Monday, November 24, 2014

My New Favorite Travel Companion



If you travel internationally, you know what a hassle it can be to get online without racking up huge roaming charges. Lots of people buy a local SIM card but they're not always available and many devices don't take them. Plus, a new SIM means a new phone number...more hassle!

Many of my travel-planning clients ask about connectivity for their upcoming trips to France...and I'd been wondering for a while about those mobile hotspots that you can rent for travel. They create a WiFi signal wherever you are, for when there's no WiFi and you don't want to use your own 3G or 4G. Such as? In a car, on a bus or train, in a rental house, on the street or in any shop or restaurant without WiFi. Or, where the WiFi is so slow it makes you nuts.

When my client Joyce Rothenberg--a tour operator who brings groups to France--used one on her recent trip and told me it was fantastic, I knew I wanted to give it a try. So I got myself one from Travel WiFi...and to get it back they'll have to pry it from my clenched little fists. I love this thing!

Prices depend on the length of your trip, starting at 6€ per day (for 30 days). A seven-day rental is 48€; a three-day rental is 30€.  Readers of Provence Post will get a 10% discount by using the link below. 

If you're thinking oh no, not another gadget with cords and adapters and complicated instructions...this isn't like that at all. In fact the company clearly set out to make the process as easy and pleasant as possible. Hey, your little hotspot arrives in a small flat box with a cookie in it. How many companies send you shortbread just for fun?

The device itself is tiny--smaller than a deck of cards--and the instructions are super easy. Basically, you use the little cord to charge it as needed...then input the password that appears conveniently on the back of the device...and off you go, browsing the web, downloading emails, sending photos and more, all at 4G speed. (If 4G is unavailable in your area, you'll get 3G or 3G+.) If you know where you're going in France, you can check the coverage map here.

Most clients order their hotspot once they know their travel dates...and have it sent to wherever they're staying in France: hotel, hostel, private home, rental. (For the time being, the company only ships to France.) Or, you can reserve one and pick it up at Travel Wifi's office in Paris....where, the website says, you'll be offered a cup of coffee and lots of Paris travel tips! If your rental starts on a weekend when the office is closed, they'll find a way for you to get it. 

When you're done, you pop it into the box and into the pre-paid envelope and send it back.

Travel WiFi's devices work with laptops, tablets and smartphones. They're totally wireless: toss it in your purse or backpack, leave it on the dashboard, keep it in your pocket. Use is totally unlimited: you can suck up as much data as your heart desires with no hidden fees or small print or exceptions. And you can share your connection with up to nine other devices at the same time. Yep, the whole family can be online at once. Two families!

Considering that data access while roaming can cost up to 10€ per MB depending on the country and plan, the daily rental price really seems like nothing. Think of the time we've all spent on the road, searching for a good WiFi signal...time that could be spent doing just about anything else. And given that you're not changing your SIM, your phone number stays the same...another big bonus, in my book.

It is possible to buy (rather than rent) personal hotspots, for roughly 100€ to 200€. But then you'll need a different SIM card and subscription for every country you visit. For most travelers, a short rental is a far better option. I assume these devices are now available for rental all over the world, but the Travel WiFi one works only in France; beyond that you're on your own.

There are quite a few companies that now offer the same type of device but I had a super positive experience with Travel WiFi...so I'm really happy to recommend it to anyone coming to France. And because I know how y'all love a deal, I asked company co-founder Jonathan Justman to give you a 10% discount and of course he said ''bien sur!'' So be sure to book by clicking here or you won't get the discount.  You're welcome!

Questions: contact@travel-wifi.com, tel +33 (0)1 76 44 00 30.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Millévin Wine Festival Thursday in Avignon


Everybody grab your breathalyzer! It's time once again for Millévin, the annual festival in Avignon celebrating the primeur (early or new) wines and other Côtes du Rhône vintages. Primeur, in this case, refers to wines sold in the year the grapes are harvested. The idea is similar to the Beaujolais Nouveau, with the wines officially released the third Thursday in November. 

This year, Millévin (Thursday, November 20) features both morning and evening events where you can taste and purchase regional wines, gourmet food chalets, a winemakers' parade and special menus in participating restaurants. The event is designed for consumers, the trade and all other "adeptes de la bonne humeur."

