ADVERTISEMENT

The Secret Hotels of Boston

By Brad Tuttle
June 4, 2005
We're spilling the beans: Here's where to find a peaceful night's rest in New England's favorite city-for under $100

What you'll find in this story: Boston hotels, Boston restaurants, Boston culture, Boston attractions, Boston neighborhoods

Our favorite Boston hotels have three things in common. One, they're within walking distance of at least one subway (or T) stop, which is a major plus--drivers face a maddening spiderweb of one-ways, dead ends, and Do Not Enters, plus parking charges topping $25 a day. Two, unless we tell you otherwise, they all offer traditional amenities such as phones, TVs, and private bathrooms. And three, they all start at less than $100 a night per couple in low season (usually November to March). During special events, such as the Boston Marathon and the hectic college graduation season, rates can pop higher.

Newbury Guest House

Like most destinations, the city of has experienced a post-9/11 downturn in tourism; even so, weeks can fly by without a single vacancy at the Newbury. And it's easy to see why. Converted from three nineteenth-century brick town houses, it's in a prime location on the most happening street in fashionable Back Bay. All 32 rooms have classic Victorian furnishings, hardwood floors, and queen-size beds. What's more, they're drastically underpriced for Boston. Private parking is available around back for $15 to $30 a day, but with the trendy neighborhood out your door and several T stops nearby, you won't need it. Smaller rooms start at $99 in winter, $125 during peak times, others run $114 to $185. Rates include continental breakfast with bacon and eggs; 261 Newbury St., 617/437-7666, newburyguesthouse.com/. Nearest T stop: Copley Square or Hynes/ICA.

Copley Inn

Bostonians love their brownstones, and here's your chance to live like a local with your own pad on a quiet, tree-lined street in Back Bay. The Copley Inn, in what was once an apartment building, rents out 21 primly decorated studios with fully equipped kitchens. Although rooms are on the small side, high ceilings and bay windows make them feel airy (they're spread over three floors, with no elevator). Stay a full week and the seventh night is free. From $85 in low season, $135 in high season; 19 Garrison St., 800/232-0306, copleyinn.com/. Nearest T stop: Prudential.

MidTown Hotel

Behind this hotel's homely facade lies the best value in Back Bay for the out-of-town driver. Parking is included in the price, as is in-room Internet access. The MidTown also has a cafe that's open for breakfast (it costs extra) and an outdoor pool for use in the summer. The decor isn't anything to write home about--it looks like a motel inside and out--but the location certainly is, since Newbury Street, Fenway Park, and the city's renowned Museum of Fine Arts are within walking distance. From $79 in low season, $139 high season; 220 Huntington Ave., 800/343-1177, midtownhotel.com/. Nearest T stop: Symphony or Prudential.

Constitution Inn

As plain-Jane as can be, with white cinder-block walls, simple, sturdy furniture, and no decorative touches whatsoever, the nonprofit Constitution Inn regularly hosts members of the military but is also available to civilians. Accordingly, it runs a tight ship, with superclean, decent-size rooms. The location is a little unusual for Boston--amid factories in Charlestown, a few steps to the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides herself), and a $1.25 ferry ride away from town. Bonus: Downstairs there's a fitness center with a pool, two rooms of equipment, and a basketball court, all free for guests. Doubles from $99 year-round; large corner rooms with full kitchens available for $125; 150 Second Ave., Charlestown Navy Yard, 800/495-9622, constitutioninn.org/. Nearest T stop: North Station or Community College, but the ferry is closer.

Oasis Guest House

The tiny quarters here--consisting of a bed, dresser, and a wee patch of floor--can seem cramped or cozy, depending on your point of view. But they're cheery by any standard, and the price is right. There are a total of 30 rooms in two separate Back Bay buildings on a side street near Symphony Hall and the Berklee College of Music. A couple of nice extras: outdoor decks, and parking for $15 a day. From $89 in low season, $119 in high season (with private bathroom); for rooms using a shared bath down the hall, double rates go as low as $69. All prices include continental breakfast; 22 Edgerly Rd., 800/230-0105, oasisgh.com/. Nearest T stop: Hynes/ICA or Symphony.

463 Beacon Street Guest House

On a busy but attractive residential street near boutique-heavy Newbury Street and the Harvard Bridge, 463 Beacon's best rooms offer spaciousness, king-size beds, and big bay windows. Some of its 19 rooms are a little dark, but they come with mini-fridges and microwaves. Hit the StairMaster before arriving--it has five floors but no elevator. From $65 in low season, $85 in high season (with private bathroom); singles with shared bath from $50 to $79. All prices include taxes; 463 Beacon St., 617/536-1302, 463beacon.com/. Nearest T stop: Hynes/ICA.

Shawmut Inn

All 66 of these spacious (if generic) motel rooms stand out mostly because they offer everything you need to cook your own meals: equipped kitchenettes with microwave, coffeemaker, and a mini-fridge. The neighborhood is not especially quiet or attractive--a grungy row of storefronts, with the train chugging by across the street--but it's close to the North End's renowned Italian restaurants. Also, sports fans (and foes) should know that Friend Street is home to a handful of bars that, on game nights, brim with boozing Bruins and Celtics fans heading to the nearby Fleet Center. From $99 in low season, $139 in high season; rates include continental breakfast; 280 Friend St., 800/350-7784, shawmutinn.com/. Nearest T stop: North Station or Haymarket.

Don't forget Brookline (and beyond)

Home to Boston University and 15 minutes from town on the T, Brookline is stocked with inns and guesthouses charging much lower rates than those in Boston proper. The family-run Anthony's Town House is popular for its ornate rooms with shared bath for $50 to $90 double (1085 Beacon St., 617/566-3972, anthonystownhouse.com/). Spacious digs and a huge kitchen that's open to guests are on offer at the Longwood Inn $65 to $109 double (123 Longwood Ave., 617/566-8615, longwood-inn.com/). Nearby Brookline, in Allston, but still accessible to the city using the T, is the friendly Farrington Inn. It rents bare-bones rooms--though they do have TVs and phones--from $55 double (23 Farrington Ave., 800/767-5337, farringtoninn.com/).

