Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Real Connections with Locals: WOW Trip Reviews

by Wendy Perrin | May 2, 2024

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.


Copenhagen: watching furniture makers and artists at work, Easter dinner in a local home…

Cari Bender and her family with the dinner's local hosts in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Cari Bender and her family with the dinner’s local hosts in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“We just returned from a wonderful trip to Copenhagen to visit our daughter who is studying abroad there. Mads helped us plan a lovely vacation where we got to explore all over the area. We learned about Danish food on a food tour and loved seeing the city from a private boat excursion along the canal.

Our favorite day was the Danish design day! We love Danish design, and Mads arranged for us to have a private tour of a furniture manufacturer and meet some current local artists in their own studio. It was a special and memorable day. My son and I probably took 1,000 photographs, and we all loved learning about the history of prominent furniture design. We had a terrific hotel right in Nyhavn, the famous canal with the colored buildings that was centrally located and super charming.

The other incredibly memorable adventure was Dine with Danes, where we had a truly special evening at the home of a local couple. They prepared a Danish Easter dinner for us—they must have cooked for two days! We simply adored them and we had a wonderful evening together. It was very special.” —Cari Bender

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

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New Zealand: one-on-one time with Maori artisans…

Maori green jade Koru pendant on wood log.

Maori jade Koru pendant. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just completed an absolutely fabulous month-long trip to New Zealand. With his extensive relationships, especially with the Maori, Jean-Michel crafted a truly unique trip that we would never have been able to create on our own. Besides cruising Milford Sound, we had three major interests for our trip: interacting with Maori to learn about their culture, going to the MacKenzie-designated Dark Sky region to stargaze, and being on a glacier.

Instead of going to touristy places to see the Maori, Jean-Michel set us up with several unbelievable one-on-one days with individual Maori, including Tom Loughlin, who cooked us a fabulous traditional Hangi meal in the ground at his 5,000-acre wilderness cabin; Delani Brown, a famous master carver who creates enormous masterpieces of complexly intricate carved wood scenes of Maori culture; and Bevan Climo, a master pounamu (New Zealand greenstone or jade) carver, who took us to his tribe’s portion of the Arahura River, where I found a lovely piece of greenstone!

For our Dark Sky experience, Jean-Michel arranged for a privately guided astral viewing at the Matuka Lodge in Twizel where we were staying. The stargazing was fabulous, and to not to have to do the 3-hour roundtrip to the St. John’s Observatory was priceless.

As for the glacier, Jean-Michel again came up with an amazing intimate experience in the Whitcombe Valley, instead of the over-touristy Franz Josef Glacier. Matt, our helicopter pilot, came with over 30 years of flying experience and was even the pilot for Tom Cruise when he was filming in the region! Matt created a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with views of numerous glaciers and glacier lakes, highlighted by a landing at a glacier that we walked up to and sat on! Talk about being at the top of the world and having your dream come true!” —Mary Lou Voytko

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

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Spain: lunch in the private quarters of a castlewith the owner…

Travelers Lorin and Jeremy Seidman with their family met the WOW Lister Virginia Irurita in Madrid, Spain.

Lorin and Jeremy Seidman with their family and WOW Lister Virginia Irurita in Madrid.

Virginia and her team planned an incredible trip to Spain for our family, with the kind of experiences that we’re quite sure no other travel agent would have had access to. Our teenage kids’ favorite part of the trip was a visit to Almodovar Castle, near Sevilla. The owner of the castle, Eva Morejon, greeted us upon our arrival, and then invited us to have lunch with her in the family’s private quarters of the castle.

We sat in Eva’s dining room enjoying the most delicious authentic Spanish cuisine, which was cooked by her family’s personal chef, while she told us the history of the castle. She then took us on a private tour of the castle, including parts that were used for the filming of Game of Thrones.” —Lorin Seidman

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

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Norway: lunch with a Sami elder, dogsledding with an Iditarod racer…

Traveler Kathye Faries with a Sami reindeer herder, in the village of Maze, Norway.

