Travel Weekly's Europe E-letter: Dec. 8, 2004

DEFENSE DE FUMER: Smoking has been banned throughout France's high-speed TGV (trains à grande vitesse) rail network -- even in bar cars. Smoke-free trains have been gradually introduced on most of Europe's "premier trains" services, such as Eurostar, Thalys, Elipsos and Eurostar Italia, according to U.S. railpass distributor Rail Europe. Fabrice Morel, president of Rail Europe, said the TGV smoking ban was yet another move to increase the competitiveness of high-speed trains with the European airline industry. For more on French TGVs, or to book a ticket or railpass, contact Rail Europe at (888) 382-7245 or log on to www.raileurope.com.

DER HOTEL.COM: German extended-stay hotel operator Derag Hotel and Living launched an apartment-rental Web portal at www.appartementhotels.com to enable booking of European properties owned by different accommodations companies. Travel agents earn 10% commission on all bookings at the site, which offered 17 hotels in 11 cities in Germany, Austria and Swizterland. Derag Hotel and Living itself operates 10 four- and five-star properties, with 2,200-plus rooms, in seven European cities. The newest Derag hotel will open in Bonn, Germany, early in 2005. For more information, call international toll-free at (011) 8000-136-9999 or send an e-mail to [email protected]; alternately, visit www.derag.com.

CZECH, PLEASE: The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group said it will manage a new luxury hotel now under development in Prague, the Czech Republic. The 98-room Mandarin Oriental Prague -- to open in early 2006 -- will be housed in a 14th-century monastery in the city's historic, central Mala Strana district. The hotel will feature a spa and fitness center; restaurant, bar and lounge; and meetings and banquet facilities. It will be the chain's fifth property in Europe. For more, see www.mandarin-oriental.com.

COOL HAPPENINGS: For info on what's happening in Helsinki, Finland, this winter -- or, as the Finns choose to market it, "lively" -- season, check out the new Helsinki City Tourist and Convention Bureau events Web site at www.hothelsinkiteam.fi. Examples of site listings? The Winter Circus Nauru, performing until Jan. 6 at the Cable Factory; the St. Thomas Christmas Market, through Dec. 19 in Esplanade Park; and the International Ice Sculpture Competition on Jan. 17 to 18 and Jan. 24 to 25 at the Helsinki Zoo on Korkeasaari Island. For more, contact the Finnish Tourist Board at (212) 885-9700, [email protected] or www.visitfinland.com/us.

"DA'S" INN?: Cendant Corp.'s Hotel Group, Parsippany, N.J., struck a deal with Russian firm Hermitage Hospitality to franchise Days Inn hotels in Russia and 14 other countries of the former Soviet Union. The franchise pact covers the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as all 12 countries that make up the Commonwealth of Independent States, from Armenia to Uzbekistan. Moscow-based Hermitage Hospitality plans to develop more than 45 Days Inns -- designed to generate more than $195 million in revenue -- over the next five years. For more, see www.cendant.com.

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