12 Stunning Things to Do in Sapa, Vietnam

Sapa is one of the most photogenic hill station towns in northern Vietnam. It has everything you should expect for the adventure of a lifetime.

It has the highest mountain in the country, a stunning national park, beautiful rice terraces, and unique ethnic cultural experiences.

To soak up the highlights of Sapa, I would recommend the below activities as the best things to do in Sapa.

The Best Things to Do in Sapa

1. Trek along Muong Hoa Valley

Trekking is often the main draw for why people head to Sapa. With a wide range of mountain trails, Sapa has a lot to offer for any kind of hiker, from amateur to professional.

If you take a day tour from Sapa, then it’s best to start from Cat-Cat village, following the less-visited trail snaking through the local rice plantations to reach Lao Chai village.

If you’d rather combine trekking with a homestay, Ta Van is a great overnight destination. After seeing the rice terraces, uncovering the traditional life of Black Hmong people (an ethnic minority local to the area), Ta Van village offers a very serene atmosphere where you will be tempted by the hospitality of Giay people.

2. Ride the Cable Car to Fansipan Mountain

Your Sapa trip is incomplete without a visit to Fansipan mountain!

At an elevation of 3,143 meters above sea level, Fansipan is an iconic sight that you should definitely put at the top of your list of things to do in Sapa.

The easiest way to reach the top of this mountain is definitely taking a cable car ride. Over the course of 15 minutes, you’ll have the chance to enjoy a birds-eye view over the lush valley where many fascinating villages are located along the river.

The best time to take the cable car ride is in the morning or late afternoon so that you can behold the cloud covering the nearby mountains!

3. Visit Thac Bac (Silver Waterfall)

Technically, this is the highest waterfall in Sapa. The water cascades from Lo Sui Tung Peak, measuring more than 100 meters high with 3 tiers.

You may not be able to swim here, but your trip will be made well worth it by the awe-inspiring mountain panorama and falls.

There are food stalls right at the foothill so if you are curious about trying local Sapa food, this is a nice place to do it!

4. Ride a Scooter to Tram Ton Pass

Tram Ton Pass holds the record of being the highest pass in the country. Over a 15 kilometer trip, you’ll move from an elevation of 1600 meters up to 1900 meters quickly.

Undoubtedly, a motorcycle or scooter ride is the best way to experience the road. Doing so, you are free to drop by Silver Waterfall, sampling Sapa’s fruit garden, or travel further along 50 kilometers of the pass.

5. Taste Local Cuisine at Sapa Market

The food in Sapa is aromatic and distinctive from other regions of Vietnam.

Bring an adventurous spirit so you don’t regret not trying its famous salmon, horse hotpot, or seven-color sticky rice. The food in Sapa market comes from many different communities with different cooking techniques and traditions, which leads to a diverse array of foods you can sample.

For the real foodie, Sapa has some other options, from fine dining restaurants to cooking classes.

6. Learn about the Red Dzao Life in Ta Phin Village

While touring Sapa, it’s important to participate in sustainable tourism that preserves elements of local culture.

One of the most rewarding places to do that is Ta Phin Village. Here, you can see how Red Dzao women sew their colorful custom designs and create their eye-catching handicrafts.

Another well-known traditional work that happens only in Ta Phin is making herbal medicine, an interesting experience for curious travelers!

7. Find the French Colonial Relics

Sapa Town was first established by the French in 1902 as a summer escape from the humid climate in other parts of Vietnam. These days, you can still find some of the remarkable landmarks that remain from the French colonial era.

The very first piece of colonial architecture you should see is the central church. Known as the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, this church was the practicing hub for Christians in the area. There are many other sites that reflect the style of French architecture, scattered across various communities in the Sapa region.

Another faded ruin worth seeking out is Ta Phin monastery. Though it is now abandoned, it has a really beautiful structure.

8. Join a Hmong Sewing Class

Want to learn something useful while in Sapa? Sign up for a sewing class at Indigo Cat Center.

Enjoy learning about the art of batik and be impressed by the attractive traditional patterns that Hmong people have been designing as part of their culture.

To take part in this workshop, you’ll need to book directly at their shop in Sapa town before heading to the “classroom” in Ta Van village.

9. Hike Ham Rong Mountain

Although Sapa has developed very fast, there is still one place that remains unchanged: the Ham Rong mountain.

This ecotourism site recalls the legend of Sapa, where according to the lore, a dragon returned to the sky from this mountain.

You can also watch cultural performances which take place at intervals throughout the day.

10. Shop Local at a Weekly Market

The most colorful markets in the area do not happen in Sapa town. You’ll need to travel to the adjacent district of Bat Xa or the further side of Lao Cai province where Coc Ly, Lung Khau Nhin, or Bac Ha market take place.

Depending on the day of the week, certain markets operate: Cao Son Market (Wednesday), Coc Ly Market (Tuesday), Bac Ha market (Sunday), and Si Ma Cai market (Saturday).

11. Treat Yourself to a Night at Topas Ecolodge

Listed as one of the most unique lodges in the world according to National Geographic, Topas Ecolodge provides dramatic views over the Hoang Lien Son National Park from its pristine infinity pool.

Imagine waking up with the morning fog right in front of your window, like you’re floating in a cloud, and closing each night with a mesmerizing sunset while sipping a cocktail in the mountains.

12. Take a Photography Tour

Capturing the authentic charm of Sapa is the dream of many photographers.

You may not be able to do that without a local guide, who can help you find the best photo spots, translate to ask for consent for photographs and give you pointers on how to improve your craft.

About Tan Nguyen

Tan is a Sapa local and an adventure-addicted traveler who is eager to see unique places. He enjoys traveling off the beaten track and blogs about his adventures at Travel to Work.

Where to Stay in Monopoli: Your Hotels & Accommodation Guide

Trying to pick out where to stay in Puglia? If you’ve settled on Monopoli, I think you’ve made a fantastic choice.

I may be a bit biased — when deciding on where to base ourselves in Puglia for our honeymoon, we ended up choosing to stay in Monopoli, a beautiful seaside city with both a historic old town and a vibrant new town.

I think Monopoli is one of the best places to base yourselves on a Puglia road trip – not far from anything, not too touristic, and with plenty of great places to stay in Monopoli for a variety of budgets.

Where to Stay in Monopoli

Best Budget Hotels in Monopoli

For the purposes of this post, I’ve defined ‘budget’ in Monopoli as being under $100 USD a night in the peak season.

We visited Monopoli in November, so it was low-season — so low season, in fact, that many hotels and restaurants were already closed until the following year.

If you choose to stay in Monopoli during this time of year, be aware that a lot of places will be closed, especially in the old town which is the more touristic part of town — but on the other hand, hotels will be a fraction of their normal price!

However, this post assumes you’ll probably want to visit Puglia in the summer, when everyone else is traveling there, so I’ve created the budget categories accordingly. Here are my top picks for budget hotels in Monopoli.

Barbacana46 Guest House

This guest house has gorgeous cobblestone walls, and if they could talk, they would tell you the history about the house! The recent renovations done on the property have helped highlight the old architecture’s beautiful bones and show you a glimpse of what it was like in the past.

Barbacana has a few different options for Monopoli accommodations, to suit a variety of budgets and group sizes. The apartment with the balcony gives you both budget-friendly and cozy place to stay in Monopoli Centro Storico.

Everything is provided to you for a comfortable and convenient stay. It has a dining area and a bedroom, plus a fully equipped kitchen where you can try cooking some of your own Italian dishes (though frankly it’d be hard to get sick of the delicious Monopoli restaurants there are to choose from!).

The private balcony is quite small, though it is fitted with two wooden chairs – great for a morning coffee! There’s also a huge shared terrace if you prefer a larger space to relax, but it is communal.

Each unit also has an ensuite bathroom with tiled floors, complete with all the shower amenities you need. The apartment room type has a modern and contemporary vibe, but if you want something more traditional but luxurious, then you can opt for their suite with a spa bath!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Barbacana46 Guest House ««

Villa Enea

Villa Enea is perfect for those who have rented a car but want to stay near Monopoli; parking is free, and this villa’s location will give you the best countryside ambiance in a charming house tucked in a peaceful and nature-rich location, just a few kilometers outside of Monopoli.

You will also love the front yard, which has some trees and plants that give shade and a fresh breeze as you sit on the wicker chairs outdoors. The interiors and tiles on the floors are all embellished with mandala-like designs that make it look stylish and comfortable. Most of the wooden furniture is simple and has that rustic look to complement the countryside charm it has.

All of their rooms are perfect for couples, and prices during high season are around $77 USD per night, including a free breakfast. If you don’t mind staying outside Monopoli center, it’s a great choice.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Villa Enea ««

Borgo San Martino

The location of Borgo San Martino is on a quiet street inside the historic old town, a wonderful place to stay in Monopoli’s center. There’s also a big square nearby.

The property is also run by amazing and kind ladies that will be there if you need anything. They have kept the original furniture that helps add an old-world charm to the interiors. Everything is also neatly arranged and organized.

They have three options for their rooms – single, double and quadruple. The single room is located in the attic, and just note, it can present a problem for tall people due to its low ceiling. Regardless of its size, it has the same amenities you will find in all their rooms, so it’s great for a shorter single traveler.

In all their rooms, they still have the cobblestone walls, and the lighting is strategically placed inside making everything look magical. The style of their furniture is very unique, giving a vintage charm to everything. The ceilings are arched to provide added space.

A bigger group or family can get their quad rooms, and it’s amazing how it somehow looks a little bit like a Moroccan riad due to the arches that seem a bit like caves where the beds are placed, making good use of the limited space.

You also have the option to include breakfast in your booking online to save time. They have a partner space where you can park your car, and it is not located far from the property. This house is very beautiful, and you still get to enjoy staying inside the old town with a touch of rustic style combined with its historic beauty.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Borgo San Martino ««

20 Archi

Couples and solo travelers can enjoy this remarkably clean and easily accessible accommodation in one of the main streets of the old town of Monopoli. It is also very easy to check out some of the attractions nearby without the need to ride public transportation, and if you have a car with you, you can park in one of their affiliate spaces.

