Category Archives: Luxury Travel

Petit Palace Cliper Gran Via

5 Quirky Boutique Hotels in Madrid

Looking for a Madrid hotel? Here are five of the best upscale and boutique places to stay in the Spanish capital…

Osuna Hotel

quirky luxury in SpainFound in the Palomas neighbourhood, close to Juan Carlos I Trade Fair Ground (IFEMA) and Barajas Airport, Osuna Hotel might seem best-suited to business travellers on first appearances – but it also has a lot to offer those in Madrid on leisure. The city centre is ten minutes away by taxi, and the hotel itself has a whole host of fancy facilities. One large, secluded pool lets you take your morning dip, while the poolside restaurant El Mirador serves up Mediterranean fusion cuisine. All rooms have internet access, air conditioning and smart modern décor.

 

 

 

THC Bergantin Hostel

Quirky boutique madridFound just a block from Madrid’s main square the Puerto del Sol, THC Bergantin Hostel is perfect for first-timers to the city as it puts you within walking distance of all the main sites. The beautiful Royal Palace, Real Theatre and Almudena Cathedral are all easily reachable on foot from your front door, as well as party areas like Huertas where you can get plates of tapa alongside every drink. The hotel itself has just 15 tastefully-decorated spacious rooms, so it’s great for a more intimate and romantic break away. Perks include Wi-Fi access, air conditioning and free city tours arranged by helpful staff.

 

 

Petit Palace Cliper Gran Via

Next to Madrid’s famous main shopping-and-sightseeing thoroughfare the Gran Via, Petit Palace Cliper Gran Via puts you in the centre of the action. Other must-see places nearby include the gorgeous Parque del Retiro and Madrid’s ‘golden triangle’ of museums, the Prado, Reina Sophia and Thyssen. The Reina Sophia holds Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica. At the hotel itself, you’re treated to the ultimate in style and comfort for relatively low rates – rooms have plasma TVs, airy balconies and hydro-massage showers in bathrooms. There is free Wi-Fi throughout the building, and a full breakfast is served daily. You can also rent bikes from reception.

 

 

High Tech Madrid Aeropuerto

boutique hotels madridIf you’ve got an early flight to catch, you’re travelling on business or you just like the fuss-free convenience of staying near the airport, High Tech Madrid Aeropuerto has everything you need and style in spades. There is a free shuttle bus to and from the airport, so you don’t have to worry about catching a train or shelling out for a taxi. The hotel owns a large outdoor pool for taking advantage of the city’s famous sunny days. Inside, your room is kitted out with the latest fancy technology, including a flat screen TV, hydro-massage shower and free Wi-Fi access. You can also sweat out your cares in the sauna, or treat yourself to local delicacies like Iberico ham at the restaurant. Popular business and conference areas Fuencarral, Chamartin and the Paseo de la Castellana are on your doorstep.

 

 

THC Latina Hostel

madrid hostels and hotelsFound in the stylish La Latina neighbourhood, about half an hour’s walk south of Madrid’s main square the Puerta del Sol, THC Latina Hostel offers stylish and affordable rooms that feel like a home away from home. With luxuries like LCD TVs, parquet floors, modern décor, pretty balconies and free Wi-Fi, you’re sure to be comfy here. Outside, the neighbourhood is calm and safe, and you’re only a short walk from the bustle of local bars and restaurants that Madrid’s tourists haven’t claimed for their own yet. You can rent bikes from the front desk ,and La Latina Metro station is four minutes’ walk from the hotel – from here you can whiz to the centre of town in ten minutes flat.

The Glorious Caravan Lifestyle

It’s that time of the year when people are thinking of heading back to school and work from their summer holidays, but there’s still plenty of time for the last hurrah of summer, so don’t give up the caravan lifestyle yet! If you’re in the US, you may be on your way back from  Burning Man – the festival is all through now  and if you haven’t been to Nevada’s third largest city (that only exists for two weeks of every year) you can make it next year if you get your motor home or caravan in shape now.

Burning Man Caravan

First of all, let’s make sure we have some definition. A motor home is a house with an engine, in the states we call them RVs. A caravan, on the other hand, is a house on wheels that you tow behind a truck – commonly called a 5th wheel, camper, or (in the UK especially) a caravan. Back in the old days a caravan was made up of a fleet of camels or a huge merchant group, but that’s not what we’re talking about here at all. We’re talking about RVs and campers and mobile homes and fifth wheels. If you’re RVing in the UK, one thing you don’t want to forget is to make sure that your caravan is insuredIf you’re caravaning in the USA, check out AAA (The American Automobile Club) – they offer roadside assistance and RV insurance.

