Jim and I have had a banner year of travel!
This could partially be attributed to the fact that we moved to central Europe where it is super easy to get around in just a few days. A lot of our travel was done on two and three day weekends, and we were able to do so much more than when we lived in the center of Turkey, or even in South Korea or Japan. We visited 15 countries and 8 capital cities. We’ve stayed in over 30 hotels, and ate in too many restaurants to even count. As always, we had some great ones and some not so great ones.
I have to say traveling has changed with the ease and availability of information. I use the Internet to find out which hotels and restaurants are rated the highest, and I’m sure that we’ve had a higher percentage of good than bad this year. It used to be that we would have to gauge where we were eating by asking the hotel staff where we were staying or anyone that would give us an answer. Now, we just have to look it up. I read the reviews and make a choice from there. The only problem I’ve run into is that some websites are primarily reviewed by travelers, like me. It’s fine for hotels, because we all need to stay somewhere and we’re not from the area. But it doesn’t always work so well with restaurants since travelers are usually going on other’s recommendations as well, so many touristy type restaurants get reviewed, but not necessarily the great food, hole-in-the-wall eateries that I love so much. So for them, it’s still luck of the draw, I guess.
Throughout the year, I didn’t review any hotels or restaurants. I’ve saved it all up to tell you the ones we’ve enjoyed all at once.
I’m not one to eat in hotel restaurants as a general rule. The hotel is for sleeping, and I’ll go out looking for a good restaurant. However this year, we were lucky enough to come across a couple of great hotels that not only were awesome sleeps, but had great restaurants to boot!
So here are the best and most comfortable hotels with the tastiest meals:
The Hostellerie Schwendi in Kientzheim, France
As you are well aware, I love Alsace. Last spring we stayed in this tiny town, and wanted to just relax, so we ate dinner there as well. Jim ordered the trout and I the lamb. Both were mouth-wateringly amazing! We dream of this place, and are currently plotting our return. Our meals were so good, I’m not sure either of us is willing to even try any of their other delicacies. Has that ever happened to you? You know that one meal is fantastic, you’re pretty sure everything is…but oh, you just have to keep having the same thing. Yum!
Royal Monastery of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Guadalupe, Spain
The monastery is not only a parador (hotel), but it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The rooms are gorgeous; I felt like a queen sleeping in a room decorated a couple of hundred years ago. The town is very small, and there are other restaurants so you don’t have to eat at the monastery, but it is easy and you eat in this beautiful courtyard. The dinner is a set meal, filled with local delicacies. It really wasn’t fancy, just plain good food.
Blue Beetroot in Bolesławiec, Poland
This hotel and restaurant was recommended to me by many of my friends who’ve been there. Bolesławiec is known for its famous Polish Pottery, and there might not be too many more reasons to go there. The hotel is owned by a British couple, but run primarily by locals and the restaurant serves up both traditional Polish and British. Supposedly the fish and chips is really good, but I couldn’t get passed the perogis. We tried both the spinach and the potato ones which come with a homemade garlic sauce. Scrumptious! The hotel is in an old Polish barn, so the rooms are very cozy with wooden beams throughout. It’s a great place to relax for a weekend. Other than buying a new teacup or two, there is no reason to ever leave the hotel!
Then there are the hotels or B&Bs that include breakfast, but really don’t have full-time kitchens:
House 57 in Jerusalem, Israel
Dan, the owner who runs this guesthouse, makes it a real find. Yes, the rooms are great. Yes, you can use the kitchen. Yes, it’s in a quiet neighborhood, very close to public transportation. But! Dan is awesome. When he meets you, he gives you his personal cell phone number and encourages you to ask him any question you may have. Lots of hoteliers do this, but Dan follows through as well as enthusiastically recommending things to do and places to go while you are in Jerusalem. Personal touches like this always make the stay much more memorable.
Port View Guesthouse in Marsaxlokk, Malta
Malta is a small island, and Marsaxlokk is about 15 minutes from Valletta, the capital city. It is a small, quaint fishing village that only has a couple of hotels. The waterfront has a number of seafood restaurants that people come to from all over the island to eat fish, but other than that it can be a bit sleepy. The views are inspiring, and for us being out of the center of the city is always nice. The hotel is well put together with comfortable rooms with air conditioning and heat (hard to find). It has a small sitting room and a balcony with a bay view on one side and a view of this cathedral on the other. Very relaxing.