Wooden floors complement the crisp and neat white furniture they use – it makes the rooms look bigger despite their small size. A small dining area with a kitchenette will help you save some money if you can cook, but if not, then there are several restaurants (and also bars) outside to help you.

You don’t have to worry about breakfast, as they’ll give you delicious Italian breakfast included per stay – I would recommend bringing it to the rooftop terrace so you can breathe in some fresh air while you adore the lovely city views!

The private bathroom is extremely clean, and you will love how they used white tiles with subtle patterns. The shower area has a glass wall to keep the water from getting into the dry area.

The entire property is covered with WiFi, but some areas that are quite far from the main source can have sluggish connection. You can actually go near the corridor and everything is good, but you can always get a local SIM or enable roaming for a smoother way to go online.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at 20 Archi ««

Villa Maria Pia

Villa Maria Pia is one of the most modern accommodations in Monopoli, with touches of rustic charm that make each area of the property something close to home.

The rooms offer white-washed walls with country-chic styles plus elegant balconies with comfortable outdoor furniture. You also get a spacious wardrobe to organize your clothes and keep them wrinkle-free. The rates of the rooms are somehow on the upper budget price range, but you’re truly getting something worth every penny here!

Toiletries and towels can be found in your private bathroom and the toilet has a bidet (fancy!). Their facilities are also friendly to guests with disabilities, and their comfort has also been carefully thought of by the owners of the property.

Breakfast in the morning has plenty of American and Italian choices – all are delicious, as we all know that Italians know how to eat!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Villa Maria Pia ««

Mid-range Hotels in Monopoli

These hotels in Monopoli represent the middle tier of Monopoli accommodations — not too cheap, not too fussy and expensive (there are some real luxury hotels in Monopoli, which I’ll get to at the end of this article!).

We’re talking around $100-250 USD per night in peak season, though you can definitely get things on the lower end of the spectrum if you visit slightly off-season.

Albergo Diffuso Monopoli

This is where we stayed during our honeymoon and we loved it. We stayed in a two-floor apartment with a spacious one-bedroom on the lower floor with a gorgeous modern en-suite bathroom with rain shower.

The room colors were crisp and white, with a few colorful accents, and had ample wardrobe space for hanging up your clothing. Our room overlooked a quiet courtyard, where we could enjoy a delicious breakfast each morning.

The top floor was a kitchen with ample utensils and cooking equipment provided.. however, we ate out at restaurants every night during our trip to Italy (the food is too good not to!) that we never made much use of our kitchenette. What we did appreciate, however, was the complimentary bottle of wine they gave us as a congratulations (a very thoughtful touch) and the gorgeous balcony with beautiful views over the old town attached to the kitchen.

Some of the rooms have spa bath tubs and even larger balcony features, great for if you want to amp up the fanciness on your stay in Monopoli.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Albergo Diffuso Monopoli ««

Murattiane – Dimore di Stile

While this property is small and intimate, it is fully equipped with facilities and a balcony that will give you breathtaking views of the town. A fragrant scent also welcomes you the moment you step inside this hotel!

Most of the features are rather new (although you will see some old world inspirations that are typically Pugliese) because this is a newly renovated hotel.

You can choose from a deluxe or superior triple room and all of their rooms showcase a more modern contemporary style with some added unique décor (like metal flamingos and floral mandalas) plus indoor plants.

The private bathroom looks spacious because of the whitewashed walls and the use of minimalist mirrors and bathroom décors. A tiring day deserves a relaxing shower with their powerful rain shower heads — great to soothe aching muscles after a long day of sightseeing or road tripping.

They have a good selection for the free breakfast, which is served on the rooftop of the property. Right on the rooftop, you can also have a nice warm soak in the jacuzzi as well!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Murattiane – Dimore di Stile ««

Dimora nel Benessere

Dimora nel Benessere is set on the upper mid-range price because it offers a boutique-like accommodation that has unique artsy styles for every room, which sets itself apart from the standard scene you find in most hotels.

Many of the rooms are mostly booked by couples, some here on their honeymoon, the staff will often provide petals sprinkled in the room to provide a romantic atmosphere. You can also avail yourself of their massages and treatments – they also have ones specially made for couples!

The private bathrooms have glazed iron racks and organizers that make things look a little rustic, and the gorgeous bath tub will let you soak all your worries away after a long day.

And with the price they offer, you actually have a private sauna in your apartment – isn’t that awesome?

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Dimora nel Benessere ««

Borgo Cozzana

Offering double rooms (with a deluxe option), suites and apartments, Borgo Cozzana is a newly opened hotel outside of Monopoli that has the typical authentic provincial Italian feel. It has an outdoor pool for guests to swim in, and it has sun loungers and umbrellas to keep you shaded when it’s too sunny

Their rooms are well equipped with all of the things you will need to keep your trip hassle-free. It has arched ceilings and rugged walls that will transport you to another time, perfect for setting a romantic rural Italian atmosphere. They also used wooden furniture and metal décor to keep the countryside vibe going.

The private bathroom has complete amenities and you will love that they have an area where you can sit and do your make up or fix your hair. Natural lighting also enters the bathroom as well as the entire room itself – you may use the blackout curtains if you are someone who prefers to sleep in late.

There are plenty of wellness amenities like spas, hot tubs, an outdoor pool, a fitness center, personal training sessions, massages, etc. — all that you need for the ultimate relaxing place to stay near Monopoli.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Borgo Cozzana ««

La Casa del Pescatore

If you love the beach and plan to end the day with the relaxing sea breeze from your accommodation, this beachfront hotel right in front of one of the prettiest beaches in Puglia should be the first choice you should have.

They offer apartments with a living room and bedroom that will allow you to spoil yourself with views of the sea and the port nearby. If you think those dreamy views are perfect to give you the best vacation, you can surely enjoy it with a nice glass of free Prosecco wine they’ll leave for you in your mini-fridge!

This hotel incorporates the traditional architecture together with the shabby chic style, using motifs of fishes and sea creatures in the décor. It also has a balcony that gives you a nice place to check out the views exclusively.

There is a mini-kitchen, and a complimentary continental breakfast is available for all guests. The place is also perfect for those who plan to stay for longer periods of time because they have a washing machine on-site – but if you don’t feel like doing it yourself, you can also avail their laundry service.

Past guests got a lot of insider tips from the owner, and she is very attentive to any needs all guests may have. You will love how the service makes the entire experience more special!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at La Casa del Pescatore ««


A group of travelers or a family of up to four can have a spacious and comfortable stay at Terradamare. It offers apartments with 2-bedrooms plus a balcony with outdoor furniture that leads you to a dreamy view of the sea. The interiors have a perfectly rustic appeal.

The bathroom showerhead gives you several options and the best part would be the rain shower built into the ceiling, just like a rain bath! You are also provided with a smart TV that you can connect to the internet from your phone.

Croissants and coffee will help you start your day and a coupon will be provided by the owner so you can use it at the neighboring café.

If you want some relaxing massages, you can try some of their wellness offerings. Though it is set a bit in a quiet and secluded area, you can actually walk to the center of Monopoli in around 10 minutes.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Terradamare ««

Dimora Pirelli Suites & Spa

For couples who want to make the most of their stay in Monopoli, Dimora Pirelli has one of the best features and a quiet location that’s still very central.

All of their suites have divisions inside to keep the areas exclusive. The private bathroom have cobblestone walls and bathtub/shower combinations. Elegant retro prints are seen on the bed covers and curtains – they give life to the basic colors of the furnishings.

With the name “Suites and Spa” attached to it, there’s definitely a relaxing adventure awaiting you here. There’s a hot tub, solarium, sauna and a fitness center for all guests to use.

If you just want some personal time, but not really wanting something from their spa, then you can just have a nice glass of wine and maybe a good book while checking out the views at their shared terrace.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Dimora Pirelli Suites & Spa ««

Luxury Hotels in Monopoli

These gorgeous luxe hotels in Monopoli can be found for around $250+ a night in peak season.

Though if you visit in the shoulder season, note that you will likely be able to find these in the mid-range price tier!

Bellavista Suites

This property not only offers a stylish accommodation but also a very accessible and convenient location close to the bars and restaurants of Monopoli (and it also has its own on-site restaurant).

While all of their suites have a spa bath inside, if you wish to have a private pool as well, then you may opt for their luxury suite. They use mostly white furniture and décor – turning all their suites into something minimalistic and relaxing. You will also have a huge wardrobe in your spacious bathroom, aside from the tub. A huge bed with memory foam mattress goes alongside a work desk great if you need to work on your travels.

The stone walls have been there since the 16th century, and they’re also in the rooms that are fully decorated with refined classic furniture making each room look chic and refined.

All of their suites have different tiers that cater to different types of guests’ needs. Some added features are a barrel vault, hydromassage and chromotheraphy showers, and terrace with spa – those are really luxurious features that would be hard to find in an old town! This is truly perfect for someone who wants to take the spa features in their room without the need to go out to an actual spa.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Bellavista Suites ««

Attico sul Porto Antico

Attico sul Porto Antico gives couples an escape from the usual Monopoli hotels and gives them a traditional and somewhat romantic accommodation with all the luxurious amenities.

It has the typical arched ceilings and cobblestone walls plus fancy furniture and modern features like a rain shower with some beautiful colorful lights. It also has an indoor tub. Most of the features will make a great accommodation choice for honeymooners and couples!

The moment you step into your room, you will notice an antique feel with the stone walls and dramatic lamps which add emphasis to the beauty of the room.

They even have their own fireplace to keep you warm during the colder months. Someone who’s a true old soul will love how the entire place takes you back to a time that will truly give you one of the best traditional accommodations inside the old town.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Attico sul Porto Antico ««

Hotel Don Ferrante

A well-executed interior with matching traditional exterior is offered in this luxurious property that will truly teleport you to a time perfectly set between the past and future.

