My 1st Airbnb Experience

I’m admittedly a little behind the curve on the whole Airbnb thing. As a travel blogger, I’m a little surprised myself that I’ve never rented via the popular site. What can I say? I tend to lean toward hotels (ideally luxury ones at that) for their services, safety and amenities. After rave reviews from my friends, who have used Airbnb rentals everywhere from Hawaii to Paris, I decided to give it a shot.

It was about 6 months ago that I started planning a trip to Italy. My husband and I would be doing the classic first timer’s Italy itinerary of Rome, Florence and Venice. The clincher? Our toddler was coming along for the ride. I know what you’re thinking. Who would want to bring their baby to such a romantic destination? Where we go, she goes, and I wasn’t about to skip a trip to Europe just because we have a baby! I knew that having a little one in tow meant naps, lots of dirty laundry and nightly bath time. The convenience of a private apartment with a kitchen and extra space was tempting, so to Airbnb’s website I went.

Since we had hotels in Rome and Venice locked in with points and hotel loyalty programs, we opted to rent a one bedroom apartment in Florence. While researching, I was really impressed with the search criteria options and being able to filter results for everything from family friendly facilities to amenities like internet and a pool.airbnb viewI was able to find a centrally located apartment from a super host, and it even included a crib. After reading the reviews, we decided to pull the trigger. Upon arriving in Florence, our hosts were gracious enough to meet us at the train station. The apartment was clean, spacious and perfect for our family of three. As every traveler knows, it’s nice to have a kitchen to eat a few meals in, and a laundry room to wash clothes. The location could not have been better – it was located on a quiet street within walking distance of restaurant, shops and Florence’s famous Doumo. The Mercato Centrale around the corner was super convenient and a go-to lunch spot. We were more than pleased with our choice of accommodations and I can gladly say my 1st Airbnb experience was wonderful!

If you’re ever in Florence, check out our new friend Alessio’s apartment. You won’t be disappointed!airbnb

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My Top Travel Moments of 2014

This past year was packed with exciting experiences. The year included visits to Europe, South American, Los Angeles and other spots in the US. Now that it’s coming to an end, here’s a look back at my favorite travel memories of 2014.

Walking a Roman Aqueduct in Nimes, France: The Pont du Gard was built by the Romans in about 50 BC. How often can you say you’ve walked across an UNESCO World Heritage Site?

nimes

Touring the Walled City of Avignon: A 24 hour stop is all it took for me to fall in love with Avignon‘s charming cobblestone streets, 14th century buildings and festive town square. It stands as one of my favorite cities in France.

avignon

Tapas and Sangria in Barcelona: Enjoying local food is one of my favorite parts of traveling. Sampling Spain’s sangria, paella and various tapas was one of the things I was most looking forward to in Barcelona, and it didn’t disappoint.

sangria

Enjoying the Luxurious Life in Monaco: Of course visiting Monte Carlo was one of my favorite stops. All that glitz and glamour in one place can’t be wrong. Visiting the casino, the Prince’s Palace and the port of Monaco is a wonderful way to spend a day. Even the bus ride through its hilly roads is breathtakingly beautiful (and a little nerve racking).  

monaco

Attending a Traditional Chilean Wedding: My sister-in-law’s wedding reception was attended by 500 guests and lasted until 6 AM. South American weddings are no joke.

wedding

The lavender fields of Provence: A check on the bucket list! Visiting the lavender fields the summer months is a must do in Provence, and it’s one of my favorite memories of Southern France.

lavender

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On the Van Gogh Trail in Arles

I’m a huge art buff, so one of the places I knew I had to visit during my recent tour of southern France was Arles. This little town is tucked away between Montpellier and Marseille, right above the Camargue. Beyond its obvious Provençal charms, its also the place where Vincent van Gogh created some of his most notable paintings.

