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Traditional Greek food

Food-Focused Trips: Reviews From Our Travelers

Do you travel for food? We get countless requests for food- and drink-focused private itineraries, and we know trip-planning specialists who are connected to the local food scene everywhere from Athens to Zihuatenejo. There are fascinating people in unexpected places who will open their homes, farms, vineyards, fruit orchards, and olive groves for traditional meals, cooking lessons, and much more. There’s a smorgasbord of possibilities out there. If you can imagine it, our Trusted Travel Experts can make it happen. Here’s what it means to get a WOW trip.

Portugal: cooking class, port tasting, seafood feast…

Mixed Portuguese tapas on a wooden table.

Portuguese tapas. Photo: Shutterstock

“We did a little of everything during our seven days in Portugal. We started with tickets to a soccer game our first night in Lisbon and WOW that is an experience we will not forget, especially our 16-year-old son. Our guide took us on a foodie tour finding the most unique places to visit. Our day culminated with a ferry boat ride to a seafood resort literally in the water. She arranged for a special appetizer and meringue dessert at the end.

Our son’s dream was to play golf in Portugal, and Penha Longa did not disappoint, with amazing views and a challenging terrain. Our driver John and guide Tiago made quite a pair, sharing stories along the way through a city tour of Lisbon and on to the palace in Sintra. On to Porto, which was equally incredible, with its seven bridges and the boutique Rebello Hotel complete with spa, Roman-style pool and beautiful rooftop restaurant overlooking the city.

One of the highlights for my husband was a cooking class with Chef Hugo; they almost seemed like kindred spirits. We can’t wait to serve his specialty sandwich to our friends. The port tasting and tour of Taylor Fladgate was incredible with our distinguished and humorous guide Tiago. Our final stop was the Hotel Palaçio in Estoril. We had the modern accommodations in the cities to the elegant palace on our last evening—what a way to finish our trip to Portugal. Wendy Perrin’s team thought of everything from seeing Harry Potter’s library to the waves in Nazaré to tasting the most authentic cuisine.” —Camilla Farrell

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

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Oaxaca, Mexico: “The highlight of our trip was the day we spent with award-winning chef Alejandro Ruiz…”

A platter of traditional food from Oaxaca including tamales, tlayudas, and more.

Traditional Mexican food from Oaxaca. Photo: Shutterstock

“This was our second trip arranged by Zach and, once again, he and Jose did a fantastic job. As with all of Wendy Perrin’s fixers, the logistics were impeccable, enabling us to relax and enjoy our trip. This year, we chose Oaxaca. We had been 20+ years ago and had fond memories, so we decided to visit again. And, of course, we wanted a completely different experience. Zach and Jose listened carefully to what we wanted, and they delivered, including the right blend of guiding time and time on our own. We met and interacted with local people, which is important to us when we travel. These encounters included a visit to a farm with a Mezcal Master and a day with a gallerist, that included visits to artist studios. Both were lots of fun.

The highlight of our trip was the day we spent with award-winning chef Alejandro Ruiz. We began with a visit to the Central market with Alejandro and one of his chefs—we were the only Americans there. Shopping with him, watching what he chose as he planned the menu in his head, was a treat. We followed the visit to the market by joining his kitchen staff to prepare a multi-course meal for the three of us. We were expecting a cooking “lesson”; instead, we were chefs (of sorts). And we couldn’t have asked for a better tutor (btw, Alejandro was a teacher before becoming a chef). We learned a ton; Alejandro was patient and fun to be with, in no way fitting the stereotype of a famous chef, and we had a great time.” —Elisa Spain and Art Beyda

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

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Italy: “A cocktail class at the Martini and Rossi headquarters…”

The verdant Barolo wine region in Italy.

The verdant Barolo wine region in Italy. Photo: Traveler Joe Lyle

“Our trip to Piedmont was excellently planned and executed by Maria and her team. We started in Torino, where the highlights were a chocolate tasting and a tour of the Egyptian Museum (which has the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts outside of Egypt). Before leaving Torino, we were treated to a fun WOW Moment: a cocktail class at the Martini and Rossi headquarters outside of Torino.

Then the real fun began as we moved on to the winemaking region of Piedmont, touring its villages, staying in restored castles in Sinio and Guarene, and tasting Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbara and white wines of the region while sampling the regional dishes. The landscape was amazing: We were always surrounded by hills of lush green vineyards between each village and castles in almost every one.

One of the many highlights of the trip was truffle hunting. Watching the dog track down truffles was amazing. Unlike the French, Italians don’t use pigs for truffle hunting. Why? Pigs don’t listen, and they eat the truffles. We found four black truffles and shared them with our guide and driver, who were very appreciative.” —Joe Lyle

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

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Colombia: ceviche class, rum & cacao tasting, coconut lemonade…

Lynn Herrick's sons enjoy fresh coconuts.

Lynn Herrick’s sons enjoy fresh coconuts. Photo: Traveler Lynn Herrick

“This was a family trip with my three college-aged kids and my husband. So, we wanted a bit of history, a bit of adventure, a bit of culture and a lot of fun. Our trip started in Cartagena with the best tour guide ever, Will. Not only was Will’s dad the mayor of Cartagena, so we got to visit town hall, but he quickly got to know each of us and tailored our tours to our personalities. The kids even scheduled a secret outing with him to surprise me with emerald earrings for my birthday!

In Cartagena we ate street food we would have never tried, learned salsa dancing, took a cooking class with a cantankerous French chef and made the best ceviche ever, went canoeing in the mangroves, learned to drum with a local group, and participated in a rum and cacao tasting. We also fell in love with this hot, romantic, beautiful Caribbean town.

Next on the itinerary was the coffee region. We visited the Wax Palm trees, zip-lined, rafted, and spent a special morning at a coffee plantation. We all loved learning about the coffee industry in Colombia, enjoyed the delicious lunch that was served, and agreed the organic coffee was special.

We spent our last three nights in Medellin. We took the cable cars to visit the barrio and see how those who escaped the civil war in the countryside built homes into the hills and created new communities. On our final day, we visited the very vibrant, and exciting, Comuna 13, where urban art and music are thriving. Throughout Colombia we ate the most delicious food, fruits and drinks. We will be craving coconut lemonade for a long time!” —Lynn Herrick

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

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Peru: full-day experience at MIL restaurant in the Sacred Valley

The view of the Sacred Valley in Peru.

The Sacred Valley, Peru. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just returned from a fabulous 10-day trip to Peru. Allie helped us find probably the best guide in all of Peru! Our guide, Nick, became central to the success and ease of our trip, as he networked us to the front of lines for access to everything (including the line for buses up and back from Machu Picchu). We also had the opportunity to do the full-day experience at MIL, which we would highly recommend! As much as the food there is fabulous, the learning experience by hiking into the hills behind the restaurant with a knowledgeable local guide provided a fabulous addition to better understand the Peruvian culture and food presentation at MIL. It was a highlight of the trip and books up months in advance, so be sure to get reservations online as soon as trip dates are established!” —Julie Olson

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

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Mexico: harvesting cactus, making mole and tortillas…

Mole Poblano on a plate with sesame seeds on top.

Traditional Mexican Mole Poblano with chicken. Photo: Shutterstock

“We had a spectacular trip to Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende November 2023. After an initial call with Zach and Jose, they proposed an itinerary that was interesting and thoughtful. We started in Mexico City with a food tour exploring Centro Historico. We had a very interesting culinary experience at Milpa Alta, where we harvested edible Nopal cactus and enjoyed a delicious breakfast. We then went to a traditional mole factory. After that chef Jorge Correa and Laurencia Melo taught us how to make tortillas and other Mexican dishes. Chef Jorge prepared a delicious four-course lunch that was memorable.

We enjoyed a private visit at the National Museum of Anthropology and visited the Park, the Chapultepec Castle, Modern Museum, and explored many charming neighborhoods and art galleries. It was a rich and rewarding experience.

On our way to San Miguel we had a private tour of the Teotihuacán pyramids, including our first hot air balloon ride, which was fabulous! San Miguel was as charming as we had hoped. We stayed at the Rosewood, which is a beautiful property. We loved exploring San Miguel and walking around the cobblestone streets and ducking in and out of art galleries, museums, numerous shops, and cafés. We went to the intriguing city of Guanajuato, where there are underground roads and streets. The colorful panoramic vistas of the city are simply gorgeous. We spent a day visiting San Miguel’s art and artisan scene with studio visits—another highlight of the trip. We were celebrating birthdays, and there were so many birthday cakes and touches I lost count. We are extremely impressed with how well run Zach’s company is. Thank you, Wendy, for this amazing recommendation!” —Marian Robinson

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

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Thailand: street food, locals’ favorite restaurants, cooking class…

Over the top view of traditional Northern Thai food on a wooden table.

Traditional Northern Thai food. Photo: Shutterstock

“With a short lead time of about two weeks due to my last-minute China business travel, we decided to use Wendy Perrin’s travel service. We were matched up with Dan and Obb. We wanted to focus on food, culture and markets. We had a great time experiencing the street food of Bangkok. Thailand street food is amazing. We also loved our longboat tour to see the sights in Bangkok from the river. From the water, we saw the Wat Paknam giant buddha that was incredible.

From there, we were off to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. We loved our guide, Yawan, for this portion of the trip. We loved our hike through the tea and coffee fields in Chiang Rai. Yawan knew all the different types of plants along the way, and it was very interesting to see all the different herbs, fruits, and vegetables growing along the roads. We had a great stop at the Elephant Nature Conservation Sanctuary Park outside of Chiang Mai. The stories behind some of the elephants were heartbreaking, but it was good to know that they could live out the rest of their lives being well taken care of by the staff at the camp.

We were then on to the final leg of our trip in Phuket—and Dan and Obb saved the best activities for last! Our guide, Pong, gave us a great overview of Old Town Phuket and took us out for some delicious food at some local favorite restaurants. The next day was our favorite excursion of the whole trip: The John Gray sea kayak tour. Everywhere we looked was incredibly beautiful, and we will forever remember the night kayaking where we made an offering to the water goddess and got to see the luminescent phytoplankton, which was an amazing sight!

It was tough to follow up the sea kayaking, but we also had a great time at our cooking class the next day. Chef Pui at the Brass Wok was so much fun to talk with about food and restaurants, and she showed us how to make several delicious Thai dishes. I’d always been intimidated by Thai cooking. However, when I arrived back home the following week, I headed to the Asian grocery store for supplies and was able to reproduce the same delicious dishes that Chef Pui taught us to make.

It was very thoughtful that our guides in the different areas communicated with each other so that it felt like the guides already knew us when we arrived. When we told Dao in Bangkok that we were interested in getting some makrut lime leaves to take home with us, she contacted Yawan in Chiang Mai, who gave us a bag of dried lime leaves from the tree at his home.” —Amy and Bruce Tylock

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

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Sicily: “A lovely balance of cultural touring/visits and the rest of the day making cheese or tasting olive oil or learning how to make cookies!”

Sicilian almond cookies on a wooden board dusted with confectioners sugar on top.

Sicilian almond cookies. Photo: Shutterstock

“I’ve wanted to travel to Sicily for years but didn’t want to go on my own, so I asked my adult niece to accompany me, since she is fascinated with Italy and its food, being a former chef. We wanted a trip that balanced cultural highlights with food experiences, and Marcello and Matteo really delivered!

One of the highlights of our time in Palermo was a day when we went to Monreale to see the exquisite Norman church and then stopped at a vineyard on the way back to Palermo for a private wine tasting and amazing lunch with the owners and their big friendly adorable dog! Many of our days were a lovely balance of cultural touring and the rest of the day making cheese or tasting olive oil or learning how to make cookies! Their restaurant recommendations were also excellent and easy to find, thanks to the maps they provided!

Our favorite part of the trip was our final few days, based in Ortigia, visiting the Greek ruins of Siracusa and the beautiful Baroque towns of Ragusa, Noto, and Modica. We both agreed that the private four-course lunch served after an olive oil tasting in Ragusa was among the best meals we’d ever eaten in our lives! As we were leaving the Greek temples one late afternoon (wonderful light for photos), our guide told us about a Leonardo da Vinci painting that was being displayed in a small gallery near the exit of the temple area. We never would have known it was there if he hadn’t been with us. We loved every minute of our trip and never had to worry about a thing. A perfect holiday!” —Kathryn Winter

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

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Italy: “A melting pot of northern Italian, Austrian and Slovenian cuisines and has great wines (mostly white)…”

Morning seascape of Adriatic sea with the Miramare Castle.

Miramare Castle in Trieste, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Jennifer helped us plan a two-week trip to Friuli Venezia Giulia. The area is a melting pot of northern Italian, Austrian and Slovenian cuisines and has great wines (mostly white). Inexplicably, the region doesn’t seem to be on the tourist radar, so of course we decided that this was the place for us!

