Hotel Review: Gates Hotel South Beach

Hotel Review: Gates Hotel South Beach

Overview: Recent upgrades make The Gates Hotel South Beach a great value for modern style at a reasonable price. And the food is good, too.

The Gates South Beach
2360 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139
(305) 860-9444
800-445-8667
miamh_rm@hilton.com

The Gates Hotel South Beach

I’d never been to Miami before checking out the newly relaunched Gates Hotel in South Beach this December, and the four-star Hilton hotel offered the perfect entrance into the eternal summer of South Beach.

Located right on the busy Collins Avenue, the Gates Hotel South Beach a short walk to the beach, the surrounding city, and several peaceful residential streets. Within the span of an hour, I strolled down the boardwalk at sunset, gazeed over the pond from a bridge, and got a drink in the upscale pool-flanking bar at The Setai. The hotel is also a short walk from The Bass, a museum full of quirky modern art.

poolside bar at Gates Hotel South Beach

When I got to my room, the first thing I noticed was the giant bed. “King size” would be an understatement — I could sleep diagonally on it. I’m a terrible sleeper, but the soft mattress and soft, luxurious pillows let me rest better than I had in a while.

bedroom at Gates Hotel South Beach

The top-floor room was spacious, with a desk, a board to put my stuff on, a separate segment for the toilet and shower, and a view of the pool outside the lobby. The WiFi was not super speedy but fast enough and easy to access with my name and room number, and there were outlets all over so I could plug in my computer from the desk or bed. There was no mini-bar, but there was a fridge and a coffee and tea maker. The only downside was that there was another room perpendicular to mine, so the people in it could see me if I left my blinds up.

Cabana by the pool at the Gates Hotel South Beach

One of the hotel’s biggest standouts was its food. When I checked in, the staffer at the front desk greeted me with a hot chocolate chip cookie. From room service, I got a surprisingly delicious cookies and cream milkshake, zucchini chips, and shrimp Caesar salad. Later on in the trip, I ate at the hotel’s restaurant Agaveros Cantina, which features unique Mexican dishes like Tamale Bites and Elote Fritters. The same restaurant also served breakfast for an extra charge, including a continental buffet and a menu with omelettes and other hot dishes.

“Welcome to Miami” played through my head as I walked through the halls. Between the Gates’ convenient location, luxurious accommodations, and friendly staff, I felt welcome, and I’d trust them to welcome me again.

Rooms:

King rooms and double queen rooms are available with or without pool view and with or without terraces.

King suites with separate living room also available.

Tech:

Free wifi throughout hotel

Family-friendly amenities:

This hotel is not explicitly family-friendly, but you can bring children. Cribs are available, but no extra beds.

Swimming pool on the terrace.

Food options:

The onsite Mexican-inspired Agaveros Cantina offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Pool bar and lobby bar offer lunch and dinner until 10pm.

Deals and Activities Nearby:
Parking:

Valet parking available.

Suzannah Weiss

Suzannah Weiss is a freelance writer and editor currently serving as a contributing editor for Teen Vogue and a regular contributor to Glamour, Bustle, Vice, Refinery29, Elle, The Washington Post, and more. She authored a chapter of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World and frequently discusses gender, sex, body image, and social justice on radio shows and podcasts. Whoopi Goldberg cited one of her articles on The View in a debate over whether expressing your desires in bed is a feminist act. (She thinks it is.)

Hotel Review: Yotel Times Square

Hotel Review: Yotel Times Square

Overview: Everything you need and nothing you don’t. Tiny rooms but modern and efficient use of space. Best for solo travelers, ok for couples, groups might be cramped, even in a larger room. And the bathroom does not offer a lot of privacy.

YOTEL New York
570 Tenth Avenue
New York, NY 10036
By phone: +1 646 449 7700

The Yotel in Times Square claims on its website that it “creates time, giving you everything you need and nothing you don’t.” Confused by the vague description? So was I. Let me fill you in on what actually makes the Yotel unique.

