30 January, 2012

Hollywood glamour in the Basque country

Since the 1950's San Sebastián, in the Basque country of Northern Spain, has been home to an International Film Festival. The Astoria 7 is located in a former cinema (San Sebastián's first multiscreen), and has been rebuilt to house the seaside city's first contemporary styled hotel.

Photo courtesy of Astoria 7 
Each of the 102 rooms is individually dedicated to actors, directors or personalities who have attended the Film Festival since it began in 1953. There are enormous posters of the stars of stage and screen above each headboard, adding to the unique 1950s-style modernist rooms, which are clean and crisply designed. It could have been kitsch, but it's very tastefully done.

Photo courtesy of Astoria 7
There is a library on the ground floor with books in all languages, and some cool books on San Sebastián itself. There are also seated areas with desks in which to use the free Wi-Fi. There is also a fitness room; restaurant, and snack bar which features a 'tapa' of the month - they promise haute cuisine in miniature!

Photo courtesy of Astoria 7
The hotel is a 15 minute walk from the beach, and the old town, but having said that; there are also bars in the same area as the hotel that charge local prices, and not tourist ones. It's a classy city, with excellent beaches and arguably the best pinchos (tapas) in Spain.  If you need time to chill out, one of the nice features of the hotel is that it has a library of movies, and DVD players in the rooms.

Photo courtesy of Astoria 7
Top tip: The Astoria sells out quickly during summertime and festivals, so book early for stays at the hotel during peak periods. For more information, go to the hotel's official website: www.astoria7hotel.com

27 January, 2012

Travel Photo Friday - Spread your wings

Today's photo was taken from a ferry as it came into port, after the Calais to Dover crossing. The gulls were following the ferry as it ended the journey, and this little chap looked like he was posing for the photo. It does help that the sky was a tremendous deep blue that day, but isn't he handsome?

If you have a photo you'd like to see featured on Travel Lightbulb, then please send it to me at travellightbulb@hotmail.co.uk. Please include your name, and tell me where, and when the photo was taken. All contributions are welcome!

25 January, 2012

Top 3 Seville

Seville is a stunning city, and it's no surprise that it attracts more than 1.8 million visitors every year. What is amazing is that despite those numbers, I rarely read about it - but that's maybe a good thing for people like me who blog about the best, and relatively unknown finds on their travels. I have already discovered the amazing things this city has to offer, and have compiled a list of places you should not miss when in Seville. 

It's well worth doing the hour long river cruise of the city, if only to see the nine amazing bridges that cross the river. It takes you past many of the main sights in Seville starting with the Torre Del Oro, and taking in the Maestranza bullring (the tour of this is also worth taking whether you like bullfighting or not - very interesting). You get tickets and catch the boat from just beside Torre Del Oro. The cruises run from 11am to 11pm, and leave every 30 minutes.

If you want to see Flamenco dancing live, and don't fancy being ripped off with a touristy show over dinner, then La Carboneria (C/Levies 18) is the place to go. It's hard to find, so ask your hotel reception to point it out on a map. It's authentic flamenco (trust me, I used to dance flamenco!); the drinks are reasonably priced, and there is no cover charge. It's on every night from around 1030/11pm, and they sometimes have a second performance at 1am.

Wherever you go in Seville things seem to revolve around the Cathedral; and no matter which of the old streets you find yourself in, you catch a glimpse of it everyday. A good tip I have received is to go to the rooftop bar at the Hotel Dona Maria. The lights on the cathedral go out at 11pm and if you go before then, you get a fantastic view. Tables can be hard to come by, so it's worth getting there a little early.

There is so much to do in Seville I could have compiled a Top 20 of things to do, but sometimes I like to tease my followers, and will post more about the city in the future!

Top tip: Seville is a tremendously hot place to visit in the summer months, so if you want to go and explore, it may be better to do this in the spring or autumn.

23 January, 2012

A slice of Havana in America

When looking for new places to stay, I love a hotel with a story...somewhere with a bit of history, and today's featured accommodation certainly has that. The Hotel Havana in San Antonio, Texas was originally built in 1914 by a successful local grocer as a residence hotel for his buyers. The inspiration for the name came from the riverfront surroundings which are reminiscent of the Caribbean island city.  

