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Get In’spire’d in Prague

Rome, Paris and Madrid are some of the well known global cities of Europe attracting travelers. But are you familiar with Prague a lesser known international European city in central Europe that will not disappoint in comparison. 

Prague, the “Golden City of Spires”

The capital city of the Czech Republic is also it’s largest city. Prague has a gilded past filled with history and riches as the Bohemian Kingdom of the Holy Roman Empire and a key city of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg empire. 

Prague is culturally comparable to the formerly mentioned iconic European cities, offering modern amenities, theatres, galleries and museums scattered throughout the region. 

Having survived the second world war, “The golden city of a hundred spires” is named for the extensive number of towers that fill her skyline. Prague stands as a baroque historic center of world heritage sites drawing visitors to her endless number of architectural gems. Breathtaking cathedrals, historic palaces and hundreds of statues scattered throughout this very walkable city makes it a must visit. 

Visiting Prague offers amazing opportunities to tour attractions and sites, read on to further investigate which ones ought to be at the top of a must see list and why.

Prague Castle –

One of the most visited sites in Prague is a 9th century castle, that is Prague’s namesake. The complex has been in use continuously as the ruling location for emperors, kings, queens and presidents since its erection. At 750,000 square feet, this ancient castle has been declared the largest in the world. If that isn’t daunting enough, she also sits high above the city on a hill overlooking the Vltava River,  making her appear even larger than reality. 

Step into the past by watching the changing of the guard ceremony from the grand entrance at the Matthias gate.  All within a stone’s throw from the entrance of the massive compound are stunning cathedrals, mesmerizing from the spires outside to the glittered treasures within. The old royal palaces represent the original medieval and renaissance architecture and tell the stories of their past residents. The various beautifully manicured gardens that once entertained nobility are all waiting to be discovered and enjoyed. 

Due to its popularity and the number of sites, it is highly recommended to purchase tickets in advance.

Old Town – 

The Old Town square of Prague

Not far from the castle is the historic “Old Town” quarter of Prague. The oldest part of Prague dates back to the 10th century when it was the central marketplace. Later developed in the 12th century as the significant center of the city, it became the location for some of the Czechs most notable historical events including riots, revolutions and executions. 

Surrounded by a mixture of architectural buildings built in various styles, at first sight you will find gothic churches and a medieval Old Town Hall with an astronomical clock, one of the oldest working clocks in the world. As you venture further along the cobblestoned streets past residences and shops you come upon the rococo Kinský Palace, home to Czech National Gallery and art museum.

Located nearby the old town, crossing over the Vltava river are the towers of the famed stone arch Charles Bridge. Named after the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, the structure is lined with statues representing saints, patron saints and some of Prague’s most famous inhabitants.The pedestrian bridge, connecting the old town and the lesser town of Prague, is always popping with tourists and locals alike. Note there is a nominal fee to cross the bridge, but this iconic attraction is a highlight when visiting Prague. 

Vyšehrad – 

Prague’s less visited upper castle on the east bank of the Vltava is a 10th century fort. Believed to be the location of the original Prague settlement, here you will find a fortified castle built up with bastions, ramparts and gates. The Vyšehrad complex is a location popular with Praguer’s with many opportunities for outdoor recreation to enjoy local celebrations. 

Within the ancient fortification, many hidden gems can be found and if that does not draw you here, the stunning views over Prague makes this a location worth exploring. The castle serves as a historic monument of the reign of Czech dukes and contains many architectural riches. The Saints Peter and Paul Basilica is a neo-gothic church originally built in the 10th century featuring intricately adorned pic worthy twin towers that are easily spotted from the river. Vyšehrad cemetery is the final resting place for hundreds of Czechs most famous past residents including artists, composers and writers, among others from the 18th and 19th century. Within the fortress grounds there is plenty of green space where you will find locals enjoying the area out for a jog and on weekends, frequenting the restaurants and bars making this experience more culturally immersive.

Prague is a gilded and historic destination treating you to beautiful architecture and innumerable cathedrals that draw you into the various town squares filled with friendly Czech culture. As a modern city, Prague offers all the necessary amenities with easy to access public transportation, luxurious accommodations and some of the best shopping and dining in the heart of Europe. When desiring to experience the best of central European cities, we recommend spending time in Prague among other breathtaking cities like Vienna, Salzburg and Budapest. A top travel experience is enjoying these iconic regions on a ten night river cruise traveling along the Danube River.

