Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

Exploring Verona, Italy: a Photo Essay

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A view of the Castelvecchio Bridge

Verona, Italy is perhaps best known as the setting of the Shakespeare’s Young Adult classic, Romeo & Juliet. But there is more to this medieval town in the Veneto than Juliet’s balcony. I was lucky to spend a few days in Verona in early October to attend a friend’s wedding. Here are some of my favorite finds in this charming Italian city.

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fly by of the Castelvecchio bridge

If you’re looking for things to do in Verona, The Museo de Castelvecchio is a must. The Roman fortress, built on the Adige river in the 1300s, is a great place to wander and and check out the simple Gothic architecture and bridge. The inside has been renovated into a museum with exhibits including statues, painting and sculpture as well as some very cool ancient weapons and armor.

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Bird at Castelvecchio

Be sure to check opening hours, as the Museum is closed on Monday mornings as well as some holidays.

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Walking along the banks of the Adige River

If opera is on your radar, don’t miss the Arena di Verona, a Roman amphitheater orignially built during the first century. Now it’s the home to the Arena di Verona Festival during the summer. While there wasn’t an opera during my visit to Verona, I did sit at a table next to an opera singer at lunch who was singing while waiting for her food.

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Villa Zamboni

Like all of Italy, Verona has some beautiful churches. The Gothic Sant’Anastasia is centrally located but charges a fee to visit. I stayed at Hotel Due Torri, overlooking the church. My room overlooked the Piazza, where I got a bird’s eye view of a local wedding.

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Just Married getaway Fiat

The Hotel Due Torri also has a great rooftop bar which is great location for a happy hour drink and view of the church and surrounding terra cotta rooftops.

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Just married in Verona

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Exterior of Sant’Anastasia Church

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Details in Sant’Anastasia

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Wall murals at Sant’Anastasia

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Window light at Hotel Due Torri

Since this is Italy, you can eat well in Verona. The charming Osteria Ponte Pietra has a small but lovely terrace overlooking the Adige river and great pasta. Restaurants in Verona are small, so reservations are a must.

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Interior of  Osteria Ponte Pietra

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Pasta at Osteria Ponte Pietra

Ristorante Antica Torretta was another delicious find. They have a seafood-centric menu and romantic atmosphere to boot.

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Still life at a gourmet shop in Verona

Window shopping is a lot of fun in Verona. I accidentally wandered into a store that outfitted opera divas or people going to carnival in Venice, or maybe both.

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Pretty in Pink (and a swan hat) in Verona

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Street art outside the Verona Arena

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Obligatory Vespa shot

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Moonlight stroll on the Adige

Verona is a great walking city and it’s worth taking an evening stroll after dinner along the Adige river.

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Verona after Dark

Contact details are below.

Ristorante Antica Torretta

dinner on patio. good for romantics

Piazza Broilo, 1
37121 Verona – Italia
Tel. / Fax 045 80.15.292

Osteria Ponte Pietra Ristorante

via Ponte Pietra 34
37121  Verona
T. +39 045 80 41 929

Basilica of Sant’Anastasia

Piazza Santa Anastasia
37121  Verona
T. +39 045 592813
entrance 2.50€

Castelvecchio Museum

corso Castelvecchio 2
37121 Verona
T. +39 045 8062611
entrance 6.00€

Verona Arena

Piazza Bra
37121 Verona
T.+39 045/596517

Due Torri Hotel

Piazza St. Anastasia, 4,
37121 Verona
T. +39 045 595044

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Exploring Portugal: Vibrant Lisbon

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Famous 28th tram in Lisbon

Editor’s Note: Anastasia Chernykh (the social media manager for My Life’s a Trip) just came back from Lisbon  with rave reviews. I asked her to do this post for the blog. Her images have me craving a trip to Portugal. – Jen Pollack Bianco 

The number of foreign tourists visiting Portugal has exceeded 10 million for the first time in 2016. Portugal has been named the destination of the year (Travel+Leisure), most popular place to visit in 2017 (Huffington Post), and on top of that the city has won Best European Destination World Travel Award. Everyone seems to be going to Portugal now, and I can see why!

I flew to Lisbon after a short trip to Paris, and it was such a great difference. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely love Paris, but Lisbon felt so welcoming, cozy and warm after a big rainy city. Like a visit to an old friend.

