Our month in Bordeaux, France (June 2022 –FINAL month!)

The beautiful Château d’Agassac in the famous Médoc wine region.

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

We have bitter/sweet feelings as our month in Bordeaux draws to a close. Sweet because this city was a wonderful way to the end of our 6 month European tour but bitter because we realize that our journey will be over in a matter of days. Yet we are excited about the prospect of soon returning home to our family, friends, and our Toronto lives and routines.

We were so happy that our youngest daughter Lauren visited us in Bordeaux for our last 2 weeks! Photo taken in La Place de la Comédie, Bordeaux.
Cocktails at Chez Totto in La Place du Parlement.

Bordeaux is the 6th largest city in France with an incredible history, architecture and energy. It is the hub of the famed wine-growing region of Bordeaux, and is known for its majestic landmarks such as La Place de la Bourse, Le Miroir d’Eau, La Place des Quinconces, La Cathédrale Saint-André, Le Grand-Théâtre de Bordeaux and La Garonne river which winds through the city. Click here for a detailed tourist map of the city (part screenshot below).

Small portion of wonderful city map here.

When we arrived at the Bordeaux airport the line-up for taxis was huge (Uber didn’t work for us) so we ended up taking the bus Liane 1 which brought us almost directly to our Airbnb near La Place Gambetta (Note: You can determine bus/tram/train routes with Google maps by clicking the train icon).

We didn’t know how to buy tickets so the bus driver shrugged and let us on. As with most public transportation in France, there seems to be an honour system where you are supposed to buy and tap in with your ticket. Every now and then an official might come on board and ask for your ticket and if you don’t have one you will be heavily fined.

(Side note: This, in fact, happened to us later in Bordeaux when we tried to use train tickets a day earlier than intended. We were fiercely reprimanded by the train conductor who demanded that we pay him 50eu on the spot. We told him we had no credit cards 🙂 so he said to pay in cash (!). We said we didn’t have cash either so he asked for our passports. When we told him we didn’t have them on us he said the police will be waiting for us when we get off the train. Of course, they weren’t, he was just trying to scare us. No one was waiting for us and we bolted away on our bikes as fast as we could).

Our bikes rented from Pierre qui Roule.

The day after we arrived in Bordeaux we rented bikes from Pierre qui Roule which was right around the corner from our Airbnb. They are super friendly and gave us a great price for the month: 5 euros/day. We figured the best place to start exploring the city would be along the Garonne river so off we went. We cycled all along the west side of the Garonne, crossed the Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas, then cycled on the east side of the river to Pont Pierre, a beautiful pedestrian-only stone bridge. We were very happy to have bikes because Bordeaux is a large city!

We were also thrilled to discover that Bordeaux is very biker-friendly with many bike lanes around the city. In general drivers are respectful towards bikers and we feel very safe cycling everywhere. However, at this time of year the roads and bike paths are often heavily congested with people and cars (especially in the afternoon and evenings) so cycling becomes a bit of an obstacle course as you weave around trying to avoid hitting people and things.

Just a heads-up if you ever plan to take your bikes on a train (which we did often): the ride to the train station (Gare St Jean) from the centre of Bordeaux is not very pleasant because Google maps will try to take you on a very busy street. Steve eventually found us a route winding through quieter streets which was way better. Another good option is to ride along the bike path next to La Garonne then up to La Gare St Jean.

Place de la Comédie with L’Opéra National de Bordeaux (Grand-Théâtre) on the right.
La Fontaine des Girondins à la Place des Quinconces
La Porte Cailhau
Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux
Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux
Le Pont de Pierre over the Garonne River
La Garonne (looking north)
Another view of La Garonne (looking south) with Le Pont Pierre in the background.
La Place de la Bourse et Le Miroir d’Eau
City view with La Garonne in the background, taken from La Tour Pey-Berland

