Travel

Travel

5 Places Not to Miss When in Cote d’Azur and Provence

5. Cassis

A small Mediterranean fishing port located between Marseille and Toulon, Cassis is the perfect mix of French Riviera class and attractiveness minus the big crowds you might see in St. Tropez and Nice. Les Calanques are Cassis’ most alluring attraction, which are hidden turquoise bays accessible by several hiking routes. La Plage du Bestouan is the most popular beach in Cassis for locals. There is plenty of parking up the road a short distance from the beach.

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Turquoise waters in Calanques

 

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La Plage du Bestouan

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Calanques are accessible by boat and foot

4. Saint Jean Cap Ferrat

This gorgeous peninsula is forested between Nice and Monaco. If you are looking for old school glamour and charm of the old Hollywood French Riviera, make sure you reserve a few hours to walk around the stunning coastline and soak in this unspoiled paradise.

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There are plenty of private beaches you can stop at along the paved path that continues around the peninsula. The walkway is not entirely the easiest to spot, but once you find street parking between Beaulieu and Saint Jean, you will see signs for the promenade, and thank God for Google Maps! 😉

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3. Gordes

About 40 kilometers east of Avignon in the Provence region lies picturesque Gordes.  It is well known as a vacation destination among France’s elite, and seemingly gaining more attention by international tourists. Its exceptional views of the village perched on top of the plateau make it worth the stop. You may stroll around the tiny streets and also admire a different angle from above the fortified castle facing out into the hill.

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Village of Gordes castle

 

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Many gorgeous bed and breakfasts along the route to Gordes

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2. Goult

Goult is nothing short of a Beauty and the Beast fairytale. When we first stumbled upon the magical Lumieres in Goult, we were surprised by its quiet coziness and chic presentation. Right across the street from one another is an old convent transformed into the inviting Hotel Notre-Dame de Lumieres (http://www.notredamedelumieres.com/en/) and the cutest place for tapas & cocktails  “garage turned restaurant” literally called “the garage”- Le Garage a Lumieres (http://www.legaragealumieres.fr/). If there’s one thing this place will do, is it will dazzle you with its unexpected beauty and quite possibly make you feel like you are living in a storybook, if even for a short while.

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The pool at Hotel Notre-Dame de Lumiere a Goult

 

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1. Senanque Abbey

Senanque Abbey (http://www.senanque.fr/) is a Cistercian monastery near the village of Gordes. As you drive down the winding roads, you will be suddenly surprised by 50 shades of purple in the valley below. In July you can expect fields of dark purple during the lavender harvesting season in France. No matter the season, however, this place is always truly stunning in its own regard. There are unguided and guided tours in French of the monastery offered throughout the day. Silence is emphasized as it is still an active monastery. Religious bus groups do tend to frequent the site in the early afternoon, so get there early!

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Puerto Rico, San Juan, Travel

Standby→Puerto Rico

Welcome to the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico- home of the piña colada, el Yunque rainforest and the bioluminescent bays of El Fajardo. We just love the bustling, colorful beauty of this U.S. territory that feels like a faraway escape, but doesn’t require your U.S. passport or a tiring several hour-long flight (only 5 hours direct from Chicago’s O’Hare).

Just remember to bring your dolares! 🙂

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Explore the colorful, dazzling streets of Viejo San Juan

Standby for:

3 days, 3 nights

Don’t miss:

  • Hiking in El Yunque Rainforest
  • Music, food and culture in Viejo San Juan
  • Swimming and water sports in Luquillo Beach
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Take a dip in the crystal clear waters of Luquillo beach. Later, dine at one of several tasty “kioskos”.

