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Archive for April 2010

Unique and Magical Santorini


For the quintessential Greek isle, look no further than Santorini in the dreamy southern Cyclades. Locals believe the island is the site of the lost city of Atlantis and, whether that is true or not, it is certainly near to paradise with towns perching on the edge of the extinct volcano, white marble streets and glorious sunsets. Head for Oia on the north coast for the most sophisticated hotels and fashionable nightlife, and make sure you visit the capital of Fira, but be warned: the designer stores and bars can get very busy. The villages of Akrotiri, Firostefani, Imerovigli, Megalochori and Pyrgos are calm and beautiful, and have good connections with the larger towns.

AKROTIRI
(00 30 22860 81366; www.odysseus.culture.gr). Don’t miss Akrotiri, probably the most important archaeological site in the Cyclades. The city was one of the Aegean Sea’s most significant before earthquakes and a volcanic eruption destroyed it in the 17th century BC. The volcanic material preserved the buildings and their content, just like at Pompeii.

FIRA
Fira has even more designer outlets than Mykonos Town and there are a fair number of cool bar/restaurants and nightclubs here, too.

NEA KAMENI
Nea Kameni island, in the middle of the flooded caldera, is one of the most violent volcanoes on the planet; it is also, of course, one of the contested sites for the lost city of Atlantis. The eruption that destroyed most of Santorini 3,600 years ago produced tsunamis that reached as far as Turkey and probably wiped out maritime Minoan civilisation. The new craters that appeared in the following centuries are currently snoozing, although they are under constant surveillance by scientists at Fira’s volcanology institute. Tour the volcano by boat, or go for a walk around the crater to see it up close.

OIA
Santorini’s star – its most attractive village, Oia, is the ultimate Greek Island village – all white houses and domed churches tumbling over the lip of the caldera. The town must be one of the most magnificent hotel settings on Earth, with its converted peasant houses on the very edge of the crater and spectacular sunsets that draw coach parties from across the island.

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Italy presents candidacy as host country for 2016 European Football Championships

Italy is launching its candidacy to host the European Football Championships in 2016. The dossier was recently presented at Palazzo Chigi and on May 28th it will be submitted to the judgment of the UEFA. The event would have positive repercussions on our country system as far as regards employment and for infrastructures, the transportation system, tourism hospitality, the attraction of foreign investments, the growth of visibility and the international reputation of the country. Included in the dossier are a series of projects tied to the theme of social responsibility to promote the development of social themes through football. The key word of the tournament is, in fact, the culture of ‘Respect’.

Ostention Turin and Holy Shroud

Turin is heading toward a record event with the Ostension of the Holy Shroud in 2010. The numbers make a certain impression: a million and a half visitors are expected; 30,000 coaches from all over Europe, without counting trains and charter flights. The President of Federalberghi Piemonte Bernardino Garetto made an advance announcement of the first figures: “On the weekends during the period of the Ostension we are at 75 percent room occupancy”. In real numbers almost 10,000 hosts have already booked and on some dates full occupancy has been reached. Forecasts for the economic repercussions of the Ostenion indicate approximately 15 million Euros for the city.

Venice most expensive city in Europe for hotels

There has been a substantial increase in European hotel rates according to the Hotel Price Index of Trivago in April that, with an average of 115 Euros per double room per night, indicates a 12% increase with respect to March to which can be added a 3% increase with respect to the same month last year. The Czech Republic was the country that registered the most evident price list increase this month with a general +43% in rates; Italy follows with an increase of 19% placing itself amongst the most expensive European destinations, surpassing England, France and Spain.  The most expensive city in Europe is Venice, which with 209 Euros per double room in April bypassed Geneva and registered an 18% increase with respect to the same period last year. It is followed by Rome, which had a 15% increase in its price list with respect to 2009, and Florence (+11%).

