Sunday, April 29, 2012

Three Well-Located, Budget Hotels in Barcelona, Granada and Sevilla

My boyfriend (now husband!) and I spent nine October nights in Spain, dividing our days between Barcelona, Granada and Sevilla (in that order).   Being our first trip to Spain and first overseas trip together, we were determined to eat and sightsee our way through these three cities and in turn, needed three very well-located hotels.  After much research, we chose the Regencia Colon Hotel in Barcelona, Hotel Macia Plaza in Granada and the Hotel Murillo in Sevilla, which each had a stellar location for seeing the sights and soaking in the culture of this beautiful country.  (I will write trip reports on each city at a later date – for now, just hotel info, for the most part!)

Regencia Colon Hotel in Barcelona 

Hotel Regencia Colon's entrance
Let me preface that you need more than three nights in Barcelona!  We could have spent all nine nights here - there's that much to see and do!

We booked our first three nights at the Regencia Colon Hotel, an extremely well-located, 50-unit hotel in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.   From the moment we arrived (jetlagged) around noon, the front desk staff could not possibly have been more helpful and professional, storing our luggage until a room was available, enthusiastically giving us maps and directions, making restaurant recommendations and reservations for us.   Pricing per night was approximately 100E or $135US.

View from our room's window
The hotel's location was EXCELLENT. Extra bonus:  From the airport, we took a bus to the beautiful Catalunya Square, and easily walked with our luggage to the Regencia Colon Hotel.  Within minutes, we could walk to Las Ramblas, the waterfront, the Picasso Museum, El Born district, which we really enjoyed, and many lively tapas bars. The Cathedral was right outside the hotel.  We were also able to pick up the Bus Touristic there, which very conveniently took us parts of the city that were too far too walk, like the Sagrada Familia.  Additionally, we were able to walk to trains that took us to Sitges, for a day of swimming, sunning, eating and exploring. 

Our spacious room (please excuse the mess!)
Our double room was spacious and clean. I brought earplugs in case of outside noise but did not use them at all.  We felt completely safe at all times and were pleased that the room had a hair dryer, safe-deposit box, a mini bar and some powerful air conditioning .  Breakfast was not included but we found some delightful outdoor spots close to the hotel.

Hotel Macia Plaza in Granada

The Hotel Macia Plaza was the best hotel of our trip, and the least expensive!   This 44-unit hotel’s location cannot possibly be any better.  Two nights in Granada however was just enough time to tour the Alhambra and the city sights and take advantage of the delicious tapas bars.  And the best part?  We paid 60E per night but I noticed on the website that the rate is currently 75E or $100US per night. 

The Hotel Macia Plaza is the yellow building
From the airport, a bus dropped us off five minutes from the hotel and we easily walked with our luggage to Plaza Nueva, home of the Hotel Macia Plaza. The gentleman at the front desk was kind and helpful and we liked that there was someone there to assist us 24/7. 

Our room was clean and very modern, and located toward the back of the hotel, which worked for us because it was completely quiet, no noise from the Plaza Nueva.  We liked that there was a computer with Internet access in the breakfast room, which we used at no cost to us. Breakfast was nothing fancy but enough to get you going.  There are plenty of shops to grab coffee and pastries nearby as well.

The area around the hotel - colorful
Plaza Nueva is a cute square lined with bars and restaurants. The bus to the Albayzin Moorish quarter stopped right outside the hotel and the bus to La Alhambra stopped just down the road, very convenient. (The Alhambra in Granada is Spain’s most visited attraction and should NOT be missed.) We could also walk to both of these sites, as well as the cathedral and chapel.  All in all, we were very pleased with the Macia Plaza and highly recommend it to other travelers.

Hotel Murillo in Sevilla

Hotel Murillo is located in the charming, pedestrian-only neighborhood of Santa Cruz, just a short walk from the Cathedral and the Giralda, the Alcazar and Murillo gardens, Sevilla’s main attractions.  We arrived in Sevilla via train from Granada at the Santa Justa train station.  At the station, we easily hailed a cab which brought us to the outskirts of the Santa Cruz neighborhood.  Because cars are not allowed, we easily rolled our luggage to the Hotel Murillo, where we stayed for four nights.  We paid around 75E or $100US per night.