At the beginning, Bordeaux was a bit of an adjustment for us, coming straight from the peaceful Provençal countryside into the busy, energetic mass of humanity in Bordeaux. While we have a great Airbnb in a pedestrian-only zone with tons of bars, restaurants and cafés, at times we have found the volume of tourists to be a bit overwhelming. The hugely popular annual Bordeaux Wine Week last week was incredible but it made the city even busier. The week before that we had a severe heat 5-day wave with temperatures rising to 42C (thankfully, our Airbnb has AC). Despite these challenges, we have grown to love and appreciate Bordeaux for its energy, vibrant food scene, and of course, for its famous wines. When our daughter Lauren arrived mid-June all the way from New Zealand to visit us we were thrilled to show her our favourite spots and to explore new ones with her.

Place St. Pierre
Place du Parliament
Cours de l’Intendence
Restaurant Le Michel’s
View of La Garonne from the ferris wheel at Place des Quinconces.
CGR Bordeaux Le Français
I’m obsessed with these floral-topped storefronts.
A selection of cheeses from our favourite fromagerie in Bordeaux, Fromagerie Duruelle.
Mme Ruelle from Fromagerie Duruelle.
A must-visit store in Bordeaux: L’Intendant Grands Vins de Bordeaux, with more than 15,000 bottles of Bordeaux wine for sale.

Favourite squares and pedestrian-only streets

When you explore the streets of Bordeaux you will discover your own favourite spots and pedestrian-only streets. Three of the bigger pedestrian-only streets are Rue de la Porte Dijeaux (Rue St. Remy), Rue St Catherine and Rue de L’Intendence but there are many others (see map below, thin green lines). Here is a list of our favourite squares which are filled with cafés and restaurants and teeming with people every day. (Click here for the full map.)

  1. Place St. Pierre
  2. Place du Parliament
  3. Cours de l’Intendence
  4. Place du Marché des Chartrons
  5. Place du Palais
  6. Place Fernand Lafargue
  7. Place de la Comédie
  8. Place Camille Jullian
  9. Place Pey-Berland (Cathédrale Saint-André. Must-do: climb the Pey-Berland tower for an incredible view of the city, 6eu/pp.)
  10. Place des Grands Hommes

Must-see landmarks

La Place de la Bourse, Le Miroir d’Eau, La Place des Quinconces, La Cathédrale Saint-André, Le Grand-Théâtre de Bordeaux, La Garonne, La Porte Cailhau, La Grosse Cloche, Le Pont de Pierre, La Tour Pey-Beyland, are just a few of the important landmarks that you should try to see if you come to Bordeaux. Click here for a terrific map of these land marks and many more.

La Rue Notre-Dame is a charming, must-see street in Chartrons with many shops and restaurants.

Rue Notre Dame (Photo: LostInBordeaux.com)

Le Jardin Public is my favourite spot in all of Bordeaux. It is a large, beautiful, gardened park and a great place to unwind from the hectic city and crowds. L’Orangerie is a restaurant/café/bar in the park where Steve and I (and later, Lauren) spent many a cocktail hour with a beer, Aperol Spritz or a glass of rosé.

L’Orangerie in Le Jardin Public

La Cité du Vin

La Cité du Vin is a wine museum that has to be visited if you are in Bordeaux. It is a really interesting, interactive experience looking at every aspect of making and drinking wine. The museum touches all of the wine regions of the world, but focuses mostly on Bordeaux wines. There are over 8500 wine producers in Bordeaux alone across several different “Appellations” or regions. You learn all about the history of wine making, how the different varieties, terroirs, and aging/blending processes contributes to all of those wonderful scents and tastes. Plan to spend 2 or 3 hours there including a wine tasting on the top floor with a view of the entire city. Spectacular.

The remarkable La Cité du Vin.
Steve testing his olfactory skills at La Cité du Vin.
Wine tasting at La Cité du Vin with a view of La Garonne.

Accommodations

If you are planning to visit Bordeaux during the warmer months (May – September), be sure to find an accommodation with air conditioning. It gets VERY HOT here, in fact, Steve and I have never experienced a heat wave like the one we encountered here: 42C for 5 days in a row. We would have died if our Airbnb didn’t have AC. Very few places have AC in Bordeaux so be prepared to search for quite a while (or, save your time and energy, and just book the Airbnb we stayed at which we highly recommend).

