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West and Southern Pennsylvania Road Trip – Where to Go With The Family

This trip was hosted by the Butler County Tourism Board, Visit Penn State and The Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau in Pennsylvania, USA.

All opinions and experiences are that of mine and my family and I am always brutally honest.

Road trip? I love a good road trip. Taking a Pennsylvania road trip with my family had been on my radar for quite some time. Back in the day, when the Canadian dollar was over-par and I had disposable income (so way back in my pre-kids days), I frequented the Grove City Outlet mall for deals. Since it was only an easy 4 hour from from Toronto, I repeatedly stocked up my wardrobe there. However, that was all of Pennsylvania that I knew. When the opportunity came up to embark on a road trip to visit parts of Pennsylvania I have never seen or even heard of, I did what I normally do, pack the family and jump at the chance. Off we went on a six day, West and Southern Pennsylvania Road Trip. We went through Butler County, over to State College and then to Huntingdon County.

Road trip in Pennsylvania! Wide open roads on the highway to State College from Butler County. By the way, it looks like Ontario highways.

So, where is Pennsylvania anyway? It’s a US state directly south of Ontario. To drive there from Toronto, you have to pass through the Niagara Falls / Fort Erie border area. Then, head south through New York.

Here, I will give an overview of each stop and where were went. I am going to do subsequent posts on each location with much more detail, including where we ate and what we ate, as well as an extended description of the experiences that my family had.

As always, I have a lot to say, but no one wants to read 5,000 words in one stop. So here is the first of four posts, consider this to be your highlight reel:

Pennsylvania Road Trip First Stop

BUTLER COUNTY 

 

We left home on Sunday morning at 6:00am, which meant that traffic was light compared to the normal gridlock of the Greater Toronto Area. Between going through the border to the USA, a gas stop and an additional pee break (blame the kids), and a stop to buy running shoes, it took us 5.5 hours to arrive at the Log Cabin Inn in Harmony, Pennsylvania where we met with Tiffany from Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau for some classic American fare.

Tiffany would be our fearless leader for the next 24 hours! While I realize it is the job or these lovely people to host us and show us around, I always warn folks that my kids are well… kids. They can be unpredictable and say the weirdest things.

Butler county is just north of Pittsburgh, home to the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, Steelers football and Pirates baseball. Unfortunately, this trip did not allow as much time there as I would have liked to take in and see the ice where the Penguins practise, but it’s on my list for a return trip for sure.

WestPark Alpacas

Once we left the Log Cabin Inn, we headed for WestPark Alpacas, just outside of Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.

Hanging out at West Park Alpacas with my kids! Photo by Tiffany Hernandez, Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau

We spent some time at WestPark Alpacas where we got to walk among and actually meet the alpacas up close and hands-on. Everyday is Alpaca petting day there! I never knew that alpacas were:

A.) so cute and friendly

B.) so photogenic

C.) would provide so much entertainment for Little Man

D.) would terrify Miss M for some strange reason

 Christine, who runs the farm there was such an amazing hostess and so patient with the kids. Especially when my daughter walked in and freaked out. It might have been the dogs that threw he off first, but whatever it was, she was happy to stay back and out. I’ll have to try her again there another time.

My son however, could not get enough of them and we spent so much time in the barn and in the field with them. Their faces are so expressive!

Expressive alpaca at WestPark alpacas in Butler County, PA

Nautical Nature at Moraine State Park

Best way to see Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park? Take the Nautical Nature pontoon boat cruise. Sit back, relax and see this man made lake from a different angle. 

Best way to see Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park? Take the Nautical Nature pontoon boat cruise. Sit back, relax and see this man made lake from a different angle #butlercountypa #hosted #mediatrip #boatrides #morainestatepark

What I found slightly curious about a couple lakes we saw in Pennsylvania is that they are man made in the 1970’s. And not for the reason of vanity of simply having a body of water to frolic in. Initially, there was a glacial lake. From the early 1900’s, the surrounding land had been severely abused through industry. A geologist and naturalist saw potential for the area and studied a way to heal the lands and that resulted in damning a nearby creek, thus flooding the now Lake Arthur. Controversial, yes. A whole town of people had to be moved for this to happen.

Regardless, this is now a nature conservancy and beautiful osprey birds can be seen along the shore lines.

If you are looking for other ways to see the lake from the water? You can rent or bring your own kayak, sail boats, stand up paddle board, canoes, or swim at one of the beaches.

Entrance to all State Parks in Pennsylvania is free. Yes, you read that right, explore every single state park in Pennsylvania without having to pay for admittance. That is incredible.

My daughter and I on Lake Arthur on a nature cruise

Butler County’s first brew pub – North Country Brewing Company

Can I go anywhere without trying local craft brew? The answer is NO! So why not head to the first brew pub in the county to have dinner for my local hops introduction?

The brewery itself is in a building with an interesting history. Right in the heart of Slippery Rock, the building had been made for a furniture making business, a place for coffins to be manufactured and naturally, a mortuary. So yes, dead bodies have been housed there at some point in history.

I tried a flight here with brews from fruity flavoured to lager to an ale, to IPA and a reds. Sorry, no stouts this time, it’s summer and I just can’t do it in warm temperatures. Surprisingly, I loved all of them.

Obviously, there will always be those I prefer in my palette over others and they are typically the lighter beers in colour, but not taste! I definitely recommend having a meal here and checking out some of the brews on tap.

Flight of beer at North County brew pub in Slippery Rock, PA

 

Hike at Jennings Environmental Education Center

Jennings Environmental Education Center is one of several state parks in Pennsylvania specifically dedicated to providing environmental education and interpretation to the community. There is an amazing visitor’s centre that I think my kid’s thought was all we were there to see initially and they would have been content there.

Looking at the hiking trail map outside the visitor's center of Jennings Educational Centre in Slippery Rock, PA

One of the park’s main features, the 20-acre prairie ecosystem, is home to distinctive prairie plants and the endangered massasauga rattlesnake, which we went hunting for with our hiking guide, Brandi. The hikes there are quite easy and the area is really well maintained, so much so that most parts are completely accessible by families with strollers or seniors with aids for walking.

We did find a snake, but it was just a water snake we found… not the rattlesnake. Next time!

discovery of a snake at the Jennings Educational centre in Butler County on our Pennsylvania Road Trip

Behold the Yeti at The Snowman in Portersville

After having lunch at Brown’s Country Kitchen, for a true country meal, go for a shaved ice dessert at The Snowman, which is a very popular roadside attraction. Guys, I don’t know who came with the idea of shaved ice (snow cone) and ice cream, but it’s kind of genius. And a novelty!

Behold the Yeti. Flavoured shaved ice, ice cream and whipped topping. Perfect tasty treat for a hot day.

One of the awesome places to take your kids in Butler County if they behave for you on the road trip!

Behold, the Yeti! Brilliant mix of ice cream and shaved ice.

You can read way more about our Butler County trip by clicking here!

 

Pennsylvania Road Trip Second Stop:

STATE COLLEGE

From Butler County we drove just over 2.5 hours to the town of State College for the second stop of our Pennsylvania road trip. Don’t let the name fool you like it did me. I initially thought that State College was literally the state college. Turns out there is much more to the area than a bustling and highly accomplished university.

The Arboretum at Penn State

Road trips with the kids is fun, but when they get out of the car, they want to run! My friends at Visit Penn State, Ed and Andy, had the perfect idea of where to take the kids after driving into State College, Pennsylvania – The Arboretum at Penn State University. 

Little Man running through the Childhood's Gate at the Penn State Arboretum

By the way – I get it, it looks like Little Man is running away from me in ALL of the pictures. Truth is, he’s excited and having a great time.

First of all, admission to all arboretum grounds is free. This is kind of a recurring theme I am finding with outdoor activities in Pennsylvania. Free.

Secondly, the kids had so much fun in the Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden. From kaleidoscopes to little book libraries, musical discoveries, herb gardens and lots of places to explore. 

And of course the rest of the arboretum is amazing as well. Worth bringing a book and hiding or packing a basket and having a picnic.

Exploring musical instruments and sounds in the children's garden at the arboretum at Penn State

The Sky’s the Limit Balloon

I’ve been skydiving, paragliding, scuba diving, but never hot air ballooning. 

Sunrise - getting the hot air balloon set up with The Sky’s the Limit Ballooning in State College, PA

When Visit Penn State offered up the chance to go with The Sky’s the Limit Ballooning during my visit, I jumped at it and so glad I did. The family got to enjoy a sunrise hot air balloon ride, experience of a lifetime! Despite the early morning wake up, and it takes a lot to get Miss M out of bed in the morning, it was something she won’t ever forget.

If you ever have the opportunity to experience sailing over State College, Pennsylvania, go! You won’t regret it!

