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THE PERFECT VILLA TO RENT IN COMPORTA PORTUGAL

[ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL] — It’s the pine trees that get ya. They are everywhere in Comporta. Big billowy umbrella pines that quietly sway in the breeze.  Besides the rice fields, Comporta is known for its pines. And because development has been strictly controlled, the remain its dominant feature. There are no massive hotels or major housing estates, just slivers of streets carved out of the trees, often with protective easements that protect the privacy forever. When I first saw this villa on Airbnb, I thought “Oh wow, this is nice…” and kinda like finding a puppy at the pound, I knew this would be the place we’d rent.  Wasn’t quite sure of the area at first — had a hard time figuring out distances on Google

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WHERE TO EAT IN COMPORTA PORTUGAL

[ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL] — We’d spent our first day in Comporta at Pégo Beach, one of the best beaches in the area. Still a little jet-lagged after arriving the night before. We rented chairs and lulled ourselves to sleep with the waves while quietly reading/not reading  our books. The sun was high, it was the end of June, but the steady breeze kept the temperature in the 70s. Unbelievably perfect. Families played beach games as we shake-and-baked in the soft warm sand — so opposite from the rocky beaches of France and Italy. Around about noon, my stomach growled. “I believe it is time for us to eat,” I said, knowing that one of the best restaurants in Comporta sat not 70 meters from where we

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THE PERFECT BEACH VACATION IN COMPORTA PORTUGAL

[ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL] — Driving out of Lisbon airport in your rental is absolutely crazy, with GPS or not. After an overnight flight (or two) you exit the terminal into the bright Portugal sun all bleary eyed, you get your car and just go.  The GPS is playing catch up, while the traffic is not, bearing down on your tail like a dog in heat. The roads are like a plate of dropped spaghetti, turning off in every crazy direction, with signs that don’t match what the GPS is telling you.  After a couple of roundabout orbit corrections, you finally break free of the tangle and head south for the Tagus River. Suddenly, the bright blue sky opens up, the traffic disappears and you’re back to

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STAY IN A STUNNING KASBAH IN THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS OF MOROCCO

[KASBAH TAMADOT, MOROCCO] — Pulling out of the crazy busy dark corners of Medina of Marrakesh, the sky suddenly opens up. Endless palm trees paint the sky like clouds. Vast estates with long pink mud walls line the highway for miles.  And that’s when you first see them, the Atlas Mountains, snow capped even in the 80 degree spring heat. Beckoning from a distance to come up to the cool crisp air. Soon the road thins out, the estates give way to small hamlets, dirt orange mud-walled buildings stacked like books up the hills. Traveling fast in the air-conditioned wifi-enabled van, I spy an old man on a donkey pulling livestock like it was a Christmas Card, which is kinda jarring when you’re in a

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THREE GREAT HIKES IN ALTA BADIA IN THE ITALIAN DOLOMITES

[ALTA BADIA, TRENTINO] — After a four hour hike down the mountain, it was finally time for a late lunch. Stanky and sweaty, I rolled into this cute little rifugio out in the woods, accessible only by foot or the brave souls driving up the narrow less-than-one-lane path — so tight the cars forced the hikers to lean their butts and packs over the wood rail fence lining the lane as they passed. I was hangry by then 👹 so hearty venison medallions in a juniper sauce, grilled mushrooms and rustic polenta seemed just perfect. And a couple of glasses of Lagrein to wash it all down.  About as good of a meal as it gets, especially in a place so inaccessible. The sun casting

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TWO GREAT HIKES IN VAL GARDENA IN THE ITALIAN DOLOMITES

[VAL GARDENA, BOLZANO] — We were on a long gondola ride heading up a long valley of undulating hills outside of the beautiful town of Ortisei, no doubt perfect ski runs in the winter. But it was summer, off season, so everything was super lush and green, hardly anybody around. The lift pauses at one skier drop-off then continues on, up up up and over a steep massive wall of granite, still shaded by the stark morning sun, darkening the interior of the gondola so much that you had to take off your sunglasses.  Suddenly, you pop over the ridge and you’re thrust into the bright summer sun. Stammering to get your bearings again. We scrambled off, the hustling gondola nipping at our heels like a

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The Brazilian paradise nobody really knows about

[FERNANDO DE NORONHA,  BRAZIL] — It had rained all morning.  I was driving like a mad man in my bumble-bee colored dune buggy, down a rutted muddy road to a clearing on the edge of a steep cliff. Not intentionally crazy, mind you, but out of necessity. The little dune buggy was so small and my legs were so long that my knees straddled the teeny rubber steering wheel. I had to steer with my arms between my legs, crab-like. 🦀 Nearing the edge of the cliff, I had to slam on the brakes with all my power to slow down, not just because of the slippery mud, but because they brakes had as much grip as if I was rubbing a Teva sandal directly on

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A HALF-DAY TOUR OF MUSCAT

[MUSCAT, OMAN] — When I told people I was going to Oman, they first nod, then shake their head. “Wait, Oman?  Where’s Oman?” I felt that too when I first saw pictures of the incredible hotels in my previous posts. But Muscat, was a great surprise to me, as well. I was just planning to be in/out of the city in a short time, so really didn’t expect to see much. But once there, I realized that I hadn’t planned well — I had booked the trip just ten days prior. _________________________________________________ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Oman ranks right up there with Singapore as the cleanest and safest country on earth. No crime, no graffiti, no trash, no car honking. No discussion of politics or religion. If your

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A LUXURIOUS OASIS IN THE MIDDLE OF MUSCAT

