Our month in Provence, France (May, 2022 – month 5 of 6)

(To see more photos and highlights of our trip, please visit our Instagram account: @sylsteveeurope.)

In the beautiful garden of Château Val Joanis

Steve laughs because almost every place we have been to so far during our 6 month journey, I will at some point say: “Gosh, I would really love to live here”, and we glance at property listings in local real estate windows and daydream about making a move.

But we truly fell in love with Provence.

Our front yard in Provence (VRBO).

I always imagined Provence to be a bucolic setting with rolling hills of farmland; quaint medieval villages with sun-dappled cobblestone streets and bleached stone houses covered in flowered vines; farmer’s markets with fresh produce and delicious food; warm weather and blue sunny skies; quiet, country roads for cycling; with people either in floral print dresses or linen clothing, and the ubiquitous straw hat.

Saying “Bonjour” to a friend in Lourmarin.

Well, Provence is everything I imagined it to be but even better IRL. As we approach our last week here, we realize that Provence will be a highlight of our trip and we look forward to returning as often as we can.

The very picturesque perched village Gordes. Our VRBO was a 10 minute walk away.
A garden in Goult.
View of the Luberon Valley taken during a walk near Gordes.
Sculpture on top of Château Lacoste.
Wandering the enchanting medieval streets of Lacoste.
In Provence you see flowers growing on houses everywhere.
In St-Remy-de-Provence, one of our favourite towns.
St-Remy-de-Provence
Steve’s Provençal look complete with orange shorts, a linen shirt and a straw hat.
Photo taken in our backyard. I love my new hat and sun dress!
Full moon view from our front yard.

Where is Provence? 

Provence is an area in the south/east corner of France bordered in the south by the Mediterranean Sea (La Côte d’Azur) and in the north by the lower Alps. Its full name is “Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur”.

Map of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

While planning for the Provençal stage of our 6 month European adventure we initially had some difficulty focussing on where we wanted to stay because it is quite a large area. We ruled out the Côte d’Azur since it really wasn’t the vibe we were looking for. We wanted more of a rural/village experience, not a coastal one. While researching the area, I learned about the “most beautiful hilltop villages” in Provence (Gordes, Lacoste, Bonnieux, Goult, Ménerbes, Roussillon, Joucas, Oppède-le-Vieux, Saint-Saturnin-Lès-Apt, Venasque, Saignon, and others) which persuaded me to focus on finding accommodation somewhere central to these villages so that we could easily visit them.

Stunning hilltop villages circled in red above.
Gordes at night
Bonnieux
Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt
Le château à Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt.
Le Beaucet

It turns out that all of these villages are located in an area of Provence called the Le Luberon. The area is predominantly agricultural with a patchwork quilt of fields, vineyards, rolling hills, cypress trees, olive groves, stone farm houses and villas, and stunning views everywhere you look. Every picture you take here looks like a picture postcard. It is an Instagrammer’s paradise!

A typical view of the Luberon, this one from the hilltop village of Bonnieux.

Le Luberon consists of Le Luberon Nord (also known as the Luberon Valley) which sits in between the Vaucluse mountain range in the north and the Luberon mountain range in the south; and Le Luberon Sud which is just south of the Luberon mountain range (see map below):

Le Luberon. We stayed in Gordes.

Hilltop Villages:

Below is the list of our favourite perched villages (as indicated with red circles on the map 8 images back). Each time we visited one, we would climb up to the highest point to discover either a castle, fortress, church, graveyard or rock with a spectacular view. Sometimes we could bike to the top but most often we had to walk. These villages are all reachable by bike if you stay in Luberon Nord:

  • Joucas (tiny)
  • Oppède-le-Vieux (tiny)
  • Saignon (tiny)
  • Goult (small)
  • Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt (small)
  • Ménerbes (small)
  • Venasque (small)
  • Lacoste (small)
  • Gordes (largish)
  • Roussillon (largish)
  • Bonnieux (largish)
St-Saturnin-lès-Apt
View of Oppède-le-Vieux with the Vaucluse mountains in the background, taken from L’Église Notre Dame Dalidon.
A wine bar tucked in behind the cobblestoned streets of Bonnieux: Le Wine Club.

When to go:

May is the perfect month to be in Provence because the fresh produce is starting to become available and the local farmer’s markets are abundant with options; the poppy fields are in full bloom; the weather is warm but not scorching like in July and August; there are not many tourists; and you are not paying peak prices for accommodation. However, if you want to see the famous Provençal lavender fields in full bloom, you must arrive after mid-June (sadly, we will miss these). We heard from locals here that September and October are also great months to visit.

Poppy fields are in full bloom in May.
Les chevaux à Fontaube.
Flowerbox in Bonnieux.

Accommodations:

We searched for an accommodation that would give us a country experience, but within walking distance to a village with restaurants and small shops. We settled on a small stone cottage just outside of Gordes (VRBO). It has a gorgeous view of the Luberon valley in the middle of an olive grove humming with buzzing bees and surrounded with a constant chorus of birds singing. We loved it but we we were not crazy about Gordes which is quite touristy with many overpriced and expensive shops and restaurants, lacking the intimacy, personality and local flavour of some of the other Luberon towns we visited.

Our Gordes VRBO.
View from bedroom window.
Our hostess’ lovely dog Ildi who greets us every day and asks for belly rubs.

Which village to stay in?

We fell in love with Goult which is small town 9 km south of Gordes. Goult has a friendly local vibe, along with many family-owned shops and cafés where locals and expats hang out. The other area that we love is called Saint-Pantaléon which is in between Gordes and Goult. Saint-Pantaléon is more of a neighbourhood than a village because there is only 1 restaurant and no stores but the properties and landscapes are beautiful and it’s only a 5 minute drive to Goult (10 minutes by ebike). Ménerbes and Bonnieux are also good spots to stay. Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt, Venasque and Saignon are also lovely but less central. Roussillon is nice but very touristy. Lacoste, Joucas, and Oppède-le-Vieux are beautiful but there are no shops and only one or two restaurants. We do not recommend Apt, Robion, Cheval Blanc, Coustellet, Cavaillon, Les Imberts, Les Beaumettes, L’Îsle-de-la-Sorgue, and Fontaine-de-Vaucluse because they are in really busy areas with busy roads.

Here are some websites to find holiday rentals:

airbnb.ca

vrbo.com

Booking.com

TheLuberon.com

Provence-secrete-immobilier.com

onlyprovence.com

homes-in-provence.com

location.rosier.pro.

gites-de-france.com

fleursdesoleil.fr

gitelink.com

novasol.co.uk.com

frenchconnections.co.uk (search for town)

Also, if you know the town that you want to stay in you could do some research to find out if there is a real-estate office (une agence immobilière) there and contact them to see if they have any local rental listings.

If you decide to visit Le Luberon please feel free to contact me about an accommodation you are looking at and I will be happy to try to provide some feedback about the area.

Some of the homes here are pretty incredible.
Yes, please.

Major roads

There are a few major roads in the Luberon that create significant car noise so you want to avoid booking accommodations near them. Use Google maps/traffic when researching where the busy roads are (Layers > traffic). Avoid all roads with single or double red or green traffic lines on the map. Even avoid being close to them because car sounds really travel far here. The largest highway in this region is the D900, bisecting the Luberon from east to west. Avoid booking accommodation anywhere close to this highway.

Avoid booking anywhere close to the single or double green or red traffic lines.

Pool or no pool?

We debated this question while searching for accommodation. The average temperatures in May were reported to be in the low to mid 20’s. However, we have experienced unusually hot temperatures this month with several 30+ days. Unfortunately, our accommodation does not have a pool, so next time this will be on our checklist! Air-conditioning, on the other hand is not mandatory for comfortable sleeping (at least in May) as it really cools down at night.

Things to do in Provence

  1. Cycling: We love cycling and Provence is the Mecca for cyclists. The roads are quiet with very few cars and drivers are extremely respectful of cyclists. When planning cycling routes, you will quickly learn which busy roads to avoid (the Google maps/traffic feature comes in handy here, too – See above map). I spent a lot of time researching bike routes and buying cycling maps but we ended up using Google maps/cycling on our iPhones most of the time. (Tip: get a phone holder for your handlebars for easy map reading and a battery pack for your phone so that you don’t run out of juice).
  • Google maps often directed us towards paths that were very rocky and non-cyclable, so consider using Komoot app as a back-up, because you can select routes specific to road-biking ie. on pavement. Another nice feature of this app is that you can download area maps for offline use (at an extra cost) which is really handy when you are out of a wifi zone (YouTube videos about how to use Komoot are helpful).
  • Bike stores: There are many in the Luberon region. We rented ebikes (a must, unless you are a serious cyclist: the hills are intense here) from rentbikescooterluberon.com in Bonnieux. They gave us a reduced rate of 500euros/month for each bike (brand new Trek Explore E+2) and delivered the bikes directly to our accommodation. Ask for side bags/paniers (you will need two each, they are very small) and a phone holder for your handlebars.
  • If renting ebikes, always bring the battery charger with you on your cycling trips in case you run low on juice. We often found ourselves covering long distances (5-6 hours) and climbing the seriously steep hills here chews through battery life. Most restaurants will allow you to plug into one of their outlets while you stop for coffee/drinks/lunch.
  • Le Véloroute de Cavalon: There is a wonderful bike path that stretches 37km across the Luberon from Robion to Saint-Martin-de-Castillon (click here for map). It is a great way to get across the Luberon quickly, however, some sections of it are not as picturesque as other rural roads.
  • Mont Ventoux: This is an epic climb that most serious cyclists will want to tackle while here. We drove up to the summit and stared in awe at the cyclists we passed slowly making their way up and then zooming at top speeds on the way down. It’s worth the trip even driving! Click here for more information if you plan on cycling to the summit. You can rent bikes (road or ebike) in Bédoin if want to do the climb and you don’t have a bike rack to bring your own bike (Google “Bike rentals Bédoin).
  • Les Gorges de la Nesque: This is a stunning, winding road that runs along a canyon on the D942 from Monieux to Villes-Sur-Auzon. It is really meant for cyclists but we drove it and loved it, too. We would have preferred to have cycled it but it was too far from our accommodation to reach it by bike and we were not able to get a bike rack with our car rental (they seem to be impossible to get on car rentals here).
  • You can easily ride from town to town in the North Luberon. One of our favourite rides is from Gordes to Venasque via L’Abbeye de Senanque, then take La route de Murs back. Thrilling descents/ascents and gorgeous views.
One of the ebikes we rented from rentbikescooterluberon.com.
Vineyards as far as the eye can see in the Luberon Valley.
Vineyards with Gordes in the background.
Saignon
Saignon
Ménerbes

2. Hiking: Because of the mountains surrounding the Luberon there are hiking paths galore. However, our focus was on cycling so we did very little hiking. Here are some that we did:

  • Les Sentiers des Ocres in Roussillon which is a short easy walk with great views of the Ochre hills of Roussillon. Gates open at 9:30am in May (check website for opening times other months). Very popular with tourists. Cost is 3euros/pp.
  • La Forêt des Cèdres: This is a great bike ride and hike near Bonnieux. Bike as far as you can up the mountain, slightly past the parking lot for La Forêt des Cèdres, then park your bike and walk to L’Arche des Portalas which is a stunning viewpoint with a clear view of south Luberon, La Durance River and on clear days, the Mediterranean.
  • La falaise de la Madeleine à Lioux: Great views from the top. I cycled to the Moulin (windmill: look for signs) and then it was just a short walk up the mountain. The path goes along quite a while on the top of the cliff, but apart from the views, it’s pretty boring. There is no shade so it gets really hot, too.
The breathtaking Sentiers des Ocres in Roussillon.
Les Sentiers des Ocres in Roussillon.
View from L’Arche des Portalas in La Forêt des Cèdres.
La falaise de la Madeleine à Lioux
The incredible view from le Rocher de Bellevue in Saignon.

3. Road trips: Car destinations that we highly recommend:

  • Apt: This town is the largest in the Luberon and has a very lively Saturday morning market (It is also reachable by bike if you are staying in the Luberon Nord).
  • L’Île-de-la-Sorgue is a picturesque town with water canals and lots of shops and restaurants. Very touristy but worth a visit. Huge market on Thursday but best to avoid if you don’t like crowds. Antique market on Sunday.
  • Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is a very touristy town near L’Île-de-la-Sorgue with restaurants that line the banks of the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse: a natural water source. Too touristy for our tastes but worth a look if you are in the area.
  • Saint-Remy-de-Provence: Great market on Wednesdays in a beautiful town with houses covered with fragrant flowers and vines.
  • Lourmarin: One of our favourite Provençal towns with many shops, art galleries, cafés and restaurants. The Friday market is a must-do. Unless you are an expert biker, we don’t recommend trying to bike here from Le Luberon Nord because there is only one way (via Bonnieux) and the road is quite busy (not to mention extremely long and steep).
  • Cucuron is a little town near Lourmarin with a picturesque pond surrounded with restaurants. Made famous from the movie “A Good Year” with Russell Crowe. Tuesday is market day.
  • L’Étang de La Bonde is a small lake near Lourmarin with the bluest water I haver ever seen. Bring a bathing suit on a hot day. Enjoy the view and a cool drink from Café du Lac (closed Mondays).
  • Mont Ventoux: A thrilling drive up and incredible view from the top of this 1912 metres high mountain. While you are in the area, be sure to drive Les Gorges de la Nesque on the D942 from Monieux to Villes-Sur-Auzon.
  • Carrieres-lumieres.com. This is a mind-blowing light and music show within an old bauxite mine and is a MUST-SEE. You can buy tickets at the door on online and you start the experience whenever you get there. The show lasts about one hour. Be sure to bring a warm layer of clothing because it is freezing inside. Afterwards, walk up the hill to Les Baux de Provence to see an amazing town built on top of the cliff. (Note: it is a very touristy town).
  • Château Val Joanis: A winery near Lourmarin with a gorgeous garden, definitely worth visiting. 3 euros to enter which includes drop-in wine tasting. Closed 1pm-3pm.
  • Cassis: This pretty coastal town is 1.5hrs from Gordes. We made the mistake of going on a busy weekend so it was extremely hard to find parking and it was too hot to walk around so we ate lunch, wandered down to the crowded beach and then left. We had a wonderful meal at La Poissonerie Laurent in the Cassis Port, Tel: 04 42 01 71 56. We also really enjoyed driving on La Route des Crètes: a thrilling, windy mountaintop road from Cassis to La Ciotat.
Café du Lac next to L’Étang de La Bonde.
Watch for goats on the beautiful drive on the Les Gorges de la Nesque.
Les Gorges de la Nesque
On top of Mont Ventoux.
Free iced cold minted water for passers-by during a hot day in Lourmarin.
The incredible light show Carrieres-lumieres.com at Les Baux de Provence. We have never experienced anything like it.
Fontaine-de-la-Vaucluse
View of a Cassis calanque (cove) from La Route des Crètes.
View from La Route des Crètes.
Le Port de Cassis.
Artwork by Gerard Isirdi that will be hanging up in our dining room when we get back to Toronto! Bought in Lourmarin.

