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A four day itinerary in the Cotswolds, England.

The Cotswolds, or the “The Wolds” is a southwestern region of rolling hills and quaint English villages. It was designated an “area of outstanding natural beauty,” the British equivalent of National Parks in the U.S.

The rolling green hills are decorated with honey-colored limestone houses with stone shingled roofs. Each village seems quintessentially British with a local pub and tea shops downtown.

Many of the towns in the Cotswold sprung from the wool industry, with historical mansions built for the wool merchants and smaller homes for the workers. 

With the industrial revolution and the development of cotton this region saw a major economic decline and many people left the countryside for the city. Now it’s a favorite seasonal get-away for Londoners and tourists in the mood for manor house nostalgia.

The Cotswold’s attracts many walkers for the long hiking trails known as Cotswold’s Way, St. Kenelm’s Way and Monarch’s Way. Many of which pass through English farmhouses and property.

Getting in: We rented a car from Robinson Gross (Tredington Park, Tredington, Shipston-on-Stour CV36 4RN, United Kingdom) just outside of Moreton-on-Marsh.  If you plan ahead and give them ample notice, they offer reasonably priced-rides to the train station. We took the train from  Gatwick Airport (directly to the right when you exit arrivals) to Reading and transferred to a second train heading to Moreton-on Marsh. You can also take the train to Oxford and transfer from there. 

The Lion Inn, in Winchombe was one of the coziest locations!

Accommodations: We wanted to stay in a charming older inn, and we had a car and could stay in a town that wasn’t a transportation hub. We chose The Lion Inn, (37 North Street, Winchcombe, Cheltenham) which proved to be a good home base after a day of trekking and exploring nearby villages.

Day 1: Enjoy a meal at your Inn or local gastropub. After a few hours of navigating the train system or driving in from London, get settled into your lodging. We stayed at the Lions Inn in Winchcombe and enjoyed our first meal at their delightful gastropub. We enjoyed a nightcap in front of their roaring fire. To celebrate your arrival and initiate your adventure, I recommend getting dinner at your local Inn, or a local village favorite that is within walking distance. This way you can still get up early the next morning and start exploring.

Day 2: Hike, Explore Broadway Hike, Explore Hailes Abbey, Broadway and Chipping Campden:

I like to get some exercise in before each adventure. Start your morning off by hiking either Cleeve Hill or Broadway Tower. If you choose Broadway Tower don’t bother paying the 5 pounds to go the three flights up, you have an equally beautiful cascading view from the hilltop.  After getting your hike in, feel free to go about your day in your hiking clothing, the area is very sporty. Check out Hailes Abbey, Chipping Campden and Broadway. Hailes Abbey (Hailes, Cheltenham GL54 5PB, United Kingdom) embodies the reminiscent ruins of a 13th century abbey. The heritage site includes a free audio guide and an intact church showcasing medieval paintings.  It also offers a great place to picnic or take a leisurely stroll. Next up on the itinerary is Broadway. I loved Broadway, with its expansive center and many shops and tea parlours.

We had high tea and snacks at Tisanes Tea Room (Cotswold House, 21 The Green, Broadway WR12 7AA, United Kingdom), which was affordable and low key. Tisanes attracts tourists as well as locals, and we noticed a local knitting group meeting for tea and conversation while we were there.

We had high tea and snacks at Tisanes Tea Room (Cotswold House, 21 The Green, Broadway WR12 7AA, United Kingdom), which was affordable and low key. Two of the grand hotels: The Lygon Arms and The Horse and the Hound, offer great options for a more upscale high tea experience. Spend an hour or so strolling through the town’s various shops. Don’t forget to snap a photo in front of the iconic red telephone booth. Next stop on the village itinerary is Chipping Campden, which is a fifteen minute car ride. For those on foot, it is a five mile walk.

Don’t miss an opportunity to walk down Chipping Campden’s High Street and experience the old Market Square, which was a sheep marketplace in an earlier era.

You can also saunter down to Broad Campden and back up, which provides a quaint respite. The walk is decorated with some iconic thatched roof houses. Once back in Chipping Campden, I recommend getting dinner at The Huxley (High St., Chipping Campden, United Kingdom) in the middle of the village center. Check out if they have a live music event, and in good weather,eat outdoors and get a feel for the village and its people. If you are in the mood for a nightcap at the end of your day, I recommend a visit to Hollow Bottom Beer Garden (Guiting Power, Cheltenham GL54 5UX) for a refreshing local brew from among the many beers on tap.

Day 3: Sudeley Castle, Lower Slaughter, Borton-on-the-water, and Stow-on-the-Wold:

Start your morning by exploring Sudeley Castle (Website,10:00AM-4:00PM, ~17pounds). Get your fill of centuries worth of English history! Next head over to Lower Slaughter. En route to Lower Slaughter, drive through small and underwhelming Upper Slaughter, which is not worth the stop. Once parked in Lower Slaughter, walk around the town and enjoy the beautiful running mill and attached cafe. We had the luxury of arriving just as they were putting some scones into the oven! After walking around Lower Slaughter, follow the 1.5 miles path to the left of the river to walk to the neighboring town of Bourton-on-the-water.

Bourton-on-the-water is absolutely beautiful, but does cater more to tourism. The village is known as “the Venice of the Cotswolds”. Enjoy a leisurely lunch and window shopping in Bourton-on-the-water, like the name entails a river runs through it. I loved just walking over the various bridges downtown. Take the leisurely walk back to your car and end your day in Stow-on-Wold.

The charming village of Bourton-on-the-water with it’s idyllic river through the center of town.

In Stow on the Wold, walk around the center of town, which is more “bustling” than the others. The multipurpose St Edward’s Hall is a library, tourist office and museum. If it peaks your interest, check out the English Civil War artwork on the second floor. The building was built in 1878 from unclaimed funds at the local bank. Don’t miss the medieval St. Edward’s Church.

Stow-on-Wold is home to St. Edward’s Church, which back door seems to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien with the door to Moria.

End your day with dinner at Porch House (1 Digbeth St, Stow-on-the-Wold, Cheltenham GL54 1BN, United Kingdom), publicizing itself as the oldest Inn in England. On their hearth, they have witches’ blessings engraved in the 1700s fireplace. Most of the area has fresh local produce and a seasonal menu. When I was there they had butternut squash risotto, it was amazing!

The Porch House, known as the oldest Inn in England.

Day 4: Daylesford, Woodstock and Blenheim Palace, and local favorite Falkland Arms:

Blenheim Palace

Start your morning off with brunch at Daylesford Organic Farm (Daylesford, Kingham, Moreton-in-Marsh GL56 0YG, United Kingdom) in Gloucestershire. In the United States we have John Deere farm equipment, in England they have JCB, started by Joseph Cyril Bamford in 1945. Anthony Bamford, succeeding his father as the current owner of JCB, was appointed a Lord in 2013. He is also a collector of antique Ferraris and other luxury cars. The Daylesford Organic Farm was started by his wife, Carole. This upscale farmstand is a must see, as it represents a positive outcome of a recent tourism movement in the Cotswolds: sleek, clean, and new. Focusing on organic farming and clothing, this farmstand is the definition of country chic. Spend some time walking around the farmhouse and shops.  Those who prefer to be pampered can get a massage at the spa.
 

 Spend the rest of the day at Blenheim Palace. It has a quirky place in history in that on November 30, 1874, Jennie Churchill was attending a party here when she began to go into labor and gave birth to Winston (what a surprise to the guests and the Churchills alike).

Blenheim Palace is the only English palace that is not in royal rule at this time; those “nonroyals” include Winston Churchill, Consuelo Vanderbilt, and Princess Diana before she married Prince Charles.

 In 1702, Queen Anne gave John Churchill the title of Duke of Marlborough and the Blenheim Palace after a successful victory over the French in the eponym, Battle of Blenheim.

I highly recommend the audio guide to enhance your Blenheim Palace visit. Grab a snack and a coffee from the cafe to sustain you through this expansive tour.

