World Shakespeare Festival begins in April

With just 26 days to go until the launch of the World Shakespeare Festival, which begins on Monday 23rd April and runs until November 2012 as part of the London 2012 Festival, audiences can look forward to the biggest celebration of the world famous playwright ever staged. Thousands of artists from around the world will take part and anyone who wants to stay in London for the festival can book one of the London hotels on the website LondonTown.com.

It’s an ambitious project on a scale never seen before featuring collaborations with leading UK and international arts organisations and over a million tickets available for a programme which includes 23 brand new productions – 21 of which were commissioned specially for the festival. With almost 70 productions, events and exhibitions taking place across the UK, including London, the World Shakespeare Festival has something of interest for all ages and all nationalities.

In London, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre is staging Globe to Globe in which 37 of Shakespeare’s plays are performed in 37 languages in six weeks. Further highlights include Nicholas Hytner directing Simon Russell Beale in Timon of Athens at the National Theatre, Michael Attenborough directing Jonathan Pryce in King Lear at the Almeida Theatre, and Gregory Doran – who will succeed Michael Boyd as Artistic Director at the Royal Shakespeare Company, it has recently been announced – who stages a production of Julius Caesar at the Roundhouse.

Doran’s Julius Caesar is one of two Royal Shakespeare Company productions which will premiere in Stratford-upon-Avon during the summer and then transfer to London’s West End. Iqbal Khan’s Much Ado About Nothing, with Meera Syal in the leading role of Beatrice, will also transfer to the Noel Coward Theatre from August.

From 19th July, visitors to the British Museum will be treated to Staging the World, a major exhibition – complemented by a 20-part BBC Radio 4 series to be broadcast in April – which illustrates the emerging role of London as a world city 400 years ago through the perspective of Shakespeare’s plays.

There’s a grass roots aspect to the festival with over 260 amateur groups involving 7200 people (aged from 6 to 90) taking part in Open Stages, a project coordinated by the Royal Shakespeare Company and nine partner theatres. These amateur productions will be staged in castles, churches, parks and pubs, and some will perform at the RSC’s Stratford-upon-Avon home.

Thousands of teachers and young people will take also part in the festival which will create a legacy for young people through a number of projects including Worlds Together, an international conference that explores the influence of Shakespeare who is already studied by 50% of the world’s school children.

World Shakespeare Festival events are taking place across the UK, not only in London but also in Shakespeare’s home of Stratford-upon-Avon as well as Newcastle/Gateshead, Birmingham, Brighton, Wales and Scotland. For the full festival guide visit www.worldshakespearefestival.org.uk and for more information on planning a trip to London visit LondonTown.com, a useful resource for visitors and local residents with listings on everything from Shakespeare to shopping. Find and book hotels and restaurants, and discover the best festivals and events happening in London this spring and summer.

Festival goers give up tents for luxury

STYLISH pop-up hotels and designer sheds are replacing slumming it in tents at festivals, as not showing for days and sleeping in a tent become a thing of the past for a lucky few.

While tens of thousands of campers roughed it under canvas at the V Festival over the weekend, a select few were today waking up in these glamourous ‘podules’.

However, with a price tag of £2,600, they will be out of many festival-goers budgets.

However they do boast air conditioning, power shower, plumbed in toilet suite, fridge and double bed complete with linen and towels.

The designer sheds do come a little cheaper at £1,100 and come with a VIP communal shower block and toilets.

Around 90,000 revellers were enjoyed  the weekend festival on Staffordshire’s Weston Park, with acts including Rihanna and Eminem.

Cousins Carrere Copper,18, and Brogan Silcock, 17, were among those enjoying the pop up hotel, paid for by their parents as a treat. Carrere, a waitress, said: “I’m not into camping at all, it just doesn’t interest me. You get filthy.”

Richard Webster, a 54-year-old army surplus retailer, was spending the weekend with friend Anne Thomas in a designer shed. He said: “Nowadays the mind is willing but the body is weak. This is the perfect solution – camping for lazy people.”

Medics at the festival said they had treated 242 people on just the first day, for a variety of ailments, with 10 people being taken to hospital.

Spotlight on chic Parisian hotels

The French capital has always been a fashionable destination. While some world cities fall in and out of favor, Paris’s blend of history, art, architecture, and bohemian culture keeps it eternally in style.Accommodation in Paris reflects centuries of changing trends. Beyond the old-fashioned opulence of the Ritz and the George V, there’s a new generation of hotels bringing fun and modernity to a Parisian trip. Historic Haussmann-era buildings sport designer refits complete with high-tech gadgets and sleek new furnishings, at a fraction the price of their elite counterparts.

