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Madrid

NH Premium Room - lane nieset

Business hotels aren’t typically known for modern design, cutting-edge technology, and restaurants sporting Michelin-starred chefs — the elements that make the properties appeal to leisure travelers, too. But NH Hotel Group’s flagship hotel, NH Collection Eurobuilding in Madrid’s financial district, has combined all three after reopening in October following a much-needed facelift. And at as low as €135 ($168) a night, taxes included, it remains affordable too.

We set off to see the changes firsthand. Here are a few aspects that make this tech-savvy spot perfect for modern travelers.

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La Latina neighborhood

At first glance, Madrid seems like a sprawling maze of neighborhoods, monuments, and museums — but as locals will quickly point out, most of the sites you’re setting out to see are smack dab in the center. The best way to explore the Spanish capital? By foot. Here are four routes you can take to see it all.

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Absolutely Chicago SegwayA Segway tour is a great way to get an overview of a new city or region. You’ll cover more ground than you would on foot, and your guide can teach you about the local history, suggest restaurants, and refer you to other great tours in the area. Plus, Segways are just fun to ride. Here are 10 awesome Segway tours to add to your bucket list.

Chicago: Several companies operate in Chicago, but Absolutely Chicago Segway offers a few unique options in addition to the standard tour past Grant Park, the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, and Soldier Field. We like the Chicago Gangster tour ($65) featuring the hangouts of Al Capone and other wise guys and the Chicago Haunted Tour ($65) that glides you past haunted hotels, murder sites, and even a morgue. If you are in town during Halloween, the guides dress up as ghouls for the haunted tour.

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hilton garden inn 1

While overnight layovers can be a great excuse to explore (albeit briefly) an unknown city, the reality is you often end up too far from the airport. On the other hand, airport-adjacent lodging is rarely anything to write home about. Thank goodness, then, for these ten European airport hotels offering comfort, a glimpse of local culture, and reasonable prices – all while remaining conveniently close to (or, in some cases, inside) the airport.

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This winter, what better way to warm up than with a piping mug of hot chocolate? But don’t just reach for a packet of Swiss Miss. There are much richer, bolder, more decadent concoctions out there. Here are five delicious indulgences from around the world – and where to find them…

1. Mexico City:churreria-el-moro-elmoro.com.mx-620Mexican hot chocolate is an update of an ancient Aztec drink that includes chili, cinnamon, anise, and other spices. The beverage is water-based with just a splash of milk and a pinch of sugar, so you can enjoy the chocolate’s dark richness and subtle kick. For an unabashedly kitschy and fun experience, try the 24-hour Churreria el Moro, a hotspot also known for its churros in Mexico City. $5 for one hot chocolate and four churros.

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620x400_FlickrLauraMotta_MadridPlazaMayorIf you’re looking for an excuse to book a vacation to Spain, we have a good one for you this week: This 6-night trip to Madrid and Barcelona for $1009, including flights from New York City. (Other departure cities are available, too. Check the web site for pricing.)

Madrid in particular has caught our fancy lately. Once considered a dirtier, more hectic cousin to refined, seaside Barcelona, we’ve learned to appreciate this city’s bustle, and its incredibly varied offerings for visitors, from stately museums to sleek dance clubs. And with amazing tapas and wine to be had for just a few Euros, it’s a city that can be easy on your wallet. Here are just a couple of Madrid’s charms we’ve learned about recently:

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Iberia MyBagTagOver the weekend, Madrid-based airline Iberia announced a new service that allows passengers to print out their luggage tags at home, attach the tags themselves, and drop the bags at an express counter at the airport. The time-saving procedure has supposedly been tested at five airports throughout Spain – with success – though there are a few concerns that pop up in my head when I read about this… Read more

BahamasBelieve it or not, summer is right around the corner. You may be sniffling from spring allergies now, but Memorial Day will be here before you know it, bringing warm temperatures, shortened work days, and summer vacations. Don’t let the season sneak up on you; take advantage of the many early bird specials out there and book your summer travel now. Read more

AfricaIf you’re looking to take an exotic vacation this season, we’ve got deals for you from all over the world; from Africa to Europe to the Caribbean islands. Stray outside of your comfort zone and take the journey you’ve always dreamed of; with these fantastic deals, you’ve got few excuses not to. Read more

Barcelona Parc Guell

In the world of luxury travel, few providers hold a candle to Abercrombie & Kent. A&K travel conjures up images  of elegant, five-star accommodations, customized itineraries with expert guides, the finest of Michelin-rated dining, and cushy modes of transportation. And, of course, the hefty price tag that comes with all of those extravagances.

Looking for all that glitz on a budget? Consider A&K Connections, a new line of luxurious journeys for small groups of 24-28 guests that offers 17 itineraries from six continents. Some of the available destinations include Australia, France, India, Morocco, and Peru. I recently joined A&K on a preview of their “Spain: Seven Cities tour” to see firsthand what Connections is all about.

