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 Danube for a Bavarian experience

Searching for history, culture and experience you arrive into Germany to embark on a journey along the Danube river. One of the longest rivers in Europe and many cities that access the river, the best place to start your travels is from memorable and medieval Germany.

The heartland of the river, the Danube in Germany offers you charming towns along the river that are filled with historic castles, beautiful cathedrals and culture that goes back thousands of years.

With many towns and villages to explore, there are three key German towns along the Danube river and the “The Route of Emperors and Kings of Bavaria”. A dedicated cycling path also runs along the Danube river for an active experience while traveling offering the opportunity for visiting multiple sites along the way. 

German towns along the Danube river offer a unique travel experience, these are some of what you will find on our itinerary when visiting the Bavarian Danube:

Nuremberg

The second largest city in Bavaria after Munich is where you will begin your Danube journey. Although technically located on the Pegnitz river, a tributary of the Main, Nuremberg is located at the Rhine – Main – Danube Canal making it a popular starting point for navigating the Danube river. 

 Nuremberg is best known for its role in World War II Germany, the Nazi Rally grounds and the Nuremberg Trials at the Justice Palace. There are many tours and underground experiences offered in Nuremberg for World War II enthusiasts. 

Not just historic, a city of art and culture, there are many attractions to explore including the medieval fortified Nuremberg Castle complex in the altstadt (old town) and the twin towered St. Lorenz medieval/gothic church built in the 1400’s and it’s three organs. 

Nuremberg is a walking city and exploring the area you can follow the old city walls finding medieval gates and towers throughout the city. Visiting the old town squares and the Hauptmarkt (open market) to interact with the locals shopping for fresh fruits, popular local pastries and a la carte dining options. The market is sitting in front of the Roman Catholic Frauenkirche church, another site you will want to step into and explore. 

Foodies will enjoy the range of offerings available in Nuremberg with its many restaurants featuring traditional Franconian fare and popular local offerings like lebkuchen German cakes and Nuremberg sausages.

Recommendation: Plan time to relax at one of the many beer gardens scattered throughout the city of Nuremberg.

Visitor friendly, Nuremberg’s old town is a pedestrian only area where you will find many options for shopping and finding specialty items. This is also the location where many festivals occur throughout the year. Additional shopping options can also be found in the Handwerkerhof area of medieval village shops featuring independent businesses selling handcrafted goods. 

Regensburg

Departing Nuremberg you will travel up river to Regensburg. Located where the Danube river meets the Regen and Naab rivers in the eastern part of lower Germany, Regensburg is not as populated as Nuremberg, yet it is still ranked the 4th largest city in the Bavarian region of Germany. A cultural center, the city played an important role during rule of Germany by the Holy Roman Empire. 

A UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the largest “old towns” in Germany, Regensburg attracts visitors to its mostly medieval town filled with many well known sites, historic buildings, gardens and parks. One of these that is highly recommended is the Dom Cathedral. Built starting in 1275 and finished in 1869 the complex is primarily made up of Gothic architecture however you will also find adjoining chapels still in existence that predate the Dom dating back to the 8th century among newer styles of architecture and notable art works. 

As you walk the town, you will find many medieval churches each offering its own stories that are visit worthy among other architectural treats like the Porta Praetoria fortress walls built by the Romans.  Other recommended visits is the medieval stone bridge which dates back to the 11th century that was used during the crusades to cross the Danube.

A not to be missed dining experience is the Sausage Kitchen. A popular destination for both visitors and locals, it is the oldest public restaurant in the world actively serving guests since the 11th century. 

Passau

As you journey along the Danube following the famed Route of Emperors and Bavarian Kings, you will pass historic castles and beautiful landscapes along the way as you travel to Passau. 

Referred to as the “City of Three Rivers” because the Danube joins the Inn river from the south and the Ilz river from the north. Passau is a smaller city then the other two but is also well known for its gothic and baroque architecture. 

You will first notice when walking the cobble-stoned streets of Passau’s Old City (die alstadt) the Veste Oberhaus Fortress which can be seen high on a mountain top facing the city. Today the museum of Passau, it is home to an art gallery, historic collections from the Bavarian region, collections symbolic to Passau’s past and an observatory. 

Tip: A highlight of visiting the fortress is the 18th Century viewing platform with fabulous views of historic Passau and the rivers below. 

Visiting the Gothic town you will find there are many hospitable and site worthy churches within Passau to visit however, a not to be missed site is the Italian Baroque Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral). Notable as having one of the largest pipe organs in the world with over 17,000 pipes. Concerts are held daily during the warmer summer months and worth scheduling your visit around to experience the organ in action for yourself.

Passau has a large University that populates almost a ⅓ of the town with students who bring a bustling excitement to the city’s taverns, restaurants and beer gardens scattered throughout. 

Your journey as you are transported along the Danube’s Route of Emperors and Bavarian Kings will continue from Passau on into some of the beautiful river towns of Slovakia, Austria, including Vienna and Hungary until you reach your final destination in Budapest. 

There are so many reasons to visit Germany, an enjoyable and unique experience is to travel the inland waterways exploring the towns and villages of Germany and other neighboring countries from your boutique floating hotel. For more information on a Danube river cruise, head to our website.

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How to get the most from a visit to Luxor

The city of Luxor in southern Egypt, is a modern city, once the ancient Greek city of Thebes and former capital of Egypt known as Waset in the prime of Pharaoh rule during the sixteenth – eleventh centuries BC today is the gateway to the ancient Egyptian monuments..

Located on the Eastern bank of the Nile river, Luxor is the prime location for visiting the ancient sites found on both banks of the Nile river. Luxor was originally built during the 11th Egyptian dynasty as the home of the Egyptian god Aman-Ra and over the growth and power of the Egyptian dynasty grew into a wealthy and prosperous capital city of the Upper region from the 18th – 20th dynasties.

