Lucca is a wonderful place that should be experienced, and I've always enjoyed how conveniently close it is to Siena, Pisa, and other places I like to travel to. It's very nice when you need something a little less hectic. The fabulous thing here too was how great the staff were, they literally will help with every miniscule request you may have, and I think the service deserves a 6th star for the place. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful.
Via Nuova Per Pisa, 1952. But you may want to see some pictures too:
As a girl travelling alone in Costa Rica, I felt really safe here and was very grateful for all the tourist information they had. It has only just opened so isn't in the Lonely Planet yet, but is definitely worth a visit. Good value for money and a really good location on the main road.
Phone: 506 2221-6868
On Paseo Colon, the main avenue, in front of the Spanish Embassy.
Grand Baie is buzzing with life. Banana bar is the place to hang out and to sit and have a beer and a nice casual meal. I suggest Sunset Cafe by the Canelle shopping center. From there you can book a catamaran to go and visit for the day one of the little islands like flat island. Good fun and nice trip. I've been going to Mauritius for the last 15 years and every time I'm there, my heart sings. What I love most is the people. Never stops to suprise me the beauty of that island. The food is really nice in most of the places, but my favourite is the Italian restaurant by the Banana bar called Don Camillo.
The Royal Palm hotel is a gem to visit or to have dinner which it will cost you big bucks.
Palais De Chine does excellent chinese food and if you are lucky and it's in season you can order the best crab cooked in black bean sauce.
To eat Don Camillo 2638540. I don't know the phone numbers of the rest, but easy to find all the above, They all in Grand Baie area
Staying at B&B Los Monte means staying with, and becoming part of, the Monteserin family. Roberto and Silvia are the best hosts you could dream of having, and their grown-up daughters Cecilia and Natalia (if they are around and not off on their own adventures) are just as friendly and welcoming as their parents.
Silvia's cooking is second to none and Roberto's enthusiasm is completely infectious. Their love of, and knowledge about, the local area is evident from the start and we would thoroughly recommend taking them up on any offer to take you out and about - you'll see places others won't, and just spending time with this family is good for the soul.
Bariloche has plenty of pubs and bars to keep the night owls happy, but we spent many happy evenings playing cards with Roberto and Silvia, picking up a couple of new games along the way. Be warned though - they are formidable 'Escoba' opponents!
I guarantee you'll leave feeling happier and more optimistic than when you arrived, and absolutely determined to return.
Beautiful chateau hotel in Saumur in the Loire Valley. We stayed on our honeymoon. Not cheap, but not like a chain hotel.
The bedrooms are grand and full of antiques, family paintings and roll top baths (like staying with your wealthy grandmother!) The hosts are what really made it different; they're incredibly friendly and not at all snooty (as the people of Saumur are meant to be).
There's no restaurant but it is 15 min walk to the centre of Saumur where there are restaurants for every taste. The local Quincy wine comes highly recommended.
Saumur, Loire Valley.
Beautiful chateau hotel in a small village in the Loire Valley that we stayed in on our honeymoon. Not cheap, but the rooms are beautifully refurbished (contemporary take on traditional design and very well done) and the food is exceptional. Doesn't have a hotel feel and hosts very pleasant (felt like we were staying with wealthly friends!). Something to look at if you're looking for something quiet and quality. Good value we thought.
Reignac-sur-Indre, about 20 mins south east of Tours, on the way to Loches.
Ca'delle Acque is a very central bed and breakfast in Venice and still a good budget place. Just five minutes by feet from Rialto and S. Mark´s square, a gem of simplicity and praticality.
Very special build, a room per floor and a beautiful private terrace overlooking a canal if you have the lucky to stay in the suite.
Normally I stick with hotels but I've heard really great things about apartment rentals and so maybe a year or so ago decided to try them too. Obviously there is no reception desk, concierge you can pester with your every query, and though apartments come stocked with all one needs, you do need to buy your own supplies (hand soap, shampoo, toilet paper - at least if you need more than three rolls for a week).
Still, apartments are often just as central, lovely, and as well managed and stocked as hotels with the added benefit of complete privacy which I find extremely attractive.
Besides that, I find (now that I frequent rentals more), apartment keyholders are usually bi- or trilingual and very helpful at explaining all in the area/apartment, which is definitely a higher degree of service than one gets checking into the average B&B/hotel.
Anyway, Bellotto was the right place at the right time, enhanced by the fact the agency responded quickly (normally these things take like 2-3 days if you're not using a major agency like Venere, but I like the personal attention to be honest), and in English, since my Italian is functional but very sad when written.
For two people this studio was absolutely perfect. It's a 10 minute walk from St. Peter's and a 10 minute bus ride from Piazza Navona, and buses come every 10 minutes or so. Walking is only half an hour anyway. The kitchenette is perfect for simple things because I don't really need an oven on holiday and everything important is there, and we were on the top floor, with an elevator, which I know is quite difficult to find on a budget in the absolute historic centre. I actually liked this neighbourhood better since it's more the way real locals live, the prices they pay, bus service is frequent, and the peace and quiet simply can't be beat. Nor can the lovely little balcony, which is totally secluded and private, so it's a wonderfully peaceful place. I also like the bright colours in the studio, uniqueness is always welcome!
The agency who booked us was fabulous and helpful, and I was glad to see they work with such wonderfully responsible owners who are soooooo very helpful. They live across the hall and the top floor is private, just their apartment and ours, and the floor itself is only accessed by a key, so it's very very secure and no worries about thieving maids or people in general. Perfect, lovely, and convenient, this apartment is amazing for any single person or couple that wants some unforgettable time in the Eternal City.
The site I booked through: www.leisureinrome.com/_apartments_in_rome-in-san_pietro/vatican_apartment,S,435.html
The owners deal directly with them and so the service is 5 star at a normal price!
Montepulciano itself is a wonderful base for day trips throughout the region, and it really struck me since it's not as touristy and packed as many other places feel. It's still got its fair share of travellers, but it's not as stifling as say, Venice can be.
The scenery is straight from a fairy tale and the cuisine is beyond even that. Mix that with some architecture, and the destination is already perfect.
Perfect places are made more memorable by perfect places to stay, and this place took the cake on my last trip. It used to be a small village actually, but was remodelled as a hotel with all the modern amenities - yet it still has that homey-country feel, almost as if a well loved relative prepared everything exactly to your liking before check in.
Quiet, friendly, and absolutely beautiful with a terrace to take it all in, Borgo Tre Rose has relax written all over it and it's exactly what I wanted. The reception desk isn't 24-hour, but that's ok because at least they tell you. Get all your questions in by 19:30 (it closes at 20:00, so why make a poor receptionist suffer by prattling on at 19:55?....obviously they'll still help you then though, as I found when I needed a phone number urgently) and they're helpful as ever, with warm friendly smiles to boot.
For moments when you're not relaxing, the washing machine and internet point are really really convenient and to relax after all that, there are actually hot springs nearby (S. Albino).
Anyway, a great stay in a great place, and if you have a little more time than I usually do, look into regional wine tastings! Superb!
Via Dei Palazzi, 5 but these people were VERY helpful with all, including directions: www.italiancollection.com/en/hotel-borgo-tre-rose.html
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