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France Provence Travel

My Favorite Spots in Provence

October 27, 2018

One of the reasons I love Marseille is it’s proximity to so many amazing towns & natural wonders! While I wouldn’t have enough info to write a detailed guide for each place, I thought I would do a little list for anyone traveling to the area that highlights towns I would recommend checking out..

We always have a car when we are there which makes traveling to the villages much easier, although some are accessible by train from Marseille. There are sooo many quaint little villages so I may expand this post eventually or write longer posts for specific villages. For my detailed Marseille city guide, please click here. ♥

AIGUE-MORTES/CAMARGUE

The Camargue is a really interesting region in Provence, known for it’s marshy land, birdwatching & wildlife, salt flats & quaint villages. We spent a day in the village of Aigue-Mortes which is an old medieval walled city with towers, lots of shops & restaurants. It is at the edge of a large pink body of water known as an Etang, or Lagoon that gets it’s color from the high concentration of salt in it. You can take a guided tour of the salt flats on a little train – cost is around 10 Euros. It was a neat and unique experience! You can also find wild pink flamingos as well as over 400 species of birds. Wild horses and cattle roam the rolling landscape, which looks a bit like a Monet painting. While in the area, you can also visit the village of Arles, made famous in part by Vincent Van Gogh’s painting “Cafe at Night” (you can actually visit the cafe where he based his painting off of – I’ve read that the food is not great so you can go for the picture only!). We ate at this very cozy Spanish tapas place in Arles called Bodeguita

AVIGNON

Avignon is a must see – about an hour and a half from Marseille on the Autoroute. It’s larger than the other villages I’ve recommended (more of a city) and has quite a rich history as well as nice shopping & restaurants. The city center is walled so when you arrive there are large parking lots between the city and the river that is priced very reasonably and you are able to leave your car and walk in. Once inside the city, it’s easy to spend hours walking around exploring. Place de l’Horloge is great for strolling or people watching from a cafe. Rue de la Republic has a lot of French stores & international Boutiques – you can also find many shops selling local products and souvenirs. Les Halles d’Avignon in Place Pie is a large vine covered market with 40 stalls selling local and regional food & wine.

Avignon was briefly home to the Catholic church, and you can see evidence of that in the form of the grand Papal Palace that sits in the center of the city. The palace is colossal and you can simply walk inside or you can pay an entrance fee to tour the museum, which I would recommend. Avignon is situated on the Rhone river, and you can take a boat tour around the city which is a nice way to spend an hour or so. There is also the famous Pont Saint-Bénézet, the inspiration for the song Sur la Pont’Avignon. You pay a small fee to walk on the bridge, but you get a headset which tells you all about the history as you walk on it.

AIX EN PROVENCE/PUYRICARD

Every time I’m in Marseille I make at least a few trips to Aix, about a half an hour away on the autoroute. A large University town in the middle of gorgeous countryside with charming pedestrian streets, Aix is what I would picture/describe as a classic Provence experience and it is absolutely lovely in my opinion. Since we usually just drive in for the day or the afternoon from Marseille we haven’t needed to stay overnight much. There have been a few occasions though where we have needed to book accommodations, including a week stay with our friends in a luxury villa outside of Aix (that was AMAZING but unfortunately got sold and I’m not sure if the new owner rents it out!) and an AirBnB for my Grandfather right in the heart of the city that he thought was great.

Like most French and European villages, one of the best things to do in Aix is wander the streets. There are so many great shops (from luxury, to bargain, to local artistsans & souvenir shops) and great places to stop and eat or drink. A tradition for us is getting a slice of Pizza at Pizza Capri on Rue Fabrot- with takeaway slices as big as your head – you will not regret it! Walk by the Place d’Albertas – an old brothel but now a nice little fountain square where people hang out and there is sometimes live music. Rue de la Verrerie has a lot of bars and a good Kebab shop. There is a large market on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays that is not to be missed.

One experience I highly recommend it Chateau LaCoste – a beautiful winery/restaurant/museum outside of Aix in Puyricard. I’ve been here several times and the grounds are beautiful, the wine is great and they have a lovely terrace restaurant where it’s nice to get lunch or aperitif.  There are also beautiful sculptures throughout the grounds and an art and architecture museum. During the summer they have movie showings on a large screen outside. It’s truly a wonderful place!

CASSIS

About a half an hour from Marseille along the beautiful (and winding!) Mediterranean coast. Cassis is a special place to me because I got engaged there, on the top of the Cap Canaille, which I highly recommend you visit for sunset. Cassis has more of a Riviera vibe being right on the sea and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants on the harbor where the people watching is excellent. Also there’s plenty of great boutique shopping in the village and there is usually a market in the Place Baragnon with art or different items depending on the day and time of year. There is a beach in the village, but if you feel like an easy hike you can visit my favorite calanque (see the Marseille post re: Calanques), Port Pin! There is a car park and a snack bar before the hike and it’s really not bad. The water there is gorgeous, just make sure you watch for jelly fish and you can because the water is CRYSTAL clear. You can also take a Calanque cruise if you prefer to see the Calanques by boat. If you decide to spend the night in the area, we stayed at a lovely B&B right after our engagement right outside the city center called Le Clos De Cigales.

LE CASTELLET

About 40 minutes from Marseille, this charming little village is easy to visit for an afternoon. Do not get confused, as there are apparently 2 places in France called Le Castellet, but I am recommending this one! Perched and walled, you park your car at the foot of the village in a car park and walk up and into the pedestrian streets. There are plenty of little gift and artisan shops and nice cafes, and the view is amazing. If you want to make a day of this area, there are tons of vinyards around as it is in the Bandol wine region. Also – there is a feral (?) cat colony there so you will see plenty of them roaming around, sleeping on your car, and some may let you pet them!

