Gadling’s favorite hotels for 2011

gadling favorite hotels 2011

Where do your loyal well-traveled Gadling contributors especially love to spend the night? We polled Gadling writers on their favorite hotels in 2010. Think of Gadling’s favorite hotels for 2011 as our version of a hotel tip sheet.

Laurel Miller. The Kirketon in Sydney for its quirkiness, cool bar, small size, helpful staff and retro-mod style, blissfully free of big-city attitude. Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, South Australia as a once-in-a-lifetime indulgence in a staggeringly beautiful, intimate setting hovering over a private beach covered with wallaby tracks. For high-end luxury, Ecuador’s Hacienda Zuleta. It’s historic, in the foothills of Andes in northern Ecuador, a working dairy/horse farm/creamery/condor preserve. It offers an intensely Ecuadorean experience, from the local indigenous culture to hospitality, geography, and food that is worth the trek. And lastly theWit in Chicago with its ideal location on the Loop, across the street from the river.

Mike Barish. The Wort Hotel in Jackson, Wyoming. Located right in the heart of Jackson, a historic hotel steeped in cowboy tradition. Grab a drink at the hotel’s Silver Dollar Bar after a day exploring Grand Teton National Park.

Grant Martin. Favorite hotel of the year was the Elysian, right in downtown Chicago. Beautiful, huge rooms, clean, elegant and sharp appointments, razor-sharp staff and a perfect location make this the best spot to spend a long weekend in the Loop.

Annie Scott. The Capella Hotel in Singapore remains a favorite, as does the Hotel Imperial in Vienna. I’m a sucker for luxury. I also loved staying at Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma, a treehouse hotel in Zambia, despite a harrowing adventure with a giant bug which I eventually captured with a teacup and saucer.

McLean Robbins. CastaDiva Resort, Lake Como. Opened in June, this is the first five-star resort to open on the lake in about 100 years. It’s stunning and unique. Used to be a private home to the muse of Bellini, sat empty for decades before being gutted and re-done. Top-notch service, food and spa.

Don George. This year’s hotel highlights were the following trio in Peru. All combined great style and comfort with a deep sense of immersion in the local place, through their architecture, cuisine, artful decorations, and programs that featured local people to promote local sights and attractions. In Urubamba: Sol & Luna. In Aguas Calientes: Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. In Cusco: Inkaterra La Casona.Tom Johansmeyer: My favorite hotel will always be On the Ave, on W 77th Street, between Amsterdam Ave and Broadway in Manhattan. I once lived there for a few months, and while doing so, I fell in love with the Upper West Side, ultimately moving into the neighborhood. Since my stay in 2004 the rooms have been renovated, but the sixteenth-floor terrace remains. On your next trip to the city, skip the big names, and head up to my neighborhood: it’s worth it to stay a bit out of the way.

Melanie Nayer. Sticking with the Shanghai theme (see yesterday’s favorite destinations post) my favorite hotel this year is the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong.

Karen Walrond. I’m a big fan of the boutique hotel. Recently I stayed at Hotel Lucia in Portland and was blown away by the customer service, and it’s not too expensive. In my homeland of Trinidad, I love the Coblenz Inn, an upscale little boutique place. I also love Acajou, an upscale-yet-very-rustic eco lodge in Grand Riviere, Trinidad. Lovely.

David Farley. The Royal Park Hotel in Tokyo. If you can, get upgraded. Upgrades mean an early-evening cocktail hour with complimentary drinks and snacks every evening.

Kraig Becker. The Chico Hot Spring Resort located in Montana, just north of Yellowstone National Park in the beautiful Absaroka Mountains. Rooms start as low as $49/night and range up to $300/night for luxurious cabins with some of the most spectacular views around. After a gourmet meal in the Chico dining room, guests can soak in the pool, which is drained and refilled each night with water from the local hot springs.