The livingroom of the Airbnb we rented for the month of June.

Also, try to avoid booking a place in the south end of the city (near the train station) as it is a pretty sketchy area. Try to find a place in a pedestrian-only zone (like ours) to avoid hearing cars and scooters all day long. You can tell where the high-traffic streets are by going to Google Maps > Layers > Traffic.

We love the Chartrons neighbourhood (close to Rue Notre Dame and Le Jardin Public) and this is where we will probably look for accommodation the next time we come to Bordeaux. Our Airbnb was great but too centrally located, in a very busy zone with lots of tourists, likely because we were there during high tourist season.

Markets

A mountain of cherries from Le Marché des Quais des Chartrons
Le Marché des quais de Chartrons, photo sudouest.fr(

We were somewhat disappointed with the market and les halles options in Bordeaux. In Montpellier there were many more fresh produce markets where we got to know many of the sellers and shopped every day. In Bordeaux there were only a few markets and Halles that we really liked.

  1. Marché des Quais des Chartrons: This is our favourite market in Bordeaux which takes place every Sunday morning, right by the river. There are a lot of produce and specialty foods stands (fish, meat, cheese, etc), including a couple of small restaurants where you can eat fresh Bay of Arcachon oysters (Note: This market is not to be confused with Le Marché de Chartrons, which is a very small, unimpressive market, Tues – Sat. on Rue Sicard in Chartrons).
  2. Place Meynard (Basilique St. Michel). Very hectic produce market Fridays and great flea market on Sundays. Get there really early (before 9) to avoid the crowds.
  3. Marché Capucins is the biggest market in Bordeaux, open 5:30am – 2pm every day but Monday. It’s is quite far from our Airbnb so we did not go too often.
  4. Les Halles Bacalan: Located at the north end of the city, across from La Cité du Vin, this is a closed hall with small restaurants, bars, and food shops. There is a nice outdoor sitting area as well. Highly recommended. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
  5. Les Halles de Talence: A little out-of-the way but a very nice, smaller version of Les Halles Bacalan. Visit on Wednesday when there is also an open-air market. Combine a trip here with a visit to le Château de Peixatto and le Château de Thouars.

For quick groceries, there are many Carrefours (small neighbourhood grocery stores) scattered around Bordeaux. There are also humungous super grocery stores called Auchan which has many Bordeaux locations (click here for map).

Les Halles Bacalan
Hand-made potato chips from Les Halles Bacalan.
Oyster shuckers, Marché des Quais des Chartrons
Courgette (zuchini) vendors Marché des Quais des Chartrons
Wine bar in Les Halles de Talence.
Le Château de Peixatto

Best coffee and croissants

Since arriving in France, Steve and I have taken very seriously our search for the perfect coffee and croissant to start the day off right. We look for good coffee spots by searching “Torréfacteur near me” on Google, which is a coffee roaster. Otherwise, the coffee in Bordeaux in many cafés might be made by pushing buttons on a big machine (as opposed to heating up the milk by hand with a steam frother) and often did not meet our standards for flavour or strength (!). Ask for a Flat White or Café Crème (a “Latte” has more milk).

Perfect croissants and flat whites from Le Café Piha:.

The perfect croissant has to be baked fresh with a crispy, dark-golden, flaky shell and a soft centre that stretches slightly when pulled apart.

Three cafés near our Airbnb matched our criteria for perfect coffee and croissants:

  1. SIP Coffee Bar: Cozy indoor café.
  2. Books and Coffee: Beautiful indoor/outdoor location, right in front of La Grosse Cloche.
  3. Le Café Piha: Cute café with indoor and outdoor seating.