Find out more about the river cruise experience from our website

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Purposeful travel with vinitourism in Greece

Traveling has many different faces ranging from local excursions close to home to extreme far off destinations that take days to reach. Within each individual journey are many opportunities for purpose driven travel. Purposeful travel is arriving at a destination with a set goal. Volunteer travel, ancestry travel, historical travel and wine travel all fall under this category. 

Wine travel which is officially referred to as vinitourism, oenotourism or enotourism includes exploring destinations with visits to local vineyards and wineries, familiarizing oneself with a region’s history of wine, experiencing the art of their vinification and the ultimate treat, sampling the wines. If timed accurately, one may even find themselves participating in the annual harvest physically and/or celebratorily. 

Italy, France and  Spain, are some of the European regions that are most visited for this type of experience. However areas, like Greece, that sit under the radar are home to wine-producing regions that while not as well known, provide many opportunities for unique and enjoyable purposeful wine experiences paired with visiting the cradle of civilization. 

The birthplace of western culture, Greece is visited for its abundance of beautiful scenery, pristine beaches, friendly easy going lifestyles and historic architecture. Unbeknownst to many, Greece is also one of the oldest regions of the world for wine production. 

Within the Mediterranean, wine has a historical past that dates back 6,500 years with Greece as its original producer. The distribution of Greek wines made its way throughout Italy, Spain, Portugal and into Northern Europe as Europe was colonized during the era of the Roman Empire. 

Greece’s role in wine production with lesser known grape varieties are waiting to be unearthed throughout 29 wine regions as the home to 700+ wineries.

Central Greece on the mainland peninsula is the wine region of Attica. With its warm, dry climate, Attica’s main growth is the fruity and floral white grape Savatiano which is used to produce a 2000 year old table wine Retsina. Retsina is a fruity, oily wine with a pine finish that is made from a combination of Savatiano and Rhoditis grapes and then infused with resin (hence the name and the pine flavor). For the sophisticated wine drinker, the Savatiano grape as a single varietal blend will be similar to Chardonnay wines grown in the French Chablis region. Though when oaked, Savatiano wines will resemble a white Burgundy from the Cote’d’Or region in France.

In the foothills, near the former home of the Greek gods, Mt. Olympus is Rapsani, the first officially declared wine appellation of Greece. The mountain vineyards of the Rapsani region blend the locally grown red grapes, Xinomavro, Stavroto and Krassato and cask age them to produce wines with strong tannins, minerality and a fruity finish. 

The legendary Peloponnese peninsula is home to the Nemea region, near the former Greek ancient capital city, Nafplio. This region produces Greece’s most well known native growth, the Agiorgitiko grape. Grown at some of the highest elevations in Greece and oaked for up to five years, the result is a complex flavored and balanced, medium acidity and yet full bodied red wine. With a flavor similar to a spicy Merlot, the presentation of this wine can be compared to a young French Beaujolais Nouveau wine. 

The largest island of Greece, located in the Mediterranean Sea is the rugged island of Crete. One of the most attractive vacation spots in Greece, Crete is filled with luxury hotels and is home to the ancient white grape, Vidiano. This hard to grow grape produces a fruity and complex medium to full bodied wine. Grown on a smaller scale with very few vines still in existence, the outcome is a locally favored fruity wine primarily enjoyed by residents and visitors to the island.  

The volcanic islands of the Aegean sea draw visitors to its ancient villages, bays, coves and bright blue waters. As a prominent cruise destination, the Aegean islands are filled with travelers searching for the perfect sun and sand experience combined with a uniquely Greek cultural experience. But another reason to visit these beautiful islands is for the wine. 

Santorini, which is part of the Cyclades islands, is home to the white Assyrtiko grape. Considered to be one of the top white wines in Greece, Assyrtiko grapes are highly influenced by the island’s volcanic soil, producing a dry wine with a citrusy and crisp flavor similar to a German Riesling. Produced oaked and unoaked, the oaked version labeled locally as Nykteri will present a less acidic wine. 