Photo courtesy of Allison V. Smith 
The hotel is situated on the river, and is less than a ten minute stroll to the main section of River Walk in a fairly quiet part of downtown that is still convenient for all the attractions and restaurants. In April 2010 the 27 room hotel was renovated, and I have to say they have done a superb job - it oozes style.

Photo courtesy of Allison V. Smith 
The hotel features 16 queen rooms and 11 king suites; each with antique furniture; plantation shutters, and rich, dark wood floors. The quirky thing I love is that they also have imported SMEG mini-bars fully stocked with local food and drink!

Photo courtesy of Allison V. Smith 
In the Havana's basement is one of the most popular spots for locals and visitors and was chosen by Esquire Magazine as one of the "Best Bars in America". The furnishings are rich vintage, and the candlelit bar is a great place to sample the extensive rum and mescal selection, or even to enjoy a Cuban coffee or dessert. There is also a lounge upstairs (Ocho) situated in a glass and steel conservatory with tables spilling into the courtyard.

Photo courtesy of Allison V. Smith 
If you're looking for somewhere for a special occasion, or if you want to make a stopover more special, then this could be the place for you! If you want more information on the Hotel Havana, then please click on the link to the official website here.

20 January, 2012

Travel Photo Friday - On Golden Pond

This week Travel Lightbulb's selections have both come from the UK - I featured The Witchery on Monday, and Tanner Farm on Wednesday. So it was only fitting that I stayed with that theme for today's photo. It comes courtesy of Deborah Stafford, so I'll hand over to Deborah to explain more about the location.

We're lucky to live close to the New Forest National Park in Hampshire and this photo was taken on a Sunday afternoon walk at Hatchet Pond, just outside the village of Beaulieu. The pond is on the edge of Beaulieu Heath, a vast expanse of heather and gorse towards the south of the forest. It's a popular spot for walkers, horse riders and photographers keen to capture the brilliant orange sunset which bathes the pond in the late January afternoon. There is a free car park beside the pond, and plenty of tea shops a couple of miles down the road in Beaulieu where you can go to warm up after a bracing walk around the pond. 

There are more stories about places and attractions around the New Forest on the New Forest PodVisits iPhone app which can be downloaded by clicking here.

Thanks to Deborah for her fabulous contribution, and if you'd like to share your own photo please send your photo to the email address on my contact page, with a short description of where it was taken. 

18 January, 2012

Farm life - a UK holiday that's great for kids

A lot of people have asked me to feature places that are geared for adults and children here on Travel Lightbulb, and I've found a fabulous place that would keep kids entertained. The Tanner Farm Touring Caravan and Camping Park is based in Kent, between the villages of Marden and Goudhurst, and is perfect for visiting the Kent Weald countryside.

Photo courtesy of www.tannerfarmpark.co.uk
The farm can cater for up to 100 touring caravans, motorvans, and tents. Family tent pitches for non-caravan club members cost from just £20.95 per night, making it a cost effective family holiday solution. The aim of the park is to provide visitors with modern facilities within an unspoilt rural environment. There are two centrally-heated shower and toilet units, as well as a launderette and kitchen washing-up areas.

Photo courtesy of www.tannerfarmpark.co.uk
So what is on hand to keep the little ones busy? Well children can watch the pigs, feed the ducks, and help with the lambs and goats. The farm also has wonderful Shire horses, and kids can watch them being groomed. There are also two open play areas available.

Photo courtesy of www.tannerfarmpark.co.uk
Top tip: There are various National Trust properties in the area with the towns of Cranbrook, Tunbridge Wells and Maidstone nearby; the South Coast is not far away, and the Hop Farm Family Park is just eight miles from the park. There are also local vineyards if you want some adult-only fun! If you want more information, go to the official website here.

16 January, 2012

Decadence in Edinburgh at The Witchery

Edinburgh is one of the most magical; historic cities in the world, and I have a recommendation for a truly spectacular place to stay. Spending a night or two at The Witchery by the Castle is like going back in time. It is hidden in the historic buildings just a stone's throw from Edinburgh Castle, and its eight suites are simply stunning. I can guarantee you will never have stayed anywhere more theatrical and dramatic - that's a Travel Lightbulb promise!

