5 Must-Do Honeymoon Activities in Portugal

Portugal is tailored for a dreamy honeymoon getaway.

Gorgeous riverside streets line its historic capital city of Lisbon, medieval castles sit proudly throughout hilltop towns, world-renowned wines and pastries are celebrated countrywide, and all across its lengthy Atlantic Coast is the ever-present prospect of discovering a perfect, unexplored beach.

While there’s an endless activities list for newlyweds, the following experiences are at the very top for any honeymoon getaway.

Where to Go

No trip to Portugal is complete without exploring Lisbon, the country’s centrally-located capital city. The city is a lovely maze of winding alleyways which weave between colorful buildings, tiny wine bars and fresh seafood restaurants en route to eventual stunning hilltop views (so frequently referred to that they’re known locally as miradouros). Vintage trams rattle and chug through the city’s streets, giving way to trendy cocktail lounges, historic landmarks, outdoor markets, museums and plenty more.

Pink sunsets are frequent, and with them, the beautifully melancholic sound of Portuguese fado will fill Lisbon’s bars and clubs as the evening unfolds – a musical translation of the old, romantic soul that Lisbon really is.

What to Do

The infectiously dramatic sounds of Fado will fill cafes, bars, restaurants and romantic hearts throughout all of Portugal, though it’s most popular in Lisbon. Make an evening out of a performance, with dinner, drinks, loving contemplation and cultural understanding at Clube de Fado, Sr. Fado, or wherever you hear that recognizable heart and soul being sung as you stroll through the city.

Where to Eat

Don’t let the long lines at Pasteis de Belem deter you from experiencing the otherworldly deliciousness of the sweet egg tart pastries that have made this Lisbon bakery famous since its inception in 1837. The recipe hasn’t changed since then, and the recognition only continues to grow, with this establishment recently being crowned the most reviewed restaurant on the planet.

The namesake pastries – buttery, crisp egg custards that don’t shy from sugar – are known as Pasteis de Nata throughout the rest of the region, but the Pasteis de Belem are built on a secret family recipe which warrant the practically permanent queue. Move past the line and opt for table service in the back dining room for expedited delivery of your treats.

Where to Drink

In Porto, Calem wine lounge can bring you into their 160-year-old cellars, spill some of their classic methods for producing the world-renowned Port, and even show you a 5D film (tastings included). Outside of the city, wine resorts like L’And Vineyards and Six Senses Douro Valley compliment intermittent and informative tastings with vineyard tours, grape crushing classes, and even restorative grape-infused treatments in luxurious wine spas.

Where to Stay

Situated on a hilltop overlooking the rolling wine vineyards and winding Douro River below, the Six Senses Douro Valley focuses on wellness, relaxation and rejuvenation. Guests are invited to partake in activities like yoga, pilates, meditation and even guided tree climbing. Three pools, an award-winning spa and rooms with panoramic river views ensure that your days have a healthy dose of leisure time to balance (or overtake) a more active approach to well-being.

 

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The Top 5 Honeymoon Destinations for Wine Lovers

From the gorgeous scenery of South Africa’s Cape Winelands to France’s abundance of historic vineyards, the following prominent wine regions are among our favorite travel destinations for an unforgettable honeymoon getaway.

Cape Winelands, South Africa

Whether as a leisurely day trip from Cape Town, or a few days of solid R&R, the Cape Winelands are not to be missed. The Stellenbosch region was the first to create a formal route to access its now 200+ wine producers, and is dotted with boutique hotels, spa-like sanctuaries, fine-dining restaurants, and even informative museums which offer insight into the region’s deep history.

Nearby Franschhoek boasts beautiful landscapes, enriched with French Huguenot heritage, which is immediately evident in the region’s famed “Cap Classique” – the Cape’s take on Champagne. Its boho chic village is lined with bars and bistros, and a hop-on, hop-off wine tram makes traveling between estates a total joy.

Bordeaux, France

This world-renowned winemaking region is home to some of the most valuable and historic châteaux and vineyards (Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Lafite Rotschild).

With the Atlantic coast to the west, Medoc to the north, and Saint-Émilion to the east, Bordeaux is a perfect place from which to day-trip your way around France. It’s also the perfect gateway to Dordogne, the modern-day home of the ancient country of Perigord — filled with honey-colored medieval villages like Sarlat, more than 1,500 ancient castles, and even truffle markets (check out the stalls in Périgueux).

