The Brancatelli File



June 10, 2004 -- No business travel this week, okay? There are things we could talk about, I admit, but I've noticed an alarming upswing in E-mails and voice mails from friends and readers saying the equivalent of, "If I don't get a holiday soon, I'm going to scream."

So vacation talk it is. Now you don't need me to dispense conventional wisdom on where to go. I mean, you want to go to London, Paris, Rome, Hawaii, New York or San Francisco? Cool. You know what you're doing. You want Orlando or Vegas? I really don't get those places, but, hey, go in peace if it floats your holiday boat.

But I may have some insight into where to go next. Not off-the-beaten-track places exactly. More like places you should be going to because they're fun, interesting and the confluence of cost, flight availability and exchange rate makes them a compelling choice this particular summer. So what follows isn't your standard roundup of summer holiday havens. But that's good. If nothing else, I can guarantee that you won't run into a horde of gawking tourists when you get there.

It wasn't too long ago that getting to Scotland meant a connecting flight in London or Dublin or a longish train ride from the British capital. Not anymore. Nonstop service to Glasgow and Edinburgh is growing quickly and Continental and US Airways have both added new service just in the last 30 days.

So now that you can get there quickly, what will you find? Spectacular countryside, charming villages, billions of sheep (that's a rough estimate, I admit) and the very sophisticated cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. In fact, last month's Guardian/Observer travel poll rated Edinburgh as Europe's best weekend getaway. And that's something considering most of the papers' readers are snobby Londoners.

My wife and I spent a week kicking around Scotland last month and every experience--skillfully arranged by Scotland fan David Rowell, The Travel Insider--was nearly perfect. If you care about flowers, you'll be wowed by the endless glens full of heather and bluebells. The lochs (lakes) and bens (mountain) really do make for breathtaking panoramas. There are plenty of castles and stately homes, lots of regal and commercial history, museums and culture--and, of course, all the single-malt whisky and salmon you can handle. Edinburgh especially has good chain hotels (the Hilton Caledonian and the InterContinental George), a top-of-the-line contender (The Balmoral, renovated by Rocco Forte) and an outpost of the Malmaison, which invented what the Brits call "lifestyle" hotels and we call boutiques. Admittedly, the exchange rate stinks, which means prices are distressingly high, but Scotland is, at least, cheaper than London.

When the weather turns awful in England and Scotland, the Brits head off to Dubai, their favorite new exotic sun destination. And now that Emirates has launched nonstop service to Dubai from New York--Malaysia Airlines has offered a Newark-Dubai nonstop for several years--a holiday in Dubai isn't totally out of the question now.

When I wrote about Dubai five years ago, I couldn't help but notice that the sophisticated Gulf emirate had become the Switzerland of the Middle East. And despite all the subsequent turmoil in the region, Dubai remains an oasis of stability, safety and, within the limits of Islamic propriety, sybaritic delights. The shopping is stupendous--it starts at the justly famous duty-free shops at Dubai International--and the gold souk is fun if you know what you're doing around precious metals and jewelry. The dining is diverse and excellent, the beaches are great and the powers that be in Dubai are turning the desert into a tourist attraction. The hotels? Even experienced, cynical hoteliers come back shaking their heads in wonder. In fact, Dubai is quickly emerging as the center of lodging innovation with a healthy dollop of over-the-top luxury and giddy excess thrown into the bargain. Sure it's hot now. Big deal. You wanted beach weather, right?

I've lost count of how many flights that the Big Six and low-fare carriers like Frontier and AirTran have added to Mexico in the last year. In fact, Continental seems to be flying to Mexican destinations that even Mexicans haven't heard of yet. No matter which Mexico you like best--the cities, the small towns, the Pacific resorts, the Caribbean resorts--you'll be able to get there cheaper and faster than ever. And with the dollar buying about 11 pesos, the real Mexico outside the dollar-denominated hotels and resorts is extraordinarily inexpensive.

The financial crisis that laid the Argentine economy low several years ago has made Buenos Aires an incredible bargain. When bed and breakfast rates at the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires are around $200 a night, you know there are bargains everywhere. Unless you're a vegetarian, the dining is divine, too.

Philadelphia hosted the 2000 Republican convention and dozens of new hotels opened to handle the crush. Four years later, Philadelphia remains awash in excess hotel capacity, which means hoteliers all over town are dealing big time. Add that to the fact that Southwest's arrival in Philadelphia--the airline will fly to 15 destinations by next month--has forced US Airways to respond with more rational fares and you have the makings of the best bargain holiday in the East this summer. Besides all of the fine restaurants, museums, cultural and historical attractions, the Philadelphia Phillies have a snappy new ballpark that opened this year. What's not to love about the City of Brotherly Love this summer? Oh, the muggy weather. Yeah, well, you can't have everything...

The music. The barbecue. And hotel rates that are incredibly low thanks to an absurd surplus of rooms. And you shouldn't have to work too hard to get a frequent-flyer award to Kansas City. No one goes to Kansas City on holiday, right? All the more reason to go.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.