Taormina

Ciao, bella Taormina!

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Taormina…we found the perfect term for it, it’s the Positano of Sicily. With its hilltop views, winding roads and terraced landscapes, Taormina has Amalfi coast charm right here in the South. This is definitely a place you want to add to your Sicily bucket list. Taormina is a luxurious and lush Sicilian hilltop city. Known for its breathtaking scenery, high-end shopping and crystal clear beaches.

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Taormina is so easy to visit if you are staying in Catania. You don’t have to worry about navigating through windy roads or claustrophobic Italian backstreets; it is simply a quick 45 minute drive on the open A18 highway. There is also ample parking in Taormina thanks to their many large parking areas so you don’t have to stress about finding a parking spot on a busy summer afternoon or evening. (We saved you the parking locations at the bottom of the post).

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We’ll be honest, Taormina gets quite crowded in July & August so come prepared for the crowds. However, you can still enjoy a tranquil Taormina and have it mostly to yourself in the summer months if you wake up early. We know rising early doesn’t sound like fun when you are on vacation, but you’ll thank us later. Around 8am the town is still just waking up, the streets & cafes are all empty so you can have them all to yourself. This is the best time to take photos and grab a granita at Bam Bar for breakfast.

After that we recommend a visit to Teatro Antico di Taormina. If you are interested in ancient ruins combined with gorgeous views, this is the place for you. This is an open-air amphitheater that has been preserved, but is also still being used for concerts and shows today. It does cost a small fee to enter, but this place is actually really spectacular for many different reasons. First, it is enormous. There is so much space to walk around and take photos without having to worry about all of the people that are also there. Second, the views! This place is situated at one of the highest points in Taormina so you can see the terraced homes and businesses that form the city of Taormina while also getting that beautiful coastal view. On a very clear day, you might even be able to see mainland Italy! Lastly, the artifacts are truly amazing and it is marvelous that we are able to get near them and interact with them as much as we can here. 

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Where to eat?

We often get asked to recommend places to eat, so this time around we wanted to make sure we have some awesome options for you. Here are our favorite breakfast, lunch and dinner places.

Breakfast

BamBar - Via di Giovanni, 43, 98039 Taormina ME

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Give us all the granita! Okay, if you have had granita before you have never had it like this. We mentioned this in our Marzamemi post but if you don’t know what granita is, it is a little difficult to describe because literally nothing compares to it. Granita is known as ‘Italian ice’ but it is thicker than a snow cone and less creamy than ice cream. Bottom line, you need to try one and BamBar is just the place to do that. With a wide variety of flavors, five options in the morning and sixteen in the afternoon, the owner prides himself in having the best granita in Sicily. We have been living here for over a year and a half and have had our fair share of granita around the island. Although we have not tried them all, this has been the most flavorful of in our opinion. Also, how cute is this place?! The yellow tiles on the walls outside, accent table tops and hand painted walls on the inside of the venue makes it a great instagram location as well. They have great hours as they don’t close for riposo (extended lunch break). They open as early as 7am and close at 11pm every day except for Monday when they are closed. Seriously, do yourself a favor and order at least two flavors of granita with some panna and brioche and take some cute pics. You will not be disappointed! 

Lunch

Medousa Bistrot - Via Sesto Pompeo, 1, 98039 Taormina ME

Taormina Medousa

Unwind from a busy day of sightseeing and enjoy a fresh lunch here. Medousa Bistrot is a beautiful outdoor garden oasis filled with decorative Sicilian gems. It is a lovely venue to stop at to enjoy a glass of wine, a bruschetta with burrata or a light and refreshing seared tuna salad. While the lunch menu is not very large, it is seasonal and fresh. If you are a bit tired of pizza and pasta, this is a great alternative for lunch since it provides you with options such as salads, fresh fish, etc. In addition to the amazing food, the atmosphere is unlike any other scene in Taormina’s city center. While staying central you still feel relaxed and serene thanks to the greenery that encloses you from the hustle and bustle of the city. Mainly, it is a really enticing and beautifully decorated place with exquisite food. Check it out the next time you’re in Taormina.