Today as was in ancient times, the city of Luxor is the center of daily life and still where you will find the majority of the people, the airport, hotels, port and the majority of the tourism industry that draws visitors to the area. 

Across the river on the West bank of the Nile is the location of the temples and burial sites of the ancient royals who ruled Egypt from the East bank. 

When planning a visit to Egypt, what are the sites to plan on visiting on both banks?

East Bank – 

The main archeological attractions outside the city of Luxor are the ancient temples of Karnak and Luxor which sit about 2 miles apart along the Nile river. 

The Temple of Karnak and Open Air Museum

The Columns of the Great Hypostyle Hall

The second most visited site in Egypt is one of Egypt’s largest surviving temples. Originally designed as the main religious site of the kingdom during the Middle Kingdom period (2030 to 1650 B.C) of Pharaonic rule dedicated to the Egyptian god Amun – Re saw continuous building well into the Ptolemaic period from 305 – 30 BC. 

Various monuments were added by the many Pharaohs (approximately 30) who ruled through the Middle Kingdom, during the Roman era, the New Kingdom and into the Ptolemaic period of rule making it one of the largest archaeological sites in Egypt. Filled with substantially decorated courts, temples, pylons and shrines that tell the stories of religion, coronations and military campaigns that occurred throughout the time of construction. 

With so many sites to see, one of the key sites is the Great Hypostyle Hall which is a 50,000 square foot area filled with 134 columns from 33 – 69 feet tall, an archaeological feat for construction of the time. Also worth visiting is the Open Air Museum, an archaeological museum featuring reconstructed structures from the various periods. 

Recommendation: Schedule time for the evening Sound and Light show that takes you on a visual journey through the history of the Karnak Temple region. 

The Temple of Luxor

The Luxor Temple Complex along the Nile River

The second of the primary ancient temples, was constructed from sandstone between 1500 – 1200 BC. Under commissions by the Pharaohs Amenhotep III and Ramses the Great (II) as a dedication to the Ka (original dynasty of Pharaoh gods) and the fertility god Amen was used for the annual Opet festival which paid tribute to the royals of Egypt. 

It is assumed that this was where the Pharaohs were crowned. Here you will find the chapels of the Amenhotep, Ramses II, Tutankhamun and Alexander the Great along with shrines that can be found between the Temples of Luxor and Karnak. During the Roman rule of Egypt, The Temple of Luxor was used as the center of Roman government. In the 11th century AD, a mosque was built on top of the temple, Abu al-Haggag, which is still active today.   

Tip: For a less crowded and amazing additional temple experience, visit again at sunset or in the evening to walk the grounds of the Luxor Temple when the ruins are lit up. 

Luxor Temple at Night

Luxor Museum

Between the two temples along the Nile river, an archaeological museum filled with antiquities from the graves of Tutankhamun, statues that were found within the Luxor Temple and the mummies of Ramesses I and Ahmose I. 

West Bank – 

As if the East Bank did not offer enough ancient Egyptian experience, the West Bank offers a deeper dive into the ancient Egyptian culture filled with Pharaonic death temples and decorated tombs. 

The Colossi of the Memnon

Former entrance to the mortuary of Amenhotep

The first site you will pass as you are headed along the main road will be the twin statues of Amenhotep III sitting facing the river Nile accompanied by statues of his wife and mother. Constructed of quartzite sandstone the 60 foot statues which are estimated to weigh approximately 720 tons each sit in ruins and are almost unrecognizable. 

Originally constructed to stand guard at his 85 acre mortuary temple which at the time of construction was considered one of the largest and most richly decorated in Ancient Egypt, the statues are some of the few remains of the original complex which eroded over time from river flooding by the nearby Nile. 

Medinet Habu 

Temple mortuary of Ramesses III

Your next stop will be the temple of Ramesses III. One of the best preserved temples of the New Kingdom period, it’s location is directly across the river from the Temple of Luxor and originally the site of the temple of the god Amun, the god of creation and fertility.  

Ramesses III enclosed the Amun temple and built his memorial shrine within the complex. 75,000 square feet of shrine are decorated with script and scenes from Ramesses’ many military triumphs and festivals that were celebrated in his honor during his reign. 

Within the complex you will see large statues of Ramesses, large halls, courtyards and a church that was added during the Greco-Roman period. 

Valley of the Queens

Necropolis of Valley of the Queens

Just southwest of the temples of Medinet Habu, built into the cliffs is the necropolis of tombs of the royal family members. Here you will find 90 tombs of Egyptian queens, princes and high officials of the New Kingdom. 

Starting in the 19th Dynasty with Sitre, wife of Ramesses I, the Valley of the Queens became the traditional burial site and by early BC and AD, due to lack of space, tombs were being reused for nobles and mummified animal remains. 

Many of the tombs had been robbed and vandalized over the thousands of years that they sat abandoned, however in 1905, the tomb of Nefertari, wife of Ramesses II was discovered. Referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of Ancient Egypt”  it is considered the most beautiful tomb in Egypt. Commissioned by Ramesses II for his favorite wife, his love for her can be seen in the level of detail and vibrant colors used within the designs of the tomb.  

Still an active archaeological site, new discoveries are still being made and some tombs may be closed or inaccessible when visiting. 

The Ramesseum

Pillard hall of mortuary temple of Ramesses the Great

The mortuary temple of Ramesses the Great (II), known as the great warrior, is one of the largest temples of the New Kingdom era. Originally named the “Mansion of Millions of Years” for Ramesses dedication to Egypt as the most powerful and most celebrated ruler of Egypt, the complex is nothing short of a fantastic step into the ancient past. 

Featuring gateways and pillared halls filled with columns, sanctuaries and the remains of one of the largest statues in the world estimated to stand originally at 92 feet. All that is left is 62’ of his base and torso. Unlike other mortuaries, the shrine features rising floors and drop ceilings symbolizing the rise of Egypt under Ramesses power. 

