3 TIPS TO FINDING GREAT RESTAURANTS

There's been quite a trend in my blogs lately, and it has to do with my favorite way to experience the culture of a location. You may have guessed it...food! I have no shame in this topic. I. LOVE. FOOD.

Tiramisu in Madrid

Tiramisu in Madrid

Food is the foundation to all of my itineraries. I lay the groundwork with three solid meal choices per day (maybe even an acclaimed coffee shop and snack stop), and then find experiences and sites near those restaurants. I take food VERY seriously. I've said it before, and I'll say it again...I've never met anyone who has planned a trip to Italy without making a point to indulge in the pasta or pizza. I think that this example, while very cliche, makes my point quite nicely.

This logic is exactly why I spend the bulk of my time planning on researching restaurants. The research pays off, and I am going to share my secrets with finding the perfect gastronomic delights!

1. Don't trust Yelp. I should note two things here: 1) this is a rule that applies more with international travel and 2) I don't mean specifically and exclusively Yelp. I am referring to all the review sites that tend to be a perfect beacon of light towards great meals in the U.S., but don't always work in other countries. Yelp and the likes aren't popular everywhere, and therefore, most reviews tend to be written by tourists. If a restaurant is #1 with hundreds of reviews in English, you are most likely going to be sitting with many Americans and wondering why you took an international flight to sit next to someone from Nashville, TN. Nothing against anyone from the Volunteer state, but it just may not be the authentic experience you were hoping for. As a last note on this point (and minor clarification), it isn't that all places that are popular with tourists are bad, but depending on their location they may be able to get away with lesser quality because they know they will always have guests knocking on their doors. For example, I learned why Parisians had a stereotype of being rude while eating at a restaurant near the Eiffel Tower. There was no incentive to provide excellent service, or food, because their tables were full just by catching the eye of hungry tourists during their site-seeing around town. Your best bet is to wander off the main streets and dip into a place that entices your tastebuds.

Steak frites in Paris

Steak frites in Paris

2. Trust your gut. Have you ever walked by somewhere and just known that you were meant to eat there? As if there was a gravitational pull towards their menu? I have actually been en route to a restaurant and walked past a cute courtyard and derailed my entire evening. And you know what? It was perfect. Better than perfect...it was kismet! It also turned out that the restaurant that I wanted to had been packed that night and was full of tourists. Instead, what I found was a historical nook away from the world where I only heard one table speaking English...my own! We had found a gem, and I will forever return and suggest that restaurant to anyone visiting that city because of the hospitality, food, and incredible background of the building.

3. Get busy reading blogs! Not every blogger has the same tastes or insight, but that is what makes the blogging world so helpful. I read close to dozens of blogs on each location I visit just to make sure that I am getting as much information about a place as possible before arriving. This removes the intimidation of travel, but also provides me with time-saving tips to get the real "meat and potatoes" of a city. I will compare suggestions on blogs to on-line reviews (taking it with a grain of salt, per my recommendation on #1), and continue my search until I feel like I have found the best matches for the budget, ambience, and geographic location that I am seeking. After all, the information is free and available, so it may be better to invest time than waste the coin on a meal that was mediocre.

If you don't have the time to search, compare, and plot...that's what we are here for! We can take the searching off your plate (pun intended) and tailor your itinerary dreams specifically to your style. Our team will read countless blogs, reviews, magazine articles, and forums to make sure that we get it "just right." And we promise...we are good at more than just eating.

5 TIPS TO MAKE YOUR PARIS TRIP PERFECT

There are many things to see, do, and eat in the city of lights, but there (in my humble opinion) five things that every visitor should make time for in their trip in Paris. I realize that this city tends to be a gateway to the rest of Europe for many tourists, but despite how long or short your trip may be, these "must do's" can help you experience Paris in the romantic way that it tends to be portrayed in the movies.

1. Plan a picnic. Upon arrival, you may be tempted to ditch the airplane blanket and leave it crumpled with your pretzel bag in the crease of your seat. However, this makes for a perfect picnic blanket during your trip. Save the blanket, grab some cheese, roasted tomatoes, fresh berries, a baguette, a bottle of wine, and settle in at the Luxembourg gardens, Tuileries, or in the shadow of that very iconic tower.

Photo credit: One Kings Lane and Laduree

Photo credit: One Kings Lane and Laduree

2. Break for brunch. I consider brunching in Paris the equivalent of high tea in London. I adore the pastry tower, juices, sandwiches, and perfectly soft macarons of the famous Ladurée on the Champs-Élysées. This brunch is only served on Saturdays and Sundays, but it's worth making arrangements to eat yourself silly among chandeliers, floral tapestries, and a view of one of the most famous streets in the world.

