Lord of the manor
If you really want to know a place and its people, forgo humdrum hotels. By living like a local, you’ll save a bundle while experiencing a region to its fullest. For instance, we recently lived like country squires on the 470-acre Belle Isle Estate. This romantic slice of gorgeous green countryside, close to Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, is home to a 17th-century castle as well as several cottages. You can rent a cottage by the week or take a room in the castle for a dose of baronial splendor.
Our courtyard cottage was a tastefully refurbished cattle stable with a bedroom, bath, washer/dryer, living room with fireplace and well-equipped kitchen and dining area. Every evening, cows passed under our kitchen window as they trudged to the barn for their milking. It was a moment of pure bucolic magic.
On days when we felt particularly active, we ventured beyond the sheep pasture, into a walled garden with a tennis court. Or we visited the picturesque town of Enniskillen, where the owner of John Gillen & Son instructed us on the boiling technique for “balls of flour” — newly harvested spuds. And we were repeat customers for butcher Patrick O’Doherty’s rosemary-and-lemon-marinated pork chops. “And I might say you’re looking all the better since you started eating my meat,” he joked. By the end of our ten-day stay, we knew not only the butcher, but the baker and the bartender at Blake’s pub on a first-name basis.
Belle Isle, which won the British Airways Tourism Award in 1998 for the best accommodation other than a hotel, is surprisingly reasonable, especially in low season from mid-October to mid-April, when one week starts at about $400. For more information, call 011-44-28-66-38-7231 or visit www.belleisle-estate.com. If Belle Isle is too countrified for your tastes, you’ll find plenty of other self-catering holiday homes and cottages all over the Emerald Isle. For details, visit www.cottagesinireland.com. Or contact the Irish Tourist Board at www.tourismireland.com.
Aye aye, skipper
If you’ve ever dreamed of sailing your own yacht, look no further, mate. Sunsail maintains a fleet of more than 1,200 boats and offers both bare boat and skippered charters at 39 locations in 23 countries around the world. You can ply the Turkish coast by yacht, set out in a catamaran along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, or explore the islets by dinghy on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. There’s even a base in Tonga.
Prices are very reasonable. During low season (March 23 to May 3 and Oct. 12 to Nov. 8), a sail through the Greek isles in a three-cabin yacht costs about $960 (U.S.) total for up to six people for seven days. If you’re not sure of your winches or wind shifts, you can hire a skipper at a daily rate of $120 (U.S.) and up. A bonus: your captain can tell you which dots on the map are tourist traps and which are must-stops. What more could a crew want? Call 1-800-327-2276 or visit www.sunsail.com.
Tokyo is one of the world’s most expensive cities, both in terms of how much it costs to get there and how much it costs to stay there. That’s why we were blown away by the Wow! Tokyo package from Signature Vacations. This special offer, available Dec. 1 to March 1, treats you to nearly a week of cherry blossoms and Shinto temples for only $1,550 from Vancouver, $1,650 from Calgary, $1,569 from Toronto and $1,669 from Ottawa/Montreal. Considering that round-trip airfare alone would cost you at least $1,300 from Toronto, this is a bargain that’s hard to resist.
The package includes airfare to Tokyo, hotel transfers, five nights in a hotel, visits to shrines and gardens, sightseeing with an English-speaking guide, a one-day public transit pass and admission to the Edo-Tokyo Museum. For an extra $199, you can take the Bullet train to Kyoto, home of exotic shrines and beautiful traditional gardens. And you can extend your hotel stay in Tokyo or Kyoto for only $140 a night. For details (or to find out more about similar Discover Asia programs from Signature Vacations), consult your travel agent or visit www.signaturevacations.com.
From the November 2003 issue.