4. Markets: The Provençal weekly markets are wonderful however, some stalls are tourist traps with inflated prices so do some comparison shopping before buying. It’s best to go early in the morning (between 8am and 9am) before it gets too crowded. Most markets close around noon. Oh, PS, the French vendors do not respond well to haggling on prices, so don’t even try. Our favourite markets are marked with *:

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

  • Coustellet (evening farmer’s market, starting at 4)
  • *St Remy de Provence

Thursday

  • Goult
  • Ménerbes
  • Roussillon
  • L’Isle de La Sorgue

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Les fraises au marché Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Paniers à vendre au marché d’Apt.
We have never seen tomatoes like in the markets here and they are the best we have ever tasted!
The Saturday market in Apt is one of the biggest in Provence.
We LOVE the Lourmarin market!
Market purchases.

5. Cuisine

We thought that it would be hard to beat the food of Portugal, but the cuisine in Provence is in another class altogether. The ingredients are super fresh and interesting, and the cooking styles are really creative, with complex flavours and sauces that delight the palette. We ate lunch at a restaurant destination every day and were hard pressed to think of a meal where we were disappointed. Even the not-so-great meals were pretty darn tasty, and only “not-so-great” in comparison to many truly outstanding meals we had over the entire month. It’s difficult to even describe the menu choices as they are wide ranging depending on where you are. You’ll see steak tartar in many restaurants, and we ordered it several times, but it was always remarkably different. Ceviches are outstanding and so flavourful. Grilled fish, but with such delicious sauces. And believe it or not, they do a mean hamburger in Provence. And the frites… don’t get me started: No one can make them like the French. As for desserts, well… check out some of the photos below for mind blowing yumminess.

The salads are incredible here. This one from Bistrot La Terrasse in Joucas.
Restaurant Bautezar in Baux-de-Provence.
Les Valseuses in Apt.
Steak Tartare from le restaurant Le Saint Hubert in St-Saturnin-lès-Apt.
Des radis bleus du Café du Progrès à Ménerbes.
Ceviche from Un jardin sur Le Toit in Saignon.
A vegetarian dish from Un jardin sur Le Toit in Saignon.
Asparagus soup from O Pichoun in Sault.
Roast chicken and salad from Restaurant L’Echauguette in Oppède-le-Vieux.
Hands-down best salad I have ever had from Bistrot Le Terrail in Bonnieux.
Le Saint Hubert, St-Saturnin-lès-Apt.
Bistrot Le Beaucet
Bistrot Le Beaucet
Bistrot Le Beaucet
Yummy dessert from Café du Progrès in Ménerbes.
LES PROFITEROLES À LA TRUFFE NOIRE from Un jardin sur Le Toit in Saignon.
Another yummy dessert from Un jardin sur Le Toit in Saignon.

Recommended restaurants

First, some tips:

  • Always call for a reservations ahead of time if you can, even if it’s the same day. Many busy restaurants will turn people away without reservations and the best tables are always held for reservations.
  • Make a reservation for the earliest seating (usually noon) and arrive early if you want to choose a table with the best view. You can also try asking for a table with a good view when you make the reservation.
  • Be aware that even with a reservation, you might arrive at a restaurant and point to an empty table that you would like to sit at and they will say that it’s reserved. There is some mysterious pecking order for table reservations that we haven’t figured out yet.
  • Many restaurants will be closed for 1 or 2 days a week: Check their website or call to confirm it’s open on the day you want to visit.
  • Many restaurants will often stop serving lunch after 2pm or so and reopen for dinner.
  • Some restaurants will serve coffee/drinks outside of meal times but some will not.
  • Tips are optional but we always tip 10-15% and the waitstaff really appreciate it.
  • It’s always a good idea to check the Google ratings of a restaurant before you decide to eat there. To find reviews, search the restaurant in Google maps and you will see a rating out of 5 stars.
  • If you enjoyed a meal a great way (apart from tipping) to show your appreciation is to leave a positive Google review (search the restaurant in Google, then tap on “Reviews” > Write a review.)
  • When you are eating outdoors you will be exposed to smokers: lots of them (34% of French people smoke). For some crazy reason, smokers are allowed to light up in outdoor restaurant spaces, even jam-packed with people.
  • The restaurants that we recommend below are all moderately priced. We have either had a full meal or just coffee and drinks. They all have incredible views of the Luberon because they are situated high up on a hilltop:

Restaurants with amazing hilltop views

Who doesn’t love a restaurant with good food AND a good view?

Best restaurant in the Luberon: Un jardin sur Le Toit in Saignon.

1. Saignon: Un jardin sur Le Toit. This is our favourite restaurant for both excellent menu items and the stunning view. Fabulous! Reserve online then call 04 90 75 63 81 and ask for table 202 (for 2) or table 201 (for 4). Be sure to climb up the Rocher de Bellevue while you are there for one of the best views of the Luberon. Also check out the cute square (Place de la Fontaine) in front of L’Auberge du Presbytère which is a great place for a coffee or cold drink.

2. Joucas: Bistrot La Terrasse, Tel: 04 90 75 17 98, Closed Mondays. Really good food in a quiet location overlooking a vineyard. Be sure to wander through the streets of Joucas while you are there because it’s a beautiful little town.

3. Lacoste: Cafe de France, Tel: 04 90 75 82 25. We had coffee and cocktails there but did not eat a meal, however the menu looks amazing. Be sure to walk through the ancient cobblestone streets up to the château to see some unique sculptures and breathtaking views.

4. Bonnieux: Café Le Terrail, Tel: 04 90 75 93 73 (ask for table 115 or 116) and La Terrazza di Bonnieux, Tel: 04 90 75 99 77. We love Café Le Terrail but only had coffee at La Terrazze di Bonnieux which has a nice view but it’s next to a busy street. While you are in Bonnieux, try to find Le Wine Club, a wine bar tucked away in a laneway. Also be sure to go to the top of the town to the old church (La Vielle Église de Bonnieux) for a magnificent view.

5. Gordes: Cercle Républicain (coffee and drinks only, no reservations needed) has a terrace with a great view but no sun. In fact, we were disappointed to discover that there are no cafés in Gordes where you can sit in the morning sun. Le Petit Palais D’aglaé (Tel: 04 32 50 21 02) is a stunning boutique hotel perched above Gordes which has a restaurant with amazing views. We didn’t eat there but the menu looks really good. It’s about a 20 minute walk from Gordes.

6. Ménerbes: Café du Progrès, Tel: 04 32 50 12 32, closed Mondays. Fantastic meal. Ask for a table on the terrace.

7. Roussillon: Café des Couleurs (closed Tuesdays); Le Bistrot, Tel: 04 90 05 74 45; Restaurant David, Tel: 04 90 05 60 13(stunning view but expensive). We have not eaten at these restaurants but have had drinks.

8. Venasque: Le Petit Chose, Tel: 04 90 66 66 07. Very good lunch.

9. Saumane de Vaucluse: Haut Perché, Tel: 04 90 90 77 59, closed Tues & Wed. Very nice lunch.

10. St-Saturnin-lès-Apt, Le Saint Hubert, Tel: 04 32 50 12 32 (terrace in back), closed Wed/Thurs. Loved our lunch here. While there, be sure to climb up to Chapelle du Château for another spectacular view. Try to go on a Tuesday (market day), when the village centre is closed to cars.

11. Baux de Provence: Restaurant Bautezar, nice lunch. Tel: 04 90 54 32 09; or Café du Musée, Tel: 04 86 63 15 01 (We did not eat there). Note: This town is very touristy. Must see Carrieres-lumieres.com while there.

12. Sault: O Pichoun, Tel: 04 90 64 15 93. We had a delicious meal, one of the best. Good place to stop during drive to Mont Ventoux.

Le Petit Chose, Venasque.
Un café crème et un croissant avec une belle vue du Café Cercle Républicain à Gordes.

Other restaurants (no hilltop view but really good food)

  1. Les Taillades: Auberge des Carrières, Tel: 04 32 50 19 97 (Closed Sun/Mon). They have a great 3 course menu for 26 euros.
  2. Ménerbes: Really cute café/patissérie Chez Auzet (closed Mondays).
  3. Saint-Pantaléon: Bistrot des Roques is really nice but pay attention to the additional costs of some of the plates in the “18euros menu”. Tel: 06 40 89 34 32, Closed Sundays and Mondays.
  4. Oppède-Le-Vieux: Two nice restaurants, L’Echauguette (casual), 04 90 76 83 68 and Le Petit Café (fancier), 04 90 76 74 01 (closed Monday).
  5. Apt: Les Valseuses is an adorable restaurant in a quiet square with delicious food. 07 66 63 52 61. Closed Sunday and Monday.
  6. Le Beaucet: Tiny town with a lovely restaurant single-handedly run by owner Andréa, Le Bistro du Beaucet, Tel: 04 90 11 77 02, closed Monday and Tuesday (highly recommended!). There are also some castle ruins with a great view that you can drive or walk up to: Le Château du Beaucet, open Tues/Wed/Fri. Click here for hours.
  7. Goult: Best coffee at La Cigale et La fourmi (closed Monday); Best restaurant: Le Carillon, Tel: 04 90 72 15 09, Closed Tues/Wed.
Restaurant L’Echauguette in Oppède-le-Vieux.
View from Le Rocher de Bellevue, Saignon.
Venasque
Château de St-Saturnin-lès-Apt

Grocery stores

Many tiny villages in Le Luberon have no commerce whatsoever. In other villages you might find one or two restaurants only. In some larger villages there might be a boulangerie (bread), an épicerie (essential groceries) and a fromagerie (cheese). In other words, it might be difficult to buy grocery essentials in a small town and this is when the weekly village markets really come in handy. The larger towns like Apt, Coustellet, Cavaillon and L’Île-de-la-Sorgue have many more stores to buy groceries from.

There are a few Super U et Drive grocery stores scattered across the Luberon (map). L’Île-de-la-Sorgue also has a Hyper Intermarché. These super grocery stores also have home hardware sections. The produce, cheese and wine are all excellent in these super stores.

Roussillon
Bonnieux
Apt
L’Îsle-de-la-Sorgue
Salon-de-Provence
Joucas

Additional tips for Provence

  1. Wifi/data accessibility is pretty sketchy here. If you buy a SIM card the internet provider with the fastest network in Provence is supposedly Orange, but we had Orange SIM cards and the coverage truly sucked at times.
  2. Abbey Notre-Dame de Senanque, just outside of Gordes, is a must-see (especially when the lavender is blooming). You can walk or bike from Gordes. There are daily tours in French only (with English on a tablet). Daily evening service in the chapel at 6pm with a small group of singing monks but they are really not very musical (!).
  3. Head to Roussillon or Lourmarin if you want to buy local art because there are lots of art galleries. L’Îsle-de-la-Sorgue Sunday market is where you can find the best antiques.
  4. Before you head to Provence, try to read Peter Mayle’s iconic “A Year in Provence”, or any other books he has written about Provence. They will give you a real flavour of the area.
  5. “Je suis rassasié” is how to say “I am full” in French (!)
  6. TheLuberon.com is a great website with loads of info.
  7. Click here to learn how to order coffee in France. It is all rather confusing because each restaurant makes their coffee slightly differently.
    – “Une noisette” is a shot of expresso with just a thin layer of milk froth.
    “Une noisette bien blanche” is a shot of expresso with a bit more milk.
    “Un crème” is what used to be called “un café au lait” ie. coffee with frothy hot milk. Be careful because in some restaurants if you order one it will be humungous so you might need to ask for “un petit crème“.
    – “Un cappucino” is more frothy and might come with a sprinkle of chocolate on top.
    – “Un café frappé” is whipped iced coffee with no milk and is quite sweet.
    – “Un café glacé” is another way to order iced coffee. It is unsweetened and normally has no milk so we ask for it “avec du lait froid et un peu de sirop d’orgeat à côté”. (“Sirop d’orgeat” is a sweet almond syrup).
    – Add the word “déca” to your order to get a decaf of any type of coffee.
    – We have not figured out how to order a coffee with cream. We suspect that cream is not an option here (unless you want “Chantilly” which is whipped cream).
Pretty confusing, right?
Cafés crèmes from Café de l’Ormeau in Lourmarin.
Cafés Noisettes from Le Cercle Républicain in Gordes.

Have you been to Provence? What were some of your favourite spots? Please leave comments and questions below, merci beaucoup! Sylvia and Steve

Our month in Montpellier, France (April, 2022 – month 4 of 6)

Restaurant Carré Mer, Plage Palavas-les-flots
Place de la Comédie (photo fr.hotels.com)

(To see more photos and highlights of our trip, please visit our Instagram account: @sylsteveeurope.)

Our month in Montpellier is drawing to a close and we have loved every minute of being here. Please read on to learn more about this fabulous city.

Montpellier is a city in the south of France, 13km from the Mediterranean and 200km from the Spanish border. It is the third-largest French city near the Mediterranean coast, behind Marseille and Nice. It has a very cosmopolitan feel, with a population of 285,000 people and many historical landmarks. Like Lisbon, it is a very young population with 15 universities. The university of Montpellier is one of the oldest universities in the world and was established in 1160. The Romans began building here in 333 AD. It’s pretty mind-boggling (especially as Canadians) to be surrounded by structures still standing from that era.

Garden on Rue Foch

Southern France is similar to Portugal in the following ways:

  • People are extremely friendly and welcoming.
  • Food is incredible and fresh; farm to table produce is readily available
  • Wine is delicious and inexpensive, mostly in the €10-€20 range.
  • Weather in the spring is mostly sunny, averaging 18 – 22C.
  • Laid-back and very sociable vibe

However, France (Montpellier) is different from Portugal in the following ways:

  • We rarely hear English spoken (which we love because it forces us to practice our French)
  • There are not many tourists this time of year
  • Restaurants offer much more diversified/complex/delicious menus
  • Less seafood (except for oysters which are cheap and plentiful); more breads of all types, fantastic cheeses and lots of varieties of meat.
  • Generally, everything is more expensive in France

One of the definite highlights of our time here has been our Airbnb: It is by far one of the nicest accommodations we have ever stayed in, with a great view over the main plaza, Place de la Comédie, and a 5 minute walk to the train station.

View of Place de la Comédie from our Airbnb
On a sunny day the cafés are always packed in Place de la Comédie.