Best restaurants

Not surprisingly, we have had some delicious meals in Bordeaux. We chose reasonably priced restaurants that rated highly on Google Maps (4.6+) with an interesting menu, outdoor seating and an energetic vibe. As always in France, it’s always a good idea to make a reservation by phone or online if possible. Note: Not all restaurants are good so be thorough with your research. We only had one disappointing meal the entire month at restaurant called A Cantina despite a high rating. Turns out it is more of a pub with a focus on great cocktails and wines, with pretty average pub-like food.

Squid from Les Vaillant Père et Fils
Barbecued pork from Les Vaillant Père et Fils.
Cod from Les Vaillant Père et Fils.
  1. Les Vaillant Père et Fils: Our favourite restaurant, amazing organic food in a lively square.
  2. Restaurant Arcada: We had an incredible meal here, one of the best ever in France.
  3. Restaurant Loulou: Creative and fresh food with tables tucked into the alcove of a beautiful church.
  4. Frida’s: Cute indoor restaurant with nice vibe.
  5. La Petite Maison de Pierre: Cute, family-owned restaurant in bustling Place Saint-Pierre.
  6. Osteria Palatino: Great spot for pizza and salads on a lively street terrace.
  7. Karl’s: Nice place to sit for a drink and bite to eat and to people-watch in La Place du Parliament.
  8. Books and Coffee: Our go-to place for great coffee and brunch.
  9. Les Halles de Bacalan: This is an upscale food court with lots of great restaurants to choose from. We loved Les Requins Marteaux for really fresh seafood dishes.
  10. Le Bistrot Grand Louis (Mérignac): We had a really nice meal here, invited by friends of ours who live in Mérignac.
  11. La Guinguette Chez Alriq is a cool, relaxed, low-key bar on the other side of La Garonne with a beautiful view of Bordeaux. No food, just drinks.
Sea Bream from Le Bistrot Grand Louis.
Scallops from Le Bistrot Grand Louis
Restaurant Arcada
Veal tartare from Restaurant Arcada
Smoked trout from Restaurant Arcada
Yummy vegetarian meal from La Petite Maison de Pierre.
La Petite Maison de Pierre
Brunch from Books and Coffee.
Very happy at Restaurant Loulou
Crazy coincidence: The wonderful family who rented our Toronto condo for 6 months while we travelled moved to Bordeaux while we were there! They treated us to an exquisite meal at Le Bistrot Grand Louis in Mérignac. Thank you Mathieu, Severine and Éva!

Canelés

Canelés are a small pastry with a soft and tender custard-rum center and a dark, thick caramelized crust, classically created by brushing the mould with melted beeswax. They are a staple in Bordeaux, available everywhere in every size. I loved them right away but Steve never did acquire a taste for them. Try one at La Toque Cuivrée (many locations).

A canelé from La Toque Cuivrée

Bordeaux Wine Week

We were very lucky to have been in Bordeaux during the annual Bordeaux Wine Week: 7 days of festivities along La Garonne celebrating Bordeaux wine. 21 euros (app. $30CAD) buys you an entrance ticket to all of the displays, and 10 wine tastings (good size pours too!). It was one of the highlights of our trip to Bordeaux. We participated in several amazing workshops such as the steps to proper wine tasting; pairing wines with foods; how and why wines are blended; and a fantastic cooking demonstration with a Parisian chef who matched her creations to specific Bordeaux wines. There were many tasty food stations with all the best of french cuisine to be savoured. It was a really great event and a wonderful way to showcase French wine, food and culture.

Benoit from Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux taught us about wine-blending.
We learned about wine and food pairings from Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux.
Wine tasting with dried bugs (!) from Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux.
Alexia Duchêne cooking demo at Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux.

Day trips from Bordeaux:

  1. Arcachon
La plage d’Arcachon (photo credit guide-bordeaux-gironde.com)

Arcachon is a quaint seaside town on the Atlantic coast, 50 minutes away from Bordeaux. You can drive but car rentals are very expensive, so it’s better to take a train (plus you can bring bikes on the train which is a real bonus). It has a wonderful indoor and outdoor market in Place des Marquises which is open every day 7.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. in high season (click here for more info on the markets). There is a lovely beach lined with restaurants and a very nice car-free boardwalk.

