Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Real Connections with Locals: WOW Trip Reviews

by Wendy Perrin | August 9, 2023

From cooking up regional recipes in a chef’s home to learning old-world crafts in an artisan’s workshop to getting invited to a traditional wedding, there are many ways to meet noteworthy local characters (as well as normal, everyday people) and gain a much deeper understanding of the culture and traditions of the places we explore. Our Trusted Travel Experts shine at making these connections that enrich travel. The reviews below illustrate just a handful of the people you can meet and friends you can make when you have a savvy travel fixer in your corner. Here’s how to get your own WOW trip.

Italy: Palio horse race with local family, outing with a truffle hunter and lunch at his farmhouse…

Palio horse race in Italy.

Palio horse race in Italy. Photo: Traveler Jessica Tolmach

“Four special highlights that Maria secured for our group during our Tuscany stay: A spectacularly situated apartment in Siena overlooking the town square for perfect viewing of the wild, medieval, spectacular Palio horse race and dinner with the family who graciously opened their home, shared wine, food and stories of the history of the races over the centuries.

Another highlight was an outing with a truffle hunter and his dog into the hills and woods where the dog found truffles and after we were hosted at their farmhouse overlooking the valley while they served us a multi-course lunch of truffle-focused dishes that were scrumptious, along with their own wines. We also adored a private tour and lunch prepared for us at a little-known but spectacular vineyard in Chianti, with tastings paired with each course.

And, last but not least, we will all remember forever our lunch at an agriturismo farm with a most generous host and chef that happily went on for hours, on a glorious afternoon, on their patio on the edge of their fields, where we were served mind-blowing grilled meats and the best lasagna and tiramisu any of us has ever tasted. My boys wanted to stay and work on the farm and never come home! And I got his grandmother’s recipes!” —Jessica Tolmach

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Croatia, Italy, Slovenia, Switzerland: cooking lesson in the chef’s home, charming family-run inn…

Tom Redburn

Lisa Redburn during a cooking lesson at Tatjana Ciciliani’s home in Trojir, Croatia. Photo: Tom Redburn

“Lisa and I have had a lot of wonderful adventures in our more than 50 years together, but for our 50th wedding anniversary trip to Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and Switzerland, the extraordinary planning of Claudia and Luisa took our travel experience to a whole new level. It’s true that Europe was already getting overrun with tourists during our six-week trip, but we rarely felt it because time after time Claudia and Luisa arranged guides and outings that took us away from the crowds and to hidden corners we never would have found on our own.

There are too many highlights to include all of them, but some of our most memorable moments were a gastronomic walking tour of Bologna with Giacomo, a guided E-bike ride along the Appian Way in Rome with Gioia, who spontaneously added in a visit to the multi-layered Church of San Clemente when we expressed interest in it, a guided cable car ride and walk to the top of Anacapri with Melania, and two hikes in the Dolomites with Paola, who revised her plans to reflect our own capacities for strenuous walking (there’s a theme here: nearly all our best guides were women). And that’s just Italy.

In Croatia and Slovenia, we enjoyed a guided walk up Mt. Srd above Dubrovnik, where two women from Piknik Dubrovnik had set up an extraordinary sunset picnic dinner just for us, two guided trips (one by E-bike, the other walking) in the backcountry of the islands of Korcula and Hvar that both included amazing private lunches far from the madding crowds, and an extraordinary tour by the charismatic Mario Bartulovic of his family’s winery and steep-sided vineyard on one of our only rainy days. We nearly cancelled but are so thankful that we didn’t. We also had a food shopping and cooking session with the charming Tatjana Ciciliani at her home in Trojir, near Split.

And the discovery of the trip, for us, was Slovenia, where we dined at the famous Hisa Franko (a 3 1/2-hour, 18-course tasting menu from chef Ana Ros), with a stay at tiny Chalets Nebesa, which is not to be missed if you are anywhere in the area. Four-room Nebesa (reserve far in advance!) is owned and run by Ana’s charming mother, father, sister and brother-in-law, and enjoys an extraordinary view in the Julian Alps over Kobarid, where there are still trenches from the devastating fighting along a front of World War I.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that, with only one or two exceptions, every guide was sensational, just about every accommodation was terrific, and nearly all the reserved dinners were a delight. And that’s not to mention our WOW Moment from Wendy of a lunch and wine tasting at the extraordinary BIBICh Winery, on a day when we traveled from Split to Zadar, right after visiting Krka National Park.

