Extraordinary Boutique Cave Hotel in Heart of Cappadocia

15 December, 2009 (23:46) | Recommended Digs | By: darngooddigs

Our third guest post in our professional travel writer and popular travel blogger series is by Dee Andrews, the author of Travel and Travails. Dee’s blog chronicles the year she spent with her husband and two young children living in Spain, and the challenges and joys of “finding new paths on the road of life.” Dee recently nominated two hotels, the Gamirasu Cave Hotel in Urgup, Turkey and the Riad Diana in Marrakech, Morocco. We are posting Dee’s review of the extraordinary Giramasu Cave Hotel:

The Grounds of the Gamirasu Cave Hotel (photo by Dee Andrews)

The Grounds of the Gamirasu Cave Hotel (photo by Dee Andrews)

What makes Gamirasu Cave Hotel so darn good? We arrived late in the evening, in the dark, into a very small and remote Turkish village. Our driver let our family out in the town and our guide asked us to follow him down the road to the hotel. I had no idea what we were in for as the hotel had been a last-minute change by our travel agent.

It’s dark, caves all around us, and we feel some trepidation, and then we walk onto the grounds and it’s just magical. I felt like I was in another world with the caves lit up around us, lights sparkling in the trees. The rooms were very luxurious, the staff friendly, food great, views and atmosphere so different and unique… it is a very special place.

Location: The Gamirasu Cave Hotel is in Ayvali Village near Urgup in the heart of Cappadocia, Turkey.

An Enjoyable Place Spent Drinking Wine at the Gamirasu Cave Hotel (photo by Dee Andrews)

An Enjoyable Place Spent Drinking Wine at the Gamirasu Cave Hotel (photo by Dee Andrews)

Rooms: The hotel is a combination of seven old troglodyte cave houses with twenty-five rooms, amazingly restored. Part of the hotel was used by Christian monks until recently. Some of the rooms were actually monk cells. All rooms are different from each other. We stayed in the Family Suite with our two daughters, ages 7 and 11.

Food: Breakfasts were included and wonderful and plentiful. We did not eat dinner at the hotel, but we did have an impromptu lunch one afternoon which was perfect. The kitchen did a great job meeting our quick requests, especially the Turkish grilled cheese!

Vibe: Mysterious, different, unique, exotic, luxurious, historical.

Keep in mind: It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. We did have a guide who drove us to and from the hotel, which was of some distance to sights. We did not explore the village of Ayvali, but it felt very, very small and rural.

Thank you Dee for nominating your favorite digs!

We would love to hear from more savvy travelers about their all-time favorite independently owned hotels with rooms under US$150. Nominate them now (or simply sign up for our quarterly newsletter) and have a chance to win a ROUGH GUIDE of your choice! Our Nominate-a-thon contest ends this Friday!

Exquisite Goa Boutique Hotel and Heritage Guest House – Casa Susegad

8 December, 2009 (13:23) | Recommended Digs | By: darngooddigs

We’ve asked a group of professional travel writers and popular travel bloggers to nominate their all-time favorite small hotels, b & b’s, and hostels with rooms under $150, and our second guest post is by Shelley Seale, the author of The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India. Shelley has written for National Geographic and the Seattle Times, along with many other travel magazines and online publications. She has chosen to nominate Casa Susegad, a small historic heritage guest house in Goa, India:


Casa Susegad in Goa, India

What makes Casa Susegad so darn good? Casa Susegad attains the perfect balance between as much relaxing alone time as you want, and interaction with other guests and village neighbors or short treks to nearby activities. But more than that, the incredible architecture and furnishings of this amazing 400-year old mansion – and the warm hospitality of the hosts – make this a getaway in beautiful coastal Goa, India like no other.

Location: Set on one-and-a-half acres of grounds in the sleepy southern village of Loutolim, Casa Susegad is surrounded by the forest and far removed from the mass tourism of Goa.