GORDES

One of France’s most picturesque perched villages, the breathtaking part of visiting Gordes will be your approach. Make sure to stop at the foot of the climb to the village and take photos! Once in the village it is mostly pedestrian and you will have your typical shops, cafes, restaurants, etc. It is very close to the famous Abbaye de Sénanque which you will most likely recognize as the church among the lavender fields in countless Provence posters, stock photos, etc.

ÎLE DE PORQUEROLLES

Lovely day trip from Marseille, drive to Hyères and you can take the ferry to this beautiful and virtually vehicle free island with a gorgeous beach. There are also dolphin watching excursions you can book from here, as well as biking, windsurfing, paddle boarding, etc.

LAC ST. CROIX/VERDON

The Gorges du Verdon are known as the Grand Canyon of France and are within 2 hours of Marseille. We rented kayaks with our friends during our summer group trip to Provence and had a great time paddling our way through the river running through the gorge. The water is a beautiful light green and there are plenty of caves and mini waterfalls to explore. It was pleasant and also a pretty good workout! There is also Lac St. Croix nearby which is a beautiful crystal lake with a beach where you can swim, camp and canoe. After our day of adventures we went to Sainte Croix du Verdon and had a magnificent dinner with a view overlooking the lake at Le Comptoir. I still think about the lavender honey & goat cheese bruschetta I ate there, and the view was truly unbeatable.

VALENSOLE/LAVENDER FIELDS

If you’ve ever dreamed of running through the never ending lavender fields of provence like you see in all of the posters/stock photos, this is the place to go! Lavender is in season June-August so if you are visiting in the summer be sure to check it out. You can find sprawling acres of fields around the village of Valensole, where you will also pass numerous farms/shops selling lavender honey and various other deliciously scented goodies. You can pull off the road to take pictures in the fields, and trust me you WILL have company! There are also many bees flying around the fields but they seem to be really focused on the lavender blossoms vs. stinging unsuspecting tourists. We made the mistake of having our windows down the first time we drove through and had a few bees fly into our car, so maybe only crack your windows or put on the AC :). After some photo ops we drove to the village of Puimoisson and had dinner on the lovely terrace of Cote Soleil, a simple and lovely pizza/french food place there.

Lavender fields near Puimoisson

THE VAR

The Var is a department that is included in the Provence Region and borders Bouche-de-Rhone (where Marseille is located). It is home to some beautiful countryside and quaint towns, including the towns of Tourtour and Correns which we spent a few days exploring. We stayed with friends in Correns (fun fact: this is where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie got married at their winery Chateau Miraval) which was small & simple but was a great base for exploring the region. During our stay we visited Le Cascade de Sillons – an easy walk to a lush (and freezing) water hole where we had a lovely picnic. There is a gorgeous waterfall where brave travelers take the plunge and jump into the deep waters below. We went to Tourtour one day for lunch and it was such a charming village with amazing views of the valley below, shops , restaurants & a sprawling antique market.  

France Marseille Travel

Why You Shouldn’t Skip Marseille

October 7, 2018

ABOUT

Marseille is a complex and beautiful place that I feel has somewhat of an unfair reputation. It’s not as shiny or neatly manicured as Nice or other places on the Riviera. It can be gritty. But it also has such a cool culture and sense of pride in it’s residents and it seems to me to be more real vs. the touristy Nice & Cannes.

It is a big port, and the population is very diverse. The location is amazing, right on the sea but surrounded by mountains, and it’s full of great little pockets if you know where to look. The more I spend time there, the more I love it. I would recommend watching the Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown Episode on Marseille if you can before you go – it’s a great little preview and commentary on the city!

STAY

Apartment in Endoume | Rue des Flots Bleus, Marseille France

We are extremely lucky in that we always have a place to stay in Marseille with family. Last fall though, we took a trip with my grandfather and rented a place that was in a better location for sightseeing and had a good experience. This apartment, while a bit dated in decor, was perfect for a stay with 2 couples (one room did have 2 bunk beds though) or a family.  The view & terrace alone would alone would make me book it again. The location was right on the Corniche JFK near the Michelin starred restaurant Le Petit Nice. 

Cours Julien

This neighborhood is one of my favorites in the city, and would be a great place to stay and explore. For a New York reference: It’s like the east village of Marseille – lots of fun bars and restaurants, cute boutiques, graffiti, hipster/boho vibe. I love to walk around here and browse the shops – there are also plenty of good restaurants & bars here. If you book an AirBnB in this area it would be easy to walk to plenty of places. There is also a metro stop here so you can access other sites and areas easily through public transport (see below under TRANSPORT).



Booking.com

EAT

Marseille is famous for seafood (specifically Bouillabaisse) but our favorite thing to eat there is PIZZA – the pizza in the south of France is SOOOO good! Also if you see Nougat de Montelimar in any shops, be sure to try it. Even just browsing through a grocery store is fun and you can get lots of great goodies to eat while you are there and to take home (did someone say French chocolate?!).

Chez Ze | 402 Chemin de Morgiou, 13009 Marseille, France

Chez Ze is our absolute favorite restaurant in Marseille, a big part of it being the lovely terrace with a large tree growing out of it, providing shade. Even if you can’t sit on the terrace, the food is really good- I usually get a Salade Niçoise but they also have excellent pizza and pasta. It’s also at the foothill of a mountain where you can hike to the Calqanque Sormiou (see below under DO).

 UMMAGUMMA | rue des Trois Rois, 13006 Marseille, France

Cute place in the Cours Julien, delicious food & romantic/cozy atmosphere. As I recall, they give you a sample of house liquor with your meal.

Chez Jeannot | Vallon des Auffes, 13007 Marseille, France

The food here is fine but you really go for the location – right on the Vallon des Auffes which is a small port with ships where you can watch the sunset while enjoying your food. They have a little but of everything here – seafood, pizza (of course), traditional French, etc.

