Eat like a local

 
 

Eat your way through Germany

Germany attracts visitors for its beautiful countryside of mountains, forests, rivers and even beaches. While the landscape of Germany is vast and offers many opportunities to explore, a top of the list for visitors is immersing into the culture and traditions of the region you are visiting. The most recognizable opportunity for immersion is with the local cuisine. Germany is most known for its traditional German fare of bratwurst, pretzels and sauerkraut, but what is not known is that like other countries, the foods within Germany are regional. 

Made up of various food provisions that are reflective of the history of the region, cooking practices may also be influenced from neighboring countries. For instance, making a dish like bratwurst in Bavaria may be very different from those served in the Rhineland. Think, Chicago vs New York pizza. At the end of the day it’s pizza, but the thick vs thin crust is a debatable topic. One bratwurst may not be better than the other, they are just unique to their regions. 

Many restaurants throughout Germany have been awarded the highest Michelin dining designation (three stars) for dining excellence and have the fourth highest rating for total Michelin stars in the world after Japan, France and Italy. 

Journey into the dining experiences of the most popular regions of Germany, traveling from the southern Baden region to Bavaria, Franconia and the Rhineland. 

Baden

The Gemeinde Baden (that’s German for; Baden municipality) is in the southwestern portion of Germany north of Lake Constance at the Switzerland border and to the east of France. With a warmer climate than the rest of Germany, you will find many locally grown products that are incorporated within the cuisine. The combination of farm to table ingredients and influence from both France and Switzerland’s cuisine arguably make it some of the best food in Germany. 

With the country influences that surround Baden, there are actually only a few dishes here that are uniquely from Baden. Most of the offerings are popular dishes in neighboring regions that have been adjusted toward a uniquely Baden experience. These dishes will be adjusted using many of the fresh components that are readily available in Baden and the results are less heavy dishes than those found in other regions of Germany. 

For example, by adding additional eggs, the popular German noodle dish Spätzle tastes  richer than in other parts of Germany. In Baden, it is not uncommon to find traditional dishes from the nearby French Alsace region. Baeckeoffe, an Alsatian casserole dish and Flammekueche, a popular French Tart are served throughout the Baden region. The very popular German cabbage side dish, Sauerkrautor (sauerkraut), pretzels and German potato salad can also all be enjoyed with a unique Baden influence. 

Bavaria

East of Baden, in southeastern Germany, is the very popular Bavarian region. Bavaria, the largest state in Germany, is an elevated region and is credited for Germany’s  popular potato and beet dishes. Many of Germany’s signature dishes that are also found throughout the world were influenced by Bavaria’s eastern neighbors of Austria and the Czech Republic. 

Bavaria’s specialty dishes  include Brotzeit, a traditional bread snack, similar to the deli sandwich topped with meats, cheeses and condiments. Other notable dishes are Weisswurst (white sausage), Münchner Schnitzel (fried breaded cutlets) served with spätzel noodle dumplings, Knödel (boiled dumplings) and the world famous Bavarian pretzels, Brezel’s. 

The capital of Bavaria, Munich is Germany’s third largest city and the home of the popular annual festival, Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival that occurs from mid to late September to early October. Regardless if you are visiting during the festival or any other time of year, you will want to pair your dining experience with a stein (mug) of local bier (beer). For full immersion into the gastronomic culture of Munich, take a Bavarian Beer and Food tour and visit some of the best beer halls in Germany.

Franconia

While technically a part of Bavaria, Franconia has its own unique cuisine. Franconia’s largest cities; Nuremberg, Bamberg & Würzburg carry a distinct culture that stems from the Medieval Germanic tribes that once existed here. 

Bread, potatoes and meats, like the rest of Bavaria, are still the main components of a Franconian meal, the biggest difference is the gravy that smothers the food creating a heartier dish. Franconian gravies can be enjoyed with various meats served in the area like Schäuferla, roast pork. 

There are many items to enjoy throughout Nuremberg and the other Franconian influenced locations within Bavaria. Grilled Nuremberger Bratwurst pork sausages served with sauerkraut, Franconian Bread soup and Zwiebelkuchen onion cake are all popular items. Not to be missed and the most well known dessert within Franconian culture is Nürnberger Lebkuchen, a gingerbread cake commonly found during the cooler holiday periods. 

Franconia is home to  hundreds of small breweries and has the largest number of breweries in the world. When visiting try some of the local specialties like Rauchbier (smoked beer) Dunkel (dark lager), wheat beer (Hefeweizen) and Helles pale lager. 

But bier isn’t the only viable drinking option, Franconian wines grown along the Main river produce some of the best whites in Germany. Franconian wines are bottled in easy-to-spot Bocksbeutel, green bulb shaped, bottles that you will want to take home as a souvenir of your visit. 

Rhineland 

The final region we are visiting is also the northernmost of the regions. Located in western Germany, this hilly Rhineland area surrounds the Rhine river and covers the areas of Germany that borders the countries of Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands. Some of the most visited cities of the Rhineland; Bonn, Düsseldorf, Koblenz and Cologne are found throughout the middle section of the Rhine river.

Within this cooler area of Germany, the gastronomy is made up of hearty dishes of stews, potatoes, soups and traditional German offerings like sauerkraut. A popular dish of the region is Himmel un Ääd (Heaven and Earth), a mashed potato dish made with apples that signify heaven since they grow from trees and hang above the earth and potatoes which grow from the earth.

The perfect Rhine experience includes a visit to the largest city on the Rhine river, Cologne. A medieval city, Cologne is the largest city within western Germany and a prime cultural area. Featuring many architectural sites, landmarks and museums, the best gastronomy of the Rhineland region can be found in Cologne. The city boasts thousands of pubs, cafes and restaurants offering many opportunities to enjoy a Rhineland dining experience. 

A key part of a Cologne foodie experience is sampling the locally brewed Kölsch beer from one of the many local breweries here. Taking a local brewery tour, you will find paired with the local brewery cuisine; Kölsche Kaviar, a black pudding with onions or Halve Hahn, a traditional Cologne cheese sandwich made with locally sourced Gouda cheese on a rye roll with mustard and onions.  

When visiting Germany, food is just one of the many experiences that immerse you into the many faces of the Deutchland. If you need additional reasons why Germany needs to be on your travel bucket list, here are ten more for you. The best way to travel through Germany is by river cruise. Hit all of the best cities along the Rhine, the Main or the Moselle enjoying the towns, sites and the gastronomy of the different regions of Germany.

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Get to the heart of the Douro in Pinhão

The Douro Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for being one of the oldest wine regions in the world, is recognized for its production of Portuguese regional Port wines. Along the Rio Douro, which travels east from the Atlantic coast and the city of Porto (Oporto locally) through Portugal to the Spanish border, is the Douro Valley, the prime region for the wine growth of Port wine.

The rugged and remote 60 mile area of the Douro Valley is broken down into subregions. Within the central core Cima Corgo (land above the Corgo river) is where you will find the famous terraced vineyards that produce the finest Port wines of the Douro wine region. 

