Top 13 Travel Surprises of 2016 (that may inspire your 2017 travels) + VIDEO

Top 13 Travel Surprises of 2016 (that may inspire your 2017 travels) + VIDEO

Wow. I really have a problem. I am a full-blown travel addict. Acceptance is the first step to recovery, right?

I didn’t think I could top last year’s adventures but my travel addiction took control and I went to far more places than I ever imagined! 

In 2016, I visited 14 countries, 11 of them new countries, and 3 continents. The 3 repeat countries? My top 3 favourite countries in the world: Italy, Croatia, and Greece! I’ll never get sick of them.

I ended the year with a bang with an unexpected trip to Australia and New Zealand, my dream trip! I jumped on an error fare from LAX to Auckland, New Zealand for $216 round-trip. That is UNHEARD of. I got lucky on that one and I could not pass it up. I had been saving for this dream trip for awhile so it worked out perfectly!

Anyway, here are my top 13 destinations that really blew me away in 2016. Hopefully I can inspire some travel to these places in 2017!

Top 13 Travel Surprises of 2016:

 

Sao Miguel, Azores

Thanks to Anthony Bourdain, I was introduced to the Azores a few years ago and have been so intrigued to go ever since. It wasn’t until 2015 that they opened up budget airlines to fly into the islands so it was the perfect time to go.

Lagoa do Canario Miradouro

If you’re looking for a fairly unspoilt, non-touristy, nature-centered place to visit, the Azores are right for you! Sao Miguel is the biggest island in the Azores and it was honestly the most naturally beautiful place I have ever laid eyes on. I cannot recommend this place enough.

Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes

Do not miss:

  • Sete Cidades twin lakes– one blue and one green lake surrounded by spectacular greenery and hikes.
  • Ponta da Ferraria-a hot pool connected to the ocean.
  • Lagoa do Fogo-hike down to the bottom if you have time for crystal clear waters.
  • Caldeira Velha-natural hot springs in the middle of the jungle.
  • Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes– a free natural park with pretty waterfalls. 
  • Dona Beija Thermal Springs-a series of hot pool jacuzzis in a beautiful and relaxing setting.

⇒For a detailed 4-day itinerary, check out my article: Why Sao Miguel, Azores Will Blow Your Mind: The Ultimate 4-Day Itinerary

Victoria Falls, Africa

Victoria Falls really blew me away. Victoria falls lies between Zambia and Zimbabwe in Africa, and is listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world. Did you know that Victoria Falls is also the biggest waterfall in the world (based on width)? I sure as hell didn’t until I was face to face with this amazing natural wonder.

What to do in Victoria Falls

Also a huge surprise was that Victoria Falls is a mini adventure capital. There were SO many adventure activities on offer, we didn’t have enough time to even scratch the surface. From bungee jumping, to high wire activities, to scenic flights over the falls, the amount of fun you can have in this place is endless.

Do not miss:

  • Microlight flight over the falls (one of the most incredible activities I have ever done in my life).
  • Devil’s pool (where you can sit on top of the edge of the waterfall..no joke).
  • The gorge swing and the flying fox.

*Stay tuned for 2 posts about this destination coming soon!

Cape Town, South Africa 

Cape Town was my favorite city I visited in 2016, hands-down. It literally has everything: awesome hikes, mind-blowing viewpoints, some of the greatest food in the world, nearby wineries, epic road trips, and so much more.

What to do in Cape Town

Cape Town is underrated in my opinion and I think you should add it to the top of your 2017 bucket list! It’s INCREDIBLE!

NAC helicopter tour Cape Town

Do not miss:

  • Haut Bay market-live music, artisan shops, and endless food vendors.
  • Camp’s Bay-the posh beach area reminded me of Malibu, California 
  • Lion’s Head and Table Mountain.
  • Bombay Bicycle-order the Choco-Chilli steak. Don’t, ask, just do it. 
  • Stellenbosch-take a day and go wine tasting about 45 minutes outside of Cape Town.
  • Helicopter tour over Cape Town for the best panoramic views over the city.
  • Road trip on the Cape Peninsula.
  • Penguin Beach.

Where to Stay in Cape Town:

Derwent House Boutique Hotel. Simply awesome…and super cozy!

⇒Check out my review: Where to Stay in Cape Town: Feeling at Home at Derwent House Boutique Hotel (+Video)

Zanzibar, Tanzania, Africa

My friend Carey and I spent a week in Zanzibar participating in a volunteer project with the incredible RAKlife.org helping to rebuild some houses for those in need. Not only did we get to help make a difference, but we got to spend time in one of the most beautiful places in the world: ZANZIBAR!

Zanzibar Crazy Travelista

The high/low tides in Paje, Zanzibar were unlike anything I had ever seen. During low tide, you could literally walk a mile out onto the sea bed. Not to mention, the color of the water was unreal. Zanzibar will have some of the prettiest waters you will ever see in this world, and that’s no lie.

Do not miss:

  • The Rock Restaurant (basically in the middle of the ocean)-You take a boat to get to it and after the low tide, you walk back to shore. One of the coolest things I have ever seen. Oh, and the food was great too!
  • Swimming with wild dolphins (literally)-a 6am start will surely get your adrenaline pumping as you take a small boat out into the sea to search for dolphins. When your guide finds them, you literally jump into the water and swim with them. I can’t even describe the feeling.
  • Paje Beach-one of the prettiest beaches I have ever seen. There are also a bunch of chill out cafes near the water with hammocks to enjoy the scenery. It’s a very relaxing place. 

Meteora, Greece

I have been to Greece several times as it is one of my favorite countries. But nothing prepared me for what I would see and learn at Meteora. In short, it is a city with monasteries built upon rocky pillars. Meteora translates into “suspended in the sky”…and it definitely lives up to its name. It also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

Meteora monasteries

The history behind this place is incredible so make sure to take a guided tour to put things into perspective. Another plus is that this region of Greece is pretty cheap so it won’t break the bank.

What to do in Meteora

Do not miss:

  • Meteora Sunset Tour-to get the best photo spots in Meteora, this was my fav tour!
  • Meteora Hiking Tour-to see the city from the bottom up, it gives a unique perspective.

