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October 30, 2009

Cheap Business-Class Flights to 21 Cities in Europe

ts_aerlingus_091030.jpg
Aer Lingus is having a business-class sale for travel from January through April.

Photo: virtualpilot / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This may be the low-season business-class airfare sale to Europe that Condé Nast Traveler readers have been waiting for: $1,698 roundtrip to Dublin or Shannon from New York (JFK), Boston, or Chicago.

That fare includes a free roundtrip coach flight from Dublin to cities throughout Europe. From New York, for instance, you can fly via Ireland to: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Birmingham, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Krakow, London, Madrid, Malaga, Manchester, Milan, Munich, Lisbon, Paris, Rome, Vienna or Warsaw. You also get: use of Aer Lingus's business-class lounge, three free checked bags, priority check-in, and a personal on-demand in-flight entertainment system.

For travel from: January 1 to April 30

Book by: November 30
 
Book through: AerLingus.com or at 800-IRISH-AIR

Caveat: Taxes and fees may add about $200 to your fare, depending on your travel dates.

How did I learn about this sale?  It's the Deal of the Week over in the Steals & Deals section of business travel expert Joe Brancatelli's member-supported site JoeSentMe.com, which I've recommended before as an invaluable source of business-class fare sales. When you consider how much money you can save via these sales, Joe's $49 annual membership fee is a drop in the bucket.

March 23, 2009

Where in Europe Should Two Women Celebrate Their 50th Birthdays?

by Wendy Perrin

I'd love for you to weigh in on this question from reader F.S.:

"A childhood friend and I are meeting in Europe this summer--we live at opposite ends of the world--to celebrate our 50th birthdays. We both love Italy but will entertain other destinations too. We're looking for somewhere fun, playful, and gorgeous, and would really appreciate any recommendations."

I find it tough to answer this question because, personally, I've seen a lot of Europe and tend to be drawn less toward the conventionally popular than toward the undiscovered and edgy. (Next on my European To Do List, for instance, is Bulgaria.) Also, of the places I can think of that meet the criteria of "fun, playful, and gorgeous," they also tend to be romantic--the Croatian coast, for instance--and if I were in such a romantic European locale with a girlfriend, I'd only end up sad that my husband wasn't there. So I'm hoping some of you well-traveled readers can suggest the right spot, either in Italy or elsewhere in Europe, for this birthday celebration. Just click on "Comments" below to share your opinion. Please include your URL in the text of the comment, if you like, so we can learn more about you. Thanks!

October 27, 2008

Winter Travel Deals in Europe

by Wendy Perrin

No sooner did I publish this morning's post about transatlantic fare sales than Virgin Vacations announced all manner of winter travel deals to Europe, including Thanksgiving and Christmas air-fare-plus-hotel packages.  That's another way to nab the lowest air fares, of course: by purchasing them as part of a hotel package. Why?  Because such packages allow airlines to discount their fares significantly without advertising the fact. For more about how and where to find the fare sales, read my November Perrin Report.

September 24, 2008

Renting a Villa in Switzerland

Chalet_praz_gstaad
A Swiss home represented by Indigo Lodges

by Wendy Perrin

Reader Travelbug09 needs to rent a home in Switzerland:

"My husband's family is planning a trip to the Engadine in Switzerland for June 2009 and have decided that they would prefer renting a home to staying in a hotel.  We will be six adults, two nine-year-olds, and an infant. As soon as they started looking into rental homes, I remembered your June 2006 article in which you pointed out all of the potential pitfalls of a vacation home rental, many of which they seem ready to fall right into.  As they seem bound and determined to continue on this path, I'm wondering if you know of any rental agents who would meet your criteria and who would have rental homes in the Pontresina area.  Thanks for your help!" 

The only villa rental agency I know that represents homes in Switzerland -- Indigo Lodges, which is included in my June 2008 update to the article Travelbug09 cites -- is super-luxe and super-expensive. Anybody have a more affordable alternative, other than VRBO?

May 01, 2008

How Would YOU Spend the Month of May in Europe?

Schatzker_dailytraveler_6 by Wendy Perrin

If you're Conde Nast Traveler stuntman Mark Schatzker, he of 80 Days Around The World blogging fame, you spend May in Europe becoming a Renaissance Man. Starting today and for the rest of this month, Mark will be attempting a Da Vinci-like mastery of the arts (and a few other disciplines) and blogging about it over at Daily Traveler.  Right now one of Scotland's greatest golf pros is teaching him how to swing a golf club (it's "a lot like swinging an axe into a tree").  Next up: London, where he'll learn the art of horticulture at the city's oldest botanical garden. Then he'll be cooking in Paris under the direction of some of France's finest chefs, taking piano lessons at Vienna's State Opera, studying Italian in Florence, and learning to paint on the shores of Lake Como. "If all goes according to plan," says Mark, "by May 31 I will be brilliant. If not, I'll have spent a lot of money trying." Don't miss it!