After spending the day at the luxurious Blenheim Palace and garden, enjoy a meal in the Village of Woodstock. I recommend the Black Prince (2 Manor Rd, Woodstock OX20 1XJ, United Kingdom), which has elevated pub food and a beautiful riverside dining area.

If you are looking for a long weekend out of Boston or New York, you may enjoy a weekend itinerary in Mexico City, Mexico; St. Augustine, Florida; or Barcelona, Spain.

My (Friend’s) Big Fat Greek Wedding!

Christen and Minas

For those who don’t know, when I am not traveling: I am a full time middle school counselor! And I love my kiddos! When I went to graduate school in New York City, somehow two of my grad school girlfriends were Greek-American. 

So, when my friend Christen went back one summer and met a Greek guy, Minas…it only seemed fitting for them to get married back on their island some years later. When she shared that they were getting married, my response was something like “hell yeah, I will be there!” And boy, I did not know what I was signing up for…when her bridal shower was semi formal and encompassed roughly 300 guests, I had to expect the wedding would be an affair.

The festivities started around three. In which we went to my friend Christen’s family house. For background, Christen’s grandparents were all raised in the village of Aperi on the Island of Karpathos. Every summer in childhood, Christen (and back in the day her parents) would visit their island for vacation. 

Karpathos, a large island in the Diocesan islands (‘diocesan’ literally translated to 12 islands; prematurely named despite now encompassing 15 large and 150 small islands). The island is matriarchal, so her mom inherited the house from her mother. I can get behind this tradition.

At the house were a lot of family and friends and local neighbors.  I was pinned with a blue scarf (the equivalence of a VIP stamp) to easily distinguish between close friends and family and distant relatives and friends at the 1,000 person wedding. 

The older male family members were all sitting around one table. There were enough people to consume two tables but were squeezed joyously into one.  Some with string instruments and others just vocals playing various traditional songs.

During this time we were offered an abundance of food and drink. In the corner was an offering of memories to the bride’s grandparents who had passed away. We sang, ate, and mingled for a few hours while Christen and her bridesmaids were getting ready. One family member of each Greek household would sing a song dedicated to Christen and her family.

Christen’s father went to the neighboring town of Spoa to give Minas, the groom, a blessing. A few hours later, Minas and all his Spoa family arrived in Aperi (Christen’s village) by car. They cheerfully walked the steep steps to Christen’s house by foot. The 100 extended family members sang to Christen in traditional fashion to  “convince” her to marry Minas (I think she was already convinced). We then all created a procession from her house down to the Church. We walked in a slow parade to the ornately decorated church. If I thought everyone’s outfits were glamorous, it paled in comparison to the blast of gold that came from entering the church.

I understood nothing of the church service in Greek. Typical of many weddings, at the end the bride and groom were in a receiving line. Along with the wedding dress, the bride wore gold coins, and while greeting guests she will be pinned with more gold coins from Karpathos guests as wedding gifts. Grandmothers and older family members would place rows of pearls around her neck and wrists.

 We went to our table which was filled with English speaking neighbors and friends. In this town, and I have seen in many European towns, the church is the meeting center of older towns. We had seats on the patio, and there was a second lower level for more guests.  We stayed on the outside patio next to the church tower. Projected on the facade of the church was film from the procession we had JUST participated in along with beautiful engagement photos of Christen and Minas! 

Next up was the grand entrance of the bride and groom. They had their first dance and many speeches. The couple’s first dance was celebrated with fireworks (not sparklers, actual fireworks). Karpathos wedding dinner menu: goat meat, rice and potatoes. I ate it without knowing what the meat was). The remainder of the night was filled with local dancing and music. When going to get a drink at the bar, we were immediately served because of the scarves that had been placed on us earlier in the night. 

The night consisted of hours of traditional music and dancing, which is extremely calming and rhythmic! This is why they can keep going until the wee hours of the morning, the dancing is mostly two steps forward one step back while holding onto the person next to you. (I wish I had my fitbit on..)

Another Greek tradition is that most of the relatives and close friends bring desserts. Koufeta (sugar-coated almonds) are a traditional party favor. Each guest at the wedding gets a gift bag that is then filled by family and friends with a sampling of each of their treats. This was absolutely lovely…but not in tune with my hot girl summer plans, haha. But don’t worry I sampled them all!

At 2:00AM when we were saying our goodbyes to go home, Christen told us that we should wait because they were switching from live traditional Greek music to pop music with a DJ. We lasted for a couple songs of Greek pop music and then called it quits. 

Thank you to Christen and Minas for inviting me to participate in your beautiful ceremony and for giving me a non-romantic plus one. Thank you to Jen, my hot date and favorite travel companion!

A long weekend in Savannah, GA!

Okay, I love Savannah! My motivation to work remotely from Savannah in the winter of 2021 was to escape the frosty New England weather at a time when all of the gyms were closed due to Covid restrictions.  As a planned city (by an early settler named Oglethorpe) Savannah is easy to navigate and very walkable.  I enjoyed long walks through quaint Savannah admiring the architecture, with so many beautiful front stoops leading to elegant and colorful old houses. Savannah is also well-known for its 22 squares, with Spanish moss trees overlooking all of the public parks, enhancing its Southern-Gothic feel. For me, the thing that set Savannah apart from other charming southern cities like Charleston or Beaufort, SC was that Savannah is far funkier. It is home to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), one of the largest art universities in the US. The city is known for its antiques, boutiques, and lively characters. 

I highly recommend watching the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which captured the vibe of this captivating southern city, while telling the true story about some memorable residents.

Getting there: The Savannah/ Hilton Head Airport is about a 25 minute drive from downtown Savannah. For those looking for nearby day trips, read my article about some of the neighboring towns. 

Accommodations: I recommend booking accommodations at a downtown hotel or airbnb. I recommend staying within the geographic rectangle between the River, East Victory, Montgomery, and East Broad st. By no means is this restrictive and you can find great accommodations outside of those limits but for the most comfortable stay, I recommend staying within those parameters. 

Here is my weekend itinerary for Savannah:

Friday evening:

Fly in and get settled into your accommodations. I recommend starting your night with a Haunted Tour which is a great way to get a lay of the land and know some of the spooky history that Savannah has to offer. There’s many restaurants but maybe the most famous is called The Olde Pink House (23 Abercorn St, Savannah, GA 31401). Which has an amazing menu and fabulous ambiance and service. It’s very popular so you definitely need reservations.

Saturday:

Grab coffee and some tex-mex breakfast fare at the Foxy Loxy Cafe (1919 Bull St, Savannah, GA 31401). I recommend renting a car (or get an Uber) to Bonaventure Cemetery. It’s spooky especially with the weeping willows and moss on the graves. It’s featured in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. At the entrance they have a $1 audio tour online that you can download. Also located just outside of Savannah proper is Pin Point Museum, Wormsloe Historic Site, and Tybee Island. The Pinpoint Museum is the location of the black community and is a great way to experience the robust Gullah/ Geechee culture. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is from here! The Geechee (known as Gullah in South Carolina), both a culture and an English-based Creole language spoken by the people formerly enslaved from West African. The Wormsloe Historic Site, which is instagramable but overall the site is underwhelming at its entrance fee of $10. If the weather is warm you could also go to Tybee Island and Fort Pulaski, while down there I would recommend The Original Crab Shack (40 Estill Hammock Rd, Tybee Island, GA 31328) for local seafood.

Return back to Savannah proper and enjoy a day just sauntering around the mystical streets. Enjoy a sunset cocktail at one of the many rooftop decks, Peregrine (256 E Perry St, Savannah, GA 3140) is a favorite. I happen to have gone to Service Brewing Company (574 Indian St, Savannah, GA 31401) which is a brewery owned by veterans and they hire mostly veterans. Try another local favorite of either Husk (12 W Oglethorpe Ave, Savannah, GA 31401) or low key The Green Truck Pub (2430 Habersham St, Savannah, GA 31401).

