Interactive Website Shows Cleanest, Dirtiest European Beaches

beaches, Cyprus
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It’s getting to be that time of year again. People are heading to the beaches, especially around the Mediterranean.

Now choosing one has been made easier by a new interactive website by the European Environment Agency. The agency has released its 2012 figures for water quality of 23,511 “bathing waters.” The website has them broken down by country and region. While most are beaches, popular inland swimming areas such as lakes are also included.

Some countries do better than others. Cyprus may be in economic doldrums, but 100% of their beaches have clean water. Slovenia, the subject of an upcoming series here on Gadling, gets equally high praise for its narrow strip of shoreline.

Scientists examined samples of water over several months in 2012, looking for evidence of pollution. It turns out 93 percent of sites had at least the minimum standard set by the European Union. The worst countries were Belgium, with 12 percent substandard swimming areas, and The Netherlands, with 7 percent.

Free amenities and break on rates at Sandestin this spring


The list just seems to go on and on – there is no shortage of activities and amenities waiting for you at Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort. If you’re into biking, kayaking, tennis or sweating it out in the fitness center, you’ll have plenty of choices available to you. And there’s even a Wednesday concert series. Simply put: you won’t get bored at this destination on Florida‘s northwest Gulf Coast. Fleeing cold weather? The seven miles of beaches are the cure or the cold that’s been hounding you for months. Well, if you book a three-night stay by May 26, 2010, you’ll get free access to Sandestin’s many amenities – which is reason enough to plan the trip you’ve been putting off.

The resort offers accommodations from studio condos to villas and cottages of up to five bedrooms. They come with fully equipped kitchens, whirlpool spa baths, laundry facilities and views of the beach, bay or golf course – with 1,500 units in all, spanning 30 neighborhoods.

Big Island Hawaii: Four Seasons Hualalai hotel review

As a budget traveler, I’ve always been averse to spending much more than $150 per night on a hotel room. I’ve always figured, “it’s just a room” and that aside from a comfortable bed in a quiet, clean building, I didn’t really need more much. I never thought I would consider spending $500 for a single night in a hotel. But all that changed when I stayed at the Four Seasons Hualalai on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Located at the southern end of the Kohala Coast, right next to the Kona Village resort and just 15 minutes or so from the Kona airport, the Four Seasons Hualalai is so much more than a hotel. What you are paying for here isn’t just the room, it’s also the service, which goes so far above and beyond the standards at any other hotel I’ve ever stayed at, it’s easy to see why it was rated the top beach resort in the US by Travel and Leisure. Staff here aren’t just “available” when you come to them, they seem to anticipate your every desire, coming out of nowhere just when you need them, but remaining completely invisible when you wish to be left alone. Of course, the rooms and grounds are still pretty nice on their own.

The most basic rooms start at $595 per night and feature king beds and views to the ocean across the 18th hole of the golf course. Partial and prime ocean views are $750 and $895 and oceanfront rooms start at $1035 per night. It’s not cheap, but the hotel does offer the occasional deal, such as “stay four nights and get the fifth free” or “receive a $1000 resort credit for every six nights.” And here’s the best part: if a promotion goes into effect for the nights of your stay after you booked at the regular rate, the Four Seasons will honor the promotion for you as well, without you even having to ask.

From the moment you arrive at the Four Seasons, you know this stay will be special. As you pull up to the lobby, staff greet you by name (thanks to a message from the front gate guard who took your name upon arrival) and offer you a refreshing mai tai and cold towel while you check in. Then staff loads up your bags and whisks you to your room in one of the resort’s ubiquitous golf carts. Waiting in the room, you’ll find a glass of iced tea and a welcome tea cake.

Rooms feature comfortable beds decked out in soft, fluffy down bedding, flat screen tvs (many of which swivel so you can get the perfect view no matter where you are in the room) with DVD players, iPod docks, CD players, terry bathrobes, tea/coffee makers, L’Occitane bath products, aromatherapy turn down, and bottled water refreshed daily. Ground floor rooms also have private outdoor lava rock showers, and all rooms have either private lanais or balconies with screen doors so you can fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean.

