Santiago – a unique blend of old, communist, and avant garde

(updated 12 October 2018)

Santiago de Chile is an interesting place to say the least: there are gorgeous examples of old architecture, remnants of hard times gone by but still in use, and modern buildings and streets that look forward to the future. For a brief stint – perhaps on your way to Patagonia, over to Easter Island, or in combination with Buenos Aires – this city has much to offer. For a longer stint, for which I must admit I was here on business, it can get a bit tough to keep yourself occupied I’m afraid. But don’t let that stop you as a lifetime is really not complete without a visit to Santiago and to experience the charm and friendliness of the Chilean people.

Nites

I had the great fortune to stay at two amazing hotels while in Santiago. In the Providencia neighborhood, and close to numerous forms of public transportation is the Le Reve Boutique Hotel (http://www.lerevehotel.cl/). The rooms are large and comfortable, the breakfast is ample and delicious, and the staff are amazing. And the gardens! Stunning and a welcomed respite from the craziness that can be just outside the front doors of the hotel.

The other hotel that I can recommend is The Aubrey (http://www.theaubrey.com/). More expensive than Le Reve, this lovely hotel with just 15 rooms is situated at the base of the Cerro San Cristobal in the Bellavista neighborhood. Fun, hip, restaurants are just around the corner and the staff is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered; I didn’t want to leave the room or the hotel.   And the bar! My god, the bar!

The Aubrey bar 02The Aubrey sitting room

Bites

Santiago, and Chile as a whole, is not really known for the culinary charm but I had the pleasure of visiting a few restaurants that I would gladly return to.

If you only have one night in Santiago, I would go to Miguel Torres (http://www.restaurantemigueltorres.cl/) located just off of Vitacura. A truly stunning restaurant with lovely ambiance and food, you will find a plethora of options that will even satisfy the vegetarian in the group.

For a slight change in food, or perhaps just something a bit more traditional(ish) is Los Cuates (http://www.restaurant-loscuates.cl/). There’s nothing overly special in the décor but the staff are amazing and the food (all Mexican) is outstanding!

If you stay at La Reve, there are a number of restaurants on the small street that the hotel shares. Luco’s Hamburgueseria is a charming place that only serves burgers but has great happy hour drinks and makes a mean pisco sour. And as of this writing, there’s a charming guy named Juan who will keep you happy all night long! And on the same street, just a few doors down, is El Huerto (http://www.elhuerto.cl/), a cool yet calm vegetarian restaurant that was a welcomed retreat from much of the heavier food

Sites

Sadly, I didn’t happen upon anything that I didn’t read about in guidebooks and articles about Santiago. But as I always do, the opportunity to just walk and get lost is an experience in and of itself and I encourage everyone to at least do that.

virgin mary atop cerro san cristobal detailed side

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Berlin – where old meets new and a fresh look forward

(updated 08 July 2018)

I love Berlin. You see that on shirts and mugs all over the city but I really do love it here; it’s vibrant, it’s old meets new, and the people really are some of the nicest people I’ve met in my travels. Or perhaps I should say “I love Berliners”.

Nites

I’m still on the look out for the perfect place to stay in Berlin. A while ago I found the hotel Ku’ Damm 101 (http://www.kudamm101.com/en/) which is a funky hotel in the Charlottenberg area of Berlin and I must admit that it is well located and the staff really are quite friendly. But reader beware: rooms on the lower level facing the Ku’ Damm can be quite loud so don’t accept the first room that you receive and if you aren’t happy, let them know because, speaking from experience, the traffic noise can be loud. But other than that, I like this hotel.

Bites

I am sad to say that my favourite restaurant in Berlin “d31” (http://www.d31-das-restaurant.de/) has now closed so it’s obvious (to me!) that I must return and find more restaurants to add to my list.  But, until I do, I can still recommend these

Another recommendation that I can’t confirm, but I trust my friend so I include it here, is Weiner Beisl (http://www.wiener-beisl.de/), a charming, traditional German restaurant that if I only had one more day in Berlin, I would be trying myself.

Now, if you want what I can only describe as nouvaeu German cuisine, I would highly recommend that you go to Katz Orange (http://www.katzorange.com/en). It’s in the Mitte part of the city but you can easily get there via the U-bahn and the S-bahn, or just take a taxi. The décor is phenomenal, the staff truly helpful and informed, and the food divine. The traditional flavours of German cooking, in a more modern presentation and style. And oh so tasty!

On my return, I hope to go to eins44 (http://www.eins44.com/). I am literally obsessed by this restaurant based on the website and the menu alone. More when I return!

If you are looking for a break from what can sometimes be heavy food, I can heartily recommend Satyam (no website but the address is Grohlmanstrasse 22, 10623 Berlin-Charlottenburg; tel: 030 312 30 29) which isn’t too far from the Ku’Damm hotel and, even if it were, it is worth checking out.

Sites

I love Berlin and I love walking everywhere, and to as many things and sites as I can. Beyond what every run of the mill guidebook tells you to see, I can’t add to that other to say that this is a phenomenal people-watching city and you must take advantage of it.

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Torino – Italian with a hint of Swiss mixed in

(updated 30 November 2018)

When I think of how to describe Torino, I constantly think of it as a hybrid between Italy and the Swiss: the locals have all of the traits that I love in an Italian but there is something a bit more Alpine – I truly don’t mean that offensively – about them that really does make this place absolutely unique. And the Alps in the distance don’t hurt things either!

the alps from TorinoNites

I love the TownHouse mini-hotel chain in Italy and, thankfully, Torino has the only one outside of Milano: TownHouse 70 (http://www.townhouse.it/th70) which is centrally located to everything that you could ever want to see, and eat!, and is a short walk from the Porta Nuova train station so you don’t even need to take a taxi! TownHouse 70, like the others, offers a communal breakfast but, unlike the others that I’ve stayed in th70 has taken feedback to heart and now offers BOTH the communal option as well as a separate room with individual tables. So, if you don’t feel like sitting with strangers, you can now sit alone.

Bites

The food in Torino, and I suspect all of the Piemonte region, is quite heavier than that of central and southern Italy and, I must admit, took a bit of getting used to. Honestly, I didn’t see a salad on any menu. Granted, this could be because of the time of year, which I respect, but when walking through the Saturday and Sunday outdoor markets, I did see various lettuces and other vegetables so they were coming from somewhere.

But I digress… if you only have one night in Torino, I would encourage you to go to Le Vitel Etonne (http://www.leviteletonne.com/). This was probably the cheapest restaurant that I had the pleasure of visiting and, by far, the best, the most charming, and the most “at home”. When I arrived – as I learned to do when in Venice and being told that they couldn’t serve a vegetarian – I asked if it was a problem and they said “not at all.” And then came this lovely fresh ricotta with a pistachio sauce that was amazing and simply followed by a cross between a soufflé and a round omelet of eggs, cheese, and spinach. And that was just the appetizer! But for the main course, I had asked if I could just have a pasta with some vegetables because there is only so much gnocchi with a gorgonzola sauce that one can eat. (Like I said above, it’s heavy food.) And then before me was a lovely plate of homemade pasta with a bit of butter and fresh artichokes. Add a bit of parmigiano cheese and I was a very happy man. Oh, and before I forget: they have amazing glasses of wine by the glass – how to end a trip to Torino without yet another glass of Barolo?! – as well as a wine cellar that you can pick and choose from. When I left, they asked how the food was and I could say was “I am so very happy”.

If simple and small places aren’t you’re thing and you want to splurge, I can suggest two other restaurants on opposite ends of the spectrum. For a traditional, and lovely, meal, go to Tre Galline (www.3galline.it). Don’t mind the area of the walk to the restaurant because I promise, the food is divine and this late in the year, I was still able to have an appetizer with black truffles. This is a very traditional Piemontese restaurant, with a heavy emphasis on meats and meat-filled pasta, but it is worth the journey and definitely the experience.

Tre Galline insideThe other restaurant that I can highly recommend is Consorzio (http://www.ristoranteconsorzio.it/). I read some unflattering things on various sites so I was prepared but I tell you, the guys that ran the restaurant were a delight! Once again, I asked if my being a vegetarian was a problem and my guy – there are only 3 plus the chef – shook his head yes and said “it’s not a problem” – and it wasn’t. The wine was great – if you’ve not tried a Ruché before, ask for it here – and the food outstanding, if not traditional Piemontese: the plates are smaller, the food a bit more “nouveau” and perhaps even moving toward the refined and perhaps even French scale of cooking. But I loved it and I will return.

Another recommendations is L’Agrifoglio (http://www.lagrifoglioristorante.com/). Although not near the “centre” which is also where the Townhouse 70 hotel is, you can reach it by walking, just allow yourself a leisurely 30 minutes to get there but I promise, it will be worth it: the food is simple and traditional, which is what I search for in a restaurant, the staff was outstanding and amazingly helpful to this vegetarian, and the prices were so affordable that I did a double-take at the bill to make sure that they didn’t forget something!

And my latest find, although not “new” by any stretch of the imagination is Al Gatto Nero in Torino. From the outside, the restaurant is pretty non-descript and really quite easy to miss. But on the inside is a world of classic piemontese cuisine with lovely staff and even better food.  And given that it was, once again, white truffle (tartuffi bianchi) time, I had to try and honestly, it was the best I had this time around and, perhaps, near the top of ever.

And because I found this “fornai” (bread shop and more) and wandered in desperate search of it the following day, I encourage everyone to find Perino Vesco (http://www.perinovesco.it/it/). It is amazing! The staff was sweet (and remembered me on only the second day), the pannini, the sweets, and the coffee were outstanding! Honestly, the things they had on display here made it difficult for me not to buy everything in the entire store! And the fact that it was crowded both times I went in tells you lots. (And I was the only tourist that I could hear!)

Sites

Beyond the standard guide book things to do, I can’t honestly suggest other sites that one needs to visit. The first Eataly and the Olympic stadium are well outside of the centre and a serious hike – Eataly took me 45 minutes to walk to from the centre and the Olympic Stadium further AND there was a Juventus game so I couldn’t tour that day anyway – but as I always do, don’t worry about what a guidebook says you have to do, but just wander and take in this lovely city.

I want to return to Torino as I have visions of truffles dancing in my head but even if you can’t come in the fall, for whatever reason, Torino really should be on your bucket list of places to visit and explore. It really is a different version of Italy than you are probably used to.

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Taormina may be a tourist mecca but it really can’t be missed.

Taormina is an interesting place for me, and also a bit of a quandary: it is incredibly touristy, and you are often overrun by tour groups but at the end of the day, both literally and figuratively, I do love this city and its people and think that everyone should visit at least once in their life.

Nites

Finding anything other than tour-group overrun and typical is pretty difficult in this hill-top town, if not impossible. Although it’s not the most unique hotel, I did enjoy the Hotel Monte Tauro (http://www.hotelmontetauro.it/eng/index.html). The breakfast was lovely and if you are patient and wait until the inevitable tour group that has overrun the hotel have departed – typically after 9am – you can enjoy a peaceful breakfast looking over the sea. And despite the tourists, I must admit that the rooms, and more specifically their balconies, are worth the price (although I suspect every hotel in the city has balconies with views).

Bites

Despite all its restaurants, Taormina only has one slow food movement restaurant and trust me when I tell you, it is worth the trek and you really must find it: Tischi Toschi (no website). The inside restaurant has only a few tables and the outside just as few so be sure to book in advance because it is so worth it.   Thankfully, the restaurant had vegetarian options for me but the food that passed my table, regardless of what it was, smelled and looked absolutely divine.   And if you only have one night in Taormina, and you go here of course, you must have the “Sicilian pesto”: a wonderful combination of oil, garlic, almonds or pistachio, and a bit more garlic. Mmmmmm.