Drinks

Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo - Via Teatro Greco, 59, 98039 Taormina ME

Taormina Belmond

If you aren’t familiar with the Belmond hotel chain, this is a luxury hotel that seriously takes luxury to the next level. We are so blessed to have a Belmond in Sicily and there is no better location for it than in Taormina. At first glance, you see the floral arched walkway leading to the large double doors of the lobby. Walking through the doors and seeing the intricate details in the room will take your breath away. We know the nightly rates are quite expensive at this hotel, so if you can’t stay the night at least go to enjoy a drink and maybe some lunch or dinner at their outdoor lounge. Their beautiful and expansive terrace gives you some of the best views to see in all of Sicily! With panoramic ocean views you can trace the Eastern coastline of Sicily while simultaneously being treated to views of the active volcano Mt. Etna. Does it get anymore Sicilian than that? We don’t think so!

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Dinner


Osteria Nero d’Avola Via S. Domenico de Guzman, 2B, 98039 Taormina ME

With a traditional Sicilian menu and an opening time of 7pm, this two time Michelin award winning restaurant is just what you need to finish your day in Taormina. This restaurant is located off of the main square so it is likely to not be overly crowded when you visit, but it is still recommended that you make a reservation in advance just in case. Their menu consists of traditional Sicilian dishes such as pasta nero di seppia and pasta norma but here the food is made fresh with organic produce and fish caught daily. There is a large menu selection of food and Sicilian wines to choose from and best of all, the items are all reasonably priced.



Views


Parco Duca Di Cesaro - Via Bagnoli Croci, 98039 Taormina ME

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This enormous park is a great place to check out while in Taormina. There are multiple entrances to the park that will show you different pieces the landscape has to offer. Regardless of which entrance you choose, we recommend taking the time to walk through the entire park so you can see all it has to offer. Known for its expansive landscaped gardens and picturesque sea and city views, you will also find special pieces of architecture hidden throughout the park. There are multiple benches to sit down and relax on as well as water fountains to drink cool refreshing water from. So go ahead and explore this little secret while in Taormina.

Our IG secret spot

After having breakfast or dessert at Bam Bar, make sure you check out the tiny street to its right called Piazza S. Domenica. It has the most beautifully painted door in Taormina along with a gorgeous balcony overflowing with succulents planted in Sicily’s iconic Testa di Moro, the moorish head ceramics. The house belongs to a well knows Sicilian fashion designer, Marella Ferrera. We definitely love her taste in house front decor.

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Beach

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Isola Bella Beach -  Via Luigi Pirandello, 22, 98039 Taormina ME

Relax at one of the best beaches in Sicily. This beach is super fun to locate as you get to ride a cable car down from the city of Taormina! After you park in one of the areas we mentioned above, head to the address listed here. This will take you to the Taormina cable cars which run from the beach to the city every 15 minutes. After buying a ticket for €3, the car will take you down to the coastline of Taormina. Head to the right and you will see Isola Bella beach. During the summer season, you can pay to relax on a chair under and under an umbrella or bring your own chair and relax for free. We typically will rent the chair and umbrella as we like to use the amenities the beach club provides. For example, there is a bathroom, restaurant, bar, and shower. The water at this beach is a clear and turquoise blue unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Even if you aren’t visiting in the summer months, it is still worth a visit to walk around the beach and marvel at its beauty. 

*There is a parking lot near the beach if you do not wish to take the cable car. However, the drive down is narrow and quite steep. The views are beautiful though, and during the off season when there are less cars and people on the streets this could be a good option! 

Here is the address: Via Nazionale, 62, 98039 Villagonia ME


Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea - Via Nazionale, 137, 98039 Taormina ME

Yep, there’s another one! This second Belmond location is a sister hotel to the one previously mentioned. While Hotel Timeo sits high on the hilltop and provides you with once in a lifetime views of Taormina, Villa Sant’Andrea gives you the Sicilian beach experience and provides you with private beach access. You can visit this paradise on the beach to enjoy a day in a plush lounge bed or have a waterfront dining experience. As a reminder, this is a luxury hotel so the prices reflect this; however, the view, food, and experience will be well worth it.


