Madrid Highlights

Madrid in spring

Twenty-first century Madrid positively surprised us. Before Tony and I met, we visited Madrid independently in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and we both left the city NOT loving it. While Tony got robbed in the Chamartín train station (and had to deal with the aftermath including a screaming match with an embassy official who refused to help a stranded 19-year old), I passed through the same railway station and found the city to look dull and grey through my dusty train window. Coming back 25 years later, however, completely restored our faith in what must be one of Spain’s most livable cities.

During our 3-week stay in Madrid, we saw the city in a very different light. The rough edges seemed to have softened and the city parks and art museums were everything but dull and grey. To give you an idea how to find some color, excitement and fun, and make the most of your time, we have compiled some of our most enjoyable activities in Madrid. Continue…

Luxury Yurt Camping in Lanzarote

Hit play to start glamping

As we drive north from Arrecife to the small coastal village of Arrieta, we immediately notice how different Lanzarote looks from the other Canary Islands we have visited. Most obvious is the lack of high-rise buildings and huge tourist complexes. The black scorched land along the coast is dotted with small white-washed villages and traditional windmills. We marvel at the bizarre landscape of terraced cones, squat craters, and soil that shimmers with onyx hues of the volcanic spectrum. It seems like a spectacular location for our glamping experience at Lanzarote Retreats. Continue…

Ait Benhaddou and the Oases

If our lead picture looks familiar, it’s probably because it is one of the most filmed locations in Morocco. The ksar (fortified village) of Ait Benhaddou has been popping up in movies for decades. From The Man Who Would Be King to The Mummy to Gladiator, Ait Benhaddou is arguably Morocco’s most celebrated big screen legend. And if you are a Game of Thrones fan, this is the epic city of Yunkai (minus the giant CGI pyramids.) Can you believe it, we’ve visited Yunkai and Astapor in the same trip?

The UNESCO world heritage site was our entry point to the river valleys and remote oases of the Moroccan Sahara. The whole region is a playground for culture junkies and adventure travel fans. We grabbed another rental car in Ouarzazate, Morocco’s desert take on Hollywood, and set out on an epic seven-day exploration winding and bumping our way from ksar to ksar, kasbah to kasbah. I would officially like to thank Thomas for Continue…

Reveling in Taroudant

We came for Morocco’s best preserved city wall and wished we had stayed longer for the food. Yes, Taroudant regularly makes it into lists of the world’s top walled cities (and you know I love those.) It’s stunning pisé walls studded with crenelated towers and gates stretch for eight kilometers. We explored them in one of the local horse-drawn caleches and wound our way through the fortified kasbah district on foot thinking that the fabulous fortifications would be the highlight of our visit to the city. But that was before we found Riad Maryam. Continue…

Entering the Anti-Atlas

From Mirleft, we wound our way up into the exotic Anti-Atlas Mountains, a southern extension of the better known Atlas range. The desert mountainscapes here are harsh and extraordinary with huge geological uplifts and vertical layers of earth that leave visitors gasping at every turn. Overloaded trucks, goat herds, and psycho Moroccan drivers barreling down the middle of the road also leave them gasping. (Thomas dodged and weaved like a pro!)

When I first visited this remote region in 1989, the slopes were dotted with beautiful peach-colored mud villages full of traditional families living the way they had lived for generations. The adobe architecture was carefully maintained and houses were decorated with white outlines and gorgeous tribal designs. We discovered that in the last 27 years a lot has changed. Many of the picturesque villages have Continue…

Escaping to Riad Les Yeux Bleus

Yes, Marrakesh is madness, mayhem and pure melodrama, so of course we totally love it! But even for culture-chaos junkies like us, there are moments when you just need an oasis of calm. To be honest, every single time I left the medina, we really needed a place to chill. Luckily, many of the city’s old riads, traditional Moroccan houses or palaces, have been converted into luxurious boutique hotels which make for the perfect place to hide away (especially when it is 100 F outside!!!) Continue…

Top 10 Castles in and around Lisbon

Hit play for our countdown!

Lisbon is prime territory for people like us, devoted castle hunters who long for turrets and palatial grandeur. The moment we arrived in the city, the impressive stone walls of the Moorish Castle San Jorge looming over the city announced we had come to the right place. The capital of Portugal and the surrounding region boast so many extraordinary fortresses, palaces and royal villas that you can literally spend weeks bouncing from one to another. Actually, psycho architecture junkies that we are, we did just that.

What surprised us most was the diversity of what we found. You can literally go to every castle because they are Continue…

Rome off the Beaten Path

Giant foot in the Capitoline Museums

With over 10 million tourists a year, Rome is the third most visited city in Europe after London and Paris. And for good reason. It is a treasure trove of ancient monuments, history and art. Unfortunately, Rome is also one of those cities with a disproportionate focus on a handful of obvious sights such as the Colosseum or St. Peter’s Basilica. But what makes Rome so fantastic is not just the classics, it’s the sum of everything that lies in between.

Finding the not-so-obvious, however, can be quite a daunting task. Many of Rome’s lesser-known attractions are literally underground. But if you make the effort to look beyond the well-trodden trail, you’ll be surprised what you discover. After first introducing our Classic Rome Highlights in a previous post, here are some of our favorite off-the-beaten-path attractions in and around Rome to get you started. Continue…

Classic Rome Highlights

The Pantheon

They say that all roads lead to Rome. Well, we finally made it to the Eternal City, so it must be true. In our case, we traveled the long way around through Asia and South America literally taking every road known to man to get here. And to celebrate our victory, we spent one glorious month exploring Rome’s amazing architectural and artistic treasures as well as delving into the city’s exciting culinary world.

We quickly realized that Rome is positively overwhelming. The number of churches, Roman temples, gelaterias, street markets, fountains, villas, galleries, museums, and piazzas made our heads spin. We could spend years here exploring and never see it all.

For that reason, it’s even more crucial to plan your itinerary beforehand to get the most out of your visit. To help out a bit, we will be highlighting some of our favorite attractions both on and off the well-trodden Roman path. To begin, let’s start with the classics! Continue…

Plan your Visit to Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper

Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper in Milan

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci is arguably the second most famous painting in the world after that other da Vinci masterpiece, the Mona Lisa. The superstar 15th-century mural is probably the most duplicated painting on the planet. It shows up on posters, placemats, calendars, coffee cups, mouse pads and any other flat surface humanity can print a picture on. We have personally spotted this painting everywhere from Hong Kong to Las Vegas, from Buenos Aires to Nairobi. It’s everywhere. For that reason, it has become one of Milan’s most famous attractions. Unfortunately, many visitors never get to see it.

When da Vinci was asked to paint The Last Supper on a wall in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, he chose to paint on dry wall rather than on wet plaster as is traditionally done in frescoes. This meant that the famous painting started to deteriorate almost immediately after he finished it. As if that weren’t problem enough, the painting has a history of abuse which would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. French troops actually Continue…