A Budget Guide to Whole Food’s Best Sparkling Wine 

I’m Sampling the Budget Bubbly At Whole Foods – And Listing the Tastiest Options!

Let'S Do This The Magicians GIF by SYFY

Considering the state of things right now,  I have been limiting my trips to the grocery store as much as possible. Our local Trader Joe’s has been so insanely crowded lately, that I’ve been trying out other grocery stores in the area. We have a Whole Foods in walking distance and while doing a quick grocery run, I spied this Vino Verde and Cava both under $10, and figured I should probably snatch them up.

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My First Budget Option Wine Picks:

I will continue to pick up different options each trip until I have found the very best budget friendly choices. Here are my first samples:

Broadbent Vinho Verde ($9.99): Vino Verde is one of my go-to favs for spring and summer. It is a lightly effervescent, refreshing, crisp white wine with pretty floral notes from the green region of Portugal.  We fell in love with this wine on holiday in Lisbon two years ago, and are always on the lookout. It’s a great summer sipping wine. Whenever I see the tall, thin bottle tinted green with a screw top on the shelves I make a beeline for it.

Cava Roger D’Anoia ($8.99) Dry and crisp with nice bubbles. This was a decent Cava, but I will probably try another my next trip.

 

Additionally, I have been drinking pink lemonade lately as a treat. Remember that frozen lemonade concentrate you used to drink as a kid? Well, I’ve started making pitchers of it to keep in the fridge on weekends for Brad and I, and I highly recommend. Nothing like pink lemonade to lift your mood! 😀 It’s our go-to treat after backpacking as well. A trip to InNOut and a large pink lemonade! Also, the frozen limeade makes a fantastic margarita! Who knew?!

I think it’s a good idea to treat ourselves right now, and Happy Hour is a great way to make things feel celebratory.

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Literally, my happy hour dream right now 😀

Next up on the wine blog:

Sampling the Budget Bubbles at Safeway. Stay tuned for the next round of picks!

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Five Great Netflix Shows to Watch During the Lockdown

Now that we have tons of time on our hands, here are some of the best, most escapist, most binge worthy things I have watched during the Pandemic:

Ozark: What to know about Jason Bateman's Netflix drama, season 3 ...
SO MUCH TENSION

Ozark – Hell yes! This show is flipping fantastic and completely riveting. Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are excellent as a couple desperately trying to make the best of a horrific, constantly escalating situation. Linney is an absolute powerhouse. Julia Garner as Ruth, a pickpocket who quickly becomes embroiled in the couple’s schemes is magnetic. Somehow this pitch black show also manages to be very funny and there is no shortage of shocks and surprises. I loved it. It even made me consider visiting The Ozarks, which, I went to on a family vacation and was widely considered our worst holiday. Ahem: MOSQUITOES AND SCORCHING TEMPS I’m looking at you. 

Synopsis: Financial advisor Marty Byrd drags his family from Chicago to the Missouri Ozarks, where he must launder money to appease a drug cartel.

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THAT DRESS

Dead To Me: This dark comedy is a great story of female friendship and female rage. It’s original, it’s surprising, it’s funny, and I loved the twists and turns. The Newport Beach location is such escapist fun right now. Also, I was obsessed with Judy’s amazing outfits. Seriously. I hunted one of her boho dresses down and bought it on Amazon. Linda Cardellini is a great actress, she’s so natural. Season two ends pretty explosively, I just finished the finale and am ready for the third.

Synopsis: Grief stricken and rage filled widow Jen meets nurturing free spirit Judy during a grief support group and they strike up a deep friendship, however Judy has some shocking secrets of her own.

Outer Banks: The Emotional Stages of the Addictive Teen Soap

Outer Banks: This teen adventure mystery is ridiculous, but it has beautiful locales, a search for buried treasure, excellent surfer chic outfits and it sure made me want to visit North Carolina. I actually had to look up The Outer Banks — they are a 200 mile long string of islands off the coast of North Carolina and I am for them.

Synopsis: A group of goofy teens from the wrong side of the tracks stumble upon a treasure map that unearths a long buried secret. Adventure, chaos and budding romance ensues.

The Rose Family Relationships that Give Schitt's Creek its Heart ...

The Good Place

Schitt’s Creek and The Good Place –  I watched these comedies before the lock down, but absolutely loved them, so I am including on the list because they are such great, escapist entertainment. They are feel good, quirky, boast tons of irreverent humor with heart, and characters you will love 😀 Plus, you will constantly be quoting these characters in your everyday life.

Synopsis: When the fabulously wealthy Rose family suddenly loses all of their money, they are forced to leave their pampered lives to regroup and rebuild their empire from  Schitt’s Creek, a dinky town they once bought as a joke.

Synopsis: When Eleanor Shellstrop finds herself in the afterlife, she’s both relieved and surprised that she’s made it into The Good Place, particularly since she realizes that there has been a massive mistake.

Next Up on the Entertainment Blog:

More great shows to binge watch during the lock down – Amazon and HBO.

 

An Epic Road Trip Through New Zealand’s North Island

Expect: Hobbits, Maori Monkey Carvings, Heart Stopping Sunsets and ADVENTURE!

Itinerary: We began this trip with one week exploring the glorious South Island, followed by five days exploring the North Island.

Visit Family in Auckland:

Brad’s family was not yet home from work when we arrived, so after flying in from the South Island, we picked up our rental car and went straight to the nearest beach! We stopped off for apps at a restaurant around the corner with an outdoor patio. It was great fun catching up with Brad’s family, hearing about their life in NZ, meeting their adorable girls/ pugs, watching rugby and snacking on apps and cocktails at a low-key open air restaurant across from the beach.

Matamata: AKA HOBBITON!!!

First stop – The Shire! I was basically raised on The Lord of the Rings, so of course, of course, I had long been dreaming of visiting Hobbiton and was wildly excited. It was an amazing, magical, day. We frolicked around pretending to be a part of Middle Earth the entire day. We chilled in front of Bilbo’s stoop, held Gandalf’s cane and even had a drink at The Green Dragon!

