Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

My husband and I had a wonderful trip to Ireland with the help of Wendy Perrin WOW travel advisor Jonathan Epstein (specializing in the British Isles). I told Jonathan’s colleague Katie Stewart about the type of trip we wanted, and she created a 10-day itinerary reflecting all the activities we hoped for.

Katie listened carefully and made adjustments so that we were sure to have time every day to walk or hike and to see spectacular scenery, as many antiquities as possible, and charming towns to visit and shop in. In addition, she worked within our budget and sent us to hotels we will never forget.
Within the first two days we knew we had been in good hands. First, Katie set us up for a half-day tour of Dublin to give a sense of the city and its history. The surprise was that our guide happened to be the owner of the guide company, Pat Liddy, who has a vast range of knowledge about Dublin, and who is extremely charming and intelligent. What a great introduction for that trip!

After a short stay in Dublin, we set off to see some of the West Coast. The surprise that day was our driver, Dolan Stevens, who picked us up to tour with us for the next 8 days. I could never have found such a terrific man had I searched for drivers myself. Dolan became “a friend” after a few hours with him. He had humor, knowledge, kindness, and humor. He followed Katie’s schedule and even added a few towns we hadn’t heard about.

We enjoyed a day driving down the Dingle Peninsula, with stunning views of the waves crashing against the rocky cliffs and stopping to explore some ancient stone “igloo-shaped” houses that were thousands of years old. Dolan squeezed a great deal into that (and every) day for us: Stops at Muckross House, picturesque oceanside towns, and the entire peninsula fit in that first day. We were so glad to have a driver on the narrow roads along the ocean as well as the countryside. Never did we take a wrong turn or even have to read a map.

Among the stops we liked so much were the hours we could walk/hike in gorgeous areas. Our driver knew exactly where to park and which hikes were suited to our abilities. We enjoyed the visitors’ path on the edges of the Cliffs of Moher, where the ocean’s frothy waves crashed against the brownish cliffs. And on a second day out, we took a beautiful path across rolling green hills of Connemara National Park.

Besides the natural beauty, we loved our accommodations. One favorite was the Ballynahinch Castle (actually a glorious country house) with its many sitting rooms, crackling fireplaces, friendly staff, and exquisite suite overlooking a fast-moving stream. If we’d had more days there, we would have spent hours walking the many paths of the extensive grounds. Our last hotel was one we’d never heard of: The K Club. It’s a world-wide known golf hotel in an enormous enlarged country house with acres of greenery and paths around the courses. We were booked there because it’s only an hour to the airport, but it was the most elaborate hotel we stayed at! We discovered original oil paintings on the walls. Originals, including a large Botero! and some Modigliani! I’m certain that we wouldn’t have had such pleasing rooms everywhere if it hadn’t been for the relationship between our agent and each hotel.

I can’t leave out the marvelous sheepdog training exhibition we were lucky enough to see. Katie was so enthusiastic about this stop that we agreed to include it. And was she ever right! No one would believe that little, young dogs could tell a group of sheep exactly where to sit or run, but we saw it, standing a mere 20 feet away with the trainer using either voice commands or a whistle. It’s a NEVER forget experience.

This was the fourth trip we planned with Wendy Perrin. I’m so convinced that the WOW agents have made them each exceptional. In Vietnam, Sicily, the area of Florence in Italy, and in Ireland, our travels were easy and enormously fulfilling. I influenced my daughter-in-law to use one of her agents for Panama, and she, too, was extremely grateful. At this point, I wouldn’t plan a trip abroad without finding a WOW agent so that I could relax and know I’d have the best of everything.

The Lindisfarne Priory, Berwick-upon-Tweed, England.

The medieval ruins of Lindisfarne Priory in Berwick-upon-Tweed, England. Photo: Traveler John Masko

Jonathan and his team are expert at both designating superior lodging and choosing guides, but also keeping track of staff/ownership fluctuations that might shift the character of a guest’s experience. We are well traveled but a couple of the hotels recommended by his office were among the finest that we’ve ever enjoyed. Also, at our request, the team was able to arrange a tour of a specialized facility that generally doesn’t offer tours.

Another significant aspect of Jonathan and his team is that they are hyper-responsive to the issues/concerns that inevitably arise:

— I think, without exception, that our many queries over the months were responded to within hours, and there was never any question as to whether the response was correct or that it had been rushed/poorly-thought-out,

— It was obvious that our guides were chosen because of expertise in our areas of interest, and they seemed very aware of our passions and hobbies, sometimes in minute detail.