Hotel Murillo entrance
The gentleman at the reception desk was very friendly and because our visit was a special anniversary, we received an upgrade to a suite.   Our room was small, with marble steps that led to the bed, a small but comfortable couch, a marble bathroom and a small outdoor patio.  The hotel served breakfast (for a fee) in the hotel’s lower level; we ate here once and regretted it. The fruit was canned and the rest was nothing to write home about. 

Small but pretty room
The hotel had a roof deck with a small bar but unfortunately, it was only open from noon - 5pm, when the sun was at its strongest (90 degrees in early October). Not sure why anyone would want to sit on a roof during those hours!  Luckily, the hotel's vending machine sold beer and jamon (ham)-flavored potato chips, so we enjoyed two absolutely beautiful sunsets with a cold drink, looking out over Sevilla, which was breathtaking. 
View from the rooftop deck
The BEST part of staying in this hotel was its location in the Santa Cruz neighborhood.  With its narrow streets and alleys, intimate squares, history and architecture, the neighborhood is amazing, especially at night when the night-blooming jasmine comes out. 

A Recommendation on Length of Stay in these Cities:

If planning a similar trip, here’s what I would have done differently with nine nights:

Barcelona – 5 nights
Granada – 2 nights
Seville – 2 nights


Barcelona - 7 nights
Granada – 2 nights
Sevilla – another time!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Beer, Canals, Frites and More Beer: Two Nights in Bruges

Anyone who has seen the 2008 film In Bruges may remember this quote by Ray (Colin Farrell), "Maybe that's what hell is, the entire rest of eternity spent in flippin' Bruges."  Intrigued by the picturesque, romantic village portrayed in this movie, I made Bruges a must-see stop on an April trip the the Netherlands and Belgium. Here's a (brief) trip report from my visit.

En route by train from Amsterdam with a quick stop on Antwerp, we arrived in Bruges 1.5 hours later for a two-night stay on a cloudy day in April.  From the train station, we hopped in a taxi that brought us to the center of town and to the delightful Hotel Cavalier on Kuipersstraat, just outside of the town’s main square, Market Square.

Market Square
Since I was traveling with my brother and a hometown friend, we chose budget-friendly Hotel Cavalier due to its excellent location to restaurants, shops (lots of chocolate!), and sights.  The owner was very pleasant and welcoming and helped us carry our luggage to our triple room on the third floor.  We were thankful for the help as the stairs were very steep.  

Hotel Cavalier
The Hotel Cavalier offered comfortable beds, clean rooms and a very quiet atmosphere, which we appreciated.   The breakfast room was absolutely beautiful and the owner served soft or hard boiled eggs, meats, cheeses, fruit, yogurt, cereal, toast/bread, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and juices every morning.   Overall, a very good value and a very friendly place to stay and I can recommend this hotel to anyone.

En route from hotel to Market Square
After checking in, we set out to explore Bruges and more importantly, find some lunch.  Despite the mobs of tourists, Bruges’ historic Market Square was one of the most picturesque squares I have ever seen.  With its Gothic architecture, cobbled streets, multitude of flags, bell tower and horse and buggies, Bruges makes you feel like you’re in a medieval fairytale.  The square itself is lined with colorful buildings and umbrella-covered cafes.  There are also a couple vendors selling frites (Belgian-style French fries) with many different dipping choices – the frites were amazing! 

Market Square

Market Square
Cafes in Market Square
We found three open seats outdoors at the Craenenburg Café and relaxed with a few beers and some sandwiches.  At Craenenburg Café, I discovered my favorite beer of my Netherlands/Belgium trip, Brugse Zot, a delicious beer brewed right in Bruges.   I love how every beer in Holland and Belgium has its very own glass to match.