Luisa and Claudia took my idea of following in some of the footsteps of our original honeymoon trip to Europe (10 months on $6,000 in 1973-74 to Italy, Yugoslavia, Austria, Greece, Switzerland and France) and built it into an equally memorable highlight in our lives together. We spent our actual anniversary at a pension in the car-free Fex Valley in the Engadin that was one of the top places we stayed on our honeymoon. Our trip lived up to everything I had been dreaming about since we first thought of the idea more than two years in advance.” —Tom Redburn

Read more reviews of Central Europe trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Norway: learning from locals about fishing, reindeer hunting, village life…

Beautiful Nature Norway natural landscape aerial photography. lovatnet lake.

Lovatnet Lake, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

Torunn quickly grasped our interests, desires, travel style, and preferences. She promised to connect us to ‘the real Norway.’ This came to mean experiencing the spectacular environment, meeting people of all kinds, and learning about the Norwegian way of life.

The people Torunn arranged for us to meet at various venues are special and memorable. They were warm, welcoming, informative, and above all, interesting. Among them is Sven, the entrepreneurial owner of Knutholmen in Kalvag, who works harder to please his clients than anyone we have met. He became an instant friend.

Fjord skipper Roy taught us about commercial fishing and graciously shared much of his life story, helping us learn what growing up in remote Norway is all about. Driver Per delighted in taking us to see a replica Viking ship. Dinner with Edith and Jon at their hilltop ‘summer pasture’ cabin near Oye was a memorable experience filled with stories about Jon’s longtime mink business and special Norwegian delicacies to try, topped off with Edith’s handmade chocolates.

Fjord skipper Daniel took us to his family guest house at Trandal, where we were thrilled by the famous swing and braved deer-burgers and brown cheese ice cream, both delicious. Guide Britt, also an osteopath, was unusually informative and interesting. She took us on a delightful hike, showed us around the Tafjord village where she grew up, described her annual reindeer hunt, and escorted us to a friend’s guest house for a delicious lunch of deer lasagna.

Our hotels were superb and often historical. Without exception, they were situated in gorgeous surroundings and well managed with great service. Remarkable hotel staffers came from all over Norway and beyond. Each hotel was unique and memorable but our favorites were Knutholmen in Kalvag, Hotel Union Oye, and the amazing Storfjord Hotel. As is evident, Torunn did indeed connect us to ‘the real Norway.’ We will long remember this spectacular trip and the special people we met.”—Bill and Lynn Martin

Read more reviews of Norway trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Northern Ireland & Ireland: making soda bread, helping shear sheep, a lesson in hurling…

sheep in a green field in Ireland

Sheep in a green field in Ireland. Photo: Shutterstock

“It was Jonathan’s strong suggestion that we include Northern Ireland in our itinerary instead of just Ireland, and we are glad that we did. Our experience in Northern Ireland was the soul of our trip, and we could never have understood the country without that experience and the help of our guide for three days while there, Mark Murphy. His authenticity was palpable, in addition to being a consummate professional.

For example, he not only took us through a small Catholic village to watch children learning the Irish sport of hurling on a field surrounded by Irish national flags, but then took out his equipment so we could all give the game a try on an adjacent field. Every experience with Mark was like that, including his lessons on tasting Irish Whiskey at Bushmills and getting me the opportunity to hold the great Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy’s PGA championship trophy at his home golf club in Belfast!

We also spent a morning at Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen, making (and eating) delicious soda bread, along with other delectables. Like all the folks we encountered, Tracey was an absolute delight, and we loved getting to go out to the countryside and spend some quality time with people who were so happy to share their lives with us.

We then went on to spend three days in Dublin, staying at a classic property called The Shelbourne. This gorgeous masterpiece offered impeccable service and a perfect location. One of the benefits of working through Jonathan are some small perks offered to you at each of the hotels, and we enjoyed oysters and Guinness in the beautiful lobby bar at the Shelbourne one early evening before heading to dinner.

Galway was our next stop, and we used that as the base for our exploration of the Connemara National Park and the Cliffs of Moher. Another absolute highlight of the trip is the Killary Sheep Farm. It’s on an absolutely beautiful fjord, and it’s fascinating to watch the sheepdogs in action and to participate in shearing the wool off the sheep. Tom, a third-generation proprietor, is eager to share his place, and it helps keep the lights on for these family businesses.

Our last stop was Dromoland Castle. At this point we had been on the move constantly for 10 days, and I think it was brilliant planning to let us decompress at this gorgeous castle for a few days before returning home.” —Michael Kelberman

Read more reviews of Ireland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Malta and Sardinia: a sixth-generation gilder, a food-market expert, a real Knight of Malta…

The famous arch of Blue Grotto in Malta.

