Places to Stay

For better or worse, I like to try different types of places to stay. Sometimes it’s a regrettable choice, but most often I find a treasure.  I don’t think luxury is always the most expensive hotel in a city or the most famous. It’s important to look for the innovative, historic and/or unusual.  Neighborhoods are important to consider.
One of my favorite stays ever was in the former hacienda used by the archeologists who excavated the Chichen Itza site on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. I’ve also stayed in some bizarre accommodations including a B&B in Vermont that seemed like it was a set (and cast) for a horror movie. But sometimes the worst places make the best memories and isn’t that what travel is all about?
Articles on this page:
  • Get the Royal Treatment in Ireland (link to post)
  • Outstanding Hotel Experiences for the Non-guest
  • Best Hotels Near European Train Stations
  • 5 Historic Hotels Southerners Love
  • Favorite Instagrammable Hotel Pool
  • Where to Stay for a Bourbon Tour

Outstanding Hotel Experiences for the Non-guest

Aztec on the Hawk Walk at Ashford Castle, Ireland

Hawk Walk at Ashford Castle | Cong, Ireland

We had an amazing experience on the Hawk Walk at Ashford Castle.  We worked with a Harris Hawk named Aztec (and our instructor Alec) and spent an hour walking in the woods of the Ashford Castle estate.

It was actually like a page right out of a Robin Hood story, deep in Sherwood Forest. We got to see Aztec take off to hunt his own prey at one point. What a feeling to look eye-to-eye with a raptor and have him take-off and return to your gloved hand.

Alec was an excellent teacher, and you could tell he had a real love of the birds and what he was doing; we managed to learn quite a bit from him.

The program is run by Ireland’s School of Falconry, the oldest established such school in Ireland. We were guests at Ashford Castle where the program is based, you don’t have to be staying there to participate.

 

The regal Fairmont Empress Hotel.

Tea at the Empress Hotel | Victoria, Canada

A perfect afternoon high tea at the lovely Fairmont Empress Hotel in our final port of Victoria, BC, Canada, was a fitting conclusion to the Alaska cruise I took with my mother. I booked the tea directly with the hotel. They offer extended evening hours in the summer months to accommodate the cruising visitors, many of whom don’t arrive until late in the day (as we did). Shuttle buses and taxis are readily available at the port and we grabbed a shuttle into downtown. For those who can, and don’t mind walking, it would be a beautiful and easy walk of 20-30 minutes. We walked around a bit and visited a few shops. Victoria was as beautiful as I remembered, but unfortunately, on this visit, we encountered quite a few older, aggressive panhandlers in the area.

Wonderful Tea at Fairmont Empress HotelOur leisurely stroll led us to the Empress, through their colorful manicured gardens, and into the historic tea room. The service was exceptional, the hot tea served in silver teapots, and the savories delicious.   The experience lived up to its reputation and we enjoyed every morsel. Afterward, we checked out a bit of the street theater held regularly along the harbor (across the street from the hotel) and then grabbed a cab back to our Celebrity ship.

 

Waiting for the Duck Walk at The Peabody Hotel, MemphisDuck Walk at The Peabody | Memphis, Tennessee

The Duck Walk at The Peabody Hotel, MemphisWe were fortunate to arrive in Memphis in time for the duck parade at The Peabody Hotel. A surprisingly large crowd was on hand at 5 PM to watch the five Mallard Ducks line-up and, to the music of John Phillip Souza, march (waddle) out of their lobby fountain, into the elevator and to their penthouse home for the night. In the morning, we just had to see the ducks return to their fountain at 11 AM. We were staying at the hotel, but if you are visiting from another venue I’d arrive early to get a good seat.

