Madison, Wisconsin, “America’s Dairyland”, is known for their warm people, cold winters, and seasonal ales. Home to the Wisconsin State Capital and the flagship University of Wisconsin, similar to other college towns, there is a large university presence. As you may guess when looking at the Green Bay Packers mascot, the state is known for the dairy and specifically cheese production. While it may not be your cup of tea, I recommend trying some cheese curds while in town. The city is situated between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, and is a 2.5 hour drive to Chicago and 4 hour drive to Minneapolis, which make Madison a great weekend getaway, or a destination among a larger midwest vacation.
When to go: The best season to go (in my opinion) is the early fall, when the weather first begins to get crisp, yet walking everywhere is still pleasant. The food and beer festivals in September located in capital square are one of the highlights. My favorite thing about Wisconsin is that when the weather gets cooler, dive bars have crock pots full of melted cheese with crackers. It feels like a party at someone’s house, all the locals seem to know each other but are friendly to visitors. Not to mention that Fall, you can coordinate with a college football game to really see Madison at its liveliest. Alternatively, the summers offer many outdoor activities on the lakes.
Get settled into your accommodation. Then start your evening at the gastropub, The Tipsy Cow (102 King St), where you can get a burger, beer and a side of cheese curds! If you are interested in the gastropub scene, walk the one block to Great Dane Pub (123 E Doty St). The Great Dane has pool tables and outdoor beer gardens, which make for a relaxed setting for a Friday night.
Start your morning with a tour of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building (2 E Main St) afterwards peruse the Dane County Farmers market called “Saturday in the Square”. Coming from an East Coast city, I have a great appreciation for anyone who has worked in the agriculture industry.
For those who are interested in architecture, take a quick sidetrack to Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center (1 John Nolen Dr), which is a Frank Lloyd Wright designed waterfront building. Return to the capitol building before window shopping State street west to the University. State Street is a vibrant street with a number of shops, restaurants and art galleries. It terminates at the university campus along with the Wisconsin Historical Society (816 State St) and Chazen Museum of Art (800 University Place).
Spend your late afternoon in the Swiss Village of New Glarus and eponym brewery. New Glarus was established as a Swiss Colony in 1845 and incorporated as a Village in 1901. The town retains its Swiss architecture and culture with chalet style houses and lovely quaint stores.
Work up an appetite walking around the large and tranquil University of Wisconsin Arboretum. Then get a well deserved hearty brunch from Mickies Dairy Bar (1511 Monroe St).
For those who have additional time, I would recommend a day trip to either Mount Horeb, the Norwegian village that has become the “Troll Capital of the World” or head to Taliesin Estate, Frank Lloyd Wright’s picturesque former home and the location for a grisly mass murder.
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 day in the Puglian sun.
Located in the Valle d’Itria (the Trulli Valley) or the ‘top of the heel’ of Italy, 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.
The real joy of Locorotondo is leisurely wandering the streets. Take the afternoon exploring the alleyways in the center of town and take in the beautifully curated window boxes and terrace gardens. 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.
We had a lovely local menu of the day dinner at La Taverna del Du (Via Papatodero 3), which is tucked away in one of the side streets. The region is known for orecchiette, which was part of the pre-fix menu. Other fine dinner option are Bina Ristorante Di Puglia (via Dottor Recchia, 44-50) and U’Curdunn (Vía Dura 19) which were both recommended while we were traveling but we were unable to try.
Cheers to a leisurely day in Locorotondo!
If you are exploring the Southern region of Italy, check out my itineraries for the Martina Franca and 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 the UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1993 and 2019 as the European Cultural Capital.
Matera has been inhabited since the Paleolithic time. In ancient times, cave-dwelling (not to be confused with cavemen) settlers moved into the tofu rock caverns of the steep ravine. During the Neolithic Revolution these early dwellers learned to breed animals and eventually became herders and farmers, which they remained until the 20th century. Eventually more people moved in and the community of cave-like dwellings became known as the Sassi (Italian for “the stones”). You may recognize it as the backdrop for Jesus walking with the cross in Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ.
Having never had a ‘golden era’ for art and culture, Matera’s development has never been preserved in a time period. History has not been destroyed to glorify ornate palaces and city buildings stuck in time when the city flourished (such as Florence during the Renaissance and Venice in the Middle Ages). Therefore each house, or one could even say the city as a whole, has been continuously developed in a way mirroring the continuous human development.
In the 1940’s Carlos Levy, physician, painter and author was sent to exile in the south of Italy for anti-Fascist sentiments. Shocked by the rampant malaria and cholera he described the region as “a schoolboy’s idea of Dante’s Inferno” in a book about his year in exile. This propelled Matera into the public eye as Italy’s “la vergogna nazionale” (‘Shame of the Nation’). Levy’s book can be compared to Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York which propelled the United States to create social reform nearly a half century before.
Accommodation: We stayed in a carefully renovated, beautiful cave hotel called Corte San Pietro. I would recommend this distinct experience. If you want to read about a few of the other unique accommodation experiences in the south of Italy I wrote about it here: A Trulli, a Cave, and a Masseria oh my!
Getting there: this is the hardest part. Matera was a part of a week-long vacation in the Puglia region of Italy. We chose to take a train to Bari (so that we didn’t have to drive from Rome) and then rent a car. Renting a car is the easiest way to get around this region of Italy. There is a regional train that services Matera from Bari and runs everyday except Sundays.
I would recommend reading Carlos Levy’s book ‘Cristo si è fermato a Eboli’ or Christ Stopped at Eboli, about his year in exile in the Basilicata region of Italy.
My friend, Jen, from World On a Whim, recommended a ten day vacation to the Puglia region and Matera. We spent two nights and two days in Matera, and we felt that was the perfect amount of time.