It has truly charming views from the open terrace that has lush vines creeping to create a rustic look with the layered rugged wood used as a shade. Sleek iron chairs and comfortable sofas are available in the living and dining area – they have an open plan style which is actually very modern. Plenty of natural lighting goes into the room giving it a brightness that highlights the best parts of the rooms.

They have many room types that guests can choose from – some are even in a separate building to give you that holiday home vibe (though getting these rooms would require you to splurge). For specific views, you should request it early, as some of these rooms can be booked quite fast, especially during the high season. There’s parking available near the property, but it can be a hassle in high season as it can get crowded.

Different events and even weddings can be held in their restaurant, Locanda Don Ferrante. It also offers all-white furnishing on their rooftop terrace and you may try some of their Italian dishes that are perfectly paired with some of the wines in their menu.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Hotel Don Ferrante ««

Bellariva Monopoli B&B e Relax

This beachfront hotel has a tropical-inspired outdoor relaxation area, with lush plants and cacti plus outdoor décor and furniture that’s all painted white. The best place to chill out in this hotel is the sun terrace where you will find a hot tub with some outdoor furniture, perfect for relaxing in the sun.

All rooms have a good view of the garden or the sea and are fully equipped with all-white painted furniture and décor, even the chandelier. The beds are extra-large, and they use really nice fabric for the pillows and cases!

The bathrooms are spacious and the shower area has either neutral colored or vibrant bold mosaic tiles. All of their suites have a private tub inside that will be perfect for honeymooners!

Bicycle and car rentals are also available at their front desk, which can be helpful to easily reach the old town – if you decide to walk, anyway it’s only 10 minutes by foot. You can also inquire about their VIP room facilities and wedding suite if you plan on getting married or having your honeymoon here.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Bellariva Monopoli B&B e Relax ««

Why You Should Visit Seili: A Historic Island in the Turku Archipelago

With thousands of islands in the Turku archipelago alone, picking just one to visit is an overwhelming prospect. Luckily, on my visit to Turku in partnership with Visit Turku, they were able to point me in the right direction: I found myself on the island of Seili, a beautiful island with an intriguing and complex past.

About two hours away from Turku via the M/S Norrskär, you’ll find Seili island. This island is also called Själo in Swedish, as many people in this part of Finland have Swedish as a mother tongue. Many people originally thought the name came from Swedish, “the island of souls” – in actuality, its name is more close to “the island of seals,” as it probably was an important place for seal hunting many centuries ago.

Seili is located in Nagu, part of the southern Airisto Sea, a quiet part of the Turku Archipelago. With a population of only 50 summer residents and less than a dozen in the winter, visiting Seili is enchantingly peaceful. There’s one main road, a handful of historic houses and buildings (many of which have been turned into accommodations), a few dozen cows, and some sheep.

Despite how small it is, Seili welcomes a fair number of tourists each summer. It’s part of the Short Archipelago Trail which connects a number of islands via trail, bridge, and ferry throughout a hundred kilometers of the Turku Archipelago. As a result, many cyclists pass through Seili for a half day or so on their way to complete the loop, though there are several places to stay on the island in case you get enchanted into a longer stay.

Yet while a visit to Seili is a beautiful way to while away a few hours on a midsummer day, many decades ago, being sent here was effectively a death sentence.

The History of Seili Island

The island of Seili is actually rather new, geologically speaking: emerging from the Ice Age a mere 5,000 years ago. It was used as an anchor spot by the Vikings, and archaeological evidence suggests that the island was first settled during the Iron age.

The island makes its first appearance in historical texts in 1540, as a small island with one village numbering five houses. But by the 1600s, the island would become inhabited by quite a few unfortunate souls: lepers who were sent to Seili to finish out their lives outside of the public eye.

Seili became a convenient place to ship people with leprosy, who were shunned not only because of the contagiousness of their diseases but also the perceived sinfulness of those afflicted with it. Leprosy was often viewed as a punishment from God for having committed some offense or the other: as a result, those who had it were often shipped away from the cities, so as not to corrupt the rest.

A small farm and several buildings cropped up during the 17th century to feed and home the patients and staff. Many of those buildings no longer remain, and the oldest is the so-called “White House” which now hosts students and tourist guides in the summer and dates back to the 1800s.

Actually, the island of Seili used to be two distinct islands: “the island of the sick” being where they sent the lepers, basically left to their own devices without much in the way of medical care. Occasionally, unlucky elderly people, poor people, and the mentally ill would be sent to this island as well.

Interestingly, the primary treatment for ill people back in the days of Seili’s leprosy colony days was alcohol. Patients were treated with booze until 1730, when it started to cause a lot of problems and it was forbidden. Funny enough, there’s a Finnish expression that refers to this bit of sordid history: “to be in full Seili” in Finnish means to get blackout drunk.

But the reality is that life expectancy was incredibly poor for people who got sent to Seili: typically, only 1-3 years. The situation was so dire that people who were sent to Seili were asked to bring their own coffins – not a great prognosis. All in all, some 663 lepers died here; the burial site still remains unknown on the island.

The last leper died on the island in 1785, but the island had already transitioned to a new kind of outcast: the mentally ill. The island became the first mental hospital in all of Finland. The mental hospital here was for women – men were sent to Karelia. It was meant to be a one-way ticket here: once you arrived on Seili, you’d likely die there.

Treatment of the mentally ill was pretty harsh, as was common for this time period. Electroconvulsive therapy, medically-induced comas, and “hot/cold” therapy were used, where they’d fill a helmet with alternatingly hot and cold water, to supposedly “cool down” the temperament. While lobotomy was never performed in the mental hospitals of Seili, they often received lobotomy patients from other parts of Finland who were no longer able to care for themselves.

In the 1960s, the mental hospital closed abruptly, and the 41 patients remaining on Seili were sent to various hospitals around Finland.

The Present of Seili Island

Today, you can visit Seili with a local guide who will tell you the history of all the buildings you pass. While there is some signage explaining the history of the island, I don’t think I would have learned a fraction as much of what I did about Seili without a local guide. The history of the island is its most interesting part, so I strongly recommend contacting Visit Seili and arranging for a guide to give you a walking tour and explain the island’s history to you.

One of the most interesting parts was visiting a treatment room from when the main building used to be a mental hospital, left basically as-is so you could get a sense of what the people who used to live here experienced. The room is strangely decorated with earthy tones and geometric squares on the walls, as both were thought to bring peace to troubled minds. A straightjacket laying on the bed reminds you of the ugly reality of this place’s history.

The island of Seili is now one main “village” area, which used to house the mental hospital and the caretakers for the mentally ill. There’s also a restaurant which serves a delicious lunch buffet and an a-la-carte dinner menu. There’s an inside part of the restaurant and also tables in the courtyard where you can enjoy your lunch in the sun.

Some of the buildings today were designed by the famous Finnish architect C.L. Engel, including this beautiful red building which was used as a residence for maids and nurses.

The 18th-century wooden church on the former “island of the sick” is one of the most interesting places to visit on the island, and I recommend visiting the sparse but beautiful wooden interior (this’ll be included if you do a guided tour, otherwise there is a small admission fee).

Seili is now primarily inhabited by a few local residents and a rotating student population, mostly students of geology and biology who spend a few weeks at a time living on Seili and studying its unique flora and fauna. Many of the old buildings have also been converted into accommodations and guesthouses where tourists can stay when they are doing the Short Archipelago Trail or just want an escape from the bustle of city life.

Should You Visit Seili?

Admittedly, Seili is quiet. There’s not a lot going on in terms of activities, besides learning the dark history of this beautiful place, going for a walk amidst the beautiful nature, admiring the church and buildings, and saying hello to the friendly resident cows if you can spot them while they’re out to pasture.

For a short day trip from Turku, it’s a perfect way to spend a few hours. The boat leaves at 10 AM, drops you off right before noon, and picks you up again around 4:30 PM, returning by 6:15 PM.

That’s just about the right amount of time to explore Seili on foot with a guided tour, see the church, have a long lunch and cup of coffee, and walk back to the port at a leisurely pace.

It’s also right along the Short Archipelago Trail, a 100-kilometer loop connected by bridge and ferry throughout the Turku archipelago. If you’re doing that trail, visiting Seili is a perfect way to break up the journey and get a good night’s rest before continuing onwards on your trip.

If you’re a fan of peace, beauty, isolation, and a hint of dark tourism: Seili is the perfect island to visit in the Turku Archipelago for you.

7 Reasons to Visit the Spectacular Westfjords, Iceland

It’s 2018. Every single person you know has probably already been to or is planning a trip to Iceland. It’s not surprising: Iceland is pretty much Instagram-perfection.

We’ve all seen those photos of the Blue Lagoon, picture-perfect waterfalls, and pristine black sand beaches. But let’s pull behind the curtain a bit.

People are everywhere you look — everywhere. And yet one of the most beautiful parts of Iceland is within a half day’s driving distance from Reykjavik, and it is just as stunning as it is blissfully empty of tourists.

I spent 8 days in Western Iceland, and the difference in the number of tourists in the area around Reykjavik and the Westfjords was striking.

Not far from Reykjavik, I visited beautiful Hraunfossar and Barnafoss — along with what felt like several hundred tourists.

Meanwhile, the thunderous Dynjandi waterfall – easily one of Iceland’s most beautiful waterfalls  – was surprisingly free of fellow tourists despite being the literal highlight of any Westfjords itinerary.

Just try to take a photo without tourists in it at any other waterfall in Iceland!

The Westfjords are probably the most visually dramatic part of the most aesthetically dynamic countries in the world. And yet, because they’re best seen in the short summer season and they’re on the other side of the country from some of the most iconic Icelandic sights, the Westfjords have remained wonderfully under the radar. It’s true that to properly visit the Westfjords, you need to dedicate a good chunk of your time in Iceland to exploring this region alone. Personally, I spent 5 nights in the Westfjords and felt like that was perfect. However, if you were a little more ambitious, you could certainly see the highlights in 3 days.