Nääs Fabriker Hotell & Restaurang in Tollered, Sweden
A little out in the countryside, this hotel is stunning! You walk into a neon-lighted bar and a gas-lit fireplace. It sits on a lake, so you can rent boats, or go to the sauna (pictured here) with the lake as your view. The rooms are super comfortable with high ceilings and the softest bed we’ve slept in all year. We stayed a few nights while we were ferrying around the fjords and just loved the peace and quiet…with a little pampering.
The Blackberry Inn, North Canaan, Connecticut U.S.A.
New England is known for its traditional bed and breakfast hotels, and the Blackberry Inn has been around for over 250 years. The rooms are quaint, with homemade quilts and old wooden dressers. It feels like my grandmother’s house (but bigger, much bigger). The breakfast is superb, especially the blueberry pancakes with all fresh-from-the-farm ingredients. If you are out driving around the east coast, take a detour and visit Canaan.
De Dames van de Jonge in Giethoorn, the Netherlands
This small hotel has a wide variety of rooms. We stayed at a detached little cottage with two bedrooms and a cozy sitting area. It was a rainy weekend and a bit chilly, but with the provided space heater, we could just relax during the worst of the storm. They do have a restaurant that served better than decent fare, and the town is just filled with waters. We loved renting a little electric boat to put around the canals.
And for the food! These are in no particular order. They’re all good, really good. Among our favorites this year are glorified food stands to full out restaurants:
Hummus Stand in Caesarea, Israel
I’m sorry to say, I don’t have a website for these folks. It’s a very small affair, but boy do they have fresh and delicious food. We stumbled upon it as we were sight-seeing in Caesarea, and we had to go back before we left the country. We just didn’t find anything else that measured up anywhere on the rest of our trip. We loved the hummus and the falafel.
Kachelofen in Bamberg, Germany
In the center of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bamberg, the Kachelofen is our go-to restaurant when friends and family come to visit. It is a pretty small restaurant, which during the warmer months you can sit outside on the square, but otherwise reservations are a must. The fare is good ol’ Franconian (northern Bavarian) and the waiters serve it to you in traditional lederhosen. My favorite is the Schäufele or pork shoulder with crispy skin. It’s served with a broccoli purée and a potato dumpling. So yummy!
Šatlava Restaurant in Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
As we were traipsing all over this gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage town, we just couldn’t pass up this hole in the wall, medieval cellar restaurant where they grill the meat inside. It gets pretty smoky in the low-ceilinged rooms, so we sat outside, and enjoyed our meat and cheese which is famous in Bohemia. It was warm, hearty, and delicious!
Restaurant le Basilic in Les Houches, France
One of more indulgent meals of the year, we had fondue at le Basilic. I’m sure they’ll remember us as the bumbling Americans that almost burnt the house down. Yes, that was us! Maybe not one of our more refined moments, but we were so intent on slopping up all that cheesy goodness that we just couldn’t be bothered to keep the sterno upright…oops! It was beyond divine! A perfect ending to a perfect skiing day on the top of Mont Blanc!
Tal-Furnar Bar & Restaurant in Ix-Xagħra, Malta
This hole-in-the-wall restaurant is somewhat famous on the island of Gozo. The owner is a descendent of the original owner who built it as a bakery over a hundred years ago, and has a Maltese traditional oven in it. He still bakes bread in the wood-fired oven, which was awesome! But we had the traditional pizza-like bread called ftira topped with local potatoes and eggs. The owner also makes his own wine, which he will sell by the bottle to you as long as you don’t need a label. We brought ours home on the plane. No one seemed to mind and it was good stuff! We loved the food, but it never hurts to have a great story as well.
Roy’s Cod Place in Gibraltar
I love fish and chips! I lived in England as a very young girl, and they just has that “homey” feeling, so I go out of my way to find them. Of course it’s not hard in Gibraltar, there are plenty of fish shops but Roy’s definitely kicked it up a notch.
Naot Farm Restaurant a little outside Sde Boker, Israel
This ranks way up as one of my favorite places for the entire year. I just loved the location! In the middle of the desert, this restaurant is only open a few days a week. We booked it through our hotelier at Boker Valley Vineyards (a great place to stay as well!). The family runs a farm with hundreds of sheep, and all the meat they serve in the restaurant comes from their stock. We had mouth-watering steaks, and our going away gift was their homemade yogurt drink. What a great place; what great food!
Restaurant at the Hotel Maximilian in Ehenbichl, Reutte, Austria
This cozy restaurant is perfect for the colder months. Their wine cellar is extensive, and the food is great! We tried local specialties of all kinds from the Wiener Schnitzel to the Autumn Deer Stew. It was all so good the first night, we went back to the same place the second night. That’s good food.