Here are some more things that we love about Montpellier:

  1. The café culture: Cafés are everywhere and are always full. People gather in groups to socialize in cafés, and seem to stay for hours!
  2. There are no cars in the central old town: it is pedestrians and bicycles only. This is a delightful break from noisy Lisbon and we have noticed that it is actually like this in all of the old sections of the towns we have visited so far in L’Occitanie (name given to this region of France).
  3. Great infrastructure for cycling: Lots of bike lanes and paths. No car needed in Montpellier!
  4. Stunning 45 minute bike path all along Le Lez river to the ocean, meandering through the countryside.
  5. Very nice beaches with restaurants and and kite-surfers to watch for hours.
  6. 50 meter Olympic sized public pool, 5 minute bike-ride from our place (2.80eu/visit).
  7. City is very clean and well-maintained. Very few run-down buildings or graffiti.
  8. Farmers markets are everywhere. Les Halles Castellane is open every day (7h – 20h, Sun, 7h – 13:30h); Les Halles Laissac (7h – 17:30 every day); Le Marché des Arceaux (Tues. and Sat, 7h – 13:30h) and Le Marché Antigone (Wed. and Sun, 8h – 13:00h).
  9. Fresh-from-the-oven baguettes that melt in your mouth. We eat one every day.
  10. Amazing public transportation system of trams, buses and trains.
  11. Proximity to other great cities to visit by train: Carcassonne, Narbonne, Béziers, Sète, Nîmes, Arles, and Avignon are some of the places we visited for day trips, all within 2 hrs from Montpellier.
Our favourite cheese guy, Marc from Fromagerie Bou in Les Halles Castellane
Candied fruit from Les Halles Laissac.
Une maman avec des enfants et des courses (groceries), Place de la Comédie.
Wild flowers on the banks of Le Lez
Enjoying beverages at one of our favourite squares in Montpellier, Place du Marché aux Fleurs
Rue du Bras de Fer, Montpellier. This is a typical alleyway in the old town, filled with shops, restaurants and cafés.
Restaurant Rosemarie, Montpellier

Places to see in Montpellier:

Click here to see these spots on a Google map, indicated with red markers (zoom in).

Montpellier is easiest to explore on foot. We had rented bicycles from W Ville & Vélo (100eu/month each) but we ended up using them mostly just to go to the beach or cycle along Le Fleuve Lez (and Steve uses his to go to the golf range and course).

Place de la Comédie is the main square in Montpellier and it is a very lively place, lined with cafés, with street performers and people milling around or walking through it.

Branching out from La Place de la Comédie haphazardly heading in a North-West direction are pedestrian-only streets and lanes, filled with shops, cafés, squares, restaurants and parks. Here are some of our favourite spots:

  1. Place de la Canourgue: Lovely, quiet, tree-line square with nice cafés and restaurants. There are two hotels here that looks really nice: Hôtel du Palais (moderately priced) and Hôtel Richer de Belleval (luxury) (map).
  2. Promenade/Place du Peyrou: Gorgeous promenade and park with a fantastic flea market every Sunday (7h30 à 14h.) (map)
  3. Aqueduc des Arceaux: Beautiful Roman arched structure, once used to store and distribute water. Location of Le Marché des Arceaux Tuesday and Sat. mornings. (map)
  4. Rue Marioge is a really cute street just around the corner from Le Marché des Arceaux. Jaja La Fouine is a great vintage clothing store worth checking out. (map)
  5. Jardin des Plantes: Montpellier’s serene and beautiful botanical gardens (map)
  6. Esplanade Charles de Gaulle: Another tree-lined promenade, lined with restaurants on one side and a beautiful park on the other (map).
  7. Faculté de Médecine: Beautiful building housing the oldest medical university in the world (map).
  8. Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier: Gorgeous, must-see, with a nice square in front with a very nice café, Le Mélody (great smoothies and crepes).(map)
  9. Place du Marché aux Fleurs: A lovely square with many restaurants and cafés. A great spot to catch the afternoon sun (map).
  10. Cute square in front of Toast’Tea restaurant (map) next to Église Saint-Roch de Montpellier. We had a nice brunch here.
  11. Le Fleuve Lez: This river flows through Montpellier and it’s a great spot for a bike ride or walk. (map)
  12. Antigone District: Dramatically different from the architecture of the old town. Huge neo-classical buildings line wide avenues with trees and fountains. Home of the Marché Antigone every Wed and Sun mornings. Be sure to walk/ride through this district right to Le Fleuve Lez. (map)
  13. Centre Commercial Le Polygone: A modern shopping centre with many stores, including a huge MonoPrix (grocery store) and an Orange mobile location to purchase a SIM card. (map)
  14. Musée Fabre: A wonderful museum with classic and modern art. (map)
  15. Le trompe-l’œil de la place Edouard-Adam: You need to see this to believe it: A huge mural painted on a flat wall that looks 3D. (map)
  16. Église Saint-Roch is a festive local hangout with bustling café terraces (map).
  17. Pomme de Reinette et Pomme d’Api is an amazing toy store with new and antique toys that you can spend hours exploring. (map)
  18. L’Arbre Blanc: This fascinating contemporary, award-winning residential tower on the shore of Le Lez. (map)
  19. Le Château de Flaugergues: This family-owned and run château was one of the highlights in Montpellier for us. Be sure to book lunch at Restaurant Folia, a tour of the château, and a wine-tasting. It is a 20 minute bike ride from Place de la Comédie, not the nicest ride, but worth it! (map)
  20. Pavalas-des-Flots: A waterfront community which lines the Lez Canal by the ocean. Many restaurants and cafés. Can be overcrowded on the weekend so stick to the weekdays. (map)
  21. Montpellier beaches: There are several beaches in the vicinity. Some were too far for us to reach on our bikes so I chose not to mention them here. Our favourites within biking distance are Plage Le Petit Travers and la plage Villeneuve-Lès-Maguelone because they are the most pristine and free of condos. Unfortunately, there are very few boardwalks along the Montpellier beachfront, so you end up biking on a road next to the beach far from the water. This was very disappointing for us. Walking is also difficult on the beachfront, as the sand does not have a hard flat surface to walk on.
  22. Cathédrale de Maguelone: This medieval church is near Plage Villeneuve-Lès-Maguelone, about an hour bike ride outside of Montpellier. It is on an island, surrounded with vineyards and is well worth the trip. Click here for bike route there and click here for alternative route back. Click here for more info on how to get there by car or tram/bus (scroll down to ACCÈS À LA CATHÉDRALE SAINT-PIERRE DE MAGUELONE then use Google translate). We had a nice lunch on-site at the Le Comptoir des Compagnons (call for reservations). 5 minutes away (by bike) is a gorgeous, pristine beach, la plage de Villeneuve-Lès-Maguelone.
Place de la Canourgue, Montpellier
Beautiful bar in Hôtel Richer de Belleval, Montpellier
Pork stew from Le Marché des Arceaux in Montpellier
Le Marché des Arceaux, Montpellier
Piscine Olympique Angelotti à Montpellier
CATHÉDRALE DE MAGUELONE, 45 min bike ride from Montpellier (photo courtesy (herault-tourisme.com).
L’orangerie du Château de Flaugergues, Montpellier
Château de Flaugergues, Montpellier
Une crêpe au sucre du restaurant Toast’Tea, Montpellier
Square in front of Église Saint-Roch de Montpellier.
Place Royale du Peyrou, Montpellier
Les Arceaux, Montpellier
Fleurs à vendre, Esplanade Charles de Gaulle.

Restaurants (Note: most good restaurants require reservations)

Restaurant L’Entrecôte, Montpellier.
La Morue, Montpellier
Un café crème et une tisaine, Café Latitude in Place de la Canourgue.

Tips:

  • Montpellier-france.com is a good site for information on Montpellier.
  • Click here to learn about how to order coffee in France. We have not figured out how to order a coffee with low-fat cream (which is how Steve likes it). Not sure if they offer it in restaurants.
  • “Paiement sans contact” (payment with Apple Pay) is everywhere, however, some small stores have a cash only policy for under 10eu.
  • Most restaurants close at 2:30pm for lunch and re-open for dinner.
  • Most stores and many restaurants are closed on Sundays.
  • Our favourite place for baguettes is Patisserie Teissier (map) which is open every day including Sundays. We prefer the “Grand siècle” baguette: it’s a little wider than the regular baguette.
  • Monoprix is a chain of grocery stores. There are two in Montpellier: a huge one in Centre Commercial Le Polygone (click here for hours) and a smaller one in Place de la Comédie which is open on Sundays (click here for hours).
  • La Gazette is a weekly newspaper sold every Thursday with all of the upcoming week’s cultural events (2eu) that you can find the local Tabac-Presse.
  • The tram (Tam Voyages) is a sleek, quiet, electric tram that provides transportation everywhere in Montpellier. You can buy a 10 ride ticket (10eu) from the Office du tourisme de Montpellier on the east end of Place de la Comédie (map). Validate your ticket once in the tram. Bikes are allowed in the tram and masks are mandatory.
  • You can get to Montpellier beaches on public transport. We have taken our bikes on Tram #3 from the Montpellier St-Roch train station then cycled to the beaches instead of cycling the whole way there. Apparently you can also get to the beaches on public transport without bikes (but we haven’t tried). Click here to learn how.
  • Masks are mandatory on all forms of public transportation.
  • Visit the SNCF website to buy train tickets. You can order from the desktop version or use the app. La Gare Montpellier Saint-Roch is a 5 minute walk from la Place de la Comédie. Note that prices go up significantly if you buy last-minute so try to plan ahead of time. Tip: Create profiles for you and your travel companions for faster future bookings. Also, when you book a ticket, make sure that you have chosen the most direct (ie. shortest) route.
  • Some trains have assigned seating while others do not. Sometimes a conductor will check your ticket on board but most often they will not. There is free wifi on the trains.
  • You need to know which direction your train is heading (ie, the final destination) before you can find the track (“voie”) to wait on. This can be tricky, so the best way around this is to look at the departures (“Départs”) screen at the train station and look for the train with the exact same time of the departure on your ticket. This will likely be your train. If you are not sure, just ask someone waiting on the platform. “Est-ce que ce train va à …?”
  • When visiting different towns, do some research ahead of time (or on the train) so that you have a rough game plan of what you want to visit. It is helpful to create a Google map of where you want to go so that you don’t miss anything.
  • Upon arriving at a new town, be sure to head to “Les Halles” to check out the main market. Every one we saw was incredible! Note that many close before 14h-15h and most are closed on Sundays.
  • When looking for restaurants, open Google maps to where you are visiting and hit “restaurants” then tap on each restaurant to see their rating.
  • There are a lot of smokers in France (curiously, mostly women). It’s hard to avoid cigarette smoke in outdoor restaurants and cafés, unfortunately. Smoking is not permitted inside, but it is permitted on an outside terrace, even if it’s covered and enclosed.
  • Pedicures are very expensive here: 40 – 55 euros. If you must get one, ask for a “beauté des pieds avec varnis”.
The French love olives (and so do we)!
We have never eaten so much cheese in our lives. Can you blame us? Le Marché des Arceaux, Montpellier
Place de Thessalie, Montpellier
Château d’eau du Peyrou, Montpellier
Bike path along canal to Cathédrale de Maguelone.
Afternoon delights
The stores are so beautiful in Montpellier!
Fleurs à vendre, Le Marché des Arceaux.
Steve mastering how to cook the French dish, Cassoulet“.
C’est délicieux!

Nearby towns that we visited and highly recommend, all easily accessible by train:

Click here for a map of these places, indicated with purple markers (Zoom out).

  1. Carcassonne (*must do)
  2. Narbonne
  3. Béziers
  4. Sète
  5. Nîmes
  6. Arles
  7. Avignon (*must do)
  1. Carcassonne: This is one of our favourite towns we visited. It has the largest castle we have ever seen (Château Comtal) and Steve was obsessed with it. Below is our itinerary. Click here for a map of our walking route.

(NOTE: Continue scrolling down to read details of all of these towns that we visited)

Gargoyle on Basilique Saint-Nazaire, Carcassonne.
Lunch at Méli et Zéli, Carcassonne.
Château Comtal in Carcassonne is insanely big.
Parc de Camin del Garric, Carcassonne

2. Narbonne: The walk from the train station to the old town takes about 10 minutes and is not very nice, but once you are there, it is worth it! Click here for map of our walking route.

Cathédrale Narbonne
Palais des Archeveques, Narbonne.
Canal de la Robine, Narbonne
Place Thérèse Léon Blum, Narbonne

3. Béziers: This is a small but cute town with not a lot to see or do but we still enjoyed it. The beautiful park Plateau des Poètes and the view from the Cathédrale Saint-Nazare tower made the trip totally worth it. Unfortunately, there was construction on Les Allées Paul-Riquet and le Pont Vieux but hopefully if you go there this will be completed. Click here for a map of our walking route.

Plateau des Poètes, Béziers
View of L’Orb from the Cathédrale Saint-Nazare tower.
Pont Vieux, Béziers
Trompe l’oeil on Rue Viennet and Rue Général Crouzat. This is a flat wall!

4. Sète: Sète is a charming fishing village, just 15 minutes outside of Montpellier by train. We went during the annual “Escale à Sète” festival for tall ships and it was fun to see them but it was very crowded. We still enjoyed ourselves and had delicious oysters for lunch at the outdoor terrace of Les Halles de Sète.

The second time I visited Sète (while Steve was golfing), I brought my bike on the train and cycled to town then along the waterfront all the way to beautiful Plage Baleine. I settled into a beach “matelas” at Restaurant La Canopée (14eu/day, 7eu/half day) with my book and ordered “un café frappé. Heaven. Click here for our walking route and here for my bike route.

Sète (photo: montpellier-france.com)
Boating musician in Sète.
Yummy oysters in front of Les Halles de Sète.
Big ships in the Sète port.
Relaxing at Restaurant La Canopée in Sète. Note: It costs 14eu to rent a bed for the day (7eu half day) and even more if you want the front row!)

5. Nîmes: As soon as you leave the Nîmes train station, you will see the beautiful boulevard Les Allées Jaurès which you will walk along on the way to the Nîmes Roman Arena. After you pass the Roman La Maison Carrée, walk along the beautiful canal next to the Quai de la Fontaine on the way to the stunning Jardin de la Fontaine. Climb up the stairs to the top of the hill to see La tour Magne and a wonderful view of the city. Have iced coffee (Café frappé) at Les Tables de la Fontaine. Click here for our walking route.

Quai de la Fontaine, Nîmes
La Maison Carrée, Nîmes.
Beautiful Jardin de la Fontaine in Nîmes
Cafés frappés, Les Tables de la Fontaine, Nîmes.