Another find that was actually recommended by the hotel was A’Zammara (http://www.zammara.it/lang1/) which truly was fantastic.   Situated on a small side street, with its own garden, the food was lovely and expertly prepared, the staff really quite sweet, and solace of being away from the hustle and bustle of the tourists a welcomed respite from it all.

Sites

I’m not sure there are really sites that can be recommended besides those that are in every possible guide book. I would, however, strongly encourage you to take a day trip to Etna, even though it is touristy, as you can, for the most part, do whatever you want, and take as much time or as little to explore and see one of the largest and most active volcanoes in Europe.

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Siracusa – a peaceful and relaxing get-away from the craziness that can be Sicily

Siracusa has such fond memories for me and my latest return did not let me down. The city is old, and there are parts that are falling down and in desperate need of repair, and then there are parts that are charming and inviting and, inevitably, the whole place puts a smile on my face.

Nites

In trying to find hotels that I could recommend, I happened upon the Charme Hotel Henry’s House (http://www.hotelhenryshouse.com/en) which I recommend whole-heartedly. Henry’s House is not your cookie cutter hotel so if you are looking for bland rooms and uniformed staff, this is not the place for you. But if you want the most amazing and helpful owners – the brothers were simply the best – the funkiest rooms, and some of the most amazing and stunning rooms, this is the hotel for you. I loved this hotel and can’t wait to try another room now that I’ve stayed in what I believe is affectionately called “the boat”.

If you want something that isn’t quite as funky as Henry’s House, but is still a total charmer, I would highly recommend the Algila Ortigia Charme Hotel. This is true stunner of a hotel in Ortigia and there is something about this hotel that reminds me of Alacati and the hotels and the town combined.

Bites

There are currently only two slow food movement restaurants in Siracusa (and arguably a third, but more on that in a moment). And as a fan of the slow food movement and what it is that they promote and are trying to do with their food, I am so very pleased to say that neither disappointed.

The Taberna Sveva (no website) is not far from Henry’s House and is absolutely divine! Even in late October, Siracusa is still warm so al fresco dining is possible, and encouraged, and I was fortunate enough to sit outside, gaze upon the up lit buildings and enjoy the most amazing gnocchi with pistachio cream sauce I have ever had. And as someone who really doesn’t enjoy gnocchi (I find it a tad too heavy), and on a warm night even less enjoyable, Teberna Sveva changed my mind! And kudos to the staff for, when I saw that they only had wine by the bottle and I wanted to have a glass with my dinner, they opened a bottle and gave me a glass. Thank you Taberna Sveva.

The other slow food restaurant in Siracusa that I loved and cannot stop thinking about is La Gazza Ladra (http://www.gazzaladrasiracusa.com/).  Situated right in the heart of Ortigia, on the primary shopping street, this little restaurant (of 30 or so seats?) is an absolute oasis. The restaurant is adorned with kitschy photos and paintings and you won’t sit down to china and crystal stemware.   But you will sit down to amazing food, much like nonna would make, that is simple, classic, and truly mouthwatering.

The third restaurant that I tried, which should arguably be a slow food restaurant was Osteria del Vecchio Ponte (no website). I honestly don’t remember how I found this restaurant, and the guys at Henry’s House had no idea about this restaurant, but it’s a short walk over the bridge from Ortigia and located on a small side street. When I arrived for my reservation, there was only one other table occupied which made me nervous. And then when I looked at the menu and everything was fish, I was more nervous. But then the owner (and chef) came over, I asked if it was a problem that I was vegetarian and he said no. But, better yet, as we were figuring out what to make, his daughter (I think), came over said she didn’t like to eat too much meat and suggested one of the pastas just without the pancetta. And it was absolutely divine: pasta, with tomatoes, zucchini, onion, garlic, and hidden beneath the pasta, the softest, most delicious soft cheese that when combined created the most amazing cream sauce I have ever had. (Yes, my mouth is watering!)

And before I forget… after dinner, as you take that lovely stroll, whether it be to your hotel or just to take in this lovely city, be sure to stop at Bel Bon.  It’s a chain of gelaterie around the city but they are amazing.  And if you can’t make up your mind, go with riccotta gelato.  I salivate just thinking about it!

Sites

For me, the primary thing to do in Siracusa is to walk. To just stroll, people watch, and take numerous photos. But I must admit that a trip to the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis really should be on everyone’s list. When I first went to Siracusa, the park wasn’t opened so I walked the perimeter and just peered through the fences. This time, it was open and although some parts were still closed, and others not clearly marked so that I got yelled at for being somewhere that I shouldn’t have been, it was truly such an amazing experience. And yes, you must see the Ear of Dionysius (and hear everyone trying to sing and experience the echoes) but the rest of the park is just stunning and enchanting and literally takes you back to years gone by and a completely different civilization.

 

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London – trouble waiting to happen in this inviting and charming city

You can get in to any number of types of trouble when you visit London: lord knows I do every time! That trouble could be shopping, over-eating, drinking, or even just wondering and getting lost. But that’s part of the charm to London so come prepared – and leave that credit card in the room if you have no self-control (note to self) – and start exploring this truly wonderful city!

Nites

The number of options in London is truly staggering and I am still trying to find the cool, funky, non-cookie-cutter options, all without spending a fortune (the latter may not be possible I fear!).

Blakes Hotel (http://www.blakeshotels.com/) in South Kensington is definitely a charmer and as part of the “Design Hotels” group, it gets added points for style and creativity. The hotel is located in a small residential area, but easily walkable to everywhere so I really do love this hotel. But affordability is a relative terms so be prepared (and stalk those sale sites!)

Another option that I just tried was the Andaz London (http://www.london.liverpoolstreet.andaz.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html) which, although part of the Hyatt chain, was really quite nice.   The hotel itself is a bit cookie-cutter – and although I love minimalist designs, the rooms were just plain which didn’t exactly scream “come and stay again” – but it’s proximity to the Liverpool tube stop makes it a great place from which to navigate most of the city so that gets plusses from me.

Bites

The Gate Restaurant (http://thegaterestaurants.com) was a fantastic suggestion from a friend and although it’s a vegetarian restaurant, be prepared to make a reservation and don’t be late. (We were 15 minutes late and nearly lost our table!) The food was amazing and the wine list, although small, was brilliant and, for the most part, affordable. The décor isn’t much to write home about but I must admit that the large windows that look out over rooftops was a smart touch.

Another find, this time over near Covent Garden, is Nopi London (http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/locations). Part of the Ottolenghi chain of restaurants, this restaurant has a formal dining room, that I loved and can’t stop thinking about, and a more “family style” environment downstairs that, the night I was there, was actually fitted for a formal and private banquet. The food was divine and the options for every food type extensive, and I bet, amazing.   Big kudos to the restaurant for the following: we ordered desert but it was late in arriving. Because we were sitting there just chatting and not eating, and they explicitly say you have 1.5 hours to eat (not something I like and find somewhat offensive), the manager came over and politely asked how we were doing. When we said that we were just waiting on desert, he disappeared and quickly returned with our desert. Cool. He then followed up and when we raved about the desert, he took us to meet the pastry chef who then gave us the recipe for his chocolate confection. I’d return just because of this.

Sites

I’m still in search of those sites and experiences that you can find outside of your typical guidebook so stay tuned…

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Sanremo, on the Ligurian coast: an era of days gone by

Sanremo is an interesting town along the Ligurian coast that I had always wanted to visit. For a short visit, it’s a lovely place. For anything longer than 4 days, I would tell you to visit other places with more to do, and more to see. In a perfect world, and if you are the daring type, I’d tell you to rent a car and spend a couple of weeks just driving along the Ligurian coast and stopping along the way; it really is that stunning!

Nites

There are handful of 4-star hotels in Sanremo but none have direct beach access. (Until 10 years ago, the train tracks were between the beach and the hotels but with the relocation of the trains in the mountains, there is now a wonderful bike and pedestrian track between the hotels and the beach.) I chose the Hotel de Paris Sanremo (www.hoteldeparissanremo.it) and loved it. As I always recommend, it is best to write to the hotel directly – rather than through hotel aggregator sites – and describe what you want and see what they offer. Case in point: although I couldn’t afford the direct sea view rooms, I was offered a room with a partial view. When I arrived, I was given a room with no sea view, I showed my reservation, and voila, I was given a room with a partial sea view that made me happy every day! The hotel is very old school with modern touches like the TVs and the bathrooms. And for that added little start to the day, the breakfast buffet was actually quite a lovely start to the day.

Hotel de ParisHotel de Paris view with sun 02

Bites

For pizza, one of the staff at the Hotel de Paris recommended Pizzeria Spaccanapoli (wwwpizzeriaspaccanapoli.it) which was phenomenal. You won’t find anything other than pizza here, but the numbers that they offer are staggering!

Another find that a staff member at the Hotel de Paris suggested was Osteria Camelot (osteriacamelot.it) which is in the old town, but not hiking up to the Pigna and the gardens. The food is simple and the décor equally as simple but I really liked the food here. There is a house wine that, I have to tell you, is nothing more than bottled wine from Coop, a chain supermarket in Italy. They do have wine by the bottle, and a wine list as well, so if you can afford it, I would recommend that you ask for the wine list. But don’t let the supermarket wine as the house wine stop you from going here.

But if you only have one night in Sanremo, you absolutely must go to Taverna al 29 (www.tavernaal29.com). This a small restaurant, that is closed on Sundays and Wednesdays, and is a bit of show (more on that soon), but the food was absolutely divine, the bread incredible, the wine list small but spectacular, and the house-made “grappa” a sweet touch. The owner of the restaurant is very sweet and I heard him speak Italian, French, German, and of course Italian. He is the showman and likes to toast with his guests when they first sit down and are offered a house-made “spritz” of prosecco and lavender syrup. (I saw him sip from the same glass for the first part of the night but, I suppose, if he was drinking along with everyone, he would be drunk by the end of the evening!) I would definitely go out of my way to return to Taverna al 29!

Sites

There really aren’t many sites that you need to seek and find: most people come to Sanremo for the sea. The number of “beach clubs” along the coast is truly staggering! They pretty much all offer the same thing: a combination of entrance fee, beach bed, umbrella, and maybe a chair. Why there is a difference in price, I can’t really say so just find the “beach club” that speaks to you and go with it. And whatever you do, be sure to watch for signs that say “no picnic”; they won’t tolerate you bring water or even fruit on to their beach because they want you to buy their food. I found Euro Nettuno Beach and for only 10.50 euro, I had entrance and a beach bed and no hassle for bringing my own water. (14.00 euro if you want to add an umbrella.)

Walking up and through the Pigna is a wonderful trip and the views from the top are amazing. But what I enjoyed most about this endeavor was the opportunity to see how people live, and the walk that they do on a daily basis (regardless of where they have parked their car in the periphery).

la pigna street down 03

As mentioned above, the former train tracks along the coast have now been transformed to a bike and pedestrian path and had I had more time, I may have actually taken a ride along the coast. The Hotel de Paris offers bike rentals and right across from the hotel is a little outfit that also offers bike rentals by the hour or half day. If you’re feeling athletic, or you need to justify that extra gelato the day before, this is the activity for you.

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Bern Switzerland – the capital of an amazing country that acts more like a welcoming village

I must admit that I have never visited Bern before, nor even thought about it.  I guess the largesse that is Zurich and Lausanne just overshadows what is truly an amazing town.  But if your travels give you the chance – whether from traveling around Switzerland or taking a side-trip from Northern Italy – you really should add this to your itinerary.  It will only require a few days, but I promise it will be a few days well-spent.

