Sunday, November 11, 2007

Intercontiental - Athens - two perspectives


From the moment you walk in you know you have entered a wonderful art gallery, which doubles as a hotel.The owner is an art collector and has filled the hotel with originals,wonderful reproductions, photographs, etc. At your arrival you are faced with the Blue Man (sculpture) standing on one arm and one leg, the other arm and leg extended to the skies(depicting North, South, East and West). So now "you have arrived".

Although a large hotel one gets the feeling of intimacy . All the rooms are enormous, with a separate sitting area with loveseat and a large, comfortable chair, desk, etc. Large windows in all rooms - the preffered side faces the Acropolis in the distance. Quite a sight at night when the Acropolis is all lit up. Soothing blues and warm white (not stark white) in Club Rooms. The standard rooms are currently covered in deep greens and whites and will possibly convert to the blue scheme after refurbishing. Be it male or female, the decor is unobstrusive. Not utterly masculine or feminine.Great choice of colors and furnishings and the room amenities were exquisite!

The suites are all wonderful, my favourite being a Jr. Suite(qualifying anywhere else for a one bedroom suite)separate bedroom/livingroom with a great terrace and lounge chair(for sunning on a bright sunny Athens day)as well as table and chairs. Wonderful for breakfast or candelight dinner...There are two of these Junior Suites
with larger terraces.The rest have typical terraces.The Presidential Suite of course was fabulous.The Conference Rooms/Ballroom etc,very well done. Self-contained with its own elevator which takes the conference attendees straight down to that area,or one can use the escalators.

Dining is wonderful throughout.Be it CafeZoe(where we had wonderfullunch and breakfast buffets)to the rooftop diningroom - Premiere - which I was informed received One Hat (equivalent of a Michelin Star).The food delicious,presentation exquisite.Impeccable service.During the warmer months the restaurant has additional seating on their rooftop terrace overlooking the City and the Acropolis. A spais now in the process of being built.

The Club Lounge staff could not have been more helpful and gracious.And last but not least,a lovely,inviting,bar/lounge-where a great time was had by all of us.... excellent wines... and where even at 2 o'clock in the morning we felt welcome....

With a few necessary changes which they are working on
The Intercontinental Athens is a good choice!.

Luisa, Senior Corporate & LeisureTravel Consultant
Travel Exchange - A Virtuoso Agency
125 Main Street | Westport, Ct.
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2. MEETINGS & GROUPS Perspective:

Athens, Greece - a wonderful Group destination! Dining, Shopping, Meeting, Tours, Sophisticated venues and numerous excursions, too great to number are all of the necessary ingredients for success with any group size or event.

The IC in particular offers more than adequate meeting space.With pieces of art meticulously placed in the meeting rooms the owner has managed to transform a basic breakout room into a warm and inviting place to meet. Don't be misled - all of the rooms feature the usual necessities for any meeting: built in screens, climate control, even the occasional breakfront to hold coffee and mid-day snacks.

The meeting space to room ratio is quite impressive. Offering two ballrooms and many other breakouts and spaces for smaller meetings and workshops you can easily provide for a group of 400+.Ceiling height is generous and the larger rooms maximize their capabilities with soundproof dividers offering planners the ability to mix and match to meet their needs.

As the rest of the hotel is undergoing refurbishing I would strongly suggest taking a look at the carpeting in the meeting area and ballrooms. I found them to be worn and stained. The only other point that may or may not be a deterrent - depending on your program type and size is the columns in the main ballroom. Although they act as a nice divider for a reception, etc. they could be obtrusive and sight problems if the entire room was needed for a presentation, etc.

My associate has already submitted comments and observations on the hotel from an individual guest's point of view so I will refrain from the obvious, such as the room decor, amenities, etc. and try to limit my comments to those that apply more to the expectations of meeting planners.

The rooms are consistent throughout the hotel in size which is a plus for groups! The differences are limited to views - City vs. Acropolis. There are decor differences with the Club Rooms but of course the highlight would be the lovely lounge that Luisa has already touched upon. Aside from suites for VIPs - the Club Rooms offer another upgrade possibility for VIPs and different tiered management when doing a larger group.