6. Arles: This was overall a bit of a disappointment for us but the impressive Arène d’Arles made it a worthwhile trip. Nonetheless, Arles was the least favourite of the towns we saw in L’Occitanie. Click here for our walking route.

  1. Arène d’Arles
  2. Théâtre Roman
  3. Jardin d’été
  4. Fondation Vincent Van Gogh
  5. Eglise Saint-Trophime and cloître
  6. Place de la République
  7. Place du Forum 
  8. Cryptoportiques du Forum
  9. Thermes de Constantin
  10. Les Alyscamps
Arène d’Arles (photo franceminiature.fr)
Inside the Arène d’Arles which has been renovated to accommodate live concerts.
Students being instructed on gladiator battle techniques at the Arène d’Arles.
Roast duck sandwich from Saveurs et Terroirs, Arles
Cute house in Arles.

7. Avignon: Oh my gosh, we loved Avignon. From the train station, walk up Cour Jean-Jaures to Place de l’Horloge, a beautiful and lively square with restaurants, cafés, artists, musicians and a carousel. Visit the stunning Palais des Papes and be sure to grab an interactive tablet for your tour. When you scan the QR code in each room, your screen will come alive with a representation of what the room would have looked like in its prime. Afterwards, head up to the Jardin des Doms, a beautiful park on a hill overlooking the famous Pont D’Avignon (Pont Saint-Bénézet) on the river below (PS. when you buys tickets for the Palais des Papes tour, do not pay extra for tickets to the park and bridge – as we did – because you do not need them. We didn’t walk down to the bridge, we just took pics from the park). We had a great lunch at Coeur d’Artichaud, sitting outside in the sun, then walked around the charming streets and alleys of Avignon. On our way back to the train station we stopped at Café Le Square in a lovely park for cold drinks (Steve, beer; me, Orangina). We wanted to go to Les Halles d’Avignon which is supposed to be fantastic but unfortunately, we were too late and it was closed. Click here for our walking route.

Pont D’Avignon (Pont Saint-Bénézet)
Palais des Papes (photo frenchriviera.travel)
Park next to Café Le Square, Avignon
An artist at work in Place de l’Horloge, Avignon.
Place du Palais, Avignon.
Place Crillon (Photo theculturetrip.com)

Have you been to this part of the world? What are some of your favourite places? Please leave comments below, thank you!

(Next month’s destination: Gordes, France. Stay tuned!)

PS. Here’s a quick video about Montpellier (in French):

Cascais, Nazaré, Porto and the Douro Valley (March, 2022)

Coffee with a beautiful view at the Albatroz Hotel in Cascais

(To see more photos and highlights of our trip, please visit our Instagram account: @sylsteveeurope.)

It’s hard to believe that our three month trip to Portugal came to an end yesterday as we started our next three months in France today. Read on for a detailed description of how we have spent our last two weeks in Portugal. Be sure to subscribe to our blog if you haven’t already to follow our adventures in France (Montpellier, Gordes and Bordeaux). More pics available on our Instagram account @sylsteveeurope!

Cascais

We had heard from several other travellers that Cascais was a beautiful seaside town just 30 minutes west of Lisbon. Apparently, it’s where many Lisboetas go to get away from the urban crowds and catch some sun and surf. We left Lisbon earlier than the full month we had initially planned, to stay in Cascais. As it turned out, we were disappointed with the town. We found it to be too touristic, with over priced restaurants, many, many shops selling trinkets and generally very limited things to see and do compared to fabulous Lisbon. There is a nice seaside boardwalk but some days it was so busy you could barely walk on it. Steve was looking forward to golfing (there are 3 courses in the area) but was limited by the cold and rainy weather, which unfortunately was with us for most of the 10 days we were there. Oh well, better than March in Toronto (we keep reminding ourselves)!

The iconic Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães in Cascais

If you do visit Cascais, we would recommend a short stay. Here are some of the things we recommend:

  • Bike rentals: Scooters Nalinha, ( 8 euros/day).
  • Some Cascais restaurants we enjoyed: Taberna Clandestina, A Nova Estrela, and Somos um Regalo (take out Churrasco chicken).
  • The best coffee and coolest café is Lusophonica Coffeeshop by the lighthouse. They also have a very nice brunch menu. We loved the baristas Angel and Nuno.
  • Best places to stay: Upscale – Farol Hotel, Pestana Cidadela Cascais, Villa Cascais. Moderate – Villa Vasco de Gama. Note: Pestana Cidadela Cascais it a must see (go inside, it is spectacular) and in its courtyard there are many wonderful artisan shops.
  • The highlight of the week for us was the Wednesday and Saturday farmer’s market at the Mercado da Vila. On Wednesdays there is also a very lively flea market in the same location with carny-like vendors yelling out to customers to buy their wares.
  • We recommend staying away from the very touristy area of Cascais which is just behind Hotel Baia. It is very congested and waiters harass you to eat at their restaurants.
  • Our favourite area to explore is around the charming A Leitaria cafe/restaurant (map). Some of the houses in this area are adorable and the streets are nice and quiet.
  • A walk east along the boardwalk will take you to many seaside restaurants. We really liked the Sun and Drink lounge in Estoril: they have an amazing Açai bowl. Also, Surpresa Snack Bar has great grilled fish.
  • On a windy day, watch the surfers between Praia de Rata and Praia do Tamariz (map)
  • Visit the Cascais Marina to admire the boats and have a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants.
  • The Marechal Carmona Park is a great park, especially for kids. There are peacocks, ducks and geese walking around and families picnicking.
  • A must-see iconic building in Cascais is the beautiful yellow castle-like house (Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães) right across from Plaia Santa Marta. You will pass it on your way to the lighthouse when you cross a small cobblestone bridge (map).
  • About a 15 minute bike ride further west you will find the Casa da Guia Mall: An outdoor area with a few cliffside restaurants and shops. This was one of our favourite places in Cascais.
  • Cycle further west along the waterfront to Guincho beach, then continue on the road as it winds right and goes up a steep hill. At the top of the hill, to the right, you will find the Bar e Duna da Cresmina which has an amazing view of the coast and offers a delicious and healthy lunch.
Marya and I at the Cascais Lighthouse
Baristas Angel and Nunu from the Lusophonica Coffeeshop: Best cup of coffee in Cascais!
Lunch with a view at Bar e Duna da Cresmina

Road trip to Porto and the Douro Valley

After Cascais, we rented a car for a 5 day road trip to Porto and the Douro Valley. Here is our itinerary:

Itinerary:

  • Day 1: Lisbon > Óbidos (lunch) > Nazaré. (Total driving time: 1hr40) Map
  • Day 2: Nazaré > Batalha Monastery > Aveiro (lunch) > Porto. (Total driving time: 2hr45) Map
  • Day 3: Porto > Amarante (coffee) > Miradouro do Imaginário > Quinto do Tedo (lunch) > Pinhão. (Total driving time: 2hr15) Map
  • Day 4: Pinhão > Quinto do Vallado (wine tasting) > Sapateiro Winery (lunch) > Porto. (Total driving time: 2hr10) Map
  • Day 5: Porto > Tomar > Lisbon. (Total driving time: 3hr30) Map

Óbidos

Óbidos is a little medieval walled town north of Lisbon. Its main attraction is the castle with surrounding walls that you can walk on. It is very touristy but a lot of fun and worth the visit. The annual Óbidos Chocolate Festival was in full swing when we arrived so there was lots of chocolate to eat, music and festivities! We had lunch at Avocado Café that had really good food and a little outdoor patio.

Obidos Castle
Me walking on the Obidos Castle wall

Nazaré

Nazaré had become a destination for us ever since Steve watched a few episodes of the 100 Foot Wave before we left for Portugal. We knew that we could not pass on the chance to see this iconic surfer’s mecca while here. The main destination in Nazaré is Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo, the viewing platform and surfing museum. Even if you are not a surfer, this is a must-visit spot.

Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo, best viewing spot to watch the surfers and home to the surfing museum.

Nazaré is reputed to have one of the largest waves in the world, sometimes reaching 100+ ft. Apparently the largest waves occur between December and March, but unfortunately, when we arrived there were no waves whatsoever so there was no surfing to watch (we still loved it). Later, we discovered a website where you can check the wave forecast to plan your visit which we should have been doing the entire time we were in Lisbon because apparently we missed some huge waves (sigh).

Surfing museum at the Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo in Nazaré

Nazaré has a real beach town vibe, but mixed in with an old-world Portugal charm. Some of the women wear traditional Nazaré clothing and fishmongers dry their fish out on the beach every morning.

Nazaré Fishmonger drying out her fish.

We had one of the best seafood meals ever at Rosa dos Ventos in Nazaré, a small, authentic Portuguese restaurant recommended by our Airbnb host (call to reserve, this place gets busy).

Rosa dos Ventos restaurant in Nazaré.

We adored our Airbnb, even though it was on a the main street in Nazaré, but passing cars were not an issue once we closed the windows and the shutters. Note: A quieter location to stay would be up on the cliff, in Sítio da Nazaré, which is also closer to the Forte. Note also that if you do stay on the beach, you can easily go up the cliff via the Elevador da Nazaré, and then it’s about a 15 minute walk to the Forte.

View of Nazaré from Sítio da Nazaré, after taking the lift up the hill.
Humungous fishing boats on Nazaré beach. If you zoom in, you can see the cliff in the background with the iconic Nazaré lighthouse.

Batalha Monastery

The Batalha Monastery is a breathtaking masterpiece of 15th century Gothic art and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Plan for at least an hour to walk through it. I guarantee that you will not be able to stop taking pictures of its beauty. I particularly loved the cloisters and the tomb of King João I and Queen Filipa de Lencastre, holding hands.

Batalha Monastery cloisters
Batalha Monastery cloisters
The tomb of King João I and Queen Filipa de Lencastre, holding hands.

Aveiro

Aveiro is a small, bustling town with colourful houses situated on a lagoon and often described as the “mini Venice” of Portugal. There are many restaurants to choose from but if you are a carnivore, you must eat at Tasquinha Do Leitao and order the Leitao a Bairrada (crispy roast pig).

Aveiro
Leitao a Bairrada (crispy roast pig) at Tasquinha Do Leitao.
It was so delish!

Porto

Porto is an incredible city and we quickly fell in love with it. The vibe is quite different from Lisbon: It’s grittier and even more lively, with hills even steeper than Lisbon. Most of the streets are pedestrian only. They are narrower, darker, and more ancient looking than in Lisbon (as are the buildings). You have the sensation of stepping into a Charles Dickens novel when you walk the tiny streets and alleyways.

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and there was some kind of festival, so the city was jam-packed to the point of being overwhelming. However, the crowds disappeared by Sunday morning and the city settled down to a less frenzied state. We were only there for a short time, but here are some of the things that we did and recommend:

  • Walk along both sides of the river to check out all of the wonderful bars and restaurants. Note: When we were there, there was construction on the lower foot bridge, therefore it was suggested to use the upper foot bridge instead to cross the river.
  • Watch the sunset with a cocktail and live music on the hill at the foot of the Ponte da Arrábida (south side).
  • Click here for a blogpost about more spots for magnificent views of Porto.
  • Eat at Pura4050: A lively restaurant with fun staff and incredible food. Be sure to eat outside. Great for people watching too, in a lovely square with live music. If you can’t get a reservation, try to get there just before 7pm when they open up the tables on the outside terrace.
  • Wander around the pedestrian-only streets and alleyways to make your own discoveries.
  • We stayed at The House of Sandeman and had a room with a river view. We loved it, but it was a bit noisy at night, even with the windows closed. We admired the Vincci Ponte de Ferro hotel which is at the south foot of the Ponte da Arrábida. It is more expensive but looked fantastic.
Watching the sunset on the hill at the foot of the Ponte da Arrábida (south side).
Ponte da Arrábida pedestrian bridge
Pura4050 restaurant
View of the north side of Porto.

Douro Valley

We only spent two days and one night in the Douro Valley and we quickly realized that we barely skimmed the surface of what this area has to offer. If you have more time, I would definitely recommend a longer visit.

First and foremost, the Douro Valley is a premier wine and port making region for Portugal, but it is also breathtakingly beautiful, with gorgeous views of the Douro River snaking through the scaffolded terraces of vineyards on the surrounding hills.

It was quite a daunting task researching and trying to decide which vineyards to visit. We narrowed our choices to vineyards that offered lunch in addition to wine tasting and were on a direct route to or from Pinhão (furthest point on our trip) to minimize time spent in the car.

Our first stop after leaving Porto was to the little town of Amarante for coffee and pastries on the outdoor patio of Confeitaria da Ponte, with a gorgeous view of the town’s ancient arched bridge. We then strolled across the bridge to the São Gonçalo church and saw another really nice looking café/restaurant called Café Bar – Restaurante S. Gonçalo on the square which would would have been be an alternative place to have a snack (map).

Amarante

Continuing south towards the Douro River, we stopped at the Miradouro do Imaginário for our first jaw-dropping view of the famous river. Then we drove to the stunning winery Quinta Do Tedo for lunch. With many choices of lunch experiences here (click on their website page to see more), we opted for a gourmet picnic lunch under an olive tree next to the river. The food was exquisite and combined with the bucolic surroundings, the warm spring weather, the singing birds and the sounds of nature, we felt like we had died and gone to heaven. This is an experience that we highly recommend. Note: All wine tastings and meals have to be booked ahead of time. Spaces fill up quickly so be sure to plan well ahead. You can book this lunch at bistroterrace@quintadotedo.com.

Miradouro do Imaginário
Gourmet picnic lunch at Quinta Do Tedo
Lovely cobblestone road to walk along at Quinta Do Tedo.

Our next and final stop of the day was Pinhão, a tiny town on the Douro River. We stayed at the glamourous Vintage House and we loved our luxurious room with a river view. However, we had a very disappointing dinner in the bar (perhaps the restaurant would have been better). In retrospect, we probably should have stayed at the nearby Quinta Ventozelo which was highly recommended by a Portuguese friend.

In Pinhão there are a few boating companies that offer 1 or 2 hour boat rides on the river. There is also a short walk along the boardwalk. There is not much else to do in this town and, apart from our hotel, the buildings and houses here are not particularly appealing. We did notice some large river cruise boats and it occured to us that boating up the Douro River from Porto is an option for people who don’t want to drive. Also, touring the Douro Valley by train is another possibility.

Pinhão

The following day we headed back to Porto with a stop at the Quinto do Vallado, one of the oldest, and largest wineries in the valley. We booked a one hour wine tasting tour (25eu) which provided an opportunity to walk around the grounds, hear all about the storied history of the farm, the various grapes varieties there, and see how the wine was made. It was a really enjoyable tour, and the wines were outstanding. I particularly loved the 20 year old Tawny Port (rated 4.4 on Vivino). Delish. While we recommend this winery for a tour, it is situated close to a substantial highway so I’m not sure what the accommodations are like.

