Provence

France’s southern region of Provence is celebrated internationally for its rosé wines, lavender products, sunshine, stunning landscapes with medieval villages, and it’s proximity to the glamorous Côte d'Azur. With so much to see and do, it is easy to spend a week exploring the region.

If traveling to Provence in the summer, you will almost surely cross paths with tourists. The lavender is in bloom in June and July, and is typically harvested in mid-July (this varies by farm). We visited in late June and while some fields were still early, others were in perfect purple splendor. If the lavender fields aren’t at the top of your list, we recommend avoiding the tourists by traveling during the spring or fall shoulder season.

Provence is a large region and our travels have covered only portions. The region is best accessed via the Marseilles or Nice Airports, and for full flexibility on schedule and timing we recommend renting a car. Choose one area to base yourself from or plan a road trip, staying somewhere new each night. We’ve highlighted our favorite towns and routes in the recommendations below.

Attempt to speak French, no matter how rusty it may be! While many in the hospitality industry will have some basic English, this is more difficult to find in smaller towns. It is easy to get by with a mixture of French, English, Google translator, and well-meaning hand gestures, but attempts at their language will go a long way with the locals.

EAT

La Fleur de Thym This gem of a culinary experience was recommended by our bed and breakfast hosts. It’s an unassuming space in the unassuming village of Flayosc, but the fish and meat dishes were fantastic. Try the three course menu.

La Guinguette du Lac This market nearby Plage Galetas and the Lac de Sainte-Croix is a good place to stock up on food stuffs and water before heading to the beach and lake.

Lavender ice cream Nothing quite like it! Find a small stall in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie featuring a non-dyed variety (many glaciers use a purple food die in their lavender ice cream, and while it looks nice it’s not necessary).

DRINK

Restaurant Le Styx at the Hotel Le Provence This restaurant and hotel in La Palud-sur-Verdon is the perfect stop for un café au lait, un biere, or snacks before continuing to or from the Gorges du Verdon. Pleasant outdoor seating in a quiet space.

Rosé wine Provence is one of the world’s top producers and exporters of rosé. There are numerous wineries and vineyards dotting the region, but if you are looking for a special tour or visit we have heard good things about Chateau d'Esclans and Domaine Rabiega. We also recommend Château d'Estoublon. We visited the Chateau while staying in nearby Les Baux-de-Provence. The winery has a selection of reds and rosés, and a delicious olive oil!

PLAY

Lavender Fields The Valensole plateau in Provence has a high concentration of lavender fields, with lavender distilleries (check out Terraoma Jaubert and Lavandes Angelvin) dotting its roadsides. Start just east of Manosque at the intersection of the D4 and D6, and take the D6 east towards Valensole. From Valensole turn left onto the D8 and head northeast. You’ll past a myriad of fields along this route, and we’ve pinned our favorite one just before the intersection of the D8 and D953.

Gorges du Verdon and Parc Naturel regional du Verdon The Gorges du Verdon are considered Europe’s Grand Canyon, and a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Come here for hiking, biking, white water rafting, kayaking, swimming, and more. Also visit the nearby icy, turquoise waters of the Lac de Sainte-Croix, where the gorge begins. The nearby village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is built into the craggy mountainside and located within the Parc.

Pont du Gard This relic remaining from the Roman occupation of France is a first century AD aqueduct. It is considered the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges and remains one of the best preserved today, so much so that it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a magical experience to walk across the bridge and marvel at the skill of Rome’s early engineers, and admire the view across the countryside.

Provence’s many medieval villages Make time to explore! Some of the ones we’ve passed include Aups, Comps-sur-Artuby, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, La Palud-sur-Verdon and Villecroze. Stop and spend an hour in a traditional Provençal market, often held one day during the week and one day on the weekend.

DAY TRIPs

Arles and Pont du Gard Formerly a provincial capital of ancient Roman, today the sunny city of Arles retains temples and vestiges of its earlier days. Tucked up against the banks of the Rhône River, its charming streets served as inspiration for the painter Van Gogh. We highly recommend an overnight stop here, to or from your way to the Pont du Gard.

Cassis Warranting a weekend visit, this fishing village is known for its beaches, bistros and beautiful calanques. Take a boat tour of the calanques (coves formed from dramatic limestone cliffs that line the Mediterranean coast). We bought tickets the day-of at the ticket stand toward the left of the Port. The 5 Calanques tour was the perfect length! The calanques can also be explored by foot via hiking in the area or by kayak. Eat at Le Grand Bleu, located central in front of the port. While in Cassis be sure to try the local rosé and Provençal mussels.