3. Tour the arrondissements. Sure, it is easy to stay near the Eiffel Tower or to huddle close to St. Germaine, but this city really begins to unfold when you discover the different cultures of the various segments of town. There are twenty in total, and I definitely recommend some over others...but we'll save that for another day!

4. People watch. If you look at any street cafe (at any time of day), you'll notice that the locals are sipping (not gulping) beverages and leisurely enjoying their time. This is where I just want to throw my hands up and claim that I lost my passport for a week! In my opinion, this prioritization of doing "nothing" is everything. The locals are refueling, brainstorming, and just simply enjoying the beauty of their city. Who can blame them? So grab a glass of champagne or espresso and join in the non-productive, but oh-so-liberating act of people watching. For some great spots, check out Rue Montorgueil!

5. Frequent the markets. Paris has a street market for everything! Food?....check! Antiques?....check! Fashion? You guessed it...check! You will not find the same thing at any market, and you will find that each neighborhood sells something different. Plus, navigating your way to and from the markets will help you understand the geography of the city and help you create an adventure that you otherwise may not have had. For more on markets, see my previous post.

I truly did not expect to love Paris in the way that I did, but I can't help wanting to return every year for the rest of my life (building that in the budget...wink wink). As I've said about Rome in the last post, Paris deserves at least three full days on your itinerary. These five things may take a little extra time on the agenda, but you will walk away with a deeper understanding of what makes this city such a bucket list item for most people!

WHAT KIND OF TRAVEL?!

I feel it in the air…do you? There’s a change coming…a big one.

Travel is changing.  People used to turn to travel agents for expertise and planning. Nowadays, it seems that travel agents tend to focus more on luxury travel, which leaves every other traveler who isn’t booking 5 star resorts to fend for themselves.

The biggest shifts are that people are not only traveling more frequently, but at a younger age, and with a completely different agenda. Experiential travel is taking over the tourism world…

What kind of travel?!

I also use the term “experiential travel” in describing what Explorateur Travel focuses on, and I keep getting a lot of “what is that” and confused facial expressions. This type of travel can be better summed up by examples than a vague description.

Cappuccino at the famous Cafe de Flore

Cappuccino at the famous Cafe de Flore

Experiential travelers would rather sip a piping hot cappuccino with a fresh baked croissant while people watching at a sidewalk café instead of waiting hours in line to catch a moments view from the top of the Eiffel Tower (even though that view is quite breathtaking).

Need another example? How about visiting a vineyard during harvest season to help pick some grapes and then finishing the tour with a fine vintage grown in that very soil. Or renting an apartment (we love us some AirBnB and OneFineStay) near the markets so that you can cook with the local produce and freshest ingredients. Okay…okay…so not all experiential travel has to involve food (but, we wouldn’t complain if it did).

The vineyards of Toledo, Spain

The vineyards of Toledo, Spain

This type of travel is how Explorateur Travel came to be. We focus on finding you a cultural approach to travel, but it’s also important that we tailor the itineraries specifically to each traveler so that they are sure to make the best out of their trip. Our budget-friendly services can replace your hours of on-line research, after all, you’re busy living life!

Do you have any "experiential travel" examples? We'd love to hear them!

 

THE “EXPERIENCE” OF DINING IN MADRID

In the United States, the average family tends to eat between 6-8 PM with a typical bedtime of 8-10 PM. When on vacation, it wouldn’t be abnormal to have a little variance in this schedule. However, I never expected dinner time to extend into the late night when I am usually snuggling up with a book and a cup of tea.

When my husband told me about a childhood memory of how his family was unable to find a restaurant to eat dinner at 10 PM in Malaga, I truly thought he was exaggerating. Then this April, I was the one wandering the streets of Madrid at 9:30 PM, hungry and being turned away time and time again. How could the Spaniards eat so late? Aren’t they starving by the time they get to the restaurant? Don’t they have to get to sleep? And why is every restaurant packed to capacity?

Unbeknownst to me, it turns out that lunch is the main meal in Madrid. You can see business men and women enjoying their mid-afternoon meal until around 2-3 in the afternoon. So no wonder they aren’t hungry until later!

Eating out is not just a convenience in Spain (as it tends to be in the U.S.), but it is an intense social occasion. Lunches and dinners last for hours – filled with multiple courses and varying beverages. We sat next to a table of four locals who sat for hours and gradually made their way through croquettes, paella, and dessert accompanied with cava, sangria, and then finally onto coffee. Therefore, the restaurants typically only host one seating per evening and have no problem filling their tables, much less turning those away that didn’t have the foresight to make a reservation in advance. If you are eating in Spain on a Friday or Saturday, I highly encourage you to make a reservation or you may end up wandering the streets and hoping that someone missed their 9:30 PM reservation.

With that being said, no matter what the time was, our food was incredible, fresh, and served with a healthy side of delicious Sangria!