Wine tasting and tour at Quinto do Vallado,

Next stop was tapas and a wine tasting at the small, hand-crafted, family owned Sapateiro Winery. Our host was Tiago, who turned out to be the son of the owner, and the wine maker. He was charming, knowledgable and passionate about their wine and wine making process. He spent 2.5 hours entertaining, wining and dining us on the porch of his family home with four courses of delicious tapas and matching wines. We loved their Rosé wine and ordered a case which Tiago arranged to deliver directly to our place in Toronto. This was a unique and intimate experience that we loved (book with tiagosoares17.22@gmail.com).

After the Sapateiro winery we continued on to Porto and spent a second night there.

Our charming host, Tiago, serving us lunch and wine on his front porch at the Sapateiro Winery.

Tomar

The next morning we drove to Tomar on our way back to Lisbon. Tomar is a beautiful town that seems to be off the frequently-visited tourist track. We just happened to stumble upon it and it turned out to be one of those serendipitous experiences that makes travelling so much fun becuase it proved to be a one of the highlights of our road trip.

The town is adorable and is situated on a small river, with many restaurants and cafés in the old section with pedestrian-only streets. There is also a lovely park with an old windmill wheel next to a small waterfall with ducks and swans swimming around.

Tomar water wheel
Mouchão Park in Tomar

There is a quaint little boutique hotel, Hotel Republico, next to the main square, across from the Igreja de São João Baptista which is currently undergoing repairs. It looks like a really nice place to stay.

But the real reason for visiting Tomar is to see the Castelo dos Templarios, also known as the Castle of the Knights Templar. Wow. Of all of the castles and monasteries we have visited in Portugal, this one was undoubtedly one of our favourites. The charm of this castle is that it has only been partially restored, with some walls only partially standing and nature growing all around them, so you get the impression that you have discovered the castle yourself like in a fairy tale. Adding to this impression is the fact that it we were almost the only people there. Note: Be sure to explore the whole grounds (you will need a couple of hours). My sister and I somehow managed to miss the massive kitchen and dorm rooms but Steve found them and said they were impressive!

Castle of the Knights Templar in Tomar.
Castle of the Knights Templar in Tomar.

After Tomar we headed back to Lisbon to spend our final two nights. Now in Montpellier, France, we are already sad about having left our beloved Portugal which had been our home for the past three months. We can’t wait to return!

Have you been to Lisbon, Nazaré, Porto, the Douro Valley or any other places we mentioned? What places have we missed? Please add your comments below!

XXOO

Sylvia and Steve

Other Douro Valley wineries (we did not visit but they look great):

Other Douro Valley accommodations:

More resources:

Our Lisbon adventures (March, 2022 – month 3 of 6)

Great views of Lisbon from the top of Parque Eduardo VII.

(To see more photos and highlights of our trip, please visit our Instagram account: @sylsteveeurope.)

We have been in Lisbon for two weeks now and we are in awe of its energy, beauty, culture, history, people and food scene. Even though we spend hours every day exploring new neighbourhoods, we realize that we are just peeling the outside layer of this vibrant city.

Lisboetas (Lisbon people) are uber-friendly, fun, and most speak English really well. They are also really young: we feel like the oldest people by far wherever we go.

We stayed in an Airbnb in the neighbourhood called Principe Real, which is our favourite area because it is outside of the high-traffic touristy areas yet it is full of parks, shops, cafés and restaurants. We really liked our accommodation, although it was on a fairly busy street so we probably wouldn’t stay there again. The contrast with quiet Tavira was a bit of a shock to us at first. Lisbon is a full-on urban centre, with noise and car pollution on the bigger streets. But we got used to the chaos after a couple of days and have grown to really appreciate the city.

Although we have a few suggestions of places to visit below, it is probably a good idea to avoid a rigid itinerary when you come to Lisbon to allow for some exploration and discoveries of your own.

***NOTE: You MUST have good walking shoes to explore Lisbon. The extreme hills and bumpy cobblestone streets are a killer on legs and feet. I strongly recommend that you get real hiking shoes like the kind that you would use to hike rugged terrain (click here for mine which I love, ordered from Amazon.com). Otherwise, Ubers are plentiful and a good option to get around.

There are lots and lots of stairs in Lisbon, with magnificent views.
Alleyway right next to Tapas Bar 52 in Principe Real
A smile for a tourist.
A tile “azulejo” from the house above.

Restaurants (most in Principe Real)

As covered in previous posts, the food in Portugal is fantastic. Simple, fresh ingredients, perfectly prepared and delicious. The food scene in Lisbon is no exception. Not only can you find great traditional Portuguese fare, but most every other ethnic cuisine as well, often as a fusion of flavours and styles. And there are restaurants at every turn throughout the city. So be prepared to be overwhelmed by options.

We arrived in Lisbon armed with restaurant recommendations from several sources. In the end, we chose our destinations based on location (mostly in the Principe Real neighbourhood), type of food, ratings, and atmosphere. Here are some our favourites, all excellent and in the moderate price range:

  • Ginlovers, amazing gin cocktails, great food, beautiful decor, lively bar in back
  • Tapisco, great tapas
  • Cascais Remo, authentic Portuguese, cheap and cheerful
  • Solar dos Nunes, authentic Portuguese, higher end but still reasonable
  • Coppola, great pizza other things, in Plaça das Flores
  • ZeroZero, amazing pizza and salads with a lovely outdoor patio in the back
  • Season restaurant, healthy and delicious farm to table food
  • Loop restaurant, great location right by Plaça das Flores, with an outdoor sitting area in the afternoon sun. Unique and healthy food. Best for lunch.
  • Mercearia do Seculo, we didn’t eat here but regretted missing it because it looks fabulous and everyone raved about it.
  • Flores da Pampa, delicious, fresh and healthy food with a vibrant atmosphere. Live music Wed – Sun.
  • Taza in Giro, incredible, creative Italian cuisine near the Mosteiro S. Vicente de Fora
  • Restaurante Descobre (Belem), authentic Portuguese food with a modern flair.
  • Note that if a server brings you appetizers that you did not order, you will more than likely have to pay for them. Don’t be timid to ask them to take them away if you don’t want to eat them.
  • Many restaurants don’t take reservations and if they do, you might have to call or email them instead of booking online.
  • Many restaurants don’t have websites but might have a Facebook or Instagram page
  • Tipping is optional (but we always do).
Back patio of ZeroZero restaurant in Principe Real
One of our favourite restaurants in Lisbon, Taza in Giro, with a view of the magnificent Mosteiro S. Vicente de Fora.

Brunch:

The adorable Seagull café in Principe Real

Best coffee:

Coffee is generally very good in Lisbon, but we found the best coffee at these cafés:

Best pasteis de nata:

Pastel/pasteis de nata (singular/plural) is a custard-filled pastry that Steve and I have become addicted to. We eat one every day. ALL NATAS ARE NOT THE SAME! They are best when served warm, right out of the oven. Try Manteigaria (several locations) or take a trip out to Pasteis de Belém (Uber or electric scooter. Side note: scootering in Lisbon is not for the meek-of-heart.)

Pastel de nata from the famous Pasteis de Belém is worth the trip!

Principe Real Bars: (age appropriate for us!)

Ginlovers bar and restaurant
We loved the Foxtrot bar!

Best rooftop bars:

March in Lisbon is quite cool (18C average), especially at night, so we did not get to many spots on the list below:

Zambeze restaurant with magnificent city views from the Miradouru Chão do Loureiro.

Castles, churches and monasteries:

View of Lisbon from the Castelo de Sao Jorge.
Peacocks wander freely on the Castelo de Sao Jorge grounds.
The breathtaking Igreja de São Dominic.
Mosteiro S. Vicente de Fora

Museums:

Miradouros (Viewpoints):

Lisbon has a stunning amount of beautiful spots to view the city. Many of these “miradouros” have on-site cafés, bars and restaurants as well.

Miradouro do Jardim do Torrel
View from Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, the highest miradouru in Lisbon.

Markets and flea markets:

With twin sister Marya, at Boro Godó restaurant in Lisbon LX factory.
Lisbon LX factory
Time Out Market

Parks:

Lisbon is one of the greenest capitals in Europe so you will run into them everywhere. They range from small parks that are integrated into the center of the city, to great gardens that exhibit true natural beauty. Many of these parks have cafés and restaurants as well, which guarantee a vibrant atmosphere. Here are some of our favourites:

Jardim do Principe Real
Plaça das Flores, in Principe Real. Cute little square surrounded with restaurants.
Tapada Das Necessidades

Graffiti and street art:

There is tons of graffiti and street art in Lisbon. Unfortunately, much of it is very unappealing and looks like nothing more than vandalism. It is something that you gradually get used to but it is quite off-putting at first. Apparently, there is no punishment for graffiti and the city has given up on trying to cover it up. However, there is also lots of beautiful street art so you just have to take the good with the bad. Click here for a great blogpost about Lisbon’s graffiti and street art scene.

Art or vandalism?
Street art (this, I definitely love).

Other things to see/do:

Cacilhas graffiti
Restaurante Ponto Final in Cacilhas (Almada).
Me in front of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos.
Marya and I nearly killed ourselves on electric scooters on our way to see the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Belém, but we made it!

Accommodations: (most are in Principe Real or close to)

Note: Many Lisbon streets are very busy and noisy. Please do your research before you book accommodation to make sure that the street is quiet if you value your sleep. Tip: Find the address on Google maps on your cell phone (you can ask your host for it if it’s not available) and avoid booking a place on a street with red or green lines (especially double lines).

Resources:

Have you been to Lisbon? What are some of your favourite spots? Please leave suggestions in the comments below: Obrigada!

Our month in Tavira, Portugal (Feb. 2022 – month 2 of 6)

(To see more photos and highlights of our trip, please visit our Instagram account: @sylsteveeurope.)

Fábrica do Costa restaurant in Fábrica

As I write, the days are dwindling to our last week in Tavira which has been our home since Feb. 1. Tavira is a lovely, quaint, picturesque village on the eastern Algarve, on the south coast of Portugal just 30 minutes west of the Spanish border. It is everything we had hoped for and more. The weather has been absolutely beautiful, averaging 18 – 20C and sunny almost every day. Tavira is the perfect size: not too big but not too small. A little sleepy but with many good restaurants and cafés. It is easy to get around on a bicycle with a beautiful countryside to explore on two wheels. The only time we used a car was when we rented one for three days to explore more of the Algarve.

Gilão River which goes right throught the center of Tavira. This is the ferry that goes to the beach.

There is a nice, friendly, easy-going vibe here: a perfect mix of Portuguese locals, short and long term tourists from everywhere around the world (mostly European), and expats smitten with their adopted home. All of the expats who have settled here deem it to be the best place on the Algarve because it is inexpensive, not too commercialized, not too over run with tourists, and the beaches are gorgeous and free of atrocious development (unlike many beaches on the Algarve, unfortunately).

Chatting with new expat friends at our favourite Tavira café, Veneza.

Golfing

There are three golf courses within cycling distance to Tavira: Benamor, Quinta de Cima, and Quinta da Ria. Steve prefers the driving range at Benamor and the golf course at Quinta da Ria. He has had a lot of fun working on his game and meeting fellow golf fanatics!

Steve riding to the golf course with his golf clubs.

Beaches

Beaches in this area of the Algarve are stunning but accessible only by boat because of the Ria Formosa Natural Park: a system of barrier islands which create a lagoon separating the mainland from the beaches. The Ria Formosa stretches for 60 km along the coast of the eastern Algarve, from the municipality of Loulé to Vila Nova de Cacela. It is the most important wetland zone in southern Portugal and features a wide variety of habitats, wildlife and birds. The greatest thing about this park is that development is not allowed, so the beaches are as pristine as you will ever find anywhere in the world. I have spent many hours walking on the beaches, often without running into a soul!

Ria Formosa Nature Park

To get to the Tavira beach you must take a 15 minute ferry ride which departs hourly from the west side of the river (just south of the public garden: map). Note that the 15 minute trip includes a 5 minute stop at the Tavira port (Quatro Águas). The cost is 2 euros (return). Click here for the schedule.

Tavira beach

Tavira beach is stunning but my favourite beach is Cabanas beach which is a 15 minute bike ride east of Tavira, in Cabanas (map). It is less busy and has really good, flat sand to walk on. You still have to cross the Ria Formosa lagoon by boat but it’s much shorter ride: only about 2 minutes. You will find the boat launch right across the street from the pink house on Av. Ria Formosa (map). Carlos runs the small motorboat for 2 euros (return). Once on the beach you can walk east as far as you like: it goes on for miles and miles. I usually walk east to Casela Velha (1 hr), or west to the breakwater at Tavira (45 minutes). If you climb the dunes at the breakwater you will have an excellent view of Tavira.

Carlos the boatman in Cabanas

Cabanas

Cabanas (map) is a gorgeous fishing village lined with restaurants and cafés. The boardwalk is lovely and when you reach the east end of it, you can continue walking along the shoreline along walking trails. Our favourite restaurant is Pedros (map). O Monteiro is also good and Noélia e Jerónim is wonderful but fancier and pricier. Note that most restaurants in the Algarve close for lunch at 3 and reopen for dinner 6:00ish. Because of its southern exposure, Cabanas has sun all day long and it is a great spot to sip on a cocktail while watching the sunset.

Cabanas boardwalk
Lunch at Pedro’s restaurant in Cabanas with twin sister Marya and her husband Glen, visiting from Toronto.

Biking in Tavira

Biking in Tavira is effortless. The traffic in town is minimal and the drivers are very careful and respectful towards cyclists. You can cycle along relatively flat country roads for miles without seeing any traffic. The roads are a combination of pavement, cobblestones and gravel. Our favourite route is going east and stopping in Cabanas, Fábrica, or Cacela Velha for lunch at fabulous restaurants. Or, you can cycle west to Santa Luzia (famous for grilled octopus) and further west to Praia (beach) do Barril where you can cycle across a causeway to get to the beautiful, popular Do Barril beach. If you are more ambitious, continue cycling west to Fuseta which is a cute town with more nice waterfront restaurants (we had a great meal at Casa Corvo). I highly recommend you download the free Komoot app on your phone for help in finding bicycle routes (no need to purchase if you do not use the “Navigation” feature). We rented “Comfort” bikes from Abilio Bikes (15eu/day, or 11 eu/day for 3 days) which offers great courtesy roadside service: Steve once got a flat tire and they drove out a new bike to him within minutes!