Gorges du Verdon, Lac de Sainte-Croix and La Palud-sur-Verdon This area could easily be broken down to 2-3 days, for an easier pace. The road leading in and out of La Palud-sur-Verdon, D952, has stunning views of the Gorges far below. For a really wild ride, take the steep and craggily D23 for even more panoramas. Warning, we only recommend this route for experienced and confident drivers! The villages of Aups, Comps-sur-Artuby and Villecroze are adorable and not far from these main sites. Stop for a few hours at one of the beaches along the Lac de Sainte-Croix. We loved Plage Galetas, where we rented a paddle boat for two hours to explore the lake and gorge, and swim.

Les Baux-de-Provence One of the most beautiful villages in France, Les Baux-de-Provence sits between Arles and Saint Remy de Provence. This medieval village rests atop the hill within the Regional Park of the Alpilles, and offers charming store fronts, scenic terraces, and delicious local cuisine. We stayed one night at the bottom of the village at the 4-star Benvengudo.

Valensole Plateau and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie See above under lavendar fields. Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is a great stop for a late lunch after a long morning on the D6 and D8 visiting the lavender. Stay overnight night here and then head into the Parc Naturel regional du Verdon the next day to visit the Gorges du Verdon.

STAY

Make the most of a visit to the region by road-tripping and staying in a few places. We would recommend overnight stays in some combination of Arles, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, La Palud-sur-Verdon and Draguignan. Choose a well-reviewed French bed and breakfast for a truly delightful experience with local jams and marmalades, and homemade baguettes and pastries.

We adored our overnight at Bastide des Selves, a quiet country retreat a few miles outside of in Draguignan. Run by a local couple, this small B&B has four spectacularly decorated rooms and serves up a delicious breakfast. We would come back to use Bastide as a base for a longer visit to enjoy the region’s wineries, the nearby Parc Naturel regional du Verdon and beaches of the Côte d'Azur. Both are approximately 40 minutes away by car.

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Split

Split is Croatia’s second largest city and a jewel along the Dalmatian coast. It is celebrated for its cheerful red-tiled roofs, Old Town labyrinth, and the ruins of the 4th century fortress and palace lying within it. Spit is also a gateway to the rest of Dalmatia and the many islands sprinkled off its coast. We recommended spending a few days in Split at the start or end of a longer Croatian adventure.

Split has an international airport just a few miles and short drive from the city. Taxis and ubers are an easy option.

Split is also a three hour drive from Dubrovnik. Renting a car and driving in Croatia is fairly easy, as long as you making a booking in advance. We started in Split, drove 2.5 hours into Bosnia for an overnight in Mostar, and then continued south another 2.5 hours back into Croatia toward Dubrovnik.

While this seaside town would be gorgeous any time of year, it is especially incredible in the warmer months. Avoid the height of the tourist season by visiting during late spring or early fall (May, late August or September).

EAT

Bokeria Don’t miss this restaurant and wine bar serving up Croatian dishes and wines. Make a booking in advance.

Teraca Vidilica Stop at this on your hike back down the hill in Marjan Forest Park. It’s a great place for a snack, beer and view of the city and coastline.

DRINK

Croatian wine is incredible but not yet well known on the international market. According to a wine guide we met, the winemaking industry suffered greatly under the Soviet block, as all grapes produced were used to make one style of house wine. No individuality, creativity or experimenting was allowed or encouraged. However, the industry has more than recovered today and while in Croatia be sure to try the local varietal plavac mali. This small blue grape is the most planted grape used for red wines in Croatia, and it produces the most deliciously smooth rosés and reds.

PLAY

Bell Tower of St. Domnius Cathedral Perhaps the most touristy thing to do in Split, the (somewhat) perilous climb up the steps of the tower is worth it for the view at the top. Go early to beat the crowds.

Diocletian’s Palace This UNESCO World Heritage site is whats left of a Roman emperor’s palace. Today the ruins are the heart of Split’s Old Town, forming a labyrinth of shops, restaurants and bars. Hire a tour guide or use a guide book for a self-guided walk. Major sites within the Palace include the Peristil, the Cathedral of St Dominus, the Vestibule and the palace substructures which today form a marketplace leading down to the Riva. In summer go first thing in the morning, as this area becomes packed with tourists and Game of Thrones fans.

Klis Fortress This ancient fortress sits in the hills above the city. Hire a car or take a local bus to visit. Game of Thrones fans will recognize Klis as Meereen. Recommended by a friend.

Marjan Forest Park This hilly nature reserve rising above the coast is home to medieval chapels and caves, and a lovely walk through pine forests. A hike up offers vistas of the city and ocean below. Bring snacks and water.

Riva Split’s waterfront and harbor area is bustling with boat tours, restaurants and shops.

