A Taste of Sicily Through the Lens of Aaron Fink

Aaron Fink is a Sarasota based photographer who travels often and has come on two GrapeHops tours. He and his wife Vicki are fun people and great to travel with but aside from this, Aaron’s photos are truly stunning. He has agreed to let me  post some of his Sicily photos here, and you can check out the rest here and here.

One night, after the rest of the group went home to bed, Aaron had our driver take him to a viewpoint looking over the hill town of Castelbuono.

Castelbuono at Night

Walking down from the Theatre at Segesta, he got this beautiful shot of the Temple of Segesta.

Segesta 8

Because it was November, we had the theatre to ourselves. There are certainly benefits to traveling in the off-season!

The Amphitheatre at Segesta

In the town of Trapani, the group happened upon a competition and exhibition of marzipan. This is not seafood, it is candy!

But this is seafood – the vibrant fish market in Catania.

La Pescheria (Fish Market), Catania

We were treated, last November, to a view of Mount Etna covered in snow.

Mt. Etna

The weather on this tour was for the most part brisk and clear, though we did encounter some rain and one big storm. The mixed weather made for some very good photographs – Aaron has really captured the light and feeling of the air around us.

Castello di Venere, Erice

I am especially fond of this shot at the Salt Flats of Marsala. That area is SO picturesque but I can never seem to do it justice. Aaron has.

Marsala Salt Flats

Another benefit of rain is.. rainbows.

Rainbow, Baglio Donna Franca

A sheepherder walks through the hilly landscape of western Sicily with his flock. Thank you Aaron for capturing these moods and memories of Sicily!

I highly recommend looking at Aaron’s other photography – if I could do a tour underwater, I would, because his underwater photography is truly amazing.


Highlights of Northern Portugal

In May and June, two groups of wine and food loving travelers embarked on the first GrapeHops tours in Northern Portugal. Here are some of the photo highlights of the two tours.

We started the tour in the beautiful city of Porto with a walking tour and several stops for food and wine.

Walking home along the Douro River was a delight on a beautiful Spring evening.

The following day, the groups walked over the city on the other side of the river. Vila Nova de Gaia, just over the bridge above. It is an easy walk to the other side. This is where the Port warehouses are located. We visited a Port Cellar, had lunch, and enjoyed the splendid views of Porto.

After lunch we embarked on a hour long “six bridges” cruise of the Douro river, complete with some Port to sip on.

In the evening we enjoyed a wine and food pairing dinner at Prova Wine Bar. Owner Diogo knows his local wines – every wine-loving visitor to Porto should seek out his bar.

From Porto both groups headed north to the Vinho Verde growing region of Portugal. We based for three day in the pretty village of Ponte de Lima, and visited wineries such as Quinta do Tamariz and Ameal. The area is lush and green.

We see the vineyards and visit the traditional wine cellars. Of course there is always a lot of great food and conversation during lunch!

It doesn’t hurt when there is a bathtub full of Vinho Verde nearby.

In between the winery visits, we visited towns and cities and had some excellent dinners. The second tour was able to attend the Vinho Verde Festival in Ponte de Lima, which was a lot of fun. Many bottles of Vinho Verde and lots of local foods were consumed.

Hopefully (but not for certain) the 2018 tour will also include an evening at this festival.

En route to the Douro Valley – our base for another three nights – we stopped in the town of Guimarães for a city tour and lunch with local wine and food guide Sofia Lobo.

Lunch included MANY regional cheeses and sausages, salads, and four different kinds of wine. There was time to take a nap on the bus before arriving at our lodgings in the Douro Valley – the gorgeous Quinta de la Rosa.

The Douro Valley is known for the production of Port Wine and its vineyards cascading down steep hillsides to the Douro River. But there is more to it than that. Many wineries are making table wine and lots of the vineyards are on rolling hills. One winery we visit with excellent table wines is Quinta de Faisca. They are not near the river and they do not produce Port, but winemaker Hugo Linton is making some great wines there.