Cycling through orange and lemon groves.
View from Cacela Velha
Fishing boats in Fábrica

Accommodation

There are many Airbnb’s in Tavira. Try to find one with a rooftop terrace to maximize your outdoor enjoyment (preferably with all-day sun exposure). We stayed in a lovely, traditional house on a small, quiet street (click here), which was okay but it was really small; the rooms were cut up (no “flow”) and the terrace lost sun around 3pm. Click here for some other Airbnbs that look really nice.

If you would rather stay in a hotel, the Pousada Convento de Tavira and Sao Paulo Boutique Hotel look amazing. For a lower budget, try the Formosa Guest House, which has an ideal location (right above our favourite café, overlooking the river). Book the Poupa or Sardine rooms which have private bathrooms (I’ve seen the Poupa room and it is beautiful). The Authentic Tavira Hotel is another lower budget option.

Alternatively, if you are staying for a longer duration (more than a month) I would recommend contacting one of the many real estate agencies in Tavira. We have met many expats who have extraordinary deals for long-term rentals at a fraction of the price of Airbnbs (I actually regret not doing that for our month long rental: I believe we could have got a much better deal.)

Click here for more accommodation suggestions from Julie Dawn Fox who has a great website about travelling in Portugal. Before you book your accommodation, be sure to do a Google maps streetview look (drag the peg man onto the blue line on the map just in front of the accommodation) and take a good look to check if the road looks busy. There’s nothing worse than not being able to sleep because of street noise (yes, even in Tavira there are busy streets).

Lunch on our Airbnb terrace with Toronto friends Paul and Lori Cherrie.

Restaurants

Here are some of our favourite restaurants in Tavira:

  1. Artefact – French, but fantastic!
  2. Terraze – Gorgeous food and location right by the river.
  3. O Tonel – Simple and delicious Portuguese food.
  4. Tres Palmeiras – Roadside fish grill, lunch only. No menu, they will bring your food and drinks as soon as you sit down. Be sure to ask for beer or wine as it is included in the price!
  5. Veneze Caffe – Our favourite café right by the main square. Fresh baked pastries with the best Pastel de Nata in town.
  6. La Baguette – French bakery with the best croissants in town.
  7. Franganario Grill – Best Churrasco chicken take-out in Tavira.
  8. The Black Anchor and CafeBar 22– Great bars to sit in the late afternoon sun with a beer or cocktail.

Lobster Cataplana from Fábrica do Costa restaurant in Fábrica
Grilled octopus from Casa do Polvo Restaurant in Santa Luzia
Grilled Sea bream with garlic/sun dried tomato toast, from Tres Palmeiras in Tavira.
Clams from O Monteiro in Cabanas
Niece Erica eating a giant prawn at Casa Velha restaurant in Cacela Velha.

A special gastronomical experience

If you want a spectacular, unique and bespoke experience, consider having lunch or dinner at Monte Do Alamo, a farm and guesthouse just outside Tavira with an amazing view of the town and ocean. They also offer a full market excursion and cooking class. It’s hard to tell what they offer on their website so it’s best to email Mariana at mariana@tastealgarve.com or call Inês at +351 919 401 899 to ask. The day we had lunch there, we were the only guests and Chef Inês and her team made us feel like celebrities. It was one of our favourite experiences on the Algarve.

Monte do Alamo, Tavira
Chef Inês, co-owner of Monte do Alamo

Tavira Market

The Tavira Market is open from Monday – Saturday, 7am to 1pm and is located near the western end of the big bridge on the south end of town (map). It is a great place to shop for freshly caught fish and local produce. On Saturday there is also a flea market with antiques and curios.

Fish from the Tavira Market, caught the very same morning!
So many spices to discover at the Tavira Market.

Groceries and shopping

As in Madeira, there are two main grocery stores in Tavira: Pingo Doce and Continente. The Continente is in a shopping mall just on the edge of town (map) with many other stores, like Vodaphone if you need a SIM card for your phone, clothing and electronic stores, etc.

Other places to visit in the Algarve

We rented a car for three days to explore other parts of the Algarve and it definitely was not enough time for us to get to know it well. However, some highlights included:

  1. Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos (hike) – This is a MUST-DO!! It is a 12k (round trip) coastal walk with jaw-dropping views of red and toffee-coloured cliffs, golden beaches and azure blue waters. The east end of the trail starts at Praia de Marinha which is the most beautiful beach of the hike so if you don’t have time for a long hike, start here. Be sure to use the Komoot app to avoid wrong turns because it is not a well-marked trail. We started at Praia (beach) de Marinha and extended our hike past the official end point (Praia do Vale de Centeanes) to finish at Plaia de Carvoeiro. We then took a taxi back to our car at the start of the hike (there is a taxi stand right in front of Hotel Carvoeiro Plaza).
  2. Carvoeiro is a picturesque town with a small square next to the beach and we loved it so much that we decided to spend the night there. We stayed at the Hotel Carvoeiro Plaza which was very reasonably priced and our balcony overlooked the main square. We had cocktails at Levels Beach Bar: the Porn Star passionfruit martini (hate the name, love the drink) is exquisite! Followed by dinner at Restaurante Donna Maria, which is an Italian restaurant with fantastic food (get the black spaghetti seafood pasta). Be sure to go for a walk along the Carvoeiro boardwalk while you are there and descend the stone steps to see the magnificent caves.
  3. Two great beachside restaurants that we ate at are BJ’s Oceanside (on Praia do Almargem, near Quarteira) and Bar Quim (on Meia Praia just outside of Lagos): Get the garlic shrimp.
  4. One of the nicest Bed and Breakfasts we have ever stayed at was Villa Zawaia, right in Old Town Lagos. The room was exquisite and the breakfast was incredible. We had cocktails at the adorable Bora Café (best Sangria in the world) and wonderful seafood at Casinha do Petisco (get the garlic shrimp). We loved Lagos and wish we had more time to spend there but alas, we only stayed for one night.
Praia de Marinha, the beginning of the Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos hike
Me and my twin sister, Marya, at the Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos hike. Can you tell who is who?
Carvoeiro
Pornstar passionfruit martini at Levels Beach Bar in Carvoeiro.
The caves at the Carvoeiro boardwalk (zoom in to see me!)
Bar Quim, a wonderful beachside restaurant just outside of Lagos
The breakfast spread at Villa Zawaia in Lagos

More tips about the Algarve

  • Before you head out to explore the Algarve by car, try to plan ahead and do not drive around aimlessly. We did not find driving on the Algarve roads particulary appealing and unfortunately, there is no coastal road that you can drive along to see the ocean views and best beaches. Getting off the highway to drive down to the coast can be very time consuming and some beaches are ghastly due to the over development of condos. I recommend that you plan ahead and drive as much as you can along the four-lane A22, get off it to get to your destination, then return to the A22 to get to your next destination. The N125, which runs parallel to the A22 is a smaller highway, only two lanes, and if you are stuck behind a slow vehicle, it can be excruciating. You can google lists like 13 places to see in the Algarve, The best beaches in the Algarve, and The best beach restaurants in the Algarve with a sea view to plan your itinerary.
  • Apparently the crowds and heat on the Algarve can be overwhelming in the summer, so try to avoid coming during the high season. The weather and lack of crowds right now are perfect (less expensive, too)!
  • Interested in buying property in Portugal? Read this > International Guide to Real Estate in Portugal: Buying a House in Portugal

Have you been to the Algarve? What are some of your favourite spots? Please add to the comments below!

Travel tips for Madeira Island (Jan. 2022 – Month 1 of 6)

Lunch at Beira Calhau restaurant, on the walk from Câmara de Lobos to Funchal

(Please note that to see more photos of our trip and to get more ideas of places to visit in Madeira, please visit our Instagram account: @sylsteveeurope)

(Please note also that this blogpost is very detailed and was designed to provide as many tips as possible for anyone coming to Madiera as a visitor.)

WE LOVE MADEIRA! As I am writing this, we are on day 12 of the Madeira portion of our six month trip through Portugal and France. We will be on this beautiful island for 10 more days: so many more hikes, levada walks, towns, and restaurants to explore! But let’s backtrack a bit…

Thankfully, our exit from Canada and entry to Portugal and Madeira went smoothly (please be sure the read the bottom of my previous post for important info regarding documentation to come here).

Upon arrival in the Funchal airport in Madeira, we were greeted warmly by Javier of Auto-Rent-A-Car who drove us to his office in Funchal where we picked up our standard Renault Clio. Fortunately, Steve knows how to drive a stick shift, because automatic cars here are impossible to find (and outrageously expensive). By the way, if you ever visit Madeira, yes, you need a car to get around and explore the island. No, this is not a biking destination: the hills are way too steep. (Btw, we were told by fellow travellers that we met here later that much better deals can be found on Rentalcars.com)

In a very short time, we have fallen in love with many aspects of Madeira. Madeirans are extremely friendly people and the food and breathtaking natural surroundings and hikes are unparallelled.

Food: Being surrounded by the Atlantic ocean, it is no surprise that fish is a main staple here. When you walk up to a fish counter in any supermarket, you have a vast array of fresh fish to choose from. Steve once asked (with the help of Google Translate) what fish is the freshest and the fishmonger replied “Tudo!”. Steve has learned to grill fish to perfection on the charcoal grill at our rental property, and, combined with the fresh vegetables all grown on the island, we have been eating extremely well. Tomatoes taste like real tomatoes. The oranges, mangos and passionfruit burst with flavour.

Camarões e lapas, Pier One Grill Restaurant, Câmara de Lobos

Every now and then we treat ourselves to a meal at a restaurant and most meals, with wine, will cost no more than 30 euros (app. $42). One thing that has surprised us is that the Madeirans seem to like to boil their vegetables and serve them soft when served with a meal. Boiled potatoes, too, is a common presence on dinner plates. I haven’t seen many grilled vegetables, or vegetables cooked “al dente” which is the way we are used to serving them. Salads are always delicious and served with only oil and vinegar, enhancing the natural flavours of the fresh ingredients.

Grocery stores: On Madeira Island there are two main grocery stores: Pingo Doce and Continente. You can get pretty well anything you need in these stores, including fresh fish (be sure to ask them to clean out the fish first). Most towns on the south side of the island have one of these stores. They are harder to find on the north side. We were surprised to discover that most towns do not have specialised stores like for fish, meat, fresh produce, etc. It seems that the two large chain stores have taken over the small businesses.

Language: Most Madeirans in the service industry (especially in tourism) speak very good English. Outside of the service industry, many people have at least a passable knowledge of English, but if they don’t, a few hand gestures and the use of Google Translate will get you through most interactions. Here are some useful phrases (tap links to hear pronunciations by tapping the speaker icon. You will likely be prompted to log into your Google account. Use the back button after listening to return to this page):

Tip: Download the Google Translate app onto your phone and save these phrases and others you need by tapping the star symbol. Practice them whenever you can (waiting in line, waiting for food, etc.) by tapping the star symbol at the bottom of your screen. Your saved list will come up.

Hiking: Just wow. Madeira is a mecca for all outdoor and hiking enthusiasts. Every hike we do, we think it’s the best one we have ever done, until we do the next one!

Levada do Moinho/Levada Nova

Choosing what hike to do can be a little overwhelming because there are so many.

A must-have is the WalkMe – Madeira app. You can filter hikes by level of difficulty and distance. There’s also a nifty “To do” list that you can save, and a “Done” list that you can add your hikes to. This app has most of the popular trails but not all. AllTrails app has additional trails.

JourneyEra.com is a great website by Jackson Groves. If you do a search on his website for “Madeira”, you will find tons of information and detailed descriptions of different hikes.

Another great source of information for hiking is to ask other people that you meet on the island (travellers and locals) what their favourites hikes are.

These are the hikes/walks/levada that we have done so far (and we have loved them all):

  • Lido Promenade Funchal: Lovely stroll along the Funchal port with seaside restaurants and bars.
  • Câmara de Lobos to Funchal promenade: This is a 2 hour walk each way which has beautiful sections but some sections you need to walk along a road with the cars. The route is not clearly marked so you may have to ask locals for directions.
  • Levada das 25 Fontes: An extremely popular hike, be sure to visit the Rabaçal Nature Spot Cafe either at near the beginning or end of your hike (depending where you start).
  • Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço: Probably our favourite. Also called “The Dragon’s Tail”. This also has a nice café near the end.
  • Levada do Paul: Breathtaking views but extremely dangerous. We had to stop half way. Worth going as far as you can!
  • Levada do Moinho/Levada Nova: We loved this but got confused at the end of the Moinho trail: we couldn’t find how it joined to the Nova trail. Had to backtrack and go up some stairs to find it.
  • Fanal Forest: A magical forest of ancient trees. People like to take pictures in the fog but we went on a sunny day and loved it! You can drive directly there and walk around (which we did) or you can hike there.
  • Vereda do Larano: GORGEOUS coastal views! We drove to the Teleférico da Fajã do Larano (just outside of Porto da Cruz), parked our car on the narrow road, and walked east, continuing along the road we just drove on, which eventually narrows to the Vereda do Larano. You can continue to hike right to Machico, but we just stopped after an hour until we reached the Machico pass, then returned to our car. In Porto da Cruz we ate at A Pipa restaurant (the grilled lapas are delicious) and we visited the Casa do Rum for passionfruit ponchas.

Here are some terms that you will come across while hiking or looking at maps:

  • Boca = Mouth
  • Câmara = Chamber
  • Caminho = Path
  • Cascata = Waterfall
  • Fajã= Flat surface by the sea
  • Farol = Lighthouse
  • Lagoa = Lagoon
  • Levada = Aqueduct
  • Miradouro = Viewpoint
  • Pico = Peak
  • Ponta = Point
  • Porto = Port
  • Praia = Beach
  • Ribeira = Stream
  • Saída = Exit
  • Vereda = Trail
The incredible Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço (or the Dragon’s Tail).
Levada do Paul
Fanal forest (zoom in to see me in contrast to the huge tree!)
Vereda do Larano

Miradouros: There are many breathtaking miradouros (viewpoints) in Madeira that you can drive to if you don’t feel like hiking (click here for a map). Anytime you pass a sign for a miradouro while driving, you should always stop and take a look! For a spectacular view of Funchal, check out the glass-bottomed Cabo Girão Miradoura in Câmara De Lobos.

Cabo Girão Miradoura

Teleféricos: There are a number of teleféricos on the island (cable cars) and you should also try a few of them if you visit. Click here for a map. We spent a magical afternoon at Fajá da Quebrada Nova after descending down the Achadas da Cruz cable car.

Fajá da Quebrada Nova

Be sure to have a poncha at the beach bar, made by the wonderful Andreina.

Poncha (freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice, honey and rum) with marinated carrots and bread.