But it’s the small touches that really make the room special. Each room is serviced twice a day – once for cleaning and once for turn down service. You will never see the cleaning staff pushing a heavy cart around. To increase morale and to keep the walkways of the resort free of unsightly carts, the cleaning staff services each room with only the supplies they can carry in a small tote bag. Did you notice the upright vacuum unobtrusively hidden under a vinyl cover in the back of the closet? Yes, there is one in every room for this very reason.

Each room has a mini-fridge for snacks, and staff will kindly keep your ice-bucket full of fresh ice. Wine and water glasses are provide, as is a corkscrew, which I found to be a wonderful touch, as it seems my husband and I are always scrambling to find one when we want to enjoy a bottle of wine in our room. There’s even a toaster hidden in the closet as well – and not because the Four Seasons expects you to make your own toast. To ensure that guests receive only piping hot toast, browned to their preferences, the room service staff will toast your bread as they set up breakfast. It’s a little touch that I never would have thought of, but now seems to make perfect sense.

There are four pools to choose from – the secluded, quiet adults-only pool (which is self-service), the snorkel fish pond (made partly of natural lava rock and stocked with thousands of fish and several manta rays), the quiet pool (also adults only and featuring a special mechanism to help lower disabled guests into the water) and the infinity-edge family pool, which has a nearby kiddie pool (complete with complimentary swim diapers, ice cream cart, and kid-sized lounge chairs) and looks out onto the beach. I spent most of my time at the family pool, where I was able to order food from the Beach Tree restaurant’s lunch menu and get a wi-fi signal.

Service at the pools is just as impressive as it is around the resort. As you walk towards the pool area, a staff member seems to appear at your side, holding a stack of towels and waiting for you to choose a lounge chair or cabana, where they will then spread out your towels for you. According to Ciro Tacinelli, the director of marketing, the standard of service at the pools is to check in with each guest once per hour. It seemed every time I thought I might want a cool drink, someone would arrive and ask me if I needed anything. Snacks are served at the pools twice per day and ice-water and sunscreen are available for guests. Should you decide to get out of the sun for a while, staff will hold your seat for up to two hours.

The ocean in front of the resort, though lined with a beautiful sandy beach where sea turtles often bask in the sun, is a bit rough for swimming and water sports. However guests are free to use the equipment at next-door Kona Village, where they can boogie board or learn to stand-up paddle board.

The guests at the Four Seasons seemed to be a mix of families and couples. Other than lounging by the pool or snorkeling in the ocean, there’s a spa, golf course, fitness center with climbing wall and tennis courts, cultural center, and a kids clubhouse to keep guests entertained. The kids clubhouse had games and activities for all ages – from a small playground for the little ones to computers, Wii games, and a pool table for older kids. Kids and adults all seemed to love watching the manta ray feedings held in the lava rock pool weekdays at 1pm. Many of the kids even got the chance to touch and feed the rays on their own.

There are three restaurants and two lounges onsite at the hotel, all of which operate on a credit system where charges can be directly applied to your room (though you can also pay with cash or plastic). The Pahui’a restaurant serves three meals a day, including a lavish $34 breakfast that includes spreads of fruit, cheese, muffins, cereals, granola, juices, oatmeal and salads, plus an omelet station and rotating specials. The day I had breakfast, there was a miso soup station, waffles, french toast, and a perfectly cooked eggs Benedict. Other options are available a la carte as well.

At each of the restaurants, the hotel takes care to use locally produced, organic, sustainable products whenever possible. Some of the fish served is raised onsite and oysters are mined from the waters just off the golf course. There’s an onsite herb garden and several varieties of fruits and vegetables are grown on the grounds and used in the restaurants. The hotel also composts much of its organic waste and waters the grass of the golf course with water from underneath the lava rocks.