Got a bigger budget?

Dropping some extra cash goes a long way in Boston, especially during tough New England winters, when plush hotels reduce rates to fill space (do some homework before reserving). But these boutique inns are a solid value year-round:

The 65-room Kendall Hotel, a refurbished 1890s firehouse, is lovingly done in antiques and bright colors. It's at MIT and just two T stops from Boston Common. From $129 on winter weekends, parking included; 350 Main St., Cambridge, 617/577-1300, kendallhotel.com/.

The College Club, on what is arguably Back Bay's most elegant residential street, charges as little as $75 for singles with shared bath, and $120 for enormous rooms with bay windows, comfy sitting chairs, a private bathroom, but no TVs; 44 Commonwealth Ave., 617/536-9510, thecollegeclubofboston.com/.

At the end of Charles Street in ritzy Beacon Hill, the John Jeffries House has 46 rooms of varying size and shape--all with kitchenettes and private baths--going as low as $95 for singles, $110 for doubles; 14 David G. Mugar Way, 617/367-1866, johnjeffrieshouse.com/.

You won't find a better-located hotel than the classy Harborside Inn--it's right next to the New England Aquarium and Quincy Market--where rooms have exposed brick, hardwood floors, and rates starting at $119; 185 State St., 617/723-7500, harborsideinnboston.com/.

Keep reading
Inspiration

Luxury Yachting on Pocket Change

Hitchhiking a ride on a yacht is not as tricky as it might seem. You don't need to swim to a harbor buoy and stick out your thumb. You don't even need white loafers or a set of Captain Stubing-issue epaulettes. What you do need, however, is some crucial insider information. Either that or you can learn the hard way, like I did. Just out of college, I decided I would hitchhike on vessels from Florida to Venezuela. I walked the various docks around the fancy harbors in Miami and Fort Lauderdale and heard the same embarrassing line: "Why are you trying to do this during hurricane season?" I eventually made it as far as the Virgin Islands, but only because I flew there. Since then, I've learned the ABCs of "crewing," which turns out to be a rather reasonably priced way to see the world from the deck of a yacht. You and the sea Why do people fling themselves to the open seas on a stranger's boat? For some, yacht hitching is just a cheap way to get from A to B. Others prefer the adventure to flying over the dimpled oceans with a high-altitude TV dinner in their laps. And many simply find life on the water an almost spiritual experience, and without the funds for their own yacht, they find this is a great way to get their fix. You may be drawn by all of these, or find the most rewarding aspect is the camaraderie and lifelong connections you make onboard. If this is your first time at sea (yes, you will be labeled a landlubber), at the very least you'll find out if yachting is for you. And until then, you'll just have to (in this order) pray for calm waters, stay on deck, stare at the horizon, use motion-sickness pills or patches, puke, feel temporarily better, puke again, endure hell, and-getting back to square one-pray for calm waters. For most people, thankfully, seasickness subsides after a few days. The basics The first thing you need to know is that hitching on yachts isn't just possible. It's fairly common. Private yachts and sailboats of all types often need an extra pair of hands during a sea passage-some have professional captains delivering a boat to a new owner somewhere, some have "old salt" couples who live aboard their vessels full time and simply need the help or the company of fresh blood. "Yachties" (live-aboard sailboat owners, often retired) are a fixture in ports around the globe, and they tend to follow general routes through regions and countries where anchorages are safe, the scenery is agreeable, and the prices are low. Yachties are colorful characters with a seaworthy culture all their own. If you know the sailing seasons, the yachting epicenters and routes, how to present yourself professionally, and above all, if you're persistent, it's possible to get a working passage, catch a free lift (you may be asked for $5 to $25 per day to cover your food and drinks-depends on the captain, your negotiating skills, and how much they expect you to work), or even earn money onboard while heading almost anywhere. Most agreements are done casually at the individual harbors, others may have written contracts. Passages can last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months. You don't need to be in peak condition to crew on a yacht, but if you're reasonably fit and slender it certainly helps. This works for you as much as for the captain since most yachts have narrow passages and tight sleeping arrangements. In other words, if you shop at Big & Tall, you're in for a seriously cramped voyage. This also applies to what you bring. Space is limited, so a compact kit will be appreciated. Show up pulling a Samsonite wheel rig and you've got a few strikes against you already. There's not much special gear involved, but in your collapsible bag you'll want some nonmarking deck shoes, a good hat that won't land in the drink when the wind picks up, sunblock, UV sunglasses with safety straps, motion-sickness pills, and some smart clothes that won't get you thrown out of the occasional yacht club. How to look for passage If you're planning a trip by yacht well in advance, head for the Web (see our sidebar). Various sites match crews with ships. You can also check the ads in yachting magazines and newsletters. There are also crewing placement agencies that specialize in this very service, but be prepared for a membership fee in the neighborhood of $25 to $75. Before you pony up, consider how good your credentials look on paper. And with all ads for crew, keep in mind you're not likely filling an empty spot for a leisurely ride. They need you. Perforce, they're looking for someone with skills, from cooking to motor mechanics. And if they're taking a charter client, they're generally willing to pay for your services: $200 