Picnics on isolated cliffs are a Malta highlight, but so are the many people you can meet elsewhere on the Mediterranean island. Photo: Shutterstock

“The nine-day itinerary Jason created for us to Malta and Sardinia in March was crammed with memorable experiences: entrance to the 4000 B.C. Hypogeum underground burial complex (tickets difficult to come by); a fascinating visit with a sixth-generation gilder; the tastiest private tour of a food market I’ve ever been on; a walk in the Sardinian countryside to see the island’s wild four-foot-tall horses; and—my favorite—a fabulous multi-course lunch set up just for us on an isolated cliff in Gozo above the crashing waves.

Jason’s ground teams were as interesting as the sights and scenery—our Malta guide, Martin, is a practicing Knight of Malta whose title goes back generations, as well as a professional photographer and former coach of Australia’s Olympic bobsled team (go figure); our driver there, Mario, is a former comptroller and auditor in addition to being an all-around great guy; guide Paola got her start translating for Tony Ryan when he was setting up his Ryanair empire in Sardinia; Marcello, our driver in Sardinia, had recently returned from the Polish border as a volunteer transporting Ukrainian orphans by bus to safety.

And if you ever want to feel like Bill Gates, now is your moment: Thanks to the VIP service Jason arranges at the airport, you wait in a private lounge before being escorted past the frenzied crowds to a town car on the tarmac that drives you to your plane, all before boarding officially begins.” —Priscilla Eakeley

Read more reviews of Malta and Sardinia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Oman: Bedouin women, pottery artisans, wedding prep with an Omani bride, meals in new friends’ homes…

Dhow boat Cruise in Arabian Peninsula, boat on blue water with desert mountains in background

A dhow cruise off the coast of Oman. Photo: Shutterstock

“My friend and I are active 60-plus-year-old women who enjoy traveling and immersing ourselves into the countries that we visit. We don’t want to just see a UNESCO World Heritage Site but want to meet the locals and see how they live—which is what we get when we use Wendy’s WOW List travel specialists.

We flew to Muscat and traveled around Oman for about two weeks. Dan listened to what we wanted to see and experience, and he or his office was with us via email, phone, and/or text every day of our visit.  Our guide, Fahad, heard I was a potter and took us to a pottery factory. He took us to his brother’s home for a typical Omani lunch and to see how they live. At this house we met his newborn niece and received the traditional gift of Frankincense. Fahad also took us to his friend’s home who was getting married that evening. We spent a few hours with the women in their traditional garb and experienced their welcome foods… dates, coffee, apples, oranges, chickpeas and other delicacies.

We also went to a local family’s home for another typical Omani meal on the floor and got to speak with their children. The father worked in the Ministry and the wife worked in the travel business setting up trips for Omanis. Quite stimulating conversations!

We visited souqs, fish markets, experienced the dhow-making process, lunched at the Chedi Hotel (a must!), visited mosques, learned about the Frankincense tree, swam in Hawiyat Najm Sink Hole (a must!), drove through wadis, learned about the date trees, photographed wild donkeys, had our feet ‘cleaned’ in the Sink Hole by the little fish, rode camels in the desert, met and dressed like Bedouin women, dune bashed in Wahiba Sands, experienced a sand storm, saw how Kumas are made, played soccer with an eight-year-old, saw goats climb trees, enjoyed a warm herbal compress massage at the Alila Jabal Akhdar (our favorite hotel!), had an impromptu donkey ride, went grocery shopping at the Hypermarket, and snorkeled with sea turtles in the Daymaniyat Islands (a must!).

We felt so welcomed in Oman and felt that the Omani people were kind, interesting and curious about us. It was another WONDERFUL adventure using Wendy’s travel specialists!” —Maureen Ferrari

Read more reviews of Oman trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Colombia: a gallery opening with eminent artists, a private cooking class, a salsa dancing lesson…

View of Journalist's Park with Monserrate and the Candelaria district of Bogota, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia, is an easy nonstop flight from New York City.  Photo: Shutterstock

“Contrary to what people may think based on past history, Colombia was very safe. Our trip started in Bogota with an easy direct day flight from New York. Three nights there allowed us to explore the city, its food, and the amazing gold museum. Boris arranged a private art tour which included access to a private opening of the works of the famous Colombian artist Jim Amaral, where we met him and his more famous wife Olga de Amaral. For a change in pace, we then spent a night in Villa de Leyva, a national heritage site with a stop in Zipaquira to see the spectacular underground salt cathedral.