We strongly recommend combining a trip to Arcachon with a 30-minute ferry ride to Cap-Ferret (15eu return, 26eu with bike), an area renowned for its gorgeous, empty, pristine beaches (on the west side) and its plentiful oyster shacks scattered along the east side. You can buy ferry tickets online or in person at Place Thiers in Archachon the day of your trip (No need to buy tickets ahead of time since they just add boats to accommodate visitors). During the boat ride you will see the famous “Dune de Pilat” (the largest dune in Europe) on the coast just south of Arcachon.

Ferry to Cap-Ferret with La Dune de Pilat (photo: bateliers-arcachon.com).

2. Cap-Ferret

Cap-Ferret, a small town on the Lège Cap-Ferret peninsula, is where the ferry arrives from Arcachon (on La jetée Balisaire). The temperature is much cooler here than in Bordeaux or Arcachon because of the Atlantic winds (especially on the west side of the peninsula). This is where we escaped to every day during the 5-day “canicule” (heat-wave) in Bordeaux and it was a life-saver despite the long trip there and back (50 minute train + 30 minute boat ride). We felt it was well worth the trip except for the last day when the wind died and we got scorched on beach.

Cap-Ferret is a tourist town with many restaurants, oyster shacks and vacation homes. While there are many roads to cycle on in Cap-Ferret, unfortunately, there is no road that goes directly along the water so cycling on the peninsula is not all that interesting. However, the markets, restaurants and beaches are incredible to visit so it is well worth the visit.

Our favourite place to eat fresh oysters in Cap-Ferret is Chez Boulan and for “Moules et frites” you must visit Chez Hortense (Tel: 05 56 60 62 56). Both restaurants have a terrace with a gorgeous ocean view.

Fresh oysters from Chez Boulan.

It’s best to have a bicycle in Cap-Ferret because it it quite spread out. There are many bike rentals stores in Cap-Ferret (click here for map. Choose a store close to where the ferry lands, at La Jetée Bélisaire). Alternatively, if you already have a bike, you can bring on the ferry.

There is a wonderful market in Cap-Ferret (look for Poisonnerie Bacque, Cap-Ferret on Google maps), open every day in high season. There are stalls for fresh produce, fish, oysters, meat, cheese inside the market, and a nice selection of summer clothing in the stalls outside.

The Cap Ferret beaches on the west side of the peninsula are some of the most beautiful beaches that Steve and I have ever seen. They are long and wide with fine white sand and they are great to walk for miles on. Our favourite beach is La Plage Cap-Ferret which you can find by looking for la Puit de pétrole du Cap Ferret on Google maps. It is so isolated that you can easily bathe nude without seeing anyone close by and there is a gorgeous view of La Dune de Pilat. Another nice beach is Plage de l’Horizon (Plage de l’Océan) which is a lot closer to where the ferry arrives and is walkable if you don’t have a bike. This is also the best surfing beach. In between these two beaches is La Plage des Dunes which is also gorgeous.

Caution: The undertow is extremely strong on these beaches and most Lège-Cap-Ferret beaches have no lifeguards, so exercise extreme caution when swimming. When the tide is high there are some nice little pools that form on the sand which are safe to swim in. Also, there is nowhere to buy water, food or drinks on these west-side beaches so come well supplied with your own refreshments and snacks.

Click here for an online version of this map of the Cap-Ferret peninsula.

Lauren at Cap-Ferret Beach with La Dune de Pilat in the background.
Lauren going for a dip.
Not a soul around on Cap-Ferret beach.
When the tide is high, these pools form and create great spots to safely swim in.
Steve practicing his sand game.
Lauren striking a glamorous pose.
Moules et frites at the famous Chez Hortense on Cap-Ferret.

