Ten great hotel bars to see and be “scene”

hotel bars - Banyan Tree ShanghaiCraving insider access to the latest celeb hot spots? We’ve got the skinny on the latest “it” venues brimming with notables, views to die for and parties you just can’t miss. With venues such as these we advise you to tread carefully, for your name may be the next to end up splattered across the front page of Page Six… don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Thompson Toronto
Bringing guests one step closer to living the life of a rock-star, the recently opened Thompson Toronto has quickly become a local hot spot boasting a chic private rooftop lounge where VIP’s can sip signature Hot Toddies while taking in views of the Toronto skyline. We hear the 102-room hotel has played host to celebs such as James Franco, the Kardashians and Usher along with many more. With trendy signature restaurants including famed Chef Scott Conant’s, Scarpetta and the hot late-night staple, The Counter, Thompson Toronto is rating Extra Hot on the “Ultimate Hang Out” meter.

The Waikiki EDITION
Discreet entrances and uninhibited dancing are just a few reasons why Crazybox at the Waikiki EDITION is one of the hottest new venues around. The hot, new nightlife favorite has an exclusive VIP section with its own private entrance that is elevated above the dance floor positioning notables such as Christina Aguilera, Bruno Mars and Woody Harrelson into the center of the action, while still maintaining their privacy. For party goers who prefer the daytime scene check-out the hotel’s Sunrise pool, where the luxury set are seen sipping Mai-Tai’s and enjoying poolside spa treatments or canoodling on private day beds.

The PuLi Hotel and Spa
Pink Champagne flows freely in Shanghai’s The PuLi Hotel and Spa. The PuLi is home to a scene of its own featuring Shanghai’s “longest” wine and champagne selections by the glass. The hotel’s Long Baris usually a buzz with in-the-know locals and glitteratti alike, sipping favorites from the menu and taking in the breathtaking views from JingAn Park. Frequent movers-and-shakers include high-rollers from LVMH and The Gucci Group along with famed designer Giorgio Armani. The bars atmosphere uniquely transforms in character and mood throughout the day creating chameleon-like experiences patrons can call their own.

Hotel Cipriani

“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go,” said Truman Capote, the famous author and comedian. Travelers looking for such a sweet retreat can opt for Hotel Cipriani, located on the secluded lagoon island of Guidecca in Venice. The world-renowned Orient-Express property regularly hosts such celebrities as George Clooney. Guests can even enjoy a cocktail that is inspired by the “sexiest man alive” – the “Buona Notte” – honoring the premier of “Good Night, Good Luck” at the 62nd Venice Film Festival. Boasting a panoramic view of St Mark’s Square, the waterfront Cip’s Club is an idyllic spot for those looking for a dazzling view while being seen amidst affluent travelers.

InterContinental London Park Lane
As the city – and world – prepares for this generation’s historic Royal Wedding, InterContinental London Park Lane announces the launch of a brand new bar, fittingly called The Arch Bar. Offering sweeping views of the outside gardens and parks as well as the iconic Wellington Arch, The Arch Bar is largely gin-focused, with a strong emphasis on fresh ingredients and complete with its own botanical apothecary. A wide spectrum of the highest quality spirits are available – as well as a number of virtually undiscovered artisan London producers – including 25 different gins. Favoured by notable guests during the whirlwind periods of London Fashion Week and the Frieze Art Fair, the hotel’s bar plays host to royals, key designers and artists alike, with highlights from the cocktail list including Mother’s Ruin made with Six o’Clock Gin; Tuppence Duty, a mix of champagne, fresh lemon and Fifty Pound Gin; and Ernest Roots – a new take on the classic Hemingway Daiquiri.

Mount Nelson Hotel
Mount Nelson Hotel is proud to announce the newly opened Planet Restaurant. Reflecting the hotel’s popular, celebrity-studded Planet Bar, the glamorously restyled restaurant underwent a stellar four month face-lift and now features a celestial chic design with Swarovski crystal tiles, deep blue carpet featuring the constellations and chandeliers emulating the illusion of shooting stars. Chef Rudi Liebenberg’s legendary springbok pie and tomato variation dishes are still featured on the menu, as well as a daily soufflé and indulgent degustation menus for all. Star Gazer Alert: We hear that A-listers such as Kate Moss and Prince Harry have been spotted sipping cocktails at this newly opened hot spot.