(Note that some cable cars might not be operating in low season. Also, be prepared to hike up the cliff in case the cable car stops working after bringing you down – it happened to us!).

Our favourite towns: With the exception of Porto Moniz, all of our favourite towns so far are on the south shore.

  • Funchal (pop. 112k)is the main city of Madeira is a 20 drive from the airport. It is a great city with wonderful parks, promenades and restaurants. Be sure to check out the Lido Promenade Funchal and the Funchal Farmer’s Market (closed Sundays and Mondays). Note that many travellers claim that some of the fruit sellers at the market have reputations for ripping off tourists. Stroll through Old Funchal (all around the market) and admire the architecture and cobble-stoned streets.
  • Câmara de Lobos: Lovely fishing village just outside of Funchal. Great restaurants on the water. We loved the Pier One Grill Restaurant, and drinks in the outdoor terrace at Pestana Churchill Bay Hotel.
  • Ribeira Brava: Vibrant town with many sea front restaurants and cafés. There is a nice fresh produce store on the main street (Mercado Municipal da Ribeira Brava) and a Pingo Doce around the corner.
  • Ponta do Sol: This is the town that our villa is in. It is small with a handful of restaurants. Reputed to be the sunniest spot on Madeira.
  • Jardim do Mar: Great place to watch surfers because the waves are huge, with a really nice promenade to walk along the water. We had a yummy lunch at Joe’s Bar.
  • Paul do Mar: More great surfing views, but not much else in this town.
  • Porto Moniz: Really nice town, more modern and spacious than other. Its main draw is the natural swimming pools amongst the hardened lava. One pool you have to pay to get in, the other (further east along the water) is smaller but free, which we liked better. Poça’s Café is a great spot for a drink or lunch.
Câmara de Lobos
Ponta do Sol: Our village
Poncha and beer on the Pentana Churchill Bay terrace in Câmara de Lobos.
Porto Moniz with natural swimming holes
Ribeira Brava

Other favourite places:

  • Palheiro Golf course: This golf course has breathtaking views over Funchal and is a great walking work out with all of the hills. Be sure to stop for coffee/tea and a snack at the Palheiro Village Tea house (get the Casa Velha cake) and drinks or lunch at the Clubhouse Restaurant with magnificent views. Steve says he had one of the best burgers in his life there.
  • Palheiro Gardens: These gorgeous gardens are right next to the golf course and there are many walking trails that go through them.
  • Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse and museum: A great spot for lighthouse enthusiasts, with beautiful views. You can drive here or park at Casa de Cha O Fio (Tea house with a stunning view) and walk down through a field with grazing cows, which is what we did – highly recommended!
Steve warming up at Palheiro Golf Course.
Palheiro Gardens
Casa de Cha O Fio Tea house near the Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse (farol).
Grazing cow in the field between the Casa de Cha O Fio (Tea House) and the Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse.

Restaurants/Cafés

Grilled sardines from Restaurante dos Combatentes (Funchal).
Casa de Cha O Fio Tea house with lemon cake.
Beira Calhau restaurant
Banana milkshake at Poça’s Café in Porto Moniz.

Shopping: One of the things we love about Madeira is the limited commercialism. You will not find lots of tacky touristy souvenir shops everywhere. If you require anything specific (like electronics, hardware, eyeglasses, etc), there are a couple of large shopping malls in Funchal that has just about everything you can imagine. Madeira Shopping Mall and Forum Madiera are two that we have visited. If you need hiking gear, Decathlon is where you can find it (in Funchal).

Weather: Click here for a good overview of the monthly weather in Madeira. From November to May, the average temperature ranges from 18C to 21C. From June to October the average temperature ranges from 24C to 26C. Most of the rainfall occurs during the winter months, but even on days that called for rain, we have found sunny spots around the island (our stay here is from Jan. 9 – 30). The wind coming off the Atlantic can be significant, particularly when you are high on a hill.

Accommodations: Because of the strong wind, I would avoid places that are high on a hill or mountain, especially during the cooler months. We stayed in a wonderful hillside villa with a gorgeous view that was very reasonable priced, but many days we couldn’t sit outside because it was so windy. And the wind would howl inside the house at all hours. Some days we felt like we were in the middle of a hurricane! For this reason, the next time we come, we will try to find a place closer to the shore.

I also recommend staying on the south shore which has more sun than the north shore. I would look for a place in Câmara de Lobos, Ribeira Brava, or Ponta Do Sol. The closer you can get to the water in these towns, the better, because that is where all the action is. We had to drive into town every time we wanted to go to a restaurant and it would have been much nicer just walking.

Driving in Madeira: Because of the insanely steep hills and narrow streets, driving in Madeira can be very challenging. In fact, if you (or your travel companion) don’t feel comfortable driving a standard car, I would sadly advise you not to come to this beautiful island unless you have ample money for taxis and private tours. There is a bus system which I haven’t investigated.

On Madeira roads there are many roundabouts. If you aren’t use to them, they can be very confusing when trying to follow directions. My advice is to turn on Google Maps voice directions on your phone which will give specific directions like “Take the 2nd exit on the roundabout”.

When you use Google Maps to search for driving directions for a town like “Ponta do Sol”, you need to be specific about where you are going in the town or you will end up in some random spot somewhere in the vicinity of where you want to go. Instead, search for something like “Praia de Ponta do Sol” or “Ponta do Sol beach”. Or, use a specific address if you have one.

Because it is low season, we have not had any problems finding parking spots on the street everywhere in Madeira. Every now and then we need to use a parking garage and then things get complicated as we try to figure out the payment system. All garages we have used so far require you pay at a machine before you get back into your car. But the methods seem to vary: sometimes it’s a paper ticket, other times it’s a yellow plastic token. Sometimes you can validate your ticket at the store you were shopping at. Madeirans are very helpful, so just ask around if you’re not sure.

COVID19 in Madeira

Yes, COVID19 is here. Today, 1,583 new cases were recorded. That sounds like a lot for a population of 270,000 residents. Yet life goes on as normal here. Restaurants and stores are open and proof of vaccine is never asked for. Everyone has to wear a mask indoors and outdoors when around other people. Portugal ranks as the second country in the world for percentage of population vaccinated against COVID at 94% (in contrast, Canada stands at #7 with 84%) so the mindset seems to be “business-as-usual”.

There are many free walk-in clinics for COVID testing for residents that we see everywhere. Madierans are mandated to be tested once a week (perhaps this is why the rates are so high?). I don’t know if they allow tourists to use the free clinics.

Other random things you should know about Madeira:

  • Currency is Euros. ApplePay is accepted everywhere.
  • Good to have some cash too because some parking machines and stores/restaurants only take cash. The exchange rate is crazy-high at the ATM’s, so try to bring a lot of Euros with you ahead of time.
  • Wifi is very strong in our villa and I assume it’s similarly good around the island.
  • We bought SIM cards as soon as we arrived at a Vodaphone store. We paid 20 euros for 10GB. We need to renew this every month by returning to the store, which is rather inconvenient.
  • Weirdly, there do not seem to be many bugs here. We have not seen one mosquito: As Canadians, we are very happy about this! Tiny little ants have appeared on our honey lid on the kitchen counter, but that’s pretty well it. We haven’t even seen flies!
  • You will need European plug adapters for your devices. I ordered these from Amazon.com and they have worked really well.
  • The tap water is perfectly safe here. If you are on a budget and you ask for water at a restaurant, specify tap water (água da torneira) otherwise they will bring you expensive bottled (it’s as expensive as beer and wine).
  • Milk (leite) is not refrigerated in stores, so look for cartons on the shelves. You will have two choices: Gordo (whole milk) and Meio-Gordo (partially skimmed).
  • Butter (manteiga) comes in plastic containers like margarine.

Phew! That’s it for now. We will be adding to this post as we discover more great things about Madeira and as we come up with more tips for future travellers. Do we recommend travelling to Madeira? 100%: Put it on your bucket list!

Have you been to Madeira? What have I missed? What are some of your favourite spots? Please comment below!

How to stay longer than 90 days in Europe (and our upcoming trip to Portugal and France)

“Let’s escape to Portugal for a few months,” hubby Steve suggested one fall day recently as we anticipated the inevitable long, cold, grey winter ahead of us in Toronto. 

I did not need any convincing. We are two retirees who have always loved to travel. Needless to say, COVID-19 put an end to those halcyon carefree travel days, but as vaccination rates rose in 2021 and international borders started to open up again, the possibility of satisfying one’s wanderlust has become real once again (we are trying to ignore Omicron scares atm). 

We have heard a lot about the beauty, warmth, and affordability of Portugal so it seemed like a great place to hang out in for a while. It also ranks as the third country in the world for percentage of population vaccinated against COVID at 89% (Canada stands at #10 with 82%). Portugal is known to have a very good public healthcare system so we feel very safe travelling there. 

We set January 8, 2022, as our departure date, beginning our trip in the warmest part of Portugal and working our way north as the weather warms up.

Madeira Island is a small Portuguese island in the Atlantic ocean, just adjacent to Morocco. It is renowned for striking mountain vistas, epic hikes and Madeira wine. It has been called “The Hawaii of Europe with an average January temperature of 18C/64F. This seems like an ideal spot to stay for our first month! 

Madeira Island, Portugal

Then we will head mainland to “the Algarve”, the name given to the area on the southern coast of Portugal. The Algarve is filled with beaches, golf courses, seafood and quaint fishing villages. The biking is reputed to be phenomenal. The average temperature in February is 17C/63F. We chose the old town of Tavira to stay for the second month, because it looks gorgeous and it is a 30 minute drive to the Spanish border for day trips. 

Tavira, Portugal

For our third and last month in Portugal we will head north to Lisbon which will enable us to take side trips to the beautiful coastal towns of Cascais and Porto, and to the vineyards of the Douro Valley. The average temperature in Lisbon in March is 18C/65F.

Porto, Portugal

Here is our itinerary with links to our accommodations.

January: Madeira

February:  Tavira  

March: Lisbon

While doing research for this trip I learned that tourists are not allowed to stay in the Schengen zone of Europe for longer than 90 days because of the 1985 Schengen Agreement (click here for a list of these countries). Tourists who overstay the 90 days are subject to large fines, deportation and being banned from re-entering the Schengen area. Since Portugal and France are in the Schengen area we had some logistics to sort out to stay for 6 months. Tourists are allowed to leave the Schengen zone and return after 90 days, however, that did not suit us because we wanted to stay in Portugal and France. * NOTE- Since writing this blogpost, I have discovered that Canadians can obtain a Portuguese Temporary stay visa for periods of over 3 months visa. Click here for more info or contact the Consulate General of Portugal here (Toronto) and here for other locations. Also, more info here (scroll down to “Extension of Stay”).

Countries in the Schengen area are in blue

(NOTE: An additional complication for some travellers is that some countries require a special Schengen visa to visit the Schengen zone countries. Thankfully, Canada and the US are not on this list.)

I discovered that it is relatively easy to get a  ‘Visitor’ Long-Stay Visa (visa de long séjour visiteur or VLS-TS Visiteur) – scroll down to “Moving or Retiring to France Without Working”. This visa will enable us to extend our trip in France for up to a year. Other countries offer similar long-stay visas but they are more difficult to obtain. (More info on how to apply for a French long-stay visa can be found at the bottom of this blogpost.)

Here is our itinerary for France with links to our accommodations:

April: Montpellier 

May: Gordes

June: Bordeaux 

We chose Montpellier because it is on the Mediterranean with beautiful beaches, great cycling, and a lively cultural and dining scene. The average temperature in April in Montpellier is 18C/65F.

Montpellier, France

Gordes is a medieval town that sits on a hilltop and is considered the one of most beautiful towns in Provence. It is situated in a rural area close to many other villages which are easily accessible by bike. The average temperature in May in Gordes is 23C/73F.

Gordes, France

Bordeaux is on the west coast of France, surrounded by world famous vineyards and an hour’s drive to the Bay of Arcachon where you can stroll along some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and feast on oysters. The average temperature in June in Bordeaux is 24C/75F.

Bordeaux, France

With our six month travel itinerary complete, we decided to try to rent out our downtown Toronto condo while we are gallivanting around Europe. We reached out to our phenomenal real estate agent, Danielle Desjardins who put together an MLS listing for us and within two days of the listing going live we found some wonderful tenants. Happily, the rental income will cover our accommodation costs for our trip to Europe. Everything is falling into place!

I hope you will follow us on our Portugal/France adventure which I will blog about here as often as I can. You can also follow us on Instagram at @SylSteveEurope. If you have any travel tips or favourite places in Portugal or France, please add them in the comments below!

XXOO Sylvia (and Steve)

*If you are planning a trip to Europe, please read below for more info about the Schengen zone, visas and visiting Portugal

  1. I had to do a ton of research to understand how the Schengen agreement and visas worked. In short, (from what I understand), your passport will be time-stamped upon your arrival in your first Schengen zone country. After that, your passport will not be examined again by border officials until you leave the Schengen zone by plane or enter a non-Schengen zone country (However, if you are flying within Europe you might have to show your passport before boarding a flight). The Schengen agreement makes it much easier to travel across Europe because it means that no border officials are required at borders separating Schengen zone countries. 
  1. Note that you must apply for the visa while you are still in your home country and that you cannot apply for it more than three months before your arrival in France. This made the timing tricky because we had planned on being in Portugal for three months before our arrival in France. So on our visa application we said that we will be arriving in France three months before the actual date of our arrival in France (ie. We said we were going to arrive in France December 24, 2021 although we will not actually arrive in France until Mar. 31, 2022. Thus, the visa we received starts Dec. 24, 2021 and ends Dec. 24, 2022.). 
  1. VFSglobal.com is a legitimate business that has been contracted by the governments of several countries to manage visa requests. Click here for VFS offices in Canada. Click here for VFS offices in the U.S. Click here for an agency in the U.K. that does similar work. Click here to find out how to apply for a French visa in other countries. 
  1. I had a positive experience with VFS and we were successful at getting our visas 10 days after applying for them, but not all online reviews of VFS are positive. 
  1. The cost of the visa application is about $46 CAD which is paid to VFS for their service. (The cost is the same for a 6 month and a 12 month visa.)
  1. You must book an appointment online with VFS when handing in your application package. The VFS consultant will determine if you have all of the necessary documentation. If you don’t, you will have to rebook your appointment and return with the proper documents.
  1. VFS will send your application package to the French embassy in your country along with your passport (in Canada, the French embassy is in Ottawa). So do not plan any cross-border travelling while you are waiting to get your passport back!
  1. When you book your appointment on the VFS website you can opt for an additional courier cost which will expedite delivery of your passport right to your home address. I do recommend this service, however, I read that if you pre-purchase this service on the website and then find out at the VFS office that your application package is incomplete, you will lose this money. It might be better to wait until the consultant at the VFS office has approved your documents while you are there and then ask if you can pay for the courier service on the spot. 
  1. You do not have to show proof of a purchased plane ticket to France when you apply for a visa but you do have to provide proof of your accommodation in France for the entire duration of the visa that you applied for (6 months or 12 months), even if you do not plan on staying in France for the entire duration of your visa. Keep in mind that many websites like Booking.com, VRBO and Airbnb allow you to cancel your reservations within 48 hours of booking them. So you can make a reservation, make a copy of the confirmation email for your visa application package, then cancel your reservation. Or, you can do some “creative editing” of the dates on your reservations (captured with a screenshot) using Photoshop, Pixlr.com, Google Slides, or other photo-editing tools. I’m pretty certain that the French officials at the embassy do not contact your accommodation hosts to confirm the dates of your stay (they didn’t for me). 