Arrive into Matera. No amount of scrolling through photos prepared me for the utter awe that I felt when I arrived at the top of the sassi and was blasted with 180 degree falling views of the ancient ravine. Definitely take some time to let it sink in. In our case, we were in a car and that minute went on too long and we were quickly interrupted with honking from a car behind us! Nothing like modern traffic to bring you back to present. Get settled into your accommodation and get dinner in the sassi for your first night.
Start your morning in the new town at no frills Caffè Schiuma di Rocco Luigi Schiuma (Via T. Stigliani, 92). Spend a little bit of time walking around the Civic Center of the new town of Matera. I am recommending this, because I personally think it is interesting to see the more modern developed sections as a comparison to the Sassi.
The Sassi is best explored on foot. The whole city is walkable, so definitely pack good shoes because the incline and roads have been smothered over from so many pedestrians. I would recommend starting at Casa Noha (Recinto Cavone, 9) for a foundation of the history of Matera. They have multimedia displays, large video projections on the walls, and you move from different rooms to make the exhibit a little more interactive. Spend a few hours walking around the two Sasso Barisano and the Sassi Caveoso. Sassi Brisano is where all the shops and hotels are, whereas Sassi Caveoso is mostly caves. Briefly check out the Church of Saint Mary of Idris (Via Madonna dell’Idris). Make your way to Cathedral of Saint Mary ‘della Bruna’ and Saint Eustace in the Piazza Duomo. This cathedral is the highest point in Matera and is the middle point between the two Sassis.
In the early evening, get into your car and head to sunset at Asceterio di Sant’Agnese (Contrada Murgia Timone, 75100) or Belvedere di Murgia Timone. We plugged this address into the GPS, but had to park a little away in a parking lot. Make sure to leave to get settled before sunset and explore the green area and the isolated caves in the area.
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.
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.
Andalusia, the heart and soul of Spain, has much to offer visitors to Southern Spain, from flamenco, Moorish architecture, and great food. Tapas, or small plated meals, originated in Andalusia as a free accompaniment to an alcoholic beverage at a bar, but are now offered as a meal of sampling and sharing with friends. Bars in Granada have held on to tradition and still offer free tapas with a drink. Andalusia has characteristically warm welcoming people, a relaxed atmosphere, and is known for its Pueblos Blancos (white washed towns) which make for a great European destination. If you are planning on travelling to this southern region the highlights are: Sevilla, the birthplace of Flamenco; Granada, with the Moorish Fortress known as the Alhambra; Córdoba, which has the church turned mosque turned church called the Mesquita; Rhonda, with the arched bridge over a deep ravine; and then the port cities of Cadiz and Málaga.
Here is a ten day itinerary for the best of Andalusia. There is so much to see in the region, so I had to narrow down the itinerary to the best of Andalusia for history and culture. Three cities for overnight stays, Sevilla, Granada, and Málaga, are included in the itinerary as are a few day trips.
Transportation: All of the cities and locations in the itinerary are accessible by train and bus. Travel by train is far nicer than by bus, and you can get relatively cheap tickets for travel between all the cities if you book in advance (roughly 10 euros in advance versus 40 euros if last minute). As an alternative, you can rent a car for the entire ten days, but most of the cities are very walkable, and you would not need a car once you get to these destinations.
Day 1: Sevilla
Sevilla, the birthplace of flamenco, gives the visitor a feel for traditional Spain.This quintessentially picturesque city has many tiled buildings, intricate ornate interiors, and horse-drawn carriage rides in plazas bustling with life.
Arrive in the evening and get settled into your lodging. Take a walk along the beautiful Guadalquivir River which traverses through the city, separating the Triana neighborhood from the more historic sites in the center. The most scenic part of the river walk is between the two bridges, Puente de Sal Telmo and Puente de Triana (also called “Puente de Isabel”). Don’t miss walking by the Torre de Oro (Tower of Gold). You may want to browse in Ceramica Santa Ana, a tile store. After your walk treat yourself to a leisurely paella meal at Victoria 8 (Calle Victoria, 8). While paella is better known in the Valencia region, Victoria 8 does an amazing job with paella and it’s a great way to kick off your Spanish vacation.
Day 2: Sevilla
Start your morning with a free walking tour , which will give you an understanding of the layout and history of the city. The tour ends at Plaza de España, a beautiful municipal building with an ornately tiled plaza. Both were built for the 1929 World’s Fair. Fun fact: if you have seen the 2012 Sasha Baron Cohen movie, Dictator, this is the setting for the palace scenes. You can easily spend an hour here walking around and taking photos of the building and grounds. While in the area, walk through the Parque de Maria Luisa and Plaza de las Americas both of which are beautiful.
After viewing the tiles in Plaza de Espana, enjoy a leisurely lunch at Restaurant Orizo (Calle San Fernando, 41, 41004 Sevilla, Spain). It is across from an old factory building that is now part of the University of Sevilla.
Enjoy some down-time before a late-evening dinner, keeping in mind that the Spaniards eat dinner around 9:00 pm. Start your evening by walking around Las Setas de Sevilla, a huge wooden structure that resembles a mushroom. I recommend dinner at Becerrita (Calle Recaredo, 9) before heading to La Carboneria (Calle Céspedes, 21, A,) for a flamenco show. Flamenco can be found in the rear covered terraza and is free when you order a drink.
Day 3: Day trip to Cadiz
Take a morning train to Cadiz, roughly an hour south of Sevilla, and one of Europe’s oldest cities. Cadiz is a port city on the Costa del Luz (“Coast of Light”), which is the part of Andalusia that faces the Atlantic Ocean. Grab a coffee and some fresh produce from Mercado Central (Plaza de la Libertad) and take a walk around the city, which has a great tourist center and well-marked trails through the downtown area. Don’t miss the Cathedral, including its crypt in the basement, located in the aptly named Plaza de la Catedral. I would recommend climbing the belltower of the Cathedral and then making your way over to Torre Tavira (Calle Marqués del Real Tesoro, 10) for a 360 degree view of the city.
