Chicago Sun-Times
With Lori Rackl

March 2008 Archives

Houston's hottest hotels

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I recently spent two nights each at two of Houston's hottest hotels: Hotel ZaZa (opened last year) and Hotel Icon (recently wrapped up a major renovation).

Both were luxurious but in very different ways. Hotel ZaZa is a hipster haven -- make that hipsters with day jobs that mean they can afford the mid- to high-$200 starting rate for standard rooms. (The "petite" room category starts just under $200 and the rooms are trendy and chic, just a bit on the smaller side.)

ZaZa used to be the historic neoclassical Warwick hotel until a massive renovation turned it into swanky 315-room bastion of coolness. Especially funky are the themed suites decked out in clever motifs like the space theme in the "Houston, We Have a Problem" room.

Destination weddings

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I had a hard enough time narrowing down a place to get hitched in Chicago. My veil's off to anyone ambitious enough to plan a destination wedding.

Fodor's "Destination Weddings" has some suggestions when it comes to extraordinary places to tie the knot. Among them:

The dramatic Ashford Castle in County Mayo, Ireland. It's a fairytale setting, but Fodor's notes that laws for marrying in the Republic of Ireland are complex, so contact the Irish consulate before you order those Belleek favors.

All the cool kids will want to exchange vows in Sweden's Ice Hotel. A new funky, freezing palace gets built from ice and snow every year in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden. The hotel has a wedding coordinator who can help you with everything from the catering to the mandatory visit to the tax office in Kiruna for the marriage certificate.

A quiz question in a recent Sunday Travel section asked which Caribbean island was invaded by the U.S. in 1983.

Lots of you wrote in with the correct response (albeit misspelled). But hey, if it would fly on "Jeopardy!" I'll take it too. And those who write in a daily newspaper for a living should be very careful about castigating folks for spelling errors.

So today's Travel story was all about a Chicago couple who chartered their own private yacht for their honeymoon.

If terra firma is more your speed, you might want to check out the new "Honeymoon in the Desert" package being offered by the Horizon Hotel in lovely Palm Springs, Calif.

The newly renovated mid-century modern hotel is giving newlyweds a three-night stay in a king deluxe room, where you'll be greeted with a free bottle of bubbly upon arrival. You get a dinner for two at Zin American Bistro and two spa treatments at Revive Salon and Day Spa. You'll also get two tickets for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (that's a must, by the way -- you get great views of the stunning Coachella Valley).

Austin has its share of "nice" hotels. The Four Seasons. The historic Driskill.

But this is a city that celebrates uniqueness and quirkiness, so why not stay in a hotel -- make that motel -- that embodies the Texas captial's independent, funky spirit? If that's what you're after, there's only one place to stay: the Austin Motel.

Each of the 41 rooms -- which start as low as $100 a night, tax included -- is done up in an unusual way. Nothing fancy, just unusual. Like murals of the Great Wall of China or polka dot themes. I stayed in a room meant to resemble an African safari. Cheesy? It would be if the hotel were trying for authenticity. It's clear the owners are just having fun.

The Austin Motel turns 70 years old this year. It's been owned and operated by the same family since 1938. That itself is pretty weird in the hotel industry.

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