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Share your favorite cookie recipes this holiday season.

The holidays are a wonderful time for baking treats. One of our favorites to share is this easy and delicious recipe for holiday treasure cookies that each come with a secret hidden delight.

My mother used to make these every holiday and store them in coffee cans in the cool cabinet in our kitchen. Being the organized German that she was, she took weeks to make dozens of Christmas cookies to share with family and friends. I have to admit that I would sneak into the cabinet and steal a few. I’m sure the tell-tale sign of the powder sugar trail gave me away every time. She never scolded me because she knew they were my favorites and still are to this day.

These wonderful treats have a crumbly, buttery outside hiding a delicious and surprising chocolatey burst inside. You can use any flavor of chocolate kisses you like or mix and match to enhance the surprise. I grew up with the standard milk chocolate Hershey kisses but now I prefer the dark chocolate kisses. Holiday and specialty flavor kisses would work well too.

We hope you try this recipe and it becomes one of your family’s favorites too.

Holiday Treasure Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Butter, softened
  • 2 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Bag Hershey's Kisses (Any flavor, although we prefer Special Dark)
  • 1 1/2 cups Confectioner's Sugar

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Cream sugar, butter, and vanilla together until creamy, light, and fluffy.
  • Slowly add flour and blend well until flour becomes completely incorporated into the mixture forming a soft dough.
  • Refrigerate the dough for 2 hours or more until quite firm.
  • While the dough is chilling, unwrap the kisses.
  • When the dough is thoroughly chilled, take a spoonful and work gently with fingers to create a ball then flatten the ball into a small patty. Place a kiss in the center of the patty then pull up sides to wrap around a kiss. When the kiss is completely covered, roll dough in your palms (like a meatball) to shape it back into the ball. Place on ungreased cookie sheets. Repeat until all dough/kisses are in balls.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes (depending on your oven)or until dough is no longer gummy and bottoms are slightly golden.
  • Cool for a few minutes on a cookie sheet, then place on a rack to coolentirely. Meanwhile, put confectioner's sugar in a large bowl.
  • When cookies are cooled, roll in confectioner's sugar to coat. When you have finished all the cookies with one coating, repeat so that each cookie has 2 coats of confectioner's sugar and is covered all around.
Course: Dessert
Keyword: Cookies, Holiday

 

Holiday Treasure Cookies
Holiday Treasure Cookies the surprise is a chocolate kiss inside!

We hope you enjoy these little treasures. Watch out for the powdered sugar – it’s a bit messy but worth it!

If you’re looking for another terrific holiday cookie check out these Easy Chocolate Crinkles.

Happy Holidays!

THE QUICK BITE:  If you’re looking for a new holiday cookie recipe try the Holiday Treasure Cookie. There’s a chocolate surprise in every cookie. They’re sure to be a new family favorite.

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treasure-Cookies

Updated November 2023

As we get ready to roast our turkey, make the cranberry sauce, and take some time off from work we’re reminded that not everyone has the luxury of eating a delicious meal in a warm home. We always look for ways to be thankful and help others during the holidays.

The realities of our world right now make even the simplest things we’re accustomed to so much more complicated. Be sure to take the time to relax, slow down, and enjoy the moments together whether in person or by video conference.

Enjoying A Wonderful Meal

We are lucky to be gathering with old friends and new ones in Portugal. We love still celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday and taking the time to be thankful for all the bounty in our lives.

ways to help others

We’ll also be connecting with friends around the world to say thank you for their friendship and their ongoing support. Together we’ll look at old photos of Thanksgiving celebrations gone by from that time we had cheeseburgers at the Hard Rock Cafe in Cancun to the time Diana cooked for our combined families and friends at our home in Chicago. I don’t even remember how many people were there but I still feel the love, happiness, and all the delicious food on that day and it lightens my heart.

We will remember those who won’t be at our tables this year. As we mourn for them we will honor their memories knowing that each one was a blessing to us all.

It’s Bigger Than Us

We tell people that the reason we started Food Travelist was to create peace on earth. We really believe that bringing people together around a table of delicious food helps them to see each other as people who have the same wants and needs, often highlighting how much we have in common rather than focusing on our differences. In order to do that people need to have food on their tables.

Every year we choose several charities to focus our giving on. Typically these organizations are those that concentrate on feeding people. This year more than ever it’s important for us to help feed people around the world.

We’d like to encourage you all to do the same if you can. While you are taking the time this year to be thankful for all the abundance in your life take a moment to help out those in need. It’s been a tough year for everyone especially our friends in the food and travel business. Even making a small donation will make a big difference in someone’s life.

Helping Others

Here are just a few charitable organizations that you can explore and hopefully consider donating to:

World Central Kitchen

The project of Chef José Andrés and his wife Patricia has fed people all around the world. Going into areas hit with destruction from hurricanes, floods, disease, and wars. They have done things and fed more people than even the governments of those countries. They also work with local farmers and food purveyors to help them build back their businesses and teach them skills to be successful in the long run.

World Food Program

This United Nations agency was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October for its work to help stop world hunger during the coronavirus pandemic. Providing 138 million meals to the world’s hungry in more than 80 countries they have been fighting hunger and feeding people since 1962.

Heifer International

We’ve been supporters of Heifer for many, many years. We love the idea of providing the resources to end hunger and poverty with sustainable programs that support and invest in local farmers and their communities.

Feeding America

This Thanksgiving more American families will be visiting food banks than ever before. Feeding America feeds Americans in need through its nationwide network of food banks as they work to end hunger in the United States. According to their latest research, more than 50 million people may experience food insecurity in 2020 including potentially 17 million children, reflecting increased need because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Greater Chicago Food Depository

We supported GCFD when we lived in Chicago by donating food and by working at the facility that sorted everything that came in. They work with over 700 partners across Cook County to provide food for neighbors in need through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and more. They have been serving Chicagoland for over 40 years.

Alimentar Contra a Fome 

This food bank is based in Portugal. Their website lets you easily make a donation to a specific city or area in Portugal. You can also choose what type of foods you would like to donate such as tuna, sausage, olive oil, milk, rice, and more.

 

ways to help others

These are really just a few of the organizations that you can reach out to.  Please help feed those in need during this season and all year long. We hope you find a meaningful way to help others throughout the year.

May you and your families have a blessed and happy holiday. We are truly thankful to have you as part of our Food Travelist family.

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Sometimes you may find yourself looking to plan a trip for a group of friends or family. It may seem like it’s not easy to find a solution that will make everyone happy. You need a diverse travel experience that welcomes everyone, and we mean everyone.

One place to look is the Holland America Cruise Lines. During a recent cruise we were on we noticed that Holland America Lines (HAL) caters to just about every demographic.

Who Would Be Comfortable On A Holland America Cruise?

No matter the age or cut of your jib Holland America has onboard and shore activities that will entice even the most diverse traveller.

Cocktail classes on Holland America

Here are just some of the travelers who will find themselves at home at sea on Holland America.

  • Multi-generational groups
  • LGBTQ+ community
  • Couples and Solo Travelers
  • Seniors

Why Choose Holland America?

HAL has been in the cruise business for over 150 years. They have evolved and changed their business throughout that time but they have always kept their customers first.

At Holland America Line, we believe travel has the power to change the world. We consider it our higher purpose to help make the world a better place through opening minds, building connections, and inspiring a shared humanity.

Multi-Generational Travelers

If you’re planning a trip that includes all the members of your family from Great-Grandparents to newborns Holland America should be high on your list.

Activities For Everyone

They have plenty of activities onboard as well as shore excursions that will please everyone in your group. All excursions indicate the level of activity or strenuous. They also provide helpful passenger reviews to make your choices a bit easier.

We were pleased to see the amount of food and wine activities both on and off the ship. If you or anyone in your group is a “foodie” you’ll find plenty to keep you busy.

There are also alternatives like bus rides to get an overall view of each destination, hiking excursions, and beach activities. We went on a tour of the Botanical Gardens of Crete and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the local plants in full bloom.

Supervised age-appropriate activities onboard for kids, tweens, and teens are also available.

Food For All Ages

Let’s talk about dining. There are many options for all ages. The main dining room is available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We really enjoyed the seated breakfast in the dining room because it was quiet and the food was delicious. You can choose to sit by yourself or be seated with other guests. It’s a nice way to meet other people if you’re so inclined.

Filet and lobster on the Oosterdam dining room

 

The Lido Market on the Lido Deck offers more of a cafeteria casual setting and you can find many options there just about all day long for either a meal or a snack. Pizza, pasta, salads, ice cream, and treats are available most of the day.

The Dive-In is the poolside grill that offers Nathan’s hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, fries, and more.

The Oosterdam offered two specialty restaurants, the Pinnacle Grill with traditional steakhouse specialties and Canaletto featuring Italian cuisine. Both require reservations and include additional charges.

Children are allowed in all the dining venues with kid-friendly choices like mac and cheese, pizza, and chicken fingers. There are also half orders of any of the regular menu offerings.

 

LGBTQ+ Travelers

When we recently sailed on one of their cruises we noticed the diversity of the guests right away. Everyone was clearly comfortable and felt free to be themselves. We noticed many LGBTQ+ passengers traveling as couples, with their families, and even traveling solo. The staff certainly goes out of their way to make everyone at home on the ship.

 

Needless to say, that was important to us. Every night there was a “meetup” for LGBTQ travelers to get together. This certainly made us feel welcomed.

 

Couples & Solo Travelers

We saw many, many couples celebrating anniversaries, weddings, and just getting away on vacation. The ship has plenty of places to get away and have some privacy. You’ll have the opportunity to have romantic dinners, spa treatments, and private tour excursions if you so desire.