If the weather is nice, you may enjoy going to the beach at Playa de la Caleta, which is located between a castle and a fort. For those with an adventurous side: you can jump off the bridge of the fort into the water!
After relaxing at the beach, get some lunch from Casa Manteca (Calle Corralón de los Carros, 66). It has a very authentic feel, fully-stocked with hundred year old bottles of sherry and eclectic photos of bullfighters on the walls. I personally loved their cheese (“Queso” in Spanish). Take a late afternoon train back to Sevilla.
Upon your return to Sevilla, relax and get ready for a tapas tour in the center area. I recommend starting at Bar Alfalfa, then continuing to El Garlochi, Los Coloniales, El Rinconcillo, and Taberna Manolo Cateca. None of these tapas restaurants are more than a ten minute walk from each other.
The restaurant at Bar Alfalfa (Calle Candilejo, 1) has great outdoor and indoor seating. I suggest that you try the bruschetta con salmorejo. Next stop is the unique bar, El Garlochí (Calle Boteros, 26), which is dedicated to a year-long celebration of Semana Santa (‘Holy Week’), and is completely decked out in statues, paintings, candles and other religious memorabilia. Some visitors may find El Garlochí to be creepy, but most find it interesting and certainly memorable. When heading to Los Coloniales (Plaza Cristo de Burgos, 19), be aware of which address you are using because there is also a place called Taberna Coloniales. At Los Coloniales, I recommend the roquefort cheese with raspberries and the Chorizo a la Asturiana. Take a three minute, three block walk to the next stop, El Rinconcillo (Calle Gerona, 40). This restaurant/bar was opened in 1670 before America was a country! When I was there, the proprietors were into their 8th generation of ownership. I highly recommend the ortiguillas fritas and olives. Our last stop is Taberna Manolo Cateca (Calle Sta. María de Gracia, 13) for a glass of sherry from this local tavern. Before heading home, I suggest walking through Plaza Salvador, where many young people enjoy botellón (the colloquial word for drinking in the street) and people flow out of the restaurants and bars that surround this lively plaza. It is interesting to see how the locals socialize.
Day 4: Sevilla
Start your morning at the Seville Cathedral, the world’s largest Gothic Church and the third largest Cathedral in the world. As with most of Andalusia, this Cathedral and later the Alcázar of Sevilla has switched hands between Muslim and Christian rule, and much of the architecture reflects the different times of rule. Many famous people are buried here, including Christopher Columbus and his son, Ferdinand. Make your way up the sloping ramps of the tower, Giralda, which was once the minaret when this site was a mosque. Ramps were built instead of stairs, so horseback riders can easily ascend to the top. Enjoy your exit from the Cathedral through the Patio de Naranjos (Patio of Oranges), which is a beautiful creation.
Take a one minute stroll to the Alcázar of Seville, a Moorish royal palace and fortress. It has extensive fountain-filled gardens, ornate arches and tiles. This is where Game of Thrones filled The Water Gardens and Sunspear, the seat of House Martell in Dorne. You might compare it to the Alhambra in Granada, although the Alhambra is more impressive.
Treat yourself to a well-deserved lunch at Casa Robles (Calle Álvarez Quintero, 58) near the Cathedral. After lunch, I recommend getting lost in some of the center streets. For those who want to relax, consider booking an appointment (in advance) at Aire Ancient Bath House (Calle Aire, 15) an Arab spa housed in an historic mudéjar-style palace. The lighting, soft music and scent of jasmine will make this massage a mystical and memorable experience.
In the evening try a tapas tour in the Triana neighborhood. Betis Street, which overlooks the Guadalquivir River, is known for its nightlife although it may cater to a younger crowd. The three restaurants Taberna Sol y Sombra (Calle Castilla, 147), Blanca Paloma (Calle San Jacinto, 49), and Vega 10 (Calle Rosario Vega, 10) all offer great dining options in the area. After sampling your fair share of tapas, head to Casa Anselmo (Calle Pagés del Corro, 49) which provides live music, mostly flamenco shows, with your choice of beverage. If you are interested in getting up and dancing, the lively bar Lo Nuestro (Calle Betis, 31) has live music and the crowd does flamenco dancing. Keep in mind that the Spainiards eat dinner around 9:00 pm, so many of these bars will not have many patrons until well after that.
Day 5: Granada
Granada is the impressive former Moorish stronghold on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains known for the Alhambra, the Moorish palace and fortress complex that is a UNESCO world heritage site. Catch an early morning train to Granada.Get settled into your accommodations and regroup before heading out to the Albayzin neighborhood. The Albayzin, which is an ancient Moorish village, is now a world heritage site. The winding streets with various vendors may remind you of a medina in Morocco. I highly recommend stopping in at least one of the many artisan shops and then getting tea at one of the teterias.
Begin your tour of Albayzin at the Albaicín district with its narrow streets and small houses reflective of its Medieval Moorish past, and then explore the smaller Realejo or Jewish quarter. There are a number of restaurants centered around the Campo del Príncipe, which is a good spot to use for navigation. Get some churros con chocolate from the local favorite, Café Fútbol (Plaza de Mariana Pineda, 6). After your sweet treat head to the Cathedral of Granada (Calle Gran Vía de Colón, 5) and Royal Chapel, which is the burial place for Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand. Spend an hour or so looking at the Cathedral and Chapel. The 5 euro entrance comes with an audio guide. After exploring the Cathedral, grab a pick- me-up from Mercado San Agustín (Plaza de San Agustín), a 3 minute walk from the Cathedral. Mercado San Agustín has many stalls which sell tapas, and you can also find fresh produce and hams.