Shopping

If you are interested in high-end luxury shopping, ceramics shopping or souvenir shopping, Taormina has got you covered! It is one of the more expensive places on the island to purchase from, so if you are traveling to another location and don’t want to spend so much money I would recommend waiting. However, Taormina does have a lot to offer in terms of shopping compared to other cities on the island. So if you find something you can’t live without - buy it! There are many affluent clothing, jewelry, handbag and shoe shops in Taormina. If you aren’t looking to buy, window shopping is always fun! Additionally, Taormina is a great place to find authentic Sicilian ceramics. If you are looking for something traditional such as the Moorish heads, the lemon tiled table tops or the colorful pine cones (la pigna) which line the streets and restaurants you can find them reasonably priced at any of the ceramic shops here. The shops are always a pleasure to wander around in and gaze at the beauty of the handmade pieces even if you aren't looking to buy. Lastly, there is the souvenir shops which you can find on just about every corner in Taormina. Whether you are looking to take home a magnet, some limoncello, or a T-shirt, you will see an abundance of shops all over Toarmina and will find just what you are looking for. 


As we mentioned earlier, Taormina is breathtaking. Whether you are up in the city or down on the coastline, Taormina is full of shops, restaurants and activities for you to enjoy. So why not just take a walk without a destination in mind and see what you can discover!

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Taormina Parking


There are two parking structures within the city that allow for visitors to park. It is not at all possible to park on the streets of Taormina, because it is restricted to residents & delivery vehicles. The roads are also extremely narrow and windy, so we recommend you go straight to one of the below parking lots. They are super convenient and take the stress out of driving in Taormina.

Parcheggio Lumbi - Taormina 98039 Taormina, Province of Messina

This large and spacious parking garage is located on the drive up to the city center of Taormina. Since the city is situated on a hilltop and parking is scarce, you can pay an hourly fee to park your car in the garage and a bus will take you on the short two-minute drive up to the hill for no extra charge. The bus runs back and forth between the garage and the city every 10 minutes. 

Porta Catania Parking - Corso Umberto, 805, 98039 Taormina ME

While you will have to drive a little further through Taormina, this parking garage will put you closer to the city center of Taormina and you won’t have to wait for the bus. The price is the same as the first garage at €4 per hour.

Tolls- Driving to Taormina from Catania, you will enter through the tolls if you take the highway. This way is recommended although you will have to pay a small fee. The average cost is €1,60 there and again €1,60 for the way back. Don’t stress about the tolls! They are very easy to pass through, grab your ticket and then enter your ticket and insert your coins at the last toll entering Taormina. We do recommend having coins or a small €5 bill on hand when passing through the tolls.

Words by: Megan Sheets

Photography by: Niki Csanyi

Exploring Mt.Etna Wineries Pt.1 - La Gelsomina

Mt. Etna is one of the most active volcanos in the world. She is a beauty, a beauty with destructive but also life giving force. She enriches Sicily’s lands with minerals rich soil that makes for amazingly fertile vineyards.

Part of your Sicily experience should be visiting a winery on Mt. Etna. Luckily for you, we have been pre-tasting some wines and will be sharing our favorite wineries with you. Here is our first find, La Gelsomina.

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So relaxing, so peaceful! La Gelsomina is a lush and beautiful winery is located about a half hour drive from Taormina, or an hour from Catania. It is a wonderfully organized 15 hectare property full of organic produce such as olives, cherries, apricots and of course - grapes. Due to the size of the winery, it is absolutely quiet and serene here, you will feel at one with nature as you walk over the volcanic soil and through the vast rows of vibrant, green orchards. The appeal of this winery is it’s expansive space and its terraced vineyard which creates an open amphitheater type feel.

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La Gelsomina recently opened its doors to the public. It is owned by Tenute Orestiadi, which produces some of Trapani’s finest wines and they finally decided to open their Mt.Etna location - La Gelsomina - for wine tastings as well. Because La Gelsomina is new and becoming established in this location, it is likely you will have the sommelier all to yourself, and feel as though the winery is your own.