As you travel the Douro river east, witness breathtaking high mountainous terrain with vineyards that expand into steep granite sloping land. From the rio you can see the grapevines growing in what appears to be a quilted patchwork. At the heart of the Cima Corgo where the Rio Douro and the Rio Pinhão converge is the small unassuming town of Pinhão. The small sleepy vila is surrounded by approximately 47,000 acres of vineyards and some of those vines date as far back as the original plantings by the Roman Empire.

The wines of Pinhão, similarly to most of the Douro region, are primarily sweet, fortified wines produced from local grapes; Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tempranillo. Blended together, these grapes create wines that are both higher in alcohol and superior in flavor. Port wines are produced in varying styles based on an aging process ranging from the standard couple year aged Ruby Port to long aged and tawny colored wines. In addition to the popular Port wines, unfortified still and dry wines are also produced here using the same grapes. White Port wines are also found produced in this region as well as some Rose’ and dessert wines. 

To fully understand these wines produced here, it is recommended that you immerse yourself in the wine culture of the town of Pinhão and its surrounding areas.

Pinhão Rail Station – considered one of the most beautiful train stations in Portugal, many visitors begin their Pinhão experience here in one way or another. For those arriving by train, they disembark and discover 25 beautiful panels of azuelos tiles each designed to portray historic scenes of the Douro wine region. As the main, central site within the town, even visitors who are not arriving by train will find themselves starting their explorations of the town of Pinhão here.

Tip: If traveling between June and October, take a ride on the historic coal burning Comboio steam train that travels above the scenic Douro river. During the ride, enjoy local entertainment while indulging in a glass of port onboard. 

Originating in Regua, the train will arrive in Pinhão, with your next stop being one of the many local Quintas. 

Visit a Quinta or two or three….. – family owned estates that feature a large manor home or possibly even a small palace, stands as the base for a vineyard, winery and even for an olive grower. Quintas, which means one-fifth, was the amount of produce that renters paid to use the properties they farmed on. The Quinta is at the center of wine production in Portugal and is part of a classification system that ranks Quintas based on characteristics of the vineyard. These include location, age, yield and topography with the highest quality Quintas receiving the highest prices for their wines.  

Quinta hopping is part of the Douro experience and is the best way to experience some of the finest Port wines within the Douro region. Taking a vineyard tour of a Quinta provides understanding of the history and the vinification practices of that particular Quinta. 

A highlight of your visit will be sampling their Port, usually while sitting on an open terrace peering out onto the vineyard and possibly overlooking the rabelos floating on the Douro river. 

Rabelo Boat ride – Part of a Douro wine experience is understanding the history and culture of Port Wine production. In the late 18th to early 19th century after being put into oak barrels, the wines were sent downriver to the city of Oporto for bottling and distribution. The wooden flat bottomed boats used to transport the wine barrels are called “barcos rabelos”. Only found in the Douro region, the historic vessels can still be seen floating up and down the river. 

A rabelo boat ride is the perfect opportunity to explore the Pinhão area from historic wooden cargo ships that transport guests between vineyards or offer a scenic cruise along the river. On your cruise as you travel from Pinhão and then back again, you will see the terraced vineyards as they have been seen for centuries.

Enjoy a late morning ride before grabbing a bite at one of the nearby cafes.

Dine like a local – When in Rome or in this case, Pinhão, sampling the local gastronomy is an integral part of your experience. Portuguese dining is essentially a farm to table experience. The Douro is well known for its fortified wines, and also grows many ingredients, like olives, almonds, mushrooms and chestnuts and more used in the fantastic dining experiences here. Honey and cured meats are also locally produced and served in Pinhão restaurants. Dining in Pinhão is all about the rustic flavors of the hearty meals and pairing them with the locally produced vins. 

Some of the recommended local fare to try; Bola de Lamego, sandwiches made with fresh breads and fillings, Alheira smoked sausage and Arroz de Cabidela, a Portuguese risotto-like dish. While there are some great dining opportunities in and around Pinhão, some of the best dining can be found in the Quintas throughout the region. Pinhão even has a Michlin rated restaurant, Rabelo, known for its high standards and reputation as being the “best of the best” in the area. Located in a small hotel overlooking the river, Rabelo offers a modern take on local Portuguese fare. Of course don’t forget the Ports and unfortified wines that will make every bite taste better then the last. 

Now that you are well nourished, you are ready for some adventure in the vineyards.

Hike the Douro Valley – One of the experiences that separates the Douro Valley wine region from others is the ability to hike your way through the area. The public trails through the villages and vineyards allow you to familiarize yourself with the famed wine region and its terraced slopes. 

If hiking on your own seems risky,  then take advantage of the opportunity to arrange a guided tour or hop onto a guided trail tour offered by one of the many Quintas throughout the region. 

As the center of wine production in Portugal, Pinhão offers plenty of experiences to immerse oneself into fully understanding the famed region. Familiarizing oneself with the grapes grown in the locally produced Port wines, learning about the historic production methods and of course sampling some of the Douro’s finest offerings are all included in time spent here.  Pinhão is the perfect base for exploring the central Douro Valley and enjoying the region’s highlights.

*Photo Courtesy of AmaWaterways

Many of the experiences discussed above are provided excursions on a Douro river cruise from the main city center of Northern Portugal, Porto. Enjoy seven days of travel on the scenic river stopping along the way to enjoy the amazing sites and flavors that this beautiful region has to offer. 

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Have a Vienna Experience

Vienna, the capital of Austria is one of the most captivating cities of Europe for its culture, architecture, music, art and dining.

The beautiful location of the city along the Danube river, with many Imperial palaces and buildings which invite you in to view the art and architecture of one of the greatest monarchy’s of European history. Plus perfectly manicured parks which are quietly waiting to be explored offer hidden treasures throughout every corner of the city. The most memorable experiences here, fully indulge the senses. Hearing the sounds of the city’s longtime connection to music, tasting the gastronomy at the historic cafes and seeing the beauty of the plentiful gardens together create a truly Vienna experience. 

Music

If you have researched Vienna you know the connection to music is just as long and important as the connection to art. The home of many famous composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms also has a place in the world of orchestra, opera and theatre. One of the first buildings you pass as you set out along the famed Ringstrasse (circle road surrounding Vienna) is the State Opera House. The Wiener Staatsoper was built as the Royal Opera by former Austrian Emperor Joseph I and to this day, the opera house welcomes guests who still enjoy the Renaissance musical experience. 

Vienna’s connection to music expands on from the exquisite building of the opera house to the world celebrated Vienna Philharmonic which can be enjoyed at the Vienna Musikverein, where you can relish in the sounds of Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss. However, if a formal music experience is not available or untimely, historic Viennese music can also be enjoyed with performances at some of the smaller theatres and possibly some of the churches, cathedrals or palaces, throughout the city.

Cafes

Viennese cafes are a unique experience that should not be missed. Housed in Baroque buildings, cafes are what many locals consider their second home as they spend hours reading, socializing, working and sipping some of the best coffee in Europe at these popular local shops. Viennese cafes were established long before Starbucks ever brewed their first cup with some of the local cafe’s dating back to the 1700’s. It would have been common to spot Mozart or Beethoven entertaining relaxing guests at one of the many local cafes, sampling their newest compositions. 