The lobby (if you could call it that) was as confusing as the website. Instead of a front desk with human beings, there were machines to check guests in and out, though there were people there to help. The process was surprisingly efficient: I just entered in my name and the dates of my reservation, and since I was early, the machine told me the room wasn’t ready yet.

luggage robot Yotel New York

So, I headed up to the fourth floor (the closest thing the hotel has to a real lobby, including a desk where staff take questions) to sit at the cafe, which boasts an impressive North African-inspired menu. I worked at a small table while eating fried cauliflower and pita bread with hummus, yogurt, and eggplant — dishes I enjoyed so much, I ordered the exact same ones again later that night. In addition to the cafe, which also sold coffee and pastries, there’s a larger restaurant on the fourth floor.

YOTEL rooftop Terrace New York

The “everything you need and nothing you don’t” tagline began to make sense when I entered my 27th-floor room, overlooking a gorgeous view of midtown Manhattan. The bed was tilted to partially lean against the wall and create space, and it went down for sleeping at the press of a button. The shower had shampoo and soap combined in one bottle, as well as a large bottle of conditioner, something I often find hotels lacking. The menu was on the TV. (They don’t deliver, but you can order food from your room, get a call when it’s ready, and pick it up downstairs.) Every inch of space was put to use.

Yotel room size

There was only a glass wall and curtain separating the bed and bathroom and there wasn’t too much extra space, so the room would not be ideal for multiple people traveling together. It looks like most of the Yotel’s rooms work this way. As a solo traveler, though, I didn’t feel cramped. The bed was not luxurious but comfortable. The WiFi in the hotel was quick, and there was an outlet to charge my computer next to the bed. The Yotel is impressively high-tech, in fact, with a luggage-storing robot and a mobile concierge app.

The hotel’s in a great location on 10th avenue between 41st and 42nd streets, a quick walk to the ACE trains and Times Square but far enough west that it’s still quiet. There are tons of cafes and restaurants right around the corner.

The building was a bit annoying to navigate, though, since you have to transfer elevators every time you hit the fourth floor. The Yotel definitely has its quirks, but they’re all part of its charm.

Rooms:

Rooms are known as “cabins” at the Yotel, and they definitely echo the size of a ship cabin.

Queen rooms are the most plentiful, but there are rooms that add one or two bunk beds that can work for a family of up to four.

Some king rooms are available, and some with terraces and outdoor tubs (not hot tubs) that look pretty special. One VIP terrace room has a king bed and a sofabed so it can accommodate up to four adults.

Tech:

Good wifi and outlets next to the bed for charging.

Luggage storage robots!

Family-friendly amenities:

Bunk beds in some rooms.

Bikes available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Yotel branded coloring books and colored pencils are available for a fee. Or download the images from the website.

Food options:

The Green Fig offers Mediterranean food on the fourth floor lobby level.

The rooftop terrace is the largest of any hotel in NYC, and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Many restaurants in the neighborhood.

Deals and Activities Nearby:

Ummm… it’s New York City.

Parking:

Parking garage below the hotel. The standard rate is $45.00 for 24 hours, $62.00 for valet parking with SUVs costing an additional $6.00.

Suzannah Weiss

Suzannah Weiss is a freelance writer and editor currently serving as a contributing editor for Teen Vogue and a regular contributor to Glamour, Bustle, Vice, Refinery29, Elle, The Washington Post, and more. She authored a chapter of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World and frequently discusses gender, sex, body image, and social justice on radio shows and podcasts. Whoopi Goldberg cited one of her articles on The View in a debate over whether expressing your desires in bed is a feminist act. (She thinks it is.)

Hosted

The writer of this review was a guest of the hotel. All writers on All Over the Map provide unbiased opinions, whether hosted or not, but we thought you should know that they didn't pay to stay there. 

Hotel Review: Hotel Alessandra in Houston, Texas

Hotel Review: Hotel Alessandra in Houston, Texas

Overview: Chic five-star hotel in downtown Houston with luxurious rooms and attentive staff.

Hotel Alessandra

1070 Dallas Street
Houston, Texas
+1 713 242 8555

I spent the majority of my last visit to Houston in my hotel room, and I’m not even sorry. The moment I arrived in Hotel Alessandra, located downtown in the city’s “GreenStreet” shopping and dining center, I knew I was in for a treat.