For those who want a little more history and culture, you can stop into the Centro Jose Guerrero, Centro Federico Garcia Lorca, or Huerta de San Vicente (Federico Garcia Lorca’s house and gardens). Make your way to Mirador San Nicolás for beautiful sunset views of the Alhambra. I recommend getting dinner in the area to complete a memorable tour.
Day 6: Granada
Make reservations in advance for a timed ticket to see the extensive Alhambra, and you might want to visit the remains of the Generalife. This will end up being a half day tour to explore the magnificent fortress and all it has to offer as well as the beautiful gardens. The Alhambra was built in AD 889 on the remains of a Roman fortress. It was renovated by the Moors in the mid 13th century, and then went on to house the Catholic Monarchs, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. This is the site in which they gave endorsement for Christopher Columbus’ expedition. The Generalife, built in the 13th and 14th centuries, was the summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid rulers of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus.
The Parador de San Francisco is one of the few places near the Alhambra that serves food. If you are ready for a break and a meal or snack after touring Alhambra and the adjacent grounds, I would suggest that you visit the beautiful Parador hotel.
After your time in the Alhambra, I would recommend walking along the River Darro. You will pass by many churches and 17th century stone bridges. Afterwards, you might want to explore the Albaicín neighborhood, above the River. Don’t miss Calle Caldereria Nueva with its many artisan shops, tetarias (teashop), and hookah lounges. I would recommend stopping at one of the tea parlors for a break from window shopping and store browsing.
In the evening, make it to the Barrio del Sacromonte, the old Gitano (Gipsy) neighborhood to explore the many cavernous Flamenco shows. Cueva de la Faraona (Calle Santo Sepulcro del Sacromonte, 51), Zambra María la Canastera (Camino del Sacromonte, 89), Cueva de la Rocio (Camino del Sacromonte, 70) or Venta El Gallo (Barranco de los Negros, 5,) all provide interesting music in the area.
Day 7: Málaga
Málaga is a relatively small port city, which can mostly be toured in a day. The main streets are beautiful, marble and clean! Who has marble streets? I chose the last three days in Málaga as a stepping stone to get to other locations, and to have a manageable homebase.Málagat is the birthplace of Antonio Banderas and Pablo Picasso and its place on the art and culture scene is on the rise. Located in the Costa Del Sol, Málaga is the gateway to many beach communities such as Marbella, Nerja, and Fuengirola.
If you are using public transit, you can take the train or bus from Granada to Málaga. I recommend starting your visit with a walk to Calle Molina Larios, as the streets are marble-lined, and this is the central walkway through the downtown shopping district. Walk through Plaza Constitution and make sure you go all the way to Plaza de La Merced. The Picasso Museum is here, which cannot compare to the Museums in Madrid, but it is worth a visit.
Get a cup of coffee and people-watch at Café Central (Plaza de la Constitución, 11). Postcards naming and describing their various coffees, depending on the espresso-to-milk ratio, are a cool remembrance. Walk by the Cathedral, colloquially called “La Maquita” which means the one-armed lady. Legend has it that at the time the church was being constructed, the Queen could either finish the other steeple or fund the explorations of Christopher Columbus, and thus the second steeple on this church was never completed. In the same plaza as the Cathedral is a restaurant called “Cheers,” and Spain had their own spin-off of the Boston landmark pub.
After working up an appetite, head out east for a late lunch at Chiringuito El Tintero. A chiringuito is a small waterfront eating-place which may range from a tiki bar to a full-service restaurant. Most of the chiringuitos I have tried in Málaga buy freshly-caught fish from local fishermen which are then cooked on pitfire in the sand. One of the best-known local restaurants is called El Tintero (Av. Salvador Allende, 340), which is a large restaurant with abundant patio seating located in El Palo, a fishermen’s town just east of Málaga. Customers order “auction style,” where waiters walk around calling out the dishes that they have in their hand. Customers then flag the waiter down to get that dish. I would recommend the well-known Málaga dish espeto, consisting of sardines cooked by a fire in the sand. Enjoy the nearby beach. Chiringuito Baños del Carmen/El Balneario (Calle Bolivia, 26,) is also highly recommended and is a slightly more upscale alternative to El Tintero.
On your return, enjoy a stroll around the port and the Paseo del Parque. The port was completely industrial until the city renovated it into a chic shopping and eating district in 2011. Paseo del Parque, which is a pretty tree-enclosed waterfront walkway which is also scenic . This walkway is also scenic along the city side, with views of gardens and the town hall.
In the evening get some tapas in the center of the city. There are many fine choices and one that comes to mind is called Pepa y Pepe (Calle Calderería, 9).
Day 8: Day trip to Ronda + sentinel de las bodegas + el pimpi
This is the only day trip for which I would suggest renting a car, but if you choose to take public transit you may want to skip Sentenil De las Bodegas.
Start your morning in Sentenil de las Bodegas. Houses in this iconic town were uniquely constructed within rock overhangs overlooking the Rio Guadalporcún. The name Setenil is believed to originate in the latin septem nihil (‘seven times nothing’) and it references the seven sieges that were needed for the Christian forces to conquer this city from the Moors in the 15th century.
If you opt to visit Sentenil de las Bodegas, your next stop should be Ronda. For those using public transportation, you can skip Sentenil de las Bodegas and take a bus from Málaga directly to Ronda. Ronda is a mountaintop city featuring a dramatic gorge with a beautiful bridge running through it.
