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Affordable B&Bs in Tuscany

Last week, Daily Traveler reader Sonia3 asked: Could someone recommend a couple of reasonably priced B&Bs or farmhouses in Tuscany, preferably near San Gimignano? We are traveling in early October.

Our resident Italy expert (and Word of Mouth blogger) Ondine Cohane has some ideas:

"If you can splurge, try Borgo Santo Pietro, outside Siena and not far from San Gimignano. I stayed there last year and loved it--the property was also on our Hot List. I often check out the
section for Tuscany on i-escape.com; I like the edited list and agree with their selections. Another thought is the much more rustic Tenuta di Spannocchia, also outside Siena. I visited with CNT's Consumer News correspondent Brook Wilkinson a few years back, and the property made it onto our Green List. It's affordable and has beautiful grounds, and I love its ethos. Enjoy!"

We second that emotion. Got more questions? Ask Condé Nast Traveler.

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A Week in London: Kate Maxwell's Restaurant and Nightlife Picks

On Monday, Daily Traveler reader oneofthoseknights asked: Be in London, UK, 25 Sept.-4 Oct., 2009. Would like to know about 'must-try' restaurants (any cuisine) & nightlife/'mix & mingle' clubs/bars in Victoria/Westminster/ Chelsea areas . . . Pubs serving traditional British food where locals go/hang out?

Here's the lowdown from Condé Nast Traveler senior editor--and London native--Kate Maxwell:

"If you want to splurge, try Gordon Ramsay's three-Michelin-star flagship, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay; Tom Aikens's eponymous resto; or Aubergine, for high-end French fare. My family has a Christmas tradition of going to Bibendum for oysters--the stunning Art Nouveau Michelin building in which it's located is also home to the fantastic Conran Shop. There's a great posh Indian restaurant called Chutney Mary on the King's Road, and you could also check out Bluebird there, which has a buzzy café, bar, and restaurant.

Westminster, Chelsea, and Victoria aren't the best areas for nightlife (Chelsea, in particular, is a Sloane favorite--think rugby shirts with collars up and red jeans, à la Wills and Harry), but there are some good pubs. See the Sloanes in their natural habitat at the White Horse in Parson's Green, a.k.a. the Sloaney Pony. The Admiral Codrington serves food and has a small beer garden; The Red Lion, on Duke of York Street, is a magnificent-looking place; and the Drayton Arms, on Old Brompton Road, has a DJ on weekends. I used to like the Cadogan Arms, a handsome place on the King's Road, when I was a teenager. They served a mean Cointreau and lemonade and accepted fake IDs."

Further reading:
* A Tourist in My Own City: Check out Kate's map from a weekend in London
* The 2009 Hot List restaurants and nightspots in London

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Another Honeymoon in Thailand

A couple of weeks ago, Daily Traveler reader b.newman asked: I am in the process of booking hotels for my honeymoon this August in Thailand. In Chiang Mai, can you recommend whether to stay at the Four Seasons or the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi?

Congratulations! These are both great properties, so it depends on what you're looking for. Here, some of our reporters weigh in:

The Four Seasons Chiang Mai has been on Condé Nast Traveler's Gold List for five years, so it's a good bet. Editors wrote, "On a working rice farm overlooking the Doi Suthep mountains, this resort uses architecture that blends thirteenth-century Burmese, Indian, and Chinese disciplines. Guest pavilions have verandas and vaulted ceilings." The restaurants, including the Thai eatery Sala Mae Rim, serve "the best food you've ever had," according to our other readers.

If looks are your thing, the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, one of Traveler's 2005 Hot List properties, has 123 units that represent more than a dozen different decorative approaches. "By far the most successful are the northern Thai-style villas," reads the Hot List entry, "with private plunge pools and whirlpool tubs. Teak floors and stunning teak-paneled sloping ceilings offset a mix of antique and contemporary furnishings and huge bathrooms with whirlpool tubs." Mandarin Oriental levels of service and pampering prevail, including complimentary yoga classes, a spectacular spa, and a cooking school.

There are plenty more options in Thailand outside Chiang Mai, too, including great properties that opened within the last couple of years. Check out the 2008 Hot List. And for more on honeymoons in Thailand, read user JG's post.                