Rooms: This colonial mansion was completely restored to create this charming, historic four-room heritage guest house. The restoration was a labor of love for Norman and Carole Steen, who retained elements such as teak ceiling beams and the 400-year-old mosaic tile floors which are amazing in their intricacy. Each aspect of the home is intentional, from the gorgeous antique furniture brought from Rajasthan to the unobtrusive yet pampering staff who are like members of the family. Each room has its own color theme and is comfortable and inviting, but the whole house is at guests’ disposal. Cozy up in a cushioned corner seating area with a good book, lounge by the inviting pool, or stroll the beautifully landscaped grounds to the top of the ridge behind the house, from which the perfect sunset can be witnessed.

Each of the four rooms is spacious and well-appointed with antique Indian furniture, deep-sprung mattress and en-suite bathroom. The rooms are each named after semi-precious stones which are found in the decorative floor borders, and a color scheme reflecting the stone. Gorgeous hand-sewn patchwork quilts matching each color scheme cover the beds. Each room opens up to its own terrace area with a table where breakfast or tea may be taken.

Casa Susegad

Casa Susegad

Food: The four-course dinners at Casa Susegad are not to be missed. Food is a fusion of Goan cuisine and imaginative continental dishes. Carole Steen often starts her day at the local market, and has worked painstakingly with her wonderful staff to prepare traditional local dishes as well as train them in her own recipes. Everything is organic and prepared in the well-equipped, large kitchen or over a traditional wood fire. You will never have the same dish twice; ask Carole about the Goan chicken or the incredible fish wrapped in a banana leaf. They will also create a meal just for you if you tell her what you fancy. Your hosts will happily lead you on a tour of the kitchen and garden, pulling samples of the many fruits they grow right off the trees or a bite out of something cooking on the stove for you to try.

Vibe: Susegad has no direct English translation, but its many Goan meanings include contemplative, lazy and satisfied. The owners chose this name as a way to offer guests the opportunity to discover their own meaning during their escape to this peaceful idyll.

Keep in mind: The beach is a 20-minute drive away, although there is a lovely private pool with large, comfortable sunbeds.  No restaurants or nightlife are within walking distance or nearby.  Also, be aware that there are six dogs and several cats on the property, so if you are not keen on animals it might not fit your style.

Price Range: Rs 3750-5000 (meals additional)
# of Rooms: 4
Kid-Friendly: yes

Make an Inquiry/Book a Room at:

Thank you Shelley for nominating your favorite digs!

We would love to hear from more savvy travelers about their all-time favorite independently owned hotels with rooms under US$150. Nominate them now (or simply sign up for our quarterly newsletter) and have a chance to win a ROUGH GUIDE of your choice!

Lisbon Dreams Guest House – A Luxurious Budget Bed and Breakfast in Lisbon

30 November, 2009 (01:55) | Recommended Digs | By: darngooddigs

We’ve asked a group of professional travel writers and popular travel bloggers to nominate their all-time favorite small hotels, b & b’s, and hostels with rooms under $150, and our first guest post is by Jeanine Barone, the author of J The Travel Authority.  Jeanine has written articles for most of the major travel publications, including National Geographic Traveler and Conde Nast Traveler.  She has chosen to nominate the Lisbon Dreams Guest House,  a small guest house in Lisbon, Portugal:

Lisbon Dreams Guest House

Lisbon Dreams Guest House

What makes the Lisbon Dreams Guest House so darn good? Here you’ll find a minimalist sun-filled haven that conveys a touch of luxury and without breaking your budget. It’s hard to believe that for a mere 45 to 65 Euros, you’ll be able to relax in their comfy lounge that’s equipped with a laptop, plasma screen TV, and dozens of paperbacks. Plus, what other ultra budget accommodation could say that Joanna Gomes, who’s noted for her tableware, ceramic and glass creations, designed their interiors? But the real selling point of this accommodation is the meandering patio that’s accessible from a multitude of rooms. I could’ve spent all day and evening lounging in one of the many chairs, taking in the sun, dining at one of the tables or reading beside one of the many potted plants.