Van Gogh came to Arles in 1888 after needing a break from Paris. It’s said that the sunny days and vibrant colors of Provence inspired him to paint the 200 pieces he created during his stint in the town. Visitors can follow in Van Gogh’s footsteps and visit the locations where he painted some of his masterpieces. Easels placed throughout the city mark the sites where the artist viewed his subjects and saw inspiration.

My husband and I arrived in Arles on a sunny, summer day. We had just driven from Nimes and were a little tired, but I wasn’t going to miss the chance to retrace one of my favorite artist’s steps. We stopped at the tourism office to pick up a map that points out the key Van Gogh locations, and headed out on our self guided tour of the city.

We started in the city center at the Place du Forum in search of the famed restaurant that inspired Cafe Terrace at Night. After a short walk, we stumbled upon the unmistakable yellow awnings. Now aptly named Cafe Van Gogh, it’s said that Van Gogh and his then roommate Paul Gauguin frequented the cafe for nights of absinthe drinking.

Cafe van Gogh Cafe van Gogh

Next on the tour was the facility where Van Gogh painted The Hospital at Arles. Now called Espace Van Gogh, it’s where he was taken after slicing off a portion of his ear. The beautifully maintained gardens still mirror the landscaping you can see in the painting.

Hospital at Arles

A little to the west was a recreation of the Langlois Bridge. The site commemorates the series of paintings and sketches called Langlois Bridge at Arles.

Langois Bridge

We then walked towards the Rhone to see the bridge that crosses the river, the Trinquentaille. It’s changed a bit since Van Gogh’s days, but the resemblance can immediately be seen. It’s here that The Trinquentaille Bridge was painted in 1888.

BridgeBridge

Unfortunately, we missed the locations marking Starry Night Over the Rhone and The Old Mill. We also were unable to make it to to the site of the artist’s home from the famous Yellow House. (Interesting fact – it’s no longer there, as it was bombed during WWII).

Until earlier this year, Arles housed none of Van Gogh’s actual paintings. It’s quite surprising, considering the large amount of art he produced while residing in the town. The Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles opened in June as a place to showcase Van Gogh’s legacy in the town, and I knew we had to check it out. About 10 paintings were temporarily exhibited, including the well known Self Portrait in a Straw Hat and The Yellow House at Arles. While I wouldn’t consider this a full fledged museum, it is a nice feature to compliment the Van Gogh experience in Arles.

Van Gogh Experience

To be able to stand where the artist stood when he painted some of his most famous pieces was an amazing experience to say the least. Arles was one of my favorite towns that we visited in Provence, and if you’re ever in the south of France, it’s not to be missed.

 

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What to Pack for a Summer Beach Vacation

beach necessitiesI’m heading to the beach in a few short weeks (South Carolina, to be exact), and like any good travel blogger, I’m already thinking about what I need to pack. I know I’ll be bringing along lots of sundresses, flat sandals and all the necessities needed for beach time. Check out my list of what I always make sure to include in my beach bag.

1. C.Wonder Rugby Stripe Tote: This straw bucket tote is sophisticated and functional.

2. Coach Bridget Sunglasses: Colorful sunglasses are a must for any beach vacation, and you can’t go wrong with pink frames!

3. Woven Fedora: Anyone will look beach chic in a summery fedora, and Modcloth offers lots of fun, stylish options.

4. Clinique Broad Spectrum Sunscreen: This light, non-greasy formula is one of my favorite sunscreens.

5. Dolce Vita Anica Sandals: Flat sandals are comfy and stylish, and I love the trendy details on Dolce Vita pairs.

6. Shiseido Stick Foundation: This product packs full coverage foundation and SPF37 into one little stick.

7. FRESH sugar lip balm: Sun protection, a hint of color and it smells good! It’s the perfect lip balm to protect your pout from the summer sun.

 

Confused about what to pack? There’s a great packing checklist on one of my favorite blogs, Glitter Guide.

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How to Survive a Long Flight

airplane interiorWe all know that long flights can be daunting. I’ve done quite a few overnight flights to South American and Europe where the the total airtime has been well over eight hours. So how do you arrive fresh and relaxed when you land? Here are a few tips I’ve collected over the years.

