A Travellerspoint blog

May 2019

Cinque Terre, Italy

sunny 21 °C
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A change of pace was welcome as I caught back up with my travel buddies in Cinque Terre, one of Italy's most famous areas. It's based right on the Italian Riviera coastline with 5 centuries-old villages perched on rugged cliffs with rocky beaches. Each town has pastel coloured buildings, with vineyards, steep terraces and harbours filled with fishing boats. It's home to great seafood and the Liguria region’s famous sauce, pesto. It's a perfect place to hang out for 4 or 5 days as there are walking trails between each village with stunning sweeping views the entire way.

Prior to getting there, I met a doctor during the train trip who couldn't grasp why the region was so famous as 'there are dozens of other villages just like these, right across the Italian coastline'. Wow.

We based ourselves at Monterosso, the largest and northern most village as it was much easier to find accommodation. From there, we did day trips to each of the other villages - first to Venazza where we enjoyed pizza and pasta in the main square. It was a fair walk at 12km, and is the longest between each village however there are trains running between each village meaning you only have to walk one way.

Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore were also great as we indulged in the views, great food and stunning buildings. On the final day, we took a ferry to Porto Venere, which is further south allowing us to take in views of each village from a different perspective. Porto Venere was a great place to see in it's own right with eight-storey harbour front houses and sights such as:

  • Palmara - An island with towering cliffs, picturesque coves and rocky beaches.
  • Castello Doria - A 16th century castle perched up high.
  • Church of Saint Peter - A small church on a rocky point right by the ocean from 1198.


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Nice & Monaco

sunny 23 °C
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Time for a detour, towards one of the annual highlights on the global sporting calendar - the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix.

As an avid fan of Formula 1 and having never been to Monaco, this was a true highlight (plus the dates lined up conveniently!). Careful planning was necessary well in advance thanks to the exorbitant prices of not only tickets but accommodation. Anything under €1,200 per night for a bedroom in a flat via Airbnb was a good price!

The alternative? Nice, in France for less than €50 is possible if you book early. Again, Airbnb is the best bet as hostel prices skyrocket over the race weekend. Nice is actually ideal - it's only around 30 mins via train and has everything you need. Plus it's another beautiful city to explore.

I ended up booking grandstand qualifying tickets and a ticket to 'Stars'N'Bars Monaco' an American style sports bar that's based right next to the Paddock. They broadcast the race on loads of large screens and serve great meals that are relatively well priced.

This means you can get the full experience of the cars, crowd and lavish parties in the huge boats on the marina, for qualifying as well as loads of fun in a jam-packed bar on race day. Plus being right by the Paddock, I was able to see and meet some of the drivers. After dark on both days, the track lights up and has a festival atmosphere with live performances, dancing, drinking and more. The whole place just buzzes!

Monaco Is the second smallest country in the world (at just 200 hectares), however it's one of the most densely populated counties. It has a population of just over 38,000 and 32% of them are millionaires. It really is a haven for the wealthy thanks to a unique tax regime and draws in tourists from across the world.

Be sure to check out:

  • Casino de Monte Carlo - Monte Carlo’s legendary marble-and-gold casino is simply stunning.
  • Jardin Exotique - Home to the world’s largest succulent and cactus collection, there are a maze of paths and spectacular views of the principality.
  • Le Rocher - Walk around the original old town, with small, windy medieval lanes.
  • Palais Princier de Monaco - Built as a fortress, this palace is the private residence of the Grimaldi family.
  • Roseraie Princesse Grace - A collection of over 4000 rose bushes!
  • Cathédrale de Monaco - A stunning 1875 Romanesque-Byzantine cathedral.
  • Formula 1 Grand Prix - of course!

After a fun-filled long weekend, I caught the train back into Italy to Genoa and south to explore Cinque Terre.


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Dolomites, Italy

semi-overcast 10 °C
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We said our goodbyes to Venice and despite wanting to stay longer, we were excited about the drive ahead of us and the mighty Dolomite's that await.

With so much to explore, and limited time we picked a few places to visit and were blown away by the whole region as we drove north. We stopped for lunch at Longarone and various towns along the way until we arrived at Cortina d'Ampezzo where we'd booked for 2 nights in an Airbnb. The property was great - a chalet, set on a hillside and not far from town.

We planned on hiking the 'Three Peaks' circuit, however as it was still coming out of winter, there was too much snow to do the full hike. Instead we drove to Lake Antorno and hiked up to a Refugio called Refugio Auronzo. It was slow going in the snow, however still offered an incredible view. It would have been even better if there was an option to stay overnight!

