Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Secrets of Europe: The Spots Most Travelers Miss

by | September 8, 2023

While most visitors to Europe head for the big tourist magnets, we encourage you to focus instead on the lesser-known, charming places where you won’t find the tour-bus crowds.  Europe is filled with hidden villages, empty coastlines, and locals-only hangouts—the can’t-miss places that too many uninformed travelers miss. Even in the big cultural capitals, if you arrange your trip through the right sources, you can gain entree to palaces, gardens, galleries, kitchens, and vineyards that are closed to the public but open to you because you know the person with the keys or the clout.  Read the examples below—a compilation that we are continually updating, as new traveler reviews come in—and be surprised by dozens of European experiences you didn’t know about. Here’s how to get your own WOW experience of Europe.

Azores: a quick flight from the east coast for island adventures & a European feel

Lagoa des Sites Cidades on São Miguel Island in the Azores.

Lagoa das Sete Cidades on São Miguel Island in the Azores. Photo: Traveler Tony Ford-Hutchinson

“For those of us who live on the East Coast of the USA, the Azores are the closest point to somewhere with a European and Portuguese feel. One of our guides (an American ex-pat) described them as a cross between Iceland (they are so volcanic), Ireland (they are so green) and Hawaii (a holiday destination in the middle of an ocean). Our trip with our daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters (aged 9 and 11) started with a direct 5.5 h flight from Newark airport. Flights arrive in San Miguel Island, the most populated, and we spent the first three nights in the luxurious Octant Furnas Hotel in Furnas, The hotel is surrounded by hot springs bringing boiling water to the surface. Highlights there were the food, including preparing and cooking a traditional stew which is buried in the hot ground for several hours, the hotel’s super warm, mineral swimming pool and a hike up a mountain side to Lagoa de Fogo (a lake in a former volcanic cone) followed by a swim on the beach. We then took a short flight to the volcanic Island of Pico famous for its mountain (a former volcano of course) and its outstanding white wine. During 5 nights in Pico, we took two day trips on ferries to the neighboring islands of Faial and Sao Jorge. Highlights were a trip through the lava tubes on Pico, visits to wineries and a hike around the Caldera on Faial. After flying back to San Miguel for our last 3 nights we were driven to our hotel on the Ponta Delgada harbor front (Octant Ponta Delgada). Highlights included a private whale watching trip with great sightings of three female sperm whales (one with a calf), an evening wine and food tasting tour, a morning food tour, a Jeep tour of the Lagoa das Sete Cidades and finally a tour of the tea plantations with an opportunity to make our own ice cream. Throughout the trip we had excellent local food and wine, including ultra-fresh seafood and excellent beef (cows outnumber people on the islands). A 5-hour flight home took us back to Newark with the realization that we still had 5 more islands to explore! Thank you to Goncalo and his co-workers for a great trip that left a multi-generational family very happy.” —Tony Ford-Hutchinson

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


Locals-only beaches in Portugal

The river Guadiana and the village of Mertola. Alentejo Region. Portugal

The river Guadiana and the village of Mertola, Alentejo Region, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

“We wanted to take a family trip for two weeks to Portugal with our two young children, seven and two years old. We asked Goncalo and Joana to plan an authentic, off-the-beaten-path look into the south of Portugal and the Alentejo and Lisbon, and we had a perfect time. Portugal is incredible! And it’s possible to beat the summer crowds.

Everything was planned and executed perfectly from the minute we landed. We loved our day in Sintra and the coast at Azenhas Do Mar with our guide, Luís, and my son loved spending the day with our cooking teacher, Claudia. We loved our apartment at Lumiares in Lisbon and the breakfasts on the rooftop. One of the highlights was our Costa da Caparica beach day at Irmao. We felt like we were one of the only tourists, and it felt like a slice of life for young Lisboans. Joana also got us a reservation at Belcanto, a very special experience for a parents’ night out.

Another highlight of the trip was the people we met and the food at Craveiral Farmhouse. The kids loved to roam on their bikes, and we found our favorite beach and fish shack on the beach on the quiet coastline of Costa Vicentina. We didn’t hear any English at these beaches, and the water and coves were so unique. The most spectacular property we stayed at was Sao Lourenco do Barrocal in the Alentejo. We had such a special time there, with delicious food and hospitality. We are so grateful to Joana for making sure we had large rooms at each of our hotels, giving our family lots of space, and ease of rental car and drivers made everything stress-free. Portugal has quickly become one of our favorite places to visit, and we plan on returning to see more of this beautiful country!” —Gina Schulman

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


Iconic sights & hidden gems in Greece

Authentic buildings and clear water beach in Sifnos island in Greece.

