Cities

Nantes | France

A CITY IN CULTURAL CHANGE

→ Creative, innovative, versatile, dynamic, young, modern…this wonderful city along the Loire-Delta – only 60km from the Atlantic Ocean – surprises in many ways. Actually, the future of Nantes did not look good at all with the fall of the shipyard industry in the 80’s and the consequent regional economic crisis and high unemployment rate. But Nantes managed the cultural change and these days many students, creative people and artists from all over the world call Nantes their home. We actually learn from a local, that Nantes and Bordeaux are the two current cities where young French people want to be.

In the early evening, we arrive at our Hotel “Oceana” in the middle of the city center at “Place Graslin”, where public cars are restricted. We don’t waste time and go straight to discover the city and walk through the lively streets with small restaurants, cafes, boutiques and bars. Very close to the hotel is the shopping mall “Pommeraye-Passage”, an architectural masterpiece from the 19th century, with beautifully decorated galleries over three floors – it counts as one of the nicest shopping malls in Europe, which we can now certainly confirm. Later in the evening we decide to have dinner right around the corner of the hotel at the restaurant “My Resto”; and we can only recommend this place for good fusion food.

Open air art

We start the next day with a typical French breakfast – Croissants, Pain au Chocolate and Coffee – at the traditional brasserie and restaurant “La Cigale”. This elegant art-nouverau-style brasserie from 1895, with beautiful wooden and ceramic art covering the walls and ceilings, is a landmark of the city and a place that everyone should visit. We start to explore Nantes with a visit to the city district “Bouffay” and the imposing city castle “Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne” from the 15th and 18th century. The historic museum gives a good impression of the beginnings of the city all the way until today’s metropolitan city and its uncomfortable past around slavery, the driver of the economic wealth in the 18th century.

The lovely park “Jardin des Plantes” is very close to the castle and is one of the 4 biggest botanic gardens in France. With 10.000 exotic and domestic plants and many little surprises like giggling mushrooms in a bed of flowers or an oversized park bench, make this city park a small gem and a must see for all visitors.

Art installation "Nymphe", Nantes France

Art installation “Nymphe”, Nantes France

A short visit to the former cookie factory LU “Le Lieu Unique”, which today offers plenty of space for the creative, art exhibitions and shows, a book store, bar and restaurant and even an oriental Hammam. My personal highlight: after nightfall, projectors show the image of young woman – “Nymphe” or “Sirene” – on the surface of the water in the adjacent canals…purely ingenious, fascinating and somehow magical.

“Le Grand Éléphant” – The trademark of Nantes

Most of the following day we spend in the city district “Ile de Nantes”, the old harbor and industrial area of Nantes that has developed into a dynamic, cultural and creative center of the city. A number of bars, cafes and exhibition areas have established along the quayside. A large recreational area was created for the young and the old to spend their day and the large old cranes remind of the shipbuilding days. We explore the rather large area with bicycles, which can be rented at automated stations at many places around the whole city. A real highlight is the encounter of a huge mechanical elephant that slowly walks around the area, escorted by an excited audience on its side. Many other mechanical wooden and metal sculptures, that were created with the inspiration of the novels by Jules Verne, can be seen at the museum “Machines de L’Ile” and at the fascinating carousel “Carrousel des Mondes Marins” is certainly worth a visit. People can actually ride or fly on some of the machines including the elephant. I have the pleasure of riding on a giant ant and Jan joins the fun on a huge spider.

After two amazing days in such an inspiring and exciting city, we must continue our journey. But we will return, as we have not nearly had enough of this great place.

→ Check out our next stop: Corsica & Sardinia

Porto & Douro Tal | Portugal

MYSTERIÖSE STADT MIT WELTOFFENEN BEWOHNERN

→ Unser nächster Stopp führt uns nach Porto! Wir haben großes Glück – das Wetter meint es gut mit uns und die Sonne lacht. Das ist in Porto leider nicht immer so. Oft versinkt diese alte Handelsstadt am Rio Douro im dichten Nebel und verleiht ihr einen ganz eigenen märchenhaft-mysteriösen Charme.

Wir checken ein im DesignPalacioFlats – ein erst kürzlich eröffnetes und ziemlich cooles Hotel mit gemütlichen Apartments in einem beeindruckendem Gebäude aus dem 13. Jahrhundert. Nach einer kurzen Verschnaufpause gehen wir unmittelbar auf Erkundungstour, schlendern durch die engen, gewundenen Gassen der Altstadt und bestaunen die dicht aneinander stehenden, uralten schiefen Häuser. Später am Abend treffen wir unsere Freunde Francisco und Nita zum Abendessen im Restaurant 5 Oceanos in der Hafengegend Matosinhos und genießen die wunderbare portugiesische Küche mit frischem Fisch und gutem Wein aus dem Douro Tal.