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Week in Wine Country

North Beach
North Beach, San Francisco's Italian
neighborhood, was a favorite
of Beat poets.

Earlier this week, Daily Traveler readers tpoqa04 asked: My husband and I are being sent on a weeklong trip to wine country and San Francisco, including a dinner at French Laundry. I think we will probably stay close to the Laundry for the first couple of nights to dine, see some vineyards and maybe have some spa time. Then the rest of the week we'll be in SF. Thoughts on what to do/where to go? Oh, tpoqa04, we have many. One of the DTers is a born-and-bred San Franciscan, one lives there now, and the rest of us have done our fair share of hopping (and eating) around that hilly city and the nearby wine country. Here goes:

Responsible Traveler and San Franciscan Brook Wilkinson recently plotted out five perfect days in California wine country for Condé Nast Traveler. You could pick anything from this piece--Brook has ferreted out the Napa Valley's treasures and secrets. She advises that you stay overnight in Yountville, so that you can dine at the Laundry and other places in town without having to drive home. The Vintage Inn, home to a great spa, is offering 25 percent off through the end of the month, and might well have another deal after that. Here are some more Napa Valley properties from CNT's 2009 Gold List--Solage Calistoga also made last year's Hot List.

While in Yountville, go for a dinner at the modern but plush Redd, one of Brook's favorite restaurants anywhere, and if you like the French Laundry, you can enjoy Thomas Keller's cuisine a second time for quite a bit less at Ad Hoc. There, the wünder-chef takes a step back and lets you serve yourself from family-style platters. The menu is scrawled on a blackboard and the servers claim to be the best-fed staff in town. Ubuntu is another top spot to keep on your radar. As for wineries, Brook enjoys Ceja and Swanson, and heartily recommends the Round Pond Olive Oil Tasting--"they give you so much food you can call it lunch."

Read after the jump for San Francisco ideas.

Continue reading "Week in Wine Country" »

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Tuscany: Up at the Villa

Last week we told one of our readers how best to find a pad in Venice. This week, the DT turns its attention towards Tuscany. Reader go.cruise asks: Am looking for a small house or an apartment in Tuscany for May or June. Any advice, or Web sites to browse?

Wendy Perrin and her team annually update a list of best villa rental agents, and one of the go-to Tuscany sources is Suzanne B. Cohen of Suzanne B. Cohen & Associates. Her collection includes affordable cottages and, thanks to her warm relationships with villa owners, she can open doors to the best restaurants and private art collections. Contact her through her Web site or directly at 207-622-0743 or suzanne@villaeurope.com.

As far as browsing Web sites goes, Ondine Cohane, contributing editor and Italy expert, says Tuscany Net, Via Travel Design, and Papavero Villa Rentals are all good resources. Feel free to email her, too, if you'd like some insider information: ondine_cohane@condenast.com.

And if you're traveling through Rome and want an apartment there, just check out our sister site, the Perrin Post.

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Finding a Pad in Venice

Over the weekend, Daily Traveler reader Vmccurly asked: I need an apartment or bed and breakfast for six nights in Venice, Italy.  Do you have any recommendations?  What is the best way to travel from Pisa to Perugia and then on to Venice?

Start with a visit to Wendy's Rolodex of Top Villa Agents. There you will see that the right person to contact for an apartment is Denise Corsile of Venice Rentals in Quincy, Massachusetts. Based in Venice eight months of the year and married to a Venetian, Corsile knows her properties. You won't find info about individual apartments on her Web site; after an initial consultation over the phone, she'll send links to the Web pages of the properties she deems most suitable (617-472-5392; mail@venicerentals.com; venicerentals.com).

And of course, our readers aren't shy about pushing their favorite Venetian hotels.

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Honeymoon in Thailand

Last week, Daily Traveler reader JG  asked: My fiancée and I are beginning to make plans for our honeymoon, which will be in August of this year.  We're looking at several places, including Hawaii and Bali, but we really have our hearts set on Phuket, Thailand. All we want to do is kick back on the beach, eat great local food, and relax, because we know that after the wedding we're going to need it. My question is twofold: What are the best airline and flight deals to Phuket from New York (where we live), and what are some four-star hotel options that won't break us?

