travel blog

South Carolina: Montage Palmetto Bluff

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Montage Palmetto Bluff. The opinions and text are all mine.

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A couple weekends ago, Montage Palmetto Bluff graciously hosted a group of us at their property. The itinerary was so carefully planned out so that we could experience our next few days through the eyes of the guests who come back again and again to this beautiful resort. We rode horses, shot clay targets, kayaked, tubed in the May River, rode our bikes around the neighborhood, and so much more! I felt like I was living a whole summer in only a few days! And the inn itself has the most gorgeous decor... Even the residences were beautiful, and even though they were mainly second or third homes for a lot of Northeasterners, they were fully and impeccably furnished. Hopefully, my blog post does the experience justice, and you'll be able to relive the trip with me.

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Day 1

On the first day, we checked in and relaxed a bit before going on a tour of the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy. The property is 20,000 acres, and they are extremely passionate about keeping the ecological and environmental integrity of the lands the same as it was before they built upon it. In fact, more species thrive here now than before. Scientists actually come here to conduct studies of wildlife that they don't have access to anywhere else (like the Northern long-eared bats, which have never been seen this far south).  

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On this tour, we attempted to release a 2-year-old turtle into a pond, but there was an 8'9" alligator coming towards us, so our guide Justin saved it for another time! We also looked into a bird nest and found newly hatched chicks! Then we walked through the forest, where Justin taught us about all the different trees, plants, animals, and even gave us fun facts about the history of the land. I really loved how passionate he is about his job, and I would later find out that everyone who works here is passionate about Palmetto Bluff. The area is what attracts the best of the best, whether it's a sommelier, boating tour guide, or property manager! 

In the evening, we visited a 5-story treehouse that overlooked the marshes. It was an incredible view! We saw people fishing on the dock, and blue and green as far as the eye could see.

After our sightseeing, we went to eat dinner at Cole's, which had stunning views of the marsh! I couldn't stop staring out the window at the humongous trees! I felt like we were in a safari treehouse. And when the sun was setting... oh wow. After dinner was bowling, which was in the same building! What a fun restaurant!

Day 2

The second day, we woke up dark and early! Yep, we kayaked the May River as the sun was rising. We even saw dolphins! All the while, our guide was telling us about the habitat, oysters, fish, and birds in the area. Another passionate soul, as I was telling you about! 

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In the afternoon, we went to the Palmetto Shooting Club where I went clay target shooting for the first time! I'm actually pretty scared of guns, but it was a good time, and I managed to shoot a few targets down! Eeek. 

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Octagon Porch

During our downtimes when we could get breakfast or lunch at leisure, I was always drawn to the Octagon Porch. The porch seating is GORGEOUS! And it just opened up in May! It used to be a regular porch, but the staff noticed that people liked to hang out there a lot and would even ask to bring their meals from the restaurant into this area. So they turned this space into a dining area. I love how much thought and attention they pay their guests! I think it's so impressive they noticed an area could be better utilized and turned it into something people loved even more.

Octagon Porch

After lunch, we spent the entire afternoon on the water! We got on a boat and headed to Page Island, where we ate snacks and relaxed. On the way there, our guide had the BEST stories that kept us laughing, and, again, we learned so much about the history of Palmetto Bluff! More and more, I fell in love with the area and the people!

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As we headed to back to the river for some swimming, the skies opened up, and we actually had a blast jumping off the dock and tubing the rest of the way home! That's what I love about South Carolina - the storms pass quickly, and it's as if they never happened! 

After our Page Island excursion, we still weren't done! We got cleaned up and then went on a May River cruise down to the quaint town of Bluffton.

We got to take a bike taxi tour through the streets, where learned more about the antebellum homes, historic churches, and history of the town.

Our final destination in Bluffton was FARM, one of the best farm-to-table restaurants I've eaten at in awhile... everything was amazing! I love that the restaurant carefully selects their partners based on mutual respect for the land, the animal, and the people who tend to them.