Auf Entdeckungstour durch Porto

Für den nächsten Tag steht Sightseeing auf dem Programm. Dank der großartigen Tipps unserer Freunde sind wir bestens gewappnet für Porto: wir besteigen den Kirchturm „Torre dos Clerigos“, von dem man eine fantastische Aussicht über ganz Porto hat, überqueren die von Gustav Eiffel entworfene Brücke „Ponte Luis I“, besichtigen die im 12. Jahrhundert erbaute Kathedrale „Sé do Porto“ und bestaunen die zauberhafte Buchhandlung „Livraria Lello & Irmao“, welche zu den schönsten Buchläden Europas und der Welt gehört. Einen kleinen Mittagsnack nehmen wir im „Mercearia Das Flores“, ein kleines portugiesisches Bistro mit leckeren lokalen Bio-Produkten. Für einen Nachmittagskaffee gehen wir in das sehr beeindruckende Kaffeehaus „Cafe Majestic“, welches bereits seit 1921 seine Gäste empfängt. Mit einer Führung und anschließender Portwein-Verköstigung gemeinsam mit unseren portugiesischen Freunden im Sandeman Weinkeller, lassen wir diesen ereignisreichen Tag voller neuer Eindrücke entspannt mit leckerem Portwein ausklingen.

Tag drei unseres Porto-Aufenthaltes lassen wir etwas relaxter angehen. Wir fahren zum örtlichen Stadtstrand und checken die Wellen. Leider nicht gut genug zum Surfen und so bleibt uns Zeit für einen ausgiebigen Strandspaziergang mit anschließendem Mittagessen im gemütlichen Beach Restaurant „Praia da Luz“. Wir genießen das leckere Essen und den unglaublich tollem Blick auf das Meer. Am Nachmittag wird’s wieder richtig spannend, denn ein weiteres EM-Fußballspiel steht an und wir fiebern mit beim letzten Gruppenspiel Portugal – Ungarn beim Public Viewing auf dem „Base Porto“ mitten in der Stadt. Nach einem nervenaufreibenden 3:3 Unentschieden feiern wir das Weiterkommen Portugals bei der Europameisterschaft 2016 und unseren letzten Abend mit unseren Freunden Francisco und Nita im hervorragenden Fischrestaurant „Ode Porto Winehouse“ in der Altstadt.

 São João Fest, Porto

Am nächsten Tag wappnet sich die Stadt bereits für São João, das alljährlich stattfindende Johannesfest von Porto. Wie auch in Lissabon werden an jeder Ecke kleine Stände aufgebaut, an denen Sardinen und Fleisch gegrillt und verkauft wird. In Porto ist es allerdings Tradition, Freunde und Nachbarn mit einer Lauchstange am Kopf zu berühren, was dem Anderem Glück bringen soll. Aus der Lauchstange wurde irgendwann ein Plastikhammer mit Hupe und aus der Tradition ein Riesenspaß. Wir machen natürlich mit und hämmern uns gegenseitig was das Zeug hält Glück zu. In weiser Voraussicht und in guter Erinnerung an unser vergangenes San Antonio-Fest in Lissabon (s. a. unsere Beitrag zu Lissabon) verlassen wir diese wunderbare Stadt Porto am frühen Nachmittag und brechen auf ins Douro-Tal, Richtung Pinhao.

Das Douro-Tal – Heimat des portugiesischen Portweins

Da die Fahrt erst ab Peso da Regua richtig schön wird, wurde uns empfohlen, auf der Autobahn A 4 Richtung Vila Real die Abfahrt Cavalho de Rei zu nehmen und dann weiter auf der Landstraße entlang des Rio Douro, Richtung Pinhao zu fahren. Der Blick lohnt alle mal: satt-grüne Weinberge, unzählige Weingüter und stattliche Quintas liegen entlang unseres Weges und jede weitere Kurve die wir nehmen, bietet einen neuen atemberaubenden Blick auf das Douro-Tal.

Leider ist das uns empfohlene Hotel „Quinta do Vallado“ bereits ausgebucht und wir entscheiden uns spontan bei der „Quinta do Pego“ nach einem freien Zimmer zu fragen. Wir haben tatsächlich Glück! Die Quinta liegt ruhig und malerisch hoch oben auf einem Weinberg, umringt von grünen Weinstöcken und bietet einen atemberaubenden Blick auf das Douro-Tal. Der Empfang mit hauseigenen Portwein ist äußerst herzlich und das Abendessen ziemlich lecker. Wir fühlen uns wie Zuhause und genießen zwei ruhige und beschauliche Tage in diesem kleinen Paradies, bevor wir weiter in Richtung Spanien aufbrechen.

