Live Like a Local in Italy
When it comes to traveling in Italy, Budget Travelers have always been big fans of “living like a local.”
That means eating where the locals eat, visiting the off-the-beaten-path galleries and museums that tourists often miss, and hitting the best trails for cycling and hiking, many of which are not well known to Americans.
That’s where Tourissimo got our attention. The bespoke cycling and hiking tour operator takes travelers into a super-local world of cycling and hiking in Italy, immersing them in the interests that are most important to them. When I sat down recently to chat with Tourissimo’s founder, Giuseppe “Beppe” Salerno, I was inspired by his enthusiasm, passion, and know-how. These are truly unique, customized travel experiences that manage to elegantly combine world-class service with a sense of adventure and discovery (not always easy to do).
Bespoke tours offer a variety of potential experiences. Starting at $2,500 per person, tours may be escorted or self-guided private tours; tours include an excellent guide-to-guest ratio of 1:9, choice of activities (including wine tasting, cycling clinics, cooking lessons, and much more), bikes and equipment, and 3-4 star accommodations (with the option of an agriturismo lodging experience on a working farm). Tourissimo guides have personal connections to the regions where they travel and deliver a true locals’ point of view, including cultural immersion, traditions and customs, and the opportunity to meet local food and wine producers.
Maybe because my great-grandmother was born in Palermo, I’m especially excited about Tourissimo’s upcoming “Sicily Magnifica Cycling Tour,” which explores the storied island’s historic past and vibrant present, including a stop in the town of Corleone, where novelist and screenwriter Mario Puzo set portions of The Godfather. Touring Sicily by bike is the kind of brag-worthy vacation most of us would love to check off our list.
To learn more, visit Tourissimo.
Portland, Oregon's Year-Round Dining Deals Make for a Heckuva Happy Hour
It's not enough that Portland, Oregon is a major player on the world's dining stage. Apparently, the chefs and restaurant owners there are pretty committed to making sure everyone in the city--including tourists--have an opportunity to indulge in their delicious handiwork. Every weekday, restaurants around town, from unassuming neighborhood joints to highly regarded, award-winning dining destinations, offer their fare for a fraction of the standard menu prices. Locals refer to it as “happy hour,” but that’s hardly factual. More like “ecstatic hours” (with an “s”!) Some spots reprise the after-work specials late-night each night. Others insist on drawing it out for the entire afternoon and evening. Consider, for instance, the hip lounge-like Gold Dust Meridian: from 2PM to 8PM Monday through Saturday and all day Sunday they offer bites like deviled eggs and BBQ meatballs for $5 and crab cakes and calamari for just $6. There are also $4 to $6 drinks. At the Observatory, an airy neighborhood institution, Happy Hour runs daily from 2-6PM then Sunday through Thursday again from 10PM to close. During that time, treats like oregano fry bread are $3, drafts top off at $3.75 and cocktails, which this place is known for, are just $5. In fact, during these designated hours, terrific cocktails and excellent wine and beer are sold throughout the city at prices that make you think they're going out of style. The city’s top chefs are deep in the game, too. The menu at Nostrana, a top-rated Italian enoteca under the watch of Chef Cathy Whims, a six-time James Beard Award finalist, includes items straight off the dinner menu for a fraction of the price, like the house charcuterie for $5 (vs. $18) and pizza margherita for $7 (vs. $12). At Oven and Shaker (pictured), her more relaxed pizzeria with a strong cocktail focus, people gather for $7-$10 artisanal pizzas and $7 craft cocktails from 2.30PM to 5.30PM during the week and 10PM to close every night. Fancy burgers, ramen, sushi, Tex-Mex, spaetzle, steak sandwiches, Latin American classics—you can find it all for a song somewhere in the city before or after the dinner rush. Maybe you chalk it up to Pacific Northwestern hospitality or maybe it's just Portlandians’ obsession with getting out and socializing. Either way, it’s a local way of life that’s a traveler’s fantasy.
Great Fall Getaway: Portsmouth, NH
Here in the Northeast, we’re already noticing the shadows getting longer, the nights cooler, and, of course, the kids are getting ready to head back to school. But rather than mourn summer’s end, we’re getting psyched for… you got it… leaf-peeping season! My wife and I just got back from a weekend “escape from New York” to one of our favorite New England destinations, and I realized that Budget Travelers need to know: Portsmouth, New Hampshire, belongs on your autumn to-do list. We loved our stay at The Port Inn, an Ascend Hotel Collection Member, part of the Choice Hotels International family (late October weekday stays from $149/night, 505 U.S. Highway 1 Bypass, Portsmouth, NH 03801, 603-436-4378, portinnportsmouth.com), and it’s really an ideal base of operations for enjoying peak foliage season on the New Hampshire coast (approximately late October to early November). The Port Inn is one of the longest-operating lodgings in the Portsmouth area, combining the homey welcome of a family-run hotel with beautifully appointed furniture and fixtures thanks to a recent renovation. Waking up to the delicious complimentary hot breakfast (including excellent, locally roasted White Heron coffee) felt downright indulgent. We really enjoyed exploring Portsmouth’s downtown, which includes cobblestone streets and a historic wharf and must-sees like the John Paul Jones House, the preserved colonial buildings at Strawberry Banke, and the exceptional Riverrun bookstore. We’re also big fans of Portsmouth’s Flatbread Pizza, where you can watch your meal cook in an open wood-fire oven, and New Hampshire’s short-but-sweet 18 miles of coastline, especially Odiorne Point State Park and its kid-friendly Seacoast Science Center. In fall, don’t miss the Inland River & Fall Foliage Cruise for a unique way to experience the vibrant New England colors. Portsmouth's Port Inn was such a good experience, I looked into other Ascend Hotel Collection properties, which manage to combine an upscale lodging experience with authentic local flavor (not always easy to do) in prime leaf-peeping territory: They include the Hotel North Woods, Lake Placid, NY; and the Port Inn, Kennebunk, Maine. Happy autumn!