Samos, the lesser known Aegean island just a mile off the coast of Turkey, is the birthplace of the worldwide grown white Muscat (Muscat Blanc) grape. The UNESCO World Heritage site once drew affluent residents specifically for its ancient vineyards. Visiting Samos is a primitive look into the Aegean isles before the days of cruise ships and luxury hotels. 

With various wine regions and grapes influenced by the diverse terrain, Greece offers plenty of opportunities to include wine tourism into a Hellenic vacation. Visiting by cruise ship, ferrying between mainland and islands, or taking a wine tour, even the most sophisticated oenophile can bring a Greek experience to a whole other level and travel purpose. 

More wine travel articles can be found at our website. Yamas! (that’s Greek for cheers)

Categories: Active Travel, Bucket List, Eco-Friendly, Enotourism, Experience, Oenotourism, Purposeful Travel, Sustainable Travel, Travel Bucket List, vinitourism, Wine, Wine tourism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Lets Celebrate Christmas in July!

For the western world, celebrating Christmas is a time for folks to prepare for and participate in traditional winter activities to commemorate the holiday season. However, in parts of the Southern Hemisphere such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and parts of South America, Christmas falls during the warm summer months. For this reason, Christmas in July was developed when these respective countries participate in winter holiday activities during their actual winter periods. 

While you won’t find annual holiday traditions within the U.S., U.K and many European countries in July, Christmas in July provides an opportunity to remind us that the holidays are only five months away and the perfect time to start planning yuletide festivities. 

What better way to celebrate the holiday season than enjoying the festivities and traditions of other cultures that date back hundreds of years. July is the perfect time to plan for Christmas and design itineraries that celebrate the holidays in countries like Germany, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Austria or Hungary.

Germany

Rudesheim Cable Car decked out for Christmas

In the Deutschland, the Christmas season begins with the celebration of Advent, the official holiday season in Europe, which starts at the end of November and lasts four weeks until Christmas Day. Many visit worthy traditions specific to individual regions are held during this period throughout Germany. 

One of the largest cities in Germany, Cologne, is known for its annual Heinzels Wintermärchen festival within the Alstadt (old town) historic region of this gothic,  culturally diverse city. Next to the iconic Cologne Cathedral, the annual event features the Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas market), an alley of artisans selling toys, ornaments and holiday treats for folks of all ages to enjoy. This Christmas village also features an outdoor ice rink that will have you swirling in winter bliss. 

Nuremberg, the Bavarian capital of Germany, is home to the annual Christkindlesmarkt, one of the largest holiday markets in the world. Dating back to the early 1600’s, the market centers around Christkind, a symbol for gift giving in Nuremberg. The market features a local teen named as the Christkind representative. Dressed in gilded attire, she is present throughout the festival to greet guests as a representative of holiday spirit to the children in Nuremberg. Within the holiday market, you will find wood badens (booths) filled with handcrafted items, and holiday treats like gingerbread and traditional almond spice cookies (spekulatius).

  One of the best preserved medieval cities in Germany, a Unesco World Heritage site is Regensburg. The city takes a unique approach to the holiday period as it comes to life with glistening holiday lights that complement the medieval architecture surrounding Regensburg’s Christmas markets. Regensburg’s largest market can be found at the medieval Neupfarr church. The excitement doesn’t stop at the markets. Walking the cobblestoned streets you will venture into courtyards, passageways, and find other gems the city has to offer. Don’t be surprised when you stumble upon secret stalls of local craftsmen featuring handmade items that can be taken home as gifts or souvenirs. Throughout your time in the city, dabble in the holiday entertainment, regional cuisine and indulge in the merriment also found along the Danube river and the surrounding beautiful winter scenery. 

Rudesheim, a small wine village in the Upper Middle Rhine valley, brings a more international holiday experience with their annual Christmas Markets of Nations. This village’s representation of the traditions and customs of 20 countries from six continents draws visitors for a unique spin to the traditional German Christmas market experience. Featuring the traditional foods, goods and entertainment of each country makes this a fun and global way to celebrate the holidays. Rudesheim also presents the largest Nativity scene in Europe which can be found within the market square. Some of the more popular activities include festive storybook boat rides along the Rhine river and

breathtaking views of the river and Rudesheim’s vineyards on the decorated cable cars to the Niederwald monument. 