Brad Chilling In Hobbiton
Brad, just looking at home everywhere!
Brie Hobbiton
I’M GOING ON AN ADVENTURE!

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Brie and Brad Toasting The Green Dragon
Toasting in the Green Dragon!

Taupo: (Toe-paw) Note: You are pretty much guaranteed to mispronounce every New Zealand City name on your first try. It’s a rite of passage.

We had great fun in this lakeside town. The sunsets over the lake were dazzling, bright bursts of fushia, fire orange and red.

Brie and Brad Sunset Tekapo

Maori Monkey Sculpture: We rented kayaks for the afternoon and paddled to the Maori monkey sculpture, which was pretty fantastic. One note – this should be a fairly easy paddle, however it was super windy on the day we went, so we had to paddle extra hard to beat the wind before it really picked up and finished the three hour trip in half that amount of time. I thought I was going to collapse after and could not get warm. Paddling is not a sport for the faint of heart! Brad had to legit carry me into the bathtub at our hotel, where we proceeded to eat a cheese plate, in the bath. I highly recommend this.

Maori Monkey Sculpture Tuapo
Maori Monkey Sculpture
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We made it!

ALSO – the McDonalds in Australia and NZ have frozen Fanta slushies for less then $1 and they are delightful! You can mix a choice of like 11 flavors and I was completely obsessed with them. I had that in the bath as well.

Eats: New Zealand has great Indian food, and we found a delicious place in Taupo for dinner, Master of India. By the last evening, we were pretty exhausted. We had been traveling for a month and just finished our grueling (well, at least for me) paddle. After the cheese plate bubble bath, we grabbed some fast food and feasted in bed while watching World War Z. (I am always in the mood for World War Z, BTW). It was a great, relaxed end to our trip 🙂

Indian Food Tuapo
To die for Indian food!

I loved, LOVED New Zealand and would return in a heartbeat. I often find my mind wandering to the majestic sprawling, New Zealand landscape, or hiking Mount Cook, or lounging on the shores of Lake Wanaka, or sipping rosé in the Queenstown harbour. New Zealand has a way of working itself into your heart and taking root. The next time, we will most likely spend a few days in Auckland to visit Brad’s family, and take some time to explore the beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula, then head to the South Island for heart stopping vistas, and hiking galore!

An Epic Road Trip Through New Zealand’s South Island

Mount Cook You Stunner

I often find my mind wandering to thoughts of gorgeous New Zealand and when I think about our summer in the South Island, I think about heart stopping views, expansive never ending vistas at every turn, towering snow capped mountains, aquamarine lakes, golden meadows underneath crystal clear blue skys, hikes, delicious piping hot pies, cheeses, wines and Kiwi good humor. I would return to New Zealand in a heart beat.

Hiking Mount Cook, New Zealand
Mount Cook
Mount Cook you stunner!
Mount Cook you stunner!

The South Island Itinerary:

Day 1-2 Arthur’s Pass: Brad has family in Christchurch, so we began our trip visiting them. It was wonderful to hear about their lives in NZ and to catch up. Then we headed to Arthur’s pass. This part of the South Island is where the fun truly begins for your road trip extravaganza.  One of the most amazing things about the South Island is that there are vast stretches of road where there are simply no people at all! You can get out of your car and wander. It’s gobsmacking!

Arthur's Pass NZ
Literally, not another soul around

 

Arthur's Pass, Hike
Getting some serious Isle of Skye vibes during our Arthur’s Pass hike!

Brie and Brad Arthur's Pass

Day 3-5 Mount Cook via Tekapo

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Glittering Lake Tekapo, NZ
Turquoise Lake Tekapo

Hiking Mount Cook: The Hooker Valley track at Mount Hook is one of the most gorgeous hikes I have ever taken. Every bend uncovers a stunning alpine vista – snow capped mountains! Golden meadows! Rushing rivers and glacial lakes! And, considering it’s relatively flat and well maintained the entire way, this hike provides an unbelievable effort vs. rewards ratio. The hike took us about 3 1/2 hours past two swinging bridges, to the Hooker Glacier lake.

Hiking Mount Cook - South Island NZ
I mean….c’mon.

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So many swinging bridges!

 

Mount Cook You Stunner
First glimpse of Mount Cook – insert angels singing

I get super motion sick, so had to time crossing these bridges when there weren’t many people plunking their way along, making the bridge swing. At one point I tried to “jog” lightly, to try and avoid the swinging motion. I do not recommend this tactic.

We stayed at Twizel, at a holiday park. Budget lodging is not easy to find in NZ, but holiday parks are a great option. We got an ensuite room and walked to Fishtail – the most delicious Indian place for dinner. We saw lots of family lounging at the picnic tables and using the grills. It looked fun.

Day 5-6 Wanaka

I loved Wanaka. Wanaka has a Lake Tahoe vibe going on – gorgeous, laid back, holiday feel. We began our days by grabbing flat whites at Patagonia Chocolates (why is coffee so good in NZ?!) and spent leisurely mornings strolling along the lakefront. An absolute must is hiking to Rippon Winery, the most gorgeous winery I have ever seen, for stellar Gamay Noirs, Sav Blancs, and drop dead gorgeous views. 

We hiked about an hour on a gentle winding path along the lake, the last third of the hike uphill to reach this gem.

Brie and Brad Rippon!
RIPPON WINERY!!! Whaaaat?!
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Glorious views on all sides

After basking in the splendor of the sweeping views over the lake, we did some sunbathing on the lakeshore. We took our bottle and sat on the banks of Lake Wanaka, sipping our refreshing and fruity Gamay as the day turned to twilight.20190318_200920

Brad convinced me to go horse back riding in Otago, and while I was hesitant at first, it turned out to be great fun. In California when you go horseback riding as a beginner, maybe, maaaybe, you trot. In New Zealand, you RUN!

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This was a gorgeous trip. The landscape was stunning, we saw tons of deer under the bright blue sky and the instructor topped off the trip with a drink at a rustic gold mining bar.