The Westfjords are also perfectly suited for road tripping, as the driving distance between the major sights is never that long, and you’ll find countless places to stop for photos without anyone else around. The roads are in generally quite good condition, though there are a few hair-raising gravel roads (I for one will never forget the drive to Rauðasandur, easily the most terrifying of my life and I’m not even afraid of heights). The road between Þingeyri and Hólmavík is especially well-maintained and easily one of the most beautiful roads to drive in all of Iceland.

I was road tripping around Iceland as a guest of Iceland Travel, who gives everyone who books their road trips a rental tablet with an exclusive companion app. I especially liked the itinerary feature, which suggested stops and highlights along the route, giving important historical and cultural context to each stop on the way. It’s a stress-free way to get all the freedom of a road trip without the logistics of planning. If you’re curious to follow in my Westfjords footsteps, this is pretty much the exact road trip I did with Iceland Travel.

If you need more convincing than just that to visit the Westfjords in Iceland, here’s why you really should prioritize this off the beaten path region on your next Iceland trip!

Sunny summer days in the Westfjords are the stuff of dreams

You’ll find some of the most stunningly beautiful landscapes you can imagine

The Westfjords isn’t just a clever marketing name – this region of Iceland is rife with fjords, mountains sloping down to the sea in impossibly beautiful ways. Iceland is home to whopping 109 fjords, about half of which you’ll find concentrated in the Westfjords region.

And while the Fjord Norway region is slammed with tourists in the summer, Iceland fjords slink by under the radar. While it isn’t “undiscovered” by any means, the Westfjords region of Iceland is so vast that you will barely see another tourist as you enjoy some of the island’s most dramatic and impressive scenery.

Fjords everywhere, and a fraction of the tourists

Westfjords summer days are literally never-ending

The further you go north in Iceland, the longer the days are in the summer. So much so that in Ísafjörður, there are actually two full weeks in summer where the sun doesn’t dip below the horizon. From June 20th to July 1st, you can enjoy the midnight sun.

I visited the Westfjords in the middle of August and the sun was setting at 10:30 PM and coming back around 4:30 AM, for a whopping 6 hours of ‘night’. Even then, the sky never got much darker than a deep blue. I thought this was a perfect time to visit the Westfjords – tons of photography hours while still getting dark enough to not confuse my Circadian rhythms into total sleeplessness. Luckily, all hotels in the Westfjords (and in Iceland in general) will have good blackout curtains, so sleeping through the midnight sun will not be an issue for light-sensitive travelers.

Golden light at 9 PM in Þingeyri – a late-rising photographer’s dream!

Of course, the inverse is also true as well. Life in the Westfjords is full of extremes, and winters there are not for the faint of heart. The ‘capital’ of the region, Ísafjörður, is nestled between fjords that reach so high at a latitude so north that the sun is not visible for about two months in the winter, from late November to late January. As a result, the town celebrates the sun’s first rays reaching the town each winter with a holiday called sólarkaffi, where they drink coffee and eat pancakes with rhubarb jam to welcome the return of the sun to their town.

The Westfjords is Iceland at its most off the beaten path

Thanks to airlines like WOW Air offering cheap flights to Europe that stop in Iceland, tourism in Iceland is accelerating at an insane rate, literally quintupling its tourism numbers in less than a decade. In 2017, the country saw over 2 million tourists, more than 6 times Iceland’s local population.

With numbers like these you’d begin to think that Iceland is completely overrun with tourists… but not so in the Westfjords! Only some 10-15% or so of Iceland’s 2 million tourists make it to the Westfjords, and an even smaller number of these tourists will explore the tiny towns and villages in depth, leaving them all to yourself.

“Urban sprawl” in the Westfjords most populated city, Ísafjörður

Where else will you find red sand beaches with not another soul around? Or empty spring-fed hot tubs looking out onto an impossibly beautiful fjord? Not along the South Coast, that’s for sure.

Tourism is a crucial but fickle part of the Westfjords economy

Once, the Westfjords was one of Iceland’s most prosperous regions. Settled in the 10th century, the Westfjords’ prime location on the Atlantic enriched the locals despite the obvious hardships of living in such an extreme place. But the last century has not been kind to the Westfjords. Severe avalanches, quotas put in place to avoid overfishing, and the economic crisis of the 2000s drew people away from the Westfjords, urbanizing rapidly the area around Reykjavik.

Despite all the odds stacked against them, the people of the Westfjords are resilient. Those who have chosen to make these rugged, unforgiving mountains their home will continue to do so. But as the importance of fishing and whaling has decreased in Iceland’s Westfjords, tourism has to some extent taken its place. Travelers are a critical part of the equation in preventing population drain from the Westfjords region.

Once a major fishing post, quiet Flateyri is now more dependent on tourism

Still, the majority of the Westfjords are truly open for tourism only a few months of the year, typically from mid-May to mid-September. While some parts of the Westfjords are still open for business during the harsh winter months, in general, the conditions are simply too unpredictable to welcome the few brave tourists who would even venture all the way up north. In Þingeyri, one of the owners of Simbahöllin told me that the drive we made from his coffee shop to his horse farm – which took us a mere 5 minutes on summer roads in a car – would take 1.5 hours in a tractor after a snowfall. Compare this to the rest of Iceland, where winter tourism is growing rapidly and hotels, tours, and restaurants are open year-round to meet the demand.

Tourism in Iceland tends to follow a very well-worn path, mainly along the Golden Circle, Ring Road, and South Coast. In particular, Northeast Iceland has experienced a huge drop in tourism – a decrease of some 33%, in fact. While the Westfjords haven’t experienced such a critical drop off, likely because it is better-connected to Reykjavik and thus more suited for shorter trips, it is still seeing a drop in tourism compared to the rest of Iceland. So if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of being one of the 2+ million tourists Iceland expects annually, head on up to the Westfjords, where your tourism dollars make a difference for the better.

Also, you get views like this without having to share. Win/win.

It’s heaven for spotting bird and marine life

The Westfjords region of Iceland is inhospitable to all but the most intrepid animals. Squat but strong Icelandic horses, sturdy sheep, steely people, and a few wily arctic foxes — Iceland’s only native land mammals — are the few creatures equipped to survive the harsh Icelandic winters.

But for what Iceland lacks in land animals, it makes up for with vibrant birdlife and sea life. The Látrabjarg cliffs, the westernmost point of Iceland, is one of the best places in the world for bird-spotting as the cliffs are too steep to allow the arctic fox to dine on the birds who make the cliffs their home. Just don’t visit too late in the summer season to spot puffins – I visited in early August and the puffins had already left!

Despite my lack of puffin-spotting luck at Látrabjarg, all hope wasn’t lost for me. During my time in the Westfjords, I kayaked through calm fjords with harp seals and puffins keeping me company. On my last day in Iceland, I glided in the fjords around Holmavík in a small boat, spotting humpback whales who serenely passed within feet of our boat as they dove acrobatically under the water. It was pure magic.

Our guide at Láki Tours explained that humpback whales are typically solitary creatures, so it was rather unusual and quite lucky to see these two swimming side by side for some time in the fjord waters.

Needless to say, I was floating on a cloud the entire drive back to Reykjavik.

Visiting the Westfjords feels like going back in time

In many ways, the Westfjords feel like they belong to a different time. The pace of life is undeniably slower. Aside from the odd gas station or supermarket here and there, you’ll find very few modern conveniences in the Westfjords. Even the city of Ísafjörður, which is decidedly bustling compared to the sleepy seaside towns that radiate out from it, feels like it’s from a previous decade.

While you’ll certainly enjoy the benefits of modern society – credit card readers are ubiquitous and central heating is everywhere – there’s also a strong sense of tradition that has been preserved in the Westfjords. Whether it’s the small museums that preserve the local tradition and folklore such as the Old Bookstore in Flateyri or the Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft Museum in Hólmavík, there are so many places in the Westfjords that feel unstuck in time in the best possible way.

Old-school vibes in Flateyri

There are amazing – and free – geothermal springs everywhere

Everyone knows about the Blue Lagoon (and mostly everyone know just how costly it is to visit). But there are so many amazing hot springs located all over the Westfjords in Iceland, and nearly all of them are completely free to visit.

If you book a car with Iceland Travel, they’ll point out geothermal pools not to miss along the way, which is super handy when you want to take a break from driving and go for a dip along the way t your next destination. A few of the most famous hot springs include the Hellulaug hot springs in Flókalundur, the hot springs in Krossnes (which I didn’t have time to drive to), and my personal favorite – the hot pots in Drangsnes. But part of the fun is just finding the hot springs as you discover the Westfjords at your own pace with a rental car.

A handful of fellow travelers enjoying some free hot springs

Note: Thank you to Iceland Travel for hosting me during my time in Iceland. All opinions expressed are my own.

Suðuroy: Escaping to the Southernmost Faroe Island

When my friend Megan and I began to plan our Faroe Islands itinerary, we knew we wanted to do things a bit differently. It was my first trip to the Faroes and Megan’s second, so of course, I wanted to see some of the islands’ most famous sights: the Gásaladur waterfall, the optical illusion of Lake Sørvágsvatn, the Kalsoy lighthouse, and a few others. But we also purposely decided to skip some of the Faroes’ most famous (and therefore most negatively impacted) sights – namely, Saksun and Mykines – in lieu of getting a bit off the beaten path and encouraging future travelers to the Faroes to spread out a bit for sustainability’s sake.

Unfortunately, the nature of people making their travel plans based on Instagram means that too often, people go to the same places over and over again. In a big city or a vast countryside, perhaps that wouldn’t matter so much. But when it happens in a place like Saksun – a village of 14 inhabitants – you notice.

