daytrips

Sintra, the land of Portuguese Castles

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Just a short train ride from Lisbon, the charming town of Sintra makes for a perfect day trip and a great way to escape the hustle-bustle of the city. Sintra itself is a small, charming little town but the main highlights are the castles in which the town and surrounding area is literally filled! It's like being in a fairytale and you don't even have to venture too far to experience it. If you've rented a car, the drive from Lisbon is only about 30min or it is about 45min by train. Just take the Linha de Sintra from Lisboa Rossio station to the end of the line which is Sintra station and you're there. Regardless of how you get there, it is a must see, so plan accordingly! Here is what you should see and do while you're there:

Palácio da Pena - A colorful palace adorned with azulejos and perched on a hill with wonderful views. Highly recommend purchasing tickets to see this amazing place. Perhaps THE highlight in all of Sintra and my absolute favorite.

Castelo dos Mouros - A moorish-style fortress with views of the sea. Also a popular one to visit and you feel like you've taken a step back in time to the days of knights in shining armor. 

Parque das Merendas - A lovely park full of trails through what feels like an enchanted forest. Forego the taxi to Pena Palace or the Moorish Castle and instead take these trails. Quite the little workout since it is mostly going uphill but not too rigorous. Enter the park from the street called Estrada da Pena.

Sintra Town - A charming little place with cobblestone streets and cute shops, restaurants and cafes. From the train station, about a 7-10min walk. Can get pretty lively and worth a stroll through. 

Queijadas da Sapa - What's a day in Portugal without having the local pastry? Lisbon may have pasteis de nata, but Sintra has these delectable cheesecake-like tarts. You can't go wrong with the traditional and almond flavors from Fabrica das Verdadeiras so be sure to stop in.

A full day in Sintra should be sufficient to see the highlights but if you want to see more than 2 castles, I'd recommend staying overnight in the lux but surprisingly moderately priced Ritz Carlton Penha Longa Resort located in an old royal monastery just outside town in the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais. Boa viagem!

The town of Sintra

The town of Sintra

City Hall of Sintra

City Hall of Sintra

Fonte dos Mouros

Fonte dos Mouros

Entrance

Entrance

Parque das Merendas

Parque das Merendas

Parque das Merendas

Parque das Merendas

The walk up to Pena Palace via Parque das Merendas

The walk up to Pena Palace via Parque das Merendas

Palácio da Pena

Palácio da Pena

View from Pena Palace...the clouds are crazy!

View from Pena Palace...the clouds are crazy!

Exploring the grounds of Pena Palace

Exploring the grounds of Pena Palace

Parque das Merendas

Parque das Merendas

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Path to the Palace

Path to the Palace

Entrance to Pena Palace...crazy detail!

Entrance to Pena Palace...crazy detail!

Views, Views, Views in Trentino

If you want a real change in scenery from the Italy you're used to (I mean I could go to Tuscany 1000x and never get sick of it but change is good), then may I suggest the South Tyrolean region of Trentino Alto-Adige located in Italy's alps, also known as the Dolomites. Located in northeastern Italy, this region borders Austria and Switzerland and sometimes has you fooled that you're actually in those countries! Many people speak German and as a matter of fact all signage is in German, Italian & English. The food is even more like that of Austria (strudel, yum!) but don't worry, you will still be able to find a dish of pasta. 

The capital city of this region is Trento, which is a lovely, medieval town to visit. It is pretty small in terms of Italian cities go but it's friendly and those mountains are a lovely backdrop to your aperitivo. In the fall it's not too busy, but I would imagine that things pick up a bit in winter, seeing as how this is a perfect jumping off point to explore & ski the Dolomites. Trento is well connected by smaller airports and train stations, but the closest major airport is Venice. So the next time you take a trip to La Serenissima, consider venturing off into the mountains for a little taste of something different! Plus, Trento hardly makes it on the tourist map making your stay an authentic one which deserves brownie points in my book.