The sunrise view of the countryside just outside of State College, PA from a hot air balloon.

Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park

There are a few smaller caves in Ontario, like Bonnechere and Tyendinaga, but they do not compare to what we have seen in Pennsylvania! The first cave experience we had was in Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park. These caves were discovered by Native Americans hundreds of years ago. There is an amazing and morbid legend which I will get into in the post dedicated to all State College area that I found so interesting. See now you’re intrigued too!

Little Man and Miss M at the entrance to the cave in Penn's Cave, just outside of State College, PA.

Caves are so interesting – they’ve been formed by tectonic movement, compression, erosion and flooding. Have you been to a cave like this one where you have to take a boat through it?

In 1885, Penn’s Cave opened as a commercial show cavern, and the Penn’s Cave Hotel was built (now an admin building). 

The other part of the park is the Wildlife Park. It was pouring rain sadly by the time we got to it. We peered out the windows of a bus we were in at the foxes who were hiding and the bear who was not interested in being wet at that moment. I can’t say I blame them as the rain come on hard and heavy.

Absolutely stunning interior of the cave at Penn's Cave, PA

Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania

We happen to be fans of physics and mechanics in our house, so a trip to Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania was a must do for the kids during our time in State College!

Little Man playing with a magnet and a metal ball in Discovery Space - a great place for kids to explore science and mechanics in State College, PA

Every one of the 45+ exhibits is “hands-on” for the kids to encourage play, exploration, and most importantly, experimentation. This is the place to take your kid about the same age as Little Man for maximum time out of the house. Once they get to Miss M’s age (10), they can get bored in this kind of environment in an hour or so. But the younger ones, I think Little Man could have stayed all day here. Sometimes we seem to forget that at that age, it’s all experimentation and new experiences. This is the kid of place that caters to their imaginations.

Miss M learning about magnets in Discover Space in State College, PA

Nittany Lion Shrine

If you didn’t pose with the Nittany Lion Shrine, were you even at Penn State? As the second most photographed spot in Pennsylvania (behind the Liberty Bell), the shrine has become part of the Penn State tradition. Have you ever heard of a Nittany Lion? I had not, here’s what it is – it is essentially an ordinary mountain lion, like a cougar that roamed central Pennsylvania until the 1880s in the mountain range surrounding State College. There have been unconfirmed sightings since then. 

Now, the Nittany Lion is the mascot of Pennsylvania State University athletic teams.

On a Pennsylvania road trip, it's essential to make it to State College to pose with the Nittany Lion shrine. The Nittany Lion is the mascot of Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania, USA and its athletic teams.

Homewaters and Fly Fishing

If somebody had ever told me in the past, that a fishing lodge would be the perfect destination for me, I would not have laughed too hard. It’s not too far off from reality. So, I’m pleased to saw that I found my destiny. Never before have I felt so at home while on the road. From the moment we arrived, greeted with huge smiles and warm laughter.

Homewaters in Spruce Creek, PA. This is an upscale fishing lodging we stayed in during our Pennsylvania road trip.

Our accommodations we had there for one night was the house of my dreams, the kids were so excited running around there! I think they want a house just like it in the future.

Yes friends, this is an upscale, membership based fishing lodge in Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania. It was amazing. 

Master bedroom in the family lodge at Homewaters in Spruce Creek, PA. We had the pleasure of staying here on our Pennsylvania road trip.

As it is the sport of presidents, I thought I could be worthy to try out fly fishing.  I won’t claim to be an expert (I’m not) or even really feel comfortable speaking with all the terminology (nope), but I had a good time and I’ll totally do it again.

I'm in waders in the middle of Spruce Creek, PA. About to learn how to fly fish on our epic Pennsylvania road trip

The fly fishing guide, Andy was super patient, humble, friendly and helpful in all the times I caught “Pennsylvania Ground”. He didn’t make me put the lure on the line, hahahahaha.

There were a couple fish caught! Don’t worry, it was catch and release.

You can read all of my thoughts on this fly fishing experience here: Pheromones and Fly Fishing

Fly fishing guide, the master of patience and technique, Andy on Spruce Creek in Pennsylvania

Lincoln Caverns and Whisper Rocks

Because one exceptional show cave system in the Central Pennsylvania area isn’t enough, there are two. This one was mind blowing in a different way.

Whisper rocks sign at Lincoln Caves and Caverns on our guided tour in Pennsylvnia

We were fortunate enough to have a private, guided tour here and it’s like getting two cave tours for the price of one. If you’re intro science and adventure and your kids can handle being underground, do it! These caves were discovered in 1930 and opened as show caves in 1931. It’s not confining, the ceilings are really high. This was described to me as moderate sized caves. So to rank now, ones in Ontario I’ve seen are small if these are medium.

And a special shout out to the staff here who took my kids for the morning that we were fly fishing for a special summer camp day.

Inside Lincoln Caves and Caverns, a stop to explore on our Pennsylvania road trip.

 

Pennsylvania Road Trip Third Stop:

HUNTINGDON COUNTY 

Not too far south of State College is the Raystown Lake Region in Huntingdon County. This was the third and last stop on this Pennsylvania road trip for us.

Stay and Play at Lake Raystown Resort

We stayed in an awesome 2 bedroom cottage in Lake Raystown Resort. It’s the kind of place I could have stayed longer and played for days.

The exterior of our 2 bedroom cabin in Raystown Lake Resort, PA. Another amazing accommodation we found to stay at on our Pennsylvania road trip.

The first piece of information I am going to relay about here is something that I did not readily find. I still have yet to find it on the internet, although I was verbally told on location twice (I did not believe the first person). While the practise of prohibition has lost it’s grip in most of the United States, the actual township that Lake Raystown Resort lies, falls into it. You cannot buy  alcohol here. This is information not available on the website for the resort at all.

The interior dining and living area of our 2 bedroom cabin in Raystown Lake Resort, PA. Another amazing accommodation we found to stay at on our Pennsylvania road trip.

For a beer and wine aficionado like me, it was a bit of a shock to not have the ability to order a beer or glass of wine with dinner. This should not dissuade you from going there at all. In reality, it simply makes more financial sense to buy what you need in advance and bring it with you. Now you know.

Here, you take the Proud Mary Showboat on a seafood dinner cruise all around the lake and take the kids to feed ducks and carp off the dock. Feed for the ducks and carp is available for purchase at the marina shop, please don’t drop bread in the water for them! This is essentially a giant campground for recreational vehicles, tents, trailers, yurts and cabins. There’s a marina and restaurants and shops.

There is also a waterpark attached to this resort. Although it is small, it’s great for a half day with the family. The slides are entirely appropriate for children my kid’s age.

The Proud Mary showboat at Lake Raystown Resort. Dinnertime sunset cruises!

Hike at Trough Creek State Park

The last stop on our Pennsylvania road trip was Trough Creek state Park. Did I mention I can’t get over how all the State Parks in Pennsylvania are free to enter and enjoy? I can honestly say I would hike day in and day out if I lived in Pennsylvania just because I could. And I also learned that the state parks are plentiful and so close to all towns and cities, that no citizen of the state should have to drive more than 35 minutes to get to one.

Quaint little waterfall in Trough Creek State Park, PA

Something you have to do at Trough Creek state Park? Try to knock off the balanced rock. This state park is home to an adorable waterfall and a look out point on a cliff that took my breath away.

An amazing look out point in Trough Creek state Park, PA. The very last stop on our Pennsylvania road trip before heading home.

This was a great introduction to the state. It was incredible for Miss M and Little Man to see how similar Americans really are to Canadians. And, how similar our geography and terrain is. The United States is not really a foreign country! You know, it’s shameful to me that they haven’t seen as much of Ontario and Canada as I would like. It’s also unfortunate that we do not know our neighbours very well. After that lovely reception we had and amazing time, I feel like we should spend some more time across the border as well!

 

West and southern Pennsylvania road trip - where to go and what to do with the family in Butler County, Penn State and the Raystown Lake Regions #familyroadtrips #pennsylvaniaroadtrip #familytravelblogs #bestfamilytravelblogger Pennsylvania Road Trip - What to do and what to see in Slippery Rock, Portersville, State College, Spruce Creek and Raystown areas of Pennsylvania #familyroadtrips #pennsylvaniaroadtrip #familytravelblogs #bestfamilytravelblogger

Why I Do Adventure Self Care (Without My Kids)

My stay and experience was hosted by Club Med as part of a press trip.  All opinions are my own.

“I guess when you’re busy trying to stay alive, you kind of forget about the other stuff” Jenny says. That is exactly it I say to Jenny. If I forget about mundane home activities and focus on a task at hand, my head clears and I can be satisfied with life again. Call this adventure self care.