The cities that make up the title include Barcelona, Granada, Marbella, Gibraltar, Seville, Cordoba, and Madrid. Tally up the day-trips to Malaga, Ronda, and Jerez, however, and you’re looking at a whopping ten cities packed into a ten-day tour. The preview trip was condensed into seven-days. Needless to say, at times, this felt like a break-neck pace, even with Gibraltar sliced off the itinerary. I’d imagine the ten-day version to be just slightly less speedy.

Despite the pace, it’s hard to say which part of the trip I would eliminate to slow things down.  In retrospect, it’s easy to see why Simon Butler-Madden, an A&K vet who built many of the Connections itineraries, included all the sights we saw; the trip provides a cohesive overview of Spain’s diverse history, and how that history affected all aspects of modern Spanish and Catalonian culture. Read more

Hosting the Olympic Games is a prestigious honor that cities around the world compete for with as much stamina and finesse as any world-class athlete. But just as with the sporting events they hope to celebrate, there can only be one winner, and when it comes to choosing a host city there is no silver medal. Since the birth of the modern Games in 1896, several cities have submitted Olympic bid after Olympic bid, only to see their dreams of glory continuously dashed. Detroit alone has been rejected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) a whopping seven times! We here at ShermansTravel headquarters are still mourning the loss of the 2012 Games for our hometown, New York City, so we understand these cities’ frustrations – and know there’s so much more to these locales than their failed Olympic bids. Our top 10 snubbed Olympic cities may be some of the losing-est destinations, but they still offer plenty of ways to get your sports fix, not to mention new and noteworthy gold-medal attractions that keep visitors coming back for more. While some cities last attempted a bid in the ‘50s or ‘60s, two of our picks – Istanbul and Madrid – are finalists to host the 2020 Games. Here’s hoping one of our rejects can finally get its chance at Olympic history!
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Set at the epicenter of Spain’s capital city on the lively, cafe-lined Plaza de Santa Ana, hip hotel ME Madrid Reina Victoria is now offering ShermansTravel readers an exclusive discount on their design-savvy digs, with reduced rates from just $149 per night (a savings of as much as 35 percent off) throughout 2012, with plenty of extras thrown in, including a complimentary room upgrade, late checkout, VIP guest status, and more.

The hotel is a hotbed for hobnobbing celebrity A-listers (the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Halle Berry have counted amongst recent guests) and “it” nightspots popular with its hip hotel clientele and local scenesters alike. At the rooftop bar, The Roof’s (hotel guests are granted VIP access), views are even more intoxicating than their signature ME Mojitos, while the new Mint Terrace sidewalk tapas bar debuted this summer, offering an alfresco oasis for tapas and a choice selection of beers and wines.

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worlds-best-street-foodLonely Planet has come out with a new guide to the world’s best street food – and, it’s a cookbook!

My weak “Twilight Zone” joke aside, The World’s Best Street Food really is one part guidebook, one part cookbook. The book identifies the planet’s top one hundred can’t-miss street treats, revealing their origins and the best places to find them. For the home cook itching to replicate these delicacies, recipes are helpfully tagged as easy, medium, or complex. And, of course, having the ingredients handy will help parents determine if these foods will be potentially problematic for their families, whether they’re trying them in the destination or at home.

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Exterior of The Grand Del MarRomance is revving up all over the place during the month of February, from sun-kissed beaches to sophisticated big cities. Here are 25 deals and packages – from Fort Lauderdale to Fiji, Maine to Madrid, and St. Kitts to Sedona – that you can still book to make this Valentine’s Day the most memorable ever:

IN THE U.S. & CANADA
The Grand Del Mar: Unplug and relax with the “Disconnect Package” at the luxurious The Grand Del Mar near San Diego (shown above at left) and you’ll get one night’s accommodations (with the room TV unplugged and upgrade upon booking if available), berry-infused champagne cocktail upon arrival, choice of a 60-minute couples massage, or a 2-hour horseback ride for two, breakfast in bed for two, and late checkout, from $795/night. Read more

Madrid   Beatriz TabaraOnce a gritty district populated with brothels, the “Triangle of Ballesta” (aka triBall) – so named for the shape that the streets of Gran Vía, Corredera Baja de San Pablo, and Fuencarral form around the main Calle Ballesta – has become the Spanish capital’s latest avant-garde epicenter. Shop-owners like Beatriz Tabara, who opened a clothing boutique-combo-café last fall called Scarly, epitomize the hood’s enterprising vibe. “Everyone has their own story,” says Tabara of triBall’s business owners. “But many of them are professionals who took the leap to make their hobbies a way of life.” Tabara, also a full-time attorney, reveals some favorite spots in the emerging barrio.

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