Category: Movie tourism

Movie Tourism – Scottish Highlands – The Eagle

Released in 2011 starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, and Donald Sutherland, The Eagle is a spectacular historical film based on the adventures of a Roman soldier searching for the lost standard of his father’s legion. Marcus and his slave Esca journey far north of Hadrian’s Wall into the dangerous territory of unfriendly tribes, the Picts and the Seals. Scenes were filmed at Loch Lomond, Wester Ross, and for a week around the village of Achiltibuie in the Highlands. Visitors will enjoy the beautiful scenery, the Lochs, the abundant wildlife, and noteworthy attractions, as they journey back in time to the days of the Roman Empire.

Throughout Wester Ross in towns and small villages, accommodations are reasonably priced and readily available. Guest houses and B&Bs, as well as a few premium hotels, are popular with tourists worldwide.

Highly recommended by travelers is the Summer Isles Hotel in Achiltibuie, with spacious rooms and elegant dining. Overlooking the sea in a beautiful setting, the Summer Isles features fresh seafood, venison, and a wide selection of wine on the restaurant menu. Informal meals, snacks, and drinks are served in the Bar during the day and evening. Rates: $184 dbl w/courtyard view, $240 dbl w/sea view.

Many tourists choose self-catering while on holiday, and Achduart Cottage is a good choice for families, located about 4 miles from Achiltibuie within 50 yards of the sea and view of the Hebrides. Three bedrooms sleep six people, while the downstairs sitting room, kitchen, sunroom, and wooded gardens make this an ideal place to relax, explore, and watch the seals, whales, and variety of wildlife. Linens included and pets allowed. Weekly Rates: $1,041-$1,200.

Looking for something unusual, consider the Pool House at Ullapool, a main fishing port near the village of Poolewe, about 40 miles from Achiltibuie. The exotic, somewhat quirky interior decor of hand-carved wooden doors, artifacts collected from around the world, and marble inlay tables enhance the charming atmosphere of the property. Fine meals are served, accompanied by an interesting narrative of the history of Pool House given by the owners. Full breakfast, afternoon tea and canapes, complimentary set of Scottish bath products, along with the warm hospitality of the Harrisons offer unique appeal for visitors to the Pool House. Rates: $256/night

Opened in 2011, the Locholly Lodge offers a superb holiday rental home in Achiltibiue, not far from the Summer Isles Hotel. This 2-story accommodation features a study, lounge, master bedroom and sauna on the first floor, with kitchen, laundry, and three bedrooms and one bath on the ground floor. Linens included, 6-8 guests.. Pet friendly.
Rates: $958-$2,400/week. $32 pet fees.

Restaurants/Cafes/Pubs:

Recommended for great seafood in the area, the award-winning Kishorn Seafood Bar is a traveler’s delight. Choose from a range of entrees, sandwiches, wine and beer. Hours: Mar-Nov, Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm. Sun, 12-5pm. Jul-Sep, 10-9pm.
Prices: Average meal – $20, café items -$5-$8.

The 18th century Ferry Boat Inn on the shore of Ullapool serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week from 8am-11pm. Live music Thursday evenings and good pub food and drinks. Great informal spot for travelers to unwind. Two-course lunches $10.40. (Rooms available, $48 single, $80 double.)

Another restaurant with good reviews is the popular Arch Inn on the shores of Loch Broom offering splendid views and indoor or outdoor dining. Lobster, scallops, beef and lamb are the specialties. Live music and entertainment.
Open: 11am, 7 days a week. Prices: $8-$24

Things to Do: A visit to the Highlands offers an endless choice of things to do including hiking, fishing, canoeing, cycling, golf, and.side trips to other attractions nearby.

Take a 2-hour drive and plan to spend the day at Inverewe Gardens, an amazing 54 acres of tropical plants from around the world. The legacy of Osgood Mackenzie, a Scottish landowner in 1862, the gardens offer a wonderful contrast to the rugged landscape on the edge of Wester Ross. Gift shop and self-serve café onsite.
Open: 1 Jan-31 Mar, 10am-3pm; 1 Apr-31 Aug, 10-6; 1 Sep-31 Oct, 10-4; Nov & Dec, 10-3.
Admission: $15 p/p, $36 family.

Visit the Ullapool Museum, housed in the old Telford Church, which features exhibition areas tracing the social and natural history of the area and the Loch people. Includes an audio-visual presentation, two marine aquariums, artifacts, tapestries and quilts, as well as model ships. Gift shop and handicap accessible.
Hours: 1 Apr-30 Sep, 10am-5pm, Mon-Sat. Oct-Mar, arrange with Curator.
Admission: $5 p/p.

A 3-hour ferry ride from Ullapool to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides is always fun. You can find reasonable accommodations if you decide to stay overnight and see the historical and cultural attractions, as well as get great photographs of the sea and wildlife.
Rd trip price: $161/passenger(s) & car. Two sailings daily each way.

If you have enough time, check out the bus service to Hadrian’s Wall, a UNESCO Heritage Site, easily comparable to the other great wonders in the world.

Shopping:

Find a variety of shops in or near Ullapool including Captain Cabin’s Gift Shop for arts and crafts, Ceol Na Mara for Malt Whiskeys, Woolens, and Scottish foods, and outdoor wear at Cormack’s & Crawfords.

Getting there: Using Inverness as our starting point, drive or take the bus to Ullapool, about 1.5 hours, two buses daily schedule usually coincides with the ferry service. Fare: $16. In comparison, the 40-mile drive from Ullapool to Achiltibiue in a taxi costs $56.

Sharon L Slayton

Movie Tourism: The International – Sirmione, Italy – Lake Garda

The International starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts was released in 2009, but much of the content in the movie, the scandals and banking control and power, is familiar to us today. This is an exciting James Bond type of thriller, as it follows the fast moving travels of Owen, the Interpol agent, and Watts, an Assistant D.A. from Manhattan. Their investigation of international banking corruption begins in Germany, but moves to the Guggenheim in NYC, back to Turkey, and finally in Italy. They encounter assassins, terrorism, money laundering, arms trading, and underhanded financial schemes along the way.

The International was filmed in a number of locations, but this article will focus on Sirmione in northwestern Italy on the southern part of Lake Garda, the largest in the country. An area of amazing scenery, mild climate, and mountain breezes, Sirmione is known as a spa resort and a popular vacation destination. Famous for Catullus, the ancient Roman poet, it also became a favorite place for Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Tennyson, DH Lawrence, and Maria Callas. From pebble beaches, fir and pine trees to lovely gardens and lemon and olive groves, this scenic lakeside town is filled with tourists during the summer. People stroll through the historic center, visit the small shops, and enjoy pizza and gelato along the way.

Things to See & Do:

The Catullo spa complex in the Old Town features all types of therapies, massages, and treatments for skin disorders and various diseases. They also have a center for spa treatment of middle ear inflammation leading to deafness. Experience the Aquaria thermal bath for the ultimate in wellness, beauty, fitness, and health treatments. Open: Apr-Oct, 7am-6:30pm, daily except Sun.

Virgilio spa, located on the main road from Verona to Brescia (shuttle bus available from Sirmione to the spa.) In addition to the same treatments as Catullo, it offers a center for bronchopneumopathy Open: Mon-Sat, 7am-Noon, year round.

(Note: I couldn’t find any prices for the spas, but I’m sure there are several hotels which offer spa packages with their accommodations.)

Rocca Scalgera, Scaliger Castle – Built in the 13th century, this fortress is surrounded by water, making it a vital strategic location for defense and control of the lake. From the 14th to the 16th century, it served as an important military center, and some troops remained there until the 19th century. Climb150 steps to the walled walkways and the tower for a spectacular view. Admission – $5.

The most interesting attraction in Sirmione is the Grotte di Catullo, the ruins of Catullo’s private Roman villa. Dating back to the 1st century, this grand villa measured 344′ x 548′. Within the remaining structure, visitors can explore the Antiquarium, a museum of excavation and restoration photographs, sculptures, frescoes, bronze and ceramic artifacts, as well as an overall design of the villa. Admission: $5. Open: Apr-Oct, Tues-Sat, 8:30am-7pm, Sun, 8:30-6pm. Nov-Feb, Tues-Sat, 8:30-5pm, Sun, 8:30-1pm. Mar, Tues-Sat, 8:30-7pm, Sun-8:30-1:30pm.

