Scenic Sorrento

If you follow my blog you’ll know by now that I have a bit of a travel addiction and I especially love to visit Italy.  I’ve blogged about Rome, Venice, Positano, Capri, Ravello and today I will share with you my adventures in Sorrento.  Sorrento is usually the base city for our visits to the Amalfi Coast, and even though it may not get as much attention as Amalfi or Positano, we love this quaint town.  It’s also situated on a cliffside as all of the Amalfi Coast towns, and also has plenty or history, beautiful sights, shops and restaurants.  But perhaps one of the things we love about it most is the hotel we always stay at, the Hilton Sorrento Palace.  I can’t say enough about this property, especially if you’re traveling with kids.  While it is not situated right in town, it’s only a 10 minute car or cab ride away, and it has all of the amenities you may need.  Let me just say, it’s definitely worth to spend the extra money and reserve a room with a view, because the views you will wake up to are absolutely stunning!  Take a look at this:

View from the Sorrento Palace Hotel

View from the Sorrento Palace Hotel

The hotel also has a great Kid’s Club with plenty of activities every day, situated right by the gorgeous multi-level pool area (again with stunning views of Mount Vesuvius), as well as a great poolside café, perfect for lunch or gelato snacks. Also worth mentioning is the amazing buffet breakfast served in the breakfast room every morning.  My daughter goes crazy over the freshly made crepe and pancake stations, not to mention any other item one can desire for breakfast.  And last but not least is the amazingly delicious rooftop restaurant, serving some of the best dishes we’ve eaten in Sorrento, and mind you, we are not usually big on hotel restaurants.

Hubby and daughter ordering their freshly made crepes at the breakfast buffet.

Hubby and daughter ordering their freshly made crepes at the breakfast buffet.

Dinner at the rooftop restaurant of the hotel.

Dinner at the rooftop restaurant of the hotel.

But enough about the accommodations and let’s get to the beauty of this town.  The cobblestone streets and narrow lanes that lead out of the Piazza Tasso, the town’s main square, include Via San Cesareo, the town’s primary shopping street, full of shops and cafes. If you return in the evenings, when vehicle access is restricted the central hub becomes one of the town’s most popular places for the traditional Mediterranean pastime of an easygoing evening stroll. And in typical Italian fashion, all of the stores and restaurants stay open pretty late.  Also on the main square is a terrific little snack bar, Bar Ercolano, that sells the most amazing gelato, our daughter had her nightly treat at this place. A small white tourist train (Sorrento City Train) also leaves from the square. For a few euros it takes you on a 30-minute round trip through the old town and down to Marina Piccola. But perhaps one of my favorite sights on the square is the Baroque Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, with its beautiful  yellow and white facade, stop in and take a look inside this gorgeous church. In the center of the square stands a statue of St. Antonino Abate, the patron saint of Sorrento.

Baroque Church of Santa Maria del Carmine

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Another view of Piazza Tasso

Enjoying her evening gelato  at Piazza Tasso

Enjoying her evening gelato at Piazza Tasso

Finishing our train ride

Finishing our train ride

One of our favorite restaurants in town is the Michelin star rated Il Buco, (reservations strongly recommended).  The restaurant, housed in the wine cellars of an old monastery in the center of Sorrento, has some of the best food I’ve had anywhere in Europe, not to mention some of the most exceptional service as well.  The place is not easy to find,  as it’s tucked away on a side street off of Piazza San Antonino, but ask anyone and they will lead you right to it.  You can sit outside on the romantic cobblestone street, but we much preferred to sit in the stunning indoor restaurant, created in the beautiful, old cellar of the convent of Theatine monks, dating all the way back to 1400.  The dishes rotate on a nightly basis, and if you don’t particularly like anything on the menu, (our daughter is quite picky) they will try to accomodate you by creating something special with whatever fresh pasta, fish and ingredients they have for the day.  As they like to say…You are invited to discover all tastes and flavors of our tradition, reworked and revised to create exciting new experiences for the senses. The presentation of the food was also spectacular, and every meal and wine came with a perfect explanation of its components, ingredients and where it came from.  Oh and make sure you leave room for the delectable desserts. Needless to say, we went back for a second meal.

Il Buco Restaurant

Il Buco Restaurant

You will find many types of shops in Sorrento selling leather sandals, ceramics, limoncello and soaps, all sorts of goodies.  One of our favorite leather shops is La Conchiglia, where you can have your sandals custom made while you wait.  Take your time and stroll through the town and I’m sure you’ll find something you like.

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Typical souvenir store

La Conchiglia leather sandal shop

La Conchiglia leather sandal shop

Gorgeous leather sandals made while you wait

Gorgeous leather sandals made while you wait

Lemon drinks, soaps and candles, all very popular throughout  the Amalfi Coast

Lemon drinks, soaps and candles, all very popular throughout the Amalfi Coast

Sorrento is also a great place to take day trips from, especially by ferry.  You can take a boat to Positano, Amalfi, Capri, and many other Amalfi Coast towns.