I’m in the back seat of a van with Jenny Jones, an Olympic snowboarding bronze medalist and Mark, a fellow journalist from England. Occupying the seats in front of us are other members of the media and Club Med employees anticipating the adventure. We are on our way to white water raft on the Isère River in the French alps. 

Mark, Jenny Jones and myself before we go white water rafting on the Isère River, Bourg Saint Maurice, France. Adventure self care in the form of rafting.

I’m not sure if “self care” is the buzz word du jour or it’s always been there for women once they reach a certain age or position in life. Whatever the cause or source of seeing it is, it’s something that’s been in all my social feeds for awhile. Ads for spas with feet getting pedicures or cucumbers on eyes with a funny little smile on the recipient, champagne flutes clinking in front of a sunset (assuming it’s not a sunrise), the colourful, wispy dress and long dark blonde hair blowing in the wind while a woman stares at a lake.

My personal favourite is always the bubble bath ad and you see toes popping up out of the bubbles. I can assure you that the reality of a relaxing bubble bath is a myth when you have children at home so you have to leave the house for that to happen. 

I can almost predict the text before I read it “Hey Mom, you deserve a break. Come to us and we will take care of you”.

Adventure Self Care Is More My Speed

Some moms like to visit a day spa or have a girl’s night at a hotel or stare at sunsets on a dock. I like to stare at sunsets too, those slow down and seize the moments in life are great. It is nice to have a break that stretches a couple hours away from home life, of wiping noses, of not preparing snacks every hour on the hour. Of not grocery shopping, managing the household, paying bills, going to work… But for me to really fill my cup and at least pretend that I am investing in the phenomenon of self care, I have to seek out an adventure that pushes me to my physical limits. Something that could potentially make me weak in the knees. 

Skydiving? Yep.

tandem sky diving in Namibia

Before anyone wants to Mom shame me or send me a note about being careless in what I’m doing, to you I say: “My version of self care is not your version of self care and that’s okay”. Just because we choose to fill our buckets differently does not make what we each do any less fulfilling. If I wrote that I need a 24 hour sex session instead of a white water rafting trip (which would be nice too), would that be okay? I’m not a spa gal and it’s okay if you are. I’m a make myself weak in the knees person and it’s okay if you aren’t.

Needless to say, I would not embark on any activity that I deemed unsafe. Although I have been known to have a bit of panic under the sea. Thankfully, I’ve survived every time.

Scuba Diving in Roatan, Honduras

This Brings Us To The Van Ride

And this is how I find myself in the back of a van on route to the Isère River in Bourge St. Maurice, France. We are heading out with Arc Aventures  – an adventure experience company based out of Bourg Saint Maurice. This has been set up by the activities desk at our resort, Club Med Les Arcs Panorama. I’m here on a self care mission. Yes, solo all the way from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. An eight hour plane ride from Montreal to Lyon and a three hour drive from Lyon up to the resort. The children were left in the good care of their father, not to worry.

Relax, I’ve done this before.

I didn’t fly all the way here just for the rafting though. I came for the French wine, the regional Savoie cheese, the sleeping alone (glorious to not get a sweaty 5 year old’s foot in my face), the hiking and adventure. I’ve never rafted or hiked in the Alps and so begs the question, why not?

Red faced selfie hiking the red level hike in the French Alps. More adventure self care.

Now that my kids have moved out of the needy toddler years and I have personal freedom, I’m reclaiming a bit of who I was before my kids. Motherhood is an amazing gift, and I adore being a Mom to Little Man and Miss M. However, I cannot function as a good mother and be present for them in life if I am not taking care of myself. That’s a lesson I learned from experience. 

On an adventure self care mission. Admiring the view of Mont Blanc and the French Alps.

The Isère River

Cue this trip. Welcome to the Alps in the summer season and big ups to Club Med Les Arcs Panorama in southeast France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. I can see Italy from the wraparound terraces. As a total disclaimer, this trip was part of a press trip and I’m not a crazy, affluent, white woman from Canada who can raft and hike the Alps on a whim. I work really hard for every cent I make. And wouldn’t do something this extravagant all the time, although it’s fun to dream.

Little bit of Isère River orientation before we take off rafting from Bourg Saint Maurice

Jenny, Mark, a Club Med employee from Israel named Zev, our rafting Guide, Bruno and I make out way into the river. Both Jenny and I have done this before. Mark and Zev? Nope. It’s not a problem says Bruno. We will be fine. 

After a quick orientation on to how to hold the paddles, how to fish each other out of the water when we fall in and most importantly, how to sit on the inflatable raft, we take off.

And we off on the the Isère River

The name Isère is derived from Isara, rumoured to be Gaelic or Latin, which means “the impetuous one, the swift one.” Yes, this river certainly moved quick. She was fast, but not furious. Never scaring us with danger, only pushing with enough force to bend the raft in half a few times.

A full two hours of forward paddling, pausing, backward paddling, pulling in swimmers, laughing, smiling and screaming in half terror, half delight. We passed farmers fields, campers, fishermen. One gentleman yelled that we were about to “go through hell” at us. Since I didn’t understand his French, I waved and wished him a good day. Bruno told us after what he had said, as we were heading into the toughest section of the river.

Our raft sailing down the river. Good times on the Isere River in the French Alps.

It may have been the roughest part of the river, but we came out relatively unscathed.

It was so hot on shore in our full neoprene wetsuit, neoprene boots, helmet, and life jacket. The water, running from the glaciers in Vanoise National Park, a cool 8 degrees celsius or so. I reached in a couple times and let my hand linger. I would have swam there for awhile if time had allowed.

While I started on the river in the back, throughout the time in the raft, we all changed our seating position. I got soaked, fingernails bent back, water in my eyes. It was exhilarating. I loved every minute of it.

Two rafts on the Isere River water water rafting. We are the boat in the back.

A Much Needed Jolt Of Adventure

The afternoon spent on the river was the jolt of adventure needed to put my head back on straight. The Isère River was never too rough or ever placed us into extreme danger that we knew of. When our time was up, I felt like I could have continued on that river and followed it to Grenoble.

There were more adventures in store. The next day would be the hike that would almost kill me. And that’s a story for another day.

Going white water rafting in the French Alps on a self care mission. Amazing adventures in the outdoors to be had in the alpine region from this all inclusive resort. Find me on the hiking and biking trails! #AmazingYou #lesarcspanorama #clubmed #allinclusiveresort #FrenchAlps #VanoiseNationalPark #BourgSaintMaurice #familyvacationtime #arc1600 On an adventure self care mission. Going white water rafting in on the Isère River the French Alps. Amazing adventures in the outdoors to be had in the alpine region from this all inclusive resort. Find me on the hiking and biking trails! #AmazingYou #lesarcspanorama #clubmed #allinclusiveresort #FrenchAlps #VanoiseNationalPark #BourgSaintMaurice #familyvacationtime #arc1600

Club Med Les Arcs Panorama – Summer Fun In The French Alps

My stay was hosted by Club Med as part of a press trip.  All opinions are my own.

Do you love snow capped mountain views? Love them in 360 degrees? Love them in the summer as well as in the winter? Do you love to indulge at all inclusive resorts and eat the best food and drink the best wine? Yes? I have a place for you to go – Club Med Les Arcs Panorama in southeast France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. 

Prepare to have your breath taken away with the mountain views! Mine was. 

Admiring the view of Mont Blanc and the French Alps from Club Med Les Arcs Panorama

It was also the hottest week on record in France ever. That may have had something to do with my breathlessness.

Club Med’s newest all inclusive resort in the Alpine region, close to Italy and Switzerland, Les Arcs Panorama, opened in December 2018 just in time for the excitement of winter. You can find it in the middle of the forest, literally. The resort sits overlooking the Tarentaise Valley and the town of Bourg Saint Maurice. It is called “panorama” for a reason. There are floor to ceiling panoramic views of the mountains all around the resort. Elevation wise, it’s sitting at 1600 metres above sea level. 

It’s a “4-Trident” Resort. 4Ψ Villages are considered to Club Med’s Finest villages, offering luxury of the highest standard.

Panoramic views or France from this Club Med Resort

Summer Fun at Club Med Les Arcs Panorama

After a hugely successful inaugural winter season, Club Med has decided to move forward with designing alpine resorts for more than just one season. I was invited as part of a press trip for the opening of their first summer season. While it was not my first time at an all inclusive resort, it was my first time at a Club Med property. It was also my first time at an all-inclusive resort outside of the Caribbean. If Canada’s Blue Mountains in Ontario or Banff in Alberta can be proof, mountain holidays in the summer are a real alternative for Canadian families looking for adventure year round.

Gratuitous French Alpine mountain picture from Club Med property

What makes Les Arcs Panorama a special place for summer vacationers, is the great recreational area in which the resort is situated in. With up to 3000 feet in altitude in the area, in Vanoise National Park, the area is infamous for bird watching, animal spotting, hiking in meadows and past farmer’s fields, trying out new sports, enjoying rafting and cycling.

