Category Archives: europe

ebenalp and swiss paragliding

We’ve just returned from Europe and one of the more memorable experiences was a trip to Ebenalp in the northernmost summit of the Appenzell Swiss Alps.

I suggest a gondola up the steep, rugged rocks and follow a short hiking trail  (make sure you greet others with a friendly “Grüezi!”) to reach the Aescher cliff restaurant – they say 4770 feet above sea level-  for a local meal and beer. (This recent Bon Appetit article agrees.)

Fancy paragliding? Then join the number of other paragliders dotting the mountainsides. Or rather, do as we did, and  enjoy the show of colorful sails flying through the green landscape to the rhythmic sound of distant cowbells. Heavenly.

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local potato specialty with salad at Restaurant Ascher

local potato specialty with salad at Restaurant Aescher

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Cow bells softly clink and clank.

Cow bells softly clink and clank.

plenty new for europhiles

With thanks to Jenna and her blog this is my happiness, I learned that Rick Steves has just published his highlights on ‘what’s new’ in Europe.

I have a real fondness for Rick. I don’t know him, but I feel like I do. “He” was with me when I traveled solo backpacking in my early 20s in Italy. His guidebook clutched in my hand, I marked phone numbers that led me to the perfect top floor apartment, little-known beach  or gelateria (I needed first to find a pay phone -yes, a pay phone). Directions were always easy to follow – even before online mapping tools – and restaurants both authentic and inexpensive. Pictures of him would be framed in the hostels I stayed in, demonstrating the close relationships he fostered with the locals he featured in his books.

I’ve grown up, as it so happens to all travelers, and have traded my backpack in for luggage, roughing it for a bit more comfort, and solo travels for family travel.  His latest article on what’s new in Europe reminds me again why he still is a wealth of good, practical information for those who want to experience real Europe and travel slowly – in whatever format you prefer using, hardback or app.

Paris' Picasso Museum renovation will be completed this June

Paris’ Picasso Museum renovation will be completed this June

 

Highlights for me include the re-opening of one my favorite museums in Europe – the Picasso Museum, Paris; Marseille’s facelift; a new gallery devoted to Michelangelo at the Uffizi in Florence; a new museum dedicated to Dante Alighieri in Ravenna; and Milan preparing to host the 2015 World Fair.

Read it, soak it in – Rick Steves: What’s new in Europe article here via sfgate. Europe still awaits even the most seasoned Europhile.

Video

lavazza love

Watching Wimbledon gets better with this playful Lavazza commercial (“Enjoy the real Italian espresso experience at Wimbledon” reads the tagline). Take a look, it’s very clever.

If you are up at 4 am to catch the finals this week, Lavazza- a big Italian coffee brand in Italy found in many parts of the world – makes its case to be your espresso of choice to cozy up to. (North Americans can take note of the cup and portion size.) When I can’t find Lavazza stateside, Illy and Peet’s Espresso Forte stand in quite nice. What’s your favorite coffee brand and style?

( While I’d sure like to be, I’m not a Lavazza brand ambassador, just a fan of good Italian coffee, Wimbledon tennis and clever marketing.)

Video credits: Lavazza

100th tour de france kicks off in corsica

In honor of today’s start of the 100th Tour de France on the Mediterranean island of Corsica – I am reposting my last feature on this beautiful and favorite island of mine.  Enjoy! – BTH

A trip most memorable was when our daughter was three months old, we were living in Italy and we took our first family vacation to the beautiful and natural island of Corsica.

We (and our car) hopped a traghetto from Savona, Italy to Bastia on the island of Corsica, France. (Today’s Tour de France stage begins in Bastia.)

Heart pajamas were a good choice that day, as they smoothed an unfortunate and unnecessary encounter with police at a routine traffic stop on our drive down, due to a mix up with our car maintenance papers. (Even armed Italian policemen won’t resist a cute baby.)

We loved Bastia, with its surprisingly urban city feeling on an otherwise natural island. There we got a great feel for the unique Corsican character which is sprinkled with a little Italian and a little French, due to a history involving both countries. Corsica was under Genovese rule until  1729 when the Corsicans revolted and enjoyed independence for a short 40-year period, later ceding to France in  1769 . They still have an uneasy relationship with mainland France and Bastia has been the target of bomb explosions by Corsican militants.