to $1,000 per week (including tips) depending on your duties. Paid or not, many are happy just to get a deckhand-an able body attached to a mind that can accept washing dishes, cleaning out the cabin, and scrubbing the boat-a few of the chores you can expect to do at some point, as well as taking your turn at "watch": staying up at night at the helm while the boat is under way. If you're winging it-and if you're planning to hitch your way from country to country on yachts, you probably are-head down to any major harbor and start by scanning the notice boards. Step two is to find the harbormaster and ask if he knows any captains looking for crew. That way, you can tweak it into a personal reference ("the harbormaster said I should speak to you about a crew position you're trying to fill"). If that doesn't yield any leads, ask if you can use his radio to announce on the local sailors' channel that you're looking for work. Getting onboard In the casual atmosphere of the marina, it's easy to forget that all your inquiries should be treated as interviews. If captains don't like how you look or conduct yourself, they may not reveal they have a position available or refer you to others. You want to dress smart (usually clean and neat will suffice) and demonstrate that you're easygoing and levelheaded. In other words, keep the giant python tattoo covered for now and don't bring up religion or politics. Moreover, learn some yachting manners. Always ask for "permission to board" before letting your foot cross the rail. If you're a good cook, mention it. If you've got technical experience, let the captain know. If you've got solid job recommendations, keep copies on hand. Tell the captain he's welcome to search your luggage (he may request this anyway) and that your travel documents are in order (make sure they are). The interview works both ways; you want to size up the captain and crew as well. Are these people you want to be stuck with at sea? Women travelers especially must beware. Will you be the only woman onboard? Can you talk with other women onboard who have sailed with these men before? Find out. Once you set sail, it's too late. Where and when Caribbean: The sailing season begins in October following the summer hurricanes and lasts until May. If you want to head "down island" (south), show up in Miami or Fort Lauderdale from November to March. Antigua Race Week (end of April) is the Big Event and the Antigua Yacht Club marina is an ideal place to pick up a berth to just about anywhere, especially South America, the United States, and Europe. In the Caribbean and Central America, try marinas and yachtie bars in Antigua, Grenada, Saint Martin, and Panama City's Balboa Yacht Club (for passage through the canal). Mediterranean: The season kicks off in June, when yachts need crew for their summer charters. Nearly all major marinas are active, but especially Antibes, Las Palmas, Rhodes, Malta, Majorca, Alicante, and Gibraltar. Then, in November, there's a 2,700- nautical-mile fun run from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Canary Islands) to Rodney Bay in Saint Lucia called the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC). Over 200 boats participate, and even more make the crossing unofficially. So from October to the end of November, there's a mass exodus to the West Indies. The standard point of departure for the two-to- four-week Atlantic crossing is Gran Canaria. If you show up at the beginning of November and chip in some food money for the crossing (about $250), you've got a good chance of catching a lift. Better, even, if you arrive earlier. South Pacific: The main springboards are a few marinas in northern New Zealand: Opua, Whangarei, and Auckland, probably in that order. Most boats leave in the autumn (end February-end April). If you want passage in the other direction (to New Zealand) or on to the United States, your best months are July to October. Some prefer to start in Australia. There, try the marinas in the Whitsunday Islands, Townsville, and Airlie Beach. To head to Indonesia, May to July is promising. Returning home You may be able to catch a ride right back to your departure point. But don't count on it. Even if you've prearranged a long round-trip berth, one thing or another may cause you to hop off earlier. Expect to spring for a cheap one-way plane ticket, ferry ride, or bus trip, depending on where you end up. Resources for gettin' salty Postings: Bulletin board: yachtsclassified.com Post for crews: pacificcup.org/crew_lists/crew_list Matching boats with crews: partnersandcrews.com Florida-area crew list: walrus.com/~belov/florida-skippers.html New York-area crew list: walrus.com/~belov/skippers.html Agencies: Crew Unlimited (crewunlimited.com) charges $25 to sign up, then takes sizable chunk from the vessel hiring you. Crewfinders (crewfinders.com) charges $40 to sign up, then charges much larger percentage fee from vessel hiring. Marina: Listings: marinamate.com/marinas.html Yacht clubs by location: sailorschoice.com/yachtclb.htm More yacht club links: guam-online.com/myc/myclinks.htm Reading: The Practical Mariner's Book of Knowledge: 420 Sea-Tested Rules of Thumb for Almost Every Boating Situation by John Vigor (McGraw-Hill, $17.95) First signs for a first mate Here are a few warning signs, besides the eye patch and hook in place of a right arm. 1) Cabin looks like a guy's college dorm room 2) Navigation equipment doesn't look like it could locate a cruise ship in a bathtub 3) Any signs of transporting contraband 4) Captain with a hot temper 5) Major repairs being done to boat's hull Words of wisdom from crew members "You don't need to know how to sail to do a crossing; you need to be neat, clean, and trustworthy. If you're doing day work for a boat in the harbor, show up on time and take it seriously." -Jonas Persson "Once we were in the Caribbean, it didn't take longer than five days to catch a lift. You just need to make sure that you don't get left someplace without a lot of yachts. Barbados, Saint Martin, and Antigua are the places you want to be." -Peter Laurin