⇒For more details on Meterora, check out my post: Why You Should Drop Everything & Visit Meteora

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

Who knew the oldest lake in Europe would be one of my favorite destinations of 2016? It’s not really a place on most people’s radars, and as a result, it’s not overrun by mass tourism. BINGO. That’s probably why I enjoyed it so much. You can reach it easily with a 3-hour bus ride from Skopje.

Lake Ohrid Crazy Travelista

Go to Lake Ohrid for a more peaceful and relaxing trip with great scenery. Also a plus is how cheap everything is there, especially accommodations. I got an entire apartment to myself on Airbnb for $24/night. Ahhh, I love Eastern Europe.♥

Do not miss:

Saint John at Kaneo-a monastery perched upon the cliff overlooking the lake and picturesque AF.

Sardinia, Italy

If you know anything about me, you know my favorite country in the world is Italy. I always say I could spend my whole life discovering all of Italy. And that I plan on doing :). Sardinia did not disappoint and has the most consistently beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life. Period. 

Sardinia, Italy Crazy Travelista

I explored solo for 8 days by car and it was one of my favourite trips of the year. Sardinia is very rugged and naturally beautiful, and not to mention HUGE. In 8 days I was only able to see the Northeast of the Island so I definitely plan on going back to see more.

Do not miss:

  • Cala Goloritze-hands-down one of the prettiest beaches in the world. So much so that the beach itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It requires a 1.5 hour hike through the woods (each way), but 100% worth it. I had the whole entire beach to myself (although it was a cloudy day, it was still gorgeous).
  • La Maddalena Peninsula-I took my car on the ferry over to La Maddalena and drove around the small little island. The water there was the prettiest blue/green contrasted waters on the whole island of Sardinia.
  • Costa Smeralda-very posh and expensive but worth a stop.
  • Capriccioli Beach-made up of 4 small half-cresent beaches and turquoise waters.
  • Orosei Coast for the best natural beaches on the island.

Where to Stay in Sardinia:

Ecofriendly Luxury Huts at L’essenza, Sardinia-one of the most unique places I have ever stayed. Who wouldn’t want to stay in a luxury teepee surrounded by cats and greenery?

Su Gologone: the prettiest and most colourful boutique hotel I have ever stayed in. It’s an art lover’s dream and the perfect place for total seclusion from the outside world.

⇒Check out my reviews of these properties here:

Ecofriendly Luxury Huts at L’essenza, Sardinia

Su Gologone: A Secluded Oasis Igniting the Inner Creative in You

Mainland Portugal

Lisbon-the spicy capital of Portugal with so much to offer. The colourful city is a photographer’s absolute dream and I had so much fun exploring, despite all the steep hills!

Señhora do Monte viewpoint

Algarve- a region in the south of Portugal with some of the best beaches in Europe. And finally some sandy beaches in Europe, woohoo!

Do not miss:

  • Hike up to the Miradouro or “viewpoints” for the best panoramic views over the city.
  • Alfama and Bairro Alto neighborhoods for photo ops and great restaurants.
  • TimeOut Market– a gourmet food market with some of the best chefs and many vendors to choose from.
  • Carmo Convent-a church without a roof. Where else can you see that?
  • Day Trips to Sintra, Quinta da Regaleira, and Cascais are absolute musts!

⇒For more details on Lisbon, check out my post: What To Do in Lisbon: A Fun-Filled 3-Day Itinerary (+Day Trips)

Chefchaouen

Although I had quite the rocky time in Morocco, I couldn’t leave the amazing “blue city” off this list. I had been teased by unreal Instagram photos of this place for what seemed like forever. I couldn’t take it anymore and just had to see for myself.

Blue city, Morocco

Chefchaouen exceeded my expectations. It might just be the most picturesque city I’ve ever been to. The location nudged between the Rif Mountains only adds to it’s secluded beauty. It’s a little out of the way to get to, but it was by far my favorite place in Morocco and if you go to only one city, make it this one! 

⇒For more on my time in Morocco, check out: Solo Female Travel in Morocco: Yay or Nay? and Why I Have a Love/Hate Relationship with Morocco: Highlights & Lowlights

Do not miss:

  • Getting lost in the maze like streets.
  • Taking endless photos of kitties.
  • Go to the Spanish Mosque at sunset for the best views.
  • Shop and bargain for leather goods and pashmina scarves.
  • Eat at Molin Arte near waterfalls or Cafe Morisco in the main square.

Safari in Kruger National Park

Going on a safari at Kruger National Park in South Africa was not only one of the top 5 travel moments ever, it was probably one of the top 5 highlights of my life. No joke. There is nothing comparable to the thrill of being in an open vehicle and being encountered by the animals in the wild. I’m not going to lie, at some moments, I was scared AF, but that just added to the thrill!

The bonus…we saw the BIG FIVE twice in 3 days!

Safari Kruger National Park

If you don’t have a safari on your bucket list, put it up by the top! It’s amazing! And not as expensive as you might think. More on my safari adventure with details coming up soon!

Queensland, Australia

Getting to finally see the Great Barrier Reef up close and swim in it was a complete dream come true. It was at the top of my bucket list and it didn’t disappoint. I must say it was a little scary to swim with all the possible deadly animals in the GBR, namely sharks and stingers. But hey, YOLO! 

Great Barrier Reef

Do not miss:

  • Day trip to the Outer Great Barrier Reef + Michaelman’s Cay.
  • Day trip to Fitzroy island-a relaxing a quiet island with lots of water activities and hikes.
  • Day trip to Cape Tribulation/Port Douglas-the costal views on the way up are worth it alone.

Whitsundays (Whitehaven Beach)

Whitehaven Beach may just be the prettiest beach in the world. At least it was the prettiest beach I had ever seen! The magnificent swirls of white sand contrasted with the turquoise waters was like nothing I had ever seen. Also interesting is that the pattern of swirls changes every 3-4 hours so you will never take the same picture twice.

Whitsundays, Australia

Do not miss:

  • Make sure to take a day tour and see the Hill Inlet. This is not included on every tour so make sure your company goes there! This is where you get to hike up and see that spectacular view mentioned above.  
  • Scenic flight over the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef for a different perspective.

New Zealand (all of it!)