Also within the complex are temples dedicated to Ramesses mother and first wife Nefertari and a temple palace. One of the highlights of visiting is the preserved painted ceiling and walls decorated with scenes of his military successes and his representation as a god of Egypt. 

Valley of the Nobles

As you journey on you will see scattered through the hills the tombs of the high nobles who assisted and guided the royals during the Old and New Kingdoms and through the Golden age of Thebes when it was the most powerful city in Greece. 

Stopping in to explore some of these lesser acknowledged tombs will offer a unique experience into the history and culture of the times. Each chapel of the tomb is decorated with scenes telling the stories of its owners and also sharing details into the lives of the ancient Egyptians. 

Valley of the Kings

Valley of the Kings

Your final leg of your journey and one the more  popular destinations of Luxor will take you to the inland location where you will find hidden within the valley walls 63 tombs of the New Kingdom (1550 – 1070 BC) pharaohs and their royal family members.  

Divided into the East Valley and the West Valley, your primary focus will be the East Valley which has many available tombs for public visiting. Each tomb within the Valley has a KV number which means Kings Valley and then the order for which the tombs were opened by archaeologists. 

Some of the tombs that may be accessible for visiting are all the Ramesses with the exception of Ramesses II who has a separate tomb closer to the river (see Ramesseum above) and Ramesses the IIX whose tomb has yet to be identified. As well other New Kingdom pharaohs with the most well known being the boy pharoah, Tutankhamun. The tombs are carved into the cliffs with shafts that lead underground into the burial chambers, decorated with images, religious text and their supposed journies into the afterlife. 

Although Tutankhamen is the most well known of the pharaohs it is worth knowing that his tomb has the least to see as most of the tomb has been relocated to Cairo. 

Note that not all tombs may not be open at the same time, some are periodically closed for renovation and the more popular tombs like Tutankhamen, Ramesses VI require an additional ticket for entry. The area is still a live archaeological site and subject to closure for additional discovery, it is worth checking before arrival to avoid disappointment.  

Visiting the Pyramids of Giza

Egypt offers many rewarding experiences and definitely needs to be top of the list with a visit to Cairo to see the Sphinx and the pyramids of Giza. But also a visit to Luxor and both banks of the Nile needs to be part of the itinerary. Expect to spend at least 3 full days to explore all of the sites and experiences mentioned above.

A tour guide is highly recommended for the most enjoyment and best understanding of the sites you are visiting. Our favorite way to explore ancient and modern Egypt is by river cruise to travel in luxury with every detail thoughtfully designed for a one of a kind experience of both ancient and modern Egypt. 

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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
 
 

Secret Lisbon

As one of the oldest cities in the world, Lisbon is located on the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula where the Atlantic Coast meets the Tagus River is the ninth most visited of Southern European cities. With a colorful history that includes Roman, German & Moorish influences Lisbon offers many reasons to visit. 

Lisbon is Portugal’s hilly, coastal capital city. The old cities’ pastel buildings, Roman ruins, Moor Castles, stunning views, the local Atlantic beaches, beautiful weather, fantastic gastronomy, the Fado Houses of the Bairrio District and to top it all off, the active nightlife. As a destination she already has so much to offer.  

You can easily spend your day visiting the menu of historic and storied castles, exploring the vibrant local markets, riding the historic trolley or visiting the many museums. But if you are looking for some of the Lisbon’s “Secret” visits, here are 10 of our top lesser known worth seeing recommendations, Read on:

Misteiro dos Jeronimos 

Formally known as the Royal Monastery of Saint Mary Belem, was built beginning in the early 15th Century by King Manuel I, the building process took 100 years, which can be seen in the detail of the facility which was inhabited as an active religious complex until the 19th Century. 

It is not surprising that the monastery is Internationally recognized for the structure, the cloisters, the refectory and the library which can all still be seen today. The Manueline rich architecture and decor (as it is referred from the influences of King Manuel I), is seen throughout the complex and is considered both one of the most fantastic Portuguese churches and also one of Europe’s most notable. 

The site is noted for her design encompassing ornamental columns, statues and facade paintings, but the magnificent church hall and the silver ornamental tabernacle are one of the most beautiful in Europe. A Portuguese national monument and also a UNESCO World Heritage site, the monastery can be found in Lisbon’s historical sea-faring, Belem District overlooking the River Tagus. 

Padrao Dos Descobrimentos

The Monument of the Discoveries also located in the Belem District of Lisbon is a symbol of the historical achievements of Portugal’s Age of Existence throughout her lifetime. Originally designed in the 1940’s for the Portuguese World exhibition, as a temporary display, the 184 foot statue was reconstructed in 1960 as a permanent memorial for the anniversary of the death of Portugal’s most notable contributor and main statue, Prince Henry the Navigator who was instrumental in the maritime discoveries and expansion of Portugal throughout the world.  

The location of the structure is of important significance for its location where the River Tagus meets the Atlantic Ocean. This is the location where many ships departed during the 15th and 16th Centuries during Portugal’s Age of Discovery when expansion was key. 

The two sided display features 33 statues helmed by Prince Henry the Navigator holding a ship with others each holding an identifying artifact signifying their contributions to Portuguese exploration. You will find notable characters like Ferdinand Magellan who was the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe holding the world and Vasco da Gama holding a sword, who discovered the sea route to India among other explorers, sea captains, missionaries, writers, poets, royals, pilots and navigators who were all dedicated to the Portuguese act of discovery. 

From the middle of the monument visitors can climb steps to a platform with views of the river and the area that surrounds you. Below the statue a cultural museum was designed featuring an exhibition hall and auditorium. 

Alfama

One of the highlights of visiting Lisbon is walking the medieval neighborhood streets and alleys of the historical districts. The Barrio Alto is the most notable for its traditional Fado quarter but seeing the town of Alfama is a must for the full Lisbon experience. Like a small village within the larger Lisbon city center Alfama offers many opportunities for snapping photos of the colorful homes, the Lisbon Cathedral, small city squares and narrow hilly streets that back up to the picturesque area where the Tagus River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. 

