[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
[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
[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
[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.
[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
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
[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
[NAZARÉ, PORTUGAL] — I’m not a surfer, obvs, but I’ve always been captivated by stories of Big Wave surfing, where weather-watching, nicely-tanned people drop everything and fly across the world to try to catch big swells. I’m fascinated by waves. Even have read awesome books like The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean (which I highly recommend). And most recently, this awesome new book on waves and water: How to Read Water. (more highly recommended, so enlightening.) One place that is almost always on the list is Nazaré on the west coast of Lisbon, where nearly every year there’s always some small article in the media with amazing pictures of beastly waves crashing high above the heads of huddled masses on
[OBIDOS, PORTUGAL] — About an hour south of Porto is the small castle town of Obidos. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, which I’ve never really seen, you may recognize this place. But if you’re just a normal castle-loving gypsy, you can stay in the nice pousada inside and get an extra use out of your traveling Glastonbury/Burning Man/Coachella flower bonnet and feel like a queen. They charge extra for swords, I hear, but available. Ravens on advance request. A good friend of mine recently stayed in the Pousada Obidos and absolutely loved it. And all the tourists empty out at night and they had the whole town to themselves. Some great restaurants, too. Obidos is known for their chocolate, so there are oodles of chocolate
[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. Okay, this
[Lagos, Portugal] — The winding two lane highway runs all up and down the western coast, tucked just under a constant high berm of low hills that act like a windbreak from the coast. The car weaves in and out of clumps of wooly cypress trees, their wide trunks like the fuzzy legs of a herd of mammoths, crossing small bridges and dodging farm trucks heaving from the local fields. It’s kind of weird, actually. The sun is bright as can be, yet you’re in shadows most of the time in the early afternoon. You can feel the salty ocean breeze but that long forehead of low hills casts long shadows across the road, it’s hard to even get a view of the beaches you’ve read so
[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 far
[FOLEGANDROS, GREECE] — 20 hours, three planes, long layovers and a zippy ferry straight from Santorini, I arrived in the port of Folegandros after 9pm, in the pitchdark. The owner of my hotel, Dimitris was waiting for me at the port and drove me the short 3kms up to the town of Chora in his Jeep Cherokee. In minutes we were zig-zagging through the crooked streets of Chora, headed for my home for the next couple of days — the Anemomilos Apartments. A slow cool breeze, a couple of Mythos and music from the local tavernas conked me out for twelve straight hours. Set the phone for 6am to catch the sunrise, didn’t work… woke up at 10. Nine days I was on this island. A mellow
[FOLEGANDROS, GREECE] — On the quiet island of Folegandros, there are no cruise ships. There’s no airport. No big hotels. No hoards of tourists. They only got electricity a about 30 years ago. At wasn’t until the last 20 years that the island’s one road was paved — all 18 kilometers of it — and the first gas station arrived. There’s only one bus driver. Only a single taxi driver. And only 785 people live on the island. You can only get here by ferry, either from other islands, or Athen’s Piraeus port, or you can fly into over-popular Santorini and get the hell out, taking a quick 45 minute ferry. That’s probably what saved Folegandros. No major developments like the other big Greek islands in
[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 B&B in France. 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 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 in Elle Decor
[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.
[DOURO VALLEY, PORTUGAL] — I see all these Instagram peeps hitting Porto taking pictures of the big bridge, climbing up its steep hills, drinking some port and then bolting. But really what they’re missing is a day trip (or longer) up the Douro River to visit the incredible, hilly stair-step vineyards of the Douro Valley, one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. I dunno, I’m over wine tours, once you see a few, they’re all the same to me — “Is that French oak or American? How long in stainless??” — poke me in the eye with a stick…but that’s just me.. But the Douro Valley is different. Hilly. Steep. Flinty mounds of luscious green heaven pouring down to a mellow meandering river. Each
[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
[GORGE DU VERDON, FRANCE] — All along the skinny serpentine road that follows each side of the Gorge due Verdon canyon rim are cool slot canyons to explore. Canyons like this awesome hike below the jaw dropping Point Sublime. I wasn’t planning on this hike. Just stumbled on it and kept going. The path descends to follow along the water, climbing up ladders and disappearing into cool dark tunnels, emerging on the other side. When I say tunnels, I mean pitch black tunnels. “Signs warn you should have a headlamp. “Hahaha, we don’t need no stinking torchiers.” I mumbled to myself as I entered that last and longest tunnel.” Okay, click this video, turn your sound up and then start reading: Well, they were serious.