Tuscany – The Land of Infinite Possibilities

It has some of the most famous art cities in the world, its shoreline beaches and water always merit the Blue Banner of quality, its rolling hills are of extraordinary beauty, its food magnificent, its wines some of the greatest known and it can be reached easily from both north and south. To these by-themselves extraordinary features, Tuscany has also known – thanks to its renowned entrepreneurship and the innate inventiveness of its inhabitants – how to develop its hospitality sector to meet the needs of a truly wide range of travellers and visitors: hotels of all types, but also activities to fill the day with interesting things and help visitors relax and get away from the stress of every day life and work. Event organisers can take their pick of a wide selection of venues – from large congress centres to the more intimate meeting destinations with elegant halls and meeting rooms, in historical residences or temples of art and culture. And then there is the location to decide – the hills and mountains, ancient villages or the seaside… But it does not end here, there is also the free time activity schedule to establish – or team building sessions to organise. The almost 400 km of Tuscan coastline offer breathtaking views and all the activities connected to the sea, while the Apennines and spectacular marble quarries offer the chance to open minds to new ideas. There are innumerable sports which can be enjoyed: ample golf courses, boating outings or sailing, even gourmet food & wine itineraries. Whatever you do, it will be exhilarating. Then there are the great health and wellness centres at the thermal spas for pure relaxation, such as the Grotta Giusti Natural Spa Resort – a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World – with a well equipped gym near the Monsummano Terme thermal baths. There is also the elegant 5 star Fonteverde Natural Spa Resort established near a Medicean portico at San Casciano dei Bagni, an ancient village which gives onto the fabulous landscape of the hills of the Val d’Orcia, an area famous for its ages old springs that give forth mineral-rich thermal water for bathing as the ancient Romans did. At the noble thermal baths of the Hapsburg Lorena is the Pisa Medical Spa & Resort where you will find the perfect blending of modern and oriental medicine, a stone’s throw from the famed city of the leaning tower. Back inside the enchanting Tuscan countryside you will also find Borgo San Luigi, a relais nestled in a 7 hectare park just outside of Siena. Here the charms of the historical residence are enhanced with all the modern comforts of today. If it is the sea you seek, a perfect location could be the Hotel Marinetta in Marina di Bibbona, nestled in a pine grove that gives onto the islands of the Tuscan archipelago and it too equipped with a modern wellness centre.

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Top 10 Reasons to Cruise

A Cruise Vacation Offers Great Value

Cruises offer great value for your vacation dollar because the fares include nearly everything you’ll need for a fantastic trip: food, accommodations, daytime and evening entertainment and transportation between travel destinations. We regularly see fares on mainstream cruise lines for under $100 per person, per night, which is astonishingly cheaper than you’d spend on land for a hotel, dinner and a show. On some lines, kids even sail free or at discounted rates when sharing a cabin with two adults. Looking for luxury? Upscale lines are even more inclusive, with alcohol and soft drinks, gratuities, shore tours, onboard spending credits, and even flights often bundled into the base price.

See Multiple Destinations, Unpack Only Once

On a cruise, you unpack once and your floating hotel takes you from city to city or from island to island and there’s no need to mess with train or ferry schedules, or lug your suitcase along cobblestone streets. Every morning, you’ll wake up in a new place. Can’t decide between St. Lucia and Barbados, or Italy or Spain? Why choose? Pick an itinerary that visits all the cities on your wish list.

Cruise Ships are Family Friendly

From tots to teens, grandparents to grandkids, cruises are fun for all ages. If you’re struggling to find a vacation that your 5-, 10- and 15-year-old will all love — and that has adult activities, too — ships now have extensive kids’ facilities, split by age. Teens have their own cool hangouts, far away from the play areas for the little ones (and certainly a nice distance from parent-friendly pools and bars). How can you not love a trip that features video games and swimming pools, while offering time for families to be together at dinner or on shoreside excursions? And parents can even sneak in a romantic dinner alone, by taking advantage of late-night hours in the kids’ club.

Cruise Ships Come in All Shapes and Sizes

The ideal cruise ship for one person may be a mega-ship outfitted with onboard rock-climbing walls and outdoor movie theaters, while another will prefer an intimate ship with an upscale ambience and someone else will want the seafaring experience of a masted tall sailing ship. Luckily, all those different types of cruise ships exist.

Ships Offer a Variety of Onboard Activities

Today’s cruise ships are designed to keep everyone happy. Want to pamper yourself at the spa while your spouse hits the casino? Or lounge in the sun reading a book while your family plays basketball. You can go to an educational lecture, a wine tasting, a computer class or a dance workshop; paint pottery, play bridge, learn a language or do yoga; dine at a casual buffet, a fancy sit-down restaurant, a sushi bar, a diner or a steakhouse; and watch a movie, a comedy routine, a song-and-dance show or live music performance. And if all you want to do is nothing while the ship sails from port to port you can do that, too.

Cruise Vacations are Easy to Plan

Because cruise vacations package together transportation and accommodations, they’re very easy to plan. Pick your ship, itinerary and cabin, and away you go — no searching for hotels in your price range, no coordinating travel between cities. You can even get your travel agent to arrange your airfare for you — or choose a departure port within driving distance to eliminate that extra planning step. Groups also find cruises a cinch to book. Cruise lines have plans in place for group travel, eliminating the hassle of coordinating your 20 family members and friends from around the country who want to vacation with you. Book enough cabins — and you’ll get extra perks, including a free fare!

Ships Are Floating Cities

If you’re concerned about being stranded on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean, relax. Cruise ships are like floating cities with everything you could possibly want onboard. Today’s vessels are outfitted with Wi-Fi, cellular service and satellite TV so you can stay in touch with the real world during your vacation (if you really want to). Onboard shops sell the toiletries and sundries you forgot to pack, medical centers can provide medication or a doctor’s services if needed, and laundry facilities let you wash your clothes mid-cruise so you don’t need to over-pack (or just send the laundry out). Of course, there’s also the fun stuff like gyms, multiple restaurants, libraries, movie screens, spas, swimming pools, theaters and discos. And in the rare emergency, there are always enough lifeboats for everyone onboard.

