Ask Melissa: Your Travel Questions Answered

Indagare was built on the belief that shared knowledge among passionate travelers is the key to transformative journeys. That’s why, in one of our recent Indagare Spotlight e-Newsletters, we asked our community to submit their travel questions to our founder and CEO, Melissa Biggs Bradley. Here, we highlight some of the Europe-focused questions and Melissa’s answers. Note: We will be running the rest of the questions in a forthcoming article.

What are your top hotel and restaurant picks in Venice? Can you arrange access to the Biennale?
Venice is a city that can be explored time and again and one I have returned to several times in the past few years. Some of my favorite restaurants include the places highlighted in our Venice Top Tables article. I always try to eat lunch on the deck of the Gritti and have dinner at Cip’s and Antiche Carampane, which a friend introduced me to years ago. I also loved taking a boat over to the special winery and restaurant Venissa.

While there are an abundance of places to stay, I do have several favorites. For families, you can’t beat the iconic Belmond Cipriani, which has a resort setting with a pool and lots of gardens; the San Clemente Palace Kempinski is not as grand but also has great grounds. The Gritti Palace is very old world, even though it was recently entirely redone. I love its Baroque interiors, central location and excellent service. The Aman Venice, despite being located off the beaten path, has gorgeous public spaces, sleek Aman-style rooms and a lovely garden. It is worth visiting the latter for a meal at the very least as the chef is fantastic.

We have relationships with some of the best guides in Venice and they make visiting the Biennale a treasure hunt as they can steer you to the best exhibits; otherwise it can be really overwhelming. Contact our Bookings Team to arrange an incredible itinerary that highlights the city’s best attractions and includes some behind-the-scenes access.

Related: Melissa’s Travels: Venice’s Eternal Seduction

I am planning a nine-day trip in August for my family of five (with three girls in their 20s). We were thinking about Barcelona and Mallorca but are worried it will be hot and crowded. Thoughts? Any other suggestions for our trip?
All of Spain will be hot in August and while Barcelona will be crowded, Mallorca will be beautiful, and it is possible to get away from the crowds. I would recommend you spend just two nights in Barcelona at a hotel with a pool, like the Hotel Arts or Hotel Majestic, and plan to siesta when the heat is strong in the early afternoon. And because of the crowds, plan out your days and have reservations made in advance.

In Mallorca, our favorite properties are Cap Rocat and Castell Son Claret. The former is a beautiful, design-savvy resort overlooking the Bay of Palma de Mallorca, whereas the latter is located inland and slightly more traditional, but equally luxurious. If you have time, it might be fun to add on a few nights at Sant Francesc in Palma’s Old Town, which is known for its cobbled streets and fronts a gorgeous harbor. Even if you don’t stay, go into Palma town to explore and go shopping with your girls.

If your daughters would like a bit more of a scene or easier access to shopping and nightlife, another resort destination that might be of interest is Marbella. Finca Cortesin, which boasts beautiful grounds, a relaxed setting and plenty of grown-up on-property activities, is great for a secluded retreat, whereas the waterfront Marbella Club Hotel is a glamorous resort that is great for families with kids of all ages.

A last option that might be fun would be to visit Trasierra, a private home–turned-hotel in the hills of Andalucia. The special property, with a remote location in the Sierra Morena Mountains among thousands of acres of wild olive and orange groves, has a cult following among the super well traveled, yet remains a bit of a secret.

Related: Top 10 Mallorca

What do you recommend for six nights in Portugal for mothers and daughters?
Portugal
is massively popular at the moment and for good reason. I’ve visited twice in the past year, including with my 18-year-old daughter, and we both loved its energy and beauty. The best itinerary for a mother-daughter road trip would include three nights in Lisbon (including a day trip to Sintra), one night in São Lourenço do Barrocal in Alentejo and two nights in the Douro Valley, which is home to a stunning hotel, the Six Senses Douro Valley. For those who aren’t confident with driving themselves, we recommend skipping Barrocal and having a car and driver take you directly to the Six Senses. We are very well versed in the up-and-coming destination, and our Portugal specialists can put together a great itinerary that mixes classic sights with some of Portugal’s best new restaurants and shops and visits to developing regions.

Contact us to plan your trip and read Why Go Now: Portugal for further information.