Accommodations

Accommodation in Cap-Ferret is extremely expensive and most have no air-conditioning. During the 5 day intense heat-wave in Bordeaux we travelled to Cap-Ferret every day to take advantage of the cooler beaches on the Atlantic. We looked at a few accommodations to spend the night but they were tiny, super expensive and really hot because no A/C. So we ended up returning to our air-conditioned apartment in Bordeaux at the end of each day (1.5 hr trip each way with train and ferry). If you must stay in Cap-Ferret try La Cabane de Pomme de Pin (no AC) or hotel-cotesable.com (AC but very expensive). Lege-capferret.com has more accommodations and for villas and very high-end accommodations try lecollectionist.com. You can also visit the Office du Tourisme in Cap-Ferret (map) and they will give you a list of private accommodations (Note: we tried this with no luck. Everything was booked and the ones that were available were awful).

3. La Route des Châteaux Médoc

Château d’Agassac

We rented a car for a day to drive “La Route des Châteaux Médoc” (“Château” means “castle” but it also means a winery). This route is famous for its fairy-tale châteaux and world-class wineries but most of them do not offer drop-in visits so you have to make reservations well ahead of time if you want to do a wine-tasting. There are more than 60 wineries to choose from so it can be an overwhelming process trying to choose which ones to visit. To complicate matters, not every winery is open to the public or offers wine tastings. A visit to the Tourism Office in Bordeaux will help you determine which wineries are open to the public.

We narrowed our search by looking for a winery that does a tour, wine-tasting and picnic lunch. This really simplified our choice because I only found two: Château Lamothe-Bergeron and Château Paloumey. We decided to book at Château Lamothe-Bergeron (35eu/pp) and we were very happy that we did!

Gorgeous Château Lamothe-Bergeron in Médoc.
Our guide, Leif, explaining the harvesting process at Château Lamothe-Bergeron.
Grape tasting at Château Lamothe-Bergeron.
Wine-tasting at Château Lamothe-Bergeron
Steve pouring our wine for our picnic at Château Lamothe-Bergeron.

Apart from the magnificent châteaux, the Médoc wine route is not as scenic as the landscape in St. Emilion (read below). It’s very flat and some parts have an almost industrial feel to them. In addition, the roads are only two lanes so the drive can be very slow if congested or stuck behind a slow vehicle. However, the châteaux are GORGEOUS and well worth the trip.

Below is a list of the places we stopped at (click here for a Google map). The only winery that was open for a drop in wine-tasting was Château d’Agassac (it was also one of the most beautiful châteaux and the closest to Bordeaux). Apart from Châteaux Lamothe-Bergeron which we booked, all of the other châteaux were either closed to the public or did not offer drop-in wine-tastings. But we were happy to visit them anyways to admire their beauty and to take pictures.

  1. Chateau D’Agassac
  2. Chateau Palmer
  3. Château Margaux
  4. Chateau Malescasse
  5. Château Lamothe Bergeron
  6. Chateau Branaire-Ducru
  7. Chateau Beychevelle
  8. Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou
  9. Chateau Latour
  10. Chateau Pichon-Baron
  11. Pauillac: Seaside town
  12. Saint-Estèphe: Tiny town, not much to it.
  13. Soulac-Sur-Mer: Really nice coastal beach town at the northern tip of Médoc. Well worth a visit.
Médoc Route des Vins on the D2 (Photo: vin-tourisme.fr)
These are the châteaux we visited. Click here for the map.
Château Margaux
Château Pichon-Longueville

4. St. Emilion

View of La Place du Marché, St. Emilion.

We loved the medieval city of St. Emilion for its beauty and for its reputation of high-quality Bordeaux wine. The area is absolutely gorgeous, with quiet country roads and rolling hills of vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see. Steve and I visited St. Emilion three times: twice on our own and then once with Lauren.

As in most popular French towns and cities, there is an Office de Tourisme right in town if you need any help organizing your visit. Click here for a map of places to visit in St. Emilion.

