This weekend: Charleston opens 150 lovely historic homes
Charlestonians are used to being gracious hosts—the charming, old-fashioned city sees more than a million visitors a year. But they truly open their doors in spring, with the annual Festival of Houses and Gardens.
Starting this weekend and lasting a month, the festival will showcase 150 historic homes in 11 colonial and antebellum neighborhoods. More than a dozen different three-hour tours hit eight to 10 properties, each of which often span several decades of design. There are two new tours this year: Architectural Gems, which will feature six homes, and Secret Gardens of the French Quarter, with guest lecturers. The very popular Glorious Gardens tour takes you through some of the most impressive gardens in town, with a specialized guide in each (March and April are peak blooming season, so the colors will be popping).
The Historic Charleston Foundation puts on the show with the help of 650 community volunteers; this is its 62nd year. The foundation, started in 1947, protects buildings and landscapes important to Charleston's heritage.
The tour cost might seem steep ($45 per person for each tour), but all that goes into education, advocacy, and maintaining and restoring the old houses. The foundation also leads two-hour morning walking tours of Charleston's Historic District. Although you won't see inside any private homes on these tours, you will get a good sense of the area and its traditions at a price that might fit your budget better ($20 each for adults).
Tours sell out fast—last year, the festival attracted more than 12,000 guests.
Tickets available at historiccharleston.org or 843/722-3405.
Napa Valley: The CIA's new cooking classes
The Culinary Institute of America has launched new cooking and wine classes at its Napa Valley location. Saturdays at the CIA, with dates now through July, are hands-on, two-hour classes taught by faculty. The class subjects include Street Foods of the Middle East, Bold Flavors from Tuscany, and Flavors of the New Spanish Table. Class size caps at 12, and students work in teams to complete a few small dishes to share with a glass of wine, all with an expert chef helping along the way (and you also get to wear those cool hats). Classes are $75 per person and taught in the mornings. The CIA also has new afternoon wine classes (also $75 per person), so it's feasible for you to spend an entire day at the CIA. If you make reservations ahead of time, you can eat a two-course lunch for $19 per person at the Institute's restaurant—that's about 30 percent off. Students also get 10 percent off at the CIA's store. This location is an easy stop if you're tasting your way through Napa Valley (St. Helena is about half an hour from Napa itself). The Institute, founded in 1946, also has locations in New York and Texas—graduates include Anthony Bourdain, Cat Cora, and Harold Dieterle. Reservations recommended, 707/967-2320, ciachef.edu
This weekend: Suh-weet! N.H.'s maple syrup celebration
New Hampshire might be a small state, but in the span of four to six weeks each year, its maple trees provide more than 80,000 gallons of syrup. You can see part of the process during the New Hampshire Maple Weekend. More than 65 sugarhouses in the state are participating this year by opening their doors and offering samples, tours, and special events. For instance, visit Turkey Street Maples in Chocorua, N.H., for demonstrations, samples served with ice cream, and an opportunity to help collect sap from trees. Other houses are offering horse or tractor-drawn rides around the farms, pancake feasts, and "sugar on snow," a New England delicacy made by pouring boiling maple syrup on packed, fresh snow—the combination of the two makes a caramel-like treat. See the full schedule. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup—New Hampshire's producers made about 85,000 gallons of the sweet stuff in 2008. Sap starts to run from sugar maples in mid-February when the nights are cold but the days milder (in the 40s), with lots of sun. To make syrup, sap is boiled to evaporate water. That's why sugar houses always have a ton of steam coming from them. Vermont is also hosting a Maple Open House this weekend. Most sugarhouse visits are free; some events cost a nominal fee. Call the hotline at 603/225-3757 for more info.
Affordable Paris: French cuisine on sale now
Paris may be feeling the economic pinch right now, but the outward signs are subtle. Unlike New York, where you'll find "recession specials" frequently advertised, Paris has yet to slap many sale stickers on its rooms and restaurants. That said, there are two promotions running now that have significantly lowered the cost of eating well in Paris. The first comes from Guy Savoy, whose eponymous restaurant is often cited as one of the best in the city (18 Rue Troyon, 17th arrondissement, +011-33/8-26-10-13-07). He’s offering to let any teenager aged 15–17 years eat for free when accompanied by two paying adults. This is limited to one freebie per visit, but it could still save you hundreds of euros on a special-occasion meal. For those who can't splurge on the set menu (the cheapest is €275/$360), the chef is offering a similar deal at his other three Paris eateries. Le Chiberta (3 rue Arsène Houssaye, 8th arrondissement, +011-33/1-53-53-42-00) is a swish modern-design restaurant, Les Bouquinistes (53 quai des Grands Augustins, 6th arrondissement, +011-33/1-43-25-45-94) is a crowd-pleasing bistro, and L'Atelier Maître Albert (1 rue Maître Albert, 5th arrondissement, +011-33/1-56-81-30-01) specializes in rotisserie meats. At these three (much cheaper) eateries, Savoy has also lowered the age limit: Any teenager from 12–17 years eats free when accompanied by two paying adults. The second promotion comes from Châteaux and Hôtel Collections, a group that manages more than 500 swank hotel and restaurant properties in France. From now until May 15, their La France Re[Cuisinée] promotion lets you eat lunch for only €28 at a selection of restaurants across the country. In Paris, that applies to two very good restaurants from acclaimed chef Alain Ducasse: Aux Lyonnais (32 rue Saint-Marc, 2nd arrondissement, +011-33/1-42-96-65-04) and Benoît (20, rue Saint Martin, 4th arrondissement +011-33/1-42-72-25-76). It also includes L'Assiette (181 rue du Château, 14th arrondissement, +011-33/1-43-22-64-86), a bistro that has the local foodie crowd raving. I haven’t yet been to "the plate," but a promotion like this is sure to get me moving. MORE Our Affordable Paris series of blog posts
A footnote to "Drink Like a Local in 6 Beer Cities"
We recently published Bret Stetka's fun story, "Drink Like a Local in 6 Beer Cities," which covered some locales you would expect, like Portland, Ore., and some you might not, like Salt Lake City. The Brooklyn section of the article mentioned three bars, and I thought I'd recommend another option for anyone thinking of visiting my home borough: Brooklyn Brewery. Bret mentioned that you can get Brooklyn Brewery's beers at Beer Table, but you can also go right to the source. The brewery is open on Saturday and Sunday from noon until 6 p.m., and beers are $4, or six for $20. (Those are great prices for New York City.) There's also a free 25-minute tour on weekends that covers the history of the brewery and the beer-making process. According to Lysandra Gibbs, the brewery's marketing manager, the tours at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. are a lot more crowded than the ones at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., so plan accordingly.