→ CHECK OUT OUR NEXT STOP:  Biarritz | France

→ Check out our next stop: Biarritz

Cascais | Portugal

ELEGANT SEASIDE RESORT WITH MARITIME FLAIR

→ Because it is close to Lisbon, Cascais, that has great beaches and breathtaking cliffs along the shore, is the perfect weekend escape for the people of Lisbon. So we decide to do the same and take a few days to relax by the sea.

After visiting the old town of Cascais, we rent some single-speed beach bikes and ride to Guincho Beach – not so easy with heavy headwinds on the single-speed bike. It is extremely windy on the beach and the waves seem to be huge, but these are apparently best conditions for the local kitesurfers and windsurfers. As it would be impossible to surf, we take a hike through the dunes right behind the beach.

On the next day, we explore the region around Cascais: “Cabo da Roca” – the most western point of Europe – and the impressive “Palacio Nacionla da Pena” in Sintra, which is considered the Castle Neuschwanstein of Portugal.

Highly recommended is a visit to “Casa da Guia Cascais” at the exit of the town toward Guincho Beach. On the quiet premises of this antique villa, you will find a number of small shops, boutiques, bars and restaurants. We have a delicious lunch in a very comfortable atmosphere and great views of the ocean at the restaurant “Grelhas” (the fish soup is just awesome).

We need to move on and, unfortunately, won’t have enough time to see everything such as the famous surf paradise “Ericeira” and the walk to the magnificent beach “Praia da Ursa”. Cascais, we will be back!

→ Check out our next stop: Porto & Douro Valley

→ Check out our next stop: Porto & Douro Valley

Lisbon | Portugal

MELANCHOLY AND PURE ZEST FOR LIFE

→ Finally we reach Lisbon – our favorite city in Europe! We’ve been here many times before, in this wonderful city right on the river Tejo. Every time we visit, we discover new and exciting things – the city has just so much to offer. What we don’t know on the day of arrival, it is Santo-António-Festival. At this annual event, the whole city celebrates the holy António, the patron of the city Lisbon. The streets are covered in colorful garlands, sardines (a national dish) are grilled and sold at nearly every corner and there is party music everywhere you go. Our hotel is in the middle of the traditional old-town Alfama, in the center of Lisbon. When we arrive at the hotel “Santiago de Alfama Boutique Hotel”, the whole city is a big party and there is not even the slightest chance to think of getting any sleep when everyone is celebrating in front of the hotel’s doorstep. Even being totally exhausted from a wedding that we’ve been to the night before, we decide to join the party and walk through the small streets of Alfama – we have the best time dancing, eating Sardines like the locals and just purely celebrating until the morning hours.

What a party, what a night!

The next day, not only we feel it, but the whole city seems to be hung-over. The streets are quiet and the people of Lisbon take it very easy on this lazy day, and so do we. We walk to the “Café a Brasileira”, a wonderful café from the turn of the 19th century in belle époque style and where intellectuals and artists of Lisbon used to meet. A double espresso and a couple of “Pasteis de Natas” (very delicious puff-pastry filled with vanilla and cinnamon pudding that should actually be forbidden for specific reason), we get enough energy to start the rest of the day. We continue walking to the district “Principe Real” that lies on a hilltop with many small boutiques, cafes and restaurants. We have lunch at “A Cevicheria” and enjoy different unique creations of ceviche at a stylish but relaxed atmosphere. For dessert we got some frozen yoghurt at “Frozz” right next door and walk across to the small park “Jardim do Principe Real” to enjoy our dessert on a bench underneath our favorite tree, a large really old cedar.

Gin Lovers Lisbon

Gin Lovers Lisbon

A few steps down the road, we then go to “Embaixada Concept Store”, an impressive antique villa (more like a small palace) with a number of small boutiques with unique and Portuguese products. We meet Fabio, a cool bartender of “Gin Lovers”, a bar and provider of well-selected global gins – this place is already well-known in Portugal, as we find out later in the city Porto. We have a nice conversation with Fabio and speak about Gin, his hometown Lisbon and his favorite hobby, cliff-diving (!). He then invites us to watch the next Portugal game of the European Championship the next evening together with his friends and family.

