accommodation Tag

el silencio ecolodge, hotel, costa rica
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Who’s protecting the jungles of Costa Rica?

El Silencio, Costa Rica We like to think we're each environmentally-friendly. We recycle, we walk instead of using the car, we take our own bags to the supermarket. These small things all add up, don't they? Well, they do. But some people's actions seem to eclipse the sum of all of mine. That's what strikes me as I hike through the protected wilderness of El Silencio. In most countries, national parks are designated by the government. Here in Costa Rica there are plenty of them (26 to be exact). This includes the Manuel Antonio National Park which I wrote about earlier this week. But what makes Costa Rica so interesting is that about 5 per cent of the country's landmass is also protected privately by individuals or companies. El Silencio is one of those places. It's about 200 hectares of jungle, mountains, rivers and waterfalls. It sits high on the stretch of mountain peaks...

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13 December
Melville Castle hotel, Scotland, Edinburgh, David Hay
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What’s it like to own a castle?

Melville Castle, Scotland Before we get started, it’s important you get the idea of an old stuffy lord owning a castle out of your head. This is no Downton Abbey – this is the real thing. And in the case of Scotland’s Melville Castle, it’s David Hay – young, single and handsome – who has the keys to the castle. “Would you like to come back and stay at my castle?” We joke about the potential for pick-up lines in nearby Edinburgh, but David claims he’s never made the most of the opportunity. “Other people may have made more use of the fact they could go into town and say ‘by the way, tell that girl I’ve got a castle’ but it’s never changed my life at all.” The grand old Melville Castle estate with its huge main building, bounding plains and distant gate has not always been in the Hay family. David’s father...

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23 October
ashford castle, ireland, luxury hotel in ireland
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How the other half live

Ashford Castle, Ireland When you spend pretty much all your time in budget hotels, hostels, and the couches of generous friends, a nice bit of accommodation feels like luxury. There are some places in the world where you feel you’ve arrived somewhere special before you even walk in the door. To put it bluntly, there are some damn nice hotels in the world. And then there’s Ireland’s Ashford Castle. I’ve got to say right now that I didn’t even stay the night here. This was a lunch stop on my quick tour of Ireland – but I did get a chance to peek around and it was a fascinating insight into the way the other half live. The photo gallery in one corridor shows the celebrities who have stayed here. It’s a collection of some of the most famous actors, musicians and statespeople of our times: Bob Hope, Brad Pitt, Jack Nicholson, John...

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04 July
nuria valley, vall de nuria, pyrenees, catalonia, spain (2)
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Into the valley

Getting to the Nuria Valley There are only two ways to get to the heart of the Nuria Valley, high in the Spanish Pyrenees and isolated from much of the region. The first is to walk. The second is on an antiquated train, along the ridges above valleys and through mountain tunnels. Coming out of the last tunnel, the light shines in through the window and, across a lake at eye level, the destination is revealed. It is an enchanting way to arrive. Not that the walk is unpleasant. It can take a few hours uphill (shorter downhill) and follows the valley up almost a thousand metres. The path sometimes feels as though it’s on a cliff ledge; sometimes it comes down into the valley and crosses the river; and often it leads you to viewpoints that look out across the stunning landscapes of Catalonia. The Nuria Valley The Nuria Valley is a popular...

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08 January
Luxembourg hostels, accommodation, viandan, bourglinster, echternach (5)
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Hostels in Luxembourg

Bourglinster, Luxembourg Bourglinster is one those places I didn’t expect. And I mean that in a few senses. I didn’t expect it to exist, I didn’t expect it to be so pretty, and I certainly didn’t expect it to have such a nice youth hostel. The town is in a rural area, right in the middle of Luxembourg. Walking downhill along a road, we took a short cut through a small part of forest and arrived at the top of Bourglinster. The street was lined with the cute Luxembourg architecture I was starting to get used to. The sound of a passing car was already getting softer as it drove away and a dog’s barking took its place. It was clearly a small community. There’s a castle at the highest point of this small town, which presumably has a lot to do with why the settlement was originally formed. It doesn’t explain why...

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13 December
cheap tuscany, tuscany accommodation, tuscan food, cheap, affordable, budget (5)
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How to visit Tuscany cheaply

Cheap Tuscany, Italy It’s no surprise that one of the most popular regions of Italy is also one of the most expensive. Between accommodation, food and sites, you can really burn through the euros on a trip to Tuscany. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way - it is possible to travel Tuscany on the cheap. By accident, I discovered a way to keep the cost of visiting Tuscany right down. And the bonus? Well, it might actually be better suited to your style of travel as well. Introducing… dramatic drumroll… the hostel in the countryside! Cheap Tuscany accommodation In the quiet little village of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, the hostel is one of the largest buildings. That’s not to say it’s large, more that everything else is appropriately proportioned for a village. It’s called the ‘Ostello del Chianti’ and a bed in a dorm will cost only 16...

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08 July
stel, youth hostelyouth hostel in Feldkirch, austria, world's oldest hofeldkirch, austria (2)
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The oldest hostel in the world?

Feldkirch youth hostel, Austria If these walls could talk, there would be a world-weary rasp in their voice. It would probably be a slow voice, one that needs time for thoughts to be collected. There would be a lot of thoughts to sort through… but also an inevitable sluggishness that comes from age. You see, here at the Feldkirch youth hostel near Austria’s western border, there’s a lot of history. The hostel doesn’t claim to be the oldest in the world – but it probably could if it wanted to. It first offered respite from the road more than 300 years ago. The first document that mentions the building is from 1362 and describes it as having “been around for a long time”. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it was used as a leper colony – a sanctuary for them but moreso a cage to keep everyone else safe. It was in the...

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20 June
agritourism in italy, agriturismo, umbria, rural accommodation in italy (2)
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The green heart of Italy

Agritourism in Italy For the Italians, it’s no secret. In the past five years they have embraced a new way to see their country. It’s about getting closer to nature, closer to tradition and closer to peace of mind. For foreigners, it’s a mystery. But there’s only one thing stopping them from having the same connection with the country as the Italians – and that’s awareness. I’m talking about a trend called agritourism (or agriturismo, as they call it here). If you think about the name, it kind of speaks for itself. It’s all about staying on a farm, eating the food grown on the farm, and using the location to either relax or to explore the nearby cities during the day. Donatella Cavicchi is the owner of an agritourism hotel called Il Mandoleto near the Umbrian town of Solomeo. She describes it like this: “This is not the house in the country, this...

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01 May
renting a villa in umbria, tuscany, house rentals, italy, how much (7)
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Under the Umbrian sun

Our Italian villa Through the windows of our Umbrian villa, I had watched the Italian sun in battle with the clouds all day. At times I thought a victor should be declared - unfortunately on the side of grey. But not long before the sun was about to set and retire from the warfare for the day, it finally broke through. It had been hard-fought. But as the orange glow struck the walls of our Italian villa, we were rewarded for the solar persistence and the whole countryside came to life in front of our eyes. These photos are the record of that moment - 'the magic hour which only lasts ten minutes', as one of my friends described it. The short period that I traipsed in the slippery mud through the garden, the olive grove and the vineyard to capture the sun's victory lap. It seems slightly twee to talk about the...

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11 April