29 February, 2012

A Hungarian Gem

I love finding places that are remote, beautiful and a little bit different, and today we're off to the countryside in Hungary.  The Káli Art Inn is situated in the Káli basin, in Western Hungary. It's around two hours from Budapest, and is a great place in which to forget the outside world! It offers around 20 rooms in four different buildings, surrounded by a beautiful, well kept garden.

Photo courtesy of Káli Art Inn
The main building (which was restored in 1996) and cottages are decorated with wonderful art and are not only in a peaceful location, but it has a great history. It was an officers' mess at the turn of the century, and high ranked soldiers who were stationed in this area enjoyed their evening meals in the house - which is exactly what happens today.

Photo courtesy of Káli Art Inn
The food is very traditional with Hungarian breads, meat and cheese for breakfast. At lunch and dinner, you don't get a menu -  the meals are simply made from fresh ingredients and spices from the herb garden. Guests rave about the food, which is deemed to be worthy of gracing the tables of any world class restaurant.

Photo courtesy of Káli Art Inn
This area is all about getting out and exploring - the Kali basin is a hikers paradise, and it's also perfect for cycling - you can borrow bikes to ride to the next village. Having said that, there is a lot to do at the Inn itself. You can simply enjoy the garden; there is a pool in which to cool down; or you can chill out in the massage parlour or sauna.

Photo courtesy of Káli Art Inn
If you want more information on the Káli Art Inn, go to their official website.

27 February, 2012

A unique stay in a rustic Italian castle

I recently stumbled across a really rustic retreat, and if you like reading....today's location will be like heaven for you! Castello di Galeazza is forty minutes north of Bologna which is the closest airport if you're visiting from outside Italy. The oldest part of the Castle is the tower, which was built in the late 14th century, and new buildings have been added throughout the centuries. It is set up as a reading retreat; a place to relax, and concerts and art exhibitions are also held here.

Photos courtesy of Castello di Galeazza
The Castle is open all year round; has a large garden and is set in acres of private woodland. You will never feel that this place is overrun with people, as it can accommodate just ten guests - it's more like staying in your own personal castle! Guests comment on the 'rustic' nature of the castle, so don't assume you'll find fluffy bathrobes and televisions, but you can expect frescoed ceilings, and rooms with antique furniture. Oh....and teddy bears on your bed!

Photos courtesy of Castello di Galeazza
Meals at the castle are a communal affair, and your drinks and meals are included in the price. Everyone prepares meals and eats together, usually traditional Italian food and local wine. Guests who want cocktails or after dinner drinks are more than welcome to bring their own!

Photos courtesy of Castello di Galeazza
The facilities include the outstanding library, which has thousands of excellent books. There is also a CD collection, a piano, and a small fleet of old bicycles to use for exploring the local area. There are a few towns nearby if you fancy getting out to enjoy an ice cream, or just want a change of scenery.

Photos courtesy of Castello di Galeazza
While the location is peaceful and a superb place in which to relax, you can also easily do day trips to Florence; Venice and Verona by train making it a great base for exploring this part of Italy. While this is certainly not luxury castle living, neither do they charge 'luxury' prices. Perhaps this is the sort of retreat that we should all experience - why not get out of the rat-race, and travel back in time in a very unique and special way. If you'd like more information go to the Castello di Galeazza website here.

24 February, 2012

Travel Photo Friday - Amazing Africa

Today's photo comes from Diana, who took it on a trip to Africa a few years ago. I think you'll agree it's one of the most stunning contributions so far. Over to Diana...

A few years ago, I decided (smartly or maybe not so smartly) to take an overland trip in Africa by myself for five weeks. One of the stops was at Namibia's Petrified Forest which is where this picture was taken. As you can see, it isn't exactly a traditional forest, but what is amazing is that these trees washed up here in a flood estimated to have occurred over 280 million years ago - that's before the dinosaurs roamed the Earth!

What a stunning shot! The colours are amazing, and you've got to love a picture with a story. Diana writes her own blog (www.justwanderlustblog.com) and, like me, loves to find off the beaten track places.

If you'd like to contribute to this Friday feature on my blog, send your name; a photo, and a short description to: travellightbulb@hotmail.co.uk.

22 February, 2012

A tower filled with history in Lancashire

Recently, I was looking for somewhere different to go for a day out, and an internet search revealed that there was a farmer's market on at Hoghton Tower. I had never heard of it; but with a market to see; and a tower to explore, it sounded like it could be a fun day out. It turned out to be one of the best days out I've had in a long time, as what I experienced was totally unexpected.