Catherine Bodry. Songtsam hotels in China

Alex Robertson Textor. Buenos Aires cE Hotel de Diseño. I loved the hotel’s location and thorough minimalism (concrete walls and floors) as well as the ample room size and delicious breakfast. The rate, which I found through Tablet Hotels, was also very reasonable, at $109 including taxes.

[Image: Flickr | doug_wertman]

Gadling’s favorite destinations for 2011

gadling favorite destinations 2011

We travel a lot, to destinations both well-known and unfamiliar. In our defense, it is our job to travel like mad, to explore the world and then write about our discoveries.

Though most travel writers find something or other of interest in most places we visit, there are always those personal favorites that rise above the rest. This year, we decided to scribble our favorites down for you. Some of these spots we’re tipping for greater coverage in 2011, while others are simply tried-and-true favorites that we can’t stop raving about to our friends and the various publications that allow us to write for them. Over the course of this week, we’ll weigh in on our favorite hotels, airlines, gadgets, apps, and websites.

So, without further ado: Gadling’s favorite destinations for 2011.

Mike Barish. St. Kitts. I genuinely enjoy how locals and visitors frequent the same beach bars and restaurants. During evenings on the strip, I’d recognize staff members from my hotel doing the same thing I was doing: enjoying the ocean breeze with a cocktail and some jerk chicken.

Kraig Becker. Everest Base Camp, Nepal. For adventure travelers, a visit to Everest Base Camp is one of the best treks in the world. The 12-day hike isn’t just about the destination, however, as you walk in the shadow of the Himalaya each day, passing through sleepy mountain villages steeped in Sherpa culture along the way. The scenery, and altitude, is a breathtaking once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Catherine Bodry: Ko Chang, Thailand and Sayulita, Mexico.

Joel Bullock: My favorite new roller coaster of 2010 is Carowinds’ Intimidator. Carowinds is located on the border of North and South Carolina in Charlotte in the heart of NASCAR country. It was only fitting that the park design a racing-themed roller coaster that bears the nickname of racing legend Dale Earnhadt. Intimidator is an exciting ride. It’s the tallest, fastest, and longest roller coaster in the South East.

David Downie: As a general trend, I revisit places that have fallen off the tourist maps, or that have been taken for granted, and delve deeper into favorite destinations such as Paris and Rome, which are infinitely rich and fascinating and satisfying. Cities: Paris (art, culture, walks, museums, food, wine), Rome (art, culture, walks, museums, food, wine), Genoa (food, wine, scenic beauty, history, magically restored architecture), Bologna (food, food, food and atmosphere and architecture), Helsinki (scenic beauty, atmosphere, seafood). Countryside destinations: Burgundy (wine, food, vineyard and mountain scenery), Massif Central (hikes, scenery), Drome-Provencal (ditto, plus truffles and wine), Tuscany (art, culture, museums, wine, food, vineyard and mountain scenery), Italian Riviera (ditto).

Don George. (1) Peru‘s Sacred Valley. I finally made it there this year and was enchanted by scenery, history, culture, people, cuisine. Machu Picchu is of course life-transformingly amazing but the other untouted ruins all around the valley are equally amazing. (2) Kyoto, Japan. The cobbled back quarters of this ancient city are as enchanting now as they were when I first visited 30 years ago. Tiny temples, impromptu shakuhachi concerts, apprentice geisha in full splendor. (3) Aitutaki, Cook Islands. Incredible island scenery, hospitable people, stunning lagoon, peaceful and laid-back lifestyle, thriving dance, carving, and textile arts scene.

Tom Johansmeyer. If you’re a cigar smoker, nothing beats Esteli, Nicaragua. On just about any budget, you can spend a few days down there. Make a few calls in advance, and you’ll have the opportunity to tour tobacco fields and cigar factories. Even if you aren’t a smoker, it’s amazing to see such craftsmanship in action.

Jeremy Kressmann. Hanoi, Vietnam for its great history and architecture, awesome cuisine, and intriguing Cold War sights. Secondly, Laos. The rugged north of the country has great hikes and the buzzing cultural capital of Luang Prabang is totally worthwhile.