The Surrey Hotel
Be seen at The Surrey hotel located on Manhattan’s exclusive Upper East Side neighborhood and just a half block from Central Park. Step inside the hotel’s Bar Pleiades after a long day of shopping on Madison Avenue to join the scene or simply people watch over a seasonal mixed cocktail. Designer Lauren Rottet’s vision for the bar as a “stage” has come to life as The Surrey has become the newest Upper East Side haunt of mover-and-shaker neighborhood residents and the socialite crowd. During the warmer months, hotel guests can relax on the rooftop garden terrace which offers a true urban oasis with unbeatable views of the city and nearby Central Park.

W- Washington DC
Even the President knows where the celebs in DC go to party, at none other than the rooftop POV Lounge at the W Hotel. Overlooking the White House lawn, the former Hotel Washignton has been renovated into a hostpot for Beltway insiders like Valerie Jarrett and Reggie Love as well as celebs including Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, Common, John Legend and many, many more. In cool weather, ask for a blanket and cozy up to their warm sips like Hot Peanut Buttered Rum and S’More Whiskey.

Hotel St. Barth Isle de France
Want to vacation like a celebrity? Hang with the likes of Jay-Z, Beyonce and Fergie on the hottest island in the Caribbean – St Barth. The exclusive Hotel St. Barth Isle de France welcomes guests to its gorgeous resort positioned on the picturesque Flamands Bay. Situated amidst enchanting tropical gardens and pristine beaches, Isle de France boasts 39 rooms, suites and villas that have become a home away from home for A-listers around the world. Take in the scene at the patio bar, walk the white-sand beach, take a dip in your privateinfinity plunge pool and relax in the beauty of an intimate Caribbean retreat full of classic European charm.

Banyan Tree Bangkok
The place to be seen in Bangkok, Vertigo Grill & Moon Bar, located on the 61st Floor of the Banyan Tree Bangkok hotel, is unique in presenting a different yet aesthetic urban landscape of Bangkok with breathtaking panoramic views of the city. Since its opening in January 2002, it has fast become a hot spot for locals and visitors from all parts of the world. With a 100-guest capacity, this open-air rooftop lounge is divided into three sections – a dining courtyard, a private party lounge and the Moon Bar – for a romantic tête-à-tête, birthday celebrations, fashion launches or just to relax under a canopy of stars.

Photo of the Day – Tour d’Afrique

The 2011 Tour d’Afrique is officially underway! Just three days ago, more than 120 cyclists set off from Cairo, Egypt on a four month, 7,375 mile race across the world’s most exotic and alluring continent. The competitors will pedal through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia before aiming to arrive in Cape Town, South Africa on May 14th.

If you have the urge to drop everything and join them, you can sign up to complete one of the eight partial sections ranging in distance between 1000km and 2000km.

Today’s Photo of the Day from localsurfer isn’t of the Tour d’Afrique, but I think it’s a great illustration of how important bicycles are as a mode of transporation and heavy lifting throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. So much in fact, that a series of social enterprises are now popping up to help local African entreprenuers by building and loaning inexpensive but durable bikes.

If you have a snapshot of some heavy lifting or local ingenuity, we want to see it! Submit it to our Gadling Flickr group and it could be our next Photo of the Day!

Grantourismo blogger on guidebooks and travel writing

Grantourismo on guidebooks and travel writingLast week I posted a Q & A with blogger Lara Dunston and her husband and partner Terence Carter about their travel project and blog Grantourismo. In addition to good advice about renting a vacation apartment and getting “under the skin” of a place when traveling, they had a lot of interesting things to say about guidebooks, both from their experiences writing them and how they see travelers using them wrong.