Day 7-8 Queenstown

The adventure capital of New Zealand is a total dazzler. We spent our time in Queenstown taking in the most spectacular views, picnicking lakeside, hiking, and indulging in the fresh seafood and Kiwi wine at the bustling harbor. We easily could have spent more time here.

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We headed to Bob’s Cove for a picnic with fruit. creamy cheeses, and stunning views. We spent a leisurely afternoon enjoying the wine and fruit, sunbathing and going for refreshing swims.

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Can’t beat Kiwi picnics! (This is our Gamay from Rippon Winery :D)
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How’s this for a view?

Queenstown is 100% Lord of The Rings territory. I KNOW this is the Road to Gondor. Take your time driving the winding roads, jumping out for LOTRs photo ops.

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In the evening, we headed down to the harbor for some divine New Zealand rosé, and unbeatable views. We also really liked lounging and sipping drinks on the docked boat turned bar Perky’s.

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Queenstown harbor – NZ roses are my new favorite!

Note – I don’t have a picture of this, but I was sitting at the harbor watching the playful ducks and devouring my Fergburger, when I noticed some pretty large shapes undulating underwater and realized they were massive eels! I pointed them out to Brad. It was clear the ducks did NOT care for them either. About two minutes later other people began to notice them and we heard them gasping.

Milford Sound – If you have the time, check out Milford Sound. Take a picnic and cruise the NZ fjords. The cruise takes you past cascading waterfalls, rainbows glittering over deep green water, and lazy seals lounging on the rocks. We took a tour, the trip is 3 hours each way, so it is an investment, but a gorgeous experience if you have the time. Who knows when we will make it to Norway, so couldn’t resist the opportunity to cruise the fjords!

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New Zealand Eats:

Pies, just non stop pies and cheese boards, and seafood and great, budget friendly wine. I especially enjoyed the rosé and gamays. New Zealand also has great Indian food. I especially loved the rich, creamy, butter chicken pies, and the savory breakfast pies. We enjoyed the lakeside restaurants in Wanaka for sunset and really liked Erik’s Food Truck for fish & chips in Queenstown. We loved taking our piping hot meal and savoring it while the sunset over Lake Wakatipu.

Farlie Bakehouse
Brad looking cool as AF. Aside: So. Many. Pies!
Indian Food Tuapo
To die for Indian food!
Fish and Chips Wanaka
Fish and Chips + Shrimp and Chips at Lake Wanaka

Where to stay: As New Zealand was part of our final hurrah, long way around, one month trip, returning from Germany (we also visited Bali and Australia), we tried to stay in budget friendly lodgings, which is possible to find in NZ if you really do your research. We stayed at an array of hotels and parks. Holiday Parks are also a great option in NZ.

Next up on the blog – Road Tripping NZ’s North Island – Hobbiton, here we come!

 

 

 

 

How to Spend a Perfect Holiday in Rhodes

I love Greece. It is one of my most favorite countries in Europe, and exotic Rhodes, located on the southern Aegean just off the western coast of Turkey is my favorite Greek island. Two summers ago, we went to Rhodes for the last part of our six week European vacation, and it was the perfect end to the trip.  Dazzling Rhodes Town enchants with its medieval Old Town, beautiful beaches, romantic tavernas, and welcoming Greek charm.

To Do:

Rent a scooter: This is by far the best way to get around Rhodes Town, and the most fun.  We rented a scooter in town, at Thomas Rentals and had a wonderful time driving along the coast to beaches. Note: it can be very warm in August. but I will say I got one of the best tans of my life 😊

Explore the Old Town: Stroll around the gorgeous medieval Old Town and lose yourself in the labyrinthine cobblestone streets. Explore the Street of the Knights, and the castle ruins. Choose one of the many, wildly romantic restaurants for your meals. We spent many leisurely meals sitting at outside cafes, enjoying the sultry evening weather, sipping Greek wines, and sampling  garlic prawns, spanikopita, Greek salads with salty blocks of feta and luscious, rich baklava.

Rhodes Cat
Well hello!

Visit Mandraki Harbour

The harbor at twilight was absolutely magical. Strolling around the Rhodes Old Town harbour, felt like I was in another time, another world. The castles ruins have almost a middle eastern feel. Old Town Rhodes is known to be one of the best preserved, most extensive medieval towns in all of Europe. Wander the maze of alleyways and allow yourself to be transported to medieval Greece.

Brie Sunset Rhodes HarbourRhodes Town Harbor Twilight

Brie Old Town Rhodes Castle Sunset
Pretending to be a courtier in Medieval Rhodes.

Kalithea Springs

We hopped on our scooter and headed to this gorgeous thermal springs early one morning for a bite and a refreshing swim. Advice: Get there early and reserve a sunbed with shade. Though this was a beautiful, peaceful place we didn’t arrive early enough to snag a chair, so we headed to the main beach for the rest of the day.

Kalithea Springs RhodesBrie and Brad Kalithea Springs

Kalithea Springs
Kalithea Springs

Kalithea Springs

Beach time:

Our fav beach was Tsambiki – an epic swathe of white sand, dotted by umbrellas, surrounded by beautiful beach tavernas. We spent several languorous afternoons swimming in the sea, reading, lounging in our sun chairs, gobbling Greek salads and sipping mojitos. There’s also a huge diving board that Brad had a great time leaping off. 

Rustic beach taverna, Tsambiki Beach
Rustic beach taverna
Tsambiki Beach, Rhodes
Where Brad could be found most of the day!

Of course, we headed to the Rhodes Old Town beach to catch the sunset over the water, but as you can note from the pictures  it was insanely windy! I almost didn’t make it. My advice would be to stroll the harbor at sunset for some breathing taking pictures, the light just glows. And then head to Lindos for the most exquisite sunsets. 

Rhodes Town Beach Sunset

Unbelievable Sunset Rhodes Town Beach
Rhodes Town sunset ❤

Where to eat:

Mama Sofias: Our friend Evren suggested this place emphatically. We had the shrimp saganaki (shrimp in tomato, onion, & garlic sauce), moussaka, Greek salad and baklava. Sipped a crisp Greek white. This place has a lovely view of the old town clocktower. Was fun and immensely romantic. 

