Category Archives: hotels

Spanish Holiday – Hotel Playa de la Luz Rota, Spain

Spanish Holiday - Hotel Playa de la Luz Rota SpainSouthern Spain {Andalucia} has long been a favorite “holiday” destination for European travelers. This makes perfect sense when one considers the lovely beaches, amazing architecture, history, culture and cuisine.  I recall the first time I met a person on, “Spanish Holiday” while living in Spain.  Partly because – as an American– the term, “holiday” means something entirely different, but also because of the place we met – Hotel Playa de la Luz in my “hometown” of Rota, Spain.

Holiday goers -or vacationers, as we call them– flood into Rota during the summer months just as they do nearly all of the coastal towns in Andalucia. The favored casks of La Tintilla in local bodegas take a back seat to hard cider and flowing sangria, skin sizzles to a burnished bronze {in most cases, save the bulk of visitors from the UK and people like me who end up the hue of ripened tomatoes} on the beaches, and the night life rarely gives way at dawn.

What makes Rota differ from this typical Spanish Holiday foray, comes in the form of luxurious oasis just barely outside the city. I’d been living in Rota for nearly a year before setting foot in the Hotel Playa de la Luz, time lost that I’ve come to regret.

Spanish Holiday - Beach front tapas at Hotel Playa de la LuzNestled on a stretch of nearly pristine beach -a welcome change from the beach I leaved near on the other side of town– the hotel is practically a world away from the bustle. Though Rota itself is a small town, Calle de María Auxiliadora being its one fairly busy main boulevard, in high season the crush of people can be difficult to manage. The hotel gives you a place to enjoy the natural beauty of this part of Spain in a simple, yet luxurious setting that is still close enough to the town when you want to stop in at Bar Christina for amazing tortillitas de camarones – or shrimp fritatta– dance the night away, or roam the quaint little shops and gypsy stores.

La Gaviota, the onsite restaurant takes the best of local ingredients and whips up outstanding tapas. As I type my mouth is watering in memory of their alcauciles rellenos, a stuffed artichoke that is worth the airfare from the states. Once you’ve stuffed yourself with Spanish delights you’ll need a way to burn off those extra calories. The hotel features four tennis courts, a gym, and several pools. You can even ask the staff to arrange horseback riding on the beach for you. If you ride, this is a can’t-miss activity. 

For Americans, the rooms by seem small and sparsely decorated. Getting used to that was a tough one for me, but this is pretty much the standard with nearly any level hotel in this part of Spain. I suppose the idea is that you’ll be spending so little of your time indoors, they’d rather focus on elevating the common spaces. 

Playa de la Luz does this really well. Their white-washed facade and intricate Moorish tile work is evocative of old Hollywood glamour.  Take a stroll along the marble inlaid beach walk and you’ll feel as though Clark Gable is waiting on that yacht in the distance to whisk you away.

Spanish Holiday - Luxury Sunbathing at Hotel Playa de La Luz Rota, SpainTips for Families

The hotel features a playground for kids, separate adult and family pools and during the months of July and August childcare services are available.

Day Trips Nearby

Jerez {35 minute drive} visit a Bodega -Harvey’s is one of the more famous ones– stop by the Royal Spanish Equestrian school to see the famed Lipizzaner horses, eat at the Mercado de Abastos.

Cadiz {45 minute drive} Cadiz is one of my favorite towns in all of Spain. It has everything a large metropolitan city could want without the issues that come with being a city of size. To me its a bit of Paris meets Madrid. There are a plethora of galleries and museums, lovely public parks with sculpted gardens, and an immense amount of history as Cadiz is the oldest continually inhabited town in Spain.

Hotel Information

Address:  Avda. de la Diputación S/N
                     11520 Rota (Cádiz) Spain
                     Tel: 1+ (34) 956 810 500
Website: Hotel Playa de la Luz

Reservations line: 1+ (34) 902 418 428

24 hours in philadelphia

24 hours in PhiladelphiaSometimes you just don’t have the tip time for that epic trip to Tahiti. Don’t let lack of time keep you from exploring. This year we’ve added quick trips of 12, 24 and 48-hours to our itinerary of larger expeditions. It’s a great way to feed that wanderlust and get to know a few places you might never have considered. We kicked things off in Williamsburg (Brooklyn), followed that up with a fun 24 hours in Philadelphia.

The City of Brotherly Love with all its history, art and yes… cheesesteaks, is just a short two-hour drive away from our homebase. Honestly, proximity was the first factor in choosing this destination — that and a weekend binge watching session of the Rocky film.