This is part of the reason why we decided to give ourselves an overnight in Suðuroy. While Suðoroy is the third largest of the Faroes’ 18 islands, it is one of the least discovered by tourists. This is largely because people often skip Suðuroy due to its distance from the rest of the Faroes. From Tórshavn, it’s a two-hour ferry, which is a small hurdle in and of itself as most other ferry rides in the Faroes take only 20 minutes or so.

Views leaving Tórshavn

Another stumbling block to visiting Suðuroy is that since there are only two or three ferry departures daily, you definitely have to plan it in advance. Visiting Suðuroy not something you can tack on at the last minute, unlike many places in the Faroes which are connected by an impressive network of subsea tunnels.

However, those who do opt to discover Suðoroy will be pleasantly surprised to find a stunning island of sea cliffs and black sand beaches almost all to themselves. We spent one full day with an overnight in Suðuroy, and while we got a beautiful introduction to the island, it was definitely not enough time to see it properly. Suðuroy has several excellent hiking opportunities, so it would behoove you to spend at least two nights, perhaps three on this gem of an island, especially considering that you are at the whim of the ferry schedules.

Ferry leaving to return to the capital

Where to Go in Suðuroy

With just one full day in Suðuroy, we opted not to tackle the island’s best hikes, but rather to visit its villages to get a sense of the island as a whole. While we were happy we did it that way, we wished we gave ourselves more time to explore Suðuroy at leisure. It is the third-largest of the Faroe Islands and there are several great day hikes that make Suðuroy well-worth spending several days hiking and exploring. It’s also a great place to visit during high season (June-August) as it is less popular than other places in the Faroe Islands, giving you an off-peak feel even in the highest tourism season.

While I definitely have to return to Suðuroy to explore it more deeply, here is a quick guide to a few of the most important villages and sights on beautiful Suðoroy, Faroe Islands.


When you arrive in Suðoroy by ferry, you will arrive across the bay from Tvøroyri, one of the larger towns on the island, with a popular of 844. Tvøroyri is located on the edge of one of the most beautiful fjords in the Faroe Islands, Trongisvágsfjørður.

Moody light on my first view of Tvøroyri


Boathouses in the harbor of Tvøroyri

As a small village, Tvøroyri doesn’t have a huge number of activities to offer, but you will likely pass through it due to it being so close the ferry terminal and it is well-worth a visit. The area around the harbor looking over onto the other side of the fjord is beautiful.

One of the most common reasons why people visit Tvøroyri is to complete the beautiful hike to Hvannhagi, with its interesting geological formations and stunning circular lake called Hvannavatn. We didn’t have time to make the hike when we were in Suðoroy as we were prioritizing seeing the different villages, but it’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful hikes in the Faroe Islands.

Another great thing to do in Tvøroyri is to enjoy a heimablídni, which literally means ‘home hospitality’ and refers to a meal eaten in a local’s house. We enjoyed a meal with Elin and her family (and the world’s cutest smiling dog, Bella) while in Tvøroyri.

Bella is the only dog I’ve met who literally smiles to greet people. She alone is worth the ferry ride!


A delicious fresh fish soup at Elin’s

It was a great opportunity to actually get to know a few locals in the Faroes, something that is often a bit difficult to do in the Faroe Islands, as tourists tend to spend a lot of time in their cars driving from place to place or looking at the world from behind the camera. We got to speak to them about their thoughts on tourism in the Faroe Islands, sustainability, misconceptions about the Faroe Islands’ whaling practices, and what it’s like to live in one of the most isolated yet beautiful places in the world. To schedule a heimablídni dinner, you’ll have to book in advance (find information here).

We stayed overnight in Tvøroyri, at a B&B run by a lovely woman named Bindi. We had the entire furnished bottom floor of the house, which had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a cozy living room, and a large bathroom. I can’t speak highly enough about our B&B – especially with its stunning fjord views and a delicious breakfast. If you’d like to book, you can contact Visit Suðuroy or check out the B&B’s Facebook page.


Not far from Tvøroyri, Froðba is thought to be the oldest settlement on Suðuroy and in the Faroe Islands in general. To be honest, I didn’t find it particularly interesting or charming compared to other parts of Suðuroy, but since it is so close to Tvøroyri it is not a bad idea to make a short detour.

Road to nowhere


Fishing traps in the bay near Froðba

There are some interesting basalt columns on the road between Tvøroyri and Froðba, as well as a bench with what just may be one of the better views in the Faroes.


Hvalba is in the north of Suðuroy and is one of the largest villages on the island, with 626 inhabitants.

The black sand beach at Hvalba


Views of Litla Dimun, the smallest of the 18 Faroe Islands and the only uninhabited island

Hvalba was one of my favorite places we visited in Suðuroy, largely because of the gorgeous black sand beach with a view of the tiny uninhabited island of Lítla Dímun. The beach is in the middle of town and we really enjoyed taking a cold summer afternoon’s walk along the edge. The old harbor area of Hvalba, called Fiskieiði, is very photogenic and worth visiting when in town.

We ended up doing a short hike in Hvalba, past quiet Lake Norðbergsvatn and onwards to the sea cliffs of Norðbergseiði, where the water is far rougher and the scene more dramatic than the calm bay in Hvalba. You can park by the public restrooms and enjoy a short walk – about 30 minutes in each direction – to get to Norðbergseiði.

A small boathouse on the rough waters of Norðbergseiði


Hiking buddies in Hvalba

Back in the town of Hvalba, there are a few places to eat if you’re hungry – Grillbarrin (a fast food place where you can buy things such as hot dogs and burgers), Ruth’sa Café (which also works as the tourist center), and Bakkhús, where you can stop for groceries or baked goods. We just packed some sandwiches so we didn’t have a chance to try any of the places in Hvalba for lunch.


The northernmost town on the southernmost island, Sandvík is pretty quiet with only 161 residents, especially compared to the relatively “bustling” Hvalba and Tvøroyri. There is a lovely beach area between the town of Sandvík and the tunnel that connects it to Hvalba. There is also a small harbor area. There aren’t any shops or restaurants in the town, to my knowledge.

The photogenic but sleepy town of Sandvík


The harbor at Sandvík

If you have time to explore the area, the sea stacks in the area of Asmundarstakkur offer great views and birdwatching opportunities. Alas, with only one day in Suðuroy, we had limited time.


By far the largest town in Suðuroy with a population of 1,356, Vágur is well worth a stop during your time in Suðuroy. It’s home to a beautiful church and some amazing sea cliffs just outside the city. Near the football field, you’ll find signs for Vágseiði, which you can follow for amazing views of Vágsvatn Lake and the Eggjarner cliffs, one of the most scenic places in Suðuroy.

The cliffs of Eggjarner in Vágur

Vágur has a few restaurant options. There’s a restaurant called Báran, a cute café called Hjá Jugga, a fast food restaurant called Skýlið, and finally Pizzakøkurin, a pizza restaurant. The restaurants are all along the main road that goes through Vágur, Vágsvegur, so they are hard to miss. You’ll also find a small maritime museum on this street.

A Wes Anderson-esque building in Vagur


After crossing through the longest land tunnel in the Faroe Islands, you will reach Sumba, the southernmost town on the southernmost island in the Faroes (look at all those superlatives!).

Sumba is a cute town and well worth a visit. Just beyond Sumba, you can find Akraberg Lighthouse, which is the actual southernmost point in the Faroe Islands. This isn’t in Sumba per se, but in Akraberg about 5 kilometers outside of the town. We got a little lost looking for it as there wasn’t any clear signage – but clearly, we weren’t mad about it because we got some awesome panoramic views of the town.

Sumba, as adorable as the name sounds


The edge of the world (in the Faroes, at least)

Be very careful on the drive to Akraberg as the road is very narrow with ditches on either edge, and there are more cars making the drive than you’d expect. There are designated places to pull over to allow cars to pass, so it is definitely doable, but be cautious.

Getting to Suðuroy

Suðuroy is well-served by ferry, which has room for 200 cars and nearly 1,000 people on board. Unlike the ferry to, say, Kalsoy, you won’t have any issues getting a spot on board the ferry to Suðuroy so there is no need to show up that early. However, if you are in Tórshavn and planning on taking the ferry to Suðuroy later in the day, you may find it helpful to park your car in the waiting area for the ferry, as parking in Tórshavn can be a bit difficult to find.

As with all ferries in the Faroe Islands, you pay the return price on only one of the legs of the journey. On the trip to Suðuroy, you do not have to pay, but on your way back to Tórshavn you will have to pay. You can buy your ticket on board the ferry at a kiosk on Deck 5 on your way back to Tórshavn – don’t forget to hold onto your ticket as you will be asked for it when it is time to disembark the ferry.

The ferry to and from Suðuroy is very comfortable and modern, especially compared to the tiny ferry to Kalsoy, which brought out my claustrophobia hardcore. There’s a restaurant on board where you can buy drinks and snacks for the two-hour long journey. I can’t find the exact cost breakdown of the ferry, but I believe we paid roughly 300 DKK (about $45 USD) for our return ticket for two people and one car. The cost will be a lot cheaper if you are not bringing a car, but it would be quite hard to get around Suðuroy without one, so I don’t recommend it.

Where to Stay in Suðuroy

As I mentioned before, we stayed at Bindi’s B&B in the town of Tvøroyri. We absolutely loved our stay there, and it’d be perfect for a longer stay as you have access to a kitchen which is a great perk in the Faroe Islands, where eating meals out can get quite expensive. With two big bedrooms and a very spacious living room and kitchen area, it’s perfect for friends, couples, or families alike and the price is very reasonable. You have the option to rent one or both bedrooms.

To ask about availability, check out the B&B’s Facebook page.

Note: I was hosted by Visit Faroe Islands on my trip to Suðuroy. All opinions expressed are my own.

Why Nendaz, Switzerland Needs to be On Your Radar

Nendaz, Switzerland is famous for its ski resorts — but I’m of the opinion that it makes the perfect off the beaten path Switzerland getaway, even in the summer off-season. With quirky traditional Swiss festivals, beautiful mountain views, and outdoor activities in abundance, Nendaz is Swiss perfection pretty much any time of year, and made my top scenic places in Switzerland list quite easily.