More to Do:

Sailing, windsurfing, boat rides around the lake for about $40, or ferry service to explore other lakeshore towns. (Most hotels have schedules and prices.) There are three categories of seating, and most ferries are equipped with a bar and restaurant. You’ll pay another $3 for fast service to Desenzano. A trip to Riva takes three-four hours, $17 and $6 extra for faster service. For something different, take the paddle boat steamer to Desenzano for about $6.00. A mini train runs from the Aquaria at the Catullo Spa around town for a dollar or two.

Accommodations:

Located on the lake not far from the Castle, the 4-star Hotel Eden offers 33 rooms with view of the lake or square, lounge and snack bars, restaurant, and private garage.

(Ezra Pound invited Joyce to visit him at the Eden in 1920.) Water sports, tennis, and golf nearby.

Rates: $100-$200/classic dbl room, $150-$263/dbl with lake view & private balconies.

Built in 1864, the Grand Hotel Gardone has kept the charm and appeal that attracted such famous people as Churchill, Sabin, Maugham, and Nabokov. Guests can choose from 167 rooms and junior suites featuring lake or mountain views and balconies. Enjoy food from the poolside snack bar, the Lemon Garden, or the Veranda restaurant, and have a cocktail at Winnie’s Piano Bar. The hotel also features a motorboat jetty, swimming pool, and sauna.

Rates (for 2): $271-$348, mountain view, $305-$382, lake view, suites $382-$462.

Ideal Hotel, located near the Grotto and the Castle, features 32 rooms, each with balconies overlooking the lake, private beach and outdoor pool, rooftop terrace, restaurant, and lounge bar. It’s only a 10-minute walk into town and shuttle service is available for a small surcharge.

Rates: $163/dbl

Restaurants:

The elegant Ristorante Risorgimento on a main square in the Old Town is highly recommended for the variety of cuisine, Continental, Italian, and Mediterranean. Although it is somewhat expensive, with prices ranging from $60 to $200, it receives great reviews for the atmosphere, excellent service, and delicious food.

Il Girasole is considered one of the best in Sirmione for its friendly staff,

romantic atmosphere, and reasonably priced local cuisine. Dine indoors or outdoors on the partially covered terrace. Choose from a wide selection of food and beverages from the menu. Prices from $22 to $50, wine $3-$4. Open for lunch, dinner, and late night, March to end of October. Reservations.

For a memorable dining experience with family, friends, or business clients, visit the top-rated Ristorante Pace beside the lake. Food is served indoors, on the garden terrace, or on the boat dock. The extensive menu includes sushi and sashimi appetizers and entrees of beef, fish, and wild game. Prices: $32-$81 for a 7-course meal with wine.

Dine in the beauty and elegance of La Speranzina on the lakeside balcony or amid the olive trees and bougainvillea of the garden. Surrounded by the atmosphere and decor resembling the French Riviera, you’ll be impressed with the fast and efficient service from the courteous staff. The cuisine features delicious appetizers to tempting desserts. Try the foie gras and langoustine, choose from a la carte, or the entrees of lake, sea, and land specialties. Among the most expensive restaurants in Sirmione, be prepared to pay from $40. Before you leave, be sure and make a wish at the wishing well. The website states they are always open, but call first to make reservations.

Enjoy your vacation in Sirmione and relax in the dolce far niente (Italians call it the sweet idleness of life) at Lake Garda.

Getting there: Regularly scheduled flights from Venice or Milan; other airlines and charter flights can be arranged from closer airports such as Verona or Brescia. By train from Verona to Peschiera or Desenzano (every half hour, about 40 minutes.) A local bus or short taxi ride to Sirmione. Ferry service and hydrofoils to Sirmione and other lakeside towns are available from Desenzano. Easily done by car on the A4/E70 highway between Verona and Milan, only 26 miles from Verona, 85 from Milan.

Sharon L Slayton

War Horse – Movie Tourism

Stephen Spielberg has directed another great film, choosing some of the most beautiful settings in Devon, England for the story of Joey, the War Horse. In addition to the splendid natural beauty of the countryside, the quaint, picturesque small villages are just as appealing. Nominated for 6 Academy Awards, one for Best Picture, the movie features a European cast and follows young Albert and Joey from the family’s farm to the daring adventures of this courageous lad and his incredible War Horse in WWI.

Many of the scenes were filmed in the moors and Dartmoor National Park where Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Hound of the Baskervilles and Agatha Christie used as settings in her mystery novels. Visitors will find a number of attractions around Dartmoor including Ditsworthy Warren House (scenes of the family’s farmhouse) and at other film locations including Stratfield Saye, the estate of the Duke of Wellington for the cavalry charge scenes, Farnham, and Bourne Woods. This article focuses on Castle Combe, known as “the prettiest village in England,” where most of the village scenes for War Horse, as well as Doctor Dolittle, Stardust, and The Wolfman took place. Located 100 miles northeast from Dartmoor, 90 miles from London, near Bristol and about 15 miles from Bath, day trips are a popular option for visitors to the Cotswolds.

Things to See and Do

Tourists enjoy walking from the small, uncrowded village through the wooded By Brook valley into the hilly countryside to best appreciate the natural beauty of the area. This 5 ½ mile walk, about 2 ½ hours, crosses 10 stiles and includes some interesting attractions.

The 1-hour farm walk begins and ends in the village and includes the Colham Organic Farm. Along the trail through meadows and woodlands, you’ll see a variety of farm animals and cattle, beech trees, and rare flowers. Guided tours available (see Colham Farm for contact info).

(Note: There are a number of other public trail walks, and most shops in the village will have maps and information.)

The village center, Market Cross, is similar to other 14th century villages (depicted in Pillars of the Earth by Follett), where sheep and wool were brought to trade. Visitors will see the old cross and water pump, and St Andrews Church to view the tomb of a crusader and an ancient working clock. A war memorial honoring the villagers who died in WWI stands at a former church courtyard entrance. Across the bridge are the old weavers’ cottages and the Dower House (Dr Dolittle’s in the movie)

Visit the Castle Combe racing circuit, established in 1950 for all types of motor sports and considered the best in Britain. The events’ calendar includes car, motorcycle, and bicycle races, car boot (a flea market) sales, testing days, racing instruction, and a family cycling festival for all ages in August.

Prices: Testing – full day $334. Boot sales – charity donation 80 cents. Track days – cars, $280, motorcycles, $200. Action days – 15-minute passes, $6. Other driving experiences – e.g., 10-minutes in a Lotus, $63, 26 May – 4 laps in Lotus, $31. Spectator admission – Adults – $24, Children – $12. Café facilities onsite. Open year round, weather permitting.

Accommodations:

The luxurious and expensive Manor House Hotel & Golf Club on 365 acres is highly recommended, a perfect location for weddings, meetings, and other events. Guestrooms and suites feature 4-poster beds, Jacuzzi tubs and walk-in showers, stylish decor, and wonderful views from the Main House or the cottages. Two bedrooms set aside for you and your pet. Amenities include a fully stocked tea/coffee cart, in-room dining, and special items for children. Rates: Master Suite – $1,000 (incl breakfast & 7-course dinner), guestrooms with many extras – $1,500/dbl, B&B accommodation – $326. The Waterfall Lodge near the clubhouse offers four twin bedrooms, two showers, and lounge, for avid golfers or extra rooms for party guests. Breakfast and 3-course dinner, 36 holes of golf, and use of the driving range are included. Rates(p/p): $173 Sun-Thu, $190 Fri & Sat.

Also recommended is the refurbished 12th century Castle Inn in the village with eleven rooms and offering several different packages. The War Horse 2-night weekend special includes breakfast, champagne, and chocolates. Rates: $540/dbl executive room. Guests have access to the Lucknam Park Spa, 5 miles from the inn, open seven days a week, 7am-10pm, $71 p/p.

Other Rates: Regular – $135/single, $236/dbl. A romantic one-night stay with 2-crse dinner, Sun-Thurs, $302/couple.

The family-owned Old House at Home in nearby Chippenham has six boutique guestrooms in a quiet, cozy atmosphere. Adults only, minimum age 16. Rates: $152/dbl, incl brkfst.