Read on for more on the guidebook writing process, how you can use them best on vacation, the changing media landscape, and which bloggers and publications offer the best content for travelers.How did this project stem from your experiences as travel writers?
Grantourismo began as a personal travel project that developed from our frustrations, firstly, with our own work as travel writers, and secondly, with how many travelers rely so much on guidebooks. Terence and I wrote, updated or contributed to around 50 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, Footprints, Rough Guides, DK, and others, and what we loved most about guidebook writing was when we worked on a city guide and rented an apartment for a month or two and really got beneath the skin of the place.

So many writers who aren’t residents of a place ‘parachute in’ to a destination for a few weeks and do crazy 18-hour days ticking off sights/bars/restaurants etc in a frenzy and leave. We didn’t start travel writing to live like that. However, what we disliked was the tedious stuff – ensuring the post office was in the right spot on the map, checking bus timetables, etc. We’d also been doing lots of feature writing, especially profiles, for magazines and newspapers, and what we loved about that was experiencing places through their people.

What’s the difference between guidebook and feature writing?

Grantourism guidebooks travel writingWith guidebooks, unless Terence had a photography commission for the same book we were writing, we mostly traveled anonymously. As feature writers we could contact people, doors would open, and we’d have incredible experiences, and come away feeling like we’d really learnt something. For instance, for a story on Michelin-star chef Pierre Gagnaire’s Dubai restaurant, we spent a night in the kitchen, Terence cooking and me observing and notetaking and – Terence ended up cooking a dish for Pierre! Grantourismo was an attempt to develop a project that would give us the opportunity to have more of those kinds of experiences and have the best of both worlds, of guidebook and feature writing. We also wanted to inspire travelers to travel in the same way, to engage more with locals and explore their own interests when they travel. This desire grew out of a frustration with seeing how obsessed people were with their guidebooks and witnessing travellers miss out on amazing opportunities because they would only go to places their guidebooks recommended.

I’ll never forget going to a great little stand-up seafood tapas place in Barcelona and seeing a young American couple sitting on the doorstop next door frantically trying to figure out if it was in the guidebook. The place was heaving and it was full of locals! Just go in! There’s also another famous tapas bar in Barcelona which once had a great reputation but it fairly mediocre now but because it’s in every guidebook, people line up for it an hour before it opens. Yet there are 20 other better tapas bars in the surrounding streets! We’d rather see people leave their guidebooks closed occasionally, talk to locals more and pursue their interests. If you’re passionate about food and cooking, why not go to a place and do a cooking course, stay in a vacation rental and shop at the markets and cook? If you love a restaurant get tips on where to eat from the waiter, and if the restaurant is quiet, why not ask to see the kitchen and chat to the chef?

So can travelers still rely on guidebooks for basic info?
Guidebooks are great for background information on a wide variety of topics on a place. What’s the alternative? Lugging around half a dozen books on the history, politics, geography, culture etc of the destination? Or load those books onto a Kindle or iPad, although of course not all travelers can afford hi-tech gadgets or even want to take them to some destinations. The ‘front/back matter’ in guidebooks can usually be relied upon – sometimes the stuff is written by subject experts, or it’s written by authors who do a great deal of research, it’s fact-checked, and it doesn’t date quickly.

Where guidebooks can be unreliable on the other hand is in the perishable information – reviews of hotels, restaurants, shops, cafés, bars, their addresses, phone numbers, prices, opening times etc. It’s not necessarily the author’s fault. Businesses move or close down, things change. It’s the fault of the publisher and their long production schedules – sometimes a year or 18 months can pass from the time the author has done the research to the time the books hit the shops. Some places never change or change little, like small country towns, but cities like Shanghai or Dubai change constantly.

We once worked on a first edition guidebook that took two years from the time I submitted the manuscript and Terence submitted the photos to reaching the bookshops. I wrote the first edition of one guidebook and updated the second edition, but I know that book has since been reprinted twice without further updates. How can travelers rely on those books? In some cases, I think the publishers have a lot to answer for, particularly when new museums or significant sights would make a ‘Top 10’ list but haven’t been added.