Vienna’s love for coffee started even earlier than the cafe. In the late 1600’s, bags of coffee beans were abandoned by invading Turkish soldiers who left them in the hands of unfamiliar Austrians. The beans were roasted, and served with milk and sugar to sweeten the bitter turkish coffee which established what would soon become the Vienna coffee culture. 

Drinking coffee in Vienna is an artform that is specific to the Viennese lifestyle. Typically sitting at marble tables, your waiter delivers your coffee in a porcelain cup, served with a glass of water to cleanse the palate between sips. Usually as you also enjoy an order of one of the popular housemade pastries as you scroll the daily newspaper. Specialty cafes further enhance the enjoyment of the Kaffeehaus encounter. Cafe Sacher, a cafe in the 5 star Hotel Sacher is the home of the Sacre Torte, long considered the “World’s Most Famous Cake”. Tip: Due to the popularity of and long lines for cafes, share a table and amplify your experience with a memorable conversation. 

Gardens:

With over 50% of the city of Vienna featuring green space, it is not surprising that timeless manicured gardens are still enjoyed as an integral part of a Viennese experience. 

Stadtpark (Vienna City Park) – the oldest and largest of the parks in Vienna just outside the famed Ringstrasse features memorials to Vienna’s famous writers and composers and pays homage to them with regularly scheduled waltz concerts at the Kursalon building. 

Volksgarten – . Designed in an English garden style and as a French Baroque garden, the park houses a monument to past Empress Elizabeth (wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I) and features a rose garden and symbolic fountains. Once part of Hofburg castle (the former Imperial winter residence of the Hapsburg dynasty), this garden is today considered “the people’s garden”

Schönbrunn Palace Garden the summer residence for the Hapsburg rulers has one of the most popular parks with the locals as well as with tourists. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the once private area today offers recreation for the locals, jogging and sport, in addition to regularly scheduled events that occur throughout the year that also attracts visitors. Amenities within the park include an opulent private palace garden, the Orangery (exotic plant) garden, a maze garden, plus a zoo that was founded as the Imperial menagerie. Note: some require an admission fee. 

Vienna, a classic destination, appeals to the senses for immersion into the very Austrian culture. A must when wanting to experience the best of the European cities. Spending time in Vienna among other regions of Austria, Salzburg and the Wachau Valley, is included in a 7 night river cruise along the Danube River, but one of the highlights of a Danube travel experience. 

Find out more about the river cruise experience from our website. 

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Beyond Wine in the City of Bordeaux

Bordeaux, a world renowned wine region and for good reason. Within the total area are many wine appellations filled with over 8,000 chateau and vineyards all produce some of the most sought after, best aging, highest quality and most expensive wines in the world. 

Chateau Margaux Grand Cru

Wine and Bordeaux’s relationship date back 2000 years, since it’s time as a commercial center for the Roman Empire. Today Bordeaux provides one-fourth of the production of the best wines in France. 

The greater Bordeaux region is located in southwestern France where crescent shaped land surrounds and is surrounded by the Garonne and Dordogne rivers and the Gironde river, respectively. 

Within the region of Bordeaux, on the left bank of the Garonne river you will find the port city and capital of the Nouvelle Aquitaine region, similarly named, “Bordeaux”. 

A popular location as the starting point for a wine experience, the city of Bordeaux also offers history, architecture, culture, dining, shopping and so much more. When taking a break from your “wine travels” or completely venturing out to see all that the city of Bordeaux has to offer, the best place to start is within the seven districts of the city of Bordeaux that each has its own flair, its own history and offers its own unique Bordelais experience.

Old Town

Porte Calihau

The birthplace of the city of Bordeaux started here as the Roman city of Burdigala transforming over 2000 years into the primary city centre and heart of the downtown area. The location of the port entrance and where the economy that developed Bordeaux into a major city was built upon. It is here that you will find some of the oldest architecture and history of the city. Visiting the local landmarks of the Porte Cailhau, the Pont de Pierre, Saint-Pierre church, the iconic and recognizable Place de la Bourse along the Garonne river and its modern counterpart the must see Miroir d’eau reflecting pool which is the most photographed location in Bordeaux. The Old Town is also the location of the Rue Saint-Catherine, the longest pedestrian shopping street in France. 

Grand Hommes

Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux

The upscale region of the city, known as the “Golden Triangle” of parishes offering beautifully elegant stone buildings and boulevards featuring well maintained city squares like the Place des Quinconces, the Place Tourny shopping district and some of Bordeaux’s top restaurants, luxurious boutiques and the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, Place de la Comédie. Grand Hommes is the area to see and be seen as you explore the city and outer regions of Bordeaux.  

Saint Seurin – Fondaudège

Jardin Botanique de Bordeaux

The residential district northwest of the Grand Hommes, named for the oldest cemetery in Bordeaux, Saint Seurin, is within walking distance to the old town. A quiet upscale area featuring a mixture of modern architecture with old stone buildings and beautiful gardens. This where you will find the Jardin Botanique to venture out for a local experience. However if mixing with the locals is not of interest, the area is still visit worthy for the Palais Gallien, a former Roman arena and one of the only remaining forms of architecture from the Gallo-Roman era in Bordeaux and the Natural History museum located at the edge of the Jardin.  

Town Hall District

Bordeaux Cathedral

South of the Saint Seurin district and west of the Old Town, you will find the district with both visitors and locals enjoying the centrally located and symbolic Place Gambetta square. Other visitors may be searching out the once medieval residence, Palais Rohan that today is Bordeaux’s Town Hall (Hôtel De Ville) home of the Museum of Fine Arts. Not far from there is the most beautiful and primary Cathedral within Bordeaux, Saint Andrew and the adjacent and popular Pey – Beland bell tower. Within this district is also where you can discover the antique district and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design located in one of the most beautifully decorated 18th century mansions of Bordeaux. 

The Saints District

Gare Saint-Jean

In the southernmost district of the city is the Saint – Jean train station the neighborhood of Saint-Michel and the Saint-Croix church. As the central location where train passengers are passing through all day long, this area is filled with local immersion. Le Marché des Capucins is a local market open early morning until early afternoon and is worth exploring for fresh regional and popular items to sample and bring home. Come back to the area in the evening for a truly Bordelaisen experience heading to one of the many restaurants, bars and clubs where you will find an energetic and animated crowd of both travelers and locals.  Also located within this district is the Quai de Paludate popular with the locals for music and nightlife. 

La Bastide

Pont de Pierre Bridge to La Bastide District

The city of Bordeaux is not completely limited to the left side of the Garonne river. On the right bank is the recently gentrified neighborhood of La Bastide. The former industrial area has been built up with restaurants and movie theatres in a newly developed urban area and features fantastic views of the historic Old Town from across the Garonne. Within the district you can find a newly developed botanical garden. The Jardin botanique de la Bastide features six different garden areas including a water garden and an arboretum. 