If you like a more active lifestyle there is a full fitness center with lots of classes to choose from. You’ll also find a basketball court, volleyball court, and even pickleball! It’s also a great way to get involved and meet new people. I’ll confess that I picked up the basketball when the court was empty and shot a few hoops. Muscle memory is still there and it’s still all in the wrist. It was fun to rekindle that long-ago basketball Jones flame.

Pickleball at Sea on Holland America

Singles will also feel at home as there are plenty of chances to join in on-ship activities like cocktail-making classes, lectures on the ports you’ll be visiting, and trivia contests.

Entertainment On The Ship

Every night the ship turns into an entertainment center. After dinner, you can be entertained at one of the many musical venues. There’s music trivia, karaoke, dancing, and lots of different types of music like R&B, top 40, old standards, and jazz. The Rolling Stone lounge on the Oosterdam featured pop, rock, and country and had plenty of room for dancing and grabbing a cocktail.

 

Senior Travelers

Even folks who may enjoy slower travel will find ample opportunities on Holland America ships. Relax and read a good book on one of the open-air decks. There is always a nook to get away and just enjoy the sea air and light breezes.

Deck view on Oosterdam Holland America Diverse Travel

While some in your group might love the nightlife and casino we found ourselves returning every night to a smaller lounge that featured a jazz trio that we enjoyed. The music was relaxing and the musicians were fun and talented. It was a good place to sip a nightcap, too.

It is also good to know that Holland America offers many tours that are accessible and easy to do for many who want to explore but have limitations or don’t want to worry about getting around.

Holland America Supports Diverse Travel

One look at Holland America’s Cultural Framework and Core Values and you’ll understand that they take their mission seriously.

Holland America Core Values Diverse Travel

  • Safeguard ourselves and the environment
  • Take pride in every action
  • Are curious and ever-evolving
  • Celebrate our differences

If you’re looking for a cruise experience that will cater to a diverse group of people you should consider Holland America. For more details on specific cruises and prices check out HollandAmerica.com.

 

 

 

 

Updated November 2023

One of the biggest challenges that face most people when they move to another country is what to bring with them, what to ship, and what to buy or replace when they do arrive. We were certainly no exception and have made all these decisions. We’ll be the first to tell you that we totally miscalculated and should have brought or shipped more of our household items (and yes my favorite comfy chair) when we moved to Portugal.

We wished that we had really taken the time to think about what we would be doing in Portugal that we weren’t doing in Wisconsin. But as the old saying goes we certainly aren’t crying over spilt milk. We made a decision to really downsize and we’ll live with it. What that meant is that we needed to buy many things to set up our new unfurnished apartment. Where to start? It can be a little daunting, especially for someone like me who hates shopping.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that when I need something, I need to go look at things. I just have no patience for spending hours upon hours walking through malls or big department stores. I’m a “have list get what I need and get out” kinda person. My hope is to save you all a little bit of time and effort with these 9 tips for expat shopping.

 1. Buy From Local Stores, Shops, and Markets

One of the reasons that we moved here is that we really liked the Portuguese people. They are typically friendly, hospitable, and eager to help everyone they meet. We absolutely love meeting local shop people, introducing ourselves, and getting to know them and their wares. Our first apartment was in the vibrant Castelhana neighborhood in Cascais. We had a butcher, fruit market, grocery, hardware, hairdressers, cafes, restaurants, and more just steps from our door.

Every one of them welcomed us and had extreme patience with our awkward Portuguese language skills. They all had a smile for us, a sample, and many ideas on what we could cook and try (especially the butcher!).  Although we no longer live in that neighborhood we often go back to shop and get our hair cut. These friendships we have built will last certainly last a long time.

We continue to support the local shops here in Monte Estoril. The flower shop lady knows our names and the churrasqueria welcomes us happily whenever we stop by. We even have a new veterinarian just a block away who has been super attentive with our two furry family members.

Farmers Market in Cascais expat shopping
Mercado da Vila in Cascais

2. Check Out All The Local Grocery Stores And Local Markets

Fresh Local Markets

It’s no secret that we love to eat and entertain. Finding the freshest produce is easy to do here in Portugal. We are fortunate to still live close enough to Cascais and can easily get to the Mercado da Vila for the local market on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Here we can find the best seasonal produce, veggies, and fish. There are many vendors but you soon find the ones that quickly become your favorites and they too start to recognize that you are a regular customer.

We just went through strawberry season and you simply can’t believe how big and delicious they are here. We’re in apricot season now and I’m in heaven. We think that the fresh produce we get here is some of the best in the world. But of course, we’re a little biased.

There are also small markets in the neighborhoods that may not have the large selection but they do get local goods and are super convenient. Don’t miss the local bakeries and coffee shops. Every neighborhood has them. You’ll find your favorites by trying them all.

Supermarkets

If you prefer a more “supermarket” store not to worry they are here, too. We live across the street from a new Pingo Doce. It’s a supermarket that has just about everything. They also have pre-made and fresh food to eat in a cafeteria-like setting or takeaway. You will definitely walk out of there singing their theme song, Doce, Doce, Pingo Doce if you’re shopping for more than 15 minutes. You will find these stores throughout Portugal.

Dunkin Donuts Continente
Dunkin Donuts at Continente

Continente and Auchan are two other large supermarket-type grocery stores. They both remind us of a Super Target. There is a large grocery section and they also have clothing, gardening, sports, housewares – just about everything. There’s a newly remodeled Auchan along the sea in Cascais that has an upstairs food court where you can sit outside have something to eat and drink and enjoy the view.

The Continente is in CascaisShopping that’s a short drive from downtown Cascais or Estoril (about 15 minutes). You can also take the bus or a ride-share car. Both of these stores are also throughout Portugal and even have small versions of Continente Bom Dia and My Auchan in some larger neighborhoods.

Gourmet and Specialty Stores

Because Diana enjoys cooking so much finding the right ingredients, spices, and herbs sometimes requires a little hunting around. Fortunately, we have several local shops that cater to folks just like her.

We learned about this shop from a friend who is in São João and a short car ride for us, Supermercado Tradicional. They have many hard-to-find American and British items and also an excellent cheese counter. They bring in bread from all over Portugal and you’ll always find something you didn’t know you missed.

There’s also a terrific florist shop in that same square Flores da Poça that has amazing plants and arrangements, too.

Most of the grocery stores offer delivery services so even if one is a bit further away or you just don’t feel like going shopping yourself that is an option.

Pro Tip: Many of them don’t have websites. They do have Facebook pages. Follow them and like them to find out about the latest events, sales and new products they are promoting. The hours may also be different than you see on Google Maps so best to call to confirm hours of operation.

Familiar Grocery Stores

Sometimes expats in Portugal like to have a taste of home or products they may already be familiar with. You’ll find Aldi in Portugal. If you’re like me you can’t wait to see what’s in the “power” aisle. I let Diana do the grocery shopping while I peruse the household items, clothing, shoes, and more. We found a cute plant stand for the veranda, very reasonably priced. They have a fresh bakery section, a large produce department, a huge international cheese selection, wine, and more. You always leave Aldi with a special find or two you didn’t expect to purchase.

Aldi
Aldi in Portugal

Lidl is another German-based store similar to Aldi (their “power” aisles are full of terrific deals). There aren’t as many of these in the U.S. but they are everywhere in Europe. Their stores are similar to Aldi but they both have a different selection. Diana likes to explore the weekly circulars online and plan her shopping. She typically goes to 4 to 5 different places, including local shops, to get everything we need to eat deliciously and healthfully at home.

Neither of these stores is exactly like their U.S. versions but they do offer a great selection of reasonably priced groceries and other items. We love when they have “Greek” or “German” or “Italian” weeks to stock up on items that may be a bit tougher to find.

Pro Tip: In Portugal, if you’re not happy with the service or products you receive from any provider you can register a complaint in the official “Complaint Book.” It used to be kept in a paper book in every store (it still is in some smaller shops) but now you can access it online. If you’re unhappy you simply ask for the Complaint Book. By law they are not allowed to ask you what the problem is (there is a hefty fine). But if you do mention your trouble they typically will try to fix it on the spot to avoid you filing a complaint.

There are also specialty stores like a Japanese store in Estoril, a British Store in Cascais, and American and Mexican stores in Lisbon for those who really need a food fix of something not typically stocked elsewhere.

3. Made in Portugal

Beyond the local shop and specialty shops be sure to look for products made in Portugal. For shopping in Cascais, we bring everyone to Cais 16. It’s located in downtown Cascais and everything in the store is made in Portugal. We’ve bought lots of things like Portus Cale room fresheners, tile coasters, Portuguese cherry tea, and beautiful placemats. They always greet you with a smile, a Bom Dia, and a sample of ginjinha (cherry liqueur) too. Our friend Liz bought a super comfortable pair of sustainably produced flip-flops there and another friend bought jewelry for her family. You’re bound to find something you’ll love every time you visit.

Bordallo Pinheiro Swallows Portugal
Bordallo Pinheiro swallows

Bordallo Pinheiro Swallows

Another shop we adore is the Allarts Gallery located in the Citadel of Cascais (a must-see). They are one of the few shops in the region that sell authentic Portuguese Bordallo Pinheiro ceramics. The iconic Portuguese work is lovely to add to your home decor. His work reflects a love of nature frequently through animals, vegetables, fruits, and plants. You will see many of his iconic swallows in Portuguese homes that represent family, love, and fidelity. We have several of these famous swallows in our home including the special edition “diversity” swallow that represents all the differences that make up the Portuguese culture. They make me smile every time I see them.

 

Arcopedico Shoes
Arcopedico Shoes

Another Portuguese brand I have adored for years is Arcopedico shoes. I started buying them years ago when I was sent a pair to try out. I’ve been buying them ever since. I was over the moon when I found their flagship store in Lisbon. Their shoes are super light, comfortable, and have great support. They also hold up well on the tiled sidewalks that are everywhere in Portugal.

