Travel Scoop With Richard Levy: Fasten Your Seat Belts

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Welcome aboard my new travel column. Each month I will be sharing my insider travel scoop with you to make your next vacation more exciting, memorable and affordable. Nothing rejuvenates, energizes and reboots you like a very memorable vacation.

John Steinbeck said, “You don’t take a vacation, it takes you.” Nobody on their death bed ever said, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.”

As NIKE has been telling you, “Just do it.” Don’t put off that vacation. Since this is my first column, here’s a taste of my 10 favorite places.

Ravello

Amalfi Coast

Perched high above Italy’s Amalfi Coast is my best kept secret.

Breathtaking panoramic views of picturesque villages and glistening sea below. The air smells like crushed lemons. Stay in the spectacular “La Dolce Vita” apartment where I stayed with terrace overlooking the Amalfi Coast. To get a great deal, mention my name to Madalina at info@ravelloapartments.it. Or splurge at 5-Star Caruso hotel with an infinity pool that goes to the edge of the mountain.

My favorite restaurant is Cumpa Cosimo, where Mama Netta asks, “Maybe you’d like some more?” Nightly concerts in ancient churches and modern sculptured Ravello Auditorium. The historic Villa Ruffalo inspired Wagner to write his opera Parsifal and medieval Villa Cimbrone, where Gretta Garbo went when she “wanted to be alone.” It has one of Italy’s grand plazas.

Check out Ceramiche d’Arte ceramic factory. Ravello is Italy’s best kept secret. If you go, don’t tell anyone.

Nice

Negresco Hotel

The Côte d’Azur captures all of your senses. It’s seductively French. The air is an intoxicating blend of ocean breezes, flowers and grilled seafood.

In the casino you’ll expect to see James Bond playing at the next table. People-watch in the cafes along the promenade.

Stay in classic Negresco hotel. Lunch at La Colombe d’Or in nearby Saint-Paul de Vence. Its walls covered with Impressionist paintings traded by starving artists for room and board.

Visit Grasse, famous for its perfumeries; for 70 Euros they’ll create a scent for you. Soak up the Côte d’Azur sun on the stone-covered beach. Try not to stare at topless beauties playing volleyball while reading your Kindle.

Brugge (Bruges)

Belfrey and Cathedral of Bruges from Lantern Tower

This storybook Belgium city is like going back 1,000 years. This “Venice of the North” has canals winding through this historic city, just an hour from Brussels. Stay in charming Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce hotel; book room overlooking canal. Take romantic canal ride.

Walk up 366 steps of 13th Century Belfry of Bruges for amazing views. Cobblestone streets are filled with quaint restaurants, cafes and shops. Indulge in handcrafted chocolates and the best frites ever from carts on street. This is truly a magical kingdom.


Berlin

Fernsehturn TV tower, Europe’s tallest. Berlin

No city is as captivating. Historic sites, fabulous museums, gourmet restaurants, luxurious hotels, risqué cabarets and the Berlin Philharmonic. Canals wind their way through this city that never sleeps. Take a Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour.

Visit the Berlin Wall left standing and Checkpoint Charlie that separated East and West Berlin. The Fernsehturm TV tower, tallest in Europe. The new Germans are very remorseful about the Holocaust. Their “Memorial to the Murdered,” an entire block of thousands of different sized, huge concrete slabs.

Last December, I visited the historic Brandenburg Gate, which at one time was adorned with swastikas, but now for Jewish holiday of Hanukkah there was a huge Menorah right in front of it.

Curacao

Dolphin Academy Curacao Sea Aquarium

This unspoiled Caribbean island is my favorite. Safely out of the Hurricane belt. Very Dutch, almost like Amsterdam with palm trees. Fabulous beaches, dive sites, gourmet restaurants, charming hotels and vibrant night life.

The oldest synagogue in the Western hemisphere. Willemstad its capital has a skyline of pastel-colored Dutch Colonial houses, a World Heritage site.

“Animal Encounters” at the Curacao Sea Aquarium you can snorkel and hand-feed fish and manta rays, and even feed sharks through a food-port in the glass barrier.

The national dish “Keshi Yena” is hollowed out Gouda cheese stuffed with spicy chicken and baked. My favorite airline, Jet Blue, is the best way to fly to this amazing island.

Bermuda

Leave your office or home at 6 p.m., take a taxi to the airport, and in just two hours you can be dining in a romantic beachfront restaurant. Perfect for a long weekend “without the kids.” If Bermuda was a car, it would be a Rolls-Royce. This, indeed, is the most sophisticated island.

World-class golf courses, luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants and duty-free shopping. Rent a scooter and take off to an isolated beach for a romantic afternoon. Dinner at Rick’s Casablanca-themed restaurant; afterwards, dance until midnight.

The weather’s never too hot, spring-like year-round. In two hours you’re back home feeling like a new person.

Lucca

Leaning Tower of Pisa

A historic walled city only an hour from Florence. No cars; walk or bicycle everywhere. Stroll the two-and-a-half mile 40′ ramparts. Built in 1555 to protect the city from invaders, and now “tourists.”

Live music every night, usually Puccini since he was born here. Go to nearby Pisa to see if the Tower is still leaning. Spend a day at local beach in Viareggio, take a cabana, devour a seafood lunch.

The Berkshires

Red Lion Inn

The ultimate cultural escape two hours away. Tanglewood’s world-class music, the Broadway-quality Stockbridge Theatre and amazing dance at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. All surrounded by rolling hills, farms, corn-filled silos and happy cows.

Stay in historic Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. Dinner at The Old Mill, visit Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Hike to 60’ high Bash Bish Falls.

Budapest

Basilica St. Stephens. Budapest

Occupied for 300 years by Turks, Austrians, Nazis, Russians and free only since 1985. Hungarians are fun-loving and welcoming. Go to Gellért Baths, an art nouveau-tiled bath house. Catch a Klezmer concert and three-course goose dinner at Spinoza Café.

Visit Great Synagogue, second largest in the world. Visit historic St. Stephen’s Basilica. Lunch at art nouveau New York Café. Take evening cruise around the historic illuminated harbor.

Be moved by Shoes on the Danube Bank monument of old shoes along edge of Danube to remember thousands of Jews lined up, ordered to take off their shoes and shot.

Hungarians live to eat; restaurants are fabulous and affordable. Try their delicious goulash soup, chicken paprikash and stuffed cabbage. Yum.

Florence

Birth of Venus

My favorite Italian city. Favorite statue David, favorite cathedral the Duomo, favorite museum Uffizi Gallery, favorite painting Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” favorite bridge Ponte Vecchio. Avoid long lines, purchase “David & Uffizi tickets” before you go, then go to the front of every line.

Stay in 17th Century Hotel Pendini near the Duomo cathedral.

Go to the huge food market for incredible hand-carved prosciutto and homemade cheese; wash it down with Tuscan red (my favorite wine).

You’ll find more travel scoop about my 10 favorite places and other insider travel writer secrets at www.RichardLevyTravelWriter.com. Until next month, Ciao.

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