In time for Paris Fashion Week 2011, agoda.com rounds up the chicest urban hotels in Paris.

Seven
This boutique four-star hotel in the fifth arrondissement has standard guest rooms in three bold styles, plus seven individually-styled suites. Neon lighting, transparent showers, and Swarovski crystals are some of the more subtle design points, with levitating beds, suspended tubs, and a bathroom chessboard covering the more whimsical end of the design spectrum. From US$457 per night.

Pershing Hall
A block from the Champs-Élysées is the four-star Pershing Hall. Though guest rooms are muted in design, an illuminated atrium brings color and drama to the dining patio. A vertical garden creates a “living wall” that changes hue throughout the day, creating an ambient space for the restaurant and a favorite night spot for locals. From US$622 per night.

Le Secret de Paris
Convenient to the Saint Lazare station, this 29-room four-star hotel offers six different themes. These include “Eiffel,” which features wall murals depicting the view from the Eiffel Tower, and “Atelier d’Artiste,” which emulates living in an artist’s Parisian loft. Mod-cons include free Internet, flatscreen TV, music system, multi-function shower, and boutique toiletries. From US$469 per night.

Le Vignon
Smart white rooms with pretty country accents feature in this four-star property next to the Church of Madeleine in central Paris. Modernized loft rooms, bespoke art, and plush beds make this a comfortable and stylish stay with excellent access to Paris’s main sights. From US$315 per night.

Hotel Élysées Mermoz
A short stroll from the Arc de Triomphe, this newly-renovated four-star boutique features contemporary classic design in warm tones. Juliette balconies give guests quaint Parisian street views, while flatscreen TVs, iPod docks, light-blocking curtains, and L’Occitane bath products ensure all modern requirements are met. From US$343 per night.

Hotel Cambon
Next to the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre Museum, this four-star property has one of the best positions in Paris for sightseeing. Paintings, vases, rich fabrics, and trompe l’oeil murals create whimsical living spaces, with some guest rooms featuring private terraces and French windows. From US$290 per night.Best Western Opera Diamond Hotel
Close to Saint Lazare railway terminal, this is stylish monochrome property diverges from the conventional Best Western design. With only 30 rooms, guests can enjoy a boutique experience plus a long list of in-room conveniences like iPod docks, Nespresso machines, and WiFi. Guests can retreat to an immaculate French garden in the courtyard. From US$251 per night.

Pavillon Nation
This modern three-star hotel in the 11th arrondissement features sleek contemporary décor and full meeting facilities. Close to the metro, it’s one of the few budget-friendly chic hotels in Paris, offering fully renovated rooms, free WiFi, and cable channels. From US$149 per night.

Ares Eiffel
Versace tile and Bang&Olufsen sound systems feature in this elegant four-star boutique close to the Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower. Baroque fabrics and rich textures create luxurious living spaces, complemented by free WiFi and flatscreen TVs with movies on demand. From US$256 per night.

Le Bellechasse
With every square inch designed by Christian Lacroix, this four-star boutique is a super stylish retreat – just a block from the Seine River and a few steps from Orsay Museum. There are three categories of room – “Discovery,” “Original,” and “Privilege” – each with a range of color and design themes. From US$273 per night.

 www.agoda.com

Brit’s are choosing quality over quantity when it comes to this years breaks

Online Hotel Provider Sees Increase in DomesticBookings at the Expense of Europe With bookings for the summer holidays ramping up over May and June, the travel experts at Octopustravel.com have noticed a trend in customers trading up to hotels that are 3* and above, with 90% of customers now opting for this quality of stay. This trend is also countered by the increase in short term stays as opposed to longer breaks which are experiencing a dip in bookings. It seems that Brits are looking for better quality stays at the expense of longer trips, perhaps still conscious of the ongoing economic pressures, with one night stays seeing a significant increase of more than 10% on last years figures.

To avoid costly international travel with expensive taxes inflating prices even further, Brits are also choosing to stay closer to home. In fact, Octopustravel.com has experienced an increase of nearly 15% on UK bookings in comparison to this time last year. Potentially encouraged by recent sunny spells and Mediterranean temperatures, Octopustravel.com has seen a significant boost in UK city breaks targeting cities such as Leeds, London, Liverpool, York and Birmingham. Looking at the opposite end of the scale, Italy has seen the biggest drop in customers booking through the site, with a 6% drop in sales.

Kevin Currie of Octopus Travel said: “It’s really interesting to see how British consumers are changing their spending patterns and prioritising quality over the length of their holidays. With our recently launched up to 50% off summer sale we hope to help out Brits this summer by providing our customers with hotels which don’t break the bank, but also match their expectations for the quality of properties they want to stay in.”