Day 3

My last full day started with a late morning trail ride. The stables were so stunning and built from the perspective of a horse! It was my first time horseback riding since 5th grade, so I was a little intimidated (I have a fear of being kicked by a horse), but the horses were so gentle and had such fun personalities! 

After the trail ride, I went to get my 90-minute massage at the spa. I fell asleep and woke up sooo refreshed!

After a bit of relaxation time, we headed to the inn fire pit to enjoy an evening sampling of Culinary Heirlooms. "Each evening, the culinary team shares one of four items that they have determined to be culturally significant in the gastronomic history of South Carolina’s Lowcountry." They have shrimp & grits, frogmore stew, Hoppin' John, and grilled oysters. This night was oysters!

After that, they drove the bar cart over to us, and we got to taste the resort's Signature barrel-aged Artillery Punch.

Afterward, we had our farewell dinner at Octagon Porch and s'mores back at the fire pit! What a beautiful ending to our trip! 

I hope you were able to relive this weekend with me! There was so much to see and do, and I loved learning about Lowcountry culture! My friends at Montage Palmetto Bluff were also gracious enough to provide me with a promo code to give to all of you: Reserve two nights in a guest house suite or cottage accommodation and receive a third night complimentary for select dates in Summer. Click here to book with the promo code KarenL!

Mexico City 2017

On Memorial Day weekend, Marie and I took a trip to Mexico City! When we were looking up food, coffee shops, and other popular places, it seemed that our map pins kept landing in the Roma Norte area. We actually ended up staying at an Airbnb in Roma Norte, which was so convenient! We had a sky high view of the city and mountains (and lightning storms), and below us were amazing restaurants and a never-ending nightlife. 

Anyway, below is a semi-organized guide to our long weekend!

Our Airbnb view! Taken on iPhone 7 Plus with the OOWA  15mm wide-angle lens

Our Airbnb view! Taken on iPhone 7 Plus with the OOWA 15mm wide-angle lens

MEXICO CITY STROLLS

We opted to walk a lot (any destination 30 minutes or less), which was an amazing way to see the city! We ran into so many coffee shops and scenes that we hadn't come across in our research. For example, this little cafe called Breakfast was so cute! And empty, just for us! When we went back the next day, it was packed! Mexico City definitely has a brunch culture in this area.

Another thing that amazed me were all the parks, trees, and plants in the city. They're doing a great job going green! Many buildings not only have shrubbery all around them but also have grass/plants growing on the walls and CEILINGS! 

You would never know we were actually surrounded by cars on all sides!

You would never know we were actually surrounded by cars on all sides!

Plaza Jardin Hidalgo

Plaza Jardin Hidalgo

Taken with the OOWA  telephoto lens

Taken with the OOWA telephoto lens

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COFFEE SHOPS

There are so many cute alleyway coffee shops, I died. The first one we went to was Chiquitito. They were one of the only ones that has rice milk (Marie's fav!), which is a delicious non-dairy addition to your coffee! 

Quentin is also another cozy shop where we just sat and chatted for a couple of hours. I loved the music and atmosphere, but the iced lattes here are tiny!

Dosis was definitely a favorite! Although I appreciated the smaller cafes, the open space and corner hammock here were perfection. Also, they have the biggest iced lattes I've ever seen, but I definitely had to leave it unfinished because I can't handle that much milk!

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FOOD & DRINKS

Puntarena (formerly known as Padrinos) was so impressive! The wall is about 5 stories tall, and they opened up the ceiling to let the sunlight in while we were eating. It was such a sight to behold! They also provide portable chargers for us wary, juiceless travelers. 

El Moro is a popular churro spot that was highly recommended to us by several people! We actually went to the spot in downtown (open 24/7), but the line was so long we decided to head back to Roma Norte and get some there instead. I'm glad we did because it's SO much cuter there haha! I can't speak to the churros though because I'm not a fan of desserts, so I thought it was ok, buuuut... everyone loves it!