France

Strasbourg in northeastern France is the original capital of Christmas. The first Christkindelsmärik (Christmas market) began over 500 years ago and has drawn visitors for centuries as the flagship holiday market experience. Squares throughout the cities offer unique themed areas filled with mini wooden houses (chalets) featuring the largest number of market food and craft vendors. Place Kléber, the central square of Strasbourg, is the prime location of celebration for the festival backdropped by a handpicked and decorated 100 foot Alsatian Christmas tree. Due to Strasbourg’s French and German heritage, you can find that popular foods like pain d’épices, gingerbread and spiced cookies, are influenced by both regions. Among other Alsatian specialties, don’t forget to try the Vin Chaud mulled wine that is a signature part of a Christkindelsmärik encounter. 

Riquewihr is a magical French Alsatian wine village that is known for its fairytale-like architecture with half timbered houses that are spruced up with holiday decorations. Strolling the cobblestone street and seeing the village decorated with holiday lights and smelling the scent of chestnuts roasting will create a charming French holiday experience. The Riquewihr Christmas market is filled with cheer as you walk the wooden chalet’s filled with locally crafted item, stopping to enjoy a glass of local wine, or one of the local holiday treats of French spiced bread or German bretzels. You will be happy you stopped in this quaint Christmas town, unlike anywhere else in the world,

Netherlands

Amsterdam Canal during Christmas

Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, well known for its canals, is even more magnificent during the holidays. The annual light festival proves to be a winter highlight with it’s art light displays accompanied by live music and street vendors along the city’s canals. While these displays can be spotted from the bridges and walkways along the quay, the best way to experience the Amsterdam Light Festival is by a tour boat traveling along the canals. For another purely Amsterdam holiday experience, visit Amsterdam’s Museumplein museum square area. Centered around an ice skating rink, the Ice Village features a wooden chalet serving local Dutch dishes like cheese fondue that can be enjoyed offering views of the 800 year old Rijksmuseum, which houses the art of Dutch master artists. 

Austria

Ringstrasse Holiday Train

Vienna offers similar holiday experiences to what you will find in Germany but with a uniquely Viennese flare. Offering many Christkindlmarkt in the city, you are bound to find one that is your favorite. The largest market, the Wiener Christkindlmarkt found on the Rathausplatz within the center of Vienna’s historic area, is appropriately named for its large offering of local sausage vendors and has approximately 150 booths. Surrounding the market, you will find a carousel, ferris wheel, ice skating and the holiday “Tree of Hearts” decorated with illuminated holiday hearts. For a smaller, more upscale Christkindlmarkt, Schönbrunn offers the beautiful background of the glowing decorated summer palace of the former Austrian royalty, the Habsburgs. The heart of the Viennese holiday experience is the elegant light displays that illuminate the Austrian city. Whether you are strolling the Stephansplatz shopping area outside of the iconic St. Stephen’s Cathedral or riding the Ringstrasse train around the outside of the Vienna altstadt, you will not be disappointed with a multi sensory Vienna Christmas experience.  

Salzburg, the Austrian Alps city that borders Germany is known as the birthplace of Austrian composer Mozart and the filming location for the movie musical, The Sound of Music. But during the holidays, Salzburg becomes a fairytale land filled with colorful festivity, snow and choirs singing the Austrian hymn “Silent Night”. Visiting the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt in the city’s centre, one of the oldest Advent markets in Austria offers a holiday experience among the backdrop of the snowy rooftops of this beautiful Alpine old city. In Salzburg you are bound to see parades, hear ye olde Christmas stories and tune in to choral concerts. While visiting you will want to tour one of the many of the local nativity scenes, visit the Salzburg Christmas Museum, and stop into the beautiful Salzburg Cathedral. In typical Salzberg fashion, enjoy a music performance with 360 degree views of wintery Salzburg from the observation tower of the Fortress Hohensalzburg. A holiday highlight is Salzburg caroling featuring songs by Mozart and other traditional local holiday songs. 