The only exception to the rule appears to be trips to the United States which have experienced a small amount of growth. With the pound continuing to strengthen against the dollar, this may be helping to boost revenue stateside.

Great Hotels of the World – Luxury for less

1. Medite Resort Spa Hotel, Sandanski, Bulgaria

Rates from €87 per room, per night

Stay for three nights and only pay for two at this award-winning spa hotel overlooking the town of Sandanski in Bulgaria. The modern spa offers a range of tempting treatments and included in this rate is a rose bath, aromatic body scrub, facial treatment and steam bath as well as indoor swimming pool, sauna, fitness centre and tennis court.

For more information or to book this offer visit http://www.ghotw.com/hotel/offer/13374/medite-resort-spa-hotel.htm or call +44 (0) 20 7380 3658.

2. Altis Prime Hotel, Lisbon, Portugal

Rates from €93 per room, per night

Located in the heart of Lisbon’s commercial and financial district, Altis Prime combines the facilities and benefits of a business hotel with the convenience and privacy of a luxury apartment.

For more information or to book this offer visit http://www.ghotw.com/hotel/offer/13376/altis-prime-hotel.htmor call +44 (0) 20 7380 3658.

3. Altis Suites, Lisbon, Portugal

Rates from €90 per room, per night

This self-catering hotel is in the very heart of Lisbon. Warm hospitality is its trademark and it offers complete privacy and functionality, combining the comfort and independence of a suite apartment alongside an individualised lobby, 24 hr reception, garage and all the services of its sister hotel, Hotel Altis.

For more information or to book this offer visit http://www.ghotw.com/hotel/offer/13383/altis-suites.htmor call +44 (0) 20 7380 3658.

4. Columbia Beachotel, Limassol, Cyprus

Rates from €81 per room, per night

Located in Pissouri Bay, the Columbia Beach has a beautiful backdrop surrounded by stunning white cliffs, vineyards, orchards and an unspoilt beach. With many activities available including a golf course, pampering spa and watersports, you will enjoy every day of your relaxing stay in Cyprus.

For more information or to book this offer please visit http://www.ghotw.com/hotel/offer/13279/columbia-beachotel.htmor call +44 (0) 20 7380 3658.

5. Vale d’Oliveiras, The Algarve, Portugal

Rates from €89 per room, per night

Centrally located in the Algarve, a 45-minute drive from Faro airport, Vale d’Oliveiras Quinta Resort & Spa is a gorgeous 5-star resort offering panoramic views of the surrounding hills and nearby golf course. The tranquil environment is perfect for family holidays, golfing holidays, short relaxing breaks and meetings & incentives throughout the year.

For more information or to book this offer visit http://www.ghotw.com/hotel/offer/13438/vale-d-oliveiras.htmor call +44 (0) 20 7380 3658.

6. Mantra Samui Resort, Koh Samui, Thailand

Rates from €66 per room, per night

Relax at this brand new resort on the paradise island of Koh Samui, set amidst lush surroundings and close to a gorgeous beach. With a unique approach to checking in (with no front desk or lobby) you are invited to relax in the public living room with a drink whilst the check in comes to you. With endless facilities and activities, Mantra Samui will make a truly unforgettable holiday destination.

For more information or to book visit http://www.ghotw.com/hotel/offer/13030/mantra-samui-resort-spa.htm or call +44 (0) 20 7380 3658.

7. The Classic Hotel Nicosia, Cyprus

Rates from €46 per room, per night

Explore the capital of Cyprus with this fantastic weekend offer. Located in the heart of Nicosia, the recently redesigned Classic Hotel blends perfectly with its environment, offering comfortable accommodation and a multitude of facilities.

For more information or to book this offer visit http://www.ghotw.com/hotel/home/classic-hotel-nicosia.htm or call +44 (0) 20 7380 3658.

8. Hotel Quinta da Marinha Resort, Cascais, Portugal

Rates from €98 per room, per night

The Hotel Quinta da Marinha Resort is located between Cascais and Sintra, the ideal location for a leisurely break. Surrounded by 250 acres of countryside and boasting numerous facilities including a world-class golf course and spa, it’s the perfect destination for a long weekend.

For more information or to book this offer visit http://www.ghotw.com/hotel/offer/11775/hotel-quinta-da-marinha.htm or call +44 (0) 20 7380 3568.