Any guidebook series you do like for local recommendations?
We like niche guidebooks, such as Hedonist’s Guides, which uses authors that really know their stuff when it comes to restaurants, bars, and hotels.Hedonists also come in a cool hardcover book as well, so they don’t fall apart, and as iPhone apps that are updated much more frequently than the book.

This year, on our Grantourismo trip, we’ve been on a mission to find locally produced guidebooks in each place we’ve visited, and when we’ve tested out a book and loved it we’ve interviewed the publishers/editors and showcased the book on our site, such as the arty and rather philosophical ‘My Local Guide to Venice‘ and the straight-talking ‘Not for Tourists
in New York. We want to encourage travelers to look for these books because they bring a uniquely local flavor and multiple perspectives on their destinations, unlike the big mainstream global guidebook publishers where the authors’ personalities are never allowed to shine.

Grantourismo guidebooks travel writing
What can user-generated content like TripAdvisor offer travelers compared to traditional media?
I think user-generated content supplements books and travel features in newspapers/magazines but can never replace quality guidebook authorship or travel journalism. While user-generated content wins out in terms of currency (the reviews have dates), guidebook authors and travel journalists are professionals with expertise. It’s our job to assess hotels, restaurants, bars, sights, and so on. Having slept in thousands of hotels across all budget categories, eaten tens of thousands of meals at all kinds of restaurants, visited thousands of museums, etc, gives you a degree of experience and expertise that the average traveler who has 2 weeks (in the USA) or at most 4-8 weeks (in the UK/Australia/Europe) holiday can never hope to match. If a guidebook author tells me the XXX hotel is the best in Milan and a reviewer on Trip Advisor tells me the YYY hotel is the best, I know whose opinion I’m going to trust.

If the traveler writing on Trip Advisor focuses on describing in detail their very specific experience of a hotel or restaurant, that kind of information can be helpful when weighed up against other reviews by travelers and experts. Where it can be detrimental is when the Trip Advisor reviewer starts making claims about a certain hotel being the best in the city or the cheapest or friendliest or whatever. What I want to know is how many hotels have they stayed at or inspected to be able to compare their hotel to? A guidebook writer specializing on a destination might have stayed at a dozen hotels in that city over a number of years, and inspected 50 others. So when it comes to user-generated content, my main issue is with the authority of authorship. There are also plenty of games being played out behind the scenes with
manipulation of reviews (both positive and negative) of properties. In a recent destination we visited a local foodie who told us to simply ignore the top 10 places listed on Trip Advisor as they’re rubbish. And she was right. We’ve personally seen scathing reviews of hotels and restaurants that we know are some of our favourites in the world – so who are you going to trust? The user ‘britney_1537’ or a professional travel writer?

Where do you see travel journalism going?
I can’t see travel journalism in magazines or newspapers changing significantly because it hasn’t changed in its genre, form or structure a great deal at all. What has changed is that there are far more journalists working for broadsheets and travel magazine these days that are doing trips ‘courtesy of’ a tourism body or travel operator – and it’s apparent from the first paragraph, even if it’s not declared. There has definitely been a trend toward publications redefining and narrowing their focus and we’ve seen wonderful new niche travel publications born in the last year or so such as Wend and AFAR – a magazine after our own hearts and minds!

I can see traditional travel publications embracing more user-generated content in the way that some of the UK newspapers have been doing by incorporating reader’s travel writing and tips and linking to those on their main travel pages. I love how The Guardian in the UK engages its readers on Twitter and I dig the Twi-Trips that Benji Lanyado does, which are kind of mini-versions of that fantastic journey the Twitchhiker did that had us all engrossed in his journey halfway round the world relying totally on the hospitality of strangers.

I also think we’ll start to see more travel writers like Terence and I who have worked across traditional media platforms entering into direct relationships with companies as we have with HomeAway Holiday-Rentals and producing content on their own websites and blogs or on the company’s blog, as say, David Whitley has done for Round the World Flights in the UK. But it will only work if the writer can negotiate editorial control as we did with HomeAway Holiday-Rentals. As long as writers maintain their integrity and apply the same ethics they would to a story for a newspaper or magazine, it’s a good thing. But how many travel companies are willing to give writers this freedom? If you look at our last few posts on Cape Town and our first posts on Kenya – which are both reflective and critical – you have to ask yourself how many travel-related companies are willing to let writers produce this kind of content that doesn’t gloss over the situation on the ground?

