[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 luxury boutique 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
[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
[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 are 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.
[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.
[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
[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. And that’s
[EDITOR’S NOTE: AFTER POSTING THIS, I JUST FOUND OUT THAT THEY SOLD THE HOTEL AND WILL CONVERT IT INTO A PRIVATE VILLA RENTAL> SO BUMMED. OH WELL, ENJOY THE PICTURES!] [LAGOS, PORTUGAL] — After landing in Lisbon all stinky from the flight, you jump in the rental and haul ass straight down the A2, crossing the rugged mountains that keep all the cold air from the North trapped on the rightside of the equation and make the Algarve warm all year. You book across the Algarve on the A22, toll after bitchy toll, slavingly following the GPS because your brain is fried. And then you get off near Lagos, and enter the Twilight Zone. A big grey area on the map. Lots of blank space,
[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] — 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] — 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] — 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
[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?”