Hoghton is near Preston (Lancashire) and as you turn off the main roads and approach the tower, the impressive driveway really sets the scene. The tower is the ancestral home of the de Hoghton family, who have lived here since the Norman Conquest. The history of this place is quite incredible; and the guide who showed us around was not only extremely knowledgable, but also made the history come alive.

By visiting you are following in the footsteps of the likes of William Shakespeare; Charles Dickens; and King James I who, at a banquet held in his honour, famously knighted a loin of beef - hence the name 'Sir Loin'! During the visit, you get the chance to see the Banqueting hall; underground passages; dungeons, and dolls' house collection. In the summer, you can also take a stroll in the gardens, which were closed when I visited.

Sadly I'm unable to include any photos of the inside of the tower due to insurance purposes, but that should provide you with yet another excuse to make the trip to see this 16th century gem yourself. If you're a believer in ghosts, you may also want to know that this is reputedly the third most haunted house in Britain - keep your eyes peeled!

The tower is open from July - September, and on certain Bank Holidays (if you'd like more information on opening times, or Hoghton Tower in general  go to the official website.). Weddings can be held at the tower, and I have to say it would be an extremely dramatic and historic place to tie the knot. However if you simply want a day out filled with a bit of history, then I can't recommend this place highly enough.

20 February, 2012

A retro party spot in Palm Springs

Palm Springs is a desert city in California, just over a hundred miles east of Los Angeles. The city became a fashionable resort in the 1920s with Hollywood's movie stars attracted to the hot and dry sunny weather. The Ace Hotel and Swim Club is situated just south of downtown and close to the mountains. It's beyond cool, and very clever design has turned a motel into something very unique and quirky.

A lot of thought has been put into every aspect of design; and if you love a relaxed vibe and a good party, this place is for you.  The simple decoration and attention to detail (there are working record players in every room!) is fantastic - it's totally retro, and you feel as though you've stepped back into the 1970s! There is also a fabulous suite with a large outdoor patio and fire.

Many guests comment on the fact that the hotel has captured one of the eras of Palm Springs, and there is a certain amount of posing being done by many guests here. Having said that, the surroundings are luxurious, and if you don't like the party scene, simply check the events calendar as it attracts a different crowd when there aren't events at the hotel.

The guest rooms surround the Swim Club area, which includes a pool; hot tub; spa; gym; massage yurts, and a fabulous stargazing deck (pictured below). You can have treatments by the pool, but the view of the mountains is so good, you can easily sit and daydream with a drink in hand!

Top tips: For the best coffee in Palm Springs, head to Koffi across the street. There are also restaurants close enough to walk to from the hotel. If you'd like more information on the hotel, go to: www.acehotel.com. They also have hotels in Seattle, Portland and New York.

17 February, 2012

Travel Photo Friday - Madness at the Mardi Gras

Today's photo contribution was taken by Bruce Murray, and is one of the more 'unusual' offerings I've had so far! It was taken at the Mardi Gras, which takes place this coming Tuesday (21st Feb 2012), so let's hear more about it from Bruce himself...

Every year thousands travel to New Orleans to witness one of the world's biggest parties - Mardi Gras! After dark Bourbon Street is a shoulder to shoulder crush of humanity with fun; laughter, and beer for everyone. During the day; between the bars and restaurants of the French Quarter, holidaymakers will find a different kind of action in the streets, as revellers are entertained by street performers and personalities.

The Naked Cowboy travelled from his home in New York City to New Orleans, and was spotted posing with his fans by Bruce Murray On Travel, while religious advocates made their views known with jeers and signs!

Thanks Bruce - I think this picture is fantastic, and sums up the madness of Mardi Gras! If you'd like to contribute a travel photo of your own, please send it to me with a brief description at the email address on my contact page.

15 February, 2012

Boutique B&B in Bath

The city of Bath, in the south west of England, is famous for fantastic architecture and spa breaks. It was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, and presents some of the finest architectural sights in Europe. It's also home to Britain's only natural thermal spa where you can enjoy the thermal waters as the Celts and Romans did over 2000 years ago.

Photo courtesy of Brindleys
One of Bath's principal industries is tourism with more than one million visitors staying overnight, and around 3.8 million day visitors to the city on an annual basis. Its popularity is reflected in almost 300 places of accommodation; including over 180 bed and breakfasts, and I've found a little stunner that I think stands out from the rest. 