Hermes: Relaxed place, with a local vibe. This place served huge portions and was very budget friendly. We had chicken pita wraps, served with all the fixings – tomatoes, onions, lettuce, fries and tzakiki, plus Greek white wines and baklava, of course 😊 Enjoyed it so much we went twice! 

After dinner we went for hookah and cocktails at Senses. The setting was incredibly picturesque with a view of the old ruins, and we loved the balmy weather.

Rooftop View Old Town Rhodes
View from our pension

Where to Stay: We stayed at Minos Pension. Great location in the old town about a five minute walk to shops, restaurants and sights. Our favorite part was the pretty rooftop bar. Had our breakfasts there every morning –  frothy cappuccinos and a goblet full of creamy, Greek yogurt topped with toasted pecans, drizzled with Greek honey infused with vanilla and sprinkled with cinnamon. We ate this each morning on our rooftop terrace overlooking the Old Town. Typically I rather hate Greek yogurt and force myself to eat it for the probiotics and protein. However, this was delicious and I could not stop thinking about it. Note: Bar staff does not speak English, but we managed to get along fine. Stepping off the airplane at the Rhodes airport, we saw one of the most fabulous sunsets, setting over the Aegean. I think Rhodes was giving us a welcome show! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Spend a Wonderful Four Days in Lindos Greece

(Spoiler: It’s not difficult!)

Two summers ago, we went to Rhodes, Greece for the last part of our six week European vacation, and it was the perfect end to the trip. Lindos, Greece is a glorious, Greek fairytale of a village. Dominated by a view of the Acropolis set on a cyprus covered hill, the old town is filled with roof top restaurants glittering with twinkly lights, and white washed homes covered in cascading magenta bougainvillea leading to the aquamarine sea. This place is, quite simply, a dream.

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Beautiful Lindos

When I think about our time in Lindos, I think of crystal clear turquoise water, balmy afternoons spent at St. Paul’s Bay or Palace Beach, heart stopping sunsets and leisurely afternoons spent lounging at beachside tavernas feasting on Greek delicacies.

To Do/Our Favorites:

The beaches! The beaches in Lindos are heart stoppingly beautiful and the water is both crystalline and wait for it, bathtub temperature.

St. Paul’s Bay: We spent our days alternating between lounging in the beach chairs, swimming in the sparkling turquoise bay and eating at Dimitries, a beachside taverna on the water serving fresh Greek food with unbelievable views.

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Our first glimpse of St. Paul’s Bay stopped our hearts

Out menu each day: warm pita dusted with oregano and spread with olive oil, homemade creamy tzatziki and hummus, fresh Greek salads topped with salty blocks of feta and chilled Greek white wine 😍 We also ate as much baklava as we could get our hands on! I could eat Greek food all day, everyday.

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Possibly, one of my most favorite lunchtime views!

Brie St. Paul's Bay

We took the scooter around sunset for spectacular panoramic views over St. Paul’s Bay. Bring a bottle of wine because believe me, you will want to cheers your partner, or even the night, in honor of such a magical place. 

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Stopped for sunset views before dinner in town 😀

Palace Beach: Gorgeous beach with Acropolis views.  Sun chairs – 10 euros for two. Several beach bars and tavernas dotting the shore. Paddle boarding was gorgeous here as well. For lunch, choose whichever beach taverna suits your fancy. We picked the ones with the best views. I liked that Palace Beach was relatively uncrowded and therefore had a more relaxed vibe.

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Loved lazing on my sun lounger and gazing at the Acropolis

We typically stayed on the beach until quite late, returned home for a little rest and relaxation, then headed out around 8pm for a leisurely rooftop dinner and a couple glasses of white wine. OR, we went down to Palace Beach to stroll along the sand during sunset. Virtually no one else was around, and we had the beach to ourselves. We walked though the glass like, crystal clear, warm water, as the sun set pink and violet and turquoise around us. 

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How is that indigo sunset?!

Note: On the scooter ride to Palace beach, keep an eye out for the adorable, floppy eared donkeys, just waiting to come over and say hello.

Donkey Lindos

Explore the Old Town: Lindo’s ancient cobblestoned old town is an absolute dream. We loved the bright pink bougainvillea, white washed homes and magical rooftop restaurants.

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The village of Lindos

Where to eat: Pick from one of the many, gorgeous rooftop restaurants for an almost impossibly romantic evening meal. Our favorites were: Kalypso, Mythos and Dionysos.

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At one point during the meal, Brad and I just sat in silence, sipping our wine and gazing at the Acropolis lit up at night.  “How did you find this place?” Brad breathed in wonder.

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How to get around: Scooter is by far the most fun way to get around Lindos. Plus you’re rewarded with stunning vistas and donkeys at every turn! We rented a scooter in town for a pretty minimal price and loved riding it to the beaches.

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We love scooters AND donkeys!

Where to stay: We stayed at Lambis Studios, a resort with sweeping views just up the hill from the Old Town.

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Our studio 😀
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View from our deck

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Brie Lambis Studios Lindos

Brad loves a good sunrise, and so hopped on the scooter one morning for the sun rising over St. Paul’s Bay. I was happy as a clam in my bed, but the pictures were fantastic, so if you can rouse your ass out of bed, I would recommend this.

GETTING THERE

We spent the first part of our week in Rhodes Town, and then took a bus to Lindos. The bus is a quick hour ride south of Rhodes Town.

Lindos, Rhodes is one of my most favorite places in Europe. It is, quite simply enchanting.  For the ultimate relaxing, peaceful, romantic as all get out vacation full of ancient history and a joyous culture you can’t go wrong with Greece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best of La Fortuna: Volcanoes, Thermal Baths and Wildlife Galore

Tropical, lush, and teeming with wildlife – Costa Rica is one of my most favorite places in the world. Brad and I recently returned from two weeks in Costa Rica – one week in La Fortuna and one in the Osa Peninsula and it was a perfect tropical getaway.

