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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Athens

The birthplace of democracy, Athens is at once a tantalizing blend of antiquity, modernity and the natural world. Ancient structures and monuments tower over a modern city interspersed with mountains and rocky hills, and striking views of the Saronic Gulf just a few kilometers to the south. Foodies and oenophiles rejoice, the food and wine is phenomenal!

Summers in Athens are hot, searing and touristy. We recommend visiting in spring (Greece in bloom is divine!) or fall to avoid the crowds.

There are a few options for getting to and from Athens International Airport. The easiest and most direct way is via taxi with a flat rate of €38. Alternatively, take Metro line 3 from the airport to Syntagma Square Metro Station. It takes about 40 minutes and will drop you right in the heart of the city.

EAT

Dióskouroi Cafe Tavern This taverna next to the Agora is popular with the locals. The house salad is a MUST try. Great for lunch.

Esperides A taverna in the adorable Anafiotika neighborhood situated right at the top of a dreamy, cobble-stoned staircase. The roof has views of the Acropolis and live music. Go for lunch or stop by in the evening for a tipple and mezes.

Karavan This teeny, tiny sweet shop is tucked (literally!) into the side of a doorway but is known for its incredible baklava.

To Kafeneio One of our most memorable meals in Greece, this tiny taverna was empty of tourists and perfectly delicious. They have their own vineyard and winery in Nemea. Definitely try the housewine and meatballs with sauce!

The Old Tavern of Psarras Local restaurant perfect for lunch near the Acropolis or for a sunset dinner with their lovey terrace overlooking the Ancient sites.

DRINK

Couleur Locale This hip drinking hole is located on a third floor roof deck overlooking the Acropolis. Go for sunset and stay for dinner. It’s a little tricky to find - walk inside the No. 3 building, head to the back, and the go up the stairs.

Dos Gardenias This Cuban-style tapas bar in the trendy Monastiraki neighborhood is a great spot for a drink before dinner or at the end of a long, dusty day.

Oinoscent Awesome wine bar near Syntagma Square with over 50 wines available by glass. Bustling with a PYT crowd on a Friday. If you like reds, try the local agiorgitiko varietal from Nemea.

Taverna Acropoli This taverna is next door to the Roman Forum and overlooks the ruins. Stop here to refuel on Greek coffee and take a break from the sun before heading to the next archaeological site.

PLAY

Anafiotika This charming neighborhood rises above the Plaka against the walls of the Acropolis rock. It’s blue and white buildings and winding walkways are reminiscent of the Greek islands. Awatara is a cute shop featuring world clothing, jewelry and accessories.

Archaeological ruins These should be at the top of your Athens list. Purchase a €30 three day entrance pass from any of the major archaeological sites to gain access into all the sites you’ll want to see. The “do not miss” list includes the Acropolis and its museum, the Ancient Agora, the Roman Forum, the Temple of Zeus, Kerameikos (the ancient, “seedy” part of town) and Hadrian’s Library.

National Parliament Building Worth a stop by to observe the ezone guards in their traditional wear.

Lykavittos Hill Hike or take a cable car to the top of this hill just north of Syntagma for spectacular views.

Monastiraki Flea Market The go-to spot for tourist shopping. Pick up Greek wine, olives, jewelry and decently priced leather jackets.

The Pynx This hill towers above the ancient Agora and was an important gathering place for the Athenian democratic assembly. It is an important place in the birth story of democracy, and a great viewpoint overlooking the city.

Syntagma Square and Syntagma Metro Station Syntagma is the heart of Athens today and its Square is surrounded by the shopping district. Check out the Syntagma Metro, also a celebrated archaeological site! Looking for local gifts to bring home? Check out Greek skincare company Korres Natural Products.

STAY

Nearly all the major archaeological sites in Athens are within walking distance of the Old Town, Plaka. While lovely and a great place to stay, Plaka is also touristy. For something a bit hipper, younger, or just slightly quieter, look for an AirBnb in either Psiri or Monastiraki.

Alternatively, we enjoyed staying at the three star Athenian Callirhoe Hotel just south of Plaka. It was well-priced with large rooms, breakfast included and was a 10 minute walk to Plaka.

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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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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

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.

LOCATIONS NEARBY