In addition to insurance, there are a few other things you won’t want to forget before you head out on the road for that momentous trip before life takes off again. Roadside assistance isn’t going to help you a whit if you don’t have a cellphone that gives you coverage wherever you are going. International sim cards are cheap and easy, but you’ll want to make sure that you have an unlocked GSM phone or you may get a terrible surprise. Also, if you’re heading to Cornwall in the UK or Napa in California – don’t forget that you need to have a safe place to park before you start drinking the tipple or sampling the wines – while you can still boondock in many places, local rules and regulations are making it harder and harder to just roll up somewhere, park, and camp – make sure that you know where you will spend the night. You don’t want to get caught in a situation where you’ve had a few too many and then you have to move the rig! On that note, it may be wise to keep a designated driver.

Burning Man

Make sure you know where the spare tire is and how to change it! A few years ago we got TWO flats on the way from Burning Man and since it was a Sunday in small town Nevada – there was nowhere to go. Lucky for us, we did find a Walmart and they were able to repair our flat tires. That’s where roadside assistance would have really come in handy.  By the way, you can usually boondock in Walmart parking lots, which is why you see so many RVs and Caravans in them.

A couple additional notes before you head out on your way. Seatbelt laws apply to RVs too, so when the vehicle is moving, passengers should be seated and belted in. For caravans, there should not be any passengers in the trailer while you are under way, so while the glorious road life of a caravan gypsy is exciting – legally you can’t be moving around while the vehicle is moving around. This can be a costly mistake if the police catch you!

When cooking in your mobile home, make sure that you have plenty of ventilation and have a fire extinguisher handy. Have you ever seen those burned out shells of caravans on the side of the motor ways? Guess how those fires happened? Usually from someone cooking and not having an extinguisher.

While it may seem like a good idea to climb up on the roof and sunbathe, the truth is that you can damage your RV or caravan severely by walking around on the roof. Take care not to fall through and make an extra skylight! Most of all though – have fun. Living in a caravan can be one of the most enjoyable ways to take a holiday – whether you are heading to the last of the summer festivals, out to the playa, down to the sunny Costa Brava or the French Riviera, or over to the chilly Irish coast – drive careful, park where you can wake up and enjoy the beauty of nature, and don’t forget to have friends over for martinis!

Happy Camping!

Burning Man Photos Courtesy of Robert Scales via Creative Commons License

 

French Wine Tourism

Romance and Wine in the South of France

Exclusive for Vagobond, story and photos by Linda Kissam

International Wine Travel

Many of us think we need to travel to Paris or Champagne to experience what France has to offer in the way of wine travel. I’ve been to both, and they were great for family holidays, but I find the small, less known wine regions featuring family owned wineries to be much more intriguing.

There’s a story behind these out-of-the way spots that call to the soul of people who love wine, food, and the soft adventure activities that support that mindset. And if you seek the unique captivating sense of discovering a rock star in the making, then I guess I now have your attention.

I often receive wine samples to review. I love that, but the true test of understanding a wine is to visit where it is made and to get to know the people who made it. As luck would have it I received an invitation from one of the most influential and visionary French vintners — Gerard Bétrand – to visit him on his turf – in the South of France. I would be his guest for 4 days to experience the food, wine and jazz Bétrand style.

Who could resist that invitation? Not me. In a few short days, I was off from San Diego, California to the South of France (SUD) to taste SUD wines as they are meant to be experienced. Follow along my friends and then recreate this trip for yourself.

I’ve interviewed my share of winery owners, winemakers and growers. Some have passion for the wine, some have dedication for the business of wine, some for the pleasure of wine…and then there are those that have the vision not only for the wine they make, but for the place that wine comes from. It does not take long to understand that I was in the presence of a man who could easily be called a wine visionary for the South of France. The man, his wines, and his wine region have presence, passion, and potential oozing from him.

Wine Travel in France

Gérard Bertrand owns five estates in what many consider the best wine regions of the Languedoc: Château Laville Bertrou, Domaine de L’Aigle, Domaine De Villemajou, Cigalus, and Cháteau L’Hospitalet. Each features its own terroir and wine program.

While I was fortunate to visit three of those Chateau’s, my main focus was on Château l’Hospitalet. Lying between Narbonne and the Mediterranean on what was once an island, Château l’Hospitalet Gérard Bertrand’s headquarters is comprised of 978 hectares of moorland and 82 hectares of vines in a beautiful sea-view location in the heart of the Coteaux du Languedoc – La Clape appellation.

It is 2.5 miles from the sea and 4 miles from Narbonne’s center. This facility is the perfect spot to base your 3-4 day exploration of the region. It is the third most visited tourist attraction in the region. The top two are the old city in Carcasonne and an African themed safari park. Those of you who favor or support Eco Tourism will be glad to know Mr. Bertrand has adopted a strict carbon neutral sustainable approach to his vineyard management while offering eco-friendly wine-tourism related activities.