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Lisbon fashion tip: blend into city colors!

You know a city is tourist friendly when you don’t need to spend  hours to get from an airport to its center. Lisbon airport is just 6 miles away, and has several transportation options including metro, bus, and taxi. The weather is pleasant here all year round. The climate strongly influenced by the Gulf Stream, it is one of the mildest climates in Europe (imagine 6-month long summer!).

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Azulejo tiles on Lisbon buildings are part of the city’s bright creative look

We stayed in an old city part called Alfama. I would say it’s one of the most interesting and iconic parts of Lisbon, but it’s not everything. You may not want to take famous 28 Eléctrico as it’s usually notoriously overcrowded, but use it’s route as a map for your own tour since it covers almost all main landmarks.

Walking seems to be the best way to explore old center of Lisbon, or the most convenient at least. It’s not a good idea to use a car in the city unless you are prepared to spend hours in traffic jams and looking for parking space. Cycling also doesn’t seem like a good idea, since Lisbon is located on seven hills, some of its streets have tram lines, potholes and an absence of designated bicycle lanes.

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Narrow streets of Lisbon

For me, Lisbon is not that much about sightseeing as about experiences. So try to live like a local in Lisbon instead of visiting:

Start your morning with pastéis de nata (an egg tart), this is the most famous local pastry and it’s delicious. Cafe culture is a very important in Portugal (fun fact–Portuguese colonists initiated the first coffee plantings in Brazil). The local coffee lingo is a bit different, for example espresso is often called bica, and for locals it’s normal to have at least 3 bicas a day. You won’t be able to stroll down a street in Lisbon without passing at least several of cafes.

After that, try to climb up to one of the several main Miradouro (viewpoints). The one near Santa Luzia church, for a breathtaking view of the city with its old terra cotta roofs.

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View of Alfama quarter and river Tagus

Lisbon doesn’t really have any ocean access or beaches, but it has long avenidas in front of river Tagus – Avenida Infante Dom Henrique and  Avenida Ribeira das Naus. Walk down the first to get to Praça do Comércio, one of the main city’s squares that was completely remodeled after the horrible Lisbon 1755 earthquake.

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Praça do Comércio with Statue of King José I 

The square is connected with the other traditional square Rossio, paved with typical Portuguese mosaic, this square is filled with cafes and restaurants, with a train station of the same name nearby.

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Praça do Comércio as seen through Arco da Rua Augusta

Keep walking along Avenida Ribeira for great sunset views of the 25 de Abril Bridge. There are several spots where people seat along the waterfront and enjoy the beautiful sunset views with another local specialty, porto wine.

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25 de Abril Bridge sometimes is compared to Golden Gate in San Francisco

Port is a world famous fortified wine from Portugal, produced exclusively in the Douro Valley (that’s where the city of Porto is located, hence the name of the wine). There are several styles of Port, including red, white, rosé and an aged style called Tawny Port.

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Vibrant sunset colors kept changing every 5 minutes

Looking for day trip options from Lisbon? Try visiting a small town Sintra. It is located only 20 miles away from Lisbon and packed with attractions.

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Entrance to Rossio train station, trains to Sintra run every 30 min

With its many 19th-century Romantic architectural monuments, Sintra is now classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and attracts visitors from all over the world. Royal retreats, estates, castles and other buildings, including the mediaeval Castelo dos Mouros, the Pena National Palace and the Sintra National Palace, are giving the town almost fairytale look.

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Sunset in Sintra

From Sintra it’s easy to go to the Westernmost point of the Europe, Cabo da Roca. The cliffs of Cabo de Roca were believed to be the edge of the world up until the late 14th century. Sunset is the best time to visit this dramatic landscape.

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Exploring Italy: Mt. Etna Helicopter Tour in Sicily

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The otherworldly landscape of Mt. Etna

I find volcanic landscapes oddly compelling and helicopters are my favorite mode of transportation. So it did not come as much of a surprise to me that the highlight of my trip to Sicily was the helicopter tour of Mt. Etna.

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Helijet’s sweet ride

Arranged by the excellent concierge at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea and booked with HeliJet, the 45 minute tour departed from the airfield at Calatabiano, about a 30 minute drive from Taormina in early morning traffic.