1. Score an Aisle or Window Seat: No one wants the middle, right? I find it easiest to sleep when I can lean against the window, but the extra leg room that an aisle seat brings is pretty nice too.

2. Pack the Necessities: I always make sure I bring my memory foam neck pillow, eye mask, sleeping pills and a shawl to keep warm.

3. Spring for the Upgrade: If money allows, pay for a business or first class seat. It’s worth it on those long international flights. Hello, fully reclining seats!

4. Prepare for Boarding: My pre-board routine consists of visiting the airport bathroom to wash my face, put up my hair and take out my contacts. It’s pretty similar to what you’d do when getting ready for bed. A little prep and I’m ready to settle in for the long haul.

5. Bring your Entertainment: Your plane may offer its own in-seat entertainment center, but you always want to come prepared with downloaded books, music and movies on your iPad or Kindle.

6. Stretch it Out: We all know that sitting for extended amounts of time is not good. Stand up to stretch your arms and legs, and walk the aisle to get the blood flowing if the seat belt sign is off.

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My First Impression of Nice

I just returned from a few days in Nice, France. I had an amazing time, but I admittedly didn’t know what to expect when I first arrived. I’d been to Paris before, but I soon realized that the south of France has its own unique vibe. Here are some of my initial observations of the town.

1. Everyone Walks the Promenade

Tourists and locals, young and old – the Promenade des Anglais was always packed. From morning to night, we saw people walking to the beach, couples strolling hand in hand and kids riding bikes.

Nice, France2. The Beaches are Rocky

If you’re looking to lounge on a sandy beach, Nice is not the place. The beaches here are made of rocks, which made tanning and wading into the water a little painful! Locals were a little wiser and came prepared with their padded mats and shoes.

Rocky beaches of Nice3. Nothing is Free

There was a fee to use our hotel’s private beach, its pool and its towels, and we heard this was the norm! There was even a charge for water in restaurants!

4. It’s a Resort Town

The town was a lot less less “glitz and glam” than I expected, and Nice is essentially a beach town. Its laid back vibe was evident from the first day we arrived.

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Jetsetter Style

Up, up and away

My good friend Tiffany runs the popular fashion blog Haute Turntable. There she waxes poetic about the latest styles, her favorite music, her travels and her overall fabulous life in New York. I recently sat down for a quick Q &A with her to get insight on the best travel tips, accessories and destinations.

Favorite Destination: Mykonos or Napa Valley

Favorite Airport: O’Hare (I like the layout)

Favorite Airline: Virgin

Favorite Hotel: My favorite thus far has to be the Auberge Saint-Antoine in Quebec City. It is so cute and quaint, yet has a modern feel!

Travel Necessities: Hand sanitizer, ballet flats, yoga pants, a good hoodie and an iPhone charger.

Carry On Bag: My ride or die bag is my red suede Burberry carry all.

Essential Plane Reading Material: Lately it has been People Style Watch, Vogue, or Rachel Zoe “Living in Style”

5 things you bring on a plane: Chapstick, Gum, Bose Headphones, Neck Pillow, Hand Lotion

What do you always seem to forget? Cash. I always have to get cash out when I touchdown at the airport.

Favorite travel app(s): I would say the Virgin app to check into your flight and check statuses.

Most embarrassing travel moment: I ALWAYS sit in the wrong rows and seats. I once got into it with a woman for like 5 minutes adamant that I wasn’t in her seat, but I definitely was.

What’s your dream destination? Bali or Australia & New Zealand

Best travel tip: Be a smart packer. I used to over pack and it made my life hell. Now that I travel so much for work, I have learned to pack versatile items that can be mixed and matched.

You can find Tiffany at hauteturntable.com or on Twitter and Facebook. Visit her online and say hello!