Bassins a Flot

Crossing back across the Garonne via the Chaban Delmas bridge is the district of Bassins a flot. The most northern area of the city is the location of the city’s river commercial docks, once home to the largest port in Europe. Despite it’s maritime history this is where you can now find the most modernistic and futuristic architecture in the world, better known as the wine tower, the La Cité du Vin museum. Walking the paths along the river quay you will pass barges and other relics of the area’s river past and eventually you will reach the Bordeaux Submarine base. One of five sub bases built by the Italians during World War II, the bunker has been repurposed into a multicultural building with the Bassins de Lumiere art museum, and offers various concerts throughout the year.

Chartrons

Saint-Louis-des-Chartrons

Last but not least is the most eclectic of Bordeaux districts. North of the Old Town district is the original home of the 14th century Chartreux Abbey. The historic neighborhood has been restored from its dilapidated existence into a chic bohemian experience offering a centrally located public garden and featuring the Place du Marché Chartrons marketplace filled with local merchants offering river and locally sourced food like oysters, foie gras and macarons. Explore the nearby Saint-Louis Cathedral and also within this district you will find riverside dining and the Quai des Marques shopping area filled with cafe’s and boutiques for the hipster in all of us. With all the activity that happens here, it is not surprising that this is the location where the quays for river boats dock making it a popular location for tourism and travelers looking for a Bordeaux experience.  

Looking beyond Bordeaux’s wine presence, you can see that the city of Bordeaux is abundant in culture and experiences and offers an internationally cosmopolitan vibe. The many areas throughout the city are vibrant and yet each offers its own unique reasons for visiting. The city draws a romance of it’s own. Read more specifically to find Romance in Bordeaux. 

If the vins of France are on your menu, read more about Traveling the Vins of Bordeaux and its relationship to wine travel or Sample the Flavors of Bordeaux comparing the wines of the Right to the Left Bank and with the Entre deux Mer regions of Bordeaux.  

No matter how you choose to explore the region, one of our very favorite experiences that brings all of these experiences to you in one amazing week is by river cruise. Learn more about river cruising from our website

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How to have a Gastronomic Experience in Madrid

Madrid, the capital of Spain and the melting pot of the various cultures found within the Spanish region. Filled with sites, historical locations like palaces and monuments, standing as the center of finance and cultural arts in Spain, offering active sports complexes, and featuring luxury shopping along its beautiful boulevards, plus a vivid nightlife it is not unexpected that Madrid is also a central hub for food and drink. 

Within Madrid, the flavors of Spanish cuisine of the past that were influenced by the Roman, North African and Iberian cultures still exist today. However, these traditions are now combined with influences from the various customs and traditions that were brought into the newly established capital city in the 16th century after the relocation of the Spanish Empire during the reign of King Felipe II.

Modern Madrid has hundreds of dining experiences that feature both regional and international cuisine making it a gastronomic destination for both foodies and the typical foreign visitor looking to experience both the sophisticated and the popular dining experiences. 

Worth noting is the difference in dining schedules from other regions of Europe. Similar to many other European regions, breakfast is typically a quick bite late in the morning. However, the mid-day meal of lunch is typically eaten between 2 and 3:30 pm local time with restaurants opening around 1:30pm for the largest meal of the day. The Madrilenian typically have a late afternoon/early evening snack (merienda) around 6 or 7 pm and then finish the day with a light dinner usually around 9 or 10 pm. 

From savory to sweet, tapas to full dining experiences, you will find the local dishes are centered around stews and soups while the tapeo (tapas) are a bar hopping experience and the center of the Madrid nightlife. Walking into a local tavern, ordering a beer or glass of locally sourced wine or cider and accompanying it with a hot or cold Spanish snack before moving on to your next gastronomic experience. 

With so many options and the various dining experiences, read on for a some recommendations for the best dining experiences in Madrid: 

Restaurante’s 

Formal dining at it’s finest, white tablecloths and the highest gastronomic experiences within the city. Offering some of the staples of Madrilenian foods like croquetas (filled fried rolls) to enjoy as an appetizer before delving into one of the many enjoyable soups, stews or meats that Madrid is known for. Featuring set menus with a la carte options or shared plates, the restaurante’s can offer both a cultural and historic dining experience. 

Sobrino de Botin

One of the oldest restaurants in Madrid, is also considered one of the world’s top 10 classic restaurants. Restaurant Botin began serving in 1725. Well noted for its cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig) and Castilian lamb (cordero asado), which are slow cooked over wood in the original ovens. The menu is popular for traditional Spanish cuisine also offering additional starters and main courses to appeal to various tastes and interests. 

This historic establishment is not just known for its history and its menu. Distinguished by some popular figures of the past, Ernest Hemingway, a frequent visitor, left his mark by including the wood paneled dining room in his final scene of The Sun Also Rises. Additionally, famed Spanish painter Francisco de Goya worked as a waiter in his early days as a struggling artist. 

Serving lunch daily from 1pm – 4pm and dinner starting at 8pm, tours of the facility are available for an additional look into the past of the landmark restaurant. Due to its popularity, reservations are highly recommended. 

Lhardy

Another classic Madrileno experience, this award winning restaurant opened its doors in 1839. A popular establishment for fine dining with the Spanish aristocracy of the 19th century, the venue has not changed since it’s design in 1880. From your arrival at the front doors, the unassuming store front welcomes you into an elegant white tablecloth dining experience. 

The fixed price menus feature Spanish comfort dining influenced by French cuisine. A traditional menu of stews and soups, roasts and daily special menus are offered in addition to an appetizer and a dessert. Lhardy is well known for the locally popular Cocido Madrileno stew, a vegetable and beef dish created with chickpeas and sausage that is served in three courses. 

First course is bone marrow based broth, the second course of beans and vegetables is then served and the third course is made up of stewed ham, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, chorizo and blood sausage in a tomato sauce to finish off the experience.

Open daily for lunch from 1 – 3:30 pm and 8:30pm to 11pm for dinner, reservations are a must to guarantee a dining experience. 

Cafe’s

Where the restaurants have been established within Spanish aristocracy, Literary cafes appealed to the everyday patron. Cultural experiences in themselves, cafe’s are more informal than the restaurants as locations where the locals come for inspiration, to meet to discuss current events and literature and to socialize with their peers while sharing experiences. Referred to as tertulias (social gatherings), cafe’s are more sophisticated than a coffee house yet less formal than the restaurante’s. Open in the morning for simple breakfasts throughout the day and into the late afternoon or early evening for between meal snacks. A popular local item found at the Madrid cafe’s is the Tortilla de patatas (potato omelet) handcrafted by each cafe in it’s own unique style. 

Cafe Gijon

Considered to be one of the original literary cafes of Madrid was opened in 1888. Cafe Gijon has always been a leader in the local Madrid Cafe experience and was a centerplace for the literary movement in the city starting post Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s. This location has been historically documented in books, movies and paintings and many tertulias (social gatherings) have occurred within the walls of the historic cafe. 

Popular in the mornings for breakfast, the cafe features coffee, pastries, baguettes and breakfast sandwiches throughout the day and multi course tapa menus in the afternoon/evening. 

A great place to come for experience, but also to people watch as you can still find animated Castilian enjoying a social experience inside at one of the small cafe tables or outdoors on the terrace. 