May 04, 2007

An Affordable Way to See Europe

Giantscauseway

Ireland's Giant's Causeway is a must for anyone passing through the island. DreamTrip contestant ddhill13 captured this image of the rock formation.

By Tara Kyle

Two items have me pondering how to get around Europe this summer without blowing the bank. First: Our friends at Gadling remind us it's been 50 years since Arthur Frommer first published Europe on $5 a Day, the budget travel tome that launched countless trips. (A reflection of how times have changed: Frommer's is discontinuing the series this year -- after topping out at a $95 per diem.) And USA Today reports that abysmal exchange rates are discouraging American travel to Western Europe.

Fortunately, for the moderately fit, and moderately flush, a walking tours can actually be an affordable way to really take in a country.

Continue reading "An Affordable Way to See Europe" »

May 01, 2007

Interactive Vienna, Antwerp, Zurich and Amsterdam

Coolcapitals
The welcome screen at Cool Capitals, which lets you digitally explore European cities.

By Tara Kyle

I just discovered Cool Capitals, a trip-planning site with interactive guides to Amsterdam, Antwerp, Vienna, and Zurich (thanks to Gadling for the Cool Capitals tip). Once you select a destination from the departures board, Cool Capitals lets you explore options in areas such as art, shopping, architecture, and nightlife. There are tips in each section, and you can add sights and events to your "travel bucket" -- a planning resource for the next time your feet actually hit the pavement abroad.

Cool Capitals' design is maybe a little too snazzy for its own good -- I got a bit confused navigating back and forth between sections. And I'm assuming that the animated pedestrians, buses, and cars moving in circles within the maps are meant to convey the bustle of each city, but I couldn't shake a weird sensation that ants were crawling around my screen.

Continue reading "Interactive Vienna, Antwerp, Zurich and Amsterdam" »

April 07, 2007

Celebrating Easter Abroad

Bilby
He's less cuddly than a bunny, but the Aussies love their "Easter Bilby."
Photo: Queensland gov. EPA

By Tara Kyle

In the spirit of Easter, I thought I'd highlight a few of the stranger ways the holiday is being acknowledged around the world.

Mexico City: The middle and upper classes in landlocked Mexico City typically spend Easter fleeing for the coasts,  but this year the city hosted the grand opening of a fake beach, according to Worldhum.  The idea of a spit of sand alongside a noisy road junction sounds pretty bizarre, not to mention that Reuters reports the government spent $200k on it. But I felt more sympathetic when I read Mayor Marcelo Ebrard's justification: "There are those upset by the artificial beaches. Perhaps they can get to other beaches, but this was built for the majority, and it's free."

Australia: TreeHugger reminds us that in Australia it's time to "get hopping" for the "Easter Bilby." This little furball is sadly endangered, and since 1999 has been the subject of a passionate "Save the Bilby" campaign.

London:  Chocolatier Thornton's built an 860-pound chocolate billboard for Easter week, Jaunted reports, only to watch passersby devour it within three hours of its Tuesday opening.

What are some other Easter traditions you've encountered?

February 07, 2007

Travel w/ Kids to England & Wales

Roman Baths in Bath, England
Roman Baths in Bath, England

Photo: Peter Adams, Getty Images

By Wendy Perrin

"We are planning a trip to the U.K. in May with our 7-year-old son," writes reader SuzR. "Before I had kids, friends told me about staying in castles in Wales.  Can you offer any advice about finding castles that offer kid-friendly overnight accommodations and any other advice on traveling with children in England and Wales?"

I have not yet taken my little whirling dervishes to the U.K. or attempted any overnight castle stays with them (for which the castle people should be very grateful.  Indeed, if I were to take my boys to the Roman Baths above, they'd be splashing and swimming within seconds.)  So I can't speak from experience. But I know two people who arrange fabulous trips for families to England and Wales: Katey Hartwell, one of the England specialists on my list of the world's best travel planners, and Susan McDougal, the Wales specialist.

As for online advice, you'll find some good London tips at the Bootsnall blog Family Travel: See The World With Your Kids.