London calling
London calling
NYC
At home in NYC
napa
Relaxing in Napa
Travel essentials
Travel essentials
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10 Travel Quotes to Live By

travel map

1. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” – Dalai Lama

2. “It’s a big world out there, it would be a shame not to experience it.” – JD Andrews

3. “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled” – Mohammed

4. “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page” – St. Augustine

5. “We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment” – Hilaire Belloc

6. “Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen” – Benjamin Disraeli

7. “To travel is to take a journey into yourself.” – Dannye Kaye

8. “Through travel I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way into becoming a part of it.” – Eudora Welty

9. “Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life” ― Michael Palin

10. “Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.” – Ralph Crawshaw

Through travel I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way into becoming a part of it.

Eudora Welty

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/eudorawelt167000.html#iPlwt2d4AkIXPyv8.99

Through travel I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way into becoming a part of it.

Eudora Welty

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/eudorawelt167000.html#iPlwt2d4AkIXPyv8.

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What to Eat & Drink in Chile

Empanadas
These crispy, cheesy turnovers are one of the first things I need when I get to Chile. Cheese empanadas. Meat empanadas. Seafood empanadas. The possibilities are endless. Go the traditional route and try pino filling, a mix of beef, olives, eggs and raisins. empa empanadas2

Completos
I’m not one for hotdogs, but I can appreciate one every once and awhile. Hotdogs with ketchup and mustard at a backyard BBQ is quintessentially American, but Chileans sure know what they’re doing too. They take a standard dog, then add awesome toppings like avocado, tomatoes and mayo. It may sound crazy, but it works. 800px-El_tremendo_chilenísimo_COMPLET

Seafood
With over 2,500 miles of coastline, trying local seafood while in Chile is a must. Try some local specialties like razor clams, congrio (eel) and locos. And don’t ask for Chilean Sea Bass – it’s called corvina here.Machas a la parmesana

Alfajores
These heavenly creations are comprised of manjar, which is similar to dulce de leche, sandwiched between two cookies. Homemade ones are the best kind, but you can also find them in bakeries, street carts and grocery stores.alpha

Local Fruits
Chile has some pretty unique fruits that I love. Chirimoya and the caramel-flavored lucuma are two of my favorites. What? A fruit that tastes like caramel? Yes, and it makes for an amazing gelato and smoothie flavor. There’s also a plethora of tasty juices made from the more common peaches, apricots and papayas, just to name a few.pepino dulce

Pebre
This salsa-like creation is made from tomatoes, onions, garlic, coriander and olive oil. You’ll see this condiment everywhere, and Chileans eat it with everything!pebre

Pisco
Pisco is a brandy made from grapes that is super strong. One of my favorite drinks is the lime flavored pisco sour, but it’s almost more common to see piscolas – pisco mixed with soda. And if you want a really fun night, try a terremoto, or earthquake. This concoction is made with pisco, wine and pineapple sherbert, and you’ll think you’re experiencing an earthquake after a few.pisco sour

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Girls’ Getaway to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort

Every year, my three girlfriends from high school and I take a trip to catch up on what’s going on in our busy lives. We all live in different cities, so we decided to pick a location that was within driving distance for all of us. Pennsylvania’s Nemacolin Woodlands Resort turned out to be a great meeting point. We picked a weekend that worked and booked our stay. LOBBY lobby1

I didn’t know what to expect as I drove the winding roads that led up the mountain early Saturday morning. After passing through the small towns that line the Laurel Highlands, I finally reached the main entrance. The long drive opens up to an awe-inspiring view of the resort. The main building where we checked in was nothing short of opulent. Glimmering chandeliers hung above elegant, vintage furniture. This place was so glamorous.