La Grotte | 1 Avenue des Pebrons, 13008 Marseille, France

This place is on the outskirts of Marseille in a small village called Callelongue. The restaurant is run by a family that has owned it for years, and the decor is regal. It’s in a great location right on the water and the food is pretty good. They have pizza (sensing a theme here) but also lots of local specialties and fresh seafood. If you go during the day, you can do a hike to the Calanque Marseilleveyre, enjoy the beach, and then finish your day with apéro and dinner at La Grotte.

Pastis: the drink of Marseille

NIGHTLIFE

The drink of Marseille is Pastis – a liquor with a slight licorice flavor that is mixed with water and served over ice. It’s not for everyone but you should try it once. I prefer it mixed with almond syrup, which is called a “Mauresque”. It’s usually only 1 or 2 euros at the bar! Also wine is generally very cheap, so even picking up a bottle at the store and drinking it on your terrace is really nice!

Fun areas to go out are the Cours Julien & the Vieux Port, Cours Julien has lots of little bars and pubs that you can walk to. The place below is a spot called Au Petit Nice where we’ve gotten a drink on occasion – they also have a big terrace that may or may not be open Also the Vieux Port has a lot of bars and restaurants, O’Malleys is one we’ve gone to a lot to watch games and get drinks

20000 Lieues | 12 boulevard Alexandre Delabre , 13008 Marseille, France

Another really neat bar that is a bit off the beaten path is in a cute little old fisherman’s village on the outskirts of Marseille called Les Goudes. It’s right on the water and feels like you’re in an old ship! Definitely a local spot – they serve food during the day, have outdoor seating and I think live music sometimes.

DO

Calanques & Beaches

The calanques are a series of inlets that run along the Mediterranean coast from Marseille to Cassis. If you like hiking, nature, and beautiful beaches, this is a must for any trip to the Marseille area. Most of them are only accessible by foot or boat. There are a few calanques that you can access around Marseille, which you will find more information on from the link above. From Cassis (approx half hour drive from Marseille), you can take a Calanque Cruise, which will show you all the different Calanques from the boat. That option won’t allow you to swim in the Calanques, but is a good option if you want to see them all in a shorter amount of time. The tours are usually in French only :). Port Pin is my favorite Calanque in Cassis, and Sormiou is a great option in Marseille. Sormiou can also be accessed by car during peak season if you have reservations at the local restaurant there, or from October-Spring.

Marseille city has a few of it’s own beaches – Plage de la Pointe Rouge &  Plage du Prophete are the main ones. These beaches are okay but not as clean and have more of a “city beach” feel if that makes sense. For a more pleasant beach experience I would recommend hiking to a calanque in Marseille or Cassis.

Vieux Port 

The “Old Port” of Marseille, lots of shops, restaurants, sometimes markets. Fun to walk around and take in all the sights and sounds

MuCem 

Mediterranean Culture Museum near Vieux Port, cool architecture – great to even just walk around if you don’t feel like going in

Notre Dame de la Garde

Large church of Marseille that sits on a hill – there’s a cute little touristy train you can take up the hill which is fun – I don’t think it’s too far from the Cours Julien to walk to the base of the hill.

Chateau D’If 

Island off the coast of Marseille – it’s an old prison and the site of Monte Cristo! There is a museum and tour. You can take a ferry from the Vieux port. The ferry also goes to the Frioul which is another island with a nice beach where you can bring a picnic and hang out. 

Colorful Street in the Cours Julien

SHOP

Cours Julien

Mostly boutiques and fun vintage/antique stores. One of my favorites is Fifty Balloons, I’ve bought a few things there over the years.

Le Pleine Market 

Large open air market where you can find everyone from produce, to shoes to beauty products! Every Tuesday and Thursday in the Cours Julien. Just really watch yourself there- I’ve always felt safe but it is very crowded so bring only a small purse (if any) and keep it very close to you just in case. There is a Pizza truck there called Pizza Claude and his pizza is AMAZING fyi.

Vieux Port Rue Saint Ferreol 

Large shopping street near Vieux Port. Has lots of European chains. There are also lots of little shops and markets selling souvenirs.

STAY SAFE

Like any big city, Marseille has it’s share of crime. In general, I feel very safe in Marseille and I would just follow the common sense rules of going out in a city. Stay in well lit and well populated areas & keep your belongings close to your body. You might also see armed guards at places like tourist spots & train stations – they carry machine guns which can look intimidating, but that’s just how they all are and there are more of them because of the European attacks in the past few years. Avoid the Quartier Nord.

TRANSPORT

Marseille’s Metro system is really simple. There are only 2 lines: Red and Blue. The metro tickets are 1 or 2 Euros each and you can purchase them on the machines in the station (which you can set to English). If you stayed in the Cours Julien for example, you would be near stop Notre Dame du Mont Which is only 2 stops from the main train station. At that stops you could switch to the blue line which would bring you to the Vieux Port. I’ve ridden it by myself many times – like anywhere just be alert and mind your belongings.

Can’t wait to visit Marseille? Don’t forget to pin this post!

Denver Travel USA

My Favorite Spots in Denver, Colorado

June 29, 2018

Denver is a hip city located in the midst of amazing natural beauty. We have some really good friends in Denver so over the past few years we’ve had opportunities to visit and explore in both the winter, spring & summer seasons. I am sharing some of my favorite spots, as well as places to explore in the surrounding areas. (Pro tip: If this is your first time visiting Denver, just be aware that the altitude can cause symptoms such as nausea and dehydration, so make sure to drink plenty of water and take it easy if you are doing any hiking.) ♥

STAY

River North Arts District

While we are lucky enough to be able to stay with friends when we visit Denver, we spend a lot of our time in this artsy neighborhood and it has plenty of great spots within walking distance.