Aside from the impeccable, attentive, anticipate-your-every-need service, what I loved the most about the Four Seasons Hualalai was that despite being fairly large (there are 234 rooms plus additional private houses onsite), it felt like a boutique hotel. The rooms are located in two-story buildings scattered around the area, separated by lush landscaping and rocky lava outcroppings. There were plenty of other guests there during my stay, but the space was never crowded. With four pools plus beach chairs, I never saw more than maybe a dozen people in each area. The restaurants were busy but not full, and in the fitness center, it was easy to find an empty machine to use.

And the staff certainly didn’t make me feel like I was one of hundreds of other guests. I was called by name and never had to wait for assistance. As I watched others in the lobby, at the pool, and in the hotel’s restaurants, I noticed the high level of service wasn’t limited to just myself. In fact, at breakfast one day, after a tiny bird landed ever so briefly on the table of a couple who had gone up to the buffet, I noticed the staff immediately swoop in and reset the table, just in case the bird had stepped on the silverware.

So, after a stay at the Four Seasons Hualalai, am I a budget traveler no more? Probably not. I still appreciate a bargain and really just can’t afford to spend over $500 per night on a hotel. If you can….well then you probably don’t need my convincing to stay at the fabulous Four Seasons. But if the price is one you can afford for just a few nights, maybe for a special occasion like a honeymoon or birthday vacation, I highly recommend starting or ending your trip at here. From the beautiful grounds and inviting rooms to the fantastic customer service, the Four Seasons Hualalai is a perfect paradise on the Big Island.

This trip was paid for by the Kohala Coast Resort Association, but the views expressed are entirely my own.

The most amazing New Year’s Eve luxury travel experience you can imagine

Find 17 of your closest frends and bring them to Palmasola. The beachfront estate will deploy its full-time staff of 16 to attend to your needs in this 25,000 square foot paradise, which includes Chef Peter Lodes, who has worked Michelin starred restaurants around the world. He’ll pull together Mexican and Mediterranean flavors for you and your guests, pairing each meal with exquisite wines, which you’ll enjoy in the villa’s dining rooms, verandas or just outside under the moonlight.

The destination’s New Year’s Eve package is designed to give the 18 of you an experience you’ll never forget. It includes all meals for everyone in the estate, a Mexican Fiesta night (with tequila tasting and traditional dance performance), and a traditional piñata party for the kids. Guests get full access to the nearby Four Seasons Resort, which includes a Jack Nicklaus golf course.

Set up on 200 feet of shoreline, the villa has a media room (with home theater), heated pool, Jacuzzi and fitness center. There are two game rooms — one for adults and another for kids — not to mention two residences and two more apartments, adding up to nine bedrooms. Workaholics can spend some time in the business center, which comes equipped with computers and WiFi access.

Book a stay at Hawaii’s Kona Village and get an $800 flight credit

Last week, while on Hawaii, I had the chance to wander over to Kona Village Resort and stroll through the grounds. I was pretty impressed by what I saw. While the resort is located right next to the Four Seasons, the feel (while still luxury) is totally different.

Rooms here are hale – thatched roof bungalows in various forms. In keeping with the barefoot, carefree style of the resort, the rooms don’t have tvs, radios, or even telephones. What they do offer is total seclusion, privacy and romance, as each bungalow has access to a beautiful black sand beach and its own hammock. Hotel staff communicates with guests via notes, and a coconut is used as a “do not disturb” symbol.

It’s the perfect spot for honeymooners to escape and relax, but they are also plenty of activities offered, like snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, whale watching, surfing and SCUBA diving. Rates for the hale start at $410 per night for two people, including breakfast and selected water sports.

Right now, Garden, Superior, or Deluxe rooms, which run about $700-$900 per night, qualify for a special fare deal. Book five nights in the room and receive $800 in flight credits. The room rate includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. The fare credit is applied to the cost of the room.

Dive packages, romance packages, and family packages (book one hale and the second is 50% off) are also currently available.%Gallery-76818%

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