A Family Holiday in Menorca

menorca-family-guide

 

For our last trip of the summer we spent an amazing few days in Menorca, the smallest of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain.  We booked this trip way back in February mainly because we found crazy cheap tickets on Easyjet, but also because we LOVE Spain and had heard good things about this small, wild island that’s more chilled out than it’s livelier, more famous neighbors, Ibiza and Mallorca.  It wound up being the perfect laid back place to end the summer.

Here’s our guide for where to stay, what to see and do, what to eat, and where to shop to have a perfect holiday on this gorgeous island.

Where to Stay

We stumbled upon the charming agriturismo, Turmaden des Capita, and it was a fantastic find.  With only 6 rooms, Turmaden is a working farm and also a labor of love for the owners Rafel and Marta.  From the moment we arrived, we felt incredibly welcome and they really made us feel at home.  They have recently renovated this past spring and they still have a few minor things they are working on, but by next season this place will be incredible.  From the relaxing pool, suite with gorgeous hillside views, honesty bar, and artistic touches, it was a perfect base for a relaxing few days on the island.  Turmaden is centrally located, about 10 minutes from the nearest beach, and we really liked the ease of getting to places in any direction since the island is so small.

img_1861

img_2181

What to Eat

We loved the typical Menorcan treat known as ensaimadas.  A light, airy pastry that can be sweet or savory and dusted with powdered sugar or filled with various options (the custard creme was delicious!).  We had a few of these over the course of the week, but the best were not surprisingly from the little pastelería called “La Mejor” in Mahon.

img_1814

Another great find was this tiny little cafe in Mahon called Pipet and Co.  It was adorable and the menu was eclectic and healthy.  We had a delicious lunch of chilled green apple soup, tasty salad, an amazing salmon burger, and pasta for the kids.  The cheesecake and carrot cake also looked incredible.  What was even better was the fact that we sat outside in a square with a playground…so of course despite the fact that it was boiling hot, the kids had to have a quick play before their food came!

img_1956

And finally, you can’t go to Spain without having paella…we particularly enjoyed the one at Binimel-la Beach Restaurant after a morning spent at the stunning Cala Pregonda.  Of course it tasted even better washed down with a jug of cava sangria!  Jonah loved the paella and Mason was thrilled that we finally found a restaurant with chicken nuggets for him.  Everyone was happy!

img_2023

What to Do

We loved Menorca for its perfect mix of stunning beaches and charming towns-definitely something for everyone and plenty to see despite the fact that the island is tiny.  We had five full days there and found it to be a perfect length of time.

Beaches

As for beaches you can take your pick-busy white sand resorts with all the offerings, tiny remote coves known as calas, or something in between.  For our first day we wanted something easy to access, but not very big or crowded.  Rafel recommended the tiny fishing village of Es Grau since it was nice for families…this horseshoe shaped cove is shallow far out into the water and very calm, making it a perfect place for the little ones.  There’s also parking right next to the beach (go before 11 and you should find a spot easily) and fun pedal boat and kayak rentals available.

img_1954

img_2405

The next day we went to what was for sure my favorite beach, Cala Pregonda.  Like most good things, it didn’t come super easily as it was about a 30 minute hike to get there, but so worth it!  The red earth and rocks on the way out there felt like you could be on Mars…and once you arrive, the soft golden sand and pinkish orange rocks out in the crystal clear water are just a breathtaking scene.  I’ve never seen a beach quite like this one.

img_2003

There is absolutely nothing out here in terms of amenities, so plan accordingly.  There is, however, a restaurant at the neighboring Binimel-la Beach I mentioned above, where you park your car to access Pregonda.  One thing to note is that on most of these beaches there are some topless women and even some naturists enjoying the beach totally in the buff…if this makes you super uncomfortable, you might not like the beaches of Spain!  But as our tour guide on a boat trip we took said “usually they don’t attack”😉  and it’s not really too big of a deal.  I’m pretty sure our kids didn’t even notice!

img_1999

Since we were already on the northern coast, we decided to venture out to the Cavelleria lighthouse.  Gorgeous views, a little cafe, and the kids’ favorite-a cave you could walk into with ocean views at the end.  Definitely a nice stop if you’re in the area.