Tabernas 

Typically a rustic Madrid bar featuring tapas, wines, ciders, sherry, vermouth among other options to relax and indulge after a long day of touring. Comparatively they are the Spanish version of a French bistro or Italian trattoria where the locals go for spirited beverages and conversation. This is where you will go when you embark on a bar hopping experience in search of the best tapeo (tapas) in Madrid. 

Casa Alberto

One of the oldest taberna in Madrid, circa 1827, the history and nostalgia can be seen just upon entering through the fire red door. Once inside the Spanish atmosphere is seen in the metal and wood bar, ornate wood trim and the grouping of white tablecloth tables set up throughout. As you look around you can see the walls are filled with Spanish culture and nostalgia of almost 200 years of service at this very location. 

The tapas menu is as interesting as the popular libation vermouth which is served on tap here. Featuring classic house specialities like Madrilian Tripe (callos a la madrileña) and rabo de toro (oxtail stew), meatballs and cod among other tasty starters, the artistic presentation is as enjoyable as the dishes. 

A visit to a taberna is all about tradition and if you are interested in literary history, it is worth noting that Miguel de Cervantes, author of the novel Don Quixote, once resided within the historic building that Casa Albert continues to serve from. 

Other Dining Musts

Madrid dining experiences go well beyond the best taberna’s, cafes and restaurante’s and offer traditional popular food options that can be found nearby the cities most popular attractions. 

Bocadillo de Calamares

Madrid’s most famous sandwich can be discovered at one of the popular sandwich bars found around the city’s equally popular shopping and sightseeing regions. 

Fresh fried calamari (squid) rings are loaded into crusty bread with specialty sauces or custom crafted aioli and served with a lemon wedge. The perfect accompaniment to a cold beer for a filling and refreshing early evening merienda (snack). 

The most popular location for locals to enjoy one of these Madrialano treats is La Campana. Located on a side street near popular Plaza Mayor.  It is not uncommon to find a line in the late afternoon of equally hungry people patiently waiting to sample and enjoy their Bocadillo de Calamares. 

Churros con Chocolate 

A visit to Madrid would not be complete without sampling one of it’s most famous treats, the Spanish donuts, aka the churro. A staple for locals post bar hopping and for late night treats, these are popular really anytime of the day when the desire for a sweet and decadent snack is in order. 

Commonly served with hot sipping chocolate, you can find many locals enjoying one for breakfast or during the early evening merienda to tide them over until dinner hour. 

The most popular location for enjoying a plate of churros is at the Chocolateria San Ginés’.  San Ginés’ can be found in central Madrid within an alleyway appropriately named San Ginés’. One of the most historic locations in the city, the Chocolateria has served the thin and crunchy churro since 1894. Also serving porros it’s thicker and softer big brother, coffee’s, ice cream and many offerings of chocolate based treats, this is a local experience that is highly recommended and available 24 hours a day. 

With so many options, it is clear why Madrid is known for its gastronomic experiences. We have not even touched on the many bars or bar de copas throughout the area that are the very center of Madrilonian nightlife or the markets where you can sample some of the local street cuisine. One thing we can say is that these are also experiences  that will only enhance an already visit worthy itinerary. 

There are many options for planning a visit to Madrid. Our favorite option is post a 7 night river cruise along the Douro river through Portugal and into Spain. Check here for more information on cruising the Douro. 

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Travel the Vins of Bordeaux

Find Romance in the The City of Bordeaux

Bordeaux is the world’s most famous wine region as the world capital of wine. So much so that generally 4.3 million visitors travel to the region each year.  The Gironde department of Southwest France is the most popular wine tourism destination in France for attracting both French and foreign visitors. 

Separated into 3 distinct regions, the Left Bank along the left bank of the Gironde Estuary and the Right Bank on the right side of the Gironde. Between the two, the central island of sorts named Entre-deux-Mer (between to tides) is separated by the Garonne River of  the Left Bank and the Dordogne River of the Right Bank which confluence into the Gironde. 

Most visitors are drawn to the main city of the region, Bordeaux, a port city, the capital of the Nouvelle – Aquitaine region and the fifth largest city in France. Located on the Left Bank of the Garonne river not far from the Atlantic Coast, Bordeaux is not just as the hub of wine production and distribution but also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main city offers many opportunities for exploring beautiful architecture and historical monuments, is famed for its gastronomy and yes this is the perfect place to start your journey into the vins of the famed region with a visit to the Cité du Vin museum. 

Traveling from the City of Bordeaux

We could go on and on just about the city of Bordeaux but today we are focusing on the entire region of Bordeaux and its relationship to the world of vinology and travel. The Bordeaux wine region is about 30 miles in length and 6 ½ miles in width as the crow flies which means you can get almost anywhere from the city of Bordeaux in less than an hour. 

The majority of wines produced in the Bordeaux region (85%) are medium to full bodied reds made from Merlot, the number one grape grown primarily on the Right Bank and Cabernet Sauvignon the number two grape, primarily grown on the Left Bank. Although less than 15% growth of white grapes can be found in Bordeaux, the region is known for its Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc & Muscadelle grape blends that can be found growing in the Entre-deux-Mers and southern Bordeaux regions. 

The key to exploring Bordeaux red wines is to know that the primary wines are blends of the main Merlot and Cabernet grape growths with additional vintages like Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere to produce some of the highest rated and most expensive wines in the world. 

The Left Bank

This is where the city of Bordeaux is located, the Médoc and Graves regions make up the area primarily known as the Left Bank. Gravel soils promote the growth of Cabernet Sauvignon led blends that are highly tannic which is the component that allows for the aging of the wines for decades. The primary area for the wines of the 1855 Classification for first growth Château producing most of the best wines of Bordeaux can be found in the Left Bank.

The Médoc areas create these most prestigious Premier Cru (top rated) wines which can be found in the sub-regions of Pessac – Léognan south of the city of Bordeaux, Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estephe which are all located north of the city of Bordeaux along the Gironde Estuary. 

Château Margaux

Following the Médoc route and visiting these Premier Cru will not only provide you with a deep understanding of some of the world’s greatest red wines but how they are made from growth through vinifying, aging, bottling, distribution and taste.  

Graves in the southern Bordeaux region along the Garonne river with its forests, is a cooler region of Bordeaux where you can find dry white wine blends surrounding the city of Graves and some sweeter dessert blends in addition to some popular historic sites like the Château de Roquetaillade a former fortress that was converted to a castle. 

The Right Bank

Within the Right Bank the regions of Libournais, Saint-Émilion, Fronsac and Pomerol are some of the prestigious appellations of the area. The location of the Right Bank closer to the Atlantic Ocean combined with the red clay soils are perfect for the growth of the dominating grape, Merlot. Some of the top quality long aging Bordeaux Merlot leading blends can be found around the town of St.Émilion. Although the grapes are less heavily structured, the combination of the soil and the climate create enough tannin’s that these wines can also age for many years also producing high-end wines.

The town of Saint-Émilion and it’s eight villages can be found on the right bank of the Dordogne River. A UNESCO World Heritage site for it’s 2000 years of viticulture history among historical relics dating back to Paleolithic tribes. From early man to present day, you will find many sites to explore among the town and cathedrals of Saint-Émilion. 