Photo courtesy of Brindleys
The Times newspaper lists Brindleys boutique Bed and Breakfast hotel as one of the coolest places to stay in the UK. A convenient five minute walk from the train and bus stations, it's set in a quiet location ten minutes from the centre of the Bath. For those driving, on street visitors parking is available. The B&B's aim is to make guests feel as though they are 'home from home', and it has a good reputation for fine service and cosy clean rooms.

Photo courtesy of Brindleys
There are just six bedrooms at Brindleys from classic doubles to king rooms. They all have en-suite facilities, with flat-screen LED TV's, Wi-Fi, and hairdryers. The B&B offers traditional English or Continental breakfast, served in a beautiful breakfast room (pictured below).

Photo courtesy of Brindleys
Top tip: Weekends in Bath are extremely popular, and the B&B request (as do most others in the city)  that people book for two night weekend breaks instead of a single night let. If you'd like more information - visit the official website: www.brindleysbath.co.uk

13 February, 2012

Igloo fun in Lapland

As Valentine's Day approaches, I decided to look for a romantic place to stay with a difference. I certainly found that when I came across the Kakslauttanen Igloo Village, in Finland. It's located in the Northern part of the country, above the arctic circle, and is being touted as one of the most romantic getaways in the world. It's located 35km away from Ivalo airport (there are regular flights from Helsinki to Ivalo), and a bus transfer takes you straight to the hotel.

Photos courtesy of Kakslauttanen Igloo Village
While there is a hotel option with lovely log cabins, guests have a unique option from December/January until April - you can stay in glass or snow igloos - what a unique experience! The glass igloo is built from a special thermal glass, and the temperature inside the igloo stays at a normal level. It is equipped with a toilet and luxury beds, and provides a one of a kind opportunity to see millions of stars in the clear sky.

Photos courtesy of Kakslauttanen Igloo Village
The other option is to stay in a snow igloo, where the temperature is between -3 and -6 degrees centigrade. Don't worry, wool socks and a hood are provided and the advice is to wear a layer of thermal underwear, and 'exercise a little' before getting into your sleeping bag. Now do you see how romantic this could be - ha ha!

Photos courtesy of Kakslauttanen Igloo Village
There's plenty to do in this part of the world, from ski-ing, to winter safaris. Another reason to visit is the chance to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), one of the most amazing natural phenomena. They are visible from late August till late April; and with no light pollution, it's one of the most perfect places to view the magnificent lights. So you won't miss them, a bell rings to alert you every time some Northern Lights are visible! For more information on this unique place, click here for the official website.

10 February, 2012

Travel Photo Friday - Beautiful Barbados

Today's photo comes from Mandy & Peter Henry, who have chosen one of my favourite beaches in the world. Over to them for the details:

This photo was taken in December from the balcony outside L'Azure restaurant at The Crane Resort in Barbados. This beach has been declared one of the best in the world with its almost pink sand' turquoise blue sea and rolling waves. It is accessible either from a staircase from The Crane or a glass front beach elevator. 'Put this one on your bucket list'.

Great advice - if you're in Barbados, and don't go to Crane Beach, you're missing out! If you want to share your own travel photo with me, just send it to me using the email address on my contact page, and include a short paragraph about where it was taken. Thanks in advance for your contributions.

08 February, 2012

Perfection in an old Spanish convent

Sometimes you stumble on a piece of perfection by accident, and that's exactly what happened when I found today's featured accommodation. On a driving holiday through Europe I planned some of my stops, but left others to chance. I had pre-booked 'El Convent 1613', partly because it looked so special, and also because I didn't want to miss out on a room in such a remote location. The beautiful hotel is based in a small town called La Fresnada, which has been declared an artistic historic heritage site. It is in a remote location (Zaragoza, the closest city is 90 minutes, and 120km away) with hardly any other tourists in this region, that is part of what makes it so special - it's as if no one else knows about it!

Just over a decade ago, the family decided to turn their house (previously an old convent) into a small hotel with just twelve rooms. Photos do not do this place justice, and the central patio (see photo below) is a mixture of ancient and modern with the restaurant in the old choir area, and the former side chapels sectioned off with modern sheets of glass to make for cosy reading rooms or secluded areas in which to dine. Speaking of dining, the food here is sensational. They make the best of local, and seasonal produce, and even their light bites are to die for.

The surrounding area (Teruel/Matarranya) is stunningly beautiful, and there is a lot to discover in the local villages, including a wealth of local produce (Teruel cured ham; goat's cheese, and local wine). While it is small, you can easily entertain yourself for a night or two in La Fresnada itself though, and trust me, the locals will treat you like one of their own, greeting you like a long lost relative. It also has to be said that simply spending time by the swimming pool in the stunning hotel gardens is certainly no hardship either!