Highly rated is the family-friendly Beechfield House near Chippenham, about 4 miles from Castle Combe and close to the racing circuit. There are 24 guestrooms – classic, family, and luxury. The Rosette restaurant has a long-standing reputation as one of the best in the area. Enjoy a cocktail in the bar/lounge or beauty and spa treatments in the Beauty Center of the hotel.

Rates: 1 Jan-30 Jun, Sun-Thurs, dbl w/ brkfst – $197-$245. 1 Jul-31 Aug, $213-$277.

Fri-Sat, $229-$277. B&B + dinner, $308-$372.

Where to Eat:

A favorite among travelers is the award winning By Brook restaurant at the Manor House for fine dining, a variety of cuisine, and a noteworthy wine list. Dinner menus (avg prices) – appetizers – $19, entrees – $24-$30, 3 crses – $95. Other dining options include 2-crse market menu, 3-crse Sun lunch, and casual dining in the garden pavilion, terrace, or a picnic on the grounds. Afternoon tea is served from 3-6pm, $34. Hours: 12:30-2pm, Tues-Sun (lunch), dinner hours, 7-9pm, Sun-Thu & 7-9:30 Fri & Sat

The four restaurants at the Castle Inn are also recommended for a variety of dining options. Sample menu prices: 2-crses, $26, 3-crses, $32, sandwiches and bar menu, $11-$14.

Enjoy delicious British cuisine at the restaurant in the Old House at Home. Menu selections include wild game, seafood, beef, and lamb, elegant desserts, and reasonable prices. Main courses – avg $23, desserts – $8.

Enjoy traditional food and ale, served daily from 11am-11pm at the 14th century White Hart pub near the Castle Combe racing circuit.

Visit the Old Rectory Tea Room for a light lunch or British cream tea and scones, explore the small gift shop, and view their portrait galley taken during the filming of War Horse. Reserve the Garden Room for a group (up to 6).

Hours: 10am-3pm, Mon-Fri, weekends for private parties, (castlecombetearooms.co.uk for contact info). Menu prices: $5-$8.

Getting there: Several options from London to Castle Combe. By train from Heathrow or Paddington Station to nearby towns (Chippenham is the closest), 1 ½ hours, runs every hour, $31. By coach, 3-4 hours, $27. By Rental Car, International Driver’s License required, about 2 hours, $95/day (the best choice if you intend to stay a few days). Most villages in the area are within an hour or two driving distance from Castle Combe.

Sharon L Slayton

Basilicata, Italy – Visit the Ancient Sassi (Stones) of Matera

Travel south from Rome to Matera, the capital of Matera Province in Basilicata and a UNESCO Heritage site of hillside caves within 20 miles of the Ionian Sea. The extraordinary town of Matera, also called Lucania, is of great interest to historians, archaeologists, and theologians for its resemblance to Jerusalem in biblical times. Movie producers used realistic locations in the area for Mel Gibson’s controversial The Passion of the Christ, King David with Richard Gere, and The Nativity Story. An increase in tourism brought a welcome boost to the economy of this ancient city. The cave-like houses of the two districts, Sassi Caveoso and Sassi Barisano, are architecturally unique, with each one built on top of another and interiors carved out of the rocky hillsides. Narrow, winding streets and crooked, steep stairways connect the cave homes where generations of families may have lived since the prehistoric ages.

Things to See & Do:

Wildlife and bird watching are popular with visitors to Matera, where nature lovers and photographers can spend hours in the natural habitat of cormorants, herons, and falcons. Wolves, badgers, and otters are among the small wildlife in these reserves, and the rare yellow spotted Tortoise of Herman makes its home near the sandy shores.

Guided cycling tours are available to the Natural History Park of the Matera Caves of Churches about 9 miles from town. There are over 150 churches to see, as well as the 9th century frescoes in the cave of a hundred saints (the Crypt of Original Sin.) If you have time, you can explore other national parks in the Basilicata region such as San Guiliano and the Policoro Woods, on foot, on horseback, or by white water rafting

Among the churches in Matera are the 8th century Benedictine church of Santa Lucia of the Malve, the San Pietro Barisano, the 16th century San Agostino church, and the Cathedral to Santa Maria della Bruna.

The 17th century Palazzo Lanfranchi, built by the Capuchin monk Copertin, houses a collection of sacred and contemporary artwork. It features paintings by Carlo Levi, author of the book and film Christ Stopped at Eboli, wooden sculptures, clay works, cultural exhibits, and paintings from other provinces in Italy.

Hours: Tues-Fri, 10:30-12:30pm, 4:30-6:30pm. Admission: $2.70, $1.35

Others places of interest include the National Archaeological Museum “Domenico Ridola,” established in 1911 by Ridola, physician and Senator of Matera. The museum features ancient artifacts from the Old and New Stone Ages, gathered from his numerous excavations. Hours: 9-8pm, Closed Mon. Admission: $3.

The MUSMA, Museo della Scultura Contempranea, which opened in Oct 2006, is a huge 2-level museum with rooms of magnificent sculpture, wall and floor artwork, jewelry, and displays in hallways, cellars, courtyards, and on the veranda. The impressive exterior view of the caves and the Gravina Canyon is no less impressive than the unique interior of the museum. Known as the friendship museum by Curator Giuseppe Appella, most collections are privately donated. Hours: 10-2pm, Tues-Sat. Admission: $6

Events: Various festivals, religious celebrations, and live theatre take place all year. One of the most popular is the Madonna Della Bruna festival, which begins at sunrise on 2 July and continues until nightfall. From the early morning procession of shepherds, parade of horseback riders and local police, and crowds of vendors, everyone gets involved. At the end of the day, the mule-drawn cart carrying the throne and Madonna is pulled through town, while the locals grab pieces of the float as a promise of good luck and a plentiful harvest. A splendid fireworks display ends the festivities sometime after midnight.

Where to Stay:

The 5-star Palazzo Gattini overlooking the town features 20 luxurious rooms and suites; each is unique with 18th and 19th century décor, handmade furnishings, restored frescoes, and modern amenities. Rooms have separate sitting areas, and some have balconies where guests can enjoy the view. Condé Nast recognized this prestigious hotel on their 2009 Hot List. Guests receive a complimentary breakfast, use of the underground spa, pool, and golf course on the grounds. Fine dining at the elegant Le Bubbole restaurant onsite.

Rates: $180/room. Special Weekend & Other Packages – from $186 to $600+ for the ultimate luxury.

Sant’Angelo Hotel & Resort has 23 rooms and suites, a library, conference facilities, courtyards, 2 bars, and the popular Regia Corte restaurant and lounge terrace. Amenities for guests include complimentary Internet access, breakfast, room service, and shuttle service to the railway station or to/from Bari Airport ($89 for 2, one-way). Rates: $161/dbl room

Hotel Albergo Italia is centrally located and offers comfortable accommodations and a friendly atmosphere at very reasonable prices. The rooms are spacious and clean, the service is excellent, and the Basilico restaurant is next door. Avg Rates: $87/dbl

Also recommended by hotels.com:

The designer Hotel Basiliani in the archaeological area overlooks the Gravina Canyon. The striking all-white décor of the 11 guestrooms provides an interesting contrast between the contemporary and the old limestone cave houses of the Sassi. Each room has a private entrance, and guests receive a full breakfast, free parking, and Internet access. Good value for your money. Rates: $66/sgl, $86/dbl.

The 7 rooms at the Residenza Le Dodici Lune have individual balconies, TV, cooking facilities, & refrigerator. Restaurant onsite; the Residenza is pet friendly. Rates: $101/room

Hilton Garden Inn has 125 guestrooms, free parking, and restaurant onsite.

Rates: $109/room

Where to Eat:

Le Botteghe is highly recommended for a quiet, comfortable atmosphere, good service, and excellent food. The menu features ear shaped pasta baked with ham and cheese, pasta with mussels, and grilled beef. There is a wide selection of wines, side dishes, antipasto, and local specialties. Try the famous Pane de Matera, the bread with a tradition that began with the peasants who had no electricity or running water until the 1950’s. Each family had a personal breadstamp, which was placed on each loaf after baking in wood-burning ovens. Bread was used as an ingredient in many dishes, and breadstamps were so important they were often given as wedding gifts.

Hours: 12:30-3pm (Lunch), 8pm–(Dinner). Prices: Lunch, $66 for 2, Dinner entrées range in price.