Senegal & The Gambia

It's when you board the River Gambia ferry that you get the full impact of West Africa's fascination. Late-model Toyota four-wheel drives maneuver around sacks of rice and herds of goats; torrents of humanity carrying burlap-wrapped bundles are costumed in a dazzling array, from crayola-bright gowns to T-shirts and baseball caps proclaiming loyalty to the Chicago Bulls, Tide detergent, and Drexel University. Hawkers sell toys, transistor radios, toothpaste, metal cookware, and Coca-Cola. A thirtysomething man navigates the crowd--tall, regal, in a flowing, indigo print robe seemingly millennia-old in design. As he comes closer, the pattern becomes clear: cellular phones gaily splashed across traditional cotton cloth. Welcome to a joyous mix It all epitomizes West Africa's ability to mate its rich traditions to elements of modern civilization, such as luxurious beach resorts and impressive historic monuments--all adding up to an ideal holiday in these former British and French colonies, safe tropical paradises with continental flair. And while exotic, "Senegambia"--French-speaking Senegal (one-third the size of Texas), and thrusting into it, the Anglophone sliver (less than half the size of Vermont) called the Gambia--is also amazingly cheap. West Africans are warm and friendly, and traveling and eating with them is not just the cheapest but the most memorable way to go. If you avoid establishments catering to busloads of tourists, you won't be treated like one, plus you'll have more fun and help dispel the myth that every American is wealthy. Travelers concerned about venturing into the "heart of darkness" can relax. Savvy Europeans have relished West Africa's travel bargains for years, and a tourism infrastructure is well established. Styles of accommodations and eating may differ from your norm--especially on a budget--but it's purely a cultural difference. Healthwise, the worst case of traveler's diarrhea I've experienced in 70 countries was in Indianapolis, not Africa. Don't obsess over diseases or AIDS, either; if you're thinking of more than shaking hands with locals, come prepared. For first-time travelers to West Africa, Senegal and the Gambia are user-friendly choices. Since exploring their interiors is fascinating but time-consuming, it's simplest to make Senegal's capital, Dakar, and Gambia's capital, Banjul, bases for day-trips. SENEGAL West Africa with a French accent A definite aura of Gallic cachet pervades this country, especially its capital--with aromas emanating from patisseries and the elegance of women who would not look out of place on a Paris runway. Whatever high-school French you can drag up is extremely useful, but despite the plethora of bonjours and mercis, this ain't remotely La France. During your first stroll through Dakar, you'll feel like an extra in a biblical epic. In this city of nearly 2 million people, cultural diversity abounds; you notice swarthy Mauritanian Moors (remember Othello?), Saharan Tuareg nomads swathed in indigo, gazelle-like Fulani, Wolof, and Mandinka in bright cotton prints. Street traffic is as varied as pedestrian flow, as motor scooters hauling a family of five, a few chickens, and the week's groceries weave around taxis, horse-drawn carts, and bicycles. It's fun and lively, as street sounds mingle with assertive music from shops in competitive cacophony, and smoking aromas from food stalls and exhaust fumes vie olfactorily. Dakar deals: Les hotels Even in one of the cheapest places on earth, there's a range of accommodations. Locals traveling here from villages don't expect lodgings to be more than simple places to wash and sleep, and, since you're traveling like a local, neither should you. The camaraderie of smaller hotels and the opportunity to interact with other guests more than compensate for marble lobbies with fountains and mints on the pillow. The Pacha Hotel (40 & 42 Avenue du President Lamine Gueye, 823-1018, fax 821-4803) is a standard, tourist-style property with a magnificently carved wooden bar; A/C-equipped doubles are CFA 19,200 (about $30; at press time, one greenback equalled 650 CFA francs). The spacious rooms sport African-themed paintings, phones, and generous storage space. Large, well-lit bathrooms boast bathtubs approximately the size of my college apartment--most welcome after a day of sightseeing in tropical humidity. The Hotel Balanou (7 Rue Paul Holle, 821-6734), near the markets, offers doubles with A/C for $12.50, and breakfast for $1.60. Stairs from a small, unadorned lobby bring guests to simple rooms with twin beds and bath with shower (in Africa, simply a showerhead attached to the bathroom wall). Rooms are clean, the restaurant is cheerful, and renovations are underway. At the Hotel Massalia (10 Blvd. Djilly Nbaye, 822-9747), doubles with fans run $19.50 and $23 with A/C. Large, quiet rooms are situated away from the street along fern-flanked, brick walkways. They come with traditional-style woven bed coverlets, desk, dresser, bedside tables, and full bath. Security from the sort of crime plaguing any large city is less of an issue here, as guests have keys for the locked gate to the street. Near Kermel market, the Hotel du March, (3 Rue Parent, 821-5771) has 20 rooms arranged around a cozy courtyard guarded by shade trees and three napping cats. Doubles are $15-$20, with fans (no A/C) and shared baths with toilet and shower--a bit dim, quite basic, but clean. But to really experience Africa, stay with a family. Head to Restaurant Khadimou Rassol (10 Rue Paul Holle, 822-9341, fax 822-8184) down a short alleyway directly across from the Hotel Balanou. Its charming and gracious proprietor, Mme. Penda Ringaye Mbengue, has space for four at her home in a sandy residential neighborhood a fifteen-minute walk from the ocean. It's a typical African compound: a narrow walkway leads to rooms arranged around a courtyard. One has a private shower and toilet, and another has a television set. It's all exquisitely clean; her sixteen-year-old son speaks some English, and Penda's dazzling smile will make you feel instantly welcome. The cost is $6.50 per person, with breakfast. It may be a bit different from your usual digs, but try it, even for just one night. Really. "Doing" Dakar In the city, everything is within walking distance. Most in-town destinations are a $.48-$1.60 cab ride (nonmetered taxis are cheaper, depending on your bargaining ability); bus fare for a single ride is about $.50. Begin with the IFAN museum on Place de Soweto ($3.50), whose superb examples of tribal art help you bone up for your own shopping expeditions. The Sandaga and Kermel markets are the best shows in town--and free, unless you're taken in by hawkers pulling you into their shops. Ah, the sensory psychedelic kaleidoscope of an African market: turban-crowned women with sleeping babies strapped to their backs buying brilliantly colored material, squawking chickens, Adidas socks, cassette tapes, pungent fish, ribbons and embroideries, wooden sticks used as natural toothbrushes, loofahs of rhun palm, spices, Day-Glo buckets, mangoes, baskets of magenta sorrel leaves, bolts of fabric, and tribal gold and silver. Choose your fabric ($8-$9.75 for 20 feet!) and the market's tailors will make an outfit for $10 within 24 hours. For