Image courtesy of The Vines of Mendoza

Uno Valley, Argentina

Argentina’s Uco Valley is one of those rare places that is able to produce quality wines at high altitudes, making it a world-famous region for Malbecs and other red wines. It’s also totally remote and relaxing.

To taste the terroir, post up at The Vines of Mendoza, a 22-villa resort in the foothills of the Andes. It’s set on a 1,500 acre working vineyard, with spa-style bathrooms, en-suite fire pits, and an on-site restaurant imagined by Francis Mallmann. The Argentine super-chef applies his open-flame cooking techniques to regional dishes that showcase Argentina’s famous beef, like four-hours roasted lamb with Anna potatoes and watercress salad.

Napa Valley, California

Northern California’s grape-growing region is widely recognized as one of the premier places in the world for wine production. All the while, it has steadily become one of America’s top honeymoon destinations thanks to its beautiful landscape, diversity of activities offered, charming small towns, phenomenal dining choices, high-class wine making facilities, and elite resorts and inns.

For an incredible day, start with a tour of wine country from above via Napa Valley Balloons. Next, head to Schramsberg Winery outside of Calistoga, famous for its sparking wines, caves and majestic views.

In the afternoon, visit beautiful Hall Vineyards high atop the hills in Rutherford for a private tour before dinner at The Rutherford Grill.

Santorini, Greece

The island of Santorini is known for its Assyrtiko grapes, which produces some very distinct but excellent dry white wines. After checking in to your hotel at the elegant Perivolas Santorini, make your way to Santo Wines, an exceptional winery situated high atop the caldera cliffs just south of Fira.

Stop in for a wine and food tasting right before soaking in a brilliant Santorini sunset. The property also features a deli shop where couples can purchase an assortment of wines plus traditional food products like capers, sun-dried tomatoes, and fava beans.

 

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Image courtesy of Kym Ellis

A Honeymoon in Napa Valley: Top 5 Things to Do (Besides Wine Tasting)

With gorgeous scenery, beautiful small towns, top-notch accommodations, and an endless activities list, California’s Napa Valley makes for a terrific honeymoon destination.

Here are some of our favorite things to see and do (in between your wine tasting outings and vineyard visits, of course).

Hiking

Napa and Sonoma Counties offer more than just vineyards. Actually, they are both packed with wilderness as the unique topography gives way to foggy forests, petrified trees and crazy rock formations. Bothe-Napa Valley State Park and Sugarloaf State Park are both great places for exploring the backwoods.

Biking

The biking options in wine country are plentiful and highly recommended. Check out Napa Valley Bike Tours for rental information and suggested routes. No matter if you’re a biking enthusiast or just a casual biker, there’s an itinerary available for you. Blaze past vineyards on backcountry roads or take the main drag through some of the beautiful small towns dotted throughout Napa Valley.

Hot Air Ballooning

After a few days of wine tasting, there’s nothing better than a tour of wine country by balloon. From lift off and landing to the views of the region (and even San Francisco on clear days) and the bird’s eye view of the vineyards, a trip to wine country isn’t complete without a hot air balloon tour.

Small Town Discoveries

Take a few days to explore the beautiful Napa Valley towns of Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. The relatively small size of these villages and proximity to each other make for a perfect day trip away from wine tasting. Each destination offers something a little bit different, but visitors can certainly still expect great dining, late night options, local shopping and boutiques, and unique galleries.

Spas

Northern California wine country is widely recognized as a top destination for spa treatments with sophisticated gems like Solage Calistoga and the Spa at Silverado. Experience invigorating massages, mineral baths, mud baths and a vast array of beauty and body treatments in a tranquil, one-of-a-kind setting.

 

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Photo by Sebastien Gabriel

Our Favorite Restaurants for a Honeymoon: Selene (Santorini, Greece)

Ranked as one of the best restaurants in Europe, Selene recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. A must-visit spot for newlyweds exploring Santorini in Greece, the acclaimed restaurant focuses on local ingredients and creative dishes such as poached Aegean codfish and grilled octopus.

selene_restaurant_santorini_greece-002

Meanwhile, the views can’t be beat, either. The restaurant is situated on one of the highest points of Santorini in the historic village of Pyrgos.