Originally settled by the Romans, Alfama played an important role as both the old Jewish Quarter and as a central town originally designed by the Moors. Set below St. George castle which looms above, many of the buildings have been repurposed as hotels and gentrified apartments. 

The magic of visiting the area is to see the 11th century Castelo de S. Jorge and the beautiful views from above before aimlessly wandering the streets indulging in the views, visiting the Lisbon Cathedral and immersing in the local culture of the residents who live here. 

Parque Eduardo VII 

Considered Lisbon’s “central park” the 64 acre location offers so much more than beautiful green space to stretch out and relax in the perfect Portuguese weather. 

Well located in Lisbon’s city center the park stretches from the popular shopping boulevard of  Avenida da Liberdade down to Pombal Square with a roundabout featuring the statue of the 1st Marquis of Pombal that connects many of Lisbon’s busiest thoroughfares. 

One of the highest points in central Lisbon, the top of the park features panoramic views of the city. The cultured hedge maze attracts visitors to lounge in its shade while having a picnic or reading a book. However there are many opportunities for enjoying the shade from one of the benches or picnic tables found throughout the park. 

If you are traveling with young children, the park offers playgrounds, a pool and has a sports complex that is popular with the locals. You will also find the Estufa Fria a 3 ½ acre greenhouse with three separate gardens to explore and further enjoy the outdoors.  

Miradouro da Senhora do Monte

View from Our Lady of the Hill Church

Our Lady of the Hill church offers some of the highest panoramic perspective with a birds eye view across central Lisbon, the Castelo (São Jorge Castle) in the distance, the Bairro Alto historic district below, the Ponte de 25 Abril Bridge and the Tagus River Estuary.  

Located in the Graca neighborhood, the church is just outside the central Lisbon area, adjacent to a popular viewpoint, the Miradouro da Graça, the church is a lesser known location to also enjoy the sites surrounded by trees and a less bustling area filled with tourists. 

The chapel is also worth a visit. Dating back to the 12th century, the original structure was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake and rebuilt in the late 1700’s. 

Tip: The best time to visit is just before sunset to see the glow of the sky upon the city or visit the Miradouro da Graça at night to see the city come alive with lights. 

Azulezhu (Azuelejo)

One of the popular attractions to Lisbon for those fascinated with architecture is the many Azulezhu designs scattered throughout the city. An iconic part of the culture, the tin-glazed ceramic tile works tell the history and stories behind the capital city of Portugal. 

Azulezhu is the proper name for the tiles the Portuguese used and continue to use among the walls of the faces of  their buildings. Originally brought to Lisbon by the Moors to function as assistance with temperature control of the warm Portuguese summer, the design was later modified to create traditional Portuguese patterns to tell stories and became an ornamental art and traditional decor. Azulejos are commonly spotted within churches and palaces throughout the region but it is also not uncommon to see them on apartment buildings, shops, restaurants, bars and even public buildings. 

Unfortunately it has become common for vandals to steal tiles and sell them on the black market to unknowing tourists and well knowing collectors. It is estimated that about 25% of the original tiles within the city were stolen and sold over 20 years between 1980 and 2000. So in 2007 a protection group was formed and in 2013 it became illegal to demolish buildings featuring them without protective measures first taken. 

Many of the tiles that have been salvaged can be viewed at the National Tile Museum that will take you on a journey through Lisbon’s history through Azulezhu tiles. 

Arco da Rua Agusta 

The triumphal arch building was constructed after the 1755 earthquake that resulted in a tsunami and fire destroying much of the downtown area of Lisbon. Formally known as the Arco Triunfal da Rua Augusta, it welcomes you into the commercial waterfront area. 

Designed to symbolize the strength and rebuilding of the city of Lisbon after the devastating event. The stone building features six columns and is decorated with statues of some of Lisbon’s well known historical personalities. 

Standing at over 135 feet from the top of the arch to the bottom of the columns, the statues above the arch representing Glory, Valor and Genius each stand approximately 23 feet tall to coincide with the size of the arch. An elevator from the arch transports you to the top for 360 degree views of the downtown area.  

Located along one of Lisbon’s busiest streets, the arch leads from the Rua Agusta as an entrance to the Praça do Comércio pedestrian waterfront area that faces the Targus River, filled with cafe’s, shops, restaurants and lots of local artists and entertainers. 

Campo Pequeno Bullring

Located in the historical center of Baixa in a district named Campo Pegueno which means small field. Constructed in 1890 influenced by Moorish design and the original bullring of Madrid, Spain. The building stands as the official home of Portuguese bullfighting. 

The North African inspired circular building located at Campo Pequeno Square was created with brick featuring octagonal towers topped with domes and turrets at the main entrance. The inside of the arena is covered with sand, traditional to a bullfighting ring. 

Bullfighting season lasts from Easter to summer. During the off season the facility is used as a concert venue. Refurbished in 2006, an entertainment center was added to also feature an underground area filled with shops, restaurants and a movie theatre. 

Because slaughtering the bulls was deemed inhumane by King Miguel during his reign between 1828 – 1834, Portuguese bulls are not killed at the end of the fight, as they are in Spain keeping the sport enjoyable for all who participate.

Cristo Rei

You might recognize this monumental statue as similar to the Christ the Redeemer statue that stands overlooking the Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. That is because it was inspired by the original after the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon visited the monument. 

Built in 1959 on a hilltop 133 feet above Lisbon in Almada, the cement shrine is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ and similarly to the Redeemer in Rio, overlooks the city of Lisbon. Standing 630 feet above the River Tagus, the significance of the statue was to give thanks for Portugal being spared from the effects of the Great World War. 

The 92 foot monument itself stands on a 269 foot high pedestal with its arms extended, similar to the original, in the form of a cross facing the city of Lisbon. The pedestal contains four arches that are each positioned in the directions of a compass rose. 