Thanks for being specific, JG! This makes our jobs easier. If you're going to fly all that way, our Asia-based editors suggest a few things:

* Do think about Bali. It's a cliché but it's beautiful, it's easy, and you can have a mix of sybaritic lying-on-the-beach days and adventures to Ubud and other places. You certainly won't feel claustrophobic.
* Here are three great places to stay in Phuket that made our 2009 Gold List: the affordable JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa on Mai Khao beach, the less price-conscious but peaceful Amanpuri on Pansea Beach, and Bang Tao Bay's Banyan Tree Phuket, where we just sent one of our "Live the Cover" contest winners.
* Another way to mix it up: You could stay at one of these resorts for a week or so, and then, once you start to get a little stir-crazy, maybe take two or three days for a once-in-a-lifetime experience like the Four Seasons tented camps in Chiang Mai.

As for flights, we haven't heard of any great deals to Phuket, but we'll keep you posted if we do. The best plan of action is to keep checking on sites like Kayak and ITA Software to see how prices fluctuate, and when you see something cheap, pounce! And seeing that you're from New York, pay a visit to those travel agents who specialize in finding tickets for the local Asian community.  As the Perrin Post explains, such small businesses often have the best prices.

Hope this answers your questions. Have more? Comment away.

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Monte Carlo Grand Prix Tix

Daily Traveler wisteria asked: We are considering a trip to southern France this May and are thinking about attending the Grand Prix de Monte Carlo. We understand that tickets are required. Any suggestions about the best and easiest way to get tickets?

Well, wisteria, the annual Formula I Grand Prix is the ultimate event for those who love the taste of gasoline fumes in the morning and a little bubbly at the night. Use the link above for ticketing information on the 2009 race, scheduled for May 21-24. To talk to someone directly about location and ticketing, email the Automobile Club de Monaco at location@acm.mc or call 93-15-26-00 (the country code for Monaco is 377). From our research we found plenty of ticket brokers, so if you go that route, choose carefully. And for more information about the area, read "True Glitz", writer G.Y. Dryansky's Condé Nast Traveler feature on Monte Carlo. Just remember: Modesty is not an operative word there.

Hope this helps! More questions? Just ask.

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Airline Baggage Charges

Last week, Daily Traveler reader bsaylor13 asked: As I recall, I saw somewhere that if there were no charges in place for an airline to charge for checked bags when the reservation was made, that the airline cannot charge when the flight is used if it occurs sometime after the reservation was confirmed.

Yes, bsaylor13, that is correct. Check out airline industry expert Barbara S. Peterson's story in Condé Nast Traveler's December issue, "Navigating Air Travel's New Reality". In it, she explains that the DOT had warned airlines not to charge the fee retroactively . . . apparently after one major airline had attempted to do just that.   

More questions? Ask away.

Further reading:
* Delta Baggage Fee Update
* Passenger Rights Bill Left at the Gate in Washington
* Airlines Embarrassed Over Bag Fee Brouhaha
* Luggage Fees: Watch the Deals . . . and Your Wallet
* Airline Fee Frenzy: When Will It End?
* On the Fly: The airline industry

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Flight Attendants: To Tip or Not to Tip?

This week, Daily Traveler reader j_goettel asked: How do you feel about tipping flight attendants?  They are so hassled (especially nowadays) and work so hard, I think it would help their spirits a lot.

Very thoughtful of you, j_goettel. This issue seems to pop up from time to time, but it comes as a surprise now, considering that even workers who traditionally get holiday tips are expecting less generous payouts this year.

Here's something from "Confessions Of...A Flight Attendant" that ran two years ago in Budget Travel:

Tipping is not encouraged by the airlines, but greatly appreciated by the staff. The key is insisting that we take the money; we're not allowed to accept it on the first attempt. I make doubly sure to attend to the needs of anyone who has tipped me, sometimes throwing in a free round--and the drinks are always strong. Another way to the crew's heart is to give them snacks. Day in, day out, we stare at the same dull airline food. So we're overjoyed when a passenger treats us with fancy chocolates or even packaged trail mix. Simply wait until boarding is complete, hand the gift to a flight attendant, and say, "This is a little something for your crew."

