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At the beginning of the boutique hotel boom, luxury was defined by money; how much of it you had and what it could buy you. But that has long since changed. The emergence of creative “lifestyle” hotels have transformed the industry — as the annual LE Miami trade show in South Beach pointed out — with rising demand in experiences that are unique and culturally connected. These days, rather than high prices, luxury is about authenticity, storytelling, and innovation.
So how does this shift in the very definition of luxury translate to a more authentic, value-driven experience on your next trip?
We know what you’re thinking: “Fado” is a chain of Irish pubs in cities all across America.
Well, yeah… we’re not really sure what’s up with that, because Fado is also a traditional style of urban Portuguese folk music that typically features two or three guitarists and a male or female singer. The lyrics reflect themes of longing and nostalgia, about the sea or the life of the poor. The Portuguese describe it with the word saudade, which has no direct translation into English but describes a deep melancholic longing for something or someone that is now absent.
Sounds like a bit of a downer, right? But the mood inside a fado bar is far from sad. And we guess that’s the one good thing about not speaking Portuguese as a tourist – you won’t know what they’re talking about anyway. But you will appreciate it in very much the same way as people appreciate Opera music: the beautiful, booming voices to go along with the soft, picking guitar. Except you don’t have to wear a tux to a fado show, and you can see a show while bellied up at a bar. Read more
Portuguese wines offer some of the best value in the world. The country may be small, but its geography – with coast on one side, mountains in the center, and an arid region to the east – has created a number of diverse wine-growing regions. While most people know Port and many have come to love Vinho Verde, other Portuguese wines and the regions that produce them are just starting to burgeon. The country itself is low-key and scenic – and currently, a bargain, even factoring in euro-to-dollar exchange rates. Read on for five great Portuguese wine regions to explore.
Rich with history, it seems Portugal itself should be a UNESCO World Heritage Site – we’ve lost count of how many of its cities and towns have been given the esteemed title. While Lisbon, Porto, and Sintra are all worthy of their own itineraries, if you’re looking for something a little bit off the beaten path (or just want to take a day trip from one of it’s major cities), here’s where you should go to get a unique look at the rest of Portugal.
1. The Algarve When you think of great beaches in the Iberian Peninsula, the Costa del Sol in Spain probably comes to mind well before Portugal does. Enter, the Algarve in the south of Portugal. While there are sleepy parts of this region, consider checking out the popular Praia da Rocha, a beach in the shore town of Portimão. At the end of the beach, explore the 17th century castle, Fortaleza da Santa Caterina; watch the sunset from the fort or simply visit it to get the best view of the beach. Other cool spots to hit in the southern region are Lagos and Faro, two of the larger cities in the Algarve. Sagres Point, the most south-westerly point of Portugal, is also famous because explorers like Ferdinand Magellan and Columbus are rumored to have studied at the Sagres Henry the Navigator School of Navigation (though the exact location of the school is unknown to this day). Visit the Fortaleza de Sagres, built in the 1400s, the fortress that was commissioned by the same man, Infante D. Henrique. Read more
Spring is a great time for a romantic getaway – either to Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, or the West Coast – so here are four tips to help you maximize your enjoyment of the destination, and each other, while away à deux:
Avoid kids and conferences: Nothing wrecks a romantic mood more than screaming kids – but loud, badge-wearing conference-goers are a close second. The best way to avoid both is to book a smaller resort, preferably one where children under 16 are either not allowed or discouraged.
As far as Western Europe goes, Portugal is a more economical alternative to its neighbors, while still offering dazzling beaches, an Old World capital city, charming countryside, and its famous wine. Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon, has had a crop of new hotel openings in 2010, giving us even more reason to buy a Portuguese phrase book and plan a trip for 2011. Read more
Barcelona is a city unlike any other – it has Gaudi’s modernist masterpieces, vibrant Catalan culture, and even a beach – making it a wonderful place to visit time and again. It also makes a great base for exploring other nearby destinations that complement rather than compete with its charms. Two great add-ons to a stay in Barcelona are Lisbon, Portugal, another intriguing city yet with a very different vibe, and the sunny Spanish island of Mallorca. I recently visited both and here are my recommendations:
LISBON This hill-bisected city on the River Tagus is often described as “melancholy.” Sure, its buildings are a tad weatherworn, a few of its streetcars are certifiable antiques, and its soulful fado singers can make you cry, but Portugal’s capital city is far from a sad place. Rather, it is an inviting collage of lively neighborhoods, each with its own charm and character: Baixa, its central hub, is home to wide, pedestrian-only Rua Augusta stretching from the graceful fountains of Rossio plaza (shown above) to the elegant arch on Praca de Comercio; Bairro Alto, or “high neighborhood,” is a 16th-century maze of narrow cobblestone streets that comes to life at night with its numerous bars; Alfama, a dense warren of steep medieval lanes, leads up to the viewpoints from Castelo de Sao Jorge; and Belem to the west is home to the 16th-century Manueline-style Mosteiro dos Jeronimos and Torre de Belem.
Gone are the days when you needed a royal title to spend the night in a castle. Nowadays, even the masses can stay in a storied, turreted keep, as residences of bygone kings and rulers are converted into premier hotels in Europe and beyond. We’ve rounded up our top 10 castle hotels in popular European countries (France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Portugal, and Italy), Morocco, India, and even the United States, to help you get the royal treatment at home and abroad. With accommodations befitting a king (and queen!), and fairytale-worthy dungeons, moats, drawbridges, and towers, you’ll be feeling like royalty in no time. The only thing missing will be your own crown and scepter – those, you’ll have to bring from home. See our Castle Hotels slideshow for an inside look at these royal digs.
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