But if you’re not planning on skiing, what else is there to do, you may ask? I’ve written down some of my favorite Nendaz activities so you can plan an epic summer trip.

Why is Nendaz so beautiful?
Just another view in Nendaz, no big deal…

Attend a cheesemaking workshop in Nendaz

For many, Switzerland is synonymous with cheese and chocolate. While we outside of Switzerland just immediately think of “Swiss cheese” as being the mild white cheese with holes we use on our sandwiches, the reality is that cheese-making in Switzerland is so much more varied and interesting than just Emmental cheese.

cheesemaking in Nendaz Switzerland - Valais region
Fresh cheese soaking for one day before beginning the aging process. Am I the only one who finds this vaguely erotic? Probably…


I love Nendaz cheese!
The look of love… is in her eyes.

The most beloved cheese in Switzerland is perhaps raclette – which is often served heated until bubbling and scraped off onto potatoes, cornichons, onions, or pretty much whatever your cheese-loving heart desires.

We woke up bright and early to attend a cheesemaking workshop. After catcalling a number of disinterested cows (sorry ladies, no disrespect meant) we went into the cheese room to see the magic of how cheese is created in the Valais region.

As an animal lover and omnivore, I often feel conflicted between my love of animal meat and products and my knowledge that animal welfare is often severely lacking. This is most certainly not the case in Switzerland, where the cows enjoy countless acres to roam and are treated lovingly by a small group of dedicated cheesemakers.

The cows of Nendaz Switzerland - so adorable!
Love the sass in her eyes! Now that is one happy cow.


A beautiful rainbow in Nendaz, Valais, Switzerland
As if the moment needed to be more magical, a freaking rainbow appeared. Like what is happening, Switzerland?

Hike around the Tracouet near Nendaz

Tracouet is the small mountain right in Nendaz’s backyard. With a simple lift ticket, you can be swept up the télécabine to a height of over 2000 meters in a matter of minutes.

The telecabine
A view from the télécabine over Nendaz

A cable car ride in Nendaz
How epic are those mountains in the background?

On top of Tracouet, there’s a number of hiking and mountain biking trails with stunning views. You can see down below to Nendaz and even as far as the nearby town of Sion on one side.

On another, there’s a stunning lake with mountain views. You can hike or bike to nearby towns such as Siviez or just enjoy the peace and quiet of a nature walk.

Peace in Nendaz near the lakes of Tracouet
Chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool….

Hike along one of Nendaz’s historic bisse channels

If true mountain hiking is a bit too demanding for you, Nendaz has a number of “bisses” – stunning water channels alongside easy hikes.

There are 98 kilometers of bisse walks which are well mapped out and marked throughout the Nendaz region. For more information and maps, read here.

Views like this? Pretty much everywhere you walk.

Attend one of Nendaz’s many summer festivals

If you’re lucky, you’ll be in Nendaz during one of the famous summer festivals. We were there just in time to see the Alphorn Festival, where traditional Swiss musicians play alphorn melodies in, well, the Alps!

In addition to some beautiful music and fascinating traditional costumes, there was also tons of festival food options to keep my heart (and belly) content.

At the Nendaz alphorn festival
Alphorn musicians prepare for a performance


Nendaz's famous alphorn festival preparations
Some flag action before the alphorn main attraction


A moth hanging out on the alphorn!
A surprise musical guest….

The Drink Pure festival was also on while we were there, so we could sample plenty of delicious local wines and even attend a local pop-up market with tons of food and wine to be had — a great atmosphere and tons of fun!

I especially love Swiss rosé – which rivals that of Provence – and sadly is not exported out of the country that often. In fact, 90% of Swiss wine is consumed in country, and a mere 10% is exported! Once you taste it, you’ll know why — they want it all for themselves (who can blame them?)

Raclette in Nendaz - sooo tasty
The beautiful, the one, the only: raclette <3 and at only 4 francs, you won’t feel bad going back for seconds, or thirds…


A raclette break with a delicious chocolate crepe – pairs perfectly with local rosé

Conquer your fears and go mountain biking

We went mountain biking with Neige Aventure and it was perhaps my favorite day in Nendaz… even though I’m a totally uncoordinated fraidy-cat on a bike who managed to eat it not once but twice.

And the clumsiness begins in 5, 4, 3….

If you’re  not super physically fit (i.e., me) you even have the option of renting an e-bike with motor assistance. I highly recommend renting an e-bike if you’re not an experienced mountain biker because some of the hills in and around Nendaz are intense, even for an experienced urban cyclist.

Going downhill? Equal parts terrifying and exciting. No, I lied, mostly just terrifying.

It was raining nearly our entire bike ride, but thanks to the enthusiastic spirit of our guides, we didn’t mind a little wetness.

Plus, it made our fondue, meat plate, and tea break all the more special!

food in Nendaz is amazing
An epic meal break with Neige Aventure



Swim in the world’s most beautiful public pool

Those views are too beautiful for me to even pun about

Guys… I used to live in New York City, and let me tell you, you couldn’t pay me enough money to get back in the water of one of those public (cess)pools.

Thank god Nendaz’s public pool is literally one of the most beautiful pools I’ve ever had the pleasure of swimming in. I mean, come on, look at those views. Plus, entrance is only 6 francs (about $6 USD) — a steal if I ever heard one.

Forgive the gratuitous bikini shots but I mean, with a background like that, you gotta do it for the ‘gram.

Happiest place on earth.

Have a spa day at 4 Vallées

The best way to recover from a rough day of hiking or mountain biking? A spa day in one of Switzerland’s most scenic towns, naturally.

The spa at the hotel 4 Vallées has a dizzingly large number of options to choose from. There is a Turkish style hammam steam room, a Finnish pine sauna, a traditional sauna, a salt room, an ice room, a stone room, a saltwater pool, a hot tub, an outdoor pool, and indoor pool…. and I’ve probably already missed something.

When you go to a spa with five other bloggers, prepare to get extra

Eat at Nendaz’s absurdly amazing restaurants

While eating out in Switzerland is undoubtedly an expensive experience, I think it’s worth experiencing Swiss cuisine. I found that often, the price between an average meal was not much different than an outstanding meal. So do your research and pick some of the best places to go, and you will be rewarded in kind.

Two places stand out in my mind in Nendaz: one in Basse-Nendaz, the other in Haute-Nendaz.

The menu at Café du Sapin Blanc, with plenty of omnivorous and vegetarian options!


Swiss wine, you slay me

Café du Sapin Blanc has a beautiful terrace and a cozy interior which was actually built all the way back in 1795: perfect atmosphere for either kind of weather. We enjoyed a couple glasses of delicious white wine (Fendant is a traditional Swiss varietal that I highly recommend!) before getting too chilly to enjoy the terrace.

Inside, we had some amazing starters: my favorites with the traditional assiette valaisanne (Valais plate) which is piled high with delicious, perfectly sliced meats and cheeses.

Come to mama


The most insane beef carpaccio of my life, with flakes of crystallized aged parmesan and an accent of homemade pesto. ALL THE YES.

The mains were similarly delicious, particularly the fish dishes and the alpine macaroni!

Another favorite was La Lanterne et Le Vieux Chaletlocated in Haute Nendaz. The owner, Alex, is amazingly passionate about the food he cooks.  Heed his advice when ordering for the best possible meal — he’ll give you a selection of outrageously delicious salads, appetizers, mains, and of course, dessert for a supremely reasonable price. The wines there are similarly fantastic, with lots of options including biodynamic local wines!

He will also gladly accommodate special diets if you contact him in advance. We accidentally forgot to tell him we had a vegan in our midst; even put on the spot,  Alex went above and beyond to create a fabulous, vegan-friendly meal with literally no advance notice, paced perfectly so that our friend never felt left out or hungry.

Catch the sunrise (or at least try to) on Mont-Fort

I won’t lie – we had bad luck trying to see the sunrise on Mont-Fort, and I can’t say it’s anything less than a gamble to try to see it. Since Mont-Fort is at an altitude of 3328 meters, you’re likely to get stuck in a cloud.

The good news is that the trip up to Mont-Fort in the dark is one of the most interesting and disembodying experiences I’ve ever had. Imagine riding up a chair-lift in the absolute pitch black, sleep-deprived, confused, and giggling up a storm with your friends.

What it should have looked like!

Then, the cup of cocoa, coffee, or tea you get included with your trip to Mont-Fort is the most welcome surprise. Hang out in “The Igloo” while waiting for the sun to hopefully make an appearance!

Where to Stay in Nendaz

Travelopo offers outstanding chalets in Nendaz – the one we stayed in could have quite literally slept 15 people comfortably. The living room and kitchen were fabulous, and our views were truly unbeatable. I definitely highly recommend this particular chalet, especially for large groups – it’d be fantastic in both winter and summer.

Check out our Travelopo luxury villa 

Our ridiculously lush chalet in Nendaz, courtesy of Travelopo

If you’re traveling in a smaller group and are just looking for a hotel, 4 Vallées comes highly recommended. While I didn’t stay in the hotel itself, if the spa is any indication, this is one classy place!

Check out Hotel 4 Vallées availability & pricing


Note: Many thanks to Nendaz Tourism and Travelopo for hosting us and helping us coordinate our amazing time in Nendaz, and to Cafe du Sapin Blanc and La Lanterne et Le Vieux Chalet for kindly having us as guests. As always, all opinions are my own — no BS, as always! This post contains some affiliate links. If you make a purchase using one these links, I’ll make a small commission at no extra charge to you.

Nendaz, Switzerland - a town of ski chalets and resorts in the Alps - is also pure luxury to travel to in the summer. Check out this stunning place in the Valais region and explore festivals, mountain biking, spa days, mountain walks, fondue and other foods, & so much more!

The Most Magical Things to Do in Bacalar, Mexico

Everyone flocks to the Yucatán peninsula for its truly stunning beaches. But ever the contrarian, my favorite beach in Mexico is actually not a beach at all.

