Accommodation review: Monte das Faias, Grandola (Portugal)

Whether you need a place to stay on your road trip from Lisbon to Algarve, or if you want to spend a few days in Alentejo, Portugal, Monte das Faias is the place to be. Charming “agriturismo” with a rich history, vast land and rural tranquility is perfect for those who want more intimacy with the touch of local tradition.

Location

Monte das Faias estate is located in Grandola, about one hour drive from Lisbon airport – don’t forget to turn on your GPS as it is quite difficult to find. Or maybe we were confused because it was late, and we were really tired from the trip. I called the reception that we will arrive around 2 am (the house rules say “check in ends at midnight”), and there was no problem at all. Keep in mind though that the location is quite remote from anything, so you will need your car to get anywhere. There are some supermarkets in vicinity, but none within the walking distance.

Rooms

Monte das Faias comprises 8 small “houses”, 5 suites and a few double rooms, all comfortably furnished in a rustic style. Honestly I don’t know which one we stayed in – it was huge and too much for one night stand: it even had a kitchenette and one extra room (or space) in the mezzanine floor. I really loved the decoration and rustic details in each room. Beds were comfortable and the only thing that bothered us were mosquitos – make sure you bring the repellant. Oh, and Wi-Fi works perfectly 😉

The estate

Dining room is fabulous, and luckily we were alone at breakfast, so we could enjoy the entire space for ourselves. Breakfast choice was quite rich, a variety of teas, coffee, juice, yogurts and good old classics – scrambled eggs, salami & cheese. With some delicious pastries to finish, of course.

Monte das Faias estate also offers 2 pools (outdoor and indoor) and a tennis court, which unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to see – we took off right after breakfast. So I guess that you can easily spend a few days here to relax and set your mind free. If you want to explore the nature, you can also rent a bike at the reception.

Anda’s rate: 9 from 10

Bottom line: Monte das Faias is a good choice for a stopover, but I don’t see my restless soul staying here for more than 3 days. On the other hand, if you have time to explore Alentejo (according to Google it looks just as fantastic as Algarve) and want to relax from everyday stress, I can highly recommend it. Saving tip: If you want to get 15€ off your next booking, check Monte das Faias on Booking.com – through this link.

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Baltski trojček – 1. del: LITVA

Lansko poletje je gneča v slovenskih turističnih krajih dosegla nove dimenzije. Promocija naših naravnih lepot, priporočila popotnikov in seznami popularnih turističnih vodnikov, na katere se Slovenija zadnje čase pridno uvršča, terjajo svoj davek v vse večji gneči na obali, ob jezerih, pa tudi v alpskih dolinah. Za vožnjo po primorski avtocesti ob vikendih potrebujemo jeklene živce. Na Hrvaškem, ki je še vedno najbolj priljubljena destinacija slovenskih dopustnikov, ni nič bolje. Kam torej na dopust, da se boste izognili gnečam in poletni vročini?

Če niste ljubitelj previsokih temperatur, a bi vseeno radi čofotali v morju in če vam družinski proračun ne omogoča kakšnega bolj eksotičnega potovanja, vam med poletnimi meseci priporočam obisk ene izmed baltskih držav. Litva, Latvija in Estonija so zaradi zgodovine, kulture, jezikov in podnebja ravno toliko »drugačne«, da vas bodo težko pustile ravnodušne. Do tja pa se lahko odpravite kar z avtomobilom!

Čarobna Klajpeda

Najino baltsko avanturo sva začela z letom na Poljsko, saj je bila letalska povezava do Varšave najhitrejša in cenovno najugodnejša možnost. Tam sva najela avto in se najprej podala do obalnega litvanskega letovišča Klajpeda. Čudovito pristaniško mestece te s svojo zunanjo podobo začara v trenutku. Mešanica ostankov sovjetske arhitekture in hišic s pridihom Skandinavije daje občutek, da se je tam ustavil čas. Skozi mesto je speljan morski kanal, po katerem se vozijo čolni, jadrnice in arhaično stilizirane ladjice, na katerih si lahko privoščiš popoldanski koktejl ali romantično večerjo. Vzporedno ob kanalu so posejane številne gostilne in bari, ki v soju večernih luči mestece naredijo še bolj čarobno. Ljubitelji narave in peščenih plaž, tudi nudističnih, boste na svoj račun prišli s skokom na trajekt, ki vozi do bližnjega polotoka. Za povratno vožnjo, ki ob spremljavi radovednih galebov traja slabih 10 minut, boste odšteli zgolj 1€ na osebo. Kuronski polotok, katerega južni del pripada ruskemu Kaliningradu, je posut s čudovitimi širokimi peščenimi sipinami, do njih pa vodi lepo urejen gozd, skozi katerega so speljane tudi kolesarske poti.

