Alsace Roadtrip

On our final day in Strasbourg, Mike and Sarah had to get up early to make their flight, so Sean and I decided to make use of the car and do a roadtrip throughout the Alsace region. I do not even know the names of all of the tiny towns we drove through (and cannot pronounce any of them!), but they were all gorgeous and each one different from the others.

We used the Lonely Planet France book to select each destination, and managed to stop in the following: Obernai, Mittelbergheim, Itterswiller, Dambach-la-Ville, Bergheim, Hunawihr, Riquewehr – and it’s very possible I missed a few!

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[A final goodbye to Strasbourg]

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[Those mountains!]

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[Do you see that chateau up at the top?]

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[Pretty much the whole town on a sign]

Between Dambach-la-Ville and Bergheim, we made a stop at Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg, which presented stunning views over the region. We did not stay long or go inside the Chateau (we’ve been in so many!) but made sure to stop for a couple of photos.

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Once we hit Bergheim, we were desperate for lunch but ran into the same problem we had been running into throughout the entire trip. Everywhere was full! Even in these tiny towns, where there wasn’t even a car on the road, the restaurants were booked. We gave up after Riquewehr and headed for Basel, Switzerland, thinking we could find something there before our flight.

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[If this little house isn’t straight out of a fairytale then I don’t know what is!]

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After poor navigation on my part (assisted by loss of signal) and extreme frustration on Sean’s, we made it to Basel, parked, and picked a restaurant. We were only in Basel for about two hours, but the Christmas markets were going on, so it was a nice and spirited way to end our trip.

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I was hesitant that driving would get boring, but I was so into snapping pictures the entire time (through the car window most of the time), and we ended up stopping for at least a view in almost each of the towns. I definitely want to go back and spend a longer time in each town – with wine tasting, B&B stays and meal reservations booked!

My only regret? We did not have any Swiss Francs, so missed out on the Basel mulled wine cups for our new collection…and they were incredible!

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Wine Tasting in Alsace

When Sean and I decided to hire a car for our trip to Strasbourg, I immediately looked for things to do around the area. When I came across the Route du Vin, I knew I had the answer…wine tasting.

We chose Saturday, my birthday, as a full day spent wine tasting. I planned out three wineries and a stop in Colmar, so we started our day early and hit the road immediately, stopping at a rest stop for breakfast.

Driving in the day light was an incredible experience because the scenery was just gorgeous. I was honestly going crazy snapping pics through the car window trying the capture the moments. The pictures obviously don’t serve as a full representation, but you can imagine how beautiful the area was!

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The first winery we stopped at was Domaine Bott-Geyl, where we tried so many wines I cannot keep track of them all! It was so interesting to taste the same grape, but at different quality levels. We learned a lot about the region and the popular white wines which were made there and left happily with some purchases.

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The next stop was meant to be a winery in Riquewehr, however, as we started to approach the town we realized we were in trouble. People were parked everywhere, a good couple of miles from town. There were cars parked in between the vines of the vineyards, up in the mountain, on the roads – everywhere. We could barely drive through the town, let alone park and go wine tasting, so we ended up going straight to Colmar.

Colmar was equally as crowded, but we wandered through the Christmas markets. When we couldn’t find a place to eat (everything was full – surprise, surprise), we settled on market food. We had a mix of savory pretzels and hotdogs covered in cheese. It was all delicious. We spent a good amount of time walking around and exploring before hopping back in the car to head to the next winery.

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Our final stop was Domaine Paul Blanck. This is a family run winery, and we had such a nice time tasting wine with one of the sons. He walked us through everything, let us taste as many of the wines as we wanted, and planned the order for us so we didn’t have to make any effort! He even knew a guy who lives in Izmir (where Mike and Sarah live) who happens to be dating a girl who runs one of their favorite wineries over there! We also found out his daughter married an English guy (lunatic, huh?) and they distribute the wine in Waitrose.

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He asked us our plans for after the tasting and recommend we visit Kayersburg, a nearby village. We figured we would give it a shot, parked up closer, and walked into the town. Kayersburg had an authentic Christmas market which was lovely, but the best part was the mugs. All of the towns had cups for mulled wine and beer that they were offering on €1 consignment – if you returned it later, you would get your money back. They were for the most part plastic cups with Christmas scenes on them. In Kayersburg, we paid €2 for a glass mug that was the cutest thing ever! I honestly made a huge deal about getting two, but am so happy we have them back in London with us now.

