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.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Portland

This relaxed, hipster city is the largest in Oregon and definitely worth a visit when in the Pacific Northwest. Portland is brimming with independently-owned shops, microbreweries, farm-to-table restaurants and has no shortage of wilderness escapes. The city is home to the Columbia and Willamette rivers, and is about 1.5 hours from the famous Mount Hood. Portland’s surrounding national parks offer plenty of adventure for hikers, kite-surfers, skiers, and more.

The Portland airport is about 35 minutes from city center. Take the MAX light rail or an Uber. If you plan on exploring the region, we highly recommend renting a car for a few days to check out some of the national parks nearby.

EAT

Portland is well-known for its restaurant scene, craft beer and food truck (cart) culture. The food carts are located in “pods” sprinkled throughout the city. Wandering around downtown? Head to the food pod between 9th & 10th Avenues on Adler Street, and don’t miss the Grilled Cheese Grill for their famous, cheesy sandwiches.

Double Mountain Brewery & Taproom Brick oven pizza and beer? Our kinda place. Try the Truffle Shuffle.

Imperial Located Downtown, this American style eatery from Chef Vitaly Paley is a delicious brunch spot. On the hungrier side? Opt for the Fried Chicken or French Toast.

Ox Restuarant Argentinian steakhouse famous for its wood-fired grill.

Paley's Place Upscale yet casual dinner in Nob Hill. The chef’s focus is on sustainable, locally-sourced Pacific Northwest plates.

Pine State Biscuits Famous breakfast eatery with three locations in the city. Go for the signature homemade biscuits and gravy or fried chicken.

Pok Pok Authentic, Thai cuisine in a chill, outdoor atmosphere. We like the original location on Division.

Salt & Straw Not your average ice cream shop. This creamery offers eclectic flavours like Arbequina Olive Oil and Honey Lavender with homemade waffle cones. Plain Vanilla kinda guy? No worries, they have it all!

Toro Bravo Spain meets Portland. Expect to find a mix of pintxos, tapas, charcuteria and a seasonal menu that changes daily based on local produce. A delicious, modern and local take on traditional Spanish dishes.

DRINK

Barista Little coffee shop on Alberta Street.

Breakside Brewery Craft beers and delicious bar food.

Great Notion Brewing Award-winning brewery with funky and fruity IPAs. We love the cans to-go.

Stumptown Sustainable coffee homegrown in Portland. Try the cold-brew!

PLAY

Downtown Like most downtown areas, Portland has it all. We love wandering around downtown as there are always new shops that are a bit unique and quirky in their own right. As an added bonus, the state has no sales-tax!

Japanese Garden Over five acres of beautiful gardens on the west side of the city.

Powell's Largest collection of new and used books in the US.

Union Way A little shopping quarter with various boutiques. Definitely check out All Good and Bridge & Burn for stylish and functional outerwear.

Waterfront Park If visiting for a weekend, check out this area on Saturday for the weekly market with locals selling a bit of everything. Portland at its finest.

DAY TRIPS

Canon Beach Home of the famous Haystack Rock, this beach is a perfect day trip from the city. Enjoy the beach, go for a hike in Ecola State Park, or explore this small seaside village for local food and shopping.

Columbia River Gorge National Park 30 minutes outside of Portland, this national park hosts an outdoor playground with several hiking trails and beautiful views of the Columbia River Gorge. Check here for trail information.

Mount Hood 1.5 hour drive from Portland, Mount Hood offers a variety of activities no matter the time of year. We visited during December and took advantage of the snow sports. We recommend booking a chalet in Government Camp and driving up to the mountain during the day. Airbnb had great options for our family. Government Camps offers a village-feel, and is within walking distance to shops, restaurants, and bars. For skiing, there are three options: Ski Bowl, Meadows and Timberline. We skied Meadows and loved skiing in the tree-line.

Tamanawas Falls This 6 kilometer hike is east of Mount Hood and begins at the Sherwood Trailhead. This is an easy path straight to the falls and back. Proper hiking shoes are recommended.

Timberline Lodge Check out (or stay in) this historic landmark lodge constructed in 1937 during the Great Depression. This lodge offers ski in/out access to the slopes and on site restaurants & bars. The lodge is also famous for its role in the movie, The Shining.

Multnomah Falls Iconic waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge. The trail is currently under repair after the forest fires so check here for the latest updates on trails.