Ferries arrive to Bastia’s port – the 100th Tour de France kicks off in Bastia today.

We drove down the Eastern coast of the island to Santa Giulia. There, at the recommendation of friends, we rented a villa at Les Toits de Santa Giulia  and every morning went for a swim in the nearby bay.  The beaches there and nearby were beautiful in  September, and the sparkling water and red rock formations were breathtaking.

the bay of Santa Giulia

La plage de Palombaggia was the most unforgettable beach (and likely the coolest place I’ve nursed a baby.)

the beach and beautiful red rock formations at Palombaggia

The nearest town, Porto Vecchio, offered a delicious bakery and creperie, just in time to remind us we were in France, as it’s easy to forget with so many reminders of Italy. Porto Vecchio has always been a “remember when?” moment, when we purchased a much too expensive International Herald Tribune to satiate my english language news craving, and driving off, watched each of its pages fly off the top of the car, where I had left it. (I blamed it on new mom mushy brain).

A highlight was the drive down to Bonifacio, at the southern most point of the island.

Citadel and cliffs of Bonifacio

The reconstructed and renovated citadel was originally built in the 9th century along with the foundation of the city. Bonifacio is known for its chalk-white limestone, sculpted in unusual shapes by the ocean. Not a stroller-friendly town, baby was put in the carrier and we explored this town on foot. Standing on the cliffs, we could see Sardegna.

white limestone cliffs of bonifacio with sardegna in the distance

This year we won’t make it back to Corsica, but we are researching islands not far from it, closer to the Italian coast and in the Tuscan archipelago. Whatever the weather when we arrive, my first order of business will be to jump in and take a swim in my most favorite sea of all.

tennis & travel

Nothing is sweeter for me than the intersection of clay court tennis and Rome, Italy.

Today Rafa Nadal won the 7th Internazionali BNL d’Italia (Rome Masters) title defeating Roger Federer 6/1 6/3 in 1 hour and 9 minutes.

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The Rome Masters (officially called the Internazionali BNL D’Italia) is held at Foro Italico, the most prestigious red clay tennis tournament in the world after the French Open. Tennis lovers pack the stadium. The spectators are given white Panama-style hats and paddle hand fans to beat the heat  –  a chic touch for a mostly Italian and fashion-loving audience.

Foro Italico, Rome

Foro Italico, Rome

Clay courts are found mainly in Europe. When I lived in Italy, I took lessons and played at the clay courts of Rimbalzello near Gardone Riviera on Lago di Garda. Italians are crazy for tennis although the sport is a bit “snob” with limited public access to free courts like in the States.

Europhiles have huge opportunities to combine both travel and tennis. The European tour features matches in Spain, Germany, Italy and France.

You can also go there virtually. I recently subscribed to tennistv.com for a little over 16 euros a month to watch matches live on my computer. This morning I got a special treat listening to Nadal speak quite good Italian during award presentations (Bravo Nadal!), as well as to the Italian judges and award presenters. Language lovers will appreciate this aspect of Tennis TV, which also offers some nice video clips on European life.

What’s next? Brussels, Nice, Strasbourg. Then clay will turn to grass with June’s Wimbledon. Non vedo l’ora!

el camino de santiago

Whether  for spiritual, religious, or cultural reasons, walking El Camino de Santiago is high on the wish list of many travelers, including mine. I hope to take this journey with my family when the kids are a bit older. There is something special about following a path walked by pilgrims for more than 1,000 years. Going farther back to pre-Christian times, El Camino was also the site of a popular spiritual walk that followed the stars of the milky way.

courtesy Love Mondegreens

courtesy Love Mondegreens

The Way of St. James, or El Camino de Santiago, is a pilgrimage route in Northern Spain to the  Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia where tradition has it that the remains of St. James are buried. Because of this, it was one of the most important pilgrimage routes in the Middle Ages. In fact, from the 9th to 16th century, up to two million people a year walked hundreds of miles  from not only Spain, but also France, Britain, Germany, Scandinavia and Italy to worship at the burial site. The route continues to be popular today for modern-day pilgrims and travelers of all ages and from all over the world. According to Wikipedia, the route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe; it was also named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

courtesy Love Mondegreens

destination: Santiago
courtesy Love Mondegreens

There are five main Spanish pilgrimage routes with hostels and hotels offering walkers and their tired toesies a place for rest and food along the way.