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We headed back to Strasbourg for dinner at a wine bar, accompanied by charcuterie and cheese boards. After, we went to a nearby microbrewery for a couple of drinks before going back to watch the Army-Navy game. Hey – you can take the Navy fans out of the country, but you can’t take the spirit out of the fans! Mike and I ended up being the only ones watching, but we sat there until the last second, huddled around my laptop, nail biting and all!IMG_4883

p.s. Sean had started working on the GCHQ Christmas puzzle before we left for Strasbourg on Thursday and it was driving him crazy to complete the puzzle and find out what the image was. Sean finished the puzzle this night and we couldn’t figure out the image…until we realized it was a QR Code (by realized, I mean googled). We stayed up trying to figure out all the rest of the parts but gave up. It’s still a mystery to us! TBC…

Strasbourg Christmas Markets

My sister-in-law and I have birthdays which are two days apart. We also both live in Europe at the moment. So, naturally, a birthday weekend trip seemed completely necessary, with Mike and Sean in tow.

Mike kept the location as a surprise from Sarah at first, but I really wanted to go to a Christmas market, and so did she, so we decided on Strasbourg. I honestly did not know what to expect, but read that they had the best Christmas markets, and was therefore very excited (I’m a huge Christmas nut if I haven’t mentioned it before).

Sean and I arrived into Basel late on Thursday night and rented a car to drive to Strasbourg. We decided to hire a car so we could have flexibility on seeing areas outside of Strasbourg..and because we were not 100% convinced we would make the last train. This was the best decision we made by far! After a somewhat stressful drive and a fifteen minutes out in the cold until Mike woke up, we arrived at the Airbnb very ready for sleep.

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The Airbnb was interesting…two bedrooms meant one massive room with a curtain down the middle, with two single beds in one of the areas. Not ideal for two couples…but hey, there was a nice view! I definitely wouldn’t stay there again, but it served it’s purpose for the most part and was very clean. The worst part was that it was  not the one we actually booked, but another one run by the same people, so there was plenty of confusion.

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We woke up early the next day ready to conquer the Strasbourg Christmas markets…and we did. I don’t even think we got around to all of them, but we went to so many, drank plenty of mulled wine in the process, and truly took in all of the Christmas cheer.

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While the markets were the main sights of the day, we also visited the Cathedral and the Hospital Wine Cellar…which has a barrel of wine from 1472!

The only mistake we made was not thinking about reservations for our meals. We were in Petit France for lunch and tried about four restaurants before we actually found one that could seat us…at lunch time! It was a traditional style restaurant with delicious food – escargot and potatoes gratin to start, with rooster and spaetzel as the main meal. We quickly found that all of the restaurants in all of the towns in the region were completed booked for lunches – must be the holiday season.

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For dinner, we went to a small Italian restaurant for pizza, pasta, and of  course wine! We were absolutely exhausted after non-stop walking so headed back to the Airbnb to get a good amount of sleep before our busy day the next day.

The Royal Treatment at Paradisus Punta Cana

Paradisus Punta Cana is an incredible resort. Since we were taking a break from work, we did not want to be dealing with a ton of crowds and children, so we chose to book in the Royal Service section of the resort. This included an exclusive lounge, beach, pool, bar, and restaurant, as well as our personal butler. Oh, and we still had access to everything else in the resort, as well!

Upon arrival, Sean and I were immediately upgraded from a garden view suite to an ocean front suite. The room was massive and I’m pretty sure the bed does not even fit on the size charts! Plus, nothing beats opening the curtains to the beach and ocean directly in front of you. We were introduced to our butler, Enrique, who gave us a tour of the hotel and explained all of the things we could do. After just arriving, we were so eager to just relax that I don’t think we processed anything he said.

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Since we arrived late in the evening, we just met up with my dad and his friend for dinner at the buffet restaurant, Gabi Beach (it was Asian themed and the sushi was amazing!), and a few drinks.

Our days at the resort pretty much consisted of lying by the pool, getting in the pool, and drinking in the pool. We mixed it up by going to the beach a couple of times, and even went golfing one day, but the pool was pretty much our home for the entire trip.

The Facilities

The resort itself was gorgeous. It was so green while simultaneously being directly on the beach. There were flamingos and herons in the ponds, and incredible trees towering over. I do not think I could ever get sick of walking around that place!

We did not explore the gym or the actual spa facility, but did have massages on the beach in a private hut (AMAZING!).

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The Restaurants

During our week at Paradisus, we ate at the following restaurants: Vento (Mediterranean), Bana (Japanese Tepanyaki), La Palapa (the private Royal Service restaurant), Fuego (steakhouse), and Passion (their fanciest restaurant, and the only one not included in the all-inclusive).

My favorite restaurants were Bana and Passion. Unfortunately, I was not feeling well when we went to Bana so did not get to eat as much as I had wished, but the dishes I did try were absolutely amazing. We had the chef cooking at our table, with a sushi starter and trio of desserts as well. Honestly, the food just kept coming. I’m used to restaurants like this where you pick either shrimp, chicken, or beef as your main. At this one, we had chicken…and then beef…and then salmon.