You don't need much time in Trento to be able to see it and experience what it has to offer so a night or two should be enough unless you're looking for some extra relaxation or plan to do some skiing. There are plenty of boutique hotels, B&Bs and inns to choose from, none of which will break the bank. Our hotel, B&B Luxury Heart of Trento even had a jacuzzi on the balcony incase you needed to soak some sore muscles after a day on the slopes or if you were just looking to relax with the mountains in the background (btw, spas in this town seem to be as abundant as espresso!) TIP: Don't miss the Funivia Trento-Sardagna, which is a cable car/gondola that brings you from the city center of Trento up to the hilltop town of Sardagna for some sweeping views of the city below and the mountains in the distance.  

The medieval city of Trento

The medieval city of Trento

A must-do if you're visiting Trento is to take a day trip to nearby Bolzano which is a lively town located about 45min to an hour north. Bolzano is even further into the mountains and only an hour south of the Austrian border making it feel more Austrian than Italian (just look around and admire all of the chalets...all that's missing are some yodellers!) TIP: Don't miss the Funivia Soprabolzano, which is a cable car/gondola that brings you from Bolzano way up into the mountains to the tiny little town of Soprabolzano. Grab a coffee and homemade strudel at Trattoria Babsi before heading out on the Renon railway for some amazing views of the Dolomites. 

The streets of Bolzano

The streets of Bolzano

The quaint town of Soprabolzano

The quaint town of Soprabolzano

And lastly, here are some food & drink reccos for your hungry bellies. Enjoy!

Trento

Enoteca Il Libertino for a casual dinner

Ai Tre Garofani for a more upscale, modern Italian dinner

Bar Pasi & Duomo 34 for aperitivo and people watching

Casa del Cioccolato & Casa del Caffe for the best coffee and pastry

Cafe de la Paix for craft beer and live music in a cozy setting

Birreria PedavenaForst for pretzels & beer in a German brewhaus

Bolzano

Pasticceria Hofer for gourmet coffee and pastry

Piazza delle Erbe for some market snacks 

Bar Caffe da Té for some liquid courage in a small, local's hole-in-the-wall before getting on the funivia 

Panificio Hackhofer for some authentic pretzels

The view of Trento from the top of the funivia ride 

The view of Trento from the top of the funivia ride 

A quick, fun ride for some breathtaking views

A quick, fun ride for some breathtaking views

Piazza Duomo in Trento

Piazza Duomo in Trento

View of the Dolomites from Soprabolzano

View of the Dolomites from Soprabolzano

The Renon Railway

The Renon Railway

Austria in Italy

Austria in Italy

The Funivia Soprabolzano gondola arriving in Soprabolzano

The Funivia Soprabolzano gondola arriving in Soprabolzano

The valley below (taken from the gondola)

The valley below (taken from the gondola)

The craggy Dolomites

The craggy Dolomites

3 (other) Places to Visit in the Veneto

....that aren't Venice! Most people come to this region of Italy to only visit Venice and what a shame that is. Some of the best of the Veneto is located outside of the crowded city of Venice and only a short train ride away. And thankfully the tradition of cicchetti (Venetian tapas) lives on beyond the islands of Venice, so embrace it! Next time you're headed to the fish, I highly recommend making time for at least one, if not all of these to get a taste of what this wonderful region has to offer. 

1. Verona - If you're looking to ditch the crowds (and high prices) and explore a much smaller city, this is the place to go. It is where Romeo & Juliet took place and only an hour by high-speed train from Venice making this an easy day trip. Or if you can spare the time, which I highly recommend you do, you could opt to stay overnight at one of many B&Bs like the traditional Il Sogno di Giulietta, the romantic Suite di Giulietta or the more modern Opera Relais de Charme

Verona is very walkable and not very big so you can see a lot in a little time. Highlights include Casa di Giulietta (Juliet's house and famous balcony), the Arena (Verona's mini-Colosseum), Ponte di Castelvecchio (the fortified bridge), and Ponte Pietra (the Roman-arched bridge).

The food here is more meat-centric (than seafood, seeing as how it's more inland) and is absolutely delightful. Visitors will feel a sense of relief to find good food easily that won't break the bank, which is nothing like your experience in Venice! Here are some of my favorites:

Osteria del Bugiardo for simple but amazing dishes in a lovely, rustic space.