Classic New York Hotels

Nothing can compare to New York hotels. From rooftop gardens to superior personal service and palatial rooms, New York hotels are the standard hotels are judged by. They seamlessly blend respect for personal privacy with a commitment to providing the most pleasure possible. ‘What you want, when you want it, the way you want it ‘ seems to be the guiding principle behind good New York hotels. The best chefs in the world work in New York hotels. Each night you can choose from several gastronomic masterpieces and the best late night libations. The city that never sleeps has set the bar very high with the quality of its hotels.

The name Waldorf Astoria conjures up images of class, culture, comfort, quality and luxury. It was the first hotel to offer room service and it continues to be an industry leader in meeting the needs of its guests. It combines old world charm and attention to detail with all the latest amenities and conveniences to create the world’s most prestigious hotel. Period furniture, handmade rugs and indulgent beds and bathrooms compliment immense beautiful rooms.

Kings, queens, world leaders, movie stars and captains of industry have found rest in its spectacular rooms. Ex-President Herbert Hoover and General Douglas Macarthur both lived at the Waldorf Astoria. Bertie Charles Forbes, (Forbes Magazine), Marilyn Monroe, Cole Porter and Linda Lee all lived in the Waldorf Astoria. Frank Costello, Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano lived there too.

The Hudson Hotel New York is a gem often overlooked among New York hotels. The Hudson Hotel New York is an upscale boutique hotel that is adventurous in concept, bold in design and imminently affordable. Opened in 2000 the Hudson Hotel New York draws on all the influences, cultures and styles in this great metropolis to be at once avant-garde and familiar. What is familiar is the high quality of service, superb meals, immaculate, comfortable rooms and stunning views of the park.

The Hudson Bar was an instant success, drawing the city’s best and brightest with its minimalist style, quality drinks and great atmosphere. Its use of modern furniture styles in soft, rich tones serves to relax the guests while their staff fulfills their every wish.

The Waldorf-Astoria and the Hudson Hotel New York epitomize the range of establishments the city has to offer. They continue to ensure that New York hotels are the best and most innovative in the world.

Virgin Holidays has been arranging holidays since 1985 and are the largest, most successful transatlantic tour operator, and market leader for travel to the USA and the Caribbean.

YOTEL takes its compact hotel to New York

UK Hotel with a twist takes concept of compact affordable luxury to New York.

Yotel will be opening its first branch in the US this June, situated in NewYork on West 42nd Street and 10th Avenue at Times Square West. The hotel will boost 669 compact, yet stylish cabins and will be the first hotel opening outside of it’s current international airport locations, and also the largest.

The hotel is the ultimate in efficiency, guests can check in at computer kiosks, and will have Yobots – the worlds first luggage robot

YOTEL’s Premium Cabins come with:

  • Motorised moving beds for saving space
  • Monsoon shower
  • Technowall with TV, music and power services
  • Workstation
  • Free super strength WiFi
  • Complimentary breakfast

Basically eveything you would find in a luxury hotel in under 200 sqft.

YOTEL New York will also feature 18,000 square feet of flexible work and entertainment space:

  • Dohyo restaurant, Japanese word for the Sumo wrestling platform and descriptive of YOTEL’s original table sharing concept. Tables lower and raise for Japanese style seating and a performance entertainment area out of dining hours;
  • Club Lounge with individual Club Cabins for meetings and private parties, bar and a DJ booth;
  • Studiyo for meetings, yoga, cinema, events and parties;
  • The Terrace, New York’s largest outdoor hotel space features two bars, pagodas, fire, and blankets for autumn evenings

YOTEL, designed in collaboration by Rockwell Group and Softroom, was originally conceived by founder of YO! Simon Woodroffe OBE and realised by YOTEL CEO Gerard Greene.

Simon Woodroffe, entrepreneur, creator of the restaurant phenomenon YO! Sushi and ‘dragon’ from the UK BBC’s popular series ‘The Dragons Den’ said, “I was lucky enough to be upgraded to First class on British Airways. I went to sleep with the conundrum of how to create a flexible and convenient hotel experience at an affordable price. The YOTEL brand is launching its first city centre hotel, I expect YOTEL to be in the world’s top ten hotel brands in the next ten years. YOTEL totally fulfills the holy grail of retailing, a top end product at a below expectation cost.”

“A solution to expensive and boring hotels, I wanted YOTEL to use innovative radical design to create a mixture of luxury, fun, comfort and excitement at an affordable price, turning the hotel industry on its head,” said Gerard Greene CEO YOTEL.

You can book now on yotel.com for stays from 15 June, rates are from $149. Friends of YOTEL signing up to facebook.com/YOTELHQ and following them on twitter @YOTELHQ can look forward to some special offers.

Are hotel star ratings inaccurate abroad?

Everyone checks a hotel’s reviews before they go on holiday, but it would appear that many of you are not satisfied with the results. A survey from sunshine.co.uk has discovered that 64% of you think that star ratings on hotels abroad are ‘inaccurate’.

