After a long, cold winter and many months of not spending enough time with my Mom and one of my favorite people in this world, I decided we were in desperate need of a Mother-Daughter getaway. After having conversations back and forth of where to go, we decided we needed to go big—and that a trip to Europe was just what we needed.
Although my Mom is one of the most amazing planners I know, and can throw a party like no one else, planning a trip abroad is not her thing. Luckily, we make a great pair and I have become the Queen of putting together travel agendas and researching the hottest spots and foodie destinations.
As a Dietitian and superfood chef, I believe that food is one of the most powerful ways to connect and experience life to the fullest. Food can tell you so much about a culture, place, and the people.
We decided that we just had to go to Barcelona and visit a small town in France that my nephew is named after—both amazing foodie destinations. Soon our trip became known as our “European Riviera” with stops in Barcelona, the French Riviera, and Southern Spain.
Off we go…
Since my Mom and I were flying from two different places, we decided to connect in New York on an overnight flight directly to Nice, France. We were so excited about our adventure ahead that we couldn’t sleep and spent most of the night talking and watching plane movies. Although, we had separate TVs, my Mom insisted that we start the movies at the same time so it would feel like we were actually watching it together. She’s cute like that! Regardless, it was a fun start to our European Riviera experience.
Wednesday- Friday, May 24-26
On our first day, we arrived in Nice around 10:30am and took a 45- minute bus ride into Cannes. We were already so proud of our navigation skills and finding our way around this foreign land. France definitely has a different feel than the states. Things seem to go a bit slower and the cities have a unique elegance about them. Our time started with a delicious lunch at Beach Baoli where we ordered a Nicoise and caprese salad. The weather was beautiful and the view was terrific.
After lunch, we were so tired from our travel that we found some swing chairs and took a few power naps while waiting to check into your hotel.
It just so happened that during our time here in Cannes, the international film festival was going on so we were able to see the red carpet and lots of people dressed up. The only “celebrity” that we spotted was Jason Kennedy from E! News. I’m sure we passed by many celebrities, but none that we actually recognized.
Once we got checked in to our hotel we couldn’t wait to sink our toes into the sandy beach. Sandy beaches are what Cannes is known for. Many of the other beaches in the French Riviera are very rocky.
And of course I had to sneak in the first dancer pose photo as soon as I got to the water to document our adventures ahead.
Later that night we went to a cute outdoor café called Bobo where we ordered linguine with clams and a fresh artichoke Parmesan salad. It was a true “taste of France” and we did a very good job at cleaning our plates. The plates were also very adorable and I wanted to take them home with us.
That night, we slept almost 13 hours to catch up on the sleep we missed from our overnight flight. We woke up rejuvenated and ready to tackle our adventure in France. Our breakfast of champions that morning consisted of cappuccinos and chocolate croissants (for me), my Mom is more of a regular croissant kind of girl. They were delicious and made us feel like a true local.
On Thursday, we hopped on a 25- minute express bus to Nice and checked into a lovely hotel called Boscolo Exedra Autograph collection where they gave you free mineral water upon arrival. (The key to my heart).
Our hotel in Nice was centrally located to everything and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. We started our time by exploring the cute little area of Old Town. You can enter into Old Town through a beautiful park and plaza that opens up into a mecca of cute streets, cafe's and shops.
The Saleya Market area was our favorite area where we seemed to spend most of our time. During the day the market was full of fun food, spices, and gift stands. Circling the market is a variety of restaurants that all serve up delicious French food.
For lunch we stumbled upon a true gem called La Storia where we ordered aubergine, pesto gnocchi, and a delicious rose wine. It was our first glass of wine since we arrived and we savored it as we chit chatted about life. The wine was crisp, fresh and fruit forward and made the whole meal a true experience—à votre santé.
After lunch we stumbled on a couple super cute shops. My favorites were Alziari and Maison Auer.