Kopanje v morju za avanturiste

Kljub poletnim temperaturam, ki sežejo do prijetnih 25 stopinj Celzija, pa skok v baltsko morje predstavlja poseben podvig. Prvič zato, ker se morje redko segreje na 20 stopinj, drugič pa zato, ker je obala tako nizka, da moraš hoditi tudi po več sto metrov za nekaj poštenih zamahov pod vodo. Situacija je zelo podobna malce bolj severno, v popularnem letovišču Palanga, ki bo všeč predvsem ljubiteljem hrane, zabave in nočnega življenja. Sprehod po živahni glavni promenadi predstavlja pravo pašo za oči, nos in brbončice. Številne stojnice z dišečimi prigrizki, slastno ulično hrano in spominki, med katerimi tudi poleti prodajajo simpatične zimske kape ter tematski zabavni kotički povprečnega turista, še posebej če potuje z družino, z lahkoto okupirajo za več ur. Situacija na palanški plaži je na videz podobno kaotična. Sredi nje je ogromen lesen pomol, ki se dviga kot most nad mravljiščem. Pod njim je namreč toliko ljudi, da se človek vpraša, kako se skozi ta labirint sploh lahko prebiješ do morja. A domačinov in ostalih, večinoma turistov iz sosednjih držav, to ne moti. Vsak na svoji brisači lovi svoj prostor pod soncem.

Vljudni, a zadržani domačini

Tudi sicer so domačini in prebivalci baltskih držav nasploh precej zadržani. Najprej sem to opazila v trgovinah, kjer te nihče ne pozdravi. Tudi v restavracijah se redko kdo nasmehne in pošali, včasih imaš občutek, kot da si tam le številka. A se tega hitro navadiš in ni tako neprijetno, kot se morda sliši. Če vzameš v zakup, da si gost v državah, kjer večino leta povprečne temperature ne presežejo 15 stopinj Celzija, severnjaki pa so že pregovorno bolj »hladni« ljudje, in da je, za nameček, predvsem Litva znana tudi po visoki stopnji alkoholiziranosti, se pač raje osredotočiš na njihove naravne lepote, kulinariko in zgodbe, ki jih je stkala zgodovina.

Hrib, posut s križi

Ena izmed slednjih je znameniti Hrib križev, ki se nahaja sredi travniških planjav, blizu kraja Šiauliai na severu Litve. Gre za hribček s tisočerimi križi in religioznimi simboli različnih velikosti in materialov, ki je postal pravo središče za krščanske romarje in seveda tudi turiste. Tradicija postavljanja križev naj bi segala že v 19. stoletje in prestavlja neke vrste obred molitve k zmagam in miru (Litva je bila namreč takrat okupirana s strani Ruskega cesarstva, kasneje pa Sovjetske zveze ). Po zadnjih podatkih naj bi bilo na območju v velikosti nekaj sto kvadratnih metrov več kot 100.000 različnih skulptur in ker na hribu zmanjkuje prostora, so ljudje začeli križe zabijati že kar ob poti. K priljubljenosti te destinacije je gotovo prispeval tudi obisk Papeža Janeza Pavla drugega, leta 1993.

Kaunas in Vilnius

Obisk Litve seveda ni popoln brez ogleda njenega glavnega mesta Vilnius, če vam čas dopušča pa priporočam tudi skok do Kaunasa (od Vilniusa je oddaljen le dobro uro vožnje), drugega največjega litvanskega mesta, ki je bilo v preteklosti kulturno in gospodarsko središče. Obe mesti odlikuje mešanica čudovite gotske, renesančne in baročne arhitekture, prepletene s sodobnim slogom in mestnimi trgi, ki se jih ne bi sramovale niti najbolj razvite evropske prestolnice. Razkošne katedrale, mestne hiše, obzidja in spomeniki pričajo o bogati zgodovini – Velika litovska kneževina je bila med 14. in 17. stoletjem namreč največja evropska država. Za tiste, ki se tudi med dopustom ne morete upreti nakupovanju, naj omenim, da se Kaunas ponaša z največjim nakupovalnim centrom na Baltiku, v katerem je tudi ogromen akvarij z morskimi psi. Tudi sicer trgovin in supermarketov v Litvi ne manjka, cene so malce nižje kot pri nas, kar še olajša potovanje v lastni režiji.