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Aerial view of Castello degli Schiavi

As an added bonus, the Mt. Etna helicopter tour gives you an aerial view of Castello degli Schiavi, the villa used as the setting for Micheal Corleone’s wedding to Apollonia in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (known locally as Il Padrino). The villa, located in Fiumefreddo, is privately owned and can be visited with special arrangements. The fly by was enough to satisfy my inner film buff.

Video of helicopter tour of Mt. Etna

It was interesting watching the plumes of smoke expelled from Mt. Etna and how they drifted and merged into the cloudscape against the bright blue sky.

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Harsh volcanic landscape of Mt. Etna

The rich volcanic soil of Mt. Etna makes for good grape growing. With an altitude of over 3,500 feet, the slopes of Etna are the highest commercial wine producing vineyards in the world. Wine tasting tours are also popular in the area.

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Interesting clouds over Mt. Etna

With a current altitude of 10,922 ft (3,329 meters) Mt. Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe. It is the largest volcano in Italy. It’s last summit eruption was in 2012.

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Mt. Etna from above

If you’re looking for interesting things to do in Sicily, I’d highly recommend taking a helicopter tour of Mt. Etna. Those interested in taking pictures should sit next to the pilot for the best views.

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Plums of smoke from Mt. Etna in the distance

After viewing the crates of Mt. Etna, our helicopter tour headed along the coast towards Naxos, Taormina and Isola Bella, with lovely views of the Sicilian coast.

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Our Helijet pilot

Helijet can provide transfers to and from hotels to the Etna Volo airfield. Photos in the Helijet office show off that Rihanna enjoyed her helicopter tour of the area.

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View of Naxos

HeliJet
Via F. Atenasio 2, 98039 Taormina (ME)
casella postale 7
E-mail info@helijet.it
Tel +39 345 1528975
Tel +39 347 5928546

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Exploring Ukraine: The Pearl of the Black Sea, Odessa

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Sunrise fishing 

Ukraine isn’t a particularly popular tourist destination, although it has a plenty of wonderful sights- like the Black Sea coast with sandy beaches and great local wineries, and the Carpathian Mountains with their striking natural scenery and beautiful small villages.

Odessa, a beautiful city in the south west part of Ukraine, is a longtime favorite spot for a getaway. It has very distinct culture and its inhabitants even have a region specific accent. It is very different from any other Ukrainian city, yet as welcoming as the others.

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Passing Vorontsov Lighthouse on a boat

Port

First and foremost, Odessa is a seaport. It started as a port and it still holds it’s privilege of a free port and free economic zone. During the 19th century, it was the fourth largest city in Imperial Russia, after Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Warsaw.

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Port of Odessa

It’s port (locally known as Morskoy Vokzal) is a great place to get oriented with the city. From impressive hotel buildings reaching towards the skies to fast and elegant motor boats in Yacht Club, it offers quite a few photo ops.

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Yacht Club

Once you are at the port, don’t miss a chance to go further – by a scheduled or private boat tour. The prices start as lows as $4 for a group option, and from $30 for a private hire. It is also the only way to see the 27 meter (88 foot) red-and-white Vorontsov Lighthouse, one of port’s famous landmarks.

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Selfie on Board

The Port is also a good point to start a nice city walk. Go climb (or use funicular!)  the recently renovated Potemkin Stairs considered a formal entrance into the city from the direction of the sea. This giant staircase 142 meters long is the best known symbol of Odessa. As a bonus you get the greatest view of the harbor.

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Viewing machine at the top of Potemkin Stairs

Architecture

Odessa’s historical architecture has a style more Mediterranean than Russian, having been heavily influenced by French and Italian styles. Some buildings are built in a mixture of different styles, including Art Nouveau, Renaissance and Classicist.

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Inside the museum of Western and Eastern Art

If you’re dreaming to get away from the crowd, try going to museum instead of a beach, try Museum of Western and Eastern Art (entry fee $2). Not only it is located in a beautiful 19th century building, it also has a magnificent collection of paintings, sculptures, porcelain, furniture and more. The exhibitions include ancient, western European and eastern arts, and western European collection of exhibits.