Visit St.-Émilion

Further east you can travel into the main city of the Right Bank, Libourne who the Right Bank region is named for where you will find a fortified medieval town and Gothic church, French markets and of course locally sourced wines. The commune of Fronsac just west of Libourne features beautiful landscapes and wine Château featuring Merlot and Cabernet Franc. North of Libourne is the Pomerol wine region. A smaller and more modern region for wine vinification, Pomerol is an up and coming area that is producing many notable quality wines from Merlot and Cabernet Franc. 

From Pomerol as you move west along the Dordogne, you will reach the beautiful historic village of Côtes de Bourg where you will find Merlot and a small amount of white wines. Visit the Citadel and then travel on to the rolling hills of the Gironde Estuary, more archaeological sites, churches and the vineyards of the Côtes de Bordeaux commune of Blaye. Sample traditional Red and White Bordelais blends and you can also enjoy some of the locally produced rose’. 

Entre-Deux-Mers

The misty Entre-deux-Mers conducive to late harvest dessert wines

The largest region of Bordeaux is located between the Garonne River of the Left Bank and the Dordogne River of the Right Bank. Mostly filled with forests, the Entre-deux-Mers is where you will find the smallest production of both red and white wines. With the most fertile lands and coolest weather of the Bordeaux region, the Merlot grape is prominent, but it’s the approved white blends from the Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes that the area is most known for. This is also where you will find the famed sweet Sémillon based wines of Bordeaux that are produced as a result of the Botrytis fungus that grows in the foggy and humid river regions.  

Filled with small villages, some of the highlights are visiting the beautiful port town of Cadillac, along the Gironde river, it’s many communes filled with historic ruins, stately Château, cathedrals, medieval villages and famed sweet white wines under the Cadillac AOC. Also along the Gironde, Loupiac, is known for its late harvest sweet wines from Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon which can be sampled at one of the wine Châteaux while also visiting the castle/abbey and church located here. 

On the opposite side of the Entre-deux-Mers, the Graves de Vayres wine region has been traced back to the Roman age of Octavius. Home to the Château de Vayres medieval castle along the banks of the Dordogne here you find both dry reds and white wines to sample as you explore the area.   

Explore the Château de Vayres

Visiting the Bordeaux region of France is a learning experience. A popular tourism destination with many attractions, but for the wine expert or the novice looking to improve their Oenology skills this is the perfect opportunity to experience the vineyards, wineries and tastings throughout each region and its sub-region. 

The best way to travel Bordeaux and discover its red, whites, rosés and sweet wines is by river cruise roundtrip from the capital city of Bordeaux along the Garonne, Dordogne and cruising through the Gironde Estuary. Visit the Châteaux, historical landmarks, the countryside and sip your way through the Bordeaux vineyards without missing a thing on a 7 day journey.  

Find out more about Sampling the Flavors of Bordeaux!

Categories: Eat like a local, Eco-Friendly, Experience, Food, River Cruise, Romance, Sustainable Travel, Travel Bucket List, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Where is the best dining in Amboise within the Loire Valley?

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Chateau d’Amboise

The Loire Valley in France is known for the Chateaus within the region and the small commune’s along the Loire River like the town of Amboise. Within central Loire Valley, Amboise offers some of the top sites of the area including the 15th Century home of King Charles VIII, Chateau d’Amboise and the last home and tomb of famed artist Leonardo da Vinci at Clos Lucé.

The beautiful streets are dotted with medieval timbered homes, cathedrals and shoppes with the Royal Chateau overlooking. But visiting the Loire Valley is not just for the Chateau, the region is well known for its wine and gastronomy that can be found within and around the city. 

As you will find throughout France, there are many options for dining experiences within Amboise. Here are some recommendations for dining experiences in and around the “Royal City” of Amboise:

L’Ecluse

While visiting Amboise and the Royal Chateau, you will want to stop in for lunch or dinner at this farm to table local restaurant that is just a quick 3 minute walk. Featuring the best locally sourced products one can enjoy dining in the intimate and modern dining room or on the grassed terrace for a relaxing dining experience.  

Serving authentic French cuisine sourced daily from local suppliers, the menu will regularly change with seasons. Expect to enjoy seasonal fruits, cheeses, meats, handcrafted breads and pastries. 

The menu offers various options with appetizer, main course and dessert or an additional cheese option both for lunch and dinner. L’Ecluse welcomes guests Tuesday – Saturday for lunch from noon – 1:30pm and 6:30 – 7:30pm for dinner, reservations are recommended. 

The House Bigot

A popular location within the old town is The House Bigot. Also a stones throw from the royal Chateau a local chocolatier, patisserie and glacier (ice cream) house that has been serving since 1913. 

Established and well known for 50 years as a bakery, for its breads, in the early 1970’s a tea room was added and so launched La Maison Bigot into the chocolate making business. It was not unexpected when the popular French ice cream (glacier) was added to the menu. 

Serving daily house pastries, donuts, eclairs and traditional local favorites from house recipes older than the shop itself. The chocolates are made using 100% pure cocoa to create seasonal treats, ganaches, pralines and local favorites like Amboisine which is made with almonds, chestnuts and hazelnut crushed into a paste and rolled in chocolate. If those don’t suit you, then the house crafted glaciers made with pure and local ingredients will treat you to enjoyable frozen dessert. 

If you need a break after exploring the town, you can enjoy the fare from the traditional bakery within their tea room or on the terrace offering views of the nearby castle. Also serving breakfast and lunch, a stop in is a great way to start off your day in Amboise. 

Chateau du Pray

Just a quick 5 minute drive along the Loire river on the south bank, surrounded by chateaux you will reach Chateau du Pray. A 13th Century chateau that sits on 5 acres of wooded beauty overlooking the river Loire. Featuring French gardens, the medieval chateau has been converted into a hotel featuring a Michelin rated restaurant, L’Orangerie.

The restaurant offers chef designed seasonal menus, each dish is a piece of art, custom created for the guest and delivered to their table to accompany the locally featured wines to pair for a culinary journey. 

For an added treat, spend the night enjoying one of the 15 castle rooms of the family owned chateau with historic accommodations in an intimate boutique hotel and enjoy the night as the royals did hundreds of years ago while overlooking the beautiful Loire river.

Chateau du Petit Thouars

For a more unique experience, about an hour and fifteen minutes west of Amboise between Amboise and Angers, along the River Loire, you will find the family owned Chateau du Petit Thouars. A 17th century chateau and winery offering local experiences that will fulfill both romantic and gastronomic desires. 

For the gastronomic experience, Chateau du Petit Thouars has almost 40 acres of vineyards featuring vins that range from free run juice aged in stainless steel vats to pressed wines aged for up to 24 months on oak. You can enjoy a visit to the cellar with a tour of the Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc vineyards along with a tasting of their award winning vintages. For the complete epicurean discovery, wine pairings are available to enjoy the wines with locally sourced products. . 