Alziari is a shrine for lovers of olive oil. You can buy its oil in London and New York, but get it here for a third of the price, in beautiful cans that preserve the oil better than bottles. The shop is also sells tapenade and other delicacies, including orange-blossom water (reputed to send fretful babies to sleep).
Maison Auer is a magical patisserie/confiserie with a small teashop tucked in the back that sells beautiful jams, and candied fresh fruits.
Later that afternoon we headed out to explore the most cute and quant village of Eze, which was about a 30 minute “Uber” ride from Nice. This is the village my adorable nephew, Eze is named after. Our goal was to find a souvenir from “his village” to bring home for him.
Eze Village is tucked away on top of a large mountain. In order to get up to the main shopping streets of Eze you have to walk—no taxis allowed. The main shopping strip is 10, rue de la Paix. Here you can get the best views of Nice from Eze Garden.
After we visited Eze we hopped in an Uber back to Nice to scope out the night scene. At night the Saleya area turns into a live music and food scene with a super vibrant atmosphere.
It seemed every restaurant in this strip was serving up a French staple in Old Town—mussels with frites. The servers stand outside when you walk by practically taking your order before you sit down. We pointed to what everyone else was having and said “we’ll take that!” The mussels were served in a light cream broth with garlic, shallots, and fresh herbs. Mmmmm…. and of course we had to get a light white wine to go with it—server’s orders.
The next morning we woke up and headed over to the Plaza near our hotel, which was full of outdoor cafes. We of course ordered our “usual” of cappuccinos and croissants. Wanting to try out another super cute café next door, we headed over to see how their cappuccino compared. (A taste of Nice/Cappuccino Café Crawl we called it) They served their cappuccino with cacao powder sprinkled on top and we savored every last sip of our time in Nice.
Barcelona here we come!
Friday- Monday, May 26-29
Cabify is the Uber of Barcelona. It’s similar to a black car style service but with the price point of Uber. Their branding is unreal. Everything has Cabify listed on it including the car window decal to the complimentary water bottles they serve you. They even offer free wi-fi during your ride.
The coolest part was that we were able to schedule our Cabify to pick us up directly from the airport as soon as we arrived. Since most people didn’t speak English, it made life easy that we didn’t have to navigate our way from the train to bus to our hotel.
We arrived into Barcelona around 3pm on Friday and the city was alive! I couldn’t believe how many people there were walking around the streets of La Rambla! It seemed even busier than New York City. My head was turning in all directions just trying to soak everything in. I couldn’t get enough!
After checking into Hotel Bagues (located in the middle of the La Rambla strip) we headed straight to La Boqueria market to get some lunch. Wow were we blown away! La Boqueria is the “Mack Daddy” of all markets! It is full of delicious mouth watering food stands from Walk the Walk Thai noodles to fresh and healthy chickpea salad. They have endless stands of fresh fruit, squeezed juices, and smoothies. Their nuts and sweets stands are out of this world—you can find chocolate covered everything!
One of the biggest things this Spanish outdoor markets are known for are their cured meats and cheeses. Iberico ham looks like regular prosciutto but it is so much richer. The secret is that the pigs are fed a diet of acorns, which provides a fattier and more flavorful finish to the meat. The meat is then cured for at least two years. In the middle of the market you can find fresh seafood stands with every type of seafood you could imagine. Some of their most popular seafood is monkfish, cuddle fish, octopus, and squid. My Mom and I share the same appreciation and love for food, which made it such a fun thing to experience together. Food is truly beautiful.
After soaking in the entire market we decided on the Iberico ham, cheese, and an assortment of fried fish for lunch. Mmmmm! We finished this off with some candied nuts and chocolates. It was the perfect light afternoon lunch we needed to give us the energy we needed to explore the city.
Walking La Rambla was such a site to see! There were a variety of outdoor cafes down the strip serving up paella and sangria. Street vendors were selling all sorts of souvenirs and knock off purses and bags. There were also a lot of artists selling their watercolors paintings of different Barcelona sites. The street performers were remarkable—some pose as statues and you really can’t tell if they are real or fake. They must have mad meditation and breathing skills.