Next stop was Medellin, with visits to Comuna 13, with an understanding of conflict and cacao, and a visit to a large orchid collection. Four nights in the coffee country, staying in a wonderful hacienda, allowed us to explore that area, including a rafting trip, a visit to a coffee plantation, and a day out with an excellent birding guide. The final stop was Cartagena, where we stayed in the Casa San Augustin in the middle of the old city; great for walking around the old areas with activities such as a rum and chocolate tasting, a private cooking class in one of the best restaurants, and a salsa dancing lesson. An easy 5-hour direct day flight took us back to New York. Colombia is a country well worth a visit—even though it does not seem to be on the radar screens of many of our acquaintances—and Boris and his team are a great asset for organizing a diverse and interesting trip.” —Tony Ford-Hutchinson

Read more reviews of Colombia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Southeast Asia: being blessed by the family elders in a local home, a sunrise breakfast with saffron-robed monks…

Ancient statues outside South Gate of Angkor Thom at sunset in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Sunset at Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just returned from a fabulous three-week-plus trip to Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam, and Cambodia, organized for us by Sandy. While we have traveled a great deal, this trip was among the best, if not THE best, trip we’ve taken. The diversity and specialness of our experiences made it stand out.

Like Napoleon’s army, we travel on our stomachs, and the food we had on this trip was extraordinary. One evening in Laos we went to the home of our guide, who Sandy has worked closely with for years. We helped prepare dinner, were blessed by the family elders in a Baci ceremony for success on our journey, ate the delicious food we had helped cook, and danced and sang with the family. Another night in Cambodia, we ate at a local village restaurant. With travel to Cambodia down due to the pandemic, it’s a great time to visit, and we were the only people at the restaurant. After a foot massage and passion fruit mojito, we were escorted to our table overlooking vibrant green rice fields while being serenaded by lovely music. In Hanoi, we went to Bun Cha Sinh Tu and had the famous soup it’s known for. It was table-pounding good. And our Vespa food tour of Saigon, which Sandy had strongly suggested, was both delicious and terrifying. Driving a motorbike in Saigon should be an Olympic sport, and we just rode!

Our excellent guides in Laos and Viet Nam shared with us the experiences of their families during the War and recounted working with American veterans who returned years later, as well as a reporter who had covered it. These personal and moving stories touched us and helped us better understand the profound effect of the War on the people who lived through it.

In Cambodia, we went to a Buddhist temple at 5:30 in the morning and meditated. Afterward we were showered with lotus petals as part of a blessing ceremony and had breakfast at the monastery as the sun rose. Early one morning in Laos, we gave sticky rice to saffron-robed monks who extended their begging bowls to us. Through this daily ritual, the monks demonstrate their vows of poverty and humility. Our guide took us to a quiet place where her family normally gives alms, avoiding other tourists.

It’s hard to encapsulate all we saw and did because there was so much: seeing the temples of Angkor, kayaking in Halong Bay, boating on the Saigon River, biking through Hoi An. Part of what made this trip so good was the flexibility we had in determining what we would do and not do each day. We had great guidance and suggestions from Sandy, but he emphasized this was our trip. Thoughtful planning and flexibility helped make this the trip of a lifetime.” —Catherine Mathis

Read more reviews of Cambodia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Bali: visiting farmers, playing instruments with village musicians…

“Having never been to Indonesia before, we told Diane the types of activities we enjoyed and she devised a custom itinerary that suited us perfectly. We spent an exciting day rafting down the Ayung river in Ubud and enjoyed a scenic guided hike to two beautiful waterfalls in the northern part of the island.

We also enjoyed a visit to a Balinese farming village where we got to sample Balinese cuisine and meet the lovely Balinese people who call this area their home. A highlight we’ll always remember is the live Balinese music and dancing which were performed for our enjoyment. We were shy, to be honest, at first. But by the end of the performance we actually got up there and played the drums and cymbals! These are the types of experiences that make travel so worthwhile. We’ll never forget it—and we have Diane to thank for that!” —Joe McBrine

Read more reviews of Bali trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Belize: meeting fishermen, organic farmers, Mayan artisans at a women’s cooperative…

a fishing guide in Belize poles the boat into position to intercept a school of fish that would have been scared off by the engine.