Check out the three bridges, Puente Romano, Puente Viejo and Puente Nuevo or “New Bridge” which was actually built in the 1700’s and which is the most dramatic. When you tour the city, I would recommend walking around the patio of The Hotel Parador, which has great views of the mountains, and then see Puente Nuevo. Try the restaurant bar El Lechuguita (Calle Virgen de los Remedios, 35), a local gem which offers inexpensive and traditional tapas, with a surprising view of Puente Nuevo. Also in Ronda is the cavernous and historic Bull Ring at Plaza de Toros de Ronda. The city is home to the Romeros, a famous bullfighting family, who are referenced in Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel, The Sun Also Rises. For those who are looking to get their heart rate going, you can hike down to the scenic viewpoint at La Hoya Del Tajo, which provides beautiful views of the gorge(ous) city. Be warned that the slope of the terrain is quite steep.
Head back to Málaga and regroup at your lodging before setting out to dinner. Enjoy a late meal at El Pimpi (Calle Granada, 62, 29015) which is a fun place to “see and be seen.” Andalusia is known for its fried fish (pescaditos fritos), and I suggest that you try the fried fish platter. If you are outside on the patio, you can see the Teatro Romano (Roman Theater) and above it a Moorish fortress, Alcazaba. I recommend getting a bottle of the sweet wine to share for the table.
Day 9: Day trip to Córdoba
Córdoba is a beautiful city located one hour and fifteen minutes north of Málaga.Every spring, Córdoba bursts into fragrant bloom with the famous Feria de los Patios Festival, and the month of May brings the “Battle of the Flowers,” in which labyrinth-like streets with white washed homes compete for the most beautiful flower boxes. The main attraction in Córdoba is the Mesquita, which is a uniquely ornate building that is both a Mosque and a Cathedral, drawing to life the back and forth rulership between the Islamic Moors and the Christians. The entire tour will take a few hours.
Get some lunch at either Taberna Salinas (Calle Tundidores, 3) or Taberna San Miguel Casa El Pisto (Plaza de San Miguel, 1). Spend some time strolling around the city center and exploring the sights and sounds of Córdoba.
Return to Málaga to get a late dinner at Chiringuito Gutierrez Playa (C/ Pacífico, 29). This is located near the beautiful Parque del Oeste and Chuiringuito, along with most other restaurants, is located on the beach. After dinner, if you are looking for a treat, take a ten minute walk to get ice cream from the Málagano favorite, Heladería Inma (Calle Moreti, 15).
Day 10: Málaga
Start your morning with a hike to the Alcazaba, a fortress built by the Hammudid dynasty in the 11th century. There are magnificent views of the city, the sea and the beaches from the top! If you are looking for a coffee break, walk to the Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro. In Spain, a parador is a state run hotel located in castles or fortresses. After your hike head out to the airport, to the end of your fun-filled vacation in Andalusia!
Charlottesville, VA is a quaint college town (actually a city) surrounded by rural Virginia. Considered the Gateway to the Shenandoah National Park, Charlottesville has a beautiful mountain backdrop and much of the city is centered around the flagship University of Virginia. Having historic roots in early colonial days, the area boasts home to the estates of Founding Fathers (and early American Presidents) James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. 2.5 hours south of Washington D.C, Charlottesville is a fun country getaway and as the slogan Virginia is for Lovers gives way, the people are warm and welcoming.
Timing: Charlottesville is best visited in the Fall and Spring for the weather. Both in the spring and the fall are Foxfield Races, or steeple races which has become a University of Virginia tradition. You can coordinate with the time of the race if you wish to attend, if you do not wish to attend, I would recommend avoiding this weekend since everything will be far more crowded.
Arrive into Virginia and get settled into your accommodation. Charlottesville is easily accessible by train, but for many of the sites you do need a car to get around. I had a couple of friends who were either going to school at UVA or working at the hospital and were great hosts when I visited! Get some dinner and explore the Downtown Mall. Centered around Main street, the Downtown Mall is an 8 block pedestrian mall with a number of restaurants, bars and shops.
Before leaving grab some grub and coffee to go from Paradox Pastry (313 2nd St SE #103). Then start your morning off by visiting Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, Monticello (931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, VA). Ironically, the same man who wrote the Declaration of Independence (“All men are created equal”) was also a slave owner. The museum is not skittish of Jefferson’s controversial past. Historic Michie Tavern (683 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy) is a five minute drive from Monticello, for those who may be interested in a glass of wine. Fun fact: the current Nickel depicts Monticello on the back of it.
Both James Monroe’s Highland (2050 James Monroe Pkwy) and James Madison’s Montpelier house museums are local, too. If you have a preference as to which early president’s home you are most interested in! Maybe I should give my home a name and I will become a president!
After getting your fix of history, get your wine tasting on. My favorite vineyard is Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyard (1616, 5022 Plank Rd, North Garden, VA 22959). It is great to sit outside and enjoy wine tasting with a few snacks. If you want to continue, I would recommend Blenheim Vineyards (31 Blenheim Farm, Charlottesville, VA 22902). For those who wish to pack a sandwich for picnic at the vineyards, Ivy Provisions (2206 Ivy Rd) is an upscale deli offering many options.
Come back to town and refresh before going out to dinner at the Ivy Inn Restaurant (2244 Old Ivy Rd), The restaurant serves elevated American food in a charming 19th century home, and I recommend sitting on the patio. The Belmont Neighborhood of Charlottesville also offers many culinary delights. Local (824 Hinton Ave) is another favorite restaurant where you can get great mac and cheese and malbec! You can get a slop bucket from Belmont BBQ (816 Hinton Ave) or Mas (904 Monticello Rd) for some great tapas.
For those who want to get outdoors, grab a coffee from Mudhouse Coffee or Shenandoah Joe Ivy before heading to Humpback Rocks Hike (Milepost 5.8 Blue Ridge Parkway, Lyndhurst, VA 22952). This hike on the Blue Ridge Mountains offers splendid views and can be really magnificent in the Fall.
After returning to Charlottesville, get some well-deserved New York style bagels at Bodo Bagels (505 Preston Ave). Reserve a guided historical tour of the University of Virginia (sign up here). The University was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, and the original Board of Visitors included Jefferson, James Monroe (who was the sitting President at the time) and James Madison. Do not miss the iconic and Jefferson designed Rotunda. Head back to your accommodation and off back home.