Kathye Faries with Johan, a Sami reindeer herder, in the Norwegian village of Maze. Photo: Traveler Jim Braun

“Seeing the Aurora Borealis has been on my bucket list for ages and it was time to make it happen! With Wendy’s help we were connected with Torunn, who planned a terrific 10-day adventure for us in northern Norway in February, 2024. I worked with Karin Andresen on many of the details and Karin did a wonderful job too. My focus was seeing the lights (we saw them twice, yippee!), but the entire trip turned out to be way better than we expected due to the fun activities Torunn and Karin planned for us.

We started in Alta, well north of the Arctic Circle, and stayed at a great property outside of the town in a beautiful setting on the banks of a frozen river. We went snowshoeing (easier than I thought it would be) and ice fishing with Kelle of Glod Explorer, and his husky Bruno. Jim caught an Arctic Char so our lunch was as fresh is it could get! Sitting in a lavvu, around a fire, sipping hot chocolate and eating fresh-caught fish was a real treat. We also took a snowmobile ride at night at Bjornfjeld Mountain Lodge. We were cozy in a beautiful mountaintop glass igloo, cooked our dinner over a fire and looked for the lights. On our last day in Alta we spent several hours dog sledding in the beautiful Finnmark forest and on frozen lakes, which was one of the highlights of the trip. Our guide, Hannah, ran the Iditarod two years ago and was so expert on the trails. We loved our day with her and her dog teams.

While en route to our next destination (we saw moose, reindeer and foxes along the way), we had lunch with Johan, a Sami elder, in the village of Maze. His family has raised and herded reindeer for generations and his sons are poised to take care of the business someday. We learned so much from him about his profession, about the Sami, and got to meet some of his reindeer. Fascinating.

In Karasjok we stayed at one of the most unique, exceptional small properties we’ve ever seen. Every cabin and all of the furniture in each of the 7 cabins has been built by hand from natural materials. This place is a hidden gem, set in the forest and truly magical. On property were 45 Alaskan Huskies who were very friendly and loved “cuddles” from everyone. One of our days was spent with Magrit, a Sami woman who has spent her entire life raising and herding reindeer. We went with her by snowmobile, up high in the mountains, to see and feed some of her family’s herd. We spent time in the forest around a warm fire and she shared stories with us about her life. On our last day there, I went dog sledding with the Alaskan Huskies—it was an exciting ride where the dogs broke a new trail in deep, newly fallen snow on the frozen lake. It was a wonderful experience I will never forget.

The last few days of the trip were spent in Oslo where our expert guide took us to the Nobel Peace Prize Museum (very, very moving), and the National Museum (which houses Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”). We saw several contemporary buildings—the Library and the Opera House—watched some young men run from the sauna and jump into the 32-degree water of the harbor (yikes!); and toured the Vigeland Sculpture Park.

The Aurora was as wondrous as I expected and we were so lucky to see it. Northern Norway is a beautiful part of the world with clean water, clean air, warm and friendly people and so accessible to the outdoors. When we asked local guides (who grew up in Alta and Karasjok) if they ever wanted to move away, their answer was NO!!!! We could understand why.

The trip was so smooth due to Torunn and Karin’s expertise. Prior to and during the trip we made a few itinerary adjustments and all went perfectly. All of the guides and ground transportation services were there when and where they were supposed to be, and the outfitters and lodging choices were a great fit for us. We are so glad we saw the lights but we are also so appreciative of the adventures we experienced on this wonderful, enchanting trip.” —Kathye Faries

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

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Belize: “A local family served us a traditional Mayan lunch, nouvelle-style. And Patricia met us there for lunch…”

Our travelers Salena and Allen Kern with WOW Lister Patricia Johnson in Belize.

WOW Lister Patricia Johnson joined Salena and Allen Kern for lunch one day.

“My criteria was a direct flight from Newark, warmth, a place we’d never been to with lots to do if we wished, and a Wendy Perrin advisor. It took about a minute to find Belize and Patricia. And we were off…. Patricia recommended a few places to stay, and two of the resorts (one in the jungle and the other on the beach) were owned by Francis Ford Coppola. Who knew? Not I, for sure. Well, my husband was an extra in Apocalypse Now many years ago and that was that. He was thrilled to be seeing what Coppola had created in Belize. Both resorts were beautiful but Blancaneaux Lodge was one of the nicest places I have stayed in my life.