standard souvenirs, avoid downtown markets and head for Soumbedioune Artisans' Village, displaying fabric items, malachite chess sets and jewelry, and wood carvings. Bargain hard. If you're turned off by "ebony" (i.e., cheap wood with black shoe polish) renditions of Rodin's "The Kiss" and a Noah's Ark's worth of wooden animals fashioned solely for tourists, visit Po's wall--you can't miss it streetside at the junction of Avenues Albert Sarraut and Braconnier (633-3693). Po is a radically cool Senegalese whose wall is a bewildering battalion of carvings from all over West Africa (most not antiques, but good examples of tribal art). When you're tired of shopping, stop by a local hairdresser and have your hair elaborately braided for $4. English-speaking guides are arranged by hotel concierges and local tour operators; an excellent one, for about $20 a day, is Senecartours (64 Rue Carnot, 822-4286, fax 821-8306, senecar@telecomplus.sn). A cheaper, more interesting option is to contact Mrs. Dia at the English department of Universit, Cheikh Anta Diop (246-370, fax 254-977). She'll put you in touch with the English Club, which provides student guides for $9.70 per day plus expenses. Do not fail to visit Goree Island, just 20 minutes away by ferry ($4.80 round-trip). First settled by the Portuguese in 1444, it remained an infamous slave trade station into the nineteenth century; the Dutch, French, and British were also here, a fact reflected in Goree's architectural styles. The museum ($.32) is housed in a circular military fort, but its most important component is the slave house ($.65) with its "door of no return," where slaves were loaded onto ships. At the souvenir shop, ask to see the livre d'or (guest register). In addition to Bill and Hillary Clinton's remarks, the comments and family photos from visitors for whom this is a place of pilgrimage are often difficult to read without tears. Caveat: Most tourists are herded through the slave house and museum then plopped in pricey waterfront restaurants, tempting bait for pushy shopkeepers until the ferry arrives. So after you've seen the main buildings, amble along quiet streets taking in colonial buildings and observing the lifestyle of the 1,200 Africans still living here. Le diner a Dakar You'll enjoy sampling West African cuisine. Don't worry about being served monkey brains parmigiana, but you may be perturbed if you're hankerin' for a Heineken in a Muslim restaurant that serves no alcohol. As for portions, they're enough to feed entire villages of nouvelle-cuisine types. Restaurant VSD (91 Rue Mouse Diop near Rue Georges Pompidou, 821-0980) offers a broad selection of steak and fries, roast chicken, and classic African dishes such as yassa (chicken or fish with rice, lemon, and onion sauce) for $3.25; gourbane serene (millet with peanut sauce served with meat or fish), also $3.25; and saka-saka (sauce of palm oil and potato leaves over fish or meat) for $4; VSD also becomes a jazz club at night. Restaurant Le Point (16/18 Rue Mohammed V at Rue Assane Ndoye, 822-6201) does continental breakfast for $.65; at other meals, starters of salads, shrimp, and spaghetti are $.32-$1.15 and maffe (a hearty, peanut chicken stew) or chicken couscous is $2.40. Meanwhile, Touba Restaurant (95 Rue Joseph Comis) provides continental breakfast for $.56, rice and chicken for $1.30, rice and fish for just $.81, and maffe and couscous for $1.15-$1.30. For a change of pace, skip the relatively expensive Chinese eateries and try Ali Baba's (Aves. Georges Pompidou and Mohammed V) to fill up on kibbe (ground lamb and bulgur), hummus, kebabs, and other Middle Eastern specialties for $.65-$1.95. An even cheaper option: stop at Dakar's Score supermarket (Rue Albert Sarraut), which caters to French expats, and pick up delicacies for a picnic. Brie is $1.29 a kilo, pates $.84, biscuits $.39-$.95, pastries $1.05, and French table wines $5.65-$15.35 a liter. Senegalavanting further afield An interesting sojourn is Lac Rose, ten times saltier than the ocean and indeed pinkish in strong sunlight. Bush-taxi fare is about $1.60 one-way and takes 45 minutes; a nonmetered taxi may bargain as low as $12. After floating in the lake, enjoying a picnic, and wandering among craft stalls, visit the salt factories along the shore; waist-deep in water, women load buckets from the mineral-rich bed, and salt is piled on the shore to dry. If you're interested in "alternative" healing, visit the Hopital Traditionnel du Keur Massar (Dakar-Fann, 824-6095, fax 824-7703). The decoratively painted hospital, resembling a typical African village, was founded by French physician Dr. Yvette Pares. Call in advance to ask permission for a tour. This is not an official tourist attraction, but do give a $2 or $3 donation per person. Another delightful day-trip is Joal Fadiout, 90 minutes from Dakar ($4.20 each way by minibus). This fishing village is made up of three islands connected by long wooden bridges and composed entirely of seashells. By the shore, negotiate for a pirogue (dugout canoe) to the islands for around $9.70; the island, housing graineries on stilts, can be reached only by pirogue. Another holds the Christian cemetery, where graves are marked by mounds of shells. The third is the village proper, complete with a market and seashell-encrusted paths and houses. These are connected by bridges, reachable without paying for a pirogue. The nearby town of Mbour boasts Senegal's best beaches. THE GAMBIA Banjul, beaches & beyond With a currency called the dalasi (recently 10.5 D to the U.S. dollar), this tiny English-speaking land provides an intriguing contrast to Senegal, and its beach resorts are heavenly. As you head south from Dakar to Banjul (235 miles/six hours, at a cost of $6.50 one-way via bush taxi), vegetation becomes more verdant, with hibiscus frothing over walls, humanoid baobab trees, leafless branches curved like welcoming arms. There's an innocuous border-crossing jammed with men chanting, "Change money, change money." A 1 3/4 hours' drive brings you to Juffure, immortalized as Kunta Kinte's village in Roots; from Banjul, it's 28 miles/45 minutes by ferry ($.28) to Barra and an hourlong, $.95 bush-taxi ride to Juffure. All visitors must stop at the compound of the Mandinka tribe's chief, currently 35-year veteran Tako Talia female! (Give her a donation, for the benefit of Juffure's denizens.) I'd expected the place to be a West African Epcot but was delighted to find a typical traditional village. The shell of an eighteenth-century trading station remains by the water, and a boat takes you to the ruins of the slave station of James Island. Down a sandy lane is the home of Binta Kinte, Kunta's oldest living relative, who will relate family history and show a photo taken with Alex Haley. Optional donations are used to help the family. Unlike urban Dakar, island-bound Banjul has a village atmosphere (nearby Serekunda has appropriated the role of commercial center), and everything is within walking distance; in any case, most taxis run $.47 ghts include the National Museum ($.95) e bulletin board lists events such as the annual "Roots" festival, lectures, and music and dance performances--many of them free. The Arch 22 proffers a display of traditional crafts and the best bird's-eye view in