[HAMBURG] — The sun was streaming in through the windows on a cold winter day over Christmas time. It was 1 degree Celsius outside, but in here it was warm. I settled into my six-top booth with the perfect view outside, warming in the rays like a cat. A couple was having a business lunch at a table in front of the windows. Suddenly, it felt like the whole restaurant was moving, but it was really the outside. A ginormous ship was passing by, with a giant bridge castle as tall as a fifteen story building moving silently down the line of windows. It was unsettling at first, feeling like you’re moving when you’re not. The couple, deep in business conversation, didn’t notice it at first.
[LÜBECK, GERMANY] — It’s the eerie, fairytale looking architecture of Lübeck that hits you. Makes it almost surreal. Huge, squat high-hat towers dwarfing a bright green lawn. Rust colored tiles tipping to the sky. Little people, tiny in front, selfie sticks trying to get the right angle. The buildings almost look like stone gnomes. Frozen Expedia gnomes, as they should be. As you’re adjust your zoom lens, trying to get a level angle, that’s when you realize it’s not you or your lens, the whole building is a little crooked. This was an old guard house, or toll house — the Holstentor (“Holstein Tower”), that used to protect this rich and prosperous city. They entire old city of Lübeck is built on an island, surrounded on
[BERLIN] — It’d been a looong time since I was last in Berlin. So long ago, it’s scary. Back when I was in college in Rome, when the Wall was around. When Checkpoint Charlie was a real checkpoint. The city just seemed to be numb then, both sides. Mostly old people on the streets, not many. Can’t remember anyone young. Everything seemed grey and colorless. Eerie. You could roll a 🎳 down the main strassens and not hit a soul. The only shops around seemed to sell Bavarian beer mugs and cuckoo clocks, not sneakers. Stating the obvious, today is so much more different. Alive. So many kids and cute moms with strollers, everywhere, Third Wave coffee shops and colors in faces now. Everyone smiling. Streets bustling.
[BERLIN] — I’d been working like crazy for the last several months of last year and was itchin’ to go somewhere, like rightnow, over the American Thanksgiving holiday, a perfect time to slip away. Found a cheap flight on Lufthansa five days before leaving and scrambled to find a hotel. I hadn’t had much time to investigate where to stay and scouring Tablet Hotels nearly everything was completely booked by smarter, more forward-thinking people. What was going on in Berlin that weekend? Bank holiday? Everything was coming up goose eggs. I’d been seeing great posts from my Instagram peeps about a cool boutique hotel called Das Stue — it claims to be Berlin’s first boutique hotel. At first, there were no avails. But then I checked back again
[BARCELONA] — I know I’m in the minority in being a steadfast fan of boutique hotels these days, whilst the rest of you are Airbnb’n, but I still am bullish on the whole hotel experience. In fact, I usually book my vacations around the hotel, often traveling far and wide just to visit a special place. Barcelona has been almost overrun by Airbnbs, so much so that whole apartment buildings are being converted by investors into full-on apartment rentals — much to the scorn of local residents, pushed out by reasonable growing rents. But just before the HomeAway trend hit BCN, a flurry of boutique hotels were built, high on style, funky design and cool restaurants, dramatically increasing this great city’s inventory of cool places
[COSTA BRAVA, SPAIN] — This is a big, long, gnarly post of a whole region. But hopefully, a great overview to start planning your trip here. I haven’t spent a lot of time on the Costa Brava, but passed through here two different times over the span of three months on the way to other places, each time just for a few days. Once for a travel blogger conference in Lloret-del-Mar, another time to return a rental car on the way back from France, slowly picking my way along the coast for a week. So I just got a chance to dip a toe in and explore this beautiful coast. Here’s the best I found for you. Actually, each trip through I didn’t really get a chance