Grant Martin. Bogotá. Forget what you’ve heard about kidnappings, drugs and danger, Bogotá is the new cosmopolitan capital of South America. With quaint, brick streets, a buzzing commercial district and a hip, young population, there’s not much to dislike about this place. Get there before the rest of North America figures it out.

Melanie Nayer. Shanghai. The city of old and new hit a turning point when it hosted the World Expo, and set the stage for Shanghai to become one of the most talked about–and visited–cities in the world.

Sean McLachlan. Ethiopia. Friendly people, rugged scenery, historic sites, and great coffee. What more could you want? Beautiful women, good food, adventure travel? Ethiopia has all that too.

Laurel Miller. Ecuador, especially Cotopaxi National Park (see above), because it’s stunningly beautiful, uncrowded, and there are loads of outdoor recreational opportunities. Ecuador is an amazingly diverse country, kind of like a mini-Peru but with very low-key tourism. There’s also great whitewater rafting/kayaking and mountaineering, fascinating indigenous culture, beautiful colonial cities, delicious regional foods, and the people are wonderful. There’s so much more to Ecuador than just the (admittedly spectacular) Galapagos.

Meg Nesterov. Bulgaria is cheap, creative, and easy to explore. Several of my most well-traveled friends already rave about it. Go now before tourism overexposes the country.

Heather Poole. Positano, Italy. It’s just so beautiful and the food is amazing. I’m a flight attendant and I have a four year-old son, as well as a husband who travels over 100,000 miles a year for business. Our life is like a game of tag. So when it comes to vacations all we want to do is relax. I love to be able to sit on a balcony and let the vacation come to me.

McLean Robbins. Telluride. It’s not new, but as ski towns go it feels non-commercial and relatively untouched. You’ll find truly friendly people (and your fair share of under-the-radar celebrities), but also the country’s best extreme skiing. And it looks like heaven when it snows!

Annie Scott. I’m big on Vienna. It’s a magical city that embodies everything I think of when I think of Europe: culture, history, cathedrals and class. I think the Swiss Riviera may be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Lake Geneva looks so pristine you could drink it, and the French influence gives everything from the dining to the shopping that elusive je ne sais quoi. Lastly, I had a marvelous trip this year in Zambia where the wildlife was rampant and the scenery was enchanting and unexpectedly dynamic: sweeping plains, dreamlike riverscapes and incredible trees. The thrill of being immersed in the bush is hard to match.

Alex Robertson Textor. Lima, Peru continues to pop. While the Inca Trail is old hat, Lima is emerging as a major destination on its own. Perhaps most notable is the Peruvian capital’s excellent restaurant scene, which is as disarmingly inexpensive as it is top-notch. I also have to mention green, rustic, jaw-droppingly beautiful Dominica as the Caribbean’s top adventure destination. Dominica has a number of fantastic eco-lodges that showcase the island’s natural beauty wonderfully and are priced reasonably.

Karen Walrond. As a diver, I love Cayman. Love it. Very touristy, but the diving is beyond anything I’ve seen, and i’ve been diving all over the world. And I’m partial to Grand Riviere in my homeland of Trinidad, which isn’t touristy at all. Between April and June, you can see Giant Leatherback turtles nesting in Grand Riviere.

[Image: Flickr | alepheli]

Top ten cheap local fast food items worldwide

cheap local fast foodFood is usually a major cost on the road, a significant component of any careful travel budget. Very good, inexpensive food is on offer in most of the world’s destinations, no matter how expensive average meals may be. Here are ten delicious fast food items from ten different destinations around the world.

1. Burritos, San Francisco. San Franciscans are passionate about their burritos. It’s easy to inadvertently inspire an argument through an offhand if opinionated claim about your personal burrito likes and dislkes. Try a riceless burrito at La Tacquería (2889 Mission Street) or drizzle your burrito from Tacquería Cancún (2228 Mission, among other locations) with distinctive green salsa. For $6, you’ll be sated for hours.