Sifnos island in Greece. Photo: Shutterstock

Jacoline took the time to get to know us, our expectations and how we like to travel prior to planning a perfect itinerary. We spent 3 nights in Athens, 3 nights on Sifnos, 4 nights on Naxos and 3 nights on Santorini. Every detail from the moment we arrived in Athens was expertly planned. From our seamless transfers/ferries and beautiful hotel accommodations to our memorable tours and activities, we had an amazing trip start to finish.

Each island was unique and offered different experiences, including a private tour of the Acropolis and an outstanding culinary tour in Athens, incredible catamaran/boat day trips on all 3 islands, an intimate cooking class on Naxos, and kayaking in Santorini. We especially loved Sifnos for its authenticity and charm.” —Karen and Ed Hanley

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


A “smaller jewel” in Italy’s Lake District

View of the island Isola San Giulio at the Lake Orta in Italy.

Island Isola San Giulio at the Lake Orta in Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“We worked with Emanuela to plan our trip from Venice to Verona to the Lake Region. We had planned to go to Lake Como or Lake Garda. After our initial zoom call and emails asking about our particular likes and dislikes and goals for our trip, Emanuela suggested we skip the crowds that are visiting Italy this year and instead go to Lake Orta, a smaller jewel of a lake located just west of Lake Maggiore.

The hotel Emanuela recommended was delightful and our tour guides were outstanding. We could never have planned a trip like this on our own, which included tours of historical interest, culinary interest and hiking. We look forward to working with Wendy’s recommended tour planner for our next trip.” —Mike Brennan

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


Hydra, Greece “An island that we never knew existed but that quickly became our favorite…”

Typical white house with flowers on Hydra Island in a sunny day in Greece.

Typical white house with flowers on Hydra Island in Greece. Photo: Shutterstock

Jacoline made the most of our short trip and somehow turned every single day into a highlight. I never thought I could say that about a vacation! There were five adults on this trip, and we all had our favorites, which is a credit to her. Jacoline created experiences that we would have never done on our own, like spending time with a wonderful family on their farm, feeding their animals and making Spanakopita as part of a huge feast on their terrace, as well as private wine tours, personal guides to archeological sites, pottery classes, and a private cooking lesson on more amazing Greek food. We loved really getting to meet the people and understanding the culture.

We loved the unique boutique hotels, especially on Hydra, an island that we never knew existed but that quickly became our favorite. We never felt like a ‘tourist’ but more like students in a history class which we found fascinating. We had never heard of this island, but after talking with Jacoline, she booked us in a wonderful mansion-turned-boutique-hotel (Hydrea) that served us breakfast each morning on the terrace overlooking the water/town. Staff was very personable and allowed us to wander the property to look at the historic home. There are no cars or motorcycles, so we enjoyed the peace and quiet, especially after a few days in Athens. If you get a chance, don’t miss this gem!

We left Hydra to spend our last days in Oia (Santorini). Our pace picked back up for a grand finale day, touring vineyards before boarding our own catamaran for a half-day excursion which concluded with chasing the sunset. It was the perfect ending to the perfect vacation!! This was our third trip using Wendy Perrin’s services. We have had great experiences on each trip and they just keep getting better!” —Karrie Evans

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


Orthodox Easter celebrations & village stays in Romania

View from a medieval fortified church in Transylvania.

View from a medieval fortified church in Transylvania. Photo: Tim Baker

Raluca worked very diligently to plan our trip to Romania around Orthodox Easter celebrations, small village stays, and the chance to see spring flowers in the countryside. After landing in Bucharest, we left the next morning for Brasov, stopping at Peles Castle on the way. The castle visit was the only crowded time of our whole two-week trip but very interesting inside and out, and we began learning the complicated history of Romania from our excellent guide Andrei.

Our accommodations in boutique inns in Brasov, Sighisoara, and Cluj were all excellent, with a unique combination of traditional furnishing and modern amenities and excellent breakfasts in all. One of our highlights near Sighisoara was an afternoon and evening in a small village with Emese and family, touring her herb gardens, good conversations about her family’s history, and having a delicious traditional Easter meal. Our first small village stay was in Breb, in the beautiful Maramures region, with green fields with haystacks and distant snow-covered mountains. Our stay in The Village Hotel, a small group of restored traditional cottages, was wonderful. Dinners in a villager’s home were excellent, with everything self-sourced.