Hungary

St. Stephen Basilica Christmas Market in Pest

Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is two cities separated by the Danube river united into one. For a traditional holiday experience, take the funicular car to the top of Buda Hill on the western side of the Danube river. Here you can explore the quaint, charming town of Old Buda (Óbuda) and visit their Christmas market outside of the town hall building. Don’t let the small size fool you, you will find within this holiday area concerts, a carousel, skating rink and many more festive activities. For a larger and more modern holiday experience, head across the Danube river and into the eastern portion of the city, Pest. In Pest, you can visit the largest of Hungary’s holiday markets in the shopping district surrounding Vörösmarty square where you will find traditional crafts, artists, plus food booths and daily concerts by local Hungarian bands. A favorite holiday experience in Budapest is the intimate Christmas market that sits outside of the breathtaking St. Stephen’s Basilica. In addition to a small ice skating rink and a picturesque Christmas tree, you will find a holiday light show that occurs hourly upon the face of the beautiful exterior of the cathedral. 

Switzerland 

Basler Weihnachtsmarkt

Basel, is a city on the Rhine river in the northwestern portion of Switzerland bordering France and Germany. The main markets of Switzerland are found in Basel’s center of the city within the old town. Basler Weihnachtsmarkt in the central shopping district is the largest of the markets with the most vendors in Switzerland. The Weihnachtsmarkt on Münsterplatz is smaller in size, however exquisite with its large, decorated Christmas tree adjacent to the Basel Münster (cathedral). Climb to the top of the cathedral towers for fantastic views of the illuminated old town. These Christmas Markets are distinguished by their wooden chalets featuring local artists’ creations and popular food items influenced by Basel’s location near both France and Germany. The most popular items include house made waffles, Gluhwein (mulled wine) and sausages among Swiss favorites like Basel Läckerli (gingerbread) and raclette, a melted cheese. The holiday spirit of the city is spotted among the decorated streets, within the windows of the local businesses, residences and along the Rhine as you stroll along its wintery banks. 

Cruising the Rhineland on the Moselle River in Germany

So now that you know about the various holiday experiences that await you in Europe. So what is the best way for you to start your planning? A Christmas Market river cruise will transport you into Europe’s most popular cities and villages covered with snow-capped Cathedrals and brimming with holiday cheer. 

From late November through December, travel along the waterways of central Europe from Amsterdam to Switzerland or Germany to Hungary visiting the traditional and authentic charming markets that still appear as they have for hundreds of years.

In addition to the Christmas experience, you have plenty of time to explore fairytale castles along the Rhine Gorge, the gorgeous mountainous snowy alps or the dreamy gilded sites of Vienna and the cathedrals of medieval Germany. Tours are included in ports to visit the landmarks of each city with ample time to explore the unique offerings of the local holiday delights.

Discover more about river cruising. If you would like more information on a Christmas Markets River Cruise, BucketList Travel Advisors can assist you with planning the perfect river cruise experience.

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Try Oenotourism by Bicycle in Bordeaux

Regardless if you are an oenophile, a vin lover or just getting your feet wet in the wine world, Bordeaux is the most renowned region for wine. Exploring wine, understanding the vinification process and sampling wine, Bordeaux is known for high quality, aged wines, and being  the world wine capital. Here you can enjoy some of the world’s most expensive reds and deliciously sweet white wines.

Wine’s existence in Bordeaux began with the Romans who occupied the area in the 1st century. Today Bordeaux is one of the oldest continuously producing wine communities in the world. The key success to the wines of this area is the combination of the maritime climate, the calcium rich soils, and the rivers, the Garonne and Dordogne that provide irrigation year round for continued vine growth.

The heart of the region, centered around the town of Bordeaux, is well known not just for their wines, but as an international destination filled with history and medieval architecture and for its connection to the rivers that flow through the area. The famed Cabernet Sauvignon producing Medoc region is where you will find some of the most esteemed wine villages along the left bank of the Garonne river. And the popular Saint-Émilion region on the right bank of the Dordogne produces Merlot with a reputation for superior wines. But this is not all Bordeaux has to offer, the region is also established for White Bordeaux wines produced from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadet grapes. Vinified in the cooler parts of Bordeaux, sweet dessert wines are fermented naturally using a process called Botrytis. Botrytis concentrates the sugars in the grapes as they ripen and develops unique flavors that can only be found within this part of the region.  