We had a guided tour on our first full day in Trieste. We learned about the long struggle for control of the city between the Venetian Republic and the Hapsburgs of Austria, and the resulting cosmopolitanism of Trieste. After two days on our own in Trieste, our driver took us to the Collio wine country, with a stop at Miramare Castle on the way.

The accommodation Jennifer suggested to us in the Collio was outstanding—just what we were hoping for! The property was lovely, with a spa and walking paths through the surrounding vineyards. Jennifer helped us with booking and transportation for lunch at a nearby restaurant we had set our hearts on. (Shout out to Stanley Tucci for his Friulian footnote in “Searching for Italy”!) We had our local guide back for a half-day trip to Gorizia, on the Slovenian border. Having discussed our interest in World War I with her, she arranged for us to make a short visit to an Italian war memorial that was nearby. We also spent an amazing day visiting local wine producers and sampling their wares. (Our favorites were Friuliano and Schioppettino!)

After our break in the countryside, we moved on to Udine. There we had another guided tour, learning about the tug of war fought over the area for centuries and the remarkable mix of historical influences at play. A highlight was seeing Tiepolo’s amazing ceiling frescoes. From our base in Udine, we visited the lovely town of Cividale del Friuli, with beautiful Lombard art and architecture, and day-tripped to Kobarid in Slovenia to learn about the Italian front in the First World War. So much of what we know about World War I is focused on Belgium and France. Learning about trench warfare in the mountains was fascinating and a highlight of our trip.

We also had a WOW Moment while staying in Udine: We had a private cooking demo in the kitchen with chef Anna Barbina and her mother, who serves as her sommelier. Anna made five traditional dishes for us to sample (with wine served by her mother, of course), then we had lunch in her osteria, AB Osteria Contemporanea, where she serves contemporary twists on traditional cooking. Heavenly! Anna and her mother were delightful and couldn’t have been more gracious.

Our final activity was a guided tour of Aquileia on our way back to Venice to fly home. Jennifer and her team delivered exactly the trip we were hoping for. FVG was full of beautiful scenery and art, brimming over with fascinating history, and the food and wine were simply spectacular. We’ve had many incredible meals in Italy over the years, but we had more standouts on this trip than any other. If food is your religion, you should make your way to FVG.” —Rachel Webber

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

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Portugal: tasting flight of port, from 10- to 50-year-old bottlings

Traveler tasting 50 year old Port at the Taylor Floodgate Quinta in Porto, Portugal.

Tim Triche enjoys a glass of 50-year-old port at Taylor Fladgate’s quinta in Porto.

“Our recent trip to Portugal, from September 27 to October 6, encompassing Porto, the Douro Valley, the Alentejo, and Lisbon, exceeded all our expectations. Of the many adventures, we experienced a few noteworthy ones: the Port flight (10-, 20-, 30-, 40-, and 50-year-old Tawny) at Taylor Fladgate in Porto was both uniquely enjoyable and informative; I never realized I knew so little about one of my favorite wines.

The drive to the Douro Valley was thrilling, including the narrow one-lane roads often wide enough only for one car—with oncoming cars! The views were stunning, and the trip was timed perfectly: we arrived just at the last harvest and were able to see (and smell) the last grapes being processed into wine at Quinta do Bomfin, where we also tasted their Dow and Grahams vintage ports after a memorable lunch at their restaurant, which included an exceptional bottle of their local Dona Berta verdelho white wine.

In fact, every meal and every wine served with the meals at every site we visited in Portugal was memorable; the tasting luncheon Gonçalo arranged at Herdade do Esporão was truly unforgettable—one of the best meals my wife and I have ever had. It lasted over two hours, with at least six courses paired with wine, plus dessert and port, of course. We, not surprisingly, elected to pass on dinner that night.

I should also note that every lodging we stayed in was absolutely first class, from the Vintage Hotel in Pinhao to the Palácio Ludovice in Lisbon, including the unique São Lourenço do Barrocal in the Alentejo in between, which was one of a kind. We finished our trip by driving from the Alentejo to Lisbon via Evora, a charming medieval town with a unique bones chapel (literally decorated with thousands of human skeletons—go figure). Upon arriving in Lisbon, we first toured Sintra on the seaside and visited one of the most beautiful estates I have ever seen, Monserrate Palace, and its grounds. The palace itself has been restored to its early 20th-century splendor and was either breathtakingly beautiful or over the top, depending on your taste.

We finished our all-too-short stay with a walking tour of Lisbon, and a second food tour of same. Lisbon reminds one of any major city, with a vibrant street and night life, remarkable food and restaurants, and grand old historical sites like the Moorish castle on the highest point in the city—a stark departure from the rest of Portugal, save perhaps for Porto, also a vibrant but smaller city with its own charm, historically inextricably tied to port wine production.

Needless to say, this trip would have been impossible without the careful planning by Gonçalo, who was able to obviously call in many favors and secure lodging, meals, and visits to unique places throughout Portugal. The virtual meeting with Gonçalo was key to creating a unique trip tailored to our desire to see sites and meet people that are often overlooked in the classic tours that focus on the same well-trodden routes. If I had it to do over again, about the only thing I would change is the duration of our trip: our stay was too short!” —Tim Triche

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

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Tuscany, Italy: tour & lunch at Brunello winery, pasta-making class, Michelin-starred meal…

An autumn landscape in the Chianti region of Tuscany hills in the surroundings of Radda in Chianti.

Chianti region vineyard, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just returned from a fantastic 12-day trip to Tuscany arranged by Andrea. Our excursion to Montalcino and Pienza was sensational, as was our driver Giovanni. We are big Brunello fans and Andrea’s team arranged a great experience for us at the small, family-owned Poggio Rubino vineyard. What a great day—we got the tour of the winemaking operations and then sat down for a homemade Tuscan lunch (thank you, Nonna) to accompany our very generous and expertly paced Brunello tasting. A great experience. Do it, but make sure you have Giovanni there to take you home. Since we probably overstayed our welcome at Poggio Rubino, our time in Pienza was brief but still worthwhile–even if just for the aroma of the cheese and truffles that surrounded us as we wandered down the streets.

The following day we drove to the Antinori-owned Fonte deMedici estate, where we took a pasta-making class with Ellis, followed by a 5-course tasting menu at the Michelin-starred restaurant Osteria Passignano just down the road. Wow. Both experiences were eye-opening and a treat for all the senses. The meal was a show stopper and the pasta class was revelatory. Ellis is a great teacher with a sharp sense of humor. We loved him. Our only advice is don’t drive there and maybe don’t do them back to back. A must-do experience. Thank you, Andrea.”—Andy Robinson

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

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France: Girls’ wine trip to Bordeaux, Champagne & the Loire Valley

Michelle Price

Traveler Michelle Price and her friend Candi at the Eiffel Tower.

Jennifer planned a glorious 14-day girls’ wine trip in France. Our itinerary was completely planned around our focus on wine. Every hotel, tour guide, driver, wine tasting, and dinner recommendation was perfection.

Our trip started with being met on the jet bridge by Sofiane, who was literally waiting outside the airplane door. He whisked us through passport control, helped with baggage and escorted us to the awaiting car. This was the first time utilizing the service for passport control, and I am a big fan!

We had a wonderful day in Bordeaux visiting three Grand Cru Classe chateaux with private tours and wine tasting. Our driver, Remy, was full of wine knowledge and helped us with our French. The tasting in the cellar at Chateau Pichon-Longueville was incredibly memorable.

In the Loire Valley our highlight was learning about the powerful women who owned Chenonceau castle. The highlight in Paris was a private cooking class in Veronique’s home (Cuisine Elegante). And dinner at Le Tout Paris was delicious, with an incredible view of the city—including the Eiffel Tower.

My personal favorite part of the trip was Champagne. Domaine Les Crayères was an outstanding hotel, and both meals were amazing (Le Jardin and Le Parc). We toured Reims Cathedral, Veuve Clicquot, and a small Champagne house, La Maison Penet, where we had a delightful lunch.” —Michelle Price

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

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Lake Como, Italy: Cooking class with an award-winning celebrity chef

Adam Amsterdam

The result of a tri-color pasta-making lesson with Chef Luigi in Bellagio, Italy. Photo: Traveler Adam Amsterdam

“We worked with Andrea and her excellent team to rent a wonderful villa for three weeks in Ossuccio, a small comune on the western shore of Lake Como (about 12 miles northeast of the city of Como). Andrea’s team found the perfect villa for us and our two adult children and made all the necessary arrangements with the owner and property manager. They even made sure that any groceries and household items we wanted were ordered and stocked for our arrival. Andrea arranged a day trip to Bergamo with a great English-speaking guide. If you’re within a two-hour drive I highly recommend visiting Bergamo. She also arranged a cooking class for us in Bellagio with an award-winning celebrity chef. We made beautiful tri-color pasta and feasted on a delicious lunch.

Andrea also arranged a boat with an English-speaking captain to take us to several towns along the western and eastern shores of Lake Como where we stopped for lunch, shopping, and gelato. I also must mention that we had a WOW Moment, which was a romantic dinner for my wife and me on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo overlooking Lake Como and the twinkling lights of Bellagio, all framed by the pre-Alps in the distance. This was our third trip to Italy planned by Andrea and her team as our travel experts and I wouldn’t think of planning anything in Italy without them.” —Adam Amsterdam

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

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Tuscany, Italy: Truffle hunting, vineyard lunch, agritourism farm…

Jessica Tolmach

Jessica Tolmach and family lunching at Agriturismo Torrenieri in Tuscany’s Val d’Orcia. Photo: Chef Fabrizio Fe

“Four special highlights that Maria secured for our group during our Tuscany stay: A spectacularly situated apartment in Siena overlooking the town square for perfect viewing of the wild, medieval, spectacular Palio horse race and dinner with the family who graciously opened their home, shared wine, food and stories of the history of the races over the centuries.

Another highlight was an outing with a truffle hunter and his dog into the hills and woods where the dog found truffles and after we were hosted at their farmhouse overlooking the valley while they served us a multi-course lunch of truffle-focused dishes that were scrumptious, along with their own wines. We also adored a private tour and lunch prepared for us at a little-known but spectacular vineyard in Chianti, with tastings paired with each course.

And, last but not least, we will all remember forever our lunch at an agriturismo farm with a most generous host and chef that happily went on for hours, on a glorious afternoon, on their patio on the edge of their fields, where we were served mind-blowing grilled meats and the best lasagna and tiramisu any of us has ever tasted. My boys wanted to stay and work on the farm and never come home! And I got his grandmother’s recipes!” —Jessica Tolmach

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

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Paris: food tour in the Marais, market shopping & cooking class…

Ellen Weiner

Ellen and Jeffrey Weiner and their cousins capped off a cooking class with a meal in the instructor’s apartment.

“Since we had been to Paris several times prior to this trip, we asked Jennifer for some ideas of different things to do instead of the usual sightseeing. She sent us a variety of activities to choose from and we picked something each day, which also allowed for us to have free time.

A food tour in the Marais was our first stop, and it was delicious!! Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and we tried everything from cheeses, wines, charcuterie and desserts. The highlight of our trip was a cooking class with Veronique! We went to the local food market to shop for all of our ingredients and then back to her apartment to cook an authentic and delicious French meal.

Everything that Jennifer arranged for us was top-notch. All of our arrangements went according to plan from the moment we stepped off the plane in Paris until we departed.” —Ellen and Jeffrey Weiner

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

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Spain: Award-winning cheese, artisanal olive oils, learning to cook crema catalana and paella…

Traditional house and colorful flower-laden patios in Cordoba, Spain.

A home in Cordoba, Spain, and its flower-laden patio. Photo: Shutterstock

Virginia, Julia, and Inmaculada planned our perfect trip to Spain. We wanted a trip that hit some highlights of typical tour stops sprinkled in with cultural and foodie destinations. As I was very specific, down to tasting the 2022 International Cheese winner, Julia patiently kept reworking our trip, and Inmaculada worked diligently on reservations.

We started our trip in Barcelona and were expertly guided around many Gaudi sites by Begonia. She was really a true expert. We also spent a day in Costa Brava, where we met Chef Pilar and her husband Rene. They shared their spectacular home and cooking expertise about making Crema Catalana and paella. She was also able to find the 2022 International Cheese award winner from a small Spanish dairy.

Our next stop was Seville and the charming town of Ubrique, a short hike in Grazalema park, and family-owned, artisanal cheese and olive oil production businesses. A day we will always remember! Jeronimo drove us around for the next few days to an Iberico Pig farm, a Real Madrid vs Sevilla FC game, and through multiple small white villages. He was the most knowledgeable and friendliest man/driver we have ever come across over many years of travel. He also took us to Cordoba, which thanks to tour guide Maria-Elena Consuela made this one of our favorite stops—loved the flower-laden patios and the church that combined elements from multiple cultures dating back over a thousand years. As well as a preserved Jewish synagogue built in 1315.