On the 25th anniversary of the monument, the area was refurbished and a sanctuary and visitor center was added. The Chapel of our Lady of Peace features a rectory and a chapel and the visitor center offers exhibition galleries among administrative and meeting rooms. At the top of the pedestal is an observation deck with a not to be missed 360 degree view of Lisbon and the 25 de Abril Bridge over the Tagus River. 

Setúbal

Views of Arrábida Natural Park

Known as the city facing the sea, Setúbal is a coastal town located just 40 minutes south of the city of Lisbon in southern Lisboa. A historic area dating back to before the Roman occupation features a historic center of  Baroque churches within a busy coastal town, the area is also well visited for the beautiful scenery and its beaches. 

Located on the Setúbal Peninsula the region offers a bustling downtown area filled with  squares imbued with fountains and gardens surrounded by shops and restaurants offering the latest catch from the fisherman whose boats line the large harbor that spend their days fishing the area. The town is filled with many locations to relax with a glass of Setúbal celebrated locally grown moscatel wine and people watch the locals, the tourists and the street artists who are fighting for their attention. 

Another reason that visitors come to the region is for Arrábida Natural Park. Just a five minute drive from the town of Setúbal, offers a mountainous area overlooking the sea. The mediteranean climate provides 27 thousand acres of preserved beauty deeper into the peninsula with fabulous views of the clear waters below. Hiking the protected area you may spot one of the many local species of mink or fox or see eagles flying above searching for their next meal. 

Within Arrábida Park you will also find a protected marine area popular for scuba diving with beautiful untouched beaches. Praia de Galapinhos beach is a remote beach 15 minutes west along the coast from the town of Setúbal that is considered one of the best beaches in Europe and not to be missed if you are looking for a beach day.  Further along the coastal road nearby Praia do Portinho da Arrábida is a quaint tiny coastal town with a beach and another great spot to stop to grab lunch and relax.

Tip: The Lisboa card will provide all inclusive access to many of the above named sites.

While a day will give you the highlights of the Lisbon region, if you want to see all of the above, at least three days are recommended to fully immerse in the area. One of our favorite ways to explore Lisbon is pre a 7 night cruise of the Douro river from Porto, Portugal. 

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Finding Adventure at Victoria Falls in Africa

Despite the negative press that South Africa is receiving right now from the Covid-19 variant, when travel is safe, Africa is one of the most fabulous travel destinations for both the casual tourist and the adventurous. 

Victoria Falls during dry season

Both awe-inspiring and the largest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls happens to be located on one of the most alluring continents in the world, Africa. One of the seven natural wonders of the world is located along the Zambezi River at the border of the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe where lies the majestic site that many aspire to visiting on their travel bucket lists. 

Named by Scottish explorer David Livingstone in 1855 after Queen Victoria, the almost 1 ½ mile basalt cliffs form the falls where water from the Zambezi river plummet over the edge and into the gorge some 300 feet below. The power of the falls can be seen from 30 miles away, heard from 25 miles away and the mists can be felt as high as 430 yards from the falling water. 

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, on average 500,000,000 liters of water flow when the water levels peak at the end of the rainy season in late March or early April. Alternatively the falls will reach their lowest points in the fall during the dry period when it is even possible to walk through specific points of the falls.  

Victoria Falls Lookout Bridge

Surrounded by rainforest, another basalt cliff faces the Main falls with a path through heavy spray  offering exceptional views of the falls. Another option for viewing, is from the Knife-Edge Bridge for panoramic views of the Main falls and the Boiling Pot area where the river switches down the Batoka Gorge. For the more weary, views from Livingstone Island during the dry season or the Falls Bridge that crosses over the Zambezia provide panoramic views. 

Depending on the time of year that you visit, after seeing the beauty and power of Victoria Falls, there are many options for immersing yourself with the area finding adventure at and around Victoria Falls. We recommend that you hire a local guide as some of these experiences can be dangerous for those not familiar with the area. Not all adventures require physical activity, but each offers the opportunity for an adventure you will remember forever:

Flight of Angels

Regardless if it is during the peak flood period when the falls are at their highest or dry season when it’s at its lowest, flying over Victoria Falls is one of the most astounding and most personal ways for seeing the falls from an angle most do not have the opportunity to.

From the windows of a small prop plane, follow the Zambezi river to the gorges that form into the massive magnificent Victoria Falls offering panoramic instagram worthy photos and an unforgettable experience. Other flight options are by helicopter to get you even closer to the action, also flying over the Batoka Gorge and Mosi-oa-Tunya National park. 

Your flight experience usually ends with a DVD of your 15 – 30 minute flight as a souvenir to take home and share your experience with others. 

Victoria Falls from the air

Swim in the Devil’s Pool

Close to Victoria Falls, rock pools have formed and the most popular for its location is Devil’s Pool. Located near Livingstone Island at the edge of the falls with a sheer 325 foot drop, the site provides the heart-pumping exhilaration of a natural infinity pool looking over the side of the falls. 

The most active part of this experience is the climb down to the Zambezi river and swim across the pool. Unless you are the fearless type who jumps full throttle into the raging waters of the pool from above. Regardless, the thrill that you will get from the view at the edge and feeling the force of the river flowing over the falls providing an invigoration and energy that you will not soon forget. 

Devil’s pool is seasonally accessible depending on the water levels. Access to the pool can be dangerous and it is highly recommended that a guide be hired for the safest experience. 

Swim below the Falls

Another unique experience is to swim the rock pools located below the falls to view the basalt cliffs as the water cascades above you. 

A more active experience involves walking the Batoka Gorge to the river where inflatable rafts and a guide await you to paddle to a location near Victoria Falls for some unique and amazing views. Once your rafts arrive at the rock pools below the falls, you can enjoy some downtime swimming and enjoying the waters that surround you. 

Although more physically demanding, this 3 hour or so guided experience allows you to immerse with the geology of the region as you walk over the rocks and interact directly with the river before walking back up the gorge at the end of your tour. 