24 Hours in Philadelphia a city rich in history and unique architecture Figuring out to do with just twenty-four hours was a bit harder. Philly is a city with over twenty neighborhoods and districts, each with their own distinct personality. We decided to start with a small bite and focus our first 24 hours in Philadelphia on the Center City district and some of the historical charm of the City of Brotherly Love.

Historically Speaking

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Independence National Historical Park
Go see the Liberty Bell. It may sound cliche but it really is a pilgrimage every American should take. We were surprised at how close you can get to it, like “NO! don’t touch the Liberty Bell” close. The Park Rangers onsite are like your own personal tour guides, ready with all sorts of information on how your third grade teacher got the whole story wrong.

Is it a crack or was it a repair? Is there more than one break in it? Get all your burning bell questions answered. Warning: your kids might know more than you do.

Lest you think it’s all about the bell, it isn’t. The bell is housed behind velvet ropes in a small museum that features artifacts and interactive exhibits chronicling the American journey toward liberty, and the pursuit of happiness from the revolution to today.

6th St & Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106 | Monday – Sunday 9:00 am through 7:00 pm | Free | website

24 hours in philadelphia city hall

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Across the cobblestone road from the Liberty Bell is Independence Hall, also a must see. Do note though that entry into the complex requires a ticket. These tickets are limited daily and grant entry on a timed-entry basis March through December. While you wait for your entry time take a look at the building right next door that housed our first Supreme Court.

520 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106 | Monday – Sunday 9:00 am through 5:00 pm | admission – free | website

The Franklin Institute

Befitting its namesake this place is packed with ways to discover through science, history and art. It is an interactive, hands-on wonder of enormous proportions. So big in fact, that we choose to save exploring here for another visit and opted instead to visit the Benjamin Franklin Memorial which is housed here.

The Memorial is open to the public when The Franklin Institute is open and visiting it is free. There is a multimedia show – Benjamin Franklin Forever – that is a great start for getting to know this founding father and his impact on the world.

222 N 20th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 | Monday – Sunday 9:30 am through 5:30 pm | $19.95 adults, $15.95 ages 11-3, under 3 – free | website

24 hours in philadelphia pubsWhich Hotel?

Few things can turn a trip into a nightmare quite as quickly as like a lousy hotel where your family doesn’t feel comfy and taken care of. While I’ve no problems with ‘sleep and go’ hotels, when it comes to bringing the kids I’m willing to pay a bit more in hopes of ensuring we all sleep happy – hello, room service. Having stayed at well over a thousand hotels around the globe – with and without kids– I’ve found that mid-to-upper level hotels are best with the kiddos in tow. Why? To put it simply, you get what you pay for.

Hotel Palomar

This chic, upscale hotel made Condé Nast Traveler’s list of the top 20 Mid-Atlantic hotels. Impressive, but little guests are far more impressed with the fact that they can request a companion gold fish to keep them company in the room during your stay. Oh, and they also have a nightly wine reception – for free.

117 S 17th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 | website

 

Loews Philadelphia

Located inside the nation’s first skyscraper, the Loews Philadelphia Hotel has got some great views of the city. Walking through the lobby and common spaces is like getting a mini history lesson. That said, the rooms themselves are updated and modern. The pool and excellent room service from the on-site restaurant make for an all around great stay. Kids love the fact that they get their own welcome goodies at check-in and can have even snag board games and toys from the kids’ cabinet to use while they visit. You can even bring along the family pet – they’ll get a goodie too!

1200 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19107 | website

Beyond the Cheesesteak

Philly is paradise for the adventurous Foodie and their family. In fact, there is such a cornucopia of delight to be dug into that we may just have to do an entire feature on food alone. For now though here are some mouthwatering places to fuel your historical rediscoveries.

Reading Terminal Market

A crowded, loud, garishly lit slice of Foodie paradise. So much more than an indoor Farmer’s Market this historical building houses an endless array of fresh, local, artisianal, ethnic and just plain yum.

24 hours in philadelphia reading terminal market

Despite its porcine name, Tommy Dinic’s Roast Pork makes a mean cheesesteak. Not in the mood for Philly’s signature sandwich? No worries. Roam the rows of stalls featuring the heady aromas of everything from Jamaican Jerk to Indian spice. Dig into some Dutch, Polish, Mexican, Italian, Irish…. you get the picture, this place is packed with flavorful adventure.

