Congratulations to Venice’s first woman gondolier – 23-year-old mother-of-two Giorgia Boscolo.
The business has been all-male for some 900 years but Ms Boscolo passed the rigorous course, which involved propelling and guiding the 35-foot long gondola, navigating the city’s winding waterways and predicting treacherous tides and currents. She had to undergo 400 hours of instruction.
The course was introduced in 2007 after centuries during which the trade was handed down from father to son. Two other female applicants failed to make the grade.
Ms Boscolo inherited her passion for navigating Venice’s canals from her gondolier father, Dante, when she was seven. “I’ve always loved gondolas, and unlike my three sisters I preferred to punt with my father instead of going out with my friends,” she said. “I’m immensely happy and proud but today my day starts like every other, taking the children to school.”
Ms Boscolo’s new qualification will enable her to make a decent living. The rate for an evening tour of Venice is 100 euros (£85 / $140 ) for 50 minutes, with each additional 20 minutes costing 50 euros (£42 / $70).
by Andy Moreton
Enjoy that romantic gondola ride and let Luxique help you choose a luxury hotel in Venice.
Picture the scene: you’re travelling on London Underground’s Piccadilly line (the dark blue one) towards Heathrow Airport and the driver’s public address system crackles into action.
You’re expecting no more than the standard ‘mind the gap between the train and the platform’, or ‘change here for the Northern line,’ but what you hear is: ‘without music, life would be a mistake’.
Alternatively, it could be ‘to live is to dream’, or ‘beauty will save the world’.
It’s the latest idea to ease the strain of travelling on London’s crowded ‘tube’ system – the thoughts of history’s great philosophers.
Jeremy Deller, who’s compiled the selection of quotes given to drivers, said: “I often wish announcements were more personal and reflected the realities and absurdities of living and working in a big city. I think the travelling public will enjoy some humour and unexpected insight during their journey.”
The quotes above came from Nietzsche, Schiller and Dostoevsky. Another suggestion on a message board is a line from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: ‘In delay there lies no plenty.’
by Andy Moreton
The tube is just one of the delights awaiting you in London. Luxique’s Top Destination guide will help you get the best from your visit and we have a hand- picked selection of the finest luxury London hotels.
One of the giants of the hotel business is retiring this summer after more than 40 years running the celebrated Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok.
Kurt Wachtveitl, who’s 72, took over the Oriental in 1967 after completing hotel school in Switzerland and working at several European hotels.
He became General Manager of an establishment with a proud history. Founded in 1876 by two Danish sea captains, the Oriental’s A-list crowd in the early days included the cream of the literati, including Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling.
Wachtveitl was given a free hand by the owners and transformed the hotel into one of the best in the world, his formula for success being a rigorous focus on his guests and staff. The hotel maintains a database of some 40,000 guests — listing their tiniest preferences, pet peeves and, occasionally, how their stays didn’t go quite right.
One senior executive was recently amazed when on arrival he was greeted with an apology for a water problem in his room a decade ago, and upgraded to a suite. “You win a person like this forever, I guarantee you,” says Wachtveitl.
The veteran hotelier has a fund of stories – he’s had to tread diplomatically with temperamental celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson, and once had to host Cambodia’s murderous Khmer Rouge leaders. More amenable guests have included Princess Diana, Sir Sean Connery, George W Bush and Elton John.
But Wachtveitl saves his greatest praise for his staff and is proud that the average length of service at the Oriental is more than 16 years. “I am lucky that Thais have great potential for the hospitality industry because of their warmth and caring attitude,” he said.
The Oriental is consistently featured in the lists of the world’s top luxury hotels and you can book it at the best rates through Luxique.
by Andy Moreton
The Italian airline, Alitalia, has apologised after its in-flight magazine printed a map which left out the island of Sicily.
Sicily is Italy’s largest region and the biggest island in the Mediterranean, but a passenger noticed it had disappeared from the route map as she was on a flight to that very place. Smaller islands such as Sardinia were correctly marked.
The magazine’s editor, Aldo Canale, said it was a simple printing error: “We have run lots of editions on the beauty of Sicily and we would never dream of eliminating it from maps of Italy,” he said.
Alitalia was re-launched earlier this year under private ownership. It had been a state-run company for more than 60 years before going bankrupt.
by Andy Moreton
The island really does exist and to prove it, Luxique offers the opportunity to book one of ten luxury hotels in Sicily at the best available rates. Choose from the quiet and romantic San Domenico Palace - housed in a former 14th century monastery - to the classic Grand Hotel et Des Palmes.
As summer gets into full swing over here in Europe, I return to a rather prickly subject – jellyfish.
A warning has gone out on the beaches of the Costa del Sol in Spain about the arrival of the potentially deadly Portuguese man o’war. This creature has tentacles that can be 30 yards long and are barbed with a sting ten times stronger than an ordinary jellyfish.
Xavier Pastor, from Oceana, an ecological campaigning group, said: “The Portuguese man o’war hasn’t been seen in the Mediterranean for a decade and its appearance could herald a process of colonisation, which has happened with other invading species.”
The Spanish are doing all they can to tackle the swarms of this and other potentially dangerous stingers. In the north-east area of Catalonia, where 20,000 people received treatment after being stung last summer, the authorities are using satellite images to track swarms. When they seem dangerously close to shore, boats will be sent to scoop them up.
