hotels

La Casa de las Chimeneas: Our Picos de Europa Inn

We didn’t have an easy time finding lodging in the Picos de Europa—both before or during the trip!

We wanted to stay in one of the mountain villages, not too far from a goodВ trail. Our ideal place was an independent inn that was both rustic and nice. Guidebooks offered few recommendations. Online searches lead us down a rabbit hole of useless links.

After spending way too many hours evaluatingВ every inn in the Picos, Mal finally came across La Casa de las Chimeneas, via Rough Guides. The inn is located in Tudes, a village thatВ appeared close toВ Potes, a town that seemed to be a jumping off point for exploring the Picos. Plus: They had cats all over their website!

Needless to say, we were sold.

The route from the caves of Monte CastilloВ to Tudes was long and winding. As the sun set, we drove through tiny villages at the base of the mountains—some comprised of just a few houses! Tudes, where we were headed, was up a long, mountainous road. By the time we reached it, the sunВ was long gone and we arrived in total darkness.

La Casa de las Chimeneas was at theВ entrance ofВ the village. Tony, a Brit who owns the place with his wife, Lucia (from Santander), showed us to our apartment.

Las Estaciones, La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

It turns out that he lived in that house, with his family, until a few years ago, when they moved upstairs from the pub they opened on premise.

The bedrooms were cute and cheery, with a rustic-meets-Ikea aesthetic.

Bedroom at La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

Bedroom at La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

You could definitely tell that the building was built a while back. The floors creaked. Rooms and staircases were quite narrow. (I felt like I was going to wipe out every time I set foot on the stairs!) Still, it was comfy and cozy.

Staircase at La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

The next day, we were able to get a much better look at Tudes and Chimeneas. The inn is actually comprised of several buildings: the one we were staying in, the adjoining bar, a few more across the road.

La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

I loved the wooden trim and stonework, both outside our house…

The porch at Las Estaciones, La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

…and in…

Inside apartment 8, La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

…as well as on the historic church, across the road.

Stone church, Tudes, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We also learned thatВ Tudes has all ofВ 30 inhabitants!

…though that’s not too surprising, when you see it from above.

Tudes, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Tudes won Cantabria’s Village of the Year award in 2010, which came with grant money to restoreВ some of the buildings.

And as for that pub on the premise? I have to admit,В we were grateful it was there! There were no other bars or restaurants in town. We ended up dining there two nights in a row.

The pub at La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

On the evening we arrived, we were so tired from driving and being out all day, that we had wine and dinner there. The food was basic (spaghetti, salads, omelettes), but hearty and comforting. And the next day, after hiking in the Picos, we were way too tired to go anywhere else! Photos from that (awesome) hike to come, next. рџ™‚

Hotel Ellauri: Zeanuri, Spain

We began our northern Spain trip in Basque Country.В The autonomous region’s most well-known destinations include the coastal cities of Bilbao and San Sebastian, though we opted to startВ with neither.

As you might have gleaned from my previous entries, I was feeling a little burnt on city life—as was my family! We wanted to start our trip somewhere quaint and relaxing, away from tightly packed buildings and lots of people.

That’s how we ended up at Hotel Ellauri, in Zeanuri. The pretty little village is in the countryside, about 45 minutes outside Bilbao. It has all ofВ 1,100 inhabitants.

Hotel Ellauri is up a narrow, winding road, on a hillside outside the town center.

Hotel Ellauri | nycexpeditionist.com

Mal, Peter and I arrived on a Thursday afternoon (a day before our parents) and were the only guests there! Not that we minded.

Ellauri is the kind of place I love patronizing. The owners, a lovely couple named Randa and Kepa, built the hotel five years ago. They’re Zeanuri natives, and I could feel the care that went into the place. Each element seemed to highlight the natural surroundings. My room wasВ bright and airy; I especially loved the vaulted wood ceiling and lively green wall.

Hotel Ellauri room | nycexpeditionist.com

The fixtures and bedding were all high quality. And best of all, there were double doors that swung open…

Hotel Ellauri windows | nycexpeditionist.com

…to reveal this view!

Zeanuri, from Hotel Ellauri | nycexpeditionist.com

Just what I’d been waiting for.

Hotel Ellauri felt wonderfully away from it all.

And it was.

On our first night, we tried to have a quick dinner nearby. Randa had hinted that there were no real dining options in Zeanuri or Areatza, another medieval village, and that we’d be better off driving into Bilbao or Vitoria-Gasteiz, larger cities about 30-40 minutes from the hotel, in opposite directions.

But, we figured, how slim were the local pickings? A quiet dinner in the village sounded good to us!

We drove into Areatza to try one of its three bars. (An actual restaurant didn’t seem to be an option.) The hamlet was quiet, and the bars looked like empty townie sports bars. Not quite what we had in mind for our first meal in Spain.