Right next to La Rambla is Placa Reial, which is also known as The Royal Square. It is lovely and and is full of beautiful architecture. Right off La Rambla you will find a street called Portal de l’Angel which includes a variety of Spanish and international brands like Zara, Mango, & H & M. This wide shopping street is located between Plaça Catalunya and the famous Cathedral. The Zara here is off the chain! My Mom bought me a jean skirt outfit here for my birthday that still to this day takes me right back here every time I wear it.
Later that night we set off for dinner at Restaurant Lo De Flor, which was recommended by my husband who went a year prior. I have to say the walk was a little shady—through some small back allies and crowds of interesting people who look like they are up to no good. However, it made our dinner that much more exciting. Flor is the owner of the restaurant and she is full of spunk. She knew exactly what we needed when we arrived—a glass of cava.
Cava is Spanish champagne and boy, is it delicious and so drinkable. The small plates we ordered were quite unique from clam’s gratin to prawns on a skewer. The salad we ordered had a fresh plum puree dressing that was so light and refreshing. For dessert we had coconut pudding with a toffee glaze. It was the perfect dinner for our first night in Barcelona.
We woke up early the next morning with purpose—to experience a new world. In Barcelona you don’t stop! There is so much energy in this city that it makes you want to conquer the town as soon as you get up! Our plan was to walk to breakfast through the shopping square and take in as many sites as we could on the way.
Before the trip I had researched what the most popular brunch spots were in Barcelona and I stumbled upon a Barcelona chain called Brunch & Cake.
You could say that Brunch and Cake is “food porn” at its finest. Sorry for the language, but there is no better way to explain it. The dishes are vibrant, colorful, and super unique. They are all made with organic and seasonable superfoods and flavors. This place is the perfect showing of how healthy food can be delicious, beautiful, and fun to eat. It would make junk food eaters become superfood- aholics. No joke! After all, flavor comes from nutrients and we weren't born craving unhealthy, processed foods.
While waiting for our table we were able to see so many different dishes on people’s tables that helped us to narrow down our order of acai bowl with homemade granola and fresh fruit, banana oat pancakes, and bagel and egg sandwich with a side of hummus salad and blue potato chips. When in Barcelona—order the whole menu!
Their coffee drinks were super fun too. I ordered a beetroot latte and my Mom ordered a flat white (2 shots of espresso and steamed milk). They even serve a paleo black peanut butter latte (instead of butter they use peanut butter). Clever!
Wow was my mind blown by our Brunch and Cake experience. It is a place that is so ahead of their time! Come on Chicago—get with the times! They take healthy ingredients and they elevate it to the next level making it not only delicious but also so beautiful and mouth watering. They totally debunk the myth that healthy food is boring and doesn’t taste good. Oh, and Brunch and cake is super affordable. Because they use a lot of seasonal ingredients, it keeps the costs down. For all of our food we only paid about $30!
Nearby Brunch and Cake you will find another super cute brunch spot called Flax and Kale on Carrer dels Tallers street. We didn’t go in but I did manage to snap a dancer photo outside.
After Brunch and Cake we headed over to the Gothic Quarter (just East of La Rambla) for our free walking tour.
Joining the walking tour was super easy. The tour meets before every tour at the Travel Bar in Carrer de la Bouqueria and departs from there. The tour runs at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm every day. We had the coolest tour guide who totally enjoyed his job—he got super into the history of Barcelona and the cool architecture of the Gothic Quarter.
We learned so much about the city on this two-hour tour that we would have never learned otherwise. It helped to have this tour early in our trip to help plan the rest of our time there.
One super cool thing that we learned is that tapas restaurants were designed with one focus in mind—for people to socialize over wine. Wine in Barcelona is part of the everyday culture. There is so much more to wine than drinking to feel a “buzz.” Wine is “food” in their world, and it is meant to be enjoyed and savored. Wine allows you to slow down, have conversation, and connect with the people that matter. The coolest thing is that people in Barcelona don’t over indulge in the wine drinking experience because they understand that pleasure doesn’t come from over doing anything. They look at the wine drinking experience as a way to socialize, connect, and strengthen relationships.