It's the little details which make this place. If you look closely at the tiles you'll see the person who made them has put his own stamp on it - it could be a hen's foot (see photo below) or it could be a cat's paw print. Sometimes, unique touches like that can be the difference between a great place to stay, and a unique one.

The introduction on the hotel website sums this place up, and it's the perfect thought to leave you with. "For travellers who are not merely tourists, for those who savour food and don't merely eat it, for those who observe things and don't merely see them...welcome to our home."

06 February, 2012

In it for the long haul

As always on the first Monday of every month, it's time for my travel ramblings! I don't know about you, but I absolutely love the excitement of travelling to long-haul destinations, but in times of recession and penny pinching it's not always easy for people to find the money to travel to far flung places.  Having said that although those sort of holidays are not necessarily as popular as they have been in the past, people are beginning to realise that venturing further afield can actually offer good value for money.

With holidaymakers in the UK suffering with the weak pound; more travellers are heading further afield for winter sun, and people appear to be cutting back on luxury items and non-essential purchases to try and save up for their family breaks. Although some people dread longer flights, I treat it as part of the excitement of the journey, and love arriving in an exotic, exciting location - something the a trip to Europe can't always provide.

So which long haul destinations provide the cheapest options when you arrive at your destination? Sri Lanka is a clear winner in a cost-of-living index of long-haul spots compiled by Post Office Travel Money. With ten different categories (including eating out, drinks and sun cream), it was 38% cheaper than its nearest rival Thailand. Vietnam was the third least expensive country in the list, with prices in South Africa tumbling 27% following on from the price hikes witnessed during the 2010 World Cup.

So where will you be travelling to this year? Do you plan a long-haul trip, or do finances mean you're staying closer to home? If you have a topic you'd like to ramble about, or would like me to feature as part of my own travel ramblings, then feel free to email me at the address on my contact page or leave your comments below this post. 

03 February, 2012

Travel Photo Friday - Manhattan madness

Today's photographic contribution comes from TV cameraman and budding photographer Dan Martland, and I think it sums up the buzz of New York perfectly. Over to Dan to tell us more.

A bloody cold day in Manhattan; this was taken in Hell's Kitchen in New York, and it sure felt like hell that day! It's always hard to get a cab in the city when the weather turns bad - luckily this is 9th Ave, a great hotspot for food, with every other door being a restaurant. This is where New Yorkers eat. Don't be a tourist, and save some cash and eat well on 9th Ave - you won't be disappointed.

Top tip: Try "Napkin Burger" - 45th street & 5th Ave.

Dan thanks so much for your fantastic photo, and great tip! If you have a photo you'd like featured here on Travel Lightbulb then please send it to me by email: travellightbulb@hotmail.co.uk. If you have your own blog I'll happily link to it, but it's not just for bloggers. Let me know where the photo was taken, and a bit about the location and it could be your photo on here soon!

01 February, 2012

A small hotel in Copenhagen that's big on style

An affordable hotel is what most people look for when going on a city break; and if you're visiting Copenhagen, then The Avenue Hotel could be just the place for you. Within walking distance from the city centre, this boutique hotel sets new standards for the three star concept. It has also just been awarded the Best Small Hotel 2011 by International Hotel Awards.

Photo courtesy of The Avenue Hotel
The modern but friendly interior was designed by Mikael Mammen - known for his role in redesigning many leading restaurants and cafes in the city. There are 68 rooms, all furnished in elegant Scandinavian design with Missoni bedspreads. All rooms have hairdryers, cable TV, a fridge, and complimentary internet access. There are also 14 A+ rooms which have more space, DVD players, and cold drinks in the fridge.  

Photo courtesy of The Avenue Hotel
A plentiful buffet breakfast is served between 645am and 10am (1030 at weekends), with an ever changing selection of homemade breads and conserves; cold meats, and fresh coffee. It's the sort of spread where you can stock up, so you can sightsee until your heart's content without the need to stop for lunch!

Photo courtesy of The Avenue Hotel
The hotel's lounge bar is a warm and cosy place to relax. It's open from noon to midnight, and although there is no restaurant for evening meals, light dishes are served alongside amazing cocktails and fine wines.

Photo courtesy of The Avenue Hotel
All guests comment on the warm welcoming staff, and that means the hotel are delivering on their philosophy of providing guests with more than just a comfortable room, but an experience that makes guests feel at home. If you'd like more information on the Avenue Hotel, then visit their official website here.