You are welcome to stop by the winery without a reservation and enjoy a refreshing, cold glass of white wine or a delicious, full bodied red and take in the scenery whenever you choose. We recommend however that you call or email ahead and make a reservation for a wine tasting. For only €25, you get to taste 4 different wines and munch on some local cheese and snacks.

We tried a three wines from La Gelsomina - a sparkling white and two fruity stills, Etna Bianco and Etna Rosso -, and we tasted a red Perricone from Tenute Orestiadi.

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What makes wines grown on the slopes of Mt. Etna very special is the volcanic soil. “The soil of Etna is a product of is both lava and clay, fruit of numerous eruptions that have occurred over the centuries, which allowed the dust to settle on the fields and the magma to crystallize. This has made it a place with absolutely unique mineral characteristics, in which indigenous varieties of the volcano are cultivated at 550 meters above sea level, such as Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Carricante and Moscato dell’Etna.” (source La Gelsomina)

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After walking through the orchards and learning about the history of the land, you will get to choose which four wines you would like to try. If you enjoy your sommelier's company he will stay and chat with you, if not he will give you space to enjoy your time at the winery. Our sommelier was great and we ended up staying way past closing time chatting away with him.

You will find the wines are all reasonably priced, we recommend taking home a bottle or five :) I particularly enjoyed the red Perricone from their Trapani winery location, which you can recognize by the starfish symbol on the label. Go ahead and give them a call today to have a winery experience like you’ve never had before!

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To make a reservation online, go to: https://www.tenuteorestiadi.it/enoturismo/ and select one of the Etna options, or call Ciro Benanti at +39 3666844071 (he speaks great English ;).

Directions:

La Gelsomina: Via Presa, 48, 95017 Piedimonte Etneo CT

Follow the signs for, Presa, via San Giovanni Bosco, when you arrive in the central square, follow the arrows to La Gelsomina, it is about two hundred meters from the church. We strongly recommend following these driving directions you receive in your confirmation email, because we followed Google Maps to the winery address and it took us on an inaccessible private road.

When to visit:

One of the things we love about La Gelsomina is the flexibility of opening hours. Most wineries are open for lunchtime or dinner only. However for La Gelsomina you can choose your own time. We made a reservation for 6PM which allowed us to enjoy the beauty of the winery during golden hour.

As far as season goes - you can visit all year around, but in our opinion Etna vineyards are the most beautiful from May until November. Interestingly, Mt. Etna harvests begin earlier at the end of August and run until October as grapes mature based on how sunny or shady the particular vine terrace is.

Words by: Megan Sheets

Photography by: Niki Csanyi

Me Cumpari Turiddu, where all Sicilian restaurant dreams come true

Here it begins…my very first #MappingSICILY post. I’ve been wanting to share our experience of moving to Sicily for a while, but I felt like I needed to actually experience life here first, before I could write about it. Well, it’s been 18 months since we arrived - I can’t actually believe how fast time flies - and I am ready & very excited to share with you all the beauty we found in Sicily.

Starting with Me Cumpari Turiddu seems like a very fitting choice. This restaurant was the first place I found and fell in love with in Catania. This is also the place where I made my first Italian friend who made me feel like life will be ok here after moving across the pond. But let’s start from the beginning…..

Enter Me Cumpari. The place is absolutely stunning and it is everything you dream Sicily to be. Beautiful antique chandeliers hanging above the dainty Italian lace cloths drooping from the vaulted ceiling. The walls show the times past and you can feel all the history of the island. Every little detail is crafted to perfection. From the hand crocheted doilies, the mismatched antique chairs, to the old porcelain that was probably a family heirloom in the past.

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Every bit of Me Cumpari has been put together with love & care. How do I know that? Well, here comes the second part of the story.

I was having an afternoon coffee at Me Cumpari, and obviously, me being me, I was posting on IG stories about the interior. After a little while a lovely female comes up to me and thanks me for my kind words on IG. She has a smile on her face and she has all this positive energy about her. Her name is Roberta Capizzi and she is the owner of Me Cumpari.