Never Mind Mardi Gras. This Month New Orleans Is One Big Dinner Party
When it comes to world-class culinary destinations in America, few cities beat New Orleans. From its longstanding iconic temples of dining to contemporary eateries that offer new spins on the city’s traditional fare, the biggest challenge of a visit to the Bayou is choosing where to dine. But throughout the month of August, restaurants are offering unbeatable prix-fixe meals as part of COOLinary Summer in New Orleans. Some of the city’s –if not the country’s—most acclaimed restaurants are rolling out the red carpet with two- and three-course lunch menus for $20 or less and three-course dinner menus for $39 or less. A few eateries are going all out and offering brunch, too. Among the dozens of restaurants, primarily in the French Quarter and Downtown, are fine-dining stalwarts, like Arnaud’s, Galatoire’s and the renowned Commander’s Palace, as well as plenty of modern locales, like Cafe Adelaide and the Swizzle Stick Bar and Carrollton Market. So whether you're already a fan or still have the city on your bucket list, off-season in New Orleans, away from the maddening crowds of Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, is a fine time to head down and see why people call New Orleans "America’s Most Delicious City.”
"Secret Menus" of America's Favorite Fast Food Joints
"Off the menu" has an elegant ring to it, no? We associate the phrase with high rollers and celebs who are certain the chef has something up his or her sleeve that they're not broadcasting to the world. Well, it turns out you don't have to be on the A-list to order off the menu—and you don't have to be dining at a white tablecloth joint to make special requests. Our friends at Foursquare have compiled tips left by their users—always a great resource for real-life feedback—about some of America's favorite off-the-menu orders from affordable, quality chain restaurants. From imaginative and messy riffs on burgers to unusual twists on pizza, sandwiches, and burritos, there's a little something here for everyone. IN-N-OUT BURGER, a regional chain in Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, and Utah, has a devoted following for its better-than-fast-food burgers. Foursquare user Jessica says, "It's not on the menu, but they'll substitute a veggie burger if you ask!" Nick recommends, "Ask for your burger Animal Style [with extra spread, pickles, and grilled onions]. Not on the menu, but the only way to go." And Andy says, "Get the 'grilled cheese' off the secret menu." M BURGER, in Chicago, offers its own "secret menu," too. Samantha says to order "Doctor Betty! Beef burger with avocado, tomato, and pepper jack cheese." Mikinzie says, "Try the cheese frieds with jalapeños on the secret menu. You won't regret it." TORCHY'S TACOS, in Texas, has a following statewide and beyond. Bryan recommends "Go for the Ace of Spades on the secret menu. Sausage, brisket, cheese, queso, Diablo sauce, sour cream and a fried egg. It made me a believer." Marc says, "LOVED The Matador." Nick insists, "Order the Hillbilly. You won't regret it." UMAMI BURGER, with locations in California, Illinois, Nevada, and New York, also boasts a secret menu. "Must order their cheesy tots and truffle fries," says Betty. Rameen recommends, "Spicy Bird (turkey burger)." JAMBA JUICE, with 800 locations in 26 state, the Bahamas, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, and South Korea, helped jump-start the smoothie worldwide. It continues to delight the taste buds with off-the-menu specialities. "The Pink Star is my favorite," says April. "It tastes like a pink Starburst. Ingredients: lemonade, soymilk, raspberry sherbert, frozen yogurt, sorbet, and fresh strawberries." Continuing the candy-flavored theme, Alex says, "Ask for the White Gummy Bear. So good." FOOSACKLEY'S, a local chicken restaurant with locations across coastal Alabama, offers some tasty variations you must be in-the-know to ask for. "It's not on the menu, but try a Buf-foo-lo Chicken Sandwich. It's chicken dipped in buffalo sauce, topped with ranch on a bun. Delicious!" says Whitney. "For a vegetarian option, or just a tasty alternative, try the Grilled Cheese! It's not on the menu, but it is worth ordering! And to spice it up, try dipping it in ranch! Mmmmm!!" says Brandon. PAPALOTE MEXICAN GRILL, with two locations in San Francisco, includes a Super Adobo chicken burrito you won't find on the menu, according to Foursquare user The Feast. PANERA BREAD, with locations across the U.S. and Canada, will serve up a Steak and Egg Protein Bowl with onions and cheese if you ask them to, says Dee. MELLOW MUSHROOM, with locations across the U.S., mostly in the Southeast, includes some surprising pizza options that only insiders know. "Ask for the Maui Wowie pizza," says Jhim. "Pesto sauce, mozzarella, banana peppers, pineapple, jerk chicken, ham & bacon. Heaven!" Johanna says, "Order a chicken Caesar pizza. It's not on the menu, but they'll still make it and it's awesome!"