Street Art in Rino

EAT

Thump Coffee | 1201 E 13th Ave, Denver, CO 80218 (Multiple Locations)

I’ve spent several mornings teleworking from this chill cafe. In addition to delicious coffee beverages they also offer breakfast & lunch options and local beer & kombucha on tap. Wifi is free and unlimited and there are plenty of spots to set up and plug in if you get there early.

Snooze an A.M. Eatery 2262 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205

This was a happening diner in a fun neighborhood, complete with bright & retro decor. Expect a wait and an amazing selection of egg’s benedicts, breakfast sammies and sweet treats.

Rosenbergs Bagels & Deli | 725 E 26th Ave, Denver, CO 80205

Don’t miss this authentic New York bagel shop on your breakfast rotation in Denver! Yes, the line is really long. Yes, maybe the sandwiches are a bit pricy. But you will not be disappointed with the quality! I mean, they import the water they use to make the bagels from New York, so you know it’s gotta be good. 

Sassafras American Eatery | 2637 W 26th Ave, Denver CO 80211

This restaurant has a 2 locations in Denver and one in Golden, Colorado and is also a popular spot. The location we went to in Jefferson Park was in an old house and had eclectic decor and a cute outdoor dining area. The food was American Southern with a strong Cajun flair, and my “Maque Choux Grits” were sooo good with pimento cheese. They also have lots of creative cocktails, milkshakes & coffee drinks – the first Bloody Mary I tried was too spicy (the Sasafrass Mary) and when I couldn’t drink it easily they brought me the Garden Mary with no extra charge which I thought was really nice. We shared the beignets at our table which were pillowy and excellent. 

Los Chingones | 2463 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205

Upscale Mexican in RINO district, has a nice outdoor dining area, creative tacos & good margaritas. 

Mizu Izakaya | 1560 Boulder St, Denver, CO 80211

I was surprised to discover Denver has a sushi scene! Mizu had an ultra trendy vibe and the sushi was great – they also had a lot of alternatives to sushi rolls & interesting appetizers, like the crispy brussel sprouts with candied walnuts & lemon oil which were delicious. 

The Inventing Room | 4433 W 29th Ave #101, Denver, CO 80212

This place had the most interesting desserts I’ve ever seen – and they are all made with science! Ice cream made on to order with liquid nitrogen is then combined with imaginative ingredients to create instaworthy (and drool worthy) masterpieces. I had the Coconut Rice Pudding Ice Cream with Tropical Fruits & Curried Rice Paper (Amazing), but other items include Creme Brulee Waffle with Grilled Strawberry Jam Ice Cream & Nutella and Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch Cream & Vanilla Bean Cotton Candy. How could you skip this place?

NIGHTLIFE

Ratio Beerworks | 2920 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205

As you will discover, Denver and the surrounding areas have a lot of breweries, lots of which I have yet to visit. Ratio, however, has been a staple of ours during our time spent in Denver, located in the RINO neighborhood. It’s selection is simple and I enjoy their French saison the best. The outdoor seating area is really fun and has corn hole and usually cute dogs (with their humans of course!). There are rotating street trucks parked outside if you get hungry.

Avanti Food & Beverage | 3200 Pecos Street, Denver, CO

This whole “upscale cafeteria” with a bar trend has really caught on…and I like it! Avanti is one such place – a group of food vendors and a bar all under one roof. There is also a really cool porch/rooftop area where you can sip your cocktail (Paloma in my case) while looking out at the Denver skyline. I hear it gets crazy crowded for happy hour and at night, my friends and I visited during the week mid afternoon and it was lovely.

View from Avanti

DO

Venture Out of the City

I recommend you spend at least a day outside of the city, exploring the surrounding nature and towns. Some great places to visit are Breckenridge (great in the winter for skiing with a cute downtown), Golden (historic town with a river where you can go tubing in the summer), Boulder (college town with pedestrian shopping area and hiking nearby at Chautauqua Park). You can also visit drive up the Mount Evans Scenic Byway and take in the views at the top of this 14,000+ peak, or if you are more ambitious you can also hike it. Red Rocks is a large music venue right outside of the city and is breathtaking – definitely stop by and see it even if you can’t catch a show there.

Denver Cat Company | 3929 Tennyson Street, Denver, Colorado 80212

I have this thing where I now visit Cat Cafes in every city I go to. This isn’t 100% true but I have started racking up my experiences! As far as Cat Cafes go, Denver Cat Company rates really well. There is not a strong discernible “cat smell” and they had tons of ADOPTABLE cuties to play with, some of which were kittens! There is also wifi and nice areas to sit, work & read. There is an $8 entrance fee to cover the cost of the foster program which I think is totally reasonable. Like most cat “cafes” in the US, this is not an actual cafe with meal service, although you can buy coffee, hot chocolate or snacks.

SHOP

Tennyson

This is a cute area where the cat cafe is and has some nice boutiques & vintage stores. Jolly Goods had a good mix of locally made art, gifts & clothing. SecondLove was also really cute – the interior had a really cool aesthetic and they had a really curated collection of designer and affordable consignment pieces. Lady Jones was a really nice boutique with a lot of trendy yet classy pieces that you could wear to work or out. 

RINO (see above) also has a few neat shops, notably Topo, the flagship store of high-design, colorful, USA-made outdoor gear, apparel & bags.

Charleston Travel USA

A Girl’s Weekend in Charleston

April 27, 2018

For the past 4 years, my high school friends and I have taken a trip to a different destination to reconnect and sightsee. This year we chose Charleston! I have to admit, while Charleston has already been on my radar for some time, I am an avid Bravo fan and watching their series “Southern Charm” really made me want to visit ASAP. Here are the highlights and recommendations – I did a lot of research beforehand consulting some of my favorite bloggers (particularly Grace Atwood @ The Stripe who has great recommendations on so many topics), and an interview consulting the Southern Charm cast on their favorite spots. Between Charleston and New Orleans so  this year, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more special spots in my own country.