Our last major stop was in Granada with a stay in a hotel overlooking the oldest and largest bullring in Spain and expertly guided by Alfredo. While there were some snafus, Virginia’s staff quickly resolved a last-minute change in futbol schedule and retrieved a forgotten cell phone charger. Highly recommend this agency. This was our 3rd trip with a WOW expert, and they have all done a terrific job.” —Lisa Jacobson

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

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The Netherlands, Belgium, and Alsace, France: From tastings on Amsterdam’s canals to a 4-hour meal in a Michelin 2-star…

Canal in Amsterdam surrounded by bikes and colored buildings.

With our expert’s help, you can enjoy a wine-and-food tour on Amsterdam’s canals. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our trip to the Netherlands, Belgium, and Alsace, France, 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 and 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, and Ghent. We couldn’t have asked for a more informative and 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-Michelin-star 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!” —Kristine Carey

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

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Southeast Asia: “Like Napoleon’s army, we travel on our stomachs, and the food we had on this trip was extraordinary…”

Delicious dishes from Laos.

Local Laotian delicacies. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just returned from a fabulous three-week-plus trip to Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam, and Cambodia, organized for us by Sandy. While we have traveled a great deal, this trip was among the best, if not THE best, trip we’ve taken. The diversity and specialness of our experiences made it stand out.

Like Napoleon’s army, we travel on our stomachs, and the food we had on this trip was extraordinary. One evening in Laos we went to the home of our guide, who Sandy has worked closely with for years. We helped prepare dinner, were blessed by the family elders in a Baci ceremony for success on our journey, ate the delicious food we had helped cook, and danced and sang with the family. Another night in Cambodia, we ate at a local village restaurant. With travel to Cambodia down due to the pandemic, it’s a great time to visit, and we were the only people at the restaurant. After a foot massage and passion fruit mojito, we were escorted to our table overlooking vibrant green rice fields while being serenaded by lovely music. In Hanoi, we went to Bun Cha Sinh Tu and had the famous soup it’s known for. It was table-pounding good. And our Vespa food tour of Saigon, which Sandy had strongly suggested, was both delicious and terrifying. Driving a motorbike in Saigon should be an Olympic sport, and we just rode!

Our excellent guides in Laos and Viet Nam shared with us the experiences of their families during the War and recounted working with American veterans who returned years later, as well as a reporter who had covered it. These personal and moving stories touched us and helped us better understand the profound effect of the War on the people who lived through it.

In Cambodia, we went to a Buddhist temple at 5:30 in the morning and meditated. Afterward we were showered with lotus petals as part of a blessing ceremony and had breakfast at the monastery as the sun rose. Early one morning in Laos, we gave sticky rice to saffron-robed monks who extended their begging bowls to us. Through this daily ritual, the monks demonstrate their vows of poverty and humility. Our guide took us to a quiet place where her family normally gives alms, avoiding other tourists.

It’s hard to encapsulate all we saw and did because there was so much: seeing the temples of Angkor, kayaking in Halong Bay, boating on the Saigon River, biking through Hoi An. Part of what made this trip so good was the flexibility we had in determining what we would do and not do each day. We had great guidance and suggestions from Sandy, but he emphasized this was our trip. Thoughtful planning and flexibility helped make this the trip of a lifetime.” —Catherine Mathis

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Switzerland: In-depth tour & lunch at a cheese factory, private workshop at a boutique chocolatier…

Variety of Appenzeller cheeses in switzerland

The cheese selection at an Appenzeller dairy. Photo: Billie Cohen

“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

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Morocco: Market tour, cooking lesson, wine tasting…

A spice stall at a market in Marrakech, Morocco.

A spice stall at a market in Marrakech, Morocco. Photo: Shutterstock

“I had a general idea of the cities and sites that we wished to visit, and Radia developed them into a thoughtful and exciting itinerary, including such highlights as a gourmet lunch and wine tasting in a beautiful vineyard near Fez, an excursion to the Roman ruins of Volubilis, a motorcycle and vintage sidecar tour through Marrakech’s medina, and a sunset camel ride in the desert. Radia helped us choose excellent restaurants for all our meals and handled all the reservations, and she also arranged a very fun market tour and cooking lesson in Fez, where we learned to make chicken tagine on a rooftop kitchen overlooking the city. We cannot wait to return to Morocco.” —Sarah Balassa

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

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Sicily: Cooking class, street food tour, wine experiences…

A welcome lunch at the Fratelli Valenziani orange farm, a family-run operation in Sicily.

Lunch at the Fratelli Valenziani orange farm, a family-run operation in Sicily. Photo: Agave Creative

Matteo did an excellent job of listening to us: We wanted time to explore on our own, unguided, but Matteo also knew where the value of a guide was indispensable, and he made that clear—and he was right!

We wanted several experiences on this trip: We wanted a food tour of the Sicily markets—and Matteo got us a fantastic guide for a great street food tour. We wanted to shop and cook with a chef—Matteo arranged this with a charismatic great chef. We wanted a day on the water to sail and enjoy the sea—Matteo arranged a phenomenal afternoon and sunset sail with Salvo, a very special person who set up an amazing afternoon for us. We wanted an e-bike tour, and this too was arranged for us. The vulcanologist on Mt Etna, the archaeologist who led us through the Villa Romana del Casale, and the guide at the Agrigento temples were all also fantastic.” —Jonathan Scharfstein

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Peru: Learning traditional Inca cooking techniques

A traditional Peruvian food cooked underground and stones.

Traditional cooking in Peru. Photo: Shutterstock

“From Lima to the Tambopata Reserve in the Amazon, from Arequipa to Colca Canyon, from Cusco to the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu, we were spellbound by the warmth of the Peruvians and the beauty and diversity of the terrain and climates throughout the country. We didn’t encounter unmanageable crowds anywhere—in fact, we were pleasantly surprised by the tourism levels, even at Machu Picchu and in Cusco.  We are thrilled that we worked with Marisol and her team to plan this fantastic trip.

A definite highlight was our day exploring the ‘real’ Sacred Valley. The time spent with Maria and her family was priceless. From dancing with her parents to walking the Andean hills with her llama, from a spiritual ceremony thanking the gods to plowing the field with bulls, from sharing a lovely lunch made from locally produced ingredients to an in-depth demonstration of their textile artistry, we felt humbled and honored to have been offered a glimpse into their daily lives.

Another highlight was our WOW Moment in Ollantaytambo. On an organic farm, we learned the traditional Inca cooking technique of pachamanca and savored the delicious al fresco lunch while admiring the snow-capped peaks of Mount Veronica. Thank you, Wendy, for a delightful experience!” —Molly O’Neill-Emmi

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Provence: Tasting Roman wines, shopping & cooking with a chef…

Sunny day in Provence with Aiguines castle surrounded by vineyard and the beautiful turquoise St Croix lake in background.

Château d’Aiguines, with the Lac de Sainte-Croix in the background, Provence. Photo: Shutterstock

“We had a short time in Provence and are so glad we were able to work with Laurie on Philip’s team to get the most out of our time. She arranged for a couple of amazing hotels in Les Baux and Aix en Provence. I think we could have taken up residency in either one! Our driver/guide Cedric showed us beautiful villages and introduced us to the wonderful culture and people of Provence. A couple of highlights for us were walking through a Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard and taking part in a Roman wine tasting that gave us a sense of what wines may have tasted like in Roman times.

Another special treat was spending a day with Gilles Conchy, first shopping in the market in Aix en Provence and then cooking a fantastic meal at his home. Lastly, we received a WOW Moment during our stay. One morning, we found our van had been replaced by a 60-year-old bright green convertible Citroen. We had a chance to ride through the countryside from Les Baux to Aix in style. It was so much fun.” —Bill Hiatt

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Northern Italy: “Balsamic vinegar artists, parmesan cheese makers…”

Typical stone houses with stunning vineyard in the Chianti region in Tuscany.

A vineyard in Tuscany’s Chianti region. Photo: Shutterstock

Maria met with us by Zoom and we discussed our interests and the kind of trip we wanted. She really listened and planned an amazing trip for us. We traveled through Umbria and Tuscany with a focus on food, wine, and culture. Montefalco is a charming Umbrian town nestled in the hills with a focus on wine and olive oil. Maria had booked us into a charming hotel and made dinner reservations for our first night. The next day we went truffle hunting and shared perhaps the best meal of the trip with the family. Each of the seven courses were delicious and I could have eaten the entire tray of the homemade onion foccacia.

The next morning was our WOW Moment. WOW does not do justice to the opportunity to meet Marta Cucchia, the great-granddaughter of the founder Giuditta Brozzetti who has carried forward the textile workshops. Working on looms from the 15th century, she provided us with a look into the art of weaving. Her joy in the work and understanding of the complexity and history of this art form was enthralling.

This experience set the tone for the remainder of the trip meeting artisans, wine stewards, wine growers, balsamic vinegar artists, parmesan cheese makers, prosciutto ham makers, sculptors, cooks and guides and hoteliers that made us feel welcome. Although it was crowded already in Italy, we always felt as if we had our own private pathways to each activity.

One of the most surprising events was a last-minute opportunity provided by Maria to go to the opera in Parma. An old theater that is built like the opera house in Venice. Maria got us perfect seats to see Pagliacci, the Franco Zeffirelli production. My husband, who is not an opera fan, has been telling everyone that one of the highlights was seeing the opera with 280 performers on stage. This may be the highest of compliments for a perfect trip.” —Lynne Golomb

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Ireland: Touring Galway with a chef, Guinness cake…

Appetizer plate of Irish blended whiskey and cheeses.

Irish blended whiskey and cheeses. Photo: Shutterstock

“Having used Wendy Perrin’s WOW List last year to travel to Greece, we chose Jonathan and his team to book our mother-and-adult-daughter trip to Ireland, and they made the entire process extremely easy. We started at historic Dromoland Castle in County Clare. In Galway we took a food tour through the city to experience the best food the city had to offer. Our guide Regina was a chef herself and you could tell she thoroughly enjoyed sharing the amazing food that Ireland and Galway specifically had to offer. During this tour, we had the best raspberry croissant with red striping and a delicious raspberry puree center. We also had a whiskey tasting where we tried Irish Poitin, which is Ireland’s version of American Moonshine and it definitely made you cough on the smallest sip. The other highlight for me of the food tour was at lunch when we had local oysters. I am not usually a fan of oysters, but Regina described them as a little burst of fresh salt water, and that’s exactly what it was!

Next we headed over to Killarney and the Killarney Park Hotel. We had a very interesting whiskey tutorial and tasting with the head of spirits at the hotel. We also explored the town of Kenmare and took a chocolate-making class at Lorge Chocolates. Neither of us had ever done a chocolate-making class or anything of the sort before, and it was very fun and educational. Benoit Lorge ran the private lesson with the two of us, and he was so enthusiastic and passionate about his chocolate and the quality of chocolate that he creates.

Finally, in Dublin, we took a private cooking class with Alix Gardner’s Cookery School, and there we learned how to make all the essentials for a true Irish feast. We made scones, soda bread, shepherd’s pie with lamb, and a Guinness cake. My daughter and I both cook a lot and consider ourselves to be decent cooks, but I think we both learned new techniques that we’ve applied to our cooking since. The food was delicious and we got to take home our leftovers. We managed to bring a whole Guinness cake on the plane home with us to The States! A slice of Guinness cake after a full day of traveling was well worth the trouble of packing it.” —Robin Stone

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Greece: “A meal fit for kings and queens but which represented everyday food in a typical Greek household…”

Traditional Greek food

A traditional Greek platter of antipasto includes grilled vegetables, olives, nuts, and toasted bread.

“The trip Mina prepared for us in Athens was spectacular. Shortly after our arrival in Athens, we were mysteriously picked up at our hotel and driven to a residential area. Imagine our delight when we were greeted by our host, Dionysia, who prepared a meal fit for kings and queens but which represented everyday food in a typical Greek household.

Dionysia prepares custom meals for groups of individuals, mostly corporate requests, so we felt so special she had cooked just for us. We started with Greek wines (delicious) and tzatziki and a spicy feta spread, which we coupled with delicious homemade beautiful bread. We then had two salads: damos salad and, of course, Greek salad. Then came homemade sausage and kleftiko (a mix of lamb, chicken and beef).

Then we MADE sweet phyllo rolls, which we enjoyed together with a Greek-style cheesecake. Last of all, we had wonderful Greek coffee and when we finished it, imagine our surprise when Dionysia asked us to turn our cups over and let the leftover coffee drain to the bottom. Of course, everyone’s designs which appeared on the cups were quite interesting and she then ‘interpreted’ what each design meant, similar to fortune telling according to Greek customs. It was a fun (and most filling) afternoon and evening. I asked Dionysia whether Greeks really had that much food every day and they do! However, a meal like that lasts two meals….” —Victoria Jones

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France & Italy: Truffle hunting, organic farm tour…

Chiesa di San Biagio standing in a green landscape of Montepulciano Italy Tuscany

Chiesa di San Biagio, Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Jennifer’s office is hands-down amazing! The most helpful and best expense was the VIP Meet & Greet at Charles de Gaulle, as we were transferring airlines and don’t speak French. Brice, our greeter, was on the jet bridge as soon as we deplaned, whisked us through passport check, carried our bags and assisted our transfer to Terminal 1, checked us in, whisked us again through security & showed us our gate. Priceless!!!