More on Shoe Shopping

Many people say they can’t find their shoe sizes in Portugal. In my experience that has not been the case (and have a robust size 10 foot!). I went to find a pair for summer and they were sold out of most sizes of the shoe I liked. They simply ordered my size from the factory (in Portugal) and I had them a few weeks later. Now that’s service!

Pro Tip: Bring all your comfortable shoes that will do well on the uneven tiled sidewalks and streets of Portugal. Be prepared to replace them too. I’ve bought several new pairs of shoes since arriving in Portugal. We walk a lot. Soles of shoes wear out quickly here. Much faster than I was used to.

Everyone has their own favorites. Some people prefer sneakers or athletic shoes and others like walking shoes. Try several out to see what works best for you. We will tell you to be careful out there. The tiles are slippery even in dry weather. The same tactic we used in the icy midwestern winters applies to tile walking. Walk like a penguin side to side balancing your weight. Pay attention to leaves and blossoms (like the jacarandas – beautiful but slippy when they fall off). They seem harmless but they all can be slippery and cause you to fall if you’re not careful.

4. There Are Shopping Malls

Near Cascais, there is only one “mall” in the sense of what we’re used to in the U.S. Be warned that the CascaiShopping mall doesn’t have the typical anchor department stores you may be looking for. They have many small specialty stores and even chain retail stores like H&M, Foot Locker, Claire’s, and brands like Levi’s, Adidas, and Calvin Klein. They have a rather large food court that has Portuguese food and if you’re craving McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and KFC you will find them all there. There’s also a multi-screen cinema there, too.

There are many shopping malls in Lisbon including Colombo Shopping Centre, Centro Vasco de Gama, Amoreiras Shopping Center, and Picoas Plaza. We went to Colombo one day and I will tell you it rivals the malls in Dubai in size. There are 340 stores and 60 restaurants, 8 movie theaters, and even an IMAX. It’s easy to get twisted around and lost. Best to be patient get to the stores you’re looking for then find a spot to have a drink and a snack to unwind. There’s a Toys R Us in there (yep, they still exist in Portugal) and a Merrill store (another one of my fave shoes). You’ll find that the Lisbon shopping malls are bigger and will likely have everything you’re looking for.

5. Need Some Electronics?

The bad news is that there isn’t an Apple store in Portugal. Us Mac users can find authorized dealers just about anywhere so no need to worry. We had one of our laptops bite the floor last year and took it to FNAC in CascaiShopping. They accepted our Apple Care, sent it off (that was a little worrisome) and we got it back a few weeks later, good as new.

There are two big electronic stores near us FNAC (it’s in CascaiShopping but there are others throughout the area) and Worten’s (also in CascaiShopping). We purchased our large-screen LG TV there after doing a competitive search for the type of TV we were looking for they had the best selection and price.

Both stores have household electronics like vacuums, blenders, mixers, coffee makers, and all the latest gadgets as well as washers, dryers, and refrigerators, too. These stores are especially handy for expat shopping as most of your electronics will need to be replaced when you move.

6. Furniture and Household Items

If you’re like us and didn’t bring any furniture at all furniture shopping can be daunting. Many people will tell you to just buy everything at IKEA. It’s reasonably priced, they deliver, and you can typically get what you want fairly quickly (results may vary on this one).

IKEA The Good and The Bad

The bad news about IKEA is that most of their products need to be assembled. That’s cool if you’re up to it and can follow fairly cryptic directions. We ordered our fair share of IKEA items when we first moved so we could set up house pretty quickly. I’ll admit I was overzealous and thought I could handle putting it all together myself with a little help from Diana. I’m not embarrassed to say, I was wrong.

After putting together our TV cabinet, a couch, three tables, a bed platform with drawers underneath, and two-bed stands. I was done. We started to put together the dining room table and one of the legs cracked just a little when we tried to get it lined up just right. That was it. Thankfully, IKEA replaces broken parts FOR FREE, who knew? But we did have to go back to the store (another long UBER ride as these stores are typically far away from anything convenient). They were pleasant and didn’t even laugh at us, at least not while we were there. Just be sure to bring your receipt and the broken part.

Building Ikea Furniture
Building Ikea Furniture

After that, we used Task Rabbit, which conveniently has an association with IKEA. It is super quick and affordable. It cost less than 20 euros per piece for cabinets we had built by them, plus a small tip. In retrospect, we should have just had them do it all.

Unless you already have familiarity with their products you’re really going to need to go to the store. For me, this was extremely painful and really wracked my patience. We spent many hours there going back and forth and back and forth. The size of the store just outside Lisbon is really ginormous. My only experience at IKEA was the one in Schaumburg, IL. That felt like a Target compared to the IKEA here. The only bright side is that you can stop midway through and stop at their fully stocked cafe for their famous Swedish meatballs. They do have local specialties too including pastel de nata. You can also get a beer or wine to help make the visit a tad more bearable.

IKEA Pro Tip: Order each item you want in the department you find it. You can’t just order everything at one time. They will add everything that you order together for a delivery date if the items are in stock. They charged 39 euros for delivery no matter how many pieces. So get as much in as you can. You cannot call them the next day and add to your order. They will charge you another delivery fee. Also, do NOT go on the weekend. Thank me later.

There are also other furniture stores like IKEA to choose from like Conforama. They feature low-cost furniture and a rather large selection. There are also higher-end stores like AREA (we got an ottoman there).

We are also fans of Gato Preto but they do not have a large selection. We bought some pillows and accent pieces there.

Home Improvement Stores

Here you’ll find large stores similar to Home Depot in stores like Leroy Merlin and Aki. They are now the same company and are gradually making the transition to all become Leroy Merlin shops. You’ll find paint, tools, and all the things you would expect. They also have Christmas decorations during the holidays, seasonal gardening items, and outdoor furniture too.

7. Thrift Shops and Flea Markets

If you like to find a real bargain then you’ll want to check out the many thrift shops and flea markets in the area. The Mercado da Vila in Cascais is host to trunk shows, art shows, and hand-crafted Portuguese products on a rolling basis.

Every Wednesday there is also a “flea market” type gathering at the market where vendors hawk shoes, clothes, household items, and more. If you know your prices and your brands you can find some interesting items for sale.

We particularly like the market Feira da Adroana Market in Alcabideche on the first and third Sunday of the month. It’s up past CascaiShopping but worth the 15-minute drive. Here you’ll find all the typical flea market vendors but also fruit and vegetable vendors as well as Portuguese pottery (at great prices). One of our favorite plant vendors that our friend Sônia introduced us to is right at the entrance to the market. We’ve bought everything from an orange tree to orchids and a kumquat bush. Great stuff. Don’t leave without having the Pão com chouriço straight from the ovens!

We also love the market in Carcavelhos. It’s every Thursday and has a great selection of fresh produce, baked goods, sausage, and cheeses. It’s a bit less expensive than the Cascais Mercado da Vila.

If you go there be sure to check out our favorite chicken nearby spot Brasa Carcavelos. The lunch special for 6.50 euros is delicious and can’t be beat.

Pao com chourico in the oven.
Pao com chouriço in the oven.

Lisbon also has many, many markets throughout the city. Mercado da Riberia, Mercado Baixa, Mercado da Arroios (check out the Middle Eastern market and snack shop Zaytouna there, it’s one of our favorites and there’s now one in Cascais, too).

There are also many markets like this around Portugal. Be sure to check out your local town’s web pages to find these hidden gems.

Another type of store that has really low prices on a lot of basic household items is the “Chinese Store” or Loja Chinêsa. These are stores run by Chinese immigrants. They are very much like the Dollar or General Stores in the United States. They are everywhere some are small and there is a Hyper Chinese Market near CascaiShopping that has three floors of merchandise and is loaded with savings. In most of these stores, you’ll find hardware items, household items, and party goods, and some stores even have clothes. They are fun to explore for some unique gadgets too.

Pro Tip: You can find lots of furniture and household goods on Facebook Marketplace and in Facebook Groups just like you can in the U.S.

8. Department Stores Worth Exploring

El Corte Inglés

You can also find the large old-school department stores in Cascais. El Corte Inglés a Spanish store is well worth a visit. We had previously visited the one in Barcelona so we knew what to expect. But..it’s still a pretty fantastic store. They have EVERYTHING. It’s a really nice shopping experience with exquisite customer service. I’d recommend going there for what you’re looking for and then cruise up to the top floor where they have a very impressive gourmet shop and a tasty food court like no shopping center food court I’ve ever seen.

We like the Italian spot up there for thin-crust pizza and a glass of Prosecco. Then a stop at the Neuhaus chocolate shop for a nice finishing sweet.

Neuhaus Candy at El Corte Ingles Portugal Lisbon Expat shopping
Neuhaus Candy at El Corte Inglés Portugal Lisbon

We have purchased furniture, high-quality bedding, and Diana’s coveted KitchenAid stand mixer at El Corte Inglés “the English Court” among other things. Her Dad found a pair of comfortable new walking shoes (they have a HUGE shoe department). Of course, there are clothes and household items galore. They even have a very large pet department too. If you love grocery stores be sure to check the one out on the lower level. Lots of grab-and-go pastry shops from all the Portuguese vendors you don’t want to miss. If you only have a few hours to spend shopping this is the place to go.

Pollux

Another terrific department store Pollux features homewares for the home cook. They have several floors of gadgets that will keep your cook or baker there for hours. The super friendly and knowledgeable staff will help you navigate all the things they have with ease. Don’t forget to check out the rooftop terrace restaurant for a lunch or quick snack.

