Archives – December, 2013

Want to travel under the Tuscan sun? SimpleItaly’s ‘Celebration of the Senses’ April tour is for you

Ah, memories! Here I am, standing under the Tuscan sun during my living-in-Florence days.

Ah, memories! Here I am, standing under the Tuscan sun during my living-in-Florence days in 2004.

As you UrbanTravelGirl readers know, Italy is near and dear to my heart. It’s the first place I lived abroad, and I’ll always look back fondly on the seven months I spent in romantic Renaissance Florence. I not only got to write incredible freelance Food and Travel stories during this time, but those assignments sometimes took me into the breathtakingly beautiful countryside of Tuscany—the region in which Florence sits. Gorgeous films like “Under the Tuscan Sun” extol the sensual pleasures of Italian life amidst rolling hills and stately cypress trees. No wonder Tuscany is so popular with travelers from around the world … who wouldn’t consider this a trip of a lifetime?

I know it’s Christmas Eve, and whatever gifts you’re planning to give have already been purchased. But what if, just for argument’s sake, you were blessed to be able to give someone (or even better, yourself) the gift of Tuscany this holiday season? And I have one specific gift in mind.

Want to experience the Tuscan sun yourself? From April 5-12, 2014, SimpleItaly's "Celebration of the Senses" tour will call this luxury villa near Siena its home base.

Want to experience the Tuscan sun yourself? From April 5-12, 2014, SimpleItaly’s “Celebration of the Senses” tour will call this luxury villa near Siena its home base.

As I just wrote in a post for my Today’s Chicago Woman Travel blog, my fellow Italophiles and former Florence, Italy, residents Sharon and Walter Sanders are leading a fully escorted eight-day tour of Tuscany through the lifestyle company they call SimpleItaly: Celebrating Your Inner Italian. From April 5-12, 2014, guests who sign up for “SimpleItaly Adventure in Tuscany Tour: A Celebration of the Senses” will call Villa Pipistrelli, a luxurious 17th century villa near Siena that’s a converted farmhouse, their home.

Walter and Sharon Sanders are diehard Italophiles who formerly lived in Florence -- and they'll be your engaging hosts for SimpleItaly's eight-day tour in April 2014.

Walter and Sharon Sanders are diehard Italophiles who formerly lived (and actually got married!) in Florence — and they’ll be your engaging hosts for SimpleItaly’s eight-day tour in April 2014.

The trip’s incredible itinerary comes courtesy of Sharon and Walter, Americans who were fortunate enough to marry in the historic Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. Like me, Sharon MUST have been Italian in a past life. My former editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, she’s a celebrated food writer, editor and author whose Cooking Up an Italian Life: Simple Pleasures of Italy in Recipes and Stories is a must-have for anyone who dreams, thinks and wants to cook Italian. (An aside: a few years back, Sharon invited me to tap into my “inner Italian” and share my thoughts on her SimpleItaly website. Read this, and you’ll see why I—and millions of others—have fallen completely under Italy’s spell.)

Imagine taking advantage of these incredible activities during SimpleItaly’s springtime in Tuscany tour:

  • 7 nights accommodation at Villa Pipistrelli
  • Transfers to and from the Florence Airport
  • Ground transportation to all scheduled activities
  • All breakfasts; seven dinners and fine lunches with wine (certamente … you’ll be in Italy!)
  • Casual learning sessions with English-speaking local artisans, guest experts and authors
  • Olive oil samplings and wine tastings
  • Pecorino cheese-making demo and tasting
  • Foraging in the local woods and tasting edible wild greens
  • Pasta- and pizza-making classes
  • Sessions with Tuscany-based authors Jennifer Criswell of At Least You’re in Tuscany and Dario Castagno of Too Much Tuscan Wine (as if there’s such a thing!)
  • Tour of UNESCO World Heritage city of Siena—including its lively outdoor market
  • Visit to Arezzo Antiques Fair
  • Free time to explore the gorgeous Tuscan countryside
Guests on SimpleItaly's "Celebration of the Senses" tour will learn to cook the Tuscan way in this gorgeous Villa Pippistrelli kitchen during a group cooking lesson.

Guests on SimpleItaly’s “Celebration of the Senses” tour will learn to cook the Tuscan way in this gorgeous Villa Pipistrelli kitchen during a group cooking lesson.

Many gifts we’ll give and receive this holiday season are the kind we’ll gush over and then stash in a closet. But investing in travel—either for those you love or yourself—will pay dividends your whole life long. This SimpleItaly trip is $2,495 per person based on double occupancy (not including airfare). Experiencing bella Italia the way the locals do, along with like-minded tour guides and travelers, is quite simply priceless. Less than a handful of spaces are left, so you’ll need to move fast.