A view of Sorrento from the ferry

A view of Sorrento from the ferry

Here are a few more photos from our various trips for your enjoyment. Have you ever been to Sorrento? I’d love to hear what you enjoyed most…

My Signature

 

Bell Tower of the Sorrento Cathedral

Bell Tower of the Sorrento Cathedral

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Kid’s Club activities by the hotel pool

One of the many pedestrian shopping streets in town

One of the many pedestrian shopping streets in town

Typical limoncello shop

Typical limoncello shop

Beautiful view from our room balcony at the Hilton Sorrento Palace Hotel

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On Piazza Tasso, getting ready for our evening stroll

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One of the many unique shops in this town

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Beautiful scenery on our drive leaving Sorrento

 

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Mythical Mykonos

Mykonos…I discovered this beautiful island many years ago on my honeymoon to the Greek Islands and instantly fell in love with it (here’s my blog post on Santorini). While one of the most visited and popular of the Greek islands, it is sometimes viewed by many as a cosmopolitan, pleasure-seeking playground similar to Ibiza or St. Tropez, well-known for beautiful beaches, luxurious resorts and wild nightlife. But to me, Mykonos is much more than that…

The beautiful Mykonos harbor and the town in the background

The beautiful Mykonos harbor and the town in the background

At first glance the island is simply a beautiful series of whitewashed houses with the iconic blue window shutters that give it such a charm that is completely all its own. It is the most expensive island in the Cyclades, but not one to be missed with its winding little streets that one can get lost in, overlooking its beautiful harbor.

I’ve been back to Mykonos a few more times since our honeymoon, and I can tell you it has definitely changed through the years. Long gone are many of the mom and pop, charming souvenir stores, where you would find handmade items created by the store owners.  Most have been replaced with posh, expensive designer boutiques and the likes of Louis Vuitton. Also, many of the restaurants that we remembered from prior trips have been closed and reopened under new management.  And while I miss the old Mykonos, the island still has a unique charm of its own, and remains a destination that will keep luring you back for years to come (as it has with me).

hHe narrow streets of Mykonos Town

The narrow streets of Mykonos Town

On this last trip, our daughter came along, her first time visiting Greece, so we had to change things up a bit.  We usually stay in hotels that are in town so that we’re close to everything and to also avoid the hassle of having to take taxis or buses into town at night, which can be quite difficult, especially during the crowds of July and August. However, many town hotels are not very family oriented and lack amenities such as pools and larger family style rooms.  While the beach towns have gorgeous large resorts, they are also prohibitively expensive (>500 euros a night).  This was also the first time we visited Mykonos during August, and that makes a big difference. The island was extremely overcrowded and finding a taxi was near to impossible. The buses at night were running late (we waited over 40 minutes standing in the heat for a bus one night) and also very crowded. In the past we’ve stayed at Hotel Kouros, Hotel Rohari and Hotel Belvedere, all excellent choices right near town.  This time we decided on the Yiannaki Hotel in Ornos Beach, also a fine choice.  I recommend this property if you don’t want to blow your budget and you’re looking for a family hotel. It has a great pool, comfortable rooms and a pretty decent poolside restaurant, serving buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner. But, this hotel is not near Mykonos town. Thankfully, the staff was very accommodating and friendly and was able to reserve a taxi in advance to go into town in the evenings.  Be warned, this is a very pricey solution, but in my opinion, well worth it.

Yiannaki Hotel in Ornos Bay

Yiannaki Hotel in Ornos Beach

Mykonos is a small island with many things to keep tourists busy. There are some small museums, plenty of beaches, tons of shops and cafes, and boat trips to other nearby islands. But truth be told, living in Miami, my husband and I rarely spend our days at the beach when we visit.  We like to explore.  We typically rent a jeep and drive around the island, making various stops.  The remainder of our time is spent walking through the main town and soaking in the island lifestyle.  There are many restaurants to choose from, but we always make a stop at Nikos Taverna (Ag. Ioanninou, Agias Monis Square).  It’s well-known and loved by both locals and tourists alike. Popular and very busy, Nikos is a landmark.  You can sit indoors, although I suggest you sit in the outdoor patio were you can feel the lively authentic ambiance of this island, especially in the evenings.

Nikos Taverna in the evening.  Photo Courtesy of Gary Black Photography

Nikos Taverna in the evening. Photo Courtesy of Gary Black Photography

If you would like to splurge a bit, try La Maison de Katrin (Gerasimou & Nikou Streets) offering the best of both Greek and French cuisine.  Worth the search through the Dilou quarter of Mykonos, with its outdoor tables on a narrow street, (as is most of Mykonos),  while the lovely interior features Cycladic arches and whitewash.