La Fortuna is a small town northwest of the capital, San Jose. Located in the valley of the volcano Arenal and surrounded by jungle, filled with tropical birds and sloths lounging languidly in the trees, La Fortuna is like a jungle fairytale come to life.

Cabin, Rancho Cerro Azul
Our beautiful jungle cabin

Where to stay: Rancho Cerro Del Azul. This place was wonderful, a total jungle paradise. The property backs up into the jungle and has tons of wildlife. We loved walking the private hiking trail to the La Fortuna river and looking for monkeys. Great deck and hammock. Beautiful high ceiling wooden cabin. Great breakfast in open air cafe overlooking the jungle. Great coffee, good pancakes, loved the jungle sounds. Very pretty bar and lovely, friendly staff.

Jungle Cabin

How To Spend Your Days in La Fortuna: 

Wake up early to make the most of your days in La Fortuna and watch the jungle come alive! In the early morning and again at twilight, the jungle around Rancho Cerro Azul bursts into life – bright green parrots soar through the skies, toucans pause in trees outside your deck singing their high pitched songs, and howler monkeys shriek their presence with their deep throaty calls. Sometimes we jetted off into the jungle, binoculars in hand to find the howler monkeys. 

Head to an early breakfast for great coffee and more wildlife viewing. We had breakfast most mornings at our hotel’s restaurant Ginger, overlooking the jungle. The pancakes, fresh fruit and strong, rich, coffee were my favorite. It was a beautiful start to the day. Breakfast was not included, but was budget friendly.

Jungle Flower, Ginger Restaurant
Jungle flower table setting at breakfast

Because the afternoons can get very warm in La Fortuna, we either did our activities early in the morning, or later in the day. We spent entire afternoons lounging in our hammock, sipping wine and sparkling water, spotting toucans and parrots and a host of other brightly colored tropical birds flit from tree to tree.

Brie Hammock La Fortuna
Wake up, get breakfast, hop in the hammock!

The jungles of Costa Rica are so saturated with color it’s like looking through a filter at a rich technicolor world. Plants and flowers are vibrant greens and reds and neon pinks.  Bright yellow and turquoise butterflies flutter through the foliage and parrots soar across azure sky in pairs, landing on the tip top of trees and canoodling. Seriously, parrots cuddle. It’s wonderful. In the evening, on the way back to our cabin after dinner, the air was filled with a rich, fragrant scent from blooming flowers.

Jungle Cabin and Horse, La Fortuna
View from our deck

Visit the hot springs:  There are dozens of hot springs to try in La Fortuna, dotting the foot of the volcano. Our favorites are Ecotermales, Tabacon and Paradise.

Waterfall Ecotermales La Fortuna
Beautiful Ecotermales

Ecotermales: a magical, jungle paradise. I often find myself dreaming about this place. Picture: lush pools of increasingly warm temps, glittering waterfalls, stone lounge chairs submerged in the steaming pools and fresh fruit cocktails, all set in an idyllic, jungle oasis. It is the most magical at nighttime, as the jungle sounds come alive, and steam from the natural springs wafts into the night sky.

Eco Termales Brie

Rio Cholin: Free natural jungle hot springs. This gem was Brad’s favorite. Just past Tabacon, pay the parking guard two bucks and walk down the road to a series of natural hot springs in the jungle. Take a moment to breathe in the lush surroundings and pretend that you are in a scene from the Swiss Family Robinson! While luxuriating in the waters, we even spotted a massive green iguana enjoying the water himself! Tip: Head to the springs early in the morning to have them all to your yourself.

Brie and Brad Rio Cholin
Natural Hot Springs

Returning from the springs, we ran into this beautiful girl!

Pizote!
Hello gorgeous!

This is a pizote, a relative to the raccoon. Pizotes are playful, a little mischievous and completely lovable! We have been in love with them for years, after spotting the resident pizote “Pancho,” at Lomas Del Volcan on our first stay in La Fortuna.

Tabacon: Gorgeous, sprawling, lush hot springs. This place is a splurge, but glorious.

Paradise: This beautiful hot springs is relatively budget friendly and quiet.

Tips: Always keep an eye out for wildlife. If you see a tour bus pull over and follow them! We got the best pictures of a beautiful sloth with her baby. Visited her four more times during the trip!

Sloth, La Fortuna

Lomas Del Volcan: The first time we visited La Fortuna, we stayed here at this hotel and thought that it was the most beautiful jungle setting that we had ever seen. Now – it is still lovely, but the owners built a restaurant so the unimpeded view of the volcano from the cafe is blocked.

Volcano views at Lomas Del Volcan
Volcano views at Lomas Del Volcan
Pool Lomas Del Volcan
Views from the Lomas Del Volcan pool

Where to Eat: Our favorite place was Tiquicia, a lovely open air restaurant with fresh Costa Rican food, about two minutes from Rancho Cerro Azul. Great cocktails, great mojitos, situated right next to a river. Very friendly, welcoming service. We loved the shrimp ceviche, and the arroz con pollo. We spent several leisurely evenings savoring our meals, sipping our cocktails and listening to the sounds of the jungle. We also liked Chipolte Tex Mex in town for great quesadillas and margaritas for less than 6 bucks. Ginger or Yellow Bark in town was good for laid back breakfasts of french toast and omelets though our favorite breakfasts were at our hotel – the view could not be beat.

Other things to do in La Fortuna:

Volcano Hike – we went on this and the view is nice, butI would advise to skip it. You can see better views of the volcano and more wildlife at other places.

Zip lining and ATVing – fun! went on our previous trip. Ziplining through the rainforest was my favorite.

Final Word: Go to La Fortuna for the gorgeous jungle hot springs, volcano views, amazing wildlife and to completely and totally disconnect, relax and rejuvenate in a jungle paradise. Laying in my hammock, listening to the howler monkeys, watching tropical birds and kaleidoscopic butterflies flit between the trees and flowers is a memory I will visit often in my dreams. At one point we lounged on our deck during a tropical rainstorm. I hope that you have a chance to visit as well!