The experience doesn’t end with dinner. Couples can also sign up for cooking classes, wine tastings, demonstrations, and a visit to the local folklore museum.

Heading to Greece for your honeymoon? Be sure to add this once-in-a-lifetime dining experience to your registry list.

www.selene.gr

 

Image courtesy of Selene

Honeymoon in Bordeaux: Finding Friendly France in Bordeaux

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Ah, la France!  Immediately we think of Paris, of sipping champagne on the Champs Elysees,  of taking photos in front of the Eiffel Tower, of tooling through the Tuileries on tandem bicycles.  We think of museums, and palaces, and of Notre Dame, looming grandly along the Seine.  But, we also think of crowds, of packs of bewildered tourists, of rude waiters, and smelly metro cars.  We think of impossibly tiny hotel rooms at impossibly huge prices.  And suddenly we’re thinking that maybe Italy would be a better choice…

But hang on a minute!  Italy is a beautiful country too (and we’ll get there, stay tuned!), but first there is another side to the French story.  It starts a little to the south, and a little to the west, in France’s ninth largest city, Bordeaux.

Why choose Bordeaux for your honeymoon?

Have your cake and eat it too.  Bordeaux has all of the elegant “Frenchness” of Paris without all of the negatives.  The city itself is gorgeous; breathtaking 18th century architecture, a huge gothic cathedral, the imposing Grand Theatre, magnificent city parks (perfect for a sunny picnic and fruity glasses of rosé), a medieval quarter, and the wide, sparkling Garonne river, winding through the middle of the city center.  Elegant cafes sprawl out onto sunny terraces, and bright and bustling farmers’ markets offer tempting homegrown and homemade faire.  An ultra-modern tram system winds through it all, bringing you easily from one side of the city to the other.  Notably, the tram also connects you to Bordeaux’s international airport (a bit outside the city itself) and Gare de Saint Jean, a major train station that will get you to any corner of France in a hurry on its high-speed rail system, the TGV.

And, most of the tourists in Bordeaux are French.  The significance here is that the waiters and shop owners aren’t inundated with crowds of foreign tourists unfamiliar with French customs and manners… and therefore, unlike the jaded denizens of Paris, they’re more welcoming and understanding with newcomers.  Know a little French?  In Paris, you might get a sneer when you attempt an excusez-moi, but in Bordeaux you’ll get compliments and smiles of surprise.  The Bordelais aren’t very strong in English, and so they’re impressed by any effort to be bilingual (however, the local tourist office and major sights will have English guides available).  Just make sure you follow a few simple rules (more on this in a minute) and you’ll wonder why Americans ever decided the French were rude.  Less international tourism also means fewer tourist traps and lower prices, so expect roomier hotels and reasonably-priced meals.

Lastly, the city serves as a convenient home-base for those looking to spend lots of time tasting wine and taking advantage of the beautiful surroundings.

What can we do on our honeymoon in Bordeaux?

Participate in a wine harvest.  Rise early to spend a day in among the vines, clipping bunches of juicy purple grapes, as dappled sunlight filters down through the leaves around you.  Learn about the intricate process of winemaking, and perhaps best of all, enjoy a family-style, several-course meal with your new friends.  For honeymooners who don’t mind a little work and a few grape juice stains, this is truly an unforgettable experience, and a unique, behind-the-scenes look into French culture.  I participated in a harvest a few years ago, and it was the highlight of my 8-month stint in the Bordeaux region (if you’d like to learn more, I wrote about my own experience here).

Harvest time is September-October, so make sure to contact your chateau of choice around August or earlier to plan your trip.  Some chateaux offer accommodation as well, if you’re interested in enjoying the countryside a little longer.  Unfortunately the chateau I visited is no longer in operation, but you can find others in the same region here.  Simply call or email the chateau directly– most are eager to welcome extra pairs of hands!  Be sure you can commit to a full day; since wine harvesting is a delicate process that requires exact timing, and the chateau will be counting on your help to get the crop in on-time.