In a nutshell, Oenotourisme is the purpose of traveling that centers around wine. Exploring and enjoying the production of the region plus the cultural heritage that unites it all together is a wine traveler’s dream. With almost 300,000 acres of vineyards and a multitude of wine options, Bordeaux is a top destination. So one might wonder the best way to explore the vast and largest wine growing region of France. The answer is by bicycle. Bicycles will take you on the streets that create Bordeaux’s iconic towns, past the historical monuments, along the rivers, and through the villages that are home to the wineries locally known as châteaux. It is within these villages where you will taste the most respected wines in the world and venture into the vineyards that grow the famed blends.  

City of Bordeaux 

The heart of the wine region is a bike friendly city offering paths of approximately 400 miles of bicycle trails. Traveling by bike through the walled city centre, you can explore sites like the grandiose Place de la Bourse square with a grand reflecting fountain and the iconic Bordeaux Cathedral. You may also find yourself stopping along the way to enjoy dining in a local cafe, popping into a shop on the Rue Sainte-Catherine or even finding unexpected historical treasures throughout this UNESCO World Heritage city centre. 

Within the city of Bordeaux, there are many paths to take you on adventures well beyond the wine regions. Bike through forests, into the outer regions to visit one of the many beautiful parks, like the nature reserve in Barails and you can even cycle all the way to the beaches on the Atlantic coast. Jumping onto one of the many paths available, you never know what hidden discoveries you will find as you explore the area guided or on your own. 

A relaxing hour-long ride is all it takes to lead you along both sides of the Garonne river. Start from the bell towers at the Place Pey Berland, cross the Pont de Pierre stone bridge to the right bank of the Garonne. Ride along the shores of the right bank, admiring the views of the city of Bordeaux across the river until you reach the Chaban-Delmas bridge which will take you back to the left bank. Crossing the river, you will find you are near the popular Chartrons district, the perfect stop to enjoy one of the many bistros or taverns before continuing along the river back to the bell towers where you began your ride. 

Left Bank

Within reach from the historic centre are the prestigious appellations of the Médoc region. Following “La Route de Vins des Bordeaux” by bicycle, you can enjoy a relaxed ride along the Garonne river into the countryside and through the villages where you will find yourself upon the famed vineyards of Bordeaux. 

Traveling from the city of Bordeaux in just 3 hours each way, you pass through some of the highest respected elite first growth wine producing château in France.  Château Margaux, Château Pichon Longueville, Château Latour, Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Mouton Rothschild, produce Bordeaux’s most valuable and esteemed wines. By bike, you can leisurely stop along the way and visit the vineyards of these most prestigious wine producers with plenty of time to sample some of the most expensive wines in the world. 

Alternately starting in the city, you can head south along the “Route des vins” into the birthplace of the region. The city of Graves is home to the only Premier Cru château outside the northern Medoc region, Château Haut Brion. Continuing on this path, you will pass some of the oldest château, and historical castles as you ride along the vineyards leading you into the Sauternes region to the Château d’Yquem whose vineyards are famed for its sweet White Bordeaux’s. 

Right Bank

Although not as accessible as the Left Bank from the city of Bordeaux, with the superb public transportation that Bordeaux offers, visiting the right bank is just a train ride away. Starting from the Gare de Bordeaux St Jean, a 30 minute ride will take you to the city of Libourne, the second largest city center in the Bordeaux region. Located in Saint-Émilion, Libourne is the main city of the Right Bank along the Dordogne river and the commercial location for the wines of the Right Bank and the Entre Deux Mer region. 

Saint-Émilion is the prime wine region of the Right bank and along with its neighboring area, Pomerol, as Grand Cru vineyards, produce the highly desired Merlot based blends of Bordeaux. 

Embarking on your two and half hour bike ride (without stops) will start from the train station in Libourne. Cycling northwest along the Right Bank of the Dordogne, you will find some of the largest castles, smallest villages and most approachable wines from world famous vineyards as you enjoy your ride to the town of Fronsac. Exploring Fronsac you will find historic sites dating back to Charlemagne and the Roman Empire as well as some highly reputable château vineyards. 

From Fronsac, moving east and passing through the French countryside vineyards of the picturesque Pomerol region you will  find yourself traveling to the rustic village of medieval St-Émilion, a UNESCO World Heritage site and another historic center for Bordeaux wines. Arriving in St-Émilion, explore the beautiful hilly town, visit the historical church and stop in at a local bistro to enjoy a meal with some locally produced Grand Cru vin before traveling on. 