More Costa Rica Pics:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Week in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula: A Tropical Jungle Paradise

Known for its exquisite wildlife, lush jungles and secluded beaches, the remote Osa Peninsula has long been calling my name. It’s quite amazing to visit a place that is still relatively untouched, and it made my nature loving, adventure craving heart sing. I cannot recommend it enough.

After our time in Drakes Bay, we headed to the southern pacific coast of the Osa Peninsula, to a Lodge in Puerto Jiminez on the Golfo Dulce. And guys, it was take your breath away incredible. We glimpsed our first view of the beach through the palm trees and laughed with delight.

Iguana Lodge - Veranda
Iguana Lodge, That Veranda 😀

Where to Stay: Iguana Lodge. Set in the heart of the jungle, this eco lodge was wonderful. We loved every second. Amazing wildlife, gorgeous jungle pool and restaurant, delish fresh food, beautiful open air bungalow, thoughtful, eclectic touches everywhere.

This is the type of vacation where the balmy days melt into one another in a haze of sun glittering on sea, squawks of macaws, palm trees swaying, and fresh fruit drinks. There is no need to plan an activity, but rather breathe in your surroundings, enjoy the exquisite wildlife, laze in the hammocks, fully disconnect from real life and enjoy the wildness of the jungle.

How To Spend Your Days in the Osa Peninsula: 

The Osa Pensinsula in March is balmy, borderline sweltering. Wake up EARLY each day for sunrise and to spot macaws soaring overhead in pairs. Take a swim if you dare (those waves are big), or gently sway in the brightly colored hammocks with a book and perfect view. Listen to the thundering sound of the howler monkeys call and take off trying to find which tree they are playing in.

Sunrise Osa Peninsula
Sunrise Osa Peninsula Styles
Hammock time! Iguana Lodge, Puerto Jiminez
Hammock, ocean, books = happy girl

Head to breakfast in the jungle – homemade baked goods and made to order specials are included with your stay at the Iguana Lodge. Try the cinnamon buns, banana muffins and mango scones lightly dusted with glistening crystallized sugar. (These were my absolute favorite). Sample the fresh pineapple and mango, all grown on property, or the made-to-order veggie omelettes.

Pet Cece, the resident massive Irish wolfhound as he pads around the resort on silent feet and rests his massive noggin in your lap, golden eyes staring into your soul.

Brad & CeCe - Iguana Lodge
Brad and CeCe – instant friends

Return to the beach to sway in the hammocks, listen to the waves and read more of your book before the weather gets really warm. Listen for the tell tale squeak of parrots or SQUAWK of the macaws.

Hammock time, Osa Peninsula
Pretty perfect tropical vibes

Take a dip in the sea salt pool, and breathe in the cacophonous jungle sounds. We spent languorous afternoons by the pool, reading books and watching howler monkeys play in the trees.

Pool Iguana Lodge
Spent a lot of time lounging around this baby

Head to the the gorgeous, airy, onsite restaurant for fresh seafood and pineapple/mango daiquiris. We just drank them constantly. The view from the restaurant was so staggeringly gorgeous, we spent quite a bit of time enjoying the balmy breeze off the sea, sipping daiquiris and basking in the view. Grab a shrimp salad or avo/orange/hearts of palm salad. Head back to your cabina for books and/or a nap. The afternoon heat this time of year gets so sweltering you will either want to be in the pool, or taking a nap. Probably both.

Mango daquiri - Iguana Lodge

VIews from the Iguana Lodge
View from the restaurant

The lodge upgraded us to an open air bungalow and we were so thrilled we took full advantage of it! Sit on your deck and listen as the jungle sounds come alive at twilight, like a siren’s call captivating you to drop everything and listen. Macaws squawk in the distance, howler monkeys make their presence known, and on our last evening a troupe of squirrel monkeys stopped by to say hello!

Jungle Casita Iguana Lodge
Our bungalow!
Hammock Jungle Casita Iguana Lodge
You know I’m a sucker for a hammock and deck!
Our Deck, Iguana Lodge
Jungle view and the Nevernight Trilogy ❤

Head to the Beach BBQ Sunset Dinner: Yes this was just as magical as is sounds. We arrived promptly at the beach at 5pm, and chose our candle lit table. We watched pelicans surf the waves. We feasted on pineapple carrot slaw (yesss), sweet potato pepper salad, greens with avo, plums, carmelized onions and candied walnuts. The lodge also served pulled pork and cornbread.  As the sky turned from cerulean to violet to pink to yellow, we sipped our Argentinian Sav Blanc, and toasted the Osa Peninsula.

Beach BBQ - Iguana Lodge
Beautiful beach BBQ + veggie heaven sides

Iguana Lodge Beach

Iguana Lodge Bonfire
Bonfire during dinner

Stroll out to the beach and watch the sky fill with stars while an orange moon rises.  Yep, I said orange moon. Brad & I love a good star gazing, and the only place I have ever seen stars this amazing was at Young Lakes, Yosemite on a backpacking trip.

Orange Moon Osa Peninsula

Other amazing dinners: Mahi mahi in garlic butter, served with pineapple carrot slaw, fries and a Chilean Sav Blanc. I’m always interested to find out from where different countries import their wines. Costa Rica offered quite a few Argentinean and Chilean wines.

Dinner, Iguana Lodge

IF YOU GO…

GETTING THERE: We took a 4X4 cab arranged by our hotel from Drake’s Bay to Puerto Jiminez. Most of the road was unpaved and intensely bumpy.  For the return trip we took a  prop plane to the San Jose Airport that was, let’s just say not for the faint of heart. Thank GOD for my Scopolamine patch. One very cool scene – as we while waiting for our plane we saw about twenty Scarlett Macaws exploding out of the surrounding jungle, squawking and flying overhead. It was absolutely amazing. I like to think they were saying goodbye. It happened so quickly we did not get a video, but I will remember it forever.

GETTING AROUND: The Iguana lodge is so remote that we spent all of our time exploring the beach and surrounding jungle.  It was fab. You can take a taxi to town for $15 each way, if you would like. You can also take a tour to Matapalo which is meant to have fabulous wildlife.

