A resource for traditional shops in Florence
Florentines are proud, even snobby, about the city's heritage as a Renaissance leader in the arts, banking, and diplomacy, and they can be slow to warm to outsiders. I quickly pieced this together during a year abroad: My orientation leader, who grew up near Milan, joked that even after 20 years as a resident, he wasn't considered a Florentine; my neighborhood supermarket gave out a Toscani da sempre calendar with archival photos (translated literally, "Tuscans since always").
This same protective pride—along with interest from tourists—has helped sustain iconic Florentine businesses, including pharmacies, paper and ceramic workshops, and cafés that follow centuries-old methods.
The revamped bilingual website Esercizistorici.it makes it easy to plan a historic shopping outing. You can search by district or by type, and read in-depth tours. One-minute video clips take you inside businesses like Casa dei Tessuti, a venerable source for fabrics and custom-made clothes, and Il Latini, a fourth-generation trattoria.
Costa Rica's lesser-known Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo
Reader Zoe writes: Whenever anyone writes about Costa Rica they're usually referring to the west coast or the string of volcanoes. But I reckon the best place in Costa Rica is the little publicized Caribbean coast—untouched by mass tourism, no big resorts or group tourism, beaches that rival anything the 'traditional Caribbean' has to offer—and all without a hefty price tag.… I know—I live here! Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a charming village stuffed with great restaurants, atmospheric bars, spectacular beaches and huge tracts of pristine rainforest. Whoever wants an affordable holiday with everything the Caribbean rainforest and coast have to offer will find it here…waking to howler monkeys, spotting toucans from your breakfast table, surfing/swimming/snorkelling in azure seas dotted with fishing pelicans, sloths sleeping on branches, morpho butterflies fluttering past…and so the list goes on. This is Nature in big letters! Put that together with a mass of different activities on offer (Horseback jungle tours, zip lining through the canopy,dolphin watching and deep sea fishing, chocolate tours, indigenous settlements, white water rafting to name just a few) and it's the most gorgeous holiday destination. And since it's a short drive from the Panama border it's also a great place to combine with a trip to Bocas del Torro…if you can tear yourself away from Puerto Viejo that is. But keep it to yourself—mainstream tourism has not arrived in Puerto Viejo yet—make sure you do before it does! MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Which Costa Rica Is Right For You? Award-winning travel writer Christopher Baker offers tips on how to find the part of Costa Rica that will most interest you.
Paris hotel watch: Falling rates at Le General
Some stylish Paris hotels have begun to seriously lower their prices. That puts some fantastic rooms within reach, even during the high season. One of the best in this category is Le Général, a mod hotel near République. A standard double at this hotspot is normally priced at €185 per night. My online search for a room in July—at the height of the high season—just revealed a discounted rate of €140. Single rooms are even cheaper at €120. What you get for the price: a design hotel decked out in chocolate, fuchsia, and white; clever touches like a bright green apple on your pillow; free in-room Wi-Fi, with a business center downstairs; free access to a fitness center and spa. You also get a trendy eastern-Paris location near République. There are five subway lines at the ready, and you can reach the Marais and the Oberkampf bar scene with only five minutes of walking. The basic rate doesn't include breakfast, but that will give you the freedom to seek out a butter croissant from one of the nearby pâtissiers. (Breakfast is an additional €18 if you're not getting an inclusive package.) Prices haven't budged for their "all-inclusive" package, which offers both breakfast and an unlimited open bar. That option still costs €240 per night. Unless your boss is paying or you plan on drinking your body weight in vodka, you're better off buying cocktails à la carte and saving €100 per night. Le Général, legeneralhotel.com, 5/7 rue Rampon, 11th arrondissement, 011-33/1-47-00-41-57 EARLIER Two new "designer hostels" for $40 a night RELATED 10 More Affordable and Stylish Paris Hotels
Better than Stonehenge?
Today is the start of our series of interviews with the world's top guidebook writers. We're asking each writer a single question: "Think about a famous tourist attraction. Now what would you recommend as an alternative? With any luck, each answer will surprise and enlighten you. But don't get us wrong. These guidebook writers (and their publishers) are not dismissing any attraction that's rightfully famous. Everyone agrees you can have fantastic experiences at well known attractions. All we're trying to do here is recognize that—under some circumstances and for certain types of travelers—lesser known attractions may have their own appeal, offering comparable experiences. We begin our series with Stonehenge—a set of massive rocks arranged in circles between 3,500 and 5,000 years ago. We asked Anto Howard, co-author of Fodor's Ireland 2009. Here's what he had to say: Newgrange in Ireland (about an hour north of Dublin) is believed to be at least 500 years older. It's also a more impressive feat of engineering. The passage tomb is combined with an extraordinary astronomical machine to perfectly filter and amplify the few precious moments of dawn light on the winter solstice every year and cast them upon the ashes of the dead. The sunlight at dawn on that day is deflected by the exact design of the passageway and floods the burial chamber in the most perfect golden light, weather permitting. Here's the kicker—unlike at Stonehenge, where officials prohibit up-close encounters (with rare exceptions), at Newgrange you, the visitor, can go right into the heart of the tomb itself. At Stonehenge you're an awed spectator, at Newgrange you're an awed participant. Both places are man made, but the Irish alternative is certainly a more intricate and complex construction. Tip: Go near the winter solstice to feel the mystical effects. (The next one is December 21.) There are fewer visitors in the off-season. If you want to enter on the solstice itself, though, you'll have to enter a lottery, which you can do by visiting the office that's on the grounds of the site. For more info, see Newgrange's official website. Prefer an alternative to Stonehenge that's in England itself? Don't miss Avebury, about 25 miles from Stonehenge. It has its own group of impressive earthworks and megalithic monuments. In fact, the entire town—pub and all—sits within an ancient stone circle. Rather visit Stonehenge anyway? A guided day tour from London run by Stonehenge Tour Company has a starting price of $110. You'll save a bit of money by hopping the hourly rail service from Waterloo Station to Salisbury (90-minutes each way, $45 round-trip, off-peak, nationalrail.co.uk). From there, a 10-mile taxi ride to Stonehenge costs roughly $30; the bus (route 3) is about a third of that price. General access costs about $10. (For more info, visit this Stonehenge website.) Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts by posting a comment below. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Better than Buckingham Palace? [Link added to this post on June 18] Advice on seeing Dublin on the fly this summer Dublin, Air/4 Nights, From $399 A short getaway to the Irish capital, where you can visit ancient castles and St. Patrick's Cathedral, sample Guinness, or explore the lush countryside.
This weekend: Stop traffic in Park City, Utah
Dining al fresco on a warm summer evening is a real treat—especially when you're dining in the middle of Main Street. The second annual Savor the Summit event in Park City, Utah, will shut down traffic along Main on Friday night, making way for The Grande Table. More than 20 restaurants will serve special menus. Free live music will play in seven spots. Last year, about 600 people participated. While in Park City, take advantage of free gallery events and street dancing—with bands like New Voodoo Swing scheduled to play, you know there will be impromptu dancing—plus, there's a beer, wine, and cocktail tent open to the public with drinks for purchase. Reservations are still available at a few of the restaurants. The forecast? Sunny and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Call 435/565-3812 for more information.