It was many years later that “tapas meals” or “small plates” were introduced into these tapas restaurants. Rather than serving a huge American style meal that makes you feel lethargic, tired, and makes it impossible to socialize, they decided on “small bites” that don’t get in the way of the true “tapas experience.”
Throughout my time in Barcelona I noticed that Spanish people are very mindful when it comes to wine and food. They eat with purpose, focus on quality, and eat in a way that makes them feel happy.
During the tour we walked the cutest streets of the Gothic Quarter where musicians played live music and locals came to hangout. After the tour we decided to do some shopping—another common interest my Mom and I share.
Carrer de Ferran is a super cute street in the Gothic Quarter, which is full of exclusive small boutiques that sell original clothing, jewelry, cookware, home accessories, and local goods. Branching off of this street you will find another cute street with similar boutiques called Carrer Avinyo.
Later that day we headed over to Barcelona Cooking School for our market tour and tapas class. We got lucky and were put in a group with the owner of the school, Chef Candido who was our market tour guide and chef.
He took us over to La Bouqeria market where we shopped for all of the ingredients needed for our cooking class. You would have thought Chef Candido was a celebrity. (I guess at the market he is). Every food stand in the market said hello to him and offered him free samples of their best stuff.
When we arrived at the cooking school we had all you can drink wine and mineral water! Double yay!
We started with prepping all of our ingredients and mingling with the other participants. Our group was great and so friendly and we quickly got to know their life stories over wine.
Our menu consisted of andalousian gazpacho, coca bread with black olives and escalivada, spicy potatoes Brava style with aioli, and meatballs with cuttlefish. Totally a mind- blowing meal!
My Mom was the shining star of the class and was the chef’s favorite. She dominated in the kitchen like a boss, made the meatballs, set the table, and still managed to sneak in lots of wine drinking. At one point in the night she came over to me and said, "wow is that white wine so easy to drink." Way to go Mom! Living like a true Barcelona local! It was such a fun night of wine drinking, cooking, and laughing. There really is nothing better than shared meals and conversation.
Since dessert wasn’t served during our class, our chef recommended we head across the street of La Rambla to get gelato at Sanfaina. All I have to say is wow and #takemeback.
On Sunday, we went to mass at Cathedral Barcelona. The mass was in Catalan and it was absolutely beautiful. There was such a holy and remarkable feeling in the Cathedral. It was a fun way to celebrate our Catholic roots.
After mass we stopped for donuts at Chok Chocolate. Here, they have the most beautiful chocolate and pastries—from cronuts (croissant-donut blend) to frosted donuts and banana cream éclairs that are made right on site. We tasted a little bit of everything and boy was it delicious. I still dream about it.
Since it was our last day in Barcelona we decided to make it a tourist day to see all of the most popular sites and landmarks. We were determined to get everything in, in the short 3 days we had there! Luckily, a local told us that we had to get tickets for some of these sites ahead of time or there may be a chance that we couldn't get in once we arrive.
We started with a visit to Parc Guell to marvel at Gaudi’s beautiful masterpieces. Parc Guell is a hilltop garden complex covered in colorful mosaic tiles. You can find some of the best views of the city here.
Our next stop was La Sagrada Familia but we had some time to kill before our ticketed time. It was a perfect excuse to make another visit to Brunch and Cake. We decided to go to a different Brunch and Cake spot called Travel and Cake. Here, we had their giant quinoa burger and one of their healthy and delicious fruit and chia smoothies. Yum! Please come to Chicago Brunch and Cake!
When we arrived at Sagrada Familia we were totally blown away! The church is enormous and absolutely beautiful. The stonework is so detailed and impressive. The entire place is just breathtaking.