Next stop was the Bucovina area for Orthodox Easter celebrations. We attended midnight service, which involved passing lit candles, walking in and out and around the beautiful painted monastery, and responsive singing, all very moving. Back in Transylvania, we stayed in the very remote village of Valea Zalanului, in King Charles’ cottage. A very informative walk with a local biologist to look for flowers and discuss the area’s natural history was very worthwhile. In our last village, Viscri, we had our best chances to meet local craftsmen, including watching a Roma woman making boiled woolen slippers, a blacksmith visit, and a very educational time with a beekeeper who supplies King Charles with his honey. Lastly, Bucharest surprised us with its vitality, green spaces and wonderful old buildings.

Each area we visited was unique, with differences in architecture, language, food, and dress, due to the complicated ethnic and political history of the country. Because of this and the beautiful landscape, churches, cleanliness, and friendliness, our visit was very rewarding and enjoyable. We would not have been able to appreciate any of it if we had attempted to plan and drive ourselves or been part of a large group staying in nondescript hotels on the edge of town. All of our accommodations were exceptional, and we know that Raluca visits them all regularly to reassess. Monica checked once or more daily to adjust the schedule for weather changes, restaurant closings, etc. and made sure everything ran smoothly. We would without question recommend planning a visit to Romania with Raluca.” —Rod and Pat Hines

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


Portugal’s unexplored medieval towns

Cobblestone street decorated with green plants.

Cobblestone street in Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

Goncalo and Patricia planned a wonderful and varied 9-day itinerary for us. This was our third trip to Portugal, so we wanted to visit places we had previously missed. After Lisbon we drove to Belmonte and explored the medieval towns of east central Portugal, including Sortelha and Trancoso. This is a beautiful, less traveled part of the country where we were often the only tourists walking the narrow, winding streets and eating our bacalhau (cod stew) besides local families in tiny cafes. We stayed in Belmonte’s Pousada and ate one of the best meals of our trip—an unexpected discovery in a fairly isolated location.

Next we spent three days in the Douro Valley where we enjoyed a private cruise down the Douro river and wine tastings at two Quintas. At Bomfim 1896, Goncalo and Patricia surprised us with a WOW Moment dinner accompanied by wines from the adjacent Quinta. Given the choice of ordering a la carte or giving Chef Pedro Lemos free reign to create whatever inspired him, we chose the latter. The evening was so much fun, as the chef and serving staff brought us a sequence of small plates that were as artistic as they were delicious.

We spent the last two days in Porto, which is charming but in mid-March already overrun with tourists. We look forward to working with Goncalo and Patricia on a trip to the Azores.” —Ruby Sinclair

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


The Mediterranean islands of Malta and Sardinia

The famous arch of Blue Grotto in Malta.

The Arch of Blue Grotto in Malta. 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 BC 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

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


Alta, Norway

View of the Northern Lights in Alta, Norway.

Northern Lights in Alta, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

“I first heard about Jan through the Wendy Perrin WOW List. Seeing the Northern Lights was on my bucket list, and Jan helped me plan every detail of the trip. The hotels were excellent, and we received many upgrades. Our hotel in Alta was particularly lovely, and our dinners there were incredible. Knowing how much we wanted to see the Lights, and being disappointed twice before in Iceland, Jan steered us to Alta, in the northernmost part of Norway. He said it would give us the best shot. How right he was! We saw them three out of three nights!

Much of this is due to the incredible guides Jan arranged. Despite the fact that it was cloudy and snowing the first two nights, our guides looked at all the weather maps and found the area that had the most potential to clear up. It was a real drive, but the clouds disappeared and the Lights danced.

Jan also suggested a visit to the area where the Sami live and herd reindeer. It was the best advice! These indigenous people live the same way their ancestors did, and it was a privilege to spend the day with them. Mathis, a Sami elder, met us and drove us over 30 miles on snowmobiles to watch the Sami move a herd of 2,500+ reindeer to higher terrain. After that, we snowmobiled back to his home, where he had prepared a delicious lunch of salmon and Arctic char. He generously and patiently answered all our questions and made us feel like welcomed guests. Our day with this incredible gentleman was truly the highlight of our trip, and it is an experience that will not be forgotten.” —Judy Wimpfheimer

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


Lesser-known treasures of Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Jennifer arranged for us to have Veronica as our tour guide while we were in Florence. Veronica was so warm and friendly. She had a fantastic knowledge of the area and was able to explain things in a fun and educational way. A highlight of the trip was a private visit to Palazzo Corsini, where we not only had Veronica’s expertise, but we also had the privilege of Countess Francesca, who grew up and still lives there, conduct the tour. We had such a wonderful afternoon. Another highlight was spending an afternoon visiting with local artisans of Florence. Veronica took us to places which we never would have found on our own.” —Kevin Haney

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


The Bavona Valley, Switzerland, and off-roading in the Alps

old stone houses in Bavona Valley Switzerland

Bavona Valley, Photo: Switzerland Tourism /Jan Geerk

“The plan that Nina and her team put together for our two-week trip matched our interests perfectly. We had asked for a trip that would provide insight into the culture and history of Switzerland.  The trip was a delight. Some highlights were: walking through villages in the Bavona Valley where people live without benefit of electricity; making our own chocolate bars from scratch at perhaps the best boutique chocolatier in Switzerland; getting an in-depth tour of a cheese factory, followed by a wonderful lunch just for us where we could enjoy their products; a private musical performance featuring the Hackbrett, a kind of hammered dulcimer; and of course a visit to the charming town of Zermatt with amazing views of the Matterhorn.