Once you’ve run yourself out for the day, the restaurants and lounge await in the village. You can indulge in tasting the magnificent ham and cheese from the Savoie area in the restaurants and enjoy some wine of the regions. If you feel up to it, go shop in town at the local markets.

World class athletes and Olympians come to the area for the recreation like Canada's Erik Guay

For families who want to have a down day, the children can enjoy the day at Baby/Petite/Mini Club Med. Parents can indulge in the Cinq Mondes spa, have a workout in the gym, take a dip in the pool, indulge in the jacuzzi or relax on one of the terraces of the club and watch the world go by.

General guest jacuzzi at Les Arcs

Visit The Region

It’s relatively easy to get to the town at the bottom of the mountain, Bourge-Saint-Maurice via a taxi from the resort. I was quoted 53 euros each way. The funicular to the town of Bourg Saint Maurice was not open during my stay, but should be open now. From Bourg Saint Maurice, you can take a train to many near by destinations for a day trip filled with culture, history, architecture and language.

Bourg-Saint-Maurice, popularly known as Bourg, is a commune in the Savoie department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France. It is the last town along the Tarentaise valley in the heart of the French Alps.

A family trip to this resort can be a stand alone week long vacation. There are direct flights to nearby Geneva, Switzerland and Lyon, France from Montreal, Quebec. It was a quick connection for me in Montreal from Toronto. You can book packages to this resort with flights and transfers from the airport included.

If I was to return with my children, I would absolutely consider visiting Club Med Les Arcs Panorama as part of a longer trip. I’d like to take my children to either Geneva or Lyon for a few days to visit art galleries, museums and eat regional food. We did not visit those cities on our last trip to Europe. Learning some of the French language isn’t a bad thing either.

Brand New Building and Resort

This is where you can come to get away from it all for a detox or hide from the world. From almost every point around the resort, enjoy mountain scenics from floor to ceiling inside and outside. No city noise. While this is not everyone’s favourite way to vacation, it’s certainly one of mine. I’m normally a beach and water person, but the mountains have made me into a convert.

Exterior grounds of Club Med Les Arcs Panorama

As mentioned earlier, this resort is a handful of months old. The outside landscaping was not complete, so I do not want to comment on the exterior grounds.

The resort has a really healthy and active vibe. Fitness activities are encouraged right down to the stairwells where the number of steps are charted between floors. The running joke we (media) had while staying there is that the elevators were purposely designed small and mainly unavailable due to such frequent demand so that we would take the stairs.

elevator in club med in france

There are over 400 rooms in over 18 floors and can accommodate more than 900 guests. This luxury resort was build to accommodate visitors from near and far. There is a parking garage available for those who drive in for their stay and shuttles from the airport can be added on your package.

Check in is available after 3:00pm. Check out is by 10:00am.

There is indeed an exclusive space space for more upscale clientele. Le Belvedère is the 5Ψ Luxury Space with 24 rooms. The 5Ψ Luxury Space is the perfect option for those in search of privacy as there are private lounges, concierge services and larges, spacious suites for the family.

Family suite in the Belevede Collection

My Club Med Resort Room

The room I stayed in was a balcony superior room. For me, it was absolutely perfect. It would definitely work for a couple. The decor was gorgeous, perfect. It gave me a happy feeling being in there. 

I would not want to share the room category with my kids. Let’s face it, I really relish these kid free, self-care trips. If you wanted to book this room and you were traveling with more than 2 people, you would need to get two connecting rooms or move up to the junior family superior room.

My room - 1716 at Club Med Les Arcs Panorama

Here’s what the room comes with:

  • Balcony
  • Television
  • Wifi (not the best but works for emails and texting)
  • 2 USB ports to keep the iPhone and GoPro charging
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Safe
  • Tea kettle
  • Coffee maker
  • Separate toilet (water closet)
  • Twin vanity sinks
  • Hair dryer
  • Heated towel rail – for North Americas, this would be a real treat in the winter.

Here is what the room did not come with that I feel is standard in many North American hotel rooms of the 4 star level:

  • No mini/bar fridge
  • No alarm clock 

Double vanity sinks in the washroom of my room at Les Arcs Panorama

My room was located on the 17th floor. There were certain things about French accommodations and homes that North Americans need to understand. The biggest shock is there is likely not going to be air conditioning. During the heatwave, the only option for cool air was to sleep with the patio door open. Many North Americans would automatically see that as a safety hazard. We have all heard a horror story about someone being robbed by leaving a patio door open. Even I, on the 17th floor, had the thought that someone might come in during the night. The good news is, it didn’t happen. The better news is that is extremely unlikely to happen. The only visitor was a ladybug, hardly a danger. 

The view from my balcony, room 1716 at Club Med in France

Club Med Les Arcs Panorama Restaurants – Buffet

Now, I don’t claim to be a foodie or wine maven at all, but I know good food and wine. I know bad food and wine. I also have tasted some mediocre food in my travels. I’ve drank wine that’s kept me up with heartburn. Luckily, there was no heartburn here and the food at Les Arcs Panorama is good! 

Savoie region cheese and meets at the buffet at Les Arcs Panorama

The restaurant that I spent the majority of my meals at is called The White Stone, it’s on the 9th floor, the same level as the lobby, sundry shop and lounge. It’s the main restaurant where you will find your buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfasts always had the European staples of sliced local meats, local cheeses, fruits, breads, yogurts and oatmeals. There were rotating mains such as scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes and an omelette station.

Lunch and dinner changed daily with a mix of world flavours curated by the chefs and local specialties. Not pictured – there was pizza too.

Regional Savoie cheeses at the buffet to eat

Worth noting, if you want a bottle of wine with dinner here, it’s an extra charge. However, the servers will bring you glasses of house wine at no charge. The restaurant does not have a bar in it, but the lounge by the lobby serves up wicked cocktails and draft beer that you can bring into the restaurant with you.

One of the best features of this restaurant is the terrace. I ate all but one of my meals there on the terrace overlooking the Tarentaise valley and admiring the mountains. Sunset dining is an experience to have.

Sunset view from the terrace at Les Arcs Panorama

There are set serving times for each meal at the buffet. For those who like to sleep in on vacation, wake up around 9:30am and wander to breakfast, bad news – you’re too late, it’s closed. I walked in at 9:20am one morning and they were putting things away.

The honey and bread spot at the buffet

For North American families that like to dine earlier and get the kids to bed early, you’ll have to shift the bath time and sleeping schedule a bit during this trip. I have yet to find anywhere in France where I can dine for dinner before 19:00.

Foie gras from the buffet

1790 Gourmet Lounge

The gourmet or fine dining restaurant is called 1790 Gourmet Lounge at Club Med Les Arcs Panorama. This is the a la carte and fixed menu service restaurant on the 11th floor. 

Tomato salad gourmet dining experience

The wine bottle situation here is the same as at the buffet. This restaurant does have a bar in it so you can get beer and cocktails there. We had dinner here twice and it was really good. Smaller portions than what I am accustomed too, but satisfying.

The lounge area on the 9th floor, which also doubles as the dance hall and theatre also serves up an afternoon tea with snacks if you are peckish.

Tartare at the a la carte restaurant

Recreation Options at Les Arcs Panorama

As I have only visited this resort in the summer season, I’m only going to write about the summer season recreation options. I’m not a ski or snowboard expert and I would make a fool out of myself trying to talk about the runs, lifts, and all that. So I’m going to leave that to the experts.

There are amenities at the resort such as a gym, TRX studio, yoga and other fitness classes, an indoor and outdoor pool and an infant wading area.

TRX room in the fitness studio

From my personal perspective, for the amount of people they are hoping to attract to the region for the summer season, I found the outside pool small. Once a couple families jumped in, it felt full. The pool deck is made of a material that heats up in the sun and burns the bottom of your feet. I advise families to invest in water shoes and watch out for your kid’s feet. The indoor pool with magical views of the alps at Club Med Les Arcs PanoramaChild's wading pool and equipment quiet afternoon at the pool in the french alps

There is a recreation desk on the 11th floor that is open between 5:30pm-7:30pm daily except Friday. There you will have to sign up for the next day’s activities. And only the activities for the next day. You cannot sign up for your activities for the entire week, which is typically how I like to do things, but you adjust to where you are.. Included in your stay are mountain biking (muscular and electric), plus the equipment rentals and bucket list worthy guided hiking excursions.

In Vanoise National Park, the Rosuel Valley

Activities not included and are an extra charge are rafting, paragliding, treetop trekking, quad biking, horse back riding, canyoning and golf.