After a couple of nights we set off, stopping at Giau Pass for a tasty coffee and a brief walk to admire the spectacular view. It seemed to only get better as we went on to reach Passo Pordoi, a mountain pass that stands at an altitude of 2,239m. This is situated between the Province of Trento and the Province of Belluno. To reach it there are as many as 28 hairpin bends! We jumped on a the cable car that took us up higher to 2,950m where we enjoyed 360 degree views, right across the region.

We stopped in to bunker down at San Pietro in another Airbnb. This town is home to one of the Dolomite's most famous views - the Church of Saint John in Ranui, with the stunning mountain backdrop.

A huge day, followed by a well deserved meal at Hotel Kabis. Wow.


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Venice, Italy

overcast 18 °C
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This trip wasn't meant to happen. But when my sister flagged the idea of celebrating her 40th birthday in Italy, my Mum keen to go for the first time, and then not 1 but 2 wedding invitations in the UK right around the same time - it had to happen!

We met in the truly unique city that is Venice for a birthday celebration that took us to bars across the city into the night.

It's a fascinating place that it's literally a maze of winding lanes and canals across 100 small islands. We stayed in an AirBnb right in the heart of it all, complete with a roof-top area that gave us a great view over one of the many plazas.

After a boozy night one, we explored the vast city and took in giant attractions like:

  • St Marks Square - The largest square in the city and a melting pot for tourists.
  • St. Mark's Basilica - Venice's best-known church, and one of the most easily recognised in the world,
  • Palazzo Ducale and Bridge of Sighs - A perfect example of Venetian Gothic architecture.
  • Grand Canal & Rialto Bridge - The largest canal that sweeps through the heart of Venice with a bridge that marks the island's first settlement.
  • The Arsenal and the Museum of Naval History - once was the largest and busiest in the world until the end of the 17th century.
  • Plus endless churches and museums.

One of the best reasons to stay right in the heart of it all? After dark, the crowds die down, it transforms into a much quieter place allowing you to soak it all in.

On our last day, we walked to the city's entrance via the bustling food market, enjoyed a Venetian coffee and then picked up a rental car to explore some more!


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Ljubljana, Slovenia

overcast 17 °C
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After a flight cancellation, I ended up having diversion to Vienna in Austria for a few hours. Luckily they have a great train link to the city so I was able to spend some time wandering through the city which is stunning, and a place I haven't been to in many years. You could say it ended up being a bonus despite losing some time in Slovenia.

Slovenia is situated right in the heart of Central Europe bordered by Austria, Italy, Hungary and Croatia. It's relatively small country with just over 2 million inhabitants however it has a whole range of natural treasures just waiting to be explored. Snow capped mountains, emerald green rivers, and endless forests that cover more than half of the country. Plus picturesque towns, great food and a vibrant culture.

With only a few days in the country I spend most of the time in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, and one of Europe's greenest capitals. The emerald-green Ljubljanica River flows right through the city, with great architecture, cafes and vibe.

I also took a bus to Lake Bled, a glacial lake fed by hot springs with an island in the middle. It's surrounded by mountain peaks and is an easy day trip with a stunning setting. I took some lunch, meandered around the lake and took a boat out to the famous Bled Island and the pilgrimage church. There are loads of trails to explore as well as the towering castle right by the lake on a cliff.

Be sure to check out:

  • Ljubljana Castle - On top of a 375m-high hill by the Old Town, this castle has some great architecture from the 16th century and is a great place to watch the sunset.
  • Škocjan Caves - An incredible cave system that's been attracting tourists for over 200 years. Be sure to check out Predjama Castle, one of the largest cave castles in the world.


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Sarajevo, Bosnia

overcast 17 °C
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After a lengthy trip from Melbourne via Singapore and then 8 hours in Dubai's airport, I finally found myself in Europe. Even though this could also be classified as a stop-over, I made the most of my 2 days in Sarajevo despite the constant rain!

It's a relatively small capital city surrounded by mountains. It's a religious melting pot with large Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals, synagogues, mosques and more. It's a fascinating city and easy enough to explore on foot.

I mixed it with the locals at a bustling restaurant called Dzenita and enjoyed a tasty traditional Bosnian stew called Bosanski Lonac, followed by wandering the streets to check out the sights.

  • Mostar - A swooping arch bridge that was originally built in the 1500's. It's an engineering marvel and a UNESCO World Heritage site famed for people who dive off the top.
  • Jajce - An impressive 21m-high waterfall by Jajce's castle-crowned Old Town.
  • Trebinje - A scenic a tiny walled Old Town flanked by a leafy market square.

The host of my accommodation at Residence Rooms, was kind enough to take me back to the airport and filled me in on some of his experiences during the harrowing war Bosnian citizens endured during the 1990's.


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