November 24, 2006

Cruise To Mediterranean Islands

By Wendy Perrin

Question from a reader:

"My wife and I have been searching for a cruise that visits the islands off the coast of Spain, France, and Italy. We've had no luck.  Is there a ship of any size that will do the trick?  Thanks."

Great question.  Alas, few conventional cruise lines include more than one such island (if any) in their itineraries, primarily because (1) their ships are too big (the island ports don't have the infrastructure to support a 2,000-passenger vessel's maintenance/supply needs) and (2) the cruise lines can sell more berths if they market bigger-name ports that more Americans have heard of (e.g., Portofino and Monte Carlo, as opposed to Ibiza and Elba).  But DON'T DESPAIR:  I've got a few ideas for you . . .

Continue reading "Cruise To Mediterranean Islands" »

September 18, 2006

Apartment in Barcelona

By Wendy Perrin

In my last post a reader asked for help with his upcoming honeymoon to the Pyrenees and Barcelona. I forwarded his question about renting an apartment with a good kitchen in Barcelona, near Las Ramblas and the Boqueria market, to Mary Vaira of El Sol Villas, a Spain specialist on my list of the best villa rental agents worldwide.  Mary's suggestions:

"We have a number of apartments that are modern, with updated kitchens, in both the Borne and Gothic areas of Barcelona, although most have two or three bedrooms.  A two-bedroom will run about $200 to $300 per night and up, and a three-night minimum stay is required.

Pedrera Apartment is a nice two-bedroom with a fully equipped kitchen. Catalunya Apartment is a three-bedroom owned by an American and is a 5- to 10-minute walk from the Boqueria. Old City Apartment 1 and Old City Apartment 2 are also three-bedrooms and more expensive.  If any of these interest you, please let me know and I can give you their exact pricing and availability."

Muchas gracias, Mary, for your feedback. I know how tough it is to find small, charming rental homes with modern, fully equipped kitchens in much of Europe.


September 18, 2006

Honeymoon: The Pyrenees & Barcelona

060918_barcelona
Barcelona's Santa Caterina market                   Photo: Lovento.com

By Wendy Perrin

Question from a reader:

"For our honeymoon my fiancee and I want to go to Spain.  I am an avid cyclist and she loves to cook. So we'd like to spend a couple of days riding some of the Tour de France routes in the Pyrenees, then head to Barcelona for a week.  Is it possible to hire a first-rate bicycle near any of the routes?  In Barcelona my fiancee wants to find accommodations with a full kitchen, hopefully near Las Ramblas where I hear there is a great food market.  She'd like to buy the local produce and cook it in the kitchen. Thanks in advance for any help you can offer."

I passed this question along to the best travel agent I know for Spain: Virginia Irurita of the Madrid-based travel agency Made For Spain.  Her response:

"The best area for biking Tour de France routes in the Pyrenees on the Spanish side is La Seu d'Urgell. The bikes available to rent are basic mountain bikes.  You won't find the latest gadgets on them, but they are good enough for enjoying the mountains. The spa hotel I recommend there, a Relais & Chateaux property called  El Castell de Ciutat, has both mountain bikes and regular bikes available for guests.

In Barcelona there are many good apartments for rent near Las Ramblas and the Boqueria market, which is great for its architecture and the quality of the food you can buy there but sometimes gets too busy with tourists.  Another market called Santa Caterina, near the Cathedral, is incredibly beautiful and offers the same great food quality, yet no tourists go there.  Santa Caterina was recently remodeled and featured in an exhibit at New York's Museum of Modern Art called On-Site: New Architecture in Spain.  Would your fiancee enjoy a cooking lesson with a local chef that includes a trip to the market to buy local produce?  If so, we would be happy to organize this for you."

Coincidentally, Tim and I stayed at El Castell de Ciutat last year en route to Andorra and can enthusiastically vouch for it--especially its romantic cellar restaurant. If you dine there, you must order the truffle risotto!  And you mustn't sleep through the lavish breakfast buffet (included in the room rate)!  The spa is refreshingly understated, and its serene pool, steam room, and massage treatments will be a great way to recuperate from the rigors of your transatlantic journey.

As for an apartment in Barcelona, please see my next post.

September 09, 2006

Where Tax-Free Shopping Is Crystal Clear

Waterfordchad
It takes a keen eye to cut a vase at the Waterford Crystal Factory.