You can easily get to St. Emilion by train from Bordeaux (30 minutes) then a 30 minute uphill walk from the train station to the town. Bring bikes if you have them, or you can hire a tuk-tuk from the train station (or walk, if you have the energy!) Note: If you bike, lock your bikes at La Place du Marché, then explore the town on foot. La Place du Marché is also a great spot to get a coffee and admire L’Eglise de Monolithe de St. Emilion.

The first time we visited St. Emilion we explored the town with a vast number of shops, restaurants, cafés and wine-tasting stores, then we had lunch at the beautiful winery and restaurant L’Atelier de Candale (+33 5 57 24 15 45). Be sure to book ahead of time and ask for tables 404, 405, or 505 for the best vineyard view. It is a ten-minute bike ride from St. Emilion and a beautiful ride.

Lunch at beautiful L’Atelier de Candale, St. Emilion

The second time we visited St. Emilion we booked a tour, wine-tasting and gourmet picnic lunch at Château Mangot, a small, family-owned winery, a 30-minute ride from St. Emilion. We loved this experience! Tel: 05 57 40 18 23 or email todeschini@chateaumangot.fr, 38eu/pp.

We loved our tour, wine tasting and picnic lunch from Château Mangot.

The third time in St. Emilion we booked a tour, wine-tasting and gourmet picnic lunch at Château Champion which is another small, family-owned winery, a 15 minute bike ride from St. Emilion. The tour and tasting was conducted by the château’s owner and matriarch, Mme Véronique Bourrigaud, who is passionate about her wines, super friendly and explained in detail the wine-making process from beginning to end (info@chateau-champion.com, 25eu/pp). Later in the day we booked a tour of the catacombs of L’Eglise de Monolithe de St. Emilion (12eu/pp) which was interesting but not a must-do, in our opinion. We also visited La Cloitre des Cordeliers which is a beautiful venue in town with shops, wine and restaurants.

L’Eglise de Monolithe de St. Emilion
La Cloitre des Cordeliers (Photo: www.zankyou.fr)
At La Cloitre des Cordeliers, Lauren ran into her longtime friend, Lee, from Toronto.

5. Toulouse

We were excited to visit Toulouse as we had heard a lot of good things about it, but it was slightly disappointing for us. It was a long two hour train trip each way from Bordeaux which really is too long for a day trip. It has a great indoor market, Le Marché Victor Hugo, some stunning architecture and beautiful red buildings but we found it very chaotic with lots of car traffic and not too-many pedestrian-only streets. Maybe we were just tired of travelling when we went? Click here for a map and suggestions of what to see and do if you go.

A huge selection on hams from a store in Le Marché Victor Hugo.
So many chocolates to choose! (from a Chocolaterie in Toulouse).
Basilique St Sernin, Toulouse.
Lauren exploring Toulouse

More Bordeaux resources

Here are some resources to learn more about Bordeaux:

  1. bordeauxtravelguide.com
  2. lostinbordeaux.com
  3. Things to do in Bordeaux, France – the ultimate guide, by Lost-in-Bordeaux.
  4. @lost_in_bordeaux (Instagram)
  5. @quoifaireabordeaux (Instagram)

More train tips:

  • Download the SNCF app and create an account. Add travel companion profile too for faster future purchases
  • Tickets can be saved to Apple wallet
  • Sometimes a conductor will ask to see your ticket but not always. 
  • On most trains your ticket is valid only for voyage you paid for. If you miss it or decide to go at a different time, you will have to buy a new ticket. Significant fines if you are caught with no ticket or the wrong ticket.
  • If it’s a TER train, you can use the ticket any time during the same day for the same destination
  • Get to the station early and look on the departures screen to find your « voie » (track). You might need to go underground if the track is on the other side. If you have heavy luggage or a bike and can’t manage the stairs, there is usually an elevator but it might be out of the way so give yourself lots of time. Note: sometimes the track is not displayed on the screen until last minute so be ready to run!
  • Make sure you are on the right train when you board as there might be two trains scheduled on the same track and you might end up on the wrong train (it happened to us).

Have you been to Bordeaux? What are some of your favourite tips and places? Please add in the comments below, merci!

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.