Kayakers and Rafters on the Zambezi River

Kayak or White Water raft the rapids of the Zambezi River

From the top of Batoka Gorge, an experienced white water guide will fit you with a paddle, helmet and life jacket before leading you down the 450 – 800 feet to the river to board your kayak or raft boat. Your guide will then steer you through the rapids and direct you for safety with the ultimate enjoyment. 

Although no previous experience is required, this is an encounter for those who are both physically able and mentally prepared for this type of adventure. Other requirements may exist as determined by your tour provider.

Kayaking is usually a full day experience offering breakfast at the top of the gorge and picnic lunch as a final reward for your day’s activities. White water rafting offers a half or full day or for the active adventurous type, enjoy the “float of angels” taking a full day on the Zambezi followed by an overnight in a camp deep within the Batoka Gorge to wake up and take on another full day of a roller coaster of rapids. 

The best time for rafting all 23 rapids is during the drier season from early summer through early winter. 

Victoria Falls is but one of the many Africa experiences that adventurists venture to the farest regions of the earth for. Other exciting journeys await you with safaris within Tanzania and Botswana and spending time at the beautiful beaches and winelands of South Africa’s Cape’s rugged coast.  

Coastline of South African Cape

With so much to see, how do you explore these regions seamlessly and enjoyably? Imagine an experience that combines all of the experiences in a 10 – 21 day African experience. Start your journey on land combined with four nights on a small private luxury African boat drifting along the river all the while having an up-close wildlife experience before heading back on land for more time to explore Victoria Falls, the villages and unique highlights of the region.

Plan now for travel in 2022 and beyond. For more information on the safest and most intimate ways to explore Africa with river cruising visit our webpage.

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How to “actively” seek experience in Austria’s Wachau Valley?

The Danube river is one of the longest rivers in Europe, second longest to be exact after the Volta river. The traditional trade route on the Danube through Europe dates back thousands of years. The Danube starts in Central Europe and travels through Eastern Europe where it empties into the Black Sea. 

Durnstein in the Wachau Valley

As a UNESCO nature site, Wachau Valley offers active opportunities to explore the river, the castles, monasteries, ruins, small cafes, wine villages and exceptional scenery with active experiences;

Biking the Danube Cycle Path –

Possibly the most scenic biking trail in Europe, the Danube Cycle path begins in the Black Forest region of Donaueschingen, Germany and travels a total of 745 miles through Austria and Slovakia along the Danube all the way to Budapest in Hungary. It’s the 260 miles through the Austrian Lower Danube that offers the top scenery of the UNESCO landscape and world class wine region. 

From the path as you travel from start to finish, you pass mountains rising out of the river with historical monuments and ruins atop them, forested slopes with the rooftops of old villages peaking through and a patchwork of vineyards that wind through the landscape. Riding from Melk you travel through the towns of Aggsbach, Oberansdorf, before crossing the Danube to pass through Spitz, Weissenkirchen and Durnstein and then reaching your final destination of Krems. Each leg offers historical architecture dating back to the Middle Ages, unique geographical formations, medieval estates and churches that will entice you to visit and inspire you to pedal on.

Danube Cycle Path

Whether traveling along the manicured bike path, or on the cobblestone streets of the villages there are many spots to stop to rest, grab a bite to eat or just enjoy the scenic beauty that surrounds you. 

There are many options for bicycle tours; from fully guided cruisers to e-bikes or self guided with use of public bike rental systems that all allow you time to explore the regions as you reach them. Guided tours generally include visits to some of the local vineyards with cellar tours and wine tastings. 

Kayaking the Danube –

The Ruins of Durnstein Castle

A popular mode of transportation during the warmer summer months, kayakers set out to enjoy the scenic nature of the area while also cooling off with some time on the water, paddling for 25 miles between the cities of Melk and Krems through the postcard worthy Wachau Valley. 

Seeing the sites of the ancient relics, riverside villages and stopping at some of the river beaches for a quick swim are usually rewarded with a stop at one of the local vineyards for a tour and tasting of local Gruner Veltliner and/or Riesling wines. 

Offered in small group tours or as private excursions, an experienced guide will safely lead you along one of Europe’s busiest waterways on an intimate and yet rewarding river experience. With views of the river, from the river and the panoramic views above the river you will accomplish what most travelers do not get the opportunity to experience. 

Hike the Wachau World Heritage trail – 

Lastly, an active opportunity that the Lower Austria region offers is scenic trails through the Danube Valley. Connecting 15 separate municipalities of the Wachau Valley with historical paths that have been connected together to form 112 miles of opportunities to explore ruins, castles, fortresses, abbey’s, vineyards and apricot orchards that all make up this fantastic UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Hiking through the Vineyards

The trail is broken up into legs that can be hiked individually or in larger segments. With use of the river ferry, even the novice hiker can navigate their way throughout the region. 

Offering both remote trails and beautifully scenic views along the river, the landscape will both surprise and inspire you. Ranging from easy to medium in intensity, and from 4 ⅓ miles to 10 ½ mile segments. Some of the top hiking trails are the 6 ½ to 10 mile segments within the Wachau Valley. 

Trail 01, Krems to Durnstein: the easy rated 7 ½ mile trail starts at the Gozzoburg Castle in the medieval city of Krems and travels through the nearby vineyards of Krems and Stein into the nature preserves before reaching the rock and forested area below the ruins of Durnstein Castle. Then up the final 20 min leg of the trail, offering not just a unique experience to explore the almost 900 year old castle associated with the legend of Richard the Lionhearted, but offering some of the most amazing views of the Wachau Valley and surrounding vineyards.

View from Durnstein Castle

Trail 03, Weissenkirchen to Spitz: a medium rated 6 mile trail takes you through the largest area of vineyards in the Wachau Valley. These most notable terraced vineyards of the region lay high above the Danube river and provide beautiful views making this an exceptional experience. You will pass through woods and rocky landscapes before arriving into the wine village of Spitz where you can reap the rewards of your journey with a glass of local wine at one of the many village cafes, restaurants or taverns. 