Location:Easily accessibly to several metro stations, the guesthouse, which opened in May 2009, is only a short walk to Avenida de Liberdade, Lisbon’s main thoroughfare. The neighborhood, snuggled between the Rato and Marques de Pombal neighborhoods, is also where Portugal’s Prime Minister has a home.

Rooms: The 10 minimally furnished guest rooms carry a white on white motif, with the only colored hues coming from the throw pillows, headboard and the ubiquitous green apples. Your hosts have also provided each guest with white towels,  slippers and robes.

Lisbon Dreams Guest House

Lisbon Dreams Guest House

Food: The breakfast may not be homemade but not only is it large but you can enjoy it in a lovely dining space that’s hung with an artistic paper chandelier and decorated with multi-colored throw rugs. You’ll have your choice of, of course, green apples and other fresh fruits, whole wheat bread and warm croissants (and other pastries), several kinds of jams, various meats and cheeses and even chocolate milk. The kitchen is quite complete with a microwave and stove, so feel free to cook your other meals here if you wish. 

Vibe:Low key and casual is the name of the game here where an ambiance of privacy and comfort radiates.

Keep in mind: None of the rooms have private baths but that shouldn’t dissuade you. After all, the shared bathrooms are meticulously clean, and  come with petite face towels and large tubs. In addition, the rooms don’t have air conditioning but I was there in the summer and found it plenty comfortable.

Lisbon Dreams Guest House

Lisbon Dreams Guest House

Thanks Jeanine for nominating your favorite digs!

We would love to hear from more savvy travelers about their all-time favorite independently owned hotels with rooms under US$150. Nominate them now (or simply sign up for our quarterly newsletter) and have a chance to win a ROUGH GUIDE of your choice!

Staying in Barcelona’s Poblenou – a lovely alternative to the more famous Las Ramblas

25 November, 2009 (18:39) | Northern Spain, Travel Itineraries | By: darngooddigs

Benjamin in Poblenou

Benjamin on la Rambla de Poblenou

Both Allison and I had been to Barcelona in our separate lives, each on vacations with our parents at least 15 years ago.  We knew we wanted to return, but we didn’t need to sleep in the center of all the action.  Instead we decided to stay outside the center in a lovely, traditionally industrial and working class  – but now gentrifying – neighborhood called Poblenou. 

Our small hotel, Hostal Poblenou, was a wonderful welcome for us to Spain.  Mercedes, our host, could not have been kinder, our rooms were spacious and inviting, and breakfast on the outdoor terrace was delightful.  The hostal is a few blocks away from the beach and a small playground – important if you are traveling with a short boy, like we always are.  And right outside our doorstep was Poblenou’s answer to the famous and well-touristed Ramblas in center city – la Rambla de Poblenou, a delightful mile long stretch of tree-lined pedestrian path with restaurants, fruit stores, and shopping.  Every night we looked forward to returning to our neighborhood after sightseeing (La Sagrada Familia, the Barri Gotic, Park Guell, etc…) to stroll our own neighborhood Ramblas and eat dinner, and ice cream of course, under the trees.

Three Weeks in Northern Spain

23 November, 2009 (15:02) | Northern Spain, Travel Itineraries | By: darngooddigs

Benjamin in Zaragoza

Benjamin, his tow truck, and the magnificent La Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar in Zaragoza

This past summer we spent three weeks traveling around northern Spain with our three year old son.  We’re always planning new trips, and we had started playing with this itinerary at least two years before.  We knew it was a real winner, with gorgeous beaches, dramatic mountains, world-class cities, and medieval villages.  Plus, we were confident we could easily get away from the tourist crowds and feel like we were charting our own path.

