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Now that all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Royal Wedding has passed, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge can finally settle into a quieter life – well, sort of – dividing their time between two British pads. The first being the prime London digs known as Kensington Palace, and the second a residence in Wales, where the Prince pilots search-and-rescue copters for the Royal Air Force.
When most people think of vacationing in the U.K., Wales isn’t the first word that typically comes to mind. But the country, located just two hours by train or car from London, is a surprisingly diverse destination for all sorts of visitors – adventurers and royal watchers alike. And even if you don’t catch a glimpse of the Duchess, you can still get your fill of all things King and Queen: Wales houses 641 castles, outpacing all other European countries in the royal residence department.
The sprawling Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, has certainly seen its share of change. Given the resort’s age – the place has been around since 1778, when the American Revolutionary War was still raging – you’d expect the storied hotel to have some curious lore. Tidbits like the fact that it served as a military hospital during World War II, that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor often slumbered here – or that the 710-room retreat was once home base for a hush-hush government bunker until a Washington Post journalist uncovered its covert coordinates in 1992.
In 2009, the resort made history of another kind, when it filed for bankruptcy. It was a pivotal moment for the glorious Allegheny Mountain hideaway, which had hosted generations of families and American presidents (26 of them) alike. For local coal baron, Jim Justice, it was a new beginning – both for him and the hotel.
This spring I found myself in Manila, perhaps an unlikely choice for a city vacation, but the obvious first stop if your ultimate goal is to loll on any of the Philippines’ 7,107 islands, as mine was. Most visitors to Manila spend a layover night at the better-known chain and luxury hotels in the Makati commercial/financial district, but I opted for the city’s grande dame, the Manila Hotel. It sits on Manila Bay across from Intramuros, the 158-acre walled settlement the Spanish built in 1571, and Rizal Park, named for José Rizal, the national hero the Spanish then executed by firing squad in 1896. Overlooking both, the hotel is testament to the end of Spanish occupation two years later, and the start of American influence in this part of the Pacific. It’s also a pretty comfy place. Read more
I have a hard time keeping track of when peak seasons begin and end in vacation destinations, a shortcoming that manifests itself about once a week. The other day I went to check ticket prices for Water Country USA, the popular family attraction in Williamsburg, Virginia, only to discover that the park was closed until spring of next year. Outdoor water rides evidently are not compatible with brisk fall temperatures. Go figure.
And while Water Country’s sister park, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, is open for part of the fall, one might argue it’s getting a bit nippy for those outdoor thrill rides, too. So there I was about to write off Williamsburg as a fall destination altogether when I ran into a friend who reported that she and her family were soon heading for Colonial Williamsburg, and for a song. Read more
The next trip on the calendar for the MEC, a non-profit research center based in Austin, is an eight-day excursion to Mexico and Guatemala to visit two of the major capitals of the Ancient Maya world: Palenque and Tikal. The trip provides a firsthand look into the mysteries of the fascinating Mayan culture, from the unique perspective of an archaeologist.
You’ll fly into the Villahermosa airport in southern Mexico, but your real immersion into the Mayan world starts at Palenque, an enigmatic city that, for reasons still unknown, was abandoned about a thousand years ago.
If you’re making the American Museum of Natural History the centerpiece of a family getaway this fall, you’ll be in good company, not only at the museum but within the city’s hotels, which have long relied on heavy occupancy from October to December even during trying economic times.
This doesn’t mean you won’t find last-minute fall hotel deals in New York but if you’re looking to book a sure and elegant thing now, midtown Manhattan’s Buckingham Hotel will let two grownups and two children overnight in one of its one bedroom deluxe suites for rates starting at $299/night. The suite layout affords a separate bedroom, living room with pull-out couch, and a kitchenette.
The hotel will also throw in four admission tickets to AMNH’s “Race to the End of the Earth” exhibit, which chronicles a contest between two explorer teams to reach the South Pole from 1911 to 1912. If the Buckingham’s website won’t accept the promo code “race,” call the hotel and request the “Race to the End of the Earth” promotion, running through January 2.
For a taste of ‘old world’ charm without par, head to the 120-room Baur au Lac, Zurich’s destination of choice for royalty, film stars, musicians, presidents and jet set for more than 165 years. Austria’s Empress Sissi spent a summer at this five-star retreat; Richard Wagner premiered one of his compositions there; and a baroness convinced the Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel of the necessity of the international peace prize. History doesn’t get more colorful than that!
But not all is tradition and glory past at Baur au Lac, which has been owned and operated by the same family since its opening in 1844. Set in its own park a short walk from Zurich’s famous Bahnhofstrasse and steps from Lake Zurich, the hotel has recently completed a $50,000,000 renovation, raising the bar for service and comfort. The centerpiece was the reinvention of the hotel’s Pavillion restaurant by starchitect Pierre-Yves Rochon. Formerly open only in the summer, this long-time Zurich favorite in a pastoral setting now works year-round. The hotel is also home to Rive Gauche restaurant and bar, an enclave of cosmopolitan chic and the place to see and be seen in Zurich.
Kiev today is a city in flux. The galloping capitalism of the last decade skidded to a halt with the arrival of the worldwide recession in 2008. While the Orange Revolution of 2004 ushered in a pro-Western government, this past February a narrow victory at the polls delivered the presidency to Viktor Yanukovich, who maintains closer ties to Russia.
These days the Ukrainian capital is drawing the kind of intrepid traveler who, perhaps having already ventured to Prague or Budapest, is seeking something further-flung. Originally settled by Scandinavian traders en route to the Black Sea, Kiev is more than 1,400 years old, a full millennium older than St. Petersburg, to which it’s sometimes compared. Several ninth-century pagan statues and a stone circle once used for sacrifices stand today outside the city’s national history museum. Reminders of the 20th century’s darker moments can be found across the city, with a famine memorial here, a Chernobyl museum there. On a hilltop looms a gigantic Mother Motherland statue, a USSR footprint from the 1970s. At her feet is a sweeping outdoor World World II memorial: steel sculptures of battle scenes and huge tanks, with patriotic music swelling in the background.
Although it’s no secret to us gays, the mainstream readers of TripAdvisor just named San Francisco as the No.1 destination in the U.S. in their 2010 Traveler’s Choice Awards. As one of the trusted aggregator sources for our signature Sherman Meter hotel ratings, we’re inclined to agree.
So what good gay things are going on in the City by the Bay?
Every Wednesday from 4-8pm till October 27, the Pacific Coast Association Castro Farmers Market takes over the intersection of Noe Street at Market with farm-fresh veggies, artisanal cheeses, flowers, meats and plenty of tasty fruits for sale—and on parade.
At first utterance, the name Kensington begs a sartorial tone of English pretension, said with a clenched jaw while swirling a sifter of aged brandy and dawning tweed. And really, that air might not be to far from what the Doyle Collection hotel group was going for when they renovated the Kensington Hotel in London. The renovated space brings together four Victorian townhouses into a modern day replication of an exclusive London club of centuries ago.
The Kensington Hotel is offering a “Flavour of London” package so that you can enjoy this well-heeled neighborhood as well as the new digs. Now you can feel like part of the club, if decidedly less stuffy.
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