After a long last night and an extensive tour through Lisbon, we feel exhausted. Our feet are tired, so we take the famous tram number 28, which runs through the most prominent districts of Lisbon, back to our hotel. The white and yellow trams of the city go back decades and represent a landmark of Lisbon, they are still used as daily means of transport by the Lisbon people. In the evening, we take a sundowner and some Portuguese Tapas on the roof terrace of the Hotel “Memmo Alfama” with a stunning view over parts of Lisbon and the Tejo river.

6 weeks “on the road” take effect

Jan needs a haircut! “Facto Hair” is a really stylish hair saloon in the district Bairro Alto and the stylist André gives Jan a cut that fits to his already imposing moustache. We get some tips to take a short ferry-ride across the river Tejo to have some authentic fish-dishes in the city quarter “Cacilhas”.

In the early evening, we go after Fabio’s invitation and watch the Portugal vs. Island game in the small streets of Alfama with his friends and family. The game ends 1:1 and on the way home, we take a final drink at the bar “Ao Pé da Sé” in Alfama – on the men’s toilette, you will feel like Superman (see photo). As with many people in Lisbon, we have a nice conversation with the bartender Duarte – also a surfer, so we arrange to meet for surfing around his hometown Cascais, our next destination.

After exploring Lisbon the next day, we have a drink on the roof terrace of the “Bairro Alto Hotel” – a chilled Gin & Tonic and a view over the roofs of the city while the sun sets in the distance, is just the perfect way to end the day and our stay in Lisbon.

Here some additional tips for restaurants in Lisbon:

  • Manteigaria – Fabrica de Pastéis de Nata: the famous Pastéis de Nata are just the best and are served still warm (!) if you enjoy them in the shop
  • Cervejaria O Zapata: a small authentic restaurant with great Portuguese cuisine, served with fluorescent lights, TV and Portuguese tiles on the wall
  • Jardim da Cerejas: Indian restaurant with tasty vegan dishes – all you can eat lunch menu for unbeatable EUR 7,50 per person
  • Cervejaria Ramiro: great for all seafood lovers – this place serves seafood in the finest quality. You should consider reserving a table if you don’t want to wait in long lines for lunch or dinner
  • Espumantaria: a small selection with fresh Mediterranean dishes. And a small bar at the entrance to have an aperitif or drinks after dinner
  • Time Out Mercado da Ribeira: Old market hall with a large variety of food in all directions and some restaurants to have lunch or dinner
  • Ao Pé da Sé: A small cozy restaurant and bar in Alfama that serves great cocktails – you will find Superman in the men’s toilette

→ Check out our next stop: Cascais

→ Check out our next stop: Cascais

ZURICH | Switzerland

BIG CITY IDYLL WITH PANORAMIC ALPS

→ Our first stop takes us to Zurich, Switzerland. On a sunny day and mild temperatures around 25 degrees, we decide to enjoy the Swiss “Gemütlichkeit” (coziness) and enjoy some days to relax at the beautiful Lake Zurich. We start the day to meet some friends for a long and tasty breakfast and several cups of coffee at “Mühle Tiefenbrunn” and continue straight to lunch at “Fischers Fritz” right on the other side of the lake with breathtaking views over the water and surrounding Alps with snow-covered peaks. You need to try out: Fried “Eglis” (fish) fresh from the Lake Zurich and french fries with truffles.

We end the day on the “Zürichberg” (Zurich hill) and take a sundowner on the terraces of “Bar 21” with a beautiful view over the city, the lake and the Alps in the background. Relaxing and watching the sun set, Jan gets inspired by the cool bartender and his beard to grow his own. Let’s see how far he gets toward the end of our journey…

The next day we take a gondola up to the “Rigi-Alm“, a small mountain next to the Lake of Zug – already the ride alone is astonishing even if it’s not the cheapest experience. We take a moment to hike around the mountain and then have coffee and cake with a 360° view of various mountain peaks in the distance, the lake of Zug and the “Vierwaldstättersee” also known as the lake of Lucerne. Although it is tempting to go on hiking in the stunning scenery, we decide to save some energy for the next day when we meet our friend Oli for wakeboarding and wakesurfing on the Lake of Zurich. Despite being in the middle of the alps, it suddenly seems we are on a boat in turquoise tropical waters – apart from the water temperature! While doing water sports and riding on the lake, we see a number of peers alike on sport boats, swimmers, people on stand-up paddle boards and sailing boats cruising along the shores. After doing some activity, we all get hungry and decide to have lunch at the harbor of the small lake-town “Rapperswill” that offers a number of restaurants, cafes and places for snacks and ice cream right by the harbor. At the end of the 3 days, we ask ourselves, why would you go on holiday when you have all of this in front of your doorstep!?

→ Check out our next stop: Uzès – Provence

→ Check out our next stop: Uzès – Provence