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Posts from the ‘Hotels’ Category

Up and About in Paris and London

Paris and London.  Last month I joined my cousin Mariana for part of her concert tour in Europe. When not rocking out at her shows, we did what we do best, namely consume copious amounts of cheese, wine, and “exotic” potato chips (steak crisps anyone?). We make for pretty good travel companions; together we have rung in New Years in Melbourne, hiked the castle-dotted hillside of Sintra, Portugal, and road-tripped from Virginia to L.A. with her oversized beagle. Despite our long run of successes, one thing we have never mastered is a complimentary walking pace. After years of city-living in NYC and L.A. Mariana is an efficient “mover,” whereas I can’t manage to break a 2.5 mph saunter. While I cautiously scout the scene for ne’er-do-wells (a byproduct of that time in Barcelona), Mariana’s quick transitions leave her with ample time to chat up the locals. This inevitably earns us free drinks, rides, and snacks wherever we go. We make a good team: she attracts the good luck and I do the background check.

Here are some scenes from our most recent success story, in London and Paris:

Teatime at Brown’s Hotel, London

London, UK. 

Tea and bubbly at Brown's Hotel, London

Tea and bubbly at Brown’s Hotel, London

Afternoon tea at the famous Brown’s Hotel in London is the epitome of refinement and decadence. Piping hot tea pours forth from delicate silver spouts. Dainty sandwiches with fillings like egg salad, ham and pickles, and smoked salmon sit pretty on tiered serving stands. As soon as the last morsel of cucumber sandwich has been gobbled up, a fresh assortment of sandwiches appears. The teapots seem bottomless as well, like chalices of ambrosia. Perhaps the waiters are just careful to replace the pots at the perfect moment, when guests uncontrollably shut their eyes to savor a bite of fresh-out-the-oven scone slicked in cool clotted cream. Plates of food keep materializing and the teapot never dries up, leaving diners in a state of caffeinated uncertainty: “Just how many curry chicken salad finger sandwiches have we eaten?”

We asked our waiter just that. Three plates of sandwiches, he said, to which we groaned. He assured us that was nothing. One time a trio of three slim Japanese tourists had eight whole plates of sandwiches, followed by four plates of scones, followed by a plate of mini-pastries, followed by a fat slice of cake each. He said he lost count of the pots of tea they drank after about ten. 

His words lifted our spirits. What was one more plate of itty bitty sandwiches anyway?

Afternoon Tea at Brown's Hotel, London

Afternoon Tea at Brown’s Hotel, London

Practical Info: Afternoon Tea at Brown’s Hotel is served Monday -Thursday 3pm-6pm, Friday 2pm-6pm, Sat-Sun 12noon-6.30pm. Reservations are a must. Telephone: +44 020 7518 4155.

Photo: A Pool with a View (Argentina)

The outdoor pool at Llao Llao Hotel & Resort

San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. View from the outdoor pool of the Llao Llao Hotel and Resort looking towards Nahual Huapi Lake. Cue Meg Ryan in French Kiss: “Oh! Beautiful! Gorgeous! Wish you were here!”

Three Romantic Stays in Argentina

A version of this article appeared in the Lost Girls World blog on February 2nd 2012. 

Traveling as a couple can be a very rewarding experience. Beautiful scenery and shared adventure adds a higher level of intimacy to a relationship. At times though, traveling together can be a major turnoff. When you’re on the road for extended periods of time, certain norms of coupledom tend to go by the wayside. Hygiene, patience, and at some point romance fall victim to travelers’ grunge. Even if you’re not traveling longterm, short trips can quickly turn sour as individuals cope with the inevitable stress of getting places. In order to avoid a hasty breakup, consider checking into a decent hotel every once in a while to indulge in a little TLC. Soak in a tub, slough off some grime, relieve any stress, and let the romantic spark reignite.

Winetasting at Mendoza’s Bodega Ruca Malen, a quick trip from Casa Glebinias.

If you find yourself in Argentina trapped in the dirty backpacker circuit, or you’re simply looking for a romantic Argentine getaway, check yourself into one of these three charming and affordable hotels. Your relationship will thank you. (And your wallet won’t hate you! All three hotels have rooms for under $150 USD.) 