It’s thought the large rise in the numbers of jellyfish is a result of global warming and the overfishing of predators.
Spain’s environment ministry is distributing leaflets alerting bathers to the dangers.
by Andy Moreton
Luxique offers a selection of luxury hotels throughout Spain – beach and city.
As surveys go, this one is pretty gross. Our friends at Tripadvisor.com have come up with a top five tourist attractions that could be bad for your health as they’re so germ-ridden. Here they are in reverse order:
At number 5 is the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, where celebrities leave their hand- and footprints for posterity. Apparently, it’s covered in grime from the countless visitors who see if their hands and feet match those of the stars.
St Mark’s is a beautiful square in Venice, but it’s always suffered from a surfeit of hungry pigeons and the mess they leave behind. That brings it in at number 4.
At number 3 is Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Paris. People clearly like to kiss it, because it’s covered with lipstick prints. Yuk!
A wall outside Market Theatre in Seattle was placed runner-up in the survey. Since 1990, tens of thousands of people have stuck their unwanted chewing gum to the wall, turning it into a tourist attraction. The display was started by people waiting in line to visit the theatre. The wall has been scraped clean twice but is still covered with gum, some moulded into shapes and faces.
But the ‘favourite’ tourist attraction for picking up germs is the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle near Cork in the Irish Republic. More than 400,000 tourists a year literally bend over backwards to kiss the Stone, as legend has it that it will give you the gift of eloquent speech.
by Andy Moreton
Luxique can promise you ultra-hygienic facilities at top-class hotels close to all the tourist attractions mentioned above: browse our selection of luxury hotels in Los Angeles, Venice, Paris, Seattle and Cork.
The latest character created by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen is about to hit the big screen … and Austrians are bracing themselves.
After Ali G and Borat comes Bruno, an outrageously camp fashion reporter who wants to be the ‘most famous Austrian since Hitler’. The movie is, according to one reviewer in the UK ‘deeply offensive and very funny’.
Austria, however, might not see the joke. There are fears that the country could have a similar experience to Kazakhstan, which is still recovering from the cruel satire directed at the nation by Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2005).
“Kazakhstan is still suffering enormous loss of identity… Austria could soon be going the same way,” says the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF). Other commentators there have labelled the film ‘dull’, ‘insulting’ and ‘a threat to the country’s world image and economy’.
by Andy Moreton
If you want to see the real Austria, check out Luxique’s selection of luxury hotels in Vienna, boutique hotels in Salzburg and great hotels in other Austrian cities.
Coastal erosion is threatening Byron Bay, one of Australia’s most popular tourist areas.
Severe storms and tides have combined to push the shore at Byron Bay back by 20 yards in some places.
The local council has closed paths on some of the town’s beaches and has warned that the weather has created dangerous vertical sand dune escarpments of up to 16 feet along the shore.
Situated on the north coast of New South Wales, the Bay is a favourite stop-off for backpackers on the route from Sydney to Cairns.
It’s also home to some of the most expensive properties in the country, with some selling for the equivalent of £3.5 million ($5.7 million). It’s these waterfront homes that have been most at risk from the advancing waters.
Locals believe the council is not doing enough. They’ve warned that if the spit of sand at Belongil, which separates the ocean from the Belongil estuary, is breached, the ocean will flow into the low-lying town of Byron itself.
by Andy Moreton, with Bonnie Malkin in Sydney
Luxique has a wide selection of luxury hotels in the New South Wales region and throughout Australia.
Visitors to many parts of Europe will know that the smoking ban in public places is rigidly enforced – but not so in Greece.
It has more smokers than any other country in Europe (around 42 per cent of the population), but two attempts to cut the number of smoking-related deaths have failed – laws have simply been ignored.
The Greek government will now try a third time. From July 1st, thousands of restaurants and bars will have to build sealed-off smoking areas or declare themselves non-smoking establishments. Offices will have to be smoke-free. Those lighting up illegally will face fines of 500 euros (£425 / $700).
“Our society is more ready than ever to embrace this,” Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos told a news conference. “We will all be judged here … this is the start of an effort to change the mentality on what is this country’s most crucial public health issue,” he said.
The imminent ban on smoking appears to have given some people the incentive to kick the habit - hospital clinics that help people quit are reporting waiting lists of up to three months.
by Andy Moreton
Experience the new smoke-free Greece and choose a luxury hotel from Luxique’s unrivalled selection.
Two US tourists who chipped off a piece of the Colosseum in Rome 25 years ago have returned it – along with an apology.
The fragment of stone, small enough to fit into a pocket, arrived in Italy in a package from California. A note inside read: “We should have done this sooner.”
Rome’s archaeology officials have accepted the couple’s apology and the local tourism officer has invited them to return to the city.
The tourists appear to have been concerned about their questionable memento for some while. “Every time I looked at my souvenir collection and came across that piece it made me feel guilty,” the note read.
“Over the years, I started thinking that if all the visitors to that beautiful monument took a piece of it away with them, nothing would be left standing. It was a selfish and superficial act.”
There is one problem with this, however. The passing of time seems to have led the couple to forget from where exactly they chipped the fragment. Officials in Rome believe it might not be from the Colosseum at all, but from the area of the Roman Forum or the ancient Palatine Hill.
by Andy Moreton
Luxique guides you through the process of finding and booking the finest luxury hotels in Rome.