Plan an Exotic Vacation

Always wanted to visit Asia but are nervous about the language barrier? Curious about the Middle East, but nervous about country customs? A cruise is one of the best ways to see the most exotic and foreign destinations in this world in an easy way. Itineraries offer calls at major cities and picturesque villages, all of which will be regional highlights, so you don’t have to do the research on the best places to visit in an unfamiliar destination. If you’re uncomfortable with independent sightseeing in a new locale, simply take a ship’s tour with English-speaking guides. Or team up with more experienced travelers you meet online or onboard to share a cab or private guide.

Cruising Is Romantic

Anyone who’s watched “The Love Boat” knows that there’s a romance to sea travel. The wind in your hair, the vistas of endless ocean, the stars twinkling above all set the mood for love may be clichés but they’re real experiences onboard! If you want to rekindle the spark with your sweetie, a cruise vacation provides plenty of together time — sharing side-by-side lounge chairs by the pool, a table for two at dinner, dancing in the evening or sharing quality time onshore. Cruise lines also have special packages for honeymoons, vow renewals and weddings onboard and onshore.

Cruising is Social

If you love to meet people from around the country — and the world — cruising provides a wonderful opportunity to make new friends. Even before you embark, you can connect with cruisers on Cruise Critic’ Roll Call forums and create groups to go on independent excursions. Onboard, you’ll meet people at your dinner table, at the piano bar or by the pool. The person seated next to you might be from Paris, Texas, or Paris, France; London, Ontario, or London, England. Kids can find playmates their own age during youth activities, so they’re not always with adults or their older or younger siblings.

Check out some cruise deals at http://www.bluedanubeholidays.com/bdh/river_cruises.htm

Top 10 places to feel young again

1. DUBAI, UAE

It’s time for a new outfit, which means an expedition to Dubai. Fashion is serious business in this shopping-mall heaven, where small and flashy togs can be stuffed into designer handbags. To finish the look, eye-punishing displays of glittering gold line the streets of Dubai’s gold souq. Over 25 tons of the stuff are on display in the city’s jewelry-shop windows. Choose from earrings, rings, necklaces or bracelets – the more ostentatious the better.

2. ROUTE 66, USA

Search for freedom on the open highway with a road trip across the USA. It requires a Harley or a classic convertible, and plenty of ‘issues’ to resolve. Take your pick from a multitude of interstate routes, but to travel in the footsteps of film, literary and music legends it has to be well-worn and iconic Route 66, from Chicago to Santa Monica. Do take a movie camera to record your trip. Don’t forget to fill up with gas.

3. MONTE CARLO, MONACO

Dust off your tux and brush up on the slick one-liners as you join the jet set, Bond-style, in Monte Carlo. The beautiful people out-glamour each other from their million-euro yachts moored along the harbor, as international businesspeople monitor their investments from this secure tax haven. Visitors to the casino glint with gold, like the sun on the Med. The Monte Carlo Rally in January and the Monaco Grand Prix in May offer adrenalin-fueled breaks from spending cash.

4. RISHIKESH, INDIA

If your crisis is one of faith, take your pick of places in which to have a spiritual epiphany: St Peter’s in Rome, Lhasa in Tibet or Mecca in Saudi Arabia could help you find your calling. But we reckon the ideal spot is Rishikesh, on the banks of the sacred Ganges in the foothills of the Himalaya. It’s lined with ashrams, and holy men mingle with tourists and the odd celeb. This was the Beatles’ favorite center of Hindu philosophy and learning, and it’s nicknamed the yoga capital of the world.

5. LAS VEGAS, USA

You’ve realized what your first wedding was missing: an Elvis impersonator, matching polyester pantsuits and a partner you’d only just met. So it’s time to take a gamble of a different sort with a second/third/seventh wedding in Vegas. It offers more than 30 places to say ‘I do’, and over 100,000 couples take their vows here each year, including more than a handful of celebs. The Little White Wedding Chapel is open 24 hours, so when your eyes meet over a crowded poker table, there’s no need to bother waiting before tying the knot.

6. PHUKET, KUALA LUMPUR, MANILA, MUMBAI

Fed up of peering in the mirror, jiggling your wobbly bits and wishing everything was a little further north? Considering a little nip and tuck or two, but worried about showing your post-op bruises in public? Cheap prices coupled with recuperation in the sun is making surgery in Phuket, Kuala Lumpur or Manila increasingly popular. India is the daddy of them all. Today state-of the-art facilities make a facelift or a hip replacement a short inconvenience before relaxing by the beach.

