After journeying round the world with you for the past three years, I’m slinking away to put my feet up.
I’ve covered everything from hotels up trees to the theft of entire beaches, from luxury hotels for dogs to the ‘disappearance’ of the River Thames. It’s been fun.
If I did a count, I’ve no doubt that Italy will have featured more than any other country in my travel news – there always seems to be something quirky or just plain barmy happening there.
Regular message-posters (you know who you are) have encouraged me to keep writing, and I offer thanks to them. Only one person has ever taken me to task – step forward Victoria, who (mistakenly) thought I was being unkind to Sir Richard Branson. Who would ever take a pop at a man who provides us hacks with such juicy copy?
So, wherever you might be travelling in the future, book your luxury hotel with Luxique … and Bon Voyage.
by Andy Moreton
The way New York cab drivers look and dress has been the subject of recent debate.
The Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) is proposing adjustments to language on the rules about a driver’s demeanour. The current wording requires drivers to look ‘clean and neat’. The proposed change would add that they should have ‘a professional appearance’.
The agency is pushing to eliminate language that prohibits specific clothing including tank tops, underwear as outerwear, swimwear or cut-off shorts. The TLC says these references are dated and unnecessary.
“Drivers are ambassadors of the city, for tourists, for New Yorkers, as well,” said TLC Chairman, David Yassky. “But particularly you think of tourists coming to the city, getting into a cab and wanting to be greeted in a professional way.”
One New Yorker commented: “As long as the cab’s clean and safe, I’m fine with how they dress. They’re sitting in their cars all day. They should be comfortable. [It’s fine] as long as they’re pleasant and courteous.” The TLC will vote on the matter in January.
A handful of New York City cab drivers are to add an extra item of clothing to their wardrobes – bullet-proof vests. In a pilot scheme, a dozen or so cabbies will wear the extra protection in tough areas of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.
by Andy Moreton
Luxique can help you book some classic luxury hotels in New York City – at the best possible rates.
Disneyland Paris is planning a themed adventure that will give youngsters the chance to become spies for a day.
Spy Camp – aimed at 8 to 16 year-olds – is scheduled to begin in October next year. There will be induction training in the morning, with more advanced exercises in the afternoon.
Participants will learn the secrets of the world of espionage from experienced trainers, and put their spy skills to the test in a series of specially-devised challenges ranging from code-breaking and surveillance to dodging laser alarms and a combat zone. Those who successfully complete the course will be recognised at a closing ceremony.
Spy Camp at Disneyland Paris is being organised by the UK-based specialist company Spy Games Ltd, which has been running spy-themed activities and events for children and adults since 2001.
The founder, Dave Thomas, a former SAS instructor and surveillance expert, said: “We’re hugely excited to be taking the Spy Camp experience to Disneyland Paris and pulling out all the stops to create a stunning new and immersive experience for children and young people.”
by Andy Moreton
If you’re planning a visit to France’s romantic and historic capital city, browse through Luxique’s unrivalled selection of luxury hotels in Paris.
A leading luxury hotel chain has started a scheme that allows guests to borrow running shoes and clothing.
Westin Hotels and Resorts have gone into partnership with the New Balance company in the new ‘healthy and fit’ programme.
The New Balance running shoes are equipped with disposable insoles that can be thrown out after each use, and the clothes will be laundered after every run. Hotel guests can borrow a variety of running gear including shorts, shirts and socks for men, and shorts, Capri pants, socks, shirts and sports bras for women.
“Guests simply need to show up ready for a great workout. We provide the rest,” said Nancy London, Vice President of Westin Hotels & Resorts.
The complimentary programme has been piloted at ten Westin properties, including The Westin Boston Waterfront, The Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago, and The Westin San Francisco Airport. It should begin rolling out to all the chain’s luxury hotels around the world in 2011.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the hotels are stocking women’s size shoes from 6 to 10½ and clothing from small to extra large; and men’s size shoes 8½ to 13 and clothing from medium to XXL.
Some travellers are already embracing the idea. Jenn Blazejewski, a 31-year-old management consultant and daily runner, told the Journal she had no problem with the idea of loaner gear. “Running socks aren’t very intimate compared with bed sheets and towels,” she said.
by Andy Moreton
There are now more than 170 Westin properties worldwide – find some of them among Luxique’s comprehensive list of luxury hotels.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa has been given a facelift, which involved extensive cleaning and a bit of straightening.
Over a period of eight years, restorers used chisels and laser technology to remove grime from the 24,000 blocks of stone that make up the 183-ft tower.
The stones were in poor condition – mainly because of air pollution and pigeon droppings. They’d also been damaged by sea salt – Pisa was once on the coast and was a powerful maritime republic until its harbour silted up and was cut off from the sea.
The columns of the tower are decorated with flowers, ghoulish faces and fantastical animals. “But sea salt carried on the wind, and rain water that collects in certain areas because of the tower’s tilt have damaged many,” said Anton Sutter, the Swiss-born leader of the £20 million ($31 million) restoration effort.
“We’ve taken out the concrete used in past restorations and cleaned up the pigeon dirt, graffiti and handprints left by tourists,” he said.
The tower has been leaning since the construction of the third level in 1178 because of soft sand and clay beneath its inadequate foundation. It was on the verge of collapse in 1990, and closed to the public, but was then secured.
