Kotor is an old triangle-shaped, walled town on the Kotor Bay in Montenegro. Its the most well-known and well-touristed town on the Kotor Bay, and probably in all of Montenegro, despite its small size. Why you may ask, especially if you’ve never heard of Kotor (or possibly even Montenegro)? 1. Kotor, and the Kotor Bay, are totally stunning and make for a gorgeous vacation destination. 2. Kotor is now on the Adriatic cruise ship circuit and smaller (but not that small) cruise ships dock in Kotor for the day. 3. Rick Steves has written a lot about Kotor, and its an easy day trip from neighboring Dubrovnik. In sum, people know Kotor and its a busy destination. If you want off the beaten path, stay down the road in Perast, like we did! That being said, nothing beats the views from Kotor and its a terribly lovely place to spend a day.
Dubrovnik is Croatian city on the very southern tip of Croatia, just north of Montenegro and across the Adriatic from Bari, Italy. Dubrovnik is split into two parts: New Town, the modern part of town with swanky hotels and restaurants, and Old Town, the beautiful walled part of the city that stars as Kings Landing in Game of Thrones starting in Season 2 (it was filmed in Mdina, Malta in Season 1). Both are worthy of your time.
With crystal clear green water and warm temperatures from May – early October, Dubrovnik has been a popular European and Russian vacation destination for decades, until the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, when Dubrovnik sustained significant war damage. Rebuilt and open for business since the early 2000s, Dubrovnik is back as a major vacation player and home to two busy cruise ports. Rick Steves famously named Dubrovnik “The Pearl of the Adriatic.” As a result of its newfound popularity, tourists are flocking to the city in droves and the Old Town can get crazy busy, especially during the height of summer. If you haven’t yet been to Dubrovnik, you’ve definitely “missed the boat” on this exotic destination, but its still a city worthy of a few days, especially as part of a larger Croatian or Balkan itinerary.
Surprising to many, myself included, Montenegro makes good, yet relatively unknown, red, white, and rose wine from both foreign grapes (although grown in Montenegro) and a handful of indigenous grapes found only in Montenegro. The most popular indigenous grape is the Vranac grape, which is used in red wine and is easily found in local restaurants and wine shops throughout Montenegro. Vranac, and generally all the wines that we tasted in Montenegro, was quite good. Outside of Montenegro, however, they are difficult, if not impossible, to find. Even Dan, my wine snob, liked Montenegrin wine!
Since we love wine and wine tasting, I was on the hunt for Montenegrin wineries throughout our entire trip to Montenegro. I was pleased to find a number of wineries offering visits to tourists, but Savina was the only working professional winery that I found (via Trip Advisor) close to Perast, where we stayed for the majority of our trip. As soon as I read the reviews, I promptly booked a tasting via email. It sounded lovely!
Gozo is one of three Maltese islands in the Mediterranean Sea (the other two being Malta and Comino). Gozo is the middle island in terms of size and a world apart from its big sister Malta. On our trip to Malta earlier this year, Dan and I ferried over to the Maltese island of Gozo for a couple nights to experience old school Malta, and that is exactly what we got.
If you told someone that you were traveling to Gozo on vacation, they may have no idea where or what Gozo is. That’s because Gozo receives a lot less tourism that Malta or Comino, despite being close neighbors. This is probably due to the fact that Gozo lacks an airport, so you must go through Malta to access Gozo. In any case, we found Gozo to be very chill and laid back, gorgeous, a bit of a time capsule, and less expensive than Malta.
Many companies offer day tours to Gozo from Malta and some Blue Lagoon tours offer a couple-hour stop off in Gozo, but I would not recommend these. You will miss out on what makes Gozo special.
WHAT TO SEE ON GOZO, MALTA
Gozo’s most famous site, the Azure Window (of Game of Thrones fame, Dany and Drogo married there), sadly crashed into the sea during a storm in 2017. You can still visit the site where it was located, Dwerja Beach, and that’s just what we did! Even without the Azure Window, Dwerja Beach is very pretty and an interesting place to walk around a photograph. Just across the street is a popular swimming hole with crystal clear water. There is a parking lot at Dwerja Beach, a handful of kiosks selling food and beverage, and a sit down restaurant on site. I would plan to spend 30 minutes at Dwerja Beach, longer if you want to swim or eat.
