Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Elizabeth Crawford and her family at a waterfront restaurant featured in The Night Manager mini-series in Mallorca, Spain.

Elizabeth Crawford and family at a waterfront restaurant featured in The Night Manager mini-series.

We recently enjoyed a 2-week trip to Lisbon and Mallorca beautifully planned by WOW expert Ivan Ricoy. Ivan took the time to really understand our goals in the trip, and created an itinerary that prized creating memories with our kids. My daughter and I arrived separately from my husband and son, so it was very reassuring to be met and escorted by a driver in a very nice Mercedes minivan upon arrival to Lisbon. The hotel Ivan arranged for us was a “postcard-perfect” palace in a central location perfect for mom and daughter to explore from for a few days.

Once the rest of the family arrived, Ivan arranged a Foodie tour with local guide AnnElise. She spoke excellent English, was a history expert, but was also young and fun so our kids felt like she was just hanging out with us. As we explored, AnnElise used her personal connections with the culinary community to guide us to memorable experiences more authentic than touristy: We tasted Iberian ham from a small grocer, Bifana sandwiches from a lunch counter, pastries from a historic baker, and cherry liqueur from the “original” maker. We even shared beer from a horn in an old tavern. We were ultimately in Lisbon to see the Taylor Swift concert. Ivan arranged for an experienced driver, who provided invaluable white-glove treatment in the midst of huge crowds. Our driver was able to drive us right to the stadium, and then waited for us to escort us home after the concert. We felt secure and really enjoyed his company as he navigated the crowds and entertained us with stories of his celebrity driving experiences.

When we transferred to Palma de Mallorca, Ivan again made sure we had a local guide to introduce us to the city. Laura was charming and well connected to the local restaurants. While winding us through the narrow streets, pointing out landmarks and helping us learn our way around, Laura introduced us to local tapas bars and wines. The food was excellent and we had our favorite wine of the trip in an exclusive wine bar that we would’ve never been able to get into on our own.

Ivan was in constant contact with us throughout our trip, making sure we knew what to expect as well as checking in daily to make sure our experiences had gone well. At Ivan’s suggestion, we took the opportunity to explore the historic inland towns with our local guide, Laura. My husband had asked to see the scenic restaurant featured in the mini-series The Night Manager along our route. Much to our surprise, Laura spoke to the restaurant matriarch, and we were able to have lunch in this gorgeous, exclusive setting—yet another restaurant we would never have been able to get into on our own.

And when we finally arrived at our spectacular hotel on the cliffs of Port de Soller, we felt like movie stars. We reveled in luxurious lounging at our hotel. Then later in the week, Ivan arranged for a private sailboat excursion with a very experienced captain for us. We appreciated that we actually sailed (not something you can always count on) along the stunning coastline, and loved swimming in the crystal-clear waters. Our trip was spectacular, and Ivan succeeded in making it feel personally tailored to us, with local access and expertise that only a WOW specialist can provide.

Elizabeth Martin | July 10, 2024

Ivan did a great job planning a week in Barcelona with lots of different adventures. From Gaudi, to the Penedes wine region, to a private cooking class in the Gothic quarter, to a hike along the Mediterranean in Costa Brava, we had a fun-filled week in Barcelona.

Sunset on the Playa de la Concha in San Sebastian, Spain.

Sunset on the Playa de la Concha in San Sebastian. Photo: Traveler George Manning

Bonnie and I couldn’t be happier! Ivan designed a two-week trip in Spain I couldn’t have imagined. We spent several nights in Madrid, San Sebastian and Barcelona with day trips to surrounding towns. Every day was a new adventure in castles, cathedrals, art, architecture and cuisine.

Without exception, each guide was wonderful. All were knowledgeable, personable and fun. Their differing personalities added to the fun. Thank you Julio, Enrique, Javier, Rosalia, Susana, Juan, Noemi, and Nestor! Our experience wouldn’t have been the same without you, one and all.

And a big shout out to our drivers! They got us where we wanted to go in comfort. Our itinerary was busy and we were happy to rest in the Mercedes vehicle.

The Prado was amazing. We knew about Goya, El Greco and others, but not much at all about any of them. Their works were marvelous to see in person. Goya especially. The same evening we attended a flamenco show and were introduced to several tapas bars.

The cathedral in Toledo is stunning and a photographer’s delight. In Segovia we overcame our fear of embarrassment and ordered lunch on our own in a tapas bar. Good food and nice people. The Guggenheim in Bilbao is the exact opposite of old Spain, Walking through one of the huge modern installations made me dizzy, literally. We joined our daughter and her boyfriend in San Sebastian for a tour of the city and more tapas and pintxos. Never having liked anchovies, I discovered they are really delicious in San Sebastian.

