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Contributor: Travel editor Kerri Westenberg.
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A reader recently wrote this e-mail: "I know Lucia Watson [chef/owner of Lucia’s Restaurant in Minneapolis] has a place in France that she rents out. There’s a link from the restaurant’s homepage. Do you know of any other Minnesota chefs who offer vacation rentals? I think it would be really interesting to stay at one of their places."
It was cause for a delicious exploration. This is what I found: My Taste section colleagues and I don’t know of any other local chefs that offer vacation rentals, though there are a couple of foodie tours you might want to consider.
Before we get to that, a bit about Watson’s French getaway, Mason de Granit: The three-bedroom, stone rowhouse is in Brittany, on France’s northwest coast. As you might imagine, the kitchen is a cook’s dream, with stone walls, a center island and a comfortable round table (though there are other places to eat, with a grand dining room and a terrace with a large wooden table). Rates are $1,600 for five nights, beginning on Monday or Tuesday, and $2,300 for nine nights, beginning on Friday or Saturday. The rental’s website provides more details on the house and the area, plus a peak at what Watson did during her last trip there (sea kayaking) and a few Breton-inspired recipes.
On two tours that feature local cooks, you trade the pleasure of cooking in a chef’s kitchen for perhaps a bigger one: cooking with a chef.
Michael Rostance, top toque at Broders’ Pasta Bar in Minneapolisleads small-group tours in Umbria, Italy. Participants stay in a 14th century palazzo in Spoleto and take daytrips around the region. “We take cooking lessons, hunt truffles, taste wine and new olive oil, make cheese and just enjoy the hospitality and serenity of the ‘green heart of Italy,’” Rostance wrote in an e-mail. The next trip is scheduled for November 3-13 by The Umbrian Table.
For a trip closer to home, consider taking a tour of the Apostle Islands with local food writer Beth Dooley. During the morning, you’ll kayak, hike or hang on a beach. In the afternoon, you’ll visit small local farms and fisheries, stocking up for the campfire cooking to come. The August 4-7 trip is hosted by Minneapolis-based tour operator Wilderness Inquiry.
Q We plan to travel in Ireland with another couple in September. Any recommendations for a car rental company? Type of car? Any restrictions for age of driver? Minnesota license valid to drive in Ireland? Suggestions for insurance coverage for rental car? I heard a certain credit card is needed. Please help.
A Let’s dispense with the easy stuff first. A Minnesota driver’s license is all you need to legally get behind the wheel in the Republic of Ireland, provided you’re at least 23 years old and have had your license for more than two years. Until recently, no one over 75 could rent a car on the Emerald Isle, but an elderly gent contested that law in court and won. (Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, so different rules apply.)
According to Ruth Moran of Tourism Ireland, Hertz, Avis and other U.S. car rental companies operate in Ireland along with a host of reputable Irish companies, such as Dooley Car Rentals. A list of companies approved by the Car Rental Council of Ireland and their contact information is at the official website of Tourism Ireland. There are a few things to consider when deciding on a type of car. Those with manual transmissions will likely cost less; it’s Europe, after all, where stick shifts reign, according to Brennan Breene of the tour operator visitireland.com. Get an automatic anyway, suggests Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune senior books editor and author of several Ireland stories for these pages. You’ll be driving on the other side of the road, and that may be challenge enough. Plus, “you have to deal with the gear shift on the left instead of the right,” she says.
Keep in mind that country and village roads are narrow, says Breene. “If you were to rent a typical American full-size car, you would be miserable driving in Ireland, navigating the narrow streets,” he said. Plus, the price of fuel is significantly higher there.
As for insurance, check with your existing credit card company to see if they offer coverage in Ireland, and ask what any deductible might be. Visa, Mastercard and American Express generally offer coverage, but exact conditions depend upon the issuing bank. Breene warned, however, that some rental car companies in Ireland do not accept credit card coverage, in which case you would need to purchase the coverage they offer. Moran was unaware of any such cases. Be on the safe side and check the policy of your rental car company.
One last bit of advice from Hertzel, our resident Ireland expert: Avoid driving in cities since it’s very busy and confusing and roundabouts are plentiful and nerve-wracking. Outside of towns, be prepared to share the narrow, winding roads with bicylists, tour buses and fast-driving natives. Also, drinking-and-driving laws are very strict. “All that said, I have driven through Ireland at least five times and never had an accident, never ran anyone off the road, never got a ticket. It’s a beautiful way to see the countryside.”
Ah, Paris in springtime. It's everyone's dream even if it's not within everyone's grasp. Check out Paris 26 Gigapixels, which offers a 360-degree tour of the city complete with information on key sites and hokey Parisian background music.
Q I’m trying to rent a car in Paris, but am having trouble finding someone who can help me with our somewhat complicated arrangements. Are there local companies that offer international car rental?
A Most of the big car rental agencies – Hertz, Avis, Europecar.com, etc., have offices in most European cities, but there’s a company based in Portland, Maine that’s highly recommended by several local travel agencies. Autoeurope.com (1-800-223-5555) acts as a consolidator for a number of car rental agencies throughout Europe. They also offer discounts on airfares and hotels.
Q I am taking my teenage daughter and one of her girlfriends to Mexico for spring break. I expect that traveling over the border with an unrelated minor could cause problems. What should we do to minimize the hassle?
A In addition to a passport, which anyone who flies into and out of Mexico needs, a few other pieces of paper should ensure smooth sailing. The girl should carry a notarized letter signed by both her parents authorizing the travel. It wouldn’t hurt for you to have a back-up of the same letter. You should also carry her health insurance card, in the event of any unfortunate accident or illness, and a notorized letter from her parents giving you authority to oversee her care. Preparing such a document is enough to spook any parent, but here’s hoping the worst you’ll have to deal with is a sunburn.
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