I couldn’t pick just one city in New Zealand because everywhere I went was spectacular. The highlights of my trip were bungee jumping for the first time ever in Queenstown, biking through wine country, and visiting the Hobbiton Movie Set on the north island.

New Zealand Crazy Travelista

New Zealand is for nature lovers and I cherished my time there. It’s definitely a place I would go back to. And the exchange rate was very good so it was quite affordable. 

Do not miss:

  • Bungee jumping in Queenstown, the home of bungee!
  • Hobbiton movie set.
  • Wine tasting on Waiheke island.
  • Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.
  • Waitomo Glow worm caves.

Tip: you can only visit Hobbiton on a tour so make sure to buy tickets in advance as they do sell out!

*Stay tuned for a huge post on my highlights of New Zealand soon. In the meantime, here is my bungee jump video:

Where is Crazy Travelista Going in 2017?

That’s a great question. I don’t even know yet myself. Last year I only completed about 50% of my wish list…yet I added 3 huge trips instead to Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Plans are always changing so it’s hard to say.

As of right now, I only have a trip to Lapland, Finland booked in March. Nothing else is planned yet!

But in case you’re wondering, here is my 2017 wish list:

Iran-the homeland! My dad is from Shiraz, Iran, and it would be a dream for me to finally get to see where he came from and to meet a bunch of family over there. In doing my research, I found out that it’s going to be more complicated for me to go than someone who is an American (ironic, huh?).

The Iranian government sees anyone born to an Iranian father as Iranian, regardless of where the mother is from (my mom is from Austria). So that means I must enter on an Iranian passport. Well, my dad came over almost 40 years ago and lost his passport (as he has never returned). So he must track down his birth certificate in Iran first and then reapply for his passport in the USA before I can even think about applying for mine. It’s going to be a long process, but I am determined to get to Iran in 2017! Stay tuned for updates.

I do know for sure that 2017 WILL be the year I set foot on the continent of South America for the first time. How have I not gone here yet? Plane tickets are pretty cheap from Washington, DC, so now is the time to go. It’s high up on the list and I will definitely be making a trip there some time next year. On my radar: Machu Picchu, Salar de Uyuni (salt flats in Bolivia), Brazil, Patagonia, Colombia, and possibly Galapagos.

Also on my radar for 2017: more of South East Asia (Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore) as well as Japan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and possibly India.

I would like to also visit more of the Middle East including Oman, Dubai, Jordan, etc. And no, it doesn’t scare me. I have Middle Eastern blood after all.

Banff National Park, Canada-since Canada is celebrating their 150th anniversary in 2017, they are offering free entrance to all their national parks. I ordered my pass already online so now I must go in 2017 🙂

And it’s also my goal to visit one random AF country in 2017. Like possibly one of the “stan” countries. Maybe I’ll get to see where Borat is from. Haha 🙂

Will I make it to all these places in 2017? Probably not, but I’m aiming for at least 50% like last year. I know for sure I will not be spending much time in Europe in 2017 (insert sad face), although it’s my favorite continent. I need to break away for a while and see what else the world has to offer. There is still SO much to see! So, that being said, cheers to mothaf**kin’ 2017!

Here is my 2016 Travel Recap Video from YouTube:

What were your 2016 highlights? And where are you headed in 2017? I want to know! 🙂

Click photo to PIN for later 🙂

Where to travel in 2017

Su Gologone: A Secluded Oasis Igniting the Inner Creative in You

Su Gologone: A Secluded Oasis Igniting the Inner Creative in You

Nestled between the secluded Sardinian mountains, lined with ancient olive trees and vineyards lies the world-renowned Su Gologone Hotel, an artistic masterpiece. Even if you’re not into art, a walk through the property will surely fester an appreciation for it.

Not only does the hotel reflect the local Sardinian culture, but it is finely crafted with natural elements from the local area, including juniper wood and terracotta. And get this, every piece of art in the hotel was hand-crafted from the owner, Giovanna, herself! Simply incredible.

The property is a lot larger than it looks, yet the spread out design helps it to retain a distinct coziness. There were so many different wings and sections, that you could take a whole afternoon exploring the different areas.

I’m not going to list off the hotel amenities here because I think that’s boring quite frankly. What I will highlight are the aspects of the hotel that really stood out and made it truly a unique place. Ready. Set. Go!

Top 11 Reasons Su Gologone Stood Out from All Other Hotels

1. Art, Art, & More Art

It’s no secret that Su Gologone is an art hotel. The owner, Giovanna and her mother, brought their creative visions to life in this fabulous hotel. Like I mentioned above, staying at this hotel will make you appreciate art a little more, it’s impossible not to!

Art Su Gologone

2. Su Gologone Brings out the Creative in You

They say art stimulates the mind and brings out self expression, and I completely agree! Su Gologone is the perfect place to get away and stimulate the inner creative in you. The hotel offers numerous workshops including painting, sewing, embroidery, origami, cooking, and so much more!

ArtSuG

3. Bold Colors Are Easy on the Eyes

I don’t know why but something as simple as color can make me happy. My favorite part of the hotel were the bright hues of color popping out behind every corner. Every little section of the hotel displayed a beautiful color pattern. What’s even more cool is that every decorative item on the hotel property is available for purchase. Score!

colorful Su Gologone

4. On-Site Herb Garden

Su Gologone Herb Garden

The hotel has its own herb garden with fresh herbs that can be hand picked by the guests and made into an infusion tea! LED lights line the garden at night and it’s really nice to just walk around and admire the scenery. There were also art displays surrounding the herb garden, an unusual yet complementing background for the colorful displays.

5. Secluded Wellness Retreat

Su Gologone

The secluded nature of Su Gologone is the perfect setting for a wellness retreat. The hotel has so much to offer to promote fitness & wellness, from the above mentioned fresh herbal teas, to an on-site indoor gym, to yoga classes held on the outdoor terraces, this place has it all! It’s truly a unique place to really get in touch with yourself.

6. My Sweet Suite

Su Gologone Suite

“You’ve been upgraded to a suite”. Those magic words we hardly ever hear. I didn’t expect the suite and that just made it more sweet. Ok, I’ll stop. The suite was made up of 2 rooms, and an outdoor balcony with a private jacuzzi. Umm, yes please!