town, while the Albert Market is a less frenetic version of its Dakar counterparts. Watch traditional wrestling, the national sport, weekends at 5 p.m. at Serekunda's Arena Babou Fatty ($.95). As tribes compete, drummers beat in particular tribal rhythms so spectators know who's winning. Banjul Water Sports and Fishing at the Atlantic Hotel arranges raft rides ($5.70), waterskiing ($19), windsurfing, sailboat, or speedboat rides ($9.50), dolphin-watching ($38), and fishing trips ($47). Banjul bunks and feeds Run by three generations of a hospitable family, the Carlton Hotel (25 Independence Dr., 227-258, fax 227-214) is entered through a patio canopied with lush vines and purple flowers; spacious air- conditioned doubles with a large brass-trimmed armoire, desk, dressing table, and full bath are $27.60 (shared bath $19), including breakfast. Owned by a countryman of Dodi Fayed's, the Princess Diana Hotel (31 Independence Dr., 228-715, fax 394-015) features decor including photos from her awkward teens and a Diana painting strung with Christmas lights. It's a bit dim and not quite at the standard of the Carlton, but its clean doubles are $23.80 with breakfast and A/C (with fan $19). If you can make do with fans instead of A/C (depending on the season, your own internal thermostat, and proximity to the ocean, you may well be able to), even cheaper options include the Abbey Guest House (38 Grant St., 225-228), near the market, whose very basic doubles (twin beds and not much else) with fans, shared baths, and breakfast go for $14-$19. Don't be put off by the dark flight of stairs with peeling paint that leads up to the hotel itself--the reception area is quite presentable and has an airy balcony where guests congregate; rooms are clean and tidy. Or try the recently renovated Duma Guest House (1 Hope St., 228-381), formerly a private home in a residential neighborhood. Rooms are simple (twin beds, end tables, desk, and chair) but clean and fan equipped; both private and shared baths are available for $9.50-$11.40, including breakfast. Dining rooms at the Carlton and Princess Diana offer sandwiches and burgers for $1.40-$2.30, and entrees of yassa, steak and fries, chicken cordon bleu, and fish for $3.30-$6.70. The Ali Baba Restaurant (Nelson Mandela St., 224-055) serves standard sandwiches, hamburgers, or chicken with fries for $1.40-$2.40, fish for $3.80, and Middle Eastern specialties such as kibbe ($.66) or falafel ($1.40). The African Heritage restaurant at Liberation and Anglesea Streets serves European and African dishes for $2.30-$4.75. Beach-bound The Atlantic coast near Serekunda is home to the Gambia's sybaritic beach resorts--unspoiled, palm-fringed oases such as Fajara, only 15 minutes from Banjul across the bridge to the mainland (a private taxi costs $11.40, as low as $6.70 with hard bargaining; a minibus is $.09-$4.76). The top bargain is the Leybato Guesthouse (Atlantic Rd., 497-186, fax 497-562), whose charming four-person bungalows include breakfast; its price is $24 in low season (May-September), otherwise $32; for $5 more, you get kitchen facilities, plates and cutlery, and daily laundry service. The beachside patio is dotted with round, thatched-roof pavilions and inviting hammocks in shady areas; a restaurant serves African meals for $1.90 and continental fare for $5 to $7. The owner has a Land Rover and can arrange safaris including driver and guide for about $7 a person. In Serekunda, the Douniya Motel (7 Mussa Dukureh Rd., 370-7412) has doubles with A/C for $26.66, including breakfast. For a splurge, Fajara Hotel (Atlantic Rd., 495-339, fax 494-575) has doubles for $71, including breakfast. If you're there for several days or off-season, bargain. Features include formal lobby, tropical gardens, tennis courts, pool, and private beach bungalows. The spa offers a 90-minute massage for $19, and bicycle rental is $7.60 for a full day and $3.80 for a half day. The African Village Hotel in nearby Bakau (98 Atlantic Blvd., 495-034, fax 495-042, europrop@qanet.gm) is another seaside tropical paradise: a magnificent pool with swim-up bar, bright flowers along the shell-strewn paths between bungalows, massage service, and bike rentals. Doubles run $43-$48 with breakfast. Fajara's best seaside eatery is Adidas Beach Bar & Restaurant, near Fajara Craft Market; plates of fish or chicken, chips, and salad run $1.90-$2.40, sandwiches $.95, maffe with rice $1.42. In Bakau, Jaggleh Fast Food on Bakau Road is a bright, cheerful blue spot with similar offerings and prices. In Serekunda, the Diner's Den (Kairaba Ave., 372-360) serves continental, Middle Eastern, and traditional fare at prices ranging from $.47 to $3.50. More Gambian gambols Day-trip options from Banjul include the Abuko Nature Reserve ($3), which is 14 miles/45 minutes via private taxi ($4.75-$7), or the craft market of Brikama, then lunch ($4.75) at the Sayang Beach Paradise Restaurant on the Kombo Coastal Road. Afterward, the nearby Tanje Village Museum is a remarkable re-creation of a traditional African village, which, for $2.30, offers a nature walk, craftsmen, and a restaurant serving only local fare (try the baobab juice). To experience the traditional lifestyle, there are four round huts where guests sleep on straw mattresses and draw water from the well ($12 per person with breakfast). At a reasonable cost, curator Abdoulie Bayo can also arrange for you to stay with village families, attend ceremonies, meet traditional healers, or learn from batik makers or woodcarvers (call 371-007 after 8 p.m., fax 495-546, or e-mail tanje@dds.nl or nyang@commit.gm). Or consider a visit to the Kachikaly Crocodile Pool ($.95 in Bakau, 11 miles from Banjul (bush taxi $.28). Locals pray here for fertility, and the croc known as Charlie may be petted without fear for life or limb. Then check out the Bakau art gallery and go to Mama Tie & Dye ($3) in Serekunda to watch women working on batik. Take a $.19 bush taxi to Fajara, lunch at a beach restaurant, then find a secluded stretch of beach or go waterskiing or fishing. Do you enjoy African music, dancing, drumming, and crafts? Sheikh Tejan Nyang (460-638, tejan@qanet.gm) will help you delve where most tourists never venture, arranging family stays for $15-$30/night and other activities for around $15-$20 with an English-speaking guide (such as lessons in drumming, African dancing, or crafts; visits to schools and hospitals; meetings with professionals sharing your interests). Other excellent general contacts: Mr. Saikouba Sisay and Mr. Malamin Ceesay at Alkamba Travel & Tours (tel./fax 202-059, alkamba@gamtel.gm). West Africa on the line Preface Dakar phone numbers with 011-221 from the U.S. and Gambia numbers with 011-220. The Middle Passage reversed Air Afrique's (800/456-9192 or 212/586-5908) seven-hour New York-Dakar nonstops run $1,120 this summer but can go as low as $937, depending on time of year. British Airways (800/247-9297) also has good service three times a week from London via Abidjan in the neighboring Ivory Coast (from $1,000). Going the package route, the best game in the business is a five-night Dakar-based package from Magical Holidays (800/228-2208), which for as little as $999 will fly you from New York and provide hotel with breakfast, airport transfers, and some sightseeing.