Chez Katrin

Chez Katrin

And of course, if you’re traveling with an Italian food fanatic, like my daughter, you can also find numerous Italian places, like Pasta Fresca Barkia (15 Kouzi Georgouli), where they make homemade fresh pasta while you watch.  Walking down the narrow street and seeing all the pasta outside of the restaurant, there was no way we were going to escape eating here one night.  The food was OK, but it’s probably a place your kids will love.

Pasta Fesca Barkia

Pasta Fresca Barkia

Climb the hill to visit Mykonos’ windmills, the icons of the island. They sadly don’t actually function anymore, but they’re still very pretty and the views out over the town from here are scenic. They also happen to be the most popular place to catch the sunset. Prepare for crowds if you plan to go, head over there early to get a good spot.

The famous windmills

The famous windmills

Little Venice is another popular spot in Mykonos. With the houses on the water, it’s a nice place to spend some time eating a meal or having a drink. During the late afternoon, lots of people file in, and you can also catch a great view of the windmills.  In the evenings, the bars are really crowded, as well as the nearby clubs, such as Scandinavian Bar & Disco.

LIttle Venice

Little Venice

The church of Panagia Paraportiani, near the Kastro area, is a Byzantine church, which dates back to 1425. There are over 400 churches to see across the island, but this is considered the highlight of them all. It is composed of 5 chapels, only one of which is open to visitors. Definitely something you don’t want to miss.

Church of Panagia Pariportiani

Church of Panagia Paraportiani

And last but not least, make sure you meet Petros the Pelican, the island’s beloved mascot, a gorgeous, light pink, real life Pelican. The original pelican died in the late 80s, however a few years back there were three living on the island, and now there’s just one again (the others have sadly died).  Everyone loves to find Petros and snap photos with him. And although he’s usually not hard to find, we did have a difficult time spotting him on this last trip, only seeing him turn the corner while sitting at Nikos, having a late meal. Of course, our daughter was so disappointed in not being able to see him up close and personal, after so many stories she’d heard from us, that we decided to actually ask some locals, where was the best place to find him.  They told us he was probably a bit “stressed” with the heat and the crowds, and was purposely staying away.  I never knew pelicans could get stressed, but who knows?

Hubby hanging out with Petros

Hubby hanging out with Petros

Have you been to Mykonos?  If you have, what have you enjoyed most about it?  Here are a few more photos from our various trips to Mykonos.  Enjoy!

My Signature

Beautiful Mykonos

Beautiful Mykonos

Petros...photo source unknown, found on Pinterest...

Petros…photo source unknown, found on Pinterest…

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Narrow street leading from Nikos Taverna to the harbor

Petting my favorite mascot…

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Hubby and I by the windmills with Little Venice in the background

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Small blue church at the port

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Typical Greek scenery

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Loved this saying, just had to photograph it!

The windmills

The windmills

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Cafe near Paraportiani Church

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The famous blue domes

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Clothing shop selling cute Greek sandals for little girls

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Another typical shopping street

Rohari

At Hotel Rohari

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One of the many beaches in Mykonos

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Beautiful Petros relaxing

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Super Paradise Beach

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Hubby petting Petros

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Hotel Belvedere

Typical cafe

Typical cafe

Visions of Venice

Experiencing Venice is like falling in love at first sight. To many, Paris is considered the most beautiful city in the world. To me, Venice is. All of the beautiful architecture, the canals, the gondolas, I just find it amazing (it’s a UNESCO World Heritage property).  Since my first visit when I was fifteen, I always found this enchanting city to be very unique.  I love that you can walk everywhere, no need to rent a car.  But make sure you hop on the vaporetto (water bus) which gives you a wide angle view of Venice’s beauty that you just can’t get by walking around.  I also love to wander and get lost through all of the winding, narrow cobblestone streets, and the further you venture away from Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), the quainter the neighborhoods become, San Polo being my favorite.  San Polo is a quarter of artists and artisans, with narrow streets and tiny “campos” or squares.  But what I love is that people actually live here in the tiny apartments above the many shops and restaurants, giving you a real neighborhood feel. Make the most of your time exploring through tiny alleys, across endless bridges, and make sure to just take it all in, while stopping for a coffee or gelato along the way.

Places to Stay We typically fly into Venice and take a water taxi from the airport.  I really like staying close to St. Mark’s square, as the location is very convenient.  This last time we stayed at the Residence Corte Grimani and were very pleased.  We stayed in a one bedroom apartment (which for Venice is huge) for the three of us, and our daughter was thrilled to learn she had her own bathroom. Situated steps from St. Mark’s, the property is very comfortable and we had amazing canal views from our windows.  I highly recommend this hotel if you’re traveling with children. Other nice hotels where we’ve stayed in the past are the Cavaletto and the Bonvecchiati, both very near to St. Mark’s also.  Important to note, it’s good to find a hotel that has water taxi or water bus access, so that you don’t have to carry all of your luggage through the cobblestone streets.

Residence Corte Grimani

Residence Corte Grimani Hotel, fantastic location…

View from our apartment window...priceless!