Photo courtesy of The Witchery
Described by Cosmopolitan magazine as "one of the seven wonders of the hotel world", it puts other hotels to shame, not only because of the lavish suites, but also the fantastic service from the staff, who cannot do enough for their guests. Late check-outs; special breakfast requests; and even just a tour of the rooms, the staff play their part in making this hotel a very special place.

Photo courtesy of The Witchery
Included in the price of your room is a bottle of champagne; cookies; mineral water; a newspaper, and a delicious breakfast hamper, which is served in your room - trust me, you will want to spend as much time as possible soaking up the incredible atmosphere of these decadent rooms! Your dining options are in The Secret Garden (which was described by Andrew Lloyd-Webber as 'the prettiest restaurant ever' -  if you've ever been to one of his musicals, you'll know he's well versed in dramatic theatrical productions!) or The Witchery (think red leather, oak panelling and candlelight).

Photo courtesy of The Witchery
If you want romance; opulence; a unique experience, and want to splash out when staying in Edinburgh, then The Witchery is not to be missed.

Top tips: 1. Make sure you plan well in advance, as the rooms get booked up very quickly, especially at peak times such as the Edinburgh Festival, and usual celebrations like Valentine's day. 2. Ask for a tour of the rooms to see which one you'd like to stay in on your second visit - trust me, you'll want to return!

If you want more information on The Witchery by the Castle click here.

13 January, 2012

Travel Photo Friday - In your own back yard

Sometimes you don't have to travel to find things worth taking a photo of. This shot came from my back garden in the summer. While sunbathing on a rare hot and sunny day in the UK, I spotted this cute little bunch of flowers with the dark ivy behind, and thought it was worth snapping! I love the dark background with the sun shining on the flowers in the foreground. It just goes to prove that sometimes the best things really do lie just in front of our eyes!

If you have a photo you'd like to see featured on Travel Lightbulb, then please send it to me at travellightbulb@hotmail.co.uk. Please include your name, and tell me where, and when the photo was taken. All contributions are welcome!

11 January, 2012

Staying under the water in Sweden

If you like snorkelling and aquariums; you may love the location of today's blog post........if you're claustrophobic, it may not be for you! We're off to Sweden, and a place called 'Utter Inn' (Otter Inn in English). It's an art project by Mikael Genberg, a local artist, which offers underwater accommodation for the public. There is a single room under the water, with panoramic windows allowing you to see the fish outside from your submerged bedroom!

Photo courtesy of www.unusualhotelsoftheworld.com
Guests arrive at the port of Västeras (near Stockholm) and are taken one kilometre out on Lake Mälaren, and given an inflatable boat. After being given the instructions you need, then you're left alone! There is only one room, and it lies 6m below the surface of the lake. It weighs 25 tonnes, and has a solar-panelled roof, and heating and electricity is generated from a car battery.

Photo courtesy of www.unusualhotelsoftheworld.com
Dinner can be delivered by boat in the evening; and you can use your inflatable boat to visit the closest uninhabited island, but don't expect too many luxuries - this experience is almost like camping underwater! Guests also recommend ordering the breakfast, which is left in a cooler with ice packs for you when they drop you off.

Photo courtesy of www.unusualhotelsoftheworld.com
The creator Genberg, says: "My work makes people question their perception about what is safe and secure, and when you experience fear, it sharpens your senses." It does sound like you'd get a bit of an adrenalin kick out of staying here! If you want more information on Utter Inn, then click here.

09 January, 2012

Old world hotel charm in Warsaw

In June 2012 the UEFA Euro 2012 football tournament will descend on stadia across Poland and the Ukraine, and for those who are not into sport this sounds like the perfect reason to avoid a trip. However you may want to consider what happened in South Africa which hosted the World Cup in 2010. Post game prices dropped as high as 20% when premium rates vanished, and the same trend is expected in Poland where five-star hotels are already among the cheapest in the world.

Photo courtesy of www.poloniapalace.com
The Polonia Palace is an award winning example of one of those top class hotels. It's in a great location in central Warsaw just five minutes from the train station; a tram ride away from the historic centre, and the airport bus is only steps away. The hotel boasts a long history, being the only one to emerge from the Second World War completely unscathed. It became the hotel of choice for diplomats and ambassadors - even General Eisenhower stayed here in 1945.