Cheers to a relaxing weekend getaway in Charlottesville, VA!
Nashville, nicknamed “Music City,” as the birthplace of country music, gave rise to such stars as Taylor Swift and Billy Ray Cyrus. With its southern charm and famous music scene, Nashville has become a tourist destination and not only for country music fans. The city has blown up for group destination travel celebrating milestone birthdays, bachelor(ette) parties, and getaway weekends. Tourists are drawn to Lower Broadway, which offers much in the way of night life and Music Row, the historic district which is at the epicenter of Nashville’s burgeoning entertainment industry (recording studios, radio stations, etc). Many bars cater to honky tonk, country and karaoke. Don’t be surprised to hear record-label worthy singers at karaoke bars. And for those looking for debauchery, don’t worry, you will also hear late-night cringe-worthy singing from the plentiful bachelorette parties. Here is a weekend itinerary for a fun, music-filled group destination. Please note: this can be tweaked for couples travelling too.
Get settled into your accommodation. Get into the spirit by trying a pulled pork sandwich at Peg Leg Porter BBQ (903 Gleaves St).
Start your morning with BlueGrass Brunch at The Sutler Saloon (2600 8th Ave S). Stroll around and browse 8th Ave and nearby 12th Ave. Draper James, Reese Witherspoon’s shop, is on 12th st which I would recommend that you check out while you are in the area! If you need an pick-me-up, I love Frothy Monkey’s coffee on 12th St.
After brunch, head downtown for a walking tour of the city. You will enjoy Nashville’s rich history and pop culture. I, like many others, went for a bachelorette party. We loved taking a private line dancing lesson, and it included a routine and a video for the future bride.
Kick off your live music-filled evening with dinner at Acme Feed and Seed (101 Broadway). Unfortunately, Ame, like a lot of downtown establishments, doesn’t take reservations. However, Acme has great food and a gorgeous rooftop bar, where you can hang out until your table is ready. After dinner, tear up Broadway! There are a number of fun bars in which to celebrate, including The Stage, Honky Tonk Central, Tootsie Orchard, Robert’s Western World, and Paradise Park, as well as the karaoke bars: Santa’s Pub and Ms. Kellis.
Start your morning off at Centennial Park, which has its own Parthenon, a full scale replica of the one in Athens. Grab a coffee and some breakfast and go for a walk around the Vanderbilt Campus.
Cheers to a great music-filled weekend in Nashville!
Chicago, the “Jewel of the Midwest,” known for its deep-dish pizza, jazz music, architecture, and …notorious mobsters. Chicago is the third largest city in the United States. Unlike New York and Los Angeles, you can get a good feel for the city during a weekend getaway. Sometimes called The Windy City (lore says its for its politicians as well as its weather), the city’s entire east side is bordered by Lake Michigan and offers miles of waterfront walking.
Get settled into your accommodations and then head out to dinner at Giordano’s for some famous deep-dish pizza. They have many locations, so look up which is closest to your hotel or evening plans. Gino’s East and Lou Malnati are also local favorites for deep-dish. Save room for pizza dessert!
After dinner, I recommend heading to The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge (4802 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60640) for a live jazz performance. This uptown lounge was notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone’s old stomping ground.
Saturday: “The Loop”
Start your morning with the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river cruise (you can start at either of two locations, I recommend starting at 401 N Michigan Ave). This is a cool and enjoyable way to see the city. The river tour guides provide a nutshell of the city’s history in addition to the city’s famous architectural sites. The price is roughly $45, and tours begin every 20 minutes.
After the tour, walk over to Millenium Park to see the much-photographed “Bean.” Millennium Park is located in the heart of the city, and is bordered by many cultural and art institutions. Check out the Tiffany Glass dome in the landmarked Chicago Cultural Center (78 E Washington St.), which was built in 1897 and is open to the public at no charge. Also nearby is the former Marshall Fields Flagship store, which is now a Macy’s (111 N State St). Get a snack and enjoy spectacular views over Millenium Park at Cindy’s (12 S Michigan Ave), located on the 13th floor of the 1893 Chicago Athletic Association Hotel.
Head up to the Old Town/Goldrush neighborhood to catch a 4:00 pm comedy show at The Second City (1616 N Wells St.), which has launched the careers of many celebrity comedians such as Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Murray. After the show, get a happy hour drink and peruse the exquisite furniture offerings at Restoration Hardware, now known as RH (1300 N. Dearborn St.) which is located in an old arts club.
Get some dinner in the Lakeview East neighborhood. Both N. Halsted St and N. Clark St offer a number of great dinner and debauchery locations. N. Halsted is the main strip in Boystown, the historical LGBTQ neighborhood, while N. Clark St, in the Lakeview neighborhood, is geared more towards a younger crowd and Cubs baseball overflow, since it runs south of Wrigley Stadium.
Sunday: Evanston, IL
Start your morning by taking the metrorail to Evanston. Get a coffee and pastry from Hewn Bakery (1733 Central St, Evanston, IL). Spend an hour touring downtown, which has many interesting galleries, small businesses, and museums. Walk over to Northwestern University’s campus, and don’t and forget to check out the waterfront views in the Lakefill section of the campus. After Northwestern, get a two-mile ride to the architectural gem that is Baha’i House of Worship (100 Linden Ave, Wilmette, IL 60091). You can ogle the lace-style details for hours!
For those who do not want to make the roughly one-hour train ride to Evanston, the neighborhood of Ravenswood in Chicago is quaint and offers much to do. It has an old fashioned apothecary. Each fall, Ravenswood sponsors a superb Apple Festival in Lincoln Square. I recommend checking it out if you have a chance.