Quite close to Dwerja Beach is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu. Ta’Pinu, for short, is a gorgeous basilica overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. And I mean GORGEOUS. Ta’Pinu is particularly well-known for a chapel that, as confirmed by the Catholic Church, has asked parishioners to say Hail Mary three times and then performed a miracle. Many people make pilgrimages here, and the Pope has even visited Ta’Pinu. Entrance is free and you are not supposed to wear short shorts or tank tops, but this rule was not strictly enforced in the Summer heat.
One of my favorite places in Gozo is Xlendi, a cute seaside town! Xlendi has great views, cool water front restaurants, and some walking trails. It also has a very small beach that is not exactly swimmable due to its size and boats; however if you take the path around Xlendi to the water, there are fabulous views and a few diving boards built into the coast! Swimming in this area seemed more sanitary than right in the port. There is parking around town. Xlendi would also make a nice town to stay in if you want to be in a town.
Marsalforn is another cute little beach town with lots of restaurants and bars. The beach here is slightly larger and the water is gorgeous. Marsalforn would make another cute town to base your stay on Gozo.
Just next to Marsalforn are the famous salt pans of Gozo. There is not much to do here except snap a picture and buy some salt from the older gentleman selling freshly made salt but its a cool place to see and quite close to Marsalforn. Tip if you’re planning on buying salt, which you should, bring a plastic ziplock bag to put it in. The bag our salt was sold in started to leak.
If you are a history buff, you cannot miss a visit to the Ggantija Temples on Gozo. Similar to the Hypogeoum on Malta, the Ggantija Temples are ancient temples that were somewhat recently discovered and not much is known about their background. However, the temples are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and date back to around 3500 BC (older than Stonehenge!). There is an interesting museum that you visit before seeing the temples, which provides some interesting information and gives some suggestions as to what the temples may have been used for!
Just next to the Ggantija Temples is the Ta’Kola Windmill, which is an old windmill that you can visit and climb to the top. We did this, but only because our ticket to the Ggantija Temples included entrance to the windmill, as well. The windmill was interesting, but I probably would not go back. The most interest part was viewing it from the outside.
We also visited the Ta’Mena Estate, which is sort of a famous Agritourism farm and winery on Gozo. Ta’Mena hosts tours and tastings every Thursday (and I think Saturday), which you need to book in advance. The tour was quite long, but it did come with a substantial food and wine tasting after the tour. Ta’Mena also opens a shop after the tour selling all sorts of its organic products. The food tasting is enough for lunch.
Victoria is Gozo’s capital city, and its quite a lovely city. Victoria is home to quite winding streets, old school public squares, lots of churches, and a number of restaurants and shops. We spent an afternoon here and really enjoyed this picturesque town. If you are looking to shop, Victoria is definitely the spot. My favorite store was the adorable House of Gozo located right off Gozo’s main square.
Victoria is also home to the Citadel, which was way cooler than I anticipated. The Citadel is the old walled-city and it looks straight out of Game of Thrones. It reminded me a lot of Dubrovnik, too. While its a steep climb uphill, the views from the Citadel are worth it. The Citadel is home to some shops and restaurants. Be sure to bring water in the summer.
WHERE WE STAYED ON GOZO
We stayed at the adorable Cescas Boutique Hotel, halfway between Xlendi and Victoria. Cescas is owned by the same people as Ta’Karolina Restaurant in Xlendi and like Ta’Karolina, the hotel is quite modern and swanky. Cescas is located in a remodeled farmhouse and its really in the middle of nowhere – definitely a place to get away from it all. Cescas has a lovely pool and serves a nice breakfast each morning.
WHERE WE ATE
As mentioned in my previous post on my week in Malta, we ate pretty well on Gozo. My favorite restaurants were Stanley’s Chippy Shop in Victoria and Ta’Karolina and The Boathouse in Xlendi. Here are a few pictures of some of my favorite foods.