Sunday:

I love to start my day with a run. Forsythe Park which is the largest of those 22 squares is beautiful and it’s one mile in circumference. At the center of the park is an iconic and photogenic fountain. Within the park is also a Collins Quarter, (621 Drayton St, Savannah, GA 31401) a popular brunch spot in Savannah. Please note that one of the most popular brunch spots, Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room is only open on weekdays.

Enjoy the morning walking around and window shopping in some of the many antique shops. I recommend walking along the river. The Port of Savannah is one of the largest in the USA and sees a couple million containers each year, which results in a surprisingly bustling port (and great for boat watching.) While walking around the city, I recommend trying some of the famous Leopold’s Ice Cream before heading home!

Itching for more ideas for Southern Charm? Check out my article on 5 Southern Coastal Towns worth a visit!

An Ideal Ten Days in the Amalfi Coast and Islands

Amalfi coast with its breathtaking views and cliff-hanging pastel homes is known for its limoncello drinks, jaw dropping views and terraced gardens. While other Italian cities like Rome, Florence and Venice are known for their churches and museums, the Amalfi Coast is known for its ambience and natural landscape and is best done just enjoying it at your own pace. Located three hours south of Rome on a peninsula that jets out to the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Expect to see tons of American honeymooners (I have three friends who honeymooned here) but it still does not detract from the natural beauty. Whilst I mentioned honeymooners, the Amalfi Coast of Italy offers adventures for any type of traveler with any company: whether it be a honeymoon, a girls trip, or a family vacation. 

Where to stay: all of the towns in the Amalfi Coast are majestic but I prefer Positano for its size (Salerno being too large and some of the other towns are very small) and centrality on the Peninsula. In addition to having access to any day trips/ excursions. 

Timing: The weather is most comfortable from April until October, and I personally prefer traveling on the “shoulder” seasons, meaning May/June or September/October, to alleviate  the long lines, congestion and heat. 

I would suggest reading One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle, which is set in the Amalfi Coast or My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante which is set in Naples and has been adapted into a Netflix series by the same name. 

Day 1 of 10: Rome

Fly into Rome.

Roma Caput Mundi is a Latin phrase meaning “Rome capital of the world” and it conjures up an image of the  historical significance of Rome.  The steeple-loaded skyline reminds visitors that Rome is the capital of the Catholic Church and the seat of the Papacy. The layers of over 4 millenia worth of history interwoven into a modern city attest to the vitality and vibrancy of a city still buzzing with life (and Vespas). Simply walking the streets of Rome, sometimes referred to as “the open air museum,” opens up the famous sights including artistic masterpieces from every century of European history. While exploring without a plan will provide a treasure chest worth of sights, I would recommend sticking to a more concrete itinerary if this is your first time in Rome, or lest you miss the major sights. Rome wasn’t built in a day and it cannot be described in one paragraph nor seen in one day so prepare your expectations if you want to see some of the mahoy sites that you may run into long lines (especially in the summer months).

Get settled into your hotel. Enjoy a pasta or pizza filled evening topped off with some delicious gelato! There are so many options for dining in Rome but a favorite is walking through Trastevere’s charming streets.  The Italians eat late, so prepare to begin dinner around 9:00 pm, unless you want to be the only diners. I love getting gelato and slowly enjoying the ten minute walk between the Trevi fountain to the Spanish Steps!

Day 2 of 10:

Enjoy a slow morning in Rome before commuting down to the Amalfi Coast. Italians often have a light breakfast of bread and jam. I have lots of recommendations for transportation.  My recommendation is to take a train from Rome to Salerno and then you can take a 1 hour 10 minute commuter ferry to Positano. You can either take a high speed direct train to Naples and switch to a local train (round trip ~2 hours 30 minutes.) Or take a non stop trenitalia to Salerno. Please double check where your train is departing from because there are two stations in Rome, Tiburtina and Termini. 

Once in Salerno you can take a ferry to Positano. You get the views of a tour boat with the price of public transit. Positano is beautifully built on a mountainside, so wherever you go it is either up or down. Your hotel will either meet you at the dock or you will have to schlep your stuff up the cobblestone steps. 

Get settled into your accommodation. Enjoy walking around the narrow streets, but don’t miss a sunset aperol spritz before dinner with a view of the turquoise sea!

Day 3 of 10: Enjoy a leisurely day in Positano!

Our hotel, Buca di Bacco,  provided a delicious breakfast with a view. The most popular beach in Positano is Spiaggia Grande, with its bright colored umbrellas and beautiful vistas. We spent the morning at the pebbly beach and sunbathing at the hotel itself. The Tyrrhenian Sea was warm when we swam in it! (And it wasn’t from the numerous kids swimming in it…) We found it easy to enjoy a leisurely sun soaked lunch at one of the many restaurants that line the beach. Expect fresh fish from the sea!

Montepertuso (literally translated to English as “hole in the mountain”), is the quaint village above Positano.  I recommend getting dinner there one night. The terraced restaurant, Il Ritrovo, provides panoramic views! Most of the restaurants offer free shuttles from Positano up to Montepertuso.

Day 4 of 10: Hike of the Gods (“Il Sentiero degli Dei”)

For those who want to get a little workout accompanied with amazing sights: I highly recommend the Hike of the Gods (“Il Sentiero degli Dei”) which you can do the entire hike or just part of it. If you are doing the entire hike (~4.7miles, takes between 2-4 hours) I recommend taking the bus or a taxi to Bomerano and then hiking DOWN to Positano. Reward yourself with sunbathing and delicious food! 

Consider two of the alternative beaches to Spiaggia Grande: Laurito beach which is accessible by boat or Fornilla Beach which is accessible by a beautiful narrow road from Positano Harbor. Tiny and secluded Laurito beach is home to Ristorante Da Adolfo, which provides a boat shuttle to the restaurant every half hour. Looking for the iconic red fish on the mast, I highly recommend getting reservations ahead of time because the beach and restaurant can fill up. Fornilla beach, which is easily accessible by the road next to the harbor, is often less crowded than the main beach; it can still get crowded in summer months. 

Enjoy another evening of dinner and an aperitivo.

Day 5 of 10: Take a cooking class

Enjoy sleeping in during the morning, and leisurely walking around Positano or heading to the beach. 

We took a wonderful cooking class through Ristorante Buca di Bacco. It started at 3:30 and then finished with a group meal at 5:00PM. They taught us how to make pizza, gnocchi and a dessert. It was a great way to rub elbows with local chefs while having a good time. It also is a great lesson to bring home and host others at your house (I “hosted” a dinner party and put all my guests to work creating homemade gnocchi and pesto)! 

For those who are interested, spend your evening in the town of Ravello. Ravello is home to the Moorish-style Villa Rufolo, which hosts the Ravella Music Festivals on its beautiful terraced gardens. Get tickets beforehand because it’s quite popular. 

Day 7 of 10: Side trip to one of the islands of Naples Bay (Capri, Procida or Ischia)

There are three islands in the Gulf of Naples: Rustic Ischia (for my readers- this is where Lenu and Lila from book and netflix series My Brilliant Friend vacation), quaint Procida (Europe’s cultural Capital of 2022), or lavish Capri. For those who choose to do a day or overnight trip to one of the nearby Italian islands, there are direct ferries from Positano to Capri and Ischia. Procida requires a transfer to get to the island, making it less enticing for a day trip from the Amalfi Coast. This can easily be an overnight stay, enjoying leisure overnight in paradise. 

Day 8 of 10: enjoy a day on a Naples Bay Island (Capri, Procida or Ischia)

Each island has its own unique identity and interests:

Shopping and Dining: The island of Capri is famous for upscale shopping and dining in the downtown of Capri and more natural beauty is the higher altitude village of Anacapri. A highlight was getting a private boat tour around the island, a great way to leisurely see the rugged landscape. This included quite a few stops to swim including in the famous Blue Grotto (“Grotta Azzurra”). While everything in Capri is absolutely stunning, walking around the town is like walking through Disney, waiting in line for everything (including ice cream, restaurants, etc).