Maque is another spot that was pretty empty during one of our morning strolls. We were like, meh, but they had tons of bread, so we noted it for later. Well, silly us. We went twice, and both times were pretty crowded! It's a very popular spot for tourists too. Their pastries were heavenly!! I highly recommend this place for their fresh pastries.

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I didn't get any photos at La Buena Barra, but it's a must for fine-dining! They push around whole carts of whiskey, gin, and mezcal! When you choose your cocktail, they make it right in front of you! The menu is also delicious! 

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TOURIST HOT SPOTS

Of course we had to hit up all the amazing sights in Mexico City! We started off with Biblioteca Vasconcelos, the most amazing library I've ever seen! We had to sign up at a reception desk to get permission for photos. Super easy to do.

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biblioteca vasconcelos

Next was the Museo Soumaya, another impressive structure! 

Taken on iPhone 7 Plus with the OOWA  15mm wide-angle lens

Taken on iPhone 7 Plus with the OOWA 15mm wide-angle lens

Chapultepec Castle was a small trek after getting to the entrance of the park, but it had some amazing views! It was so crowded that it was rare to get an empty shot.

The Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan was super hot, and the line took awhile, but it was worth it for the views and standing on a freakin pyramid. 

Taken with the OOWA  telephoto lens

Taken with the OOWA telephoto lens

Taken on iPhone 7 Plus with the OOWA  15mm wide-angle lens

Taken on iPhone 7 Plus with the OOWA 15mm wide-angle lens

Overall, it was such an amazing trip. I really did fall in love with Mexico City! And for a short 2.5 hour flight... I know I'll be going back.

PS - my camera battery died by the end of the trip, but I luckily had my OOWA lenses. I want to thank OOWA lens for gifting me their pro kit for the iPhone 7 to make some of these amazing photos possible! I do want to note that the lenses are better on the iPhone 6 and have not yet been perfected for the iPhone 7, causing a yellow temperature for the wide angle lens and blurry edges for the telephoto lens. Just a note!

Italy 2017

In our almost six years of dating, Brian and I have never taken an overseas together, just the two of us. It was one of the best vacations I've had in a longggg time! We spent 9 days total in Italy, staying in Milan and making day trips to other cities. I've decided to organize the post by city and write about the highlights of each one!

Milan

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It's true you don't need more than a few days in Milan, which is why we took day trips to other cities. I really enjoyed coming back to Milan at the end of the day because I loved the posh city feel, and they also have great restaurants that stay open late! And there are always gorgeous buildings on every corner. It was a dream to photograph.

Sights

Duomo di Milano

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The Milan Cathedral is SO impressive and definitely a must-see. It's a sight to behold from any angle. I was captivated every time I saw a glimpse of it from an alleyway or a building across the street. It's also where you get this magnificent terrace view, which made it feel like I just climbed a staircase to heaven. Or take the elevator, if you're lazy.

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Cimitero Monumentale di Milano

I wish I had better photos of this place, but I was too in awe after we stumbled upon it on our way to find a park (we never made it to the park). I never thought I'd say a cemetery is a must-see, but it truly is. All the tombs here are so extravagant and impressive. It's like walking into a palace garden for the dead. 

Bosco Verticale

These two residential towers are known as the vertical forest. As you can imagine, all the greenery helps keep the air clean! There are over 900 trees, or 10,000 square meters of forest, on the buildings. It's such an amazing structure to see when passing by in a bus, and even more amazing approaching it up close!

Pirelli HangarBicocca

This contemporary art museum freaked me the f out, but it was so awesome. There was a live performance by artist Laure Prouvost, who had a solo exhibition called Grand Dad's Visitor Center. It was freaky and full of boobs. But in addition to that, the permanent installation, The Seven Heavenly Palaces, was incredible. The sheer size of the paintings and towers made you want to tip-toe everywhere.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

This outdoor mall is amazing to walk through! It's got a Prada across from a Prada... how much more mall can it get.