After lunch, we walked around the streets and canals, taking in the scene, aware of the threatening rain clouds over our heads. 

Organola Player

We walked around Burg Square, spent some time in the Groeninge Museum, the Basilica of the Holy Blood and the Church of our Lady, where we saw Michelangelo's depiction of the Madonna and Child.

We also walked around the courtyard of Begijnhof, a monastery for the Benedictine nuns who live there.  The courtyard was very quiet and peaceful but unfortunately it started pouring and we ducked into a beer bar for a beer or two.   

Unfortunately, after the rain stopped, it was too late for the De Halve Maan Brewery Tour, where Brugse Zot is brewed.  Oh well, next time!

After a nap, we ate at Bierbrasserie Cambrinus, a pub with more than 400 kinds of beer on its very heavy menu.  We enjoyed tasting several different beers and a Belgian dinner.  All in all, a great atmosphere and inexpensive choice for dinner.  

Day Two

After breakfast at the hotel, we walked to Market Square to tackle the belfry of Bruges, or Belfort, a medieval bell tower.  We paid the minimal entry fee, climbed up the (painful) 366 steps, with its narrow and slightly claustrophobic stairwell, and were rewarded by an incredible, amazing view at the top of the tower.  I wished it had been a clearer day for photographs but oh well!

View from the Bellfort
After descending the bell tower, we rented three bicycles and biked the four miles along the relatively flat, paved outskirts of Bruges.  We followed a canal, riding by two windmills and beautiful countryside, arriving in the small village of Damme, a small version of Bruges.    

Cruising on the bikes was very relaxing and scenic and we spent some time riding around town exploring before sitting down on the outdoor patio at Bij Lamme Goedzak for lunch and a beer.  This was an extremely tasty and enjoyable meal but I did read on Trip Advisor that the restaurant is now closed.

Back in Bruges, we napped and then headed out to one of Bruges’s many bars to enjoy some Chimay. 

After a while, I left my brother and friend, the sun was finally shining and I wanted to photograph some of Bruges’ beautiful canals.  I spent a couple hours wandering around Bruges’ streets admiring the architecture, stopping in at an internet café to send an email or two to my family.

In addition to loading up on Belgian chocolate for souvenirs for family and friends, I bought two Brugse Zot glasses to bring back to Boston with me.  I can buy this beer at the craft beer shop down the street from my house in Boston for a very steep price but at least I can use my glasses.

On the way back to the hotel, about 10 minutes from Market Square, I ate a delightful, three-course dinner at a quiet bistro on a side street.  The owners were lovely people and the steak was fabulous and I wish I could tell you the name of this little gem, but it escapes me and I cannot find it online.  Sad!

Thanks for reading, next stop, Brussels!  To learn more about Bruges, click here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Beautiful Barbados


We arrived in Barbados on a sunny New Year’s Eve in 2010, ready for 10 relaxing days of sunshine, relaxation and great food.  We definitely picked the right island because Barbados offers plenty of all three! 

We hopped in a cab and were whisked to the Accra Beach Hotel and Spa, located on Accra/Rockley Beach in Christ Church, one of 11 parishes on the island.  The hotel is located on the south coast of Barbados on a sandy, white beach, about 15 minutes from the island’s capital, Bridgetown. 

Accra/Rockley Beach

The Accra Beach Hotel and Spa offers a gorgeous strip of beach, access to the south coast’s boardwalk, three swimming pools with a swim-up bar, a stellar location near St. Lawrence Gap (an area with restaurants and fun nightlife), easy access to public transportation and plenty of bars and restaurants within walking distance.  

Acrra Beach Resort's beach
The resort’s beach, while slightly crowded, offers white sand and beautiful warm Caribbean water.  We took turns waking up early to run out and claim two chairs and an umbrella on the beach (a negative about our resort).  Drinks at the resort were very expensive ($10US for small plastic cup of rum punch) so we bought a bottle of rum and some beers from the convenient store in Quayside Plaza (across the street) which we kept in our refrigerator.  Much more economical.