The menu at Ristorante Luncanerie includes delicious local pasta specialties, roasted suckling pig and boar, unusual side dishes, and goat cheesecake for dessert. Canvas booths, old wall paintings, and 16′ ceilings add a rural appeal to the restaurant. Friendly service & creative cuisine. Prices: $72-$85 for 2.

Trattoria del Caveoso, centrally located, is ranked #1 by numerous travelers to Matera. The seasonal menu features traditional and gourmet cuisine including lamb, fava beans, pasta, grilled steak, and a selection of wine and desserts. Outstanding hospitality and service. Prices: $27-$47. Open year round, except Sun evenings and Mondays.

Stroll through town after sunset to experience the magical panorama of street lamps glowing in the darkness across the ancient white Sassi of Matera.

Getting there: Flights from Rome, Milan, major European cities, and the UK to Bari airport, regular Pugliair bus service to Matera, or a 50-minute drive. By rail from Bari to Matera, about an hour, $5 one-way.

Sharon L Slayton

Movie Tourism – Destination Seville, Spain

We are constantly overwhelmed by depressing reports of civil unrest and political upheaval in countries run by dictators. Invariably, we look for the lighter side in the news, which we may find in the hilarious comedy The Dictator scheduled for release May 2012. Seville will probably see an increase in tourism and a boost to their economy as the film gains international attention. Produced by the very talented Sacha Baron Cohen, the clever script, costumes, and props, along with an award-winning cast including Cohen (nominated again this year for Hugo), Anna Faris, John C. Riley, and Megan Fox provide delightful entertainment in The Dictator.

You may have seen the trailer while watching the Super Bowl:

Filming takes place in Seville, with the majority of scenes of military vehicles and the dictator’s statue in the Plaza de Espana. Seville, the capital of Andalusia in southern Spain, is a historic city dating back over 2,000 years and known for music, art, and culture. The city has an abundance of fascinating attractions that can’t be covered in one article, so we will highlight only a few.

The 16th century Catedral de Sevilla, 3rd largest in the world, is a must-see attraction with 80 chapels and a Tomb of Christopher Columbus. Conflicting stories exist among historians about the location of his remains, however, and DNA evidence raises further questions. As a result, there is a second tomb to Columbus on the island of Hispaniola.

Hours: Winter – Mon-Sat, 11-5:30pm, Sun, 2:30-6:30pm. Jul & Aug – Mon-Sat, 9:30-4:30pm, Sun, 2:30-6:30pm.

Admission: $10.50, $4 Students & Srs.

Visit the Alcazar (Palace), once a 10th century Moorish fortress, and now a royal residence for the kings of Spain, where both Muslim and Christian influence can be seen in the architecture. The Mudejar within the castle walls was the magnificent palace of Peter I built in 1364. There are 2 main courtyards, the Dolls and the Maidens, a reflective pool, sunken gardens, the king’s bedroom, Throne Room, and a room of valuable Flemish tapestries. Enjoy the scent of orange trees that fills the air as you stroll through the gardens and patios.

Open Daily: Oct-Mar, 7 days, 9:30-5pm. Apr-Sep, 9:30-7pm.

Admission: $11, $2.60 Students & Srs.

Go to the Plaza de la Encarnacion to see the Metropol Parasol, the world’s largest wooden structure built by Jurgen Mayer H architects. Known as the Mushroom, it provides a striking contrast between the old and the new Seville. This modern landmark is a series of walkways beneath connecting rows of parasols that rise over 60′ in the air. Visit the food market, the Antiquarium of roman artifacts, and take the elevator to the cocktail bar and a great view of the city. Open Daily: 10-2pm, 6pm-Midnight. Entry: $1.50

Museo de Baile Flamenco, opened in 2006, represents the international popularity of Andalusian flamenco song, dance, and classical guitar. Permanent and temporary exhibits and memorabilia are featured, as well as classes in flamenco. Nov-Mar, 9-6pm, Apr-Oct, 9-7pm. Admission: $13, $8

Enter the 16th century iron gates by Roldan to the Museo de Toros, which is housed within one of the oldest bullrings in Spain. Follow the history and view bulls heads, posters, and costumes worn by famous bullfighters of Seville, Belmonte and El Gallo. Open: Mon-Sat, 9:30-2pm & 3-7pm. Admission: $5

Museo de Bellas Artes in a former convent has three galleries of fine art by Spanish masters from the 15th to the 20th century including Velásquez, El Greco, and Murillo. Shop, cafè, studios, research center, & library. Hours: Tues-Sat, 9-8:30pm. Sun & Holidays, 9-2:30pm. Admission: $2, free to EU citizens.

Accommodations:

The 5-star Hotel Alfonso XIII, built for the Ibero-American Exhibition in 1929, reflects the Moorish and Castilian heritage of a king’s palace. The hotel features elegant décor in spacious rooms and suites, gourmet cuisine, and indoor and outdoor dining. Currently undergoing renovation, scheduled to reopen March 2012.

Gran Melia Colon, also top rated, in the business district of Seville offers 10 categories of guestrooms, a rooftop solarium & sauna, 2 restaurants, and tour assistance. Rates: $289/dbl

EME Catedral, recommended in Conde Nast’s 2011 Traveler’s Gold List, has a rooftop terrace, outdoor pool, restaurant, and spa. Rates: $208/dbl

Barceló Renacamiento on the Isla de la Cartuja at the Guadalquivir River is connected to the northern neighborhood of Seville. This modern hotel is ideal for groups and conferences, as well as tourists who want to explore the Isla attractions. Among these are the Monastery de Santa Maria de las Cuevas where Columbus lived before his voyage, the Andalucian Contemporary Art Center, and the Isla Magica Amusement Park. The hotel features a 25-room convention center, 3 restaurants, 5 types of guestrooms, shops, and open-air pool.

Rates: Deluxe & Family Rooms – $123. Connecting – $216. Suite – $156.

Attractions: Monastery: $8 & $10. Art Center Hours: 1 Oct-31 Mar, Tues-Fri, 10-8pm, Sat, 11-8pm, Sun, 10-3pm. 1 Apr-30 Sep, Tues-Fri, 10-9pm, Sat, 11-9pm, Sun, 10-3pm. $2.35 & $4.

The Inglaterra in the Plaza Nueva is a smaller, boutique hotel with a good central location, reasonable rates, and restaurant onsite. Rooms: $120

Dining & Nightlife:

Marea Grande restaurant receives excellent reviews for Mediterranean seafood specialties and quality beef served indoors and on the terrace. Expensive from $38 to $100+. Hours: Mon-Sat, 1:30-4:30pm, & 9-Midnight.

The old world atmosphere of Egaña Oriza, the extensive menu of wild game including boar, duck, and ostrich, and an impressive wine list define the popularity of this restaurant. Reservations needed.

Prices: $32-$80. Hours: Mon-Fri, 1:30-3:30pm, & 9-11:30pm. Sat, 9-11:30pm.

European antiques and art in a 19th century townhouse add charm to the Taberna del Alabardero, located 3 blocks from the Cathedral and a favorite restaurant among Spanish dignitaries. Enjoy drinks and tapas on the patio or beef and foie gras in the main dining area or private room.

Open Daily. 1-4pm, 8-Midnight. Prices: $32-$38. Reservations.

Just as tortillas are popular in Mexico and the Southwest, so are tapas (cold and hot appetizers) in Spain. With over 4,000 tapas bars in Seville, tapas crawls like pub crawls are a popular way to spend an evening. From seafood and ham croquettes to sirloin in whiskey, tapas can be a snack or a meal. Served at the bar, they are inexpensive at $2-$4. You will find some of the best tapas at Enrique Becerra, with a varied menu and cozy surroundings. Enjoy cocktails or Sangria with an entrée of lamb or seafood and dessert. Prices: $22-$35, $64-$74 set menu. Hours: Mon-Sat, 1-4:30pm & 8-Midnight.

Flaherty’s, the Irish bar next to the Cathedral, features televised sports events, indoor patio, outside tables, tapas, and Tex-Mex food. Lively crowd, occasional music.

Others recommended include Alfalfa, Ambigu in the old Macarena district, and El Rinconcillo in the Plaza de los Terceros. The latter is not fancy, dating back to 1670, but the atmosphere is authentic and the staff is friendly.