51 North 12th Street, Philadelphia, PA | website

Marathon Grille

This locally owned group of eateries started out as a 10-seat burger joint and has grown into the ultimate spot for casual comfort food with a modern twist. The owners have a passion for supporting local by both buying from urban farms around the city and operating there own.

Have a Thanksgiving Dinner plate, some house-made Moroccan meatballs or treat yourself to decadent french toast stuffed with marscapone and berries. They serve breakfast all day and make a mean organic cocktail that pairs perfectly with a laid back brunch.

1818 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA | website

Where, When and What to Avoid

Tour Buses – Though it may seem tempting to grab one of those hop-on-hop-off bus passes you’ll find being promoted on nearly every corner, don’t. You’ve only got 48 hours in Philadelphia’s Center City District and this is a city that features more public works of art than any other. You’ll miss so much of it – including dozens of murals — if you whiz by on a bus rather than stroll the streets and discover.

Chain Restaurants – Philly is so much more than a cheesesteak. There is a blossoming farm-to-table movement that lives alongside small Mom and Pop eateries that have been serving up flavor for decades. Seek them out, they aren’t hard to find. Taste the adventure!

48 hr in Philly - Em at National Guard buildingPhilly is a city of celebrations. From Independence Day to their famed Flower Show, there is almost always something going on. Check the Visit Philly website before you go to be sure you won’t be headed there along with a few million others. Ugh, traffic.

Been to Philly? Live there? What are the ‘can’t miss’ sites we should see on our next visit?

Where to Stay in Dublin – The Fitzwilliam Hotel

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelDublin, Ireland is a unique city where old and new, history and innovation blend in a harmony rarely found in any major metropolitan city I’ve visited. The options for entertaining oneself are endless, as are the places to rest your head. When I’m asked where to stay in Dublin, the answer is easy – The Fitzwilliam Hotel.

I’ve stayed in countless hotels around the globe and learned that all of them can be measured by four things; location, amenities, staff, and value. Here is how The Fitzwilliam Hotel, Dublin measures up…

Location, Location, Location!

The Fitzwilliam sits at head of Grafton Street directly across from the famed St. Stephens’ Green. A large section of Grafton Street is closed to all but pedestrian traffic and features endless options for shopping and dining. Though I will say that I wasn’t so impressed with the stores… what American wants to go to Dublin and shop at the Disney Story? Not this one. 

Far more alluring was the ability to walk – literally across the street– and into St. Stephens’ Green. If you didn’t already know, this public park was the model for New York City’s Central Park, and I’m sure countless other public squares. One of my favorite areas in the park is the gardens around the Caretaker’s Cottage, which is directly in front of the Fitzwilliam.

Saint Stephen's Green Caretakers CottegeThe DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) tram stops within walking distance of the property. There are taxis galore in the area, as well as pedicabs and horse drawn carriages (take one to the Guinness Store House for a fun twist.) Concierge will happily help you with securing a bicycle if you’d like, though the streets are quite busy – I’d fall and need stitches!

Amenities

Sure there is a gym, doesn’t every hotel have one these days? What the Fitzwilliam has that most don’t, is Spirit. Part salon, with a little bit of spa, Spirit ascribes to a wonderfully holistic and natural approach to beauty services. Treat yourself.

Not many hotels can boast three excellent on-site restaurants, let alone one with a Michelin star. The Fitzwilliam can.  Thornton’s is fine dining at its best, thus the star. Citron is a more relaxed, yet still upscale dinning experience that boasts some modern twists on Irish classics. Their Celeriac soup is simply divine! Pop into the Inn on the Green for a great breakfast, or a lovely lunch in this cozy place that makes you feel at ease. Note: the charcuterie plate is HUGE! 

Any good hotel, in my book, must have a fabulous bathtub and plush robes. Not having this can be a deal breaker. The bath at Fitzwilliam was a deal maker!

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelThere is also a wonderful tea available seasonally on the balcony that overlooks the city.  Free (reliable) wi-fi and in-room safes that are large enough for a laptop are both pluses.

Staff

Here is where the Fitzwilliam sets itself apart. From the doormen who take the time to ask you where your day is taking you with sincerity to a concierge staff who call your room to ask how they can help make your stay even better, to the housekeeping staff that leave lovely notes, this place makes you feel so very welcome. Many a hotel will send up a welcome amenity. At the Fitzwilliam we got a delivery of Dairy Milk bars and crisps with a note from the front desk telling my daughter how those where their favorite childhood treats.