While everyone was extremely hospitable and always willing to assist I felt that the front door could have use more attentive servicing. There should always be someone at the door, be it bellmen, etc. to greet you, hold a door open, or flag a taxi. On more than one occasion it was hard to locate assistance for these very things. The revolving door was a nuisance as well, since it was set to stop when someone got close and I witnessed many people hitting into the doors.

The other issue of service that I would like to reiterate was the check-in process. While this may be fine for some properties it would not suit a VIP or someone used to Virtuoso procedures. There was no escort to rooms, which is vital to the guest and assists them in locating the amenities and services provided in the individual guest rooms.

The quality and presentation of all food and beverage is superb! With the training that the IC staff will soon be getting and a the refurbishing (updating in-room TVs, soft goods, bathrooms, etc.)

Carrie Negrinelli, Director - Groups,Meetings and Events for Travel Exchange

South Africa & Zimbabwe - By Pam

Hello everyone..
I just returned from two weeks in SA and Zimbabwe.I took six lady friends with me and planned the trip with our Virtuoso onsite Trans Africa Safaris. I have used them many times for clients with great success so I was confident they would do a good job for us. It was undoubtly one of my best trips and it was done with perfection.

Accommodations, guides and activities were spectacular. Leslie and Jennifer Paterson were very responsive to all our needs and were always ready to accommodate any changes or address any concerns as well as keeping the cost under control. They also very graciously invited us to dinner at their home in Capetown with some of their SA friends which was a thoroughly enjoyable evening for all. Their were also beautiful gifts in our hotel rooms when we arrived....made by SA artisans...with a note saying they were from me!
Capetown is a destination in itself and has a spectacular setting on the water.We opted to stay at the Victoria and Albert Hotel which was very comfortable & service oriented. It is slightly less expensive than Cape Grace hotel which is just next door. The waterfront shops and scenery were very enjoyable.
Our guide (Chris) in Capetown was superb..I don't know if he enjoyed us more or we him! Our first day we went to Robben Island ..the ferry leaves right from the harbor. This was where Mandela was imprisoned for many years. It is a good learning experience and a nice boat trip to the island. South Africa should be very proud of its accomplishments in bringing peace and prosperity to their country. You may remember that there was an imbargo on travel to SA during apartheid and the country did not really open up until 1996.
We spent one day going to the Cape of Good Hope and had a wonderful seafood meal at the Black Marlin.We saw African penguins and baboons and ostriches along the way.

The next day we toured the wine country with a visit to the lovely town of Stellenbosch. I would have enjoyed a night or two just staying there at the hotel in town. Again we had a glorious lunch at La Petite Ferme overlooking the vineyards..Napa has nothing on this countryside..the scenery is gorgeous and the food even can see we did alot of eating !!
Our next destination was Phinda Game Reserve which is operated by CC Africa which has over 40 camps in all parts of Africa.We stayed at Phinda Forest Lodge.

We flew to Durban, you can also go to Richards Bay. We used commercial airlines as opposed to private air charters. Phinda is noted for having some of the best games..and we saw it all...lions, giraffe, elephants, cheetah, black and white rhinos. We missed the elusive leopard and we loved to tease our cute young ranger Luke about it.Our day began typically with a wake up and coffee at 6am and then off on the range rover until 10..a coffee break was usually planned half way with complete service at a picturesque setting. Then back for breakfast and a nap! Again another meal..lunch at 1 and another game drive in the afternoon to watch the sunset with cocktails served on the vlei. Phinda has several other camps that are even more deluxe..Phinda Vlei, Phinda Zuka and Getty House.
After three nights we were off to Jburg for an overnight at the very convenient
and deluxe Intercontinental Hotel at the airport before we flew to Vic Falls the
next day. Of course I debated about going to Zimbabwe as opposed to Zambia but I am glad we made the choice of Vic Falls Hotel..a true old world classic and they do a great job despite the economic and political disaster that Mugagbe has created. We enjoyed a walking tour to the spectacular falls.
Our last stop was ..Matetsi Water Camp..also CC Africa on the Zambezi river.
It was only a 45 minute drive from Vic Falls.