View from our apartment window…priceless!

Churches  As with most major Italian cities, Venice has many gorgeous churches to visit.  My favorite of course is Basilica di San Marco, one of my favorite churches in all of Europe and one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture in the word. Words cannot describe this amazingly beautiful sanctuary, it’s truly a must see.  Another church I love in Venice is the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, with its prominent position at the tip of Dorsoduro, where the Grand Canal merges with St. Mark’s Basin.

Basilica di San Marco

Basilica di San Marco

La Salute

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

Gondola Rides We visited at the peak of the high season in August, it was extremely busy and the crowds were everywhere.  Though I have to admit, as much as I love my gondola rides, the tourist crowds were making us feel like we were in a Disney World queue. But a gondola is just one of those things that a visitor to this lovely city should experience. Venice is all about the water. I definitely recommend visiting in May or September instead.  But this was our daughter’s first trip to Venice, so of course we had to take her on a gondola, which she loved.

Gondola rides...

Gondola rides…

Food Finding delicious eateries in Venice is not a problem.  There are tons of great restaurants to choose from, yummy gelato places (Venchi being out favorite), and many pizza and fast food spots to get a quick meal, throughout the entire city.  I had not been to Venice in many years prior to this visit last summer, and I was pleasantly surprised to not see any Starbucks, Burger Kings and only one McDonald’s further out in the Cannaregio neighborhood.  Some of our favorite restaurants which we frequent on every visit are Antico Martini, Le Bistrot de Venise and Trattoria Da Mamo.  And if you’re looking for a quick bite and don’t have time for a sit down meal, you have to try Dal Moro’s Fresh Pasta To Go (Calle de la Casseleria, 5324 in Castello). The pasta comes in a little white takeaway box with a fork and napkins, and it’s up to you to find a place to enjoy it.  The pasta is really fresh, made when you order it, and very reasonably priced for Venice.

Dal Moro's Fesh Pasta to go

Dal Moro’s Fresh Pasta to go…

Another great place is Acqua & Mais (Campiello dei Meloni, 1478, San Polo) a Venetian take-away delicatessen where you can taste the seafood directly from the Rialto market. The specialties include the “scartosso” real Venetian mixed fried fish served in a paper cone so that you can enjoy it while strolling through the streets of Venice.  Windows allow a full view of the cooks while preparing the food and prices are again very reasonable for Venice.

Acqua & Mais  fresh seafood to go...

Acqua & Mais fresh seafood to go…

Paper Shops As many of you know, my love of stationery products comes alive when I’m visiting Europe, in particular, Italy.  Venice has many gorgeous little shops selling handcrafted marbled paper, embossed stamps and beautiful pencils and notebooks.  The most common one you will find is Il Papiro, this is a chain with various locations throughout Italy, several within Venice, and even shops in Palm Beach and New York.  But there are a few others to look out for as well.  I really wanted to visit, Legatoria Piazzesi, (Campiello de la Feltrina near Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, San Marco 2511), Italy’s oldest paper shop, which has been making books and paper since 1951.  Unfortunately, it was closed during our stay, and apparently it’s closed a lot from reviews I have found on the internet.  The collages in the window were beautiful and I read somewhere that the artist says that they are portraits of the tourists she sees walking by her shop! I would have loved to buy one, maybe next time (because of course, they will be a next time).

Legatoria Piazzesi, the oldest paper shop in all of Italy...

Legatoria Piazzesi, the oldest paper shop in all of Italy…

Another great paper shop we stumbled upon was Il Pavone, di Pelosin Paolo (Campiello dei Meloni, 1478, San Polo).  This paper store had an incredible assortment of beautifully marbled paper in all sorts of color combinations and patterns, as well as swirls of colors on notebooks, pencils, frames, decorative boxes, stationery and even sheets of wrapping paper! But perhaps the best part of our visit was when the shop owner led my daughter and I to the tiny back room for a quick tour of his workshop where he hand paints every item he sells in this adorable store.  Of course we made a few purchases…

Il Pavone Paper Shop, amazing to watch the shop owner make the marbled paper.

Il Pavone Paper Shop, amazing to watch the shop owner make the marbled paper.

La Ricerca (Ponte delle Ostreghe near Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, San Marco 2431) is another beautiful little paper shop selling leather-bound photo albums, address books, pencil pouches, you name it (by now you’re probably wondering how many of these places did we shop at).  And according to Fodor’s, new products are introduced often so that no two visits to the store are ever the same.

Glass Last but certainly not least, I love all the tiny glass shops in Venice.  No matter which street you turn on you will encounter at least a few on each block, selling various glass items such as these:

Beautiful glass sold all over Venice…

More beautiful glass...

More beautiful glass miniatures..

One store that has some beautiful glass items, and very special hand painted Christmas ornaments is Eredi Giovanni Pagnacco, right off St. Mark’s square, definitely worth a visit.

Beautiful handpainted glass Christmas ornaments...