We climbed ruins, rafted through a cave that should have been a cathedral, and visited an entrepreneurial coffee “factory” amongst other things. Most important to me, however, was that we got to know something about the current economy of this young country and much about its varied cultures. On our first full day, we were surprised by our WOW Moment. At this most beautiful site, overlooking a series of waterfalls, we were served lunch by a local family (now, Patricia did know that I am a bit of a foodie) who served us a traditional Mayan lunch, nouvelle-style. The family has a catering company called U Janal Masewal, Ancient Recipes for a Modern World. That sort of sums up my worldview too. We were happy! And Patricia met us there for lunch. Thank you, Patricia and Wendy.

This lunch opened our eyes to what was happening in the local communities. The Mayan culture isn’t stuck in the past or lost, as it is in Chiapas, Mexico, where I visited last year. The Belizeans are creating a wonderful and mixed culture ripe for all sorts of tourism. Our week in Belize was full of surprises. I would recommend it to older people like us, to young families, well, to anyone who likes travel.” —Salena Kern

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

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East Africa: hunting with bushmen, visiting a local women’s organization…

Traveler taking a selfie with with local kids during a community visit to the Mukundusi Village in Tanzania.

Traveler Jeannie Mullen snapped a selfie with local kids during a community visit to the Mukundusi Village in Tanzania.

“I just returned from a trip to East Africa planned by Cherri and her team. The lodges and their phenomenal staffs, the wildlife, the guides, the available local activities, the holiday and birthday celebrations along with numerous personal touches…I cannot say enough about the locals that I met and the recurring personal interactions I had.

Normally I schedule every day of a trip down to the minute. Since this trip was so long (and as I get older!) I left some time open in the itinerary in the event that I just needed to chill here and there. Doing so enabled me to schedule some additional, non-game-viewing activities at each location which really enriched my overall experience. Highlights included: Following bushmen on a game hunt (and taste-testing the grilled results!) in Tanzania, participating in an anti-poaching demonstration (I played the poacher and hid out in the bush) at Sirikoi in Kenya, multiple community/village visits, and a visit to an inspiring women’s organization (Ride 4 A Woman) in Uganda.

On New Year’s Eve I was at &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge in Tanzania. At the conclusion of a tribal dance ritual at the north lodge, we all followed their torch-lit procession (singing, chanting and dancing the entire way) down to the south lodge where the Maasai then put on a spectacular dance demonstration which told the story of their customs and rituals.” —Jeannie Mullen

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

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Italy: fishing and cheesemaking with locals, watching glass artisans at work…

Scenic overlook of the Tyrrhenian Sea along the Amalfi Coast of Italy.

Scenic overlook of the Tyrrhenian Sea along the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“From the moment we were picked up in Rome to the time we were dropped at the airport after 15 days in this beautiful country, we would have changed nothing! The food and wine were incredible, the hotels were spectacular and the guides and their tours were unforgettable. While the trip was overall the most memorable experience of our lifetimes, there are a few things that we cannot go without highlighting:

1. The boat ride along the Amalfi Coast was nothing short of spectacular, and our captain and first mate made it truly enjoyable. Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea is something we will never forget;

2. The cooking class and lunch with Mrs. Luciana and Maria Cristina were so incredibly enjoyable and delicious that we wished we could have stayed forever;

3. Watching Benedetto create his masterpiece of mozzarella and burrata cheese and tasting the delicious virgin olive oils, followed by the private tour of his amazing lemon orchard, was an unforgettable experience.

4. Our visit to Murano and the Vetreria Estevan Rossetto glass factory was inspirational. To see the centuries-old workmanship of glass making and learning the history of this profession was incredible. We actually purchased artworks made by two of the most prominent glass artisans known to Italy, Walter Furan and Amedeo Rossetto. Our guides, Daria and Piero, were so knowledgeable and spent hours teaching us about glass making and the history behind it. Piero is the grandson of Walter Furan, and being able to purchase one of his grandfather’s pieces was truly special.

5. And finally, only to keep this review from being too lengthy, trout fishing with Luca. While I did not catch a monster, the beautiful little brown trout I did catch brought a smile to my face, and the lunch we shared and our time together was terrific.

We would like to thank Wendy, Maria Gabriella, Maria Cristina, our fabulous guides, our amazing drivers, and all of the employees and staff at the hotels in which we stayed for their incredible hospitality. We cannot wait for our next WOW experience.” —Lizzy and Jay Bryan

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

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Oman and Jordan: “It is always good to learn more, have more awareness and to become better global citizens…”

Amy Avers and her husband having coffee and dates with Omani locals.