Antica Bottega del Vino for an enormous wine list (no, really) and the best Florentine steak outside of Tuscany.

Osteria La Mandorla for the quintessential neighborhood wine bar. Just look for the "Vini-Liquori" sign and the crowd congregating with wine glasses outside.

Osteria Caffe Monte Baldo for a spritz and some cicchetti. When it's nice, do it alfresco.

L'Arte del Gelato for some of the city's best ice cream.

Romeo, Romeo! O where art thou Romeo?

Romeo, Romeo! O where art thou Romeo?

2. Valpolicella - If you've had enough of the soave and prosecco and you're looking to change it up with some delicious red, add this place (and wine) to your list. Believe it or not folks, Tuscany isn't the only place for good red. Here you will find, like the name suggests, Valpolicella Classico which is your everyday wine, Valpolicella Ripasso (DOCG) which has been aged a bit longer giving it a bit more character, and Amarone delle Valpolicella which is the region's most prestigious wine made from dried grapes giving it a higher alcohol content.

There are many wineries in the area to choose from including the world-renown Azienda Agricola Giuseppe Quintarelli (known for its amarone), Azienda Agricola Valentina Cubi (known for its bio-organic wines), and Azienda Agricola Scriani Fumane (if you're looking for a place that's open on Sundays). As with most wineries, you will need a car to access these places but this area is only a short 30-min drive from Verona.

To soak up all the wine you'll be tasting, I highly recommend making a reservation at Enoteca della Valpolicella which is a restaurant located on a fully-functioning farm and vineyard. Everything on the menu is fresh and locally sourced from the farm whenever possible. Pasta is handmade each morning and the tagliatelle was some of the most delicate, thin ribbons of delight I've ever had. If they offer a chef's tasting, I highly recommend. It is an excellent way to taste some of the local dishes.

Enoteca della Valpolicella

Enoteca della Valpolicella

3. Treviso - Not only is this small city pretty to look at with its greenery and unique canals, but its location makes it an excellent place for a day trip away from the tourists in Venice or to stay the night before your early departure from Marco Polo International airport. It just feels less touristy here and sadly I think it gets overlooked because most people flock to Venice. If you're staying the night, I recommend the adorable, family-run B&B San Leonardo which only has 2 rooms and is located on the ground floor of the family's home. The decor is especially cozy and you really feel like you're staying at a friend's home rather than a hotel.

The nice thing is that there isn't a whole lot of sightseeing in this town which makes for a leisurely and relaxing stay. It is small enough that you can walk the entire city to see it. Some spots to check out are the main area of Piazza dei Signori, the interesting Fontana delle Tette (Google it....), and the pretty Canale dei Buranelli

The food and drink in Treviso is delicious too, and should not be missed. Here are some of my favorites: 

Osteria Arman for traditional dishes an a cozy, vintage atmosphere. 

Osteria dei Naneti for the most delicious panini and wine. This place gets busy but eating and drinking outside is common practice and quite enjoyable!

Antica Osteria al Botegon by Porta San Tomaso for the best spritz and cicchetti.

Cantinetta Venegazzu for a lovely glass of wine in an informal local's atmosphere.

Cafe due Pomi for yummy espresso in a tiny hole in the wall.

The streets of Treviso

The streets of Treviso

So if you're looking for some balance on your next Venetian vacation consider these 3 places which are totally doable in a day or just one night. It is some of the places that you don't hear as often in conversations about Italy that end up being the ones you remember most. I'm so glad we decided to stay in this area rather than doing what most people do and head south to Florence or Rome. 

Curious about how to enjoy Venice? Check out my previous blog post.

And lastly, stay tuned for my next post which will be about another great area to explore from Venice....the mountainous, South-Tyrolean region of Trentino! Yes, we're headed to the Alps!

Ponte Pietra, Verona

Ponte Pietra, Verona

Small piazza in Verona

Small piazza in Verona

What a view from the Castelvecchio Bridge, Verona

What a view from the Castelvecchio Bridge, Verona

Veronese buildings

Veronese buildings

Arena di Verona 

Arena di Verona 

Excited at the wine list at Antica Bodega del Vino, Verona

Excited at the wine list at Antica Bodega del Vino, Verona

Valpolicella vineyards

Valpolicella vineyards

The streets of Treviso

The streets of Treviso

Salute!