Courtesy Love Mondegreens

Courtesy Love Mondegreens

There are many people who have chronicled this journey and each experience is unique.

Jack Hitt, author of “Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route Into Spain“, describes the experiences and challenges of hiking El Camino with his daughters in this recent NY Times article Hiking through History with your Daughters . (like he describes, I can only imagine the moment when my kids give up and then realize there’s no going back.  ) He describes the family’s adventures and gives additional resources for believers and non-believers wishing to make the trip.

Fellow blogger, gifted travel writer and brave soul Michelle at her blog Love Mondegreens – from Southern Spain to Northern Ireland writes about walking El Camino solo last Spring, and highlights in this post the people and stories she experienced along the way with some excellent photos that offer a firsthand peek into her journey. For her, the experience of hiking it alone was liberating.

Today’s pilgrims can carry a credencial or pilgrim passport and upon completion, receive a compostela , an official record of accomplishment. I’m sure it provides some satisfaction, but I imagine many who have made the hike would say it wasn’t about that.

Because it’s all about the journey, right?

Photos courtesy of Love Mondegreens

fresh air

Three countries. Three incredible hikes. When I travel locally or internationally, hiking is an important way I connect with a place. I’m drawn to the ocean and sea, so it’s by no surprise that three of my favorite hikes take place near water-  the  Zingaro Nature Reserve or Riserva naturale dello Zingaro near San Vito lo Capo, Sicily (Italy); the Costa Verde near Llanes, Spain; and Fort Cronkhite, Marin County, California, U.S.

Undiscovered? No, but these hikes and locations are less discovered. And all three offer free public access.

 Zingaro Nature Reserve (Riserva naturale dello Zingaro) San Vito lo Capo, Sicily

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Near the small, picturesque, jewel of a town, San Vito lo Capo, and its beach,   in northwestern Sicily, is the Riserva naturale dello Zingaro.

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Paths stretch along seven kilometers of unspoiled coast and bays overlooking   blue-green sparkling water.

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Along the hike, claim your rock and spend the day in and out of the clean, clear sea.

The Zingaro also features an archeological past with a pretty spectacular-to-witness Uzzo Grotto or shelter cave, one of the first prehistoric human settlements in Sicily.

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the Grotto

The Zingaro is top on my list of unforgettable experiences of beauty, hiking, sunbathing and swimming in the pristine waters of Northwestern Sicily, an area still undiscovered by many North Americans.

Costa Verde, Llanes, Spain

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Just outside the colorful, super-Spanish, full-of-fiesta town of Llanes there is a hike that feels half Northern California for its seacliff paths, and half Swiss for its nearby lush green mountains. I’ve been here twice.

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At one part of the hike, my friends and I had to make our way through ferns taller than we were.

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Llanes lies to the north of the Picos de Europa mountain range.

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And, since this is Asturias, Spain, what better place to “throw the cider”  (the bottle must be held above the head allowing for a long vertical pour) and enjoy an Asturian sidra after a long hike.

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Ft. Cronkhite, Golden Gate National Parks, Marin County, California

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I can hardly understand how I lived in San Francisco for almost 10 years and never came across the hiking paths at nearby Fort Cronkhite by Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands. Once a  WWII military post and part of the presidio, these coastal  hills offer hikers (and their dogs) miles of paths. We hiked up and around the old army gun batteries and lookout. The location is quiet and picture-perfect with unobstructed access to the water and views.  A woman (seen just barely below) found the perfect vista to pull up a beach chair and spend the afternoon in solitude.

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Have you taken a hike that is unforgettable? Where is your favorite undiscovered or less discovered location to hike?