The castles recommended where Jennifer has solid relationships were priceless too! We were greeted with baskets of fruit, bottles of champagne and other treats. The suites we stayed in were beautifully appointed at Castello di Reschio and Castello di Casole. The staff at both properties were personable, friendly, informative and classy. Every meal we had was divine, whether it was a tasting menu or a simple buffet breakfast! The drivers/transfers/car service were clean, professional and knowledgeable—so much better than taking your chances with an Uber/taxi.

Our most memorable moments that Jennifer’s team arranged were the Truffle Hunting/Lunch and the Organic Farm Tour/Lunch. Both experiences had us with locals who educated us, then prepared meals using their products. Over-the-top fresh food made right in front of you. We loved it and felt at home with both ‘families.’” —Chrissy Croonquist

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Spain: Tapas tour, paella class, farm visit…

jamon sandwich and vermouth at Bar del Pla Barcelona Spain

Seasonal tapas as the locals enjoy it. Photo: Made for Spain & Portugal

“I visited Sevilla, Cordoba, Ubeza, Granada, Bilbao, San Sebastián, and finished in Madrid where I did day trips to Toledo and Salamanca. Every place was a joy to visit. I particularly loved Sevilla and the old city, where the guide took me for tapas and the following night I had a cooking course at her home where we made soups and paella. Granada and the Alhambra were sensational. Ubeza was a great visit where they were restoring some of the Jewish homes and creating a museum.

Visiting an organic farm and old castle in the Andalusian countryside was so special especially having lunch and a guided tour of the castle by the Countess. The Guggenheim in Bilbao was awesome and my guide gave a great tour of the huge space. Maybe my favorite place was San Sebastián—so beautiful on the water. Could definitely live there. My guide Gurutze was so great to be with. Madrid was a big city but I really enjoyed my walking tour of the city and Royal Palace. I also attended a Flamenco show and dinner which was most enjoyable. The old university in Salamanca was especially interesting. My favorite hotels were in Sevilla, Madrid, and San Sebastián.

What impressed me most about Spain was their quality of life, cleanliness, low crime rate, food, historic places of interest, and friendliness of the people. Could not recommend Spain enough as a destination. Thanks so much to Virginia and her team and to Wendy Perrin for her high standards of travel advisors.” —Leon Malkin

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

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Italy: Cheese farm, truffle hunting, cooking class…

Traditional italian food - 36 months aged in caves Italian parmesan hard cheese from Parmigiano-Reggiano, Italy.

Aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. Photo: Shutterstock

“We traveled March 11–22 to Rome, Florence, and Venice with our two adult children and then a few days in Milan on our own. We worked with Jennifer, and we couldn’t have been happier with our trip. Our cooking class in Rome with Marco was surprisingly a highlight for my 25-year-old son. My husband has not stopped talking about our day in the Tuscan countryside where we visited a cheese farm, tasted wine and olive oil, had the most incredible lunch at one of the wineries, and then ended our day with truffle hunting in the woods with the cutest truffle hunter ever, Dora.

Other highlights were an artisan tour of Florence where we met local artisans who have been continuing their family traditions for generations, glass blowing in Murano, and our trip to Burano with its beautiful colorful houses along the canals. The food was spectacular!! Every restaurant recommendation was spot-on, and when we wanted to make a change (because we needed to get one more portion of cacio e pepe), help was easily accessible and quick to respond. Jennifer planned an amazing trip that we will never forget. Thank you!” —Julie and Phil Taub

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Argentina: Winery visits, meeting Francis Mallmann…

Vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina

Vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina. Photo: Cavas Wine Lodge

“This was the second time that I worked with Maita and Santiago, and, once again, the trip was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. I started in Mendoza, Argentina, at Cavas Wine Lodge, which is located in a gorgeous vineyard and has gorgeous views from all angles. Santiago arranged for me to go to several wineries, and each was excellent and so much fun! There are hundreds of wineries to choose from, so I was delighted that Santiago found ones that were perfect for me.

Then I flew to Montevideo, Uruguay, and was driven to the absolutely delightful and gorgeous town of José Ignacio. Maita and Santiago had recommended this over Punta del Este, and they were spot on. I never would have found this little town and am now considering buying property there!  Santiago arranged very interesting tours to Garzon winery, lunch at Garzon restaurant, where I met Francis Mallmann(!) , and Pablo Atchugarry’s amazing and beautiful art, as well as the must-see Casapueblo.

Maita and Santiago will listen to your likes and dislikes, and what you want out of the trip, and will then create a bespoke itinerary that you will absolutely love! I am already working on a third trip with them.” —Susan Cunneen

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France: Private winery visits in Bordeaux

Vine-clad chateaux overlooking vineyard in Bordeaux, France.

A vineyard in Bordeaux, France. Photo: Shutterstock

“We were invited to a friend’s wedding near Montpellier. I lived in southern France many years ago, but my husband and son had never been there, and I wanted them to see Provence; my husband and I have become oenophiles, so we were also interested in visiting some winemaking châteaux in Bordeaux; and of course we had to see Paris.

Philip and his colleagues helped us pull together everything we wanted in our trip and more. They were amazing! We arrived in Paris and spent a couple of days there, with a dinner cruise on the Seine one night and dinner at Michelin-star restaurant L’Arpège another. We then traveled by TGV to Montpellier for the wedding weekend, followed by Provence, where we visited Nimes, Avignon, the Pont du Gard and many other beautiful towns and villages. Les Baux-de-Provence was a special favorite of my husband and son….

All our accommodations were top-notch—mainly small boutique hotels that were well-situated and each had their own charms. Philip’s team took care of all reservations, entry tickets, and train tickets. They really went above and beyond in Bordeaux, securing private tours for us at six châteaux in the region. It was an amazing experience to see the variety of châteaux and the winemaking process at each.” —Helen and Glenn Miller

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Mexico City: taco tour, mezcal tasting, snacking on crickets…

tacos

Tacos are a must-have in Mexico City. Photo: Shutterstock

“We have just returned from a spectacular trip to Mexico with one of Wendy’s WOW List planners. We were particularly interested in the differences and juxtaposition of the pre-Hispanic to colonial culture, visited many of the significant Aztec and Zapotec sites, as well as the Colonial churches and significant buildings. We loved the personal stories of our guides and their connections to their hometowns. As we were especially interested in the food culture, we had excellent restaurant experiences at Pujol in Mexico City, going on a taco tour, a mezcal tasting (really interesting and fun), and eating lots of chapulines–crickets—that were in season.

Zach’s staff was very accommodating in supplying us with names of cardiologists and hospitals at each city we visited, just for peace of mind. We ended our trip with two days on the beach near Puerto Escondido at a lovely small resort, Casona Sforza. We had wonderful food and a lovely room overlooking the Pacific—definitely our chill time before returning home. Zach’s staff provided a seamless trip: Timing on every event was flawless, and we had great vehicles, safe drivers, and local guides who were willing to make changes on the fly and accommodate our every request. Wendy’s WOW List will continue to be our gold standard for international travel. —Jim and Cathy Getz

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Sicily: Meeting chefs, winemakers, vulcanologists…

Mt. Etna vineyards, Sicily

Mt. Etna vineyards, Sicily. Photo: Agave Travel

“My husband and I worked with Marcello to plan a 3-week vacation in Sicily which we took in September 2022. Marcello was fabulous to work with!  He listened carefully to how we liked to travel and what we were interested in doing. He gave us a wide range of experiences to choose from and helped us create a fantastic itinerary. He clearly loves his work and his passion and excitement for Sicily is contagious!

He arranged for us to have some unique experiences. Some of the highlights include:

  • A morning spent with a local chef. First we went to the open-air food market, learning how he chose fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. Then we went to his restaurant (which is closed at lunch) and had a cooking lesson, followed by the delicious lunch we had watched him make for us.
  • Another experience was spending an afternoon and evening sailing on the Mediterranean in a 52-foot sailboat. The couple who own the boat were lovely and welcoming. They served us delicious antipasti and wine while we were sailing and watching the sunset.
  • We also visited an organic farm/ranch. We loved spending time with the owner, who spoke so passionately about his way of farming and raising cattle and horses. He was a fascinating man and it was an unforgettable experience.

Thanks to Marcello, we had a fantastic trip in Sicily.  —Davi Harrington

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Vietnam & Cambodia: Grazing at markets, sharing home-brewed plum wine…

Traditional spring rolls in Vietnamese night market.

Spring rolls are just the start of Southeast Asia’s many specialties. Photo: Shutterstock

“If you’ve considered a trip to Southeast Asia, do it now!  We are lucky to have been able to see Vietnam and Cambodia before the masses of tourists come back. Dan listened to our goals and worked these ideas into our itinerary. For example, we like to try all the foods. Throughout the trip we went to various markets and even stopped randomly on the side of the road and had a lot of fun trying some very interesting things! When I said I really wanted to find mangosteens, we did, even though they’re out of season. We ate at wonderful restaurants, street food, market stalls, and in the homes of local villagers. One of my favorite experiences was a hot pot lunch at a local’s home near the Chinese border in Bac Ha. We bonded with the local hosts, chatting with facial expressions, hand movements, and of course our guide translating, all the while drinking home-brewed plum wine.

We wanted to have some suits made for my husband, so for three days in a row, we made time to go to the tailor for fittings. We wanted to experience everything we could so, even when a torrential downpour interrupted the end of our street food scooter tour, instead of taking a taxi back to the hotel, we rode through the streets of Saigon in the rain on the scooter….so much fun and we were soaked! I decided last minute that I really wanted to see Angkor Wat at sunrise. No problem, done! And we learned so much more about the Vietnam War. We met a Vietnamese pilot that shot down two American planes during the war. What an interesting and moving interaction that was.

And then, the surprise for me was our WOW Moment. We had a special tuk-tuk ride to a boat ride on the river. On the boat we had cocktails, appetizers, entertainment with a traditional singer and a musician playing the dan tranh (which we got to try our hand at), and even lit lanterns. All of that was followed by an incredible multi-course dinner at a beautiful restaurant where our musician was playing another instrument. Everyone involved was amazing. Thank you, Wendy!” —Amy Evers

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Oaxaca, Mexico: Cooking class, mezcal tasting…

Oaxaca Toys for sale, Mexico

Colorful toys for sale at a market in Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

“There is so much to see and do in Oaxaca, and we are glad that we hired Zach to help us plan and execute this trip. We had a wonderful cooking experience with a Zapotec family, and we spent an afternoon tasting mezcal and learning how it is made with the owner himself. The history in this area of Mexico is fascinating. Black pottery, Alebrijes, natural dyed wall hangings and rugs…. BRING AN EMPTY SUITCASE! (Or buy one in the market, as we did.)” —Candace Chiaruttini

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Sicily: Vineyard tour, pastry class…

Granita cools you off on a hot day in Sicily. Photo: Marcello Baglioni

“We just returned from an incredible trip to Sicily, curated by Marcello. From beginning to end, Marcello did a wonderful job of listening to the sometimes varied needs and wants of our two couples, crafting personalized experiences that truly helped us understand the beauty and uniqueness of Sicily, and staying in touch to make sure we were having a wonderful time. We knew very little about this amazing island before our trip – and thanks to the interesting places and knowledgeable guides and delightful experiences arranged by Marcello, we left feeling a great affinity for Sicily and looking forward to coming back.  While it is hard to pick a favorite moment, some of the highlights included an amazing vineyard tour and lunch in the hills of Camporeale, making pastries with the incredible 82-year old Maria Grammatico in Erice, experiencing the stunning Infiorata in Noto and hiking on Mt. Etna with a Vulcanologist during a very active time. We will be reliving this trip for years to come. Thank you Wendy for introducing us to Marcello and bravo to his entire team!” —Lisa Wollan

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rainbow umbrellas hover over a street of shops and restaurants in Istanbul turkey

Winter Is Europe’s Secret Season

Savvy travelers love Europe in winter and not just because they can avoid the sticker shock and tourist crowds of peak season. It’s easier in winter to feel connected to local life, as it’s easier to meet the local people and see how they really live. More time may be spent indoors, but museums feel like your own private galleries, and it’s easier to get into the most in-demand restaurants for fabulous meals. Insider experiences, charming scenery, and great food are all accessible and available, as the travelers below discovered, if you just know the right trip designers who can help you make the most of this cozy time of year. Here’s what it means to get a WOW trip.


NORWAY: “We were in the middle of a herd of hundreds of reindeer, watching them and admiring their beauty inside an Arctic wonderland.”

Traveler Julie Silbermann feeding reindeer in Norway.

Julie Silbermann spent a day with Sami people and got to help feed their reindeer.