It was our guides’ efforts that brought the trip alive and made our visit unforgettable. One guide, Pascal, drove us off-road through parts of Switzerland generally accessible only to hikers. We wound up at a picture-perfect Swiss Alpine Club hut where we enjoyed what was perhaps the best lunch of our trip. We are fortunate that Wendy’s WOW List connected us with Nina.” —Stephen Behnen

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


Belfast and Derry in Northern Ireland

Giant's Causeway in a beautiful summer day, Northern Ireland

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland. Photo: Shutterstock

“When I told Jonathan that I had recently watched the movie “Belfast” and loved the Netflix series “Derry Girls,” he suggested traveling off the beaten path to Northern Ireland. That was excellent advice, as we really felt like we were on an exciting adventure, instead of following a more predictable southern itinerary.

We started our magical two weeks in Dublin, then traveled to Belfast and Derry, where we toured The Murals and learned the sad but interesting history of political and religious conflict. Our hotel in Belfast, the Culloden Estate, upgraded us to a fabulous suite and provided us with tickets to the Titanic Belfast museum (fascinating—don’t miss it!).

On to the Donegal region for perhaps the most awesome sights of our trip during our hike up Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in all of Europe! We stayed at Lough Eske Castle, another lovely hotel where we were treated like royalty.  It truly was a trip of lifetime that would not have been as memorable without the excellent guidance and advice from Jonathan and Katie!” —Karen Davis

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


The Lofoten Islands, Norway

Northern lights explosion on snowy mountain range near coastline at Lofoten islands, Norway

Northern Lights in Lofoten Islands, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

“When planning our two-week trip to Norway, we had discussed with Jan about cruising vs. driving—and he totally recommended the drive. We are so glad we took his recommendation. We started in Bergen, driving north through the fjords, and had constant awe-inspiring scenery. Jan arranged two different times we would be on the water in a fjord, so we did not miss the feeling of being on a cruise. We spent half a day on a RIB boat— just the two of us and the captain—gliding along the fjord waters.

Then we flew to the Lofoten Islands, where we stayed in a Rorbu in Reine. We had a fun WOW Moment when an excellent halibut dinner was prepared for us in our own room and we were able to enjoy this private time together watching the harbor with a great meal!  Thank you for arranging this!!  A couple of hours later, we stepped outside to a show of the Northern Lights—right there on our own porch!!

Finally, we flew up to Alta, above the Arctic Circle. The Sorrisniva Arctic Wilderness Lodge was absolutely incredible. Our room, with floor-to-ceiling windows, looked out over the Alta River, and you really felt a million miles from everything. We would have been content to stay there and never leave the grounds—but there was much to see and do!  We took a boat ride on the Alta River, with a BBQ lunch of salmon along the way. Very memorable. The visit to the Sami was so interesting—we were so glad to learn about this culture. And each night, we had our Chasing the Northern Lights Safari.

We travel to see the beauty of the world and explore famous sites, but the best part is always when there are opportunities to meet the people who live there and you have the chance to gain insights into their way of life, culture, interests, and way of seeing the world. We always come home feeling enriched from these experiences. Norway is a beautiful country with incredible people. What a pleasure to have been able to share their country for two weeks!” —Sally Boland

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


Emilia-Romagna and unique private experiences in northern Italy

A picturesque vineyard in Modena, Italy

A vineyard in Modena, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“This trip focused on Emilia-Romagna (Parma, Ravenna, Modena, Bologna) with an additional stop in Lake Garda. We had been to each of those towns before (except Modena) but this trip was so much more interesting, educational and memorable, thanks to Maria and Brian‘s planning. What makes working with Maria and Brian so special is the unique experiences they organize to suit your interests. We had a private winemaker/winery visit outside Parma that we’ll never forget, a magical visit with a violin maker in Cremona, fun experiences at the Lamborghini Museum and Imola Formula 1 racetrack, and a delightful visit to some beautiful villages in the foothills of the Appenines. Last but not least, since Emilia-Romagna is the food paradise of Italy, Maria booked several lunches and dinners at restaurants for us — something we don’t do too often — and all of them were fabulous, with staff that made us feel at home and the kind of down-to-earth menus that we love. So now we just have to decide where in Italy we want to go next, of course with Maria and Brian’s help.” —Elaine Patterson

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


Private access in Tuscany and Umbria, Italy

Giardini Torrigiani, Florence.