Food

I wish I had aesthetic photos for all the good food we ate, but I was too busy devouring everything. Instead, I'll describe a few of our favorite restaurants we ate at!

Piz - They only serve 3 types of pizzas (margherita, bianca, and marinara). Brian and I split the margherita and bianca. I recommend the bianca because it was one of the BEST pizzas I had while in Italy. It was a 30 minute wait, but they give you free prosecco and samplers while you wait. They also give you lots of free shots after you pay... great way to start our trip!

da Oscar - Great old-fashioned Italian food. We lucked out by walking in early (7:30pm, right when they open for dinner) because normally you have to make a reservation. You sit at a communal table with all the other guests when you eat, so don't be afraid to bump elbows with strangers! I also did not know Oscar was known for being a fascist until I saw all the Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin decor... but that didn't stop me from enjoying the food. And apparently Oscar is super friendly to everyone.

Pavé - I don't like pastries or sweets but that's probably because they're way too sweet and overpowering in the US... When I ate them here, it was HEAVEN. Super fresh, light, and everything made in-house. They also had healthy meals (salad bowls and salmon sandwiches), which I really appreciated after all the pizza and pasta. It's a great place for breakfast, lunch, dessert, and coffee! 

oTTo - We stopped here in the morning for a light breakfast because we didn't know that "brunch" wasn't until 12:30pm. But the decor is to die for!! They're also a cocktail bar.

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Venice

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On our second day in Italy, we did a day trip to Venice! And honestly, that's all you need there. It's really small and everything closes early, but I got so many good photos out of it! After touring around, we only had a quick lunch break before our gondola ride. The only restaurant I had been recommended was closed on Sundays (Dal Moro's Fresh Pasta to Go)! Overall not my favorite city, but it was beautiful.

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Cinque Terre

Manarola

Manarola

We almost didn't put Cinque Terre on our list, but after planning out Milan, we found that we had a full empty day... so we booked our train tickets to Cinque Terre! Our first stop was Manarola. We had originally planned to hike south to Riomaggiore, but the trail was closed due to falling rocks. Instead, we bought one-way tickets north to Vernazza and then to Monterosso for a few bucks each. It's so cheap to get around to the different coastal towns here, and it doesn't take more than a few minutes each way! Definitely hit up more than one of the towns if you're in the area!

Manarola

As I mentioned before, I booked our train tickets straight to Manarola since that's where the iconic Cinque Terre photos are taken. It did NOT disappoint! We ate at Aristide right after we arrived. It's a great seafood restaurant that you reach right when you walk out of the tunnels from the train. The mussels were SO fresh!

Then we walked around the streets, drank some espressos, and ate gelato by the seaside until it was time for our next train.

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Vernazza

Vernazza was super cool! There's a small tunnel leading to the rocky beach, and it felt like we were in a storybook. I loved the views looking back at the cliffside!

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This color palette though...

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Monterosso

Our original tickets back to Milan departed from Monterosso, so we ended our Cinque Terre tour here. We ate an early dinner by the sea and just watched people on the beach until it was time to go back. It was beautiful!!

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Lake Como

Lake Como was another day trip that Brian planned out for us. It was an amazing day! We ate reallly great pizza at Beretta (they cut it up for you!), climbed 2.5km to a lighthouse, and sailed across the lake!

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Swiss Alps

You can't visit Europe without going to another country, right? We opted for a tour, which took us through the quaint Italian town of Tirano right before the border. There were so many mountainside vineyards! We climbed up a little bit for a view of the city.

Then it was off to Switzerland on the Bernina Express! It was a scenic ride the whole way, and I think I was standing most of the time to soak it all in. Afterward, we grabbed coffee in St. Moritz with a view of the mountains.

Everything was so beautiful, and it was a much needed vacation!! I feel so refreshed and inspired!