— I have no doubt that if we had had a significant lodging concern during our trip that wasn’t being addressed by the local vendor, Jonathan’s staff would have intervened immediately on our behalf.

Jonathan and his office generated and constantly revised a meticulous and well-organized virtual itinerary — including pictures and descriptions — that worked nicely in the related phone app that we used daily during our trip.

I’d note that while Jonathan’s office makes dining recommendations, reservations were left to us, as were flight and auto rental arrangements/reservations. Because we’ve planned way-too-many trips ourselves, this was no problem for us.

Overall, we were delighted with both Jonathan and the whole staff, who organized one of the best trips of our lives.

In terms of Scotland itself, I’d say that the Scottish people are generally delightful: We found the Glaswegians (folks from Glasgow) especially talkative and spontaneously helpful. Although we ate well throughout Scotland, I’d single out two excellent restaurants in Glasgow: Cail Bruich; and The Gannet.

I’ve been wanting for decades to visit the holy sites of Iona (Scotland) and Lindisfarne (England). We had the opportunity to visit Lindisfarne this time and would note that, other than getting some exercise with a hearty walk, visiting Lindisfarne Castle was a disappointment. However, we found Lindisfarne Priory haunting and inspirational.

The island of Islay is great for everyone loving peaty scotch whisky. The warehouse tasting at Bruichladdich was worthwhile, fun and educational.

A final note: We’ve driven through much of western Europe — Italy, Ireland, France, England, et al — with both manual and automatic cars. Most everyone knows the usual driving challenges: Drivers ignore rules in Italy, and there are motorbikes buzzing around your car like mosquitoes; there are narrow, almost one-lane roads with hedgerows in Ireland; etc. But in country areas of Scotland and northern England, there are narrow country roads with hedgerows…and frequent massive “lorries” hurtling around corners at 50 miles per hour. It can be unnerving: Several times I was amazed that neither we nor others lost side mirrors.

Travelers at Dublin's Pearse Lyons Distillery, which is housed in a former church.

Vicky Pendell and family at Dublin’s Pearse Lyons Distillery, which is housed in a former church.

Some of “our kids” (spouses of our kids) had never been on a “Family Trip” before and they were astounded at the level of detail and quality of EVERYTHING, as were our own children. There were ten of us ranging in age from early 40’s to mid 70’s and we could not have had a better time together! The hotels were 5-stars, above and beyond, our driver guide Martin, who picked us up on our first day and stayed with us for 6 days total, was phenomenal; he was a treasure trove of historical information wherever we drove, he was the epitome of a gentleman, taking care of all of us and our varied needs constantly, checking on arrangements for future outings, and more. There were very real tears shed when we said good-bye to this man as he dropped us at our final hotel in Dublin, at the end of our trip.

Katie and Jonathan suggested a variety of activities that made everyone happy, including a falconry walk at our first hotel (Dromoland—a 16th-century castle that truly set the tone for what a spectacular trip this was going to be…). We learned so much from Liam about the role falconry has played throughout history and throughout our language—all fascinating! Our outing to the Cliffs of Moher was truly breathtaking…and enroute the countryside alone was worth the trip. A trip to Caherconnell Farm provided us with an incredible sheepdog demonstration, followed by our getting to know the pups up close and personal, followed by artisanal cheeses and hot toddys served in a charming back room of the farm shop. The staff at Dromoland were all amazing and the foods and drinks we had there were simply the best! Weather was beautiful for us our first few days but the day that our daughter and sons were set to play Dooks, one of the oldest golf courses in Ireland, winds kicked up and rain pelted down, yet they played anyway and said they would do it all again for the experience of playing that course!