About to go rafting with my crew that includes Jenny Jones a championship snowboarder

Designed With Families In Mind

I love traveling with my kids, but I also love my downtime and kid free moments. I saw Baby, Petit and Mini Club Med and knew this was the perfect place for families who like to spend time together and also for when Mom (and Dad or auntie, etc) want some adult adventures. It’s really important for an occasional kid free dinner to be a part of a vacation and I don’t say this in a callous, “I’m a bad Mom” way. I say this is a reconnect with yourself/partner/spouse/friends way.Club Mini classroom at Club Med Les Arcs

This would be the daycare or primary school of my dreams – taking the kids on walks in nature, mountain biking, playing on their terrace, arts and crafts, music, games. Everything with an alpine feel.

And for the teens? Club Med Passworld. They can pretty much take part in whatever activity at the resort they want (within availability and reason of course).

Club Password for the teens on the 8th floor

You Can Just Leave Me at Cinq Mondes Spa

If you know me, you know I’m not big on spas. I have nothing against them, the problem is me. I don’t quite know how to empty my mind and relax as I feel like I should be doing something else rather than unwinding. My “to-do” list never ends.

Massage table at Cinq Mondes spa. I was there!

I had a lovely massage that worked out a horrific knot I had that was affecting my left hip and ability to sit properly. Then I hung out starring off into the mountains. Normally, starring off into the mountains with no purpose would cause me some anxiety. The purpose after my massage was to simply enjoy the mountain view. Period. I had nowhere else to be and mobile phone use is certainly not encouraged there. Imagine that.

This is where you relax pre and post treatments at the Cinq Mondes Spa

Or The Zen Lounge

A quiet escape in the middle of the resort where I can have a tea and check my email in peace and quiet? Maybe do some writing? Have an adult conversation without a kid butting in? I could be alright here too. Just a heads up – they were showing the woman’s FIFA world cup soccer in the evenings here, so it’s not quiet all day and night.

The Zen Lounge at Club Med Les Arcs Panorama

 

Why Should A Canadian Family Travel All The Way to France

for a stay at Club Med Les Arcs Panorama

Travel is the best education for children

In no elementary school classroom can a child be exposed to so much language, culture, cuisine and art than on a vacation or foreign immersion. While this does sound like a super extravagant education and an illusion would dictate that this is only a vacation for the rich, travel teaches children so many valuable lessons in life. A foreign journey teaches the value of currency conversion, keeping on time to make trains and flights, responsibilities for their own belongings and what time change and jet lag is.

An incredible mountain resort with panoramic views 

Club Med Les Arc Panorama is a must for any lover of luxury.  The property is set within a green and white topped mountains, splendid landscape, and you will want to make it your family favourite holiday destination

Experience slow travel

If you’re staying at the resort in the Alps, chances are you are not moving anywhere fast in a hurry, so you’ll travel slower and be more in the moment with where you are. 

The opportunity for some rest

Being in the resort setting where there are restaurants to feel you and room attendants to make your bed and Gracious Organizers to help take care of your resort experience, you’re actually getting to enjoy your time with your kids instead of feeling like you’re simply parenting somewhere else in the world. Some families like to rent a house and cook and clean for themselves. That’s not how I prefer to vacation. I simply call that being “Mom On The Road” and I’m doing the same things as home that I want to get away from.

You Might Make New Friends

The international language of children is “play”. Children do not need to communicate in the same language to kick a ball around together or colour together or share an experience. Making friends with someone who is “different”, yet the same is a treasure.

Food and Drink From the Region of Savoie is Mouthwatering

I’m not the type to over indulge in the all you can eat or drink type lifestyle, but I couldn’t get enough of the local meat and cheeses. And I found it hard to set some limits on myself with the wine because it was exquisite. You can’t get it in Canada like how you can get it there.

Interior decor at Club Med Les Arcs Panorama

What Does It Cost A Family Of 4 To Vacation There?

And here’s the million dollar question! I’m joking, it’s not a million dollars. Not even close. The one factor I will not include in this equation is airfare, simply because I can’t speak for every location and the cost of airfare fluctuates frequently.

For a family of 4 – that is 2 adults and 2 children ages 5 and 10 for six nights/ 7 days, in a superior family room in the month of July is typically € 3.603,00. Exchange rates fluctuate as well, but the exchange rate into Canadian dollars is approximately $5,300.  This equates to less than what you would pay at some 4  star resorts in the Caribbean.

Checkins are mainly reserved for Saturday and Sunday at Club Med Les Arcs Panorama. There is often an opportunity for last minute specials on the website when you book direct. Be sure to price out for yourself on the website before you book with a travel agent or through any other source.

The closest international airports are Geneva, Switzerland and Lyon, France.

Did I mention ever that basic wifi is included? It is. You can stay connected if you want. Or not.

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Lisbon Castle – Castelo Sao Jorge, A Must See Attraction

On the drive from the airport to Cais de Sodre, you could see it – Castelo Sao Jorge, the castle that overlooks Lisbon. First evidence of fortifications of this castle on the hill date back to the first century BC – yes, before Christ! Over 2,000 year of recorded history on that hill. Remains of proof of human life there have been found dating back to the 8th century. That’s definitely what we can call “old world”.

The Lisbon Castle, Castelo Sao Jorge (or Castelo de Sao Jorge) was one of the original attractions Miss M and Little Man put on our wish list of things to see and do in Lisbon. Here’s the thing, I can’t go to Europe and skip out on seeing castles – EVER. I take whatever chance I get to walk amongst the remains of royalty. I’m not sure where the obsession came from. I am certainly not a Royal Watcher nor do I care much about England’s royal family. I still do not understand why the Queen of England has anything to do with Canada in 2019. But I have always wanted to explore old castles. That means Castelo Sao Jorge in Lisboa was a top priority for me. I was excited to show it to the children – their first European castle.

The morning the kids and I were going to explore Castelo Sao Jorge, it was pouring rain. We ended up switching gears and going to the Museu du Marionette first. It was it was right around the corner from our guesthouse and an easy sprint in the rain. We did not pack our rain jackets on this trip, whoops! When we came out an hour later, the rain had stopped and the sky was clearing. We decided to make our way up there!

fulviusbsas [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]
fulviusbsas [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

History of the Lisbon Castle, Castelo Sao Jorge

The hill in Lisbon that Sao Jorge Castle is on has played a very important role throughout the history of the city. Over the past thousand years alone, it has been occupied by Moors, Romans, Carthaginians, Phoenicians before it was taken by the Portuguese in 1147 in the Siege of Lisbon. Since the siege, it has been a royal palace and was used as military barracks. Now it is a national archive, monument and museum for all to see and explore. A very detailed history is described on location at the castle and if you have kids who are history buffs or have an interest, this is worth them exploring. It can also be read about online in advance through the castle’s website.

side view of Castelo Sao Jorge, Lisbon's castle

 

 

How To Get To The Castle

We skipped the tram ride up to that castle. I was willing to take it, but Miss M and Little Man were not keen. We have streetcars at home in Toronto and while they are definitely a different mode of transportation, the trams held no allure to the children. Miss M and Little Man the way they do to many other tourists because we have streetcars in Toronto. Now, I did try to figure out the public transit system to go there, but I’m not too savvy with buses. Uber was an option, but I didn’t want to spend that much money. So, we walked through the streets of Alfama, up the hill.

We walked through the streets of Alfama up the hill to Castelo Sao Jorge in Lisbon

If you are keen to try the public transportation, the tram you need to take is Miradouro Santa Luzia, line 28. If you take a bus, it’s Castelo, line 737. They do not go directly to the castle gates, there is a couple blocks of walking involved. Because of the walking, hills and cobblestone streets, I’m really glad I am long past the stroller stage.

Walking all the way from Cais de Sodre was no easy feat with Little Man on my back half the time. He is only 5 years old, so I can’t fault him too much for getting tired or finding the hike up difficult. It was easier for me to pick him up and carry him than to hear him complain. Miss M handled it like a champ.

Admission costs to get into the castle grounds are free for kids ages 10 and under. The cost for me as an adult was 8.50 Euros. The opening hours are 9:00- 21:00 (Mar-Oct) and 9:00-18:00 (Nov-Feb).

Entry to Lisbon Castle, Castelo Sao Jorge. Lisboa, Portugal

 

What’s At The Castle?

You will find that there are two different parts to what you can see at Castelo Sao Jorge. The Moorish Castle (older section from before the 12th century) and the Royal Palace. Now bear in mind that in 1755, there was a massive earthquake, it was a severe disaster in Lisbon and much of the city was completely ruined. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the government began restoration to what you can see and explore now.