Me Cumpari Style

Me Cumpari Turiddu means ‘My Friend, Turiddu’ which represents the essence of the restaurant. Roberta’s vision is to make people feel home and build relationships with her customers. A place where you can back to and the waiters will know your name. A place where food taste just like your Sicilian nonna would cook it.

Hence, the menu is filled with traditional Sicilian dishes. The kitchen sources fresh local produce every day, nothing is flown in from other countries, nothing has been sitting on shelves or trucks for days. And why would it be?! Sicily is abundant in incredible fresh produce all year around and Me Cumpari wants to celebrate this.

Me Cumpari works with local farmers and growers, and the beauty is that Roberta knows each one of these people and their products. She tells me about the goat farmer who makes the most amazing goat cheese and goat yoghurt that they use for a delicious dessert (keep your eyes peeled towards the end, you’ll see what I’m talking about).

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Me Cumpari Chandelier

Me Cumpari has been listed on the Michelin Guide for years now, a testament to their quality and service. They serve Sicilian dishes that are made from locally sourced ingredients like Sicilian pistachio mortadella, black pork from the Nebrodi region, or Ragusan donkey meat. Their wine cellar is stocked with amazing Sicilian wines that you must try if you are on the island. My personal favorites are wines from Mt. Etna, but other regions of Sicily produce delicious varieties as well. The list could go on…so instead of telling you more about it, why don’t you visit and eat & drink well at Me Cumpari when you are in Sicily?!

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Me Cumpari Dessert
 

Address: Piazza Turi Ferro, 36/38, 95131 Catania CT

Opening Hours: 10:30AM-1:00AM every day

P.S.: my other favorite thing about the restaurant is their opening hours. While traveling around Italy, you will learn that you cannot simply eat at all hours of the day. Italian restaurants close between lunch and dinner, so very often you will not find a place to eat between 3pm-7pm. But Me Cumpari will never leave you hungry, they are open 10:30AM - 1:00AM so you can always grab a bite.

Words by: Niki Csanyi

Photography by: Niki Csanyi

Lisbon, the hidden gem for your Europe trip

Bom Dia, Lisboa! You are such a beautiful surprise.

In June we decided to take a last minute vacation. Lisbon has been on my list of places to visit for a few years, but I somehow always ended up prioritizing other cities. This time around, thankfully, we booked our tickets to Lisbon and oh what a treat we were in for. 

Lisbon view

Where to begin?! Lisbon is charming and beautiful, which probably most of you already expected that. But it is so much more than that - it's fun, filled with great restaurants and positive energy.

Getting around Lisbon

After arriving to Lisbon airport, we rented a car at the airport because we were heading down south to Algavre later on, so we drove into the city. This proved to be more trouble than its worth, because finding parking in Lisbon is not easy. There are lots of tiny, one-way streets and limited street parking. We ended up paying for parking in a garage for the 2 days, which costs as much as a roundtrip Uber trip from & to the airport. Uber is quite inexpensive in Lisbon and the airport is close to the city, so it's a good option.

Once you're in the city, I found it best to discover the city on foot. Lisbon is so beautiful and we walked by so many cool shops, restaurants and beautiful buildings along the way that I didn't mind ringing in a daily 10 kilometer walks. If you get tired though, just hop on one of the city's adorable yellow trams. They are everywhere and it's part of the Lisbon experience to ride the tram. Lisbon also has a great bus and subway system. Also, expect to climb a lot of stairs as the city is quite hilly - reminded me of San Francisco - so you'll be exercising those glutes. 

IG Tip: you can snap a cute photo of the yellow tram by the Elevador Da Bica/Ancensor Da Bica. This tiny yellow cuteness runs up and down the hill, every 15 or 30 minutes and the tiny streets provide a good photo op to catch it.

The   Ascensor Da Bica  is a funicular consisting of two adorable yellow tram cars that run up and down the hilly streets of Lisbon since 1892, transporting locals but mostly tourists these days.