If you could bring a family to two places in Greece (not including Athens), which islands would you recommend? Santorini and Mykonos?
Santorini and Mykonos are the most popular islands in Greece but very different. Santorini is traditionally more of a romantic destination, as the main towns are perched on cliffs and most hotels have age minimums of around 13-years-old. Santorini is also not the most active destination, so while there is great hiking and boating, visitors to there tend to spend most of the day relaxing at their hotel. Mykonos is much more family friendly, and it has a charming town, fun nightlife scene as well as a handful of beach clubs. Crete is another island to consider. It has a lot of family-friendly resorts with great activities and kids’ clubs as well as the Palace of Knossos, the historic site that every child knows from the story of the minotaur.

Beyond these popular destinations, Greece has a wealth of other islands that are lesser-known but allow travelers to see a more authentic slice of Greek life. One of the best ways to experience the country is by renting a villa or visiting by boat, and we can arrange a house or a private charter that allows you to visit many islands in a short amount of time, as well as access hidden coves and quiet beaches. One resort that warrants planning into an itinerary is Amanzoe; located on the Peloponnese peninsula, the remote luxury hotel is a great base for discovering the ancient history and untouched beauty of the region.

Related: Best of Greece

I am traveling to the Loire Valley and need some help picking three or four chateaus to stay in. And what are your thoughts on renting a car?
The thing to know about the choices in the Loire Valley is that many of the chateaux hotels are long on history and short on charm. I prefer to visit the historic properties and stay in chateaux hotels that have some modern comforts like wifi and fresh bathrooms, even if they are in historic buildings. Many properties in the Loire feel tired, so I would recommend staying in one or two chateaux and visiting others because while the area is large, you can choose bases instead of moving a lot. If you want to sample two, I would suggest picking two of these three. Chateau de la Bourdaisiere is a fabulous private chateaux that has been turned into a hotel by ‘Le Prince Jardinier,’ an aristocratic celebrity gardener, but it still feels very much like the owner’s passion project. Each room is different and you have access to his incredible gardens. La Dixmeresse is also small and charming. Set in a lively village, the 19th-century mansion was renovated into a five-room hotel in 2014. Domaine de la Tortinière in Veigné is another lovely property that includes a small chateau and cottages. Again, each room is different and the owner is very involved but it does have a pool, small spa and gourmet restaurant.

We definitely recommend renting a car as the region is large, but the country roads are good so you can easily navigate with a good GPS. Just make sure that you know how to work it before you leave the rental lot. I explored this way last year and found it very easy. In some areas, you can bike the extensive network of trails that cover the Loire Valley and link the main castles, but you will still need a car, either your own or a driver. Make sure to have a meal at Le Saint Honore in Tours, a really special local restaurant, and if you would like to make some visits to smaller wineries, we have great contacts and guides.

For more tips, read our Loire Valley Destination Report and a Q&A with Loire Valley insider Nicholas Tomlan

What are the five most important things to see or do in Sicily?
Sicily
is a big island, nearly the size of Massachusetts, and there are many towns and sights to explore. Even with the most thought-out itinerary, there is still a lot of driving involved. Luckily, most of the island is beautiful to drive through, especially the southeast, home to the Baroque towns, where small country roads lined with wildflower fields and olive groves are a joy to explore. Some of Sicily’s most important sights are the Valleys of the Temples at Agrigento, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the Greek theaters at Syracusa and Taormina; and the Norman Palace with its exquisite Cappella Pallatina, in Palermo. Gems that are slightly more off the beaten track are the breathtaking cathedral of Monreale, (near Palermo), as well as the Villa Romana del Casale, a Roman villa with incredible mosaics. Naturalists should not miss a guided hike in the Mount Etna area, while foodies will want to visit the Baroque town of Ragusa, home to the Michelin-starred Duomo restaurant.

Related: Sicily – Six to Know

I am planning a trip to Italy this summer with my husband. What beach and hotel would you recommend? We are searching for something other than Capri and Sardinia, with cool people and good restaurants.
Italy has a wealth of beach towns and resort destinations, so it is an easy place to visit several times and always discover a new region. Capri and Sardinia are classics for good reason, but additional favorites include Portofino and the Belmond Splendido hotel, Puglia and Borgo Egnazia or La Fiermontina or the iconic Il Pellicano in Tuscany. If you are up for a bit of a different experience, the Italian Lake Region has a resort feel and some spectacular hotels. The romantic Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda is perfect for a trip with your husband, whereas Villa d’Este on Lake Como is a sprawling estate and great for families and couples.

For more options, read our Italian Beach Matchmaker or contact us to speak with one of our Italy travel specialists.

Note: This article focuses on the questions we received about Europe. We will be running the rest of the questions in a forthcoming article. 

Still have a question? Contact us for all your travel needs, whether it is help planning a celebratory vacation for a large group or advice on where you should go next.

– Melissa Biggs Bradley on May 9, 2017

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