STAY

Church Street Inn | 177 Church Street, Historic District, Charleston, SC 29401

Charleston’s a very popular destination right now and we really struggled even months out to find a decently priced AirBnB in a good location. I decided to search for hotels, and found this one through Booking.com. The reviews were amazing and the price was surprisingly low for the location (under $200/night, split between 3 people). The rooms are 2 floor suites with a kitchenette, living area, 1/2 bath and TV downstairs and 2 beds, full bath and TV upstairs. The decor was a bit dated/old fashioned but everything was clean, the staff was mostly friendly and the location was UNBEATABLE. We were right in the heart of the historic district, could walk to plenty of shops & restaurants and were right next to the Charleston City Market (see below). I would most definitely recommend this place!

EAT

Charleston is SUCH a foodie city. Before we went I joked with my friends that we would have to eat 8 meals a day during our trip to get everything in. While we didn’t do THAT, we were able to hit some great spots during our time there. I’m still dreaming about the scallops at The Macintosh…

Second State Coffee (formerly Black Tap Coffee) | 70.5 Beaufain St, Charleston, SC 29401

Cute coffee shop a little off the beaten path downtown. I tried the famed “Black Julep” which was refreshing, they also have wifi and plugs aplenty if you are trying to get some work done there like I was.

Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits | 476 1/2 King St, Charleston, SC 29403, Also in Charleston City Market

So good! We went to the location in the Charleston City Market as it was so convenient to our hotel. It was SUPER busy on a Saturday morning, so if you want to beat the line maybe try it during the week if you can. The wait was worth it though – I tried a 3 pack of their mini biscuits which was the perfect amount of food for breakfast. I had the Cheese & Chive, Blackberry & the Buttermilk Biscuit.

Bitty & Beaus | 159 Church Street, Charleston, SC

Another coffee place! A really special place where they employ people with physical and intellectual disabilities- it was so warm and inviting. The coffee was really good too! Please support this business if you can.

The Obstinate Daughter | 2063 Middle St., Sullivan’s Island, SC 29482

Oh my gosh – where do I begin? Our lunch here was epic. We got there right at noon (this was on a Thursday) and had our total pick of seating & we chose the porch. As we were leaving it had really filled up, so getting here early is good. I had the Pan Bagnat which was served with the most delicious balsamic veggies. My friend Tyler’s Chicken, Brussels & Farro was equally good if not better – everything was so flavorful and seasoned perfectly! I also had their Blonde Bloody Mary- not as salty as a normal bloody and made with yellow tomatoes, quite tasty and refreshing! Please eat here – you will not regret it.

FIG | 232 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401

All my resources and everyone we encountered in Charleston said FIG is THE BEST restaurant in Charleston. As soon as you know you are going to Charleston, go to their website and try to snag a reservation.

If there aren’t tables available, you can add an alert for yourself on the RESY app telling you if/when a table opens up for the date and time of your choice which is exactly how I was able to get us a table at 8pm on a Thursday.

Wonderful ambience, amazing food (“elevated takes on Southern Classics”), awesome service. They change their menu frequently, but we got their pillow-like gnocchi as an app & the grouper and they were both excellent. It was pricy but not crazy, I think we payed around $100 for the both of us (just 2 of us on the trip went to FIG) plus wine. If you want to treat yourself, this is the place.

The Macintosh | 479 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

This place was also VERY good. Hipster vibe with exposed brick and industrial lightbulbs. Our waitress knew a lot about food & wine and was really fun, suggesting things for us & making good conversation. It’s tapas style so the 3 of us shared a bunch of yummy treats, including the best scallops I’ve ever had. It was a similar price point to FIG and closer to the bars and restaurants on King St for going out after if you choose. 

NIGHTLIFE

Republic | 462 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

Okay I’ll admit – I dragged my friend here because they often go here on Southern Charm and I was hoping for a cast sighting. My friend was a good sport and indulged me, and honestly I thought it would be a little cheesy…but it was surprisingly cool! It was a Thursday when we were there and the outdoor patio was really nice, we were able to get drinks and a seat right away. There was also live music! The inside seemed less quaint and I can imagine it gets really busy and possibly annoying on weekends. 

The Commodore | 504 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29403

This was another Southern Charm pick – cast member Shepard Rose is a co-owner. A little off the beaten path this place has a total retro 70s vibe. The staff was friendly, we got a seat right at the bar and they had good live music. We got there before they started charging cover (a perk of being in our 30s – we go out early and come home early now!) which was a plus. It started getting crowded right as we were leaving.

Kamiskys | 78 N Market St, Charleston, SC 29401

This is a well known dessert place in Charleston, but if you go for Happy Hour like we did you can enjoy $5 dessert martinis with your decadent pastry! We all split the cherry crumble and each tried a different dessert martini. I had the Kahlua Espresso for a pick-me-up and my friends tried the Thin Mint & Chocolate respectively, all delicious.

DO

Sullivan’s Island Beach | Atlantic Ave, Sullivan’s Island, SC 29482

This beach was clean and pretty – there was a lot of wind when we were there but otherwise it was very pleasant! We were told Folly Beach had a little more going on in terms of bars, restaurants and shops but we were happy with this quieter beach. It was also during the week when we went so I imagine it would  be more crowded on the weekends/in the summer.

Boone Hall Plantation | 1235 Long Point Rd, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464

Beautiful & expansive property & gardens and lots of history – about a 25 minute Uber from downtown. The house on site is not actually the original plantation home but was built in 1936 by a Canadian family that bought the property. They still have original slave cabins with museum exhibits inside and you can hear a presentation by a Gullah woman. The Gullah are African Americans who live in the Lowcountry region of the U.S. states of Georgia and South Carolina, in both the coastal plain and the Sea Islands, and this women did such a good job telling the story of slave history in the area and the Gullah culture. The property has also been used in numerous TV & Movie productions, including The Notebook (!) and was where Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds got married. Also – if you are in the market for a sweetgrass basket – there is a woman making and selling them here and the prices are lower than the City Market (see below).