Map of Castelo Sao Jorge from http://castelodesaojorge.pt
Map of Castelo Sao Jorge from http://castelodesaojorge.pt

Over in the Nucleo Museologico area of the old palace buildings, you can find a faintly drawn picture of how Lisbon appeared before the 1755 earthquake. The drawing has the Se Cathedral with a tower, the old Igreja Antonio church, old Moorish city walls and it shows that the castle was the only structure up on the hill.

Miss M and Little Man in the garden area. Great views of Lisbon and the Targis River from here

The castle grounds are home to a lot of peacocks who are used to putting on a show for all the patrons that come to admire them. Please be responsible and keep your distance from them.

Peacock on the grounds of Castleo Sao Jorge

What you can do here – you can walk the outer grounds and inside the main walls. You can walk on most of the walls, some steps are steeper and more narrow.

What you will not see here – interior castle grandeur. You will not be touring through rooms and seeing royal decor.

touring around the walls of Lisbon Castle, Castelo Sao Jorge

We enjoyed the layers of walls providing additional protection inside the castle.

I will go ahead as a seasoned parent traveller – this is not a stroller friendly place. If I was to bring toddlers or infants here, I would recommend that they come in a carrier or backpack piggy back rider. And as a it’s not a stroller friendly place, it’s not a very accessible place for people with mobility ailments.

inside the grounds of Castelo Sao Jorge with Miss M and Little Man

There is an interesting museum competent to the interior of the castle that houses relics and ruins discovered in the area over the past hundreds of years. There are bits and pieces of what has been found, some not complete and a lot of guesses of the layout.

Broken tiles and relics discovered on the grounds of Lisbon castle, castelo sao jorge

While this was one of the most interesting parts to see to me – my children were very unenthused by this part and wanted to go back out and see the peacocks. Seriously.

Kids who do not care about the relics inside the castle

The Views of Lisbon

Once we got into the grounds, we were treated to amazing 360 degree views of Lisbon. Throughout history, fortresses and castles were almost always built on higher ground so that they had a vantage point to defend and protect the land. Here, the Lisbon castle had the Targis River to one side and could see over the land everywhere else.

What a view of Lisbon from the Castelo Sao Jorge

Mom and two children at Lisbon Castle, Castelo Sao Jorge, Portugal

The Targus River as seen from the the castle in Lisbon, Portugal

Wear good walking shoes here and bring your own water bottle. Expect to spend around 90 minutes here, it’s not a full day trip. Oh, and don’t forget to buy your glass of wine while you enjoy the view.

Wine with a view at Castelo Sao Jorge, don't mind if I do!

I didn’t get to indulge with a glass of wine so as I was with my children. So please, if you go, hoist a glass and think of me.

 

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Do not miss seeing Lisbon Castle, Castelo Sao Jorge - The castle in the capital on the hill in Portugal #travelportugal #portugaltravel #lisbonportugaltravel #lisbondaytrips #lisboncastle #lisbonthingstodoin #lisbonthingstosee #thingstodoinlisbonportugal #familytravel #bestcastlesineurope #bestcastlesinportugal #thingstodoinportugal #travellisbon #lisbontravel #lisbonwithkids #castelosaojorge

Lisbon Itinerary – How To Do 3 Days Without A Real Plan

When traveling with kids, there are a couple ways to organize yourself. Either plan every movement down to fifteen minute blocks or go with the flow. It actually kind of scares some people when I say that I like to be open or fluid to plans changing at all times. If there is one thing I have learned in my almost ten years of traveling the world with my children, it is to be flexible. So, it’s no surprise that my Lisbon itinerary isn’t much of an itinerary at all. I booked just one organized day tour in advance of our departure.

That’s right, we were flying to Lisbon, Portugal, staying for four days before heading to Barcelona and I only had one day of solid plans. I had a lot of ideas of what I wanted to see after reading many blog posts on 2 and 3 day itineraries in Lisbon. But, I set nothing in stone. Fly by the seat of my pants much?

Some might argue that I don’t give my kids enough structure and that I should be taking them places that would benefit them. I am a big believer in child led learning and activities, especially on the road. While I did have to acquiesce to activities that I was not necessarily thrilled about, there were many things that I led the kids too that they enjoyed.

Little Man riding a canon at Castelo Sao Jorge in Lisbon, Portugal

 

WHERE DID WE STAY IN LISBON?

We stayed at City Lofts Lisbon Guesthouse. It’s located in the Barrio Alto neighbourhood and walkable to pretty much everything except the suburban Belem District. Yes, we did indeed walk back from Hard Rock Cafe and walked back from Castelo Sao Jorge – but with a stop for dinner both times along the way.  

The block that City Lofts Lisbon Guesthouse is on

It occupies a third and fourth floor of a building. The outside door is marked by an unmistakable sign that says “Cheese and Wine”. It was perfect for me, the kids roared with laughter at the realization! We couldn’t miss it.

two twin beds in the triple room at City Lofts Guesthouse in Lisbon, Portugal

We had a really spacious triple room at City Lofts Lisbon Guesthouse, with what I believe to be the only private bathroom in the premises. I don’t like sharing bathrooms and I doubt the kids would have either. It was perfect for us, as there was a doorway separating the bedrooms. One room had two single beds and a wardrobe to hang clothing. One room had a single bed, access to the washroom, a mini fridge and a sitting area. In theory, this meant that I was able to have some free time when the kids went to sleep at night. In reality, the kids stayed up late and wore me out.

room with the single bed in our triple room at City Lofts Guesthouse, Lisbon

Continental breakfast was served in a central area and was basic but served our needs quite well. Somehow the kids got to eat cake for breakfast and I had my morning coffee. I would recommend these accommodations and I would stay there again.

breakfast at City Lofts Guesthouse in Lisbon

OUR FAVOURITE RESTAURANT IN LISBON?

One of the aspects of taking my kids to new places that is most exciting is trying restaurants that serve different food. We walked into this restaurant on a recommendation from our hostess at City Lofts Guesthouse because I wanted to eat somewhere full of locals, not tourists.

Restaurante SoaJeiro in Lisbon, Portugal exterior with my kids posing in front of it

Restaurante SoaJeiro is where we went, literally across the street and around the corner from where we were staying. It’s so authentic, you can smell the fish from outside. Even though the fish of the day is displayed in the window, the kids opted for beef. And this place was so good, we went back a second time, it was our last meal before we left for Barcelona! This was the hands down favourite of the kids and still talk about the “beef tower” to this day.

the "beef tower" at Restaurante SoaJeiro in Lisbon, Portugal

 

DAY 1 OF OUR LISBON ITINERARY

We arrived on an overnight red eye flight direct to Lisbon from Toronto. The Miss M and Little Man actually did well on this. They were way more alert and excited than I was when we got off the plane and stood in the customs line up. I’m not really a morning person to begin with, but not having any sleep on the plane made me sluggish. I just couldn’t fall asleep with my children beside me and I needed to protect them. That and the woman seated in front of us had two little purse puppies who wanted to bark.

A lot.

the streets of Lisbon

By the time we got out of the airport, got ourselves sorted onto the Aerobus and dropped off at Cais do Sodre, figured out our way to City Lofts Lisbon Guesthouses, it was just after noon. I was so tired, no joke. I desperately wanted a nap, but our room wasn’t ready so we had to go for lunch.

And then we had to wander the surrounding area.

And wander we did. Up stairs, down narrow, cobblestone roads, past colourful doors and shingles. We ended up at the Jardim Nuno Alvares, directly south of City Lofts Guesthouse. It’s a great place for children to run around and blow off steam. We would end up there again before our departure.

We ended up at the Jardim Nuno Alvares, directly south of City Lofts Guesthouse. It’s a great place for children to run around and blow off steam. We would end up there again before our departure.

And found the trash raccoon, Raposa de Bordalo II street art. I didn’t know this was a thing until we found it. It’s a rather impressive use of garbage.

Raposa de Bordalo II - trash raccoon. Street art found in Lisbon by artist If you have a chance, definitely check out Bordalo II's trash animals in different cities, these are super cool

Until 3:00pm, then we were back at the door of the Guesthouse so I could nap. Miss M and Little Man watched TV.

We had dinner at OTTO – Pizza Al Mercato and called it early. Damn I hate the European time change.

 

DAY 2 OF LISBON ITINERARY – NON STOP WALKING

 

If you have ever wondered if kids can withstand a full day of sightseeing and walking and still be obnoxious and not want to sleep at night, I have your answer.

I packed so much into one day. I feel like this one day itinerary of Lisbon could be a two day Lisbon itinerary for other families. At the end of the evening, I was exhausted and ready for bed. Little Man and Miss M decided that they wanted to stay up late and no amount of telling them to go to sleep was actually going to make them go to sleep.