Pravljični Trakai

Najbolj fotogeničen kotiček v Litvi je zagotovo pravljični grad Trakai, ki leži na otočku sredi jezera Galve, 30 kilometrov zahodno od Vilniusa. Opečnato rdeča kamnita graščina z značilnimi stožci iz 14. stoletja, ki je bila nekoč ena strateško najbolj pomembnih točk Velike litovske kneževine, je danes najpogostejši motiv razglednic iz Litve in tudi priljubljena lokacija za prireditve. Čeprav do gradu vodi velik lesen most, ga boste najbolje doživeli, če boste najeli čolniček ali pedalin v eni izmed bližnjih čolnarn in ga v miru obkrožili. Na mirni vodni gladini, obdani z račkami in čudovitim pogledom na pravljični grad, odsanjajte v srednji vek in si naberite moči za nadaljevanje poti.

Informacije za popotnike:

  • Preostale fotografije iz Litve lahko najdete v mojem Facebook albumu.
  • V Litvi boste morali kazalce na uri premakniti 1 uro naprej.
  • Uradni jezik je litvanski, večina ljudi pa govori rusko, kar včasih malce pomaga pri sporazumevanju, če naletite na ne-angleško govoreče domačine.
  • Z izbiro namestitev sicer ne bi smeli imeti težav, vsekakor pa so sobe ob morju dražje in jih velja rezervirati vnaprej.
  • Če vas mika, da bi v Litvo vstopili preko ruske enklave Kaliningrad, ki je gostil tudi nekatere tekme svetovnega prvenstva v nogometu, imejte v mislih, da za to potrebujete vizo, postopek za pridobitev le-te pa je kar kompleksen.
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5 places to visit in Lithuania

If you are traveling to Baltics from the southern Europe, Lithuania will be the first on your way. It has a population of 2,8 million people with Vilnius being its capital and the biggest city. Lithuania used to be huge – during the 14th century it was called “the Grand Duchy of Lithuania” and it was actually the largest country in Europe, including the territory of present Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus, as well as parts of Poland and Russia. Considering the fact that Lithuania was already inhabited 12.000 BC and with all its reach history of occupations, you can imagine that the country really has a lot to offer. As a nature and architecture lover I am picking up these 5 places to visit in Lithuania:

1. Klaipeda

Our first and last stop in Lithuania during our Baltic road trip was magical Klaipeda which we fell in love with instantly. We didn’t plan to return as it was a bit off road on our way back, but we both agreed to rather shorten our visit to Kaunas and add another night in this wonderful port town. Klaipeda is actually Lithuania’s 3rd biggest city but since all the hustle and bustle is concentrated around its old town and harbor, it appears quite small and very cozy. Klaipeda becomes very busy in the summer time, with all its classical and light music festivals and concerts. Apart from strolling along the sea canal which is full of small sailing boats where you can also have a fancy dinner or just a cocktail, I strongly suggest you visit the Curonian peninsula. The so called Curonian Spit, known as the pearl of the Baltic Sea, is a long strip of wind-blown sand dunes surrounded from both sides by the Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Sea. The Curonian Spit national park is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and its southern part belongs to Russian enclave Kaliningrad. If you are considering visiting Kaliningrad, keep in mind you will need a visa and an invitation letter, and your rental car option probably won’t allow you to cross the border. Make sure you do a lot of research beforehand!

Travel tips: The ferry to Curonian peninsula costs only 1€ per person (return ticket) and it runs every 30 minutes. Grab a smoked fish “on the go” and make yourself a delicious picnic. Just 30 minutes north from Klaipeda you will find even more bustling coastal town Palanga, and if you are beach and party lover, you shouldn’t miss it. The definition of “busy” really gets a new perspective there 😊

2. Šiaulai and Hill of Crosses

Šiaulai is an unofficial capital of Northern Lithuania and just 15 minutes’ drive up north lies a hill full of crosses. Trust me, this is no ordinary hill and even if you are an atheist like me, you will be impressed by the number and shapes of crosses, statues and other Christian symbols. I read there were over 100.000 different crosses in the last counting, but since pilgrims and tourist from all over the world are “planting” new ones each day, my guess is that the number is much higher now. The Hill of Crosses growing popularity has with no doubt a lot to do with Pope John Paul 2nd’s visit in 1993.