7. MACAU, CHINA

Cashing in the pension fund and remortgaging the house might just be enough to get you in the door of Crown Casino, Taipa Island, Macau. Boasting six stars and more than 200 gaming tables, the casino’s not shy about the number of noughts involved. For those with pockets smaller than China, there are another 27 casinos to choose from. These include the grandly decked-out Emperor Palace Casino on the peninsula – featuring plenty of marble and as much gold on the brick floor as on the gamblers themselves – or the famous, lively Casino Lisboa.

8. SILVERSTONE, ENGLAND

It’s not too late to fulfill that dream of being a racing driver, temporarily at least. Crowds have watched heroes like Senna, Prost and Stewart hurtle around the legendary Silverstone track, home of the British Grand Prix, since the 1950s, and you can recreate it with a power test drive. Imagine the cheers as you burn rubber in a Ferrari, slide into corners in an old single-seater or test a 4WD on something more taxing than the streets of Islington. Just don’t try this on the school run.

9. PETRA, JORDAN

Petra, setting for much of 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, looks like it should only exist in films. A narrow canyon winds to its iconic entrance, carved from deep-rose colored sandstone. As you enter, you’re greeted by the intricate facade of the famous Khazneh (Treasury), fictional home of the Holy Grail. The site contains plenty more to explore, including the Temple of the Winged Lions, still in the process of excavation. Today the only hazards are bumping shoulders with the other 3,000 visitors; poisoned arrows, rolling balls of rock and snake pits are usually avoidable.

10. SYDNEY & MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

For centuries humans have pitted themselves against beasts to prove their worth, from rather one-sided trophy hunting to careering down side streets at the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Something a little more equal and up close is diving with sharks, and for that you should head to Australia. For those with no diving experience, tank dives in Melbourne’s aquarium and Sydney’s oceanarium give a chance to watch these predators glide past soundlessly, eyeing you up as a potential meal. Friends and family can watch your “bravery” via a glass viewing screen.

Easter in Italy

Easter in Italy is traditionally a holiday spent with family, but the Monday after Easter is another story – it’s still a nationwide holiday, and this one is all about hanging out with friends, often gathering for picnics. Easter Monday is called “La Pasquetta,” or “Little Easter,” in Italian. Many cities will hold outdoor events on Pasquetta, including concerts and games. The games often involve eggs, like the famous egg races of Tredozio. One one unusual Pasquetta game takes place in the town of Panicale in Umbria, where the goal is to roll giant wheels of cheese around the city walls in the quickest time and using the least strokes.

As mentioned, Easter can be a really interesting time to visit Italy, especially to see all the ancient traditions (which, it should be noted, are carried out not for tourists but for Italians – which makes them even more interesting), but because the whole country has vacation time during Easter week it can be a difficult time to get around. If you plan to visit Italy during Easter, I recommend booking your hotel or hostel way in advance (and be prepared to pay a little more than you might the week before or after), and try to not be moving from city to city much during that week. Plan to set up camp in one spot and not be driving or crowding onto trains, and you’ll be much happier.

European Cultural Capital – Pécs, Hungary

This year’s choice of a European Capital of Culture has surprised many – though only on first hearing. The Hungarian Pécs is one of the most fascinating cities in Europe, well worthy of the 2010 honor.

When the three European Capitals of Culture were announced for 2010, no one considered Essen and Istanbul a strange choice, but when it came to Pécs, many had to brush up on their knowledge of Europe. This small city located on the slopes of Mecsek Mountains in the south-western part of Hungary holds many surprises.

It all started with the Celts, who occupied this area before the Roman invasion. However, Turkish influence has been very strong as well as Croatian, Balkan, and even German. While its population is very small, only 160,000, there are nine ethnic minorities living in this mesmerizing blend of architectural styles and heritage sites. The early Christian necropolis has become a major lure for tourists; it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The numerous monuments and buildings which date back to the Ottoman period are among the most popular attractions. The mosque of Pasha Gazi Kaseem, the Pasha Memi baths, and the minaret of Yakovali Hassan are well worth a visit. In May, the city will host a festival Journey around the Turkish Crescent Moon to honor the Turkish influence and heritage.

This year, numerous festivals will honor the local on-going art and music tradition. Fishing on Orfu, a festival on the banks of local beautiful lake, and the Folk & Rock festival will kick-off the summer festive season in June. July will introduce a Rockmaraton in the charming setting of Malomvolgy Botanical Garden and August promises an art exhibition of Bauhaus, a major 20th century school of art.

All the culture and charm is topped up by local delicious cuisine, divine wine and warm-hearted folk who never hesitate to welcome another visitor. Pécs is full of surprises and the more one looks, the more one finds.

Check out some tour ideas at http://www.europetraveltours.net/Hungary_Independent_tour.htm