 

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Keep walking towards second most famous symbol of Odessa it’s Opera Theater. Its neo-baroque building was constructed in 1887 by two Viennese architects, Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer. It was also the first building in Odessa to use electric illumination.

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Fountains Near Opera Theater

Beach

Although Odessa has a few public beaches, they become overcrowded in the summer. For a more pleasant experience I would advise to pick one of the numerous beach clubs. The entry is usually free, but you have to pay for a beach chair ($5-10/a day), towels or umbrellas, if you’re using any.

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Early morning at Bright On Beach

My choice was Bright On Beach club, for bright girlish design, reasonable prices and perfect peach sangria at the bar!

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Peach Sangria at Bright On Beach

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Oh, and don’t forget flamingos!

Food

Summer is the season of open terraces and cold coffee in Odessa, my all time favourite it a White Whale, where you can find the best cappuccino in city and  a variety of alternative brews. For a fancy cup with vegan options try order Coconut Latte at Moloko Bar. Their specialty is actually a trifle yogurt with a broad list of add-ons, so it’s a perfect place to indulge yourself with healthy and yummy breakfast before heading off to the beach.

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Trifle yogurt with blueberries and coconut latte at Moloko Bar

Eating local is a must at Odessa. And here it means you should try the seafood. I woulds advise you skip Forshmak (a combination of pickled herring and apples is not for everyone, or at least not for me), but local mussels are a dish of choice. While you can find mussels at almost every cafe in the city, I advise visiting the place that specializes in bivalve molluscs, like Kotelok Mussels Bar.

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Grilled mussels with cheese and tomato sauce at Kotelok

For a good dinner with live music head to Odessa City Food Market. The newly established local food hall is the one and only in Ukraine. With an open floor plan; fresh food prepared in front of your eyes; a post-industrial space, and good-looking people sharing communal tables or sitting on stools around countertops this place is a perfect pick for a night out.

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Oysters and Wine

Welcome the Sun

There is something special about sunset and sunrises at the seaside. Odessa is facing the East, so sunsets are quite boring here, yet seeing the sun rising from the water is very special experience.

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Sunrise colors of Odessa Port

My favorite sunrise spot is Langeron beach. It is the closest beach to the city center, and has unobstructed views of the sun. On weekend mornings, you’ll always find here late party goers, fishermen, tourists, local park workers, all of them gathered with a single purpose: to witness the first light of the day. So why not join?:)

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Chasing the sun

Odessa International Airport (ODS) has daily direct connections from and to Kiev, Vienna, Istanbul, Ankara, Warsaw, Budapest, Minsk, Prague,Tel-Aviv. Several days a week there are also scheduled flights to Athens, Dubai, Milan, Sharm-El-Sheikh and Saloniki.

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Exploring Montenegro: A Stay at the Aman Resort Sveti Stefan

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A view of the Aman Resort Sveti Stefan and the Budva Coast

Montenegro has only been an independent country since 2006. This emerging Balkan destination seems like an unlikely location for an upscale Aman resort, but after spending a few days at the Aman Sveti Stefan, I totally get it. The vibe is chic European Bond villain lair, with the former island resort now connected to the mainland by a narrow narrow isthmus, with an active security detail making sure only guests get to the resort.

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One of the pools at the Aman Sveti Stefan

Sveti Stefan’s coastal location has been used as stronghold on the Adriatic coast since the 15th Century. It has a Game of Thrones luxury resort vibe that is highly unique.

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Stunning from every angle: the Aman Resort Sveti Stefan

During the communist era, Sveti Stefan was occupied by the Yugoslavian government and used as a posh resort for guests. In 1972, the hotel received a Golden Apple award for it’s exclusive upscale excellence. Now, as Montenegro gains traction as a bubbly destination for the European yachting set, the Aman Sveti Stefan is once again very well positioned.img_4194

Boats on the Adriatic

Since Montenegro gained independence it’s Adriatic coast has been an emerging destination. This Balkan country is beautiful. The Adriatic coastline is picturesque and stunning, and is not yet overcrowded. The Aman makeover of this former fishing village has restored the red-tiled roofs to perfection, and magically kept a few small churches intact (including one next to a swimming pool). They’ve even maintained some of the fortress-like elements so it feels as though the resort’s history is incorporated in it’s design.