Giardini Torrigiani, Florence. Photo: Brian Dore

“We were a couple of weeks away from travel, with everything paid, when COVID shut everything down. Maria assured us the trip would be waiting for us when we were ready to travel, and she delivered on her promise. Starting in Florence, drivers took us on the scenic route to Montefalco in Umbria, then to Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast, ending in Rome by way of Pompeii.

All the tours and activities were enjoyable and informative, but a few stand out. We had a WOW Moment surprise in Florence (Thank you, Wendy!) when we were led along back streets to the Torrigiani Gardens, the largest private garden in city limits in Europe. It’s been owned by the same family for centuries. After a tour of the spectacular grounds, the owner took us to the balcony in his residence and visited with us over wine and a huge assortment of antipasti – a wonderful experience.

On our drive to Umbria, we stopped for lunch and a tour at I Balzini, a small family vineyard and winery. Lunch was served on the patio overlooking the vineyards and gorgeous Tuscan scenery. The wines and food were delicious, and we’re looking forward to the arrival of wine we purchased there. Ristorante Bagni Delfino in Sorrento was special for the lovely sunset view on the water as well as excellent food. We ate well with a fun cooking lesson from Chef Andrea at Locanda Rovicciano in Umbria, a food tour in Rome, and one great restaurant after another. The trip was definitely worth the wait. Maria listened to what we wanted on this trip and gave us the trip we hoped for. Highly recommend!” —Elizabeth Marshall

Read more reviews of Italy trips. Learn how to get your own WOW Moment. Or use our trip questionnaire (reached via the black button below) to start a WOW trip.


St. Paul de Vence, Eze, Dolceacqua, and other charming villages along the French and Italian Rivieras

Monaco view from tete de chien rock, Provence.

View from Tête de Chien rock, Monaco. Photo: Philip Haslett

“We wanted to do a road trip around France so we could see as much as we could, while still having a few days in each place to relax. Philip and Evane created a perfect itinerary for us. Philip and Evane advised us on what parts of the trip would be best to drive ourselves vs. which would have lots of traffic or headaches so it would be best to have a driver.

We had a few days in Paris to adjust to the time change before going to Champagne, where they arranged a private visit to Veuve Clicquot. In Lyon, our private guide took us to his family-owned winery in the Beaujolais. Philip and Evane even added the Piedmont region in Italy (since I told them how much my dad loved Italy and us being so close by), filling our time there with lots of Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Then we drove to Nice but stayed in smaller St. Paul de Vence with day trips around to see Eze, Monaco, Antibes, and all the spots along the Riviera.

Philip and Evane mapped out some smaller and cool towns that we could stop at while on our drives and provided great lunch restaurant suggestions at each stop. My dad’s favorite was in Dolceacqua, overlooking one of the bridges that Monet painted, while on our way from Fossano to St Paul de Vence. We are beyond thankful to Wendy for putting us in contact with Philip. It was a trip of a lifetime where it never felt like too much time in each destination, but it will always never be enough!” —Devan Ullman

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


Stresa on Italy’s Lake Maggiore, and secrets of Venice


Venice, Italy. Photo: Leprince/Pixabay

Maria planned a wonderful 9-day trip to Venice and the Italian Lake District. We were met at the Venice airport and taken to our private water taxi that literally dropped us off right in front of Londra Palace, our beautiful hotel. Our trip coincided with the Venice Film Festival, so many people were waiting at the docks for one of the scarce transports. Our “taxi” pulled up, as scheduled, because Maria had made the reservation far in advance.

As we motored down the Grand Canal in our gorgeous watercraft, wind blowing through our hair, we knew this was going to be a very special trip. After a quick power nap, we headed off on an early evening “Cicchetti” walking tour, where we visited several local spots for Venetian appetizers and wines. The next morning, we met our guide for a visit to three islands. The first stop was Murano, where we enjoyed a tour of the famous glass factory, conducted by the son of the owner, who was also a grandson of one of the grand master artisans. We visited two other islands, observing the art of lace making by hand in Burano and the island of Torcello.

Venice was also the site of our WOW Moment. Although I won’t spoil the details, in case others may be treated to this same experience, let me just say that it was very special and a trip highlight. People applauded as we went by.