(From Top Right: Sullivan’s Island, Boone Hall Plantation, Gardens at Boone Hall.)

SHOP

Walking up King Street you will find everything from antique stores, high end designers, chain department stores & local boutiques. Here are a few spots that I thought were special:

The Charleston Preservation Society Shop |147 King St, Charleston, SC 29401

Loved all the local flair at this shop! The owner/staff were so nice and they carried a variety of items made in Charleston as well as a large collection of books. I was obsessed with the Brackish Bowties, made entirely of feathers.

The Skinny Dip Charleston Edition | 345 King Street, Charleston, South Carolina

Beautiful space with clothing & accessories. They have such a nice collection of local Charleston designers and cute/preppy southern staples! Also, they have an upstairs which is a cafe/bar with a terrace! Hello? You have everything you need right here. 

The Charleston City Market | 188 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401

This reminded me a bit of the French Market in New Orleans – a large (partially enclosed) corridor with vendors selling local products, food, art & souvenirs. The locally crafted famous Sweetgrass baskets are also for sale here and are a popular (but expensive) souvenir!

Skinny Dip: The Charleston Edition
Australia Travel

3 Weeks in Australia: An Itinerary

September 28, 2017

Sydney → Whitsundays → Cairns → Cape Tribulation →
Melbourne → Great Ocean Road

SYDNEY

STAY

Sydney Hotel CBD | 88 Liverpool Street, Sydney Central Business District, 2000 Sydney, Australia

This was the hotel we stayed in when we first arrived in Australia and had one night before meeting our friends back at the airport to head to the Whitsundays. It was a good inexpensive option, no frills but clean and well located in Chinatown. From there we had lots of yummy options for Thai food & were able to easily walk to the Sydney Harbor to toast our arrival with a view of the Sydney Opera House.

EAT & DRINK

Brickfields | 206 Cleveland St, Chippendale NSW 2008, Australia

Delicious breakfast cafe option in the Chippendale neighborhood (the neighborhood adjacent to our AirBnB in Ultimo.) As I discovered early, Australia has an amazing coffee culture, so most cafes we visited were superb. This place had a cute atmosphere and delicious latte & fruit granola bowl.

Sea Bay | 372 Pitt St, Haymarket, Sydney, New South Wales 2000, Australia

In the heart of Chinatown, this small & basic asian food place was recommended to me by a summer camp friend who spent 7 years living in Sydney. Definitely a local spot (we may have been the only tourists, which was a good sign), the dumplings were really good and it was BYOB!

Momo Bar Manly Beach | 28 Market Pl, Manly NSW 2095, Australia

Take the ferry to Manly beach for a fun little excursion (see below) and enjoy a Poke bowl or dumplings at Momo! This was my first Poke bowl (chunks of raw, marinated fish — usually tuna — which is then tossed over rice and topped with vegetables and umami-packed sauces) and I fell in love with the dish – they do it so well here! There was a nice place to sit outside and people watch in this funky & laid back neighborhood.

Old Fitzroy | 129 Dowling St, Woolloomooloo NSW 2011, Australia

Another rec from my summer camp friend, this cozy pub was a great find. It’s below a theater so you have show traffic coming in and out, and it’s clear it’s a local spot where the bartenders know their customers by name. 

Mary’s | 6 Mary St, Newtown, Sydney

For my love of Bloody Marys, I made the long trek to Newtown to try their famed version. The restaurant/bar is not well marked so it has a speakeasy vibe, and the inside is dark and filled with graffiti. I got there right when it opened which was good because it gets busy! They serve burgers and fried chicken, and the ($20!) Bloody Mary comes with a melted slice of cheese & piece of bacon on top of the glass. While it wasn’t the best Bloody I’ve had (I prefer the New Orleans version with the pickled green beans!), it was certainly the only drink I’ve ever ordered that came with melted cheese and I really enjoyed the unique decor and vibe there. 

DO

Bondi Beach

It’s easy to take public transport to Bondi Beach and I would definitely recommend it. Cool vibe, pretty water & views, nice trail for walking along the coast. We were there in winter but there were still surfers to watch.

Manly Beach Ferry

I loved this excursion! You can easily grab the ferry in Sydney Harbor and it takes you by magnificent views of the opera house, skyline and Sydney Harbor Bridge. It was a really nice beach and there were lots of restaurants to choose from, including Momo where I had my first and probably best ever Poke bowl! We also bought the majority of our souvenirs here, as there were a few well stocked tacky gift shops.

TRANSPORTATION

I found Sydney’s Metro system very easy to use. We were able to get on right and the airport and it easily brought us to the CBD. You can buy a card that you can fill and refill throughout your stay.

WHITSUNDAYS

STAY

Hibiscus 006 – Hamilton Island 

There are many islands that make up the Whitsundays, but Hamilton Island is the one that most people stay on and has a choice of resort accommodations. We were going back and forth between staying on Hamilton Island vs staying at Airlie Beach which is the town on the coast where you can access the islands. I’m really glad we decided to stay on Hamilton Island because I loved it there. People that stay in Airlie beach then access the island by ferry, and from my understanding the town is more of a backpacker’s haven/party town. It also made sense for us to stay on Hamilton Island because you can fly directly from Sydney. The condo company we stayed with (found through Booking.com) had someone pick us up right at the airport so it was really convenient. 

Although you can access booking accommodations from AirBnB or Booking.com, they all put you in contact directly with the resort company. Since it is an exclusive island, just keep in mind that everything will be more expensive. There is a general store to buy food to cook and several restaurants, but you will be pressed to find bargains as your choices are limited.