Festivities begin at with preview tastings of the Côtes du Rhône Primeurs (12 wineries) in the Les Halles market from 10 am to 1 pm. Then, on the Place de l’Horloge (6 to 9 pm; 5€ per person for a glass, five tasting tickets and a breathalyzer), local wine co-ops and winemakers will be offerings tastes and bottles for sale, of both new wines and other Côtes du Rhône vintages. Chalets will be serving and selling regional products including charcuterie, oysters, sweets and more. There will be wine quizzes, a photo competition, a "Nez du Vin'' test that pits wine student against the public and of course, a lot of people hanging around sipping and shmoozing. 

The Défilé des Confréries starts at 6:15  pm, with roughly 160 winemakers and other wine-industry folks, parading along Rue de la République to the Place de l’Horloge, where they'll sing the beautiful Provencal song, La Coupo Santo.  Then, everyone heads off to various restaurants where, from 8 pm, special Côtes du Rhône menus are being offered (with a free glass of Côtes du Rhône of course). A list of participating restaurants and a map is here. 

For all the info, go to: millevin.fr. If you don't find what you need there, you can call the Avignon Tourist Office (04 32 74 32 74 ) or Inter-Rhone: 04 90 27 24 00, maison@inter-rhone.com, vins-rhone.com.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Provence Prestige: Nov 20 to 24 in Arles


The 2oth annual Provence Prestige show opens Thursday November 20  at the Palais des Congrès in Arles. This festive holiday-theme market fills a number of vast indoor expo halls with 3500 square meters of holiday goodies, gifts, home decor, food and wine, clothes, accessories, books and much more. And it's all made in Provence by exhibitors who agree to the terms of a special ''locally made'' charter. Some 30,000 visitors and roughly 140 exhibitors are expected.

As in years past there will be Christmas workshops for kids and this year, a carousel in front of the exhibit hall. 

Tickets are 6€ (adults), 3€ (ages 12 to 18 and groups), and free for kids under 12. Tickets for Provence Prestige entitle you to discounted admission at the Musée Départemental de l’Arles Antique (MDAA) and the Musée Réattu but only while Provence Prestige is on. This would be a great chance to see the 50-ton, 31-meter, roughly 2000-year-old Roman barge called Arles Rhone 3 that was pulled from the muddy depths of the Rhone River in 2011 and painstakingly restored. It was put on display in a tailor-built wing of the MDAA last month, along with 450 other artifacts linked to navigation on the Rhone in antiquity.

Provence Prestige show hours are Thursday November 20 to  Monday November 24th, from 10 am to 7 pm, with special late hours (until 11 pm) on Friday November 21. All the info is on the main website here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Seven New Low-Priced Paris Hotels

Above: The Hilton Paris Opera, opening in January
Hotel Indigo Paris Opera (2)
Villa Saxe Eiffel
The Idol, opening next month
Le Lapin Blanc
Hotel Moliere (2)
citizenM Charles de Gaulle (3)

The big Paris hotel news lately has been the recent opening of the Peninsula and re-opening of the Plaza Athénée, both of them on August 1, 2014. There’s also big buzz about the renovation of the super-luxe Crillon (reopening in late 2015)  and the three-year, €300-million redo of the Ritz (reopening fall/winter 2015). But for those of us who need a more approachable (love that euphemism!) address in the City of Light, here are seven stylish new Paris hotels to consider...all of them new this year or just getting set to open soon. 

*The four-star, 48-room Villa Saxe Eiffel opened in February, in the 7th arrondisement. The goal, the owners say, was to create a soothing atmosphere, with rooms that are “beautiful, simple, and above all, inviting and comfortable.” The minimalist décor is graced by amenities such as linens by Garnier-Thiebaut, Italian lighting, Fragonard bath products and lots of nice tech such as HD TV, iPhone 5 docks, connections for other devices and international satellite TV. There’s a fitness area, with sauna and massage chair, and a restaurant, called La Verriere, open all day. Rates from 165€. villa-saxe-eiffel.com , +33 (0)1 47 83 86 90, hotel@villa-saxe-eiffel.com.

*Le Lapin Blanc opened in June.  It's a boutique hotel in the city center, close to close to the Sorbonne,  the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Latin Quarter.  It has 27 rooms including three suites….and serves breakfast but otherwise has no restaurant. The artist and architect who collaborated on the design chose an Alice in Wonderland theme, with soft colors and whimsical patterns.  Le Lapin Blanc (and the two hotels that follow) all belong to the Châteaux & Hôtels Collection, which celebrates reasonably priced, independently owned hotels with unique personalities. Rates from 150€. hotel-lapin-blanc.fr, +33 (0) 1 53 10 27 77, info@hotel-lapin-blanc.com