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Balkan Zen at the Aman Sveti Stefan

The Aman brand of Zen goes Balkan in a way that keeps it luxe yet understated. But you still feel ancient bones of the resort. The water closet in my room was clearly located in what was once a closet. The stone walls and fortress windows don’t have the cross ventilation you would expect from a new build. But the curving streets are immaculate and the outdoor dining areas dotted with Olive trees and gorgeous infinity pools with stunning views of the Adriatic.

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A view from my room at the Aman Sveti Stefan

The understated vibe of the Aman Sveti Stefan is a nice counterpoint to the flashy Porto Montenegro, located 33 kilometers away, where the “more is more” asthetic reigns. The closest airport to the resort is Tivat, but that is only going to help you if you’re flying in from Kiev or Moscow. Most guests fly into Podgorica or Dubrovnik, which are are hour and 2 1/2 hour drive away. NOTE: The drive from Podogrica to Sveti Stefan is not great for those prone to car sickness. The stretch of road is beautiful but dizzying. I found this drive nauseating, and I am usually unfazed by car travel.

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Aman style bathtub

Like all Aman resorts, you never feel like Sveti Stefan is crowded. The resort has 58 rooms and is well laid out. There are gorgeous spaces for meals inside and out, a gorgeous spa I did not have time to check out, and some lovely public spaces and courtyards. The service is top notch. The food… well, there is a reason that Montenegrin cuisine is not yet “a thing.” The Aman’s restaurant was as good as any I tried during my time in Montenegro, but there was not a dish on it that I wanted to order twice.

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Pool and church next to the Adriatic

I am just not a fan of the cuisine in this part of the world. It’s vaguely Mediterranean but not and somehow the disconnect is especially jarring for me. I’ve had similar dining experiences in Croatia and just found the food underwhelming. This could be personal preference, but I did not get this feeling Montenegro is the next big foodie destination. Fortunately cocktails are delicious and the environment lends itself to an Aperol spritz (or three).

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A gorgeous spot for a cocktail at the Aman Sveti Stefan

Yet I am now more intrigued than ever by the Balkans. This is an interesting part of the world with some interesting not-so-ancient history. The new influx of money makes Montenegro kind of fascinating.

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Left: Linguine with clams Right: Adriatic oysters

The resort offers all sorts of interesting experiences (including several by boat). All come with the price tag one usually associates with Aman properties. Boat experiences are weather dependent and ours got cancelled due to rough seas.

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Spritz o’clock in Montenegro

The Aman Sveti Stefan is a great choice for travelers who are interested in exploring the Balkans and want to stay at a highly atmospheric and unique property. It is a logical extension of a trip to Croatia.

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The view towards Budva from the Aman Sveti Stefan

Montenegro is a great place to visit if you’ve already done the coast of France and Italy, but it’s not really a substitute. This destination is best suited for the more adventurous traveler. The scenery is just as stunning but the surrounding vibe still has some post-communist charm. Service outside the resort can be hit or miss.

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Vertiginous views at the Aman Sveti Stefan

Like all Balkan supermodels, the Aman Sveti Stefan has great bones, and no bad angles.

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The atmospheric streets of the Aman Resort Sveti Stefan

May’s weather was temperamental, and cooler than I would require to lounge at the beach. But Budva had plenty of beachgoers that found the Adriatic warm enough. The resort would be especially appealing during the peak summer months.

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Gorgeous details on a small church on Sveti Stefan

Without doubt, the Aman Sveti Stefan is one of the most atmospheric luxury properties I’ve ever experienced. But I don’t think it’s for everyone.

View of @Amanresorts Sveti Stefan from Budva is today's virtualvacay #Montenegro

Adriatic coast framed by the old fortress of Sveti Stefan

This property is slightly edgier than other Amans I’ve visited… but that is also it’s appeal. It’s unique and isolated and wildly historic. You can’t help but feel like you’re wandering through the streets of King’s Landing as you find your way to dinner.

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Luggage cart still life at the Aman Sveti Stefan

This is the Aman of choice for GOT fans and intrepid travelers looking for someplace a bit different.

Sveti Stefan 85315
Montenegro
Tel: (382) 33 420 000
Fax: (382) 33 420 222
Email: amansvetistefan@aman.com

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