Hotel Review: Hotel Alessandra Houston

Guest Room at Hotel Alessandra in Houston (Photo courtesy Hotel Alessandra)

My room had mistakenly been booked for two days later, but the front desk clerk found me a room right away, and the butler made conversation with me as he showed me up. The room had a giant king-sized bed, a couch, a table and chair, two bedside tables, two lamps, a TV, and walls completely covered in windows for views of the city.

As I got ready to go out, someone brought up a bottle of wine and a cheese plate. The rainfall shower helped me recharge after a long day of travel, and with a table and bench inside, I could even bring my food and wine in. The travel-sized shampoo, conditioner, and body wash lasted me two showers, which is rare for someone with hair as long as mine.

The vicinity of the hotel was home to dozens of bars, restaurants, and shops, with attractions including the Discovery Green, Toyota Center, Downtown Aquarium, Market Square, and the Downtown Historic District within a mile. As I mentioned, though, I didn’t take advantage of that as much as I could’ve. I stayed in and ordered room service twice during my stay, with food ranging from a peanut butter and jelly smoothie to lobster mac and cheese. The food was great but expensive — I paid over $50 for the mac and cheese and a caesar salad.

Hotel Alessandra Fitness Center

Hotel Alessandra Fitness Center (Photo Courtesy Hotel Alessandra)

Even though I was traveling alone, I didn’t get lonely. Every time I left and returned to the hotel, the staff by the door greeted me. One even accompanied me to the gym and chatted while I worked out. My favorite part of Houston is the people’s friendliness, and staying at Hotel Alessandra reminded me of that.

Rooms:

Large king size bed with white washable comforters and sheets and four pillows. Small fridge. Minibar with a large variety of drinks and snacks. Coffee machine.

Rooms can be reserved for up to five people.

Separate sections of bathroom for shower and toilet, table and bench in shower, good-sized shampoo, soap, and conditioner bottles.

Tech:

Wifi – Free fast easy

Plugs – Charging plugs built into bedside tables on each side of the bed

Family-friendly amenities:

Pool – Outdoor pool open until 10pm

Minibar/snack options for kids – Kids menu in room service

 

Food options:

Restaurant on site, room service you can order on a tablet next to the bed

Breakfast included? Available? In-room possible? – Available both in restaurant and in-room

Nearby food options – lots of bars and restaurants

Parking:

Garage with valet service

Suzannah Weiss

Suzannah Weiss is a freelance writer and editor currently serving as a contributing editor for Teen Vogue and a regular contributor to Glamour, Bustle, Vice, Refinery29, Elle, The Washington Post, and more. She authored a chapter of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World and frequently discusses gender, sex, body image, and social justice on radio shows and podcasts. Whoopi Goldberg cited one of her articles on The View in a debate over whether expressing your desires in bed is a feminist act. (She thinks it is.)

Hotel Review: Los Naranjos Jungle Retreat

Hotel Review: Los Naranjos Jungle Retreat

Overview: If you’re a fan of the outdoors, you’ll likely find Los Naranjos Jungle Retreat a paradise. But if you’re used to hotels with mini bars and memory foam mattresses, you might find it challenging.

Los Naranjos Jungle Retreat
Yelapa
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
+52-322 209-5246
losnaranjos5@gmail.com

When I learned that a retreat I was interested in took place at the edge of the jungle in Yelapa, Mexico, I was hesitant to go. Cabins without walls? Mosquitos? Possibly snakes? No thank you. But looking at photos of Los Naranjos Jungle Retreat gave me some peace of mind. The rooms were wall-less, but they were surrounded by beautiful flora. After gaining reassurance that the chances of seeing snakes were low, I decided to go.