CASA GLEBINIAS:

Garden, Casa Glebinias

Few things complement romance like wine, and where better to indulge your inner aesthete and oenophile than in Argentina’s breathtaking wine country. With the snowcapped Andes forming a backdrop, the vineyards of Mendoza enjoy not only abundant sunshine and dry weather, but also one hell of a view. And with great wine comes great food, an adage upheld in the area due to a multitude of excellent restaurants. To round out a day spent wining and dining, head south of the city center to the hamlet of Chacras de Coria. Here you’ll find Casa Glebinias. a posada-haven where guests sleep in private cottages scattered about a wild garden. Even in summer, Mendoza’s scorching heat is hardly noticeable at the Casa where lush trees and a large swimming pool form a shady oasis. In the morning, indulge in a little sleep-in while a tray of fresh fruit, media lunas (sweet croissants), ham and cheese sandwiches, yogurt, hot coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice is delivered straight to your cottage. Just one more excuse to stay in bed!

Breakfast, Casa Glebinias

FINCA LA MEDIA LUNA:

Entrance, Finca la Media Luna

For those seeking to really get off the grid, San Agustín del Valle Fértil combines both isolation and adventure. The so-called fertile valley lies some 250 kilometers from the nearest city of San Juan and about 90 km from Ischigualasto park, an eery moonscape of prehistoric rock formations famous for its high concentration of dinosaur fossils. The rustic Finca la Media Luna serves as an ideal jumping off point for exploring this peculiar region. As at Casa Glebinias, a small grove of trees keeps this rural posada nice and cool despite the surrounding desert heat, and if that’s not enough, several creeks course through the area, perfect for plunging tired feet. Hikes and horseback rides in the surrounding cactus-spiked hills can also be arranged for added adventure. Dedicated cooks ensure that once you’re here you’ll never want to leave. Every morsel of food is made from scratch, even the silky dulce de leche that accompanies the freshly baked bread at breakfast. Nighttime reveals crystal-clear star-studded skies, which are best enjoyed from your private patio after a meal of spit-roasted goat and a bottle of malbec.

Finca la Media Luna

LIROLAY SUITES:

Bedroom, Lirolay Suites

Perhaps your idea of paradise involves a more verdant landscape. In that case, you could do worse than to venture to Bariloche, Patagonia’s most picturesque city by the lake. In town, swiss-inspired buildings house fine chocolate shops and adventure outfitters, while the surrounding mountains and lakes attract anenergetic crowd of skiers, climbers, fishers, hikers, and rafters. Others travel here for the soothing effect that natural beauty bestows on the soul. At the ski-lodge style Lirolay Suites, apartments are equipped with roomy jacuzzis and astounding views of lake Nahuel Huapi. Further capitalizing on the view, spa services are available in-room. Imagine you and your partner luxuriating in a massage side by side while gazing out at a gorgeous sparkling lake. Afterwards, snuggle up together by the fireplace with a cup of local hot cocoa and watch the sun set behind the snowcapped Andes.

View, Lirolay Suites

Practical Info: 

Casa Glebinias, Price of a double room: $140 USD and up. 

Address: Medrano 2272, Chacras de Coria (5505), Mendoza. Telephone: +54 (0261) 496 2116Email: info@casaglebinias.comWebsite: www.casaglebinias.com

Finca la Media LunaPrice of a double room: $80 USD. Price for dinner for two with bottle of Malbec: $30 USD

Address: The hotel is located in the community of La Majadita, 10 km west of San Agustín de Valle Fértil. Ask at the gas station in town for directions, then follow signs for Finca la Media Luna. Be prepared for several creek crossings. Telephone: +54 (0264) 420 1950Email: info@fincamedialuna.com.ar. Website: www.fincalamedialuna.com.ar

Lirolay SuitesPrice of a double room: low season $130 USD, high season $280 USD.

Address: Av. Bustillo km 7, San Carlos de Bariloche. Telephone: +54 (0294) 446 3040. Email: send emails directly through the hotel website. Website: www.lirolaysuites.com

How to Roadtrip Uruguay’s Coast

Friday: Pick up a car in either Montevideo or Punta del Este then follow the poky coastal Route 10 and watch as the surrounding architecture fades from Beverly Hills-esque summer retreats to the kinds of pop-up art shacks you might find at Burning Man. Try to time your arrival to the Laguna Garzón before 6pm so that you can take the free puddle-jumper barge which will ferry you and your car across a thin spit of water. If you miss the boat, prepare for a much longer but equally charming reroute.