And just 5 minutes from the lighthouse was another wild and lovely beach that we couldn’t pass up, the Platja Cavelleria.  Only about a 5 minute walk from the car park.  Also beautiful!

img_2069

On our last day we didn’t fly out until 9 pm, so we had a full day to visit another beach.  We wanted something easy, with chairs, parking, and restaurants so we opted for the resort beach of Son Bou.  It was crowded and disappointing at first after the more wild and secluded beaches we had visited, but the trade off of all the amenities and a chair for Mason to take a nap on totally made up for it that day.  Plus the beach itself was stunning.  Crystal clear turquoise water and a wide, white sand beach that felt just like we were in the Caribbean!  We rented one of those fun slide pedal boats again and had a great time splashing around in the Mediterranean Sea.

Towns

We adored the charming little towns of Menorca and were really pleasantly surprised by them!  We had a super early flight on the day we arrived so we couldn’t check in until the afternoon.  Since it’s only about a 45 minute drive from one end of the island to the other, we dropped off our bags at Turmaden and then headed to the historic port town, Ciutadella.

img_1848

Even in our bleary eyed travel stupor, we adored this town and had fun wandering through the charming old town.  There were lots of cute little shops and restaurants and before we knew it, we had passed into the afternoon and it was time to go check into our accommodation.  And then we spotted a random drum line giving a concert and marching through the streets.  Still not sure what that was about, but it was fun!

One of the afternoons, we drove to the town of Mahón (Mao) to have some lunch and check it out.  We had heard that Ciutadella is a lot nicer, so we didn’t expect much…but it was really cute!  We found that great restaurant, Pipet and Co., for lunch and picked up some ensaimadas for later.  And found lots of beautiful streets and alleys along the way!

We stayed very close to the town of Es Mercadal so we had dinner there a couple of nights.  Another small, but charming town to enjoy for sure!  A nice playground, shops, restaurants, and bars…perfect for dinner and a wander.

As you can see, I love these banners!

img_2412

Activities

We took a boat tour with the highly recommended Menorca en Barco one afternoon and really enjoyed it.  We got to see some of the most popular (and packed) beaches of the island and then got to visit a couple of more secluded ones and snorkel.  I was so excited that Jonah was finally able to snorkel with us…and he loved it!  One of the highlights of the trip, without a doubt.

img_2179

img_2180

Another one of my favorite activities was driving up the tallest mountain on the island, Monte Toro to watch the sunset.  Just stunning views in every direction.  There’s a little restaurant up at the top, but it closes before the sun sets so we weren’t able to grab a drink as we had planned.  I’d recommend taking up a picnic and a bottle of wine and enjoying the views!

img_1944

What to Buy

I knew before we went that I wanted to buy a pair of sandals called avarcas.  They are hand made leather sandals made in Menorca and in both Ciutadella and Mahon there were tons of shops selling nothing but rows and rows of them.  After much debate, I decided on a brand and a color and went home, super happy with my 25 Euro purchase.  Then this past week, I just happened to see a couple of photos on Instagram of the same shoes…went to the online shop selling them in the US and was blown away by the $85 USD price tag.  The.same.exact.shoes!  Even happier with my purchase now.  :)

img_2464

Gin is quite popular on the island if you’re into that.  There is a local distillery, which we didn’t try but we did bring back a bottle of Gin Mare-a fantastic Spanish gin that we randomly got turned on to in Norway.  And finally, we brought back a bottle of delicious organic wine that we enjoyed at the farm stay and that will bring back many happy memories of blue skies and sandy beaches and an absolutely wonderful trip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family Camping in the Bernese Oberland

img_1537

This summer we finally tackled something we I have been wanting to do for a while now…a family camping trip!  My husband loves to hike, but does not relish the idea of sleeping out in nature…however, he was a trooper and wound up having a great time.  We went with another family, which made it even more fun and the kids were soooo excited!

