Hint: girlfriends make great girlfriends
Writer, photographer, lifestyle expert and all around bad-ass lady Larkin Clark has explored some of Europe’s most luxe, stylish and, yes, romantic destinations and hotels.
The catch? She did it sans romantic partner. She embarked on her epic sojourn alone and devised to meet up with lady pals almost every step of the way. Here’s how she maxed out her travels and took advantage of honeymoon spots without the ball and chain.
3 Days*: Your last Euro adventure sounded absolutely epic and makes us green with envy. I (Ana) was lucky enough to meet you for a blissful sliver of it in Paros, Greece, which you can read about HERE. Can you tell us where else you went?
I’m so happy we were able to travel together for a bit! In total, I visited thirteen different cities around Europe, jetting between Greece, the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, France, and Italy over the course of two and a half months.
I was in a sweet spot of being able to rent out my apartment and work remotely, so I decided to take advantage and start chipping away at my travel bucket list.
You never know when those flexible times in life will come around again.
3 Days*: That’s quite an itinerary. Did you plan it all ahead of time or were you moving around spontaneously?
I loosely planned out the first few weeks ahead of time – plane, ferry, and train tickets; lodging; and a general idea of what things I wanted to see and do – and tackled the rest of the bookings once I was on the road. In general, I secured flights and lodging about a week or two ahead of arrival in a new place.
It may seem like a pricey way to travel, but airfare once you’re in Europe is pretty cheap thanks to carriers like Ryanair and travel apps like Kayak, and you can generally find last-minute, affordable places to stay on Airbnb, Booking.com, and the like. I also have a lot of very generous friends in Europe who let me crash with them along the way, so that was also a huge help.
That being said, some of the splurge moments of the trip, like my stop at Il Pellicano in Tuscany, needed a bit more planning. I reserved a month or so before my departure for Europe to get a cheaper rate and more accurately budget for the rest of the trip.
3 Days*: So, how did you like traveling alone?
I absolutely love traveling alone! I think it’s something everyone should do – if not regularly, then at least once. It’s a bit terrifying at first, but once all the travel logistics are squared away – getting to your lodging safely, finding a meal, scoping the neighborhood, etc. – you can explore anonymously and follow any itinerary you set out for yourself.
It’s quite liberating to wake up in a foreign place where you’re surrounded by strangers and don’t know much of the language, lay of the land, or local customs. And there’s the exhilarating challenge of starting each day thinking, “How will I spend my precious time in this new place? What new friends will I meet today? What challenges will I have to overcome alone?”
I’m always surprised by how many places welcome the solo traveler and instantly make me feel at home. Even just a few days on your own can change your mindset about the world. It’s one of the best ways to get to know yourself and to test the boundaries of your comfort zones.
3 Days*: How often were you able to arrange rendezvous with friends?
On this particular trip, I was lucky enough to have incredibly adventurous friends (like you!) who were willing to host or meet up with me at what seemed like a drop of a hat. So while I had a lot of solo time, I met up with friends every week or two.
Even in the places I traveled alone, I met new people to hang out with (like the museum touring buddy I met at a café in Amsterdam and the Barcelona dinner date I met in line at customs) or was connected to friends of friends who lived locally. It was a great balance of having partners in crime and being alone.
3 Days*: What were the most traditionally ‘romantic’ destinations you hit? Did you feel awkward without a partner?
I actually did have a partner at the most romantic spots – it just happened to be a close girlfriend rather than a lover! Lady friends who joined me along the way joked that we were on a single-ladies’ honeymoon because we went to places people usually hit for romantic getaways – Paros and Santorini in the Greek Islands, Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice., Hotel Il Pellicano in Tuscany, and Voile D’Or in Cap Ferrat (with a bunch of low-key spots in between).
These places are not cheap, but keeping with the bucket-list mindset, we decided to throw caution (and our credit cards) to the wind. Sure, we could have waited for our actual honeymoons or a romantic partner who wanted to visit these spots, but you can’t tell what the future holds. So when the inspiration strikes, go for it!