Nites

Although only my first trip to Bern, I would say that there are definite gaps between hotel ratings in this small yet charming city.  There are 2 five star hotels and if money is no object, I would tell you to stay at the Hotel Bellevue.  I didn’t stay here, so I can’t vouch for the rooms, but I did have drinks here and the décor is amazing and I probably wouldn’t want to leave.

The four star hotels are a step down from the five and I’m not just stating the obvious: the four stars tend to be a bit more rustic and “stereotypical” of what I would expect from a swiss hotel.  I stayed at the Belle Epoque (http://www.belle-epoque.ch/hotel-bern/en/) and although not cheap – nothing is in Bern, or Switzerland for that matter – I really liked it.  The rooms were big and the staff really quite kind.  The one thing I noticed, which you should be aware of if traveling in the summer, is that the hotel does not have air conditioning.  I don’t like AC myself, but the large fan in the room and the windows facing outward could make for a noisy night.  So, beware: if it’s hot, there’s no AC and if you go, ask for a room NOT facing the street.

Bites

As I said above, nothing in Bern is cheap but I certainly did enjoy the hospitality of my friends and can recommend a few places for a wonderful meal.

I loved Verdi (http://www.bindella.ch/gastronomie/ueberblick-ristoranti/restaurant/verdi-ristorante/26/show/) and although not Italian pasta like you get in Italy, it really was lovely.  What helps, without a doubt, is the décor which is charming, funky, and just incredibly inviting.  If you have only one night in Bern, this is where I would go.

If you are searching for something a bit more affordable, Restaurant Zunft zu Webern (http://www.restwebern.ch/).  The staff were incredibly kind and given that I was hankeringfor spaetzle, and the hotel kindly called and asked them to make it for me, how can you go wrong?  The restaurant didn’t really offer much in terms of décor, but it was packed with locals – I heard no English – so it had to have been good.

I was also fortunate enough to be taken to Jack’s Brasserie in the Hotel Schweizerhof (http://www.schweizerhof-bern.ch/).  The food was good and when served by waiters in white coats, how can you go wrong?  And for a Sunday brunch, I thought it was a perfect setting.

I didn’t eat here – but I hear it is amazing – but I did come here for a drink on my last night in Bern: the Kornhaus keller (http://www.bindella.ch/gastronomie/ueberblick-ristoranti/restaurant/kornhauskeller/4/show/).  This is just a stunning place and even if you don’t want a drink, or to have dinner, just pop in and take a look, or a picture, and it will be permanently etched in your memory.  What a stunning place!

Kornhaus kellerSites

I’m not typically one for guided tours but my friends arranged for a tour of the city through the Tourism Office.  It was a cold and rainy/snowy day, as it often is in Bern, and so, on a whim, my guide asked if I wanted to go in to the clock tower.  Yes, I enthusiastically replied.  Although large groups can’t go in, and those afraid of heights and small places might want to reconsider, I loved it and it was definitely a highlight of my tour.  So, if you have the chance, go up the clock tower.  You won’t regret it.

clock tower view down the street

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Cortona Italy – Cortona and the villa near it are truly one of the most amazing finds I have ever made.

The name “Cortona” brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.  And if anyone ever asks for a special place to visit, a place to unwind, or just a place to spend a night on their way to any other place  in Italy, I readily tell them to go here.  This is part of the Italy that I fell in love with and dream of nightly.  This is the Italy that everyone should truly visit at least once in their lives because it is not Rome, it is not Florence, and it is not Milano.  It is, quite simply, Cortona.   And this is the place where I first learned what a linden tree is, and how a scent can take me back to a special place instantly.

Nites

There really is only one place to stay: the Villa di Piazzano (http://www.villadipiazzano.com/en/).  Located close to Pergo and part of Cortona, this villa is a dream location.  The owners and staff our truly unmatched, the rooms fantastic, and the surrounding area and pool just phenomenal.  Really, look nowhere else!

Bites

One of the best meals I ever had was at the Villa di Piazzano: I arrived late, was too tired to drive up to Pergo and just wanted a small meal.  Kindly, the owners of the hotel  told me to take a seat outside – even though they were having a private dinner party with friends – and in a few minutes, a lovely plate of cheese, bread, pears, honey and white wine was before me.   To this day, I don’t think there is anything better to eat for dinner!

If pizza is what you seek, I highly recommend Birrificio Cortonese (http://www.birrificiocortonese.com/).  Located in Cortona and surrounded by shops, this was an unpretentious, but delicious find and my mouth drools just thinking about it now.  (And I think there is a gelato shop almost next door that is  ridiculous!)

Sites

I first went to Cortona to mountain bike and although there aren’t specific mountain biking trails, the fire roads leading through the countryside and around are fairly easy to navigate and worth renting bikes and exploring.  (And I have no sense of direction so if I can d it, you can do it.)  The same fire roads are the perfect place to go for a  stroll or a jog.

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Athens Greece – Athens is probably one of the top 10 places that everyone should visit once in their life.

I absolutely adore Athens and this city has fond memories despite the economic changes, and the troubles that the Greeks are experiencing.   I’ve heard people say that Athens – and Greece in general – is not safe.  I say you are wrong!  Never have I met a more welcoming and kind country and its people than I have in Athens and Greece as a whole.

Nites

When traveling to Athens, there are 2 hotels that I can highly recommend.  The first is the St George (http://www.sglycabettus.gr/default-en.html) on the Lycabettus hill.  The hotel is situated in a lovely residential area and only a short stroll downhill to everything that one must see while in Athens.  And best of all: the evening views from the rooftop to the Acropolis are breathtaking and magical.

view to the Acropolis from the New Museum 02The other hotel that I absolutely adore is the Ochre and Brown, now called O&B, (http://www.oandbhotel.com/) which is located in an up-and-coming part of Athens. Centrally located, although without the views that many hotels rely on, the rooms are outstanding, the staff incredible, and the shops and sites right outside your door are unparalleled.

Bites

(coming soon)

Sites

I was fortunate enough to visit Athens right after the Acropolis Museum (http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en) first opened.  And now it is the place that I immediately return to every time I am in Athens.  When approaching the entrance, you will walk on plexiglass that reveals ruins beneath your feet that are absolutely stunning and amazing.  The exhibit, itself, will leave your breathless but it is the outdoor patio you that you must be sure to visit before leaving: the views are incredible, from 360 degrees, and the architecture absolutely stunning.

ruins UNDER the New MuseumAnd although I know everyone comes to Athens to visit the Acropolis – which you must do, no matter how tired you are – the meandering streets up the hill are a site to behold as well.  Yes, you will be pestered to shop here, eat here, and drink here, but if you just ignore the harassment and take in the sites and daily life, it really is unlike anything else that you will ever see.  Literally, I could spend hours walking these streets and taking everything in.

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Porto Cervo – If money is no object, this is the place for you. But you should still go, if even on a budget!

I loved Porto Cervo.  The wealth and presumably complete disregard for the cost of anything is amazing and a true site to behold.   Would I live here?   Perhaps if I could afford it but there are also other places in Sardegna that I would probably choose first.  But, that said, you must go.  It really is a stunning and enchanting place that everyone should visit at least once in their lives.

Nites

If you aren’t staying on a yacht, there are plenty of hotels in and around Porto Cervo.  Le Ginestre Hotel (http://www.leginestrehotel.com/) is a lovely hotel laid out in various buildings within what I think is a gorgeous pine grove.   The rooms are fantastic, and all come with a balcony or patio and, if possible, request a patio: there is nothing like being able to walk outside and relax with nature.

Bites

(coming soon)

Sites

There really isn’t a lot to do in the Costa Smeralda unless you have a boat (really a yacht!).  But if relaxation and people watching are your cup of tea, this is the place for you.  And I must admit, I had a brilliant time people watching!  Nestled against the port for million dollar yachts to doc is a recently built mall.  But this is no ordinary mall and you won’t find a Gap or even a Macy’s-type store.  No, this is where all the high-end designers and jewelers congregate because, who doesn’t need another pair of heals or trousers for their next port of call?!

If catching rays in what you hope to do here, the Le Ginestre Hotel has a great pool, as do all hotels in the Costa Smeralda, but what I loved is that, after a 15 minute stroll through the “forest,” the hotel has their own private beach.   Few people wanted to walk “this far” so the beach was quiet, relaxing, and the perfect place to read and nap.

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Oxford UK – The tranquility that is Oxford

(updated 12 October 2018)

I love Oxford and although I work for a company based there, don’t let that fool you: the town is amazing, the people really quite kind, and the variety of restaurants truly outstanding.  And like Cambridge, it is a wonderful respite from London yet easily reached via public transport.

Nites

One of my top 5 hotels in the world to stay at has got to be the Feathers Hotel (http://www.feathers.co.uk/) just outside of Oxford in Woodstock.  It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but once inside, you honestly won’t want to leave.   Not  only are you greeted by the calming smell of a fireplace, but the old homey wood paneling is breathtakingly stunning.

If you want to stay in “downtown” Oxford, there are a number of options, my favourite being The Old Bank Hotel (http://www.oldbank-hotel.co.uk/).   I love the boutique feel of this hotel and the rooms are outstanding!

Another cool and chic find is the Mailmaison Oxford (http://www.malmaison.com/locations/oxford/?gclid=CPGmzaP-5rsCFVLxOgodcRsAeA).  I’ve yet to actually stay here, but friends have, and they say that reuse of the old jail cells in to rooms is really quite stunning.   There is a modern wing but if you’re going to stay here, splurge for the jail cell rooms!  (And the restauran and outside bar are amazing and worth the trip alone!)

My favourite old school boutique hotel is the Old Parsonage Hotel (http://www.oldparsonage-hotel.co.uk/).  There is just something that says  home at this tony hotel.  I’ve actually been tempted not to leave and rather stay in and read, write, eat, and drink.

A new hotel that I am literally salivating over and obsessed with trying is the Vanbrugh House Hotel (http://www.vanbrughhousehotel.co.uk/) in the heart of Oxford just off the main shopping street. The hotel is to be complimented on their photographer alone because their website has me hooked and I have only seen the hotel from the outside. Watch this space as I will be staying here and I will be posting on what I suspect is a hidden gem not much longer!

Bites

I may have truly fallen in love with a pub that actually is vegetarian only: The Gardner’s Arms (http://www.thegarden-oxford.co.uk/). The pub has a full bar which is fantastic and the fact that they offer veggie burgers, veggie dogs with veggie chili, and other wonderful treats made this an easy decision on 3 occasions when I was last in Oxford. It’s comfort food, at its best!

The Standard (http://www.standardoxford.com/) on Walton Street, not far from Oxford University Press was absolutely amazing! As a vegetarian, I seek out palak paneer and I must say, this restaurant had the best palak paneer ever. The “sauce” was perfect and not too greasy, the paneer cut in to perfectly sized pieces, and the spices sheer perfection. Truly, I would fly back to Oxford right now just to eat here again!

Outside of Oxford, in Headington (a short trip on the bus or a taxi), is the The Black Boy (http://www.theblackboy.uk.com/) which I went to years ago, loved, and can’t believe that I forgot about until now!   I love this restaurant and pub: the pub part is great for a pint with friends but then, you pass the bar and there is lovely dining area that is chic, delicious, and not anything remotely like a pub. And the food? Outstanding and definitely memorable! Head the the Black Boy as soon as you can!

Sites

(coming soon)

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Cambridge UK – The perfect escape from the insanity that is London

I love Cambridge and could easily spend days here just wondering and taking in all of the scenery. I also love Cambridge because it is the perfect escape from the insanity that I feel and find when in London.