Here was our 3 week itinerary:

  • Barcelona: Hostal Poblenou for 3 nights
  • Cadaques: Hotel Ubaldo for 2 nights
  • Olot: Mas el Guitart for 2 nights
  • Girona: Bellmirall for 1 night 
  • Zaragoza: B& B Siesta for 2 nights
  • Tarazona: Hostal Santa Aguedo for 1 night
  • San Sebastian: Pension Altair for 3 nights
  • Bilbao: Iturrienea Ostatua for 2 nights
  • Poo de Llanes: Cuartamenteru Rural Hotel for 3 nights
  • Burgos: Silken Gran Teatro for 1 night
  • Madrid: Hotel Maydrit for 1 night

We spent the first week in Catalonia, and the first three days in Barcelona.  Over the next couple of weeks we’ll post about the cool places we stayed, the sights we saw, and the excellent times we had traveling from the Mediterranean Sea to the Picos de Europa.

More Cool Budget Hotels – Check Out Our New Digs

16 November, 2009 (21:22) | Recommended Digs | By: darngooddigs

Artjungle Eco Lodge in Itacare, Bahia, Brazil

Artjungle Eco Lodge in Itacaré, Bahia, Brazil

Make sure to check out all of our new Digs! We’ve re-designed our site to highlight not only Darn Good Digs, which are our Editors’ choices, but also other traveler reviews of their all-time favorite places to stay. Some of our favorite new Darn Good Digs include Artjungle Eco Lodge and Pousada Santa Clara, both in Bahia, Brazil; Rumi Punku in Cusco, Peru; Pension Altair in San Sebastian, Spain; Pension Marianna in Nafplio, Greece; and Banda Inns in Kampala, Uganda.

We’ll be adding reviews from some of the nominations we received during our current Nominate-a-thon in the coming days!  If you haven’t already nominated your all-time favorite small hotel, b&b, or hostel, please do so right now for a chance to win a Rough Guide of your choice!

Make a Reservation Inquiry Using Darn Good Digs!

9 November, 2009 (22:06) | Recommended Digs | By: darngooddigs

Casa Bella Rita

Casa Bella Rita

Darn Good Digs is now partnering with the following amazing digs to offer our readers the convenience of making reservation inquiries directly on our website:

Casa Bella Rita – beautiful b&b near San Jose, Costa Rica
Mosetlha Bush Camp – down-to-earth eco-safari in South Africa’s Madikwe National Park
Journeys Within – super-welcoming b&b near the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Mary Lee’s by the Sea – colorful apartments on Puerto Rico’s southern coast
Banda Inns – a home away from home in Kampala, Uganda

We plan to partner with more Darn Good Digs in the coming months.  Stayed tuned.

Win a Rough Guide of Your Choice!

30 October, 2009 (01:58) | Contests | By: darngooddigs

For our second Nominate-a-thon, you can enter to win either a Rough Guide of your choice or the Rough Guide’s stunning new photography book, Earth Bound! 

You can enter to win by 1) Nominating your favorite digs, 2) Signing up for our newsletter, or 3) Referring a friend (when they sign up for our newsletter, just make sure they mention your name in the “How’d you hear” box).

Please visit our contest page for more details. 

If we could enter this contest (which we can’t), and if we won (which is impossible), we would pick the Rough Guide to the Baltic States! Which Rough Guide would you pick?

Around Cape Breton and over to Halifax (Nova Scotia Part II)

20 October, 2009 (01:54) | Nova Scotia, Travel Itineraries | By: darngooddigs

Ten days ago we posted about the first half of our trip to Nova Scotia in 2006 in “Nova Scotia: A Two Week Itinerary (Part I)”.  Again, here was our itinerary:

  • 1st + 2nd nights: Lunenburg at the Lunenburg Arms
  • 3rd + 4th nights: Annapolis Royal at the Hillsdale House
  • 5th + 6th nights: Canning at the Farmhouse Inn B & B
  • 7th and 8th nights: Mabou at the Mabou River Inn
  • 9th night: Cheticamp at Merry’s Motel
  • 10th + 11th nights: Dingwall at The Inlet B & B
  • 12th night: Louisbourg at the Cranberry Cove Inn
  • 13th night: St. Peter’s at the Canal House
  • 14th, 15th + 16th nights: Halifax at the Prince George Hotel

In our previous post we left off in the tiny town of Mabou in the middle of Cape Breton’s Ceilidh Trail.  After we hiked the Mabou Highlands Trails, we headed to the foot-stomping Red Shoe Pub for dinner and live music.