Quinta de Faisca is also known as “Secret Spot Wines.” The views from the tasting room are incredible.

Another glorious spot – our picnic grounds at Quinta do Seixo which produces Sandeman Port among other wines. Our lunch is eaten in the middle of the vineyards with fantastic views.

Yes, it really is that gorgeous.

We don’t just eat and drink all the time. There are boat trips..

Easy hikes through the countryside…

And even some prehistoric rock drawings. These are in the Coa Valley.

We returned to Porto for our last dinner together on the final night of the tour. The wine was free flowing, and glasses clinked many times with toasts made by new friends.

The 2018 dates for GrapeHops A Taste of Northern Portugal Tour are June 2 – 11. There are still a few spots available. If you are interested, please do not hesitate to get in touch with any questions.



Slovenia in the Spring

In April we will head back to Slovenia for a week-long food and wine extravaganza. It is a beautiful country, with truly exceptional wine and food! Here are some photo highlights of this year’s tour.

We start the tour off with a food and walking tour of the capital, Ljubljana.

During this tour, we walk to many of the city’s sites and stop in quite a few places for regional specialties. Sometimes, the tour guests help out.

The following day, we traveled to the Vipava Valley wine growing region. This is a beautiful area and we had a perfect day tthere. First, we stopped at the Vipava Wine Center, to learn about the varietals and taste the wines of Sveti Martin Winery.

From there, we headed to Tilia Winery for a tour and tasting. Owner Matjaž Lemut took us on a walk of his beautiful vineyard, and conducted a tasting of his fabulous wines.

Lunch at Majerija is a must-do meal on any tour of Slovenia. Regardless if you go with GrapeHops – you should try to get there. Exquisite dishes, served in a serene setting.

Later in the tour, we would spend the day at the Vintgar Gorge, and Lake Bled.

It is always nice to get back to Ljubljana in the evening!

Another great day in our tour is the visit to the Brda winegrowing region, on the Italian border. We do an easy hike through the vineyards, doing a bit of tasting on the way, and ending at one of the best of Slovenia – Movia Winery.

Owners Vesna and Aleš Kristančič are SO fun and tasting with them is always a highlight.

On this years tour we then moved into Italy for the remainder of the week. But for 2017 and beyond, we will stay in Slovenia and explore other areas of the country. Please do get in touch if you have any questions about GrapeHops Wine & Food Journey Through Slovenia.


A Taste of Venice, Photo Highlights from the 2016 Trips

There were two “A Taste of Venice” tours this year – one in May and one in June. We were blessed with great weather for both. Even the June trip was not too terribly hot!

On this tour, the goal is to do see some important sights, but also to visit many “off-the-beaten-track” places. We make many stops in cute little cafes and bars, and we eat a lot of great meals.

venicegardenOne walk we take, is down to the Eastern part of the city. This is a memorial, in the lagoon, to the female resistance during WW1. It is a very beautiful spot to have a memorial and most people walk right by it, not knowing it is there. There are many other beautiful, peaceful spots in this area of Venice.

peacefulcastelloAlso, you run into very few tourists here.

castelloAnother outing is one in the Piazza San Marco, but without being in too much of a crowd. We tour the Renaissance Clock Tower with a local guide. It is a very intimate, and interesting tour.


The tour concludes with some time on the top. with stunning views of Venice and a close up of the bell ringers.

clocktowerveniceitalybasilicasanmarcoThis year we were able to attend the Biennale. It alternates between art and architecture – this year, it was architecture.

biennaleveneziaEveryone loves the day we board a traditional boat and spend the day in the lagoon. We glide through Murano, visit the ancient basilica in Torcello, and have an on-board picnic.