[CATALONIA, SPAIN] — So I was sitting in a cool hotel on the edge of the Sahara one day before I was scheduled to fly back to the States. I’d been on the road for a month in Portugal and Morocco, but I wasn’t ready to go back quite yet. So I cancelled my return flight, flew to Barcelona, walked up to the Hertz desk and asked “Can I rent a car for two months?” “Si! Si, Señor!” I didn’t really have a plan or destination in mind, but I looked at a map and the towering mountains of the Spanish Pyrenees and just headed in that direction. Didn’t really know anything about this area and, with little time for research, I just looked on
[PORTO, PORTUGAL] — The Bridge. The Bridge is everything in Porto. It looks like the Eiffel Tower on its side crossing the lazy Douro River — which makes sense since it was designed by Gustave’s company. It’s hard to believe that this beast has been carrying traffic since it was built in 1886. At that time, it was the largest bridge span in the world. Such a stunning setting, which is why, when looking where to stay in Porto, I found a hotel that had the above amazing view on TabletHotels, my favorite go-to hotel site. This was literally the view out my window of the Pestana Vintage Hotel. Can’t ask for much better. You can see why the city’s core is a UNESCO World Heritage
[Outside Santa Cruz, Portugal] — It’s the smells that hit you first… After pulling into a sparse car park, no sign of life. You walk up to the huge, heavy wood doors — all big and Asian-y and intimidating, makes you feel like a bible salesman at Larry Ellison’s house — and they’re locked. Oh no, are they closed? Did I get the date wrong? Then you notice the small buzzer. And buzz. A big clanking noise and the antique rusted door latch opens up for you and the big door swings open. And that’s when the smells hit. Wood fire. Strong rosemary. A waft of lavender. A swirling stiff breeze of scents that coarse through the gap and wallop your nose with calm. And that’s
[TOURRETTES-SUR-LOUP, FRANCE] — I was on my way back from nine blissful days in Greece, heading toward the southwest of France. Having already done most of the coast, I wanted to find a new place to explore. I opened a new travel website I kept hearing about i-escape.com and started scouring pictures for something that grabbed my eye. And then BOOM. This is what I saw. That was it. This is in France? Looks more like Italy, or maybe Corsica. An ancient village perched high above the Côte d’Azur in the mountainy Alpes-Maritime region of France. I’ve always heard about this region, but had never been. So that’s where I pointed my car as I hopped off the plane in Nice. It’s really not
[MONTRÉAL, LANGUEDOC] — Finally. Finally I’m here. For over a year I’ve been following Annie Moore on Instagram, the amazingly talented owner/renovator/designer/chef of the remarkable Camellas-Lloret design hotel in France. Like a voyeur peeking through an IG peephole into a glorious life in a quiet village in Languedoc. I flew to France just to stay here. Along with her Zen Master husband Colin (more about him later), they welcome adventurous people into their five bedroom maison d’hôtes design hotel they’ve spent the last five years restoring with love. Every single corner of the place is an elegant and evolving tableau of findings from their daily hunts through the local brocantes, put together in ways you could never think of, but are works of art. Little dioramas. Like a magazine spread
[FOLEGANDROS, GREECE] — The naturally-formed port on Folegandros is pretty and humble at the same. It’s pretty sleepy, with just a handful of restaurants serving fresh fish and smiles. There are a couple of cheap hotels, one really nice one (Anemi Hotel, shown below) and many rooms to let. But it’s great base to take dayboat tours around the island. Not to mention getting all busybody as you succumb to the rhythms of the arriving ferries, like a Greek cat, and saunter on down to see what mice get on and off. It’s that peaceful. You succumb to the rhythms of the arriving ferries, like a Greek cat, and saunter on down to see what mice get on and off. The Anemi Hotel — all peachy in
[FOLEGANDROS, GREECE] — A video and music overview of the best beaches, hotels and restaurants of the under-the-radar island of Folegandros. For more details, visit the Folegandros page on my website.