Cruising by Cargo Liner

You've heard of the passenger-carrying freighter; now meet the "cargo liner." Cheaper in many instances than ships in the freighter mode, it also overcomes what some regard as the latter's drawbacks. To avoid the necessity of carrying a costly doctor on staff, the freighters limit their complement of passengers to 12 persons, the legal maximum for dispensing with a professional physician. With so few voyagers on board, passengers have run of the ship, dine with the ship's officers, fix their own sandwiches and snacks in a galley to which they have access. It's an idyllic way to vacation, in the view of the mostly middle-aged and elderly audience that flock to these unpretentious vessels. Others aren't so sure, either because they prefer the security of nearby medical assistance, or because they fear being confined with only 12 fellow passengers; if a large part of that number aren't congenial or interesting, the trip can become unpleasant or boring. Others aren't always thrilled by the extremely casual ways of the freighters--their sometimes unscheduled, erratic sailing dates, flexible lengths of voyage, and constantly changing itineraries. Enter the cargo liner. Its passenger complement is at least 60--large enough to supply companions of interest at meals and social occasions--and occasionally reaches a high of 80 or 90 persons. Most liners have a passenger age limit of 79. Voyages are invariably scheduled and regular; and aboard the ship, the passenger-carrying function is almost as important to officers and crew as the hauling of cargo. There are frequent social activities, although matters never reach the activities-full levels of the passenger cruise ships. Equally important, the cargo liner is occasionally cheaper, an average of $100 a day, as compared with the $125-a-day range of the passenger-carrying freighter. Two cargo lines currently offer the majority of cargo liner opportunities: Norwegian Coastal Voyage (formerly Bergen Line) Here's a distinguished company with a rich, 150+-year history and tradition, which today operates 11 modern cargo liners up and down the fjords of the west coast of Norway. After decades of performing only those prosaic functions, the line was "discovered" in the 1960's by tourists, journalists, and authors, and today, passengers are carried aboard throughout the year--not simply in the popular summer months of the "midnight sun," but under the "northern lights" of the winter. The voyage starts in Bergen, and takes 12 days for a round trip, stopping (among other places) at bustling Trondheim, Bodo, Svolvaer, Tromso ("gateway to the Arctic"), Hammerfest (where the sun doesn't set between mid-May and late July), and Kirkenes (close to both the Arctic Circle and the Russian border). Elaborate shore excursions are offered, buffet "smorgasbords" are a highlight of most luncheons, and even air-sea packages using SAS and other carriers are today available for these former milk-runs along stunning scenery, populated by a gracious people. Cruise-only prices start at $100 a day per person in minimum rate cabins, cost between $140 (low season) and $210 (high season) per person double occupancy a day in the great bulk of cabins, and reach $400 a day in only a small number of instances for luxury suites. Sailings are daily year-round, and with considerable frequency in warmer months. It is possible to book one-way six or seven-day voyages as well. Discounts are available for seniors aged 67 and over, so be sure to ask. Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime Operates the comparatively plush 200-passenger "M.S. Aranui III" making monthly sailings from Papeete, Tahiti, to bring food and supplies to residents of the Marquesas Islands. Those are the barely-developed atolls chosen by Paul Gauguin for the last years of his life and for his last resting place. Voyages last 16 days, go to all six of the inhabited islands, make double stops on two successive days at some islands, and spend two full days at sea. Takapoto is visited on the way to the Marquesas and Rangiroa is a stop on the way back to Papeete. Both are in the Tuamotu Atolls. On this last-of-all-opportunities to witness the unspoiled, as-yet unaffected, life of a tropical paradise, passengers accompany the crew ashore to a crude customs house, and watch the tatooed sailors sling sacks of copra (dried coconuts). They put tropical flowers behind their ears, strum ukuleles by night, and enjoy all this at higher-than-usual rates for a cargo liner ($132 for dorm accommodations to $330 for suites with balconies), but charges include shore excursions of a rare sort and French wine at lunch and dinner. The line has no U.S. office, but information and bookings can be made by Freighter World Cruises, Inc., 180 South Lake Avenue, Suite 335, Pasadena, California 91101, phone 626/449-3106 or 800/531-7774, Web: freighterworld.com. The company represents both Norwegian Coastal Voyages as well as Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport, in addition to 40 some odd "hard-core" freighters with smaller passenger capacities (6 passengers per trip), and pricetags. Trips on these basic ships average $100 per person per day. Visit the company's website to peruse listings, routes and prices.