It’s a lake, and it’s the most beautiful lake I’ve ever seen in the world.

Yes, I’m talking about quiet little Lake Bacalar. Not quite as coastal as it looks, Bacalar Lagoon is located inland in the very southern edge of the Yucatán Peninsula, close to the border of Belize.

Once a largely unknown lake, Instagram and the Internet age have catapulted it onto the radar of many, including — oddly though perhaps not surprisingly — a huge hippie population.

I’m not mad about it, though — I ate some of the best pasta I’ve had outside of Italy there.

Bacalar is a small town located about 5 hours from Cancun, 4 hours from Playa del Carmen or 3 hours from the other popular Yucatán hippie mecca of Tulum, popular destinations along the Yucatan Peninsula.

Not as frenetic as Playa and more low-key than Tulum, Bacalar Lagoon is truly an (increasingly-less) hidden gem on the Yucatán peninsula.

Its beautiful sights and low prices make it especially popular with people who are backpacking the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico.

It’s a must-see if you’re heading overland south to Belize, as it’s quite close to Chetumal, where you can easily catch chicken buses to Belize City to start your Belize trip.

Check out my extensive guide on what you should do and see in Belize if you’re headed that way.

While there aren’t many things to do in Bacalar, it’s still a place you can easily while away the days.

I spent my afternoons sipping Negra Modelos in a hammock overlooking Lake Bacalar, which is aptly named The Lake of Seven Colors. Though I think they’re selling themselves a bit short there — I counted far more than that.

Things to Do in Bacalar Lagoon

Admittedly, Bacalar isn’t the most exciting town in Mexico, but it’s not without its charms. Most of my favorite things to do in Bacalar revolve around its beautiful lake, but there are also a few other reasons to visit this lovely town.

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Planning to visit Riviera Maya Mexico? Get off the beaten path in Mexico and visit Lake Bacalar, the lake of seven colors. Bacalar is 3 hours from Tulum and makes a perfect place to visit in Mexico if you want something different. Here are the best things to do in Bacalar!
Planning to visit Riviera Maya Mexico? Get off the beaten path in Mexico and visit Lake Bacalar, the lake of seven colors. Bacalar is 3 hours from Tulum and makes a perfect place to visit in Mexico if you want something different. Here are the best things to do in Bacalar!

Stand-up paddleboard at sunrise

There are two partner hostels in Bacalar, The Green Monkey and The Blue Monkey, both of which offer stand-up paddleboarding tours daily leaving just before sunrise. For 400 pesos (approximately $20), you’ll get a guided paddleboarding trip through Bacalar that lasts about 3 hours, including a guide and paddleboard rental.

(If you’re planning a budget Mexico trip, check out this roundup of some of the best hostels in Mexico)

You’ll visit the sandbars with their many white birds, the Black Cenote, and El Canal de los Piratos (the Pirates’ Channel), where you can jump from the remains of a ship into crystal clear waters! This was definitely my favorite thing to do in Bacalar Lagoon.

paddleboarding is one of the best things to do in Lake Bacalar
Jumping into the water a great thing to do in Lake Bacalar

Kayak to the Black Cenote (Cenote Negro)

The Black Cenote is just a short kayak ride away from the Blue Monkey. In a matter of feet, the water goes from a peaceful turquoise to an inky black, where a limestone cavern has collapsed into itself to a depth of 90 meters.

There’s a rope swing nearby where you can catapult yourself into the water if you’re brave! Spoiler: I was not, because I have the coordination of a drunk toddler and jumping off a rope seems like a recipe for me to test the generosity of my travel insurance.

Take a boat tour

If you’re not up for paddleboarding, you can take a boat tour that will take you to all the best spots on Lake Bacalar, including the Pirates’ Channel, the Black Cenote, Cenote Esmeralda, and Cenote Cocolitos, where you can see stromatolites — the oldest living organism on the planet.

They only can survive in highly salty bodies of water in a few places on earth, and Bacalar — living up to its designation of “Pueblo Magico”, magic village — just happens to be one of them. Pretty freaking awesome.

Check out boat tours here.

Enjoy the Zocalo and the Fort San Felipe

Zocalo is the word for “main square” which virtually every Mexican city or town has at its heart. Right near Bacalar’s Zocalo you can find a number of restaurants as well as the ruins of an old fort, Fort San Felipe, built in the 1700s after the town was sacked by pirates.  Now, it’s an open air museum.

When looking for a place to eat, don’t miss Antojitos Orizaba, where you can eat authentic Mexican-style quesadillas — hint the

Where to Stay in Lake Bacalar

Though Bacalar is a small town, there are plenty of places to stay depending on your budget.

Budget: I stayed at The Blue Monkey and had mixed feelings It’s got a good lakefront location and strong AC. However, the showers are cold water only and the wifi is absolutely horrible – I could barely log on most of the time. It’s a bit of a walk from town (25 minutes or a $1 taxi ride) but nothing outrageous.

Instead, I’d probably try one of the newer offerings in town; there are some boutique hostels that offer more comfort at good prices. Next time I’d pick The Yak Lake Hostel (rated 9.0 with over 900 reviews on Booking.com) for its in-town location, excellent design and reputation for cleanliness. They also offer paddleboarding and kayaking tours if that’s something you want to do when you’re in Bacalar.

Mid-range: If you want more privacy than a dorm affords, I’d recommend Casa Zazil (rated 9.3 with over 100 reviews on Booking.com), which is no frills but comfortable and private. Located in town, it’s a 10 minute walk from the lakefront. Kulu Tubohostel is an interesting concept and has good reviews though I’m not sure I could commit to sleeping in a tube!

Luxury: Bacalar is a pretty laidback beach town but there are a few affordable luxury options. Casa Bambu is the best option in town, with a 9.3 rating on Booking.com. Its lakefront location and private rooms look super dreamy and that hammock has views for days.

Overwater Bungalow: Yes, there are overwater bungalows in Mexico, including the beautiful Akalki Resort & Spa. The overwater bungalows here are beautiful but a bit on the rustic side, but the location on Lake Bacalar and the amenities offered can’t be beat. Eat at their own farm-to-table restaurant, indulge in a massage or facial, or enjoy a temazcal (Mayan sweat lodge experience) or yoga class.

Getting to Bacalar Lagoon

Getting to Bacalar is quite easy and painless with multiple daily ADO buses. With wifi, AC, comfortable reclining seats, and movies, ADO buses are simply the best way to travel in Mexico. You can book online at clickbus.com.mx and show it to the driver on your phone.

For around 110 pesos ($6 USD) for a 3-hour bus ride from Tulum to Bacalar, in my opinion, it’s well worth the extra money to take a first-class bus. Second-class buses exist but may take up to twice as long to get to your destination as they will stop off wherever any passenger wants to be let off.

There are also daily buses from Playa del Carmen if you’re skipping past Tulum, but you’ll have to add on about another 1.5 to 2 hours for this trip.

Pin this guide to Laguna Bacalar!

Planning to visit Riviera Maya Mexico? Get off the beaten path in Mexico and visit Lake Bacalar, the lake of seven colors. Bacalar is 3 hours from Tulum and makes a perfect place to visit in Mexico if you want something different. Here are the best things to do in Bacalar!

9 Offbeat Things to Do in Nunavut, the Canadian Arctic

The sparsely populated Canadian Arctic

Welcome to another installment of my guest post series, “Offbeat Travel.” This time, I bring you Dawn Nicholson of 5 Lost Together who is sharing her experience in a tiny town called Taloyoak in Northern Canada’s Nunavut territory, located in the Arctic Circle. Read on below!


My home country of Canada is a very popular travel destination, especially this year when we are celebrating 150 years as a nation.  Most travelers are overwhelmed by the sheer size of Canada, which can make it difficult to see the varied regions, from the Canadian Rockies to the vast Arctic regions.

Since most Canadians live around the 49th parallel, near the US border, this is where most tourists spend their time.  However, the majority of Canada’s land mass is sparsely habited wilderness that few travelers get to see.

For us southern Canadians, we get a good laugh out of visitors that want to see icebergs and polar bears on their visit to Canada.  You have to fly many hours north to see these quintessential Canadian icons and very few Canadians or tourists make it up to the Canadian Arctic, also called “The Great White North.”

Flying to the Canadian Arctic in Nunavut

I was lucky enough to visit a small community in Nunavut as a teacher accompanying high school students on an exchange last year.  This allowed us unprecedented access to the community and people as we were guests, not tourists.  I feel so fortunate to have been able to visit this remote part of Canada and most importantly to learn about the Inuit people and culture of Canada.

If you do find yourself in a remote Canadian Arctic fly-in community, you will be rewarded by some truly unique and fantastic experiences.

Highlights of the Canadian Arctic

1. See the Arctic Landscape in Nunavut

It is surreal to look out over the landscape and take in the Arctic permafrost.  Since you are above the tree line, the horizon of white stretches on indefinitely.  With no noticeable landmarks outside each settlement, it is a wonder how the Inuit navigate the land.

The sparsely populated Canadian Arctic

2. Experience Inuit Culture

The Inuit are the indigenous people of the region and have lived in this harsh environment for thousands of years.  The Canadian territory of Nunavut was created in 1999 as part of a lands claim process between the government and Inuit people.  While the Inuit no longer live a nomadic lifestyle in igloos, the culture is being carefully preserved.

Elders in the community are revered and play an important role in maintaining traditional ways.  It is interesting to see the blend of modern society and traditional ways in the community.  Traditional clothing made of sealskin and furs are sewed carefully be the women of the community.  Hunting, ice fishing and going out on the land are important parts of life here still.

3. See the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis is on most people’s bucket list.  You actually don’t have to travel all the way up to Nunvaut in the Canadian Arctic to see this amazing phenomenon.  There are many places in northern Canada to view them during the winter months.  In fact, below the Arctic circle is often thought to be better for viewing than above.  Seeing the Northern Lights will require some patience to get the conditions just right.