Avenida da Liberdade

While not a department store this swanky urban shopping street in Lisbon has all the high-end stores you’ll find in just about every other cosmopolitan city. Join the ladies who lunch and stroll down Avenida da Liberdade for some stylish shopping in Lisbon. If you’re lucky enough to be there in the springtime you can also enjoy the jacarandas in bloom. It’s just one of the fun shopping centers in Lisbon.

9. Online Shopping

If all else fails you can always rely on online shopping. You won’t be able to access the goods through the U.S. Amazon portal but you can use Amazon Spain, Amazon Germany, and all the other EU Amazon-based websites with ease. To date, there is no Amazon Portugal, but Amazon.es has integrated Portugal into its site so you will be able to get free two-day shipping on some items with a minimum purchase. The Spanish Amazon portal can be accessed in Portuguese. And, the German portal, for example, can be translated into English so you can easily order as you please.

Deliveries are a bit tricky in Portugal. If you have a different kind of address (hard to find) you may need to get your order at the nearest Amazon pick-up point. If you’re not home (do everything you can to BE HOME) they will NOT leave the package. Unless you have a neighbor who will let them in and accept it. This leads to rescheduling pick-ups and sometimes even sending it back undelivered. Everyone gripes about this. You get used to it. Just be sure to think about when you’ll be home before you order and you’ll be just fine.

Pro Tip: Do NOT under any circumstances unless it’s an emergency have someone ship you something from the United States. Everything gets stuck in customs and they will charge you, the recipient, a duty to receive it. Even small packages with little or no value are assessed a duty tax. Do not give your address to anyone and that will avoid the problem.

Cascais Shopping
Cascais Downtown Shopping

This Is Just The Tip Of The Shopping Choices for Expat Shopping

As long as this list may seem there are plenty of other shops and selections for shopping in Portugal. It all depends on your tastes and your budget. If you are an expat or immigrant shopping our advice is to take your time and fill your new home slowly. Curate your choices and don’t just fill the space with more “stuff.” After all, you’re moving to another place with a simpler and relaxed lifestyle so there’s no need to clutter it up right from the start.

Determine what you need before you hit the “add to cart” button and try and enjoy the process. Let us know if you have any other suggestions for shopping in Portugal. There are still a few more things we’ll probably need down the line.

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expat shopping expat shopping pin 2

BBC Maestro gifted us courses from which we could choose subjects to learn. As always, our opinions are our own and reflect our experiences.

We love learning new things and we’ve recently discovered BBC Maestro for quick learning online. It’s no secret that I teach online classes. No matter your age it’s a great way for people to learn at their own pace, get a better understanding of new topics, and enhance current skills too.

What is BBC Maestro? It’s an online subscription-based online platform. They help educate by using pre-recorded lessons provided by experts. You can purchase single courses or an annual subscription.

When BBC Maestro approached us to try some of their online courses we were eager to get started. When you are choosing online courses some of the key things you’ll want to know are:

  • What courses are offered?
  • Who’s teaching the courses?
  • How long will it take to complete the sessions?
  • Are additional tools or textbooks required?
  • How long will you have access to the materials?
  • How much does it cost?

With those important questions in mind here’s our overview of BBC Maestro.

What Courses Are On BBC Maestro?

One of the things that attracted us to BBC Maestro learning was the many categories. There are a lot to choose from and many that interested us. The even better news is that they add new courses regularly too.

 

BBC Maestro Quick Online Learning

You’ll find courses on:

  • Writing
  • Food and Drink
  • Wellness
  • Film, TV, and Stage
  • Business
  • Art and Design
  • Music
  • Home and Lifestyle

The courses are all taught by professionals who are experts in their fields. In the cooking classes, you’ll find Chef Pierre Koffman teaching Classic French Cooking and Chef Marco Pierre White focusing on Delicious Vegetarian cooking (we loved this class).

 

Quick online learning

 

In the writing courses, you’ll find Ken Follett on Writing Bestselling Fiction and Harlan Cobaen on Writing Thrillers. Entertainment fans will find Sir Tim Rice on Writing and Performing Musical Theater and Brian Cox with tips on Acting.

As you can see there is a wide range of classes that will interest just about anyone.

How much do the BBC Maestro courses cost?

There are two ways to go about purchasing the courses. Right now you may purchase them individually for $53.40 (this includes a Black Friday discount). This provides you with lifetime access to your lessons and course notes that are easily downloaded in a PDF document for you to reference and use at your own pace.

If you see more than one course that interests you it would be beneficial to take advantage of the annual subscription rate of $72.00. This gives you access to every BBC Maestro course, plus additional discounts. You also get to explore everything with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Are BBC Maestro Classes Worth It? 

We would have to say, YES! We took the Delicious Vegetarian Cooking by Chef Marco Pierre White and thoroughly enjoyed it. The Chef’s style in the recorded videos was fun and interesting. He shared stories about his family while creating the recipes, which we loved. Clearly, he is very passionate about cooking and that really comes through in the videos.

We have been eating in a more Mediterranean and sustainable style which means a lot less meat. The recipes that Chef White shared were perfect. The rich flavors and spices he includes make each dish simple and delicious.

Mushroom risotto

We especially like the recipes for Risotto of Wild Mushrooms and Arancini and Buttery “Chip Shop” Chips. There’s even a Mushroom Christmas tree perfect for a holiday dinner party. In all, there are 25 videos to which you have lifetime access. We think this is a great value.

 

BBC Maestro Quick Online Learning

We thought the courses were easy to follow and we loved the fact that we could go back and watch the videos multiple times to follow along with the delicious recipes. Each course has a different number of lessons but the good news is that you can go at your own pace and not worry about any time limit. Just come back, log into your account, and pick up where you left off.

Course Notes BBC Maestro Quick Online Learning

The included course notes are very comprehensive and make for a nice place to take your own notes. The lessons are a good length, not too long which lets you do some quick lessons in just a few minutes and then carry on with your day. We found our lessons were fun to watch at the end of the work day. It’s relaxing and puts you in the mood for cooking something wonderful and maybe even sipping a glass of wine as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about BBC Maestro courses check out all the details on their website
http://www.bbcmaestro.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been using the fine doctors at CUF Cascais since we moved to Portugal in 2021. The CUF hospitals are a network of private hospitals throughout Europe. I recently learned that I needed to have my gallbladder removed. Since one of the things that people ask us about a lot is the healthcare in Portugal I thought I’d share my experience navigating the Portuguese healthcare system from start to finish.

How Do You Set Up Healthcare In Portugal?

It’s understandable that when folks are considering a move to another country they worry if they will get good, accessible, and affordable care. Before we moved we did a very thorough job investigating.

Portugal has a public healthcare system and a private healthcare system. The public system is funded by the taxes the Portuguese people have paid into it and by the government. The private system is paid by users through private health insurance and direct cash payments.

When we first moved to Portugal we purchased private health insurance that was required for temporary residence. This type of health insurance is available through several different companies and insurance brokers.

There Are Choices

Some people prefer to use the public system even when they have private insurance. We will only use the public system for an emergency. We feel that since we haven’t paid into the public system we’ll use the private system whenever we can. The public system is fine but overburdened. Like many countries that have socialized medicine, you often need to wait for services. We don’t want to add more pressure onto that system.

We purchased Allianz as we have used them for years as a travel insurance provider. We’ve had them for over two years and have had nothing but good experiences with them and the local broker who quickly processes any claims we may have. We simply send them the needed information and they take care of the rest. They offer competitive pricing and different levels of plans to meet most needs.

Be aware if you’re researching private health insurance that prices are on the rise for 2024. We just received an email showing a huge increase over 2023 with less coverage and will be doing our due diligence in choosing our 2024 plan. 

Ready To Go

Once you have your insurance in place you will need to research which hospitals, clinics, and doctors are covered on your plan (if you have specific doctors you’ll want to use, check this before you purchase the insurance).

Pro Tip: If you have a healthcare emergency you will need to call 1-1-2 the emergency number here in Portugal. You will be taken to a hospital in the public system.

How Do You Find A Doctor In Portugal?

Once you set up your health insurance you can begin to look for doctors. CUF makes it easy to search for doctors by their specialties on their website.

 

CUF Cascais Desktop Website
CUF Cascais Desktop Website

 

When we first arrived we knew we needed to get a “physical” and doctor’s note from a local physician to begin getting our Portuguese driver’s license. We asked some friends for recommendations and got one right away.  A quick call to the CUF Cascais was all it took to set up appointments for later that week.

CUF also has a very handy app that we use to set up appointments, check records, and pay bills. It’s similar to the medical portals that most of you probably use in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world. You get access to the app when you first go to the CUF in person. They will get you all set up.

 

CUF Cascais doctor selector
CUF Cascais doctor selector

 

Once you are set up you can easily search for specialists that you’re looking for. Information is provided about each physician and clearly states their areas of expertise and which languages they speak. Most speak excellent English.

Preparing For Surgery

On my birthday this year, I decided to get a complete physical. Something I had typically done annually back in the U.S. It’s important to know that in Portugal you are the one in charge of your healthcare. You have to be proactive, ask a lot of questions, and ask about what tests to do.

One of the tests the doctor ordered based on my age was an abdominal ultrasound, which showed that my gallbladder was full of tiny sand-sized stones. The doctor who did the ultrasound asked if I had any pain or problems with it before. Thankfully, I had not. I had no idea these little guys made a cozy home in my gallbladder.

Since having the surgery I’ve heard way too many stories of long-endured pain and other side effects that sound awful. That’s another thing to note. Typically doctors handle the testing in Portugal. They will discuss the test with you as they do it or after it’s completed. I knew my mammogram was clear as I was in the examination room. That is something that is completely different than the U.S. and it’s great to get results for most tests right away.

