[JOSE IGNACIO, URUGUAY] — There. I said it. Jose Ignacio is it. Jose Ignacio is the World’s Best Beach Town. This is my favorite place in this world. If you’ve followed me for some time or talk to me over Negronis, THIS is the place I always talk about. This is a huge post, combing multiple visits over ten years into a single comprehensive guide. Here is your guide to the best beaches in Jose Ignacio. The best restaurants in Jose Ignacio and the best hotels in Jose Ignacio. All the reasons that make this the world’s best beach town. A half hour north of the Miami-like Punta del Este is a small peninsula that juts just right out into the ocean, able to capture the best
[PARIS] — I was scared to death on my first trips to Paris — I started going B.I., Before the Internet — totally intimidated about finding the best cool restaurants. The mere thought of a) figuring out how to use a phone in France and b) people not understanding a single syllable of my Bad French just made the whole process unbearable. On top of that, I’d tried many times to ask some un-listening concierge — in those days of “Snooty France” — who would just shunt ALL Americans to some crappy brasserie around the corner with surly waiters and lame food. So I rarely trusted them…despite giving them big tips. So then I developed my default restaurant-picking technique: Walking Until Finding Something Cool. WUFSC™️.
(Normandie, France) — You can spend a day, a week or a month in Normandie and never get enough. We only had a couple of days on our own to explore the province after taking a D-Day tour, so didn’t get to see a lot, but here are my favorite finds. Normandie is really really old. Certainly there were neolithic settlements, but it was settled by the Vikings long ago –“Northmen land” is basically what the name translates to — who in the 800s rowed up the Seine in their longboats all the way up to Paris — long before the Viking Longboats were even conceived — pillaging along the way and eventually seizing the province from France. Then the Celts, William the Conqueror, the
[SKOURA, MOROCCO] — After a long, bumpy slog over the Atlas Mountains from Marrakesh, I got out of the dusty Mercedes van in an indiscriminate parking lot outside a great mud-walled compound. Walls up to the sky. This is it? I wondered under my breath. This is the place I’ve heard so much about? And then, with silent porters in linen tunics grabbing my bags, a great wooden door opened from the thick walls. A donkey groaned downed by the road we just passed. “Hello, my name is Florent. You can call me Flo.” a slight, chicly-dressed young Frenchman with up-turned collar addressed me. Peeking inside, everything became clear. “Oh, this is it. This is definitely it.” I follow Flo through the thick
[LISBON] — There are lots of great restaurants in Portugal, but I’m just going to talk about two must-visit restaurants in Lisbon that I recently went to. Restaurante Prado and Horta dos Brunos. Two fantastic and completely different experiences. When I was in the beach town of Comporta, Yasmine, a very tasteful Belgian Instagram friend direct-messaged me this tip: And then, when I was in the far rolling hills of Alentejo, my friends Neil & Lisa texted me: “We went to that Horta dos Brunos your friend recommended. Wow. Fantastic. So full. Can’t walk.” When I finally arrived in Lisbon, I knew I had to go and made reservations. When I got in my Uber and the non-English speaking driver saw the destination on
[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
[SAN CASSIANO IN ALTA BADIA, ITALY] — When I checked into the luxury boutique hotel Rosa Alpina, a man was standing there off to the side, bouncing a baby in his right arm, baby projecting out like a cat. “Oh Hi, we’ve been waiting for you. I’d shake your hand… but the baby…” and reached out his left hand. And so it started like that. ________________________________________ It had been almost two years to the week since I was last in San Cassiano in Val Badia, the Ladin-speaking lush valleys that make up the heart of the Süd Tirol area of the Italian Dolomites. An area where everything is listed in three languages. Ladin — an ancient language that goes back to Roman times, spoken only in
[BRENTA DOLOMITES, ITALY] — During the ski season, Madonna di Campiglio attracts people from all over the world. During the “off season” — which I can’t relieve believe they call it that, it is such a gorgeous time of year — it is uncrowded and the scenery is just jaw-dropping. And the view from the boutique luxury BioHotel Hermitage in the Dolomites of Italy is about as great as any I’ve seen. Stunning. _________________________________________________ We were sad to leave Milano, but we were jonesing for the next stop. After a quick lunch in quaint medieval Bergamo, finally we went, up into the Dolomites. Spindly little roads needling through small mountain towns, we threaded our way up the spine, chuffed by a long rough patch, waiting
[PYLA-SUR-MER, FRANCE] — I didn’t even know this beast was here. Never heard a squeak of it before. I actually came here in search of a beautiful hotel which mentioned its prime location next to the Dune du Pilat, about an hour south of Bordeaux. Okay. So can I get room? But when I pulled up, holy cow! My dumb fortunate luck led me to yet another amazing natural phenomenon — the largest sand dune in Europe. Almost 3km long and about 110m (300 ft) high, this giant Gibraltar of sand stands between the shimmering Atlantic and an inland pine forest, with fierce winds that add to its height every year, shoving it inland, swallowing up houses and forests in its path. In the 1700s, maps show
[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.
[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
[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
[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
[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 — and 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, brining 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
[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