This is our boat for the day!

ourboatvenice-1024x768One day is spent on the mainland, visiting wineries in the Valpolicella region. We tasted at Chiccheri winery, hosted by the fabulous Giulia.


tastingatchiccheriwinery-1024x768After, we had the most extraordinary lunch at a wine country restaurant, Villa de Winckels. It was so good, and also so filling, that we did not need dinner that night!

lunchatvilla-dewinckels-1024x768One more winery, the atmospheric La Giuva, followed lunch. Back at our luxurious apartment, some of us watched the Euro Cup.

lagiuvawinery-1024x768One afternoon is spent at the Rialto fish and vegetable market, where we buy food to make for dinner in the evening. First, we have a tour..

rialtomarkettour-1024x768And no trip to the Rialto Market is complete without a Spritz!

spritzatrialtomarket-1024x768This is a delightful week in Venice. Hope to see you there someday! The next GrapeHops A Taste of Venice is in early May, 2017.




Highlights of Catalonia, May 2015

In May our small group of wine and food lovers had fabulous weather, great meals, and fantastic wines for nine days throughout the region of Catalonia in northeast Spain. Here are some highlights.

We began our journey with a walking tour in the city of Tarragona with a few stops for wine and food.

VinoViTarragonaTarragonaCathedralDSC03562 (1024x768)

After a great nights sleep we visited the Priorat area with a tour and tasting at Clos Mogador, then tasting and lunch at Clos Figueres.

lunchClosFigueresWe were lucky enough to experience an exhibition of castellers – human towers – in the city of Reus.

castellersReuscastellers2015reus (1)

Watching the castellers is an extraordinary and exhilarating experience.

castellersReus2015 (1)

The following day, we had an enjoyable morning in the hill town of Montblanc followed by a tour and tasting at Carles Andreu winery and a multi-course Sunday lunch. After some time to wander around Tarragona, we met up again for dinner in the shadow of the Tarragona cathedral.

winetastingCarlesAndreu (1)

On our way to an overnight at Montserrat monastery, we stopped off at the family owned Llopart winery for a tour, tasting, and a truly fabulous picnic. We ate outside with a view of Monserrat mountain and a lot of cava!

tastingcavaPicnicatLlopart (1)groupatLlopart (1)

After our picnic, we made our way up the mountain to our hotel next to the Montserrat monastery. The group had a few hours to wander around and take in the famous boys choir at Vespers before meeting up for dinner. And what a dinner! Several courses all with a wine pairing, then cava and liqueurs made by the monks.



The next morning, some of us got up for the sunrise. After breakfast, we headed back down the mountain as all the tour buses were coming up. It is much more enjoyable to be at Montserrat at night, when there are not thousands of people around.


After a stop in the seaside town of Sitges and a paella lunch, we arrived at Jané Ventura winery for a tour and tasting. 


We then headed to our home for the next two nights, the wonderful El Bosc in Banyeres del Penedes. We were well taken care of by owner/sommeliers Meri & Jordi, and Chef Jordi.


The following day we had a wine and gourmet vinegar tasting at Avgvstvs Forvm, then a long afternoon getting to know winemaker Eduard Pié Palomar of Sicus winery. We visited the winery and the vineyards, tasted his wines, and had a long relaxing lunch in the middle of his vineyard, which is possibly one of the most beautiful spots in the whole region.


Afterwards our group spent hours in the garden of El Bosc, drinking cava (and gin & tonics!) before another great dinner. The next day it was time to say reluctant goodbyes to Meri and the Jordis and head north.

We stopped at Mas Oller, a winery in Torrent in the Baix Empordà, for a tour, tasting and light lunch. After, we visited the J. Vigas cork producer for a tour to see how corks are made.


The onn to our base for the next three nights – the beautiful medieval city of Girona. We had a tour of the town with our guide Toni, with several stops for food and wine on the way.


The next morning, a visit to another visually spectacular town, Besalú, followed by a tour, tasting, and cooking class at La Vinyeta winery in the Alt Empordà.

Marta, one of the owner/winemakers at La Vinyeta, showed us the vineyards and conducted the wine tasting. Her dog was a big hit as well.



We had so much fun at La Vinyeta! Our cooking instructor, Jordi, was a lot of fun and the food was delicious!