Amy Evers and her husband talking world politics with Omani locals over coffee and dates.

“Our trip to Oman and Jordan October 14th- Nov. 1st, 2023, was extraordinary! Even with the slight unease regarding the war, while in Oman and Jordan, all was well and safe. There did seem to be some extra military presence in Amman but that didn’t interfere with our trip. We are very happy we did not cancel!

Out trip planner, Daniel, did a wonderful job talking through everything with us ahead of time. He was honest about his thoughts about things that are worth it and that aren’t. Some of the highlights of our trip were:

Oman: Eating and drinking dates and Omani coffee with locals, dinner with a local family in Muscat, learning about the culture, talking with a local at the Grand Mosque to learn more about Islam, swimming and exploring Wadi Shaab and Wadi Bani Khalid, dune bashing in Wahiba Sands, the via ferrata course in Jebel Akhdar, biking down the mountains in Jabel Shams, the random barber shop experience for my husband to get his beard trimmed (hilarious and wonderful cultural experience), and the balcony hike in Jebel Shams.

Jordan: Petra during the day/night and the back door hike in, SCUBA diving the wreck in the Red Sea (not organized by Dan), ‘soft’ canyoning in Wadi Al Mujib, floating in the Dead Sea (so unique and funny!), and discussions about current issues with our guide.

I feel very lucky to have experienced this trip, especially in today’s political climate. It is always good to learn more, have more awareness and to become better global citizens. Thank you!” —Amy Evers

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

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Morocco: learning history and culture from scholars and artisans…

Our traveler's guide outside his family home in Tangier's Medina, Morocco.

Milinda Martin’s guide AbdulRahman outside his family home in Tangier’s Medina. Photo: Traveler Milinda Martin

“It had been 20 years since I had visited Morocco, and I have to say, the country is going through such a positive time. People are happy there! The government is building tons of affordable housing, redoing the waterfront areas, and spiffing up all the cities. It’s a good time to visit.

Thanks to Radia and her team, I was able to indulge my desire to learn more about the history of this country, especially the Berber culture, the invasion of the Arabs, and the long history of the Moors and Jews. Radia did not disappoint; all of my guides were experts and very willing to discuss the benefits and challenges of being such a rich land where everyone wants to be. My guide in Tangier, AbdulRahman, was OUTSTANDING. He was born in the Medina and his family still lived there, and he was able to share stories of how Tangier has changed over the centuries with all the invaders. He shared the local delicacies — mint tea and amazing cookies — with me, and we truly felt like friends by the time I moved on to Chefchaouen.

With Radia’s guidance, I visited Casablanca, and the amazing Hassan II mosque, with a Muslim scholar who could really immerse me in the religion, far beyond the 5 pillars. The trip ended in Marrakesh, where I had the most unique experience of learning how to make mosaics. This wasn’t a “tourist activity”; this was a visit to a gentleman’s workshop where we cut the tiles, arranged the mosaics and eventually plastered the mosaics into place. Radia provided a translator because the artist — having mastered this trade 40 years ago — did not speak English.

And I have to give a strong shout-out to my driver, Rachid. Throughout my tour, he was always on time, always kind, always conversational, and a great driver to boot. This is what I like about planning with Wendy Perrin: meeting the people and seeing life like a local. We visited the communal bakery and the hammam, two vital components of life for every Moroccan. I was able to go hiking in the Atlas Mountains, obtain early entry to the Majorelle Gardens, and have someone guide me through the mazes of the Medinas. The riad in Marrakesh was truly divine! Unlike other tours that whisk you here and there, in international hotels, where you never meet a local, Radia and her team ensured that I felt like a Moroccan from the very start.” —Milinda Martin

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

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Norway: meeting a local fisherman, reindeer herder, and even an acclaimed actress

Crab fishing in Alta Fjord, Norway

Jeannie Mullen suited up to fish for king crab and halibut with boat captain Albert.

“Just returned from a solo trip to Norway September 11-20, 2023. After my pet sitter bailed on me at the last minute, I reached out to Jan to see what he could do to adjust the 3-week driving itinerary through Norway that he and I had just finalized. Jan was very flexible, gave me several options to choose from and before long we had whittled a 21-day trip down to 10, maintaining the main focus of trip…seeing the northern lights.