I flew to the Puerto Vallarta airport, caught a cab to Los Muertos beach, then rode a water taxi to Yelapa. I was reassured to see tourists on the boat with shirts reading “Yelapa.” So this wasn’t the middle of nowhere. On the shore, there were restaurants and people sitting on the beach, where Los Naranjos’s owner and his dog met me to bring me to the “eco hotel.” As we left the beach, a dog bared its teeth, people passed by on horses, and we waded through a pond. We also passed a little store where I bought conditioner for my hair. We were still within civilization.

los naranjos jungle retreat treehouse

When we got there, I entered an (also wall-less) common room with a kitchen, a hammock, and cushioned benches. The dining tables were just outside. Then, the owner showed me to my room, which was up a ladder and had a thatched roof. Inside was a table and three beds covered by mosquito nets. Not exactly luxurious, but I wouldn’t be roughing it either. I got the only full-sized bed in the room (the others were twin-sized), and while the mattress was firm, I could sink into it a bit. The blanket was thin but warm, and the pillows were comfy. There were two lights hanging from the ceiling, a fan, and an electrical outlet by my bed.

The closest bathroom was up another ladder, with two toilet stalls, two showers, and two sinks. There weren’t any problems with the bathroom, though one quirk was that you had to throw the toilet paper in the trash. The staff explained that anything that gets flushed down the toilet has to be dug up from underground, since Los Naranjos tries to minimize its impact on the environment.

los naranjos jungle retreat treetops

There was a WiFi connection, but it wasn’t quick enough to get anything done. It took several minutes just to load my emails. There were a few cafes nearby with slightly faster WiFi, but none were adequate for fast-paced work. If I had to send an email, my best bet was to use my phone. The data connection was decent decent enough to do this but not to use my personal hotspot. Lesson learned: Don’t try to get work done in Yelapa.

My first night in Los Naranjos was rough. Even with my earplugs in, I heard roosters (which, it turns out, make noise all night), howling dogs, and music from a nearby house. Every time one of my roommates walked, the ground slightly shook. I woke up many times throughout the night and got up in the morning with a sore back. But my second night was better: My ears were getting used to the jungle already. The only remaining annoyance was having to navigate through the dark (and I do mean dark — I needed a flashlight) to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The mosquito net protected my bed, but I got my share of bites during the day. Thankfully, I didn’t see any snakes.

The surrounding village was adorable, with little Mexican shops and restaurants owned by local families, the beach a 15 minute walk away, and a hiking trail leading to a waterfall. I had all my meals at Los Naranjos, though. They were a delicious mix of fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs from chickens on the resort grounds, and fish caught from a nearby river.

If you’re a fan of the outdoors, you’ll likely find Los Naranjos a paradise. But if you’re used to hotels with mini bars and memory foam mattresses, you might find it challenging. Personally, I enjoyed jogging past wild dogs in the morning and seeing the stars at night, but I was counting down the days until I got a quiet room and private bathroom again.

 

Rooms:
Tech:
Family-friendly amenities:
Food options:
Deals and Activities Nearby:
Parking:

Suzannah Weiss

Suzannah Weiss is a freelance writer and editor currently serving as a contributing editor for Teen Vogue and a regular contributor to Glamour, Bustle, Vice, Refinery29, Elle, The Washington Post, and more. She authored a chapter of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World and frequently discusses gender, sex, body image, and social justice on radio shows and podcasts. Whoopi Goldberg cited one of her articles on The View in a debate over whether expressing your desires in bed is a feminist act. (She thinks it is.)

Stay in a Castle Hotel in Ireland

Stay in a Castle Hotel in Ireland

Castle Hotel Stays – Ireland

Did you ever dream of being a princess? Or a king? I would have been happy to be Lady So-and-so of Thus-and-such, but I’m generally pretty happy with the life I have. But if you want to pretend you’re royalty and have a staff at your beck and call, there are plenty of places you can stay in a castle hotel, and few places do it better than Ireland. Many many castles in Ireland have been converted to hotels and resorts, and each offers something special.

On my recent trip to Ireland, there were lots of travel bloggers in Killarney for the TBEX blogging conference, and before and after the conference a few of them managed to stay in some sweet castle hotels. I asked them for their thoughts about the castles they stayed in, and they share their experiences (and photos) below.