Sunset Cruise Organize a sunset cruise along the coastline with one of the many kiosks adorning the Riva. Short cruises are approximately 90 minutes to two hours and cost between €20-30. For those with more time, book a half day trip to Hvar or elsewhere.

Zapadna Obala This promenade connects the Riva to Marjan Forest Park and is worth a walk.

STAY

Stay within walking proximity of the Old Town and Diocletian’s Palace. We highly recommend Prima Luxury Rooms, a boutique hotel just minutes from the Old Town.

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Istanbul

Istanbul straddles both Europe and Asia and for centuries has been a physical bridge between the Orient and West. The former capital of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, Istanbul was known throughout the ancient world as Constantinople. With its views of the Bosphorus Straight and Sea of Marmara, orange tiled rooftops, and Islamic minarets, it is a stunning city. Visit for the delicious Mediterranean food, shopping in the Grand Bazaar, and gorgeous architectural antiquities including the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace.

Istanbul is a delight to visit in warm weather. Go anytime spring through early summer or in the autumn. To see all the sights and fully enjoy the city, we recommend at least three days.

Be sure to check Visa requirements before visiting Turkey. Online visas can be applied for here.

From the airport, take the M1A Yenikapı - Atatürk Airport subway line to the city center. Alternatively, cabs are an option but heavy traffic can make the journey take twice as long. We would only recommend this if you arrive early morning or late in the evening.

EAT

Antiochia Hip, brick-walled restaurant in Beyoğlu with amazing food. Great spot for dinner.

Cemil Dulda'nın Yeri Mardin Meat and kebab hall next to the Grand Baazar. Try the Iskander kebab and eggplant kofte.

Hocapasa Pidecisi Humble little lunch spot in Hocapasa serving up excellent pide (Turkish pizza). It is very near the Gülhane Parkı Çeşmesi park.

Hünkar Turkish and Ottoman food in the Nisantasi neighborhood.

Meze by Lemon Tree Diner  Excellent Turkish food near Taksim Square. Go for dinner.

Restaunt Mürver Beautiful view overlooking the Bosphorus from the top of the Novotel in Karaköy.

Tarihi Karadeniz Döner Kebab sandwiches in the Besiktas neighborhood. Great option for lunch on the go.

DRINK

Be sure to try the local tea, called çay, and Turkish coffee.

Anadolu Nargile Çorlulu Ali Paşa Medresesi This 300 year old, former Islamic school is now a hidden shisha bar near the Grand Bazaar. This spot has an authentic, local vibe, though as with most shisha bars in Islamic countries, it does not serve alcohol.

Istiklal Caddesi There are lots of great places for drinks in the narrow streets that flow from Istiklal Caddesi, a main street near Beyoğlu and Taksim Square. Nevizade Sokak is a particularly good side street.

Mikla Trendy roof-top bar (and restaurant) in Beyoğlu. Go for cocktails and watch the sun set over the Bosphorus.

PLAY

For visits to the mosques and other monuments, we recommend buying tickets in advance. The lines are a cluster and often warrant long wait times.

Dolmabahce This is the former palace and place of death of Atatürk, the Turk hero who brought down the Ottoman Empire.

Galata Kulesi (Galata Tower) Medieval tower in Karaköy quarter of the city. Historically, this was the city watchtower and now welcomes visitors to see a 360 view over Istanbul at the top of the tower.

Hagia Sophia This must see Orthodox church was converted into a mosque by Muslims. After you have toured the interior, grab a Turkish coffee on the terrace of nearby restaurant Seven Hills for the best views.

Kapali Carsi Grand Bazaar. Some of our favorite shops include:

Koç In need of a leather Jacket? They have two shops, one in front of the other, but try the smaller shop. The seller speaks good English.

Recep Karaduman Beautiful Turkish Carpets, worth the visit even if you are not looking to buy.

Kiz Kulesi (Maiden's Tower) Go by ferry and enjoy the beautiful views of Istanbul and the Bosphorus from the top of the tower.

Sultanahmet Known as the Blue Mosque, this active place of worship is famous for its blue tiled interior and architecture. It is a 10 minute walk from the Hagia Sophia. Free entry.

Taksim Square The heart of the trendy Beyoğlu neighborhood, this is a hot spot for cafes, bars and people watching.

Topkapi Palace This old Ottoman palace overlooking the city which was the center of Istanbul.

Turkish Baths There are many. Don’t miss trying one!

STAY

Sultanahmet is a neighborhood close to most of the major sites but does not offer many restaurant options. We enjoyed Hotel Niles Istanbul, a tiny, boutique hotel with a lovely roof terrace that is a few blocks from the Grand Bazaar.