Spa: Rustic Ischia is known for its thermal baths: Negombo Thermal Hot Springs (at Spiaggio San Montano) and Giardini Poseidon Terme are the two most popular! Castello Aragonese, the Thermal Baths, and Green Grotto (Grotta Verde) are all worth it to check out. But if you are looking for a relaxing overnight: I recommend the beach and a spa!

Culture: Small but mighty Procida is  a 1.5 square mile island between Naples and Ischia. Known for its colorful Marina Grande, this tiny island was nominated Italy’s Capital of Culture 2022. The island boasts: lovely mediterranean beaches, fisherman villages, fortified medieval town, and Vivara Nature Preserve. An overnight stay in Procida is relaxing and manageable.

Day 9 of 10: Stop at Pompeii on your commute back

Commute back to Rome in the evening. For the history buffs, you can stop at Pompeii on your train from Sorrento to Rome. They have free luggage storage at the gate to the site. I love using Rick Steves free audio guide to accompany my visit! For me, it gives just enough information without staying for hours. 

Enjoy another evening in Rome!

Day 10 of 10:

Fly home.

If you are interested in other 10 Day European itineraries check out my posts on Italy: Rome, Florence and Venice; Puglia, Italy;  Andalusia, Spain; or Greece: Athens, Santorini, Mykonos.

If you are exploring the Southern region of Italy, check out my itineraries for the Locorotondo and Martina Franca.

A Day in Lecce, Italy

Known as the “Florence of the South” for its beautiful Baroque buildings. Surrounded by gentle hillsides dotted with enchanting villages, Lecce is a laid-back city with hospitable people, great food and natural and architectural beauty.  A university city and capital of the province by the same name in the Apulia (or Puglia in English) region of Italy. For those who say Italy looks like a boot, Lecce is located in the middle of the actual heel.  Lecce is known for the wine and olive oil industry. No surprise here…the city includes many churches, plazas, and even a Roman amphitheater. While larger than the quaint Pulgian villages, this is also best explored aimlessly meandering the old cobblestone streets. 

Start your morning off with a coffee in Lecce’s Centro Storico:

Start your morning off with a coffee in one of the many Piazzas in Lecce’s Centro Storico (historic center):

What feels like the epicenter of Lecce is the buzzing Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Site to a Roman Amphitheater, Palazzio di Seggio, and a column in honor of St. Oronzo, the patron saint of Lecce. Don’t worry: there is even a McDonald’s where you can get a cheap ice cream cone! Both Pasticceria Natale (Via Salvatore Trinchese, 7) and Caffe Alvino (Piazza Sant’Oronzo, 30) offer great pastries and coffee. The pasticciotto is a favorite pastry of Puglians! If you end up meandering back to the plaza, Il Fornaio (Piazza Sant’Oronzo, 23) is great for sandwiches!

For those who have the stamina for yet another Italian church…the Basilica di Santa Croce (Via Umberto I, 1) and Duomo di Lecce (Piazza del Duomo) would be the two highlights of Lecce. The historic Piazza del Duomo is worth a walk around in your Lecce wandering.

Consider a day trip or activity:

We chose to take a day trip out to an old olive oil farm, Masseria Flaminio. We found it through airbnb experiences. Ariana, who manages the farm inherited from her father. Her great-grandfather bought the land from the church in the late 19th century. During WWII American Soldiers occupied the main house and used the secondary house as a prison for German Soldiers. Our tour included a comparison of 400 year old olive trees and 4 year old trees. 

Enjoy a relaxing meal and local drinks:

One of my favorite memories of Lecce was just walking around with my friends at dusk, getting dinner and drinks over many laughs. The region is famous for orecchiette pasta (which is named after its shape, ‘small ears’) most often served with fresh seasonal vegetables. Lecce is most famous for its olive oil and wine, so make sure to try some locally sourced products when ordering!

This is easily placed into a ten day itinerary in Puglia, Italy.  If you are exploring the Southern region of Italy, check out my itineraries for the breathtakingly beautiful Matera, relaxed beachside Polignano e Mar, quaint Locorotondo and Martina Franca.

What is a Masseria?

What is an Italian Masseria?

A “masseria” is an Italian version of a plantation, hacienda, or farm. The name masseria is used mostly in the Puglia region of Italy. From the 16th to 18th century,  masserias were the farmhouses in which workers and “pedrones” (English: master/boss) would reside while harvesting large farms. Italy has a number of farmhouses which are still on functioning farms and which are available as unique lodging accommodation. 

We stayed at a converted 16th century farmhouse in Lecce, Italy. The owners made the best meal of our vacation, with fresh ingredients from their multiple gardens!

Where to find a masseria?

Sometimes referred to as “Agriturismo” you can find many of these Italian farmhouse accommodations at agriturismo.it, a state supported website started in the 80’s in order to promote rural communities. While, in English speaking countries it is known as Farm Stay Holidays. Many of these accommodations can be found on bookings.com, VRBO, and Airbnb. Don’t be surprised to find stays ranging in prices as much as a major city, as some of these stays can be a bit pricey. For those who are looking for reasonable or often FREE accommodations, you can find accommodations on the website, https://wwoof.net/ . Which is an acronym for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or Willing Workers on Organic Farms. Most WWOOF farms provide free accommodation in exchange for light manual labor around the farm.

A long weekend in Tucson, AZ

Arizona’s “second city,” makes a great snowbird weekend getaway for adventure and food. It is often overlooked for spa retreats in Scottsdale or the landscape of bucket list destinations such as Flagstaff,  Sedona, or the Grand Canyon. Tucson, which is surrounded by desert and mountains, is the best place to see the large Saguaro cactus. In 2015, Tucson was named a UNESCO city of Gastronomy, for the Mexican and Native American food that dates back 4,000 years. The saguaro freckled city has delicious and inventive food. Home to the picturesque University of Arizona, don’t be surprised to see many wildcat clad young adults. The local community is active and friendly, you will see people out for walks, hikes, and bike rides most days.

Since most of the sights are national parks or mountains, I created an itinerary based on geographical location. A day seeing the western sites, a day dedicated to the northern/eastern sites and a half day downtown. Here is my itinerary which each day can be changed up to your liking and interests.

Day 1: West

Depending on the time of year that you arrive and your level of ambition, start your day off with a sunrise hike up Sentinel Peak (or “A” Mountain for the University of Arizona) or Tumamoc Mountain. Tumamoc mountain has a free audio guide you can download as you walk up! Afterwards you can grab a breakfast pastry from La Estrella Bakery or breakfast burritos from Seis Kitchen both located in the Mercado San Agustin. 

Next up, hop in your car and head to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which includes a zoo, botanical garden, and natural history museum. You can easily spend two hours walking a loop of the premise and learning about the desert animals and plants. My favorite part was the humming bird exhibit. The museum is a quick ten minute drive to the The Red Hills Visitors Center of Saguaro National Park West. An easy way to orient yourself is driving the Bajada Loop Drive and getting off for brief walks around on the Desert Discovery Nature Trail (0.4 miles), Signal Hill Trail (0.5 miles +picnic area), Cactus Garden Trail (0.2), and Valley View Overlook. For those looking for a more rigorous workout, I recommend either the 3.5 mile King Canyon Trail or 4.9 mile Hugh Norris Trail.

Sunset at Gates Pass Scenic Road

Coordinate your return to Tucson with sunset at Gates Pass Scenic Road (use the google maps location: Gates Pass Trailhead).

Grab some dinner and drinks at Mercado San Agustin, the site of Tucson’s first public market, or nearby MSA Annex, outdoor mall and food court in tastefully refurbished shipping containers. Tacos at Seis and Japanese food from Kukai are delicious. 

Day 2: East

Start your day driving the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive at Saguaro National Park East. For those who are into biking, it makes for a terrific and hilly 8 mile loop! Take a brief detour for the quarter mile Desert Ecology Trail or 1 mile Freeman Homestead Trail. For those who are more interested in a long hike, I recommend the Verde Ridge Trail.