It was also neat to learn the history of Sagrada Familia and Gaudi’s story. We purchased the audio tour with our tickets and were so glad that we did. It walked us through the entire story of Sagrada Familia along with the details of inside the church. We even added a tour up to the top of the Nativity Façade Tower to admire the views of Barcelona.
On the cab ride home from Sagrada Familia we had our driver pass a couple of Gaudi’s other projects that we could see for fear of missing out. (FOMO). We couldn’t leave Barcelona without seeing Casa Batillo and Casa Mila.
After a long day of site seeing, we had paella on our mind. It was pretty much the only Spanish food we hadn’t tried yet. Of course when you treat yourself to these experiences you have to make it count by going to the best Paella restaurant in Barcelona. 7 Portes restaurant is located right on the sea and is famous for having the best Paella in the city. It was recommended to us by some locals and had amazing reviews.
Our last night was the icing on the cake to our Barcelona experience. We ordered the most amazing and beautiful Sangria while we waited for our table and talked about life, my Mom’s childhood growing up, her relationship with her Mom (my Tete), and so much more. My Mom and I have a similar relationship to what she had with her Mother—a very special bond.
I like to say that my Mom is “my person” I go to with anything and everything. We love to do all of the same things and our time together is always so easy and effortless. She is my mentor, role model and best friend. She is truly the one who has taught me about the real story of food, which is why it felt so right to experience this culinary adventure with her.
As soon as we were seated we ordered the paella parellada and a side of Iberico ham with fresh bread. The paella parellada is known as the rich man’s paella and includes a combine of shellfish, seafood, and meat. It has everything you could possibly want—mussels, clams, bay scallops, lobster, shrimp, monkfish, chicken, and saffron rice. It was to die for and all of the flavors and components of the dish made you want more and more with each bite.
Our bond was forged even more by this experience and I will cherish it forever. Hasta luego Barcelona, te extrañaremos!
Monday- Wednesday, May 29-31
On Monday morning, we flew from Barcelona to Malaga. We organized transportation to get from the Malaga airport to our hotel in Estepona, a remote destination on the Mediterranean Sea. Estepona is so far south in Spain that you can see Africa. It’s said to be “The stage where Europe and Africa meet.” If we had more time, we would have taken the 30 minute ferry ride over to Morocco.
As mentioned earlier, my Mom gave me full reins to plan our entire European agenda. This included scoping out the coolest hotels. On my Google search I came across a hotel called Healthouse in Southern Spain which totally caught my attention given the name. The pictures of the hotel and the amenities looked beautiful and I decided it was somewhere we had to go. Plus, it was close to the Malaga airport, which was an easy flight from Barcelona.
As soon as we arrived at The Healthouse, the friendliest staff greeted us with a healthy welcome “cocktail” made of mineral water and fresh squeezed juice. Upon our arrival we learned that the Healthouse does not allow any alcohol on the premises but provides all you can drink mineral water. (Woo-hoo!)
On top of that, everything at the hotel was apple themed to go with their Healthouse logo, which fueled my fruit themed obsession even more.
We also learned that people travel from all over the world to come to the Healthouse to go through a complete wellness transformation. This is one of the reasons why they do not provide alcohol or other indulges on site and why you can’t just purchase food or snacks anytime you want like other hotels. Everything is controlled and they only offer a 4- course prix fix meal that you can eat once or twice a day at specific times. Not only is the food all healthy and made with the freshest ingredients, but it is also portion- controlled to meet your health goals.
After trying out their 4-course prix fix menu for lunch (which was a total experience) we decided to “indulge” ourselves in the “African Sun.”
The “African Sun” is so warm and soothing, and is unlike any other sun bathing experience. You instantly brown versus burn and could lie outside all day. The breeze you get from the sea is very refreshing and the weather is the perfect temperature every single day. To go with their apple theme, they had giant apple cabanas with cushions that you could melt in. This experience was heaven on earth and the definition of “white space.”
After lying in the sun for the majority of the day, we decided it was time to explore the hotel amenities as much as possible. In our other destinations, there was so much to see and do that we never had time to relax. This was the perfect destination to end our trip because we never felt like we had anywhere else to be but at our hotel soaking up the sun.