Entre-Deux-Mer

Making your way back towards Libourne from Saint-Emilion, you will reach the Dordogne, and cross the river into the Entre Deux Mer region on your way to Graves de Vayres. Graves de Vayres is known for its terraced vineyards that produce both red sweet Merlot wines and dry white wines produced from Sauvignon Blanc. A reward for your biking travels will be reaching one of the most prestigious medieval castle’s built in the region, the Château de Vayres. Sitting on the left bank of the Dordogne river, a visit to this historic location will offer you a fantastic view into the past royal presence within the Bordeaux region. Exploring the beautiful château and the French and medieval gardens will be the perfect stop before your 30 minute ride traveling back to the Libourne train station. 

As the premium wine producer in France, Bordeaux offers many opportunities to fully explore the famed region as a wine traveler. However biking through Bordeaux will offer an immersion that you can not otherwise experience by motor vehicle and is a way to connect with Bordeaux on a more personal level, path by path. 

Did you know, many of these biking adventures, in addition to others, are provided excursions on a Bordeaux river cruise starting at the city of Bordeaux. What better way to enjoy seven days of vinitourism on both the Garonne and Dordogne rivers visiting the many châteaux along the way. Familiarizing yourself with the region and sampling some of the finest wines are all expected when visiting Bordeaux. But imagine your experience when you explore on one of the bicycles included onboard, guided or on your own. Spend your time cruising the rivers, bicycling the beautiful French countryside and enjoying the wines that have made this the most famous wine region in the world. Wine travel doesn’t get any better than this!

If this sounds like your perfect vacation, join us starting on June 9, 2022 for a 7 night Bordeaux river cruise. Let us guide you through this fantastic wine experience. Space is limited. Learn more about Traveling the Rivers of Bordeaux and inquire for more information here

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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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Wine Travel through the Italian Piedmont

Within the northern region of Italy where she borders France and Switzerland at the foot of the Alps, is the Italian territory of the Piedmont. From the mountainous alp region offering some of the highest peaks in Europe, to the flat valley along the Po river, the area draws visitors for its historical features, palaces and royal residences, the beautiful churches that make the Piedmont a popular religious destination and for sport like alpine skiing and mountainous winter and summer activities. 

The second largest administrative region of Italy in terms of area, the Piedmont is most notable as the second largest wine region in Italy after the Veneto region and is known for its famed wines based on the Nebbiolo and Barbara or Glera and Moscato, red and white grapes respectively. The majority of the highest classified vineyards can be found in the Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba and Asti Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) appellations. Respectfully known as the home of some of the greatest red dry and white sweet sparkling wines within Italy. 

A visit to this region of Italy comes not without its rewards as one travels throughout, visiting the area and tasting some of it’s best vine productions. 

Turin, the capital of Piedmont and largest section of the administrative area is the best place to base your visit with its close proximity to the top appellations of the region. Turin is well known for its baroque architecture, grand boulevards, squares and as a gastronomic center for the Northern region. The city is filled with numerous art galleries, opera houses, gardens and elegant palaces that were once the home to the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy who unified and ruled Italy from the late 18th Century through World War II. The original capital of Italy, before moving to Rome, the residences are UNESCO World Heritage sites built between the 16th and 18th centuries and also the location for the Tombs of members of the Savoy family during their reign. Turin is well known for its chocolate production of gianduiotto, individually wrapped hazelnut chocolates and bicerin, a native tradition of layered espresso, chocolate and milk. 

Alba is about an hours drive southeast from Turin, and home to the most famous of the wine productions in the Piedmont. Barolo and Barbaresco make Alba a very important site for the local wine industry. With almost 300 wineries here, Alba is among the most renowned wine areas in Italy. Highlighting the line up of the Piedmont is it’s most famous grape, Nebbiolo, a full bodied, low acid light red to dark garnet colored wine. Kept for three years in the barrel, once well aged, Nebbiolo will offer an aromatic and well balanced wine with flavors of berries, herbs and tobacco. Another popular grape, in fact the most planted in terms of acreage in the Piedmont is the Barbera grape. Within the Alba region, the lesser known grapes of  Barbara and Dolcetto produce single vintage wines that are notable and worthy of enjoying. Barbara is  acidic and lighter bodied, low tannic and easily grown wine offering ripe flavors of cherry, while Dolcetto creates a dark red, fruity and softer palette wine. When visiting Alba, walking the medieval city and a visit to the Duomo with its popular wood-carved chorus stalls is a must do. 