Getting there: Numerous international airlines, but no direct flights from the U.S. to San Pablo Airport in Seville. Flights from London (2 ½ hours) on Ryanair, Iberia, and British Airways. Taxi to city center (about 8 miles) – $26, Bus – $3, 6:15am to 11pm. Rental cars available.

Sharon L Slayton

See also this old travel plan including Seville.

Travel to Ireland in 2012 – Leap Year movie tourism

It’s Leap Year and what better time to vacation in Ireland where it is believed that romantic traditions of marriage proposals began. Legend says that St Bridget went to St Patrick on the subject of marriage proposals in the 5th century, since some women were waiting forever for the man to propose marriage. He agreed to allow women that opportunity every 4 years, but it didn’t actually become law until the 13th century in Scotland. One interesting and amusing part of their law was if the man refused the proposal, he was forced to pay a small fine, maybe a kiss or a new dress. (I doubt that such a law still exists.) The Leap Year tradition where the woman supposedly gets her man originated in the U.S. in the 1930’s with Al Capp’s Lil’ Abner, known as Sadie Hawkins Day usually in November.

Hollywood released the film Leap Year starring Amy Adams and Matthew Goode in 2010. Most of this light, romantic comedy was filmed in Ireland, primarily Dublin, so we chose the small town of Sligo and the 12th largest in the country as a vacation destination. Located in the far northwestern corner of Ireland on the Garavogue River, Sligo is about 135 miles from Dublin and only 40 miles from the border of Northern Ireland. It is certainly best known for the beauty and mysticism in words by Ireland’s most famous poet William Butler Yeats. In a land where romantic verses and fascinating folklore appeal to travelers worldwide, we offer a warm “Failte go Sligeach” (Welcome to Sligo).

Things to See & Do:

Sligo Abbey, built in the 13th century, was destroyed by fire in the 1400’s and again in the Irish rebellion of the 1600’s. Numerous carvings, the cloisters, and the only remaining Irish monastery altar from the 15th century have been well preserved. Stories of ghosts in this Dominican abbey written about by Bram Stoker in his novel Dracula were no doubt inspired by his mother, who came from Sligo.

Hours: 21 Apr-mid-Oct, 10-6pm, daily. Oct-2 Nov, Fri, Sat, Sun, 9:30-4:30pm.

Admission: Adults – $4, $3. Children – $1.25. Guided tours available, handicap accessible, parking, restrooms.

Hazelwood Sculpture Park on Lough Gill at Half Moon Bay is about 2 miles from Sligo. Visitors will find a nature trail of outdoor sculptures by Irish and international artists. Here is a perfect place to relax, picnic, and take pleasure in the enchantment of your surroundings, as Yeats expressed so eloquently, “I went out to the Hazelwood, because a fire was in my head.”

Woodville Open Farm will be of interest to families and school groups. Guided tours through the farm buildings, fields, and museum. Adults – $10. Children & Seniors – $8. Appt needed. Open: May-Sep.

Sligo County Museum houses artifacts, Yeats’ 1923 Nobel Prize medal, and other memorabilia representing the significance of the Yeats family to Irish history. Open: May-Sep, Tues-Sat, 9:30-12:30pm, & 2-4:45pm. Oct-Apr, 9:30-12:30pm. Free admission.

Visitors can view a permanent exhibition of Yeats’ works, the art gallery, and arrange walking tours of Sligo at the Yeats Memorial Building. Hours: 10-5pm, Mon-Fri, year round.

Where to Stay:

The Sligo Park Hotel & Leisure Club, about a mile from town, is a 4 star establishment in a garden setting near Lough Gill and the Isle of Innisfree, with beautiful views of Benbulben Mountain overlooking Drumcliff Churchyard and the grave of William Butler Yeats. You can still read the celebrated poet’s own epitaph “Cast a cold eye on life, on death. Horseman, pass by!” There is a lovely Tea House with books and crafts on the Drumcliff site, open daily 9-6pm. Guests will find the hotel is conveniently located, with spacious rooms, restaurant, coffee shop, terrace bar, and a fully equipped fitness suite. Tennis courts, indoor pool, free Internet, shops, and a golf course nearby.

Rates: $90-$110 sgl & dbl.

Riverside Hotel offers standard and executive guestrooms, some with balconies, a lounge, restaurant, & leisure center. Friendly staff and good value for the money.

Rates: $80 – suite, $76 – dbl room.

The 18th century Coopershill Country House Hotel, the Irish manor owned by the O’Hara’s and still occupied by a 7th generation family member, is a private 500-acre estate that offers wonderful, luxurious accommodations. With no TV or radio, this is ideal for a romantic weekend or quiet getaway. Relax in an elegant guestroom of antique décor, catch up on your reading, and enjoy tea or coffee in the comfort of your surroundings. The hospitality is superb, and the food is among the best in Ireland, with fresh locally produced fruits and vegetables and their specialty farm-raised venison. Spend hours walking this beautiful estate of lush lawns where peacocks stroll, and explore farmland and forest trails.

Rates: 5 nights for 2 guests – $1,100 total (breakfast included)

Open: 1 Apr-31 Oct for overnight guests. Weddings and other special events can be arranged throughout the year.

Castle Dargan Golf & Wellness Resort, about 8 minutes from town, is popular for the variety of packages available. Travelers can choose from 1, 2, and 3-night specials on golf and pampering, Valentine’s Day, holidays, mid-week, and other offers. Packages include breakfast, and most have one evening meal and wine. Many visitors drive to the resort from Dublin to play golf on weekends. Green fees, cart, clubs – $25-$38. Enjoy gourmet dining at the Hall Door, refreshments and live music at the Middleton Bar, full afternoon tea for $25 p/p in the Coach House Lounge, or Sunday lunch, 12:30 – 4:00pm. Reservations required.

Room rates: $44-$64. Packages: $75-$165.

Restaurants & Pubs:

Shenanigan’s Bar & Restaurant on Bridge Street is known for excellent food and drinks, with a DJ and laser-lit dance floor. Upstairs restaurant and Club Cojones for late night drinking and dancing. Special events can be arranged in the more private Cotton Club at Shenanigans. Whether in a group, as a couple, or single, this is one of the most famous places to visit in Sligo. Irish cuisine, avg prices for 2 – $19 for meal & drink, $32 for a 4-crse meal & drink.

Harp Tavern on Lower Quay Street offers a cozy place to socialize and listen to local musicians, Sunday afternoon jazz, and watch televised sports events at no charge. Open year round (except Christmas Day & Good Friday): 11:30am-closing.

Other recommendations: J McLaughlin’s, a traditional Irish pub, with live music nightly and sing alongs. Enjoy the camaraderie and a pint of Guinness for $5 at Shoot the Crows. Great food, atmosphere, and service at Hargadons (open 12-3:30 & 4-9pm, Mon-Sat). Travelers gave positive reviews for Limoncello’s Italian cuisine, and Fiddlers Creek for sports gatherings, music, and menu variety (open 7 days, Noon-3:30 Lunch, 5pm till late).

Getting there: Inter-city rail from Dublin Connolly Station to Sligo every 3 hours, $40 one-way, $56 rd trip. Bus from Dublin, $24 one-way, $35 rd trip. About 2½-hours’ drive from Dublin.

Sharon L Slayton

Vacation Destination – Goa, India

Filming for Ludlum’s The Bourne Supremacy (2004), starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente, and Joan Allen took place at various locations in the UK, Europe, Russia, and India. Goa, the smallest state in India and a Portuguese territory until 1961, is a popular vacation destination on the southwest coast, known for temples, religious festivals, beaches, and friendly people. In addition to many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, Goa is rich in natural resources and has an economy based primarily on tourism, with over 2 million visitors in 2010.

Check out driving in Goa:

Places to visit:

Movie scenes were filmed in and around Panaji, the capital located on the Mandovi River about 25 miles from the Dabolim airport. A main attraction in the center of this market town is Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception church. Built in 1541 by the Portuguese, this majestic church stands 100 steps above the square. The huge bell weighs over 5,000 pounds, the second largest in the world. Every year beginning 8 Dec, the 3-day celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception brings locals and tourists to worship and visit the market stalls of souvenirs, handicrafts, sweets (hajem), and drink.