“WOW! What a trip we had to Finnmark in northern Norway! We can’t thank Wendy enough for connecting us with Jan and Miriam for our trip March 7-15. They crafted an exciting trip of one adventure after another. We flew to Alta, which is 400 miles inside the Arctic Circle, and stayed at the Sorrisniva Arctic Wilderness Lodge. It is remote and incredibly beautiful. We stayed in a room overlooking the river and mountains with floor-to-ceiling windows. We went dog sledding, snowshoeing, and ice fishing. We even caught Arctic char, which our guide, Kalle, expertly cooked for us inside our warming tent for lunch! We were very lucky to see the Northern Lights on three out of four nights, and Helle knew just where to bring us to see the spectacular light show.

One of our most special expeditions was spending the day with the Sami people, helping them herd and feed their reindeer! We were in the middle of a herd of hundreds of reindeer, watching them and admiring their beauty inside an Arctic wonderland. Just an amazing experience. Big thanks to Trygve Nygard, Kalle, Helle, and Emilie for their special care on our expeditions. Everything was taken care of for us—there wasn’t a detail left to chance.” —Julie Silbermann

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

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PORTUGAL: “In the Alentejo region we experienced an outstanding lunch with a wine pairing, horseback ride, cork factory and hikes…”

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

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

“This was our first trip using a recommended Wendy Perrin trip planner. We travelled to Portugal March 8th—March 15th, 2024. It was a special trip to celebrate our son’s graduation from college. Our trip was planned by Goncalo and Joanna. WOW! What an amazing trip they planned for us. The accommodations that they chose for us were fantastic! Very unique and customer oriented. The destinations and route they planned—from Lisbon to the Alentejo region and the West Region—were perfect. Our driver, Sandru, was amazing and he made sure everything was taken care of when we reached our destinations. (He also knew our itinerary and was always able to answer questions.) Sandru went above and beyond to make our trip very special.

We had a wonderful cooking class and gastronomic tour with Lara in Lisbon and even attended a Benefica Football game. In the Alentejo region we experienced an outstanding lunch with a wine pairing, horseback ride, cork factory and hikes. In the West Region, a full day tour which included Obidos, Nazre, and Alcobaca. The details were taken care of for us, from tours to restaurant reservations, it was the best trip I have ever been on. I can’t wait to plan our next trip with a Wendy Perrin recommended trip planner.” —Lori Bentley

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

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NORWAY: “My focus was seeing the lights (we saw them twice, yippee!), but the entire trip turned out to be way better than we expected due to the fun activities Torunn planned for us.”

The aurora borealis in Norway, photo taken from traveler Kathye Faries.

The aurora borealis over northern Norway. Photo: Traveler Kathye Faries

“Seeing the Aurora Borealis has been on my bucket list for ages and it was time to make it happen! With Wendy’s help we were connected with Torunn, who planned a terrific 10-day adventure for us in northern Norway in February, 2024. I worked with Karin Andresen on many of the details and Karin did a wonderful job too. My focus was seeing the lights (we saw them twice, yippee!), but the entire trip turned out to be way better than we expected due to the fun activities Torunn and Karin planned for us.

We started in Alta, well north of the Arctic Circle, and stayed at a great property outside of the town in a beautiful setting on the banks of a frozen river. We went snowshoeing (easier than I thought it would be) and ice fishing with Kelle of Glod Explorer, and his husky Bruno. Jim caught an Arctic Char so our lunch was as fresh is it could get! Sitting in a lavvu, around a fire, sipping hot chocolate and eating fresh-caught fish was a real treat. We also took a snowmobile ride at night at Bjornfjeld Mountain Lodge. We were cozy in a beautiful mountaintop glass igloo, cooked our dinner over a fire and looked for the lights. On our last day in Alta we spent several hours dog sledding in the beautiful Finnmark forest and on frozen lakes, which was one of the highlights of the trip. Our guide, Hannah, ran the Iditarod two years ago and was so expert on the trails. We loved our day with her and her dog teams.

While en route to our next destination (we saw moose, reindeer and foxes along the way), we had lunch with Johan, a Sami elder, in the village of Maze. His family has raised and herded reindeer for generations and his sons are poised to take care of the business someday. We learned so much from him about his profession, about the Sami, and got to meet some of his reindeer. Fascinating.

In Karasjok we stayed at one of the most unique, exceptional small properties we’ve ever seen. Every cabin and all of the furniture in each of the 7 cabins has been built by hand from natural materials. This place is a hidden gem, set in the forest and truly magical. On property were 45 Alaskan Huskies who were very friendly and loved “cuddles” from everyone. One of our days was spent with Magrit, a Sami woman who has spent her entire life raising and herding reindeer. We went with her by snowmobile, up high in the mountains, to see and feed some of her family’s herd. We spent time in the forest around a warm fire and she shared stories with us about her life. On our last day there, I went dog sledding with the Alaskan Huskies—it was an exciting ride where the dogs broke a new trail in deep, newly fallen snow on the frozen lake. It was a wonderful experience I will never forget.

The last few days of the trip were spent in Oslo where our expert guide took us to the Nobel Peace Prize Museum (very, very moving), and the National Museum (which houses Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”). We saw several contemporary buildings—the Library and the Opera House—watched some young men run from the sauna and jump into the 32-degree water of the harbor (yikes!); and toured the Vigeland Sculpture Park.

The Aurora was as wondrous as I expected and we were so lucky to see it. Northern Norway is a beautiful part of the world with clean water, clean air, warm and friendly people and so accessible to the outdoors. When we asked local guides (who grew up in Alta and Karasjok) if they ever wanted to move away, their answer was NO!!!! We could understand why.

The trip was so smooth due to Torunn and Karin’s expertise. Prior to and during the trip we made a few itinerary adjustments and all went perfectly. All of the guides and ground transportation services were there when and where they were supposed to be, and the outfitters and lodging choices were a great fit for us. We are so glad we saw the lights but we are also so appreciative of the adventures we experienced on this wonderful, enchanting trip.” —Kathye Faries

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

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PARIS: “A fashion expert who took us to neighborhood boutiques featuring up-and-coming Parisian designers…”

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

The Louvre Museum at night, Paris. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

“This was a trip for our daughter’s college graduation. She was interested in fashion, food and the Louvre.

Let’s start by how incredibly smooth our airport arrival was! Upon exiting the aircraft, we were whisked away by Mohammad, who led us through customs, helped us with our luggage and delivered us to our driver. This alone was worth using Wendy Perrin! I bet we saved 2 hours not having to wait in the line at customs.

Jennifer, our trip planner, did a great job planning our tours and making our dining reservations! We were very impressed with each tour guide—private 1/2-day tour of the Louvre could not have been better! We loved our croissant-making class and our chef was fabulous. We were pleasantly surprised with our tour of the Dior museum—so unexpected and maybe one of our most favorite things. We had the museum to ourselves and our guide was fantastic! Jennifer secured a fashion expert who took us to neighborhood boutiques featuring up-and-coming Parisian designers and this was a real treat! We loved meeting the shop owners and we felt like locals shopping for the afternoon.

Each and every restaurant reservation that Jennifer procured provided the best table in the restaurant with amazing views of the Eiffel Tower. One of the restaurants surprised us with a sparkler in my daughter’s dessert, which was so fun.

We would definitely use Jennifer again in the future.” —Kim Brown

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

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FINLAND: “An exciting jaunt by snowmobile to learn how to ice fish on a frozen lake and then dog sledding on a snowy day…”

The cozy and warm Glass House Suite at the Arctic Treehouse Hotel in Finland.

Between outdoor adventures, Michael Ruma warmed up by the fire in his Glass House Suite. Photo: Traveler Michael Ruma

“My wife said she’d like to see the aurora borealis and, with Wendy’s help, we were quickly introduced to Leigh, who created a delightful week of fun in Finland.

We hopped an easy flight from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, which lies directly on the latitude of the Arctic Circle. An efficient, private transfer brought us to the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel. Met with warm blueberry juice, we checked into our Glass House suite. Our room had a centrally located living room with an enclosed wood burning stove along with two bathrooms, one of which had our very own dry sauna.

Advised to download the Aurora app, we learned about the KP index which predicts the probability of witnessing the northern lights. Fortunately, after dinner at the hotel, a notification from the app informed us at 9pm the chance was high! Intent on seeing the natural phenomenon, we bundled up and hiked up a trail to a 50-foot observation tower specifically designed for viewing the lights. Finnish myths say the lights are caused when a fox runs across the Arctic landscape whipping up snow from its tail, sparking the lights in the night sky.

Regardless of the cause, we were blessed by an hour display of a gray hazy line emerging in the distance and evolving into a bright green glow right in front of our eyes. As we watched and photographed the sky, the lights blew around us along our walk back to our room.

Our next two days were filled with other Arctic adventures which included an exciting jaunt by snowmobile to learn how to ice fish on a frozen lake and then dog sledding on a snowy day in the beautiful and vast northern Finnish countryside. We concluded our trip with a train ride from Rovaniemi back to Helsinki. On our last day in Helsinki, we splurged and dined at Restaurant Savoy.

We would happily come back to Finland for a future visit either in the winter to take in the unique night sky, but this time much further north, or during the summer to take in the lively and sunny long days in Helsinki filled with so much to see, taste, and do. Delighted by its vast country, small polite population, and compact capital, its seasonally focused food, and its matter-of-fact and kind people. We had such fun in Finland.” —Michael Ruma

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

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SICILY: “Getting to know Sicilians—over good conversations, culinary experiences, archaeology hikes, tours, food and wine—was the highlight of the entire trip.”

Sicily coastline Italy

The view of Sicily’s coastline and region, Italy. Photo: Pixabay/kirkandmimi

“We are just back from an AMAZING, perfectly planned and executed trip to Sicily. Marcello is the gold standard of travel planners. He created a perfectly curated, balanced itinerary and checked in daily to make sure all was going smoothly. We could not have covered as much as we did (in nine days) without having private drivers, who were excellent. We covered a lot of ground in Sicily with a full schedule each day, but somehow it never felt rushed.

While January might not be the ideal time to visit Sicily (with the weather less than cooperative!), we saw, learned, engaged, and met wonderful people all along the way—from Palermo and surrounding towns Monreale, Castelbuono, Cefalu to Villa Romana del Casale, Agrigento, Testa dell’Acqua, Noto, Siracusa/Ortigia to Mt Etna. More than anything, getting to know Sicilians—over good conversations, culinary experiences, archaeology hikes, tours, food and wine—was the highlight of the entire trip. Marcello’s selection of guides and hosts was superb.

Perhaps the highlight of many highlights was the final day at Mt. Etna guided by Salvo (a vulcanologist) followed by our visit to the Santa Maria La Nave Winery for a tour, wine tasting, and lunch hosted by Vera and Carmello. They epitomized the warmth, welcome and pride of purpose we found every day during this first visit to Sicily. We look forward to returning soon to this stunning, fascinating, history-filled island.” —Barbara Gross

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

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PORTUGAL: “They planned a private evening visit after the castle was closed, and we had the entire place to ourselves…”

the colorful yellow and red turrets of Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

The Pena Palace, in Sintra, Portugal. Photo: Pixabay

Goncalo and Patricia planned the perfect four-day stopover in and around Lisbon for our multi-generational family of eight. Spending a day in Sintra was a must on our list, and after being told that we would likely have to wait hours to get into Pena Palace even with advance tickets, they planned a private evening visit after the castle was closed, and we had the entire place to ourselves! This was a true VIP experience and a very memorable one for all of us!

We love trying all different local cuisines when we travel, so we did a food tour/food shopping in the morning that evolved into a cooking class in the afternoon, which everyone enjoyed. All of the restaurants Goncalo recommended were perfect, from the casual places while we were still fighting jet lag to the amazing dinner and Fado music show experience.

And, visiting Lisbon around the holidays, we had the added bonus of all of the beautiful lights and decorations around the city!” —Lauren Schor

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

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PARIS: “…a market tour and curated cooking class in the beautiful home of a French chef near the Eiffel Tower…”

Caves Legrande is one of the oldest wine shops in Paris

Caves Legrande wine shop in Paris. Photo: Caves Legrande

Jennifer planned a delightful trip for us to Paris over New Year’s, with a good mix of culture and relaxation. Highlights included a day trip to Reims, complete with an intimate lunch with champagne pairings at a family-owned champagne house; a market tour and curated cooking class in the beautiful home of a French chef near the Eiffel Tower; and a private wine-and-cheese tasting at a historic wine shop with a young sommelier highlighting new and emerging winemakers from lesser-known regions in France.

Jennifer checked in with us regularly during our trip, seamlessly managing a few last-minute, unforeseen itinerary changes. Cannot recommend her highly enough—and am looking forward to all the fun she has in store for my return trip to the Champagne region with my friends later this year! —Katie Hausfeld

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

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ROME: “Our favorite experiences were exclusive visits to the Galleria Borghese and the Galleria Doria Pamphilj…”

charming cobblestone street with ivy in Trastevere, Rome, Italy.