Cheers to a great weekend in Chicago!
If you are looking for more weekends away in the Midwest, check out my itinerary for a couple of the iconic college towns of Madison, WI or Ann Arbor, MI.
Thank you to Emma, Katrina, Elizabeth, and Jimmy for showing us around your city! Thank you to Meghan and Sarah for exploring with me 🙂
Santa Ynez Valley is a picturesque destination, known for its rolling hills dappled with vineyards, western-style storefronts, and the iconic Danish-style architecture in the town of Solvang. Ronald Reagan, Dolly Parton, and Fess Parker, who played Davy Crocket, have all had homes in this region. Fess Parker loved it so much he even created an inn and vineyard that you can visit today. Pioneers developed the land around a stagecoach stop in the mid 19th century, and much of the feel still has elements of the rustic early settlement. The scenic valley of roughly 20,000 residents is known for its agriculture (mostly wine), horse ranches, and friendly people. It is also the setting for the comedy, Sideways, which I recommend watching! Located just over the mountain range from Santa Barbara and two hours north of Los Angeles. Santa Ynez has many wineries, boutiques, restaurants and galleries to make it a relaxing weekend getaway.
Situated between the sloping hills of the Santa Ynez Mountains and San Rafael Mountains, the Santa Ynez Valley has six charming towns: Solvang, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Buellton, Ballard and Los Alamos. All with their own distinct character. But please be warned these are small.
When to go: I would recommend going in the springtime, after the rainy season, when the landscape is lush, green and abundant.
Where to stay: You can not go wrong staying in any of the villages, although both Solvang and Los Olivos have quaint downtowns that are fun to walk around. There is something to be said for staying in Solvang to avoid the midday crowds. I went on a girls trip, and we were able to actually rent a historical house that was part of Mattei’s Tavern (an original tavern from when it was a stagecoach stop) in Los Olivos!
If you are coming from southern California, I recommend getting dinner en route at Cold Spring Tavern (5995 Stagecoach Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105). This mountainside Western saloon, will remind you of the true west. For those who would like to stretch their legs before dinner, there is a one mile hike to the abandoned Knapp’s Castle ( parking can be found roughly at 3880 E Camino Cielo Santa Barbara, CA 93105). It’s a great spot to see the sunset through the stone arches of the original structure. The trail is completely downhill on the way there, so be prepared for the uphill on the way back.
Saturday: Wine tasting
I recommend starting your morning with breakfast at the Corner House Cafe (2902 San Marcos Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441) in Los Olivos. For those with a sweet tooth, the local favorite God’s Country Provisions Donut Shop sells their donuts in the tower next door on the weekends.
After your breakfast, walk around the small downtown for a little bit before starting your wine tasting with a “chaser” of cupcakes at Saarloos and Sons Winery (2971 Grand Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441). The family owned winery frequently names and labels their wine after ancestors.. You may get the opportunity to meet snarky, yet family-oriented son #1, Keith, who will share a bit about his elders that he honors in all actions he takes.
We had planned on spending the day wine tasting at different vineyards but ended up spending the whole time at our first stop, Demetria Estates (6701 Foxen Canyon Road, Los Olivos, CA 93441). We packed a picnic to eat outside at Demetria’s which resembles a Greek villa. The Greek-American owners named the vineyard and their daughter after the Greek goddess of harvest, Demeter. We had a local, Raymond (805-757-2342, ~$25/ hour) drive us around and give us the oral history of all the vineyards and the region in general.
After wine tasting we had a suburb dinner on the patio at S.Y. Kitchen (1110 Faraday St, Santa Ynez, CA 93460). They have a great farm to table italian food and cocktails.
For those who aren’t quite ready for the party to end, consider a nightcap at country western, Maverick Saloon (3687 Sagunto St, Santa Ynez, CA 93460).
Sunday: Solvang, a Danish village
Spend Sunday morning walking around the Danish village of Solvang. Danish-American’s moved west in the early 20th century to avoid the long midwestern winters and created this village. Start with a hearty breakfast from Paula’s Pancake House. Enjoy window shopping, the many small boutiques, year round christmas stores, and art galleries. For those with a sweet tooth grab a danish pastry to go!
The rolling hills of Napa Valley have become synonymous with images of culinary excellence and award-winning wine. Much to many Francophiles’ surprise, the area was put on the global wine map when two local vineyards won in a blind taste test at the “Paris Wine Tasting of 1976.” Napa Valley is now best known for its dry red wines, the most popular of which is Cabernet Sauvignon but Merlot, Pinot Noir and even Chardonnay have received high praise. (If you are more interested in vineyards producing white wine, check out the neighboring laid back Sonoma Valley.) I consider the Napa Valley region as the apex of “rural chic” and the culture is still steeped in its agricultural history. Napa Valley is an hour drive north from San Francisco and it makes for a great weekend getaway.
Situated between the sloping hills of the Vaca and Mayacamas mountains, Napa Valley includes five cities: Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, and lesser known American Canyon. The region stretches for over 30 miles from north to south, and be prepared to have up to a 40 minute drive between destinations. Napa Valley can get expensive. Tastings at inexpensive vineyards start at around $35, and seeing multiple vineyards in a day can add up. Please note: I enjoy wine, but I am not a sommelier, so my itinerary is focused on a positive experience rather than as a wine critique! Pace yourself both physically and financially and remember to hydrate, as the area is known for hot temperatures and drinking all day can cause dehydration.
I enjoy watching movies and reading books about a place before I visit. For Napa, I recommend watching movies such as Wine Country, Bottle Shock, or the oldie but goodie, The Parent Trap. A few of Dean Koontz’s novels are set in Napa, but I would recommend The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty by Julia Flynn Silor.