Nites

When you go to Cambridge, and you need one of the best hotels I have ever stayed out, you must stay at Hotel Felix (http://www.hotelfelix.co.uk/).  The rooms are amazing, whatever “level” of room you choose, and given that it is within easy commute to all things that you want to see and do, choose nothing else.

Bites

(coming soon)

Sites

(coming soon)

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Bergamo Italy – A tranquility and joy of life that we should all aspire to

To say that I am enamored with Bergamo is an understatement.  There is tranquility, a vibrancy, a friendliness, and a peacefulness in this hilltop town that no one word can adequately describe.  Because a university is situated in the upper city – the città alta – the streets in the afternoon are often filled with joyful laughter and a love of life that is, quite simply, infectious.  But then, when school is out and the city returns to its familial center, the streets are a calm respite from the more cacophonous città bassa below that welcomes you to stroll, and meander and most importantly relax.  And don’t forget: if you don’t want to get too relaxed, Milano is only a 50 minute train ride away!

street down from San VigilioNites

A new edition to the Design Hotel group of hotels is the Gombithotel (http://www.gombithotel.it/en/) located just in the center of the città alta.  This lovely little hotel, that has a passion for all thing Vespa, only has 13 rooms which further adds to the tranquility of this city.  Although the windows aren’t the most sound-proofed windows I’ve ever had in a hotel room, the city is quiet enough – except for the tolling of the bells every hour – that I didn’t have a problem getting a restful night’s sleep every night I was there.

Gombithotel sitting areaIf a design hotel with a love of all things Vespa isn’t your style, I had a drink in the Relais San Lorenzo (http://www.relaisanlorenzo.com/) a member of the Small Luxury Hotel group and it looked gorgeous.  Whereas that Gombithotel is kind of funky and cool, the Relais is a more laid back, classic type of business hotel that some might prefer.  Either way, you can’t go wrong with great accommodations in Bergamo.

Bites

For such a small town, the number of options for dining is truly outstanding.

For a quick bite – whether that be a panino, a slice of pizza, or just a dolce – Il Fornaio on via Colleoni 3 was a dream come true for a hungry tummy.  Further down the “street” is another place that, around noon, will be slammed with hungry students.  I never got in the door, that’s how crowded it was, so I suspect their lunchtime options are just as good.

But it was the dinner I was after and I can recommend with overwhelming enthusiasm the follow three establishments.

Vineria Cozzi (www.vineriacozzi.it) was an absolute gem with the most lovely staff.  Decorated in what can best be described as “cottage-like” the pasta was superb and the recommendation of the truffled cheese and egg “soup” leaves my mouth watering as I write.

A second suggestion, and probably one of the most famous restaurants in the città alta is Da Mimmo (www.ristorantemimmo.com), also on Via B Colleoni.  Situated on 2 levels, with tables covered in white linen, the restaurant can have the appearance of being overly pretentious but don’t be fooled.  This is the home of the first pizzeria in città alta and has its own dedicated menu of pizzas so how pretentious can it be right?  Not at all!  The staff are outstanding and when the waitress suggested that I should try the house-made mozzarella, I nearly fell out of my chair.  (And, yes, once again I am salivating as I write!).   And that little welcome drink of prosecco goes miles in my book.

And if you are looking for something a little off the beaten path – but don’t worry, you won’t get lost – I enthusiastically endorse La Colombine (www.trattorialacolombina.it).  Upon being seated and after gazing out the huge plate-glass window down to the citta bassa – there’s an outdoor balcony that I can only imagine must be breathtaking in warmer weather! – the waitress asked if I wanted a menu in English or Italian.  Since we have only been speaking Italian I jokingly said, “Italian, of course” to which she replied that, because the restaurant specializes in traditional and typical Bergamo cuisine “Italians don’t always understand the menu.”   Love it!  And yes, the food was outstanding: I’m not a fan of gnocchi but the gnocchi with taleggio sauce was light, airy, and may possibly have made me a convert to the world of gnocchi!

Sites

Bergamo doesn’t exactly have the sort of sites that a Rome, an Athens, or an iStanbul has but the one thing that you must do is you must take the funicular up the mountain to San Vigilio.  The ruins of the castle are interesting but honestly won’t blow you away.  What will take your breath away, however, is the walk down.  Your inner billy goat may come out but it is worth the walk.

Santa Maria MaggioreAnd with that, I hope that you will plan that trip to Bergamo, if even for just a long weekend.  There is truly something medieval about this quiet, yet vibrant little town that has, overnight, endeared itself to me as a place I already want to return to.

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Vienna Austria – The sounds of kindness and warm-heartedness abound

I love Vienna.  (Yes, insert the Ultravox classic, if you must!)  The city is clean, the people are kind and helpful, the public transport is nearly perfect (the CAT train doesn’t quite run early enough for those early am flights out of Vienna), and the food really coming in to its own.  If you haven’t been, you must go.  And if you’ve been, please return: it is nearly Europe’s most perfect city!

Nights

A couple of years ago, the Hotel Daniel (http://www.hoteldaniel.com/en/vienna.html) took over an old office building and converted it in to a cool, funky urban retreat right next to the Beveldere gardens.  This isn’t your Turkish rug covered, “we have Frette sheets,” nor even “breakfast included” sort of place, but rather, a modern, industrial, and funky retreat that is also comfortable.  And if you can swing the hammock room, do it: it has a hammock in the room!

If old-world Vienna is more your style and money no object, I would stay at the Steigenberger Hotel Herrenhof (http://www.steigenberger.com/en/Wien?source=USSH0) as you can’t beat the location and the rooms are divine.  And the fact that Café Central is just around the corner, not to mention Café Demel, you truly can’t go wrong!

And if you are looking for something a bit more traditional, yet not in the same price range as the Steigenberger, check out the Hotel Alstadt Vienna (http://www.altstadt.at/en/) a tried and true hotel in the city.   The rooms are comfortable, if not over the top, and the staffs are fantastic and very helpful.

And although I haven’t stayed here, a friend suggested the Levante Laudon (http://www.thelevante.com/laudon/de/superior.html) which looks fantastic and a great place to make your home away from home.

Bites

Tian restaurant (http://www.tian-vienna.com/en) is one of the best restaurants I have ever had the pleasure of dining in, in my entire life.  And the fact that it is vegetarian is gives it double points!   Vegetarian or not, you must go once in your life.  In my opinion, this restaurant deserves at least 1 Michelin Star!  The wait staff are outstanding – and everything dressed in shades of lavender add to the experience – the small but inviting room outstanding, and the food absolutely divine.   It won’t be the cheapest meal you’ll have in Vienna – that’s for the street-corner stands which shouldn’t be avoided either – but it will be one of the best meals you will have.  (Note: a wine bar is planned to open downstairs of Tian and if looks alone are enough to judge, this will be a smashing success!)

Another fantastic vegetarian restaurant, only a short ride on the u-bah is Hollered (http://www.hollerei.at/).   Hollered is in something of a residential neighborhood but when I went, it was filled with locals, and packed, and the food just sublime!   This restaurant is a bit more rustic and casual but makes the food no less delectable.

Near St Stephen’s cathedral, but not so near as to be a tourist haven, if Fabio’s (http://fabios.at/de/fabios-restaurant-bar-wien.html).   As anyone who follows this blog, they know that I can’t go a few days without pasta and this restaurant met my needs to the umpteenth degree!   The burrata was a special, not listed on the menu and the pasta pure perfection: the portions weren’t too large, it was perfectly al dente, and the arrabiata just spicy enough!   And if you want an after-dinner drink: the small bar scene was hoppin’!

Another restaurant in the city center that I adore is the Restaurant Ofenloch (http://www.restaurant-ofenloch.at/en/).  I went here with friends and had fantastic Austrian wines, brilliant food, and a non-rushed service which was perfect for catching up and just enjoying the meal.

For a bit of classic Vienna, I would suggest Pfarrwirt (http://www.pfarrwirt.com/).  You can easily take public transport out  of the city center to this wonderful old house with great, classic Austrian dishes.

And a trip to Vienna wouldn’t be complete without some sweets.  There is the classic Sachertorte at the Hotel Sacher but for me, a trip to Vienna isn’t complete without a trip to Café Central (see above) or Café Demel (http://www.demel.at/en/index_en_flash.htm).  Is there anything better than coffee and sweets under chandeliers served by men and women in starched coats?

Sites

Every guidebook will tell you about the major sites to see so I won’t repeat them.  But I will tell you that stroll through the Belvedere gardens should not be missed!  And if you wallet permits, a night at the opera is not to be missed.  The Stadthopper may be a bit smaller than some of the other classic opera houses in the world, but that doesn’t mean the performance is any the less.  And if you can follow the opera by a bit of Sachertorte and a drink, you have then experienced my perfect Vienna evening!

And with that, I hope you enjoy your trip to Vienna.   It really is an amazing city and one that should not be missed, but rather enjoyed often!  Safe travels!

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Yalikavak Turkey – It’s not Bodrum, but a better neighbor

(updated 07 September 2015)

If you are over the age of 25, Bodrum isn’t the place for you.  And by a happy misunderstanding, I happened upon Yalikavak, approximately 18 km over the hill and around the bend, for a relaxing and amazing holiday experience.

Nights

Okay, so I’m going to start off with my complaint, and that’s pretty much because I just looked at their website again (so that I can provide it to you) and remembered what my issue was.  The 4Reasons Hotel (http://www.4reasonshotel.com/) states on their website “a hip, small, luxury boutique hotel in Bodrum.”   Traveler beware: they are NOT in Bodrum.   They are in Yalikavak and it will take you about 40 minutes to arrive, and cost you 110 TL to get there and back if you don’t have a car.  So be forewarned.  But truly, if this is the only flaw that I can note – and it is! – then this is where you want to stay!

The above said, however, I loved this hotel!  The staff were amazing, the rooms lovely, and depending on what room type you choose – I had the Passionate, even though I was traveling alone, simply because I wanted a large room with a view to the sea – it can be the perfect vacation location.  Within 45 minutes you can walk down to the beach and rent the requisite sun bed and umbrella but, really, why?  The pool is amazing and peaceful!  And since the previous writing in 2014, the rooms have been updated with larger beds and a lovely banquet along the right-hand wall that is far more functional than the 2 wicker chairs that used to be in the room.

4Reasons Passionate Roomview to port from Four ReasonsP.S. If an all-inclusive place to stay is  what you want, there are a number lining the road to Bodrum.  I can’t vouch for any of these, but here are some options that you can investigate further: Club Blue Dreams, Rixos (looks like Vegas!), Golden Savoy (another that looks like Vegas!) and Kervanesse (I think that is the spelling).

Bites

If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you will know that I prefer not to eat at hotel restaurants.  As luck would have it, my first night in Yalikavak, I didn’t have a reservation so I stayed at the hotel and ate at their restaurant.   What a joy!  The views to the sea were stunning, the soft jazz a perfect accompaniment, and the food truly outstanding!   By the time I arrived here, I had already started to go through pasta withdraw so how happy was I to see their version of pasta with 4 cheese sauce?  The pasta was cooked perfectly, and the different cheeses than what I was used to was a happy experience.

But don’t stay here every night (although you could).  Walk down to Yalikavak and you will find the “boardwalk” lined with all variety of restaurants.

Although I didn’t eat here, I met two fellow travelers who ate at Sofi’s and they said it was outstanding.  Apparently, there was a “show” of belly dancers and whatnot, which I wouldn’t have enjoyed, but if that’s your thing, I trust their judgment.