Cobblestone street in Trastevere, Rome, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“Nancy and I were lucky to have spent the first week of 2022 in Rome on a trip planned by Jennifer and her team.  Jennifer arranged for us to stay at the Hotel Eden while we were in Rome. The staff at the hotel were so nice to us and looked out for us during our stay.

Jennifer also arranged some great experiences during our time in Rome. By far, our favorite experiences were exclusive visits to the Galleria Borghese and the Galleria Doria Pamphilj with Alessia, our favorite guide during this trip. Alessia was able to navigate both galleries so that we saw the most we could during our limited time. and her knowledge of the art in each location was outstanding. Two other experiences which were highlights during our trip were a day trip to Naples/Pompeii with our guide Liberata and driver Salvatore, as well as a lovely food tour in the Trastevere neighborhood with Luca, where we got to sample some Roman delicacies.

We always felt looked after by Jennifer and her team. They would check in daily to see if we needed anything and they would lay out the itinerary for the next day. We feel so fortunate that we have found Jennifer and know that everything will be spectacular on a tour which she has arranged.” —Kevin Haney

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

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FRANCE & ITALY: “We wanted to do a road trip so we could see as much as we could…”

Monaco view from tete de chien rock, Provence.

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. We have driven in a handful of other countries, but we didn’t know what to expect driving in France. 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 and Piedmont trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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HUNGARY & POLAND: “On the Danube, a private boat to see the lights of nighttime Budapest…”

HUngarian Parliament building lit up at night, viewed from the Danube River Hungary

Parliament building, Hungary. Photo: Leonhard_Niederwimmer/Pixabay

“The absolute best thing we asked Gwen to add for us was VIP arrival and departure service at the airports. When we landed in Warsaw, we were whisked off to a private lounge, and the staff took our passports and handled all the details for us as we relaxed in the lounge. No lines, no frustrations with procedures, no stress. It was worth every penny. In fact, we loved it so much, we asked Gwen to add the VIP departure service to our flight leaving Budapest at the end of the trip. Once again, we hung out in a private lounge as everybody took care of our paperwork. We were escorted through private security and then to a private transfer right to the door of the plane where we were the first to board. Fantastic!

Other highlights of our trip to Poland and Hungary included:

  • In Krakow, our private tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau was so moving and impactful. Our guide’s father was a survivor of Auschwitz, and it was humbling to have him share with us. Guides really do make or break tours.
  • In Egar, a fantastic meal at the beautiful castle restaurant, with Hungarian wines paired to our various courses—the best meal of the trip!
  • On the Danube, a private boat to see the lights of nighttime Budapest.

I appreciated Gwen being willing to make changes for us as we moved through the itinerary. It was such a relief to know the logistics were handled and we had someone on call should anything change or become difficult.” —Sarah Wade

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

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ITALY: “We went to a Barolo village and had the chance to visit a Barolo wine cellar for a private tasting and tour…”

Serralunga d'Alba castle, medieval village in Piedmont, north Italy

Serralunga d’Alba castle, a medieval village in Piedmont, North Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“We were so very fortunate to be able to experience an impromptu trip to Milan and the Piedmont region in early January 2022—and we could never have done it without Jennifer. The trip was glorious. We went to a Barolo village and had the chance to visit a Barolo wine cellar for a private tasting and tour. Our guides in Torino and Milan were excellent, and we relished the opportunity to take in The Last Supper and other masterpieces with no crowds. Like NONE. In Piedmont, the weather was mild and we were able to spend a lot of time outdoors.  We made some wonderful memories and cannot say enough about how this trip abroad gave us a much needed change to start 2022.” —Gina Melton

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

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ISTANBUL: “All of our activities were private—from a cooking class to a river cruise on the Bosphorus…”

view of Bosphorus in Istanbul Turkey from deck of boat

View of the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: Tim Baker

“In January Karen and her team planned a perfect multigenerational trip to Istanbul for our family!  We were met off the plane and moved swiftly through the airport with VIP service, then transferred to our vehicle. All of our activities were private—from a cooking class to a river cruise on the Bosphorus (which I definitely recommend, to get an overview of the city when you arrive). We had the same driver each day in an immaculate vehicle equipped with wifi and always bottles of water.

Our guide, Cenk, was fabulous, so knowledgeable and he knew all the hidden gems to take us to—even diverting from our planned itinerary once he got to know us and had a better idea of things we would enjoy. In our short trip we were able to hit most of the highlights of the city without feeling rushed, thanks to Cenk. A couple of months before the trip we weren’t sure if we felt safe traveling to Istanbul, so I reached out to Wendy. Wendy suggested I speak with Karen, and I’m so glad I did!” —Lauren Schor

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

START A TRIP TO ISTANBUL

FRANCE: “We didn’t just tour this small museum; Philip arranged for the museum director to spend three hours guiding us through it…”

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

Saignon, Provence, France. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our two-week trip to France in December focused on Provence and the Riviera. Philip created a wonderful itinerary focused on memorable experiences and lesser-known sights. The hotels he chose were excellent; we especially liked Mas de Pierre in the hills northwest of Nice. Our rooms in all hotels were both comfortable and spacious—a combination less often found in France. Philip suggested a glassblowing class in Antibes, and my husband and I made three glass pieces each (two vases, one bowl, two perfume bottles with fancy stoppers, and my favorite, my jellyfish in a glass globe).

The Riviera has lots of museums, but Philip sent us to one of his favorites, the remarkable Museum of Classical Art in the hilltop village of Mougins. We didn’t just tour this small museum that intersperses antiquities with Old Masters and modern art; Philip arranged for the museum director to spend three hours guiding us through it. What an enlightening experience.

Philip also arranged black truffle hunting outside Salon de Provence, which was interesting and surprisingly educational. (They use dogs now, not pigs, because dogs can be trained with food to back away from a truffle it finds. Pigs don’t, which is why many truffle hunters are missing fingertips.)  We had a delightful seven-hour private cooking class in Aix-en-Provence with a former chef who emailed us all the recipes for the dishes we’d made.

We went horseback riding in La Camargue, the wetlands area south of Arles between the two branches of the Rhône River. La Camargue is famed for its white horses, bulls raised for French bullfighting (the bullfighters have to snatch a ribbon from between the bull’s horns, not kill it), and pink flamingos. We had fun riding horses through this region on the ranch of a former bullfighter and seeing the bulls and horses he and his elegant wife raise.

A don’t-miss experience was Hotel Mirande’s Table d’Haute dinner in Avignon. We dined in the hotel’s tiny cellar kitchen on a nearly all-French evening (except the chef and sommelier, who spoke English), which tested my vocabulary but engaged us with locals and Belgian tourists.” —Jan Heininger

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

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TURKEY: “Late December/early January turned out to be a great time to travel to Turkey”

garden restaurant at Four Seasons Sultanahmet Istanbul Turkey overlooking mosque

The Four Seasons Sultanahmet, Istanbul. Photo: Four Seasons

Karen and her team did an excellent job planning our trip to Turkey. Every transfer and tour pick-up was prompt. The drivers and guides were excellent. We loved the hotels—The Four Seasons on the Bosporus was elegant and comfortable and the view spectacular.

Late December/early January turned out to be a great time to travel to Turkey. It was chilly (although luckily for us, it was a few degrees above normal, at least in Istanbul) but the sun was shining. In addition, there weren’t large crowds even at the most frequently visited sites.

We enjoyed the restaurants that Karen recommended, and appreciate that she switched restaurants between two evenings to avoid a traffic jam due to a soccer game being played along the route from our hotel to one restaurant. The tour plan was perfect and we maximized our time sightseeing. ” —Susan Sullivan

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

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Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Panoramic view of Fortresses Lovrijenac and old town of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Where and When to Travel This Year

This year is shaping up to be another huge one for international travel.  Travelers are booking trips farther in advance than in past years, and they’re headed to Western Europe in particular. We’re predicting that Europe’s most popular locales will be packed again this year, and that peak season will extend from late April through early October. Sadly, we’re not seeing any relief from the sticker shock that grew out of the post-Covid demand for travel, given the big events that will coincide with Europe’s summer season:  Add the Olympics in France (in July), the G7 Summit in Italy (in June), and Taylor Swift concerts all over the U.K. and Europe (from May through August) to the usual annual events in tennis (Wimbledon and the French Open), soccer (the Champions League), and Formula 1 racing.  If you’re seeking true value for your dollar, watch our WOW Week Travel Talk below (recorded on February 5, 2024), and read on to learn where and when to travel this year.

Fast-forward the video to 2:30 to skip the WOW Week preamble.  Scroll down for the list of the 20 most popular countries for 2024 that we refer to in our talk. 

UPDATES
We are continually updating this article, as the travel landscapes shifts, to alert you to your smartest moves in 2024.

3/17/24 Right now you can get your passport renewed in just 2 to 3 weeks
3/13/24 Get to Thailand before the White Lotus crowds do
2/20/24 How the Olympics could affect your travels: Paris this spring and summer
2/17/24 Five great spring break ideas that combine relaxation, culture, and thrills
1/21/24  Why you should go to Europe this winter (before the spring/summer rush)
1/17/24  The key to big family trips in 2024
1/10/24  How to maximize your vacations this year
1/7/24  Spring break: Unexpected places where prices are not inflated in March/April
1/3/24  Wendy’s 2024 travel resolutions
11/8/23  Save on business-class airfares to Europe for 2024
10/29/23  How to ensure rain doesn’t ruin a winter trip
10/15/23 Time your African safari smartly to get the best value
10/22/23  How to travel safely now  
9/27/23  Europe in 2024:  Where and when you’ll find highest prices, worst crowds 
8/20/23  Europe’s high season is now May-Oct. Shoulder season is Nov-March.

Are you thinking about traveling in the Middle East?  Read these reports from WOW List travelers:
Just back from Egypt
Just back from Turkey
Just back from Dubai
Just back from Jordan and Oman
Just back from Morocco

Are you thinking about traveling near Ukraine? Read these reports from WOW List travelers:
Just back from Poland
Just back from Romania

 

SMART TRAVEL IN 2024

SOUTH AMERICA: Get it all close to home. South America continues to be an underappreciated destination—even though it has both staggeringly beautiful and enormously varied landscapes, and a cultural fabric that weaves indigenous civilizations with colonial influences. Many destinations there are no farther from home than Europe is, and there’s little to no jet lag (a big plus if you’ve got school-aged kids and you’re traveling during a short school break such as Thanksgiving week or spring break). Brook is just back from Peru; stay tuned for her on-the-ground insights. Read WOW South America trip reviews.

ASIA: Japan is back. After finally reopening its borders in late 2022, Japan was our travelers’ favorite spot in Asia in 2023. If you’re keen to go in 2024, keep in mind that 5-star hotel rates are particularly high for popular periods such as the spring cherry-blossom season. Compare that with China, where luxury brands often charge less than half what they do in Europe. Opportunities also abound in Sri Lanka, which still struggles to attract visitors even though the political situation has stabilized since 2022’s unrest. Read WOW Asia trip reviews.

PACIFIC: Consider Australia and New Zealand only if you can travel at off-peak times. These countries are our travelers’ top two destinations for 2024. If you’re still thinking about traveling there this year, look to the “shoulder seasons,” when the weather is still good but the crowds aren’t there and prices are a bit lower. The good news is that the U.S. dollar is very strong compared to its Australian and New Zealand counterparts, so prices are lower than they were pre-Covid. Read reviews from travelers just back from Australia and New Zealand.

EUROPE: Choose your timing wisely.
The high post-pandemic travel demand for Europe that we saw in 2023 taught travelers that if they want a certain caliber of accommodations and experiences there, they must book farther in advance than before. The result: More of Europe has already been booked for spring and summer than was ever the case in past years. This demand, exacerbated by inflation, will assure that prices remain steep there. If you’re bound and determined to see Europe’s most popular countries—especially Italy, France, and Greece—you’ll find the best value in under-the-radar locations. Experienced local trip-planning experts know which hotels and other service providers most successfully handled 2023’s flood of travelers and are therefore the best bets in 2024. If you can only travel in summer, which in 2023 saw extreme heat and wildfires in southern Europe, learn how our travelers beat the heat in 2023 (hint: stay close to the water) and where you can go to avoid the crowds. If your schedule is flexible, get ideas for successful winter trips here.

Opt for nonstop flights. Every connection creates an opportunity for something to go wrong: a missed flight, lost luggage, an inconvenient delay. The good news is that there are more and more flights from U.S. cities to interesting international locales. If a stop is essential, choose one of the smartest airports for making connections in, and get as close to your destination as you can, as quickly as you can. (In other words, if you’re flying to Croatia and have to connect somewhere, do it in Europe rather than in the U.S.) If you must make a domestic connection to an international flight, consider overnighting at the connection point. (For instance, if you’re flying to Africa via JFK, missing your connection could seriously disrupt your safari plans, so consider spending the night in New York.)