Otherwise, check out Beyoğlu, Beşiktaş or Nişantaşi neighborhoods. Beyoğlu is known for its proximity to bars, restaurants and shopping.

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Naples

Basking in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, Naples is a quintessentially southern Italian city. It’s grittier, livelier and certainly rougher than its more refined, northern cousins. While here do not miss trying a classic, Neapolitan pizza.

After landing into the Naples Airport, take the airport bus to Napoli Centrale, the main train station.

Naples is a gateway to the beautiful Amalfi Coast, the towns of Positano, Amalfi, Sorrento and the lovely isle of Capri. All within a few hours drive. Hire a private driver.

EAT

Gino e Toto Sorbillo The BEST pizza in Naples. There is another restaurant called Sorbillo, so make to go to this one. Order a pizza a person.

DRINK

Piazza Bellini Lots of bars line this street.

Via dei Tribunali The bustling, albeit narrow, main street that runs through the city center and comes alive at night.

PLAY

Chiaia The area just south and southeast of the Stazione Napoli Piazza Amedeo. It is filled with cute boutiques and restaurants.

Lungomare Stunning views of Mount Vesuvius, Capri and the city itself from this promenade running alongside the coast. Also a great place to sunbathe. Stay for sunset.

Pompeii Archaeological Park Spend a day touring the remains of this ancient city preserved in volcanic ash. Pompeii was destroyed in 79 AD by a devastating eruption from Mount Vesuvius. It is an easy, 40 minute train ride from Naples.

Vesuvius National Park Hike up to the crater of Mount Vesuvius. It is possible to take a bus or taxi to the volcano from Pompeii.

STAY

We enjoyed staying just south of the Museo subway station, the old tower quarter, which was a 15 minute walk from the Napoli Centrale. To get the full experience, go for an AirBnb in a local home.

Barcelona

The Catalan capital is the second most populous Spanish city and the most beautiful (we think). From its Mediterranean beaches, Iberico ham, tapas, sparkling Cava wines and dreamy, Gothic architecture, it is a European gem well worth a weekend or extended visit.

The Barcelona airport is just 12 kilometers south of the city and an easy and affordable 25 minute taxi ride. Check out the MyTaxi app, an easy way to call rides. It is also possible to take the A1 or A2 bus to Plaça de Catalunya (Pl. Catalunya - Andana Central). It is about a 40 minute trip.

EAT

Bar Castells Casual, late night tapas just off La Ramblas.

Delicious Barcelona Consider hiring a private chef through Delicious to cook dinner at your AirBnb or apartment. This is a great option for a group or family planning a special night.

El Nacional A renovated, 19th century factory with four specialized restaurants and bars. Make a booking.

Pla Restaurant Romantic restaurant in the Gothic Quarter. Go for dinner.

Restaurant Mirabé Food is pricey but the view is amazing and overlooks the entire city. Recommended by a friend.

Sensi Tapas Amazing tapas in the Gothic Quarter. Reservations a must.

DRINK

Alaire Terrace Bar Located on the 8th floor of the Hotel Condes de Barcelona, this bar overlooks La Pedrera and the Sagrada Familia.

Bo Kaap Nice, little spot for beachside drinks.

Carrer de Joaquín Costa Lots of bars on this narrow street west of Las Ramblas and just past the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Penedes Wine Region Organize a day trip wine-tasting in any of the surrounding wine regions with The Wine Colours. We enjoyed Penedes which is well known for its cava production. Definitely request a visit to Pares Balta, a bio-dynamic, family-owned winery with incredible wines!

PLAY

Ciutadella Park The green heart of Barcelona, this park has a small lake and fountain, lovely architecture and the zoo.

FC Barcelona Check out a game at Camp Nou, you won’t regret it!

Gothic Quarter Traverse the winding, medieval streets of the old city. Lots of bars, restaurants and clubs here.

La Rambla It’s touristy but worth a walk down Barcelona’s most famous street.

La Sagrada Familia Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí’s most famous work, this Roman Catholic church is so exquisite that construction started in 1882 and is still unfinished. Book tickets in advance!

Mercado de La Boqueria La Boqueria is one of the most famous markets in the world. Closed on Sundays.

Museu Picasso One of the largest collections of Pablo Picasso’s works.

Park Güell Another Gaudi creation, this park overlooks the city and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Plaça de Catalunya Considered Barcelona’s city center.

Platja de la Barceloneta White, sandy beach. The perfect spot for a siesta.

STAY

Stay within walking distance of Plaça de Catalunya and the Gothic Quarter and you will be just fine. We enjoyed the three-star Hotel HCC MontBlanc.

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