Su Gologone Suite Hot Tub

The room oozed with Sardinian character, from the little handmade keychain to the juniper wood beams holding up the ceiling. It was just so adorable. I really liked the little sitting cove overlooking the balcony and I spent most my time there when I was in my room.

SuCove

7. Nearby Orosei Peninsula

Sardinia is a huge island and everything worth seeing is very spread out. When planning a trip there, you must pick a region on the island and try to stick to that. It would take a month to see all the outstanding beaches on the island, so don’t spread yourself too thin. Su Gologone is in a great spot to explore the Orosei peninsula, one of the most rugged and naturally stunning areas on the island.

Orosei peninsula

I recommend visiting Cala Luna and also Cala Goloritze, one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen in my life. Cala Goloritze requires a 2-hour hike down to the beach, but it is well-worth it. I had the whole beach to myself and was in awe of the rich turquoise waters beating against the white cliffs. It was spectacular! But I would only recommend the hike if you’re in moderate to good shape. It’s not easy!

8. Su Gologone Restaurant

The Su Gologone restaurant is a popular dining spot not just for hotel guests, but is frequented from visitors all over the island. Its reputation precedes itself and its a dinner experience you shouldn’t miss.

Su Gologone Restaurant

Not only was the ambiance alone enough for a visit, the food was outstanding. On the first night, I was really tired from traveling so I went to the lobby, ordered from the menu, and had it delivered to my room. I had the homemade fennel ravioli and it ended up being my favourite meal on the island (they even had a homemade gluten free version for me). After that experience, I came back to the restaurant every night for dinner (and sometimes for lunch). The prices were very reasonable as well.

Reservations are required, even for hotel guests, especially during high season. A restaurant that is booked up every single night speaks for itself! #yumm

9. Terraces To Die For

There are terraces….and then there are Su Gologone terraces. Each decorated in a different theme with a splash of bold green, purple, and pure white, the 3 main terraces were to die for. Each had an amazing view of the property and/or landscape and were the perfect places to relax and get a suntan, or sip on a glass of wine…or both.

TerraceSuGologone

I found my fav spot for the sunset..

SunsetSuGologone

The Terrace of Dreams was decked out in purple and held once a week stargazing sessions (with telescopes) free to guests! How cool?

SuPatioPurple

10. On-Site Winery (enough said…)

Su Gologone on site winery

The only thing that could make this gorgeous property any better would be an on-site winery. Are you kidding me? The property has its own winery with tastings and two cellars. Complete heaven if you ask me! I didn’t partake in a tasting, but I had local Sardinian red wine at dinner every night and it was the perfect mixture of full bodied and a touch of sweetness. Just the way I like it!

11. Other Activities Offered

There are literally too many to list and I didn’t have time to try all of them. But what stood out for me was the cinema under the stars, the plethora of outdoor activities on offer nearby such as horseback riding, rafting, nature hikes, and the outdoor pool overlooking the country landscape. There was just so much to do on site of this hotel, that I almost forgot there was a whole beautiful island to explore!

The One Downfall (also a Catch 22)

The one downfall in this hotel was the wifi in the rooms, as it was very weak. I had trouble getting the wifi to work on my iPhone at all until the last day (it worked fine on my computer). It was also a little annoying that the code they give you only lasts 24 hours, so I found myself coming down to the lobby in my PJs late at night asking for a new code. The wifi in the lobby was excellent if you really needed it.

It’s also a catch 22 because this hotel is designed to be a wellness retreat, a secluded place to get in touch with yourself and disconnect with the world. Normally wifi is a huge issue for me because I need it to update the social media as part of my job, but hey, this is one time I let it slide and was actually at peace with it. It’s healthy to allow yourself a break every once in a while.

The Verdict

Overall, this hotel blew me away and I encourage those exploring Sardinia to visit here, even if it’s just to drop by and admire the beauty. The setting deep into the country, the focus on authentic Sardinian culture, the fabulously displayed art, the relaxing terraces, the creative workshops and wellness activities, I can see why this hotel is world renowned and has gotten so much media attention. I can honestly say it’s the most unique, artsy/funky hotel I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying at. This hotel made it to my top 3 favorite hotels ever!  

Have you been to Sardinia? What was your favorite part? Do tell, I need some tips for my return! 

Liked it? Click photo to PIN IT for later 🙂

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♥A special thanks to Su Gologone for hosting me during my stay. All opinions, however, are my own. I don’t bullsh*t and would never recommend somewhere I didn’t truly enjoy!♥

Ecofriendly Luxury Huts at L’essenza, Sardinia

Ecofriendly Luxury Huts at L’essenza, Sardinia

It seems a popular new trend in traveling is shifting toward sustainable tourism.Think traveling with the least amount of harm to the environment as possible. When I found these cozy little luxury huts at L’essenza Sardinia I couldn’t have been more excited to experience it for myself! I’m jumping right on the bandwagon and I hope to find more ecofriendly accommodations in the future.

Sustainable Tourism

L’essenza Sardinia

L’essenza’s key focus is on sustainability and responsible tourism. The ecofriendly property consists of 4 luxury huts, or pinnetos (traditional hut of ancient Sardinian shepherds), each having their own unique color therapy and aromatherapy to stimulate the senses. I had the pleasure of staying in the yellow room which was characterized by the oils of the yellow plant Helichrysum, an anti-inflammatory and fungicidal. The aroma inside the hut was both soothing and calming.

Setting/Location

L’essenza Sardinia is located on a hilltop in a secluded setting in the Northeast of Sardinia island. After spending a week on the island, I can confirm that this location was the most ideal and central to all the places I visited. If you really want to “get away from it all”, this is a perfect place to do just that! The property is completely surrounded by nature in a quiet setting, overlooking farmlands, lush olive trees, and the Mediterranean Sea. And I mean, have you ever seen an outdoor living room like this? So cool!

L’essenza Sardinia

Note: you WILL need a car while staying at this property. In fact, you really need a car to explore the island, as public transportation is highly lacking, especially in the off season.

