George Washington

Stay at Sting’s, Cook where Julia cooked?

Thinking of where to fly to this summer? This round-up I did for NBC News of famous homes you can hang in may give you some ideas.

Fire Dragon

La Pitchoune, the 3-bedroom cottage in Provence where culinary icon Julia Child and her husband, Paul, spent their summers, is currently available on Airbnb for a minimum 5-night stay for $628 a night.
Known informally as La Peetch, in spring 2017 the cottage will begin hosting week-long cooking classes for six students at a time. In addition to “courageous cooking classes” in Julia Child’s barely-changed kitchen, the all-inclusive sessions include meals, wine, daily yoga classes and local excursions. Price: $3,250 per person.

At Il Palagio, the 16th-century Tuscan villa owned by the rock star Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, “guests can spend days touring the fields and the wine cellar, and nights drinking [the estate-made] “Message in a Bottle” Sangiovese over a meal prepared by the villa’s chef,” says Bruce Wallin of the Robb Report, “And, of course, this being Sting’s place, after dinner you can open up the onsite recording studio and cut a track.”

While there is no weekly-stay requirement, the 9-bedroom, 10 bathroom villa must be booked in its entirety and, as it is “one of the most exclusive and luxurious villas in all of Italy,” according to booking site TuscanDream.com, “is priced accordingly.” How much? You’ll have to call.

In London, groups of up to 16 people can book private tours of the Tower of London that are followed by a private viewing of the Crown Jewels with the Chief Exhibitor and dinner in the Queen’s House. Organized by IfOnly, a site that creates unusual and extravagant experiences, the tour and dinner costs $11,565 per person and benefits the Save the Children charity.

Too rich for your budget? Here are less-expensive ways to stay and/or play at the homes of other famous folks.

George Washington's Mount Vernon - All the President's Pups walking tour

At George Washington’s Mount Vernon, just south of Washington, D.C., visitors and their dogs can join the “All the President’s Pups” tour for a walk around areas of the property usually off limits to guests. (Price: $7 in addition to admission, with is $20/$17 when purchased online; pups: free). Foodies might enjoy the Dinner for the Washingtons walking tour, which visits the mansion’s gardens, food storage cellar and greenhouse. (Price: $$7 in addition to admission)

Garden tasting tours (vegetable tasting included) and archeology walking tours are some of the extra options offered at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, VA (day pass and house tour: $25), while a locally-sourced Summer Farm Dinner series ($85 to $125/person) is offered at Taliesin, fame architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and 800-acre architectural campus in Spring Green, Wisc.
At Taliesin West, Wright’s winter home in Scottsdale, AZ and now the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, there’s a garden walk tour, a private collections tour, a tour for photographers, a family-friendly junior architect tour and an evening tour during which a fire-breathing dragon makes an appearance.

Of course, there’s always Graceland, Elvis Presley’s mansion and sprawling estate in Memphis, which draws over half a million visitors each year.

The basic mansion tour at Graceland ($38.75) satisfies some fans, but the Platinum ($42.50) and Entourage VIP ($75) tours offer a plethora of extras, including admission to Elvis’ automobile museum and an ‘archives experience’ that allows visitors to see some artifacts not seen on the traditional tour. For those who want to get even closer to the King of Rock and Roll, the 450-room Guest House at Graceland is opening this fall with a four day, star-studded celebration that will include live concerts and celebrity appearances from October 27-30.

(My story about staying at and visiting famous people’s homes first appeared on NBC News online.)

5 wacky ways to celebrate the 4th of July

No need to settle for the traditional barbecue or parade this July 4th holiday weekend.
Head instead to one of these towns showing off an offbeat and independent patriotic spirit.

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World’s Largest Cherry Pie served in George, Washington. Courtesy Debby Kooy

In George, Washington, the celebration includes baking the world’s largest cherry pie. “They used to pick the cherries, pit the cherries, make the filling and bake the pie in a special 8 by 8 foot pan in a giant wood-fired stove over in the park,” said Debby Kooy, 58, part of a local service group called the Georgettes that bakes the treat annually. “That lasted until the year they served burnt cherry pie.”

Now they use ovens at a nearby high school, assembling what Kooy calls “more of a giant cherry crumble,” scooped out free on July 4th to about 2000 hungry fans.

Tortoise pet parade

Courtesy Nick Parvas, AVAM

Meanwhile, just off Federal Hill Park in Baltimore, Md., instead of baton twirlers and fire trucks, they celebrate with a pet parade and animal talent show. A regular favorite is Brutus the Tortoise, “who always carries some sort of wild, patriotic contraption on his shell,” said Nick Prevas, spokesman for the American Visionary Art Museum, which hosts the event.

Participants have also included the usual dogs and cats, but also cows, an alpaca, a cicada circus and “imaginary pets,” said Prevas.

“There’s always someone with one of those ‘ghost dog’ leashes and one year someone carried a can that made meowing sounds,” he said.

Gatlinburg Parade - Betsy Ross copy

The prize for “first” 4th of July parade goes to Gatlinburg, Tenn, which begins at midnight. The early start doesn’t scare away attendees. The town says it expects 100,000 to attend, with some staking out their positions beside the route with lawn chairs as early as 7 a.m. on July 3rd. Later, the celebrations continue with an unmanned river raft regatta.

For other cities, Independence Day isn’t just about bringing 1776 back to life. Orlando’s Celebration Town Center, within the orbit of nearby Disney World, hosts a “Sci-Fi” 4th of July, with an appropriately themed costume contest. During the fireworks display, the rockets released into the air are synchronized to soundtracks from science fiction movies and television shows.

Mount Vernon fireworks daytime

In a nod to modernity, “George Washington” sends word via email from his historic estate in Mount Vernon, Va, that he’s “awaiting many guests to my home on this festive day.” On the grounds of where the first President lived, tourists can watch as the re-enactor “inspects the troops,” played by a group of Revolutionary War re-enactors.

Then, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services will swear in 100 new U.S. citizens. Following the ceremony are daytime fireworks and birthday cake.