STAY

We recommend using Downtown or the Pearl District for a base. The Pearl is known for its art galleries, boutique shopping, and dining nearby. Staying in Downtown? Check out The Nines on Morrison Street for its location, comfort, and friendly staff.

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Budapest

The capital of Hungary is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway with friends. The city is split by the Danube River and offers plenty to see and do between the hilly Buda and Pest neighborhoods. This Eastern European city is known for its spa and wellness culture, rich history and Ruin bars. It is a fairly cost-friendly option compared to most Western European cities.

The most efficient way into the city from the airport is via taxi. There is no Uber in Budapest, but you can use an app called Bolt to ensure fair prices and traceable rides in the city.

EAT

Traditional Hungarian food is über heavy. While visiting be sure to try the national dish, Goulash soup, or Lángos, a deep fried flatbread topped with cheese and garlic butter! 

Central Market Built in 1897, this grand hall houses everything and anything you may want to eat, drink or buy. Have a stroll around lunch, try some local bites and admire the impressive architecture (closed on Sundays).

DRINK

Budapest is known for its Ruin pubs, derelict industrial style bars found in the Jewish quarter of the city. Our advice is to explore the 7th district and find your favorite, here are a few of ours:

Instant The largest ruin pub in Budapest with 8 different bars inside. You will find a variety of music, vibes, and unique styles throughout the club.

Mazel Tov This outdoor courtyard boasts the perfect atmosphere to start any evening. It also serves Mediterranean food for those who come hungry.

Szimpla Kert Original Ruin bar, not to be missed.

PLAY

Buda Castle Stroll around and admire this historical palace. The inside of the castle houses the Hungarian National Museum (open daily).

Castle Hill With views overlooking the Danube, this entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Don’t miss the Matthias Church and the Fishermans Bastion. Arrive via the funicular or take one of the many paths leading up to the Hill.

Chain Bridge Connects the western and eastern sides of the city, Buda and Pest. A beautiful (short) walk at any time of the day, views from both directions are picture-worthy.

Hungarian Parliament Building An iconic symbol of the city, this building is the third largest in the world and worth visiting for its unique architecture.

St. Stephens Basilica A beautiful Roman Catholic Church. Take the stairs for a rewarding view at the top!

Széchenyi Thermal Bath Budapest is known for its thermals, and this is one of the most famous. A relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

Vaci Street Main street with shopping, cafes and restaurants. The street starts at Vörösmarty Square.

STAY

Stay on the Pest side of the Danube. This is the heart of the city from an eating and drinking point of view, while the Buda side is more residential. We recommend Airbnb as there are loads of options available. We stayed near the Jewish Quarter.

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Prague

Prague is a fairy tale. The City of a Hundred Spires is home to an ancient castle on a hill, a magical clock tower, absinthe and a storied history of famous astronomers.

From the airport, one option is to take the Airport Express bus to the Prague Main Station and then walk 10-15 minutes into the Old Town. The bus takes about 35 minutes and runs from 6:30am to 10:00pm every 30 minutes. Alternatively, a cab or Uber will take 20-25 minutes.

The euro is not widely used in the Czech Republic. Upon arrival take out Czech crowns (also known as krones).

EAT

Ferdinanda Traditional Czech cuisine and beer in a cozy setting in Mala Strana. Recommended by a friend

Mansson’s Bakery Delicious Danish bakery just north of Old Town.

Piknik Park An Italian enoteca located on a quiet side street in Mala Strana. Outdoor seating, live music, great pizza and wine!

DRINK

The Czechs invented the Pilsner in 1842 and there is no better spot to try this light, golden-colored beer than straight from the source. Ask for a Pilsner Urquell, the original Bohemian beer. If you needed any more convincing, beer is literally cheaper than water here.

Double Trouble This cassic “cave-bar” and underground nightclub is a great spot to start the night.

Fat Cat Brewery & Pub Hip, contemporary bar and restaurant serving local brews in Old Town.

Hemingway Bar Cocktails.

Mecca Dance club for deep-house and techno lovers.

Strahov Monastery Brewery Beer has been brewed on this site near the Prague Castle since the medieval ages, but the current building dates back to the 17th century. Recommended by a friend.

PLAY

Charles Bridge This 15th century bridge connects the heart of the city and is lined with statutes of saints, artists, performers and musicians.

John Lennon Wall This colorful memorial pays homage to John Lennon and his ideals of peace and free speech.