Earlier in the summer we had hiked at the gorgeous Oeschinen Lake and loved it.  We knew our friends needed to see this beautiful place so we stayed at a great little campsite they found in Kandersteg, right at the bottom of the cable car station.  Since we had already been to Oeschinensee, we decided to take a different, nearby cable car and hike there instead.

img_1441

img_1440

We drove to the Sunnbuel cable car and made our way up on a chilly, cloudy morning, but lucky for us about 15 minutes into the hike, the sun came out and the skies cleared for some beautiful views.  We did the Arveenseli hike, which is an easy 2 hour loop with not too much uphill-perfect for kiddos.  The hike goes by 3 small lakes and a farm where you can stop for a drink or to buy some cheese (which we did and it was great!).

 

The hike wound up taking a while with our farm stop, photo stops, and little legs keeping up, but it was fun!  And so picturesque.

After taking the cable car back down the mountain, the kids were beyond excited to meet up with their friends and get the camping party started!  After some stressful tent assembly, we were all set and ready for dinner on the grill and s’mores.

img_1538

img_1532

So funny that the boys had their first s’mores experience in Switzerland!😉

Camping was a big success and we were so happy to go with friends and have some grown up conversations after the kids went to bed…unfortunately it wasn’t around the campfire since campfires weren’t allowed (and it got CHILLY!) but still fun nonetheless.

We woke early (of course) and decided to spend the morning at Blausee, a nearby lake that is a big attraction because of it’s stunning blue color.  After reading about it I was afraid it might be a little touristy, but we really had such a peaceful, enjoyable morning here.  It helped that we arrived early, before the crowds and tour buses.  There are plenty of walking paths in this big forest park, a playground, picnic tables, and grills, but the main draw of course is the beautiful lake.  The water was so incredibly blue and is sourced from subterranean springs.  There is a free boat ride that takes you for a spin around the lake while providing information about the lake and surroundings.  If you’re in the area, I’d definitely recommend making a stop here.  We also had lunch at the family friendly pizza restaurant off the lake parking lot and it was surprisingly good!

img_1539

img_1562

Now that we’ve had our first successful family camping trip, I think we’re hooked.  Time to plan the next one!

 

 

 

 

A Very Swiss Weekend in Zermatt

IMG_1111

We have been wanting to go to Zermatt since we first moved here, but every time I looked last summer the weather wasn’t great.  We decided to finally bite the bullet (come rain or shine…or something in between😉 ) and spend the weekend of Swiss National Day in the most iconic of Swiss places.

Since the trains here can be crazy expensive, we drove to Tasch and parked our car there, then took the 12 minute shuttle ride up to Zermatt.  We arrived at our hotel, the Romantik Hotel Julen, and got our first glimpse of the Matterhorn from our corner balcony.  Magnificent.

IMG_1121

There is definitely some magnetic draw to this majestic mountain…maybe it’s because it’s this one lone peak towering above all the others, or it’s pyramid shape, who knows but we couldn’t get enough of it!

IMG_1124

After getting checked in and settled at our super cute hotel (very cozy chalet vibe), we headed out for a late lunch in the village.  We ate at the Brown Cow Pub, which definitely had a fun atmosphere and was a laid back place for a casual lunch.  After lunch we wanted to go up one of the cable cars for an easy hike, but unfortunately it started to rain.  The showers were passing though so we just explored the village a bit instead.  At one point we were walking down the street only to see a herd of goats passing in the other direction.  They were heading home from their day in the mountains.  So cool!

IMG_1138

Since the weather wasn’t improving much, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the hotel pool much to the boys’ delight.  We were also excited to find a complimentary bottle of Prosecco waiting for us in our room when we returned.  So nice!

IMG_1139

The next morning we were bummed to wake up to total fog with not even a glimpse of the mountains.  We were at least able to enjoy a long, leisurely, and delicious breakfast before deciding to hope for the best and head up the Sunnegga funicular.  Rick Steves recommends this as the cheapest way to get a great view of the Matterhorn, but unfortunately when we got to the top it was nothing but fog!

IMG_1144

Luckily, there was a nice playground where we hung out for about an hour and then we went to the nearby restaurant for coffees and hot chocolates to warm up.  We sat around willing the clouds to lift so we could catch a glimpse of the Matterhorn and finally they did just a bit.  We went for a short hike around and we were able to see some beautiful views of the mountains and glaciers surrounding us.

IMG_1163

It’s juuuust behind those clouds!