Next up on the docket is Sabino Canyon (shuttle or hike up). For those who are into hiking, consider the longer: Blackett’s Ridge, Phoneline Trail, or Cardiac Gap. In the early evening, drive up Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, which is most interesting to watch the topography change as you drive. By the time we got to the top, we were looking at snow capped mountains with pine trees! Try to find the line where the cactus end and the pine trees begin!

If your Mt. Lemmon drive coincides with sunset, aptly named Windy Point Vista is a great spot to watch sunset. Pack layers accordingly.

Day 3: Downtown

Downtown Tucson is home to the University of Arizona, Artisan Shops in old Adobe buildings, the museum and the Southern Arizona Welcome Center. I recommend starting with breakfast or brunch at Cup Cafe (open hours: 8-3, 4-9pm) at the Hotel Congress, which was founded in 1919 and is the location of where the FBI arrested John Dillinger in 1934. It has live music in the evenings and both indoor and outdoor seating. They only take dinner reservations, so at times the brunch can have a wait.

Hotel Congress is adjacent to the funky 4th avenue which leads up to the university. I recommend taking a walk, and checking out the different murals.  Most of the murals are on 4th Avenue, Congress St and Broadway. Here is a map of them

For those who are interested, they can check out the University of Arizona campus. Or even see if a basketball game is playing! If you happen to get hungry near the U of A, Lindy’s on 4th has great burgers and Carusos and Ermanos all have great food. 

After a walk, you can loop back (walking or with a cheap uber) to Congress Street. I recommend checking out the Southern Arizona Welcome Center, which is housed in the iconic county courthouse, with a brightly tiled dome! 

For those looking for more food options, I recommend Penca (awesome Mexican City style food), Senai Thai, El Charro, or Coronet Restaurant. 

If you are looking for some nightlife, see if anything is playing at Fox theater or Arizona Theater company, both small historic theaters. For drinks I recommend Pothole for inventive cocktails, unpretentious Revel Wine Bar, and Cobra Arcade for a fun bar atmosphere with vintage video games! 

While it’s listed on most of the guidebooks, I find the Mission San Xavier del Bac underwhelming, albeit it’s free!

Our trip happened to coincide with the Tucson Rodeo, La Fiesta de Vaqueros. We went to the iconic parade and the Rodeo itself. Nearby we got a hot dog from El Guero Canelo Restaurant (they also have amazing burritos, too!)

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for other college town of Ann Arbor, MI, Madison, WI, and Columbus, OH. Or a few warm weather California destinations, check out my weekend itinerary for San Diego, Santa Barbara, Napa Valley, Santa Ynez Valley and San Luis Obispo.

5 Best Coffee shops in Barrio Logan, San Diego

I love spending an afternoon in the vibrant Barrio Logan neighborhood. Known for its food, activism, and artwork. I first discovered the neighborhood because of the beautiful murals depicting indigenous deities, famous Chicanos, and local activists. Known for grassroots activism and good food, this makes for a great afternoon excursion while in San Diego.

While the area is geographically expansive, the business district, featuring shops, restaurants and galleries is roughly one mile from start to end. The resilient community of Chicano Americans has been empowered through grassroots organizing for years. Many of the businesses are owned by local San Diegans and even more so from Barrio Logan natives. 

Here is a list of my favorite coffee shops in Barrio Logan and what each shop has to offer. Truly, you cannot go wrong with any of these! Enjoy a caffeine laden afternoon in Barrio Logan. 

Cafe Moto

Address: (2619 National Ave, San Diego, CA 92113) 

Owners: Torrey and Kimberly Lee

Opened: 1990, but family has been roasting since 1960s

What sets it apart: best grab and go, solar powered, started for a love of motorcycles and coffee. 

Cafe Virtuoso 

Address: (1616 National Ave, San Diego, CA 92113) 

Owner: Laurie Britton

Opened: 2008

What sets it apart: organic coffee and tea. Best for the tea lover!

Chikita Cafe 

Address: (1875 Newton Ave, San Diego, CA 92113) 

Owner: Celina Hernandez

Opened: 2017

What sets it apart: End your day with a sweet and coffee from for those who like a little sweet to accompany their artisan coffee drinks! It’s in a garage with a hot pink door and sells trinkets from local designers.

Por Vida 

Address: (2146 Logan Ave, San Diego, CA 92113) 

Owners: Carolina Santana and Milo Lorenzana

Opened: 2015

What sets it apart: best all around coffeehouse, featuring rotating artwork, frequent popup shops in the space.

Ryan Bros Coffee

Address: (1894 Main St, San Diego, CA 92113) 

Owners: Brothers Harry, Carmine & Tom Ryan

Opened: 1994; 2003 in Barrio Logan

What sets it apart: runner up for best all around coffeehouse, industrial size coffee house next to the arches as you enter Barrio Logan.

Honorable mention: Storymakers Coffeeroasters (2309 National Ave Suite B, San Diego, CA 92113) 

Ten Days in Puglia, Italy

Puglia, Italy is known for its terraced country gardens, whitewashed villages, fresh farm-to-table restaurants and seaside Adriatic towns. For those who say Italy looks like a boot, this is the “heel” region. Once a part of mankind’s first democracy as part of Magna Grecia (ancient Greece), the region is rich and deep in history. When my friend, Jen, from World On a Whim, recommended a ten day vacation to the Puglia region during my Spring break, I could not resist!

Suggested Itinerary

Getting there: We had flights from the US to Rome, and then took the train to Bari. We then rented a car and explored the Puglia region and included a side trip to Matera in Basilicata, which was named the 2019 Cultural Capital of Europe. Renting a car from Bari is the easiest way to get around this region of Italy. There are trains that service this area, but the timing and availability is somewhat limited. 

Day HighlightOvernight
1RomeBari
2MateraMatera
3MateraMatera
4AlberobelloAlberobello
5Martina FrancaAlberobello
6LocorotondoLecce
7LecceLecce
8LeccePolignano e Mar
9Polignano e Mar Rome
10RomeHome

Accommodations: This region has interesting hotel options including a cave in Matera, a Masseria in the countryside, and a Trulli in Alberobello. We stayed in a carefully renovated, beautiful cave hotel. I would recommend this unique experience. Please see this article for more information about the unique accommodations in this region. 

Day 1 of 10: 

“Get in, get a meal, and get out.” We heard this about Bari, a port, a college town and the capital of the Apulia (or Puglia in English) region of Italy. We were pleasantly surprised by Bari when we arrived and spent a half day exploring. The Adriatic waterfront area is beautiful, the weaving streets of the old city were jam-packed with historic appeal while still being manageable in a short amount of time. 

Arrive in Bari and get settled into your lodging. Bari has a sizeable train station for east-west travel and also an ample port, offering many ferry options on the Adriatic Sea.  Most tourists stop here as a point of transit onto other destinations, but it’s worthy of sime sight-seeing while you’re here . We spent a travel-weary night in Bari to get over some jetlag and to calibrate to the timezone.

The two areas of Bari to explore in a half-day are the Murat area, which is the modern shopping district, and Bari Vecchia, the old town which includes historical sights such as ancient churches, a castle and the old city walls. 

Start your day by strolling down Via Sparano da Bari, the main pedestrian shopping street. The locals shop along Via Sparano da Bari, and it offers many choices, including Zara, H&M, and Sephora as well as local options in case you need almost anything. Take a side-saunter down Via Nicolò Putignani to observe the architecture on Teatro Petruzzelli (Corso Cavour, 12).

One of my favorite parts of Bari is the converted 1928 art nouveau Palazzo Mincuzzi that is now a Benetton store.