Visiting Basque country I purchased a nice sweater in San Jean de Luz. Bonnie shopped throughout the trip. While in Barcelona our hotel had a rooftop view of a Gaudi-designed building. Everyone recognizes the Sagrada Familia exterior, but the inside is magnificent and moving too. We visited the Dali museum in Figueres. Dali is much more than limp clocks. His work in other styles surprised us. Our last day we visited the Monastery of Montserrat. It was reached by a short ride in a cable car. The views are spectacular. We toured the basilica and the room where the Black Madonna is kept. To get there we had to navigate narrow hallways and stairs. We flew home the next day. It was a real WOW trip!

Martin and Anita Kreitman sitting at a very special table “Ernest Hemingway” at Restaurante Botín, Madrid.

Anita and Martin Kreitman’s WOW Moment was at Ernest Hemingway’s table at the world’s oldest restaurant, Botin, in Madrid.

If you would relish a travel advisor who dots every “I” and crosses every “T,” you could find no one better than Ivan Ricoy. It all began when our granddaughter chose to do a semester abroad in Granada Spain. This scenario presented my husband and I with a perfect reason to travel to a city we had never been to before. It took some time before we could come up with a date that would work into ours and our granddaughter’s schedules. That meant we only had about 2 months to put a trip together—far less than the amount of time we are used to in planning our travels. Being great fans and having much confidence in Wendy Perrin and crew, we went straight to The WOW List. To our greatest fortunes this led us to Ivan. From our initial 1-hour zoom to this very day, can I just say that Ivan is fantastic. He was a complete joy to work with, always taking into account all our preferences. He was patient and most accommodating in every aspect. Ivan presented several itineraries until the final draft was approved.

The main cities we visited were Granada, Malaga and Madrid along with a few day trips along the way. We wanted to get a feel for the Spanish culture, foods, history and architecture. After an overnight at the Madrid Airport we were met by our Granada driver, William…a delightful Irishman who warmly welcomed us to our Andalusian journey. Our 3 days in Granada with our guide Edu (a knowledgeable historian and landscape expert) were filled with tapas, the vibrant neighborhoods and the magnificent Alhambra and Generalife. Ivan suggested a day trip from Granada to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Baeza and Ubeda. In between these 2 towns he arranged a stop at an olive oil mill. Andalusia is literally covered with olive trees…surpassing I believe the amount of vineyards one might see in Napa or Sonoma…. Olives abound and we enjoyed a private tour with one of the in-house experts. We were taught about the production, properties, quality and enjoyment of Spanish olive oil. The town of Ubeda was filled with palaces, noble mansions and majestic temples. We wished we could have spent more time there with our wonderful guide Maria!

When it was time to say goodbye to Granada and our granddaughter, our driver William (who has become our honorary family member…especially after also being with our son and his family a few months before our arrival) drove us to our next destination and first-time visit to Malaga. Along the way Ivan arranged for us to visit the Lagoon of Fuente de Piedra to view flamingos during their nesting/birthing season and Antequera…another picturesque village. Our guide in Antequera was the charming Antonio, a lover of history, architecture and an outdoorsman. Antonio introduced us to the sites of this lovely area explaining about the Iberian origins, the Roman period, Hispanic and Muslim past and Christian Era. We visited the Medieval quarter and learned about the lives of people both past and present. After a lovely prearranged lunch at Arte de Cozina it was on to Malaga for 4 days.

Here we were in the capable hands of our splendid guide Lourdes…a lover of gastronomy, wine, history, art and architecture…what could be a more perfect background to introduce us to Malaga. We enjoyed a tapas tour and discovered Malaga through the eyes of Lourdes. A highlight was attending a performance at Teatro Flamenco Malaga. Ivan arranged for VIP seats in a comfortable private viewing area complete with a glass of local wine for us…made me feel like royalty. Lourdes took us on a private tour at the Picasso Museum. I will be forever grateful for her expert interpretations of the works of a truly masterful artist. It made such a difference from just walking through a museum on one’s own…the paintings and their depictions were brought to life for me. Our hotel—Palacio Solecio was hand picked by Ivan. It was situated in a perfect city-center location with truly excellent service.