For a romantic experience,  you can extend your wine experience by enjoying your favorite wine relaxing within the Cabernet Franc vineyards with a custom prepared picnic lunch including some locally sourced seasonal specialties and a private view of the Loire Valley countryside. Or extend your stay at the 4 bedroom farmhouse surrounded by the vineyards for a relaxing stay within the grounds of the vineyard. 

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The Loire Valley known as the “Gardens of France” is just 2 hours from the city of Paris and offers a fantastic extension for additional time immersing in the beauty and history of the region. Explore some of the 1000+ chateaux that live there, or indulge in a fantastic wine experience sampling the grapes and terroir of the local Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc vines that are found throughout the central Loire Valley region. Discover our choices for Chateau to visit in the Loire Valley from the link.

You can also combine your visit with a 7 night river cruise along the nearby Garonne and Dordogne rivers in Bordeaux. For more information on river cruising through France or Central Europe check out our website

Categories: Eat like a local, Eco-Friendly, Food, River Cruise, Romance, Travel Bucket List, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Twelve days of Christmas Markets

As we approach the holidays, here is our gift to you:

Enjoying the season in Europe is a treat that everybody deserves. Here is our rendition of the holiday classic, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to describe a Christmas Markets experience along the Central Europe rivers annually from the end of November through Christmas. 

Each verse and accompanying photo will take you to more information, so click away!

Enjoy!

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

A Christmas Markets River Cruise in Central Europe

An annual Christmas Market

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Two mugs of Gluhwein to sip as we explore the booths of the Christkindlmarkts

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Three nights pre-cruise in Amsterdam or Budapest

Bicycling the canals of Amsterdam is a must

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Four extra days post cruise in Europe

Chapel Bridge over the Reuss River in Luzern, Switzerland

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Five different countries to enjoy with additional holiday cheer

Decorated Half-timbered houses of Strasbourg

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Visits to six of the most beautiful holiday adorned Cathedrals in Europe

Dom, the Regensburg Cathedral of St. Peter

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Seven full relaxing and enjoyable days of cruising the European rivers

Niederwald cable car Assmannshause in Rüdesheim am Rhein

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Eight handcrafted souvenirs to bring home as holiday gifts

Holiday shopping in Riquewihr, France

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Nine ornaments, one from each town we visited 

Bratislava, Slovakia on the Danube river

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Another suitcase for the 10 Christmas market holiday mugs

Nuernberg Christkindlesmarkt, Germany

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Eleven active excursions walking, hiking, golfing or biking beautiful towns and villages

Exploring Bernkastel – Kers on the Mosel River, Germany

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Twelve full days of holiday bliss with endless memories of a river cruise experience

Cologne Cathedral, Germany

From our family to yours, we wish you health, safety and blessings during this holiday season. When you are ready to experience the joy and beauty of the Christmas Markets, BucketList Travel Advisors can assist you with planning the perfect river cruise.

Happy Holidays!

Categories: Active Travel, Celebration Travel, Eat like a local, Experience, Food, River Cruise, Travel Bucket List | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Lets Hike the Douro Valley

The Douro River flows west from central Spain through Northern Portugal to the mouth at the Atlantic Ocean in Porto, Portugal. The region is agricultural, known for prehistoric archeology and the entire region is a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the most scenically impressive locales in the world but Douro is most notable for its fortified wine production of port.

Photo by AmaWaterways River Cruises

Even if you are not a wine drinker, the beautiful landscapes of the region and the active experiences of exploring the terraced vineyards, olive groves, meeting the friendly people from the small villages and stopping along the way for some authentic local gastronomy makes this a special place to visit and must add to the bucket list. 

I have already mentioned that Douro is a UNESCO World Heritage site. What does this mean? In general, as one of the oldest regions in the world, the landscape is almost unchanged from hundreds, maybe even thousands of years ago. As you travel the roads along the river you will experience the terraced vineyards high above the river. Along the lower banks you will find a landscape of trees meeting with vineyards and villages filled with churches and rows of houses along narrow roads along with the Douro quintas that sit as major landmarks.

The valley offers absolutely amazing landscapes and the best way to experience them is hiking through the valleys where for generations terraced staircases were built on a terroir of steep hillsides along the river transforming unusable lands into award winning vineyards. 

You can start your experience in the town of Pinhão known as the “Valley of Enchantment” for its beautiful hillsides and never ending valleys. Not what you would expect for being the heart of the wine country, Pinhão is a small town in the Northern Douro region. It is here where some of the best wines in Portugal are grown, vinified and fortified into the popular Port and table wines. 

From arrival at the beautiful train station as you embark on the preserved historic trails you will find a different view of the Douro river from every bend. As you walk the beautiful Vineyard trail exploring the area from Quinta to Quinta (wine estates) sampling both the local Ports and the stunning views of the river and river valley from their terraced vineyards.Some of the Quintas will offer their own hiking maps of trails located within their properties for you to explore.

Photo by AmaWaterways River Cruises

As you travel the area you can visit a Quinta of choice (Portuguese for the country estates that act as a base for the wineries throughout the region) and there are many of them throughout the area. These are also where you will find some of the best restaurants in the region. If you are looking for a unique experience, some of the Quintas offer overnight accommodations to relax and immerse deeper into a Quinta bed and breakfast experience. 

Tip: If you are interested in wine, when visiting the town of Pinhão schedule time to visit the Quinta Nova. One of the larger Quinta’s features a wine tour and tasting plus the Museu do Vinho (Wine Museum) takes you on a tour of the history of the region, the ancient practices and how winemaking has developed over the past few hundred years. They also offer one of the top restaurants in the region and a winery home that can be rented out for extended visits. 

The weather in the Douro Valley is always temperate with annual highs around 85°F and the lows averaging about 60°F so you can truly visit anytime of year. However, for the best scenery while hiking, visit in the spring, April to June when the tree’s and vine’s begin to bloom or in the fall September to November, although a little more chance of rain, the colors will provide the best scenery with the best temperatures for hiking. Note that September, depending on that years weather is typically harvest season and may be more active with visitors and annual activities. 

Pinhão is but one example of a hiking experience that is available in the Douro Valley. There are multiple other options for hiking tours from the popular trails to off the beaten path scenic hikes that also vary from 3 – 6 hour tours to multi-day excursions hiking throughout the entire region. The perfect opportunity to immerse in the landscape, culture, vinology and people of the Douro River Valley. 

Note that when looking for a more extensive hiking experience, there are public hiking trails marked with red and yellow stripes on signs, posts, stones and trees leading you from point to point. Note that these may not be maintained to levels that you will find in the United States. For extensive longer hiking experiences, hiring a local guide is highly recommended and will enhance your experience on hikes from a few hours long to a few days, also providing information and historic details you will not get exploring on your own. 

Photo By AmaWaterways River Cruises

Hiking is one of the included activities on a 7 night river cruise from the city of Porto, known for the production and distribution for Port Wine. Travel along the scenic Douro River stopping along the way to hike, bike or explore the villages, Quintas and amazing sites that this beautiful region has to offer. 
For more information on river cruising check out our River cruise page.