Terraced Vineyards view

Not a very vast region but definitely one that is worth exploring. Did you know the best way to experience the Danube is by river cruise. Learn more about river cruising from our website and actively enjoy the Wachau Valley among central Europe’s best and most beautiful medieval cities. 

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How to find luxury at the beaches of Egypt

Traveling to Egypt is a popular location for the adventurist looking for an archeological journey into the cradle of civilization. But what many are finding is that Egypt has so much more to offer then it’s historical sightseeing. Egypt’s Red Sea is an inlet that lies between Asia and Africa offering relaxing beach coastline and water activities while also offering the Arabic desert experience one comes to expect from visiting Egypt. 

The Red Sea Riviera is a popular beach destination within Israel that many Europeans flock to during the winter for some warm beach vacations. But lesser known Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula became a popular diving destination starting back in the 1950’s with expeditions by the likes of known divers like Jacques Cousteau. Fast forward 70 years, the area now draws visitors to the many resort areas along the Red Sea coastline while also offering options for water sport activities in addition to soaking up the sun with a beach vacation.

If you want to know more about the beach regions of Egypt we invite you to read on:

Sharm el-Sheikh

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One of the most well known beach destinations in Egypt, a beach town with Naama Bay on the Sinai Peninsula. One of the original diving spots within Egypt for the many coral reefs and Ras Mohammed National Park which offers world-class diving. Located within the Gulf of Aqaba, Sharm el-Sheikh offers turquoise blue ocean views of the Saudi Arabian mountains and coastline in the distance across the gulf.

If diving is not your jam, Ras Um Sid reef also offers snorkelers the opportunity to explore the corals and spot rainbow colored reef fish at the surface. The draw to the area is definitely the resort area of Sharm el-Sheikh with its sandy beaches and modern luxury resorts with many options for restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Formerly occupied by Israel from 1967 to 1982 who built up the area, the venture was successfully continued by Egypt once they resumed control of the region. 

Regardless of your interest in visiting, the Sharm el-Sheikh area is filled with sun, beach and water activities and you won’t want to miss the sunsets over the gulf.   

El Gouna

North of the town of Hurghada built along the shore and on small islands is the beach resort area of El Gouna. Built as a family-friendly vacation spot on Egypt’s eastern coast with many options for large and luxury resort accommodations offering many amenities and spas. 

The draw to this area is the resort town and the marina with high-end shops, restaurants, bars and the multitude of additional activities that are available for the active traveler. A popular area for watersports, kayaking, paddleboarding and waterskiing. You can also find many other fun activities like paragliding, horseback riding, golfing and ATVing for a break from the beach. 

El Gouna is filled with canals and lagoons offering beautiful seascape sites. The most popular activity in the area is kiteboarding which can be seen off the long and wide Mangroovy Beach area and is just as popular for watching as it is for participating. Zeytouna Beach offers white sand beaches and a jetty with coral reefs and great snorkeling opportunities. 

Many Egyptians have been flocking to the area for years for luxury vacations. So whether looking for luxurious amenities to relax and unwind or an activity filled vacation, El Gouna can offer a little bit of everything. 

Soma Bay

An hour south of the main coastal town of Hurghada, where you will find an international airport, is the beach town of Soma Bay. Surrounded by water on 3 sides and the largest spa  facilities in Egypt, makes this a playground for beach goers and resort vacationers.

Egypt’s very exclusive beaches can be found along the strip of white sands of Soma Bay with all-inclusive luxury resorts and 365 days of sunshine. Formerly a Egyptian military location. The peninsula is popular with wealthy Europeans who escape the cool winters for luxurious beach vacations. 

As a newer beach area, the entire town consists of resorts surrounded by the ocean and being all inclusive there are many activities available within the resorts with water sports, golfing, entertainment and beach activities. 

However for divers or snorkelers, the reefs nearby offer some of the best opportunities for enthusiasts. As a new and upcoming area, Soma Bay is constantly being developed and more opportunities for modern amenity resorts continue to pop up. 

Just 3.5 hours from the city of Luxor makes Soma Bay an easy reach for travelers exploring the popular sites of the Egyptian ancient civilizations for post travel relaxation or side trips from a beach vacation. 

Marsa Alam 

A lesser known vacation destination area located in the most southern part of Egypt’s Red Sea coastline has been a well known diving spot for years. Filled with coral reefs and beautiful beaches, as the Red Sea coastline has increased in popularity, Marsa Alam has become the newest strip of hotels to the beach coast of Egypt. 

Offering an international airport makes it easy to reach and filled with all-inclusive and five star resorts makes the area exclusive for visitors featuring private beaches, resort pools, family oriented activities and spas. 

Abu Dabab beach offers beautiful reefs filled with colorful corals and more unique sealife. Turtles, crocodile fish and octopus with beautiful white sand beaches attract vacationers looking for diving, snorkeling and beach vacations rolled into one. 

Some of the nearby popular diving areas that attract divers are Elphinstone filled with underwater fauna & sealife, Dolphin House, Shaab Samadai for the large amount of dolphin in the area and Fury Shoals which provides coral gardens, dolphin and various wrecks to explore. 

For land experiences, the Emerald Mines of the Roman and Ptolemaic period of rule are nearby as is the Temple of Seti built by Seti, the son of Ramses I and father of Ramses II. The biggest highlight of the area is taking an Egyptian Safari, guided tours by quad or camel to some of the highlights of the interior desert region. 

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Visiting Egypt for the top explorations of the region is a must, but adding extra time at the beaches creates a relaxing add on to an unforgettable bucket list vacation. 

The highlights of Egypt can be seen on a 10 night river cruise itinerary from Cairo through Luxor and back. Find out more about a Nile river cruising experience.