We polled a sample of 1,729 British holidaymakers who had been abroad in the past two years, to find out their opinions on overseas hotels and the general performance of their accommodation.

78% of respondents had stayed in a hotel whilst on holiday

Whilst the majority of people we spoke to stayed in a hotel during their holiday, only 9% said they had stayed in a villa and the rest of respondents had either stayed with family or selected ‘other’.

Two thirds of those who stayed in a hotel thought the star rating was ‘inaccurate,’ so we then asked them how exactly this was the case. 57% said the star rating of their hotel was too high, whereas the remaining 43% of people felt the opposite; that it actually deserved more stars than it had been awarded.

A massive 89% said that you always take into account the star rating of the accommodation before booking

With the hotel star rating system under threat in the UK, we wanted to find out what you thought of hotel ratings abroad.

We often get feedback from customers claiming that the hotel they stayed in actually deserved more stars than it had been given.

Our thoughts? It’s all a matter of personal opinion, of course. It’s always disappointing when a hotel doesn’t live up to your expectations but, on the other hand, it’s always a good feeling when it’s better than you thought.

Review sites can give you a great insight into what to expect from a hotel

Review sites usually feature feedback from other holidaymakers, so you’re more likely to get a balanced review of the hotel.

Of course, there is the chance that one person may have had a terrible experience at a hotel, whilst everyone else gives fantastic reviews, so just remember that everyone has their own opinions.

So, remember to check out reviews before you book a hotel, but also remember, everyone’s experience is different!

Holiday Rentals Up as Hotel Prices Rise

As more Britons arrange their holidays independently, holiday rental homes are becoming sought after in greater numbers than before. Properties throughout Mediterranean Europe have seen their bookings and enquiries increase significantly over the past three months, as higher room rates and occupancy targets in the hotel industry have pushed traditional lodging out of peoples’ price range.

It’s not the first time the holiday rentals industry has seen such a surge. With the rise in property marketing outlets throughout the last five years, a significant sector of the industry has seen levels of interest increase due to online exposure. Some of the county’s biggest rental agencies have made the switch to digital marketing almost exclusively, citing its ability to find high-value tenants.

And for the industry, things are soon to become even better. Private rentals are likely to grow in the UK as the London Olympics attracts visitors. Tourism experts have used the 2000 Sydney and more recent 2008 Beijing Olympics as a model for the city’s private accommodation market – in both of the most recent cases, the demand for private property rentals soared preceding the games.

It also caused a surge in prices, one that many homeowners are hoping will allow them to monetise their properties during London’s Olympic period. With the Olympic Stadium currently being built in Stratford, a number of homeowners in the area are expecting to see a significant increase in their potential rental earnings alongside a long-term value increase due to the new buildings.

For the hotel industry, it remains a growing annoyance. New York City’s recent decision to outlaw holiday home and apartment rentals has left homeowners somewhat displeased, while Paris’s same legal ruling is likely to compromise the value of inner city homes. For London’s holiday apartment and home owners, it’s important that policy remains supportive of the private rental market.

Unusual Accommodation: Renting One of Germany’s Restored Castles

As Europe’s third most visited country, Germany’s major centres certainly aren’t unfamiliar with the sound of rapid tourism. From Berlin’s massive shopping promenades to the historical buildings just hours south in Munich, the country is home to one of Europe’s most developed and friendly tourism industries – one that’s growing while others in Europe battle a drop in overnight stays.

But while most tourists spend their time in Germany’s major centres and historical cities, a growing number are opting for an alternative accommodation option. Home to some of Europe’s largest and most effectively preserved castles, the ultra-niche German castle rental industry is expanding faster than anyone in the tourism sector could have predicted.

The majority of the country’s rental castles are located within one-hundred kilometres of its major cities, particularly those in the country’s central regions. Throughout former East Germany, castle and manor-style accommodation is available at prices that few would expect – a double bedroom inside one of the country’s largest castle hotels is available from as little as €60.

It’s certainly an innovative take on one of the world’s most popular accommodation markets. While hotels within Germany’s major centres – particularly Berlin – command some of the highest rates in the world, those located in the country’s historical buildings are available at backpacker prices. For adventure tourists and history buffs, the castle-style rooms are an attractive alternative to hotels.

Despite growing at a rapid rate, Germany’s castle rental industry is still one that’s catered to largely online. Bookings can be made through a variety of services, many of which offer transportation to and from the country’s major airports. Book ahead, however, as castle hotels located close to major cities and population centres tend to fill up fairly quickly during public holidays and local events.