Beautiful handpainted glass Christmas ornaments…

You can also visit some glass workshops and watch demonstrations if you’re interested. Vecchia Murano Glass Factory, in the heart of Venice, just a few yards from Piazza San Marco, is one of the lagoon’s biggest and most famous artistic glass factories. You can visit the store which sells all types of glass items and some very pretty glass jewelry, and skip the glass making demonstration.

The beautiful glass jewelry available at Vecchia Murano.

The beautiful glass jewelry available at Vecchia Murano.

However, I recommend you visit the island of Murano if you’re looking for a specific piece.  Day trips to Murano and Burano are great if time permits.

Here are a few more photos of our trips for your enjoyment:

One of the many gondola stations.

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The beautiful St. Mark’s Basilica

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Another gondola station with Santa Maria della Salute in the background…

Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, with its unique staircase…

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On the Ponte dell’Accademia

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The beautiful wooden Ponte dell’Accademia, linking Dorsoduro to San Marco.

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Beautiful gondolas

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One of Venice’s many bridges…

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More gondolas…

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Near the Rialto Bridge…

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Photo taken from the water taxi…

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The beautiful clock tower on St. Mark’s Square…

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The Doge’s Palace

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Gondoliers waiting for their next customers…

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Beautiful buildings in San Polo…

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The beautiful Rialto Bridge…

The beautiful Doge's Palace and the pink lamps...

The beautiful Doge’s Palace and the pink lamps…

Enjoying a late evening stroll through St. Mark's while having some gelato...

Enjoying a late evening stroll through St. Mark’s while having some gelato…

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Carolina loving the gondolas…

St. Mark’s Basilica

Us on the sqaure

Hubby and I on St. Mark’s Square…

Have you been to Venice?  I’d love to hear what you enjoyed most…

Stunning Santorini

I fell in love with my favorite place in the world, the island of Santorini in Greece, when I was 14 years old and I watched the movie Summer Lovers.  Right there and then, I decided that this idyllic island would (hopefully) be my honeymoon destination (regardless of where my future husband would want to visit).  Well, 14 years later, my wish came true. When my husband and I were planning our wedding and he suggested Hawaii as a place to honeymoon, I very sweetly suggested the Greek Islands instead, and the rest as they say, is history.  Our honeymoon included a few days in Athens and also in Mykonos (click here for my Mykonos blog post).  Santorini went above and beyond all of my expectations, it is simply breathtaking.  It is so beautiful, that most of the photos and postcards that you will see of Greece, will typically be of Santorini…it is the most photographed of the Greek Islands. And trust me, the postcards don’t do it justice!  Luckily I have had the opportunity to visit Santorini many more times, and I always leave with the feeling that I can’t wait to visit again!

Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece

There are so many things to see and do on this special island that this blog post could go on for days…LOL!  So, I have decided to round-up my Top 5 experiences on all of my visits!

Fira. Fira is the largest town on Santorini, and is also the first town many travelers experience, as Santorini’s ferry and cruise ports are located in Fira.  While most of the pictures you will see are of the town of Oia, I actually prefer to stay in Fira, the island’s capital. Fira also has a thriving night life, something for everyone, clubs, bars, restaurants, and shops stay open past midnight.  Nothing like walking around at 11PM having some gelato, and feeling like it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon, I love places that stay open late when I’m on vacation.  I also find that there is a larger selection of hotels to choose from in Fira, extending to Firostefani and Imerovigli, the two towns immediately north of Fira.  This past summer we stayed at the Adamis Majesty Suites, which we loved, a spacious cave house with a perfect location, and million dollar views!  Fira also boasts great shopping with many boutiques and local designer shops. Make sure to visit some of the gold and jewelry stores, with amazingly beautiful 18 karat gold jewelry, showcasing the very distinctive Greek designs.  Also not to be missed are the delicious restaurants Fira has to offer.  Sphinx and Archipelagos among my favorites, and if you’re looking for amazing gelato and homemade Greek desserts and pastries, make sure to stop in at Zotos Cafe & Bakery, on the main pedestrian path.

A view of Fira

A view of Fira

Delicious homemade Greek pastries at Zotos Cafe

Delicious homemade Greek pastries at Zotos Cafe

A Visit to Oia.  Having said this, the village of Oia, located on the northwestern end of Santorini, is magical. I always like to visit during the day and also in the evenings.  Oia is special (fun fact: the house that the Summer Lovers characters lived in is located in Oia, not Fira).  Oia is a sleepier, quieter version of Fira. Here you’ll find those red cliffs, white windmills, and blue-domed churches from the postcards.  It’s famous for its sunsets and great for honeymooners.  You can find smaller art galleries and many unique shops in Oia. Oia is a short bus ride away from Fira, a must see.

Beautiful Oia

Beautiful Oia

Summer Lovers house...