Punta del Diablo

In this case, turn around and head back the way you came, taking a right on the Camino Sainz Martinez, a well maintained dirt road. Along the way you’ll pass rust-colored Hereford cattle, fluffy sheep, and flocks of rheas -South America’s smaller ostrich cousin- as well as the stately Estancia Vik, the luxury resort/ranch and presumed owner of said photogenic livestock.

Flock of Rheas

Pick up Route 9 towards Rocha, passing through more sprawling farmland dotted with cattle and their attentive cowboys. Roll down the window and listen for the unmistakable squawk of monk parakeets as they chatter in the trees.

Your destination has minimal facilities so take the opportunity in the town of Rocha to refuel and withdraw cash. Make up time by continuing on Route 9 all the way to Punta del Diablo.

“Stop the Mega Port!” Curiously written in English, Punta del Diablo

Once a small fishing village, today Punta del Diablo is popular with bourgeois bohemian tourists who appreciate the area’s hippie vibes and artisan community. In summer, the tiny community of year-round residents swells when hundreds of vacationers fill up the many rental houses, hostels, and posadas. Book accommodation in advance if you don’t want to be left scrounging for a place to stay at the last minute. The popular El Diablo Tranquilo, has a warm atmosphere and inviting bar that attracts a laid-back backpacker crowd.

For dinner, amble over to the candlelit, driftwood-accented dining room at Posada Rocamar, which serves local wines and dishes like pumpkin ravioli and dulce de leche crêpes.

Dulce de Leche crêpes, Posada Rocamar

Saturday: Take the morning to explore Punta del Diablo’s wild beaches and wilder architecture.

Beach, Punta del Diablo

Sea Anemone, Punta del Diablo

House made out of old containers

Hit the road again, this time heading south on Route 9. Turn off on Route 16 towards Agua Dulces then pick up Route 10. You’ll pass the Laguna de Castillos, which offers ample opportunities for fishing, boating, and birding. When you see a sign for Parque Nacional Cabo Polonio, pull over into the parking lot. The park entrance marks the sole access to Cabo Polonio, a ramshackle beach community cut off from electricity, telephone lines, and the world by miles of protected sand dunes. Cars are not permitted to cross the dunes. There are however, spartan 4X4s (replete with nylon straps for looping your arms to brace yourself for the bumpy ride) that shuttle passengers back and forth from the park entrance to the “town” center.

4X4 dune crossing to Cabo Polonio

Once in the town center, pick up any necessary provisions at the store (the one and only) and make your way along sandy paths to Cabo Polonio Hostel, a cheap and cheerful shack with private and shared dorm style accommodation. Whip up a meal using the communal kitchen and enjoy the quiet that creeps in at this edge of the world.

General Store, Cabo Polonio

Sunday: There aren’t many sites in Cabo Polonio. There are the residences themselves, which range from solid cottages to driftwood shacks. There is the lighthouse. And then there is the thriving community of sea lions that lounge on the rocks by the lighthouse. Remember to bring a handkerchief or scarf to protect your nostrils from the stinging pungency of all those blubbery basking beasts.

Sea Lions, Cabo Polonio

Lounging horse, Cabo Polonio

While waiting for the 4X4 shuttle back to civilization, sample freshly baked beef and corn empanadas at the food stalls in the town center.

Beef and corn empanadas, Cabo Polonio

Once back on the road, break up your return trip to Montevideo by making a pitstop in La Pedrera for a picture-perfect pitcher of beer and a chivito sandwich, a traditional Uruguayan dish of beef, lettuce, mayonnaise, egg, ham, and red peppers on a bun.

Pitcher of Beer, La Pedrera

Chivito Sandwich, La Pedrera

Practical Info:

On the drive: Montevideo is a very easy city to navigate, so getting there and away in your rental car requires little more than making sure you keep the ocean on your right (leaving) or your left (returning). Full disclaimer: we actually took the bus from Montevideo to Punta del Este where we rented our car but then returned it in Montevideo. Once you’re out on the coast, fill up on gas whenever you can, as stations tend to be scarce.

