Sorrento and Capri

Sorrento was next on our tour and while it as quite a journey to get there and the roads were terrifying (narrow along cliffs) along the Amalfi Drive, we finally made it to Sorrento, a place I was very excited to visit! 

The town overlooks the Bay of Naples and you can see Capri and Vesuvius from the coast. The coastal views are stunning and show the elevation, and the beautiful water below. We even climbed the hundreds of stairs back up after our ferry from Capri.

Views from a restaurant in Sorrento:


The pasta in Sorrento was some of the best I tasted in Italy. The people were lovely and the town felt small, intimate and unique. 

Sorrento is known for growing lemons, and we visited a lemon garden and of course the area is famous for the Limoncello liquor, which can be sampled in many shops, as well as varieties such as melon and coconut. 
The highlight of these couple of days was absolutely the visit to Capri and a cruise around the Isle. The views are amazing and the water is simply breathtaking. We got to see the incredible Blue and Green grottos. 

Photos from our cruise around the Isle of Capri: 

Capri itself was a lovely Italian island complete with beaches, sea side restaurants, plenty of shops and panoramic views. It was an absolute dream of a day to spend it here.

Photo from the beach in Capri:


While Sorrento and the area may be a bit out of the way on a typical trip to Italy, it is truly beautiful. While it was known as a tourist area, it seemed much less crowded than most places, even at the end of May. I will definitely go back and could spend so much more time enjoying the areas natural beauty, delicious food, limoncello, and lovely people!

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Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre was absolutely worth all of the hype it gets and truly looks even more amazing in real life than on instagram. It’s a group of five brightly coloured villages along the Italian Riviera. The villages were historically small fishing villages that are now famous for their beauty and a popular spot for tourists. The area is remote and wasn’t always accessible to visit, and visiting by train will connect you easily to all 5 villages, but it can also be done on foot. Be ready to walk, climb stairs and be sure to pack a bathing suit because you won’t be able to resist the amazing seaside. The higher parts of the villages are full of unique walking trails with picturesque views. It’s easy to see why it’s a UNESCO heritage site. 

Vernazza offered a lovely mix of local Italian seaside town and beautiful tourist destination. Here we enjoyed our weight in gelato and enjoyed lovely coastal views stunning architecture. 

The area is very rugged and has various terrains. The swimming spot in Manarola makes for an incredible day:

The incredibly bright colours of the buildings is unique. 

The absolutely picturesque village of Manarola, where we sipped sangria from a cliff side spot: 

The water in the area is spectacularly blue. 

Monteresso offers the best strip of true beach out of the five villages: 

The villages are full of friendly locals and endless amounts of places to enjoy wine, gelato and Italian cuisine. The area is specifically known for pesto, and while it is different than the pesto you are likely used to it is delicious and a must try. The area is also well known for seafood, not surprising based on its location! 

An all day train pass is the best way to see the area quickly, and it’s very affordable. Most train rides between the towns are 5-10 minutes

For me, of the 5 key areas of Italy I visited, Cinque Terre wowed me the most and would absolutely be on the top of my list of places to return to in the future. 

Nice, Côte d’Azur and Monaco

After six weeks of traveling typically cooler places, with the exception of Barcelona, the next part of my trip began with a group tour with a company called Contiki. The specific trip I selected was Mediterranean Quest, which took us from Barcelona, through the south of France and throughout Italy.

Nice was our first stop on this tour. I had heard it was beautiful, but I really didn’t know what to expect. It was a beautiful smaller french city, with lovely architecture, a great tram system and stunning views of the coast and the ocean.

Views from outside of Nice:

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In Nice, we visited a french perfumery, and then had an afternoon to explore. We went off to find possibly the most beautiful beach I have seen in Villefranche-sur-mer. It was a stunning coastal town, complete with shops and restaurants, all on a large hill leading down to the ocean. The water was perfectly blue and the perfect temperature to swim. Many of the beaches in the area are rock beaches, not sand like we’re used to in North America, but this one had small pebbles.