LA MUSEU DA MARIONETA

The first thing we did in the morning after breakfast was go to the Marionette Museum. La Museu da Marioneta, which was less than two blocks from our guesthouse. I wrote about our experience here and won’t recap again and bore you. Bonus for families – you find quite a few museums and galleries that children under the ages of 12 do not have to pay admission at in Lisbon and many parts of Europe.

Terrifying floating puppet at the Marionette Museum in Lisbon

From here, I tried to figure out how to get to the Castelo Sao Jorge. We made our way down to Cais do Sodre and for the life of me, I could not figure out the public transit. The buses were a mystery! I downloaded an app and it told me to take X bus and Y bus and walk these blocks… But when X bus pulled up and I asked the driver to confirm that was where they were going, they said no. This happened more than once! Me and public transit are not friends.

 

CASTELO SAO JORGE

I asked the kids if they wanted to take one of the historic streetcar trams and they said no. The trams just didn’t have the appeal to Miss M and Little Man the way they do to many other tourists because we have streetcars in Toronto. We did go to Castelo Sao Jorge. How did we get there? We walked through the streets of Alfama up the hill. It was no easy feat! Especially with Little Man on my back half the time. He is only 5 years old, so I can’t fault him too much for getting tired. It was easier for me to pick him up and carry him than to hear him complain.

We walked through the streets of Alfama up the hill to Castelo Sao Jorge in Lisbon

Admission costs to get into the castle grounds are free for kids ages 10 and under. The cost for me as an adult was 8.50 Euros. Once we got into the grounds, we got amazing 360 degree views of Lisbon. All the orange rooftops, were gorgeous! The colourful homes, the bridge, the Targis River, what a sight!

What a view of Lisbon from the Castelo Sao Jorge beautiful houses of Alfama in Lisbon, Portugal as seen from Castelo Sao Jorge

Oh and you could get a glass of wine to admire the view with as well! What a great idea!

Wine with a view at Castelo Sao Jorge, don't mind if I do!

We spent a couple hours up on the grounds of the castle. We went inside the cafe for lunch, spent a lot of time watching the peacocks, went inside the museum, which had relics dating back through history that were found to be 1000 years old! The museum here is really comprehensive and tells the story of the crusades and the moors and explains a lot of the architecture influences. The kids didn’t want to linger through this section like I did. I likely could have spent another half hour exploring in this area if I was permitted.

inside the grounds of Castelo Sao Jorge in Lisbon, Portugal

When we left the Castelo Sao Jorge, we walked down. Yes, I walked them up and then I walked them down. Here’s what I figured out in our walks – not all souvenir shops have the same prices. My son really wanted to get one of the decorative small tram figurines. We eventually bought it for 12 Euro in one shop closer to Praça do Comércio. I saw the same figurine in a shop closer to the castle for 15 Euros. A 3 Euro price difference isn’t a bit deal, but when you find yourself making daily souvenir purchases for the kids, all those little Euro differences add up.

inside the grounds of Castelo Sao Jorge with Miss M and Little Man

THE DISTRICT OF BELEM

I was debating having an early dinner at this point as it was 4:00pm and we found ourselves down at Praça do Comércio. Word to the wise here, all the restaurants around the square are really expensive, like gauge the tourist expensive. Thankfully menus with the prices were prominently displayed before you went in. Instead of sitting to eat, I ended up having a conversation with a tuk tuk driver (I was asking for restaurant recommendations) and was offered an end of day discount to take us on a tour to the Belem district. We decided to take him up on the offer as my experience with public transit in Lisbon was already tainted.

Little Man enjoying his tuk tuk ride to the district of Belem in Lisbon, Portugal

First stop he took up to – Pastéis de Belém. And here is what we learned – you don’t have to wait in the crazy line up around to the corner to get one of these world famous pastries. Our tuk tuk driver took us in a side door and to a back “to-go” order counter where we were served a dozen Pastéis.

The inside madness of Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, Portugal. This was an added stop in our Lisbon itinerary

I saved them for later and spoiler; Miss M and Little Man did not like them! I liked them, they were okay. It’s not a decadent chocolate cake or anything like that, but okay for a pastry. I got straddled with having to eat all of them. I ended up taking them to Barcelona because I could not finish them all in our time in Lisbon.

The outside line up madness of Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, Portugal. This was an added stop in our Lisbon itinerary

Next, we had a bit of time to wander the Cloisters of Jeronimos Monastery. We opted to not linger here too long. I’m not one to fawn over religious symbols or buildings and the kids certainly do not.

Outside the Cloisters of Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon Portugal. We had no real intention of visiting here, but since it was a stop on our Belem tour, we did.

I do try to use these monuments as an opportunity to have a history lesson about how the citizens of hundreds of years ago utilized building techniques. Sometimes the kids are intrigued. Sometimes not. The Jeronimos Monastery fell into the “not” category and we went back to the tuk tuk after what felt like an obligatory look.

inside the Cloisters of Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon Portugal. We had no real intention of visiting here, but since it was a stop on our Belem tour, we did.

Next stop – the Tower of Belém! I did not realize that this is firstly, the most famous landmark in Lisbon and that secondly, the Belém Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It played a key role in Europe’s Age of Discoveries, as since it served both as a fortress and as a port from where the Portuguese explorers departed in the sea to establish what would be the first European trade in history with China and India.

Another view of the Tower of Belem

We opted to not go inside, but admired it from the outside as it would have cost me 6 Euros to enter. Also, it was getting really late in the day.

The kids outside the tower of Belem in Lisbon, Portugal. Belém Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site played a key role in Europe’s Age of Discoveries, since it served both as a fortress and as a port from where Portuguese explorers departed to establish what would be the first European trade in history with China and India.

Last stop on this tour before we headed back to the guesthouse was the Monument to the Discoveries in Lisbon. In all the history I learned in school, we primarily learned about the English, the French and the Dutch being explorers who founded the new, Western world. While this is primarily true, the Portuguese founded much of the West Indies, and of the west cost of Africa.

The Monument to the Discoveries is made up of a group of sculptures that have been made to look like the prow of a small sailing ship made by the Portuguese specifically to weather the Atlantic Ocean. The explorer at the head is Prince Henry the Navigator and behind him are many other Portuguese discoverers.

Monument to the Discoveries in Lisbon 52 metres tall, this monument commemorates the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, who discovered the Azores, Madeira and Cape Verde in Lisbon.
We have dinner close to our guest house at Hamburgueria Portuguesa by farnel, then went for dessert at Gelato Davvero. Incidentally, the gelato place was right next door to McDonalds and I managed to not walk into McD’s for another day. Something about kids and that place is like a moth to the flame.

DAY 3 OF LISBON ITINERARY – OUTSIDE THE CITY

This was the day where we actually had an organized tour booked. I paid just over $300 Canadian dollars with Inside Lisbon tours. We traveled to Pena Palace, the town of Sintra, Cabo da Roca and Cascais.

When I woke up that morning, again my heart sank. Rain. F$cking rain again. I saw the moisture and clouds and realized the rain wasn’t going anywhere We met our guide, Nuno and the rest of the group at Hard Rock Cafe in central Lisbon at 9:00am. No walking this morning, we took an Uber. My kids and I were the young ones on the tour, we accompanied three older couples – one couple from the USA who were sweet, but might have been republicans, one couple from Norway and a couple from Britain.

Nuno was determined made sure to show us a good time despite the weather. He was probably about my age and a bit shorter than me. I might be traveling with my kids, but I’m not dead inside. He was cute, but he reminded me of a younger version of all the Portuguese men that hang out in the food court of the Dufferin Mall here in Toronto playing cards. Right from the start, he was quick and efficient with putting booster seats into the minivan for my kids. Since it was raining and raining hard, he prioritized getting us into Pena National Palace opposed to spending more time outside in the rain wandering the Pena Park gardens. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good garden, especially ones that are as beautiful as that, but not in the pouring rain.

second gates of Pena National Palace, Lisboa, Portugal

PENA NATIONAL PALACE

I tried desperately to look for a cloud opening to get a good picture of the Palace, but no. I wasn’t going to get any of those stunning Pena Palace Instagram pictures that everyone else gets!

my kids inside Pena Palace on the rainy tour

one of my many family selfies

We wandered inside the palace and admired the furniture and decor from the royal family that lived there. Under little overhangs were we could keep dry, Nuno told us about the architecture and design and where the inspiration was drawn from which was kind of cool. As I write this over a month later, I wish I had actually made note of the details closer to the time frame so that I could relay them now. There’s something about serpents…

Pena National Palace in the clouds

Once we left the Palace and headed into the town of Sintra, the rain broke. For real, it stopped raining for the rest of the day. Nuno was sure to give us enough leisure time to wander the historic center of Sintra on our own and purchase lunch. Lunch was not included in the tour.

Tasca Salaia restaurant in Sintra, Lisboa, Portugal

Here, the kids and I ate at Tasca Solaia.