Good Food: Fine Dining at Fast-Food Prices

In 1993, Steve Ells, a chef at the multi-starred Stars restaurant in San Francisco and fan of Mission District taco joints, asked a fundamental question: What if fast food went fine? What if grab-and-go meals used good, nongreasy ingredients? His answer was Chipotle Mexican Grill, where they stuff the burritos with lime-and-cilantro rice, cumin-spiced black beans, and adobo-marinated chicken or juniper-infused pork. "Just because it's fast doesn't mean it has to taste like 'fast food,'" says Ells. Distinct from burger-and-fries purveyors, the new hybrid Chipotle and contemporaries like CosI, Panera Bread, Noodles & Company, and others became known collectively as "quick casual" or "adult fast food." Serving upscale fare in limited-service settings (meaning, for the most part, that patrons order and receive food at a counter) keeps per-person checks in the $7 to $9 range, according to industry analyst Joe Pawlak of Technomic restaurant consultants. And that attractive price range for high-quality food makes these new, fine-food outlets ideal for the fast-moving budget traveler visiting cities in the United States. "Baby boomers want better quality food, but they still don't have time to sit down-and that's especially the case for travelers," says Pawlak. Quick, casual eateries may only account for a $5 billion nibble of the $138 billion fast-food business. But their numbers are growing. Fast-food giant McDonald's joined in, backing upstarts Chipotle and Pret A Manger, while Wendy's recently purchased the Baja Fresh Mexican Grill. A boon to penny-wise travelers who don't want to sacrifice flavor, this burgeoning new breed includes the following: Deli sandwich boutiques Briazz Seattle-based Briazz caters to daytime downtowners in its markets, serving upscale deli sandwiches. In addition to cold grab-and-gos, the chain offers hot meals from "piadinas" (Italian wrap sandwiches made with warm flat bread) to basil-chicken chili and jambalaya. Look for Briazz sandwiches in many Starbucks locations, which are currently test-selling the fare in pursuit of a lunch trade for the coffee giant. Info: Smoked turkey and Havarti cheese on ciabatta bread with lemon-caper aioli, $3.79. There are 46 caf,s in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle; www.briazz.com. Cosi Crusty, hearth-fired bread, baked continually in on-site ovens and closer than anything else in America to true Italian focaccia, distinguishes CosI from the corner-deli pack. Breakfast service touts square bagels ("squagels") made from the dough, and lunches feature sandwiches that globe-trot from Indian tandoori chicken and Middle Eastern hummus to Italian-esque goat cheese panini. Mismatched tables and chairs, faux-painted walls, and oversize couches engender comfort. Nearly 75 percent of shops-those not in business districts such as New York City's Wall Street-stay open for dinner, and waiters serve from a hot-meal menu, similar in price to the daytime carte du jour but including a full bar. Don't miss the do-it-yourself s'mores. Info: Tandoori chicken and roasted red-pepper sandwich, $5.95. More than 90 locations in 11 states (Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin) and Washington, D.C.; www.getcosi.com. Pret A Manger Founded in 1986 in London by two British developers who could not find good-quality take-out lunches, Pret A Manger has mushroomed, gaining the attention of fast-food giant McDonald's, whose recent minority purchase of Pret has enabled it to expand internationally. The sleek-looking shops vend freshly made sandwiches-some on baguettes imported (partly baked) from France-with fillings such as chicken tikka or arugula, avocado, and Parmesan with pine nuts, primarily for off-premises eating. Acclaimed pastry chef Claudia Fleming, formerly of New York City's Gramercy Tavern, recently signed on, boosting Pret A Manger's foodie appeal. Info: Arugula, avocado, Parmesan, and pine-nut sandwich, $5.25. More than 130 outlets in Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo, and the U.K.; www.pret.com. Fusion Cafes Noodles & Company From Wisconsin mac-and-cheese to Indonesian peanut "saut,," Noodles & Company serves noodle-based bowls from a U.N. of larders. Most come without protein, but chicken, beef, tofu, or shrimp can be added for about $1.50 to $2. Salads, soups, and seasonal specials supplement ten noodle-based entr,es in lively, bright storefronts serving lunch and dinner. Bars dispense beer and wine as well as soft drinks. Info: Japanese pan noodles with chunky vegetables, $5.25. Nearly 70 units in Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Coming very soon to Michigan, Texas, and Utah; www.noodles.com. Wolfgang Puck Express Tinseltown celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck does quick-service business of his signature dishes-many pulled from his Spago repertoire-like Chinois chicken salad, butternut-squash soup, and four-cheese pizza at a growing number of self-service outlets. Like Wolfgang Puck Caf,s, which offer table service, Express shops sport vibrant mosaic-tile patterns and an open kitchen, where cooks fire pizzas in an open hearth and toss salads to order. Info: Chinois chicken salad, $7.95. About 22 locations in California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, and Illinois, including at airports in Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles; www.wolfgangpuck.com. World Wrapps World Wrapps borrows from global ethnic cuisines and packages each-from Japanese "samurai" salmon to Spanish paella-in an oversize Mexican tortilla (also available in a ten-inch small), assembled to order. "Bowl" versions of the sandwiches come unwrapped and tortilla-free. Bento boxes and kids meals expand the choices. A franchising effort is newly under way, with expansion expected west of Chicago. Info: Texas Roadhouse BBQ Chicken with mashed potatoes, slaw, and tomato-corn salsa, $5.50. There are 16 shops in the San Francisco and Seattle metro areas; www.worldwrapps.com. Bakery Cafes Corner Bakery Cafe Founded in Chicago and now run by Brinker International of Dallas (owners of Chili's and Maggiano's chains, among others), Corner Bakery shops prepare up to 17 different breads daily from brioche to sourdough. The loaves (also sold whole) form the foundation of a sandwich-based caf, menu that spans soups, salads, and sandwiches. Typical choices include minestrone soup served in a bread bowl, chicken-bacon-avocado chopped salad, tomato-mozzarella-basil on ciabatta bread, and ham and Havarti cheese on pretzel bread. The warm, wood-paneled settings draw coffee-and-pastry snackers between major meals. Info: One-half chicken pesto sandwich and one-half caesar salad combination, $5.99. Eighty-two outlets concentrated in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, southern California, and Washington, D.C.; www.cornerbakery.com. Panera Bread Originally established as the St. Louis Bread Company (and still operating under that name in parts of Missouri), Panera specializes in "artisan bread" from a grape-based starter used in a range of flavored loaves including kalamata olive, sesame semolina, and three seed. Take-out breads and pastries supplement the caf, operation, which serves sandwiches, salads, and daily soups like broccoli cheddar and black bean. Wooden booths and fireplaces in some caf,s encourage lingering. Info: Turkey with chipotle mayo, field greens, and red onion on Asiago focaccia, $5.55. There are 478 locations in 32 states. Markets include Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Jacksonville, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C.; www.panera.com. TEX-MEX GRILLS Chipotle Mexican Grill Chef Steve Ells fused his fine-dining background and love of Mexican tacos in Chipotle, wrapping lime-and-cilantro-tossed rice, cumin-spiced black beans, adobo-marinated chicken, and juniper-infused pork in 20-ounce, made-to-order burritos sauced by four varieties of house-made salsa. Most locations pour margaritas and beers as well as soda. Corrugated-metal walls, blond-wood floors, and curving surfaces generate a hip, urban vibe. McDonald's now holds a majority share of Chipotle, enabling the chain to add about 100 stores annually. Info: Steak burrito with black beans, cheese, rice, and chile-corn salsa, $5.25. More than 230 outlets in the U.S.; www.chipotle.com.

ADVERTISEMENT