Luxury Hut Rooms

L’essenza Sardinia Luxury Hut

The unique pinnetos were anything but basic inside. Marina, the owner, designed each room herself each with a special attention to fine detail. The rooms were equipped with (reliable) wifi, an en suite bathroom/shower, queen size bed, desk, clothes rack, and candles to enhance the ambiance in the evenings. The ceilings are finely crafted out of bamboo and give you that sort of outdoor log cabin type feel. The rooms are quite large with lots of space, yet they still retain a nice warmth and cozy aspect to them.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Alberobello, Italy: a Trulli Unique Experience

Healthy Breakfast

L’essenza Sardinia breakfast

Each morning started out with some fresh made local herbal tea which I drank overlooking the gorgeous panoramic landscape. Both the owner and her daughter are vegans themselves and always had plenty vegan as well as gluten free options for breakfast. I devoured daily vegan butter,vegan cream cheese, homemade jams with toast, home grown fruits and veggies, gluten free pastries, and cereal. Although there were no hot plates such as eggs/bacon offered, there was plenty of variety and I always left feeling stuffed. It was the prefect typical Italian breakfast.

Cat Heaven

L’essenza Sardinia

Found this little guy sunbathing outside my window 🙂

If you know me at all, you will know that I am obsessed with cats. Ok, obsessed is an understatement, I am just crazy about them! When I found out that there were around 20 cats living around the property, I was so ecstatic! Luckily for me, one of the cats had kittens on the first morning I was there, and I almost died at the cuteness of newborn tiny kittens. This was the perfect place for a crazy cat lady like me. No shame.

L’essenza Sardinia

Note: the cats are outdoors and they are NOT allowed inside. So if you are allergic to cats, have no fear, there is no cat hair or dander inside whatsoever. And if you don’t like cats (first off, we can’t be friends), they wont bother you and mostly keep to themselves unless they are summoned to play.

You Will Be Welcomed Into the Family

I may mention this in every review I’ve done so far, but you know what, the PEOPLE are what really makes the experience. PERIOD. I can say it a thousand times. Valeria, the daughter of the owner Marina, helped me plan my trip months in advance and went out of her way to help me with my plans, including renting a car on the island….a dreaded task in Italy. 

L’essenza Sardinia breakfast room

The family was so nurturing and hospitable and loved to joke around. I was constantly smiling and laughing with them and I felt instantly at home. I felt like I was visiting as a friend, not as a guest. A++ for hospitality!

The Verdict: L’essenza Sardinia

My stay at L’essenza Sardinia was hands-down one of the most unique accommodations I have ever stayed at and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants something different than your average hotel or Airbnb stay! The setting, the focus on responsible tourism, the cozy/colorful rooms, the hospitality, and of course the kitties. It was all just perfect. And NO, I am NOT obligated to write a positive review by any means. I want future guests to have an honest opinion of my stay and know what to expect. The one negative I will mention is that the road up to the huts was not paved and extremely rocky (and steep in some areas), so just be careful if you’re renting a car that’s low to the ground. I was a little worried I would scratch my car, but it ended up being okay. Also, I had an issue with the hot water, until I was told of the “trick”. You must open the sink and let the hot water run before you turn on the shower water to “open” the hot water pipe. Overall, a unique place with a special attention to details that will leave a lasting impression!

L’essenza SardiniaLuxy Huts at L’essenza SardiniaL’essenza Sardinia

L’essenza Sardinia

♥A special thanks to L’essenza Sardinia for hosting me during my stay. All opinions, however, are my own. I don’t bullsh*t and would never recommend somewhere I didn’t truly enjoy!♥

Have you ever stayed in a luxury hut? Better yet, have you ever stayed in an ecofriendly property? Please let me know as I would love to add more to my list! 🙂

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L'essenza Sardinia

Taste of Testaccio: The Perfect Gluten Free Food Tour in Rome

Taste of Testaccio: The Perfect Gluten Free Food Tour in Rome

My favorite part of traveling is trying new foods, without a doubt.  What better way to appreciate a culture than to indulge in the local foods, right? Italian culture is centered around food. It brings family and friends together and eating is a sacred social activity (as it should be!). Hey, Italy is my favorite country in the entire world for a reason!

As someone who is allergic to gluten, traveling on a strict gluten free (GF) diet isn’t the easiest thing and it takes much more research and planning to have a safe dining experience. So when I found a gluten free food tour in Rome, offered by Eating Italy, I JUMPED on it! Ahh, finally! I decided on the Taste of Testaccio Tour with Eating Italy because I have never been to that neighbourhood but have always heard good things about it. It’s a local, colorful, and hip neighbourhood in Rome and it deserves more attention than it receives. I also learned that Testaccio is considered the birthplace of Roman cuisine! Umm, sign me up please! ♥

If you’re like me and are skeptical about forking out cash for a food tour, you will be pleasantly surprised. The food tour hits up 8 STOPS (and 12 tastings total), so make sure you skip breakfast. You will be STUFFED by the end of the 4-hour tour, guaranteed! My tour was from 10:30am-2:30pm, and it filled me up for the entire day. I only needed a light snack around 9pm, but it’s basically breakfast lunch and dinner crammed into 4 hours of yummy goodness.

(note: this food tour isn’t only for those who are gluten free and is open to everyone. However, it can be specifically tailored to those with food allergies, which is what they did with me). 

So What Does a Gluten Free Food Tour in Rome Look like? Here are the highlights below!

1st Stop→ Pastry Shopping

Eating Italy

Rich & sweet GF chocolate fudge tart

Breakfast of champions…the non Gf version below.

Eating Italy Pastries

I’ll take one of each, please 🙂

2nd Stop→Pizza, pizza, pizza (& rice)

Eating Italy Pizza

There’s nothing like a local pizza spot in Rome. My eyes were bulging out of my head. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a GF option and I was offered a rice dish instead (boo!). The rice was tasty, but it’s not the same. So instead, I just lived vicariously through my pizza devouring tour members.

3rd Stop→Salumeria

EatingItalySalami

Next stop was a cute salumeria where we were offered salami, prosciutto, and cheeses. The prosciutto was delicate, tasty and tender. The highlight was the buttery truffle cheese, an absolutely amazing surprise! I usually hate truffles (I know, blasphemous right?), but this was one of the best cheeses I have ever tried.

Eating Italy Taste of Testaccio Tour

Balsamic vinegar tasting. Tasted like honey to me, SO GOOD!

