We are often asked “where is your favorite place you’ve been?” And, I’ll be honest, we always struggle a little bit. It’s just we’ve been to so many great places. Usually, I rattle off a list including Santorini, Kyoto, Venice… but it might be easier, going forward, to jot them down as we go.
This is a new installment on our blog and as we near the end of 2022 and plan to usher in 2023, I thought we’d take a look back and pick our top 5 places we visited this year. For future years, my intention is that this will only include places we’ve never visited previously, but I’m bending the rules a bit for this inaugural post (and reserve the right to bend again in future years).
1. Venice, Italy.
We really love Venice. It just has this totally unique feeling and charm. All over Europe there are towns which bill themselves as “the Venice of…” but there’s only one Venice. It is our favorite place in Italy, and we’ve now been quite a few places in Italy. Whether you’re taking in the hustle of the Grand Canal, the tourist mobbed (usually) Rialto Bridge or getting lost in the winding, often dead-ending passageways or observing a late-night gondolier steering his human cargo down a quiet, narrow canal, there’s just something special about the excitement to be here and the romance that fills Venice’s history, homes and hues.
We arrived this year at the tail end of two months in Italy for Melissa’s birthday and stayed in an Airbnb far away from the throngs of San Marco’s Square. The weather was perfect, the smells of the canals less pungent and our visit cemented Venice in the favorite places list where it already held a strong position.
For more information on Venice read our post here.
2. Dingle and Dingle Peninsula, Ireland.
Quaint little Dingle overlooks protected Dingle Harbor which dumps into the North Atlantic. The countryside surrounding it is lush and green and with Dingle as a home base you can head west to Slea Head Drive or east to Inch Beach or anywhere in between for gorgeous, better-than-expected views of Irish countryside. The town itself is charming with colorful little row homes, bustling pubs, traditional Irish music and fantastic restaurants. We spent several days here on our circuitous loop of Ireland in the late summer, and it lived up to and exceeded our expectations where we expected it may not.
Read the full write up of our visit here.
(And if you like Dingle, check out honorable mention Kinsale which almost made the top 5. Yes, I’m cheating.)
3. Gordes, France.
Atop a hillside in the gorgeous region of France’s Provence sits Gordes. Charming and quaint, filled with restaurants, galleries, hotels and guest houses and a few sights, Gordes is like stepping back in time to an earlier age. The Italian Cypress trees which line the skyline evoke emotions of calm and peace as the sun goes down to the west.
We came in the off, off-season and not much was open, but we absolutely plan to return when the lavender and sunflowers are in bloom to revisit Gordes and explore the region more. When we were there, mid-week in early March, there was only one restaurant open. A family-run Italian place right on the main town square. The town, our hoteliers and the restauranteurs made us feel welcome and warm, despite the late winter chills.
For more on our visit to Gordes (and Provence), click here.
4. Quinta do Vallado, Douro Valley Portugal.
Our adopted European home of Portugal has a lot to offer. And we’ve been out and about to check out quite a bit of it. Gorgeous rocky coastlines, beautiful sandy beaches, great food, delicious wine, lovely people, cities filled with culture, music and things to do and see. We’ve visited Douro Valley previously, but this was our first time at Quinta do Vallado.
Perched atop one of Douro’s famous hills overlooking an offshoot tributary of the Douro River proper, the Quinta is a functional vineyard with one of the best “wine hotels” we’ve stayed at in Portugal. Delicious dinners, refreshing breakfast buffets, beautiful sunsets, great wine made on location. What’s not to like?
For more, read our previous post here.
5. Assisi, Italy.
Perhaps it was because we arrived on Good Friday and stayed through Easter. Perhaps it was our terrace that overlooked the rolling Umbrian countryside as spring started to break. Perhaps it was the hospitality of our Airbnb host who arrived at the train station in her stylish Italian dress and shoes to wisp us away to our accommodations in her Mercedes. Whatever the reason, Assisi holds a special place in our hearts.
We’d come a long way that day, all the way from Sorrento via Naples and Rome. We’d spent a month on the Amalfi coast and in the Bay of Naples (much of which we also loved, but it just didn’t make the “top 5 cut”, which is harder than you’d think it would be – choosing JUST 5). We’d witnessed the Maundy Thursday procession in Sorrento the night before and I think I must have read something about Assisi’s as I was researching that one when I asked our host when the Good Friday procession started.
Solemn and silent (but for the chants and singing of the priests and nuns), lit by candlelight as it processes through the streets, we were swept up both emotionally and physically into the throng that arrived at the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi and swept inside then returned up the hill to the Basilica of Santa Clara. If you’re a devout Catholic (or even if you’re not, as we aren’t) being in Italy during Holy Week is special and I think Assisi might be one of the best places to be.
But don’t think you can only visit at Easter. The town itself has a lot to offer. Assisi was our only stop in Umbria, which was unfortunate. We spent a lot of time in Tuscany and Umbria is Tuscany’s quieter little sister who is just as beautiful. The churches and narrow streets of this hilltop Italian town are interesting with a ton of history and you won’t be disappointed by a stop here be it for a few hours, a day or longer.
For more on our visit to Assisi click here.
As I’ve mentioned, it’s really hard to pick five but we tried to be disciplined. We visited so many great places in our trips to Italy, Ireland and southeast France as well as in Portugal and the USA but if we HAD to choose these would rise to the top of the list.
Looking forward to and wishing you all a happy and healthy 2023. Happy holidays and happy new year.