Our room was located in the Chateau building. On the walk to our room we passed through a hallway lined with framed Hermes scarves. How fabulous is that? Our room was pretty spacious, and the bathroom even had double sinks. room2 room1 - Copy

After a quick lunch at The Tavern, we were off to our appointments at the Woodlands Spa. We checked in and were given a tour of the facilities. This spa had it all. There was a large indoor pool, workout room, sauna and steamroom. We then put on our robes and went upstairs to a “quiet room” while we waited for our appointments. Is there anything more relaxing than sipping tea while sitting by a fireplace? We opted for manis and pedis, which turned out great. All the services they offer looked amazing, but were a little on the pricey side. A quick stop at the salon’s shop completed our day at the spa. I even discovered a new favorite brand of skin care products that they carried- Farmhouse Freshsalon1

salon5 salon6
We then headed back to our room to freshen up before dinner. After an amazing meal at Aqueous, we were super excited to head over to the casino. I’m a gambler, so I was excited to see what this casino had to offer. It was quickly evident that smoking was allowed, which definitely put a damper on the experience. The casino overall is nothing to write home about, but it’s worth a visit.

It was just our luck that the weekend that had one of the worst snowstorms of the seasons being predicted. Word spread throughout the resort that it was supposed to hit earlier than expected, so we decided that our Sunday plans needed to be cut short. I was especially bummed that my plan to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater, a mere 20 minutes away from the resort, was also axed due to the weather. Next time, right? We were even told that they close the mountain when the weather gets really bad, and we didn’t want to be snowed in (although I can think of a lot worse places to be stuck). We woke up early and headed over to Autumn restaurant for breakfast, which was a short walk from our room in the Chateau. Everything sounded amazing! I went with the crab benedict, which I had to get because you don’t see it on menus too often. My friend’s Just Peachy was amazing – brioche french toast covered in peaches and cream. So good! breakfast1 - Copy breakfast3 - Copybreakfast2 - Copy

We were sad to have to leave after breakfast, but we had a wonderful weekend at Nemacolin. How did I not know this place existed? Everything was luxurious (just the way I like it!) and the service was first class all the way. My friend loved it so much she even booked a return stay for her upcoming babymoon! With all the activities the resort offers, I definitely plan to come back and spend a few more days.

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Top 5 Places to Visit in New Orleans

Fat Tuesday has arrived, and I couldn’t be more excited! All the talk of Mardi Gras reminds me of my trip to New Orleans years ago. It’s such a great city, and there’s much more to it than parades, partying and beads.  So grab your king cake and paczkis and check out my top 5 favorite places in New Orleans.

 1. The French Quarter

My perfect New Orleans afternoon is spent strolling through the historic French Quarter. I love the old architecture and liveliness of this area. Walk through Jackson Square to hear jazz musicians and see street performers, then stop at Cafe du Monde for their famous beignets and coffee. Carriage rides throughout the square are a must do. new orleans2

2. Shopping on Magazine Street 

The shops that line Magazine Street make the area a shoppers’ paradise. I could spend all afternoon perusing the antique shops and clothing boutiques. Some of my must-visit stores include Make Me Up for beauty and skincare products, and Mignon Faget for jewelry. Take the Magazine Street bus up and down the 6 miles of the avenue to save yourself some time.

3. Mardi Gras World

Visit this warehouse-like facility for a behind the scenes look at the making of Mardi Gras. The up close and personal views of the floats and their details are amazing, and you really see all that goes into the parades. Daily tours run throughout the morning.mardigras

4. Bourbon Street

This is a must-do for any first time visitor to the city. Yes, it can be rowdy and dirty, but no trip to the Big Easy is complete without trying a hurricane. Pat O’Brien’s is one of the places where you can get one, although you’ll have to fight your way through crowds of tourists. bouribon

5. Audubon Park

This beautiful park is a great way to spend a warm day. Take a streetcar to the park then walk along the Mississippi for the quintessential NOLA experience.audubon park

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Beauty on the Go: My Favorite Travel Items

If you travel a lot like me, you know it can be hard to fit all the items you need for your daily beauty routine into a suitcase. I’m always on the lookout for airport-friendly finds that won’t take up a lot of space in my bag. Luckily I’ve found a few great items that I can easily throw in my tote and go. These travel minis are sure to get you through security and last throughout your trip.