Other Pictures from Osa:

Final thoughts: The Osa Peninsula is a wondrous, gorgeous, awe inspiring place. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s quite amazing to visit a place that is still relatively untouched, and it made my nature loving, adventure craving heart sing.  The Iguana lodge was a special place with it’s almost deserted beach, wildlife, jungle casitas and unique touches, I know that we will visit again again and again. Next up on the blog – One Week in La Fortuna, Costa Rica – Volanoes, hot springs and wildlife galore!

 

A Long Weekend Getaway to Bavaria

A Roadtrip to Allgäu – the Most Beautiful Part of Germany

Last June, when my mom came to visit us in Germany, we took her on a weekend getaway to my most favorite part of Germany – Bavaria. I cannot recommend this place enough. We are talking sprawling green hills so lush they don’t look real, alpine roses cascading from flower boxes, little lakeside restaurants overlooking crystalline water with waitresses wearing dirndls, fairy tale castles and more beer gardens then you can count.

Beautiful Oberstdorf
Well, hello Bavaria!

We decided to visit Allgäu, because good friends of ours had visited and loved the region.  It was a perfect road trip from our town in southern Germany, Esslingen. The easy drive took us about two hours and the area is so gorgeous and full of old fashioned Bavarian charm. Basically, we spent the entire trip gasping at the views, leaping out of the car for photo ops, taking strolls and spending languorous afternoons at cafes in the sunshine.

Beautiful Obersdorf
Seriously, so many ops for gorgeous pictures!

Day 1: We drove to the picaresque town of Oberstdorf, and stopped at the ridiculously beautiful alpine Schwand Hotel for panoramic views of the surrounding mountains covered in pines, a drink and ice cream!

View Alpine Roses
How can this even be real?!
Alpine Hotel
100% pretending I’m in a scene from the children’s classic Heidi!
The Schwand Hotel, Oberstdorf
The Schwand Hotel
We've got a sundae!
Sundae Bavarian Styles! Yeah, I’m also biting Brad’s face.

From there, we hiked to the Freibergsee Lake about a mile away, and had to stop again when we came upon the alpine lakeside restaurant, for a bite and to take in the idyllic views. The waitresses wear drndyls and the place is full of German merrymakers making the most of their summer holidays. I couldn’t get over how lovely and pristine this place was.

Prost! Alpine Lake Styles
Prost Bavarian styles!
Alpine Lakeside Restaurant - Allgau
I mean….look at this view!

We ordered the most delicious salad (I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before, but southern Germany is NOT known for its tasty salads or veggie meals of any kind really. Honestly, they are non existent, so this was a real win).

Salad at the Freebergsee
OMG this salad – grilled chicken, sauteed mushrooms “fried potato pouches” and a creamy garlic dressing

Day 2: Visit Cinderella’s Castle: AKA Neuschwanstein Castle

Built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1886, this castle is said to be the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s castle, and is a total fairy tale come to life. We got our tickets, took a shuttle bus and then walked about ten minutes up to the castle. You can tour the inside if you like, but I think the exterior is the most exciting and the best views are from the hanging bridge, over the valley. The castle, the town, the sweeping views – it is all a Bavarian dream.

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Oh, just Sleeping Beauty’s Perfect Fairytale Castle Nestled in the Bavarian Alps!
Brie & Brad Neuschwanstein
Pretty Romantic Day!
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The View on the Walk to the Castle

After visiting the Castle, we  strolled around Lake Alpsee, and marveled at the clear azure waters and wildflowers. We also enjoyed a beer and sausage in one of the several cafes in the sunshine 🙂 Well, Brad and mom did. I had a Prosecco, per the usual. I just can’t get on board with beer, guys.

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Mom & Brad strolling along the Alpsee

Brie Lake Alpsee

Where to stay: We stayed at an adorable AirBnB cottage in the town of Sonthofen, complete with flower boxes, views of the village and a Cuckoo Clock! It actually scared us all to death in the middle of the night, as it was totally LOUD. The room was spacious, comfy and exactly what we were looking for. We even saw a gentleman in town driving his tractor in lederhosen! Siiigh, I love Bavaria 🙂

Our cottage in Sonthafen
Our AirBnB

Where to eat: We found a very yummy little Greek restaurant in town that we really enjoyed. Staff was super friendly. We also liked cafe Bene Kaffee & Laden for frühstück – German breakfast comprised of various cheeses, breads and spreads – butter, jams, etc.

More photos of the fam in Bavaria 😀

Final thoughts: Bavaria is my most favorite part of Germany, and I think the next time we return to Germany, we will visit again coupled with a hiking trip in Switzerland. I first became intrigued with the area, when a friend visited for a wedding and sent me photos. It looked like she had taken photos in front of a green screen – the rolling hills were so impossibly lush and picturesque. She drank hugos, ate Bavarian goodies and I knew I had to visit immediately. It absolutely did not disappoint!

One Week in Drakes Bay: Costa Rica’s Jungle Paradise

I don’t know how you all are spending your Shelter In Place, but I’ve been spending a lot of it dreaming about our very recent trip to Costa Rica, and it’s been helping, a lot. I hope that this can provide a bit of escapist, jungle, fantasy for you as well.

This place, oh this wondrous place.

The remote Osa Peninsula, located on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica is the tropical jungle paradise of my dreams.

Cabinas Drake Bay
Beach Cabinas at Osa ❤

During the first half of our trip, we based ourselves in Drakes Bay, a wild and remote bay on the northern Osa Peninsula. This place was absolutely spectacular. Think: secluded beaches straight out of Jurassic Park, jungle rivers, resplendent red, blue and yellow scarlet macaws swooping out of the jungle and toucans singing in the trees outside our deck. Due to it’s secluded location, Drake’s Bay remains for the most party largely untouched, and it felt like we were exploring our very own deserted island.

Palm Trees & Surf Drake Bay

Highlights:

Take in the sprawling, sparkling, views:  Rent a Superior View Room and just take in the view from the bed! Enjoy the glittering azure waters and balmy breezes from your deck. We saw Macaws fly past as we were lounging.