Summer Lovers house…

Breakfast with a View.  Many of the hotels in Fira and Oia have rooms with a view to the caldera.  There are many other areas in Santorini where you can stay as well, such as Perissa or Kamari, if you prefer to stay near the beach.  But in my humble opinion, there is nothing quite like opening up your window and seeing the beautiful blue waters and the gorgeous views of the caldera and the cliffside town.  Many of the hotels will serve you breakfast on the terrace outside of your room, so you can enjoy these views, while having your meal.  My husband always says that he could spend an entire day just sitting in a café or in one of the hotel balconies, overlooking the caldera and taking in this view. Absolutely magnificent!

Breakfast on our terrace, priceless.

Breakfast on our terrace, priceless.

Dinner at Sunset.  Similar to the views in the morning, Santorini is famous for its gorgeous sunsets.  Fira and Oia both have plenty of cafes and restaurants that advertise their sunsets. Many people flock to the old Kasteli (Castle) of Agios Nikolaos in Oia, which has become the most desired spot for sunset watching.  It can also get pretty crowded, so get there early to claim a spot.  You can also catch the sunset with no obstructions, by walking the northwest end of the village above the steps leading down to Amoudi and find a place to park yourself.   While most folks prefer to watch the sunset in Oia, I have also seen the sunsets in Fira, and they are just as amazing. And watching the sunset while enjoying your dinner with a glass of wine is an experience all on its own!

Our daughter taking in the view...

Our daughter taking in the view…

The beautiful sunset...

The beautiful sunset…

The crowds forming to watch the sunset...

The crowds forming to watch the sunset…

Blue Domes Everywhere.  And then of course…there are the numerous, beautiful, blue domed churches that the island is famously known for.  Almost everywhere you look, in every town throughout the island you can’t miss these brilliant, blue domes!  Most of these churches are open during the day, stop in and take a look, they are just as beautiful inside as well.  One of my favorites is the Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in the center of Fira.

Dome Collage

The many domes of Santorini!

Some more fun things to do while visiting Santorini:

  • Visit Akrotiri, the ancient and fascinating archaeological site.
  • Spend a day at one of the beaches, Perissa and Red Beach are my favorites.
  • Take a donkey ride or cable car from the port up to town.
  • Rent a scooter or ATV and spend the day cruising the island.
  • Relax with a kissing fish spa pedicure (yes folks I tried this and actually liked it).
  • Visit one of the island’s wineries, Boutari is my favorite.
  • Visit the traditional village of Megalochori.
  • Visit the Argyros Mansion in the town of Messaria.
  • Take a boat ride out to the volcano, Santorini should be viewed from the water.
  • And for those of you traveling with small kids, you can always spend an afternoon at the Perissa Water Park, although it’s just a very large pool with a few water slides!

Here are a few more photos for your enjoyment:

Our hotel this year...Adamis Majesty Suites, perfect location!

Our hotel this year…Adamis Majesty Suites, perfect location!

The largest church of Santorini, the Orthodox Cathedral located at the center of Fira.

The largest church in Santorini, the Orthodox Cathedral located at the center of Fira.

Hubby and daughter taking off on their ATV adventure!

Hubby and daughter taking off on their ATV adventure!

One of their stops...Red Beach!

One of their stops…Red Beach!

Beautiful shop in Oia.

Beautiful shop in Oia.

More of Oia...

Oia…

Fira at midnight...

Fira at midnight…

Bell Tower

Bell Tower

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More of Oia

The colorful ceramics sold on the island, hard to choose...

The colorful ceramics sold on the island, hard to choose…but of course I purchased a few…

Strolling through Fira

Strolling through Fira

Is Santorini on your travel bucket list?  If it’s not, it should be.  Have you visited this gorgeous island, I would love to know what you thought of it…

My Signature

Magical Mijas

Mijas is renowned as one of the most beautiful pueblos blancos (white towns) in the Andalusian province. Situated between Marbella and Málaga and high up above Fuengirola, Mijas is a beautiful picturesque typical Spanish village. When you wander through the narrow streets of Mijas you can understand what attracts people here. Despite its huge popularity with tourists, Mijas Pueblo has somehow managed to retain much of its traditional Andalusian way of life, along with all of its charm.

What a view!

What a view!

From the moment you arrive at the main plaza, Plaza de la Virgen de la Peña, across from the tourism office, you will immediately notice the donkey taxi station. Also available are donkey pulled carts and horse carriages. Needless to say, our daughter wanted to ride one of the donkeys. But you see, it’s not truly a ride, but rather a tour through some of the town’s streets, except you’re taking the tour on a donkey ride. And the worst part was, that my husband and I had no interest in riding these donkeys, so we had to put our trust in two American, sweet ladies that were going along with our daughter. Now for those of you that know me, being the most overprotective mother on Earth, this was a tough pill for me to swallow….but, hubby decided that it would be alright. And it was, our daughter had a delightful tour of Mijas riding a donkey, being guided by a total stranger, who assured me this was safe (I’ve noticed that I allow myself and my family to experience things on vacation that I would never try here at home in a million years!)