How can travelers benefit from the changing media landscape?
Travellers can benefit by content that is more creative and less restricted by a publications editorial style or writing guidelines, by content that is more freewheeling in spirit. A perfect example is Pam Mandel who blogs at Nerd’s Eye View, who has a unique, intimate, chatty style of writing that wouldn’t work for a lot of newspapers for instance – but she’s heading off to Antarctica soon on a sponsored trip and I can’t wait to see how she brings her own singular brand of writing to that adventure. What’s important with these gigs, like Grantourismo, is that travel writers continue to be upfront, honest, critical and opinionated in their writing. They need to maintain their integrity and ethics. Travelers in turn need to expect that of the writers they’re reading – if they’re seeing ‘sponsored story’ or company widgets/logos on their blogs (both travel writers and bloggers), they need to look for an editorial policy. It’s only by writing critically that writers will win readers’ trust in the long term and projects like Grantourismo will succeed.

Check out more on Grantourismo on their blog and Twitter page.

All photos courtesy of Terence Carter.

Q & A with Grantourismo round-the-world slow travel bloggers

Lara Dunston Grantourismo travel round the world bloggersWith all the holiday travel madness just beginning, sometimes it’s nice to take a breath and think about taking travel more slowly. I recently had a chance to meet up with blogger Lara Dunston and her photographer-writer husband, Terence Carter, of the round-the-world travel project and blog, Grantourismo while they were traveling through Istanbul. Lara and Terence hosted me at their fabulous terraced apartment with glasses of Turkish wine, travel chat, and views of nearby Taksim Square and the nostalgic tram.

Grantourismo is a yearlong grand tour of the globe to explore more enriching and ‘authentic’ (and they get how those words have been debated and abused by travel bloggers!) ways of traveling, which began in Dubai this February and will wrap up in Scotland in January. In order to slow down and immerse themselves in each place, they are staying in vacation rentals (rather than hotels) in one place for two weeks at a time.

Read on for more about their slow travel philosophy, tips about renting a holiday apartment, and how they found Austin’s best tacos.

What’s the essence of Grantourismo?
We’re attempting to get beneath the skin of the places we’re visiting and to inspire other travelers to do the same. We’re doing very little sightseeing and if we’re taking tours, we’re doing small group tours with expert local guides ran by sustainable companies, such as Context. Mostly we’re experiencing places through their food, markets, music, culture, fashion, street art, sport, etc, and doing things that locals do in their own towns rather than things tourists travel to their towns to do. We’re trying and buying local produce and products, and seeking out artisanal practices we can promote. We’re also highlighting ways in which travellers can give something back to the places they’re visiting, from planting trees in Costa Rica to kicking a football with kids in a favela in Rio. And we’re blogging about this every day at Grantourismo!

How did you make it a reality?
Our initial idea was 12 places around the world in 12 months, learning things like the original grand tourists did. Terence, who is a great musician and a terrific cook, wanted to work in a restaurant kitchen and learn a musical instrument while I was going to enroll in language classes and learn something different in each place. But we couldn’t figure out how to fund such a project. We were lucky in that I saw an ad from HomeAway Holiday-Rentals (the UK arm of HomeAway) looking for a travel journalist-photographer team to stay in their vacation rentals and blog about their experiences for a year. I presented Grantourismo to them, they loved it, and here we are! We’re in the 10th month of our yearlong trip, we’ve stayed in 27 properties in 18 countries, and we have a ski town and five cities to go! We’ve written 369 stories on our website – and only 27 of those have been about the properties, the rest have been about everything from winetasting to walking – and we’ve done loads of interviews with locals we’ve met, from musicians and chefs to fashion designers and bookbinders.

