Eger – wine tasting in the Valley of the Beautiful Women

Eger’s central square is very pretty and worth sitting around in whilst looking at the views of the Minorite Church, but it is the wine tasting in the Valley of the Beautiful Women that gains the attention.
To manage expectation though … it’s not quite what you’d expect.  There doesn’t quite seem to be the hoards of beautiful women helpfully grouped together in one picturesque valley.  It’s also not quite a valley …. more like a park around 70m x 35m / 230ft x 135ft with a few wineries round the outside.  False advertising? Yes for sure, but it is worth a visit as once you get past the initial surprise at what you’ve taken a 2 hour train from Budapest for, it does kind of grow on you.   Firstly, the wine cellars are deceptive – there must be around 40 of them and most have cellars / drinking / eating areas that go back around 100m / 330 feet under the hills, which makes for quite a lot of wine drinking area around such a small park.  And secondly, the Valley of the Beautiful Women attracts locals and tourists alike to generate what must be quite an atmosphere in this compact spot in the summer festivals (sadly we missed one by a couple of days)
Worth a day trip / overnight trip, but manage expectations
Some high level tips:
  • Getting there – trains leave every hour or so from Budapest’s Keleti station, and it’s less than a 10min taxi into the centre of Eger / the Valley of the Beautiful Women
  • Accommodation – we stayed at the Hotel Senator which had a perfect location and felt like going back in time a bit.  Slightly overpriced (USD100 per night) and maybe a tad basic in places, but worth it for the location and the randomness

Portugal highlights on a 2 week roadtrip

Portugal is a great country for visiting for 10/14 days as it has a heap of varied things to experience and not vast distances to cover.  By basing yourself in the 3 major areas of Porto / The Douro Valley, Lisbon, and the Algarve, you can use each as a hub for adventures nearby and also be able to stop off on a few places directly in between that are great for a couple of hours or so

 

Big highlights for me were actually some of the smaller places that I’d never heard of before I arrived in Portugal.  In particular the gorgeous Duoro Valley wine region, the hilltop town of Sintra and the beautifully charming streets of Cascais.  Plus, the more famous highlights of port tasting in Porto and various neighbourhoods of Lisbon

 

Each piece that makes up this itinerary has its own travel post, but I’ve also condensed the key points and listed some more general tips below

Wine tasting around Pinhao in the Duoro Valley

What a surprisingly wonderful experience the Duoro Valley offers! I must admit that, like many others, I hadn’t heard of it before making the trip to Portugal and had mainly thought of the Algarve and Lisbon area when thinking of Portugal. . How wrong I was – the Duoro’s combination of vineyards, steep dramatic slopes and river views is one I can’t think of anywhere else in the world, let alone Portugal.  When you add into the mix that there is the more unusual Port wine to sample along with the normal table wine, then you have a real gem of an experience and, in my opinion, the highlight of Portugal

A day in Porto for port tasting and wandering through the Ribeira district

Porto is nice enough, and definitely worth a day trip.  Its UNESCO-listed Ribeira district and waterfront are nice to wander around, if very touristy, and a visit to one of the port wine houses in particular is good fun to sample the wines, learn about the production and enjoy the views.  But I thought it was a slightly less attractive version of the Alfama district in Lisbon and is more of a conduit to the real highlight of the area (and Portugal) which is the Duoro Valley (see Wine tasting around Pinhao in the Duoro Valley for more details)

All sounds a bit negative! – definitely worth a visit on the way to the Duoro, but no more than a day needed

6 months trip of a lifetime around Latin America

My girlfriend and I went on a 6month trip around Latin America (excluding Brazil).  Started in the far South in the Tierra del Fuego in Argentina and, broadly, made our way up the west coast to the Yucatan Peninsular of Mexico.  Best large scale trip I’ve done, and wanted to share the overall itinerary and tips here to hopefully help those who are considering something similar

A few high level points:

  • Other than the flights there and the first hotel, there were only three things we booked in advance: the Inca Trail (which we knew we needed to for permits); plus for Patagonia a trip through Torres del Paine National Park and a ferry through the fjords (as we were going at peak season and only a couple of weeks after we landed).  Everything else, we booked when in Latin America and, in our opinion, that is the best way to do it – gives you the freedom to relax in the places you find that you love and be super flexible to do what you want to do
  • Total costs – my girlfriend and I went in our 30s, with no kids and on sabbaticals from work.  We’re not poor, but certainly not mega wealthy.  We didn’t stay in super expensive hotels (other than for the occasional splurge), flew economy and used a bit of common sense for timings of certain expensive items, but never held back on doing the things we wanted to do.  Some examples of big ticket items: US$5k for a week diving in the remote Wolf & Darwin Islands in the Galapagos; US$1.2k for 4 days in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia; US$800 for a helicopter trip to see the El Mirador Mayan ruins in the Guatemalan jungle; US$700 for the Inca Trail.  Total cost of the whole trip was US$34k each.  This included all flights, transport, hotels, activities, food, drink, guides, screwing things up, credit card fees – the lot.  Expensive, but so are most Experiences of a Lifetime
  • It’s not about trying to “do everything” – in a place as large as Latin America, you couldn’t even if you tried – so don’t think of things as a big tick box exercise.  Brazil, for example, we knew we couldn’t do justice whilst also trying to enjoy all the other amazing places we’d heard of, so left it for next time
  • In the similar vain, make sure you give yourself big chunks of time to chill out.  Not only to recharge the batteries, but also because most places are enjoyed when you spend time to soak up the feel for the place.  There were some places . . . like Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, Buenos Aires in Argentina, Isla Mujeres in Mexico, Bocas del Toro in Panama . . . where I could have spent weeks there just because the general vibe of the place was so wonderful
  • Safety – we weren’t robbed, but many people do either having a bag stolen or, unpleasantly, get robbed face to face.  Other than a couple of cities, we generally felt super safe the places we went and tried to just apply common sense to reduce our risks
  • Learn a bit of Spanish before you go – the app DuoLingo was great for getting us to a basic level that made a lot of difference.  But also don’t be afraid to pull out google for simultaneous conversation translations to really be able to have a conversation with someone – some long trips became some of our highlights just from being able to properly talk with the driver / locals.  I particularly remember a long taxi ride in Colombia where we went back and forward for 2 hours with the driver on everything from his home town to politics to football to his favourite movies to his family problems- never could have done that without Spanish or google.  In a similar vein, and using the right level of common sense, don’t turn down an invite for drinks / dinner / house visit with locals.  There are some truly unforgettable natural and cultural spots to see, but similarly an evening with a local family will be something likely to be just as unforgettable
  • Whenever checking out a place or must-do-site, its easy to get templed / churched / ancient site / beached out.  Always do a very basic bit of research to see if there is a more out of the ordinary way to experience it – by bike / drinking tour / kayaking / helicopter / whatever.  Thats what we tried to do, and I hope it reflected in some of the cool stuff listed below

Wine tasting and cycling around the vineyards of Mendoza

The most famous wine region in Latin America . . . making your way cycling from one superb vineyard to the next . . . stopping off for lunch overlooking the tallest section of the Andes range . . . sounds awful right?

Whilst Mendoza has a sea of vineyards spread out across a wide area, Chacras de Coria is jam packed with vineyards in a manageable sized area that is geared for cyclists who can easily make their way between them.   If you can, give yourself an extra day to head off to some of the other regions, but make Chacras de Coria your base

4/5 days in Uruguay

Chances are you won’t be flying over to South America just to visit Uruguay.  Most likely, you’re already over in this part of the world to check out Argentina, Brazil or as part of some bigger bolder adventure around South America.  If this is the case, then Uruguay is well worth the visit.  No, it won’t blow you away with a wonder of the world or one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences everyone salivates over.  But, it will be one of those 4/5 days you look back on and think “that was cool”, in large part because of the people – they are super proud of their country and make Uruguay a great little spot to visit

Eating in Mercardo de Puerto in Montevideo

Montevideo is a cool city, and this was our highlight of it.  The former railway station that served the nearby port has been converted into a series of open restaurants with parrillas (grills) in their centre. The wrought-iron structures, staff who are clearly either owners or working there for decades and the sheer bustle of the place provide an atmosphere that can’t be dwarfed even by the cruise ships that stop nearby.  So grab a seat at the bar, watch the grill, order a malbec and enjoy some of the finest steaks in the world

3 days checking out Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is one of the premier cites in Latin America and one that feels the most European – certainly has the same feel of a Barcelona or Milan – but with that Argentinian vibe that makes it so captivating.  Its my favourite city in South America and in 3 days I’d recommend a combination of getting out and about, whilst giving the time to simply sit back and soak up all going on around you

Make sure you stay in the super cool Palermo, cycle about the key sites and along the North part of the city, and head into the central places like La Catedral to stare gobsmacked at all ages dancing the sensual tango

3 week European roadtrip for mountains and wine

If you look through a typical European highlights itinerary it will invariably be dominated by the cities.  For instance, the Lonely Planet’s top itinerary for Europe is 12 cities and nothing else, and of its 24 overall European highlights, only 6 are not cities (the Norwegian Fjords, the Matterhorn, Greece’s Santorini, Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor, Transylvania, North Macedonia’s Lake Ohrid . . .  if you’re interested).  It’s understandable – Europe is a centre for culture and stunning capital cities, but it also has some world class experiences to be found outside of the cities and this itinerary gives you a flavour of those with a focus on its mountain and wine regions

 

With this itinerary you will enjoy:

  • Mountains – the most spectacular views of Europe’s premier mountain regions with Switzerland’s “big three” of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau from Interlaken, and the Pyrenes’ Cirques de Gavarnie
  • Wine regions – 4 of the best wine regions France has to offer with Bordeaux, Provence, Alsace and Champagne
  • Lakes – 2 of the world’s truly stunning lakes with the simply magnificent Lake Como and the Swiss Lakes surrounding Interlaken
  • Coastline – the epitome of luxury and style with the most famous stretch of coastline in Europe with the Cote d’Azur, its trio of corniches and Monaco
  • Hilltop villages and rural regions – the prettiest in Europe with the hilltop villages and elegant treelined streets of Provence and the timbered fairytale villages of the Black Forrest
  • Roman Ruins – some of the best preserved Roman Ruins with the Pont du Garde and the Arles Amphitheatre
  • Driving – and of course, some of the best driving scenery in all of Europe as you pass from one mountain range to another and along some of the prettiest countryside on the continent