If you’re one of those who’s promised to think and live more globally in 2014, what better way to start?

Buon Natale e Buon Anno, my fellow travelers!

1 Comment December 24, 2013

Hotels get female-friendly with women-only floors and amenities

Appropriately termed "Duchess Rooms" when transformed for female guests, those like this one at the boutique-chic DUKES London Hotel in Mayfair pamper women with women-sized slippers, makeup mirrors, lifestyle magazines, and fresh flowers.

Appropriately termed “Duchess Rooms” when transformed for female guests, those like this one at the boutique-chic DUKES London Hotel in Mayfair pamper women with women-sized slippers, makeup mirrors, lifestyle magazines, and fresh flowers.

As a woman who used to travel solo for my work with a global corporation—and who’s done the same for pleasure to countries around the world—I’d try to plan my trips with an eye toward comfort and convenience. When traveling for work, I’d often stay in large, plush hotels that catered to their guests’ every need. Even when I was footing the bill, I looked for bed and breakfasts that offered more than just a bed and breakfast, but where owners offered personalized service, helping arrange restaurant and tour reservations and off-the-beaten-path advice.

But I never thought to ask for special services—or stay in a particular place—specifically because I’m a woman.

These days, more and more hotels have decided female business travelers and tourists are a niche market they need to reach—and articles have cropped up on newspaper, magazine and travel websites detailing this new approach. USA Today recently published a piece about Washington, D.C.’s Hamilton Crowne Plaza and the special bath salts, magnifying mirror, and manicure accoutrements they make available on their female-focused floor. “In other words,” wrote Nancy Trejos, “you’ll get pretty much anything you need to pamper yourself.”

Then there’s the DUKES London Hotel on chi-chi St. James’s Place, with its aptly named “Duchess Rooms.” Rather than setting aside a specific floor for female guests, this Mayfair boutique property can transform any of its rooms by adding smaller slippers, makeup mirrors, female-friendly magazines, and fresh flowers. USA Today and Condé Nast Traveler’s website also dished about the women-only perks at Vancouver, B.C.’s 4-star Georgian Court Hotel, which include female-only floors awash in “curling irons, yoga mats, and satin-padded hangers.”

From a marketing perspective, it makes sense. Marybeth Bond of GutsyTraveler.com reports that a whopping 80% of all travel decisions are made by women, regardless of who they travel with, who pays for the trip, or where they go. No wonder hotels the world over have trained their sights on us.

I suppose there are SOME things we women consider differently than men do when we’re on the road—and one of those is likely safe transportation. When I travel—and especially getting around by myself—I generally scout around ahead of time for affordable get-from-the-airport options such as shuttle buses that drop you off in the center of town, such as the $15-to-$26-one-way fares on Les Cars Air France in Paris.  Or I’ll choose easy-to-navigate city trains, such as the $5 Blue Line “L” from O’Hare International in Chicago or the $21 Leonardo Express from Fiumicino Airport in Rome. But since I’ve never mastered the art of packing light, even after all these years of hoofing it all over the world, that means a LOT of schlepping suitcases, purses and laptop bags.

Female travelers who want to roll like rock stars--or at least pampered VIPs who don't have to schlep their own bags--can splurge and opt for Blacklane chauffeured service in major cities around the world.

Female travelers who want to roll like rock stars–or at least pampered VIPs who don’t have to schlep their own bags–can splurge and opt for Blacklane chauffeured service in major cities around the world.

And since I’m a woman who likes to travel with all of her stuff (it’s hard for me to leave things I know I’ll need at home), it’s sometimes nice to spend the extra cash and know certain perks and conveniences will be waiting when you arrive at your destination. While I rarely splurge on a car service, those like Blacklane—which offer rides in luxe, grown-up vehicles in some of my favorite cities, including New York, San Francisco and Paris—start your trip off an a classy, stress-free note. Talk about making a girl feel like a rock star when she arrives at the airport late and exhausted, with multiple bags in tow.

If you’re traveling on company business and can write off the cost, such a service can be worth its weight in gold. Rather than hoping to hail a taxi or navigate an unfamiliar large city and its traffic-choked streets, hiring an hourly chauffeured service like Blacklane’s to transport you between appointments can be a smart business move. And for women who occasionally like to roll like a “Sex and the City” gal in a Lincoln Town Car or Mercedes E and S Class sedans, it’s the way to go. Even we independent women (and we are those!) appreciate a bit of pampering now and then.

So tell me—would you be jazzed or just ticked off by female-only amenities and hotel floors? Would such conveniences encourage you to patronize businesses or hotel chains that specifically target you with services because of your gender—especially if it makes you feel safer and more secure? I’m curious to know what you UrbanTravelGirls think about this “trend.”

2 Comments December 19, 2013


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