To the left of Accra’s beach, past the small stretch of public beach, is the Bar Kanei, which offers simple West Indian fare and drinks.  If you enter the water in front of the bar and carefully swim out, you will find a small reef and decent snorkeling; we saw turtles and a large variety of fish here.

Bar Kanei at Sunset
The beautiful restaurant Champers sits atop the cliff.   A great spot for a romantic dinner or a cocktail!

To the left of Accra Beach, Champers Restaurant
To the right of the resort’s beach is the Allamanda Beach Hotel, which offers happy hour specials and comfy chairs for watching the sunset.  The south coast boardwalk also starts to the right of our resort and is described in more detail below. 

From the Allamanda Beach Hotel
Celebrating - Old Year’s Night in Barbados (aka New Year’s Eve)

The south coast of Barbados features an excellent public transportation system of small mini-vans that stop frequently and cram as many folks in as possible.  Each ride is $1 and usually includes some fun music.  Outside of the Accra, we hopped on the bus to join the locals and tourists celebrating Old Year’s Night at the Friday night fish fry in Oistins, a small fishing village.   

At Oistins
Once off the bus, we found lots of people and rows and rows of stalls selling food, mostly fresh fish, crafts and beer.  We couldn’t decide which stall to buy food from so we sampled several different dishes from various vendors, eating delicious flying fish, salad and my very favorite macaroni pie, Barbados’ version of macaroni and cheese.  After dinner, we sipped Banks Beer and listened to live music, watching people dance and celebrate Old Year’s Night.  Highly recommend a trip to Oistins. 

Fish on the grill

For breakfast, we usually walked across the street to the Quayside Shopping Plaza, which offers a convenient store, several restaurants and an Italian café.   Although we ate breakfast several times a la carte at the Accra’s restaurant, we frequented the café which offered fantastic iced and hot coffee, muffins, croissants and breads for very reasonable prices. Also located in this plaza is Just Grillin', a restaurant that grills up the catch of the day, as well as chicken, steak and salads.  We ate there twice; it was informal and fantastic!

A typical day for us included lounging on the beach with our books all morning.  The weather in Barbados was HOT and sunny all 10 days we were there.  We discovered a woman selling flying fish plates, soups, chicken, rice and peas and salad for cheap from her van parked in the lot at Rockley Beach.  We also stumbled upon Chicken George and his small rum bar behind the small public beach to the left of our hotel.  Chicken George offered rum punch in three strengths: regular, strong and fully loaded.  We chose the strong and strong it was!  

Later in the day, we enjoyed waling down the boardwalk that started near our hotel and ends at Camelot, but we walked past the Coconut Court Hotel and then back again.  The boardwalk, full of walkers and joggers (and even weddings!), hugs the shoreline and takes you past hotels, bars, restaurants and gazebos.   

South coast boardwalk
We stopped at the Coconut Court Beach Hotel which offers a beautiful beach full of natural shade from the tall palm trees, just gorgeous, long enough to order two-for-one rum punches from its tiny beach bar and very friendly bartender.  Sprinkled with nutmeg, these rum punches were some of the best! 

Past the Coconut Court Beach Hotel, we found the Amaryllis Beach Resort, which offered a very pretty beach.

Cruising with Sail Calabaza

Wanting a day out at sea, we did our research in advance and chose Calabaza Sailing Cruises after reading that Gina limits the number of guests on her catamaran to 12.  We booked in advance and as promised, a driver promptly picked us up at our hotel to bring us to the port in Bridgetown.

Day at Sea with Calabaza
The crew which included Gina, Danny and Chad (all very friendly!) welcomed us aboard and offered us banana bread and coffee, tea, rum punch, water - whatever we wanted!   While we sailed, Gina and her crew brought out rounds of yummy appetizers, such as fish cakes and sliced roti and kept the cold drinks coming. Because the boat was not crowded, we were really able to spread out and relax.

We stopped in Carlisle Bay to check out some sunken ships and saw tons of fish. We also stopped at Paynes Bay to swim with the turtles. We anchored near Sandy Lane and ate Gina's delicious West Indian lunch and went swimming. 