So we headed into Bilbao with no specific restaurant in mind. In our sleep-deprived/jet-lagged/famishedВ state, we spent an embarrassing amount of time circling Casco Viejo for parking. After an hour and a half, we finally realized we’d passed an underground garage multiple times. Once we’d parked, most restaurants were winding down service for the night. But we had a simple yet satisfying meal at La Deliciosa, on Calle Jardines. Though anything would have been deliciosa, at that point!

DSC_0757

The following evening, once my parents had arrived, we ate at Ellauri’s restaurant. Kepa and Randa prepared a fabulous meal of rice and cockles…

Rice and cockles

…and steak and peppers. It was one of the most delicious steaks I’ve ever eaten.

Peppers and steak

Ellauri proved to be in a prime spot. During our time there, we explored more of Bilbao and the Basque coast, as well as Gorbea Natural Park—whose mountains you could see from the hotel.

Hotel Ellauri | nycexpeditionist.com

…more on those places, in posts to come!

Travel App Review: Hotel Tonight

My DC trip was super-last minute. And ridiculously so, since Evan and I had long been planning to go away that weekend.

But we’d gotten so caught up in planning that we ended up not planning anything. For weeks, we debated whether we should do DC, or a Jersey beach town, or maybe Philly or some other place in between NYC and DC. We finally decided to do DC on Friday morning—i.e. the day before we were to go wherever we were going.

That meant that we weren’t able to book a hotel in advance. But it seemed like an opportunity to test out Hotel Tonight, an app I’ve been curious about.

Hotel Tonight’s premise is that each night, hotels have vacant rooms. Instead of letting them be missed opportunities for profit, why not offer them up at discounted rates for people who want/need last minute places?

The catch is that you can only book hotels the day of. And you don’t know what hotels and rates will be available until that day.

Hotel Tonight doesn’t release the day’s deals until 9 am. After that, you can search for your destination city and enter whether you need a hotel for one to five nights. Then your results come up.

I spent some time in the app on Friday, to see if we’d want to use it the following day. I was impressed with the slick, user-friendly interface. Each hotel option has a nice photo and its location, price for the night and, in most cases, the normal rate. Helpfully, hotels are also classified as “Hip,” “Luxe,” “Solid” or “Basic.”

Hotel Tonight, DC Options

Hotel detail pages include many more photos, both from the hotel and other users; its user-rating; its location plotted on a map; and other basics facts, like room size and Wifi costs.

I especially liked Hotel Tonight’s “Why We Like It” notes, like: “Big, funky, chilled-out guest rooms with pops of pop art and Lite-Brite-esqie color” (for the Hotel Helix). They gave me a sense of the place, and tips on the hotel’s perks.

I felt that the app offered a good number of options (about a dozen), and prices seemed fair. Most were in the $99 to $150 range. High-end places in prime locations fell into that upper tier.

Hotels Tonight also has a weeklong forecast, where they note whether they expect to have many or few good deals.

Even though I was a little scared to wait until the morning of our trip to book, Evan and I decided to go for it. I figured the worst that could happen is that we wouldn’t find anything good, and end up at a hotelВ near the airport—not exactly the stuff of human hardship.

On Saturday morning, a little after 9, I opened the app. The Donovan House, a hotel I’d had my eye on, the previous day, was still an option. The price had gone up to $140 from $135. But that was still better than the rate that the hotel offered on its official site: $180.

Evan and I felt that $140 was reasonable for a hotel in a major city, in a prime location, with a roof deck pool, on a Saturday night. So we booked it.

Hotel Tonight

We were very happy with our choice. Check-in was as smooth as if we’d booked through the hotel’s site.

Our room was nice…

donovan house room

Desk at the Donovan House, DC

…and we enjoyed hanging out at the pool.

H&E

While Hotel Tonight worked for us in this case, I don’t think I’d use it in many other scenarios. If we were staying somewhere for multiple nights—and planning in advance—we would have shopped around for a better deal, or booked an Airbnb.

But for a one-night, super-last minute trip to a city, I couldn’t have been happier. I’d definitely use Hotel Tonight again, in a similar situation.

Boatel

I have a bad track record with boats. I actually love being on the water and usually find myself on a boat at least once a vacation. But (you guessed it) I’m also prone to seasickness. I’ve had an episode (or near episode) in almost every country I’ve visited. And it’s not just limited to sailing. I even got seasick while snorkeling in Nicaragua–which I didn’t think was possible!

Despite that, I’m still tempted to visit the Boatel. Now in its second summer, the Boatel is a floating art and sound installation in Far Rockaway. A group of artists souped up 16 boats, each with a playful theme:

a boat that sings, a patchwork treehouse, a Victorian-era naturalist’s laboratory, a hillbilly kama sutra honeymoon suite.

And, true to its name, you can spend a night in the vessel of your choice–rates start at just $55. (Not bad for an NYC hotel, isolated as it is!) You just bring your swimsuit, food and booze and spend an evening swimming, grilling and watching planes take off and land at JFK before hunkering down for a cozy night in your boat.

That sounds like a perfect summer evening, to me. For the experience alone, I think I might be able to deal with the seasickness!

Would you stay at the Boatel?

(Photos via the Boatel)