Karlstejn Castle This beautiful, gothic castle was founded in 1348 by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV. It is an easy half day trip by train from Prague, and one of the most admired castles in Bohemia.

Mala Strana Prague’s Lesser Town is slightly less touristy than Old Town but just as magical. This neighborhood lines the left river bank and is just south of the Castle. Several good pubs and restaurants are located here.

Old Town Square A must visit.

The Powder Tower One of the original city gates to the Old Town, this gothic tower’s construction began in the fifteenth century.

Prague Castle largest castle (area) in the world dating back to the 9th century.

Prague Astronomical Clock This 600 year old clock face is the heart and soul of the Old Town and puts on a show every hour.

Day trips

Terezín Take a day trip one hour outside the city to this former ghetto, concentration camp and Gestapo prison. A sobering but education experience to learn about the Czech-Jewish history, World War II, and the Holocaust.

STAY

Stay near the Old Town or Mala Strana to be within walking distance of the main sites and nightlife. Mala Strana is perhaps a bit less touristy and quieter in the evening. We, however, enjoyed the four star Hotel Caruso, just north of the Old Town Square.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Porto

Clinging to the steep banks of the Douro River, Portugal’s second largest city is filled with medieval intrigue, historic bridges, beautiful views, delicious seafood and port wine! Portugal’s famous port takes its namesake from the city itself, as the wine passed from the hands of its Dourvo Valley producers on its way to England and beyond. Both the Porto and the Douro Valley are UNESCO World Heritage sites in their own right.

Fall is lovely time to travel to Porto. The sun is shining, the days are warm and the Douro Valley wineries are wrapping up harvest!

Uber and taxis are widely available in Porto and its an easy 20-25 minute drive to the city center. It is also possible to take the Metro do Porto light-rail system from the Airport station into the city where it makes various stops.

The Douro River Valley is a one to two hour drive from the city and a very easy day trip.

EAT

Cafe Progresso Great brunch spot just north of the Universidade do Porto and Livaria Lello bookstore.

Fábrica da Nata This bakery serves up this most exquisite pasteis de nata, delicious Portuguese custard tarts.

Jimão Tapas e Vinhos Small tapas-style restaurant and wine bar in Riberia.

The Wine Box Hip, bustling restaurant just a few blocks north from the Riberia. The sommelier is incredibly friendly and happy to make recommendations.

Vintage Theory This boutique port winery in the Douro River Valley has a lovely restaurant with a stunning view.

DRINK

Bar Ponte Pensil A small cafe at the base of the Luís I Bridge on the north bank. Go at sunset for a glass of vinho verde to admire the stunning views of the city and river.

Douro Valley Wine Tour No trip to Porto would be complete without a visit to this world renowned wine-making region. We especially loved this full day tour with eFun Tours which included lunch and wine (and port!) tastings at three different wineries.

Quinta do Beijo Small, family owned winery in the Douro with many vintage ports. The winemaker gives tours himself.

La Boheme entre Amis Bright and airy bar near the Universidade do Porto. Stand at the bar and sip a glass of port.

Letraria Craft Beer Garden This hole in the wall craft beer garden has a large outdoor area and decent selection of craft beers and lunch foods. Pop by before dinner or on Sunday before heading to the airport.

Majestic Cafe This art deco cafe, just down the street from Fábrica da Nata, was a favorite haunt of JK Rowling’s when she taught at the Universidade.

Xico Queijo Hip bar and restaurant near the Universidade. Great spot after hours and the surrounding bars and restaurants will all be busy well into the night.

PLAY

Cedofeita One of Porto’s trendiest neighborhoods. Take a stroll down the Rua de Cedofeita and pop into cute boutiques, restaurants and bars.

Livraria Lello The historic book store that inspired JK Rowling’s Hogwarts. Purchase entry tickets from the Armazéns do Castelo or in advance online.

Luís I Bridge Walk across the Douro River and admire the splendid view.

Muralha Fernandina A medieval castle in the center of the city whose ancient walls, staircases and watch towers remain intact today.

Porto Cathedral

Ribiera Walk along the river and winding streets of Porto’s medieval Old Town.

South bank wineries There are tons of wineries and port tasting rooms on the south bank side of the city and around the Castelo area.

STAY

Stay within walking distance of the Ribiera or Universidade to be close to all the sites. We enjoyed this AirBnb near Bolhão, which was a 15 minute walk from the riverfront.

LOCATIONS NEARBY