Looks Like Surgery Is Needed

Once it was determined by my doctors and me that removing the troubled gallbladder was the best course of action we put a plan into place quickly. The surgeon told me his first available date and scheduled a couple more tests to be completed prior to the surgery. I had about a month to wait so no problem.

Scheduling appointments is easy. You can either do that on the app or on their website. You can also call or simply schedule them while you’re at the hospital, which is what I did.

Pro Tip: It’s important to know that the CUF Hospital is also the same place where you will have your doctors appointments. There are several throughout Portugal. Sometimes you may need to go to another CUF for tests that may not be available at the one you typically go to.

With the surgery date in hand and tests scheduled. I had nothing to do but wait. During that time CUF called me several times to confirm the date and time of the appointment. They also scheduled an appointment for me to meet with the anesthesiologist and a hospital nurse to discuss what would happen on the day of the surgery.

They also contacted my insurance company for approval and later told me what my out-of-pocket cost would be. It’s important to note that they gave me a “cost” but it turned out to be an estimate. My actual payment was about half of the quoted “cost”.

Very Thorough Planning

These were short but helpful appointments. I was given handouts and soap to wash with prior to coming to the hospital. This was all new to me. I haven’t been admitted to a hospital in over 30 years. I admit to being a little apprehensive.

They all did their best to assure me everything would be fine and happily answered all the questions I asked. I was told to bring my toiletries (these are not provided), my pajamas (which I never used), and a way to pay the bill. They also told me that someone would need to pick me up the next day. Thankfully Diana had agreed to do that.

Since my surgery was going to be performed laparoscopically it would be minimally invasive. Just four tiny incisions. However, it was still major internal surgery so I would be staying over one night to be sure everything was okay.

 

How Do You Pay For Healthcare In Portugal?

When you get set up at your local CUF they will ask for your insurance card and load that into the system. Your costs will then be calculated based on your coverage and a bill will be sent to you electronically.

You can then pay your bill online with a credit card or through the online banking system here in Portugal. You can also pay by using Multibanco. Those ATMs are quite impressive. You can pay just about any bill on them, withdraw cash, make deposits, etc. Let’s say that makes it very easy for you to pay your bills.

They Make It All Very Easy

If you have other medical expenses like prescriptions or any other items you will need to submit your receipts to your insurance broker and they will get your reimbursement. As I’ve said before this system also works very well and you get reimbursed quicker than you might imagine. Since everything is handled electronically the money goes directly into the Portuguese bank account that you choose.

Since I know you’re wondering… The cost of my surgery was about 500 euros, and the tests I took which included everything but the kitchen sink were about 350 euros, which included all my doctor follow-up visits and all the tests. I know I don’t need to tell you what the cost comparison would have been if I had this procedure and all these tests back in the U.S.

 

My Overall Experience Of Healthcare At CUF Cascais In Portugal

Overall my experience was a very good one. My doctors and the care I received and still receive are excellent. The surgeon warned me that I would be out of it for 3-5 days and I sure was. It took quite a while for the anesthesia to work its way out of my brain and body. And it took another couple of weeks before I felt myself again.

My stay in the hospital was top-notch. We sprung for the private room which was an extra 30 euros. I had no idea how I was going to be feeling when I woke up from the surgery. But I was sure I wouldn’t want to share that experience with someone else if I didn’t have to. Turns out it was a good decision. Although I was pretty out of it there was a nice couch for Diana to relax on and be comfortable, a small television, and a private bathroom. The room even had a small veranda that looked out on Cascais. I confess that I never used it.

The Surgical “Theater”

When they wheeled me into surgery I admit that I got a little clammy and nervous. Who really knows what’s going to happen? But the nurses were all smiley and happy. As they wheeled me into the surgical theater my doctor was in the little office next door and gave me a big wave and a huge smile. That really settled me down.

As they were rolling me in I heard them laughing and speaking in Portuguese about the music they would be playing. I then heard gentle yet familiar guitar music playing. “I know this song,” I was thinking. Then it hit me. Hotel California by the Eagles. What!?!?! I said to the anesthesiologist, wait! Am I going to check in but not be able to check out? They all roared with laughter.

She then said I’m giving you some champagne and put the drugs in my IV. I said, “Pink champagne on ice?” again they laughed. Then she gave me one more injection and said this one is vodka. I said I hope you have lots of water for me on the other side. Needless to say, this whole experience made me very relaxed and calmed my nerves.

That Was Fast

The next thing I knew I was opening my eyes in the recovery room. The whole procedure took less than an hour. After about an hour or so they moved me to my room.

Text Me When She’s Done

Diana said that they were very good about notifying her of my progression. They had her mobile number and texted her when I went into surgery, when it was over when I went to recovery, and when I was going to my room. Excellent communication.

Diana met me in the hallway as I was being wheeled into my room.

The nurses came in frequently to see if I needed more pain medication or anything else. I was up with help and walking to the bathroom in just a few hours.

 

Surgery went fine
Surgery went fine

 

Soon, a treat of green jello and a giant bottle of water landed on my tray. I’m sorry to say I had just one bite. I just wasn’t hungry. The nurse was so disappointed. She said that was the best one!

 

Green Jello at CUF Cascais
Green Jello at CUF Cascais

 

Breakfast Is Served

After my breakfast of apple tea and apple juice at CUF Cascais, the doctor came to visit and said everything was fine and that the surgery went great and I could go home! I was back home in my own bed before noon. The cats somehow knew not to walk on me but still came and snuggled and checked on me, too.

 

Nurse Jake
Nurse Jake

 

I’ve had to go back to CUF Hospital twice within the next week to have my dressing changed. The nurses were so nice. We shared several stories since I always had the same team.

 

CUF Check In Ticket
CUF Check-In Ticket

 

Pro Tip: When you go to the CUF for an appointment you will need to first check in at one of the kiosks in the lobby. If you need help there’s someone there to guide you. You simply enter your NIF number and your appointment will come up. You print out your ticket and it will tell you what waiting room to go to in the building, on what floor, and what your number is. There are monitors that ding everytime a number is called for appointments. Just be sure you’re in the right place. I’ve made the mistake of not looking at the ticket and assuming I knew where I was going. Don’t do that.

I then went back a few days later to get my staples removed. I can’t tell you how nice and professional my doctor was and I really liked him. There’s one more follow-up appointment in about a month. So far my recovery has gone very well. I’ve had a few stomach issues as my system gets used to not having a gallbladder but all and all it’s been really smooth.

 

The Best Care Is At Home

Diana has been an angel and the best nurse I could ever ask for during this whole ordeal. Cooking healthy food when I was interested in eating and checking on me constantly to be sure I was ok. I am truly a lucky woman.

I hope learning about my experiences at CUF Cascais Hospital helps you to better understand healthcare in Portugal. Sometimes no matter how well we take care of ourselves we still need to rely on doctors and nurses to help manage our healthcare.

 

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CUF Cascais Surgery pin

 

 

 

 

 

When people learn that we’ve been to Amsterdam they have to ask, where are the best bitterballen in Amsterdam? 

If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Amsterdam yourself, there are plenty of great places in Amsterdam where you can try these delicious bitterballen here are some of our favorites.

 

Café Luxembourg
Spui 24, 1012 XA, Amsterdam

One spot that’s particularly well-known for one of the best bitterballen in Amsterdam is the historic Café Luxembourg, located in the heart of Amsterdam’s bustling city center. This historic café has been serving up tasty bites and cold drinks since 1921, and their bitterballen are a crowd favorite. 
Hours:  Sunday-Thursday 10 am-12 am, Friday & Saturday 10 am-1 am.

Café De Klos
Kerkstraat 41, 1017 GB Amsterdam

Café De Klos, a cozy and welcoming pub in the Jordaan neighborhood. Known for its delicious ribs, this popular spot also serves up some seriously tasty bitterballen. 
Hours: Monday – Thursday 4 pm – 11 pm, Friday, Saturday & Sunday 2 pm – 11 pm

 

Bar Centraal
Ten Katestraat 16, 1053 CE Amsterdam

For a more upscale dining experience, head to Bar Centraal in the trendy Oud West neighborhood. This stylish and modern wine bar is known for its delicious small plates and excellent wine selection and their bitterballen are no exception. 
Hours: Monday – Thursday 5 pm – 12 am, Saturday 4 pm – 1 am, Sunday 3 pm – 1 am. 

 

De Ballenbar
Hannie Dankbaarpassage 16, Stand 8, Amsterdam

If you’re feeling adventurous and want to try a unique twist on the classic bitterballen, head to De Ballenbar in the popular Foodhallen. This gourmet snack bar offers a variety of creative bitterballen flavors, such as truffle, cheese, and even spicy shrimp. Plus, the stylish and modern decor makes it a great spot for a fun night out with friends.
Hours: Monday – Sunday 12 pm – 10 pm.

 

Café ‘t Smalle
Egelantiersgracht 12, 1015 RL Amsterdam

If you’re looking for a more traditional atmosphere, then you can’t go wrong with the Jordaan neighborhood’s Café ‘t Smalle. This cozy, old-world pub has been serving up delicious Dutch snacks and drinks for over 150 years, and their bitterballen are a true testament to their time-honored recipes. 
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 10 am – 1 am, Friday and Saturday 10 am – 2 am.

 

Vegan Junk Food Bar
Staringplein 22, 1054 VL Amsterdam

Lastly, for those looking for a vegan option, check out Vegan Junk Food Bar. A fast-growing concept, VJFB has already been winning awards and turning heads with its mission focused on sustainability and delicious plant-based menu, which includes classic, mac & cheese, and peanut thai bitterballen. Enjoy the funky atmosphere in one of several locations and bring your dog (pets are welcome!) and a credit card because they don’t take cash.
Hours: Monday – Thursday 3 pm – 10 pm, Friday – Sunday 12 pm – 10 pm.