Terence Carter Grantourismo travel round the world bloggersWhat’s the biggest difference about staying in an apartment vs. a hotel?
The biggest difference and best thing is that when you’re staying in a vacation rental you’re generally living in an everyday neighbourhood rather than a tourist area, which means you can meet people other than hotel cleaners and waiters. You can pop downstairs or down the road to a local café or pub that’s full of locals rather than other tourists. You can shop in local markets or supermarkets that are significantly cheaper. Sure if you’re staying in a hotel you can go and look at the markets, but your hotel mini-bar probably won’t hold much, whereas we go with a shopping list or we simply watch what the locals are buying, and we go home and cook.

You can generally get off the beaten track far easier than you can when you stay in a hotel. If you’re relying on the concierge for tips, you’re going to see other hotel guests eating at the restaurant he recommended. Then there’s the beauty of having lots of space, your own kitchen so you don’t have to eat out every meal, and a refrigerator you can fill that doesn’t have sensors going off when you open it. There might be shelves filled with books or a DVD library – in Cape Town we even had a piano, which Terence played every day! The privacy – we got tired of housekeeping ignoring DND signs, people coming to check the outrageously-priced mini-bar, and the phone always ringing with staff asking, when were we checking out, did we want a wake-up call, could they send a porter up. It became so tedious, especially as we were spending around 300 days a year in hotels on average. There are downsides to holiday rentals too of course. If something goes wrong the property owner/manager isn’t always around to fix it, whereas in a hotel, you phone the front desk to let them know the Internet isn’t working and they’ll send someone up.

What should travelers consider when renting a holiday apartment?
Location first. What kind of neighbourhood do you want to live in, how off the beaten track do you want to get, do you want to walk into the centre or are you happy to catch public transport or drive, what kind of facilities are in the area if you’re not hiring a car, and is there a supermarket, shops, restaurants, café, bars in walking distance? After that, the quality of accommodation – in the same way that people decide whether to opt for a budget hotel if they just want somewhere to lay their head, or a five-star if they want creature comforts, they need to think about how much time they intend spending at the property and the level of comfort they want. We stayed in a budget apartment in Manhattan, which was fine as we were out a lot. In Ceret, France and Sardinia, Italy we had big charming houses with terrific kitchens, which was perfect as we stayed in and cooked a lot. If it’s a family reunion or group of friends going away together and they want to enjoy meals in, then it’s important to ask detailed questions about the kitchen and facilities, as we’ve had some places that only had the bare basics, while others like our properties in Austin and Cape Town had dream kitchens.

Favorite destination/apartment?
We’ve been to some amazing places but my favourites have been Tokyo and Austin. We’d only visited Tokyo once before on a stopover, stayed in a cramped hotel and just did the tourist sights. This time we really saw how people lived by staying in an apartment, we discovered different corners of the city we didn’t know existed, and we made new friends. In Austin, it was all about the people, who must be the USA’s friendliest and coolest. We spent a lot of time seeing live music and met lots of musicians, and we also got into the food scene – locals take their food very seriously in Austin! We even hosted a dinner party there with Terence cooking up a multi-course tasting menu for our new friends. In terms of properties, I’m torn between the rustic traditional white trullo set amongst olive groves that we stayed at in Puglia where we had our own pizza oven and bikes to ride in the countryside, the penthouse in the historic centre of Mexico City, and the two houses in Costa Rica, one set in the jungle and the other on the beach, literally within splashing distance of the sea!

Funny story about one of your stays?
The funniest moments weren’t funny at the time but we look back at them and laugh now. At our the Puglia trullo we had terrible internet access. It barely worked in the house because the walls were so thick, yet internet is crucial to what we’re doing so we had to work outside, which wasn’t much fun in the rain. Terence discovered that he could get the best access in the middle of the olive grove next door; you can see him working here! The monkeys that visited us everyday in our houses in Costa Rica were also hilarious. One morning I was enjoying a rare moment reading in the sun when I saw a rare red-backed squirrel monkey run across the fence, and then another leapfrog that one, and then another join them! I quickly got up and raced into the kitchen to make sure there was no food left on the bench, turned around and there was a family of 30-40 monkeys trooping through the house. These guys are endangered, but it didn’t look like it from where I was standing in the kitchen in my bikinis and towel, trying to protect our food as the property manager had warned us that they know how to open the cupboards! The manager also told us to leave the lights on at night, because otherwise the bats will think the house is a cave. She wasn’t kidding.

