ALL POSTS IN [Oyster Spotlights]

Barcelona

Barcelona is Spain’s coolest and most modern city. Tourists pour from every corner of the world to experience the town’s vibrant nightlife, excellent cuisine, beautiful Gothic and one-of-a-kind Modernist architecture, and cutting-edge design scene. This — and the great Mediterranean climate — means you might find crowds wherever you go, but it’ll be worth it for sites like the bizarre Sagrada Familia cathedral, world-class MACBA museum, hopping Barri Gotic neighborhood, and unusual Parc Guell. Plus, the Catalonia capital is arguably one of the top party destinations in Spain (along with Madrid and Ibiza Island).

The luxurious Majestic Hotel & Spa has a prime location, steps from designer shops and Gaudi monuments. All rooms are spacious with modern bathrooms; suites offer views over Passeig de Gracia, and some have private terraces and 24-hour personalized service. Another luxury option, which nonetheless offers a solid value, is Hotel Icaria Barcelona. It doesn’t boast the location of the Majestic Hotel, but it offers a large, sunny fitness center, a rooftop pool, and stylish rooms. Acevi Villarroel, which also often offers reasonable rates, has family-friendly features such as family-size suites, a breakfast buffet, and a quiet location in a residential neighborhood.

Rio de Janeiro

Host to the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro is continuing to grow as a tourist destination and its beaches are a major draw. Practically year-round, beaches are crowded with visitors and locals. The beaches not only provide a space for lounging, surfing, and swimming, but also hang-gliding and para-gliding — popular sports in Rio de Janeiro due to its high mountains and good wind conditions. Visitors wishing to stay near the beaches typically choose the South Zone (Zona Sul), which is home to the majority of the city’s hotels. Porto Bay Rio Internacional Hotel sits right across the street from the beach in Copacabana. This hotel features clean, simple rooms and great views – even from the fitness center.

The uber-luxurious Relais & Chateaux Santa Teresa is located (as the name suggests) in Santa Teresa, a beautiful, historic area with gorgeous old buildings, museums, historic sites, and art galleries, about a 20-minute drive away from Rio’s beaches. This historic-mansion-turned-boutique-hotel on a former coffee plantation features gorgeous tropical décor, a lovely spa, and a rooftop pool with amazing views.

- Oyster.com Staff

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Nicaragua

Nicaragua is still a diamond in the rough, but it offers many of the same splendors that draw travelers to its neighbor to the south, Costa Rica — lush rainforest, beautiful white-sand beaches, volcanoes, and rich wildlife. Other draws? The great surfing, charming Spanish Colonial towns, enormous lakes, low crime rates, and friendly locals. With the opening of the rustic-luxe Aqua Wellness Resort in 2011 and the uber-luxuriousMukul earlier this year, the country is poised to become the next tourism hot spot. The country is already popular with the backpacker and adventure travel crowd, just as Costa Rica was before it saw an explosion of resort development.

Those planning a getaway to Central America should note that there are a few advantages to traveling to Nicaragua over Costa Rica. Nicaragua has much more Spanish Colonial history and charm, with historic churches and plazas in the towns of Granada and Leon. Because it is relatively undiscovered compared to Costa Rica, it also offers a more authentic experience — visitors might see locals riding horses and carts through the streets, fruit stands selling unripe mangoes and jocotes (tart snacks popular among the Nicaraguans), and one of the country’s many lively street festivals. Plus, prices for just about everything, including food and transportation, tend to be far cheaper.

- Oyster.com Staff

St. Lucia Spotlight

Unlike more developed Caribbean islands, such as Aruba and the Bahamas, the sparsely populated island-nation of Saint Lucia still maintains a sense of unspoiled, exotic beauty. Its landscapes of pristine beaches and mountainous terrain are among the most stunning you’ll find anywhere in the Caribbean (and that’s especially true at Jade Mountain, an uber-luxe getaway popular among celebrities).