Its author chose to remain anonymous, which should tell us something. The DT's airline industry expert, Barbara S. Peterson, says she has heard of fliers bringing gifts of candy and cookies to the gate in a somewhat transparent ploy to get a better seat, but she has rarely observed passengers doing so in flight.

Another thought, this time from a Condé Nast Traveler editor: "This may be old-fashioned, but I think the best thing to do is ask for their names and then write letters to the customer service department of the airline praising them; I think the letter goes in their files."

When the New York Times posted this column asking why flight attendants aren't tipped, it sparked a lively debate. Reader comments were varied, running the gamut from some flight attendants who didn't like the idea and found it demeaning to those who thought, "Why not?"  That was two years ago, though. What do you think, readers?

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Tale of Two Cities: Montreal and D.C. in Winter

Dia: Beacon
Keep your ears open at the
Hay-Adams hotel lounge,
Off The Record.

Photo: Concierge.com

A Daily Traveler reader recently asked: My parents and I want to take a last-minute getaway before the holidays. We live in Providence, Rhode Island, and it would be from December 19 to 26. We could fly up to three hours from Providence or drive six hours, and we want to go somewhere with plenty of cultural and ecological things.

We've put our heads together and come up with two options. If you want (read: can brave it) to go north this time of the year, Montreal is a little more than three hours by plane but worth the extra travel time. Crisp by day and cozy by night, the city is all-the-time festive. In Condé Nast Traveler's 2006 "Dispatch from Canada's New Culinary Front," Renaissance Man Mark Schatzker gives us the (not-so) skinny on poutine and duck fat-fried potatoes to be had in Québec. Restaurant DNA and M:brgr are two of our newly opened food favorites. (What says culture like practicing your order of roast sablefish with raisin brown butter in French?) The former is essentially around the corner from Hotel Gault, a renovated textile warehouse with 30 loftlike suites, and down the street from Olive & Gourmando, where you can surrender to bowls of café au lait and oversized palmiers for breakfast. For a handle on the city's music scene--Montreal has a long-standing reputation for breeding great bands--surf hour.ca and montreal.mirror.ca. Le National, a two-tier concert hall with pristine balcony boxes and plush red banquettes, and Église St-Jean Baptiste, a Catholic church with stunning acoustics and a monumental handmade brass-and-wood organ, are two spectacular venues. The city's also full of art--browse the Belgo Building's five floors of small contemporary galleries--and parks. And don't leave Montreal without checking out Little Italy's Marché Jean-Talon, a fantastic market open year-round. (Note for the green-minded: Montreal is the first urban center in the world to sign National Geographic's Center for Sustainable Destinations' Geotourism Charter. Read more here.)

For a southern option, why not Washington, D.C.? The presidential hooplah has died down a bit, but there's still a thrilling buzz in the streets, and you'll have a better view of the Capitol Building than you can get on C-SPAN. Across Lafayette Square from the White House, the Hay-Adams hotel has great views of the city. A 2008 Gold Lister, rooms at this former residence of politician John Hay and author Henry Adams feature carved plaster ceilings and custom Italian beds with Frette linens. As for grub, you can go global with Komi, Chef Johnny Monis's heavily reviewed Greek-Mediterranean spot, or comfort yourself with American bistro fare at Cathal Armstrong's Restaurant Eve. Finally, you're looking for culture, you say? The Smithsonian Institution has 17 museums in Washington, including the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Air and Space Museum. Since it's so nippy, we don't recommend a road trip to the Appalachian Trail; rather, try ice skating in the sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Art.

Enjoy your time with your family, and please report back on the trip! Other questions? Just comment below.

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Is Zimbabwe Travel-Safe These Days?

Daily Traveler reader dsales says: "We're planning a trip to southern Africa in January, and we plan to visit Victoria Falls. Our travel agent says it's safe to stay at the Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe. With the current troubles in that country, we'd like a second opinion about safety."