Next was a day trip from Malaga to the Mediterranean Costa Tropical to visit the villages of Nerja and Frigiliana..well worth the trip and we would never have known of their existence if not for Ivan. Nerja is such a picturesque beach town and fishing village. Frigiliana offered breathtaking views. This day trip was so enhanced under the expert hands of our guide Carlos (a biologist with a wealth of knowledge of Spain’s geology, flora and fauna. He led us through an uncrowded area filled with the most lush varied plants and trees the area is known for (including…who knew…sugarcane honey). Back by early evening in Malaga, Ivan had recommended and made reservations for us in the Michelin-starred restaurant Palodu. We opted for the 16-course menu and wine pairing. Let’s just say this was one of our all-time top dining experiences we will never forget!
The next day was yet another Ivan-recommended day trip to the town of Ronda, famous for its bullfighting ring and for vineyards. Sonia’s tour of the ring shed light on the significance of this sport and I now have more respect for its importance to the Spanish culture. The private tour of a vineyard was fascinating and all the organic practices fully explained by the in-house guide Sonia. The tour was followed by a delicious home-cooked lunch in the tasting room. The lunch and tastings were wonderful.

When it was time to leave Malaga…a potential challenge presented itself…which was quickly remedied by Ivan. We were booked on the high-speed train to transfer from Malaga to our last stop of Madrid. My suitcase suddenly became quite heavy with all the wine and olive oils I had purchased and we became quite concerned with the logistics of managing to the train where there is not much space for large, heavy bags. Ivan to the rescue…at the very last minute he arranged for us to have special handling provided to seniors at the station, where we were escorted to the train ahead of others and our luggage was put into the storage area before it became filled. Upon arrival in Madrid, someone met us at our seats and took us to our driver…an invaluable service!! Our personal guide for the 2 days in Madrid was Julio (aka Tom Hanks look alike). We saw all of the main city sites and meandered in the less crowded quaint and interesting areas. Julio’s demeanor was so relaxing—even in the crowded (thanks to a major soccer event) hustle bustle of this majestic city. He led us through an extraordinary food market and a fantastic culinary feast. We have rarely experienced such fresh seafood, which truly delighted our palates.

Ivan suggested a day trip to Segovia, which led us to another incredible adventure…imagine a 2,000-year-old aqueduct as well as a humongous castle the likes of which fairy tales are made of. Our guide Coral was a lovely, greatly informative guide whose insights and knowledge once again added an invaluable element to our visit. Our final day in Madrid led us to quiet and quaint neighborhoods. We were taken to the workshop of a renowned guitar maker whose skills and craft were explained to us. These guitars can take from 1 to 2 years or more to complete. We went to the oldest hat shop in Spain where some reasonably priced hats found a new home in our suitcases. Then on to a leather maker to witness another skilled craftsman.

Now…the piece de resistance…our WOW Moment created by Ivan and Wendy: The last time we were in Madrid was on our honeymoon. We had a memorable meal and experience back then at Restaurante Botín…the oldest restaurant in the world. Unbeknownst to us, Ivan collaborated with our son and created a once-in-a-life experience so special we will always cherish deep in our hearts. We were told to arrive at Botín 1 hour prior to the reservation Ivan had secured for us. We were met up by our vibrant, warm and lovely host Meg. Meg gave us a private tour (before it opened for the evening) of Botín, which is a restaurant dating back to 1752. I think we covered every nook and cranny from the bowels of the wine cellar to the top floor and everything in-between. She explained that throughout the ages many distinguished dignitaries from all walks of life have found the way to Botín. We were shown the very table where Ernest Hemingway was a frequent guest. This hour tour in and of itself was extraordinary…however…there was more to come.… Meg then escorted us to our table…which lo and behold was the very one frequented by Hemingway. We were then told that a bountiful dinner complete with a bottle of wine was to be a gift from Ivan and Wendy. Truly above and beyond anything I could ever imagine.…And Yes…”WOW!” We were completely overwhelmed!

I believe I can sum this masterly created trip by Wendy’s WOW List member Ivan Ricoy this way: A traveler might walk the streets of a city in a foreign land on their own and “see” many sites, but the truly enriched traveler is the person who has the sights, sounds, cultures, architecture, shopping and all the area’s offering brought to full light through the eyes and expertise of a seasoned, experienced local guide who possesses the understanding and insights of the surroundings. That, my friends, may be what the purpose of meaningful travel is ultimately all about.

We are hooked and convinced there is not a better way to go. Our thanks to Ivan Ricoy, his guides and drivers and to Wendy Perrin and crew and all whose hands touched our trip to make every element so special and enjoyable.

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