View from our deck, Osa De Jinetas, Drake's Bay
View from our deck – insert angels singing on high.

We woke up early each morning, around 6am to watch the jungle come alive. (Now, I am NOT the kind of gal who enjoys waking up at the crack of dawn on a vacation, but in the Osa Peninsula this is the most magical time of day). We were greeted each morning by toucans singing in a tree next to our deck, dazzling Scarlet Macaws exploding out of the jungle, soaring in pairs overhead. Capuchin monkeys leapt from tree to tree. During our first morning, as I was sitting reading on our deck, the resident puppy literally slept underneath my deck chair.

Our dogger friend, Drake's Bay, Osa De Jinetas
I made a friend 😀
Toucan Drake Bay, Osa De Jinetas
Woke up this morning to toucan singing it’s little lungs out in a tree next to our cabin!
Two toucans! Osa De Jinetas, Drakes Bay
TWO TOUCANS

Hike to deserted beaches: Hike 20 minutes through a jungle path to Playa Cocolito, a gorgeous little crescent shaped secluded beach. Cross the hanging bridge. Keep your eyes peeled for toucans and monkeys! We saw a howler monkey just chilling as we crossed, in a branch directly across from the bridge. We even had a little dog friend accompany us on the hike! We lounged for ages watching Scarlett Macaws fly overhead and feed in the almond trees. Stay for the unreal sunset.

Playa Cocolito Drakes Bay
Playa Cocolito – Secluded Beach #1

You can hike even farther to Playa San Josecito, known for its Scarlet Macaws about 2 1/2 hours total. But the weather was way too warm for us to commit to a 3 + hour hike, and we ended up seeing a ton of macaws anyway!

Hiking Trails Drakes Bay
Just follow the jungle signs!

That tell tale squawk means a Macaw is on its way!

Scarlet Macaw Playa Cocolito
Look at this beauty! NOT easy to capture on camera as these beauties are movers!

 

Brad Playa Caletas

Secluded Beach Drakes Bay
100%, we kept expecting a raptor to lunge through the foliage

Fresh Seafood and Pineapple/Mango Daiquiris: Lounge on the hotel’s deck in the afternoon sipping fresh mango/pineapple daiquiris and enjoy the balmy breezes. Dine at the open air seafront restaurant, Kalaluna. Personal faves: We had the mixed ceviche each day, while listening to the ocean crashing on the shores.

Ceviche and pineapple daquiri, Drakes Bay
Mixed ceviche topped with avocado and fried plantains
Mojito Time - Drakes Bay!
Mojito time on the deck!

Paddle the Jungle River: Borrow kayaks and paddle up the jungle river in the bright green lagoon like water. It’s magical. Felt like we were part of The Jungle Book! If you’re daring, go for a swim in the crystal clear water. Brad did a little snorkel. I went for a swim as well, but honestly I am terrified of snakes and drew the line at a leisurely jungle river swim.

Hanging Bridge Drake Bay

Go for Sunset Swims with the  Pelicans: Each night, we went for a sunset swim in the bathtub temp water, floating in the gentle waves as pelicans soared and dived right above our heads.

Sunset Swim Drakes Bay
How’s that violet sunset and cotton candy clouds??

Sunset Drake's Bay, Osa De Jinetas

Visit Corcovado National Park: A trip to tropical rainforest Corcovado, considered one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, is a must when visiting Drake’s Bay.  The trip entailed an intense hour speed boat ride, with a wake up call at 5am, brekkie at our lodge and then boat. We saw peccaries, a family of playful pizote (my favorite), capuchins and squirrel monkeys with their babies. Because Corcovado is such an an iconic place you have to go, and I don’t regret it, but I think we saw just as many animals in the jungles surrounding our lodge.

Corcovado Peccaries

Dive/Snorkel Cano Island: Brad did this and loved it. Swam with 20 foot manta rays and saw a frog fish, which is apparently very rare, (and rather insane looking.)

Frog Fish! Diving Cano Island
Frog fish! Told you it was insane looking.

Where to eat: We ate most of our meals at the open air beach restaurant at the lodge, Kalaluna, which is wildly romantic and has a great vibe. They have yummy seafood and Italian meals. Breakfast was included and offered fresh fruits, great coffee and made to order breakfasts. We also strolled about twenty minutes along the beach and into town. In town, we also liked Casa El Tortugo, right on the river.

Breakfast View Drakes Bay, Osa De Jinetas
Breakfast with a view!
Fresh Seafood Pasta Drakes Bay
Chef’s Special – seafood pasta!
Grilled Shrimp & Coconut Shrimp Drakes Bay
Grilled & Coconut Shrimp

Where to stay: Osa De Jinetas. Unbelievable views! Beautiful spacious cabinas. Tons of wildlife. Delish food. LOVED IT.

Osa De Jinetas, Drakes Bay
Osa De Jinetas, Drakes Bay
Our Deck - Osa De Jinetas
View from our deck

IF YOU GO…

GETTING THERE: We took a 6 person prop plane from San Jose Airport that was effing terrifying, open air, and beautiful as all get out. Thank GOD for my Scopolamine patch.

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GETTING AROUND: Our hotels arranged a shuttle to pick us up from the tiny airport. The road is unpaved and super bumpy. At one point we forded a river. Once you get to your hotel, no car is needed. We walked everywhere – to deserted beaches, into town, etc. It was fab.

Final thoughts: I have been dreaming of the Osa Peninsula since we first visited Costa Rica about four years ago and it surpassed my wildest expectations. It’s amazing to visit a place that is still relatively untouched, and it made my nature loving, adventure craving heart sing. I felt like I was in a scene straight out of the Swiss Family Robinson. ( I realize they were shipwrecked in the East Indies, but I was competently obsessed with this story as I kid, and Drake’s Bay is exactly how I pictured their island). I know that we will visit the Osa Pensinsula again and again, or at least, I sure hope that we have the opportunity.

Next up on the blog: Exploring more of the Osa Peninsula. We’re headed to the Iguana Lodge in Puerto Jiminez. Jungle central!