 

Bunker Tour at The Greenbriar | White Plains, West Virginia

Remember those drills we had to prepare for a nuclear attack by the Russians? Well, we might have been hiding under school desks but out politicians had another plan. If there had been an attack during the Cold War, our government was going to evacuate Congress to a secure, fortified, and very secret, fallout shelter. Today you can tour this amazing site underneath The Greenbriar Resort. The 90-minute tour will cost you $39 per adult and $20 for kids 10-18; children under 10 are not allowed and reservations are required. Not guests should plan enough time to park, and why not stay for lunch?  We did and it was delightful.

Buried 720 feet into the hillside the facility was completed in 1961, and maintained in a constant state of readiness for 30 years, by a firm working undercover under the guise of audio/visual support services. It ceased operation after being outed by a Washington Post article in 1992. The tour was amazing.

 

The incredible veranda at the Grand Hotel Mackinac Island.Rock on the Porch at the Grand Hotel | Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac Island is like Disney World come to life. Walt had to have based his “Main Street” on this charming, historic town.

My husband and I wanted to come here for a loooong time. One Thanksgiving about 25 years ago, we saw the movie Somewhere in Time and loved what we saw. The Grand Hotel looks pretty much exactly like in the movie. We re-watched the 1981-movie before we left on our trip and by today’s standards, it’s really pretty humorous at times. So, if you watch it, be prepared for some sappy overacting along with the beautiful scenery.

A great place for ice cream at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.We decided not to stay at the Grand Hotel and instead opted for a middle-of-town charming B&B, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying exactly what we wanted to see at the hotel. We had drinks in the Cupola Bar, and one evening horses Danny and Daisy pulled us in a “taxi”, half an hour through the woods to the hotel’s delightful Bavarian-style restaurant aptly named Woods. We walked the grounds, had ice cream, and enjoyed hanging out in a couple of the rockers on the expansive veranda. Then we got back on our bikes and rode off for other adventures.

A coke and a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel, Singapore.Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel | Singapore

Time to Cool Off & Try a Singapore Sling. Truth be told – I was so hot by the time we got into The Long Bar; I probably would’ve paid anything for a drink. We were lucky and got the only available table. We, of course, went to have an authentic Singapore Sling. It was $22. I was so dehydrated I guzzled a Coke first. They serve an ample portion of Coke in a small carafe for a reasonable price. Peanuts in the shell are on the table; they are much smaller than our American peanuts. A full menu was available.

The Sling tasted pretty much like others I have had – although that type of fruity drink is way in my past.  Still, it was fun to have one in the original spot. Note: The Raffles Hotel, including the Long Bar, closed for a total renovation and is re-opening August 2019.


Best Hotels Near European Train Stations

 All ready for Christmas at Excelsior Hotel Ernst, Cologne.Cologne | Excelsior Hotel Ernst

A short walk from the train station you will find the lovely Excelsior Hotel in the center of the city, just across from the Cathedral.  Even though it’s a short walk, I was traveling with my Mother who was in her 80s, so I asked the hotel to meet us so my Mother would not have to walk. Bellmen were waiting for us when we arrived and we were at the hotel quickly organizing our attack on the first of the Christmas Markets. Cologne has seven.

Delicious tea treats at Excelsior Hotel Ernst, Cologne.After hitting the first of the seven Christmas markets, we were back at the Excelsior for afternoon high tea, our chosen alternative for dinner tonight. A wonderful way to end the day, stuffing ourselves with all those wonderful goodies. Our room was contemporary and comfortable, with a TV that swung 180 degrees to face the sitting area or the beds, acting as an attractive divider. The final surprise that night was looking out the window of our room and seeing the beautifully lit cathedral.

The Blue Danube, Budapest, Hungary.Budapest | Le Meridien Hotel (now a Ritz-Carlton)

We arranged for Le Meridien Hotel, to send a driver, so leaving the station was a breeze.  In about 15 minutes we were at our centrally-located hotel, tired, but ready to begin our adventures.

The Meridien is a large, contemporary hotel with all modern conveniences and this property lived up to the expectations of the chain. One evening we attended their Hungarian dinner complete with entertainment, it was a lot of food and an enjoyable evening.