Though it doesn’t offer much in the way of dining, shopping or nightlife for its tourists — apart from the few jazzy rum punch joints hugging its cruise ship ports — St. Lucia has seen an increase in restaurants and shops as more and more visitors arrive, which is a blessing and a curse. Nonetheless, the island has a decidedly tranquil vibe for a beautiful, calm vacation. A romantic boutique located on a historic cocoa plantation, Fond Doux offers a solid value, as does the family-friendly Windjammer Landing, with numerous pools and water sports.

- Oyster.com Staff

Because of its status as the seat of the government, DC boasts more landmarks than any city in the country (save New York). Most of them sit along the 2-mile-long rectangle known as the National Mall, bookended by the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol building. The monuments and memorials, named for America’s greatest heroes (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln) and some of its bloodiest wars (WWII, Korea, Vietnam), are most tourists’ starting points. Also high up on the list: the incomparable Smithsonian museums. Nowhere else in the country can you visit so many world-class institutions without dropping a dime.

It’s also worth spending some time outside the Mall. Georgetown is a pretty spot for a stroll, and visitors also enjoy a walk along the Potomac River. Both the luxury brands Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton have hotels in Georgetown. The Four Seasons is within walking distance of great shopping, and the hotel’s spa is enormous (and beautiful). The Ritz, located in an historic industrial building, is a lovely boutique option with elegant, spacious rooms. Visitors looking for a more budget-conscious option (that still has nice rooms and solid amenities) may consider Hotel Madera in Dupont Circle.

- Oyster.com Staff

Paris

Paris is the “city of light,” the most romantic city in the world, the art and fashion capital of the world — no wonder it is also the most visited city in the world. As France’s capital, Paris boasts a plethora of museums, monuments, and astounding examples of architecture, ranging from the iconic Eiffel Tower, built in 1889, to the Gothic-style Notre Dame Cathedral, dating back to the Middle Ages. Visitors often stroll along the Seine to take in the many sites, or walk down the Champs-Elysees, lined by high-end shops and crowned by the Arc de Triomphe. The city is very walkable and tourists are never at a want for things to do.

Each of Paris’s 20 arrondissements offers a range of hotels to choose from — from the tres-chic hotel to the quaint B&B. Generally speaking, the Right Bank is home to classically elegant hotels, whereas the Left Bank has artsy-er, more bohemian options that fit the area’s vibe. Hotel Apostrophe Rive Gauche, for example, is home to 16 rooms that feature distinct themes — like the “Musique” room, which has a hand-painted musical mural on the wall. It’s not a place for conformists — even the exterior is painted in a tree design, making it stand out among its more traditional neighbors. The Standard Design Hotel, on the Right Bank, is a solid upper-middle-range hotel that is a top value pick. This boutique property features creative, black and white decor in the common lounges, cozy breakfast room and bedrooms. The most iconic Parisian hotel, however, is likely the Plaza Athenee, which features gorgeous upscale rooms and views of the Eiffel Tower.

- Oyster.com Staff

San Antonio

Without a doubt, San Antonio is best known for The Alamo — the site where numerous Texans gave their lives during the Texas War of Independence. The city capitalizes on The Alamo’s popularity and offers numerous tours of the mission, as well as tours of other 18th-century missions in the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.

San Antonio is a cultural city as well. La Villita, the oldest neighborhood in San Antonio, boasts an old-fashioned market, complete with wool blankets and turquoise and silver jewelry. During the spring and summer, festivals are held almost every week and flamenco dancers often perform. To escape the oppressive summer heat, the young and hip cool down with maragaritas on River Walk, a winding street lined with restaurants and bars. The city has plenty for kids as well, with numerous amusement parks, bike paths, parks and gardens, and a zoo.

The downtown area is a popular place to stay, as it is close to the River Walk as well as numerous other attractions and businesses. The Mokara is undoubtedly the most luxurious option; swanky amenities include a beautiful rooftop pool, a premium spa and fine dining. The nearby Hyatt Regency, with a large pool with poolside dining, and spacious rooms with iPod docks, flat-screen TVs and “pack and play” sets upon request, is a family-friendly hotel. Budget-conscious travelers may consider the Four Points in the downtown area.