Travel tips: The visit to the Hill of Crosses is free, however you will need to park your car in a designated parking area, which costs around 1 EUR or so… which is the least you can do to contribute to the community that takes care for this impressive place. There are some souvenir shops right along the parking space so if you believe you need to leave your footprints in the Hill od Crosses, you can buy your own and dig it in the ground wherever you feel appropriate.

3. Vilnius

A trip to Lithuania wouldn’t be perfect without visiting its capital. Vilnius is the largest city in the far north and eastern Europe, with just about the right touch of Western European cultural influences and impressive complex of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and classical buildings. I especially loved its old town which is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and dotted with excellent restaurants, cafes and small boutiques. You will want to visit Gediminas Hill with really nice views of the entire city (if you climb only to the walls without entering the tower the view is actually free of charge) and see some famous landmarks such as Gates of Dawn, Town Hall, the Cathedral and the Palace of Grand Dukes.

Travel tips: If you want to see Vilnius from above, there are several other options, like climbing some church towers, including the most popular Vilnius Cathedral Bell Tower – the tallest building in the Old town.

4. Kaunas

On the way from Klaipeda to Vilnius I suggest you stop in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second biggest city. Kaunas used to be a temporary capital of Lithuania and has since then become a cradle of the Lithuanian intelligentsia and culture. The city boasts with shops and restaurants in its charming old town, not to mention some impressive cathedrals and my favorite one – Kaunas castle in Gothic style which was originally built in the 14th century. The castle lies strategically on the banks of the Nemunas river and its red color reminds a lot of Trakai castle, which I am describing below.

Shopaholics will be pleased to hear that Kaunas hosts the biggest shopping mall in Baltics. Mega mall has recently been renewed and now more than 200 shops and aquarium with real sharks, along with a great food court (19 restaurants and cafes) are waiting for you to shop until you drop.

Travel tips: If you are going to visit Mega mall and if you are vegetarian, don’t miss the self-service restaurant with delicious soups and salads at really affordable prices. I loved the roman salad so much, I took 2 for the road with me 😊

5. Trakai castle

I saved my favorite Lithuanian landmark for the end. To be honest, Trakai castle was something that lead me to Lithuania in the first place. I have a huge crush on castles and ever since I coincidentally saw this beauty on Google maps, I knew I would visit it one day. Trakai castle was built in 14th century in Gothic style and what makes it really fascinating, besides its lively red color, is the fact that it lies on a small island on the lake. You can reach it through the bridge on foot, however you will see the most of it if you rent a boat and enjoy an hour ride around the island.

Travel tips: If you are traveling on a budget, you will be happy to hear that there is no entrance fee for visiting the island and you will be able to see the castle yard and its surroundings for free. The view of the castle from the nearby restaurants is on the other hand something that can hit your wallet big time. So be careful where you drink your coffee and ask for the price list before you stretch your legs on the table.

Accommodation tips: If you want to book a hotel in Lithuania, check Booking.com and click here to get a 15€ off your next booking. If you are more comfortable being hosted by locals, you can try with Airbnb – through this link you will get a 30€ (or $36) travel credit if you sign up and book with Airbnb.

You can see the rest of my photos from Lithuania in my Facebook album. Have you been to Lithuania and have your favorite spots there worth seeing? Want to ask for some other tips that I missed in this post? Scroll down and write it down in a comment 😉

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Baltic road trip

In the past couple of years we have been trying to avoid summer heat and crowds in popular tourist destinations, so a road trip to Baltic countries was something waiting to happen. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are all a part of European Union, however they still sound a bit exotic to most of us (speaking from Slovenian point of view). Probably that has a lot to do with all three of them being a part of former Soviet Union and the fact that they are always being addressed as “Baltic”, putting them altogether in one basket. Which proved to be totally unfair. All three countries are fantastic, and each one of them has a lot to offer. Baltic road trip is a must for those who are seeking for something unconventional with a touch of Europe, Russia and Scandinavia.

Itinerary

We started our Baltic adventure in Poland because Slovenia offers direct flights to Warsaw at very reasonable prices. We rented a car there for 12 days and our Baltic itinerary was following:

Poland – Lithuania coast (Klaipeda, Palanga) – Latvia coast (Liepaja, Kuldiga, Riga) – Estonia (Parnu – Tallinn – Narva – Tartu) – back to Latvia (Bauska and Cesis) and Lithuania (Siaulai – Kaunas – Vilnius) – returning to Poland and spend the last day in Warsaw.