This was a higher end restaurant and was the most expensive meal we had in all of Portugal. The food was super tasty, but it’s a lesson in not stopping at the first restaurant you see.

Sintra, Lisboa, Portugal

In hindsight, I wish I had taken the kids to the journalism museum in Sintra during our time there. More for my interest over theirs (shocker). Instead, we wandered the residential streets. I did however, get one of my favourite door photos of the kids here.

middle of the town in picturesque Sintra, Portugal

CABO DA ROCA AND CASCAIS

Once we reconvened with Nuno and the group, we got back into the minivan and drove past Quinta da Regaleira and the Palace of Monserrate. It’s only an 8 hour tour, so no stopping there!

Cabo da Roca. I’ve been to the eastern tip of North American and now the continental west of Europe. Only a small swim between them!

My kids at Cabo da Roca

But when we stopped at the cliffside lookout point of Cabo da Roca, continental Europe’s westernmost point, we had ample time to photograph it. Nuno tried to tell me the terrain looked like Ireland, having been there, I disagreed, but it’s his tour, not mine.

The Cabo da Roca Lighthouse is a beacon/lighthouse located 165 metres above the Atlantic Ocean, on Portugal's most westerly extent. It is located in the civil parish of Colares, in the municipality of Sintra, situated on a promontory that juts out into the ocean, made up of granite boulders and interspersed limestone.

From there, we continued on the highway and then paid a brief visit at the shore of the Atlantic Ocean for pictures.

Just outside of the town of Cascais on the Atlantic Ocean.The kids and I outside of the town of Cascais on the Atlantic Ocean.

Then onto Cascais, a high class seaside resort town. Here you can enjoy some time to stroll along the beach or eat gelato and be like my kids and pose for silly photos.

Running the square of Cascaisridiculous photo of my kids in Cascais

We arrived back at Hard Rock Cafe in central Lisbon closer to 6:00pm.

On Monday before our flight to Barcelona, we walked the local neighbourhood and looked for interesting things we had missed before.


Now that you know what we did fit into our Lisbon Itinerary, here is what we did not do.

It was either recommended by locals that we skip it or I did not feel it was suitable:

– Eat at Time Out Market. We were told it was over priced and we would be better off eating in random local restaurants.

– Elevador de Santa Justa.  After seeing the views from the Castelo Sao Jorge, we just didn’t feel the need to pay to do this.

– Take in Traditional Portuguese Fado. My kids were ages 5 and 9 at the time of travel. I really could not see them sitting still for this. It is on my list of something to experience if I ever find myself back in Lisbon without my kids.


If we had one more day in Lisbon, I would have fit this into our vacation:

– A trip to the Oldest Bookshop in the World, Livraria Bertrand
– Sail the River Tagus at Sunset. It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for sailing and for sunsets.

My biggest discovery during the course of this leg of the trip? Lisbon was by far the best value for our Western dollar. We paid less for the accommodations, food and admission in Euros than what we paid Barcelona, Marseille, Cannes, Milan or Paris. I hope that Portugal doesn’t figure that out because I’d love to go back and spend more time there now that I know what I should budget. Of course we also travelled in April, which is a bit off season, a little less crowded and very rainy.

3 Day Lisbon Itinerary for those without a plan. My Lisbon trip with my kids will inspire you to come and go with the flow #travelportugal #portugaltravel #lisbonportugaltravel #lisbondaytrips #daytripsfromlisbonportugal #lisbonthingstodoin #lisbonthingstosee #thingstodoinlisbonportugal #familytravel #bestcastlesineurope #bestcastlesinportugal #thingstodoinportugal #travellisbon #lisbontravel #lisbonwithkids #europetravel Discover the best Lisbon Itinerary for those without a plan. My Lisbon trips will inspire you to come and go with the flow #travelportugal #portugaltravel #lisbonportugaltravel #lisbondaytrips #daytripsfromlisbonportugal #lisbonthingstodoin #lisbonthingstosee #thingstodoinlisbonportugal #familytravel #bestcastlesineurope #bestcastlesinportugal #thingstodoinportugal #travellisbon #lisbontravel #lisbonwithkids #europetravel

Exploring The Marionette Museum In Lisbon – Museu da Marioneta

The first full day the kids and I were in Lisbon, Portugal we were saddened by the rain falling outside the window of our guest house when we woke up. I had planned these incredible daily itineraries and none of them had taken into account the possibility that our plans could get rained out. There went taking a walk up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge! A woman in the breakfast room suggested we walk less than two blocks to the Marionette Museum in Lisbon – Museu da Marioneta instead. It seemed like a great alternative.

Exterior of Museum of the Marionette, The Marionette Museum In Lisbon, The Puppet Museum, Museu da Marioneta, Lisbon Portugal, Lisboa

What I didn’t know at that moment is that the rain would clear up in an hour. By the time we arrived there, it was sunny. That didn’t bother us, we were on adventure! Since we had never been there or on that street before in our lives, we ventured up the stairs of the Marionette Museum. We had nothing to lose by checking it out.

Lisbon is incredibly family friendly. You find in a lot of places that children under the ages of 12 do not have to pay admission at many museums and galleries. We were on a budget for this trip, but I had no problem paying 5 Euro admission for myself as an adult.

Admission is free at the Marionette Museum in Lisbon on public holidays and Sundays between 10:00 am – 2:00 pm.

My kids checking out a display in Museum of the Marionette, The Marionette Museum In Lisbon, The Puppet Museum, Museu da Marioneta, Lisbon Portugal, Lisboa

Where Is The Marionette Museum In Lisbon?

You will find Museu da Marioneta in the Madragoa neighbourhood on Rue de Esperanca. Visiting there finds yourself in the old Convento das Bernardas, which was founded in 1653.

It is approximately a 15 minute walk north and west from Cais do Sodre. As much of Lisbon is very walkable, you will find yourself not far away from much.

Tip for families with kids – The Jardim Nuno Alvares is directly south. It’s a great place for children to run around and blow off steam. Beware – there is a McDonald’s restaurant in the area. I did not permit my children to eat there on this leg of the trip, but there is a great gelato place next door to it.

My kids checking out a surprise creepy display in Museum of the Marionette, The Marionette Museum In Lisbon, The Puppet Museum, Museu da Marioneta, Lisbon Portugal, Lisboa

What is The Marionette Museum?

The Marionette Museum is the first museum in Portugal dedicated to the world of  puppetry. I’m a storyteller by trade and my daughter has an artistic flair, so this is the kind of place that appeals to us.

What you will see here is not exclusive to the history of Portuguese theatre. There were stage, mask and puppets collections from all over the Europe, Asia, Brazil and Africa from various time periods. Most of what we saw in the museum dated back 50-60 years to as far as 150 years! Needless to say, touching the displays is not permitted.

The Puppet Museum, Museu da Marioneta, Lisbon Portugal, Lisboa

The museum itself is not large in size and it took us approximately an hour to go through.

A completely honest assessment from my Canadian children – they found some of the marionettes slightly terrifying. It was the faces of the puppets that scared them as they were not used to seeing the artistry in this style. My kids are fairly easy going, so they did not panic. In some of the darker areas, they were uncomfortable.

Terrifying floating puppet

I can see how other children might be scared, so be aware and hold their hands or at least be walking next to them. The hallways are very dark and only the displays are lit.

creepy puppet in Museum of the Marionette

You are able to look online and assess some of the puppets, props and masks ahead of time. If you are thinking of taking your children, take a look. I do understand it’s one thing to see the image online and another thing completely to be standing in front of a mask on the wall.

a display in Museum of the Marionette, The Puppet Museum, Museu da Marioneta, Lisbon Portugal, Lisboa

The Magic Of Aardman Studios

A bit of luck we had – we were able to see the limited run of The Magic of Aardman Studios. The display was at the museum for a couple months, so we were fortunate to see it.

The magic of Aardman studios at Lisbon Museum

If you are not familiar with Aardman Studios, they are the animation studios behind Wallace and Gromit. Their other well known work is Creature Comforts, Timmy Time, Shaun the Sheep, Chicken Run, Morph and Early Man.

Wallace and Gromit set from Aardman Studios in Lisbon

There were 47 puppets, 8 sets, many storyboards and different sketches to see. The display was there until April 21, 2019 and I’m glad we caught it! Chicken Run used to be on constant rotation in my house. Now they’re watching Wallace and Gromit all because of this memory.

Wallace and Gromit set from Aardman Studios in Lisbon

The Marionette Museum in Lisbon is a good stop if you have time in Lisbon. I wouldn’t recommend that you go out of your way, but if you are in the neighbourhood, it’s worth checking out.

Visiting the Museu da Marioneta, Marionette Museum in Lisbon, Lisboa, Portugal