Donkey Taxi Ride

Donkey Taxi Ride

One of my favorite sites in Mijas was the Santuario de la Virgen de la Peña, (sanctuary of the Virgin of the Rock) built in 1586, a cross between a cave and a chapel carved out of the mountainside, dedicated to the patron saint of Mijas. Legend has it that the image was buried there for five centuries and unearthed by a builder whose children, who were shepherds, were brought to the spot by a dove. Nearby the chapel, lies the Mirador El Compás, viewpoint and terrace, offering phenomenal panoramic views across the Costa that form the backdrop to the shrine.

Santuario dela Virgen de la Peña

Santuario de la Virgen de la Peña

Inside of the shrine

Inside of the shrine

Mirador El Compás, viewpoint and terrace

Mirador El Compás, viewpoint and terrace.

La Plaza de la Constitución, situated in the heart of the village, is lined with artisanal shops, full of ceramics and souvenirs, as well as some cafes and bars. One of the shops we visited was Mayan Monkey Mijas (Plaza de la Constitución 421, but they recently opened another location at 15 Plaza Virgén de la Peña), the smallest chocolate factory in the world. This shop sells handmade chocolate and delicious ice cream produced in their very own factory in Mijas. We sampled a few pieces and they were mouth-watering. If you have time, they also give tours of the factory and allow you to create your own chocolate flavors. A great activity for both kids and adults. Definitely a place to checkout if you’re in the area.

La Plaza de la Constitución

La Plaza de la Constitución

Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory on Plaza de la Constitución

Another great spot in town is Plaza de la Libertad, where you can find San Sebastián Church, a beautiful 17th century church, located on the street of the same name, Calle San Sebastián. This street has become one of the most photographed streets on the Costa del Sol, as visitors find both the church and the typical street so pretty.

San Sebastian Church on Plaza de la Libertad

San Sebastián Church on Plaza de la Libertad

Inside of San Sebastián Church

Mijas offers many shops selling beautiful and authentic Spanish souvenirs, but my favorite shop was Lo Artesano de Mijas (Plaza Libertad, 3). This tiny store had the most beautiful ceramic pottery and plates, and of course I had to add a few pieces to my collection back home.

Lo Artesano de Mijas on Plaza de la Libertad

Here are a few more photos of magical Mijas for your enjoyment.

 

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Another quaint plaza

 

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Carromato de Max, the miniatures museum , we didn’t stop in but this made for a great photo!

 

Typical Spanish souvenirs.

Typical Spanish souvenirs.

 

Calle San Sebastián

 

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Enjoying the donkey tour.

 

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Typical shop selling souvenirs.

 

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Ayuntamiento de Mijas (Town Hall)

 

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Another typical storefront.

Have you visited Mijas, and if you have, what was your favorite spot in this tiny, magical white washed town?

Ravishing Ravello

On one of our many trips to Italy, a few years back, we discovered Ravello.  What makes Ravello so remarkable is its height, Ravello sits very high above sea level and therefore benefits from the most phenomenal Mediterranean views.  It has beautiful gardens, elegant villas, and hosts the famous Wagner Arts Music Festival every year.  There are so many restaurants to enjoy, luscious gardens to explore, and walks or hikes that take you to discover Ravello’s pathways and trails.  In 1996, Ravello was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ravello's Main Square

Ravello’s Main Square

This amazing, little gem can be seen in one day, but I recommend to take several days to really enjoy it.  As with most of these gorgeous seaside Italian towns, there is so much to see and do, but here are my top 5 favorite attractions and activities if you’re spending a day in Ravello:

A visit to the Villa Cimbrone Gardens
Villa Cimbrone occupies the most breathtaking position on the entire Amalfi Coast, perched high above the sea.  The gardens are what most people visit for, with its many statues, temples, fountains, natural grottos and of course, the spectacular Belvedere of Infinity from which the view sweeps wide to take in a panorama of the coast.  The villa was actually converted into a hotel and is considered by many one of the most beautiful gardens in Italy.  But even if you’re not a hotel guest, the grounds are open to the public for a small fee.

Cimbrone

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Strolling the Villa Rufolo Gardens
A 14th century tower marks the entrance to this villa, famed for its beautiful cascading gardens. The historic villa located right in the center of Ravello, is one of the most popular travel destinations in Campania. The gardens are truly magnificent, commanding panoramic views packed with exotic colors.   It is said that the German composer Richard Wagner was so struck by the beauty of the Villa Rufolo gardens during his visit in 1880 that he used them as the inspiration for the magical garden of Klingsor in his opera Parsifal. Following the pretty pathways through the gardens leads you to the famous Belvedere overlooking the coast. Enjoy the colorful flowers and stunning views looking down the coastline toward the seaside towns of Minori and Maiori. If you visit during the summer months, you’ll find a large stage constructed on the Belvedere where the main concerts of the Ravello Festival take place.  Definitely something to experience!