If you enjoy bitterballen here’s an easy bitterballen recipe to make at home after your travels.

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Best Bitterballen in Amsterdam

 

Visiting France has always been high on our travel planning lists. We enjoy the French way of life. The lifestyle of working to live, rather than living to work. Enjoying a glass of wine at lunch, savoring every meal, and enjoying each day for all it’s worth feel just right to us.

When we had the opportunity to visit Toulouse we were excited to go to a new city in France.  No matter how much we prepare, research, and plan we always end up like wide-eyed children when we first arrive at a new destination. Toulouse, France was no exception. Our short drive from the airport to town transported us to a lovely city along the River Garonne.  We knew we had arrived somewhere special.

toulouse-france-map
Toulouse is located in southwestern France.

Toulouse The Pink City

The Toulouse population of 950,000, is the fourth largest city in France. The city has its own unique pink terra cotta bricks that explain its description as “the Pink City” or la Ville Rose.

the-front-of-the-capitole-in-tolouse-france
The Capitole in Toulouse, France

The square that houses The Capitole is surrounded by interesting buildings and cafes to sip a cup of coffee or glass of wine. In a unique twist, you’ll find that the town hall also operates as an opera house.

the-capitole-in-toulose-food-travelist
The Great Stairway in The Capitole in Toulouse France
the-capital-in-tolouse-france
Sale des Illustres in The Capitole hosts official receptions and wedding celebrations.

An impressive selection of large tableaux covers many walls throughout the city hall. Each depicts the historical events of the city’s history.

relaxing-in-the-outdoor-cafes-in-tolouse-france
The Capitole Square bustles day & night.

Famous pink stones are not the only fascinating aspect of architecture in this beautiful place. Roman and medieval history come to life as you walk the city streets.

timbered-buildings-in-tolouse-france
Timbered buildings in Toulouse
courtyards-in-tolouse-france
Beautiful courtyards are abundant in Toulouse.

Toulouse is a walker’s delight. Although there is an excellent public transportation system, we enjoyed great fun walking up and down the streets finding treasures along the way.

toulouse-tourism-pass

Tourism Pass

The city offers a Tourism Pass that starts at 15 euros and includes free entry to the museums in the city center, a guided tour from the Toulouse Tourist office, and free travel on the local transportation – metro, tram, bus, and airport shuttle bus. It also offers discounts at many other tourist sites and shops and things to do in Toulouse.  You can purchase a 24, 48, or 72-hour card. Check here for all the details Toulouse-Visit.com.

shopping-street-in-tolouse-france
Take Rue du Taur from the Capitole to Couvent des Jacobins.

We’d recommend traveling up the Rue du Taur when you leave Capitole Square. It’s an easy walk up this shopping street to Couvent des Jacobins. Founded by the Dominican order, this peaceful monastery and gardens encourage contemplation and serenity. Perhaps most importantly, it is the final resting place of Saint Thomas Aquinas and you will find his relics housed here.

couvent- des-jacobin-tolouse-church
Cloister at the Couvent des Jacobin in Toulouse.

Toulouse is also home to the UNESCO World Heritage site Basilica Saint-Sernin. It is the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe. It is also along the route of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. The Way of St. James (in English) was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages.

graine-de-pastel-in-toulouse-france-food-travelist
Pastel the Toulouse violet.

You’ll discover many pastel products in Toulouse made from Isatis Tinctoria, the unique locally grown plant that provides a beautiful blue pigment. Mills in the area exported pastel products all over Europe. The industry suffered when the competition for “Chinese Pastels” from India grew. The business is being revived as more beauty and healthcare properties of pastel have become popular. We love the lavender scent and brought lots of pastel gifts home for friends and family.

Toulouse European Capital of Aeronautics and Space

You might be surprised to learn that Toulouse is the #1 city in Europe for the aeronautics and space industry. The Airbus headquarters are located in Toulouse. Intel and CNES’s Toulouse Space Centre, the largest space center in Europe, are also among the top companies in town.

la-cite-de-lespace-toulouse
La Cite de le’space Toulouse

The highly respected University of Toulouse is the fourth largest university in France and among the oldest in Europe.

Tourist attractions La Cite de l’espace, Aeroscopia and Let’s Visit Airbus are interesting adventures for travelers who want to learn more about flying and for anyone curious about space.

What About the Food

Do you like fresh, local food prepared by passionate chefs and vendors? Then Toulouse is definitely for you. Here’s just a sampling of the many delicious food and amazing restaurants you will find.

foie-gras-with-apricot-jam-brasserie-flo-toulose
Foie gras de canard with apricot chutney at Brasserie des Beaux Arts.

Located along the River Garonne, the Brasserie de Beaux Arts was originally the meeting place of students from the School of Fine Arts. Artists like Ingres and Matisse frequented the establishment and enjoyed the flavors of the area.

goat-cheese-with-fresh-vegetables
Goat Cheese and rosemary creme brûlée and crunchy vegetables at Brasserie des Beaux-Arts.

We started with the classic foie gras and sampled the Toulouse sausage which we were told is a special recipe for the region. It included lean and fatty chunks of pork – incredibly delicious!

toulouse-sausage-with-potatoes-food-travelist
Toulouse Sausage with homemade mashed potatoes a Brasserie des Beaux-Arts.
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Vintage Valrhona Illanka Chocolate dessert at Brasserie des Beaux-Arts.

Dinner is not complete without a perfect dessert and we were served a perfectly chocolatey rich dessert. It was rich, gooey, and undeniably tasty.

meat-vendor-at-victor-hugo-market-tolouse-france
Vendor at Victor Hugo Market in Toulouse.

Much to Explore

The best way to be able to sample many local foods is to walk the streets of Toulouse. There are markets and shops on every street. One of the best and largest markets in town is the Victor Hugo Market.

betty-cheese-at-victor-hugo-fresh-market-tolouse
Cheese vendor Betty at Victor Hugo Market.

The market has everything you’d expect and more. Vendors with fresh produce, flowers, cheese, meats, and fish abound. You’ll want to leave plenty of time to explore and sample your way through the tastes of the market. One of the things I love so much about visiting the markets is watching the locals shop, carefully evaluating options, choosing just right the items, making their purchases, and then heading off on their way knowing they’ve selected the perfect foods for their family’s breakfast, lunch or dinner.

veal-with-mushrooms-and-noodle-the-villa-tropezienne-toulouse-france-food-travelist
Delicious veal in mushroom sauce at Villa Tropezienne.

Just across the street from the Victor Hugo Market is the restaurant Villa Tropezienne. It’s a typically delightful French bistro with indoor or outdoor seating. They offer typical bistro menu items like beef tartare, foie gras, salads, and much more.

foie-gras-appetizer-at-the-villa-tropezienne-toulouse-france
Foie gras at Villa Tropezienne.

I have to admit that on this trip we sampled many different types of foie gras and pâté. We know they’re not for everyone but if you like these meaty treats, you will love the many delicious ways Toulouse serves them up.

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Shaved foie gras at Le L Restaurant.

One of the most interesting selections was shaved foie gras which we tasted at the Le L Restaurant.

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Local fish dish at le L Restaurant
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Amorino gelato

A Culinary Delight

As you’re exploring the streets of Toulouse be sure to stop and try the treats. Whether your passion is gelato, chocolates, wine, beer, or some other tasty bite or beverage, you’ll no doubt find it in Toulouse.

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Sandyan Patisserie chocolate.
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Sorbet d’ Amour

The city has more than 1,700 places to eat so choosing which ones to check out may prove to be the most difficult part of your visit.

There are many outdoor cafés and bistros but we particularly enjoyed evening riverside revelers. On a Monday night, we witnessed young people relaxing along the river. Some shared a bottle of wine and takeout food. The cutest thing was watching riverside dancing by people of every generation that we heard happens just about every day.

As we wandered around the streets of Toulouse we found kebab stands and ethnic spots, gelaterias, pizza parlors, and hamburger places all open late.

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Evening dancing by the river.

A City of Diversity

Because Toulouse is a university town that means lots of students. Lots of students means a diverse community exists in Toulouse. Walking around the town you’ll find just about every type of ethnic dining option. It’s a modern metropolis with everything from kimchi to kebab, tapas to tikka masala, and much, much more. You’ll be able to quench your craving for cheap and cheerful ethnic eats in Toulouse.

A friendly and open city,  Toulouse is very tourist-friendly and many people speak English here. There’s also a vibrant LGBT community and an active gay-friendly scene. If you’re interested, you can pick up the L’annuaire Solidaire guide to welcoming establishments while you’re there for all the details.

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Where to Stay

We stayed at the deservedly five-star La Cour des Consuls Hotel and Spa which is part of the M Gallery by Sofitel. The luxurious hotel is centrally located, an easy to walk the to city center and to the riverfront.

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La Cour des Consuls Hotel & Spa

The rooms are spacious, comfortable, and beautifully appointed. Our stay included lovely continental breakfasts. You can have fresh French pastries, eggs prepared to your liking, meats, cheeses, fruits, and more. Frankly, there was a range of options available, far more than we could eat. The breakfast room was quiet, which we really appreciated.

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Outdoor dining at La Cour des Consuls in Toulouse.

La Cour des Consuls’ gorgeous outdoor restaurant Le Cenacle lets you dine al fresco in the private courtyard. Michelin star chef Jerome Ryon has created a refined yet modern menu. It’s a lovely intimate dining experience.

The hotel also has a beautiful spa that uses local and luxurious Graine de Pastel products, which are also available in your room.