 

Quite a lot for 12 days, huh? 😊 But we are used to this kind of road tripping and except for all-inclusive resorts we cannot stay in one place for too long. In the end this itinerary proved to be quite doable, and we also had one day left to return to Klaipeda – our favorite spot. Of course, we could have stayed longer in Riga, which is fantastic, and we also didn’t see much of Tallinn and Vilnius, but on the other hand we checked 3 new countries from our bucket list and we pretty much got a quite good impression what Baltic is all about.

If I wanted to share with you everything we experienced during our Baltic road trip, I would need a couple of days to put it all together, and I am sure no one would read it, so I am just going to highlight five things to see and visit in each country plus some practical tips for everyone who is interested in Baltic vacation, following our itinerary.

Getting there and around

A lot of people from Europe take their RV and drive all the way to the north, but if you are limited with time, I suggest flying to one of the capitals instead (all three have good connections, unfortunately that doesn’t apply to Slovenia) and rent a car there. It is good to know that none of the countries have highways (with the exception of Kaunas – Vilnius road) and speed limit outside of the cities is 90 km/h. The roads are relatively nice and if you are not a speed junkie you should do just fine. The countryside in all three countries is really nice and calm, with a lot of green meadows and forests, and you will also see some storks which are quite photogenic.

Accommodation

There are plenty of choices in all the places we visited, and of course it all depends on your daily budget. Coastal towns are slightly more expensive, so it might be a good idea for you to book some rooms in advance. Since we didn’t know how our road trip would turn out (also because of the weather which could change our itinerary the other way around), we booked all our hotels on the road, practically a couple hours before arrival. No problems whatsoever. Average price for a decent 3-star hotel was around 70€ (2 person /w breakfast and parking space) and you will find the best values on Booking.com – click here to get a 15€ discount for your next booking (you are welcome). Or you can try with Airbnb, again you can get 30€ travel credit if you sign up and book with Airbnb through this link.

Food and shopping

Ah, Baltic food! I fell in love with their food the first day we arrived to Klaipeda. Smoked fish on every corner – you can buy it as a snack or you can eat it properly with some potatoes which is also very popular in Baltic cuisine. My second favorite was Soljanka soup – this is actually a Russian dish, but they prepare it in different styles. All of them include the “remainings of the day” like vegetables and pieces of different meat, plus they add a spoon of sour cream to make it even more yummy. Baltic beer is also fantastic, especially dark brands – I am not a beer lover but I had a bottle of one every day.

There are a lot of shops, from small groceries to big supermarkets on almost every corner, so no worries if you want to make your own meals or buy snacks for the road. I especially loved Kaunas mall with huge food corner and aquarium with sharks, which is quite impressive. It is also the biggest shopping mall in Baltics. The prices are similar to ones in Slovenia (by the way all three countries use EURO currency), so no worries in having to squeeze your wallet too much. But to be honest, it would be a sin not to eat outside because the food is really fantastic – after all you are on vacation and no one is counting the calories, right?

Baltic Sea and Weather

“Will I be able to swim in Baltic sea?” was my main concern. Well, I didn’t, because it was too cool for me. But don’t mind me, I am a pussy when it comes to cold. I need at least 24 °C water temperature to get wet. A lot of other tourists were swimming normally – if I can use this word at all. Because Baltic coastline is so shallow you can hardly get a decent swim. Unless you go to some wild places, which we didn’t. I’d say water was around 18 – 20 °C max, and since the outside temperature was never too hot (from 22 – 26°C , which is actually perfect for me!), I didn’t even have the need to “dive in” (I am still laughing by using this word when it comes to Baltic sea).

The fact that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are located in north continental area makes them quite cool throughout the year, so unless you don’t mind wearing warm clothes, I suggest you visit them during summer. The weather is really nice – it was supposed to be very rainy, but we somehow got lucky and didn’t witness even a drop throughout our entire vacation. I still suggest you to take an umbrella and some sweaters and socks for the cooler evenings.

What to see in Baltic countries

In short: really nice old towns, a lot of greens and lakes, loooong sandy beaches, beautiful castles, windmills and combination of different architecture – a mixture of medieval, Scandinavian, Soviet and modern styles. I believe that about sums up the tips from our Baltic adventure, and if you need to know anything else, feel free to scroll down and drop me a comment. You can read about 5 places to see in Lithuania here, and 5 places to see in Latvia here. I will post Estonia highlights soon as well. So stay tuned and follow my Facebook profile or Instagram profile for updates. 😉

 

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