Sephora body wash caps, $1

Kate Spade perfume rollerball, $24

Laura Geller retractable brush, $29

Molton Brown women’s travel set, $55

DevaCurl ‘One Condition’ travel conditioner, $7.95

Bobbi Brown travel size makeup remover, $12

Sephora express cleansing wipes, $4

One of my must-have products listed above, ‘One Conditioner’ by DevaCurl, is also included in the Trial + Travel kit. I’m giving away one of these fabulous DevaCurl sets to one lucky reader to keep their hair looking good on the go. To enter, just subscribe to my blog and leave a comment below. I’ll pick one winner at random soon. Good luck!

Trial + Travel Kit

 

 

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Bachelorette Weekend in South Beach

miami streetWhen the time came for my friend’s upcoming nuptials, we knew we had to celebrate her final month as a single woman in style. After mulling over a few destinations, we landed on Miami. What place could be better? It had everything we wanted – the beach, shopping, fun nightlife and luxury hotels. So we decided on a date and booked our flights to South Florida.

I headed down on a Friday morning for the long weekend and met up with the other girls at our hotel, the SLS South Beach. The hotel was fabulous, and had a great location on Collins. After getting settled in, we headed down to dinner at one of the hotel’s restaurants, Jose Andres’ Bazaar. The decor was elegant and the food was innovative. Some of our table’s standouts were the nitrogen caipirinha, smoked oysters, ceviche and deconstructed key lime pie. Bazaar
BazaarA stop at the Setai is always a to-do when I’m in Miami. So after dinner we stopped by this Asian-influenced, luxury hotel for some cocktails. Nothing is better than relaxing with a drink in their serene, water-filled courtyard. My must-have is their lychee martini. It’s not on the menu, but they’ll make it upon request. I also really liked their chili passion martini, which had a unique, spicy twist. After about fifteen $20 martinis later and some very fun conversations with the bartender, us girls were on our way. We headed back to our hotel to check out Hyde Beach. This place was packed. The pool was lit up and the music was good. Since we were all a little tired from our morning of traveling, we stayed for a few hours then headed back to our rooms.

The next morning we got up and made a beeline for the beach to soak up the South Florida sun. After lounging all afternoon, it was back to our hotel to get ready to go out. Saturday night to be our big evening out, since it was our last night in Miami. The plan was to get dressed up, drink some cocktails and go out dancing. This was a bachelorette weekend after all! The first stop was the Fontainebleau, one of the most popular South Beach spots. Dinner was at Hakkasan, located in the hotel. I’ve been to this Asian restaurant many times, and even went to the outpost in London. We had a few cocktails and shared plates of dumplings and their crispy almond prawns. It was now time to start the night. A short walk through the hotel led us to LIV. This super club is exactly what you’d expect – flashing lights, good music and a beautiful crowd. It’s something you must do at least once in Miami, and it was exactly what we needed. After lots of champagne and a night of dancing, we were ready to call it a night.

After waking up on our final day, we were in need of a good brunch. Lemon ricotta pancakes, french toast and a round of bloody marys at Tounge and Cheek did the trick. Some cuban coffee at a nearby stand and we were good to go. The afternoon was spent walking through the Lincoln Road Mall and exploring the shops. After a few hours, the time came to pack up for the airport. The time had come to head home and get back to real life. The weekend was amazing, and as always, Miami was a good time. mimai beach3 miami walk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chile, Here We Come!

santiagoIn a few short weeks I’ll be venturing to Chile. While I have family there and have been to the country a couple of times, it’s always been centered in Santiago. This time I’m looking to explore a little bit more. What’s on my dream itinerary so far? A winery tour, some fabulous meals and a little nightlife. Some day trips are also a possibility, most likely to the coast.

It’s been quite a few years since my last visit, and you never know how much things may have changed. So if you’ve been to Chile, I want to hear about it! What are the places I have to see or the foods I just have to try? I’m looking for any recommendations on the best restaurants, wineries, bars and cultural activities. Share your experiences and suggestions below. Looking forward to your ideas!

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