*The four-star boutique Hôtel Molière (in the 1st arrondisement) opened in September, not far from the Comedie-Francaise and the Chatelet Theater, within walking distance of the Seine, Place Vendome, Louvre and Opera Garnier. It's an area that was once home to Royal families, now known for culture, entertainment, traditional architecture, haute couture and formal French gardens. The building itself dates to 1840 and, as its name suggests, the decor celebrates the theatrical: look for dramatic red drapes, furniture inspired by the 17th century and more. The 27-room hotel has a wellness center (sauna, steam, fitness) and belongs to the Chateaux & Hotels Collection, like Le  Lapin Blanc just above and the Idol just below. Rates from 250€.  Hotel-moliere.fr, +33 (0)1 42 96 22 01, info@hotel-moliere.fr

*The four-star, 32-room Idol Hotel (in the 8th) will open next month (December). Set on rue d’ Edimbourg, it’s just a (Rolling) stone’s throw from the Garnier Opera on the same street as the Conservatoire Municipal de Paris. It’s an area known for musical instrument makers and instrument shops. Appropriately, this fun, funky hotel celebrates all types of music but especially jazz, soul and funk from the 1960s to the '80s. The website lists upcoming musical festivals and shows, which you can see here.  Opening rates from 195€. idolhotel-paris.com, +33 (0)1 45 22 14 31, contact@idolhotel-paris.com

*The Hotel Indigo Paris Opera--the first Hotel Indigo in France-- opened in September  on a quiet pedestrian street just next to Place de l’Opéra, close to the Louvre and the Tuilleries, Galleries Lafayette and Printemps. The area is best known for its ornate opera house, The Palais Garnier, which inspired Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera. GM Vincent Poulingue says “We’re right at the heart of the action. Paris is brimming with history and culture, and this neighborhood provides the perfect base for exploring our enchanting city.” Like the other 59 Indigo Hotels around the world, the Indigo Paris Opera is designed to reflect its surroundings; it’s a fully renovated 4-star boutique property, which the company (IHG Hotels) calls “a modern interpretation of the authentic Parisian style.” Among the 57 rooms there are 12 suites and duplex apartments, some overlooking the Eiffel Tower. The hotel restaurant and wine bar, Tartares, has 42 seats, a terrace, and a sommelier who loves to propose perfect food and wine pairings. Rates from 150€. Hotelindigo.com, +33 (0)1 44 80 00 32. Toll free from US:  877 8 INDIGO.

*The Hilton Paris Opera will debut in January, 2015 following a $50-million restoration by designer Fiona Thompson, who also did the Trianon Palace (Versailles), the Four Seasons Anahita (Mauritius) and The Langham (London). Formerly the Concorde Paris Opera, the 268-room hotel (with 29 suites) sits in the heart of the Right Bank, a stone’s throw from the Champs-Elysées, Opéra Square and Rue de la Paix. Many museums are within walking distance. "The hotel will be quite a departure from how most travellers think of 'a Hilton,' a spokesperson told me. "It offers a modern blend of history and glamour, with sleek styling in celebration of the 125-year legacy of this classic Parisian hotel." The design includes a magnificent entrance hall adorned with frescoes, Corinthian colonnades, original balustrades, chandeliers set with crystals and mosaic flooring. There are seven meeting rooms--including one with vintage Baccarat crystal chandeliers--plus a new Executive Lounge and state-of-the art gym. The hotel GM is Sofia Vandaele, who was last at the London Hotel (New York) and, before that, with W Hotels in New York and the Sheraton Belgravia in London. Rates from 299€. parisopera.hilton.com, +33 (0) 1 40 08 44 44. 

And one at the airport…

*The citizenM Charles de Gaulle Airport opened in June, boasting one-minute check in times, XL king beds, wall-to-wall guestroom windows, high-pressure rain showers, free WiFi throughout, free current movies, hair dryers (“and not the dodgy kind!”)…and rooms starting at 79€. Plus, members of the loyalty club get 15% discounts. Its located in the central zone of the airport, ½ hour from central Paris. Instead of a restaurant, the hotel has the CanteenM, a “24/7 food and drink oasis” where you can get sweets, sandwiches, soups, drinks and much more, to eat in or take out. This is the first citizenM in France, and the 7th hotel worldwide for the Dutch-owned brand.  Their first US property opened on Times Square in Manhattan in May, 2014. Future plans include another hotel in New York (on the Bowery, coming in 2016), plus three additional London properties and hotels in Rome, Istanbul, Zurich, Barcelona and more. Booking is online only at: citizenM.com

Note: For more affordable Paris hotels, click here and make sure to see the listings at the end of the story as well.

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