Make your way into Bari Vecchia, the previously-walled city where the true highlight for me was exploring the maze-like streets of the old town. Walk along the former walls of the city, Via Venezia, which overlooks the Adriatic Sea.  Do not miss the 11th century Basilica San Nicolas (Largo Abate Elia, 13). You may want to visit the church of Saint Nicholas (on whom Santa Claus is based)  in the old city where the relics of the saint remain.  Santa Claus is based on Saint Nicholas, which makes this a pilgrimage destination for many Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians. The Bari Cathedral or Cathedral of San Sabino (Piazza dell’Odegitria) and Castello Normanno-Svevo (Via Pier l’Eremita, 25/b) originally built in 1132, are both worth a peek inside while touring. You may also want to explore the iconic pink Museo Teatro Margherita (Teatro Margherita, Piazza IV Novembre) which is situated on the waterfront.

 While we did not take a walking tour, there are many free (or on tip basis) walking tours of the city that may be worth your while to get an understanding of the history of the region. For those who are interested in art and have more time, the Pinacoteca Provinciale di Bari or Painting Gallery of Metropolitan City of Bari (Via Spalato, 19) provides a scenic respite from the hot sun.

Get some dinner at La Tana del Polpo (Strada Vallisa, 50), it has an iconic giant plastic octopus on the ceiling, reminiscent of Spiderman. This restaurant has attentive service, local wines and fabulous seafood. A great thing about this region is that agriculture is plentiful and you can enjoy fresh local produce in your meals.

Day 2 of 10:

Get up early to begin your trip towards Matera. “Tragically beautiful” Matera has gone from rags to riches over the past century.  Evacuated in the 1950’s for rampant poverty and disease, Matera was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1993, and in 2019 it was recognized as a European Cultural Capital. 

Start your morning in the new town at the no-frills Caffè Schiuma di Rocco Luigi Schiuma (Via T. Stigliani, 92). Spend some time walking around the Civic Center of the new town section of Matera. The contrast between the modern sections of Matera and the ancient Sassi section of the city is striking. 

No amount of scrolling through photos prepared me for the awe that I felt when I arrived at the top of the Sassi and was wonderstruck by the panoramic views of the ancient ravine falling far below. Definitely take some time to let it sink in. In our case, we were in a car and that moment went on too long as we were quickly interrupted with honking from a car behind us! Nothing like modern traffic to bring you back to the present. 

The Sassi is best explored on foot. Definitely wear comfortable shoes, or even better, hiking boots,  because you will be navigating up and down ancient narrow passageways and following the routes of centuries of pedestrians. Many historians feel that the old town is reminiscent of Old Jerusalam and, in fact, the Mel Gibson film, The Passion of Christ, was filmed here.   I would recommend starting at Casa Noha (Recinto Cavone, 9) for a foundation of the history of Matera. You can watch multimedia displays, with large video projections on the walls, as you move through various rooms which make the exhibit interactive. Spend a few hours walking around the shops and hotels of Sassi Barisano and the cave dwellings of Sassi Caveoso. Check out the Church of Saint Mary of Idris (Via Madonna dell’Idris). Make your way to the Cathedral of Saint Mary “della Bruna” and Saint Eustace in the Piazza Duomo. This cathedral is the highest point in Matera and is the mid-point between the two Sassis.

In the early evening, take a drive to see the sunset at Asceterio di Sant’Agnese (Contrada Murgia Timone, 75100) or Belvedere di Murgia Timone. We plugged this address into our GPS, but had to park a some distance away in a parking lot. Plan to arrive before sunset so that you have time to explore the isolated caves and the green area. 

Hermit monks fled persecution and inhabited the cavernous developments. Ancient novice frescoes can be seen on cave dwellings at the Rupestrian Church of San Vito Alla Murgia.

Your accommodation should be able to recommend some restaurants based on your preferences. We ate at Da Zero (Via Madonna delle Virtù, 13) and loved the pizza. I would recommend getting an evening glass of wine at Enoteca Dai Tosi (Via Bruno Buozzi, 12) in one of the cozy alcoves. To enter you take a steep set of stairs into a cavernous interior that was a former cistern for drinking water. 

Day 3 of 10:

Get a coffee and pastry at Caffè Vergnano 1882 (Via del Corso, 78) then ONLY if you are as big of a nerd as I am, I would recommend going to Museo di Palazzo Lanfranchi (Piazetta Pascoli 1). The Palazzo itself is intriguing architecturally speaking. Yet, I truly went just to see Carlos Levy’s moving large installation portraying the poverty in the 20th century that led to his book. 

The museum is located in Belvedere di Piazza Giovanni Pascoli (Piazzetta Pascoli) which offers a wonderful view of the Sassi from the new town and should not be missed. Again, spend your day walking around the Sassi. I went to the La Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario (Vico Solitario, 11), which I realize is the 3rd museum in two days but I truly wanted to see what it would actually feel like to live here back in the 20th century.

Get a cocktail at Area 8 (Via Casalnuovo, 15) this area, which encompasses Enoteca Dai Tosi, can be very lively at night with college students and it’s great for people watching. 

Day 4 of 10: 

The regions abundance of limestone, karst and calcareous sedimentary were used to create the mortarless houses. Why mortarless? As the 18th century population increased people created the commune of Alberobello, the local count didn’t want to pay taxes for a new development to the Spanish Viceroyal of Bourbon and therefore requested his citizens to create housing that was easy to dismantle. 

Alberobello (direct translation is “pretty tree”), the UNESCO world heritage site is known for their signature Trulli houses. A Trulli looks like a hobbit or troll house, but is a small hut-like building with conical ceiling in the Puglia region of Italy. Originally used as a storage house, the rural Puglia roads are dappled with trullis. Alberobello has the largest conglomeration of trullis. The city’s filled with Camera ladden tourists taking photos of trulli’s, majority of which have been converted to the tourism industry: gift shops, museums, and accomodations.

Personally I have a love/hate relationship with Alberobello, you need to go see it because it is so iconic, yet it is so touristy that you will be exhausted. All authenticity of this town has completely given over to tourism in order for the local economy to survive. This is the largest concentration of Trulli’s and it is truly unique to stay in one and walk around and see them. So my recommendation would be a two day one night stay and to manage your expectations. Expect camera clad tour buses rolling in mid-day. We chose to stay in Alberobello, and this allowed us to leave the town when it got crowded, but appreciate the unique architecture in the morning and evenings. 

The two areas of Alberobello to explore in this half day are the Rione Monti quarter (“Mountain” district), which is the most condensed trullis in the touristy and commercial district and the more local neighborhood, Rione Aia Piccola (roughly translated to “Small yard district), where some of the trullis are still residences.

Making your way into the Rione Monti quarter, the true highlight for me was walking the stone hilly streets of the trulli neighborhood. The Belvedere Santa Lucia (Via Contessa, 70011 Alberobello BA, Italy) provides the best panoramic views of the trullis. There is a fountain and a bench nearby, if you need a rest from weaving the streets. The Church of Saint Anthony of Padua (Piazza Antonio Lippolis Canonico, numero 16, 70011 Alberobello BA, Italy) and the Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian (Piazza Antonio Curri, 1848-1916, 70011 Alberobello BA, Italy) are both worth a peek inside while exploring. 

Where to eat: All of the food in this area is phenomenal. Most restaurants are farm to table and serve  seasonal menus. Ristorante Trullo Garden (Via Piave, 35) had a great wine selection and local seasonal produce. Trattoria Terra Madre (Piazza Sacramento, 17) stuck out as our favorite, serving produce from the organic garden in the back. The region is known for orecchiette, which was part of most of the pre-fix menus. 

Day 5 of 10: 

To avoid the midday tourists in Alberobello, spend an afternoon wine tasting and enjoying the village of Martina Franca. Martina Franca is an ancient  town known for its fine food, home-grown wine, textiles, soccer and opera music. Green and blue shutters provide a contrast to white sandstone buildings that are tanned with age. This beautiful town provides a wonderful site for a leisurely day in the Puglian sun. 

Visit the I Pastini winery. Out in the rolling hills of the Valle d’Itria, I Pastini offers tours and wine tasting at reasonable prices and sells wine to take home or to be shipped. Take the tour and learn how the farming community has lived in Southern Italy for thousands of years, and how wine is made. This region is known for red-wine grapes called “Susumaniello,” which is one of the world’s rarest wine grapes. The vineyard uses the region’s iconic truli in its original capacity, as a farm shed. 