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[I tried to take pictures of all of our courses at Bana, but only managed to get two because I got distracted by eating]

Passion was on an entirely different level. The menu was designed by a chef who is backed by eight Michelin stars. Sean and I both couldn’t decide what to get so we got the tasting menu with the wine pairing. It was seven courses with five glasses of wine. I was stuffed after course three! However, we powered through and enjoyed every course.

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Royal Service

I highly recommend this for anyone traveling on an adults only trip. Enrique took care of absolutely everything we needed, from reservations to restocking the mini bar to arranging our transport to the airport. It was so nice to have someone there checking in on us and solving any issue we had upfront.

The Royal Service facilities, as well, were pristine. The pool was extremely private, with a swim up bar that had the friendliest bartenders ever! There is a huge patch of beach reserved for Royal Service guests that was essentially empty the entire time we were there. Both the pool and beach had comfortable sunbeds and plenty of shady spots when we needed to hide from the sun. The pool had little cabanas that were just way too much fun to curl up in for an afternoon nap!

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La Palapa was a very good restaurant, with a buffet breakfast and then a la carte lunch and dinner. The menu had enough variety on it that we could choose something different each time we were there, and all of the food was so good.

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[The greatest starter of avocado, cheese, and smoked salmon]

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Overall, we had a fantastic stay and I would definitely like to return to Paradisus, or try another one elsewhere in the world! After a week of constant rain in London, I’ve been dreaming of sun and sand and relaxation more than ever.

Punta Cana – Our Fall Retreat  

Sean and I just got back (well, a week ago) from a weeklong holiday in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. We planned the trip with my dad, so he was there too, but we booked ours completely through British Airways. It was my first experience booking a complete holiday package and it made the entire process so easy! We selected the Royal Service section of Paradisus Punta Cana as our all-inclusive resort of choice.

We had so much fun and spent so much time relaxing that I actually came back fully rested and stress-free for the first time in forever. I even came back with the slightest hint of a tan, which is a huge accomplishment for me. I’m going to write more about the resort we stayed at, as well as our horseback-riding excursion, but wanted to start off by sharing some of my favorite photos & memories.

Side Note: Mid-October is the perfect time to go to Punta Cana. It was right at the end of hurricane season, so we did not have any bad weather, but there also weren’t many people there. The resort started to fill up again as we were leaving and I was so happy it wasn’t like that the entire time we were there.

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[Sean had too much sun after about the first day and made the shaded cabanas his home for the rest of the trip. I spied on him from my spot in the sun!]

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[Paradisus found a way to make every single dinner amazing and incredibly romantic.]

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[I was an excellent supporter on the golf course, taking photos of everyone and the scenery while my dad, his friend, and Sean all played in the scorching heat.]

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[We had a blast meeting new people and hanging out at the pool bar in the evening once it cooled down a bit]

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[Sean and I enjoyed couples massages in the private beach cabana. It was early enough in the morning that the only sounds we could hear were the waves crashing. I’ve never been so relaxed!]

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[We treated ourselves to a romantic dinner on our last night there at the only restaurant you have to pay separately for – seven courses and five wines made it well worth it!]

Five Favorites: What I Love About Traveling

I got this one from my sister-in-law, Sarah, who got it from another blogger. I suppose that’s how the chain works! I’m choosing to write my five favorite things about traveling. I know that I have written similar things before, but having just come off a trip, I love reflecting on the best parts that are in common with all trips I take.

  1. Time with Loved Ones

There is something incredibly different about spending time with loved ones in your home environment versus in a new and different setting. I mentioned a lot of this when I wrote about why I love traveling with Sean, but it is worth mentioning because it is hands down my favorite part about traveling. Whether with family, friends, or your significant other, traveling gives you the opportunity to get closer, learn new things about each other, and make great memories (yes – even remembering awkward situations counts!).


  
  

  1. Discovering the Beauty in New Places

Sometimes this one is really easy; other times it involves a bit of digging, but every place has its own form of beauty. From breathtaking panoramic views, to ancient crumbling churches; white sand beaches to hidden alley ways, discovering the most beautiful (or mysterious, or secret – you choose your personal adjective) part of each city you visit is an incredibly rewarding experience. I immediately think of Florence when I think of the most beautiful places on earth, and often discard the other cities I have visited; however, when I think of each city I’ve visited individually, I realize how truly fortunate I am to have experienced so much beauty in my 23 years (almost!) so far.