 

KILKEA CASTLE

–Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, Green Global Travel

We visited numerous castles during our 10 days in the Emerald Isle, but Kilkea Castle (located in County Kildare between Athy and Tullow) was easily our favorite. The oldest continuously inhabited castle in Ireland, Kilkea was built by Sir Walter de Riddlesford in 1180. After his granddaughter married Maurice Fitzgerald, the 3rd baron of Offaly, Kilkea Castle remained in the Fitzgerald family for over 700 years.
Kilkea Castle - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Kilkea Castle (Photo Credit: Green Global Travel)

The castle has been operated as a hotel since the 1960s, but was put on the market in 2010. It was purchased by American builder Jay Cashman, who spent four years renovating it into a 5-star resort that includes multiple immaculate gardens, a golf course, three restaurants, and facilities for fishing and archery.
Owl experience at Kilkea Castle Hotel

Mary holds an owl! (Photo Credit: Green Global Travel)

We were honored to stay in their Ernest Shackleton Suite (named after Kildare’s famous explorer) several weeks before the resort opened to the public, and it was as posh and luxurious as any medieval castle could possibly hope to be. We’ve traveled all over the world, and Kilkea Castle ranks among our favorite places we’ve ever stayed!

 

KNAPPOGUE CASTLE

-Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations
Knappogue Castle Hotel in Ireland

Knappogue Castle (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations)

While any castle stay will make you feel like royalty, staying in your own private castle instantly turns you into the queen (or king) of your domain. At Knappogue Castle in County Clare your family members (or group) are the only overnight guests in the castle apartments. Rooms are furnished with a mix of antique and contemporary comforts, and the modern kitchen has everything you will need to create meals to feed your crew. Don’t wish to cook? Each morning your fairy godmothers arrive to fix an Irish breakfast to power you through a day of exploring. And each evening (from April thru October) the dining room downstairs hosts a medieval banquet featuring delicious dinner and entertainment. As the only guests, the castle is yours to explore – no tours are offered here – to treat as your home… if only for a few days.
The Drawing Room at Knappogue Castle Hotel in Ireland

The Drawing Room at Knappogue Castle (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations)

CASTLE LESLIE

-Julie and Charles McCool, McCool Travel

Castle Leslie in Glaslough Ireland

Castle Leslie in Glaslough Ireland (Photo Credit: Julie McCool, McCoolTravel.com)

Castle Leslie welcomes guests to a perfect balance of relaxed and historic luxury, on a family estate that dates from the 1660s. Rooms in the castle are spacious and comfortable, with quirky Victorian bathrooms and a strict no TV policy. The Lodge offers more modern rooms (with TVs) overlooking stables that draw equestrians from all over the world. Novice riders (like us) can take a “gentle hack” through the estate’s beautiful grounds, followed by dinner in the award-winning restaurant, and time to kick back and savor castle life.

The Blue Room at Castle Leslie

The Blue Room at Castle Leslie (Photo Credit: Julie McCool, McCoolTravel.com)

ASHFORD CASTLE

-Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations
Ashford Castle - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Ashford Castle (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted: Ireland Family Vacations)

Consistently voted one of the top hotels in the world, Ashford Castle in County Mayo is a fairytale. From the moment you are allowed through the gated entrance by a dapper man in top hat and livery, to the moment you depart the marbled lobby, every bit of your stay is magical. Rooms are lavishly furnished and special treats await younger guests. The grounds at Ashford Castle are extensive and on-site activities include falconry, boating, shooting, golf, and a zip line. Rooms in the castle are expensive, and both the clientele and the spectacular service reflect this. If you wish to visit when the castle is truly kid-focused, plan a Halloween stay when the castle becomes a Wizarding School! Send your little witches and wizards with their capable instructors and enjoy 6 hours of couple time. It’s magical for everyone!
Ashford Castle Junior Suite by Jody Halsted - Castle Hotels in Ireland

A Junior Suite at Ashford Castle (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations)

GREGANS  CASTLE

 -Sher, travel photographer blogging at Sher She Goes
Gregans Castle - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Gregans Castle (Photo Credit: Sher from SherSheGoes.com)

Gregans Castle Hotel is the ultimate Irish country house for food and luxury. Although no longer a castle in the traditional sense (only the 15th century round tower remains from the original structure), the Georgian-style manor house has stunning views of Galway Bay and the unique Burren landscape. The hotel has won numerous awards for its innovative cooking and the bedrooms are stunningly decorated with antiques, cozy fireplaces and eclectic art. Make sure to stay here if you’re interested in visiting the Cliffs of Moher or love food – Gregans is located on the Wild Atlantic Way and the Burren Food Trail.