Toulouse Gateway to Southwest France

As we experienced it, Toulouse is a wonderful destination for Food Travelists. You can get there easily with a quick-hour flight from Paris via Air France. Once in Toulouse, you can also visit other major UNESCO sites such as the City of Carcassone, The Episcopal City of Albi, and the Port de la Lune in Bourdeaux. Toulouse is another historic, beautiful, welcoming, and delicious area of France that you should add to your travel plans. When you explore its many wonderful offerings and experiences, you will truly enjoy this unique and unforgettable city.

Thank you to Atout France for hosting us during our trip to the Midi-Pyrénées. We were not financially compensated.  All opinions are our own and reflect our experiences.

Learn more about planning a visit to Toulouse at Toulouse-visit.com.

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Most culinary travelers who visit Portugal land in Lisbon. While this capital city is busy, vibrant, and diverse, many visitors don’t realize all the easy and delicious day trips from Lisbon that can be added to their journey.

Honestly, you shouldn’t leave Portugal without checking out these fine foodie must-taste destinations near Lisbon. Each is worth the trip.

Culinary Day Trips From Lisbon 

1 – Historic Évora

Évora Located in the Alentejo region, Évora is loaded with history and delicious flavors. This is also a remarkable wine-growing region. Here you will be treated to hearty dishes and long meals where you’ll savor every bite with wine pairings that will surprise you. 

Baked cheese bowl in at Evora Vitoria Stone Hotel.
Baked cheese bowl in at Evora Vitoria Sto

In one day, you can:

  • Take in Roman temple ruins and aqueducts.
  • Experience the hauntingly memorable Chapel of Bones.
  • Stroll through the lovely Jardim Publico de Évora.
  • Relax with a Portuguese coffee and pastry in Praça do Giraldo. 

For phenomenal eats, go to places like Botequim da Mouraria for lunch and O Templo Restaurante for dinner. These superb local restaurants serve recipes handed down from mothers and grandmothers. 

Be sure to try the porco preto, or black pork, a regional specialty made from black pigs that feast on acorns. It adds an incomparable layer of umami to the flavor of the pork. Cheese lovers will also want to try the delicious Évora cheese melted with cloves of garlic and served inside a loaf of Alentejo bread. When dining at these cozy spots, you’ll feel like you’re eating in the proprietors’ homes. Reservations are a must to avoid disappointment. 

Travel time from Lisbon to is about 1-1/2 to 2 hours by car, train, or bus.

2 – Setúbal By The Sea

If you’re an art lover, you won’t want to miss Setúbal, Portugal. You’ll find intriguing sculptures, murals, and tiled walls simply walking the streets. Art and artists are celebrated throughout Portugal. And this city across the Tagus River from Lisbon is a place many artists call home. A wander through the winding streets reveals local artists, galleries, and shops.

For the best view in town head up to Forte de São Felipe. The café at the top is the perfect place to enjoy the surroundings and sip a glass of the sweet local muscatel wine.

Setúbal is along the coastline, so expect plenty of fresh seafood to enjoy. The dish not to miss here is choco frito or fried cuttlefish, a cousin to the squid. It’s served in all the Portuguese restaurants and is so cherished that there are even comical statues honoring it.  

Travel time from Lisbon to Setubal is typically about 45-55 minutes by train or bus.

3 – The Palaces of Sintra

Sintra is one of the most popular day trips from Lisbon. The famous multi-colored Pena Palace, Quinta da Regalaria with its mysterious spiral Templar initiation wells, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Moorish Castle are all worth a visit for history lovers and architecture buffs, too. 

Travesseiros in Sintra Portugal

We love walking along the narrow streets in the charming old town, checking out the local crafts shops and, of course, the local bakeries. Every town in Portugal has its own unique pastries, and Sintra is no exception. You can’t leave without trying the bite-size cheesecakes called queijadas or the travesseiros, flakey pillows filled with light almond cream and dusted with sugar. With all the walking you’ll be doing, don’t worry about the calories. Go ahead and try both!

Travel time from Lisbon to Sintra is an easy 30-minute car ride. Trains and buses are available but typically take 1-1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the schedule.

4 – Fishing Village of Nazaré

Nazaré is located on Portugal’s popular Silver Coast. Once a small fishing village, it is now known for some of the largest waves in the world, created in large part by the Nazaré canyon. Be warned that usually the best surfing and waves are in winter. In summer, you can enjoy the breathtaking views and waterfront activities.

Of course, seafood is abundant, and many restaurants line the beachfront. The scents wafting in the air tempt passersby to come in and eat. One spot we enjoyed was the Adega Oceano. But, before stopping to eat, be sure to walk along and see the fishermen’s wives drying out octopus and other seafood to sell at the market.

Visit the historic Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré. Outside this 14th-century church, local women dressed in traditional colorful clothing sell candy, dried fruits, and nuts to visitors.

Travel time from Lisbon to Nazaré is about 1-1/2 hours by car.  Traveling by bus or train can take anywhere between 2 hours and 20 minutes to 2 hours and 40 minutes.

5 – Beach Break at Praia Grande

Praia Grande, the longest beach along the Sintra coastline, draws surfers, swimmers, sunbathers, and anyone who enjoys a day by the sea. But, because it’s a bit away from it all or maybe because it’s so big, this beach never feels overcrowded. Surfboards, wetsuits, and beach chairs are all available for rental.

Hotel Arribas on Praia Grande in Portugal. Day trips from Lisbon.

Coming here is the perfect day trip if you want to get out of the city and into nature. Whether you just sit and enjoy the water view or take one of the many hiking paths, you’ll see a different side of Portugal.

Hotel Arribas, on the beach, features Europe’s largest saltwater pool. When the surf is high, the waves crash right into the pool. Day passes allow you to enjoy the pool and take advantage of the hotel restaurants and bars. At Arribas Terrace, the elegant Portuguese-inspired lists a wide variety of fresh seafood, meats, and vegetarian dishes. Or head to the Arribas Caffé for a casual light meal, snack, or drink. Both the view and the food are spectacular.

Travel time from Lisbon to Praia Grande by car is just under one hour. There’s also a historic tram or bus ride from nearby Sintra. 

6 – Walled City of Óbidos

You feel yourself stepping back in time when you walk through the gates of Óbidos. This medieval town is a UNESCO Creative City of Literature, so writers and readers will feel right at home. You will encounter libraries and bookstores everywhere in Óbidos – inside bars, restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies, shops, and just about any place where there’s room for a shelf.

The streets of Obidos Portugal
Day trips from Lisbon

More adventurous visitors can walk along the tops of the city’s walls for exceptional panoramic views. Walking through the tiny winding streets is also a lovely way to take in the town. Here, you’ll find unique hand-crafted items made in Portugal and most made in Óbidos.

Do not leave Óbidos without sampling a glass (or two) of the cherry liqueur Ginja de Óbidos. Our favorite place to stop for a sip of this lovely drink is Bar Iban Errick Rex. While you’re there, order a chouriço sausage. It will be lit and flaming until done right at your table, making a fun, tasty, and memorable snack.

Travel time from Lisbon to Óbidos is an easy 1-1/2 hour bus ride or one hour drive by car.

7  – The Ultimate Beach Town Cascais

Our list would not be complete without including our hometown, Cascais. The beaches in Cascais excel at welcoming visitors. If you’re looking for a town that is mostly flat, without too many steps or hills to climb, this is your place. Downtown Cascais can easily be explored by foot.

Cascais Santa Maria Harbor
Day trips from Lisbon
Cascais Santa Maria Harbor

Trek the paradão, a pedestrian walkway along the ocean, and stroll aside the Atlantic Ocean. The many cafés and restaurants along the way will tempt you to sit and watch the waves all day. Once you get into the historic center of town you’ll find many shops, and more restaurants to keep you busy.

If you’re a history or museum fan, go to the Citadel, the Cultural Center (there’s a wonderful spot there for lunch, too), or the Paula Rego Museum. Everything is close by and easy to get to. Check out the relaxing and beautiful Parque Marechal Carmona. Peacocks, chickens, ducks, and geese wander around the park, which offers many places to sit and just enjoy the perfect weather. A lovely little pond near the small café is great for unwinding and watching small turtles bathe in the sun.

As you can imagine, we have plenty of recommendations for places to eat in Cascais. For authentic Portuguese food just off the main street, try Flecha Azul. The food is delicious, and they have plenty of choices for everyone.

Travel time from Lisbon to Cascais is a 30-minute car ride. You can also easily take the 45-minute Linha da Cascais train ride from Cais do Sodre in Lisbon

What makes Lisbon day trips appealing to any traveler? 

  • Tour operators offer packages with day trips from Lisbon that conveniently depart from many hotels.
  • Local buses and trains are also clean and very affordable.

Pro Tips:

  • Always wear comfortable and sturdy shoes when exploring Portugal. The calçada tiles used for the lovely sidewalks throughout the country make for uneven and slippery walking. Mind your step and save yourself an unwanted “trip.”
  • When taking day trips from Lisbon, check the weather before venturing out. Depending on your destination, the weather may be much cooler or hotter.
  • Also, Portugal is often windy, especially near the coastal areas, so layer clothing and bring a light jacket or wrap.
  • Allow extra time when using public transportation. Although the trains and buses are reliable, sometimes unexpected strikes or delays happen. We recommend starting out early in the morning to avoid disappointments and to minimize wait times.

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Lisbon Day Trips

Visitors Love Venice

Venice, Italy. Glittering canals. Moonlit gondola rides. Romantic bridges. Historical architecture. These draw visitors from around the world to the city on the water. And if you arrive during the busy summer months, you just might get a glimpse of them. However, you will need to share them with many other people seeking out the same great things. Venice receives some nine million visitors a year, even though only 50,000 people live there. And, as to be expected, a great many of those visitors come during the warm summer months. It’s great if you enjoy the thrill of a crowd. You’ll certainly be in good company.