We decided to get a stress relieving face and scalp treatment, which totally blew us away. It was such a relaxing treat after our busy travels. Included in our treatment was complete access to the spa facilities. Their spa facilities included access to their vitality pool, warm cave, snow cave, salt cabin, cold bath, steam bath, sauna, and shower cabins.
We felt like kids in a candy store having everything to ourselves. In fact, we practically had the whole entire hotel to ourselves, and only saw a handful of guests our entire stay. We also realized that the staff was really just made up of the same three people who had many different roles around the hotel. The room service clerk was also the restaurant server, the receptionist was also our masseuse, and the lawn crew was also the hotel greeters.
Healthouse kind of felt like an episode out of the HBO TV Series, West World. It was such an experience although everyone seemed a bit robotic.
On our last night at the Healthouse we decided to be rebels and go off site to indulge in a little pizza and wine. (Something the Healthouse does not offer) We found a cute little family owned outdoor café next door with the most delicious thin crust pizza and homemade rose wine. We felt like we needed one last European meal, with a proper cheers to complete our trip.
By the end of our stay the staff started to feel like our family. They said that the Healthouse concept is something they hope to open up in many other European locations. However, because there isn’t a word for “health” in the Spanish language, Healthouse has been hard to market to Europeans.
Back to the real world we go…
Home we go…
The beautiful thing about travel is that it allows you to be more mindful and aware of your surroundings. It’s an experience that lets you to be completely present and engaged in everything you do. Everyday you are exposed to a new experience—architecture, cultures, people, and food. Travel grants you the privilege of doing things with more purpose and engagement.
One of the biggest things I learned is that food may be the most important part of traveling. There is no better way to truly experience all that a city has to offer. Food gives you insight into the culture, history, people, and allows you to connect and socialize. Food brings people together and floods you with emotions. Eating stimulates conversation and allows you to present.
When you think about it, the first question people typically ask you when you get back from a trip is “how was the food?” The food will tell you so much about a culture and is easy for people to visualize. If the food is made with love, and flavor, you know that the destination as a whole will probably have the same care.
Even though we ate lots of delicious food that we wouldn’t typically eat in the states—we never over did anything and made all of our eating experiences count. We were very mindful of how much and how often we indulged and made sure to be very strategic about our choices. We went to the best paella restaurant right on the sea, ate donuts that were handmade right in front of us, and drank wine that was from the local vineyards. Everything we did was purposeful and intentional.
Plus, you don’t travel all the way to Barcelona just to get a cup of coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts stand or eat at any old tourist trap. It’s important to plan ahead and scope out the best foodie spots and experiences. Food is too important to be wasted on something that is so not worth it.
Over the years, my Mom has truly taught me that it’s the story of food that is so powerful. You don’t remember the things you buy, but you remember the meals you eat and whom you eat them with. There is more to eating that to lose weight or be healthy—food is an experience that’s meant to be enjoyed in every way. No one should feel guilty for indulging as long as they plan ahead and make these special moments count. After all, we don’t get pleasure when we over do things.
Even though we didn’t hit the gym one time and ate more bread and pastries than we have in our entire life, we came back to the states feeling healthier than ever—mentally and physically. Of course we were constantly moving everyday which was definitely part of it—mindful movement at its finest.
Now, in my adult life and in my career, I have managed to incorporate this way of living into my everyday and am on a mission to teach others how to do the same. To me, mindful living is not about doing certain things because you have to, it's about doing certain things because you want to and because you like the way it makes you feel. When it comes to mindful eating, you aren't giving anything up, you are making everything better. Every meal is an experience and it's important to make it count.
It’s important to understand that life is an experience. Spend your time making a life versus making a living. Feel good by eating healthy and exercising most of the time and make room for these special moments with the people who matter.
Happiness is the feeling we get from living our best self. Make your life healthy, happy, and wonderful! You deserve it!