2. Currywurst, Berlin. Currywurst is an extraordinarily popular German fast food, a sliced pork sausage doused with curry sauce. At Konnopke’s Imbiss, a famed food stand in Berlin, a currywurst goes for just €1.70 ($2.25).

3. Okonomiyaki, Osaka. This delightful, greasy food item can be found in a number of spots around Japan, though it is firmly associated with Osaka. It’s a cabbage pancake topped with several ingredients. These often include pork, green onion, other vegetables, shrimp, fish and seaweed flakes, mayonnaise, and a dark sauce. An all-but-the-kitchen-sink okonomiyaki in Osaka will set you back around 750 yen ($9).

4. Pintxos, San Sebastián, Spain. For just a few euros, you can fill up on extraordinary pintxos (Basque tapas, see above) in countless bars in the lovely seaside city of San Sebastián. That San Sebastián is also home to some very expensive restaurants is an entertaining notion to contemplate while you’re scarfing three perfect €3 ($4) pintxos for lunch in a crowded bar. See Todo Pintxos for a listing of pintxos perches.

5. Hawker centres, Singapore. Many of Singapore’s hawker centers, which are more or less open-air food courts, serve up very high quality portions of food for very little. As little as S$4 ($3) will get you off to a good start. Among Singapore’s many hawker centers, check out Maxwell Hawker Centre, Chomp Chomp, and Lau Pa Sat.6. Kizilkayalar’s Islak burgers, Istanbul. They’re cheap, at 2 lira (under $1.50) and they’re delicious. These small burgers are a late night Istanbul mainstay. Kizilkayalar has two locations in Istanbul.

7. Bò bía, Saigon, Vietnam. This delicious Vietnamese food item consists of pickled vegetables, sweet sausage, small dried prawns, and noodles wrapped in a rice paper roll. This typical Saigon street food item, adapted from Chinese popiah, is cheap and delicious. Cost: around 10000 dong ($.50) per portion.

8. Chivitos, Montevideo. Chivitos are the top Uruguayan fast food option, a huge mess of a beef sandwich with egg, bacon, mayonnaise, vegetables, and other toppings. A fast track to a heart attack for sure, but a delicious one. The cheapest chivito at Guga Chivitos goes for 90 pesos ($4.50).

9. Som Tam, Thailand. This spicy salad made with not-yet-ripe papaya is a popular street food (and restaurant dish) across Thailand. It’s an appealing taste sensation, with sweet, salty, spicy, and sour components. A decent helping of som tam shouldn’t set you back more than 60 baht ($2).

10. Roti, Port of Spain. The capital of Trinidad and Tobago is full of roti shops selling this extraordinarily filling Caribbean fast food, and locals have very strong opinions about which shop does the best job. You shouldn’t need to part with more than TT$30 ($4.75) at any of several dozen roti shops for a perfect lunch.

Thanks to fellow Gadling contributors Jeremy Kressmann and Meg Nesterov for suggestions.

[Image: Flickr / RinzeWind]

Weirdest festivals from around the world

Seven years ago, when I became engaged to my now-husband, Marcus, I took him back home with me to Trinidad & Tobago to meet my parents for the first time, as well as participate in my country’s legendary Carnival. On Carnival Tuesday, as we were dancing in the streets, I said to him smugly:

“See how lucky you are to marry me? You get to visit my country and enjoy fabulous festivals!”

“Ah yes,” he agreed in his English accent, “but one day soon, I’ll take you back to my dad’s home in Gloucester, where we can go to the Cheese-Rolling Festival!”

I looked at him strangely, and attributed his odd response to the hot sun. Cheese-rolling festival? Jeez. Clearly, he needed to lay off the rum.