We enjoyed the change of scenery..our rooms looked out to the river and we could hear the hippos roaring. The staff there was wonderful. They made us feel so welcome and comfortable..even though there were secuity guards and locked rooms at night I felt very safe. I was alone in a single room by then. The rooms were over the top with luxury linens and outdoor and indoor showers and large tubs and bathrooms. Our last night we came home from our game drive and there was a warm bubble bath waiting for each of us! The food and service was done with elegance and imagination.

In case you send anyone to Zimbabwe...only bring US $ and do not use CC!!
We flew back to Jburg and then came home to the USA.
I flew BA via London and still think that is the best way to go to split
up the journey. Some flew SAA out of NYC but it is a crowded long flight.
Again, I attribute the success of the trip to Trans Africa and Lesley and Jennifer Paterson. Every day was an adventure and planned perfectly. South Africa is truly all about the animals and the people ...I do not know which I enjoyed more!
Please let me know if I can answer any questions. I also want to thank Renee and Cliff for taking care of some of my clients while I was gone. I always feel confident that they can handle any situation and it is one of the many strengths of The Travel Exchange.
Pam Van Rensselaer-Long
Virtuoso Associate | Travel Exchange
125 Main Street | Westport CT 06880
860 674 8700

Ritz London - By Luisa

At least once in one's lifetime, one must stay at the Ritz in London.

Just walking in, you know you have arrived. Low-key but so elegant and beautiful. I had a wonderful site. From the deluxe rooms, to the Junior Suites,to the full Suites, the high ceilings, the colors, the guilded trims, spaciousness and airiness, the furnishings, all so beautiful, so immaculate, elegant and welcoming. The bathrooms divine. We had a one-of-a-kind experience,and very very lucky, that Ruth Jones, the Director of Sales and Marketing,took us down to the private club where one must be a member to enter, or, as guest of the Ritz, you can become a temporary member, and enjoy not only the elegant gambling tables, but dining in the most loveliest of settings.

Through Daphne Warner's office,Dick and I were most fortunate to be able to get last minute reservations for Tea at The Ritz. What a gentle atmosphere, whispered service, soft piano, playing lovely Gershwin and soft classical music, sipping champagne (oh yes, the tea as well... ) what a delight.

I must make a special commendation for their head Concierge.Michael has been with the Ritz for over 30 years and there is not a thing he cannot do. Quick, efficient, in a seemingly effortless manner, he gets things done before you ask for them. He is that good. All my clients I have had stay at the Ritz, had already praised his name, now that I have met him and he helped us with a lot of things we needed, included theatre tickets (and contrary to other deluxes hotels, the Ritz London only adds 5% to the cost of the tickets... exceptional)

Yes, one must stay here at least once, and that means one will go back....

For families, they have the Ritz Kids program. They have children's robes, and all kinds of activities designed just for them. The Ritz already has Christmas packages published. I have a copy if anyone is interested.

Not to forget, book through Daphne Warner. She has been terrific every time I have made a booking. All my clients have received an upgrade. She is very well known and liked at the Ritz.


Travel Exchange - A Virtuoso Agency
125 Main St. | Westport, Ct. 06880

Anguilla Update - By Anne Grethe

Jim and I just spend 7 nights at CuisinArt in Anguilla.

We arrived at the brand new airport which is a dream compared to
the old one. We were met by the VIP service arranged by the hotel
and escorted across the street to the " Fun Time Ferry Service " which
will whisk you over to Anguilla in 30 minutes or less. This is a very
convenient service ( they will clear customs for you while you wait
in the boat ), but keep in mind the waters can be rather rough.
( One lady staying at Cap Juluca broke her wrist in two places
during the crossing the day after we arrived ).

It proved that CuisinArt was a very good choice for us. The food and service both excellent. Their new chef from Dubai is turning the crop from the organic/hydroponic farm into gourmet creations ( the tomatoes were to die for ).