LOUGH ESKE CASTLE

-Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations
Lough Eske by Day - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Lough Eske by Day (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations)

Few know that Lough Eske Castle in County Donegal was a mere shell before it was lovingly restored just 10 years ago. Now ranking as one of the top hotels in the world, guest can expect a warm cead mile failte from the staff, the majority of whom are local to the area. Rooms at Lough Eske Castle are luxurious and spacious, with connecting rooms for families well thought-out. As castle stays go, this is one of the most affordable in Ireland and you’ll meet a wide variety of people. Located on the shores of Lough Eske, the grounds are a wonderful maze of walking paths; a perfect spot to relax and enjoy the luxury of an Irish castle vacation.

Lough Eske by Day - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Lough Eske by Night (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted of Ireland Family Vacations)

BARBERSTOWN CASTLE HOTEL

–Sonja Holverson, Outbounding
Barberstown Castle Hotel lounge lobby by Sonja Holverson - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Barberstown Castle Hotel lounge lobby (Photo Credit: Sonja Holverson, Outbounding)

When one imagines staying in a 12th century Irish Castle thoughts of cold rugged stones, towers crowned by turrets, ghosts and dungeons most often come to mind. However, when one arrives at the entrance to the Barberstown Castle Hotel Kildare, a warm welcome is waiting inside a pristine white Victorian and Elizabethan blended luxury town house including conservatory windows along with two lion statues on each side of the entry step. A spacious uniquely decorated lobby lounge area opens out onto a lovely terrace which leads to 20 acres of gardens. The reception is discreetly placed on the left as you enter.

Barberstown Castle Hotel and Country House - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Barberstown Castle Hotel and Country House (Photo Credit: Sonja Holverson, Outbounding)

If you find yourself lost in the corridors and nooks and crannies looking for the dining room you will encounter elegant antiques and décor of days long past. You may even run face to face into a full body suit of armor around the next corner.

Despite the formality of the long French-influenced multi-course evening dinner in the opulent Barton Rooms Restaurant with pedagogical descriptions for each delicious course, the waiters are also appropriately down-to-earth Irish: friendly and loads of fun. Other dining choices are the Elizabethan Room and the Medieval Banqueting Hall.
This privately-owned Castle Hotel and Country House is the only one in Ireland that has earned 4 stars. Furthermore, it is unique in its harmonious historical blending with the Elizabethan era and Victorian era country house and the Medieval castle with its own historical epoch décor. All in all, a delightful and eclectic elegant and comfortable accommodation.
The Barberstown Castle Hotel easily handles conferences and large parties, weddings and the perfect weekend Irish castle stay for those with little time as it’s only 30 minutes from the centre of Dublin in the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East.
Barberstown Castle Hotel and Country House entrance by night - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Barberstown Castle Hotel and Country House (Photo Credit: Sonja Holverson, Outbounding)

DROMOLAND CASTLE HOTEL

by Paige Conner Totaro
I was very fortunate to spend a few nights hosted by Dromoland Castle.The staff at Dromoland Castle Hotel is deferential and service-focused. Rooms are spacious, meals are scrumptious, formal rooms are warm and welcoming despite their grand proportions. The sprawling property offers not only the obvious golf and spa, but also archery, clay pigeon shooting, pony and trap (horse and carriage) rides, fishing, hiking the grounds, and my favorite: falconry.
Dromoland Castle by WHAT BOUNDARIES TRAVEL- Castle Hotels in Ireland

Dromoland Castle (Photo Credit: Cheryl and Lisa of What Boundaries Travel (whatboundariestravel.com))

There has been a castle on the site since the 11th Century, but the present building, in all its ivy-covered limestone and turreted glory, was completed in 1835. In 1962, the property was renovated and opened as the luxury Dromoland Castle Hotel.