Turns out, the Gloucester Cheese-Rolling Festival is quite famous: according to MSNBC.com, “In a logic that defies reason, participants of this festival race down a vertiginous hill in pursuit of a 7.8-pound roll of cheese.”

Oookay.

Amazingly, this isn’t even the weirdest festival out there — you can check out some of the other oddball festivals around the world here. And let it be said now, I’m heaving a big sigh of relief that my Marcus is from a small town in England, rather than a small town in Spain, where revelers at one particular festival “parade around town and whip the townspeople, while a cow masquerader runs amok in the crowd.”

Wow.

Carnivals around the world

Carnival enjoys many interpretations around the world, yet there are common threads uniting them. By and large these are parties that feature a great deal of tradition, costumes, parades and food and if they seem a little of the hook some time, well what do expect from people preparing for 40 days of fasting?

Here’s a look at a few Carnival celebrations around the world.

United States

Obviously the best known example of Carnival in the US is Mardi Gras, that season of debauchery that hits New Orleans once a year. Some people consider Mardi Gras just one day, the Tuesday before the start of Lent (known as Fat Tuesday). For others, Mardi Gras describes the whole season leading up to Ash Wednesday, which officially begins on Twelfth Night (January 6) and follows with daily parades, balls and parties starting about two weeks before Fat Tuesday.

The most elaborate parades start about five days before Mardi Gras’ end, with the climax coming on Fat Tuesday, where thousands of revelers pour out onto Bourbon Street and throughout the French Quarter, watch the parade of intricate floats, drink, swap beads and get crazy.

Brazil

Carnaval, as it’s known in Brazil, is one of the world’s largest parties. It kicks off four days before Ash Wednesday, and is an interesting amalgam of European, African and native South American traditions — with the one binding element being samba, the school of Brazilian dance that sets the rhythm for the entire festival.

In Rio, the birthplace of Brazilian Carnaval, samba schools compete during open stage performances and in various parades. Residents also compete, joining blocos — groups of people from the same neighborhood who dress in the same costumes, which can often be over-the-top. Each year the number of blocos increases; more than 100 bloc parades take place throughout the festival.

Trinidad

Trinidad has the largest Carnival celebration in the Caribbean, centered in its capital, Port of Spain. Technically, the celebration lasts more than a month, leading up to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, but the festival hits its climax on the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before Lent, known as Dimanche Gras, J’ouvert and Mas.

Dimanche Gras features the island’s best calypso players competing to be named “calypso monarch” for the year. J’ouvert takes place at dawn on Monday, where partygoers don old clothes and cover themselves in mud (hence the day’s name: “dirty Monday”). Like elsewhere, the big party takes place on Tuesday, with a day of costumes, dancing and eating.

Czech Republic

Carnival in the Czech Republic is known as Masopust, and it too technically stretches more than a month, from Epiphany until Ash Wednesday (it’s interesting to note that Masopust means, essentially, “farewell to meat”).

Masopust is probably bigger in the Moravia region of the Czech Republic, but there are parties to attend throughout Bohemia as well, especially on the outskirts of Prague in towns like Roztoky. Most Czech villages and towns wait for the weekend before the start of Lent to throw their big celebrations, which include not only the requisite parades and costumes but tons of local beer and a huge pig roast on most days.

Russia

Russia celebrates Carnival, but with an Orthodox Christian twist. The festival is known as Maslenitsa (Russian: ????????????), celebrated roughly seven weeks before Orthodox Easter (the difference between Western Christian and Orthodox Christian Lent is that they begin on different days; in Russia, Lent begins on a Monday).

Slavic lore has Maslenitsa as some kind of sun festival. In some respects, Russians celebrate this in anticipation of the coming spring. At least, that was how it was once described to me in Prague by a Russian friend who had me over to his house to celebrate Maslenitsa. The festival is, above all else, a celebration of food. His wife cooked rich salads of fish and meat and, of course, the bliny, or pancake, the staple of the Maslenitsa table. Unfortunately so much vodka was consumed that night that further details are a bit hazy…