I opted to go to Elma Restaurant a lovely small restaurant on the water where I was shown the kitchen and some of the dishes that the chef could make for this vegetarian.  When last in Yalikavak, Elma had closed but I am pleased to see that it has reopened, perhaps in a new location, so stay tuned.

1 new find, which I think is also new to the Yalikavak dining scene is Giggles (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Giggles/239981516202222) which was an absolute dream recommendation from the Four Reasons. The night of our reservation, there was some confusion about a rental car we arranged and, as we passed by, the staff asked if I was Mr Panner, I said I was, and he said that Ali from the Four Reasons (Ali is the best!) was coming to meet us, and that Giggles would hold our table until we were finished! 1 hour late, we returned and the mezze were phenomenal and the pasta and fish outstanding. And the staff?! They were so nice and attentive that, on subsequent nights when just passing the restaurant, they would wave and smile. Love it!

And very new to the restaurant scene in Yalikavak is Ege Restaurant (https://www.facebook.com/Egerestaurantbar) as it has only been open for a couple of months. Once again, Ali from the Four Reasons recommneded this (in place of another reservation we had) and it was incredible.   I tell you, make this the first restaurant you run to when you arrive in Yalikavak! Situated on the water front, with lovely views out to the sea, are reason enough to run to this restaurant.   But then the mezze selection is simply over-the-top incredible! My friend had the catch of the day and couldn’t stop raving about how tasty it was and utterly perfect.   And for this vegetarian… I was a very happy boy; they didn’t have anything on the menu for a vegetarian (other than more mezze) so the owner, Esat – an incredibily lovely and helpful man – said “leave it with me” and I did.   And up comes a lovely tomato and cucumber salad and although not much, I would have been fine with that. But then comes the most incredible pizza/flat bread type things that I have ever seen, nor eaten. I can’t really describe them, but I can tell you that I am drooling about them right now.   And still smiling!   Love. This. Restaurant.

view from Ege Restaurant 02 Ege Restaurant mezzeSights

I can’t comment on Bodrum and couldn’t even fathom to venture over there – crowds aren’t my thing I’m afraid – so I’ll leave it to you to venture out and explore.

The one thing that you must do is take a bus tour to Pamukkale.  Your hotel may try and arrange a private car service but, to be honest, it’s a long haul and you see a lot of villages  and nothing else, so why not take the cheaper route and do a bus tour?  Traveler be warned however: it takes about 4.5 hours to get to Pamukkale from Bodrum, and they stop along the way for a “break,” a carpet tour, and “lunch,” but as long as you know what you are getting in to, it’s worth it.

Since I’ve been to Pamukkale before, and absolutely loved it, and recommend that everyone go at least once in their lives, I now have more insight! On my second return, I opted for the rental car option with a GPS. You can do an organized tour as described above but I honestly thought the car option was better. But be warned: GPS in Turkey is not the best and we were often concerned that we were lost and it took a bit longer to drive than the tour bus did, but it was worth it. My recommendation: pay attention to how you arrive at your hotel – if I hadn’t, I may still be driving around! – print maps from home that you understand, and be prepared for an adventure!

Pamukkale terrace 03

Pamukkale and the ruins around it are absolutely stunning and even though it may be 105F/43C, the sheer beauty and natural wonder of the place will make it all worthwhile!  And for about $15, you can wade in an ancient pool that is supposed to cure some of our ailments.  (I didn’t do it because it looked overpriced and not worth the crowd!)

Hierapolis amphitheatre inside 02So Yalikavak isn’t in Bodrum.   And  so it may be a “suburb” albeit a hike away.   Don’t hold it against them and go here for further recharging.   And if you need a bit of culture, do the trip to Pamukkale: it’s worth your time and a numb butt!

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Fethiye Turkey – The perfect place to relax and unwind

I can’t really put my finger on what it was about Fethiye that I loved.  It may have been the peaceful, small-town vibe, or the lovely people, I really don’t know, but I want to return and wish that I had spent more than 3 days here.

Nights

I am obsessed  with the Yacht Classic Hotel (http://www.yachtclassichotel.com/).  This hotel is located a tad outside  of the “city centre” but given that Fethiye is so small, it really doesn’t matter.  Many of the rooms have sea views but to enjoy  the full experience, you must reserve a room facing the seah.   Oh my god it is gorgeous!  Going to bed and waking up to the sea is like no other experience if you ask me.  And the breakfast is absolutely amazing (and there’s no need to pay the extra for an ommelette.)

Yacht Classic Hotel view to pool

Nest door to the Yacht Classic Hotel is the Ece Saray Marina and Resort Hotel (http://www.ecesaray.net/).  This is the most expensive hotel in the city (and if you look at their homepage, on the right, to the right of the pool, you will see the Yacht Classic Hotel).  I took a peak inside one evening and it is stunning so for all out luxury, this is the place for you.

Bites

The only thing that prevents me from returning immediately and staying longer is that the food options in Fethiye are pretty dim.  The Yacht Classic recommended the roof top restaurant at their sister hotel, the Yacht Boutique Hotel (on the other side of the Ece Saray!) and I should have listened!  The restaurants that I went to on my first 2 nights don’t bear mentioning: everything was just uninspired and no different from anything that I could make on my own.   And many of the restaurants are crowded together so it’s hot, and sticky, and just not enjoyable.

But the rooftop restaurant at the Yacht Boutique is divine!  The views were amazing – but I had the view every morning and night – so that’s not what made it exceptional but it was the food.  They had Turkish, Indian, and I think even a bit of Italian and it was all just absolutely to die for!  I should have gone here every evening!

I did hear that  the restaurant at the Yacht Classic Hotel was quite good but since I was staying here, I wanted to go someplace different.  When I return, I will definitely try it out and let you know!

Sights

There really isn’t much to see or do in Fethiye to be honest.   But if you need to unwind, relax, and recharge, this is the place for you.

The boardwalk, if you will, along the sea  is lit at night with lots  of neon and displays it really is a lovely way to end your evening with a stroll and a breeze.

Nearly everything you read will tell you that you need to go to the blue lagoon.  Don’t.   It really isn’t worth it and is just a tourist trap.  You’ll need  to take an overcrowded  dolmus to the beach, then pay to enter the park (10TL I think), and then 15TL to rent a sun bed and umbrella.  And although I am not one for crowds, this place took it to a whole new level: the sun beds were so close  together that I could literally reach out and touch the couple next to me, that’s how jammed the beds were!  So stay at your hotel and  avoid  the crowds.

blue lagoon 02

And there  you go.  Like I said, I can’t really explain what it was about Fethiye that I loved but I did and I cant wait to return!  I hope you enjoy it too!

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A college town with an attitude

[updated 07 October 2013]

I will probably get grief for saying that Montreal is a college town with an attitude, but it is.   And I loved it here!  The mix of English and French, combines with their desire to be independent, makes this just an amazing place to visit for a long weekend (if you live on the East Coast of the US) or even longer!

My trip to Montreal was really quite brief so watch this space for more comments soon.

Nites

I don’t normally do this, but given how awful my experience was, I felt that I should share with my readers:  do not stay at the Hyatt Regency Montreal.   Although the lobby is gorgeous, and the bar quite the happening seen – and the staff are outstanding – the rooms are tired and I would actually say gross.  The Hyatt brand should be ashamed, as should the owners of this hotel: I would describe this as a 1990s Holiday Inn-inspired hotel.   Trust me, it’s not worth the ridiculous price for the Hyatt name.

Although I have not stayed at either of these hotels, I have had numerous meetings and meals at both so, hopefully, they will live up to their names better than the above and should be worth a try: the Westin Montreal and the InterContinental which are across the street from each other.

Bites

If you want cool and funky, with out of this world food – from one of the top restaurants in the city – you must go to Hotel Herman (http://hotelherman.com/).  First things first: this is not an actual hotel so don’t be surprised when you rock up to a small restaurant with a bar in the middle and the kitchen in the back.  But boy is  it worth it!   The wine list is pretty good, although a little pricey, but the food is incredible: classic, yet inventive, and every bite delectable.  Run here if you can!

If you are in search of probably one of the best vegetarian restaurants that I have ever been to, look no further than ChuChai (http://www.chuchai.com/).  There is a restaurant one  side of some residential steps and a bistro on the other.  Apparently, they have the exact same food, you just pay for the look.  Either way, get thee here and order the crispy vegetarian duck.  Oh. My. Word. Seriously, I wanted to cancel my dinner the following night just so I could return here.  That’s how good the food is!   And yes, they have wine!

Another cool place, if you decide not to go to ChuChai every night, is Aux Vivres (www.auxvivres.com).  The food is a bit more college level – good, but not overly inventive, and a value for the money – and the restaurant appears to be in a converted chain restaurant of some kind.  But the staff were great and the food really was tasty, it’s just the sort of thing that I tend to make on my own.

Recently opened is Invitation V (http://www.invitationv.com/) a lovely vegan restaurant in the Jewish quarter of Montreal.  Although the menu is somewhat small, the options that they offer are out of this world.  And if repititious thoughts are any sign of how much I enjoyed this restaurant, I cannot get the house-made seitan satay with peanut sauce out of my head!

Sites

I haven’t had much of an opportunity to explore Montreal (some day) but I can say that, without a doubt, the old quarter down near the water is amazing.  If even just for a stroll, I suggest you go here just to relax and get a feel for one part of what, no doubt, Montreal has to offer.

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Sydney Australia – Beach town in a big city

I love Sydney.  Not everyone does, or will, but I suspect that the love/hate relationship will be the same as  it is for San Francisco: you either love it or you hate it.  But whatever you do, give it a chance!   If you’ve gone all that way, don’t just say “I don’t want to go to Sydney” but, rather, suck it up and experience a truly multi-cultural – and wonderful – city!

Nights

I’m afraid that hotel recommendations are pretty hard to come by.  This is,  in part, due to the fact that Sydney – and Australia in general – are really quite pricey.   My best advice, until I find a place that I can unequivocally recommend, is to search online for the best deal and use your best judgment.

On my last trip, I stayed at the Grace Hotel.   It was okay but I honestly wouldn’t recommend you stay here.  The staff are great, but the price for what you get, is not worth it.

Bites

For a special night out – date, friends, family, or just your own personal celebration – I highly recommend Pendolino (http://www.pendolino.com.au/).   This newly opened restaurant is in The Strand shopping arcade but don’t let this put you off.  The food is amazing, the wine outstanding,  and the decor really nice.   While i was here, there were people on dates, family outings, a few business meals and a couple of people eating on their own.  Come one, come all I say!

Another outstanding restaurant in the CBD is pony bar and restaurant (http://www.ponydining.com.au/)  in the rocks.  Oh my, this place is amazing!   It is small, so be sure to book a table, and if the weather is nice, ask to sit outside.  But if you are inside, fear not: the open kitchen and smell of wood-fired grill will calm you and entice your senses.  I would return right now if  I could!

If you are in search of a vegetarian restaurant, I can recommend two.   The first that I would recommend which, I bet, would be amazing in the summer is Bodhi (http://www.bodhi.id.au/).   I found the service a little rushed but the food was amazing.  They had a bit of mock-meat and other delights that could keep you coming back day after day.

But, rather than keep returning to the same restaurant, hop on the train to Newtown.  (Ask at your hotel, it’s easy to get there and cheap!)  Newtown has the requisite cool factor: tats, piercings, galleries, and bars everywhere.  And an amazing vegetarian restaurant called the Green Gourmet (http://www.greengourmet.com.au/).  Don’t be put off by the website or even the look of the place – both are a bit tired – because the food  is amazing!  There is also buffet that you can pay by the weight for, but just order a la carte.   The only downside: they have no alcohol or green tea so turn a blind eye, have a soda or some fancy tea, sit back, and relax.  Oh yeah: and the staff are wonderful and really helpful with advice and suggestions.   Love this place!