Taste wine in Saint Emilion.  Just a short train ride away, Saint Emilion is a medieval town that feels like it’s straight out of a fairytale.  Friendly, helpful shop owners will invite you inside to taste their wines as you wander the narrow lanes.  Have lunch in one of the sunny plazas and take a guided mini-tour of the region, stopping to taste wine along the way.  This is an easy trip for the more-relaxed wine-taster, taking the guesswork out of choosing particular wineries to visit.  Be sure to add your train tickets, your wine tour, and your lunch to your wanderable.com registry!

Climb Europe’s largest sand dune in Arcachon.  You’re probably raising your eyebrows at this one, but I promise, it’s really impressive!  Rent a bike in the little beach town of Arcachon and follow the seaside road out to the Dune du Pilat.  Bring good shoes, because you won’t want to miss the awesome view of the coastline from the top of the dune.  Fancy a little adventure?  Join the paragliders that sail gracefully down toward the ocean.  There are several schools that offer courses and tandem flights, and a couple examples with English websites are here and here.  Why not add a tandem flight or a day course to your registry?

Eat and drink.  As you could surely tell from my last post about Spain, I believe no trip is complete without sampling the local cuisine.  Bordeaux makes it easy for you; simply peruse the menus as you stroll through the city and pick something that sounds tasty.  It would be fairly impossible to have a bad meal in Bordeaux.  If you’re watching your expenses, opt for lunch instead– you can quite easily find a really nice 2-course lunch for less than 20 euro, and that includes wine.  A good place to start would be Café Crème; my favorite dish was the tarte salée, but everything is delicious.

Not looking for a full meal?  Grab a mouthwatering pastry or sandwich at any bakery.  Visit a cheese shop on a lazy weekday afternoon, and the proprietor will be happy to give you free samples.  Stop at a little cafe along the river and sip an espresso (most places will also give you a little cookie or pastry to go with your coffee).  Drop into L’art et vins, a fabulous little wine and spirits shop (owned by wonderful people who were practically family by the end of my trip) that does excellent free wine and spirits tastings on Thursdays.  Looking for a break from wine?  Visit this impressive Belgian beer bar, with its Bible-like beer list.

I can’t mention food without urging you to try a few local delicacies, like canelés, Bordeaux’s signature pastry, or confit de canarda rich and salty duck dish that is typical of the region.  Also be sure to sample real goose foie gras with a glass of sweet Sauternes wine.  Delicious food is everywhere in Bordeaux, so make some room in your registry for that sunny terrace lunch, that romantic dinner along the Garonne, and that elegant picnic you’ll have in the Jardin Public!

Browse the Chartrons Sunday market.  A weekly staple in the lives of real Bordelais, this outdoor food market is unforgettable.  Buy a newspaper cone of cajun-style shrimp, or a richly garnished wood-fired pizza with innovative toppings (made by one man at lightning speed in his own little pizza oven trailer), or a plate of fresh oysters with baguette and lemon.  Buy a bottle of chilled graves white wine for a few euro and sit along the water to enjoy a bit of people-watching as you sip leisurely in the sunshine.

Tips for a successful honeymoon in France

French customs can be very different from American ones, and this often leads to misunderstandings.  Follow the simple rules here, though, and you’re in for a friendly experience:

Say bonjour when you enter a shop.  In France it’s rude to enter a shop without acknowledging the person working there.  No need to have a full chat, but a hello is always appreciated.

Say excusez-moi before asking for help.  Even if you’ll need help in English, this simple phrase will start you off on the right foot.

Expect to wait for your food.  Food is a slow and careful affair in France.  Your meal will be painstakingly prepared with only the best ingredients, and so you may have to wait a while to eat it (potentially up to an hour).  Have a snack first if you’re starving.  Similarly, the restaurant expects you to take your time, and so they won’t hurry you out.  If you want your bill right away, you’ll need to ask for it.

Prepare for Sundays.  On Sunday, lots of things are closed, including grocery stores and many restaurants.  Make sure to scope out things to eat before you’re desperate!  Chains and fast-food places will usually be open everyday.

Wow, I really need to go back to France!  This post is giving me the travel bug, and I hope you’ve found some inspiration too.  Stay tuned for an Irish adventure next week!

(Photo credit Yann Gar under Creative Commons License)