Beach at Villefranche-sur-mer:

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Villefranche-sur-mer:

This area was absolutely a highlight of my trip! Next time before booking a trip to the Caribbean, I would definitely consider the French coast.

Our evening just continued the wonderful day we were having with an excursion to Monaco. Our tour group was lucky enough to be there during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend. Our evening was a dinner, with free time to explore Monaco and the Monte Carlo casino. Think tons of fancy Ferraris and Lamborghinis and people dressed in outfits you thought only existed on runways. Yachts + rich people = Monaco.

Princess Palace in Monaco:

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Monte Carlo Casino and the yachts at night:

Overall, seeing this region was absolutely amazing. I would absolutely go back and could happily spend a week or two, enjoying the beaches, seeing the sights and pretending to be rich and famous!

Barcelona

Barcelona is one of those places you always hear about, and I was so lucky to have the opportunity to finally see what it was all about. From sangria to beaches and stunning architecture, there was a lot to see and do in just a couple of days.

Gaudi:

Antoni Gaudí is a famous architect, very well known for what he designed and built in Barcelona. He was a practitioner of Catalan Modernism. While he is probably most well known for the amazing feat that is La Sagrada Familia, we also visited Park Güell and Casa Battlo. All of his works are very intriguing, especially because even though they were designed in the 1800s and early 1900s, they are some of the most modern designs in Barcelona.

Gaudi’s Casa Battlo:

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Park Güell:

Park Güell was probably my favourite spot to visit in Barcelona. As an urban planner, it was amazing to learn about a planned space that started to be built in 1900.

The site was originally designed as a housing site that was financially unsuccessful. It then transformed to be a public park space. It is also a UNESCO heritage site.

The architecture was very unique and modern and full of detail. From the beautiful columns and stunning mosaic tiles, it is definitely something worth seeing, just be sure to buy tickets online in advance!

Park Güell:

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La Sagrada Familia:

La Sagrada Familia is one of the most amazing architectural stories. Another Gaudi feat, the massive church started being constructed in 1882 and is still not finished! The anticipated date to finish completion is 2026 at the earliest. It is estimated to be about 70-75% complete, depending on various sources. The Basilica is absolutely massive in size and visible from many parts of the city. It dominates the City’s skyline.

While we did not choose to go in, if you do go it costs about 15 euros and be sure to buy your tickets in advance!

La Sagrada Familia:

Montjuic:

Montjuic was another interesting spot to visit. It is a prominent hill with a historic castle. It is essentially the “top” of Barcelona, overlooking the City’s harbour. It historically served as both a castle and a prison. From Montjuic, you get breath taking views of the entire City and the harbour. You can travel to Montjuic by public bus or also by Funicular.

View from the Funicular from Montjuic:

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Probably one of the most touristy areas, the Gothic Quarter offers stunning architecture and history. There are nearby markets, La Boqueria, being the most prominent, is a great spot to check out to see how locals live and also get some fresh fruit and seafood for lunch. La Rambla is a massive pedestrian street offering a lot of restaurants and shopping. It is definitely a tourist hotspot but still a great place that eventually leads right to the Port.

Food:

The food was definitely one of the highlights of Barcelona. We had amazing Tapas – think patatas bravas and seafood croquettes, which was one of my favourite meals of my trip. A must try is definitely the Paella (choose the seafood if you like it!). And of course, the sangria is available everywhere and is wonderful. I don’t know how they make it differently, but it’s the best!

Beaches:

One of the reasons I was most excited for Barcelona was the beaches. What I quickly learned is that they are very touristy, and you should always seek out the smaller, more local beaches. But be warned, they are packed with vendors and people trying to sell you everything from mojitos to massages and it can make for an annoying and not so relaxing experience. But, if you stick to the smaller spots, it is better.

Overall, Barcelona was one of the most unique places I visited in Europe and it had a very distinct, Spanish feeling to it. The city is loaded with history, unique architecture and great food. Next time, I would definitely take advantage of doing some day trips outside of the City to smaller coastal towns.