Dr Salim Ali’s Bird Sanctuary, established by this renowned India ornithologist, is located on the nearby island of Chorao, accessible by ferry or by a Santa Monica cruise boat. You can view the animals and hundreds of exotic species of birds in their mangrove habitat from the watchtower and get information from the Nature Interpretation Center. Best months: Oct-Mar, Entry fee: $1.

(If you visit Panaji during the holidays, or most evenings, take a Santa Monica cruise boat along the brightly lit riverfront accompanied by live music and dancing onboard. Price: $2.)

Kala Academy, beautifully designed by Charles Correa 1973-1983, is the art and cultural entertainment center about a mile from Panaji. Drama, dance, and music are featured in two large auditoriums (one outdoor) and two mini-theaters. The Academy offers classes for adults and children, sponsors international film festivals, folk music events, and art exhibits. Hours: Mon-Fri, 9:30am-1pm, 2-6pm.

The Mahalaxmi Hindu Temple in Panaji was built in the early 1800’s for the goddess of wealth. Religious celebrations are held each year, and from 1 Jan-29 Feb 2012, followers and tourists will visit the temple for the Maruti Jatra festival.

Other Things to Do:

Beaches & More Beaches: In addition to Miramar, the main beach at Panaji, there are many others including Agonda, Calangute, Ajuna, Baga, and Palolem, Matt Damon’s hideaway 47 miles from Panaji. The long stretch of Calangute beach leads to the less crowded beach at Candolim, the birthplace of Father Abbe Faria founder of hypnotism. Have lunch or dinner at the Moonlight Restaurant, open daily from 8am-11pm, or spend the night in their Guest House. Take the ferry from Panaji to Betim, then a short bus ride to Sinquerim and Candolim (fare a few cents).

Here’s a beach:

Shop along 18th June Road, or at the Panaji market where you’ll find everything from fish and spices to electronics and clothing. Sample local specialties such as Feni (cashew liquor) and choricao sausages. Stroll through the narrow streets of the Portuguese Fontainhas neighborhood (car chase scene in the movie) and admire the colorful, old houses and the Chapel of St Sebastian. Indulge in an ayurvedic “science of long life” massage at one of the many spas or beauty parlors in Panaji.

Accommodations:

LaLit Goa where Matt Damon stayed during filming is located near Agonda beach and the town of Canacona, about an hour from Panaji. In addition to the fabulous Rejuve Spa & Fitness Centre, the resort features tennis, squash, water sports, golf, day care, and children’s activities. Internet service is also available, but expensive at $421 initial fee. A 24-hour coffee shop and the Sea BBQ restaurant provide onsite dining. Veri-Fini in the hotel lobby serves as a sports bar, with card tables, dice casino, a DJ, and dance floor. The Gazebo is a sunken bar offering refreshments for hotel guests at the outdoor pool.

Avg Rates: Garden view room (dbl) – $200, Arabian Sea view – $250. (Both with private balcony/courtyard.) Regular 3-nights/4days pkg – $800. Holiday pkg – $1,300

Taj-Fort Aguada Beach Resort, also highly recommended and host to some of the cast, is located on Sinquerim Beach about 4 miles from Panaji. Choose from 145 guestrooms or suites, dine at 4 different restaurants, and enjoy the spa, swimming pool, and watersports. The resort offers a number of excellent all-inclusive packages, which include flights from the UK, meals, and accommodations.

Prices: 7 nights, $1,800 p/p, 7 nights during holiday season, $2,550 p/p.

(Other packages available. Email: Southalltravel.co.uk for more information.)

The Hotel Mandovi maintains its reputation as a landmark for tourism in Goa. Known for comfort and hospitality, its ideal location on the river provides convenient access to shopping, dining, entertainment, business facilities, and tourist attractions, as well as a 2-mile promenade to Miramar Beach. There are 65 rooms, standard, deluxe, and suites, as well as the Riorico restaurant, which features Goan and Portuguese cuisine. Hours: 7:30-10am, 12:30-3pm, 7-11pm

Room Rates: From $373 std dbl to $485 premium dbl (includes brkfst)

You’ll also find good accommodations at the Panjim Inn or the Afonso Guest House in Fontainhas.

Dining: Spicy Vindaloo fish & chicken curries, pork, and coconut are typical cuisine, along with Kingfisher beer and Feni. The Horse Shoe restaurant in Panaji is recommended for romantic atmosphere and exotic dishes. Try their specialties, chocolate mousse and sans rival. Prices: $15-$25. Hours: 12:30-2pm, 7-10pm.

The Quarterdeck waterfront restaurant on the way from Miramar to Calangute has great seafood and a good selection of wine and other drinks. Enjoy the relaxing atmosphere, excellent service, and watch the party boats go by. Live music on the weekends. Hours: 11am-3pm, 7-11pm. Prices: $15-$25.

Palms N Sands at Candolim offers a variety of seafood, cocktails, outdoor seating, and a beachfront view. Open: Year round. Avg price: $8.

Also recommended – Delhi Darbar for excellent Indian food, Kamat’s near the Church Square & Cafè Real for vegetarian dishes.

Getting around: A private car with driver, or unmetered taxi, can be rented for a reasonable $30- $40 a day, but 2-wheeled vehicles are the fastest and main means of transportation in Goa (international drivers license advisable). Scooters, or motorcycle pilots, rent for $2 to $12 a day; auto rickshaws under $2.

Ferries from Panaji to Betim and Chorao from Ribandar dock (about 2 miles from Panaji): Hours: 7am-7pm. Free for pedestrians (last update).

Getting there: International and charter flights arrive at Dabolim airport. Rail & bus service between major cities in India.

Sharon L Slayton

Explore the Mystery and Folklore of Transylvania, Romania

The birthplace of the legendary Count Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler, has inspired authors, film producers, and playwrights throughout history. Robert Browning wrote of children escaping from Germany to the enchanted land of Transylvania in his famous poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin. From the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein published in 1818 to Bram Stoker’s horror story of Dracula in 1897, many of us are fascinated with Gothic fairy tales, mythical vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures seen in movies, television, and on stage today.

Transylvania is a huge, scenic area of mountains, forests, old castles, villages, and cities of considerable historical significance. We will visit the popular tourist destination of Sighisoara on the Tarnava River, about 180 miles from Bucharest, and discover some of the mystery that surrounds Romanian folklore. History reveals that Vlad Tepes, born here in the 1400’s, lived with his father Dacul, governor of Transylvania and member of the Order of the Dragon. The name Dacul was subsequently changed to Dracul, which may explain the origin of the Romanian name Dracula for his son Vlad. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the picturesque walled town of Sighisoara is a wonderful model of 16th century architecture and medieval atmosphere. Explore the 9 remaining defensive towers in the walls, which were built and maintained by different trades or guilds of the medieval era including blacksmiths, cobblers, tailors, and tinsmiths. Horse drawn carriages are a familiar sight on cobblestone streets and around the town square, where visitors gather at cafes and shop for souvenirs.

Attractions:

The 12th century Citadel, historic center of town, hosts a 3-5 day medieval festival the last weekend in July, which attracts thousands of visitors each year. Music, parades, concerts, jousting, street vendors, knights and minstrels, craft displays, and other medieval entertainment are featured in the festival. Entry fee: $3. (Inexpensive rooms are usually available from local residents.)

The 210′ Clock Tower, or Council Tower, built in 1556, was the center for the judiciary. The 2-sided clock from the 17th century works like a cuckoo clock with carved wooden figures representing Justice, Peace, and Law, guarded by two angels Day and Night on one side. On the other side are figures of pagan gods depicting the days of the week. A weather vane at the top still turns with the wind to forecast weather. Within the Tower, a small history museum features 3 floors of crafts, clocks, and furniture exhibits, a torture room, a 4th floor display of the clock’s mechanism, and an outstanding view from the top 5th floor.

Hours: Mon, 10-4:30pm; Tues-Fri, 9-6pm; Sat & Sun, 9-4:30pm. Admission: $2.15

From the Citadel, you can climb 175 steps of the Covered Staircase, which was used by schoolboys and residents during inclement weather to reach the school and church on the top of the hill. This old Lutheran church is certainly worth visiting for its beautiful architecture, paintings, and frescoes. Relive the legend of Dracula in the eerie atmosphere of the church graveyard as evening approaches.