We had a nice unit with 2 bed/baths that had an outdoor patio and beautiful view of the sea. We were still jet-lagged so we watched the sunrises daily and it was truly magical (I said I felt like I was witnessing the dawning of time). Cockatoos, Kookaburras & Wallabies all came to visit us during our stay. 

EAT & DRINK

As I said above, there was a general store and liquor store so we were able to stock up on food so we didn’t need to go out for every meal. This was nice because we did have a fully equipped kitchen and could eat and drink out on our patio.

TAKO | Marina Village, Front Street, Hamilton Island QLD 4803, Australia

This was our “nice meal out” for our stay here and it was pretty good. Asian/Latin fusion right on the harbor. Be prepared to spend 20 AUD on a margarita though! This is actually a pretty normal cocktail price in Australia. Eek!

One Tree Hill | One Tree Hill, 4803, Australia

Sunset cocktails here: This is a MUST DO for Hamilton Island! We did it our last night and I was sad we hadn’t done it the other nights. Cute cocktail bar at the top of the large hill on Hamilton Island- amazing view of the whole island and the sea. You can sip tropical themed cocktails and watch the sunset – it’s magnificent.  

Bob’s Bakery | 137 Front St, Hamilton Island QLD 4803, Australia

This was a good option for inexpensive breakfast or lunch on the harbor. Sit outside and share your meal with a friendly cockatoo!

DO

Whitehaven Beach Excursion

I would say this is also a must do. Yes, it is expensive and it seems like a short amount of time to spend on the beach for a lot of money. But, this beach and the sand there is like nothing else I’ve experienced, and I think you’d regret coming all the way to the Whitsundays and not seeing this beach. The sand is made of silica, making it so much softer and whiter than normal sand. Beautiful AND exfoliating! You can book this tour through the resorts, I believe we booked ours through the front desk of the Reef View Hotel. 

Animal Sanctuary

Unfortunately this was closed during our visit, as it was being renovated from cyclone damage. Theoretically though, you should be able to do this while you are here if you choose! You can meet Aussie animals & cuddle Koalas here, as well as attend a Koala Breakfast.

Hamilton Island Beach/Tidepools

There is also a nice beach & a luxurious pool in the resort area. The when the tide is out you can walk out really far and see lots of marine wildlife. We also saw a little sting ray & a sea turtle when swimming at the beach there! The pool is a beautiful place to lay out and there is a few bars there (although we brought our own wine from our condo!). 

TOWNSVILLE AREA

STAY

Butterfly Valley / Paradise Kingfisher | Damper Creek, QLD, Australia

After Hamilton Island we ferried to Airlie Beach and rented a car to drive up to Cairns (approx 7 hours). We decided to stop halfway so we could do Billabong Sanctuary & stayed at this nice cabin north of Townsville. It was in a beautiful setting (a little ways back from the main road) and we were able to walk to the waterfalls in the morning before heading out to Cairns. We didn’t spot any cassowaries here but we did see a wallaby! You can grab dinner and breakfast in nearby Cardwell

DO

Billabong Sanctuary | 11 Country Rd, Nome QLD 4816, Australia

Cuddling a Koala in Australia was basically my top priority. We passed this sanctuary on our road trip from Airlie Beach to Cairns as it was about halfway. I thought it was a great park and the staff was really friendly and knowledgeable about the animals. We got to meet and pet dingos, baby crocodiles, wombats, feed wallabies and kangaroos ate out of our hands…it was pretty amazing. And yes, I got to hold a koala, which you pay extra for but it is SO. WORTH IT. You even get a professional souvenir photo! 

CAIRNS

Disclaimer: I would actually not recommend going to Cairns! We went there to meet up with our friends who were attending a wedding and used it as a place to take a Great Barrier reef excursion. I was not really impressed with the city and we didn’t love the time we spent there. In retrospect I would have done our Great Barrier Reef excursion from Port Douglass or Cape Tribulation (see below). BUT- if you do happen to find yourself in Cairns on your Australia trip, I would HIGHLY recommend the AirBnB we stayed in below because it was awesome! 

**Also – we were able to attend an authentic Australian BBQ in Cairns for which I will be forever grateful. It was much better than the food we had at the weird casino/restaurant/frat party we dined at the night before!**

STAY

Kev’s Classic Queenslander / Cairns Central | Parramatta Park, Cairns

Kevin’s place was really cool. It’s in a good location- not right downtown in the hustle and bustle but close enough to walk (about a 20 min walk from the harbor or a 5 minute drive.) Close to shops & restaurants. Kevin was very pleasant before and during our stay and provided tips of things to do in the area and for our next leg of the trip. The ambience of the house is awesome, we loved the artsy decor and beautiful porch and succulent garden. It was also very well equipped with wifi, Netflix, coffee, tea, filtered water etc which we definitely appreciated. I would certainly recommend Kevin’s place if you’re looking for a home in Cairns for your stay!

DO

Ocean Free | Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

If you’re doing a Great Barrier reef excursion from Cairns, I would recommend this company. While the weather we had during our excursion wasn’t amazing, the experience with this boat/crew was. They were so funny, friendly & knowledgeable, I really enjoyed the day with them! I just did snorkeling, while some in our group did scuba diving as well. My husband hadn’t initially thought he would do scuba, but was able to decide once we were out there to add it to his trip. They really help you and make sure you know what you are doing especially if it is your first time. We saw clown fish (Nemo!), a giant clam and since it was whale breeding season we actually saw a momma and baby humpback whale which was SO COOL! They served a nice lunch & snacks too. If you tend to get sea sick, DEFINITELY take dramamine. I do get sea sick and the dramamine kept it at bay. My friend who did not take dramamine felt pretty ill, as the water can get choppy on your way out to the reef. 