Get to know the concierge while you’re here! These folks are gems, working with them is akin to having your own private guide to all things you love that can be found in Dublin. Seriously, this is a service they should charge for – I’d pay. 

Each and every staff member we encountered was warm, helpful and never overbearing, which speaks to the earnestness that takes this from hotel to a fond memory and a place you long to return to. 

“Some places you stay. Other places stay with you.” ~Me

Value

The Fitzwilliam is a luxury property, and the price tag reflects that – our stay in the off-season and was £395 per night. That said, the location, and service were well worth the price. Being so centrally located, you need not spend extra money on getting around. Having the concierge as your guides is a huge service, adding to the value.

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelThe Fitzwilliam is also a member of the Preferred Hotel Group – their iPrefer program is one of only three hotel loyalty programs I personally belong to. Why?  Their points add up fast, you always get free wi-fi, early check-in and/or late checkout, and they take the time to learn your (and your family’s) preferences ensuring that they follow you across all their member properties.

The Cornstalk Hotel in New Orleans (or that time I spotted a ghost)

The Cornstalk Hotel New OrleansWhen a place has been inhabited since 1840, there are sure to be a few stories infused into its walls.  The Cornstalk Hotel in New Orleans certainly has a few. Here, at the most photographed hotel in one of the most picturesque cities in the country, my ghost story begins. 

Let’s start with a stroll down Royal Street. It’s 1840, New Orleans is a bustling port city cradled in a crescent giving access to both the ocean and the great Mississippi. In a stylish home – not far from Jackson Square — a husband worries that his wife is suffering from a deep longing for her Iowa home.

In one of the most romantic acts, still able to be witnessed well over one-hundred years later, the man commissions an iron-work fence. Wait? What? Stick with me here. The man requests a grand gate made in the shape of the swaying stalks of corn that dominate the landscape of his beloved’s home.  Rising above the sidewalk of Royal Street we can still see this love letter today.

The Cornstalk Hotel New Orleans Famous FenceWhen the rare opportunity for my husband and I to getaway -sans offspring — came up, I chose The Cornstalk Hotel for this story alone. Besides, staying in New Orleans should be an adventure in the extraordinary and staying somewhere this old and ornate is like time travel.

Our stay was lovely. Sitting on the balcony, I felt like a grand dame of New Orleans society, nodding at the endless gatherings of tourists that stopped to snap photos of the hotel. The proprietor joined us on the veranda as we listened to guides from the hourly ghost tours stop to regale their audiences with tales of the rooms we’d be spending our weekend in. 

Perhaps that played into the bumps and knocks we’d hear all weekend. Maybe the flickering lights were just due to faulty bulbs. Buildings settle over time, door frames warp. Could it be that was the reason the door to our bathroom would slowly swing open hours after I know I closed it?

As night deepened and we returned to our room, the sounds of Bourbon street in the distance started to fade. Yet whispers still drifted to our window. Looking out our window hoping to guilt people into moving on quietly! I noticed not one living soul.
The Cornstalk Hotel New OrleansThere are no smartly dressed concierge here waiting to fill your every request. You won’t find marble soaking tubs with relaxing jets. The nearest spa is a stroll away.  The house is old, it has an air of mystery to it. The beds are made of rich woods with ornate carvings. Fireplaces are encircled with stone and gilt ironwork. Victorian touches from chandeliers to window dressings give one the feeling of having traveled back in time.
 
Make time to sit on the balcony. As the sun starts to set, look to the buildings across the street. Do all the people walking by seem solidly in the same plane as you are? I snapped a photo from that spot. The day wasn’t foggy, nor particularly humid. My camera lens was clean, the battery new. Yet I could almost be convinced I caught something or someone, spectral. Judge for yourself…
Haunted Hotels in New Orleans

The Cornstalk Hotel – New Orleans, Louisianan

Address: 915 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70116

Website: thecornstalkhotel.com

Phone: (504) 523-1515

Price Point: $179 – $324 – depending on season and day of the week.

Note: As mentioned, this is an old house. Though it is also a quaint boutique hotel, it isn’t exactly what I’d personally consider luxury. That said, I’d gladly go back again. It really is a very unique place that is worth staying.

If you are planing to visit New Orleans with children, this may not be the hotel for you.  