4. Eat Traditional Foods

For centuries, the Inuit have lived off a diet rich in meat and fat to sustain them through the extreme winters.  Packaged food and fresh vegetables are now flown in regularly, but traditional foods still play an important role in Inuit communities.

Arctic char is a delicious fish that is a popular staple in the Arctic and is often eaten raw or in a stew.  Caribou and musk ox are also popular and easy for visitors to sample.

For the more adventurous eaters, you can try seal and even polar bear.  It may sound barbaric eating these animals, but Nunavut’s small population and careful quotas show that it can be done sustainably.

5. Go Ice Fishing in the Canadian Arctic

I visited in May and when we went ice fishing the ice in Nunavut was still over 2.5 meters deep.  The Inuit are skilled at using augers to drill the holes for ice fishing, but they still use a simple dowel with line and hook.  Ice fishing requires a lot of patience, so make sure you come prepared with hot drinks and very warm clothes.

Ice fishing in the Canadian Arctic

6. Experience Extreme Days and Nights

Days where the sun almost never sets makes you realize how close to the North Pole you are in the Canadian Arctic.  There is something about watching the sun set at 1 am in the morning over the frozen tundra that is simply magical.  It can be a challenge to sleep in the “summer” months and blackout blinds are a must.  Likewise, in winter you will need to be prepared for hardly any daylight in Nunavut.

Be sure to pack warmly and include plenty of winter clothes!

7. Go Winter Camping to the Extreme

Conditions are extremely unforgiving and harsh in the Canadian Arctic and it takes winter camping to a whole new level.  With Inuit guides, camping out on the land is a truly unique experience.  Historically, the Inuit have used dog sled teams to move around on the land. Now, they use snowmobiles and kamatiks, a sled that is pulled by a snowmobile.

8. See an Igloo Being Built

Igloos are symbolic of the far north of Canada and for hundreds of years been used to create homes and shelters out of compacted snow.  Building an igloo takes an incredible amount of skill to construct.  They are exceptionally strong and provide excellent protection from the cold and wind. The Inuit no longer use these for housing in Nunavut, but are working on passing this tradition down to the next generation.

9. See the Wildlife

Polar bear tours are very popular from Churchill, Manitoba and in the Spring you can even see newborn cubs.  Further north, you can see migratory animals like caribou, musk ox, belugas and narwhals.  Unfortunately, since we didn’t do any tours in Nunavut, the only wildlife we saw were skins and furs.

Snowmobiling in Nunavut Arctic Circle

Planning Your Trip to the Canadian Arctic

An Arctic trip is almost impossible to do independently and will require booking a tour to be able to experience these Arctic highlights in Nunavut.  Entry points to the Canadian Arctic are Yellowknife, Iqaluit, and Churchill.  There are small cruise ships that travel into the Northwest Passage in the summer months and visit a number of wildlife hotspots and Inuit communities.

Be prepared to spend some money to reach this remote area of the world as flights and tours are not cheap.  However, you will be getting to see an area of Canada that few people have seen and experienced.

About: Dawn Nicholson loves traveling and blogging about her adventures traveling and living overseas with her three kids at www.5losttogether.com.  She has visited over 50 countries and believes strongly in traveling now with kids by whatever and any means possible – backpacking, sailing or living as expats overseas. You can follow her adventures and musings on Facebook and Instagram

Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you purchase something using one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no added cost to you. No BS – I only recommend accommodations, services, and products I truly believe in.

Experience the Canadian Arctic in Nunavut. Build igloos, go ice fishing, go snowmobiling, and see the elusive Northern lights if you're lucky

Gorgeous Trebinje: Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Rustic Hidden Gem

I know it is the ultimate privilege to be able to say this, but travel can be stressful. And that’s why you need to incorporate days to slow the eff down when you’re living a life of frequent traveling. Lucky me, I was able to do this slowdown in the cute, quaint little city of Trebinje, Bosnia – a town of 30,000 people with virtually no foreign tourism, for now.

Yet for such a small town, Trebinje truly has the best of Bosnia, all in one tiny package. While there aren’t that many things to do in Trebinje, it’s the perfect place to embrace the good life and live a little slower – if only for a time.

I spent 4 days in Trebinje and found it perfect for my laid-back travel style; however, if you’re just hoping for a quick visit, I’d say you can happily see most of the highlights in two. I wouldn’t try to give it just a day, though — the city is worth way more than just a blitz-style stopover.

Things to Do in Beautiful Trebinje, Bosnia

Peacefully stroll along the Trebisnjica river

gorgeous Trebinje Bosnia is a sight to behold
A river view in Trebinje, Bosnia

The river that goes through Trebinje, the Trebišnjica, is stunningly beautiful. This is the perfect place for a walk even on hot summer days, as the river breeze is nice and cool. As you walk, admire the glassy beauty of the water.

The river is more still than many in the area, making it perfect for photographs. Just look at how perfectly it mirrors the buildings on the other side of the river bank — swoon.


Admire the beautiful mountains

I’ve never seen mountains quite like Bosnia’s. Vaguely Martian in their undulations, they’re somehow both barren and supple. It’s the perfect landscape to fix your eyes on.

While I was fully in relaxation mode in Trebinje and I never got up to much physical activity, there are several hills perfect brisk day hike, just on the outskirts of the city. I’d imagine that the views are stunning!

Marvel at the most peaceful Old Town in the Balkans

Trebinje has what is likely the least busy, least touristy Old Town in all of the Balkans, which is in itself almost enough of a reason to visit this historic town.

The Old Town was built by Ottomans in the 18th century and is remarkably intact. It’s lovely to walk through, not least because virtually no one will harass you. There are a few restaurants and shops, but the prices aren’t nearly as inflated as you’ll find in other old towns — I’m looking at you, Dubrovnik — and it’s actually enjoyable to spend some time there.

Shop at the sleepy market in the main square

This market is open daily in the mornings but is best on Saturdays. You can get everything from the freshest organic produce to local honey to home-cured prosciutto to a variety of handmade cheeses. Sadly, the cheeses are in danger of becoming extinct with impending EU regulations, should Bosnia be admitted to the EU. So go now and eat all the cheese. For science.

Make sure you also buy the homemade ajvar (red pepper spread) and, if you’re daring, rakija (fruit-based “brandy” prepared in two-liter bottles). Don’t be afraid if they’re sold in old, recycled water bottles — that’s how you know you’re getting the real deal.

Hike to the fortresses

If you want even more of the landscapes, make sure you don’t miss the hiking in Trebinje. Trebinje is surrounded by seven hills, each with its own unique calling card, such as the abandoned Austro-Hungarian fortress on Fort Strač.

The hikes are moderate, taking about an hour and a half or so to complete, requiring no special footwear. Be sure to stay on the path as Trebinje and Bosnia in general continues to have issues with stray landmines.

Marvel at one of the most beautiful bridges in Bosnia

The Arslanagić bridge is one of Bosnia’s most beautiful – and this is a country that knows its bridges (have you seen the Old Bridge of Mostar? — stunning). Complete with two large arches and four smaller ones, its unique design is characteristic of its former Ottoman influences.

What’s better, because Trebinje is not that touristy yet, it’s easy to get a photo of the bridge without any people on it virtually any time of day!

Visit the Old Monastery in town

Seeing the Herzegovacka Gracanica monastery gave me a serious sense of deja vu because it’s a replica of the Gracanica monastery in Kosovo, which I had seen when visiting Prishtina. Done in the Serbian Orthodox style, this monastery is definitely worth a visit, as it’s unlike most other religious buildings you’ll see in Bosnia, which will largely be mosques.

But because Trebinje, Bosnia is part of Republika Srpska, a semi-autonomous entity within Bosnia & Herzegovina, it is actually majority Serb – and hence majority Orthodox. Another thing you’ll notice is that all the street signs are in Serbian Cyrillic, which is something you won’t see in Mostar or Sarajevo!

It’s a brief walk from the center of town, probably about 30 minutes depending on your pace, mostly uphill — so bring water if you’re hiking it in the summer, as Trebinje can get hot!


Watch a sunset from the Old Monastery

(photo: source)

About an hour before sunset, take a walk towards the Old Monastery with a few Sarajevsko beers (or a water bottle of rakija, no judgment, get your Balkan on) and watch the sunset in the beautiful hills that surround Trebinje.

Definitely one of the best places to see the sunset in gorgeous Trebinje!

Go wine tasting

Did you know Herzegovina (the region that Trebinje falls under) is a famous agricultural region, particularly noted for its wine? Nope, me neither, at least until I got there!. There are lots of places just a few kilometers outside of Trebinje where you can do wine tasting at local wineries, though these usually require a small group and an appointment. Wine tasting is very cheap – usually about 10 marks (5 euros) including food! Or, if you’d like to sample some local wines at a restaurant, try Vukoje. It’s upscale by Bosnian standards but you still would be hard pressed to spend more than 10 or 15 euros per person.

If you’re not going wine tasting but you want to seek out some local wines at the grocery store or restaurants; look for zilavka if you want white, and vranac if you want red.

Take a day trip to Dubrovnik

Most people tend to do this in reverse – visiting Trebinje as a day trip from Dubrovnik, mostly because it can be quite expensive to find a place to stay in Dubrovnik.

However, going from Trebinje to Dubrovnik is quite easy – the bus takes a little less than an hour, or you can hitch a ride for a few euros with one of the locals who lives in Trebinje but works in Dubrovnik (this is what I did – my hosts at Hostel Polako hooked me up!)

Dubrovnik is a magical city and it’s definitely worth a visit if you have time during your time in Trebinje. Go on a self-guided Game of Thrones tour, wander around the Old City Walls, eat a fresh seafood risotto at one of the many delicious restaurants in town, watch people swim in the Adriatic, or take a ferry to Mljet or one of the many small islands near Dubrovnik… there are countless ways to spend a day trip to Dubrovnik, in fact you may find yourself needing to spend at least a few nights there!