  2. I discovered that on Airbnb, many hosts offer substantial discounts for a 1 month stay, often matching the same price as 3 weeks. If you don’t see such an offer, ask the host. Also, if you book for a whole month, Airbnb’s automatic cancellation policy is “Strict”: ie, you will lose all your money if you cancel. Apparently, hosts cannot override this on their settings for a one month stay. However, most hosts will waive this strict fee if they have “Flexible, Moderate or Firm” on their listing. If you want to book for a month or more, ask the host via Airbnb messages if they would consider allowing a less strict cancellation fee. If they agree to it and you book it but then have to cancel, Airbnb will have to honour the full refund since they will have a record of your conversation with the host proving that they agreed to that arrangement.

  3. Make sure that your full name and the full name(s) of anyone else travelling with you (who is applying for the visa) are indicated as guests on the accommodation confirmation invoices that you include in the application package. 

  4. Use this checklist to make sure that you have all the documents necessary for your visa application package. Make sure to photocopy everything before you get to the VFS office. They do have a photocopier, but they will charge you $1 for every page that you need to photocopy. 

  5. When you get your passport back you will find the visa glued onto a blank page in your passport if your application is approved.

  6. You must register your visa with the French Immigration and Citizenship Office (Office français de l’immigration et de l’intégration – OFII) within three months of arriving in France. This will cost an extra 200 euros which goes to the French government. Click here to validate your visa once you have arrived in France. Click here for more important info about the validation process.

  7. I do recommend that you book your return flight home before you land in Europe. Most border officials will ask to see this.

  8. To make your life easier, it might be best to start your trip in France, and then travel around Europe once you register your visa with OFII and have your appointment with them (see #13 above). This will give you a full 6 months to a year (depending on the duration of your visa) to travel around Europe, even outside of France (thanks to the Schengen zone and lack of border control). In theory, your visa is for travel within France but no one will know where and when you have travelled outside of France. As long as you return to  France and leave before your visa runs out you should be fine. 

  9. If you travel somewhere else before you arrive in France (like we will), it is critical that you get your passport time stamped by a customs official as soon as you arrive in France so that your 90 days don’t keep on accumulating from the first time you arrived in the Schengen zone (for us, in Portugal). This should be easy to do if you arrive in an airport in France. Otherwise you will have to go to the regional border police office to do this.

  10. As you can imagine, the complicated process of applying for a visa can make it very challenging for travellers who want to keep their travel plans fluid. Keep in mind that once you get your visa, you are free to cancel all your pre-set travel plans. 

(A huge “Merci” to Zoe Smith from frenchentree.com for her patience with me and answering many questions about the Schengen zone and French Long-Stay Visitor’s visa. Search for “French visa” on her website for many relevant blogposts).

If travelling to Portugal and Madeira:

  • Fill out this Passenger Locator Form 4 days or less before arriving in Portugal (once you know your seat number if flying). You will get a QR code as soon as you submit the form but at the airport you need to show the full pdf from your email that you will receive from “noreply@spms.min-saude.pt” with “Passenger locator form” in the subject line. Take a screenshot of this pdf in case you can’t access your email at the airport. The code to access the pdf is your passport number.
  • Fill out this form if you are going to Madeira after you get your negative Rapid Antigen test result. Take a screenshot of the QR code you get once you submit. You need to show this QR code when you arrive at the Funchal airport.
  • Algarveaddicts.com is a website run by South African expat Nick Robinson who has made Portugal his permanent home. He has loads of great tips and advice about travelling and relocating to Portugal. Be sure to sign up for his email list and subscribe to  his YouTube channel.

COVID-19 tests required for cross-border travelling (US/Canada) and other travel tips

HOORAY! US/Canada borders are open again!(with some restrictions):

If you are anything like me, you might be itching to do some travelling again, and why not stick close to home by visiting the country that we share a border with? Follow these tips to learn how to make your next trip as smooth as possible.

  1. All travellers need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (except for children: see #5, #6, and #7 below).
  2. Entering/re-entering the US by air requires a negative viral test. The test must be taken within 24 hours of your scheduled plane departure time (of the flight that crosses the U.S. border). The quickest and least expensive viral test is the rapid-antigen COVID-19 test. Results are usually available in less than 30 minutes and the cost ranges from $17 (Costco), $20 (Walmart),$35 (CHL), $30 (Rexall) and $40 (Shopper’s Drug Mart). Sadly, in some provinces like British Columbia you will likely not be able to find a rapid-antigen test for less than $120.
  3. Alternatively, you may enter/re-enter the US by air with proof of a positive COVID-19 viral test result acquired less than 90 days before the flight’s departure from Canada and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you were cleared to travel.
  4. Entering/re-entering Canada by any route requires a negative molecular test such as a PCR (RT-PCR) test. This test is usually very expensive ($100 – $300) and results can take up to 48 hours to get back. Because the test must be taken within 72 hours of the plane departure, the timing can be very tricky from receiving your test result to showing it to a Canadian official at the border or at the airport. Try getting an NAAT test instead (see NOTE, below). RAPID ANTIGEN TESTS ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE TO ENTER CANADA.
  5. Alternatively, you may enter/re-enter Canada with proof of a positive COVID-19 molecular test result acquired between 14 (10 after Jan. 15, 2022) and 180 days before departure of your flight to Canada so long as you are symptom-free (no doctor’s letter required).

NOTE: If you are entering/re-entering Canada, please do some research before paying for an expensive molecular COVID-19 test. Apparently some US drugstores and pop-up clinics provide free PCR tests, even for Canadians. (Example, click here for free PCR tests in Manhattan). Also, some Walgreen drugstores offer free NAAT tests (called “ID NOW”) with results that can be acquired under 24 hrs and in as little as 2 hours. If there are no Walgreen pharmacies near you in the US, try googling “Free asymptomatic COVID19 tests for travel in (city/state)”, or “Free rapid-antigen test for travel in (city/state)”, or “Free NAAT covid19 test in (city/state)”. Note that some websites might not allow you to book an appointment from an IP address outside the US, so you might have to do this while you are in the US.

In Canada, I have not heard of any free asymptomatic COVID tests for travel purposes.

Make sure that the documentation you receive when your test is complete includes the following information:

  • Your full name as it appears on your passport
  • Your passport number OR your birth date
  • The time and date the test was taken
  • The type of test
  • The word NEGATIVE next to “Test result”
  • The name and contact info of the health provider who conducted the test
  • NOTE: When you check in with Air Canada online you have the option to upload the document with your negative test result. Do not be alarmed if you get an email later that says “Your document is incorrect”. This happened to me and I knew that the test would be accepted at the airport because it was a legit test from Shoppers Drug Mart. As it turned out, no one at the airport asked to see it!

More tips: 

  1. Most COVID-19 tests facilities require an appointment so book early early to avoid stress and additional costs. Many places have limited time slots available.
  2. Set up an appointment to allow you to have your test result back at least 1 day before your travels (again, to minimize stress and to allow more time to make alternative arrangements in the unlikely event that your test result comes back positive). 
  3. I would NOT RECOMMEND booking a test at the airport (I have heard horror stories of long lines and missed flights, even with a set appointment). 
  4. If someone else arranges a test appointment for you, ask questions and make sure that it is the correct test to avoid paying unnecessary costs or to be denied passage to your destination due to a wrong test.
  5. Note that your must take your COVID-19 test 72 hours before the scheduled departure time of the flight that crosses the border into Canada, and 24 hours before the scheduled departure time of the flight that crosses the border into the U.S.
  6. For entering the U.S., if your plane is delayed or cancelled you will get a 24hr extension of your negative test result so be sure to have a record of your original flight departure time (the flight that crosses the border). If there is a delay beyond 24 hours you will have to re-test. You have a 48 hr grace period to your connecting flight if delayed (48 hours from your first flight departure). Click here for more info.
  7. For entering Canada, it appears that there is an unlimited extension of your negative test result from the scheduled flight departure time (click here for more info).
  8. Children under 18 years old DO NOT need to be vaccinated to enter/re-enter or fly within the US, however, they DO need to show proof of a negative COVID19 test (children under 2 are exempted from all rules).
  9. Children over 12 years old DO need to be vaccinated to enter/re-enter or fly within Canada in addition to having a negative COVID19 test (children under 2 are exempted from all rules).
  10. In Canada, unvaccinated children under 12 who return from travelling internationally have many restrictions placed on them for two weeks when they return to Canada, including not being allowed to attend school. Click here for more info.
  11. Everyone entering/re-entering Canada must use the ArriveCan app to provide mandatory travel information. Please note that the instructions on the ArriveCan app says that “a negative molecular (PCR) COVID-19 test result is required”, however, a negative NAAT test is accepted as well, as confirmed here (tap on “Get a pre-entry test (accepted types and timing”). Note also that even if you are fully vaccinated and have tested negative for COVID-19, the ArriveCan app will ask you for an address in your Canadian destination where you can quarantine for two weeks.
  12. Rules change quickly so double check before you plan your trip that the info in this graphic and post are still relevant.

Safe travels!

Sources:

bit.ly/Flytrippers

bit.ly/CDCgovNEGcovid

bit.ly/travelGCca

bit.ly/ArriveCanAppInfo

Great resource: Find out if you can board a flight to the United States: bit.ly/Fly2theUS

NEW! Live Remote Sketchnoting Workshops

(Click here to see this post in a Google doc.)

Dear sketchnoting friends and educators,

Now that everyone has settled back into a new school year, it is the perfect time to introduce your students and/or colleagues to sketchnoting (or to polish their sketchnoting skills). For the first time ever, I am now offering customized, live, remote sketchnoting workshops for any audience around the world!

What is sketchnoting?

Sketchnoting is a form of visual note-taking, where you draw or doodle your thoughts, observations, or notes in combination with words or text. It is a highly effective way for students to stay focussed, organize their thoughts, plan out ideas, and be creative with their note-taking. 

Workshop description:

Workshop participants will learn how to sketchnote with various fun and scaffolded drawing activities.  Sylvia will teach the basic elements of sketchnoting such as how to set up your sketchnote and how to draw icons, fonts, arrows, people, faces, animals, banners, containers, frames, bullets, and dividers and how to live sketchnote. By the end of the workshop, even the most reluctant artist will become a budding sketchnoter and will leave with all the skills necessary to create meaningful visual notes.

Audience: All ages in all subject areas.

Capacity: Up to 100 participants per workshop.

Required tools: Participants can draw digitally or with pen and paper.

Special back-to-school rates (in USD): Customize your workshop length! (Book before Oct 31, 2021 to receive the discounted rates. Workshop can take place anytime before June 30, 2022. Please note that all bookings require a 50% down payment to secure the date.)

Regular rate     Discounted rate until Oct. 31

1 hr: $1000 → $650

2 hrs: $1600  → $1200

3 hrs:  $2150 → $1750

4 hrs: $2700 →  $2200

5 hrs: $3100 →  $2600

6 hrs: $3500 →  $3000

For questions or to book me:

Please email me at sduckworth100@gmail.com

I hope to see you and your students online soon!

XXOO Sylvia

(Please click here for more testimonials.)

My favourite books

Dear friends,

I have always been an avid reader. However, despite the extra free time due to physical distancing, I have found it very difficult to focus on reading anything that is not COVID19 related. Finally this week I decided to open up my eReader and I downloaded some new books. I am happy to report that I have rediscovered my love of reading and can’t wait to dive into my next one.

For the sake of your mental health, I strongly recommend to try to take a break from COVID19 worries and to pick up a book to read for pleasure. It is an instant mood lifter and the best form of escapism.

Here is a list of the best books I have read over the past few years. If you want to learn more about each book, please click on the link which will take you to their Goodreads page.

The criteria to make my favourites book list include:

  • Well written
  • Captivating plot and characters
  • Not too gruesome
  • Ends in a satisfying way
  • Over 4 stars in GoodReads (or very close to 4)

(Note: these books are mostly fiction.)

I will continue to add books to this page as I recommend them, so please visit often!

By the way, if you don’t have an eReader yet, now might be the time to buy one. I have a Kobo and a Kindle (I prefer the Kindle as it carries more titles). EReaders allow you to download the first few chapters of a book before you commit to buying it.

Please share your favourites in the comments below so that I can read them and maybe add them to my list!

The Heart’s Invisible Furies
All the light we cannot see
The Goldfinch
The 7 Husbands of Evelyn Hugo 
The Perfect Couple
The Alice Network
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
The Power
The Secret Wife
The Marrow Thieves
Tell no one
Big Little Lies
The Air You Breathe
Where the Crawdads sing
The song of Achilles
Daisy Jones and the Six
The 100 year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared
An American Marriage
The Silent Patient
Educated
Dear Wife
City of Girls
Beautiful ruins
The Testaments
Swimming with Horses
Fall on your knees
Cutting for Stone
The Secret Life of Bees
The Book Thief
The Time Traveller’s Wife
The Glass Castle
The memory keeper’s daughter
Room
Mister Pip
Middlesex
The Poisonwood Bible
The Help
The Birth of Venus
The Book of Negroes
A complicated kindness
Long bright river
Followers
American Dirt
Lullabies for little criminals
Nothing to see here
Recursion
Becoming
A fine balance
The invention of wings
An absolutely remarkable thing
Ask again, Yes
Little Fires Everywhere
The Henna Artist
The Vanishing Half
The Last Flight
The Midnight Library
28 Summers
Anxious People
In An Instant
What Comes After
Pretty Little Wife
Win
Great Circle
The Idea of You
The Comeback
What Strange Paradise
The People We Keep
Oh, William!
A Year in Provence
The Lincoln Highway
Dear Edward
Wish you were here
If You Want to Make God Laugh
Will
North of Normal
The Maid
The Girl With Seven Names
Black Cake
Lessons in Chemistry