In the latest restoration, the famous list has been partly corrected – engineers managed to straighten it by 18 inches from the vertical, returning it to its 1838 position.
by Andy Moreton
There’s plenty to see apart from the famous bell tower, and Luxique offers best rates at a jewel of a luxury hotel in Pisa: the classic, 19th century Royal Victoria.
As an admirer of the late Hollywood actor, James Stewart, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know there was a museum dedicated to his memory.
It’s in Indiana, Pennsylvania and it’s struggling for money. The fear is that the museum could go out of business like those dedicated to Liberace and Roy Rogers.
“It’s touch and go right now,” the museum’s Executive Director, Timothy Harley, told MSNBC. “We need a cash influx to help us get through this challenging time.”
Mr Harley said attendances at the Jimmy Stewart Museum had steadily declined in the past three years in line with the struggling economy, and as Stewart’s contemporaries withdraw from bus tour participation. State funding has dropped from $5,500 (£3,500) a year to $1,400 (£890).
Penny Perman of the Indiana County Tourism Bureau says the museum adds about $407,000 (£258,000) in tourist dollars to the local economy.
Both she and Mr Harley remain optimistic that ageing baby boomers will soon begin strolling the halls to admire a man revered for his role as George Bailey in the perennial holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.
“This museum’s not just about Jimmy Stewart — it’s about America,” said Museum host Pat Ward. “His life takes us through the life of The Greatest Generation.”
by Andy Moreton
Wax figures of Lady Gaga have been unveiled at Madame Tussauds in London – and at seven others worldwide.
As befitting the pop diva’s style, the wax figures feature her in eight different outrageous outfits. The London one has her in a Philip Treacy-designed telephone hat with ‘a Giorgio Armani Privé midnight blue outfit with pagoda-style shoulders and vertiginous heels’ (my fashion adviser tells me).
The other figures are in New York, Las Vegas, Hollywood, Amsterdam, Berlin, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
In Amsterdam, the wax Gaga sports a conical towering pink and white hairdo, teamed with a white boxy jacket, a nude bodysuit and huge platforms. In Shanghai, she is wearing thigh-high patent boots and a Bowie-esque black lightning stripe over one eye.
The Gaga-fest was kept strictly secret and kept under wraps until the moment all could be revealed. The General Manager of Madame Tussauds in London, Edward Fuller, said: “The demand to include Lady Gaga has been overwhelming and we are more than happy to oblige.”
by Andy Moreton
If you’re going Gaga, Luxique offers a selection of luxury hotels in each of the eight cities.
The Palace of Versailles outside Paris is to transform one of its satellite buildings into a luxury hotel.
L’hôtel du Grand Contrôle, the traditional home of the chateau’s treasurers, is to be converted into a luxury hotel with 23 bedrooms. Some will look out over The Orangerie, the palace’s elaborate greenhouse, and others will have a view of the Swiss ornamental lake. The hotel could be ready as early as the end of next year.
A concession has been granted to the Belgian company Ivy International SA to renovate and develop the building, which dates back to the 17th century but is currently in a dilapidated state. The work is expected to cost 5.5 million euros (£4.6 million/$7.3 million).
Versailles, a UNESCO World Heritage site deemed one of the crowning achievements of 18th-century French art, is one of Europe’s most popular tourist attractions.
The development paves the way for a series of French projects aimed at exploiting the economic potential of listed buildings while securing their renovation.
Another royal palace, the Chateau of Fontainbleau, south of Paris, is preparing to appeal for bids to develop its listed Heronniere barracks next year. “We have to find a purpose for these buildings to avoid them falling into ruin,” said Jean-Francois Hebert, President of Fontainbleau. “One of the ways will be to set up an upmarket hotel complex.”
by Andy Moreton/AFP
Luxique offers you a choice of accommodation at some 70 luxury hotels in Paris,including the Trianon Palace in Versailles.
Rome has followed another Italian city, Venice, in drawing up plans to tax tourists in an attempt to raise revenue.
Guests staying at four- and five-star luxury hotels in Rome will pay 3 euros (£2.50/$4) a night from January 1st next year, and there will be a 2 euros (£1.70/$2.66) a night tax on all other accommodation.
Tourists will be advised about the Contributo di Soggiorno tax on arrival and they’ll have to pay the levy before they check out. The maximum number of nights taxable per stay is 10, a charge of up to £25 ($40). Children under two and youth hostels will be exempt.
It’s understood that five per cent of the income generated by the tax will be used to improve tourist facilities in the Eternal City, although further details have not been released. Nine million people visit Rome every year.
The tax could still be challenged in the courts. The European Tour Operators’ Association has criticised the levy, likening it to ‘being on a plane and then being charged to leave’.
by Andy Moreton
Luxique offers a selection of luxury hotels in Rome, as well as a handy city guide.
The Emirates Palace luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi is displaying a jewel-encrusted Christmas tree, which it says is worth millions of dollars.
Items of jewellery studded with scores of precious stones are draped on the tree’s branches, along with more traditional baubles and lights. While the tree alone is worth a mere $10,000 (£6,400), the jewellery adds more than $11million ($7 million) to the value, according to the hotel’s General Manager, Hans Olbertz.
The luxury hotel is asking the Guinness Book of Records to certify the tree as the world’s most expensive.
The vast majority of the population of the oil-rich UAE are Muslim, but Mr Olbertz said he didn’t think the tree would offend local sensibilities. “It’s a very liberal country,” he said.
The tree sits in the sumptuous lobby of the 302-room hotel – which is bookable, of course, through Luxique.
by Andy Moreton