IMG_1205

We knew blowing those clouds away would help!😉

After our mountain exploring, we went back down the funicular and walked around the old part of Zermatt.  We enjoyed a taco lunch at Gees Bar and then we tried to go for a hike down from the cable car station of Furi, but it started to rain so after a quick walk around, we headed back down.  Back to the hotel to swim and rest and then later a pizza dinner to end the day.

IMG_1234

Almost clear heading up to Furi, but then the rain came!

On Monday we woke up to another cloudy day, but we weren’t going to let it stop us because it was Swiss National Day!

IMG_1239

The forecast called for the skies to get a bit clearer towards mid-day and through the afternoon so we took our chances and headed up to the top of the mountains on the Gornergrat train.

IMG_1243

Getting sunny, but the Matterhorn is hiding again!

IMG_1248

On our way up Jonah was excited to spot the cute, fluffy black-faced sheep that we had been on the lookout for all weekend.  The owners of our hotel have a large flock but since the sheep wander they never know exactly where they’re at.  Turns out they were up pretty high enjoying the views.  The hotel does lead a hike up to visit the flock on Wednesdays- too bad we weren’t staying until then!

When we got up to the top we couldn’t see the Matterhorn at all and maybe because of the weather or the holiday, the famous St. Bernard dogs weren’t there either.  But the views in the opposite direction made it all worthwhile!  Mountains, glaciers, and even a glacial lake.  Just incredible.

IMG_1256

IMG_1255

As we started the hike from the top down to Rifelsee, the skies cleared some and we were even able to see a bit of the Matterhorn.  The hike felt otherworldly at times and Jonah did a great job making the trek down.

IMG_1262

The clouds didn’t clear by the time we got to Rifelsee, but we could at least make out the mountain behind it.  Such an incredible place.

IMG_1309

We took the longer way down to Riffelberg for some more stunning views and then caught the train back down into Zermatt.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Switzerland than to spend a day hiking in this incredible example of Switzerland at its finest.

IMG_1361

It was such a fun day and that night we had big plans to hit the street festival and watch the fireworks for Swiss National Day.  The main street was packed, but it was lots of fun and a very festive atmosphere.  Tons of food, drinks, and music-it was a great place to spend a couple of hours before the fireworks.

By the time it got dark, it was really chilly and the boys were getting tired so we made the executive decision to watch the fireworks from the balcony of our hotel room.  It was an excellent decision because the view was amazing, we stayed snuggly warm under the blankets, and Mason asked to go to bed right before the grand finale.  But it was so special watching the boys see their first fireworks show in such a special place.  Memories that will last a lifetime, for sure!

The next morning we had one last hearty Swiss breakfast and the Matterhorn came out in all her glory so we were able to get one last breathtaking view.

IMG_1424

Also on a side note, my husband has been eating Toblerone all his life but only just realized the Matterhorn is the mountain pictured on this famous chocolate.  I think it was all the Asian tourists taking this photo that finally made it click…😉

IMG_1421

Aha!  Live and learn.  :)  Well, chocolate or not, we fell hard for the Matterhorn and hope to be lucky enough to return again someday!

 

Siena, Florence, and Cooking in Tuscany

We saved the bigger cities of Tuscany for the end of the week and on Thursday with cooler temps we headed to Siena for a day of sightseeing.  We stopped along the way in the ancient walled village of Monteriggioni for a quick walk around and a morning gelato to boost morale and give the kids enough of  a sugar high to sustain lots of walking!

IMG_0584

IMG_0580IMG_0591

IMG_0661

Next stop: Siena!  We arrived late morning and after finding parking easily we were impressed with all the escalators up to the city so we didn’t have to climb the steep hills.  Much appreciated with the kiddos in tow!

IMG_0592

Our first stop was to the beautiful Duomo.  We wanted to do the full tour that included the rooftop, but it was timed entry and the next one wasn’t until 4:30.  We definitely didn’t want to stick around that long so we did the church and the Facciatone, an arch with an amazing view of the church, the town, and the surrounding countryside.

The inside of the Duomo is even more impressive than the outside.  We especially enjoyed the library with its beautifully frescoed ceiling and displays of pages from ancient books.