Punta del Diablo: El Diablo Tranquilo Hostel offers private rooms from $28 USD. Telephone: +(598) 4477-2519. Email: staff@eldiablotranquilo.com. Posada Rocamar also has rooms, but it is considerably overpriced for its Spartan furnishings (a bean bag chair? come on). Better just to go there for dinner.

Cabo Polonio: Access to the beachside community is through the national park, where you’ll buy your roundtrip tickets for the 4X4 ride across the dunes. For more information and shuttle times, check out the local tourism site. Bring extra food with you, and don’t forget a flashlight. Cabo Polonio Hostel offers very rustic rooms from $35 USD. Traveler beware: if the idea of socializing with dirty hippie backpacker types wigs you out, this isn’t the place for you. In fact, Cabo Polonio isn’t really the place for you.
The NYTimes Style Magazine recently published an article about Cabo Polonio and its semi-legal status as a squatter haven, and also a poetic video montage of the village entitled Utopia in Motion.
When to go: Late Spring and early Fall offer mild weather and fewer crowds.

Exploring Ilha do Mel, Part One

Ilha do Mel. 

We arrived in Paranagua, looked around, and decided we didn’t like it. The town was dirty, rundown, and depressing. Could this really be the gateway to one of Brazil’s most beautiful and remote islands? We sat down by the dock to find out. Finally, a little wooden ferry puttered up to put us out of our misery.

Since it was the middle of the week, our fellow passengers were mostly locals, loaded down with a week’s worth of supplies. I delighted in watching a family of four load their provisions on board: cookies, cheetos, potato chips. Apparently the only thing missing from Paradise were trans fats and corn syrup. When all the supplies and luggage were properly stowed, our ferry took off, leaving the shabby outline of Paranagua’s harbor front in our wake.

Dock at Nova Brasilia, Ilha do Mel

The ferry chugged along past a handful of uninhabited islands bristling with mangrove forests. As we approached our destination we were joined by great black frigatebirds swooping and diving for the evening meal. The outline of the island appeared. To the left lay a long thin strip of sand lining a low lying forest, and to the right, mangroves giving way to a thickly wooded mountain peak. As we got closer, we recognized signs of civilization: fishing boats with trawlers, brightly colored one story houses, and a handful of people. We pulled up to the dock at Brasilia, the larger of the island’s two settlements. Everyone pitched in to help the family of four unload their many boxes of loot. Most of the passengers disembarked, but a handful of us remained to make the 20 minute trip over to Encantadas.

Profiteroles, Recanto do Frances

When we landed we set right about finding a place to sleep. Though there were some interesting options along the waterfront, we took one of the sandy paths towards the interior in search of a better deal. Along the way, we passed signs for Recanto do FrancesA mix of nostalgia and long suppressed francophilia must have overcome us, because before we knew it we were standing on the porch of the French posada, chatting with the owners Serge and Helène and cooing over Uisky, their cantankerous but lovable blind dog. Helène informed us that they were currently running a special promotion: two nights for 150 reais. The cherry on top? A dish of profiteroles was included in the special. If we weren’t hooked before we certainly were then. We unloaded our belongings in “Toulouse”, a simple but comfortable double room with a little tiled table, two chairs, an empty cooler (the original mini-bar) and a small private bathroom.

The sun was low so we quickly got out to explore the beach. We followed yet another sandy footpath towards a clearing and beheld a wide expanse of rugged beach and breaking waves. To the right, a surprisingly well maintained lifeguard stand, and to the left, a rocky peninsula with a thin ribbon of dirt weaving up and over a ridge into the unknown. We would later learn that this path marked the beginning of the sole overland crossing to Nova Brasilia. Overhead, two hang-gliders floated on gusts of wind.

Praia da Bóia, Ilha do Mel

We watched the sunset from atop the ridge and then strolled along the water collecting sand dollars all the way home.

Doce de Leite Crepe, Recanto do Frances

The next morning, over a breakfast of ham and cheese on pão frances, papaya, and doce de leite crêpes (the house specialty), we watched as hummingbirds, black-backed tanagers (a name which does not do justice to their multicolored plumage), and Brazilian tanagers jockeyed for position at the bird feeders in the posada’s garden. When it was clear that the team of fiery Brazilian tanagers had dominated the seed station, the Swede and I set out to conquer the 4 km overland trek to Brasilia.