The larger your group, the earlier you need to plan. Since Covid we’ve seen travelers bring more family and friends along—often because they are celebrating a milestone like a graduation, or making memories as a clan of grandparents, their adult kids, and the grandkids. When you only need one hotel room, it’s usually possible to develop the ideal itinerary to suit your interests and trip goals, and then book suitable hotels. But when you need two or more rooms, you may have to patch together hotel availability wherever you can get it and let that dictate your schedule. With a multigenerational trip or other large group, booking early will maximize your options.

Buy travel insurance and evacuation assistance. It can protect your financial investment, cover any medical expenses, and give you peace of mind. If you’re sick or injured, the right travel insurance policy will cover your care at the nearest appropriate facility; you need a second layer of protection if you want to be treated at home.

These are the most popular countries in 2024 (as of January) for our travelers:
1. Italy
2. United Kingdom
3. France
4. New Zealand
5. Spain
6. Vietnam
7. Australia
8. Costa Rica
9. Norway
10. Portugal
11. Cambodia
12. Greece
13. Japan
14. South Africa
15. Ecuador (and the Galapagos)
16. Chile
17. Switzerland
18. Thailand
19. Argentina
20. Iceland

 

Links to Useful Resources

Just Back: Reviews of our Travelers’ Recent Trips

Where To Go When: Ideal Destinations For Each Month of the Year

Nonstop Flights To Make Your Travels Easier

The WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Mountain village Novara di Sicilia, Sicily, Italy

Solo Trips Done Right: Traveler Reviews

We’re hearing from more and more people who realize that they love the freedom and possibilities when they travel on their own. Read on for a selection of the solo trip reviews we’ve received. Our Trusted Travel Experts design custom-tailored trips—and when you’re the only traveler, that means your trip will be exactly the right fit for you. Here’s what you get from a WOW trip.


Chile, Peru, and Bolivia: “My Quechuan guide and driver introduced me to so many aspects of the local culture…”

Milinda Martin with her private guide and driver in Chile's Atacama Desert.

Milinda Martin with her private guide and driver in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

“Just returned from Chile, Peru, and Bolivia! Recently, Wendy has been recommending South America, and I’m so grateful I took advantage of this. Despite the warm temperatures, there were few tourists, which ensured a really authentic experience. Ashton helped me plan an extended trip to all my desired destinations: Torres Del Paine, the Amazon Basin, Lima, Santiago, Valparaiso, the Atacama, and the Altiplano of Bolivia.

It was a long journey, but I felt so supported as a single traveler all along the way. In Patagonia, Ashton recommended Patagonia Camp, a fantastic place owned by the Matetic family, of Chilean wine fame. Outstanding guides, excellent excursions, beautiful lakeside yurts, and the most divine food/wine. The camp helped ensure I met other travelers, so meals were always full of conversations.

For the Amazon, I asked for somewhere that didn’t have a ton of tourists, which took the cruises out of Iquitos off the agenda. Instead, Ashton recommended Posada Amazonas, an indigenous cooperative that sits on the Tambopata River in Peru. Here, I was the only guest for the first two days, so fully enjoyed my hikes, boat rides, and village visits that allowed me to see how life is lived in this region. The rooms are open to the rainforest, which made for magical evenings full of sounds. And it did rain on several days, which sounded one thousand times better than any recorded soundscape!

Then it was time for a few cities—Lima, Santiago, and Valparaiso. In Lima, Ashton and Wendy arranged a WOW Moment, which was right up my street: a ceviche lesson, tasting, and tour with Marisol. We went all over the city, sampling different types of ceviche and learning about this rich Peruvian tradition.

My last stop was my favorite part, four days in San Pedro de Atacama, followed by a four-day “travesia” across the Altiplano to the Uyuni Salt Flats. My Quechuan guide and driver introduced me to so many aspects of the local culture, including participating in the carnival celebrations. We hiked up volcanoes, sat in hot spring pools, rode bikes through slot canyons, and ate all the local dishes. On our final evening in Uyuni, after indulging in a wine/tapas al fresco meal, it started to rain, which meant the salt flats became a mirror of the skies. I spent three days in La Paz on the way home and loved that too. Such fascinating geography and a lively city. Four weeks of amazing journeys in three countries. I could not have asked for more, and was so thrilled with all of Ashton’s recommendations and support.

My favorite aspects of working with one of Wendy’s experts is the ability to customize when/where I’m going, to focus on places that are not overrun with tourists, to meet the local people and see how they live, and to get outside and really feel a part of the stunning landscape. Onwards!” —Milinda Martin

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

START A TRIP TO SOUTH AMERICA

Antarctica: “There needed to be lots of other single travelers and ways to engage with them…”

Travelers exploring Antarctica's ice by zodiac.

Milinda Martin and new friends explore Antarctica’s ice by zodiac.

“Antarctica! It had long been a dream to visit my seventh continent, but how to travel? As a solo traveler on his trip, it was important to me to select the right cruise ship. By nature, cruising is not my preferred method of travel, so I had some specific needs:

• There needed to be lots of other single travelers and ways to engage with them
• I wanted an active trip, meaning setting foot on the continent and doing some of my favorite activities while there – hiking, kayaking, a polar plunge
• I wanted like-minded travelers from around the world
• As much as I love families, this would not be a family cruise – I wanted time with adults
• Plenty of expertise and seminars on the continent, its history, and the animals there
• No casino, no endless buffet, no forced fun

As I have so many times in the past, I turned to one of Wendy’s experts, in his case, Ashton and his team. They immediately set up a zoom call where I could share all my wishes for this trip, and given the pricing, I wanted to make sure my choice had everything that I wanted. Ashton, Ashley, and Keri listened, and then did their research, eventually giving me four options which they walked me through. I chose Quark’s Ultramarine and was grateful that Ashley had traveled on the same ship, solo, just the year before. It was, indeed, everything I could have hoped for.

I can’t say enough about how Quark runs its operations. Every day we had full updates, were very well organized and did something exceptional. The food was amazing – healthy, varied, and we often ordered off the menu (as a gluten-free pescatarian, my diet isn’t easy). The cabin was outstanding. The excursions were just the best. I loved the kayaking, but the true highlight of the trip was the final day – a sunny, blue-sky day – when we all got a helicopter flight over the continent. We met penguins and whales and seals. We kayaked among icebergs. We dipped into the water for our polar plunge. We climbed to a lookout for a 360-degree view. And all this despite a medical emergency that forced us to return to South Georgia and med-evac someone to Chile. Despite the change in agenda, both the captain and the excursion leader ensured we did not miss out.

A cruise to Antarctica is not cheap, no matter whom you travel with, but I know I made the right choice in trusting Ashton and his team. They helped me ensure every penny was well spent, and I had the final confirmation when I was at the airport afterwards and spoke with a couple from the US that had gone on a different cruise ship: no land excursions, no kayaking, no helicopter, no adventures at all! Thank goodness I had Ashton’s team to point me in the right direction. When planning the trip of a lifetime, having a trusted expert who listens and guides is the best way to ensure success. Thank you, Team Wendy.” —Milinda Martin

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

START A TRIP TO ANTARCTICA

Norway: “I had a blast making cheese with organic cheesemakers and making glass beads with a seasoned glassmaker…”

A village in the Lofoten Islands at night.

The winter scenery of the Lofoten Islands, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

“Norway was truly magical! Torunn, Mari and the team gave me a great itinerary as a solo traveler with only a week available. I rode the magical Flam Railway and was mesmerized by Hafslo. The pictures I took did not fully capture the beauty I had the privilege of witnessing. BesteBekken was the best place to stay. Lindis cooked all the meals (accommodating all dietary restrictions) and was the tour guide to boot. We bonded in just the few short days. Her alpacas were adorable as well!

Next it was travel up north to the Lofoten Islands. Despite needing to change planes a few times, the process went off so smoothly. I was a bit anxious about renting a car but Torunn’s team was absolutely correct that this was the way to go. The apartment I stayed at in Henningsvær was on the water and a perfect location for the places I needed to get to. I had a blast making cheese with organic cheesemakers and making glass beads with a seasoned glassmaker. We were unlucky with our Northern Lights excursion but learned a lot about the physics behind their occurrence. Luck visited me the next night when I saw the lights while walking to dinner.

This trip was an unexpected joy. I can’t wait to visit again in other seasons. But to be honest, I would totally go back in the winter again (so many more places to visit in this winter wonderland).” —Rekha Mankad

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

START A TRIP TO NORWAY

Morocco: “This is what I like about planning with Wendy Perrin: meeting the people and seeing life like a local…”

Our traveler's guide outside his family home in Tangier's Medina, Morocco.

Traveler Milinda Martin’s guide AbdulRahman outside his family home in Tangier’s medina. Photo: Milinda Martin

“It had been 20 years since I had visited Morocco, and I have to say, the country is going through such a positive time. People are happy there! The government is building tons of affordable housing, redoing the waterfront areas, and spiffing up all the cities. It’s a good time to visit.

Thanks to Radia and her team, I was able to indulge my desire to learn more about the history of this country, especially the Berber culture, the invasion of the Arabs, and the long history of the Moors and Jews. Radia did not disappoint; all of my guides were experts and very willing to discuss the benefits and challenges of being such a rich land where everyone wants to be. My guide in Tangier, AbdulRahman, was OUTSTANDING. He was born in the Medina and his family still lived there, and he was able to share stories of how Tangier has changed over the centuries with all the invaders. He shared the local delicacies — mint tea and amazing cookies — with me, and we truly felt like friends by the time I moved on to Chefchaouen.

With Radia’s guidance, I visited Casablanca, and the amazing Hassan II mosque, with a Muslim scholar who could really immerse me in the religion, far beyond the 5 pillars. The trip ended in Marrakesh, where I had the most unique experience of learning how to make mosaics. This wasn’t a “tourist activity”; this was a visit to a gentleman’s workshop where we cut the tiles, arranged the mosaics and eventually plastered the mosaics into place. Radia provided a translator because the artist — having mastered this trade 40 years ago — did not speak English.

And I have to give a strong shout-out to my driver, Rachid. Throughout my tour, he was always on time, always kind, always conversational, and a great driver to boot. This is what I like about planning with Wendy Perrin: meeting the people and seeing life like a local. We visited the communal bakery and the hammam, two vital components of life for every Moroccan. I was able to go hiking in the Atlas Mountains, obtain early entry to the Majorelle Gardens, and have someone guide me through the mazes of the Medinas. The riad in Marrakesh was truly divine! Unlike other tours that whisk you here and there, in international hotels, where you never meet a local, Radia and her team ensured that I felt like a Moroccan from the very start.” —Milinda Martin

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

START A TRIP TO MOROCCO

Spain: “Maybe my favorite place was San Sebastián—so beautiful on the water. Could definitely live there…”

Leon Malkin

Leon Malkin’s view of San Sebastián from his hotel room. Photo: Traveler Leon Malkin

“I visited Sevilla, Cordoba, Ubeza, Granada, Bilbao, San Sebastián, and finished in Madrid where I did day trips to Toledo and Salamanca. Every place was a joy to visit. I particularly loved Sevilla and the old city, where the guide took me for tapas and the following night I had a cooking course at her home where we made soups and paella. Granada and the Alhambra were sensational. Ubeza was a great visit where they were restoring some of the Jewish homes and creating a museum.

Visiting an organic farm and old castle in the Andalusian countryside was so special especially having lunch and a guided tour of the castle by the Countess. The Guggenheim in Bilbao was awesome and my guide gave a great tour of the huge space. Maybe my favorite place was San Sebastián—so beautiful on the water. Could definitely live there. My guide Gurutze was so great to be with. Madrid was a big city but I really enjoyed my walking tour of the city and Royal Palace. I also attended a Flamenco show and dinner which was most enjoyable. The old university in Salamanca was especially interesting. My favorite hotels were in Sevilla, Madrid, and San Sebastián.

What impressed me most about Spain was their quality of life, cleanliness, low crime rate, food, historic places of interest, and friendliness of the people. Could not recommend Spain enough as a destination. Thanks so much to Virginia and her team and to Wendy Perrin for her high standards of travel advisors.” —Leon Malkin

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

START A TRIP TO SPAIN

Norway: “Each night after dinner I was driven to different locations to search for the northern lights…”

Northern Lights, Alta Fjord, Norway

The northern lights above Alta, Norway. Photo: Traveler Jeannie Mullen

“Just returned from a solo trip to Norway September 11-20, 2023. After my pet sitter bailed on me at the last minute, I reached out to Jan to see what he could do to adjust the 3-week driving itinerary through Norway that he and I had just finalized. Jan was very flexible, gave me several options to choose from and before long we had whittled a 21-day trip down to 10, maintaining the main focus of trip…seeing the northern lights.