How is social media playing a role in your travels?
We decided not to use guidebooks this Lara Dunston Grantourismo travel round the world bloggersyear and rely on advice from locals, many of which we come in contact with through social media. We’ve met many locals via their blogs or Twitter. We use Twitter every day, as a research and networking tool, to make contacts ahead of our visit and get tips from people when we’re there. We’ve had some amazing advice from our followers, from restaurant recommendations to suggestions on things we should do. When we were in Cape Town, loads of tweeps said we had to do the Township Tour offered by Cape Capers and we did and they were right, it was life-changing.

Terence learns how to make the quintessential dish of each place we visit and often asks tweeps what he should make. We’ve had great tips from food bloggers who use Twitter such as Eating Asia and Eat Mexico. We’ve ended up meeting loads of tweeps, including a bunch of New Yorkers – bloggers, writers and travelers – we met for drinks one night, including Gadling’s own Mike Barish and David Farley, while in Austin we had lunch with ‘the Taco Mafia‘ from the Taco Journalism blog and got the lowdown on Austin’s best tacos. We also use Twitter to share our own travel experiences and let people know when we have new stories on the site and we run a monthly travel blogging competition which we promote on Twitter (with very generous prizes donated by HomeAway Holiday Rentals, AFAR, Viator, Context, Trourist, and Our Explorer); the aim of that is to get other travelers to help spread our messages about the kind of traveling we’re doing.

What’s next?
As far as Grantourismo goes, we just left Istanbul (where we were delighted to meet another fascinating Gadling contributor!) and are in Budapest. After this it’s Austria for some fun in the snow, then Krakov for Christmas, Berlin for New Year’s Eve, and our last stop is Edinburgh end of January. After that? We’ve been invited to speak at an international wine tourism conference in Porto, Portugal, about Grantourismo and wine, as we’ve explored places through their wine as much as their food, doing wine courses, wine tastings, wine walks, and wine tours, and really trying to inspire people to drink local rather than imported wine. Then we’re going to write a book about Grantourismo and our year on the road, and later in the year – after we’re rested and energised – we’re going to take Grantourismo into a slightly different direction.

All photos courtesy of Terence Carter.

Rent an African villa for an exclusive safari experience

rent an Afircan villa for a unique safari experienceRenting a private villa, isn’t a new concept for travelers. In fact, many have been doing it for years in a variety of countries throughout Europe. But now, Kensington Tours is bringing the same concept to southern Africa, delivering a unique take on the experience by offering up luxury villas and safari houses for their clients.

According to Kensington travel expert Brad Crockett, a number of luxury villas have begun appearing in both South Africa and Botswana already, and he predicts that it’ll become a very popular option for families or groups of friends traveling together. These rental houses offer all the luxurious (and then some) of home, but in close proximity to some of the best safari destinations on the planet, allowing you to escape to the wild during the day, then return to a comfortable chateau, complete with a deck, pool, modern kitchen, and luxurious beds.

Kensington, who specializes in luxury adventure travel, has a new safari option that includes a stay at the exclusive Ellerman Villa. The ten day trip offers visitors a glimpse at Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa, and includes a number of unique options that aren’t found on any other trip of this kind. For instance, the journey beings with a visit to Victoria Falls and proceeds to South Luangwa, one of the best places in Africa to spot wildlife. Later, back in Cape Town, the travelers will visit the Cape of Good Hope, take a tour of wine country, and trek up Table Mountain. Check out the full itinerary by clicking here.

Having already gone on the traditional African safari a few years back, the thought of gathering up some good friends and renting a villa for a week sounds really appealing. Spending the day on game drives and then retiring to our rental home for the evening for some good food and a bottle of wine sounds like a fantastic escape, and a great alternative to spending the night in a crowded camp site.