The accommodations are all large and comfortable - most of them ocean front where you step right into the soft white sand of Rendevouz-Bay's 2 mile long beach. Large walk in closets and huge marble bathrooms - double sinks - very large tub and separate shower with GREAT water pressure.

The landscaping is absolutely gorgeous housing hundreds of different species of blooming trees, bushes and plants.

Venus Spa offer a very large variety of treatments. They are building a 10 million addition to this already wonderful spa which should be ready by next December. They also offer a wide variety of exercise classes. You may choose from Yoga - pilates - relax and stretch - sand and surf - aquatic conditions - beach power walk and more.

The general manager Stephane Zaharia will personally greet every guest upon arrival as well as upon their departure.

Outside the resort:
The great new golf course at St. Regis just opened and the beautiful Club House offer breakfast, lunch and dinner. This now proves to be one of the best restaurants on the island. The golf course is located right next to CuisinArt - ( we could walk to the golf course.) Some of the villas are completed and quite a few under construction sitting right at the water's edge - the hotel coming later.

I also did my second site inspection at Cap Juluca. Still a very beautiful resort. They seemed to have some problems with maintenance/plumbing. A few couples we met at CuisinArt checked out of Cap Juluca due to leaks and management problems. I also thought the landscaping needed updating. From local people and newspapers I understand this may be caused by the feud going on between the two owners and the
government. Hopefully this situation will improve when the ownership of the resort is established.

Other great choices for dining is The Strawhat - Tastees - Olivers and many more.

Why is this one of my favorite islands ?

The best beaches and the best food - everyone you meet is friendly. Just wish I had time to do more exploring.

Anne-Grethe Parkin
Travel Exchange - A Virtuoso Agency
125 Main Street | Westport Ct 06880 | 203 221 3500

Ischia, A Magical Place - By Luisa

A very nice ride by hydrofoil from Naples. As you approach Ischia, it is like arriving in Shangrila....

Ischia is composed of many small, chic, lively, towns. Starting with the Port of Ischia, San Angelo (one of my favorites) the people are charming, warm and helpful in every way. We had a tour of the Island and at each bend of the road found each view more breathtaking than the other. There are lovely little restaurants,and even a winery where we had a great wine tasting.

But of course Ischia is not complete without the Mezzatorre Resort and Spa, where you "float" into, not just arrive....

Reception is housed in a separate, delightful building, adorned with white drapes flowing from a wonderful white canopy. Reception could not be more welcoming and warm.

We were housed in the Tower Rooms, the most central location, absolutely beautiful tower, where each and every room and suite is different. The colors, the decor, the views. I had a beautiful room overlooking the pool, grounds, and partial bay view. The colors reminiscent of Pompeii. The bathroom gleaming white tiles (and my bathroom had a window which I happen to love a window in the bathroom). One of our agents had an adorable single room another floor above with a tiny balcony. The Deluxe Grand Suite (which was housing a British actor - but we were able to take a peek at) goes on and on and on. Private pool. The jacuzzi tub by an enormous picture window, and so many other special features. Absolutely gorgeous!

Other wonderful rooms & suites, located in the Parco, Villette Serra and Foresteria buildings, scattered up on the hills (not recommended for those with walking disabilities) are large, airy, beautifully decorated. All different. Some of these units have seaviews, some gardenviews. There is also a Family Villa with absolute privacy (nobody can hear the little ones....). This Villa has a loft that will sleep 4 or 5, lovely gardens, and even a small slide (pretty much for the 2 to 3 year olds). Wonderful choice for a family.

No matter where in the property, each room and each suite is special in its own way. Dining is divine. Gentle service, delicious food and wines.

Last but not least - the spa and the indoor therapeutic pools where one is guided by a technician to which one to start off with, which sequence to continue, and how long at each, what to do, etc., Then, when you are finished, the technician comes and wraps you up in a soft white sheet and helps you plop (and yes you can barely "plop" you are so relaxed) down on a lounge and then covers you with with a big fluffy white towel... from there try a massage and then order a cart to wheel you out... you won't be able to walk.... Let's not forget their facials... the creams, produced in Milan, are amazing.

