I'll be in the south of France this summer and am curious to see how perfume is made. Are there any factories that offer behind-the-scenes tours?
—C.B., ORLEANS, MASS.
With its abundance of jasmine, lavender, orange blossoms, and roses, Provence is where many of the world's best-known parfumeurs find their scents. In the village of Grasse, west of Nice, you can view the process up close at the 1782 factory of Fragonard (20 Fragonard Blvd.; 33-4/93-36-44-65; www.fragonard.com); an on-site boutique sells products at wholesale prices. Also in Grasse, the International Perfume Museum (8 Place du Cours; 33-4/93-36-80-20; www.museesdegrasse.com) surveys the 4,000-year history of perfume, starting with the ancient Greeks. One exhibit challenges museum-goers to put their noses to the test by identifying an assortment of fragrances. Finally, for information on how to participate in a lavender harvest and learn to extract the essential oil from the flower, consult Les Routes de la Lavande (www.routes-lavande.com).
What's the latest word on where to eat and stay in Seattle?
—K.C., DARIEN, CONN.
The current buzz in the city revolves around a rustic new neighborhood bistro on Capitol Hill called Lark (926 12th Ave.; 206/323-5275; dinner for two $80). Chef John Sundstrom, formerly of Earth & Ocean at the W Seattle, uses local produce and artisanal foods such as Port Madison baby Brie cheese from Bainbridge Island. Typical dishes include American sturgeon caviar with Rösti potatoes(grated and fried), steamed mussels with smoked bacon and apples, and handmade orecchiette with Maine lobster. The ever popular W Seattle (1112 Fourth Ave.; 877/946-8357 or 206/264-6000; www.starwood.com/whotels; doubles from $229) has 426 spacious rooms and suites, all equipped with high-speed Internet access and desktop stone water fountains. Just a block away is the recently unveiled Central Library (1000 Fourth Ave.; 206/386-4636; www.spl.org) designed by Rem Koolhaas's firm in collaboration with Seattle's own LMN Architects. This angular steel-and-glass structure is a fitting tribute to a city with such a bookish reputation.
As a woman who travels for business, I'm frequently on the road by myself. How can I best avoid dangerous situations?
—M.A., WASHINGTON, D.C.
According to Phyllis Stoller, founder of the Women's Travel Club, solo female travelers are targets of petty theft more often than they are of physical violence. These basic street smarts will give you the advantage: Carry yourself with confidence (no fumbling with maps in public); leave flashy jewelry—whether real or costume—and expensive sunglasses at home; and streamline your wallet before traveling (it's less of a hassle to cancel one credit card rather than five). Most important: Take cues from local women on everything from attire to behavior. In the unlikely event that you do find yourself physically threatened, says Marybeth Bond, author of Gutsy Women: More Travel Tips and Wisdom from the Road, vocal confrontation—screaming, shouting, and generally drawing attention to yourself—is key.When it comes to hotels, choose one on a well-trafficked street in a safe neighborhood. Bond advises making sure that your name and room number are not announced upon check-in; also, if you use doorknob menus to order room service, don't indicate the number of guests in your room. If it's late, you may want to ask the hotel staff for an escort to your room. For more safety tips, visit www.womentraveltips.com or www.womenstravelclub.com.
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Situated downtown within walking distance of Pike Place Market, this 26-story boutique hotel evokes a 21st-century European chic beginning with the lobby, which is adorned with candlelit tables, marble floors, and a collage of bold original artwork. In the Living Room, custom-designed board games and velvet couches entice visitors to relax beside the fireplace. Equally stylish are the 424 pet-friendly guestrooms, designed with dark woods, earth tones, black-and-white photos of Seattle, and large picture windows. The award-winning Earth & Ocean restaurant serves regional cuisine, while the W Bar—which occasionally hosts live DJ’s—is popular with both guests and locals.