The U.S. State Department's Web site states the following under country-specific information: "Because the political situation in Zimbabwe remains fluid and subject to change at a moment's notice, American citizens should carefully evaluate the need to travel to Zimbabwe at this time."

Given the above, Premier Tours consultant and top travel specialist Julian Harrison says:

"I personally believe that the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls is relatively safe at this time as it is not caught up in the same political turmoil taking place in other major cities.  To date, it is also free of the cholera outbreak plaguing the country. However it is important to note that high unemployment has left the people of Zimbabwe desperate for survival, and this invariably leads to an escalation in crime.  Also, the excessively high rate of inflation is playing havoc with pricing of goods and services.  In addition, the dire economic situation has generally resulted in a lack of adequate health care facilities, which can pose a serious problem should emergency treatment be required."

We hope this helps, dsales. Have more questions, anyone? Please comment below.

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Disappointed Dream Tripper

Southpacificdream
dgh_va's great Dream Trip entry

Recently, Condé Nast Traveler 2008 Dream Trip entrant dgh_va wrote in with this question:

I had aspirations that my August photo South Pacific Dream would be a finalist this year; it wasn't meant to be I guess.  Just so I know the process for future entries, do you look at every photo or is the viewing pool based on random criteria? Or is it, perhaps, based on the number of comments and ratings by viewers?  I love your magazine and website--I'm an avid reader and user.  Thanks, and keep up the great work.

Let us start by saying your photograph is beautiful. It deserves the comments cntraveler.com users have given it.

Competition was tough this year: We received around 40,000 entries, many of them great (and yes, we look at each and every one). The judges had a tough job! Specifically in August, too, we had some really fine submissions. Another thing to keep in mind is that we weigh photo and text equally. 

Hopefully this helps demystify the process a bit. And hopefully you continue to submit so that we continue to see your great images. Good luck, dgh_va!

Further reading:
* Look at dgh_va's awesome entry
* This year's Dream Trip finalists are better than ever
* Check out last year's winner

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Birthday-Friendly Restaurants in New York


Watch our Hot List New York video for ideas on how to paint the town.

Daily Traveler reader pwrdwrf asks: What's the best fun restaurant in Manhattan to celebrate a 25th birthday? The DT has called on our food fanatics, and they've provided their picks:

* Arguably the most crowd-friendly restaurant in the Bromberg brothers' Blue Ribbon empire, Blue Ribbon Bakery in the West Village is a great place for a party. One of our own Daily Travelers hosted her 25th birthday dinner in the cozy wine cellar below the main restaurant (the long wooden table seats 10 or 12), and since hers was the second seating of the night, her friends could nibble on bone marrow and steak tartare until closing if they wanted to--and they did.

* For free-flowing wine and homestyle Italian food, try Supper in the East Village. Ask for the huge table in the semi-secret downstairs, and don't miss the burrata appetizer. This place is good good and cheap cheap.

* Kuma Inn is BYOB, and it takes reservations for up to eight people. Chef King Phojanakong's Filipino-Thai small plates allow diners to share numerous (inexpensive) dishes--we live for the caramelized Chinese sausage and drunken spicy shrimp. Afterwards, hit up some Lower East Side hot spots or snuggle into a booth at Allen & Delancey for a wicked cocktail.

* It may not be a looker of a restaurant (although its design was paid more attention than most function-only dim-sum joints; check out the slide show here), but Dim Sum Go Go's menu delivers. Big, round tables are good for groups, and multiple courses won't come close to breaking the bank.

* The über-popular Boqueria recently opened a Soho brand that has the same buzzy scene and haute tapas. Book the big table at the back (it has a nice view of the open kitchen) and a round of sangria. The huge menu is perfect for groups: picky eaters will be happy with patatas bravas and garlic shrimp, while more adventurous souls will swoon over truffled lentils with poached egg and Serrano ham, or grilled baby squid.

* If you feel like taking the crew to Brooklyn, Char No. 4 is one of our favorite recent discoveries. Austin transplant Matt Greco house-smokes and cures his southern dishes in a setting much more sophisticated than boot-tapping barbecue joints. The perfect pairing for charred oak-flavored meats? Bourbon. And the bar has more than 300 whiskeys for your sampling pleasure. Hop over to Julie Reiner's Clover Club afterwards, just a few doors down, for some punch served in vintage bowls and chilled teacups.