[MOUSTIERS-SAINTE-MARIE, FRANCE] — Moustiers in eastern Provence is the gateway to the great Gorge du Verdon. The Grand Canyon of France. And an Adventureland of fun, with trekking, boating, canyoning, climbing and just plain gawking at all the natural beauty. Driving up from southern Provence, you first drive over the high and flat Valensole plateau, home to some of the largest and most stunning lavender fields in France. Miles and miles of sweet purple flowers, as far as the eye can see. After driving across the plateau, you dip down into some of the most luscious, golden wheat fields you’ve ever seen. Picture perfect, dancing in the breeze Moustiers is freakishly cool. Surreal. Almost looks like painted illustrations in
[SARTÈNE, CORSICA] — I was having dinner by myself the first night in Corsica at Domaine du Murtoli — one of the most exclusive resorts in France — sitting back and grinning at all the natural wonder before me in this candle-lit treehouse of a restaurant hidden under the maquis trees. Barefoot waitresses in linen frocks darted under the leaves, bring drinks, appetizers and cute smiles. Around the corner came a vision, the most perfectly tanned specimen on this planet. Valérie, the proprietress of this magical haven (and a former model and mother to four beautiful children). She floated on a cloud up to my table and I gulped. “Bon soir, my name is Valérie. How was your dinner? Did you see your little friend?”
[CORSICA, FRANCE] — You know when you’re in a rental car in a foreign land and you’re on a steep impossible skinny one lane road with dropoffs of hundreds of feet and wondering “what the hell am going to do if another car comes the other way???” I was in exactly in that situation, on a steep rocky road, barely wider than my car, pointing downdowndown on my way to the a sleepy fishing village I was told was a gem. The crazy road was a bunch of zig-zags all the way down to the sea, each turn more precarious than the last. My clutch skills failing on the steep hill, killing the car as I rounded the tightest bends. When you’re traveling with someone else, you kinda
[GÈDRE, FRANCE] — I always wanted to go on some great hikes in the French Pyrénées, but I could never figure out where. As I finally figured out after all these years, the Pyrénées aren’t just a single group of mountains, but a bunch of groups of Pyrénées spread all along the French/Spanish border. So when you think, as I stupidly did, “Oh I’ll just go hike in the Pyrénées” you’re instantly in over your head when you finally try to Google it and figure out where to go. There’s the Pyrénées-Orientales in French Catalonia (which I wrote briefly about in another earlier post), the Pyrénées-Atlantiques in Basque country near San Sebastian, the Midi-Pyrénées, the Haute-Pyrénées and several other subparts. And then there’s the complementary Spanish Pyrénées on the very other side and
[EUGENIE-LES-BAINS, FRANCE] — I had the best intensions… Looking to break up my random drive across France, I decided to sneak in to the famed Les Prés d’Eugénie hotel for a taste of what made Michel Guérard world famous — one of the pioneers of Nouvelle Cuisine that changed French cooking forever. 🍽 Chef and his wife Christine built this magical spa hotel in the country as a destination for his 3 Michelin star restaurant. We’re talking 3 stars for 30 years! I’m a food icon idiot, I just like to eat. But I learned about Les Prés d’Eugénie when I was staying at Le Chateau de Riell, their sweet little sister hotel in French Catalonia. (Scroll down a little on my page and you
[PRAGUE] — This is going to be a pretty easy post for you, more of a postcard travelogue. I think I am the last guy to visit Prague, but I slapped it on to a Christmas trip to Brussels just to see what it’s like and have some beer. Pretty city. Too many tourists for me. I feel sorry that it was so overrun. But it definitely is pretty. These are the best things I’ve found. Click to open the slideshow and follow along. Last visited Christmas 2015
[BRUSSELS] — Trying to do a Mileage Run at the end of the year to top off the tanks, I found a cheap flight to Brussels, perfectly timed between Christmas and New Years, back by the end of the year. The sad terrorist attacks had just occurred and I wanted to show my support but not letting those acts change our world. Plus, my hunch was right that the airfares and upgrades would be cheap with a lot of cancellations. I left on Christmas Day, went to Brussels, a day trip to Antwerp at some of my Instagram followers on-the-ground suggestions, then shot over to Prague for a couple of days. After all these years going to Europe, I’d never gone to either country, so