The first order of business was to find a Hungarian-style restaurant close-by.  We went to Dio about 5 minutes from the hotel across the square.  The meal was terrific, my husband started with goulash, and the rest of us tried pork, smoked trout, and veal.  Then we dashed back through the square to avoid the drizzle starting to fall and off to bed for good night’s sleep.

Lovely Prague

Prague | Mamaison Pachtův Palác (now a Smetana Hotel)

A driver from the hotel met us and helped us navigate the deceptively large station that is quite expansive under the level in which the trains arrive. My husband and I were traveling with my Mother (in her 80s), so we had extra bags to manage as well as a travel partner not keen on stairs and long walks.

We arrived at the Pachtův Palác in the Old Town (Staré Město), just across from the Vltava near the Charles Bridge in time to regroup before dinner.  We stayed in really lovely apartment/suites carved out of the Baroque Palace of Count Jan Josef Pachta, built in the 18th century. Mozart and his wife were regular visitors, and it was here that Wolfgang had his only encounter with Giacomo Casanova. Beethoven was among the many other composers who also visited. I could only try and imagine what it must have been like during a visit by the Mozarts. I chose the more historic suite locations, but many of the rooms also have wonderful views of the castle and river.

The hotel staff was great and directed us to excellent spots for dining as well as an amazing walking tour. We had a wonderful meal at the casual, comfortable Restaurace Stoleti near the hotel, also on Karolíny Světlé.  Trying to eat a little healthier after the excess of previous travel days, we opted for a delicious meal that included salad, grilled trout, chicken, and a spinach/blue cheese omelet.

A Bavarian Christmas at the Hotel Excelsior, Munich.Munich | Hotel Excelsior by Geisel

The Hotel Excelsior is an iPrefer property centrally-located to the train station, shopping and Christmas Markets. Unfortunately, British Air left my suitcase in London, so I spent some serious time trying to find out where it was and when they would get it to me.

The hotel is a family-run, Bavarian-style property.  It was charming, with friendly staff and very comfortable. It was beautifully decorated for the holidays, a great way to start our Christmas market trip. They provided me with some basic toiletry essentials I didn’t have on hand and I did sleep in the cozy robe provided. Our room was spacious, with a sitting area and a nice bottle of Riesling Kabinett Trocken along with some treats for waiting for us.

I was just ready to hit the adjacent department store for new boots and clothes when my missing suitcase showed up. We decided to pack up the wine and save it for our next stop.

View of the train station from Le Meridien Grand Hotel, Nuremberg.Nuremberg | Le Meridien Grand Hotel

My friend and I walked out of the Nuremberg train station (shown here), with print and google maps in hand. Neither was needed once we looked up from our paper and screen, the hotel was right in front of us. The Le Meridien Grand Hotel is a modern hotel within a historic façade with a perfect location. One of the great things about European cities is the ability to walk to so many places and that experience is enhanced for me when you can easily just walk out the door of your hotel and either walk to your destination or jump on a train.

We arrived too early for check-in, but in plenty of time for a delicious lunch at the hotel restaurant.  We sampled some of our first delicious Nuremberg sausages (Nürnberg Rostbratwurst) along with a nice Rosé. Once done, our room was ready and we took off for the castle, shops, and markets. I don’t care about hotel toiletries, but I do love a good pen and notepad and so does my good friend and travel partner. In addition to tips about the area and Christmas Markets, the nice young clerk at the front desk kindly gave us extras of their great turquoise-colored pens.

Fabulous decor at the Stuttgart, Germany Christmas Markets.Stuttgart | Althoff Hotel Am Schlossgarten

The Althoff Hotel Am Schlossgarten is a modern hotel located just across the street, very close to the train station. From here were explored the nearby ObererSchossgarten and central city center as well as the large Christmas Markets area. Our room was contemporary with a nice sitting area; it was very comfortable.