Stay:

  • Affordable : Condado area is close enough to Old San Juan (especially if you are renting a car) has many great food options, and is right on the beach. The Atlantic Beach Hotel (http://www.atlanticbeachhotel.com/ (as low as $60-$70 per night) in Condado is a good, budget-friendly option for those who prefer the good location, but don’t need the extra amenities or high-class treatment. Extra pluses are free Wi-Fi in the lobby, free parking (good for those renting or traveling by car), and clean rooms.
  • Swanky : Staying right in Old San Juan may cost you a pretty penny, but you’ll have access to all the areas you want to explore. Hotel El Convento (http://www.elconvento.com/)  (means “the convent”; $250-300 per night) in Old San Juan needs no formal introduction. Constructed in the 1600s by the King Phillip IV of Spain, Hotel El Convento was originally a Carmelite Convent. It finally transformed into a hotel in the 90s after years of management changes. While you may think that the location of Hotel El Convento is worth the splurge enough, just wait until you see the architecture inside and outside of this once upon a time convent and be transported back to the 17th century.
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Gorgeous exterior spaces at Hotel El Convento
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Hotel El Convento on Calle del Cristo
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View from Castillo del San Felipe del Morro

Do:

Day #1: Night out in Old San Juan

There’s nothing more appealing after a five hour flight than a nice, cool bottle of Medalla– Puerto Rico’s famous light lager beer and a traditional Puerto Rican mofongo. If you’re staying in or near Condado Beach, head over to Orozco’s (https://m.facebook.com/pages/Orozcos-Restaurant/127942013941996) for a late lunch or dinner. Opt for anything and everything on the menu, I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Next, head over to Old San Juan and take a late night stroll through the streets, which are just as charming at night as they are during the day! Calle Fortaleza will certainly catch your eye as you approach the guarded residence of the island’s Governor called Palacio de Santa Catalina. You are able to visit the inside of the palace, just be sure to check the hours of operations beforehand and bring your ID!

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Castillo del Moro by night

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Long walks making you hungry or thirsty for some dancing? 😉 We recommend Nuyorican Café  for drinks, live music with a dolop of “salsa” dancing. After all, why wait to get the fiesta started?

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Walking down Calle San Josè- the streets of Viejo San Juan are full of surprises.

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Day #2:

El Castillo & El Fajardo by night

After a filling breakfast, get an early start exploring the 400-year old fort of El Castillo San Felipe del Morro. The fort typically opens at 9 AM, where you pay an entrance fee and are provided with a National Park service map.

There are several free tours and activities available, such as short movie clips and exhibits that local rangers working in the fort are kind enough to explain for free in English and Spanish.

Your admission fee, good for one week, pays for both El Morro and San Cristobal forts, which are a short walk from each other. There are plenty of fantastic photo-ops along the way from lighthouses, towers and staircases. The two forts take a minimum of an hour to several hours of exploring.

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views at Castillo San Felipe

After a few hours of checking out 17th century forts, you may want to start on your journey to the “wild side” of Puerto Rico and onto the jungle of Yunque and beaches of Luquillo. It will take you about 45-60 minutes by car from Old San Juan to get to El Yunque Rainforest, The United States’ only tropical rainforest, but not without stopping first at Puerto Rican’s finest BBQ, El Verde (https://www.facebook.com/pages/El-Verde-BBQ/305218302883901). Right off the carretera 3, El Verde BBQ, offers some of the cheapest, tastiest roadside treats EVER. Add a piña colada for good measure…and make sure you try the rotisserie chicken and mofongos…you can never get enough mofongos in Puerto Rico!

Depending on when you arrive to Luquillo, you may want to spend the day/night at a local Airbnb or hostel near Luquillo, Rio Grande or Fajardo, which are all generally in the same location. If you arrive midday, a good idea is to visit one of El Yunque’s favorite  beaches, Luquillo Beach.

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Floating around in picture-perfect Luquillo

Luquillo Beach is known for many things, best of all is its clear turquoise waters and “kioskos”. Locals, as well as tourists flock to this beach for dining and water sports. You can hang out with a good book overlooking the amazing El Yunque mountains around you, as well as participate in water activities such as jet-skiing, paddle boarding and jet-packing over the ocean.

Our favorite part was walking up to each one of the “kioskos”. Upon entry to the beach, you drive next to several little huts that include restaurants, snacks and little convenience stores. You can spend hours relaxing in Luquillo and its warm waters and make sure to grab a snack before heading home.

There is an entrance fee of $5 if you are parking. You may also rent lawn chairs and umbrellas until 5 PM.

One of Puerto Rico’s most standout activities is kayaking through the bioluminescent bay of Fajardo. Fajardo Bay, about 20 minutes from Luquillo, is one of few bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico. On a totally dark night, you are able to see hundreds of tiny plankton known as Dinoflagellates circling in a starry-like pattern around your kayak. Most tour companies offer 2 trips per day, one around 5:30 and the other around 7:30 PM. Here’s a link to one of them (http://www.ecoadventurespr.com/bio-bay-tour.html).

