By far the question that I am asked the most after disclosing what I do for a living is “What is your favorite place to visit?” Usually I say the most recent place that traveled to, as it is near impossible to pick a favorite location from the entire world. However, there is one attraction that made such an impression on me, that sometimes I do find myself saying, “Portugal.”
This is the Quinta da Regaleira.
One of the most unique backyards I have ever experienced, the Quinta da Regaleira is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has passed ownership through the hands of many wealthy Portuguese landowners. The gardens are lush, the flowers abundant, and the sound of water can be heard trickling nearby. Yet the most incredible part for me was the underground grotto. Hidden passageways carved into the earth connect the vast gardens and they can be accessed through different portals including a winding tower, and my favorite, the grotto. Hopping over each slick rock as a waterfall crashes beside you, the experience brings to mind stories of old, and exciting adventures of what is to come. If you make it through, you are greeted with a darkened tunnel, lit by candles, leading your way deeper into the cavern.
One of my favorite cities in Portugal hands down is Sintra. The city imbues a romantic scene, from its palaces to its winding cobble-stoned streets. One palace in particular stands out in my mind as an unforgettable experience: the Pena Palace.
The Pena Palace looks like a fantasy version of a castle, with rising towers, brightly colored buildings, lush views of the surrounding countryside, and ornately carved gargoyles. On the day that I visited, the morning sky was grey and stormy, just adding to the fairytale feel of the scene. As I stood atop one of the highest turrets, the wind whipping my hair, I breathed in the fresh air and felt myself transported back in time, as if I were surveying my own kingdom. The Pena Palace is so convincing in its authenticity, that it allows visitors to create their own fantasy, even if just for a moment.
As the winter turns colder, and the holiday season approaches my mind inevitably turns towards the new year, and what exciting travels it will bring. While it is hard to plan so far ahead, I already have a few exciting destinations booked thanks to a close friend’s intercontinental wedding. The bride is Thai and the groom is German so the wedding will span both Thailand and Germany (with a bachelorette in Greece!) The first wedding will take place in Germany, specifically in Dusseldorf. While I have never explored that particular German city, it brings to mind another German city that I visited years ago: Munich.
My memories of Munich are tinged with a white blanket of snow, floating through the air as I made my way towards the cultural highlight of the city, the Glockenspiel. As the clock struck 11am the colorful wooden figures adorning the structure came to life with the chimes of a family of bells. A group of tourists and locals stood together, entranced by the beautiful (and noisy!) performance. Then just as suddenly as it started, it was over and life resumed, as if everyone were lifted from a trance.
While I am definitely a sun-seeker, preferring to follow the sun around the globe, Munich is a city that thrives in the winter. With its oversized pints of beer, and the warm halls of its beer gardens serving platters of weiner schnitzel and sausage, it is easy to forget the chilly temperatures here.
For your winter getaway, book flights to Munich here
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Winter blues got you down? I used to dread the coming cold fronts, camping out in my apartment with the heat on full blast and a pile of blankets perpetually wrapped around me. While my love for the heat hasn’t changed, I have learned to appreciate certain locations that thrive in the winter months. On a visit to Switzerland some time ago, I was awestruck by the majestic mountains, soaring up all around me. I joined of group of Snow Shoe-ers and began my trek up the mountainside. With each rise my eyes were full of the view around me, scarcely even stopping to blink, lest I miss even a moment of this magical scene. As the minutes passed, the cold slowly dissipated and I found myself shedding my layers one by one.
After my long journey, I rewarded myself with a stop at one of the countless truffle shops in Interlaken, followed by a dinner of fondue. The city roofs were all dusted with a soft coat of snow and the air seemed muffled in silence. It was a beautiful peaceful moment, and I felt warm from head to toe.
On Wednesday night I joined France Passion Magazine in celebrating their one year anniversary at the French Institute Alliance Francaise with Atout France, the French Tourist Office. The event was a celebration of all things French, with a perfume bar by jeweler Mauboussin, a Saint Germain cocktail station, and a live jazz band, calling to mind the romantic entertainment outside most Parisian brasseries. The room had a hazy blue shade, adding a soft glow to everything and in true French fashion, creating a warm, romantic glow. The night made me recall my days wandering the Marais, a handsome man on my arm, and the wind in my hair. I think a return to the city of lights is now firmly in order.
Sometimes it’s ok to be selfish. Like when you discover that hole-in-the-wall restaurant that changed your world, and you don’t tell everyone you know about it. Because, you know, then it wouldn’t be special for you. But then there are places that are so special that it seems a crime not to share them, even if that does eventually lead to an unwelcome change of foot traffic.
Such was my dilemma with the Quantati island on Lake Titicaca.
The floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca are world renowned, definitely no secret to the throngs of tourists who pay to visit the islands for a few hours, experiencing a watered down version of the traditional way of life. However, there is one island only that allows guests to sleep on these floating reeds, serving as a tiny hotel on the water. Quantati island is run by a small family that has lived their whole lives on the lake. Upon arriving at the bus station in Puno, my two companions and I were met by a smiling face (albeit little English) and were promptly taken to a tiny motorboat at the water’s edge. We chugged along, the small, dark shapes getting closer and closer until it became clear that these masses were large floating mounds of reeds. They started off small, some completely abandoned while others had a small herd of cows grazing. Slowing, the islands grew larger and signs of habitation emerged.
We approached our designated island, and jumped off onto the springy ground. As I looked around I noticed that the island contained a mini replica of a village, all forged out of reeds. There were comfortable sized huts, lounge cushions, a lookout tower, even boats, all thatched from the same substance as the ground I was standing on. Over the next three days I spent my time lazing about in the warm sun (reeds are surprisingly comfortable!), going on fishing trips with our hosts, eating some of the best meals of my life, and daring to cannonball into the ice-cold waters of Lake Titicaca.
It was a magical time, where time seemed to stand still, and life was comprised of simple pleasures.