Vlad’s House, or Casa Dracula located near the Clock Tower is easily recognizable by the brownish yellow color of the building and the sign of a dragon over the entrance. The ground floor has been converted into a medieval tavern with candlelight and Dracula’s menu, while the first floor houses the Museum of Weapons. Hours: Tues-Sun, 10-3pm.

Travelers may enjoy a 2-hour side trip from Sighisoara to the town of Brasov and Bran Castle nearby. Bran Castle is often referred to as Dracula’s Castle in keeping with the legend, yet history does not reflect that it ever belonged to Vlad. The castle served as the royal residence for Queen Marie, however, and visitors can explore the underground passageways and 60 rooms of medieval art, furniture, weapons, and armor. Plans are ongoing to restore the historical importance of the castle, which has become somewhat touristy with the usual souvenir vendors of Dracula trivia.

Hours: 1 May-30 Sep, Mon, 12-6pm. Tues-Sun, 9-6pm. 1 Oct-30 Apr, Mon, 12-4pm. Tues-Sun, 9-4pm. Admission: $6, $5 (65+)

Trains about every 2 hours; fares avg $25.

(Note: Hours and admission to attractions, if available, are approximate and subject to change.)

Accommodations:

Hotel BinderBubi, rated 5 stars, has up-to-date guestrooms and suites for business and leisure travelers in addition to numerous amenities including buffet breakfast, BBQ facilities, lobby bar, spa, workshop and conference conveniences, bicycles and cars for rent, ticket service, and gift shop. Rates: $90-$105 & up.

The Korona Hotel, located at the foot of the Citadel, receives positive reviews since its renovation this year. It offers rooms with modern amenities, a restaurant and pub on site, room service, and outdoor pool. Rates: $68-$122/night

Casa Wagner is recommended primarily for the old world atmosphere, comfort, good Romanian food, and a first-rate wine cellar. Restaurant is open daily, 8am to 11pm. No air conditioning, but the rooms and bathrooms are huge, and there’s a nice courtyard and terrace in the back. Rates: $42-$125/night

Vila Franka, just 5 minutes from the Citadel, offers large rooms with cable TV and mini-bar at extremely reasonable prices, restaurant nearby. Avg rate: $50/night

Budget accommodations and popular pensions include the am Schneiderturm, Citadella, Legend House, and Saseasca. Rates avg $45-$65 (with 4-night stay).

Dining: In addition to hotel restaurants, others receiving positive reviews include La Perla for Italian and Romanian gourmet cuisine, as well as delicious pizza. Specialties, typically Hungarian, Austrian, and Turkish, include cabbage rolls, goulash, moussaka, polenta, and pilaf, as well as baklava and dessert crepes. Romanians love pizza, as do most of us, and La Terrace Jo is a popular pizzeria.

Take time to visit Teo Coroian’s distillery and shop where he lives and makes palinca, a unique blend of apple, plum, and pear brandy. Teo has some unusual bottles of brandy crafted by local artisans for sale, which make excellent gifts. You can rent a room in his home for $57 a night, which includes breakfast and a mini bar of snacks and beverages.

Getting there: International flights from London, Barcelona, and Rome to Budapest, Bucharest and major cities in Romania. Train service throughout the country – fares based on distance traveled, seat class, and type of train. Regular train routes from Bucharest, the capital, 5 hours, and Budapest, 10 hours. Eurolines bus travel, although slower, provides connections from numerous cities. May-December ferries twice a week between Bulgaria and the Ukraine to Romania.

(Note: Sighisoara is small enough to explore on foot.)

Sharon L Slayton

Literary & Movie Tourism – Mauritius

British author Patrick O’Brian wrote an excellent series of books on the seafaring adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his confidant Stephen Maturin on the HMS Surprise during the Napoleonic wars. He does a splendid job in portraying the frequent, amusing interaction between the two men, who seem to have little in common except a love of music.

Paul Brittany as Maturin, the ship’s doctor, is more interested in exploring natural history and finding the elusive albatross than in pursuing the enemy, quite the opposite of Russell Crowe as the impulsive and sometimes impractical Captain Aubrey. The film Master and Commander – the Far Side of the World based on O’Brian’s books was released in 2003, 3 years after O’Brian’s death. Nominated for 10 Oscars, the movie received 2 for spectacular cinematography and sound editing. In the 4th book of the O’Brian series, the journey continues in pursuit of the enemy beyond the Cape of Good Hope to the French islands of Mauritius and Le Reunion in the Indian Ocean. 

 

We will focus on Port Louis, the capital and largest city on Mauritius, as a vacation destination. Mauritius, about 27 miles wide x 40 miles long, was once inhabited by the now extinct Dodo. Today, this tropical island with sugar cane fields, waterfalls, mountains, beautiful beaches, and sparkling turquoise lagoons is popular with travelers worldwide. Port Louis, a busy harbor for international trade and a main financial center for Africa, attracts business people and tourists year round.  

Attractions:

La Citadelle, or Fort Adelaide, was built in the 19th century to house troops and protect the city from enemy invasion. Standing 300′ above the harbor at Port Louis, the fort is the only one remaining of the original four forts on the island. Small entrance fee to this national monument, open year round.

Le Caudan Waterfront is the meeting place for tourists and locals looking for entertainment, duty free shopping at over 170 stores, strolling through the handicraft bazaar, visiting Dias Pier for African specialties, seeing the latest in 3D at the cinema, or trying their luck at the casino. Travelers will find numerous cafes, pubs, and restaurants offering everything from Mexican and Cajun to seafood, Indian, and French cuisine. Live entertainment is featured in the amphitheater by the waterfront on weekends and in the evenings.

Visit the Botanical Garden Pamplemousses, built in 1767, and explore 60 acres of water lilies, a spice garden, palms, and other exotic plants. Hours: 8:30am-5-30pm. Admission: $7 p/p

Museums:

The Blue Penny Museum is a must see attraction located at the Caudan waterfront in Port Louis. The museum is famous for its unique cultural and heritage collection of maps, documents, nautical artifacts, and art from the Dutch, French, and British periods in Mauritius history. This is the only museum in the world to house the rare Penny orange and Two pence blue stamps printed and issued locally in 1847. Gift boutique & audioguides. Tours can be arranged. Hours: Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm. Admission: Adults – $8, ages 7-17, $3.50.

A short distance from Port Louis is the Eureka Creole House, a colonial villa built in 1830 and now converted into a museum. The house of 109 doors and windows features rooms with 19th century décor and individual access to the verandah surrounding the entire mansion. A narrow path from the outdoor gardens takes you through a rainforest past waterfalls to the valley below. Have lunch on the veranda or arrange a half-day tour, 9-2pm or 1 to 6pm. $92 for 2. Three self-catering guesthouses for rent on the property, fully equipped with daily maid service. Rates: $229 for 2.

Regional plant, animal, and marine life, the geology of the island, and the unique reproduction of the giant Dodo bird are housed in the Natural History Museum. Hours: 9am-5pm. Closed Wed & Sun. Free entry.

Things to Do: Outdoor recreational activities include all types of water sports, deep-sea fishing, golf, tennis, skydiving, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Every Saturday afternoon Mar – Dec, horse races are held at the famous Champs de Mar racecourse, built in 1812 and the second oldest in the southern hemisphere.

Still looking for more – arrange a helicopter ride, an underwater submarine or safari jeep tour, visit the sugar mill and rum distillery, or just explore the natural beauty of Mauritius.

Accommodations:

The 5-star Labourdonnais Hotel on the waterfront provides leisure and business travelers with direct access to the entertainment complex at Le Caudan. Each suite and guestroom has modern amenities, floor to ceiling windows, and private balconies overlooking the harbor. Guests enjoy casual and gourmet dining at three restaurants, socializing in the Latitude 20 cocktail lounge, catamaran cruises around the harbor, and free fitness services provided by the hotel. Rates: $400+ (dbl, breakkfast included)

Le Souffren, the sister hotel of Labourdonnais with comparable rates, offers the same excellent service and convenient location. A private beach and marina, as well as an outdoor pool, shopping, and a variety of recreational activities nearby, add to the appeal of this hotel. Guests of Le Souffren have free access to the services and facilities of Labourdonnais.