For the exhausted executive, no place to unwind like Mezzatorre. Ladies travelling on their own, absolute safety and one just walks around wrapped in their fluffy white robes. Don't worry about makeup.... until dinnertime of course...

Relaxed, yet elegant atmosphere. Perfection personified. I highly recommend Mezzatorre Resort and Spa.

Please call me if you have any questions.
Travel Exchange - A Virtuoso Agency
125 Main St. | Westport, Ct. 06880

Friday, November 9, 2007

Madrid & The Intercontinental Madrid - By Cliff

I just returned from 4 days in and around Madrid hosted by The Intercontinental Madrid and our Virtuoso onsite company, Made in Spain. I flew Delta in Economy from JFK. That Delta terminal at JFK is a disgrace. It is about 5 times too small and way too antiquated for modern air travel. That said the in-flight service was standard and the flights were on time in each direction.

I haven't been to Madrid in almost 8 years and found the city to be almost a new destination. It has grown into a very cosmopolitan city with all the amenities of any world class destination. New skyscrapers are rising all around the city, many with international corporate names on them. The Prado Museum has recently opened a new addition, and there are many other museums covering many interests. There are many restaurants offering all types of food from traditional Spanish to Michelin star award venues. The city feels safe and is clean and is most definitely a late night destination. The people are well dressed and very fashionable. The shopping looks to be as good as any other high end international city. It is also a wonderful place to explore on foot or using its extensive mass transit system.

We took a day trip out to Segovia which is a very interesting city, with its well preserved aqueduct and the Alcazar Palace. This was no more than an hour and a half from Madrid. We also visited a historic town called Pedrazza which had mostly locals and Spanish daytrippers. I am told that there are many towns like this to explore rather than spending all the time at the usual tourist attractions. Travellers who base themselves in Madrid can do day trips to many different places. Our Virtuoso on-site "Made for Spain" put together a great touring program for the short time we were there. They are very knowledgeable and are always looking to expose clients to more than just the typical expected locations.

The hotel is a very deluxe (Virtuoso) property. It is located in a very affluent area surrounded by high profile offices, upscale homes and embassies. It is a short walk or cab ride to the Prado via the Paseo de la Castellana, which is a well manicured, walker friendly street. The Ritz and Palace are right next to the Prado. This makes them always surrounded by hoards of tourists, shops, street performers and the fast food operations that go along with them. The IC is just slightly away which is very much an asset.

The hotel itself is very traditional. Here you feel the warmth of the staff from the time you enter the lobby. The public areas are very upscale and
attract many locals to its bar and restaurant. The Sunday Brunch is an elaborate feast where the Madrilenos come to celebrate an occasion. The Club Lounge, located on the 2nd floor, offers full scale food presentations and cocktails until 1130pm. Booking the Virtuoso rate automatically puts your client in a Club Room with access to this lounge. With the US dollar so weak, having a cooked to order breakfast and drinks and hors d'ouvres in the afternoon are a huge savings. The Virtuoso rates vary but are generally surprisingly low.

The Club rooms are scattered around the hotel and not on any one floor. These rooms are larger and offer upgraded amenities, robes and have all the products and services any traveller could want. Rooms that overlook the Paseo de la Castellana generally do not have balconies but courtyard rooms
have sliding glass doors to a deck that overlooks well kept gardens where concerts are performed on some evenings. The bathrooms have double sinks, large walk- showers with an attached drying area and a separated w/c. The beds are comfortable, the rooms quiet, and high speed internet is free.

With the US dollar so weak this hotel is a great bargain (relatively), in the best area, offering amenities and service that will surely impress even your most demanding client. No matter what your client says this place is very "Ritzy" too.

New Zealand - By Pauline

I just returned from an amazing trip to New Zealand.