Day #3: El Yunque Rainforest

Get an early start at La Mina Falls before 9 AM. Puerto Rico’s most adorable waterfall is a 30-minute walk from the Big Tree Falls trail parking.  Tour buses and tourists arrive in the dozens around 10 AM, so get there early if you want to get a dip in the waterfall before the crowds come! Make sure to bring water shoes as there are several sharp rocks in and out of the waterfall.

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Taking a dip in La Mina Falls

Spend an hour or two splashing in the pools at La Mina Falls and then make your way back to the parking (about 40-45 minutes) while stopping and taking in the beautiful views!

Mount Britton Tower is a wonderful hike with an incredible view at the top. It takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour  and which is accessible by paved footpaths off of road #191. You can find a trail map of Mount Britton on this website http://www.elyunque.com/trailmap.htm.

Should you want to continue the hike once you hit Mt. Britton, there is Los Picachos, which is another 45 minute hike also boasting spectacular views on trail #17.

Eat:

Casa Cortes is chocolate amazingness (http://www.casacortespr.com/). An art gallery and chocolate bar, expect chocolate goodness in every bite. Situated on Calle San Francisco in Viejo San Juan, stop in for breakfast or a chocolate snack. They even have chocolate grilled cheese!

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Cold Chocolate Mocha
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Chocolate Quesadillas

Jose Enrique is another restaurant you do not want to miss while in Puerto Rico. With an unassuming location on Duffaut Street, Jose Enrique (http://www.joseenriquepr.com/) appears as small, ranch-style home with no large signage announcing its greatness. Each menu is prepared daily. Try the filete mignon and flan de cafe if you are lucky enough to be back when they are serving these delicacies, and wash it down with some sangria!

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Flan de cafe at Jose Enrique
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Some of the greatness at Jose Enrique

Drink:

La Barrachina (http://www.barrachina.com/) in Puerto Rico is the place to go if you want to try the home of first Piña Colada.

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If you like pina coladas, you’ll surely like this one!

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Wear:

  • Panama Hat- great accessory to pair with any of your colorful outfits, plus it keeps you out of the hot Puerto Rican sun. If you forget to bring it, head over to Calle de La Fortaleza and onto Ole Curiosidades (https://www.facebook.com/OleCuriosidades/where you can have one made custom in any color. Be forewarned- these fashionable hats don’t come cheap! Handmade hats can cost you anywhere from $60-$250! However, the reward is coming home with an unforgettable and classic souvenir! OLÉ!

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    As if the panama hats at Ole Curiosidades aren’t charming enough, the sign in the store reads, “we do not carry items made in china”.
  • Monochromatic dresses- gray, yellow, blue, white…so fun to dress these up with fun and colorful accessories! I love seeing how many different day→night outfits I can create using only dresses and accessories. They easily go  from casual to formal and depending on the material, can be purchased from almost any store and always look fabulous.
  • Vibrant jewelry & accessories- Pair wonderfully with the backdrop of colorful San Juan city. Those right yellow earrings and orange flats are perfect for San Juan. Bright sarongs or light scarves are definite do’s when you want to cover up at night or add that extra something to your look and they’re virtually weightless in your bag. Your accessories will totally work with your monochromatic dresses.image

Speak:

Official Languages of Puerto Rico are Spanish and English.

Hi/Hello, Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Night – Hola, Buenos días, Buenas tardes, Buenas noches

Goodbye, See you later- Adiós, Hasta Luego

Pardon Me/Excuse Me- Perdón, Disculpe

Where is…restroom/restaurant/bus stop/bank/money exchange?- ¿Donde está…el baño/el restaurante/la parada del autobus/el banco/cambio de moneda?

Is it close?- ¿Está cerca?

Is it far?- ¿Está lejos?

How much?- Cuánto cuesta?

Yes/No- sí/no

Thank you/very much- Gracias/Muchas gracias

You’re welcome/my pleasure- De nada/con gusto

Do you speak English?- ¿Habla ingles?

I don’t understand, could you repeat it?-No entiendo ¿lo puede repetir?