CAPE TRIBULATION

STAY

Cape Tribulation Holiday House The Daintree | Cape Tribulation, QLD, Australia

This AirBnB was so cool! It’s described as a “yurt” but it is definitely a modern & luxurious one. Surrounded by trees and beautiful butterflies and birds, we really enjoyed our time here. There was a huge porch with a hammock and the rooms and open design were so appealing. There were 2 couples staying here and one room is a little more private while the other one is lofted over the living room. It is fully equipped and we were able to do a nice little barbecue one night! We could walk down to the beach and trails from here and the hosts were very responsive & helpful although we did not meet them. The internet out here is very touch and go – it is not a function of where you stay – but when we called with issues our hosts added more data to their service so we could try to connect. Not that you would necessarily want that – as you’ll see it’s a great place to be “disconnected.” 

EAT

Whet | Lot 1 Cape Tribulation Road | Road Cape Tribulation Qld 4873, Cape Tribulation

There aren’t too many restaurant options out here in the jungle, but we had a lovely dinner at Whet, complete with delicious seafood & twinkle lights on the porch.

Floravilla Ice Cream Factory | Corner of Cape Tribulation Road & Buchanan Creek Road, Daintree, Queensland 4873, Australia

We stopped here on our way out of the Daintree – great flavors of homemade ice cream and a nice place to sit and enjoy it.

DO

Cooper Creek Wilderness | 2333 Cape Tribulation Rd, Cape Tribulation, Queensland 4873, Australia

This is the #1 rated activity in Cape Tribulation, so we decided to book a tour for our group. This is an expansive property owned by the Hewett family and it is where they live. Angie gave the 4 of us our tour and she was so knowledgeable about the land, ecosystem, history and animal/plant life. She gave us so much information as she took us through the forrest and pointed out things as we walked along. There are cassowaries that live on their property and although we didn’t see one of these rare creatures during the tour (there are only 4000 left in the world), we DID see one walking along the side of the road on our way to the property which was really cool! I would say it was definitely worth doing and we learned a lot while getting to experience nature.

Swimming Holes & Creeks

Please consult with your hosts or guides about areas that are good to swim in. We were told by our AirBnB hosts about a creek/swimming area up the road that was safe called Emmagen Creek. By safe, I mean relatively free of crocodiles. Yes, this is terrifying but you do have to be VERY careful and mindful about Saltwater crocs that inhabit this area. This means NO swimming in the ocean or getting close to the waters edge, especially at dusk. Again, your hosts will help you out with this and please listen to them. If you’ve heard that everything in Australia wants to kill you, this area is a testament to that. You will see signs at every beach warning about the crocs. This is not meant to completely scare you off the idea of visiting this area (or Australia in general) but it is just something to be aware of and act accordingly. I was freaked out reading about all this stuff before our trip (sharks, jellyfish & crocs, oh my!) but we were fine. Also, if you happen to visit during the winter (Australian winter is during our summer!) like we did, you will at least be somewhat free of the jellyfish/stinger risk.

MELBOURNE

STAY

Luxury House in South Melbourne | South Melbourne

I was so sad we only had one day/night in Melbourne, as I found it to be a really cool city! Our AirBnB was in South Melbourne, outside of downtown, but near shops, restaurants & the large market. The place itself was super nice, trendy and well equipped, and our hosts let us store our luggage with them when we couldn’t fit it all in our car for our Great Ocean Road excursion.

EAT & DRINK

Magic Specialty Coffee | 286 Ferrars St, South Melbourne VIC 3205, Australia

Coffee shop near our AirBnB in South Melbourne – awesome example of Australia’s amazing coffee culture. Great lattes, smoothies, sandwiches & pastries with a nice outdoor dining area. Seems to be a hip spot with the locals.

Gazi |2 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

I learned from my friend that there is a very large Greek population in Melbourne- the largest outside of Athens! She took us to Gazi, a restaurant of celebrity chef George Calombaris, for lunch. The decor was really cool with flowerpots hanging down from the ceiling and I got a Greek “bento box” which was delicious. 

Goldilocks Bar | 264 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

We grabbed drinks at this rooftop spot after walking around Melbourne for the day. It was nice and warm under the heat lamps and provided a great view of the skyline. 

DO

South Melbourne Market | Corner of Coventry & Cecil Streets, South Melbourne

Again, I so wish I had more time in Melbourne, I could have spent hours at this market! Instead I spent a half an hour quickly walking around before we had to catch our flight back to Sydney. Everything from food, flowers, local artisans…looked like a great place to do some wallet damage. Next time!

Street Art | Hosier Lane, Melbourne

There was so much street art in Melbourne but the best we saw was Hosier Lane. Don’t miss it, & be ready to take lots of pictures!

GREAT OCEAN ROAD

STAY

Apollo Beach House | Apollo Bay, VIC, Australia

We drove from Melbourne to the 12 Apostles and decided to then drive back towards Melbourne and stay at Apollo Bay for the night. This beach house was so nice- panoramic views, large rooms, sleek furniture. Since we were there in the winter we got a good rate but I’m sure it’s a pretty penny during peak season. 

EAT & DRINK

Moons Espresso Bar | 108 Mountjoy Pde, Lorne, Victoria 3232, Australia

In the morning after spending the night in Apollo Bar, we drove along the incredibly scenic coast to a quaint town called Lorne to have breakfast. There were several options and we chose Moons which was good! Can’t go wrong with a flat white and avo toast, & they did it well.

DO

The 12 Apostles | 275 kilometres west of Melbourne, approximately a four-hour drive along the Great Ocean Road.

Breathtaking. There’s not much else to say besides that. Rocks jutting up from the ocean & beautiful cliffs. Definitely worth the drive (and the drive itself along the Great Ocean Road is magical). Get here and take your time, take pictures & walk along the beach.

Gorge Chocolates | 1432 Princetown Road, Princetown, Victoria 3268, Australia

This was an unexpected stop along our trip from Melbourne when the brewery we had planned to visit was closed! Really good locally made chocolate on a farm where you can visit and pet the animals. Great place for a pit stop!