We had some free time inside to sample and purchase any delicacies we desired. If I wasn’t at the beginning of my trip, I would have stocked up for goodies to take home. Maybe next time!

4th Stop→The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Rome

The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Rome

I know what you’re thinking.. a cemetery visit on a food tour, wtf? But after all that food, it was the perfect break. Not to mention, a very beautiful and peaceful place. If you’re in Rome, I would highly recommend a visit here to get away from the crowds!

The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Rome

5th Stop→Testaccio Covered Market ( with 3 food stops inside the market)

This was my favorite stop on the tour. It was a local market where the shops were passed down from generation to generation and everyone knew each other. It was such a great vibe inside, and not to mention some awesome food!

Taste of Testaccio tour

Nothing like fresh caprese salad. Melted in my mouth!

gluten free food tour in Rome

Clockwise: Bruschetta on GF bread, fresh veggies, GF suppli, GF fried artichoke.

Inside the market, I endulged in:

Food box on Taste of Testaccio Tour

Cute little Food Box shop

  1. Bruschetta (pronounced “broo skeyta” NOT “brooshetta”) with a homemade gluten free baguette, soft on the inside and crispy on the edges. They let me take home the entire loaf for later, which was a big plus!
  2. Caprese-garnished with the freshest basil and mozarella. The ingredients were so soft and fresh, I didn’t need to chew much.
  3. Fried artichoke and wine-the artichoke was a substitute for the bombettos (neck of pork, pecorino, and bacon) the others got to try. Delicious!

 

Bonus stop: I found a little gluten free shop and got my own suppli (fried risotto and cheese ball) and it was divine! (note: this was not included in the tour and I purchased it on my own).

6th Stop→Sit-Down Restaurant with 3 Pastas & Unlimited Wine

gluten free food tour in Rome

GF pasta substitute with cracked pepper and cheese. Simple yet delicious.

Stretchy pants would have been very helpful at this point in the tour. Just about to tap out but there were 2 more stops! Oh, and did I mention endless wine carafes? ♥

Taste of Testaccio Tour

3 non-GF pastas to choose from

7th Stop→Suppli (fried risotto and cheese balls) at Trapizzino.

gluten free food tour in Rome

Traditional Suppli (fried risotto % cheese). Not GF but they look oh so tasty!

Suppli is a traditional fast food in Rome and costs only about €1. This option was NOT GF so I was offered some pulled marinated chicken. I did get to taste the GF version of suppli in the covered market, so I was satisfied to say the least.

8th Stop→Gelato

Taste of Testaccio Tour

The last stop was for dessert, and what better dessert in Italy than gelato? I finished the whole thing and then I surrendered the flag. I could not physically fit any more food inside my body. I had never been so stuffed in my life.

The Verdict

My first food tour was a success!  I had doubts about not getting enough food but boy was I wrong! It was totally worth it and food tours are going to be my new obsession. I will also say that the tour would not have been as fun without our awesome tour guide Domenico. He had a hippie style, and was whitty, knowledgable, and charismatic. The tour guide really does make or break the tour!

I was surprised at all the GF options and the variety of foods offered. The only disappointment was that they didn’t have GF pizza. Other than that, I give it an A! If you have never done a food tour in Italy, I would definitely give it a try! It was the perfect gluten free food tour in Rome.

*I was a guest of Eating Italy on the Taste of Testaccio Tour. My opinions, however are my own. I don’t bullshit and I LOVED this food tour! 

Have you Ever done a Food Tour with Eating Italy? Have you done any other gluten free food tours in Rome? Do tell!

Alberobello, Italy: a Trulli Unique Experience

Alberobello, Italy: a Trulli Unique Experience

Last October, I decided to take a mini family trip to Alberobello, Italy, a destination I had been dying to visit for the past 2 years. I desperately wanted to see the unique Trulli of Alberobello, Italy with my own eyes, only to be found in a certain region of Southern Italy. So my little brother, my cousin, and I rented a car and decided to make a stop in Alberobello for a day, as part of our epic Italian road trip, which I’ll write about in a future post. If you ever make it to Puglia, don’t leave without stopping in Alberobello!

Alberobello, Italy: a Trulli Unique Experience

Where is Alberobello?

Alberobello is located in the Puglia region of Southern Italy, in the “heel” of the boot. Puglia has become one of my favourite regions in Italy, and I highly recommend a visit here. It is definitely more rugged and less structured than other parts of Italy, but that means less tourists and a more raw Italian experience.

What’s So Special about Alberobello?

Alberobello is famous for its traditional cone-shaped white-washed housing carved from limestone. The Trulli of Alberobello are so distinctive and unique that they were coined a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Trulli in Italy

Viewing the Trulli from above as a storm is brewing in the depths

Quick History of the Trulli

Trulli in Italy

The Trulli originated in Alberobello back in the 14th century. The Trulli were strategically built to throw off the government to hide under the law and evade taxes, so they were meant to look like an “uninhabited settlement”. For this reason, the Trulli were built without mortar so they could easily be disassembled quickly if needed. The clever things people do to avoid taxes. Ha!

What it’s Like to Stay in an Actual Trullo

Trulli of Alberobello

 

We found our awesome Trullo on AirBnb for $80/night. Today, trulli are a popular accommodation type in this region and are fully functional with electricity and plumbing. Our specific trullo had 2 bedrooms and could sleep up to 5 people. It had a super cozy feel to it and everything inside seemed a bit miniature.

trulli, www.crazytravelista.com

It was a 5 minute drive from town so a car was necessary. I’m so glad we decided to stay in a Trullo a little outside the city because we had a HUGE yard filled with olive trees and vineyards. Plus, we had the entire property to ourselves! An added bonus.

If you’re interested, here is the Airbnb listing here. If you’re new to Airbnb, use my coupon for $20USD off! 

YOU MAY ALSO LIKEWhat it’s Like to do a Language Homestay in Italy

What to Do in Alberobello, Italy

♥Wander the Streets and See the Trulli Up Close♥

Typical Trulli in Italy

How cute is this town?

There aren’t a whole lot of activities in Alberobello, it’s just one of those places you come to see and experience for yourself. It’s truly like nowhere else in the world and it’s fun to just wander the streets. There are a few museums, souvenir shops, restaurants, and a bunch of liqueur tasting spots. I can’t say we didn’t do a little bit of our own “liqueur crawl”. Don’t worry, we bought a few bottles as well, to support the local community.

