Work usually takes me no farther than Bayfield or Beloit, but there are exceptions, and in 2012 they included Israel and South Africa. Whether close to home or an ocean away, I found lodging that left a positive impression in a wide range of prices.
Hilton Garden Inn, 611 N. Broadway St., Milwaukee: Here is fresh proof that nationally known brands don’t always look the same.
The 1886 Loyalty Building, ex-headquarters for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, in November began new life as comfortable lodging with competitive rates downtown.
The building, on the National Register of Historic Places, remains a fine example of Romanesque construction. Notice the winding marble staircase, five-story atrium and old-time safes that are treated as vintage art.
In guest rooms, 14-foot-tall, arched windows stretch from floor to ceiling and provide big city views. Modern amenities include free WiFi and in-room coffeemakers, microwaves and refrigerators.
A free shuttle transports guests within five miles of the hotel. Introductory rates start around $95. hiltongardeninnmilwaukeedowntown.com, 414-271-6611
The Normandy Inn and Suites, 405 S. Eighth St., Minneapolis: Near architecturally beautiful churches and the vitality of Nicollet Mall’s restaurants and shops is a modest, older hotel that stands welcoming and personable.
In the middle of the hotel’s two connected buildings of rooms is a courtyard with pools and a ceiling skylight. Internet access is free, and so are shuttle rides to major city sports and entertainment venues until 10 p.m. Access to the city’s 11-mile indoor skyway system is a block away.
Warm cookies and milk appear at 10 o’clock each evening. The hotel restaurant, Normandy Kitchen, began business in 1941 and is rare because it serves lutefisk (throughout December). Smoked trout scrambled eggs are a breakfast specialty; so are cinnamon popovers with maple-flavored butter.
Winter rates start around $95. bestwesternnormandy.com, 612-370-1400
Hotel Metro, 45 W. 35th St., New York, N.Y.: Rates at Big Apple hotels tend to plummet with winter temps, and that’s how I came across this sleek property last January.
If you’ve been to New York City, you know the expectation is lodging for four times the price and one-fourth the space as in the Midwest. That’s not so here, but be flexible with travel to get the best rates.
The midtown Manhattan property is near the Empire State Building and Madison Square Garden. It also is an easy and cheap train ride from the Newark, N.J., airport to New York’s Penn Station, which is a half-mile walk to the hotel.
Rates are as low as $144 in winter, and that includes a modest continental breakfast. If business is slow, don’t be surprised if you get an automatic room upgrade; my brief stay was in a roomy, two-bedroom suite. hotelmetronyc.com, 212-947-2500
Cape Grace, Cape Town, South Africa: Lovely indoor murals are but one sign of this waterfront hotel’s splendid attention to detail. So are the artistic embellishments on fabrics, including upholstery, accent pillows and bedspreads.
Each room and suite is unique in décor. Customer service is refined yet friendly. Meals showcase native cuisine – such as ostrich, springbok (gazelle), bobotie (a minced meat and egg dish) and snoek (a local fish) – in unusual but appetizing ways.
Travelers head to the harbor in Cape Town for shopping, dining and the allure of marine traffic, freighters to yachts. Cape Grace rates as the finest of waterfront accommodations; Travel and Leisure magazine calls it the best hotel in Africa.
Dining at the hotel’s Signal Restaurant means having a front-row view of land and water promenades. Downstairs is Bascule, a cocktail bar with at least 400 types of whisky.
Rates start around $675 at this time of year and include breakfast. capegrace.com, 27-21-410-7100
Hotel Spa Mizpe Hayamim, Rosh Pinna, Israel: Near hotbeds of war – Lebanon to the north, Syria to the east, Israel’s West Bank to the south – is evidence of absolute serenity.
This organic farm and health spa strives to be self-sufficient, and on its 37 acres are fruit-bearing trees that date back to biblical times. Tomatoes to figs are dried the old-fashioned way, on rooftops. Cheese and bread are made by hand. What you see on the table – olives to eggplant – likely is harvested on the same day it is served.
In the farm herds are free-range chickens, grassfed cows, goats, lambs and more. Their milk turns into two dozen types of dairy products, cottage cheese to yogurt. In the farm shop are artisan breads and fruit preserves. Workshops teach how to make candles to soap. Guests also watch artists at work on jewelry to paintings.
One of two restaurants is vegetarian; both present meals as delicate culinary art. Entrees include fish from the Sea of Galilee, distantly visible from the resort. Also within view are the mountainous Golan Heights, an area we associate with war. Others rave about its beauty.
Near the reception area, spa guests lounge in robes with a cup of tea, or linger at a large indoor pool; the room’s roof and windows open in favorable weather. Add hot and dry saunas, indoor and outdoor hot tubs. Massage options, privately or as a couple, include treatments with olive branchs.
Rates start around $450 per night, including breakfast and dinner. mizpe-hayamim.com, 972-4-699-4555