From the winery, grab lunch at Bar Adua. The family owned business has been around since 1936. If you have the chance, try capocollo, a kind of cured ham that is the pride of the town. Walk along the alleyways in the center of town and take in the beautifully crumbling Baroque buildings. In the ‘Centro Storico’, don’t miss the Palazzo Ducale, Piazza XX Settembre, Piazza Maria Immacolata, and Basilica di San Martino, a church built in the 18th century in the Late Baroque style. 

Enjoy an ice cream, coffee, or pastry (or all three!) at Cafe Tripoli, the oldest cafe in Martina Franca.  It is the most bustling, and is very popular with the locals. I visited during Easter week, and enjoyed a zeppole, fried dough Easter pastry that is filled with custard and topped with confections and jams. Get a seat outside to soak in the ambiance and watch the villagers. 

Return to Alberobello for dinner at one of their great restaurants. 

Day 6 of 10:

In the morning get up and pack up your car for your next destination: Lecce by way of Locorotondo!

The raised terraced gardens provide the support to the town of Locorotondo (“round place”), which seems to levitate above the flat countryside dappled with wild red and yellow flowers and trullis as you enter the area. Locorotondo, known nationally as one of the “Borghi più belli d’Italia” (one of the most beautiful villages), is a charming town that provides a wonderful site for a leisurely stop en route to Lecce.

Via C. Battisti offers one of the most beautiful (and photographed) views in the village. Locorotondo is known for beautifully curated window boxes and terrace gardens.

Located in the Valle d’Itria (the Trulli Valley), Locorotondo is conspicuously charming, with winding roads of white washed houses decorated with bright-red pots of geraniums and wisteria cascading over stone walls.The green and blue shutters provide a contrast to the white marbles and tanned buildings.

Start your day with a coffee from Caffe della Villa in the center of ‘Centro Storico’ and Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. See locals get their coffee while standing. 

Similar to most of the towns in Puglia, the real joy of Locorotondo is leisurely wandering the streets. As a hilltop village, many of the streets offer panoramic vistas of the Trulli speckled countryside. Two such views are seen at gardens of Villa Comunale Giuseppe Garibaldi and also ironically named “Lungomare” (a road next to the sea…) on the adjacent Via Nardelli. 

In the ‘Centro Storico’, don’t miss the chance to peek into three churches: Chiesa Madre di San Giorgio, Chiesa San Rocco and the Chiesa della Madonna della Greca. 

These old lady dolls are called “Quarandone” and represent penitence and suffering of lent. On Easter, parishioners blow up the dolls, represent the resurrection and spring. 

End your evening in Lecce. 

 Day 7 of 10:

Start your morning off exploring the university town known as the “Florence of the South” for its beautiful Baroque buildings. Lecce is known for the wine and olive oil industry.  The city includes many churches (cathedral and basilica), plazas, and even a Roman Amphitheater. While this offers so many gems, similar to all the quaint Pulgian towns, this is best explored aimlessly meandering the old cobblestone streets. 

We chose to take a day trip out to an old olive oil farm, Masseria Flaminio. Ariana, who manages the farm inherited from her father. Her great-grandfather bought the land from the church in the late 19th century. During WWII American Soldiers occupied the main house and used the secondary house as a prison for German Soldiers. 

Day 8 of 10:

Start your morning off with a coffee in one of the many Piazzas in Lecce, before packing your belongings to head back up to Polignano a Mar. 

Italy’s Polignano a Mar, is one coastal town in the largest region in Italy,  Apulia (or Puglia in English) known for its picturesque mountain top villages and rolling countryside. The iconic beach town is popular with locals and tourists alike but doesn’t get overly touristy which makes it a fun leisurely beach day. The white pebble beach framed by the natural limestone walls of the Lama Monachile Beach (just to confuse you it’s also called Cala Porte.) For those who may enjoy Sitges, Spain or Hydra, Greece this has a distinctively similar feel while enjoying its own Italian flair. 

The dramatic towering cliffs contrast the clear turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea and are perfect for any shutter-happy tourist.

The three areas in Polignano e Mar that are worth checking out are the town center, with many beach shops and restaurants; the iconic Lama Monachile Beach; and the vistas from the cliffside roads.

Make your way to the Lama Monachile Beach. The pebble beach can be hard on some people’s feet, but the water and the view are well worth it. While we did not have time to do this during our schedule, there is a boat tour which shows guests around the caves that is highly recommended! Tours can be secured at the tourist office (Via Martiri di Dogali, 2). This is also very close to il Mago Del Gelato (Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, 22), which has great ice cream and coffee.

I tried the Polpo fritto Panini, which did not disappoint! Especially as someone who loves seaside New England food!

The restaurant La Pescaria (Piazza Aldo Moro, 6/8), located in the open Piazza Aldo Moro, is a true social scene. That being said, expect to wait to be seated. They have a reasonably priced menu with delicious local seafood, local wines and many people watching. Not to mention that the airy beach decor is great to sit around. This region is large in agriculture and you can eat fresh local produce in all your meals.

After spending some time at the beach or getting a boat tour, I recommend exploring the small town. 

Both Caffè Dei Serafini (Via S. Benedetto, 49) and La Cueva Cafè (Via S. Benedetto, 49) offer ample outdoor space to enjoy a drink while you can watch people. For those who are interested in art and have more time, the Museum of Contemporary Art Pino Pascali (Via Parco del Lauro, 119) provides a scenic respite from the hot sun.

Day 9 of 10

From Polignano a Mar make your way back up to Bari to return your car and either take a flight home or take a train back to Rome. If there is downtime consider a section of Rome such as the Art Nouveau neighborhood called “Quartiere Coppedè.”

Day 10 of 10

Fly home after a great vacation 🙂

If you are interested in other 10 Day European itineraries check out my posts on Italy: Rome, Florence and Venice; Andalusia, Spain; or Greece: Athens, Santorini, Mykonos.

If you are exploring the Southern region of Italy, check out my itineraries for the Locorotondo and Martina Franca.

Biking the East Coast Greenway

What is the East Coast Greenway?

Over 2 months I biked the entire eastern seaboard on the East Coast Greenway (ECG) from the Canadian Border of Maine to Key West Florida. The route connects 15 states, ~450 cities, and ~3,000 miles! The terrain is paved bike paths, back roads, and some unpaved path sections. The ECG is a non-profit organization whose mission is safe and accessible multi-user greenway linking cities and towns from Maine to Florida. While the route is only ⅓ complete, the organization continues to develop infrastructure for protected paths.

To say this was an adventure would be an understatement. I met people from all sorts of walks of life, and got to know my own country better. Many summers I travel outside the USA to Europe and South America. After 2020, I felt that I needed to better understand my fellow Americans, there is far more that unites us than divides us. As a solo female traveler I found that people went out of their way to make sure I was doing okay and safe. On multiple occasions complete strangers would stop me and ask for my number to make sure I got to my destination okay…and they would follow up to confirm. Honestly, I started calling my trip the “Princess Parade” because people were so sweet.

Suggested Itinerary

For me, I considered my “job” this summer to be to bike from one town/city to the next. So I would bike from roughly 8:00AM to 5:00 or 6:00 PM. I would always stop for a long lunch 😉 A few days I had longer days but for the most part biked about 40-65 miles a day. This allows time to see all of the small towns and seaside villages that you want to check out along the way.

As an educator, I have the two summer months (July and August) to travel but if I could pick an ideal time of year to bike the ECG, I would leave at the end of September (when cranberries and blueberries are in harvest and the foliage begins to change in Maine.)