From Wellington we toured through Maori towns - Featherston and Greytown, the oldest planned inland town on our way to Wharekauhau Country Estate – a working sheep ranch. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe this heavenly place. From my window I watched the sheep and lambs at play in deep green paddocks. This stunning view was framed by turquoise ocean waters and snow capped mountains. We had an exciting 4WD farm tour through the paddocks and along the beach –forging through mountain streams in some places. What a thrill to watch the working dogs herd the sheep. The “eye” dogs get the sheep to look at them and lead them along while the “hunter” dogs ( they’re the ones who bark) flank the rear and herd them. It’s like watching ballet in the fields. An excellent dinner was served in their dining room – see photos on their website. It was fun meeting and talking to the other residents at the Lodge. Click on the link to truly appreciate the setting, accommodations and activities.

Next morning a bright red helicopter picked us up on the front lawn to take us to the airport for our flight to Blenheim. For the next few days we were toured around by excellent guides from Backcountry New Zealand . They can cover anything and everything. They really are “tops”. Check out their website.

Hapuku Lodge ( built by the architect owners) blends in with the surroundings. We felt like we were on an adventure in the tree houses. On one side our glass walls overlooked a deer stud farm and on the other end was a sheep and cow pasture. The food was excellent – grown in their own organic garden. Once again we enjoyed a wonderful communal lodge dinner. For more details and views click below.

Next day a blue helicopter carried us up to Shearwater Lodge in the mountains. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful. A Kea bird joined us on the deck for appetizers. This is truly a hiker’s paradise. The forest is full of birds and interesting vegetation.
Next morning the more active hiked all the way down the mountain. Jacqui and I rode the Piston Bully half way (that was an adventure) then hiked the last half. See my photo of the red tractor. For descriptions of the walks click below.

We had a wonderful drive through the New Zealand countryside to Christchurch .
Otahuna Lodge is a real gem. Sir Heaton Rhodes built it in 1895. It is protected by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Last year two Americans bought it and restored it. Furniture was designed and hand crafted to fit the rooms. Twenty eight paintings were commissioned. The stunning wallpaper in the dining room is the original wallpaper. The gardens are immaculately manicured. Everything has been finished to perfection.

We dined with other resident guests in their elegant dining room. Each course was introduced by their very entertaining chef. Their charming wine aficionado touched on the history of the wine to follow. It was a dinner to be remembered.

Click below to view this incredible lodge. Also click on the Rhodes suite where I stayed.
The bathrooms are extra large with a Jacuzzi tub, shower, 2 sink vanity with granite counter tops. There is a separate entrance room. Just like home!!!!

We did a site inspection at The George in downtown Christchurch . This is a modern styled hotel which has received several awards for their excellent service. An excellent choice for anyone requesting a downtown hotel.

Next day we flew to Queenstown. Here you can be as active or as laid back as you want.
We were to helicopter over Milford Sound but the weather changed our plans. We were treated to the “wild action” of the area Jet boats over the rapids give a very thrilling ride. Then we (one of us) tested the Canyon Swing – a 220 foot drop into a canyon with rocks and a river below. That was a heart stopper.

We drove to Blanket Bay and passed through Central Otago the heart of the vineyard region. The scenery here is so pristine - breathtakingly beautiful. The lodge goes with the scenery – divinely elegant. A perfect resort for someone who wants quiet solitude – away from all the cares of the world. This is a definite MUST to click on.

We did a site inspection of Eichardts Private Hotel in the center of Queenstown.
This charming historical hotel grew out of the fortunes and misfortunes of the pioneers and is located in the middle of town. Its history is charming.
Click on the guided tour and highlight the list on the right hand side.

In Queenstown we stayed at Azur - a retreat resort perched on a hill with exquisite views of water and mountains. Azur has a comfortable laid back atmosphere. They do not serve dinner but have a mouth watering breakfast and a delightful afternoon tea. The staff looks after your every whim and drive you into town (5 minutes) whenever you want. From the Jacuzzi in your bathroom you can meditate on the view – a calm blue lake with mountains towering over it.

Most of these resorts have been restored or built within the last ten years.
Backcountry New Zealand and Canyon Swing started about 6 years ago.
The filming of “The Lord of the Rings” has escalated tourism in New Zealand.
This is THE up and coming country to visit. Accommodations and activities will more than satisfy any type of traveler – from the most discerning to the backpacker.

