Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

We did a 30th birthday celebration for our son at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany from Sept, 24- Oct. 1, 2024. We used Claudia Schwenger from The WOW List to plan the trip. There were 9 family members, ages 24 to 57 on the trip, so having Claudia work out the travel logistics was invaluable. Claudia secured the hotels, excursions, Oktoberfest tickets, dinner reservations, transfers and more. Claudia took the time to have phone converstations plus several follow-up emails during the planning process. She always gave options for each trip decision so the whole adventure was customized to our liking. We spent 4 days in Munich and then travelled to Salzburg, Austria for 3 days. Each day of the trip had one planned excursion but we never felt we lacked downtime or time to wander on our own. The Munich excursions included a city walking tour, an Oktoberfest tour, Dachau, Olympic Park, and Neuschwanstein Castle. In Salzburg, we did a Sound of Music bicycle tour, streudel making and beer-pairing dinner. Every dinner reservation was enjoyed by the whole group. We were even able to reach Claudia while on the trip to change plans for our last day. She was able to take care of the request from afar in no time. My husband and I even enjoyed a WOW Moment during the trip with a lovely drink at a rooftop bar in Munich that boasted a city view. Overall, it was an incredible family celebration! I wouldn’t hesitate to use Claudia again.

We just returned home from a 16-day trip to Germany, plus 2 travel days. I urge everyone to visit Germany. The country is scenically gorgeous, the food is outstanding, as are the wines and beers, but the very best part of Germany are its people. The German people are polite, welcoming, and very helpful. They take pride in what they do, and in their country. It is sparkling clean, and safe at all hours of the day and night. My husband & I saw so many young people out late at night having a wonderful time. Overall, it’s a country that has not forgotten its past, good and bad, and looks forward to the future with acceptance and love.

I think I would have liked to have seen what was inside the various museums we saw from the outside. Basically, Germany is a new country, (since its structures were destroyed during World War II), rebuilding since the mid 1950s to look old. The German people are very proud of how they are restoring the appearance of old Germany. Due to this there was a great deal of emphasis on the exterior of buildings, and I would have enjoyed seeing more of the interiors. Maybe we needed to plan more time for our trip. We covered a great deal of territory as we landed in Frankfurt, then headed south to the Black Forest area and then on to the Bavarian Alps, and up to Berlin and then back to Frankfurt. Both the Black Forest and Bavaria were as beautiful and as perfect as I had imagined. I think as far as big cities went, I would say Munich was my favorite because it seemed to be just the right size with just the right amount of things to see and do. Berlin is a very cosmopolitan city, like going to NYC, and Frankfurt struck me as such a “bank/money” place, that I felt it, too, was not as wonderful as Munich.

We did not plan this, but we happened to be in Germany during the celebration of reunification of Germany, which is a very big deal to its population and it involved a 4-5 day holiday for them, so there was a great deal of traffic, but also a great vibe of happy energy. I loved it!! We also happened to be there for a week of a “light show” in Berlin. Again, it brings out a huge population of people, of all ages to view the light show which is like New Year’s Eve and Christmas lights displays here in the USA. We saw more young people and bicycles in Germany than we had seen on past trips to China and other Far East countries.

Our driver and guide, Ulrich Hies, was absolutely amazing: an excellent driver, compassionate human being and a gentle giant of a man. I really messed up and left part of my CPAP equipment in the hotel we had last stayed at and did not realize it until I unpacked at the next destination, after we all had said good night to each other. When Uli found out, he drove back to the hotel while we were enjoying a leisurely dinner to retrieve it for me. A 4-hour back-and-forth drive after a day of touring and guiding us just to make sure I had what I needed. You couldn’t have a more caring or kinder person than Uli. I also neglected to tell you that I am an obese handicapped individual who cannot walk. Uli provided us with a large Mercedes van that had an extra platform that extended out to make it easier for me to enter and exit the vehicle. He also brought along a battery ride-on scooter and a wheelchair for me to use so I could enjoy this trip.

Our hotel room in Schwangau, at the Hotel Das Ruebezahl, had a perfect view of both castles from our patio. We had an arrangment for us to visit Neuschwanzstein Castle before it opened to the public. This involved pushing me up a 20-degree incline of about 1,000 feet while I sat in the wheelchair. Uli never complained or seemed to resent aiding me throughout the trip. Mr. Wonderful for sure!! There were no glitches of getting in to this private tour and we had two English-speaking people with us, as my husband was able to use stairs with one guide, while the other guide went with Uli and me in elevators to get to each elevation. Everyone was unbelievably friendly, informative and kind. We found this to be true throughout Germany.

Uli had 2 friends who joined us in Munich and Berlin who really knew these cities extremely well. They were able to give us insider information about these cities. Marcus and Andreas, both of whom were such special additions to our tour.

Every hotel we stayed in was fabulous in location, amenities, and comfort. We were upgraded to a full suite which had a dining room, two full bathrooms and a living room in Dresden at the Bulow Palais Dresden. Another hotel that surprised us was the Heidelberg Suites in which we found ourselves in a Jr. Suite with a full kitchen (including dishwasher). In Munich we stayed in the Charles Hotel where we found a large bottle of Perrier Jouet Grand Brut Champagne 750ml on ice waiting for us along with some snacks. Each hotel greeted us with a welcome beverage and snacks of some kind in the room.

We thank our travel company and especially Claudia for working with us to make this a most wonderful, perfect holiday.

We also thank Wendy Perrin for putting us in touch with Claudia in the first place and for her very special WOW Moment luncheon overlooking the Rhine River. Truly a WOW experience that we will never forget.

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. They 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.

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!

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