Also, while not technically a restaurant, Lord Chambry Beer is a local craft beer brewed in Victoria. Its available all over Malta in general, even on the Gozo Ferry line(!), and each beer is named after something Malta-related. Definitely worth trying on Gozo!
HOW WE ARRIVED
The only way to reach Gozo is via the Gozo Channel Line car ferry from Cirkewwa (Malta) to Mgarr (Gozo), which run every half-hour. The ferry was easy and only took 25 minutes. It cost €4.65 per person round trip (more for a car, clearly). You do not need to buy tickets in advance and you actually don’t even need a ticket on the way over from Malta; tickets are only checked on the return trip from Gozo. The ferries have a cafe serving food and drinks, as well as some small souvenirs. There are taxis meeting the ferry in both Cirkewwa and Mgarr.
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR VISITING GOZO
As of July 2019, there are no ride sharing apps working in Gozo. I.e. no Uber, Lyft, ECabs, or Bolt. There are buses that run around Gozo, they are not frequent. If you do not rent a car, a taxi is probably your best bet.
In the summer, its HOT on Gozo. Take a hat and carry water with you everywhere. And on that note, while water is easy enough to find (usually for 1 euro per bottle), places in Gozo did not seem to have great air conditioning. We had trouble cooling down.
Try to spend at least 1 night on Gozo, if not a few, to get a feel for the island.
Take cash out on Malta. There are ATMs on Gozo, but they have been known to go out island-wide.
SOME PICTURES OF GOZO
And, since Gozo was so gorgeous, I will leave you with some of my favorite pictures from Gozo!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Cescas Boutique Hotel: Triq tal-Ghajn, Il-Munxar, Malta. A true boutique hotel in a renovated farmhouse in Gozo. Kind of in the middle-of-nowhere, you can technically walk to Xlendi and Victoria. Good breakfast included with booking. Wifi and AC included. Pool on premises.
Ta’Mena Estate: Rabat Road, Xaghra XRA 9010, Malta. A popular winery and farm, with tours offered twice a week (I believe on Thursday and Saturday). Book in advance via email.
The Boathouse: XLN1010, Xatt Ix Xlendi, Il-Munxar, Malta. Right in downtown Xlendi, next to Ta’Karolina. Closed Wednesday. Open Thursday – Tuesday 12h – 15h30, 18h – 22h. Reservations recommended, especially for waterside dining.
Ta’Karolina: Triq L-Ghar ta Karolina, Munxar, Malta. Open 12h30 – 15h30, 18h30 – 22h30. Highly recommend booking a reservation online, especially to secure one of the romantic tables on the water like we had!
Stanley’s Chippy Shop: San Gorg Basilica, Victoria, Malta. Super casual and no reservations. Bring cash.
Gozo Ferry Line: Official website with timetables.
Gozo Taxi Service: The taxi service that I used to organize a day tour to some of Gozo’s most famous sites. They were very responsive via email and the driver was good. Would use again.
Being so close to Italy, Italy heavily influences Malta’s cuisine. Pasta, cannoli, and pizza are everywhere in Malta, and we ate a lot of it. However, I kept thinking that it was just not as good as Italian food; a second best so to speak. However, when we dined at Sotto Pizzeria, I was completely blown away and had, by far, the best meal of the entire trip!
Sotto Pizzeria is located in Malta’s capital, Valletta, in a nondescript basement with only a small sign announcing the restaurant.
Dan and my friend, Hugh, is in the wine industry, so when we were in Rome, he sent us over a few dinner/wine bar recommendations to try while we were in town! Usually I am a little picky about people’s restaurant or wine recommendations, but this guy knows his stuff and introduced us to Portuguese wine, which led to our wedding in Portugal! Enter L’Angolo Divino, a wine bar near Campo de’ Fiori, which was definitely our hang out spot when we studied in Rome…. We called and made a reservation same day (and probably did not need a reservation).