The remainder of the trip was spent in Stresa and Bellagio. The Villa Aminta was a lovely boutique hotel. We never would have found it on our own, nor the town of Stresa, for that matter. But what a wonderful location and lodging choice for three days. Every day in the Lake District was filled with a special experience—a private tour by the owner of a renowned wine cellar, a fun cooking class, a tour of the beautiful Villa Balbianello, where our guide had a key to allow us entry into rooms which were off limits to the general public….

While I have always enjoyed planning my own trips, there is no comparison to the benefits of utilizing the talents of a travel specialist. Maria had access to the best guides and knew the right people behind the important scenes. We received early check-ins and special welcome gifts at the hotels she chose. Her restaurant recommendations were wonderful. Kudos to Maria and her staff.” —Debbie Grob

Read more reviews of Italy trips. Learn how to get your own WOW Moment. Or use our trip questionnaire (reached via the black button below) to start a WOW trip.


The island of Salina and other secrets of Sicily

coast of Cefalu, Palermo Sicily Italy

The coast of Cefalu, Palermo, in Sicily. Photo: Shutterstock

Marcello understood our desire to engage with local people and visit out-of-the way places that most travelers would miss. Trip highlights included hiking Mt. Etna with a vulcanologist, deepening our understanding of this mysterious, mystical mountain that Sicilians refer to as Mother; wine tasting/pairing with a sommelier expert on Mt. Etna wines, who introduced us to the special quality of wines grown in volcanic soil; a visit to the tuna factory on Favignana and the “Impossible Garden”, a dream realized by a determined woman who envisioned a garden in the midst of the rock quarries; shopping the local market with Maurizio, the entertaining and charismatic chef of Macalle in Ortigia, followed by a cooking class and meal, and many ideas to take home; hiking and sailing on the island of Salina, enjoying lunch where Il Postino was filmed, visiting a local caper farm, and enjoying the outstanding wines of the local vineyards; a visit to a water mill which has been grinding wheat into flour since the 1690s, a process that results in flour naturally low in gluten; and visits to many small, beautiful villages, walking and chatting with the men who congregate in the piazzas, enjoying a meal prepared by Annalisa in her home, gaining insight into their traditional way of life over centuries…

I could go on. Marcello and team created a trip of a lifetime for us. We returned home with a deeper understanding of the Sicilian culture, their love and loyalty to family, a well-deserved pride in their diverse and complex history, and their vision, hopes, and dreams for the future of Sicily.” —Cathy and Rob Unruh

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


Meteora and Naxos in Greece

Varlaam monastery_Meteora_Greece-cr-Shutterstock

Varlaam monastery, Meteora, Greece. Photo: Shutterstock

“My son and I traveled in Greece together, and Mina’s team did a great job of identifying activities and places of interest for us. The most breathtaking place we went was Meteora, where we got to see, close-up and personal, the monasteries that were built on cliffs and how they functioned. The e-bike tour that we had there was incredible, especially the sunset—a true WOW Moment!

On the island of Naxos, on our river walk hike, our guide led us through the backcountry to unique places off the beaten path and showed us old water mills and different plants, wild herbs and vegetables that cover the landscape. Our catamaran day cruise was also an amazing experience, with snorkeling and great food. On the island of Crete, the landscape was truly beautiful and unique, and we were totally blown away by the Blue Palace Resort & Spa, with its spectacular view looking out on Spinalonga, especially in the mornings.

The people in Greece were so inviting, easy to talk with in English while teaching Greek words along the way, and so generous when serving us their delicious meals. My son and I are now officially addicted to tzatziki! Thanks so much for helping us plan this once-in-a-lifetime trip together.” —George Powers

Read more reviews of Greece trips. Learn how to get your own WOW Moment. Or use our trip questionnaire (reached via the black button below) to start a WOW trip.


Before-hours and after-hours access in Paris

Luxemburg Palace and garden full of flowers in Paris.

Luxemburg Palace and Garden, Paris. Photo: Shutterstock

“This was the fifth time we have used Jennifer for a trip. The highlight was the WOW Moment she arranged for us: a tour of some quintessential gardens in Paris with a local guide, David, who provided us with a fun and educational experience and made sure that we enjoyed this WOW experience. Jennifer also arranged an after-hours tour of The Conciergerie, a before-hours visit to the Louis Vuitton Foundation, a special tour of the Opera House, and a fine tour of the Pinault Collection at the Bourse de Commerce.

One of the great things about Jennifer and her team is that they check in daily to make sure that you are enjoying the experiences they arranged and to see if they can help you with anything. They also make the entire experience go seamlessly, from having an airport greeter to transportation while you are in the city.” —Kevin Haney

Read more reviews of Paris trips. Learn how to get your own WOW Moment. Or use our trip questionnaire (reached via the black button below) to start a WOW trip.


