The Panna Cotta Effect

Carvoeiro, Portugal
Carvoeiro, Portugal

Have you ever experienced something exquisite and you couldn’t stop thinking about it for hours or even days after? It could be obvious—like a romantic weekend in Paris or golden-hour light over the Grand Canyon. We as travelers often set out with big expectations. We’ve done the research, we’ve seen the pictures, and we generally know what lies ahead. But has something ever totally caught you off guard in the best possible way and you just couldn’t shake it?

Maybe you didn’t even fully realize it in the moment. Maybe it was a minute detail in an otherwise jam-packed day. But later on, you find yourself drawn back to the moment, reliving it—hopefully with a travel companion who shares your enthusiasm. The longer the memory stays with you, the more you strive to recreate some version of it—but nothing quite lives up, does it? Does any of this sound familiar? We have dubbed it the “Panna Cotta Effect.”

I know—it sounds silly, but hear me out.

When we were in Portugal last April, we took a day trip to Carvoeiro to see Benagil Cave. It was the primary reason we were in the Algarve region of Portugal. I had been longing to enter the cave and gaze up at the sky through the hole in the top. Photo after dreamy photo showed sunlight streaming onto the sandy shore of the famed sea cave. I’d seen it listed again and again as a “place you have to see,” and I couldn’t wait.

Benagil Cave.

Benagil was gorgeous, as expected, and I’ll share more about logistics of getting there in an upcoming post about the best beaches in Algarve. But the thing we remember most and still talk about to this day was the most delicious dessert we ordered on a whim at a seaside restaurant after our boat tour to the cave.

I had never been much of a fan of panna cotta before. When it comes to Italian desserts, I’m a total tiramisu girl. But the warm sunshine and the salty sea air called for something lighter. Despite what some people think when they see our blog name, we are not foodies. We enjoy wonderful food, but I’m often paralyzed by choice when it comes to picking a place for dinner. It was by happy accident that we ended up savoring spoonfuls of creamy, aromatic gelatin, dotted with remnants of the crushed vanilla bean that made it melt-in-your-mouth scrumptious. A raspberry sauce coated the top, drizzling down each bite.

Ahhhhhh!!!

We remarked in the moment about how it was so much better than expected, and we even considered ordering another. But the effect it had on us didn’t sink in until hours later when we were still talking about it. I mean, here I am writing about it nearly a year later!

In the months since, we’ve elevated that moment in our minds to a ridiculous level. We now order panna cotta when we see it on the menu, on the off chance we’ll ever find something nearly as good again. We even did what we called the “Panna Cotta Tour” when we found ourselves on Eat Street in Rotorua, New Zealand—a happening hot spot with 14 restaurants, cafes, and bars within the confines of a city block. While we had some great food, the panna cottas paled in comparison to the one in our memories.

Eat Street panna cotta.

We began to realize what we were experiencing could be applied to so many things in travel—a stand-out moment that on some level makes you wistful because you realize that nothing will ever be as good as the original, but at the same time, makes you grateful to have experienced it in the first place.

Hindsight is always 20/20. You often don’t realize you’re in the midst of a significant moment until you’re reflecting back on it. For us, the Panna Cotta Effect makes us strive to be more present in the moment, realizing that sometimes the little things end up being the big things.

How lucky are we to have a moment like that—a tiny, insignificant detail that when thought of, transports us back to a seaside café in Portugal, sun shining, waves lapping, and sweet perfection on our spoons.

I hope you never stop appreciating the little flavors that make up your travels, and that you look back on your panna cotta moments with a smile. Never stop searching for more.

Love on a beach in Portugal.
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