Our last day in Girona, the group had the “day off” to explore but we still met up for lunch at Simfonia, a wine shop/bar that has excellent dishes to go with their wines.. Many wines were chosen in the shop and brought outside to enjoy on this beautiful Spring day.


In the evening, bartender extraordinaire Mariona at Nykteri cocktail bar did a tasting of three special cocktails, each paired with a tapa.


And then, we watched Barcelona beat Bilbao in the Copa del Rey cup. Too fun, with fireworks and shots of Ratafia after!


There is another GrapeHops tour in Catalonia in September and there are still a few spots left. Reserve now and join a great group of people on our next journey to this remarkable area of the world.

Highlights of Croatia 2014 – Split & Dubrovnik

Split and Dubrovnik are two of the major cities of Croatia, but they could not be more different.  On the GrapeHops Croatia, Land of Wine & History tour we have a professional guide take us on a city tour, so we can better understand the history of both places.

In Split, we all enjoyed our tour with Vjeran, who really brought Split’s Roman and medieval past to life for us.

VjeranSplitSplitSplitGrapeHopsIn Dubrovnik, Diana does the honors.

DianaDubrovnikDubrovnik is an “add one” to the regular Croatia tour, and it includes a trip to the Pelješac peninsula where we eat oysters from Ston, taste wine at several wineries, and have a magnificent lunch at a konoba on the peninsula.

oystersinston (1024x768) (2)SashaGrappapeljesaclunchThe rest of our time in Dubrovnik, we enjoy the view from our terrace:

001 (1024x768)We walk around the city walls:

DubrovnikWallsWe do some serious wine tasting, and try local cheeses and cured meats:

winetastingDubrovnikMake a visit to the famous Buza Bar:

buzabargrapehopsStroll in the evening, when all the “daytrippers” have left:

EveninginDubrovnikGet to know the locals a little:

DvinoDubrovnikAnd at the end of the day, we will look out at beautiful Dubrovnik and toast, with local brandy, our time together in Croatia.

021 (1024x768)The Dubrovnik “add-on” for GrapeHops 2015 tour to Croatia is May 10-14, immediately following the regular tour.  Hope you will join us!

Highlights of Croatia, 2014 – Hvar Island

Hvar Island is an important stop on any wine tour of Croatia. The Greeks first planted grapes there in the 4th century BC and grape growing and wine making were very important to the island’s economy for well over a millennia. Phylloxera came to the island in the early 20th century, forcing many of the island’s winemakers to move to other countries, and while wine was made during the communist era, it was generally not fine wine.  Now fine wine making is coming back to the island, slowly but surely.

Hvar Island is unbelievably gorgeous and a well-known tourist destination, but it is our goal not only to enjoy the views but to get a sense of island life and what the people living on the island do to survive. Here are some highlights of our days there.

First, we check in to our accommodations – the apartments Komazin, where we all have plenty of space and a warm welcome from the family Komazin.  From our terraces we can see the beautiful Adriatic sea.

Europe2012 036 (1024x768)We head into Hvar Town for a few photos and our first dinner on the island.

arrivalinHvarThe next day, we explore Hvar Town and then set off in a bus to see other parts of the island, including the Unesco site the Stari Grad Plain and the town of Stari Grad.

walkinginHvarTownHvarIsland (2)We then head to Pinjata Winery, where owner/chef Marina cooks a beautiful lunch for us.  Her dessert wine and grappa afterwards is the icing on the happy cake.

grappaatPinjataAfter lunch we head up to the Venetian fortress above Hvar Town to see the views and perhaps walk down into town for shopping or cafe-sitting before dinner.

fromthefortressThe following day is an immersion into the wine culture of the island. Ivana Carić, president of the Hvar Wine Association, will lead us on a walk of the small town of Svirče.  Ivana’s husband Ivo is grapegrower and winemaker at their winery Vina Carić, and Ivana is a walking encyclopedia of what grows (and does not grow) on Hvar Island.  We get to see a small vineyard and some of the lush gardens in the town. 