Trulli of Alberobello, Italy

♥Have a Mini Photo Shoot♥

Trull of Alberobello, Italy

Alberobello is very Instagram friendly, and there are endless amounts of photo ops around every corner. We spent a good hour just goofing off and taking some silly photos.

Try the Local Coffee

Coffee in Alberobello, Italy

Caffe Leccesse, one of the BEST coffees you will ever drink. Period. My mouth is still watering.

Where to Eat in Alberobello, Italy

Casa Nova il Ristorante-We really enjoyed this restaurant as it had a cave-like vibe being underground. We were surprised at the exceptional service as 2 waiters served us with the utmost respect. The food was really tasty, and they even had some gluten-free pastas and bread for me as well! They also gave us some appetizers for free! Oh, and the best part was the whole entire bottle of Limoncello they gave us to try at the end. I highly recommend this place if you’re in town.

Casa Nova, www.crazytravelista.com

Secret Find in Alberobello

As it started to storm during our day in Alberobello, we ran into this cute little shop called Il Ricardino where they had wine tastings for 1€ a cup. The owner Georgina has owned the place for 50 years and she was so friendly and awesome! She came to drink with us and played some fun Italian music so we could all dance. Then she insisted we all take a “selfie” together. Such a sweet lady!

Trulli in Italy

Cheers to discovering this cute little spot with our own chill out attic

The best part of this little shop was the tiny attic in the roof of the trullo, where there was a little chill out spot where we could relax and sip our wine. It was so cozy and authentic and this was a highlight of our time there. If you’re in Alberobello, make sure to stop at this shop and take a selfie with Georgina! It will make her very happy.

Here is her FaceBook page if you’re interested in visiting. 

Logistics:

How to Get to Alberobello

By Car-Having a car in this region of Italy is highly recommended, especially if you want to rent a Trullo with some land away from the city. We rented a car from Bari and it took about an hour to get there.

By Train– you can reach Alberobello on a direct train route from the 2 major ports nearby, Bari and Brindisi. It will take about 1.5 hours from Bari and 1 hour from Brindisi. Check the Trenitalia website for timetables.

How Long do I need in Alberobello?

Honestly, one day and one night is all you need as there isn’t a whole lot to do activity-wise. But I must stress, you shouldn’t come to Alberobello without staying in your own Trullo! It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime unique experiences that you shouldn’t pass up. When in Rome, right?

Book ahead as they to sell out in the high season.

When to Visit the Trulli of Alberobello

Trulli of Alberobello, Italy

Going to Alberobello in October means you have the whole town all to yourself 🙂

Early spring or late fall is the best time to visit the Trulli of Alberobello, Italy, when there are virtually no crowds. We went in October and had almost the entire town to ourselves, which made it extra special.

Have you been to Alberobello or stayed in a Trulli? Was it everything you expected? I want to hear your thoughts!

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Trulli in Alberobello

What it’s Like to do a Language Homestay in Italy: Complete Cultural Immersion

What it’s Like to do a Language Homestay in Italy: Complete Cultural Immersion

One of my dreams has always been to learn the Italian language. Every since my very first trip overseas to Italy, it’s safe to say that I was romanced by the romance language. Pun heavily intended. The words flow like music, like poetry. The Italian language is just so rhythmic and passionate to me. A few years ago, I took a few Italian courses in Southern California. However, I hadn’t been practicing and forgot most of it. In my attempt to revamp my Italian skills, I looked into doing a language homestay in Italy. I figured this would be the best way to (re) learn the language I once had a fundamental knowledge of. Since I’m the kind of person to take action, I was going to make it happen one way or another! So I did lots and lots of research and chose the region of Puglia to participate in my language homestay in Italy.

What Exactly is a HomeStay?
A language homestay is a complete cultural immersion where you stay and live in the same house with the family of native speakers.

  • lasts anywhere from one week to several months, depending on the program
  • meals are usually prepared for you (depending on program)
  • you interact on a daily basis with a local speaker
  • you participate in intensive daily lessons to improve your skills

A homestay provides you with real-life situations in order to force you to use the targeted language. In my opinion, this is the best way to learn a language, daily interactions with speakers of the mother tongue.

Why Did I Choose Puglia?
To be completely honest, I googled places where they speak the least amount of English in Italy. The information I found pointed mostly to the Southern region of Italy. Since I had already been to Sicily before, I wanted to experience somewhere new. Hence I chose Puglia. And, it’s freaking gorgeous! Have you seen it? Just look at the photo below.

Overlooking Torre Sant'Andrea in Puglia, Italy

Overlooking Torre Sant’Andrea in Puglia, Italy

Where is This Puglia Place I Speak of?
Puglia is the name of the region located on the Southeast part of Italy, in the heel of the boot. It is situated on the Adriatic and Ionian seas and not very popular with outside tourists by any means. After extensive research, I thought to myself, how could I have missed this region after all the numerous times I have visited Italy? The pictures were absolutely mesmerizing and I could not wait to get there and explore it myself. This seemed like the perfect place to do my language homestay in Italy.

What Program Did I Attend?
I chose one particular Italian school called Scuolo Mondo Italia and Homestay. There were a bunch of other schools to chose from, but I chose this one based on a few factors. The teacher had great reviews, the price was reasonable, the location was perfectly situated in the middle of Puglia, and especially the fact that private classes were offered. This was extremely important to me as I tend to learn better in a one-on-one environment, where I can get the special attention that I need.

My language homestay in Italy

language homestay in Italy

My room at Scuola Mondo Italia and Homestay

I had the choice of staying with the teacher, Maria, in her home in Lecce, or her family’s home in a nearby smaller city. I chose to stay in Lecce in the home of my teacher and it was a great experience. The apartment was nice and spacious, my bedroom was huge and included a desk to study, wifi, and full access to the kitchen and rest of the house. The house was also in a perfect location, less than a 5 minute walk from the historical centre of Lecce, a 10 minute walk to a nice gym, and on the same block as several markets, as well as a butcher shop. But my favourite part about the home stay was Maria’s little pug Maya. I grew attached to the cute little thing and it was hard to say goodbye. My next animal might be a pug, and I’m not even a dog person. Crazy cat lady for life!