Day:Start:End:Distance (Miles)
Day 1Calais, MaineMachias, ME45
Day 2Machias, MEEllsworth, ME57
Day 3Ellsworth, MECamden, ME55
Day 4Camden, MENew Castle, ME58
Day 5New Castle, MEPortland, ME*52
Day 6Portland MEPortsmouth NH57
Day 7Portsmouth, NHMarblehead, MA74
Day 8Marblehead, MABoston, MA*20
Day 9Boston, MAProvincetown, MAFerry
Day 10Provincetown, MAChatham, MA38
Day 11Chatham, MABourne, MA40
Day 12Bourne, MAProvidence, RI*53
Day 13Providence, RIPutnam, CT33
Day 14Putnam, CTHartford, CT58
Day 15Hartford, CTNew Haven, CT42
Day 16New Haven, CTStamford, CT45
Day 17Stamford, CTNYC*42
Day 18New York, NYPrinceton57
Day 19PrincetonPhiladelphia44
Day 20PhiladelphiaNew Castle, DE36
Day 21New Castle, DEBaltimore, MD69
Day 22Baltimore, MDAnnapolis, MD30
Day 23Annapolis, MDAnacostia-DC*45
Day 24DCAlexandria, VA11
Day 25Alexandria, VAFredericksburg, VA66
Day 26Fredericksburg, VARichmond, VA60
Day 27Richmond, VAWilliamsburg, VA54
Day 28WilliamsburgChesapeake, VA59
Day 29Chesapeake, VAPoint Harbor, NC71
Day 30Point Harbor, NCRodanthe, NC*43
Day 31Rodanthe, NCOkracoke, NC58
Day 32Okracoke, NCBeaufort, NC58
Day 33Beaufort, NCSneads Ferry, NC55
Day 34Sneads Ferry, NCWilmington, NC*48
Day 35Wilmington, NCNorth Myrtle Beach, SC77
Day 36North Myrtle Beach, SCPawley Beach, SC40
Day 37Pawley Beach, SCMcClennanville, SC40
Day 38McClennanville, SCCharleston, SC*55
Day 39Charleston, SCBeautfort, SC72
Day 40Beaufort, SCSavannah, GA42
Day 41SavannahDarien, GA67
Day 42Darien, GABrunswick, GA20
Day 43Brunswick, GAFernanda Beach, FL66
Day 44Fernanda BeachSt. Augustine, FL*62
Day 45St Augustine, FLDaytona beach54
Day 46Daytona beachTitusville, FL52
Day 47Titusville, FLMelbourne, FL43
Day 48Melbourne, FLVero Beach, FL39
Day 49Vero Beach, FLJupiter, FL55
Day 50Jupiter, FLFort Lauderdale, FL65
Day 51Fort LauderdaleMiami Beach, FL*30
Day 52Miami, FLKey Largo, FL70
Day 53Key Largo, FLMarathon, FL48
Day 54Marathon, FLKey West, FL50
*Indicates suggested rest day
Use your own discretion on activity level, people you may want to see and cities you may want to explore to choose your rest day. I have seen most of the Northeast larger cities (Portland, New York City, Boston, etc), so when I chose a rest day it was more based on cities I had not explored yet (and unfortuantely…weather!)

I would try to rest every 5-7 days. I tried to center my rest days around a city I had friends in, or city I had never seen and wanted to spend more time exploring. Having been raised in the Boston area and spent my 20’s in NYC, there were not many towns or cities north of DC that I hadn’t been to. Towards the end of your trip, you could probably push it to a rest day every ten days 🙂 but up front you definitely need that down time.

Getting there:

I biked the route from North to South. There is no “easy” way to get to Calais, Maine (the third LEAST populated town in Maine.) Since it is so removed, I had to do my research backwards. There is one bus in and out of Calais everyday, West Bus. I am from the Boston area, so I spent a night with my family then took a greyhound bus north from Boston’s South Station to Bangor, ME. From Bangor, I transferred to the small regional bus which supports the “Downeast” section of Maine (which is actually north east…) I have a “nice bike” for a normal bike adventurer but not nice compared to the spandex clad bike enthusiast, so I was not as concerned as others may be with transporting their bike. I just threw the bike under the bus in the baggage compartment. This felt like the easiest way to get up there without inconveniencing my family (who had selflessly offered to drive the 5 hours.)

Getting home:

I also took my bike on a bus from Key West to Miami. Spent another day in Miami, and then took AMTRAK all the way back up. I took Amtrak as a way to decompress from the trip and see the sights I had just biked through. If that’s not your thing, you can get a bike box and ship it. I love taking trains, so this was like a second adventure for me. Those travelling from further distances would probably want to get a bike shipping company or look into a bike box to take on the plane with them.

How well marked is the route?

The route varied in how well marked it was. I ended up using a combination of downloading GPS, google maps, and just winging it. The Greenway is not complete, so I ended up biking on a few highways. I wore an orange vest for the entire trip (took it off to look cuter for photos, haha) but it really helped with visibility. FYI: Gravel is nice but difficult when you have panniers. The Downeast Sunrise trail was beautiful but had biting bugs during the summer, so I would recommend going on the street if you are biking in the summer months

There are a couple times that I am given two options on the route. How do I pick the best route?

This can be personal preference or based on where you have friends and things you want to see.

In Maine, you have the option to go Coastal or inland through Bangor/ Augusta. I picked coastal and was not disappointed!

In Boston you have the choise between Worcester or Cape Cod. As a Boston native, DEFINITELY go down to Cape Cod.

Another split is in North Carolina: the route either takes you inland through Durham/Raleigh, NC or coastal through Greenville, NC. I chose to bike through the Outer Banks instead of the Greenway, following another biker, Chris’s recommendation.

Accomodations

I did warmshowers, friends/family, and hotels. Sadly, I had (and still have) never pitched a tent, so I decided that it would be pushing myself too far out of my comfort zone to camp AND bike such a big distance. Last summer there were a lot of storms, so camping would have been a little difficult. I personally am an extrovert, so I loved staying with people from WarmShowers.

Warmshowers.org “provides the technology for reciprocal hospitality for cyclists and hosts.” Similar to Airbnb, most of the hosts provide a brief bio around why they host, who they are, and a bit about their accomodation. The accomodations range from land you can camp on to a bedroom with dinner and breakfast provided. I stayed with a lot of Warmshower hosts in the south, and it truly was the best part of my trip. I was able to meet locals and hear their stories. It also felt like a sense of security that I had a contact person in a lot of the cities.

Accomodation Etiquette:

I originally got books for those who hosted me, for the first month, but a couple of Warmshowers hosts went out of their way to say that it was not expected/don’t feel the need to get it. The NORMAL (from my understanding?) etiquette is a handwritten thank you note and a text and postcard when you finish. I sent a lot of texts along the way as things reminded me of various hosts. Honestly, the Warmshower hosts were probably the highlight of my trip!

I had reached out a couple months before because I was anxious and also because of COVID I wanted to know if people were still hosting. Then I followed up with a quick email when I started, a week before I was supposed to get to them and the day before. Normally they might not give you their address until about a day before. My understanding is that the typical bike tourism person is pretty free spirited and would email at the last minute. Travelling alone and having never pitched a tent, I emailed further in advance.

I got cute bicycle thank you notes from target. They were great to use. If you do end up using WarmShowers, some hosts you are going to keep in touch with and some you may not. 

Training

For training, (I am generally a little sporty) but I played soccer in NYC and would bike there (~5-7miles) starting roughly three months before I left.  A month out from my trip, I shifted to using biking as my main means of transportation (my work is only 3 miles away) and went on a couple longer bike rides on the weekends ~20 miles. I read somewhere that for biking, you can truly train while on the trip because it doesn’t have the same impact as other sports. But at the end of the first week I was exhausted and definitely needed that rest day. If I remember correctly, I may have taken two rest days because it was hurricane season. After that, my body got pretty used to biking everyday.

The biggest complaint I had in the beginning is how much my butt hurt. HAHA!

3 books to read before going on a roadtrip or hike

Since COVID-19, we have been (safely) going on long adventurous roadtrips and hikes.

Here are a few books to get you excited about a ROADTRIP:

  1. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

2. The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara

3. Blue Highways: A Journey into America

Three books to read before a long trek or hike:

  1. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

2. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

3. I’m Off Then by Hape Kerkeling