Black backed and Brazilian Tanagers feeding, Recanto do Frances, Ilha do Mel

At first the path was clearly marked, well trodden like a cow path. We climbed over the first hill and landed on yet another gorgeous beach that scalloped around from where we stood  to another rocky peninsula ahead. There the path disappeared. We weren’t sure if we were meant to cut through the forest, as a few tracks would suggest, or to climb around the rocks by the water. After digging into the forest, we realized it would be too difficult without hiking boots and a machete, so we veered back towards the coast. Even there, havianas proved poor foot protection from the abrasive rock. After a good half hour of clambering over boulders and squeezing our bodies between tight crevices, we emerged onto yet another empanada shaped beach.

We sought shade towards the interior, where we found ramshackled cottages and camp sites still dusty from their dormant season. We came to a clearing, this time with some bonafide hallmarks of civilization, namely a post office and a general store. The smell of baked goods lured us into a little food stand where we loaded up on doughnut like pastries filled with generous dollops of doce de leite.

After refueling, we got back on the path heading north and followed hand painted signs for the Faro (lighthouse). When we once again reached the coast the faro loomed above us, crowning the tip of Nova Brasilia.

Though the lighthouse was locked, the view from the base was still a spectacular panorama of the entire island. We saw just how much land we had covered that day, and how much more lay in store for us to explore.

Along the path back towards the island interior we passed a family of hefty iguanas, soaking up the late afternoon rays.

Our options for returning to Encantadas were limited. Either we scramble back over the rocks as night fell, without a flashlight, or we take a short ferry ride back. The possibility of spending the night on exposed boulders was unappealing to say the least. So we chickened out and took the ferry. Any guilt over our choice vanished when we saw a pod of dolphins cruising around the bay, presumably snapping up dinner. I suddenly had a craving for seafood.

Back in Encantadas, I pieced together my best portuguese to ask a local where a good restaurant was for dinner. We were directed to Fim da Trilha, a posada and restaurant a short walk from the ferry dock. We arrived at a quiet, low lit terrace and awkwardly asked to sit down while two Brazilian couples stared at us. Apparently the sight of two sunburnt gringos was captivating dinner entertainment. We sat down and ordered two caipirinhas, garlic and herbed shrimp and shrimp stroganoff. It doesn’t look like much, but that shrimp stroganoff was insanely good: creamy, sweet, salty, and deeply comforting. I still remember it as one of the best dishes of the entire trip. With a belly full of camarãos, we merrily waddled back to our posada.

Practical Info: Ilha do Mel is accessible only by boat (seriously, there isn’t even enough flat open space to land a plane). For locals and tourists alike, this means taking an Abaline ferry from the colonial port town of Paranagua (2 hr ride), or from the smaller and closer Puntal do Sol (30 minute ride). There are no cars allowed, so when you arrive be prepared to lug your bags to your destination, or hire a guy with a wheel barrow to lug it for you.

Recanto do Frances, located in the heart of Encantadas, is a well priced, clean, and comfortable French posada that serves crêpes in the morning. Highly recommended!

Fim da Trilha, also in Encantadas, is a posada and restaurant specializing in seafood. If you go, order the shrimp stroganoff. You won’t be disappointed.

Funky Cheap Miami

Miami Beach. 

Aligator key chains at the Indian Creek Hotel

Before making the long haul flight to Sao Paulo on Wednesday, a one night layover in Miami proved the perfect remedy for pre-travel jitters. Nothing like a dip in the bathtub water of Florida’s Atlantic coast! For a cheap and pleasant evening, check out the Indian Creek Hotel just north of the super touristy sky-rises of South Beach, and step into a funky art deco establishment where toy alligators hang from room keys and tiny lizards roam the poolside patio.

Blue/Green room, Indian Creek Hotel, Miami Beach

Our room was colored in calming sea greens and blues. A 3 minute walk dumped us onto a quiet(er) portion of the beach where we could swim in peace away from the roar of pesky jet skis. 

South Beach, Miami

Practical Info: Indian Creek Hotel  runs doubles for as little as $123 a night (price includes tax). Wifi is available for $6.95 for 24 hours and is very slow, so caveat emptor. Address: 2727 Indian Creek Drive, Miami Beach. Telephone: 305-531-2727. 

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