A fisherman in Belize.  Photo: Timothy Baker

Rachael and Patricia curated a wonderful 17 days for us in Belize. The accommodations were first-rate, beautiful, and serene. At The Lodge at Chaa Creek, no matter where we stood, the view was picture-perfect. Further, at each of the five places we stayed, the service matched the setting. We were treated very well. Trip highlights were the ancient Mayan sites of Tikal and Xunantunich, Che Chem Ha Cave, a visit to the San Antonio Women’s Group Center, and a back street food tour in San Pedro.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we were able to meet, spend time with, and learn from many wonderful people. Gonzo, Andrea, and Calliandra of Che Chem Ha were enchanting. Timotea and the other members of the San Antonio Women’s Group Center were gracious, committed, and knowledgeable. Eder and his father, El Fego, at Xunantunich made us feel welcome and taught us much. Don Eladio took us for an educational and entertaining romp through his organic farm, Victoria taught us much as she prepared our lunch, and her children Christian and Tristan made us part of the family for the day. Axel, Vickie, and Isien of Manta Island Resort were so good to us that, even in the age of Covid, hugs were essential.

And then there were the two anonymous guests (fishermen, we surmised) who ate dinner at the table next to ours two nights in a row at the Copal Tree Lodge. Their almost childlike joy (even choosing the entrée for dinner was an adventure to be savored) underlined for us how fortunate we were to be there at that moment. Rachael and Patricia provided us with many such moments, and for that we are very grateful.” —Richard Ashmore

Read more reviews of Belize trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Canada: townspeople at a fair, musicians and storytellers, a screech-in at a local pub…

Newfoundlanders welcome travelers into their homes (and lighthouses). Photo: Maxxim Vacations

Jill organized an eight-day trip for four couples, best friends for the last 30 years. It was a trip full of great adventure, hiking, fishing, good food, and fantastic people. In Cape Breton our local guide caught our vibe from the minute she met us and took us to her own town’s annual fair. She introduced us to some of the families there, and we instantly felt the warmth and kindness—we didn’t want to leave!

In Newfoundland, we stayed in Woody Point in Gros Morne National Park. The townspeople were, again, warm and welcoming (a common characteristic in this part of Canada). The local pub, The Merchant Warehouse, had great food, and the owner’s daughter plays her guitar and sings up a storm (don’t miss it). We had our screech-in there as well with the incomparable Aunt Sophie!!! The hikes were unrivalled; accurately marked and well-kept, the unique landscapes and terrain were breathtaking. We will be back to conquer Gros Morne itself!

Finally, we ended our vacation in Corner Brook at the beautiful Hew & Draw Hotel. The highlight here was our time with Darren, who took us out in his dory to his cabin on the water for a dinner of mussels and cod, with an evening tour of the surrounding region by boat. His mom had even baked us an apple pie! The stories he told us of his family and the region were again just part of the local hospitality. We have traveled to many places in the world, and the Canadian Maritimes is indeed a treasure.” —Barbara Palter

Read more reviews of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Mexico City: an expert-led taco tour, meals with private chefs, off-the-beaten-path shopping…


An expert-led taco tour is a must-do in Mexico City. Photo: Shutterstock

“We wanted to explore neighborhoods and culture and avoid crowded museums and other tourist sites. Zach and his team delivered right on point. We were able to visit the historic downtown, stroll through neighborhoods like Roma, Condessa and Polanca in the heart of Mexico City, and visit the district of Coyoacan with the charming Colonia del Carmen neighborhood and village center with our guide Amalia.

If you are a foodie, you will love your options: We had a wonderful taco tour with Frederico and two wonderful meals with private chefs Alfredo and Graciela. Everything was absolutely delicious. Another highlight was a shopping afternoon with Cristina, who took us to wonderful off-the-beaten-path shops where we were able to purchase items we will cherish forever and a beautiful selection of clothing for my wife. We had a wonderful time and will definitely use Zach next time we go to Mexico.” —Susan and Blake Hancock

Read more reviews of Mexico City trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Ireland: teen boys meeting local teens for outdoor fun and games

Killarney National Park with a scenic tour from Killarney Jaunting Cars.

A jaunting cart ride in Killarney National Park, Ireland.  Photo: Shutterstock

“My friend and I took our four teenage sons on a March spring break trip to Ireland arranged by Jonathan. It was a mix of sightseeing, adventure, and downtime that was perfect for all of us. I can’t speak highly enough about our time with our private driver-guide, Frank. Frank got to know the boys and their interests and went out of his way to add to the itinerary with activities such as Gaelic Games and time with a local club soccer team. Our boys loved getting to spend time with other teens from Ireland.

Some favorite activities were our boat ride in Killarney National Park followed by a seven-mile jaunting cart ride. The Galway food walking tour was a hit for all. While the rest of our group did Gaelic Games, I did a walking tour of Dublin and had a wonderful time learning about Dublin past and present.

This is my second trip that I have done going through your WOW List. Your trip planners make vacations memorable and special. I will never plan a trip without going through Wendy Perrin—and I freely share this advice with others.” —Jennifer Brown

Read more reviews of Ireland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.



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