The Ascensor Da Bica is a funicular consisting of two adorable yellow tram cars that run up and down the hilly streets of Lisbon since 1892, transporting locals but mostly tourists these days.

Eat, drink and be merry

Unfortunately, two days wasn't enough to eat our way through Lisbon because there is just so much good food everywhere. We barely scratched the surface of the city's culinary potential, so we left wanting more...hopefully we'll come back soon. Meanwhile, here are the places we tried. Unfortunately, I didn't get to photograph every place because I was just too hungry (haha).

A Cevicheria

Seafood lovers unite. This place is just heaven and I had the best ceviche ever here...not just one ceviche, but four different ones precisely. The menu is filled with mouthwatering options, all fresh, all delicious and creative. We decided to go with the tasting menu, which includes five amazing courses for only €40. The food was exceptional, and the ambiance, the plating all just adds to the experience. Hands down, my favorite Lisbon restaurant and it should not be missed.

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IG Tip: when I know I want to photograph a restaurant/cafe interior, I always get there before opening. This way I have the freedom to choose our table (always by the window) and if I'm lucky I get to take photos of the interior without guests. Nautrally, always ask the staff if they are ok with that, politeness goes a long way.

Time Out Market

Time Out Market is a food hall, similar to New York's Chelsea Market or LA's Grand Central Market.  It is filled with great small restaurant kiosks ranging from traditional Portuguese to Asian cuisine to cafes. It's a great way to sample different dishes without committing to just one place.

Dom Afonso o Gordo

We stumbled into this restaurant by sheer luck for dinner one evening. It was an absolutely delicious find, we tried three dishes - cod fish steak, braised pork cheeks and duck leg confit - and they were all divine. Sadly it was night-time, so I couldn't take photos but trust me when I say it's a must-try place....especially if you are traveling with a hungry man, because the portions were very generous. 

Fabrica da Nata

One thing you will definitely learn when visiting Lisbon is what 'nata' is. Oh, heavenly goodness! Pastel de nata is Portugal's cherished egg tart pastry dusted with cinnamon. It's made of a thin flaky dough that serves as a delicious cup housing the golden creamy egg yolk & sugar filling. Sounds strange?! It definitely does at first, until you take the first bite and then you are hooked for good. One of the most delicious pastries I ever had, so delicious that we ate at least two of them a day. They were delicious everywhere, but Fabrica da Nata was our favorite place.

Comoba

Vegans and vegetarians, this is a great place for breakfast or lunch. We had a delicious omelette here with all sorts of goodies. Comoba is also by the foot of Elevador da Bica, so you can swing by after riding the tiny tram.

H10 Rooftop Bar

There are plenty great bars in Lisbon, and I can't claim my recommendation is the best...but you have to admit, H10's rooftop corner is stunning. I am guilty of choosing places based on their interior, but I can't help it, I love beautiful design. We arrived just before sunset and enjoyed a few cocktails overlooking the terracotta roofs Lisbon.

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Neighborhoods

All Lisbon is beautiful, but that probably doesn't help you with your planning. I won't be writing a full list of "sights to see" in Lisbon, because there are plenty of travel sites for that. We found ourselves spending most of the time in two neighborhoods, so I wanted to highlight those.

Alfama

Alfama stretches between Castelo de San Jorge and the Tejo river. It's a lovely neighborhood with tiny alleyways, tiled houses and lots of steep stairs. I like to explore by walking around without an aim and we did just that. We found beautiful viewpoints, one of them a park that offers an amazing vantage point of the old town, its called Miradouro de Santa Luzia and just next to it the Visigothic Wall.

IG Tip: on every trip I try to get up for sunrise at least one time. I am a terrible morning person and have a hard time with getting up, but it's always worth it. Sunrise is such a special time of day. The world still sleeps and the light is magical. When we found this park in the afternoon, I knew I wanted to get up the next morning and have it all to myself, without the crowd.