[MUSCAT, OMAN]   — Thursday afternoons in Muscat are busy traffic days. Like in most Muslim countries, where the “weekend” consists of Friday and Saturday, Thursday is everybody’s Friday afternoon and they’re itching to get home to their families. I’d arrived after a long but luxurious 13 hour Emirates flight from JFK to Dubai — that after taking a midnight redeye from Denver to JFK and a five hour layover — then, another five hour layover, then a quick forty minute flight into the sparkling clean, gleaming white city of Muscat. I was beat. I’d only booked this trip two weeks before, so I wasn’t quite as prepared as normal. I was tired, in need of a shower.  The hotel had sent a driver, who

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A STUNNING BEACH RESORT ON OMAN’S MUSANDAM PENINSULA

[MUSANDAM PENINSULA, OMAN] — When you land in crazy Dubai, the Six Senses driver is there to great you. A kind Indian man from Kerala, as seemingly every helpful service person in this region is, dressed in a nice black suit and tie. As you weave your way through Dubai’s twenty lane highways, the skyscrapers disappear, the highway gets successively narrower, the gigantic 200 foot-long real estate billboards become faded and empty. Sand dunes start to appear. Camels start to pop up, randomly, in the dunes on the side of the road. Your blood pressure drops a hundred points as you realize “Ahhhh, this is what I came for.” We’re on the Road to Paradise.     Heading towards Oman’s famed Musandam Peninsula,  the sand dunes soon turn

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AN ADVENTURE HOTEL PERCHED ON THE EDGE OF A CANYON

[AL HAJAR, OMAN] — When I first saw a photo of this hotel a couple of years ago I just stopped and went “Wooh, where the hell is this???” Oman. Oman? Where’s Oman? “I gotta go there. And stay riiiiiiight here.” And that’s how this whole trip came to be.     Months later I saw another picture of a stunning hotel on a barren sandy beach and the article said you could either drive down the zigzag road… or paraglide down to the hotel Reception and check-in.  (You’ll see that in the next post)  And I thought: “Wow, where is that?” Oman. Oman?  Man, I gotta go to this place.  And started a travel file named “OMAN” that included article after article of incredible photos

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STAY IN A PRIVATE DESERT TENT CAMP IN STUNNING OMAN

[WAHIBA SANDS, OMAN] — We’d been driving all day when we pulled into the scruffy desert town of Bidiyah.  My guide Zubir pulled off to the left side of the road and rolled to a stop in a small gas station, a cloud of dust chasing us to a stop. Two dark Indian men had been waiting for us, squatting against a wall. They knew we were in a hurry, so when he rolled in, they were quick to tackle each tire, twisting off the caps to the air valves and immediately started letting air out of the tires.  SSSSssssssssssss.    “The tires work better in the sand if they are flat” Zubir said. We’d covered a lot of ground that day, Zubir had picked

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EXPLORING THE ENDLESS SURPRISES ALONG THE “CIRCLE ROUTE” IN NORTHERN OMAN

[OMAN] — Such a fascinating place, Oman, with the nicest people I’ve run into, across the board. Omanis are known for their gentle souls, peacemaking and equal support of friend and foe. People so nice that even when I arrived at Passport Control, I walked up to the stern looking passport-checker dude. “From where are you?” “The States” “Really?? We don’t get many Americans here. What is your purpose? Where are you going? And for how long is your visit?” “For tourism. Two weeks, all over. Muscat. Mountains. Beach.” Smiling broadly “Ahhhhh, I hope you will like Oman. You must, simply must, visit Jebel Shams, the highest mountain in Oman. Very beautiful. The car only goes so far, but you must walk to the top. The

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HAMBURG IS HAPPENING

[HAMBURG] — Ha-Ha-Hamburg. Man, what a city. If you asked me a year ago if Hamburg was on my wishlist of cities to visit. “Ummmmm, no.”   But, I didn’t know. I just thought Hamburg was just a big industrial port city in northern Germany. But through the marvels of Instagram, I kept seeing these beautiful shots of this remarkable city, Germany’s second largest and its major business hub, with all of its media, design and shipping headquarters here. Airbus, Unilever, broadcast networks, all here. Like Berlin — which I covered in recent posts — Hamburg has been undergoing a huge Renaissance. Not just updating, but reinventing itself. With massive cool new developments and stunning architecture, sympathetically blending into to its prestigious older parts. Ask a German about

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LÜBECK — THE PERFECT DAY TRIP FROM HAMBURG

[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

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ONE OF THE COOLEST MINIATURE MUSEUMS I’VE EVER SEEN

[HAMBURG] — Okay, this was my favorite part of going to Hamburg. Miniatur Wunderland. Hamburg is a great city, but it’s worth a trip here just to see this awesome, quirky museum. An entire world done in miniature: trains, cars, airports, stadiums. But this is way, way cooler than just a big model railroad. Dozens of complete themed dioramas spread out over multiple floors of an old warehouse. This is so much fun. Think: a model railroad on steroids. Russian ones. Sure there are lots of “miniature” places around the world, but this one is different and the best I’ve seen. Of course there are hundreds of model trains spread out all through the place, but not just trains; moving cars, people, ships, boats and airplanes. But

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WHAT TO DO OVER A LONG WEEKEND IN BERLIN

[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.

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FOUR GREAT BOUTIQUE HOTELS IN BARCELONA

[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

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THREE GREAT BOUTIQUE HOTELS TO EXPLORE SPAIN’S RUGGED COSTA BRAVA

[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

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HIKE THE CATALAN PYRENEES AND THE VAL D’ARAN

urgell[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

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