Dromoland Castle facade covered by red ivy with a cloudy blue sky above - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Dromoland Castle (Photo Credit: Cheryl and Lisa of What Boundaries Travel (whatboundariestravel.com))

Cheryl and Lisa of What Boundaries Travel were entranced by Dromoland Castle. “We held our breath as the wooded driveway turned and the castle came into view. It was a fairytale setting of falcons, livery and ivy shrouded towers. Inside was even more spectacular. The drawing room beckoned us to step inside and let time retrace her steps. A magical experience!”

Freelance travel writer Victoria Hart witnessed a VIP arrival during her visit. “Dromoland Castle is an example of living history,” she said. “So often we experience history through a museum or by visiting ruins. It is refreshing to see a place with over 1000 years of history still being used and enjoyed by people who admire the majestic landscape that first attracted its creators and respect the historical events that transformed it into the place it is today. The level of service is still fit for royalty, and an experience I will always cherish.”

Dromoland Castle Arrival - Castle Hotels in Ireland

A VIP arrival at Dromoland Castle features a staff lineup and bagpipes. (Photo Credit: Victoria Hart)

The castle’s location, about 15 minutes drive from Shannon Airport, makes it a great first or last (or entire!) stay for your Ireland trip.

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Please note: most of the bloggers featured in this article were hosted by the castle hotels they have written about. They all offer their honest opinions of their stays. But how could you not love staying in a castle?
A family trip to Greece

A family trip to Greece

Our guest post today comes from Bernard Sury of GuruWalk, who writes about his family trip to Greece.

A Family Trip to Greece

Planning to have a family trip to Greece soon? What a brilliant idea! I honestly had one of my best family trips in Greece.

Expecting the Belgian summer to be as rainy as it is in winter, my parents, my sister and I were looking for a sunny destination combining culture and leisure. After considering Croatia, my mother’s love of Greek food tipped the balance in favor of Greece.

But where to go in Greece? Getting lost on small island, in busy Athens, or in the countryside? Well, there were as many options as there are sunny days in Greece.

Passionate about Greek mythology and history since I studied it in high school, going to Greece without seeing the Acropolis would have been unimaginable. Flights were also cheap to Athens, so we decided to spend some time in the city. However, as any capital city in the world can prejudice your view of what the rest of the country actually is, we were looking for adding another destination on our travel in Greece. My sister had heard friends’ amazing stories about Crete, like hiking in the Samaria Gorge which is Europe’s longest, and swimming in some of the most crystalline water of the Mediterranean Sea. The choice was made.

Day 1

We left Brussels late on a July afternoon. After leaving the luggage at the hotel, our first goal was to have the best dinner the Greek capital could offer us. After doing some internet research we found Lithos not so far from the hotel, and had a delicious moussaka.

Day 2

The next day, our first trip was to see the Acropolis early in the morning to avoid the heat and the crowd. This visit was wonderful. We remembered all the stories we had learned at school, seeing the most beautiful ancient Greek ruins, including the Parthenon and the famous Caryatids. We learned that the Parthenon survived for a long time in a good shape until Greek people decided to store gunpowder there, which caused an explosion in 1687. The view of Athens from the top is stunning.

The Perthenon

The Parthenon and its tourists (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

After a quick lunch, the weather was becoming very heavy and warm. We decided to spend the afternoon at the Acropolis Museum, one of the most important archeological museums in Greece. The museum was modern, contrasting with the ancient pieces within. It is a great complement to a visit of the Acropolis itself.

Caryatids at the Acropolis Museum - Family Trip to Greece

Caryatids in the Acropolis Museum (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

 

Day 3

On our third day, we decided to spend some hours doing a Free Walking Tour of Athens to get to know more about the history of Greece, but also to learn about its current situation. It was very interesting and entertaining and we had the opportunity to ask many questions to the local guide. We also had the chance to see the changing of the guards at the Greek parliament (only on Sunday at 11am!).

Changing of the guards in front of the parliament.