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Bairro Alto

Bairro Alto is lively, packed with restaurants and cafes and lots of yellow trams. By now you must realize I have a slight obsession with yellow trams. The streets of Bairro Alto around Elevador Da Bica turn into a huge party at night time, with vendors grilling meats and sausages and people dancing on the streets. Walking around is also the best way to discover the neighborhood and stopping along the way to eat at A Cevicheria and grab a nata for a snack.

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One last gem

One special gem for closing - Embaixada is a beautiful concept store housed in the Ribeiro da Cunha palace. We came for the murals more than shopping itself, because an absolutely gorgeous staircase this is?! It's finding these little things, off the travel books, that make traveling so much fun for me. 

Embaixada

I hope this post will convince you to add Lisbon to the top of your Euro-trip list. It honestly quickly became one of my favorite European cities and we left with nothing but beautiful memories.

China's Winter Wonderland: Jilin, the province of snow

Just right before the holidays, in December, I took my very first trip to China. December?! Yes, China in December. I know, I know....In my head I always imagined my first China trip during the summer or fall, inevitably to somewhere well know like the Great Wall or Hong Kong. Instead I got something special, something that was truly unexpected....and I couldn't be happier about this first encounter. 

Off the beaten path and away from mainstream tourism (at least for now...who knows what happens as a result of this blog-post ;) lies Jilin province. Located in the North-Eastern part of China, Jilin transforms into an winter wonderland between December and February.

If I had a penny for every time I heard "I hate winter, I hate cold" I would be a millionaire. Quite understandably shoveling snow and walking through the slushy streets is nobody's favorite, but after visiting Jilin those no longer will be the first things you associate with winter.

Winter is magical and serene and there is a place in Jilin that proves this. It's Shennong Hot Springs. One of the most romantic places I ever had the chance of visiting

Shennong is about a 2hour drive from Changchun city and nestled in a peaceful remote area. The resort welcomes you with beautiful rooms, but it's most wonderful feature is a set of indoor & outdoor natural hot springs. There aren't a lot of resorts that I would visit in the wintertime rather than summer, but Shennong is definitely one. 

When temperatures dip as low as -17Celsius/-1Fahrenheit, there is nothing more relaxing than sitting in the outdoor hot spring enjoying the 40Celsius/104Fahrenheir waters. The ambiance couldn't be any more perfect - lanterns lit up in the evening and white frost covering the trees from the swirling steam omitting from the hot springs. True magic!

After ample time of relaxing in the hot springs, we headed out to see one of Jilin's unique sights - the rime on Wusong Island. The rime is a beautiful frost that covers the trees and mountains as a result of ice crystals forming from moisture in the air. It paints the landscape white and creates a dreamy winter wonderland. Even if you are novice to photography gorgeous winter photos are guaranteed, that will btw make your friends at home super jealous wishing they traveled instead of sitting on their couch.

Our next stop was Dunhau City where we visited the beautiful Liu Ding Shan Temple and watched the sun set over the snowy landscape. Liu Ding Shan has one of the largest sitting buddha's in China and the temple itself is intricately detailed. And if you want to make a wish, just buy a red silk ribbon and tie it to the temple's railing.

We traveled further into Jilin province to visit Laolike Lake, a very popular winter destination with Chinese tourists. Laolike Lake is the place where one can experience the tranquility of nature blanketed in snow. Upon arrival you can grab breakfast or a hot refreshment in the cafeteria before heading out for a 4 mile roundtrip walk in the snow. Wearing the proper shoes and winter clothing is very important as you'll be walking/playing in sometimes knee deep snow.

The 2mile trek to the lake winds through a snow covered forest with some stops along the way like a post office log cabin or a yurt turned into gift shop. For those not feeling up to the exercise, they can opt for a horse pulled sled from about halfway through the path.

Along the way you will meet mostly Chinese or Korean tourists who are actually very sweet. If you have green or blue eyes like me, prepare yourself for some selfies. I was asked at least 10 times to take a selfie with people :D And that is how I got this lovely photo of a Chinese lady who's winter outfit was absolutely stunning. She was dressed in layers decorated with traditional Chinese patterns and believe it or not she was super excited to pose for me. 