Categories: Active Travel, Eat like a local, Eco-Friendly, Food, River Cruise, Sustainable Travel, Travel, Travel Bucket List, Wellness, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

How the Basque Region is a Tale of Two Countries

I am as guilty as most, I believed the Basque region was Spanish and a Spanish experience. What I have come to learn is that Euskadi (land of the Basque) is the warm oceanic region located on Bay of Biscay along the western Pyrenees mountain range that straddles the northern coast of Spain but it also includes the eastern coast of France. The Euskadi is made up of seven provinces, three of which are in France and four that are in Spain (Basque Country and Navarre region), despite being in separate countries they are an autonomous community. 

With their own language (Euskara), the culture is autonomous throughout the Basque region. The noticeable differences between the French and Spanish cities are related to the influences of the countries in which the regions are located. Spanish Euskaldunak (Basque speaking locals) mostly speak Euskara, as many Spanish Euskadi want autonomy from Spain and may also speak Spanish. Here you will find larger modern and industrial areas that are more centered on tourist and resort driven cities. Comparatively French Euskaldunak are loyal to France, will speak French, while some may also speak Euskara. In French tradition, they live in more relaxed rural environments and towns that sit among green pastures and farms.

Basque weather is typically maritime being warm, humid and rainy along the coast and the interior regions have a Mediterranean climate with temperature differences between seasons. 

There are many reasons to explore both regions of Basque Country, we will highlight the uniqueness of the key towns and cities of both regions that you will want to visit.

Northern Basque Region 

The Pays Basque Français is called Iparralde which means northern part in the basque language. The region lies in the Pyrenees – Atlantiques department of France. Within this region you will find attractive villages worth visiting for the uncrowded pastoral country-side, charming white-washed half-timbered houses and quaint colorful churches waiting to be explored. 

Bayonne – 

Bayonne at the Nive and Adour Rivers

Located just off the coast of France at the confluence of the Adour and Nive rivers makes the city not only scenic but also separates it out into 3 very distinct quarters. Most noticeable when visiting is the red, green and white colors that are almost uniformly seen throughout the town. A mix of Basque and French culture, you will want to head to the Grand Bayonne quarter on the westbank of the Nive river where you can wander the narrow cobblestoned pedestrian streets amongst the half-timbered houses, visit the 11th Century Chateau Vieux, the gothic Bayonne Cathedral and enjoy some local farm to table cuisine. 

Biarritz – 

Surf Biarritz on the Cote de Basque

More of a tourist location than sister city Bayonne, The Cote de Basque is both a sophisticated and yet relaxing resort town of cliffside villas overlooking the coast and swanky oceanside hotels beachside. Being a coastal upscale resort town, you will find the large beaches popular during the summer. Biarritz is well known worldwide as a prominent location for its surfing which will also attract many daytime bohemian visitors  to the seaside town during the warmer summer months. The town itself offers many trendy cafes to relax at and enjoy a local meal, great boutiques to visit and a lively beachside bar scene that offers a continuation of the daytime beach party to pair with your beachtime tan. 

Saint-Jean-de-Luz – 

The quiet seaside town of St. Jean-de-Luz

About 15 minutes south of Biarritz and close to the Spanish border is the small seaside town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. The central town features the Grand Plage, a long stretch of sandy beach surrounded by three sea walls that is more family centric with a few small hotels with spas and nearby local campsites. Off the coast is the downtown region Donibane Lohizune to enjoy the  local rustic cuisine, regional products and espadrilles. Yes, the region is best known for their array of comfy beach espadrille sandals which can be found throughout the shopping area. Don’t miss enjoying the coastal inspired gastronomy that blends the French influence with the New Basque inspired dishes from the nearby Spanish region. 

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port – 

St. Jean-Pied-de-Port on the Nive River

Hidden at the base of the Pyrenees mountains is the beautifully scenic village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The walled capital of Basque is a small charming town on the Nive river just 5 miles from the Spanish border. Most known as the starting point for the christian pilgrimage to the Santiago de Compostela shrine in Galicia, Spain, it is also the perfect stop after taking one of the most beautiful hikes in the Pyrenees for the amazing panoramas from the mountains. Walk the small town that is surrounded by green countryside with a backdrop of mountains. 

Southern Basque Country 

The Pais Vasco Español is called Hegoalde which I am sure you can guess means southern part in the basque language. The majority of the Basque region lies within the Spanish side and is the most populated with two very distinct regions, the coastal Basque community and the inland Navarre region. 

Pamplona – 

Pamplona’s Casco Viejo

An hour and half southwest of French Basque and across the Spanish border from the Pyrenees is the Navarre region and its capital city, Pamplona. You most likely have heard of Pamplona from its annual weeklong San Fermín Festival. Better known as the “Running of the Bulls” that occurs along Estafeta street annually. It is one of the largest fiesta events in Spain attracting over 100,000 visitors. Iruña as Pamplona is called in Basque is a medieval town that also attracts visitors to explore her cobble-stoned pedestrian only streets that wind throughout the city to the historic palaces and churches. At the center of the town is the Plaza del Castillo (Palace Square) where you will find the locals as well as tourists who are visiting the best restaurants and cafes with the best people watching. 

San Sebastián – 

Donastia and the beaches of San Sebastian

Donastia as it is known by the Basque in the region is a very popular resort town for its white sand beaches and New Basque cuisine. Often referred to as Paris by the sea for its sophistication that attracts the wealthy beach-goers who have beach mansions along  La Concha beach. Here is considered by many Europeans to be the most beautiful beach in Europe. Notable is that many don’t just visit San Sebastian for the beach luxury, but also for the gastronomy. You can find the largest number of Michelin rated stars per capita than anywhere else in the world with 9 restaurants. The locally sourced pinxtos are partially responsible for the famed dining experiences. Pinxtos are the backbone of the Spanish Basque food culture, similar to a tapa (but don’t call it a tapa) the small plate offers uniquely crafted gastro-pub experiences. Parte Vieja, the old port region is the charming old town with the largest number of bars in the world, a big draw for visitors. 

Bilbao – 

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

Considered the heart of the Basque region in Spain, Bilbao is a very modern city filled with cosmopolitan buildings, industry and is also the urban hub of Euskadi. The largest city in the region attracts visitors to its famed contemporary Guggenheim museum and offers a very modern metro system compared to other Basque regions. But the old medieval town, Casco Viejo, like in San Sebastian attracts visitors for its culture and historical experiences. Shopping is also a prime attraction at the “El Ensanche” across the river from the old town, which is home to Bilbao’s wealthy residents offering higher end shops, restaurants and bars along the Gran Via. Yes, pinxtas play an important role in local gastronomy here too and you will find many taverns offering the tasty treats to enjoy with a glass of local cider or wine. 

Worth noting is the well known French region of Bordeaux is 3.5 hours from Bilbao, the most eastern city in the Basque Country and just 2 hours from Bayonne, the most northern city of the Basque region. This offers a unique travel experience to explore the beautiful Euskadi region of Spain and France and then head north to Bordeaux for a purely French wine experience. 

Learn more about Bordeaux with a 7 night river cruise experience to fully immerse in both left and right banks of Bordeaux. 

Categories: Eat like a local, Experience, Food, River Cruise, Travel Bucket List, Vacation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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