It was a long wait to get into the Facciatone to see the view simply because they can only allow people to go up in small groups since it is a small space at the top and the VERY narrow spiral staircases are only wide enough for one way traffic.  But the wait was definitely worth it for these breathtaking views.

IMG_0662

Such beauty in all directions!

After lunch, we walked through the Piazza del Campo and then made our way to a late lunch of pizza with a view.

Wandering the pretty streets…

Lunch at Il Pomodorino was a bit off the beaten path, but once we found it we were thrilled at the gorgeous view and the pizza was fantastic.

IMG_0664

After our late lunch, it was time to head back to the villa for a swim and that evening we were lucky to enjoy a delicious Tuscan buffet prepared at the villa.  The smells wafting from the kitchen all afternoon were mouth-watering and we all thoroughly enjoyed a lovely and delicious evening around the pool.

Overnight on Thursday a cold front rolled through and we woke to a surprisingly chilly, gloomy morning.  But lucky for us that was the morning we had planned to attend our Tuscan cooking class at Al Ghelso Bianco.  Two of our friends had taken this class along with their families and really enjoyed it, so we knew we needed to experience it while we were in Tuscany.

IMG_0669

IMG_0745

Since it was busy season we were signed up for the class with another family who wound up being so fun to share the experience with.  Turns out they were from Montreal, but they had lived in Geneva for a few years and their teenage children were born there.  Small world!  It was great because during the cooking class there was a short break while the food was cooking and the older kids entertained our younger kids at the playground while the grown ups enjoyed some wine tasting.  Perfect!

IMG_0734

The class was so much fun and really one of the highlights of our trip.  We would have loved to stay at Al Ghelso Bianco, but they were fully booked way back in February when I was planning our trip!  Maybe next time?!

IMG_0728

Unfortunately the weather didn’t warm up enough to swim during our last day at La Certaldina, but we enjoyed just driving through the Tuscan countryside and lounging around the villa with our friends while the kids played.  We enjoyed one last Tuscan dinner and sunset before hitting the road the next day for Florence.

IMG_0741

IMG_0749

We were a little nervous to visit Florence on a Saturday in August, but it made the most sense since it was on our way home and not far from our overnight stop of Parma.  So we got up and out by 8:30 am and found a great parking spot with no hassle.  Our friends came with us for a quick stroll and a morning coffee on the Piazza della  Repubblica.  They had already been to Florence and had plans to see some things that were new to them for the rest of the day, but it was fun exploring together for a bit and the kids had a blast as usual.

IMG_0759 Morning stroll across the Ponte Vecchio. 

Outside of the Uffizi Galleries.  Lines were way too long to think about going in, but pretty from the outside!

IMG_0930

Can’t pass up a carousel, especially such a famous one!

Outside of the beautiful duomo, by far the most crowded place in Florence.  

Playground break in a local neighborhood before another pizza lunch.  

IMG_0866

Loved the beautiful Piazza Santa Croce…

IMG_0931

So much that we were jumping for joy!  

IMG_0881

Another vantage point of the famous Ponte Vecchio.

We have to go up all these stairs?!  Worth it for these views though!  

We brought the hiking pack instead of the stroller because we were worried about crowds and cobblestone streets…I have to say all day we regretted not bringing the stroller…the only time the hiking pack came in handy was on the walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo.  Would have been possible with a stroller but definitely easier without!

IMG_0921

And that’s a wrap! Amazing and exhausted!  Florence was certainly crowded, but actually not as bad as I expected.  I have a bit of a crowd phobia and only got that claustrophobic, ‘we have to get out of here’ feeling outside of the duomo.  Everywhere else was pretty manageable and really enjoyable exploring some of the emptier side streets.

IMG_0990

That night we randomly booked a hotel in Parma and without knowing it, our friends booked a room in the same hotel right next door to us.  So perfect that we got one bonus night together.  We really liked Parma and had a great dinner at La Duchessa.  It was a fabulous end to a fabulous trip.  Tuscany was absolutely wonderful, but even better was getting to spend a whole week with our friends that we miss so much!  To the Lawlors-thank you for a great time…we are ready to plan our next adventure together!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Towns of Tuscany

IMG_0499

San Gimignano

Monday we woke up to a super hot day so we decided to get an earlier start and hit the town of San Gimignano.  This town is famous for its medieval “skyscrapers,” essentially tall towers that wealthy families erected to show off their wealth and outdo one another back in the day.  We could see the towers from the window of our apartment, so we needed to go explore for a closer look!