BogdanushaVineyardsOn the fall trip, we arrived at this vineyard during the harvest.  The harvesters kindly let us in to take a look.

HvarHarvestHvarHarvest2014Now it is time for some tasting at PZ Svirče, where Marija pours some of their excellent wines and can also answer questions about grape growing and winemaking on the island.

tastingatPVSvirceAfter our tasting it is time we walk down the street to an excellent konoba, where we eat, taste the wines of Ivo Carić, and see a specially prepared slide show of photographs taken by Ivana Carić of life on the island. Ivana is a very good photographer, and she is also an ambassador for Hvar Island and its wines.

IvanaCaricslideshowTonight is a night off.  A good night to check out the sunset.

HvarHarborAnd the following day a free day, after which we all meet up for an incredible seafood dinner.

HvarSeafoodAppetizerfishatKonobaLambik (1)Hvar Island is one of those places that gets under your skin, and after you’ve been there on a GrapeHops tour you will definitely want to go back.

Highlights of Croatia, 2014 – Plitvice Lakes National Park

Continuing our journey of highlights from GrapeHops tour of Croatia; Land of Wine and History we board a bus and head to Plitvice Lakes National Park.

One of the most popular places to visit in all of Croatia, this lush and gorgeous national park is a series of lakes and waterfalls that seem to have every shade of green and blue within them.  The lakes are crisscrossed with wooden bridges to walk along and take in the natural beauty.

gorgeousPlitviceThis is one day of the tour where we do a fair bit of walking.  For those who want to see most of the park, it can be about five or six miles, but it is a fairly easy hike with just a few hills.  For those who do not want to walk that far, no problem – there is a nice cafe where one can sit and enjoy a glass of wine, and lots of benches to do some serious people watching.  Regardless of the path you take, there are beautiful views from everywhere.

PathsofPlitvice (1024x768)PlitviceNationalParkNot to mention, photo opportunities.

InPlitviceAfter a long day of trekking and looking at scenery, what better way to spend the evening than to eat a hearty, delicious feast of meat, chicken, fresh river trout and many vegetable dishes?  We will start with plum brandy and end with delicious homemade cake.

PlitviceMiricInn (1024x768)And tomorrow, we will head to Hvar Island.

Highlights of Croatia, 2014 – Istria

This year there were three groups to Croatia on the GrapeHops Croatia, Land of Wine and History tour. Here are some highlights of our adventures.

We will start with Istria, a peninsula in the northern part of Croatia, bordering Slovenia.  Istria has a very Italian feel (it used to be a part of Italy) and offers excellent food and wine plus amazing scenery.

Our base for four nights is in the stunningly beautiful town of Rovinj.

rovinj7 (1024x768)We see another side of Rovinj from our apartments. One evening, we have a tasty picnic in our apartments, and every morning you’ll be served breakfast there.

RovinjDolceVitaApartmentsOur days on the Istrian peninsula will include a visit to the Roman antiquities of Pula.

PulaAmpitheatreWe visit the town of Poreč and the Euphrasian Basilica, and visit the hill town of Motovun where we can taste products made with white truffles and perhaps enjoy a drink with a view.

cafeinMotovunOf course, we also do some wine tasting! Wineries we visit include Cossetto:


matosevictastingAnd Benvenuti, which has some of the best dessert wines we have ever tasted.

tastingBenevenutiMotovun BenevenutiWinesOne of the most blissful days of the trip is our boat trip around the islands in Rovinj and up the Limski canal, where we have a picnic – accompanied by plenty of wine, of course!

onthekubarovinj ontheboat

grappaontheboatWe eat many good meals and meet new friends.

sgroppino (1024x768) DomenicoLjilianaandBorisAnd then of course, there is the sunset before we depart for our next stop: Plitvice Lakes.

RovinjSunsetGrapeHops tours has one journey to Croatia in 2015.  For more details, visit GrapeHops Tour of Croatia: Land of Wine and History.