There is something for everyone. The scenery is breathtaking – majestic mountains next to crystal clear lakes and blue green oceans. For those extremists who seek wild adventure they have Jet boats, Canyon swinging, Bungy jumps and heli skiing. For the moderate active traveler there are great hiking trails in the mountains, biking, skiing, and swimming with the dolphins. For those who prefer the cultural side, they can explore the Maori people’s arts and crafts and the laid back historical towns.

This country is a haven for wine connoisseurs. Wonderful vineyards are all around.
The cuisine is excellent - from 5 course gourmet meals at deluxe resorts to roadside sandwiches made with freshly baked bread. And shopping is excellent. Their Merino Mink sweaters – so soft and cozy and their fire opals are irresistible.

EXCLUSIVELY NEW ZEALAND is one of those special companies which really make dream vacations come true. They work with the best people, excellent guides, wide range of hotels and resorts and a variety of transportation companies. They can organize anything and everything any client would want.
Nothing is too large or too small.

Ellen Freschauf is their rep on the East Coast.
If you have any questions, call me.

France-Loire/Paris & Tallinn,Estonia -By Barbara

Just returned from a wedding in France at the veritable Chateau Chambord - the largest, most magnificent chateau of the Loire Valley. the wedding was charming and there was a magic to being in the chateaux with extraordinarily beautiful weather, This was not a destination wedding precisely sincew the bridge (daughter of a good frient) married the son of a baroness from the Loire Valley and their family still resides there.

I forgot how flat the Loire Valley was which makes it ideal for bicycle trips and a perfect one for families. the touring is wonderful and takes one back to another epoch. the countryside is still quite rurual so going between towns and their chateaux can be a wondereful amble through fields and country roads, the temperatures were in the high 60's, low 70's so October is still a good month to go.

also a wonderful spot to send clients for a 2 - 3 day stay as a side trip from Paris. we stayed at a charming chateau B & B run b y the original family just outside of Chambord for `147 euros per night incldg. breakfast. Chateau Hotels site check it out:

some things i learned thru my travels:

1. CDG - Air France has a new spectacular terminal in Paris , very well staffed at customs and security, The almost flat-bed seating in biz class is quite comfortable and cabin service in both directions was extremely good.

On way back from Tallin, I had the opportunity to experience connecting in Paris as a transit passenger from Terminal 1 to the new Terminal 2. it worked incredibly well and was quite ewasy to navigate incldg the bus between terminals. when the bus dropped us off at Terminal 2 we had the chance to clear immigration since there were no lines and a bunch of imm agents standing by - with 3 hours between flights this was a welcome plus for us smokers.

Also the security at CDG works exceptionally well. no lines since they disperse security at clusters of gates rather than one bottleneck for the whole terminal - it was relatively painless.

2, Excess baggage charges in Europe - on my Estonian Air flt. from CDG - TLL they only allow 20kgs. i learnt that all intra-European flights have this weight restriction 20 kgs. therefore it is important to alert you pax of this when they are taking inter-European flights that they may have to pay excess baggage if over 20kgs. (i did!)

3, France & Euro - yes France was expensive! i read a good quote:" Americans find themselves 40% poorer with the exchange rate". while it is true it is expensive there are many ways to keep it an affordable vacation. in the course of my research, i learnt that there are wonderful PAris apartments available for rental some of them quite luxurious and not at all expensive. if you want more info on this ask me for sites.

also check out the chateaux B & B site

4. Tallinn, Estonia - the old town has some wonderful preserved mideval charm and a veryw ell preserved mideval village feel. some charming things to visit and must work well as a Baltic cruise port of call. apart from a brief stop, Estonia is not a destination per se. one still gets a strong feel of the Soviet era with its cement block buildings and watchtowerss all over and revovling cameras on every corner.

The people of Estonia are really working on trying to eliminate this stigma and they are host to Finns, Germans & Swedish visitors primarily but would like to encourage more visitors from other parts.

The food is okay and several restaurants we enjoyed had good chefs. One dinner was in a Design Hotel (they are really coming on strong for small, unique hotels) hotel is Three Sisters in Old Town,. the dinner, service and style of the hotel was excellent for those that like an authentic experience.