Skyline Trail at Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Skyline Trail at Cape Breton Highlands National Park

From Mabou we drove to Cheticamp, the gateway to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. We hiked the popular Skyline trail, high on a headland above the gulf. We spotted a moose in the brush on our walk through the stunted forest, before the trail descended a boardwalk with stunning views of the dark blue waters far below.

We stopped at the Whale Interpretive Centre in Pleasant Bay on our way through the Park. While we skipped the whale watching boats, we did enjoy learning about whale evolution and seeing a life-size model of a pilot whale.

Dingwall Beach, adjacent Cabot's Landing Provincial Park

Dingwall Beach, adjacent Cabot's Landing Provincial Park

We spent two nights in the tiny hamlet of Dingwall at the Inlet B&B, which was essentially staying in a second bedroom with the friendly and welcoming Fitzgeralds. Dingwall was our base for exploring Bay St. Lawrence, where we enjoyed our lunch overlooking the harbor. And we had a lovely afternoon at Cabot’s Landing Provincial Park, a gorgeous stretch of windswept Atlantic beach where we lingered and walked along the four miles of sandy coast.

On our way to Louisbourg we parked at the upscale Keltic Lodge on the Ingonish peninsula for a hike out on Middle Head trail that follows an ever narrowing finger headland into Ingonish Bay.

Inside the Fortress at Louisbourg

Inside the Fortress at Louisbourg

In Louisbourg we stayed at the Cranberry Cove Inn, on the recommendation of Allison’s sister. It was a lovely Victorian home with immaculate themed bedrooms. We were truly impressed with the recreated Fortress of Louisbourg, a Canadian National Historic site. This place blew us away! Every detail of this 18th century town was paid attention to, from the tavern menu to the individual bricks of the reconstructed buildings. The costumed actors playing real people from 1744 truly threw themselves into their parts!  We had a wonderful time, and thought it was completely worth the out-of-the-way drive.

Lock at St. Peter's Canal, Cape Breton

Lock at St. Peter's Canal, Cape Breton

From Louisbourg we drove to the small village of St. Peter’s on a leg of the Bras d’Or Lake and the canal. We enjoyed watching the yachts pass through the St. Peter’s Canal, another National Historic Site, in the Battery Provincial Park.

Then we shot down to Halifax for our last three nights. We stayed at the downtown Prince George Hotel. We gave ourselves a walking tour of the historic downtown, including a stroll through the Halifax Public Gardens and a climb up Halifax Citadel. We also enjoyed the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. One of our highlights from Halifax was the Busker festival, where the entire harbor walk was crawling with charismatic street performers every night of our stay.

We especially enjoyed Nova Scotia’s dramatic coastline and interesting historic sites, and we look forward to visiting Canada’s Atlantic provinces again soon.  We’ll see if we can uncover any more Darn Good Digs up there.

Re: The New York Times Article “100 Hotels Under $150”

13 October, 2009 (13:54) | Uncategorized | By: darngooddigs

We knew we were onto a great idea, but we were a little surprised when The New York Times pretty much lifted the entire concept of our website, darngooddigs.net, for its featured article in this Sunday’s Travel section.  The article, “100 Hotels Under $150″, is a list of hotels recommended by NYT readers in Europe’s major cities.  Stuart Emmrich, the author, writes that “we used [our] database [of readers’ comments] to research and then select 100 hotels that we feel represent some of the best bargains for travelers headed to one of 14 European cities in the next few months.”

That pretty much captures what Darn Good Digs is all about, where travelers nominate their all-time favorite places to stay for under $150, and we research all the recommendations to pick the best of the  best for our site.  Coincidence?  We’re not so sure!  We emailed Mr. Emmrich to see if he had anything to say, but it turns out he was not aware of our site.  He did offer to take a look, though, and we certainly would appreciate that.  In the meantime, we’ll take a look at Mr. Emmrich’s list and see if he’s found any Darn Good Digs.