 

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Loews Philadelphia Hotel (review)

Union League of Philadelphia buildingWith a view of the William Penn statue atop City Hall on one side, and the neon glow of the sign that crowns the top of Benjamin Franklin House, a noted restaurant on site and many of the most popular attractions within walking distance, the Loews Philadelphia Hotel is a unique gem.

Location! Location! Location!

Some of the best views of the Philadelphia skyline can be found on the 33rd floor of this historic building, which is actually the very first skyscraper ever constructed in the United States. Looking out the windows of our own room, it was easy to imagine how awe struck  people of 1932 must have been when gazing upon the city for the first time from a bird’s eye vantage point.

View from the 33rd Floor observation area. Named among the best views in the entire city. (photo credit: Loews Hotels)
View from the 33rd Floor observation area. Named among the best views in the entire city. (photo credit: Loews Hotels)

This hotel is perfectly situated in a downtown area packed with things to see, do and eat.  Reading Terminal Market is just one block away, Independence National Historic park – where you’ll find the liberty bell, Independence Hall, and more–  an easy six block stroll. It seems every block between here and where you might like to go, has it’s own character, architectural wonders, and unique artwork. You can easily leave your car in the parking garage and not miss it. 

Loews Philadelphia Hotel (review)
Wifi forgotten as she watches the city below, wrapped in her favorite hotel robe.

Amenities

12 Fit Spa is a unique mix of spa and gym. There is a heated two-lane lap pool and cardio center, as well as saunas. You can still get a body treatment or facial, but there isn’t a lounging or kiddie pool.

Bank & Bourbon the hotel bar and restaurant is a hip take on American classic cuisine and cocktails with a modern twist.  Read on for our favorite offerings from the kitchen.

Loews Hotel Philadelpia (review)Staff

Let me start by saying that we shared the hotel with what seemed like a very large convention of some sort. The place was packed. Even with a huge volume to deal with, some of the staff still really went above and beyond.

Anthony in Concierge was our unofficial, personal ambassador to Philadelphia. From the moment he helped with our bags, to every time we passed by the desk, he had a smile and a tip for us. We’d have never headed over to Reading Terminal Market without his advice, or known that there was a great sports memorabilia shop right behind the hotel – the 10 year old was thrilled at that news! He guided us along the six block walk to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.  In short, the guy is a gem. 

We have a family tradition when traveling, the ‘Room Service Dessert Picnic.’ This sweet indulgence is what we use to bribe the kids into not bugging us for sweets everywhere we go. Everyone gets to order one dessert of the menu and has to share. If I’m being honest, it’s my favorite part of the trip too.   

Cheryl in Room Service helped make this one of our best picnics ever. She guided us through the extensive menu, asking what the kids’ favorite flavors were, telling us about her favorites, describing each treat as though she were the host of a Cooking Channel show.

Loews Philadelpia Hotel The fresh-made donut (warm and fluffy) topped with vanilla bean ice cream and cookie crumbles, served with a side of bourbon caramel sauce was a HUGE hit. Pastry Chef at Bank & Bourbon might be getting a love letter from this family.

Value

Loews Hotels are luxury-level properties, so you can expect that you won’t be getting that $49 rate you found on that discount site. That said, you can find a luxury level room for around $200 on a weekend night. For comparison in the area other luxury hotels – like say a Ritz Carlton – run about $275 for a basic room. 

Valet parking runs around $46 a day. Bringing along your furry family member? Loews hotels do an amazing job at being pet-friendly.  At this location you can get dog-walking route maps, pet placemats, water bowls, treats, doggie pick-up bags and more for $40. They even have pet sitting options as well as their human babysitting services.

Loews Philiadelphia HotelFor Families?

Our family spends a lot of time in hotels… like, a lot. The kids themselves have become experts in their own right on what makes a great amenity and whether a hotel is really family-friendly. The teen was impressed that Loews hotels think of her age group by presenting them with music download gift cards. In her words, “Bonus! Saving data for the win… Mommm.”

Guests 10 and under receive a “Loews Loves Kids” welcome gift. Our kids didn’t get these, but in all fairness this could be because staff didn’t notice them as they were glued to the wall of TVs in the lobby lounge.  This property also has “Kids Closet,” offering things you might want or need during your stay, like;  board games, books, car seats, strollers, night-lights, potty seats, baby bathtub, baby blankets, outlet protectors, self-contained DVD players with age appropriate DVDs—and more.

Loews Philadelphia Hotel Bank and BourbonHotel Info

Address: 1200 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Phone: (215) 627-1200
Website: loewshotels.com