Photo courtesy of www.poloniapalace.com
Today, it retains high standards and has an old world hotel charm, but with boutique style. When staying in a hotel, the first meal of the day can be hugely disappointing, but everyone raves about the buffet breakfasts at the Polonia Palace, which provide tons of variety including champagne; full English; continental, and an omelette station - whatever you like, but perhaps it's an idea to make sure it's included in your package if you make a booking. 

Photo courtesy of www.poloniapalace.com
While you will no doubt want to head out to explore Warsaw, there is a fitness room and saunas if you want to keep fit or chill out when you're here! So why not try to grab a bargain this year, while visiting this modern sparkling and cultural city.

Top tip - the best time to visit is from May to October; but to avoid the football crowds in 2012, book for September.

06 January, 2012

Travel Photo Friday - Market memories

One of the most enjoyable parts of any trip to Europe for many travellers is a visit to the local market, and today I'm featuring a photo from a market I discovered when on holiday in Sicily. There was such a buzz about it with locals haggling over fruits, cheeses and vegetables. I still have vivid memories of the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of the local culture. Don't you think this photo captures it all?

I'd love to get a taste of what you love on holiday, so if you have a photo you think would fit in with Travel Photo Friday, please send it to the email address on my contact page. I'd love your contributions, so thanks in advance!

04 January, 2012

Top 3 Travel Destinations for 2012

Happy New Year to all my fellow travel lovers! For me, this time of year marks the start of excitement about where I would like to travel to in the next twelve months. I've been reading a lot of articles about the top ten places to visit in 2012, and I decided to make my own list of places I'd love to visit. There are very good reasons for my three choices, and to add a little variety, I've chosen an ideal weekend break, a long haul destination, and a sunshine option with a difference. Hopefully there's something in here for everyone!

The weekend break: Venice
Archive of the tourist board of Venice
Scientists no longer argue about whether the water in Venice is rising, and it's heartbreaking to think that this classic destination is sinking. As well as the stunning architecture, Venice has several big events that are worth booking a trip around. the Carnival takes place in February/early March, and Easter is also a festive time, and marks the start of the high season in Venice.

Archive of the tourist board of Venice
Tip: The climate in Venice changes dramatically throughout the year, and weather; festivals, and the high water (acqua alta) that Venice is so famous for, should all be considered.

The long haul destination: Japan
©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO
It goes without saying that Japan had a rough 2011, with the devastating earthquake and tsunami. It has a reputation for being expensive, but in Tokyo it's possible to find simple guesthouses from 3000 Japanese yen. So not only is travelling to the country a good thing to do, but it also makes financial sense. This year could be the perfect time to visit a fascinating country that is trying to get back on its feet.

©Tokyo Midtown Management Co., Ltd./©JNTO
Tip: Many attractions are free, or cheap - the Tokyo National Museum is a fifth of the cost of the Tower of London.

The sunshine option: Belize
Photo courtesy of Belize Tourism Board

The English-speaking nation of Belize has been called Mother Nature's best kept secret. It is home to the world's second-largest barrier reef; spectacular tropical forests, and magnificent Mayan temples. So, why visit in 2012? Well this year, the dollar appreciated 1.3 per cent against the native currency, and it's predicted to remain less costly for visitors throughout 2012.

Photo courtesy of Belize Tourism Board

Tip: Head South to the less-touristy Placencia Peninsula - think sandy beaches and clear lagoons.

Where do you fancy travelling to in 2012? Let me know your thoughts.

02 January, 2012

Happy New Year!

A new year has begun.....we have waved goodbye to 2011, and welcome the start of what will hopefully be an exciting 2012 for everyone. This year, I plan to explore more of Europe; I have a trip to the Caribbean booked, and I also have a few short breaks that I hope to squeeze in throughout the year. Where do you plan to discover this year?

I wasn't sure how to start the new year here on Travel Lightbulb, but as I've been in a reflective mood this festive season (as I think everyone is at this time of year), I decided to post a few of my favourite travel quotations, so sit back and enjoy......

"Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life." - Michael Palin

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey." - Barbara Hoffman

"If you actually look like your passport photo, you aren't well enough to travel." - Si Vivian Fuchs

And finally, the quote which inspired me in my personal life, and my travel blogging journey....

"Life is not a dress rehearsal." - Peter Henry

Happy New Year to you all, and may it be a happy and successful one for you all filled with travels that enrich your life, and ensure you're living it to the full. x