And lastly, if you are in Sydney for a convention (although the convention center is being rebuilt and thus closed until 2015 I think), Zaaffran (http://www.zaaffran.com/) in Darling Harbour is probably some of the best Indian food I’ve had in a long time.  I won’t  tell you the number of times I was here but I can tell you that, it is easy to get a table at lunch but for dinner, be sure to have a ressie or you will be waiting!   And yes, the views of Darling Harbour at night are incredible!

Sites

Beyond the standard recommendations that any tour book will provide, I would encourage you to make your way to as many beaches along the coast as you can.   If you have a friend, buy them petrol and dinner and ask them to drive you around.  You will see things and people that you won’t see in the CBD.

And when you are out and about, make your way to the Vaucluse House (http://www.vauclusehousetearooms.com.au/our-venues/vaucluse-house/home).  What a gorgeous little park with an amazing tea room that serves brunch and lunch.   Even in the winter, there was a wedding and reception taking place so don’t be surprised if you need to wait a bit.  It is worth it!

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The “red city” should be on everyone’s bucket list

I loved Marakkech.  Even though it is a different way of life, and not something familiar to an american, there was something about this city that got to me and makes me want to return.

Nites

There are quite a few places to stay in Marakkech and I’ve read that there are some amazing riads within the medina, I opted to stay outside of the city walls at a resort where I could tan, relax, and unwind.

The Es Saadi (http://www.essaadi.com/) is amazing.  If you go only once, you must stay here!  The grounds are amazing, the pool divine, and the breakfast in the morning absolutely outstanding and enough to get this traveler through the day!  The rooms are gorgeous and all come with a balcony that looks over the grounds or the pool.  Stunning!  And if there is one negative to be shared, it is simply that the wireless internet connection is rather weak.   But really, when on holiday, one should not criticize an internet connection because they cannot work

Sites

The souqs are amazing and you really must go!  I spent a day wandering around and getting lost.  And yes, you will be harassed by people trying to get you to buy things but as long as you know it will happen, you should be fine.  And if you are interested in something, negotiate!   Apparently, shop owners are actually offended if you don’t try to negotiate with them.

If you can believe it, there is a hop-on, hop-off bus in Marakkech.  I did it because, to be honest, I spent one day too long in Marakkech and had run out of things to do and see.  And if you can believe it, the hop-on, hop-off bus went everywhere I had walked on my own.  So don’t do it.  It really isn’t worth the money or your time.

There are quite a few ruins outside of the medina and all can easily be reached on foot.  And be sure to have your camera ready: there are lots  of things to see and photograph along the way, wherever you are going!

Oh yeah, and beware of the snake charmers in the square outside of the souqs.  They are quite aggressive if they reveal the snake – they want money for this show – and not only might you be surprised by the snakes and a bit shaken up, but their aggressiveness won’t help!

Bites

The restaurant at Es Saadi is divine and although I’m not a fan of hotel restaurants, this one was absolutely amazing and should not be missed.

Another restaurant that I found and loved is that at the Red House Riad (http://www.theredhouse-marrakech.com/).   When I first went, this was just a restaurant but in the last few years, it appears that they are a small hotel now as well.  It might be worth a stay because if it’s anything like the food, you won’t be disappointed!

Marrakech is divine and a place that should be on everyone’s bucket list.  Like much or Morocco, the people are nice, the food amazing, and the sites just absolutely breathtaking.

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Worth the adventure

Getting to Fez can be a challenge but, at the same time, an adventure like few others.  If you have the time and opportunity, I highly suggest taking the train from Tangier to Fez (or anywhere else in Morocco for that matter) as you will see life in all its honest reality.  But the blue city, like the red (Marakesh) and the white (Rabat) are places that really must be seen.

A word of advice: do not eat anything that cannot be peeled, that has not been cooked, and do not drinking anything that you don’t open yourself.  Moroccans will try and be helpful and open your water for you: if you can’t break that plastic seal, don’t take it.  Gastrointestinal sickness is not fun!

Nites

When arriving in Fez, you have 2 options in terms of where to stay.  You can stay outside the city walls where you are bound to have more of a modern hotel with all of the amenities or you can stay in the city center, the medina, in a riad which is the closest that you will get to actually living in the city.  I would opt for the latter.

The Dar Seffarine (http://www.darseffarine.com/) is an amazing riad with the most lovely hosts.  The rooms are gorgeous and big, and they come with AC and fans so that you can be in maximum comfort.  Be aware, however, that riads don’t offer the most privacy: my room “opened” on to the inner courtyard which I think most of the rooms did.  But who cares?!  You’re there to experience life in the medina and the breakfast each morning  is amazing!

Bites

After heading the warning above, you can pretty much eat anywhere you want. No restaurant stood out and what I would categorize as not to be missed but ask  for advice and I’m sure you won’t go wrong.

There is a market outside of the medina where you can get everything you need for your time in Fez.  And if you want to do a picnic either for dinner or while you are walking around, this is the place to go: it’s a taxi ride away but even that added to the cost of your groceries will be cheaper than what you are going to pay within the medina walls.

Sites

There is no tourist sites to be seen in Fez.  But walk.  Walk everywhere.  The medina has 4 different gates and once you get comfortable with the location of your hotel, and have your trust map, you can’t go wrong.   And if you don’t feel comfortable doing it on your own, your hotel or riad can set up a tour guide for you.  I did both and although the tour guide took me out of the medina to see some of the potters that Fez is known for, it’s also an effort to get you to spend money.  Personally, I loved walking everywhere and anywhere I wanted.

The souq is really quite lovely and easy to navigate, especially compared to that in Marakesh.  Be warned that everyone will try and get you to come in to their shop and nearly harass you to buy something but it is their livelihood so you can’t blame them.  Just stay positive, be polite, and if you don’t want to be harassed, don’t make eye-contact.

So if you can, go.  Fez is amazing and you can relatively easily arrive from anywhere in Spain.  It’s small, the people really are lovely, and the experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

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Gorgeous islands and lovely people for a wonderful experience

Stockholm is probably one of the last remaining places on my “must do” list and I finally made it.  And the city did not let me down!  What amazing architecture – and I mean well beyond the stereotypical “Scandinavian minimalism” that you see everywhere – and the people were sweet, kind and helpful.  As I always do, I just wandered and wandered some more to take in the city as much as I could.  And I will return: perhaps next time, in the winter – although my friend says the winds off  the water are brutal and will chill you to the bone – as I suspect that city has fewer tourists and there will be a gorgeous blue light on everything (when the light is actually up!)

Nites

I chose to stay that at the Hotel Skeppshomnen (http://www.hotelskeppsholmen.com/) on the small island of Skeppshomen and I honestly can’t recommend this hotel enough!  The island is really quite quiet with few cars, apparently no residential housing, and no bars or restaurants except that in the hotel.  Upon my arrival, I was told that I had been upgraded to a larger room which, when I arrived, was quite lovely.   But something was amiss: after much searching – jetlag sure does take a few brain cells away doesn’t it! – I realized that I had booked a sea-view room.

And this is where the hotel received a failing mark.  Not only did they fail to tell me that the upgraded room didn’t have a sea view, but when I went to ask, they told me that “something was wrong with the room,” that they had no more sea view rooms available, and could move me later.  Subsequently, I wrote to the manager and, voila, a sea view room became available.  But I didn’t take it and I recommend that you don’t take it either: the sea view rooms are more expensive (and the one I was shown, the size of a large closet) and, until the trees either lose their leaves or you stay in the winter, you can’t see the water.   And because the island is so quiet and peaceful, the rooms that look to the park (and the Modern Art Museum, by the way), are equally as calming.

But the staff were lovely and the breakfast in the morning a wonderful way to begin the day.  I like to believe that the hiccup upon my arrival was simply due to the wedding that was scheduled later in the week and that you’re experience upon checking in will be hassle free.  It’s worth a try!

If you want to be about a 15 minute walk closer to the city centre, I can also recommend the Lydmar Hotel (http://www.lydmar.com/), a lovely small hotel close to the National Museum that appears absolutely stunning and is probably worth a try.

The other hotel that I would probably recommend is the Grand Hotel (http://www.grandhotel.se/en), one of the old “grande dames” of the city.  The lobby, itself, is stunning and their signature restaurant “Mathias Dahlgren” (more on this below) is beyond belief.

Bites

Food in Stockholm is really quite lovely and definitely centered around meat and fish.  In the summer months, going in to early fall, I suspect vegetarians can do all right.  But in the winter and early spring – before the vegetables start to show – you will have either slim pickings OR you will have very expensive imported food.  Just be warned.

One of the best meals I have ever had – truly an event and one that actually took in to consideration my eating habits – was at Mathias Dahlgren (http://www.mathiasdahlgren.com/).  The dining room is the upscale version where everything from the food, to the wine, to service is meticulously planned and choreographed.  If you want a meal to remember, and are ready to pay dearly for it, you must go!

There is also a “food bar,” which is just a lower end version of the dining room mentioned above so if you aren’t ready to pay that kind of coin, check out the food bar.

If you are wandering around in the Gamla Stan – as we all should at least once – check out Marten Trotzig (http://martentrotzig.se/).   I went here with a friend and it was absolutely lovely: very small dining area (so reservations are key on weekends) with a larger private space downstairs and views on to the cobble streets.  I would describe the food as upscale traditional which is exactly what I was looking for and would definitely put this on every visitors list.

Further afield from the city center, but easily walkable and a lovely walk as long as it’s not raining, is Trattorian (http://trattorian.se/).   The owner is Italian and prides himself on good quality Italian food.   And if I do say so myself, the mozzarella was divine and the homemade pasta made and cooked to perfection.  I would have returned again had I had more nights in Stockholm.

Sites

There is much to see and do in Stockholm and 2 days really doesn’t do it justice.  I could have walked and explored for days!

If time is short – or even if you have lots of time – you must make it to the Vasa Museet!  This is a ship that sank upon leaving the port back in the 1600s and sat there for 333 years before being found and excavated.  Now fully preserved, yet up close and personal, the ship and all its amazing craftsmanship is a wonderful display and a fantastic example of what modern technology can do to preserve such a wonderful piece of history.  Arrive early however – they open at 10 – as the tour groups start filing in shortly thereafter and it does become a challenge to get close and see the various details.

Another thing that I would recommend you do is to go past Gamla Stan to the island of Sodermalm.  Once you cross the bridge and are the island, turn left on to Katarinavagan and walk up the gently sloping hill: you will see some of the most amazing views of the city and get a real feel for the real, working, Stockholm as opposed to all of the tourist haunts.  Continue to wander around and ultimately, seek out Gotgatan (street).  My friend said it’s like Chelsea or the East Village in New York and it definitely is a great place to stroll.  And if you are in need of an original piece of Stockholm to take home, check out Galleri Hantverket (http://www.gallerihantverket.se/), a shop of artists with their designs that I just loved.

So there you: Stockholm in a couple of days.  I am certain that I will return and, if the Swedes ever decide to join the euro zone and prices drop, I’ll be back more time and much sooner.  But don’t let the prices scare you: we only live once and Stockholm is definitely a place that should be on everyone’s list!  Enjoy and I hope you love it as much as I did!

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More than just gorgeous canals

I love Amsterdam.  Full stop.   The people are amazing and helpful, the food divine, and there is a tranquility about the city that keeps me coming back as often as I can.