When to go: I would recommend going in the spring-time, after the rainy season, when the landscape is lush, green and abundant. Autumn and winter are also often good times. I would be wary of going in the summer, as Napa gets very hot and temperatures can go above 100 degrees.
Where to stay: I love staying in downtown Yountville, as it has a quaint downtown and walking around the center is always fun. I have previously stayed at Maison Fleurie, A Four Sisters Inn, and really enjoyed the ambiance.
Friday: Dinner in Napa
Get a reservation for dinner at Allegria (1026 1st St, Napa, CA), an upscale italian restaurant in a historic bank landmark, built in 1916. Take a stroll through Napa’s downtown after dinner. Please be aware that much of the town shuts down earlier in the evening, since most tourists spend the day sampling wine.
Saturday: Wine tasting
Start your morning with a pastry and coffee from Bouchon Bakery (6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599), in the middle of the quaint downtown section of Yountville.
Drive up to Calistoga, and start your day at Sterling Vineyards (1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, CA 94515). This has the only aerial tram in Napa Valley and offers cascading views of the area. By the late afternoon, the tram can get hot and crowded, so I recommend starting here.
Next stop is Chateau Montelena Winery (1429 Tubbs Ln, Calistoga, CA 94515) this beautiful 19th century chateau and vineyard was put on the world vintner map when the Chardonnay won the “Judgement of Paris” wine competition in 1976. The movie, Bottle Shock, is a fictionalized depiction of this new world victory!
After visiting two vineyards get a late picnic lunch at V. Sattui (1111 White Ln, St Helena, CA 94574). You can pick up some food from the store and sit outside at many of the park benches. After lunch, you could continue on with winery tours, but I would recommend regrouping at your hotel and window-shopping the quaint shops in downtown Yountville.
For dinner consider the French restaurant, Bouchon Bistro (6534 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599). For those who are looking to burn through some serious cash, French Laundry (6640 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599) is a delicious 9 course prefix experience ($310/per person). Located in an unassuming stone farmhouse, this restaurant is repeatedly listed among the top restaurants in the world and received 3 stars in the Michelin guide.
For those who still have the energy, consider an after dinner drink at Restoration Hardware (6725 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599) which is open until 10:00PM.
Sunday: Hot Air Balloon ride and Oxbow Public Market
For those who are not afraid of heights, start your morning very early with a memorable sunrise hot air balloon ride provided by Napa Valley Balloon, Inc (4086 Byway East, Napa, CA 94558). This could be missed for those who want to sleep in and save some money. Prices run roughly in the low $200’s per guest.
Try a grab and go brunch at Oxbow Public Market (610 1st St, Napa, CA 94559) before heading home for a weekend well spent (in more than one way) in Napa Valley!
Seattle, named the Emerald City for its lush evergreen forest, is the birthplace of Starbucks, Microsoft, and Amazon.The whole Pacific Northwest has the trifecta of natural beauty: water, mountains, and forests, and Seattle has it all. Seattle, what I think of as the cleaner and greener San Francisco, is also a city of seven hills. That being said, prepare to get those calf muscles moving while walking around this manageable and iconic city! What other excuse do you need to visit?
I enjoy reading and watching movies about a place before visiting. For those who enjoy reading, I recommend Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford; Where’d you go Bernadette By Maria Semple; Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. I am embarrassed to admit all of the Fifty Shades of Grey movies and the Twilight series, which use Seattle as the backdrop. Sleepless in Seattle is a classic and crowd pleaser.
Day 1: Downtown
Start your morning off at Pikes Place Market (85 Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101), walk around the many stalls of fresh food and artisan goods. Even see the famous flying fish! You can easily spend over an hour perusing the market. Don’t forget to check out both Bubblegum Alley and the first Starbucks Coffee. After Pike’s Place Market make your way UPHILL to the Starbucks Reserve (1124 Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101) which offers flights of coffee to try, quite an experience. From here you can walk over to the Amazon Dome and grab a free banana from the banana stand.
Grab lunch at Ivar’s Seafood (1001 Alaskan Way, Seattle, WA 98104) for lunch, great waterfront views and great fish and chips.
Head to Pioneer Square for an Underground Tour, which starts every hour on the hour. It’s a great way to get to know the city’s history before the tech companies put it on the global map. En route do not miss the modern architecture and quick walk around the Seattle Public Library.
After a jam packed day, enjoy a delicious dinner at Kedai Makan (1802 Bellevue Ave, Seattle, WA 98122) for creative cocktails and amazing Malaysia food!
Day 2: Hike Rattlesnake Ledge + Fremont/Ballard
Start your morning off by renting a car and heading to Rattlesnake Ledge or Snoqualmie Pass (updated information on directions can be found here). While I put this on day 2 of your trip, I would try to go on whatever day is not the weekend, to avoid crowds.
After the hike and with the luxury of your car, drive to the Ballard District to enjoy a beer and hard earned grub. Enjoy window shopping at the many independent stores on Ballard St and Market St. For those interested in Seattle’s quirkier side, stop in at Fremont Troll.
End your evening with a lively dinner at the Pink Door (1919 Post Alley, Seattle, WA 98101) for dinner and a jazz, cabaret, or burlesque show. Make sure to get there early because seating is on a first come first serve basis.
Day 3: Queen Anne neighborhood
Take it easy on your last day and start your morning with a walk to the beautiful views at Kerry Park (211 W Highland Dr, Seattle, WA 98119), with sweeping views of the city (on a clear day!) Enjoy a leisurely walk through the Queen Anne neighborhood.
Grab some coffee and a look around at La Marzocco Cafe in KEXP radio center (472 1st Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109) before going to a museum. The Museum of Pop Culture or Chihuly Gardens are both amazing, and it just depends on your personal preference.
Enjoy some oysters from nearby Taylor’s Shellfish (124 Republican St, Seattle, WA 98109).
The space needle is in this area, for those who want to go up and look at the city.