IMG_0500

It was hot and a bit crowded, but after an ice cream stop we were all revived and ready to go.  The town had some cute shops and a market to explore and lots of nice look-out spots.

IMG_0960

IMG_0373

IMG_0379

IMG_0385

We had a decent lunch on the square because everyplace was crowded and this place we found was empty and had a/c…and while the food wasn’t really anything that special, this view certainly was!

IMG_0392

We picked up some souvenirs on our way out and then headed back to spend the afternoon cooling off in the pool!

IMG_0405

Chianti Region

IMG_0412

On Tuesday we were ready to sample some of those famous Tuscan wines so we booked a private morning tour and tasting at Casa Sola winery in Barberino Val d’Elsa.  The tour was so informative and our guide was extremely knowledgable (and also quite accommodating with our kids in tow!) and the wines were just delicious.  We had such a fun time and bought some wine to bring home with us…we opened a bottle recently and I think it tastes even better because of the happy memories!  ;)

IMG_1641

IMG_0416

Quick bocci ball game at the winery before heading on to explore more of Chianti.  We stopped in Panzano, Greve in Chianti, and Badia A Passignano for a couple more tastings, lunch, and just to wander a bit.

IMG_0422IMG_0498

Then it was back to the villa for some swim time and a bbq while admiring another beautiful Tuscan sunset.

IMG_0512

IMG_0491

Certaldo

IMG_0519

On Wednesday we spent the day at the pool because we had big evening plans to hit up the artisan festival called Mercantia in the medieval town of Certaldo.  We met up with some friends of our friends who also happened to be in Tuscany for the week and took the funicular up to the ancient walled town.  We had made dinner reservations at 7 and since the festival started at 8, we planned to just walk around after dinner.

IMG_0538

IMG_0534

IMG_0522

IMG_0535

Dinner was great and the views were just gorgeous.  We weren’t really sure what to expect from the festival, but it was basically an artisan market with music, theater performances, and artisans selling and demonstrating their crafts.  It was so well done and we were lucky that we happened to be in town for it!

IMG_0545

IMG_0569

IMG_0571

We made our way to the funicular around 10:30 and the kids were just beat.  We definitely could tell that we were on Italian time though as we got to the bottom of the funicular and saw a huge line of people waiting to go up…the party was just getting started!  Even the playground on the walk to the car was packed with little kids and families.  Ours hung as long as they could though and we were able to have a lovely evening!

 

 

 

 

 

A Week Under the Tuscan Sun

IMG_0357

Sometimes when a place is super well known or popular, I worry that it might not live up to the hype in real life.  No need to fear when it comes to Tuscany…I’m happy to report that it really IS that beautiful and amazing and wonderful!  We spent a week under the Tuscan sun and what made it even more perfect was that our dear friends from Prague joined us for the week and we could not have had a better time.

IMG_0330

IMG_0334

We stayed at La Certaldina, an agroturismo with eight apartments in total, in between Florence and Siena.  The villa was nice with great views of vineyards, olive trees that they use to make their own olive oil, and a big pool that we spent lots of time enjoying.

The kids took about 30 seconds to reconnect and then proceeded to spend the rest of the week having a blast together without even a single fight.  We loved it because they entertained one another and the grown ups had time to visit and even get a bit of r & r.  Friend vacations for the win!

IMG_0502

Our week was a good mix of exploring towns and villages and hanging by the pool.  On Sunday we spent a low key day by the pool and then went into the tiny village of Barberino Val d’Elsa to have a walk around before we enjoyed a lovely dinner in the countryside.

IMG_0975

IMG_0355

IMG_0372

IMG_0980

IMG_0982

IMG_1038

Barberino Val d’Elsa was one of the tinier towns in the area, but it was just so charming.  We loved walking the cobbled streets and seeing beauty around every corner.  With all this beauty everywhere you turn, it seems pretty impossible not to have a good time!

A traditional Tuscan dinner and a breathtaking sunset and we knew we were in for a great week ahead.

IMG_0369

IMG_0984