Located about 7 miles from downtown Port Louis on the Pointe aux Piments bay, Le Meridien Ile Maurice luxury resort is highly recommended for the beautiful surroundings and friendly staff. Four restaurants, fitness center, recreational activities, shopping, and diving center, as well as a children’s club, make this hotel an ideal vacation accommodation for couples or families. Rates: $225-$250 (dbl)

(Note: Travelers should use mosquito repellent and watch out for sea urchins on the beaches.)

Popular B&Bs include La Maison de Vallee des Pretres, Regency Villa, and Villa Jorico with rates from $45-$90. Other accommodations available on the island.

Dining: Over 140 restaurants in Port Louis – here are a few recommendations (prices not available).

Have wild boar or deer curry at the Panoramour restaurant while enjoying the view below and the opportunity to glimpse the endangered Mauritius kestrel. Also recommended for lunch is La Bonne Marmite, serving Indian, Chinese, and Creole food.

L’Escale at the Labourdonnais hotel offers international cuisine in a casual atmosphere. Open: 6:30am-11pm, 7 days.

For excellent fresh seafood in a romantic setting, dine at Le Capitaine in the center of the waterfront. Hours: 11:30am-4pm, 6-10pm, 7 days.

You can also try street food vendors or visit the central market for local specialties such as chili cakes, meat puffs, and octopus curry. Enjoy a cold Phoenix or Black Eagle beer on a hot summer day, or enjoy excellent food while visiting Chinatown.

Getting there: International flights, 3 to 7 days a week, from London Heathrow including Air France, British Airways, Emirates, and Air Mauritius. 12-14 hours, usually overnight, non-stop or 1-stop in Paris or Dubai. Avg rd trip airfare – $850-$950.

Sharon L Slayton

Literary & Movie Tourism: Siena – Tuscany – Italy

The famous author Henry James based many of his works on his travels through the countryside and ancient hill towns of Italy, a country he described as “warm & living & palpable.” Movie producers have found ideal locations here for familiar films such as A Room with a View and Under the Tuscan Sun. Another movie, perhaps less familiar, is My House in Umbria starring Dame Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall of the Harry Potter series, and Chris Cooper of Adaptation. The title is a bit misleading, however, as filming actually took place in Siena, Tuscany, a nearby region similar to Umbria. Released in 2003, moviegoers will enjoy the fine acting and the beautiful cinematography of this part of Italy.

Located about 40 miles south of Florence, some travelers plan a day trip to the walled medieval town of Siena, where 6 of the 8 original gates still stand. There is enough to see and do, however, to make a longer visit worthwhile.

Attractions:

A main attraction in Siena is the Gothic Cathedrale di Santa Maria, Duomo, which remained unfinished after the plague in 1348. The bell tower, crypt, and some of the original marble walls and inlaid flooring still stand. You’ll find some of the best in medieval art collections by great Italian masters, statues by Pisano, and Duccio’s Maesta masterpiece in the Museo dell’ Opera Metropolitana of the Duomo.

Hours: Mar-May & Sep-Oct, 10:30-7:30. Jun-Aug, 10:30-8:00. Nov-Feb, 10:30-6:00. Admission charge.

Other attractions of historical and architectural significance in the main square, Il Campo, include the Palazzo Publico (City Hall) and the Museo Civico of medieval art. Museum admission: $8.50.

The 328′ Torre del Mangia, the 2nd highest medieval bell tower in Italy, stands at the entrance to the square. Visitors can climb 500 steps to the top for a breathtaking view. Open: 1 Nov-15 Mar, 10 to 4; 16 Mar-31 Oct, 10 to 7. Admission: $10

The Palazzo del Magnifico, a Renaissance palace built for the powerful 16th century ruler, Pandolfo Petrucci, is open daily with free admission. For great views of the town and the surrounding countryside, take your camera and walk up to the church of Santa Maria dei Servi.

Another fascinating place to visit is the Santa Maria delle Scala, a former pilgrims hospital and orphanage dating back to the 10th century. The complex in front of the Duomo was converted in the 1990’s to several museums that are still being renovated. Visitors can view stained glass, artwork, frescoes, and sacred objects in the cathedral and museum exhibits. Etruscan bronze, Roman coins, and terra cotta objects are housed in the underground tunnels of the Archaeological Museum. Children’s Art Center, Contemporary Art, and Book and Photo Library on the grounds of the complex Open daily, 10:30-6:30. Admission: $8 & $6.

Palio delle Contrade, held on 2 Jul and 16 August each year, is a popular horse racing tradition and competition dating back to the 1600’s. Ten neighborhoods, or self-governing contradas, participate in this time-honored religious and civic celebration with feasts, music, and church services before contrades and bareback riders meet in Il Campo. This exciting entertainment is primarily for the locals, unless you have an invitation from a friendly contrade. Otherwise, you’ll have to stand with the crowds or pay several hundred dollars for a grandstand seat. The prize for the winning contrada is the huge Palio, or banner, and the distinctive honor that accompanies it.

(According to Frommers, combo tickets for attractions are available at the sites. 2-day museum passes, $15, 7-day passes, $20 to $24.)

Tours: Recommended by Rick Steves, feature travel writer and guide, Roberto’s offer full and half-day tours through the Chianti wine region, small towns, and the Tuscany countryside. Prices: $120 p/p, 6-8 hour tour (minimum 2 people). All-inclusive tours available. Email: [email protected]

Accommodations:

The ultra-luxurious Hotel Certosa di Maggiano, about ½ mile from the main square, offers travelers an incredible experience in a carefully restored 14th century monastery. Surrounded by 6 acres of lush landscaping, the Certosa has all the amenities you expect from a Relais et Chateaux upscale hotel. The hotel’s Il Canto restaurant was chosen as one of the 50 best in the world for the elegant atmosphere and gourmet cuisine by Chef Paolo Lopriore. Personal trainers, fitness facilities, and sports are first-class services provided by the hotel. The staff will arrange air ballooning, vintage car tours, wine tasting, cooking classes, hiking, biking, and horseback riding on request. Each of the 17 rooms in this boutique hotel has unique appeal for the discriminating traveler.

Rates (very expensive): From $500 Classic room to $900 for Superior/Deluxe.

3-day packages (e.g., nature, pampering, and adventure) and holiday specials are available. $900 & up per night. (See website for further information.)

Travelers give positive reviews for the Hotel Chiusarelli, conveniently located a short distance from the Duomo, Il Campo, and the bus station. This 19th century fully restored villa and the town were settings in “Juliett,” a novel by Danish author Anne Fortier. Guests can rent bicycles, reserve tours, or attend Italian language classes arranged by the hotel staff. With an onsite restaurant, terrace, bar, and garage parking ($20/day), rates at this small, lovely hotel are reasonable. Single – $100-$140, Dbl – $135-$200 (incl buffet breakfast)

Another option is the Campo Regio Relais, a comfortable B&B just off the main square. Guests enjoy breakfast buffet indoors or on the terrace. Rooms have mini fridge and bar, satellite TV, etc. Rates (seasonal): Dbl – From $265.

(Rates at less expensive B&Bs: $100-$125.)

Dining: Travelers will find excellent Tuscan cuisine with reasonable prices at the Osteria Le Logge, Osteria Nonna Gina, and the Ristorante Medio Evo.

The Antica Osteria da Divo is at the top of the list for fine authentic Italian food served in a romantic medieval atmosphere of ancient Etruscan tombs. Located a short distance from the Duomo, the owners Pino di Cicco and his wife offer a variety of traditional specialties, seafood, exotic wild game dishes, and rich desserts, along with a wide selection of wine and dinner music. Prices: $20-$50 (for 3-course meal). Open daily except Tuesday.

Il Grattacielo is a very small restaurant with simple, inexpensive food, eat in, or take out. While exploring the town, be sure and try the local specialty, panforte, a sort of non-alcoholic fruitcake, the gelato, and other sweets at Guido Nannini’s cafè and bakery.

(Note: Reservations required at some restaurants, especially during the summer.)

Getting there and around: Travelers can fly into Florence or Pisa, but Florence is the closest to Siena, less than an hour’s drive by car, an hour by bus ($10-$13), or about 2 hours by train (no direct connection to date). Walking is the only practical way to get around the hilly, narrow streets of Siena, closed to non-local traffic within the walls. Taxis are not plentiful, but buses go everywhere, tickets less than $1.

Sharon L Slayton