As you might know about us though, we tend to be the off-season, off-the-beaten-path type of travelers. We love seeing the important sites and then going more along the roads less traveled. But we tagged this day in Venice onto the end of a Mediterranean cruise (more on that later!) so we figured when in Rome, er, Venice… Since this was Sue’s first visit to Venice and we had just one day, I thought it was important to be near the main draws but not necessarily among the throngs bustling to see them when we got back to our hotel.

One thing that was clear was that Venice is back on the tourist track with a vengeance. After hibernating from visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic, the city is full of visitors who can’t wait to explore every nook and cranny of the major attractions, especially around Saint Mark’s Square, the hub of hyperactivity.

Venice Hotel Prices In Summer

During the summer months, you will notice that the already pricey ultra-luxe hotels become even pricier, to the tune of a couple of thousand dollars a night. That’s great if you want to spend the money on Venice Italy 5 star hotels such as the Gritti Palace or the Danieli. They are sure to offer a magnificent stay. But for this trip, we were a little more creative in finding class, and comfort, and suited to a more moderate budget.

And what we discovered was a beautiful and welcoming hidden gem at a very reasonable, breakfast-included price. The service was so gracious we felt like we were greeted by friends. We escaped the intense summer heat and crowds just a few streets away into our own lovely oasis and slept soundly in our large, extremely comfortable, well-air-conditioned room (this really is important when the summer heat comes around). So, have I piqued your curiosity yet? Here’s the place we stayed and felt like princesses.

Drumroll please for this Hidden Gem in Italy

Hotel Palazzo Paruta & Wellness Suites Venezia

The secret is now revealed. We absolutely adored our stay at the Hotel Palazzo Paruta Venezia. This former residence of Venetian nobility has been transformed into 4-star accommodations that we would rate as a 5-star stay. We want to provide you with helpful and honest information based on our own personal experience. Understanding that every person has unique desires and expectations, we’ll continue sharing our insights with you and let you decide whether you would like what we liked. So now, I’ll tell you a lot more about this best-hidden gem hotel in Venice, Italy.

Best Hidden Gem Italy
Palazzo Paruta

Best Area To Stay In Venice

The first thing to note about the Hotel Palazzo Paruta Venezia is its location. While anywhere out on or near the Grand Canal, the heartbeat of Venice is going to be busy, busy, busy especially during summer, being too far away means that while you may have peace and quiet, you will need to do a lot of trekking (or water buses) if you want to get back to the action. If you’ve been to Venice before and are up for exploring more of the backroads (or back canals) then that’s awesome. But if you’re a first-timer like Sue, or haven’t been for decades (like me) you will probably be interested in seeing St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, Rialto Market, gondolas on the Grand Canal, and other celebrated spots.

Just a 10-minute walk to St. Mark’s Square and less than 5 minutes to the Sant’Angelo water taxi stop, the Palazzo Paruta Venice Italy is surprisingly and ideally situated on a quiet side canal. In fact, it’s actually one of the Venice hotels with canal views from some of the rooms. When walking back from the busy Grand Canal area, you pass over some small bridges and through a couple of shopping streets with bakeries, candy stores, restaurants, and clothing shops. Once past those you find open squares that are generally quiet and blissfully devoid of large crowds. It almost feels as though you have stepped outside some invisible boundary leading you to the beautiful accommodations that await you.

A Warm Welcome

When you walk over the tiny bridge to the hotel entry you’ll see a few little red and gold banners on the building and be greeted in a small but attractive lobby. The staff is ready to help you even if, like us, you are many hours earlier than check-in. They took care of our bags and brought them up to the room while we went out exploring. The staff speak great English, so if Italian isn’t in your linguistic library yet, there’s nothing to worry about.

Hidden Gem Italy Palazzo Paruta

Gorgeous Gardens and Venetian Decor

When you’re ready to explore the hotel, you will be delighted by the many beautiful and quiet garden settings the outside has to offer. There’s a sitting area surrounded by plants and flowers just outside the lobby. And there’s another up the stairs (or elevator) on the next floor that is a terrace for the bar. Flowers on the tables and a serene background had us feeling like we were the only people visiting Venice. Imagine how rare that is in summer!

As befitting the former home of Venetian nobility, the décor meets every expectation of opulence with Venetian style. Luxurious fabrics, bright colors, original artworks, grand light fixtures, and, of course, lots of gold leaf play well amid the modern conveniences that make the hotel also feel new and comfy. Not one bit of “grandma’s basement smell” here and in a place surrounded by water, that’s quite an accomplishment. This is one of the boutique hotels of Venice with a distinctly personal grandeur of its own. It’s a taste of hotels in Venice Italy 5 star opulence with a more intimate scale and affordable price.

The Rooms And Accommodations

The Palazzo Paruta has 13 luxuriously appointed guest rooms, giving you a taste of what Palazzo Venice life may have been like in the noble owners’ time. Rooms range from cozy standard rooms overlooking the peaceful courtyard to the roomy premier junior double suite canal view room. All the rooms are carefully decorated with Carrara Italian marble in the bathrooms. Additional touches such as damask fabrics on the walls, Murano glass chandeliers, and exclusive bath products adorn the larger rooms.

Though all rooms have gorgeous Venetian décor, the premier junior double canal suite (in which we admittedly indulged ourselves) has recently been reimagined. It now incorporates soft colors and ridiculously comfortable Eams chairs into its elegant classic design. The king bed was comfortable, with reading lamps on each side. There was a large 65-inch LCD TV on the wall above the marble fireplace. Our room also had a walk-in wardrobe with a Nespresso coffee machine, an electric kettle, and plenty of complimentary coffees and teas. The Carrara marble bathroom was ample, with a double sink and waterfall shower surrounded by glass that prevented the usual leaky mess.

Exquisite bathroom at the Palazzo Paruta

The room was great for us travel writers, equipped with free WiFi (available throughout the whole hotel as well), USB plugs, a desk, and a safe. We could look out at the view of the peaceful canal and pretend that we had Venice all to ourselves, at least for a few moments.

Food And Drinks

Of course, you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t interested in food and drinks. While the hotel does not have its own restaurant (there are lots of those nearby, we’ll share some ideas in a future article) it does have a fabulous bar with an outdoor terrace and a glorious breakfast room. We tried both and were wowed.

Palazzo Paruta Bar

The bar area is striking. Red velvet, gold-framed mirrors, Murano glass chandeliers, and period paintings surround you. The mixologist was friendly and anxious to help us choose the appropriate cocktail for relishing a little relaxation time alone. Being a fan of the famous Aperol Spritz, I decided to try a unique twist she called  “Mezzo-Mezzo” (or half-half). It consists of half Aperol and half Campari instead of all of one or the other in the spritz. To make your own spritz, check out our recipes). The color was amazing.

We were finally cooling off a little, so we took our drinks out to the terrace connected to the bar. There we found cute little tables adorned with flowers and overlooking the courtyard garden below. After we settled in and had a few sips, a tray of bites along with little bowls of peanuts and potato chips landed before us. This Italian custom of “aperitivo” became our own personal happy hour before we headed out for dinner a while later. It was the perfect transition and really gave our evening a lovely start.

Homemade Breakfast

If there’s one thing we’ve come to appreciate it’s a good hotel breakfast. We don’t typically eat a big breakfast at home, so we’re not much inclined to chase after one when we travel either. Nice tea and toast or pastry and coffee are usually good for us. But when we have the chance to get a “breakfast included” price at a hotel, we like to give it a go. And the breakfast here rewarded us with hospitality and deliciousness.

Giancarlo and Violeta at the Palazza Paruta Venice
Giancarlo and Violeta at the Palazza Paruta Venice

We were greeted by a jolly Giancarlo, who set us down at a little table and immediately asked us what we wanted to drink. In addition to the usual tea, coffee, and juices, the hotel featured the Bellini, peach puree with sparkling wine. He then guided us toward the prepared food and showed us a pizza made with gorgonzola and pickled onions, a pastry filled with ham, porcini mushrooms, scamorza cheese, and dried tomatoes, a variety of meats, sausages, cheeses, Caprese salad, croissants, pastries, and more.

As we explored the numerous options, Giancarlo smiled and said, “All of these are homemade. Even the sausages. Violeta made them all.” And he pointed over to the woman smiling from behind the pans where she was preparing eggs to order. Violeta also offered a special dish of the day consisting of mini pancakes with smoked salmon, burrata, and dill. We tried as much as our bellies would handle and everything was out of this world delicious. Giancarlo and Violeta were so gracious, despite the eventual filling of the entire breakfast room with hungry guests, that we just had to take a picture of them. They were delighted with our interest and wished us well for the rest of our time in Venice.

Porter and Water Taxi Service

In our typical travels, we pack light and generally can wheel our own bags wherever need to without much trouble. However, for this trip, we packed especially large bags, which now were full of treasures from our Mediterranean visits, and we were just plain tuckered out. Palazzo Paruta to the rescue! Although the hotel is very close to the Sant’Angelo stop for water buses and taxis (a 5-minute walk), there are two bridges with steps up and down to navigate. We told the hotel we wanted some help with our bags and for €25 for our two humongous suitcases a hale and hardy gentleman picked them up, hoisted them onto a large dolly, and whisked them over the bridges and to the water stop.

We were headed to the Marco Polo airport and decided to take a private water taxi. While the cost is more than the Alilaguna boats, which carry a large number of people and take about an hour and a half, the water taxi was just for us and took about a third of the time.  The captain pulled up directly to a dock at the airport, put our bags on the ground, and off we went to get our plane. It was the perfect ending to a quick but memorable stay.

Venice Italy has many options for accommodations to suit all tastes. We think the Palazzo Paruta is a hidden gem hotel and we recommend it if you want a quiet, special place to stay during your visit.

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