I started out at Sorrisniva Wilderness Lodge in Alta, above the Arctic Circle in the northern fjords. By day I was entertained with king-crab fishing in Storekorsnes, lunch with and storytelling by a local reindeer herder, a visit to the nearby UNESCO site featuring northern Europe’s largest concentration of petroglyphs (rock art) made by hunter-gathers dating back 2000-7000 years, and a boat ride on the Alta River with Tor, one of the lodge owners. Each night after dinner I was driven to different locations to search for the lights…. It was such a great experience. I had been coached beforehand that not everyone gets to see the lights every night and sometimes not at all over a period of several nights. Fortunately I saw them each of the four nights that I was there and got some great photos. On my last night in Alta I came back early enough to see the lights with a cup of hot chocolate from the warmth of my bed. It was an experience that I will never forget.

I had shared with Jan that I had a very broad range of interests coming into this trip, so the tenor and tempo changed quickly when I arrived back in Oslo. At my request, it was all about art, architecture, history and culture. In a very fun surprise, I was treated to a WOW Moment as I walked out of the elevator my first morning there. Jan knew from our trip-planning discussions that I am involved with a professional theatre company in my hometown and had made arrangements for his sister-in-law, Ingjerd Egeberg, a Norwegian actress (and national treasure), to spend an hour with me prior to the start of my planned day. Over coffee we had a lovely discussion about the theatre and then walked across the street together to the National Theatre for a backstage tour. It was truly delightful! Thank you again, Jan and Wendy! And THEN the day started.… The museums, art, architecture and parks in Oslo were beautiful…the Munch (The Scream) Museum, City Hall, the Opera House, the Deichman Bjorvika (the world’s best new public library), the Nobel Peace Center, the Harbour Promenade in Oslo Fjord, the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History and the Vigeland Sculpture Park. The next day was spent away from the city at the Kistefos Museum in Jevnaker, one of the most important outdoor sculpture parks for contemporary art.

And then it was time to head home. I cannot say enough about Wendy’s suggestion to use Jan.… His detailed planning, choice of hotels, guides, drivers, and restaurant suggestions were all spot-on. I enjoyed myself so much on this trip that I had Jan plan a 10-day itinerary to Denmark for the fast-approaching Thanksgiving holidays. And next summer I’ll work in the driving portion of the Norway trip that I missed out on this year.” —Jeannie Mullen

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

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Poland & Austria: master classes in amber jewelry, pierogis, Christmas ornaments…

Beautiful Krakow market square, Poland, Europe.

Krakow market square in Poland. Photo: Shutterstock

Gwen knows we have traveled the world on all seven continents. Many of our trips (at least eighteen) have been curated by Wendy’s trip specialists. Gwen knows we increasingly value experiences over mere sightseeing. This itinerary included many hands-on and personal experiences. In Gdansk, we visited an amber workshop and created our own amber jewelry using the workshop’s professional tools overseen by a friendly jeweler. We took home the two amber pendants we made.

In Warsaw, Gwen had another wonderful special experience for us: a visit with an artisanal nalewka (pronounced na lef ka) producer. This cordial is made in many homes. But this producer elevates the quality to the nth degree. Made of macerated fruits (or flowers or pine shoots or even milk), water, alcohol and sugar, the mixture sits in huge glass jars in his backyard for at least ten months, then matures in huge plastic barrels for at least three years before bottling. While visiting with this fascinating man, we tasted twelve of his varieties. We brought home two bottles and wish we’d brought a lot more.

In Krakow, we had a great lesson on how to make one of Poland’s national foods, pierogis (filled dumplings.) The private class was in the home of the woman who runs the annual Krakow Pierogi Festival. We had such a good time with her that we stayed far beyond our scheduled time.

Also in Krakow, we visited a small workshop that makes hand-painted glass Christmas ornaments. My husband and I each painted our own ornaments with direction from the chief painter. We ended up bringing a dozen or so ornaments home. In Vienna, we had a great food safari that took us off the tourist circuit and introduced us to stores and producers of traditional Viennese foods.” —Jan Heininger

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

tacos

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.

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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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