- Oyster.com

Though many visitors flock to Sydney during the winter (to enjoy the Australian city’s summer), spring is a great time to head Down Under, as autumn kicks off Sydney’s cultural season. And the cultural scene in Sydney should not be overlooked. One of the city’s most recognizable landmarks is the Sydney Opera House House, and both the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Gallery of New South Wales feature impressive collections. The Koala Park and Taronga Zoo are also popular among tourists, where they can spot kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas. And of course, Sydney has over 60 beaches, and the weather is still warm enough in early autumn for a dip in the water, and at the very least, a stroll along the sand.

For culture buffs, the Pullman Quay Grand Sydney Harbour overlooks the water, and is less than a 10-minute walk from the Opera House. The nearby Sir Stamford is another upscale option, but as a boutique hotel, it has a more intimate vibe. Perks include beautiful common spaces, filled with fireplaces, chandeliers, and antiques, spacious rooms, and an upscale restaurant and tea service. Budget-conscious travelers may consider Hotel Altamont in Darlinhurst. With a pretty rooftop garden, a location within walking distance of numerous attractions, and freebies such as breakfast and Wi-Fi, it offers a solid value.

- Oyster.com Staff

The small collection of mostly arid islands that make up the US Virgin Islands has long been a seafarers stomping ground — from the pirates of yore to today’s more abundant cruise ship hordes and the occasional yachtsman. And as they have for the past 400 years, people come to the islands mainly to drink, relax on the beach, and bargain shop — often, in just that order. Traveling to the islands, considered “insular areas” or “unincorporated territories” of the United States, is in many ways analogous to traveling within the US — citizens don’t need a passport, the US dollar is the official currency, and English is the official language. But a trip to the Virgin Islands still feels like a getaway with its laid-back atmosphere and sunny weather.

The islands’ hotels are largely concentrated on the 3 main islands – St. Thomas, St. John, and, to a lesser extent, St. Croix. Since the islands are so small, anywhere you stay will be within about a 30-minute drive from anywhere else on the island. Hotels range from the low-key, no-frills, family-owned spots, to all-inclusive mega-resorts, to more peaceful, luxe spots such as Frenchman’s Reef on St. Thomas. This Marriott resort underwent a major renovation in 2011 and boasts 4 pools, a beautiful spa and several on-site restaurants (although we’d recommend skipping them for local spots). On neighboring St. John, the Westin is nice beachside option for families, with tennis courts, a kids club, and numerous water sports.

- Oyster.com Staff

Tulips in Amsterdam

Amsterdam may be famous for its red light district and its friendly stance on marijuana, but the capital of the Netherlands has much more to offer. A city steeped in history, Amsterdam is home to beautiful historic buildings, numerous parks, fields of tulips that bloom in the spring, about 40 museums, and a system of canals and bridges that rivals (and in fact, is larger than) the one in Venice.

Due to the city’s climate, most tourists descend upon Amsterdam in the spring and summer months. But while winter can be cold, no season in Amsterdam is unbearable, and many locals travel by bicycle all year long. Navigating the city can be tricky; it is divided into 9 districts that are divided further into neighborhoods — Jordaan offers funky boutiques and markets, Rembrandtplein is home to the nightlife, Leidseplein has all kinds of international cuisine, and De Wallen’s streets are lined with quaint bookshops (and in its famous red light district, brothels).

The Canal House is a gorgeous boutique overlooking the canals. A popular choice among couples, rooms feature rich décor and open floor plans. If you’re searching for something a bit more understated – and green – the Conscious Hotel Vondelpark is a solid value option. It’s a bit removed from Amsterdam’s main attractions, but rooms are cozy, bathrooms are sleek and up-to-date, and the breakfast bar serves a daily breakfast of organic goodies.

- Oyster.com Staff

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