Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Arranged guides and outings that took us away from the crowds and to hidden corners we never would have found on our own
Tom Redburn | July 17, 2023
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 Schwenger and Luisa Grigoletto 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, which began on May 23 in Venice and ended on July 4 at Lake Como, 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.

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, sponsored by 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.

Claudia and Luisa are extraordinary travel planners who I would recommend unequivocally. And based on a couple of other experiences with their team as well, I can’t say enough about the talented personalities they have recruited as travel planners. 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 Engadine that was one of the top places we stayed on our honeymoon, but which now paled in comparison to the numerous hotels/B&Bs (admittedly more expensive but not the well-known 5-star names, either) that Claudia and Luisa found for us.

Despite its length, which could easily have been very wearing, the trip was extremely well-paced, allowing us time for rest and recovery when needed. We looped from Venice down to the Amalfi Coast, taking a flight to Dubrovnik, then working our way up the Croatian coast and islands before heading into Slovenia, the Dolomites and Switzerland. We rented a car twice (from Venice to Orvieto, and Trieste to Milan), but relied on car and drivers and trains when appropriate. We focused mostly on culture and cities for the first couple of weeks, the Mediterranean coast for the middle portion, and ending with mostly outdoors and physical Alpine experiences.

Our trip lived up to everything I had been dreaming about since we first thought of the idea more than two years in advance.

The half-day bike ride into the country was also a highlight—windmills, sheep and dutch apple pie!
Kristine Carey | June 7, 2023

Our trip to Netherlands, Belgium and Alsace, France the last couple weeks of May was a wonderful experience that we planned with Claudia. All the hotels were lovely and exceeded expectations. Hotel Estherea (Amsterdam) was like residing in a garden, Made in Louise (Brussels) was cute and quirky and Le Chambard (Alsace) felt like a sumptuous Bavarian hunting lodge. With Claudia’s help we felt we visited the highlights that each region had to offer. Our Food and Canals tour was so much fun—our guide Gerard was informative & entertaining. The culmination of the food tour was a wooden boat ride on the canals with wine and tastings. What a great way to start our trip! The half-day bike ride into the country was also a highlight—windmills, sheep and dutch apple pie! What a wonderful way to see another side of the Netherlands. Brussels was a fun and cosmopolitan city with excellent dining options like Cowfish and Tero. Colin was our guide in Brussels, Bruge & Ghent. We couldn’t have asked for a more informative & fun person to spend time with. Lastly, we visited Alsace, France. A quaint area with a strong Germanic influence. The beautiful scenery and wineries dominated the landscape. We had what, for us, will probably be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We dined at La Table d’Olivier Nasti, a 2-star Michelin restaurant that provided unbelievable service, an elegant ambiance and the most delicious and beautifully plated food. It was a four-hour dining experience we will never forget! Thank you to Claudia for creating this wonderful experience for us. We never could have done this trip without her!

Sipping wine in the vineyard with the winemaker, a private tour through the cellars of Trier, cycling through the Grand Cru vineyards of the Mosel...
Kelvin Roth | May 29, 2023

We just returned from a wonderful wine trip to Germany. Claudia and her team helped us plan a magnificent itinerary and she connected us with great hosts/guides. We had many highlights but a few that jump out — sipping wine in the vineyard with the winemaker, a private tour through the cellars of Trier, cycling through the Grand Cru vineyards of the Mosel, and a special wine tasting in an old Roman wine press area. Additionally, when a couple things went wrong (e.g., lost rental car key), her team jumped in to support logistically and emotionally. We felt well pampered and taken care of during this trip and would highly recommend Claudia for any adventures in Germany.

He brought us to an outdoor market and we had a delicious lunch, someplace we would have never gone to on our own
Brenda Osborne | May 12, 2023

My husband and I traveled to Europe during the month of February 2022. We chose to spend a week exploring Prague and Vienna before continuing on to Germany. Claudia designed a lovely four-day stay in Prague at a former monastery, which provided us a view of Prague Castle from our room as well as a great location for exploring the city on foot. She arranged for a guided walking tour of the city when we arrived so that we could navigate on our own after that. We always enjoy visiting castles and other historic places, so Claudia had a driver/guide pick us up for excursions outside of the city to visit a palace, castle, and a national park. On our transfer day to Vienna, he also took us to Chesky Kumlov, which we enjoyed very much. Upon arrival in Vienna, we checked into the famous Sacher Hotel. We once again had a guided walking tour of the city and our guide also took us out to the Schonneburg Palace. Afterwards, we invited our guide to accompany us to his favorite lunch spot. He had a bit of free time before his next client, so he brought us to an outdoor market and we had a delicious lunch, someplace we would have never gone to on our own. Our last day in Vienna was very special, as we had a private tour of the Spanish Riding School. We had a great experience meeting many of the horses and watching a practice session with the horses and riders. The restaurant reservations were all made by Claudia in advance and if the timing didn’t work for us, we simply cancelled or changed the time. We always like to have private guides/drivers and Claudia is able to set up the best for us. The travel experience is so much better with knowledgeable guides. We would highly recommend Claudia and intend to use her services again in the future.

The 2023 WOW List: 86 Top Local Fixers in Countries Worldwide

by Wendy Perrin | January 22, 2023

How to Get an Extraordinary Trip: Wendy’s WOW Approach

by Wendy Perrin | January 1, 2023

Wendy Wants To Amp Up Your Trip!

by | January 1, 2023

Where and When to Travel in This Unprecedentedly Busy Year

by Wendy Perrin | August 20, 2023

How to Get More For Your Miles and Points in 2023

by | January 31, 2023

10 Top Dream Trips for 2023

by Brook Wilkinson | February 1, 2023