By Wendy Perrin

My husband Tim just got back from Ireland, where he did his souvenir shopping at the Waterford Crystal Factory.  He was surprised to discover how easy it is for travelers to Ireland to get a refund of the 17 percent V.A.T. (Value Added Tax-- the tax that is built into the price you pay for merchandise in stores). Tim never had to get a form stamped by Customs at the airport or show his purchases to Customs before checking in his luggage.

It was this easy:  The Waterford store deducted the 17 percent when it charged Tim's credit card. . . .

Continue reading "Where Tax-Free Shopping Is Crystal Clear " »

September 06, 2006

Renting From Europcar

By Wendy Perrin

A few days ago I wrote about renting from Auto Europe, the wholesaler with low rates that rents cars from other companies' fleets.  One reader posted this enlightening feedback:

"I've been using Auto Europe for years. The problem is not with Auto Europe. If they give you an Avis car, all is well. If they give you a Europcar car, WATCH OUT!  On two occasions Europcar has sent me insurance forms, months later, claiming falsely that I had damaged a car. Always get a signature that the car is returned in good condition and the tank is full. And save that form for at least 6 months."

More evidence that part of the problem lies with Europcar: A coworker of mine, Conde Nast Traveler news editor Kevin Doyle, booked an Auto Europe rental in Ireland this summer.  Auto Europe gave him a car from Europcar. When Kevin returned the vehicle, the Europcar agent pointed out a teensy scratch on the rear bumper.  He asked Kevin to sign a form acknowledging the damage. Kevin refused to sign any such admission of guilt. He had heard too many stories about unfair and exorbitant rental-car repair bills in Europe.  Also, even though he had purchased the collision-damage waiver (CDW), he had not purchased the "excess waiver" (a daily fee that protects you from having to pay a deductible if the car gets damaged). This meant that, if he returned a damaged car, he would be liable for the CDW deductible, which was a whopping $1,645! (This little detail was in the fine print of his Auto Europe contract.)  Since he would have to pay the first $1,645 of damage, Kevin was worried that Europcar might assess an extortionate charge. So he took photos of the car and the scratch and instructed the supervisor in the Europcar office to fax him a repair bill.  Fortunately, the bill ended up being only $130.  Had it been outrageous, Kevin would have fought it.

The moral of the story: While U.S. rental car agencies rarely charge for minor scratches that could be considered normal wear and tear, Europcar certainly does, which is why renters should thoroughly examine--and photograph--the condition of their car before driving it off the lot.


August 29, 2006

Secrets of Toledo and Avila

060829_toledo

Santa Maria La Blanca Synagogue, Toledo (SpainInfo.com)

By Wendy Perrin

Question posted by a reader:

"My husband and I are going to Madrid Oct 9-16. We are also visiting Toledo and would like to have an English-speaking guide who knows the Jewish history there. When I was there many years ago, the two synagogues had no English captions, which made it difficult to appreciate them. I don't know if that's changed. Can you help us find a guide? (We're also not sure whether to stay overnight or not; we like El Greco sights, and I was fascinated by the Cathedral last time.) Also, my guidebook says that in Avila they are celebrating the Fiestas de la Santa Teresa. What's the best way to go about seeing that as well?"

I forwarded this query to the amazing Virginia Irurita of Made for Spain, a tour firm in Madrid.  Virginia is the Spain specialist on my annual list of the best travel planners.  Her response:

"There are two beautiful synagogues in Toledo. The Santa Maria la Blanca has no English captions yet. The El Transito Synagogue houses the Sephardic Museum and has captions in Spanish, English, French, and Hebrew. We have expert local guides who specialize in the Jewish history of the city; it would be a pleasure to organize a guided tour for you. Although most travelers visit Toledo as a day excursion from Madrid, I strongly suggest you stay overnight. Walking Toledo's streets by night is an incredibly beautiful experience that will make you travel back in time to medieval Spain. There are no good historic 4-star or 5-star properties, so my advice is to stay at the best room available at the charming 3-star Hostal del Cardenal located by the city walls. A good place for tapas or dinner in Toledo is La Abadia at Nunez de Arce, 3 (Tel. 925 251 140).

"As for Avila, it is a very austere city and one of Spain's best-kept secrets. On October 15th Santa Teresa Day is celebrated with a procession: Locals take the statue of the Saint outside her church and walk it on nearby streets. There is a very convenient train line connecting Madrid with Avila in 1 hour and 20 minutes. Once there, walk the old quarter and visit the cathedral, but please don't expect fireworks or bullfights.  Avila is a serious city that will offer you a beautiful religious celebration worth experiencing."

Thank you, Virginia, for your help.