The hotel did not have a salon but recommended Ramp Salon just a block away. I checked in early in the morning for a quick blow-dry after experiencing their fabulous massaging, hair-washing recliner (we need to import these to the US). Neighborhood culinary delights ranged from the local version of Sauerbraten (basically, a steak) at Carls Brauhaus, tasty brunch upstairs at Wirthaus am Schlossplatz, to chips, chocolate, and our bottle of Riesling in our room. A final dinner of brauten & dumplings at the hotel’s VINOthek restaurant was finished off nicely with a beautiful pear dessert.


5 Historic Hotels Southerners Love

The South has some legendary grand hotels, and many Southerners would love to keep them all to themselves. These are five of my favorites, all elegant, renovated, and award-winning:

The Hermitage Hotel | Nashville

Lobby of the Hermitage Hotel, NashvilleThe Hermitage Hotel is really the grand dame of them all. The architecture and décor are the very best of Southern elegance. From the minute you step into the beautiful lobby staff is attentive and friendly. Our room was lovely, spacious and totally modern in every amenity and function. Famous Green Men's Room at The Hermitage Hotel, NashvilleWe started the evening with local friends in the hotel’s iconic Oak Bar (with a quick side visit to see the famous Men’s Room). Then out the door of this conveniently located hotel to hit some of the cities great nightspots and hear some excellent music.

 The Peabody Hotel | Memphis

The Duck Walk at The Peabody Hotel, Memphis

We arrived in the city of rhythm and blues in the rain. But more importantly, we arrived in time for the duck parade at The Peabody Hotel. A surprisingly large crowd was on hand at 5 PM to watch the five Mallard Ducks line-up and, to the music of John Phillip Souza, march (waddle) out of their lobby fountain into the elevator and to their penthouse home for the night.

The rooms are beautifully decorated and large with every modern convenience. Perfectly located for a visit to nearby Beale Street, we met-up with a good friend from J-school and headed over for dinner, drinks, and great conversation at the Itta Bena restaurant, upstairs at BB King’s Blues Club. In the morning, we just had to see the ducks return to their fountain at 11 AM.

Inn at Perry Cabin|St. Michaels, Maryland’s Eastern Shore 

Nestled between the Susquehanna and the Chesapeake Bay, the Inn at Perry Cabin Resort and Golf Club conveys a much cozier feeling than its resort size would indicate, with a Pete Dye golf course, tennis and boating. Built as a private estate in 1812, it was designed to resemble the Commodore’s cabin on the flagship USS Niagara. Subsequently, it was a tobacco farm, riding academy, and eventually purchased by the owners of Kentucky Derby winner Spectacular Bid. The next owner was Sir Bernard Ashley (husband of Laura) who renovated the estate and transformed it into a luxury resort which was purchased and expanded by Orient-Express Hotels( now renamed Belmond). I’m not sure who owns the property now, but it has maintained its elegance and superior ratings.

Today it radiates nautical, coastal charm in a traditional colonial setting. Our accommodations here were so pretty, cozy and pleasant. There is a lot to do in the area, but you could easily never leave the 26-acre property.

 The Homestead Resort | Hot Springs, Virginia

Grounds of The Homestead, Hot Springs, VAIconic tower, The Homestead, Hot Springs, VANow under management by Omni, the 2,000-acre property features impressive grand hotel facilities, two golf courses, tennis, a spa, and much more. We were delighted to get an upgrade while here and had a huge, lovely room with a wonderful view. Staff was absolutely delightful, and we just immediately felt right at home. I did not want to leave.

The Homestead lays claim to being America’s first resort, with the natural medicinal hot springs playing a central role in its location. It’s a wonderful setting to contemplate the resort’s historic role and what conversations (or debates) may have taken place here through its 250+-years. Twenty-three U.S. Presidents have stayed here, including Thomas Jefferson. This is a beautiful property in any season.

 21c Museum Hotel | Lexington, Kentucky

Bourbon flight at the Lockbox Bar at 21C.