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Ravello Music Festival

Ravello Music Festival Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Limoncello
This part of Italy is famous for its lemons, which are very juicy and smell fabulous.  Although lemons are used to make the sweet but tangy liquor all over the Amalfi Coast, Ravello is known for some of the best in the area.  I always enjoy a glass of  limoncello, because I really love the taste, traditionally served as a cold after dinner drink.  I even like the creamy version a bit more.  I’ve never had a chance to visit the factory, but f you have the time, you can experience how it’s made and enjoy a nice tasting at the Limoncello Factory (Via Trinità, 37).

Walk the center of town
This town is very charming, but can get quite hot in the summer months.  Make sure you stop for a quick snack or a delicious cool gelato while you’re strolling around and taking in the scenery. There are many good restaurants and gelato places throughout the center of town.  You’ll also love admiring the beautiful rustic architecture of Ravello by following its quiet streets of colored stucco houses, lemon groves and wrought iron gates.

Ceramics, ceramics and more ceramics
While beautiful ceramics can be found all along the Amalfi Coast towns, what initially brought us to Ravello, was a recommendation of a ceramics shop by a dear friend. Knowing that I love ceramics, and that I pick up new pieces on every trip, he suggested we visit Ceramiche Cosmolena di Margherita Di Palma (Via della Marra 15/19).  Of course, hubby was a bit afraid of this visit, with good reason.  Margherita can sell ice to an Eskimo.  After my first visit there in 1999,  she somehow convinced me that I needed to make some purchases and I left with an entire 8 place setting of gorgeous ceramic dinnerware (shipped to our home of course).  Did I need it…no, but boy is it beautiful and we use it to this day!  As if that weren’t enough, we returned for one additional piece on our 2009 visit, and of course, I left with quite a few more pieces to my set.  She is charming, but beware, she is a great salesperson and will convince you of buying her entire shop. But in her defense, her ceramics and linens are breathtaking!  The store displays autographed photos of various Hollywood celebrities with Margherita up on the wall, also prior customers.  Ceramiche offers an unbeatable stunning selection of pottery and ceramics that can be shipped to any place throughout the world.  Stop in a take a peek!

The beautiful patterns on my dinnerware!

The beautiful patterns on my dinnerware!

More beautiful ceramics

Ceramiche Cosmolena

The one thing I would love to experience on my next visit to Ravello is a cooking class with Mamma Agata. She has cooked all her life and now runs a cooking school out of her home in Ravello, which is quite well-known. She has even cooked for a number of celebrities and has a fantastic cookbook for sale. I found Mama Agata’s recipe for limoncello on a wonderful blog called The Italian Dish, which is loaded with wonderful Italian recipes.  Click here for Mamma Agata’s limoncello recipe.

Have you been to Ravello, and if you have, what have you enjoyed most about it?

The Island Cow

Whenever we’re visiting a new place, we like to try unusual or local restaurants. Every time we visit Sanibel Island, we make it a point to eat at The Island Cow. We like everything about this casual, beachy, cow-themed (hence the name) eatery. My husband always says this place makes him feel happy!

Fun for kids outside!

Fun for kids outside!

This quirky family restaurant has a fun vibe, with its cow decorations, funny signs, and claims that the food is “udderly great”. I especially LOVE this sign:

The menu here can only be described as extensive with items such as Seafood Fajitas, Steak and Cake (NY strip steak and their famous crab cakes), Moolicious Meatloaf, and Po’ boys. Let’s not forget the extensive breakfast menu, and the appetizers, soups, salads and desserts! We love to start with the basket of muffins they put on your table. They are really yummy, but don’t overdo it, you want to make sure you have room for the main dish.

Yummy muffins!

Yummy muffins!

For my main meal, I had the Islander’s Crab Cakes (I always order this), and hubby chose the “Fish’in Rules”, pick a fish from one of three groups:

Then choose how you want it prepared, however you want from broiled to barbequed, and then pick sides like cheese grits, island yellow rice or hush puppies. Whatever you eat, make sure you leave room for their famous Key Lime Pie, one of the best I’ve eaten in Florida!

Delicious Key Lime Pie!

Delicious Key Lime Pie!

The Island Cow is right in the middle of Sanibel on Periwinkle Way. Be prepared to wait a bit for a table, the place is usually quite busy, especially during the high season. However, the service is pretty good and fast, and if you get tired of waiting, there are plenty of games, activities and photo-taking opportunities available while you pass the time.

Here are a few more photos of this cute little place:

The Island Cow

The Island Cow

Colorful Adirondack Chairs outside

Restaurant Interior

Restaurant Interior Photo Courtesy of The Island Cow

More colorful chairs…

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The Island Cow
2163 Periwinkle Way
Sanibel Island, FL 33957

http://www.SanibelIslandCow.com

Have you ever been to The Island Cow…and if you have, what has been your favorite dish?