We sadly left Dromoland after 2 nights and went to Killarney for 3 nights, where we completely enjoyed all of the amenities offered at The Europe, our hotel there. Every one of us utilized the fitness center, spa treatments, pools, hot tubs, steam rooms, all while enjoying the most gorgeous views from our rooms overlooking Lough Leanne. The hotel staff was SO SO helpful and accommodating…. Padraig arranged a birthday dinner at a local restaurant for us one evening, and it was one of the best meals we had during our stay, at a lovely little restaurant owned by the same family since the ‘50’s, and they even prepared a special birthday dessert for our daughter. Across the street from our dinner we found a small authentic pub where we enjoyed lively Irish music afterwards. Killarney was a lovely little town and we spent time exploring there in between hiking nearly 7 miles through some of the most diverse, rugged and beautiful landscape I’ve personally seen. It was such a thrill to be able to do this with my kids!!! On our last night there, I asked for help in getting some drinks and appetizers brought to our suite so we could have a small cocktail party for all of the family. Padraig once again rose to the occasion, brought huge candle-filled lanterns to our room “to create more ambience” (as if the beautiful view wasn’t enough!) and we had the most lovely little “party” with our kids on our last night there.

Next morning on our way to Dublin, Martin took us to the Rock of Cashel where we stepped back hundreds of years in time to explore that historic site, and also had a delightful lunch in a locally owned place where Mary, the owner, made us feel like their most important customers of the day! On to Dublin for our last 3 nights and the Shelbourne Hotel did not disappoint either…incredible staff, a sumptuous high tea service, delicious foods and drink, and within walking distance to some very cool parts of the city. Pat Liddy was an exceptional guide for our half-day walking tour there; he was so interesting we stopped for coffee together so we could hear more about all he was showing us! Seeing The Book of Kells, and the “Long Room” (the massive library at Trinity College) nearly had us in tears; the books are shelved floor-to-ceiling and it was a sight never to be repeated, at least not in my mind. Our final evening here, Nikita helped me arrange a special dinner in a private room for our family, next to a smaller room alongside where an Irish duo came to entertain us before dinner. The Irish pipes and the violinist were incredible—we were clapping, laughing, singing, playing flutes along with the duo, and ended up dancing before they were done! The dinner was exquisite, with a gorgeous linen-laid table, crystal, and servers timing the “reveal” of each dish just perfectly. We felt like royalty. What a way to end our time together!!

None of us will EVER forget this trip and it only solidifies my thinking that when it comes to trip planning, Wendy’s WOW List of agents is the ONLY way to go. Even the simplest things, like having airport transportation already set up, is worth any extra cost. Knowing you are with a knowledgeable guide and that your group is NOT part of a busload of 50 or more people, is worth any extra cost! (Our vehicle, by the way, for the ten of us, was incredibly comfortable and luxurious—a Mercedes “van” that was all windows and comfortable seating for our group!) This was our fourth trip using Wendy’s resources and it will NOT be our last. Kudos to Jonathan, Katie, Norma and all the staff who made this an unforgettable family trip. The connections and reconnections that were made in our little group of ten were priceless.

We had a fabulous first trip to Ireland in September, thanks to Jonathan Epstein and Katie Stewart! Our little group—my husband and I, our daughter, and her friend—only had a week to squeeze in the trip before the kids were due back to college. And our decision to go was comparatively last-minute given the increasing popularity of fall travel. Knowing we couldn’t see everything, we still hoped for a varied sampling of the culture, history, and sights that make Ireland special, and Jonathan and Katie absolutely delivered!

We started at the stunning Ashford Castle, which offered impeccable service and surroundings, wonderful dining and activities, and the perfect base for a food-tasting tour of charming Galway one day, and for exploring Sky Drive, Connemara National Park, and Kylemore Abbey on another. Then, making our way to the lovely Cashel Palace Hotel, we first enjoyed a spectacular day on a “Secret Ireland” guided yacht trip on scenic Lough Derg, stopping to visit both a modern home with an inspired art collection, and a restored medieval tower castle. Everyone was welcoming, and spoiled us with food and drink and fascinating stories.

Another day we spent the morning at Rock of Cashel and afternoon exploring Kilkenny, soaking up more of Ireland’s history. Throughout the trip, our primary driver-guide was always ready, anticipated things we might need or want to see, and always game for making little adjustments in our itinerary to ensure we made the most of each day. Our last two days in Dublin were full but not rushed, and our guides there were equally perfect—extremely knowledgeable as well as fun to be around. Highlights included a walking tour brimming with history and stops at pubs with special literary significance (for our bibliophiles), as well as visits to Trinity College, Kilmainham Jail, and several museums. Jonathan and Katie listened carefully when we talked about our interests and goals for the trip, and arranged an itinerary that hit all the right notes. We made wonderful memories and look forward to seeing more of Ireland soon!

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