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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
 
 

Celebrate the New Year in Spain

The current climate of the world may keep us from being with that special someone for New Years, this year. The out with the old and in with the new which took us from 2020 into 2021 was a highly anticipated and desired change for most of the world. And although our new years eve may have looked very different this year, there is much to look forward to in the future. 

Many countries have traditions, rituals and superstitions that they practice to assure themselves healthy and prosperous years. Here in the United States it is customary to make resolutions and to share a kiss at midnight. Other countries may have a traditional item that they consume like in the Netherlands where they eat deep fried dough. Other countries have more unique traditions like in Brazil they throw white flowers into the ocean, Greece they hang onions on their doorways, New Years eve masses are held in cemeteries instead of churches in the country of  Chile and in Denmark they throw dishware at their friends and neighbors’ front doors. 

Spain though has many rituals that are practiced throughout the country and take New Years Eve very seriously just as they do their Christmas celebrations and post New Years. New Years in Spain is referred to as Noche Vieja, old night and reflects the culture of the Spanish people. 

Some of the fun New Years traditions you will find within Spain are;

Red Underwear

Yes you read that correctly, if you are looking for love in the upcoming new year, the Spanish ritual of wearing red underwear is a popular one. It has been said that the underwear must have been a gift and you are required to give them away at the end of the night, for Cupid to target you in the upcoming year. 

Celebrating in the Plaza Central

The locals head to the central square of their towns or villages that is centered around a a large clock on the post office tower. The main square in Spain is Puerta del Sol in Madrid which can be compared to New York’s Times Square where thousands gather to celebrate the arrival of a new year and their annual consumption of twelve grapes. Post midnight, the squares will be filled with Cava (sparkling) wine corks popping, confetti, noisemakers and streamers with revelers celebrating the new year. 

Doce Uvas (Eating 12 Grapes)

The most well known tradition requires that when the main clocks of Spain strike midnight, as each chime rings, celebrators swallow one grape before the next chime consuming a total of 12 grapes before the clock stops ringing. This tradition brings happiness, prosperity and good luck for each of the next twelve months of the year, with one grape bringing one month of luck in the upcoming year. The site of thousands of Spaniards stuffing grapes into their mouths and swallowing them whole is sure to be quite a site in itself and worth traveling to Spain to celebrate the Noche Vieja. But we are not done yet with the celebration. 

Cava 

The traditional Spanish sparkling wine is a popular tool for celebrating ringing in the new year, similarly to other parts of the world. What makes this tradition unique is that to bring fortune in the new year, it is custom to place gold items into the glass before midnight and the entire glass of cava must be consumed and the gold item retrieved. Many married couples will place their wedding rings in their glass as a symbol of fidelity and you can probably guess what is the most popular night for wedding proposals in Spain. 

Right Foot

It is believed that if you start off the New Year on the right foot, you will have a year of prosperity. That means literally using your right foot. It is conflicting based on who you ask, but some believe that you must step foot into your home after returning from your celebration while others have said that upon leaving your house on New Year’s day, your first step should be with your right foot. We guess either way, it is a step in the right direction. 

Foods:

Roscon de los Reyes (Twelfth Night Bread) is a popular New Year’s dessert. A circular cake, covered in candied fruit with a hidden gift placed into the cake. Similar to a Mardi Gras King Cake, the person who gets the surprise is crowned king or queen for the night. 

Churros are a customary treat to start the day on New Years enjoyed with hot chocolate. 

Lentil soup is a common Spanish tradition to eat on New Year’s day. The round shape of each lentil symbolizes a coin and enjoying a bowl of the coin soup will bring you wealth in the upcoming year. 

Puerta del Sol clock in Madrid

In Madrid, the evening usually starts with dinner amongst family and friends consisting of seafood or lamb before heading out to the Puerto del Sol or gathering together around their televisions to watch the clock strike midnight and enjoy their 12 grapes. Once the clock strikes midnight and the cheering and celebrating is over, the older members will head home while the all-nighters will head to a local club where the already active Madrid nightlife is ten fold a regular weekend and they dance into the wee hours of the morning when they can enjoy their hot chocolate and churros right out of the fryer. 

Magic Fountain in the Placa d’Espanya

In Barcelona, also family oriented, celebrations start with traditional dinners before heading out to the Gothic clubs or for a local countdown at the Magic Fountain in the Plaça d’Espanya at Montjuïc. All celebrations will feature the traditional grape eating with fireworks and Cava. Each of Barcelona’s ten districts set off twelve palm tree fireworks that coincide with the twelve chimes of the clock that precede a larger firework show from specific locations featuring larger more elaborate showings.  Post ringing in the New Year it is customary to continue to celebrate at local fiestas throughout the city with flamenco dancing, costumed guests and popular music, like the one hosted at the Spanish Village, Poble Espanyol.

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

In Bilbao, the capital of the Basque region, the festivities start early on the 31st with a fun run like the Rekalde San Silvestre race which passes through the center of town or the popular New Years Eve day tradition to hike to the Gorbea Cross.  Parties begin in the afternoon in the Esplanade’s of some of the popular buildings within the Casco Viejo. For formal evenings, special dinner menus are offered featuring la cena cotillón de Noche Vieja specials at the Michlin and popular restaurants throughout the city. If looking for a less formal evening celebrating the night will occur at one of the many popular Pinxto bars throughout the city. The evening ends with a large firework display along the River Nervion over the contemporary landmarks of Bilbao . New Years day an annual music concert is held at the Palacio Euskalduna Hall and a popular attraction for the Basque locals.  

The Spanish culture year round is based on food, drink, music and festivity and the Noche Vieja is yet another reason for the Spaniards to celebrate. Regardless of where you are in Spain, the streets are decorated and lit and the Spanish locals will be joyful and ready to welcome you to celebrate their many traditions and the new year with them. 

Now is the best time to plan your holiday travel for 2021. Contact us to get more information about celebrating in Spain in 2021/2022. 

Categories: Celebration Travel, Experience, Food, Travel, Travel Bucket List, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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