Corner room, 23c Museum Hotel, LexingtonThe 21c Museum Hotel is a great hotel with a contemporary vibe and a focus on historic preservation and art; what a winning combo. And yes, there is an art museum. This is one of several art museum/hotels in renovated sites by this innovative company. I loved the rooms in this repurposed historic bank building. I particularly enjoyed the fun the designers had with color and art. Bright colors were used as accents in the rooms and public spaces, and photography by one of the owners was beautifully featured in the room.

The room was comfortable, bed great, shower excellent. We had no trouble getting feather pillows. Our corner room was on a high floor and the views of the city were terrific. I arranged the trip for a group of friends and we enjoyed the bourbon package. Breakfast was excellent and our bourbon flight was a lot of fun, with a super bourbon steward. Valet was efficient and the staff was very friendly. The only hitch was check-in which was very slow and disorganized, a contrast to everything else about the hotel and our stay.


Favorite Instagrammable Hotel Pool

 

The amazing pool at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore.Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Hotel

We stayed at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel so we could swim in their iconic rooftop pool, located 57 floors high and it was worth the experience. Warning – the water is freezing (at least for this Miami girl), so I didn’t stay in long.

The only way to get in this pool is to stay at the hotel, otherwise, visitors can go up to the SkyPark or dine in nearby restaurants. Spago is adjacent to the pool and has good views, so if you don’t care about getting in the water, that’s a good way to go. BTW – You can get drinks and food when you are by the pool, but it comes from Spago and is expensive.

That's the pool on top, at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore.We followed the recommendations of other reviewers and went with the Club level rooms, which are spacious and on the higher floors. Go as high as you can. We opted for a bay view. The other side has balconies & views of the Gardens by the Bay. Our views were great and access to Club 55 is terrific. For breakfast, afternoon tea, and cocktails they offer an ample spread and a good pour for cocktails. Service is wonderful and the views are thrilling.

As for the hotel, its BIG and check-in is extremely slow, hard to believe they can’t handle it better than they do. The concierge staff is helpful though and we had wonderful input from a Concierge Supervisor; make a connection quickly.

I requested no-smoking well in advance, by email, and they would NOT guarantee a no-smoking room. We did get one, but they had to search for a very long time. If you are as adamant as we are about being in a no-smoking room, be forewarned.

It was all worth it for the pool.


Where to Stay for a Bourbon Tour

The Brown Hotel | Louisville, Kentucky

Entrance to The Brown Hotel, LouisvilleThe Brown Hotel was a real step back into another era. We loved the hotel’s colorful history. We were traveling with a group of friends and enjoyed the Club Level service – it proved very convenient, and was more than adequate for breakfast and afternoon wine, beer, (no hard liquor) soft drinks and snacks.

Chef's Table at The Brown Hotel, LouisvilleOur Chef’s Table dinner in the kitchen of the English Grill was a wonderful and memorable occasion. Under the direction of English Grill Manager (and Sommelier/Bourbon Steward extraordinaire) Troy Ritchie and Chef Dustin Willett, we enjoyed a first-class event. I had worked with Troy in advance to put together the details and he was delightful, creative, and very easy to work with.

Bedroom in the Muhammad Ali Suite, The Brown Hotel, LouisvilleI had some rooms issues upon arrival, but all was resolved by the staff in the most wonderful and surprising way. We ended up with a wonderful upgrade which made our stay extra special. Because this is an older hotel, some rooms have better views and rooms can vary dramatically in size, even on the Club level. Take note, the 25-line seemed very nice and large.

While here, you must try a Hot Brown (turkey, bacon, and toast with Mornay sauce) – it is wonderful and also huge, so ask to share and they will split it for you in the kitchen. Save room for the Derby Pie which is another treat. Other notables included the wedge salad and the fried chicken in the Lobby Bar.

There are only 2 handicap accessible rooms at this hotel, but the staff will add a shower seat and safety bar in the tub shower upon request. The bathrooms could use an update with walk-in showers and higher vanities.


 

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