Quaint villages of Germany and private access to Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein medieval castle in Germany, Bavaria land. Beautiful autumn scenery of Neuschwanstein ancient castle circled by colorful tree, amazing seasonal fall scene. Famous and popular landmark.

Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, Germany. Photo: Shutterstock

Claudia provided a highly personalized Germany itinerary that exceeded all expectations. It was flawless. We traversed Germany both in geography and local culture, from Bavaria in the South to Hamburg in the North. We experienced the highs and lows of Germany’s history, from visiting Dachau concentration camps to the revelry of sharing a bier with locals in Munich during Oktoberfest.

We had a Porsche Carrera convertible with detailed maps and itinerary to visit many quaint villages, castles and churches as we drove from the Alps through the Black Forest and north along the Rhine River Valley. We had a private tour of Neuschwanstein where, along with the guide, we were the only three individuals with the keys to the Disney castle. We ate five-star cuisine. We took a ride to the highest point in Germany at Zugspitze. We slept in castles and strolled a university town. We even spent a day biking with locals in Hamburg. So much to see and do and memories made. Very exquisite.” —Wendy Duchene

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


The Calabria region of Italy

Sunset over old famous medieval village Stilo in Calabria. View on church and city. Southern Italy. Europe.

Sunset over the medieval village Stilo in Calabria, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“This was our first trip to Calabria, and we had no idea what to expect. Jennifer found really great places to visit—lovely villages, unique architecture, and experiences with local food and people. We spent one day on a sailboat enjoying the stunning coastline from Tropea to Capo Vaticano. We visited a Bergamont Farm and drove to the village of Bova where we took in a panoramic view of the ocean and countryside. We visited gorgeous churches in Tropea and grottoes and caves in Pizzo. On our last day, we thought the place we were staying might be too far a drive to the airport (we had a 6:45am flight), so she found us a perfect B&B, close to the airport but in a beautiful remote area. We had the whole place to ourselves and spent our last day relaxing by the pool—a perfect way to end our trip.” —Cindy Kelly

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


Private boats along the cliffs of the Algarve and from Sintra to Lisbon, and other secrets of Portugal

Beautiful sandy beach near Lagos in Ponta da Piedade, Algarve region, Portugal

Beach near Lagos in Ponta da Piedade, Algarve region, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

Goncalo and his team planned a Portugal trip to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. They secured one of the few very best rooms with the best view at our resort on the Algarve, which we could not have obtained ourselves. Very few rooms at the very large hotel had ocean views, so this was a big deal (we even had two balconies facing the ocean).

All of their recommendations as to where to stay were great and took into account our preferences, which we discussed in a planning call. They planned great activities, like a lovely large private sailboat from Sintra back to Lisbon, a visit to an observatory (at night of course), and a private cruise along the cliffs of the Algarve. We would not have known about the lovely hotel converted from a farming village in the Alentejo if we hadn’t used a Portugal expert, and we wouldn’t have known which towns to visit. We loved the itinerary they planned and will use them again if we return to Portugal!” —Rita Solomon

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


Ticino, Bellinzona, Rapperswil, and other secrets of Switzerland

View to Lugano city, Lugano lake and Monte San Salvatore from Monte Bre, Ticino, Switzerland - Image

Ticino, Switzerland. Photo: Shutterstock

Nina did a fantastic job of listening to our preferences to avoid the usual tourist spots and spend time off the beaten path. The hotels she suggested were exceptional. The views from our rooms at Villa Orselina and Coeur des Alpes were amazing, and we truly enjoyed the mountain-hut experience at Guarda Val. The guides they picked for us were great, particularly Anna in Ticino, who led us on a magical walk through the Bavona Valley; Nikki in Zermatt, who was a delight and took us on a great hike and gave us ideas for our next two days of hiking; and Albert in Zurich, who suggested a side trip to Rapperswil that was very enjoyable.

Nina’s suggestion of a first-class Swiss rail pass was excellent: We used it for boat rides in Ascona, Zurich and Lucerne, a bus ride in Ticino, and side train trips to Bellinzona, Lucerne, and Rapperswil.  Well worth it!  Restaurant suggestions were all excellent, from dinner in the castle in Bellinzona to dinner on the terrace of Sonnmatten in Zermatt. An exceptional trip.” —Gary Reading