Have a travel-related question?  Ask Condé Nast Traveler.

Further reading:
* Hot List 2008: Condé Nast Traveler's New York picks
* Video: New York City in 24 Hours

Ask Conde Nast Traveler

Upstate New York Road Adventure

Dia: Beacon
The Dia:Beacon during renovation.
Photo: Michael Govan

Wendy Perrin recently received this question from one of her Perrin Post readers, and we have some answers on the DT:

"My husband and I are landing at [Newark International Airport] early evening and will be eventually headed to Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  I would like suggestions of where to stay upon arrival that would offer easy driving should the weather be bad (don't want to go into Manhattan).  We don't want to spend a lot of money for a one-night stay, but it is our anniversary and would like to have a good dinner and a nice hotel before heading out the next day on a road adventure. Suggestions?"

There's plenty to do in Beacon, New York, and one of our favorite affordable spots to cuddle in for a toasty night is the Mt. Beacon Bed & Breakfast. (The drive from Newark International is about an hour and a half.) The proprietors live at the inn, so they're on hand to help 'round the clock (we had some trouble lighting a fire in our room, and they were kindling-ready at a moment's notice), not to mention they make a mean breakfast. There are only a few rooms, though, so give a call ASAP. If you have time, check out the Dia:Beacon before you head north. A former factory, the building now houses great works of contemporary art (Louise Bourgeois, Sol LeWitt, Andy Warhol) and its cafeteria serves comforting soups made daily from locally sourced ingredients. Here's some more on "Quick Trips" to Beacon from Condé Nast Traveler's May 2008 issue.

Another great stop if you have time: Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Dinner will cost you at Dan Barber's restaurant (it's been called "the most important restaurant in America") but it's perfect for an anniversary celebration. For a marked-down taste of Barber's magic, you could stop for lunch at Blue Hill's café and then walk around the farm (pigs and chickens and cows--oh my!). Finally, Town & Country Travel recently did a Hudson Valley round-up; read their suggestions for where to sleep and nibble here.

Anyone else have suggestions? Please let us know your thoughts in comments.

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Got a travel question? Post your query by clicking on "Post a comment" below, and we'll do our best to answer it promptly.

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Shark Fin Soup: An Apology

Two separate mentions of shark fin soup in our October issue drew a wave of letters from readers criticizing a dish that has helped contribute to the dangerous depopulation of sharks in the world's seas. We agree with our readers and deeply apologize for the oversight. We at Condé Nast Traveler do not condone the practice of cutting the fins of sharks and tossing the live animal back into the sea to die. Nor do we support the massive overfishing, poaching, and pollution that has put this ancient and unfairly demonized creature on the brink of extinction.

The good news, as our readers demonstrated, is that people are starting to be educated. Looking for more information? The documentary Sharkwater is a great place to start.

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Questions About Readers' Choice Awards

Since our November issue hit stands, Condé Nast Traveler has received a lot of feedback--fan mail, questions, complaints, and everything in between--on our Readers' Choice Awards results. In the current spirit of democracy, the DT will be posting some of these letters and answering your questions.

Here's one: "I was just wondering how you choose the hotels and resorts in your top picks--is there a way to nominate our favorite places? I've noticed that the Honor Mansion, an inn in Healdsburg, California, has never been in your top picks, but it is one of my absolute favorites."

To answer: If you can imagine, we polled more than 9,000 properties this year. We try to be as inclusive as possible and cover everyone. But with the hospitality industry moving at the speed of sound, we can't always keep up. This is where our readers come in. Since you are the most savvy travelers around, we rely on you to tell us what we've missed. That's why we always include the option to write-in any properties or destinations that you loved so they can be included in next year's poll. We've just added the Honor Mansion to the 2009 survey. Thanks for the tip!

Do you have a question, response, or rant about any of the properties, destinations,  or modes of transportation featured in the Readers' Choice Awards? If so, post a comment. We'd love to hear from you.

Check out our methodology after the jump.

Continue reading "Questions About Readers' Choice Awards" »


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