At the end of your 2mile hike through the forest, you are rewarded with the beauty of the frozen Laolike Lake.

Before returning to Chanchun city, our last stop was Fushong Lushuihe Resort. This peaceful resort is in the  Fushong Lushuihe National Forest Park. It's a tranquil setting nestled between the woods allows you to relax and enjoy the outdoors. The resort offers 2-3 log bedroom cabins and fantastic Chinese cooking.There are also fun activities for both winter and summer, one of which I was super excited to try. It was winter rafting on the ice-cold river. The resort also has gorgeous parks you can stroll with Chinese pagodas and koi-ponds. 

In our last morning in Fusong, I woke up early and took a sunrise stroll to find this gorgeous pagoda floating on the lake in golden mist. It's one of my favorite moments from the trip. It felt like I was in a magical winter dream and it was the perfect ending to an unexpected and truly special visit to China.

Check out the short video from my new YouTube channel. Enjoy!

Springtime in Buenos Aires, what a wonderful first encounter with Argentina.

Buen Dia, Buenos Aires!

Argentina has been on the top of my travel bucket list for a long time so I was exited when a last minute trip came up a few weeks ago. I was lucky enough to be invited by Park Hyatt to a very special event, the celebration of the 10th year anniversary of their amazing property, Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires

The timing of the invitation could not be more perfect as November is Springtime in Argentina. Which means the city is buzzing with energy and the streets are filled with blossoming jacaranda trees.

Buenos Aires Jacaranda

Driving from the airport to the hotel I could already tell Buenos Aires will become a soft spot in my heart, but I had no clue yet how much it will sweep me off my feet.

I love beautiful architecture and gorgeous European inspired facades are in abundance in this city. The closer we got to Recoleta - one of the most beautiful neighborhoods of the capital - the more excited I got, especially when we pulled up in front of the hotel. Palacio Duhau, as its name already suggests, was a family palace built by the Duhaus in the 1920 and was inspired by Chateau du Marais near Paris. The building has a rich history and a lot of hidden details, which made the experience of staying at Palacio Duhau truly special for me.  

I love photographing beautiful interiors and there is no shortage of inspiration at Palacio Duhau. My favorite room was probably the cigar room, which used to be Señor Duhau's study. Sitting in this dark and moody room with a glass of bourbon it feels like you are let in on some ancient secret of gentlemen. The walls are covered with intricate woodwork (that took several months to restore) and kudos to Park Hyatt for preserving such beautiful craftsman work. 

When I travel, I don't often spend a lot of time in my hotel but in this case I honestly didn't feel like leaving. The experience is truly special, not only because it's a beautiful building but there is something serene about it, especially the garden where I spend countless hours relaxing, listening to the bird chirping and eating some mount watering food. 

Which brings me to the second thing that made me fall in LOVE with Argetina, and it's the food. As part of the 10th year anniversary we were invited to a special Masters of Food & Wine event at the hotel's garden. It was an evening of celebration for the tastebuds - 12 of Palacio Duhau's previous and current chefs prepared divine dishes paired with exceptional wines from Argentina's best vineries. I learnt one thing for sure that Argentinians know how to live well and enjoy the finer things in life like good food and good company. They have a beautiful country that produces fantastic quality ingredients and they know how to cook well, which results in happy memories around the table.

Buenos Aires deserves a few days of exploring, there are a lot of beautiful neighborhoods to visit. Recoleta may be the most popular destination, especially because of the Recoleta Cemetery, which is indeed very special. But my personal favorite gems were the Botanic Gardens (which deserves its own blog post...coming soon) and the tiny streets in Palermo and the lovely alleys and flea market of Santelmo. 

There is so much more to Buenos Aires that I didn't have time to experience- like going to a milonga to see locals dancing tango or visit the colorful houses of Boca, but I know I will be back soon. I fell in love with the architecture, the food and the kindness of the people. Thank you Park Hyatt for this truly special experience at Palacio Duhau. What a wonderful fist encounter I had with Argentina!

P.S.: Huge thanks to the staff at Palacio Duhau, you made my stay!