Carlisle Bay

Sandy Lane
We found Gina to be very personable, answering our questions about the island and offering her insight on her favorite places. All in all, a fabulous day and I would recommend this cruise to anyone!

To the left of Sandy Lane
Driving on the Island

Renting a car on Barbados is not cheap but we reserved in advance with Stoutes Car Rental Ltd.  We originally requested a two-day rental but after one day out, we decided it was enough.  A representative from Stoutes met us at the Accra and soon enough we were on our way.  With the driver’s seat on the right and the driving lane on the left-hand size of the road, we really had to pay attention.

Our car

Here are some pictures of the amazing beaches on Barbados' rugged Atlantic east end we visited with our car.

Cattlewash Beach
Taken above Bathsheba

Bottom Bay
Crane Beach (sorry, this pic does not do this beach justice!)
On the way home, we stopped at Cutters, a small, friendly deli near Crane Beach for flying fish sandwiches and really tasty rum punches served in a large goblet.  YUM!

Another beach worth mentioning that we visited without a car (via the public transportation vans) is Enterprise (Miami) Beach which offered natural shade, calm water and our favorite food vendor, Mr. Delicious!  We rented chairs and spent a full day relaxing in the shade - perfect!

En route to Enterprise Beach

Natural shade on the beach
Mr. Delicious!

We also spent some time on Dover Beach, a white sandy beach located close to St. Lawrence Gap. The beach was wide and very lively, lined with hotels, water sport equipment and vendors.  Beautiful!

Dover Beach

Barbados offers wonderful dining for all budgets!  From cliff-side, oceanfront dining to the food truck in the beach parking lot, we could not go wrong!

Here are some of our favorites:

Oistins Friday night Fish Fry
Champers, Christ Church – drinks on the cliff with a view

Along the boardwalk: Tapas, Nice spot, went once for drinks and once for dinner, sitting on top floor.
Mama Mia Italian Bistro – across from the street from Coconut Court Hotel for salads, thin-crust pizzas and beer.
Flying Fish in the Yellowbird Hotel (not sure if this restaurant is still open) but it offered steel pan! 
Reggae Grill, Shak Shak Complex, Hastings Main Road, Barbados, jerk chicken, great service
Waterfront Café, The Careenage, Bridgetown, Barbados – Expensive but good drinks and fun atmosphere
Just Grillin', Worthing, across from the Accra in the Quayside Plaza, fresh fish grilled, tasty, cheap and simple!
Ackee Tree Restaurant, Hastings, fresh ingredients, large size, delicious, for lunch with a cold beer. Flat thin bread, choose chicken, beef, goat, shrimp, conch (or combination) then vegetables such as potato, pumpkin, spinach, chick pea then all folded and wrapped. Yum!
Mr. Delicious, Miami Beach, flying fish sandwiches and rum punch for lunch

Liming (Enjoying Oneself Immensely) and Places for Drinks:

And here’s where we had drinks:

Rum bars (where you buy rum and mixers by the bottle, not by drink!):
Watering Hole in St. Lawrence Gap, really fun karaoke
Hercules in Oistins, very lively, lots of fun
Chicken George (very strong rum punch)

Rums bars at Rockley
Beach Bars:
Carib Beach Bar, dancing, food looked good, on the beach en route to St. Lawrence Gap
Allamanda Hotel on the Boardwalk has music every Sunday evening from about 5ish...and you can sit at the bar, round the pool or on the beach.
Tiki Bar is right next door to the Allamanda and has live music on certain days.

Other Bars:
Drink at the Hilton, beautiful property but the beach did not compare Accra Beach (looked manmade)
Reggae Lounge- We love reggae, so we loved this lounge in St. Lawrence Gap!
Bert’s Bar, sports bar, great for a drink, within walking distance to Accra Beach Resort


The end.  Thanks for reading about my trip to Barbados.  To learn more about Barbados, click here.  Where to next?  Two days in Bruges, Belgium.