Nites

If you want a truly wonderful and homey experience, you must try and book a room at the Hotel Seven Bridges (http://www.sevenbridgeshotel.nl/cms/).  I tried for years to get in here and when I finally did, I wasn’t disapointed.  The staff is great and the rooms really quite cool and filled with antiques.  (They even include information on the antiques in your room so you know what you are living with.)   The owners live on the ground floor and it’s really quite interesting in that the “reception” is closed at night so you pretty much come and go as you please, just as if it were your own house.

My other favourite hotel in Amsterdam is the Hotel Pullitzer (http://www.pulitzeramsterdam.com/) which is just amazing.  It’s a bit more upscale the Seven Bridges, but doesn’t have as much individual charm so take your pick.  Either way, you won’t be disappointed.

Bites

Le Garage (http://www.restaurantlegarage.nl/), which is near the Rijksmuseum, is a funky cool place with incredible food!  I loved it and want to go back

De Vijff Vlieghen (http://vijffvlieghen.nl/en/Home) is a classic restaurant with out of this world food.  And it’s not pretensious, even if it is one of the standard restaurants in the city.

BIHP Art and Food (http://www.bihp.nl/) is also close to the Seven Bridges hotel and is a quaint little place.  The menu is small, but fantastic, and they even made something for me, the vegetarian.

Restaurant Bussia (http://www.bussia.nl/) I can’t go anywhere without finding good Italian food and this was it for me!

And if you want a truly interesting experience, take a taxi to the former Olympic Stadium and book a table at Vak Zuid (http://www.vakzuid.nl/nl/). This is a great place for drinks and people watching and the food is amazing!  It’s a little on the loud side, but worth it.  (and don’t worry, it doesn’t become a night club until around 11pm).

Sites

(coming soon)

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the best hotel in the world is in Alghero if you ask me

It’s a tough choice between Cagliari but if I have to choose, I’m going with Alghero.  (Sorry to some of Sardinian friends.)  There is something about this town that I just love: the centro storico, the strolls, the water, and the fact that it seems a bit removed from the rest of the island and tourist destinations.  And I must admit, the cross-cultural aspect with Spain is really quite cool in this lovely town!

Nites

If you ask me, there is only one place to stay in Alghero: the Villa Las Tronas (http://www.hotelvillalastronas.com/).  I first stayed here years ago, before they received their 5 star rating and since then, they have only improved.  The rooms are quiet – you feel like you have the place to yourself – and you don’t hear that traffic outside because the hotel is set on a promonitory.  If you can, splurge and experience the tranquility that this hotel offers!

Bites

This is probably my least favourite part of Alghero in that there aren’t a lot of truly outstanding restaurants to choose from.  The  restaurants aren’t bad, don’t get me wrong, but few really give you the “wow!” factor.

The restaurant that did give me the WOW! Factor is albisbe4 (no website).   The restaurant is situated in Piazza Teatro (no 4) which affords it a lovely, quiet, yet outdoor enjoyment.  The food was fantastic, the service impeccable, and the wines really quite lovely.  This is a must.

Another restaurant that I quite enjoyed was Il Coralle (via f.lle Kennedy) which is simply half way between the Villa las Tronas and the centro storico.   What I loved about this restaurant was 2 things:  first, it was packed with locals and had no walk-ups available so be sure to book a table.  The other thing that I loved is that, because I’m vegetarian and I don’t eat fish, they went out of their way to make an antipasto and a primo for me and both were stellar.  The wine isn’t as good as those at albisbe4 (above), but that wouldn’t stop me from returning.

Sites

The centro storico is a lovely place to stroll in the morning and at night.  During the day, most everything is closed and, remember, it’s hotter than hades in the summer so who wants to be shopping any way.  Unlike other places in Sardegna, Alghero offers the requisit tourist shops but also “regular” shops should you forget something.

The churches in Alghero are some of my favourite on the island.  Please remember to be respectful when you’re in the church: some of them are still run by nuns who you will see in prayer when you enter.  They don’t mind you enjoying the beauty of the church, just be quiet and dress appropriately.

The towers of Alghero, along with the fortified wall, are all pretty cool to see but you won’t need to go out of your way to see them:  you can’t enter, so you’ll just see them during one of your inevitable passeggiata.

I hope that the above gives you a bit of insite in to the wonderful city of Alghero.  It’s such an amazing and lovely place, just like all of Sardegna, so go, wonder, and take in the various smells, sights, and even sounds of Alghero!

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Cala Gonone is THE place to go! Don’t miss it!

I have found a small slice of heaven in this hamlet along the eastern side of Sardegna.  It’s not the easiest to find (see note below) but I would suggest that you come here and stay for many days rather than Costa Rei or Villasmius; it’s cheaper, there is more to do, and the people are just lovely.

Note: Cala Gonone is hard to find and harder to get to.  If you decided to drive from Cagliari, I highly recommend renting the GPS from the rental car company AND coming with a printout of directions (don’t use Google Maps!!! They are horrible, they give you “rural route” numbers instead of streets which no one knows (when you are lost) and, heaven forbid, Google Mapps doesn’t even tell you in which direction to head!)  Why both you ask?  Because there are some parts where you may have no signal for the GPS and the old-fashioned printout route is the best way to be safe.

If you decide to fly to Sardegna and only stay at Cala Gonone, everyone offers car transfers to and from the airport.  Consider it!  It may seem expensive, but a car hire, to just sit there and gather dust – and there’s very little free parking in Cala Gonone so you’ll be feeding a meter – is really not the best use of your money.

Nites

There are vast majority of hotel types in Cala Gonone.  None have more than 4 stars and you can go down to a 2 star or even stay at one of the B&Bs peppered throughout this coastal community.  I chose the Costa Dorada (http://www.hotelcostadorada.it/) which was just lovely.  The staff spoke Italian with me, but they also appeared to be fluent in English, German, Spanish, and French (all heard while I was there).  I requested a sea-view room and although it didn’t have a balcony – there are shared spaced on each floor so it’s not the most private – it did have a lovely view of the sea when I opened the shutters each morning.  How better to start your day right?!

Sites

You come to Cala Gonone for one thing: the beach.  But unlike Costa Rei, there is more to do here to occupy your time.  There is a bit of shopping that can be done (all of it touristic, however), you can go hiking, and you even have a plethora or restaurants to choose from.

But if there is one thing that you must do, you must do a minicrociera along the coast!  This will be a day-long trip (mine lasted from 9 – 18.30 even though it was suggested I would be finished by 17.00) and will cost you about 45 euro, but it is worth every penny.  And rather than going to the Port and doing one of the large tour boats, ask your hotel to set up a smaller, more private outing.  In fact, the Costa Durada has their own boat and organizes this for their guests.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know about this and by the time I arrived, the boat was already booked for the days I was there.  But thankfully, the Hotel called a friend who did the same thing, they got me on to the boat tour (8 people total), and the owner of the hotel even drove me to the Port and introduced me to the guides.

The minicrociera is a sun-lovers paradise so if you don’t want to be in the sun, this isn’t the best thing for you.  But if you can stick it out – and most boats have a covered section and you can sleep on the boats as opposed to one of the beaches you will undoubtedly stop at for a couple of hours – do it.  Don’t think about it, just do it!

Bites

Not far from the Costa Durada is the Road House Blues (no website).  The food was pretty good and the service was excellent.  It was however, to be warned, incredibly hot!  Cala Gonone, when there is no wind, is warm well in to the evening and don’t think of asking about air conditioning (here or anywhere else!); it doesn’t happen.  What I liked most about Road House Blues was the classic jazz playing the entire time I was there.

I highly recommend La Poltrona (no website).  This place is phenomenal!  The first night I went here, I decided to walk the 2+ kilometers to the restaurant.  Unfortunately, it was hot – not to mention UP HILL which no one mentioned – and by the time I arrived, I was a sweaty mess!  But the staff was patient and once I cooled off, they said that they new I was vegetarian and the chef was offering a number of different options for me!  How cool?  My last night in Cala Gonone was to be at La Poltrona.  How could it not be?!  And the chef, once again, outdid himself with options and even accommodated my need – and yess, it was a need – to have a simple home-made pasta that was out of this world!

So, if you plan to go to Sardegna for a bit of sun and relaxation and aren’t sure where to go, without a doubt, I have to tell you to go to Cala Cogone.  It truly is heaven and there is enough to do there to keep yourself occupied and happy for quite some time!  Enjoy!

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Costa Rei has the charm that Villasmius doesn’t because it’s small and quaint

Most people come to Sardegna for the beaches.  I did!  And if you fly in to Cagliari, the best beaches to the east are Villasimius and on up the coast.  I chose not to go to Villasimius for 1 reason and then another became apparent on my way to Costa Rei; it is bumper to bumper cars – and people – in Villasmius and that would be just a bit too much for this introvert.  The primary reason I didn’t choose Villasimius is that everything is “all inclusive” resorts with a minimum stay of 7 days.  I love the beach as much as the next person but I want to see lots of different beaches and not be required to stay at the same one for 7 nights.  So with a little digging, I found that the next coastal town up from Villasimius is Costa Rei.  And although many places that I contacted said that they, too, had a 7 night minimum, a couple said they would do 5 nights for slightly more.  When you only have so many days to explore, sometimes a little more money is worth the pain to your bank account!

Nites

I chose to stay at the newish hotel Il Vaschello (www.ilvascellohotel.it) because they would allow me to stay only 5 nights AND they would guarantee me a sea view room.  In my walks, I’ve seen 3 other resorts in Costa Rei so if Il Vascello isn’t your thing or they don’t have availability – they only have about 20 rooms which I appreciate – you can find something else.

Whatever you choose, you should know in advance that no hotel is directly on the beach so don’t make that a criteria.  And don’t fall for the deceptive pictures!  Thankfully, however, each hotel has their own “private” part of the beach where you will have a sun bed and umbrella and access to the most gorgeous blue waters!

Bites

This is where Costa Rei falls way short and probably why more people go to Villasimius: there are few restaurants available.  This also explains why many hotels want to do the “all inclusive” rates but, as a vegetarian, I try and avoid these sorts of “deals.”

The “Pink Lady” is right next to Il Vascello and is an adequate pizzeria and ristorante.  On the night I went, it was packed and thankfully I had thought to make a reservation because they were turning people away.

In the little square that is home to the “Pink Lady” is also a Pizza al Taglio which is inexpensive and really quite good.  My favourite Italian pizza is pizza con patata e rosmarino and they had so I was quite the happy boy.

The other restaurant that I found is call Il Mirragio.  It’s up the hill from the beach community, but an easy walk, so if you want a change of scenery, although the food is basically the same as the Pink Lady and the same price, check this place out.

Sites

It’s the beach.  There really is nothing else to do in Costa Rei other than to spend the day at the beach, the night have cocktails, and then dinner.  In a word, relaxing!

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Lovely town that is probably the most “cosmopolitan” in Sardegna

Cagliari is probably the most metropolitan of the cities on Sardegna.  But don’t come here looking for fantastic shopping, an abundance of ruins, or anything else of that nature; it’s the capital, and a port, and that’s it.

Nites

In all of my research, there doesn’t appear to be a plethora of hotels from which to choose in Cagliari.  In fact, I think I could only find about 5 four-star hotels and no five-star.  And there were only a few three-stars that I recall.  But if your travels take you to Cagliari and you want to spend a day – which I highly recommend just so you can get a flavor of the capital – I would highly recommend the T Hotel (www.thotel.it).  It’s a bit removed from the “center” but a lovely walk all the same.  (Public transport isn’t high on the Sardinian programme so be prepared to walk.)  And the hotel is a bit big for my preferences but I must admit, the staff is outstanding and the rooms huge and creatively decorated.  There was also something about the rotating art installation in the lobby (that’s how big the hotel is!) that changed during the 2 days I was there that I really liked.  But most of all, the T Hotel has the best breakfast I have ever experienced in any hotel in the world.  Full stop!  The fresh squeezed blood orange juice each morning was the epitome of sweet nectar: I nearly made myself sick each day because I couldn’t get enough!  And just about anything else you could want to start off your day was available.

