If you ask me, the Azores are the Rodney Dangerfield of Portugal. The islands don't get enough respect. While Portugal's Madeira Islands are the featured location for the "Bachelorette" television show, authentic island life may be found on Pico Island, the highest point in all of Portugal, or on charming São Miguel, where there are as many cows as residents. I loved the basalt houses, whale watching and wine tasting.

Undiscovered central Portugal

Black wool capes and school badges were spotted around the walled campus while chants filled the air during my visit to Coimbra, one of the oldest universities in Europe. One student in particular was a dead ringer for the fictional Harry Potter, yet this was not a case of life imitating art. While Coimbra was once a place of military importance, now it is the place to hear typical Fado music.

For those who enjoy stepping off the travel path, escape to central Portugal. I slept in a natural house made of marble and stone that reminded me of the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun," but Villa Pedra -- a small village composed of seven natural houses (with plans for seven more) -- was created by a trio of Portuguese men who wanted to provide an alternative to the typical luxury hotel stay.

From Coimbra, I moved on to Santar, in the heart of the Dao wine region. By day, I learned to make Serra da Estrela cheese while overnighting in Hotel Casa da Insua, a 19th century manor house.

Nature lovers will be in harmony hiking in Serra da Estrela Natural Park. I watched the clouds roll in at Casa das Penhas Douradas, the highest hotel in Portugal and marveled at the natural beauty that surrounded me. This is a place where shepherds actually do watch their sheep and the village below creates wool products.

Lively Lisbon

In my opinion, San Francisco should be Lisbon's sister city. We have cable cars to climb our steep hills, they have funiculars; we catch crab, they catch cod; we love our Sourdough, they love their Portuguese bread and olive oil. We both enjoy mild climates, and Lisbon even has a replica of our Golden Gate Bridge spanning the harbor. What's not to love about Lisbon? With SATA Airlines, travelers are able to fly from San Francisco to the Azores or Lisbon.

Keeping it local in Napa Valley

As locals, we know there's always something going on in nearby wine country. Here's what's on tap in Napa Valley with a local twist.

Are you looking for a place to stay in downtown Napa? Lafayette's Karen Lynch has put her heart and soul into creating the ideal bed-and-breakfast experience at Inn on Randolph. Now an empty-nester, Lynch decided to put her interior design skills to work on this 18th century manor house. Further up the road in Calistoga, the Chanric Inn recently debuted its seven room remodeled farm house. With its up-valley location and private pool, this is an ideal base to explore wine country.

Is there more to wine country than eating and drinking? Lafayette's Rick Walker is the man behind Napa Valley Festival del Sole taking place July 12-21.

"Each year I can't wait to experience the best of the performing arts along with unforgettable culinary, wine and wellness experiences," said Walker, Festival del Sole co-founder and director. "As a Bay Area resident, it's a treat for me to personally experience the festival with family and friends, who all come together for this insider's experience in wine country."

Where have your travels taken you? Send an e-mail to NancyBrownConsulting@comcast.net. For insider travel tips visit Nancy's blog at www.nancydbrown.com.

ONLINE RESOURCES

Chanric Inn: www.thechanric.com

Inn on Randolph: www.innonrandolph.com

Napa Valley Festival del Sole: http://festivaldelsole.org

SATA Airlines: www.sata.pt/en

Visit Portugal: www.visitportugal.com

ONLINE RESOURCES
  • Chanric Inn -- www.thechanric.com
  • Inn on Randolph -- www.innonrandolph.com
  • Napa Valley Festival del Sole -- http://festivaldelsole.org
  • SATA Airlines -- www.sata.pt/en
  • Visit Portugal -- www.visitportugal.com