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


The Camargue, the Luberon, and the Verdon Gorge in Provence

Leafy town square with fountain in a picturesque village in Provence, France

Saignon, Provence. Photo: Shutterstock

“We requested an active trip in Provence, and Philip created the perfect itinerary for my daughter and me: We went horseback riding in the Camargue region, biking in the Luberon, canoeing in the Verdon Gorge. The local guides Philip arranged for us were amazing, ensuring we experienced the unique and out-of-the-way places known only to locals. They were fun, spontaneous, and adaptable. At a moment’s notice, they would take us up a hill to show us a great view, or walk us to the remote and charming village of Lacoste, or take us to get the best crepes at a place that was underground and accessible only if you know it is there. Each restaurant was more fantastic than the last. Incredible food, breathtaking views. A highlight: Le Petit Café in Oppède-le-Vieux. We also had a cooking class in a private home after picking the ingredients at the weekly market and sampling wines in a local vineyard. We could not have been happier.” —Kimberly Byron

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


The idyllic Transylvania region of Romania

Valena Zalanului, guesthouses, Romania

Old-world villages in Romania. Photo: Beyond Dracula

“Our trip to Romania was a perfect mix of city and country, led by wonderful local guides who gave us a sense of Romanians past and present. Some of the special experiences that Raluca arranged for us were an afternoon carving wooden spoons with a fantastic wood artist; a day visiting a local market and cooking with a wonderful woman known for the herbs, jams, and handmade christening gowns she sells in Romania and abroad; and four days in the village of Viscri (up from the two days originally planned because we didn’t want to leave), where we visited shepherds in the hills as they milked 500 sheep, spent time with a family tasting delicious foods and homemade cherry brandy and learning to cook a few dishes, and watched the cows ambling home down the village street each evening.” —Lori Lander

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


The Alentejo region of Portugal

Cork oak tree (Quercus suber) in evening sun, Alentejo Portugal Europe

The rolling hills, cork oak trees, and villages of the Alentejo, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

“We had only one week for Portugal—in peak season. Our goal was to somehow thread the needle between exploring a country we’d never visited, having deep and personal experiences, avoiding tons of crowds, not bouncing around too much, and relaxing. Got it? Goncalo put together an itinerary that fit exactly what we were looking for. He had us stay in three different, small, unique, hotels—Areias do Seixo (on the coast an hour north of Lisbon), Barrocal in the Alentejo, and Santiago de Alfama in Lisbon—and each really enriched our experience of the location.

Our favorite stop was the Alentejo region, and we would highly encourage others to include it in their plans. It’s beautiful, serene, has very special medieval towns, is extremely welcoming to visitors, and is much less visited than Lisbon, Porto, and the Douro Valley. Barrocal, a farm converted into a 5-star hotel, was a phenomenal homebase there. Our single favorite experience was visiting Herdade de Esparao winery, where we somehow spent almost six hours on a sweltering 104-degree day. Our private tour was followed by a private tasting and then an amazing five-course lunch with wine pairings. It was probably the best meal we had in Portugal.” —Jeremy Silverman

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


Secrets of Italy’s Amalfi Coast

Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy

Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“We had two standout experiences on the Amalfi Coast, thanks to Andrea. One was an entire day seeing the coast by sea. We did not know what to expect when we arrived at the wharf—where there were so many tour boats—and were a little confused when a very large, beautiful yacht pulled up. My husband said, “You should have seen your face when they held up a sign with our name on it!” Captain Beni gave us an experience we will never forget, including a stop for a delicious meal at a restaurant high above the sea and accessible only by boat. A perfect day!

The second amazing experience was when our driver was taking us from Positano to Ravello and we were supposed to have a three-hour stop in the town of Amalfi. It was a gray, drizzly day, so our driver asked us if we would rather go to his friend’s winery. The owner gave us a very personal tour and then joined us for a lunch that his wife had prepared. It was so unexpected and right out of a romance movie.” —Carrie Hadden

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


Unique private experiences in Malta

a dgħajsa, or a traditional water taxi, in the water off Vittoriosa Malta

Città Vittoriosa, Malta. Photo: Malta Tourism

“We took a four-day trip to Malta in November, when it is one of the warmer places in Europe. Jason and Damon listened carefully to our requests—wine tasting, some hiking, a boutique hotel in the center of Valetta, food experiences—and incorporated them all. Some of the special experiences were a private palazzo visit with a marchioness; a private wine tasting at the best vineyard on Gozo; a private visit to sample some of the bounties of the Maltese countryside; a private tour of the National Library—where, amongst other things, we saw the original certificate that President Roosevelt signed and sent to the Maltese people in 1943 to honor their valor in WWII; a private visit with the knight resident of Fort St Angelo and the head of the Knights of St John in Malta; a private tour of St. John’s Co-Cathedral and the Caravaggios after all the tourists had left; and tickets to the Hypogeum, which only allows 10 visitors an hour. Finally, they recommended and booked great restaurants within walking distance of our hotel!” —Tony Ford-Hutchinson

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



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