Changing of the guards in front of the parliament building. (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

In the afternoon, we had to pack again and take off for Heraklion, Crete. We took a plane and in less than one hour we landed on the Greek island. Upon arriving at the airport, we found our rental car and drove to our rental apartment in Panormos. To get there, you will take the local highway, which is basically one main road crossing all Crete. Arriving at Panormos, the contrast with Athens was striking. Panormos is small village – touristy but still authentic, and even if tourists filled the streets, it was not as crowded as Athens. There is not much to see but it is a good spot to see the surroundings of the city.

The author and his sister at the small harbour of Panormos

The author and his sister at the small harbour of Panormos (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

 

Day 4

The next day, we headed to Rethymnon and visited the ruins of the Venetian Fortezza. This was the fortress or citadel of the city and was built by the Venetians in the 16th century. Well restored few decades ago, the site is worth a visit for its beautiful vistas of the sea and some ancient buildings such as the Mosque of Sultan Ibrahim (the site was indeed also occupied by the Ottomans).The site is huge and you can easily spend hours strolling through it. My sister and I loved playing in these well-preserved ruins.

The author's family at the top of Venetian Fortezza

The author’s family at the top of Venetian Fortezza (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

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Lost in a maze of ruins

Lost in a maze of ruins (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

We went back to Rethymnon city and had an amazing lunch with a view of the marina and some traditional live music. Both in Athens and Crete, it is very easy to find a good restaurant mainly because there are so many! In Crete, you usually pay 10 euros for lunch or dinner, so we tried a lot of local restaurants. Most of the time, you will even receive some fresh fruit for dessert, perfect with the hot weather. As a sign of Cretan hospitality, you will always receive a typical and strong digestive alcoholic shot after eating dinner. However my mom always politely refused it as she was driving.

 

Live music by the marina

Live music by the Marina (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

 

Day 5

The next two days were for “chilling” at two of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life. If I did not know I was in Crete, I’d have thought I was in the Caribbean, as the water was of an unreal perfect turquoise.

The first beach stop was Elafonissi. There are no words to describe how heavenly this place is. However, it was very, very, very crowded. It would be awesome to enjoy it in September or October when there are fewer tourists.

Day 6

The second beach was Balos. It takes hours to go by car and once you arrive, you are in the mountains, so you still need to walk about 40 minutes down to the beach. You can also go on a day trip by ferry and if I were to return, that is exactly what I would do. Nevertheless, the view from the mountain is beautiful.

 

Look at that gorgeous blue water!

Look at that gorgeous blue water! The beach at Balos (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

Overall, it was an amazing trip. Everything was perfect: the weather, the natural and cultural activities, the delicious food, the local people… It was a trip to paradise and I would love to go back.

What was your most memorable experience?

I love to travel back in time and learn more about the ancient Greek lifestyle. I was studying ancient Greek language at school for 5 years and experiencing all these places and imagining the history there was very strong. But also, the Caribbean-style beaches of Crete were breathtaking.

What do you wish you had known before you left?

I knew that water was not drinkable and that we always had to drink bottled water. Once in Crete, we were at the restaurant and received an open bottle of water. We thought that the waiter just opened it before serving it to us, but it was in reality tap water. The day after, I was quite sick. But thankfully it did not last long. But now, I would never accept a bottle of water I did not open myself at the restaurant. Even better, drink wine!

Details and budget:

For the budget, the most expensive purchases are the plane tickets (300 euros from Belgium), the rental car with gasoline (250 euros) and hotels (350 – 500 euros), But activities (6 – 15 euros) and restaurants (10 – 15 euros) are quite cheap.

About the author:

Bernard Sury of GuruWalk

Bernard Sury of GuruWalk

An avid traveler, Bernard is always organizing his next trip, with friends, family or alone. Addicted to sunny weather, he has mostly traveled in the warm destination such as Southern Europe, South America or South-East Asia. Fluent in Spanish, English and French he has lived in 4 different places in the 4 last years. Back from South America, he learned more about his own city, Brussels, and even became a Greeter and a Free Tour Guide for some months. His passion for traveling brought him to be expat in Spain working for the international community platform for Free Tours Guruwalk.