Here are some of my favorite pictures of what I consider beauty in a city:


  
  

  1. Trying New Foods

I would definitely be a food blogger if I had enough time to cook (or blog for that matter)! I think Plan B for my career is as a food critic because I would literally be paid to go sit in restaurants and eat…hello, dream come true! However, I am not a good cook, and my version of critiquing food is usually as simple as “ooh, this is yummy” or “eh, not a fan.” So, instead, I use travel as my way of trying new foods. From local specialties to visiting top international restaurants to trying to discover which city has the best late night street kebabs, food is such an important part of traveling for me. I truly believe that it opens me up to the culture as much as meeting local people, and it’s also just really interesting and usually delicious!


  
  

  1. Doing Unusual Activities

Sean and I just went horseback riding at some ranch in Punta Cana. In Florence, we went to a historical soccer match that only happens once a year and that very few tourists know about. In Marseille, Turkey & Florence, I had an incredible experience wine tasting. Though not all “unusual” activities, traveling always opens the door to do things you do not do on a day-to-day basis. Even when I was biking up and down the coast in Nice I took a moment to think about how long it had been since I was last on a bike. Whether the activity is particular to the city (Calcio Storico in Florence) or just something we had wanted to do but had not had the opportunity to (horseback riding on the beach), there is no better excuse than to say you finally got around to trying it while traveling!


  1. Souvenirs

This is a cheesy one, but I love souvenirs. Every time I go someplace, I bring something back, whether it’s a shot glass (trashy), a Starbucks mug (a collectors piece), a little knick-knack (unique), or food/wine (temporary, but yummy). Sean and I are starting a collection of things we have picked up while traveling, soon to be displayed on our bookcase in the travel-themed living room. There’s plenty more about the travel bookcase in my living room inspiration post. I can’t wait to style the bookshelf to best display all of the places we have been & all of the places we hope to go through photos, books, and souvenirs! The wine rack will be a whole different souvenir display case (currently featuring wines from Florence & Turkey – more to come, I’m sure!).

Wine Tasting in Marseille

Marisa and I knew that we couldn’t go to France without drinking wine…and lots of it. So, when we came across the opportunity to do a wine tasting, it seemed like the perfect plan. We signed up for a small group half day tour of the Bandol & Cassis regions with Provence Wine Tours, which would get us back to Marseille with just the right amount of time to pack and head to the airport.

We arrived just before 9:00 outside of the Marseille tourist office, the meeting point for the tour. I was assuming it would be similar to the Tuscany wine tour, with a bus parked outside the meeting point and the tour guide ushering people over with a sign. There were no people or buses outside of the tourist office, so we were confused and ultimately just stood in front hoping someone would come to us.

A couple of minutes later, our guide approached us and introduced himself. He then went on to tell us that the other group of people who was meant to be on the tour had cancelled (food poisoning) and it would be just us. So, it ended up being a private wine tour! We hopped in the van and headed on our way!

The first winery we visited was in Bandol – Domaines Bunan, after the Bunan family. This was probably one of the biggest wineries I’ve been to yet, producing 400,000+ bottles per year. Our guide knew so much and told us all about the wine regulations in France, the different grape varieties, and about the winery itself. We walked through the entire wine making process and watching real staff in action (it’s the end of harvest season so we lucked out!). We then tasted two reds and one rose – I was a huge fan of the rose, which is rather surprising! I found out they sell their wines in Marks & Spencer here in the UK so I will definitely be tasting again.

   

The second winery was the Bodin family winery in Cassis. This is the oldest winery in Cassis, but smaller than the one we visited in Bandol (200,000 bottles per year). Like most wineries in Cassis, they produce mainly white wines. We did not spend as much time at the second winery, since they do all of their production at a different site, so we got right to the tasting. We tried five wines – 4 whites and 1 rose. Unfortunately, there were no crackers or palette cleansers, so by the third white, everything was tasting the same and I did not really get a feel for the Bodin family wines. I would have brought some back to the UK to try again, but I was only carrying hand luggage on the plane, and these wines unfortunately aren’t sold outside of France.

   

After the second winery, we spent a short amount of time in the town of Cassis, which is an adorable fishing village. It seems like a town that cruise ships would stop in – one main street with really nice shops and restaurants on the harbor. We did a bit of window shopping and then stopped for cappuccinos before meeting our guide back at the car.

   

The final stop on the tour was an overlook point near Cassis. The views we got were absolutely amazing, and Marisa was a trooper powering through her fear of heights!

   

  

While the tour was not as incredible as the one I did in Tuscany, it definitely gave me an enhanced appreciation for Marseille. Seeing the surrounding areas made me fall in love with the Provence region, and I definitely think I would return to see some of the other towns. Plus, who doesn’t love an excuse to drink wine starting at 10:00am?

   

[In my element]