Maya the Pug

Holiday picture of Maya, sent to me by Maria

My Italian Teacher
Maria was wonderful from the start. We chatted for 4-5 months through emails before the class started and she was always so responsive and helpful with any questions I had. When I met her, she was just so outgoing and happy that it was contagious. She made me feel right at home from the start. In terms of her teaching abilities, she was great. She had a very student-centered approach and encouraged lots of conversation, instead of just book work. Her credentials really impressed me as she passed her proficient exams in both English and German and could speak both fluently. She also holds two Masters degrees, a Master DITALS and a Master ELIIAS. She couldn’t have been more qualified and it definitely showed in her teaching style. I really had a nice time interacting with Maria and her method of teaching worked very well for me. Grazie Maria! 

My Italian Teacher

My awesome teacher Maria and her adorable pug Maya

 

Pricing
Pricing varies depending on how long you stay and what type of lodging you prefer. I stayed in the house of my teacher in Lecce for one week with breakfast only included + private lessons 2 hours per day and I paid a total of 375 euros. If you stay longer, the price per week is cheaper. Also, keep in mind that private lessons cost more than standardized group classroom lessons. Overall, I found these prices well below the average of costs for classes in Tuscany and Umbria (my other options I looked into for a homestay).

The City of Lecce
Lecce is well-known in the Puglia region for its Baroque architecture. Honestly, I had to look up the definition of baroque as I wasn’t 100% sure what that meant. Baroque style, according to Wikipedia, is defined as:

“a period of artistic style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, architecture, literature, dance, theater, and music. The style began around 1600 in Rome, Italy and spread to most of Europe.”[

 

The Church pictured below is a perfect example of Baroque architecture. Now I know!

Typical Baroque church in Lecce

Typical Baroque church in Lecce

After a day walking through the historical city centre of Leche, your neck might feel a bit sore from looking up at the towering Baroque churches and monuments. I must say they really know how to build a spectacular church in Italy. Being a predominantly catholic country, there is no shortage of magnificent churches scattered about the country.

In Lecce, they really take their riposo (siesta) seriously as the entire city completely shuts down between 1-5pm. You may find one or two cafes open in the center, but other than that, don’t expect to go inside any shop, restaurant, or market during this time. After 5, the city becomes alive again and life in the center resumes. What a relaxed lifestyle!

Streets of Lecce

Streets of Lecce

My favorite part about Lecce was the speciality iced coffee that you can’t find anywhere else in the region. It goes by the name of Cafe Leccese and is simply an iced espresso made with homemade almond milk. It sounds simple, but oh my gosh it might be the best iced coffee I have ever tasted! It’s worth going to Lecce just for this coffee alone. The absolute best place to get the Cafe Leccese is a cafe in the main square called Alvino Cafe. Do not miss this if you’re ever in Lecce, trust me.

Another great aspect of Lecce is its location, not far from the sea and other fairly unheard of, but truly amazing, cities. I was able to visit some of these cities including Polignano A Mare, Monopoli, Ostuni, Alberobello, Torre Sant’Andrea, and Matera. I will touch on these cities in a future blog post.

A Day in the Life
So what did my typical day consist of during my time in Lecce? I decided to do 2 hours per day of private tutoring, and upon arrival we picked a schedule for the week that was very flexible. My typical day went a little something like this: wake up at 9 or 10am, coffee and breakfast, look over some Italian phrases, relax, 2 hours of class, off to the center for a coffee (cafe Leccese of course), attempt to chat with the locals in my funny Italian accent, go to the nearby gym for a workout, go to the local market and order some fresh meat, cook dinner, book some upcoming trips, have a glass of wine, and review Italian lesson. Rinse. Repeat. Overall, the schedule was pretty relaxed and offered a lot of flexibility and free time.

Dialects of Italian
In case you are unaware, there are countless dialects of the Italian language being spoken in Italy. Stemming from a historical perspective, Italian territories were dispersed into different independent States for about 1000 years, up until the unification in 1861. As you can imagine, these dialects could almost be recognized as completely separate languages. After great efforts to unify the country with a common language, an education system came into place that would encourage all Italians to speak some form of standard Italian. The Tuscan version of the Italian language is the one most commonly spoken today, known as the standard language, and is probably what you will learn if you take Italian classes.

That being said, in my experience travelling to the different regions over the past years, it is apparent that dialects are actually still being used, especially in the South of Italy. This made it a little more difficult for me, since the Italian that I had once learned was not being used as much down South. In the past, I have used certain words that I know how to perfectly pronounce and it allowed me to successfully communicate with Italians in Rome and Florence. These same words were not as affective in the South and I was often met with blank stares. At times I felt helpless because I couldn’t properly communicate and at other times I wanted to cry. Bottom line: dialects are still being used today and knowing Italian fluently might not help you in certain off-the-beaten path places.

Expectations
Don’t expect to learn Italian in one week. That’s impossible. I came in with what I thought was a solid foundation; however, I quickly realized that I had so much more to learn! My only regret is that I didn’t stay longer. I believe a full month would have gotten me to a comfortable speaking level that I had once spoken. You get out what you put into it. And I believe that if you are fully dedicated, it is possible to make vast improvement in a little amount of time. Just don’t expect to come out speaking fluently. I highly recommend having some base foundation of the language first before engaging in a homestay. 

Final Thoughts
No one spoke English in Lecce. This would be very difficult for a tourist, but Lecce served as the perfect environment to fully immerse myself in the language and culture. I learned to order my coffee and food in Italian, I learned to successfully ask for directions in Italian, and I learned to order local produce in the Italian market. It was a bit frustrating at times as I’m still a very beginner when it comes to the language, but it forced me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to practice real Italian with the locals. Overall, it definitely helped me improvement my skills in a quicker time than any standard classroom teaching could have. And lets face it, who wouldn’t want to go to Italy and learn Italian? I can’t wait for the next one!

Reflections

Reflections

References:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baroque

Note: This homestay was NOT sponsored in any way. I paid for it out of my pocket and decided to write about it since I enjoyed it so much. 

Have you ever done a Homestay in another country? What was your experience like? I want to hear from you!