January 12, 2011

Q: Can you recommend a few good private walking tours in Europe? —Alice Lee, Los Angeles, Calif.

A: The bespoke itineraries from Context Travel (contexttravel.com; from $85) are led by scholars in cities including Florence and Istanbul. On the three-hour Underground Rome trip, an archaeologist takes you to sites below street level, such as the subterranean area of San Nicola in Carcere, built over three republican-era temples on busy Via del Teatro Marcello. London Walks ($12) lets travelers customize a two-hour neighborhood excursion (one standout: Old Westminster by Gaslight). And food writer Wendy Lyn runs The Paris Kitchen (thepariskitchen.com; $182), with three-hour walks on the Left Bank, stopping to sample local specialties such as foie gras from the Périgord. —T+L assistant editor Bree Sposato

Q:We’re considering renting an affordable villa in the Caribbean. Where should we stay? —Nicole Barnes, Cincinnati, Ohio

A: Wimco has created a special portfolio of value properties in the Caribbean islands; we love St. John’s one-bedroom Villa Mas Cro (rom $270, seven-night minimum), which has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Cruz Bay. St. Bart’s isn’t known for its deals, but St. Barth Properties has some surprising finds, such as Villa La Case du Roy (from $245, seven-night minimum), a one-bedroom cottage with a Jacuzzi. HomeAway is a good resource for private vacation houses. Our favorite: Provo Villa (from $171, five-night minimum), in Turks and Caicos, with two bedrooms, white vaulted ceilings, and a wrap-around porch for outdoor dining.

Q: I’m looking for hotel cooking programs in the U.S. where my son and I can experiment side by side. Any ideas? —Richard Wolly, Washington, D.C.

A: In Tennessee, Blackberry Farm (doubles from $845, three-day course $400) allows parents to act as sous-chefs while their children bake sweets (watermelon-chocolate cookies) at the Kitchen Full of Kids, run each summer by cookbook luminary Helen DeFrance. The 142-room Cavallo Point Lodge (doubles from $265; classes from $65) in Sausalito, California, runs family-friendly courses in its 1,200-square-foot kitchen; you’ll prepare polpette di melanzane (eggplant meatballs). The demonstrations led by Santa Fe’s Inn on the Alameda (packages from $258 per night, two-night minimum) suit all age groups. On the menu? Traditional Southwestern plates such as spicy chicken enchiladas.

Q:Can my wife and I transfer airline miles between our accounts without paying an extra charge? —Frank Johnson, Portland, Ore.

A: There is no way to avoid the fees incurred by sharing your air miles, so it’s best to choose a program based upon how many you’re looking to exchange. Mileage Plus from United offers a good rate ($0.015 per mile), but it’s also restrictive (you can transfer a minimum of 5,000, a maximum of 60,000, and receive no more than 15,000). Delta SkyMiles imposes a slightly lower toll ($0.01) and is more flexible (the transfer minimum is 1,000, the yearly maximum 150,000, and you can accept 300,000). If you want to move a larger block, Continental One Pass allows you to transfer up to 100,000 at $7.50 per 500 block, and there is no limit on the amount you can receive. Check your airline’s website for promotions—some allow you to earn bonus miles during certain months.

Cavallo Point Lodge

Opened in 2008, with a prime location half a mile north of the Golden Gate Bridge in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Cavallo Point blends old and new to great effect. Its 142 rooms and suites are set in restored turn-of-the-20th-century Colonial Revival buildings that were onceofficers’ residences at Fort Baker. The lodge has a Healing Arts Center & Spa, an organic Tea Bar, a culinary arts program (sample classes: “Cooking from the Farmers’ Market” and the “Asian Melting Pot”), yoga classes, and one of the most dramatic views of that world-famous bridge.

Blackberry Farm

About 25 minutes from Knoxville, Blackberry is like a south of the Mason-Dixon Line edition of a Currier & Ives print: ribbons of white fences, a pond stocked with catfish, and houses constructed from Tennessee fieldstone. Set on 4,200 acres in the Great Smoky Mountains, Blackberry’s 62 rooms—spread throughout the main house, three guesthouses, and 20 cottages—are done in a plush Anglo-American idiom, complete with fringed swags and decorative pillows in fancy fabrics. Regulation rockers are soldiered onto the front lawn for the day’s Big Moment: sundown with tumblers of Hirsch 20-year-old bourbon.

Inn on the Alameda

It’s all about privacy and sense of place: 71 secluded adobe rooms and suites open onto a flower-filled courtyard. Cozy, pueblo-style hideaway with traditional Southwestern décor, near the plaza and a short stroll from the art galleries on Canyon Road.

Room to Book: Casita wing Deluxes are spacious, some have kiva fireplaces.

London Walks

With more than a dozen drop-in walks daily, these tours are perfect for last-minute planners. The West End on Film tour is perfect for movie buffs. Discover the cinematic West End—site of the first London film screening in 1896 as well as countless modern premieres—as it appears in dozens of movies. Stand where Michael Caine once confronted a traitor in The Whistle Blower (1987), Alfred Hitchcock directed Blackmail (1929), and Helen Mirren filmed The Queen (2006).

Villa Mas Cro

Villa La Case du Roy

Provo Villa

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