Bites

I chose to be in Cagliari near Ferre Agosta – a national holiday in Italy and the start of the Italian holidays – so most restaurants in the city were closed.  So, my only proper meal – my first meal in Italy is always buffala mozzarella, bread, tomatoes, olives, and wine, in my room, something I started when I first came to Italy in 1992 – was at the T Hotel.  It’s a lovely restaurant and if you don’t mind having dinner in your hotel, check it out.  For me, my next trip to Cagliari will involve greater adventures in the culinary persuits!

Sites

The one thing that most people come to Cagliari to see is the Roman Amphitheatre.  Regrettably, the Amphitheatre is closed indefinitely because of erosion and they are desperately trying to preserve this landmark.

A walk along the port – which runs parallel to Via Roma, the main shopping street – is a lovely way to end the day or even relax in the afternoon soon.  Thankfully, even though it’s a port, there are not huge container ships there so don’t be afraid.

And if you have the chance, seek out the Cattedrale do Santa Maria.  It really is a stunning basilica – and nearly the highest point in Cagliari (which happens to be the Arsenale, just up the street) – and given it’s location and the craftsmanship that is evident there, it’s well worth the hike.

And finally, and although not a site, per se, I highly recommend that you seek out this little shop called Sini on via Baylle (off of Via Roma near the port).  Sini specializes in all sorts of knives (coltelli) and thanks to the advice of Mauro at the T Hotel, the famous Pattada and Arbus knives that are still handmade to this day.  The man who owns the shop doesn’t speak English, but if you come with the name of what you want written on a piece of paper, and use a bit of pantomime, he’ll show you the knives he has in dusty little boxes behind him.  These knives aren’t cheap, so making a decision is difficult, but you really shouldn’t leave Sardegna without one!

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Just a hint of what Ireland has in store

Bring an umbrella and always carry it with you.  That is the best advice anyone can keep in mind when visiting Dublin.  It’s a gorgeous city but the words of a taxi driver hold true: “I can tell you the weather report for the next 6 months… cloudy, with bouts of sunshine, the occasional rain shower and a gusty wind or two.”   And how true it was!

Nights

The first place to look for availability must be Butler’s Townhouse (http://www.butlers-hotel.com/).  It’s a bit out of the way – but an absolutely lovely walk in to town or the convention center – but the hominess of the townhouse is unrivaled in all of my travels.  Cecilia, the lovely and accommodating manager was a literal breath of fresh air every day and went well out of her way to help in every way possible.  In fact, upon leaving Butler’s Townhouse, I felt a pang of sadness as though I was leaving a friend.

If Butler’s is full, or you want to spend more money, check out Number 31 (http://www.number31.ie/) my second choice for a place to stay in Dublin.  There are, of course, numerous chain hotels that you can frequent but none will give you the personal touch that either Butler’s or Number 31 can do.

Bites

Dublin has apparently really come in to its own in terms of the restaurant scene.  In fact, they have a Michelin Starred restaurant, L’Ecrivain (http://www.lecrivain.com/) which I wasn’t able to get in to but next time.

Brasserie Sixty6 is a brilliant and lively restaurant with a fresh take on Irish cuisine (http://www.brasseriesixty6.com/).  The food was divine and the wine list really quite broad with a bit of something for everyone.

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I love farm to table restaurants and Dublin’s The Farm (http://www.thefarmrestaurant.ie/) hits the mark straight on the head!  You must go: pleasing for both the vegetarian and the carnivore alike, the staff where fun and informed and the food absolutely divine.  (The “beet me up” dinner was out of this world!)

The ely group has a number of restaurants around the city that I understand are some of the best in the city.  I can personally recommend ely Gastropub (http://www.elywinebar.ie/) for their fantastic food, great beer, and fantastic staff.  I can only assume that their other restaurants are equally as good.

If, after a lovely dinner, you are in the need for a evening drink, I would recommend either the Palace bar (http://www.thepalacebardublin.com/) and Bowes pub (http://www.dublinpubscene.com/thepubs/bowes.html), the latter proudly stating that they have 130 some odd types of whiskey (I only had 3).  Of course there are lots of pubs and bars around so I just say, pop in and have a blast.

And lastly, and not exactly a “bite,” there is the Celtic Whiskey Shop (http://www.celticwhiskeyshop.com/).  This is a must and if you can speak with Michael, do so: according to three different bar tenders that I spoke to, Michael is probably the most knowledgeable person in all of Dublin when it comes to Whiskey.  (Suffice it to say that I left Dublin with two bottles of Yellow Spot, the big brother to the more typical Green Spot Whiskey!)

Sites

Regrettably, I didn’t have much of a chance to do much sightseeing but I can tell you that you must – must – visit the Book of Kels which is amazing but to this bibliophile, the library that is part of the tour is breathtaking and if they would have let me, I would have stood there for hours thinking about the books there, the people who used them daily, and the love that went in to their creation.

Christ Church is a must do when going to Dublin.  I’ve honestly seen better cathedrals in the world, but given that it is the oldest church in Europe, a trip to Dublin wouldn’t be complete without paying homage.

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As a stop-over, it’s not that bad

What an interesting place!  This little city on a port really is just a stop-over for other locations on the island.  It’s a shame as the people really are lovely and helpful but there isn’t a whole lot to do here.  So, as a point of suggestion, if you come to Menorca for the beaches – which means you will have to fly in to Mahon – book an early flight to Mahon and book a late flight out of Mahon: that late flight will allow you to get from your beach resort to the airport in plenty of time, even if you take the bus!

If, however, you decide to stroll around Mahon for a bit, nothing more than an afternoon and night is all that’s needed.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a nice place not something that requires a lot of time.

Nights

The Hotel San Miguel (http://www.hotelsanmiguel-menorca.com/) is an absolute dream hotel that deserves far better than its 3 star rating!  After finally locating the hotel – 2 blocks off of Placa Reial in a residential neighborhood – I was a bit concerned by the outside.  In fact, I wondered “what have I gotten myself in to?”  But once inside and you are greeted by the staff, it all changes.  The décor is very mideval in style but once in the room… what a pleasant surprise.  The rooms are large and gorgeously decorated (not by Ikea).  The bathrooms are equally large and even have a whirlpool tub to help ease the aches and pains of walking around the hilly city!  And the breakfast a far cry better than I ever expected and to sit in the lovely inner courtyard just a wonderful way to start the day.  I will return!

If you want something a bit more posh with a bit of a view, try the Hotel Port Mahon.  I thought of staying here – and am glad that I didn’t because I loved the Hotel San Miguel – but I did go here to pick something up and it does look lovely and the staff seemed really quite nice.  But, be warned: they say they have a view of the port which is what they have.  They are not ON the port, they are on a hill overlooking the port.  It is gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, but I was expecting it to be down on the port.

Bites

I only spent one night in Mahon so I can only recommend one restaurant:  Wepi (Moll de Llevant 227 (+34) 971 354818; no website).  Wepi describes themselves as a mediterranean restaurant and I would describe their food as eclectic fun!  And it’s not Spanish inspired which, after a while, was a welcomed departure.  And for this vegetarian, they had some wonderful vegetarian options that didn’t involve a salad and actually had some protein in it!  The restaurant is on the port, where most of the restaurants are located, so go for a stroll and find this restaurant.  It’s amazing.

Sites

Well, I must admit that I didn’t find a whole lot of actual sites to take in while in Mao.  I walked everywhere, and had fun people watching and see some of the various neighborhoods, but other than that, there’s not a lot.  Most people seem to take a boat tour around the harbor but that wasn’t my thing.  You can, however, and it will cost 11 euro per person.  And that was it.

So there you go.  If you go to Menorca for a bit of sun – which I do recommend – you can probably avoid a lay-over in Mahon if you plan your flights from Barcelona or Madrid correctly.  And if you can’t avoid the lay-over, or just want to say “I’ve been to Mao,” they stay at the Hotel San Miguel and eat at Wepi.  Enjoy!

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Sant Tomas a small bit of peace and relaxation

Menorca (also Minorca) is the smallest of the Ballaeric islands and the most tranquil.  The two primary tourist “attractions” would be Mahon (also Maó) and Ciutadella, the former capital.  But most people come to Menorca for their beaches.  And what stunning beaches they are!

There are tons of beach resorts to choose from and I chose Sant Tomas.  And let me tell you, the beaches are everything they are cracked up to be and the perfect place to relax and recharge.

Nights

There are 5 hotels in the tony hamlet of Sant Tomas.  The oldest is the Hotel Santo Tomas (built in the 1960s I think).  Although the hotel is a bit dated and looks circa 1970s (at least for the last renovation), it fulfills the typical beach resort requirements: it’s right on the beach, the rooms are small and minimal, and nearly everything is included in the price of your stay.  (See below for more.)

The negative to the Hotel Santo Tomas, I’m afraid is two-fold: they attract a LOT of tour groups so those of us not part of a tour are left with what’s left.  When I checked in, they tried to give me a room with a view of “the garden” which is really the street!  The second downside is that there are a LOT of children running around.  I love kids, so don’t get me wrong, but when you want to chill, read, or whatever, it’s kind of difficult to do when there is screaming and crying all around you.

If I were to return to Sant Tomas, I would recommend the Sol Melia (http://es.melia.com/hoteles/espana/menorca/sol-menorca/home.htm) a resort that is for adults only.  (And they have daily bocce tournaments!)

Another option that I would recommend is one of the numerous condo/house rentals in the village.  They are all owned by the various resorts, I suspect, but at least they have their own kitchens and you don’t have to eat as part of buffet.  (And I bet there are laundry facilities!)

Bites

Because Sant Tomas is a resort community, there really isn’t much in the way of restaurants.  And this is why each hotel property is all inclusive.  I’m not a fan of buffets, and I never will be, but here in Sant Tomas, you have to get over that!  The buffet at the Hotel Sant Tomas is average and the kindness of the staff definitely helps.  But eating in a large setting is not my idea of fun!  And given that they cater to the older crowd, few of whom are vegetarian (but should try it!), there isn’t much for the vegetarians in the crowd.  Thank god for the salad bar!

There are also 2 supermarkets in the village where you can also buy everything that you want.  On one trip, I saw a couple buying things for a barbecue so there are either places that you can barbecue or one of the rentals had facilities.  I’d take this option, even without tofu, any day over the buffet.

There are a couple of so-called restaurants in the village but they are small and don’t really offer anything overly gourmet.  In fact, I would guess that the upside to these “restaurants” is simply that they are not a buffet.

Sights

There really isn’t much to do in Sant Tomas other than to relax on the beach or poolside.

For those of you who get a bit antsy, there is an amazing trail that goes along the coast line in both directions from Sant Tomas and I highly recommend it.  You can go for as long, or as short, as you like and fear not: the paths is clearly marked throughout.

There is also a castle which although interesting to visit, isn’t really worth the trek.  So go back to the beach and get your tan on!

And there you have it: Sant Tomas in a nutshell.  It’s a beautiful place and there are lots of return guests – think the movie “Dirty Dancing” without baby in the corner – but I think that once you’ve been, that really is enough unless it’s easy for you to book a last minute trip.  If you have a long distance to travel to get here, I can recommend other parts of Spain.  So safe travels and enjoy!

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