The regional character of the Chateau L’Hospitalet will charm you. It’s Mediterranean hip, edgy and comfortable all rolled into one. Enjoy the pleasant atmosphere of the small modern bistro, the comfortable dining room, and the lounge bar for relaxing breaks and (in season) smokin’ jazz evenings. I especially appreciated the luscious meals and snacks made from regional products (olive oil, olives, jams, honey, etc.) The restaurant serves Mediterranean cuisine and premium wines. Unwind in the comfy lounge bar armchairs, enjoy some music, and taste some Tapas along with a glass of premium regional wine.

French Wine Tourism

Chateau L’Hospitalet has 38 spacious rooms accommodating 2 to 4 people. The hotel is set on a large property overlooking a small park-like area, gardens, and vineyards. All rooms feature lovely amenities such as spacious beds and flat screen TV’s. You’ll enjoy the swimming pool and the short walk to the tasting cellar. Get adventurous and take a hike up the hill for a breath taking view of the sea and surrounding vineyards.

Château l’Hospitalet definitely is a wine estate with a strong sense of self based on hospitality focusing on the Mediterranean lifestyle: cellar visits and tasting of course, but also make time for to explore the art exhibitions, crafts workshops and an annual jazz festival on the first weekend in August showcasing the facilities at the Château. Try booking your visit during the August Jazz Festival (held at Chateau L’Hospitalet) if you can. If it’s booked, try one of the local hotels located on small waterways and beaches where you can become part of the local scene. Don’t expect big fancy accommodations. Think small family friendly vacation rooms.

Barrels of Wine in France

A key focus of my short stay was a 3-day pass to the International Jazz event. Located on the Chateau’s property, the event is designed entirely to promote ecotourism. Five concerts, 6,500 attendees, 5 gala dinners on the Chateau’s gorgeous grounds, means this is THE place to be the first week of August. A typical night’s schedule includes a 7 p.m. tasting, 8 p.m. Mediterranean dinner created by some very talented chefs, a 10 p.m. concert, and a midnight after party at La Cave ? Jazz. Wow does not do this justice: spectacular maybe, or once in a lifetime perhaps.

This was their 8th annual festival, so I would expect it to go smoothly, but this was more magical than smooth. Think premium wines (I actually got to taste a 1936 Gérard Bertrand Rivesaltes- bottle 623 of 869), French food at its most local and finest, vineyards everywhere, the waft of sea air, a big French moon, and the most glamorous people ever as my dining partners.

Jazz Night in France's Wine Country

The Jazz talent is handpicked each year by Gérard and his team. He told me he tries not to repeat any act so that each year guests can look forward to something new and exciting. Each performer had their own vibe and that made each show an experience in itself.

What wine travel adventure would be complete without a discussion of the wines? The wines bearing the Gérard Bertrand signature share a common identity: balance and elegance, they truly express the thoughtfulness of the winemaker and the South of France terroir.

There are 4 levels or ranges to meet the needs of the different markets:
1. Vins de Pays and Varietal Wines: pleasure guaranteed
2. AOC wines for more character and complexity: culture of flavor
3. Great wines: experience the emotion
4. Natural Sweet Wines and Sparkling Wines: region’s softer side

Gérard Bertrand wines win tons of medals bearing testimony to the consistent quality of his products. Awards include: the Paris Agricultural Show, the official reference in French quality wines ;the equally-prestigious Brussels Concours Mondial ; the Grands Vins de France Competition in Macon, Vinalies “OEnologues de France”, the Blaye Bourg International Wine Challenge, the Wine Challenge (UK and Japan), and the Anivit National Vins de Pays Competition organized by the Union of French Oenologist.

French Wine Tourism

As nice as it is to have all those words of praise from your peers, the true test comes in the hands of the consumer. Trust me; you’ll love any one of them no matter where you are on your wine journey – novice to aficionado. On a warm French evening under a romantic moon my favorites included Cremant de Limoux Brut, Natural Grenache (Organic), Cigalus blanc, and the yummy Gerard Bertrand Banyuls. These are great value wines and can be found worldwide. Conclusion? You haven’t completed your wine journey – be romantic or more pragmatic – until you join Gérard in the South of France at l’Hospitalet to experience his vision of ecotourism as you groove to sweet & sassy Jazz, dine in culinary excellence, drink inspired wines from sustainable vineyards, dance under French moonlight, and be pampered at the l’Hospitalet hotel. Check out the Gerard Bertrand Web site for other interesting events like the L’Art De Vivre in June and the exquisite Truffle Hunt in December. A vote santé!