The province of Asti, 45 minutes east of and bordering the province of Turin is well known for its sparkling wines. Asti Spumante, the formal name for the fruity wines produced from the Moscato Bianco (Muscat) grape is the largest production of wine in Italy. Based on Asti DOCG wine laws, the low alcohol wine that is considered a dessert wine must be produced with 100% Moscato using a method that ferments the wine in  large pressurized tanks called the Charmat method. Unlike the other popular red wines of the Piedmont, Asti wines are consumed young for best flavors. Also within the Asti region, the half sparkling (frizzante) red Barbara d’ Asti wines can be found. As the name infers, the wine is vinified using the 90 – 100% of the red grape Barbara which is grown in the hilly regions of Asti. Despite it’s dark red appearance, the light bodied wine is rich with notes of berries and a full bouquet. To experience some of the many wineries, set out on the wine trail Walk, bike or trek  hills covered by vineyards, stopping by wineries and farms to sample different wines and local produce. Filled with many medieval palaces and beautiful churches, Asti is well known as the religious center of the Piedmont and the “City with Hundred Towers” and features a tower and ancient walls that date back to the reign of the Emperor Augustus.  

For the wine connoisseur, Piedmont is a must visit region of Italy’s famed wine appellations. Touring and tasting are key attractions of this northern administration however this land of mountains will also offer travelers the opportunity for active outdoor experiences within the diverse countryside or 56 national parks and historical visits within the capital city of Turin. 

For additional wine travel options, Check out 5 Old World Cities to Visit for Wine Travel.  

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How to view African wildlife from the River

Africa, an outdoor enthusiasts dream. An entire continent of open space filled with five ecosystems each offering a unique aspect to the landscape. Deserts, mountains, savanna’s, rain forests and coastline. One of the few places on earth where despite being the second most populated continent still contains many locations that look just as they did hundreds or maybe even thousands of years ago. 

Visiting Africa for its amazing scenery, landscapes and its most endearing feature it’s biodiversity. Containing the most flora and fauna still in existence Africa is one of the most desired locations for travelers looking to step into a world completely different then their own. 

Excited passengers whisking off in 4 x 4 vehicles on protected wildlife Safaris led by a local guide to search for the Big 5 (Cape buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros) among others. But there is another experience, one less considered and yet an amazing more intimate way to see wildlife in a natural and sustainable way. 

The one source that all animals need for existence is water. Which is what makes very important to the existence of Africa’s wildlife, the rivers. 


Africa has dry and wet seasons that occur annually interacting with the animal behavior driving them to and from the rivers, their main source for water.  On average Africa’s wettest season is from April to early June and they see some rain October – December. However June through September is the dry period when animals begin migration to and along the rivers for sustainability. 

Like the animals, traveling along the rivers can offer explorers a unique experience for up-close wildlife sightings and viewing of wildlife in their natural habitats as they play, socialize, feed, bathe and rest. 

*Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways River Cruises

Traveling the Chobe and Zambezi rivers into the Chobe National Park in Botswana, brings guests to the source that attracts wildlife from hundreds of miles to the only water available during the African dry winter months. Offering unobstructed views of herds of elephant, giraffe, hooved animals and hundreds of birds all visiting for the season. 

In addition to the wildlife experience, the scenery along the river offers many opportunities for unexpected views of the river and the African landscape. Don’t be surprised if you also come across some other unexpected surprises like the breathtaking sunsets that you can see from your cabin balcony.


The best part of an African river cruise is you don’t miss out on the land safari’s. Time is also spent exploring on safari in the Chobe National Park among other areas within Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Rwanda. 

Visit national parks, iconic locations like Victoria Falls and private game reserves all while enjoying the best available five star accommodations that are arranged for you based on the itinerary that you choose. 

Enjoying an African river cruise can offer many opportunities for immersing in the local culture, exploring the best sites and experiencing the bucket list adventures that most interest you. 

For more information on African river cruising, check out our website and let the adventure begin…….

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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. 

Categories: Eat like a local, Food, River Cruise, Travel, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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