Despite it being late December in Rome, we walked to dinner (it was mid 50s F!) and were promptly seated at a cute table next to a window overlooking the street. The restaurant is quite small and when we visited, all of the patrons seemed to be tourists. This was a bit unsettling, but it turned out great.
On my 35th Birthday Trip in Rome, I lived out one of my greatest dreams – cruising around Rome in a vintage Fiat 500!!! Or a small metal death trap, as Dan called it… He hates danger. Our afternoon was absolutely fantastic and a unique way to explore the lovely city of Roma, Italia!
Roma Sparita is an absolutely delicious, well-known, yet casual, restaurant in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome that frequently tops “best place to eat in Rome” lists. It doesn’t hurt that Anthony Bourdain LOVED this restaurant, so much that he would never disclose its name (although it was pretty easy to uncover). And, as some of you may know, Dan and I lived in Trastevere for a summer in law school and I LOVE LOVE LOVE Bourdain! Obviously, when we were in Rome over the New Year, I just had to have a meal at Roma Sparita and made a dinner reservation our first night.
Dan and I made our triumphant return to Rome Italy between Christmas and New Year’s to celebrate my 35th birthday!! We originally visited Rome in 2008 as a law school summer study abroad and LOVED it but, unfortunately, had not been back – despite having been to Italy many times over the last decade… Since my birthday is in late December – the 26th to be precise – we visited Rome between Christmas and New Years. I was a bit concerned about the timing, the weather, what to do, etc., but we ended up having the perfect trip and now I really want to go back!
Le Grand Colbert is an old-school Parisian haunt near the Louvre (and even closer to the Bourse (aka stock exchange)). Its also right around the corner from Ellsworth, an adorable restaurant that I recommend! Being old-school, Le Grand Colbert has been around for years – since 1900 (current owners since 1992) – and its everything that you would imagine in such a bistrot – gorgeous interior, fancy waiters dressed in full suits, and classic French fare. The building also has tons of history, originally dating to 1637. Be sure to check out the details in the small details, including the mosaic floor!
Doesn’t le Grand Colbert seem like the perfect spot? Well, its also, and somewhat unfortunately, quite popular with the tourist crowds due to the fact that it was featured in the hit American move, Something’s Gotta Give (GREAT movie though!). So while its a classic, you will not likely be enjoying a meal at Le Grand Colbert with Parisians, but with other tourists. Even then, however, Le Grand Colbert is a pretty fabulous meal in Paris, especially for those on a first time (or once in a life time visit)!
As you can probably guess, I dined at Le Grand Colbert on my Ladies Trip to Paris earlier this year, but my mother and I visited Le Grand Colbert way back in 2004 when I studied abroad in Paris! We loved it then and it was just as good this time around. One of the best things about Le Grand Colbert is its classic, and lengthy, Parisian/South Burgundy menu. You want something classically French, its probably on this menu. Le Grand Colbert also boasts a great wine list! Every table at Le Grand Colbert starts with olives, potato chips (my favorite!), and crusty French bread. We paired this with a 2014 Bordeaux from Haut-Médoc from that excellent wine list.
I started my meal with a bowl of French Onion Soup because well, I was in Paris. This one was particularly good and super cheesy! Highly recommended. My only complaint is that it was too much food for me, ha!
I then ordered a classic Parisian dish and one of my favorites, steak au poivre. This is basically a deliciously rare steak in a pepper corn sauce. My steak was served with a slice of tomato with Parmesean crust, really good haricot vert (green beans), and pommes frites! Super Parisian, and super delicious! Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of other peoples food, but other popular choices were the very fresh scallops, and the huge pot of moules-frites (mussels and fries)!
For dessert, because, Paris, I ordered a classic crème brûlée. It was served flaming, and it was absolutely delicious!
STEAL OUR DINNER
Le Grand Colbert: 2 Rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris, France. Open daily 12h – 00h. Reservations recommended and can easily be made online. Not cheap, but not as expensive as you would think. Below are some pictures of the large menu (but not all of it) for price point comparison. While touristy, I do recommend this restaurant and would absolutely eat here again. Le Grand Colbert is also good about reserving tables for large groups without issue, a plus for groups or families!