That being said, we did find some tricks for maximizing our time and minimizing costs in each place, which I share on larkinclark.com.
3 Days*: What did you discover about traveling with girlfriends as opposed to a romantic partner? Did it affect where you went and what you did?
We were surprised to find that we often received special treatment just because we were two single women traveling together. And despite our feminist leanings, we had a hard time saying no to complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres that would magically show up at our table.
What we lacked in actual sexy time in the bedroom, we made up for by flirting with sun-kissed men by day (thank you, Italy, for producing such diligent poolside attendants) and dressing up in our finest to swan down to dinner at night. You can still feel sexy, feminine, and powerful without having a romantic prospect nearby.
3 Days*: What was your favorite destination?
Out of the “honeymoon” spots, I fell unexpectedly in love with Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice. I had been to Venice once before and while I enjoyed it, it had never been a “soul” place for me. (Paros in the Greek Islands, on the other hand, is.) Sarah actually had to convince me to stay at Cipriani last-minute (which sounds ridiculous, but when you see how much the rooms are, you’ll understand).
We went to lunch at the hotel’s Porticciolo poolside café when we first arrived in Venice and she threw out the suggestion that we stay a night, which I immediately shot down because it was out of my budget. But when she told me how high it was on her bucket list, I decided it was something we should do – after all, who knew when I might come back to Venice, let alone be traveling with someone who wanted to stay at this beautiful place?
It ended up being one of the best decisions of my trip! We only spent one night and two days there, yet it felt like much longer because there are a lot of different experience“vignettes” on the property, which is situated on the island of Giudecca, right across from the famous San Marcos Square.
A typical afternoon is spent swimming in the Olympic-size seawater pool overlooking the canals, wandering through vegetable gardens, and swinging in a hammock overlooking a little vineyard. There are clay tennis courts nestled into a lush part of the property, and lots of little waterside nooks to hang out in. The hotel offers 24-hour gondola service to and from San Marco Square, which is a blessing, as hiring a private water taxi is pretty expensive and public water taxis have specific schedules.
There are also several restaurants on the Belmond Hotel Cipriani property, so you don’t have to leave if you just want to stay put. We watched a lightning storm over San Marco’s square from the patio at Cip’s Club one night, and it was one of the most magical travel experiences I’ve ever had.
3 Days*: Would you do anything differently?
I would build in more “downtime” every few weeks during the trip. When you’re traveling for an extended period, it can be a bit overwhelming for your mind and body to constantly move from place to place without taking a break to download experiences, reflect, and recharge before the next destination. It’s different than a vacation because you’re always factoring in how to maximize your visit in the current city and planning how you’re going to get to the next place.
I found that my personal threshold is around three weeks before I need to just chill in one place without exploring much and take care of “real-life” things like doing laundry, replenishing toiletries and prescriptions, and eating home-cooked meals – something you actually take for granted until you’re eating at restaurants pretty much every day. (It sounds tasty, but too much of a good thing can be taxing on your system.)
3 Days*: Describe the best breakfast you had
I had some incredible breakfasts during my trip, but my dear friend Ebba, with whom I stayed in Stockholm, prepared a daily spread I still dream about! It was a typical Swedish selection of cheeses, cold meats, fruit, yogurt, homemade granola, and breads, but the variety was wonderful and everything was so fresh and satisfying. There’s nothing like good European yogurt – it tastes really rich and decadent, but has a lot less sugar and doesn’t mess with my gut like American yogurt does.
Oh, and the breakfasts at Il Pellicano and Cipriani were pretty epic – we’re talking full buffet rooms with hand-carved meats, elaborate cheese towers, fresh-squeezed juices, and every pastry imaginable. They’re enjoyed overlooking the water each morning, a not-so-subtle reminder that life is more than good.