Salute!

Fontana delle Tette, Treviso

Fontana delle Tette, Treviso

The picturesque canals of Treviso

The picturesque canals of Treviso

Hotel Spotlight: the Captain Fairfield Inn

The holiday season is always so hectic, especially when you live across the street from the Boston Pops, so my husband and I like to spend a night away from it all. When he asked where we should go this year, I didn't really have a specific place in mind. My only pre-requisites were that wherever we went had to have a fireplace and a large soaking tub, the perfect recipe for de-stressing. So, we stumbled on the Captain Fairfield Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine. Not only did they have both of the things I was looking for, but they were fabulous. The Captain Fairfield Inn is technically part of a chain, Lark Hotels, but feels like a family-run B&B. There are only about 10 rooms, give or take, breakfasts are usually included and it feels more like a friend's home than a hotel. That's the angle Lark Hotels takes with all of its properties, including 76 Main in Nantucket which I've also had the pleasure of staying. These properties aren't just any B&B though, they are decorated with taste, using only the latest trends from the interior design world. Another reason why I love staying with them.

Kennebunkport is known for being mostly a summer destination (after all it's where the Bush's summer) and not necessarily a winter hot spot. But we benefitted from that with friendly off-season rates therefore being able to take the largest room at the inn, the Lark Suite. We also learned quickly that Kennebunkport goes all out for Christmas and the quaint little seaside town was beautifully decorated to the nines. It made for a very festive atmosphere and we were delighted with our decision. I highly recommend it, and if you go here are some ideas of how you can spend your time:

  1. Take a leisurely stroll around town. There are several cafes to have a cup of coffee, restaurants for a bite, and cute shops to browse. Not to mention, the water makes a pretty backdrop.
  2. Relax fireside at the Inn with a good book. There is a constant supply of coffee and tea for you to help yourself and there is even freshly baked sea salt chocolate chip cookies in the afternoon. Or just get a bottle of wine :)
  3. Drive to nearby Ogunquit, another quaint little seaside village for exploring. The pizza and craft beer at Cornerstone is delightful.
  4. There is no spa at the Inn but don't let that prevent you from taking a relaxing bath. Bring along some salts or a soak and you won't even know the difference. Because, when do we ever make time for that at home?
  5. Take a scenic drive along Maine's coast. In the Kennebunkport area, there is Cape Porpoise Pier and of course the Bush Compound on Walkers Point. Just a little way's out you've got York's Nubble Light, Biddeford's Wood Island Light and Timber Point, which has a nice path for those looking to stretch their legs.

So, the next time you're looking for a mini getaway, definitely consider the Captain Fairfield Inn in Kennebunkport or any other of the Lark Hotels in New England, California or Nashville. To learn more about the Captain Fairfield Inn and other hotels in the Lark family, visit their website.

Entering town

Entering town

The marina....Love KPT <3

The marina....Love KPT <3

Shops along Western Ave.&nbsp;

Shops along Western Ave. 

Restaurants along Western Ave.
Restaurants along Western Ave.
Colorful storefronts
Colorful storefronts
The tree all decorated

The tree all decorated

More decorations along Ocean Ave.
More decorations along Ocean Ave.
HA! I wish it worked this way in Boston, although it’s pricier than a meter!

HA! I wish it worked this way in Boston, although it’s pricier than a meter!

The cozy living room at the Captain Fairfield Inn

The cozy living room at the Captain Fairfield Inn

The Lark Suite at the Captain Fairfield Inn. love the wallpaper!

The Lark Suite at the Captain Fairfield Inn. love the wallpaper!

Walk-in shower with marble hex tile floor, subway tile walls, and large soaking tub. HEAVEN!

Walk-in shower with marble hex tile floor, subway tile walls, and large soaking tub. HEAVEN!

Cape Porpoise Pier, Kennebunkport

Cape Porpoise Pier, Kennebunkport

Main Street, Ogunquit

Main Street, Ogunquit

Nubble Lighthouse, York

Nubble Lighthouse, York