I started out at Sorrisniva Wilderness Lodge in Alta, above the Arctic Circle in the northern fjords. By day I was entertained with king-crab fishing in Storekorsnes, lunch with and storytelling by a local reindeer herder, a visit to the nearby UNESCO site featuring northern Europe’s largest concentration of petroglyphs (rock art) made by hunter-gathers dating back 2000-7000 years, and a boat ride on the Alta River with Tor, one of the lodge owners. Each night after dinner I was driven to different locations to search for the lights…. It was such a great experience. I had been coached beforehand that not everyone gets to see the lights every night and sometimes not at all over a period of several nights. Fortunately I saw them each of the four nights that I was there and got some great photos. On my last night in Alta I came back early enough to see the lights with a cup of hot chocolate from the warmth of my bed. It was an experience that I will never forget.

I had shared with Jan that I had a very broad range of interests coming into this trip, so the tenor and tempo changed quickly when I arrived back in Oslo. At my request, it was all about art, architecture, history and culture. In a very fun surprise, I was treated to a WOW Moment as I walked out of the elevator my first morning there. Jan knew from our trip-planning discussions that I am involved with a professional theatre company in my hometown and had made arrangements for his sister-in-law, Ingjerd Egeberg, a Norwegian actress (and national treasure), to spend an hour with me prior to the start of my planned day. Over coffee we had a lovely discussion about the theatre and then walked across the street together to the National Theatre for a backstage tour. It was truly delightful! Thank you again, Jan and Wendy! And THEN the day started.… The museums, art, architecture and parks in Oslo were beautiful…the Munch (The Scream) Museum, City Hall, the Opera House, the Deichman Bjorvika (the world’s best new public library), the Nobel Peace Center, the Harbour Promenade in Oslo Fjord, the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History and the Vigeland Sculpture Park. The next day was spent away from the city at the Kistefos Museum in Jevnaker, one of the most important outdoor sculpture parks for contemporary art.

And then it was time to head home. I cannot say enough about Wendy’s suggestion to use Jan.… His detailed planning, choice of hotels, guides, drivers, and restaurant suggestions were all spot-on. I enjoyed myself so much on this trip that I had Jan plan a 10-day itinerary to Denmark for the fast-approaching Thanksgiving holidays. And next summer I’ll work in the driving portion of the Norway trip that I missed out on this year.” —Jeannie Mullen

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

START A TRIP TO NORWAY

Southeast Asia: “Most of my travel is solo and private, so I rely on travel planners to make everything seamless…”

Jeannie Mullen

Jeannie Mullen at the Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary in Luang Prabang, Laos.

“On a lark, and with spot-on advice and counsel from Wendy about where to go on short notice, I booked a three-week trip to Southeast Asia. Most of my travel is solo and private, so I rely on travel planners to make everything seamless and as problem-free as possible. Wendy put me in touch with Sandy and Ethan, and, just as she said they would, they were able to turn on a dime. They put together a very detailed, interesting and diverse trip for me (and that included securing expedited travel visas).

I don’t think I’ve been to that many UNESCO sites in one single trip, ever. I cannot say enough about this part of the world, the food, the people and the culture. So different than what I am used to and so very interesting. Every planning detail, including Fast Track airport service (where available) for arrivals and departures, was taken care of with great care and attention.

Vietnam was so special and different … Hanoi and Saigon such busy, eclectic places with great food, shopping, museums and live evening performances … lots of war history, which I found fascinating. I got the biggest kick out of enjoying a street food tour on the back of a Vespa scooter in rush hour traffic … being at street level and driving through the backstreets, alleys and neighborhoods added an entire new level to the experience … Contrast these experiences with very different low-key rural locations and experiences areas like Ninh Minh (a hike and a relaxing float trip), a relaxing one-night cruise on Halong Bay among gorgeous limestone islands, several nights in the provincial town of Hue to explore the Citadel, garden houses and quiet streets and a boat ride on the Perfume river, followed by several days in the ancient town of Hoi An to discover the distinctive blend of cultures and architecture in the old quarter.

Siem Reap, Cambodia … the place around which the entire trip was planned … was phenomenal … traipsing in and around the temple complexes and experiencing sunrise at Angkor Wat was a major bucket-list item. Major shout-out to Silen, my guide and Ethan’s friend, for her attention to every detail and working our way into and out of the temple complexes in such a way as to avoid other tourists. She was also a master at pacing the day so as to provide relief from the heat and humidity.

Surpassing those experiences was the day that I flew by helicopter to the even more remote and off-the-radar locations of Preah Vihear and Prasat Banteay Chhmar with Po-Thai Khan, a renowned Cambodian archaeologist. Walking these temple complexes with Thai was one of those pinch-me experiences … he was so interesting, engaging and affirming. And the temples were totally without tourists. Something I will never forget. On the way back to Siem Reap, as we skirted a massive thunderstorm, we flew through a full circle rainbow …how did Wendy manage THAT wow moment?

Thank you so much to Sandy and Ethan, and all of their family and friends in SE Asia, for turning a spur-of-the-moment trip idea into a reality for this solo wanderer.”—Jeannie Mullen

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

START A TRIP TO SOUTHEAST ASIA

India: “There is no way that I could have seen the things I saw in the bazaars, eaten the street food, or bought the treasures I did without Diggi’s help. He took me everywhere and introduced me to everyone…”

Colorful ethnic shoes and gipsy belt on yellow Rajasthan cushion cover on flea market in India.

Traditional clothes on a flea market in India. Photo: Shutterstock

“My trip with Victoria was superb. As you may recall, she created a flawless itinerary for my first trip to India several years ago. This time, it was a solo trip focused on Haridwar, Rishikesh, and Jaipur.

Haridwar was the most “off the grid” I had been thus far. It is one of the most sacred cities in Hinduism and lacks the foreign tourism one finds in Varanasi. I was one of only two international travelers I saw during my time there. My hotel, Haveli Hari Ganga, was located within the bazaar and had its own private bathing ghat. I swam in the Ganga and was able to participate with only two other guests (from Delhi) in a private Aarti ceremony. And I had my own Havan pooja the next morning with the pandit. Extraordinary.

In Rishikesh I had asked to stay within the town, as I wanted to experience the spiritual scene in town amidst the hippie seekers and the yogis. Victoria got me a balcony over the Ganga. It was exactly what I wanted. My guide in Rishikesh, Divya, was superb. She and I spent three days together, exploring everything on my list and adding to it. We had the best place to sit at each Aarti ceremony, we met with the head pandit at every mandir, I had the best guide and a private boat when I went river rafting–and swimming in the Ganga, again.

Post Rishikesh I went to Jaipur and stayed at the Samode Haveli. My first time in Jaipur I had stayed at the Rambagh Palace. My thinking is: Go big or go Samode. That is, stay at the Rambagh because there is NOTHING like it, or stay at the Samode because it is charming and heritage and much, much cheaper than the other palace hotels.

Victoria thought I could benefit from the expertise and guidance of India Beat’s Jaipur manager, Diggi, in the bazaars. She was right. There is no way that I could have seen the things I saw in the bazaars, eaten the street food, or bought the treasures I did without Diggi’s help. He took me everywhere and introduced me to everyone. We spent an entire day, at my request, choosing fabric and having dresses made, shopping, praying, speaking in Hindi, and eating lots of samosas, sweets, and faloodeh. Victoria also arranged lunch at the new Villa Palladio (I LOVE exploring hotels) outside of town. I was met by Barbara, the Italian owner, and toured the property with its manager. Gorgeous. As was lunch on the verandah overlooking the gardens.

And, just like that, two weeks had flown by and I was headed home. I recommend Victoria to your travelers without reservation and with great enthusiasm and I urge them to trust her judgment and instincts. She delivers way more than she promises.” —Jennifer Black

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

START A TRIP TO INDIA

Sicily: “Touring Palermo with a local who then helped research and translate the birth records of my great-grandfather in the village where he was born…”

coast of Cefalu, Palermo Sicily Italy

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

“The first time tour of Sicily that Matteo planned for me was an amazing cultural tour of my ancestors’ homeland. I asked him to plan a 10 day tour across the whole island, focusing on culture and food (of course, being Sicilian myself) and he did not disappoint. Sure anyone could open a tour book and pick from the standard museums and cultural attractions, however the benefit of using an experienced local agency like Matteo’s was their firsthand knowledge of experiences I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

For example, I went wine tasting at multiple vineyards, however doing so with a personal guided tour from the owner and a certified wine sommelier made the experience that much more exceptional and personal. I visited an almond farm (didn’t even know you could do that) where we sat down with the owner and ate an amazing traditional Sicilian lunch prepared by his wife. Of course the best was touring Palermo with a local who then helped research and translate the birth records of my great-grandfather in the village where he was born was an amazing once in a lifetime opportunity, (Thanks Enrica!) If you’re going to visit Sicily, I highly recommend you consult with an experienced agency like Matteo’s before you do.” —Chris Lopinto

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

START A TRIP TO SICILY

Thailand, Laos & Cambodia: “I surprised myself by learning to cook five excellent Thai dishes…”

Over the top view of traditional Northern Thai food on a wooden table.

Traditional Northern Thai food. Photo: Shutterstock

“I traveled to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia with an itinerary designed by Sandy and Ethan, and the trip truly surpassed my expectations. An unexpected highlight was visiting the MandaLao Elephant Sanctuary in Laos, where I got face to face with the enormous gentle animals and spent time feeding them and walking through the forest with them.

Another highlight was attending an all-day Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai where I surprised myself by learning to cook five excellent Thai dishes. We made everything from scratch under the direction of an expert Thai chef whose English was excellent.

Lastly, I loved spending five nights of luxurious relaxation at a private island resort, Song Saa, off the coast of Cambodia. Song Saa was everything I was looking for: quiet, private, tranquil and luxurious. And because I visited during the low season, it felt as if I had the island all to myself. I would happily spend another week there.” —Henry Robles

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

START A TRIP TO SOUTHEAST ASIA

Chile: “A trip that resulted in achieving several personal bests and an unforgettable time in an infinitely beautiful desert”

Traveler walking up snowy incline with walking poles in Atacama desert Chile.

That’s traveler Jeannie Mullen hiking in the Atacama Desert, Chile.

“Just back from the holidays in Chile, and I could not have been any more pleased with Tom’s trip planning. We focused on Santiago, Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, and the Atacama Desert. Highlights included:

* Vina Vik—what a phenomenal location, beautiful art and architecture, terrific young staff and fabulous food. Every detail taken care of, no matter how small. I hiked every day, had a tasting at their winery, took a cooking class with their chef, which started with choosing our ingredients for lunch from their organic garden, and also took a mixology class with their bartender and learned the secret to a pisco sour.

* Santiago—a walk through the boho neighborhoods in Valparaiso (shopping, street art, great food) and a fresh seafood lunch in Vina Del Mar. Tom’s private guide was a wealth of knowledge about current events in Chile (I’m a nerd about politics … they have just elected a new president and are writing a new constitution). She also knows where to go for the best Peruvian food (which I was on the hunt for).

* The Atacama Desert—an unexpected pleasure and my favorite experience, hands down. I didn’t know what to expect when Tom first suggested the desert, but I went with it anyway and followed his advice. I never knew how beautiful a desert could be. From every angle, at every time of day … the colors. Awasi is an interesting and authentic local property, fresh and creative food, an energetic, caring and engaging staff, and attention to absolutely every single detail. Every guest is assigned their own guide/trekker and 4×4 vehicle for the entirety of their stay. Each day we trekked to a new and interesting place—the salt flats, the petroglyphs, canyons, etc. We’d hike in the morning and in the afternoons, never in the middle of the day when the heat was at its worst. One morning we left at 5:30 a.m. to drive to the geysers in time for the sunrise. On the way back we stopped at a scenic overlook and my trekking guide cooked me breakfast out of the back of the 4×4.

On what would have been my last day to trek before heading to the Calama airport the next morning, my guide convinced me that I could trek to the summit of Toco volcano (elevation approx 18,400 ft). I took a leap of faith and extended my trip an extra day in order to make the ascent (Tom and the Awasi staff made it easy for me to do this by handling all of those last-minute travel logistics also). On the way back we stopped for lunch (again out of the back of the 4×4), and then they called ahead and made arrangements for a massage upon my return. When we got back to Awasi, the staff was waiting outside the front gate to congratulate me. A day that I will never, ever forget. And all because of their encouragement. That night at dinner, Pablo, the sommelier, recommended an infusion (tea) with rica rica to help me recover from the affects of the altitude. In sum, a phenomenal leg to the trip that resulted in achieving several personal bests and an unforgettable time in an infinitely beautiful desert.” —Jeannie Mullen

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

START A TRIP TO CHILE

Iceland: “The trip of a lifetime for me…”

Sea cave, Iceland. Photo: Arnar Kristjansson Photography

Chris planned the trip of a lifetime to Iceland for me. I contacted him only two weeks before departure, and he put together an incredibly detailed itinerary, including reservations at the top hotels and restaurants. He also arranged fascinating experiences such as hiking to an ice cave inside a glacier, bathing in an outdoor thermal pool overlooking a fjord and mountains, and a stay at the spectacular private Retreat at the Blue Lagoon. Iceland and its scenery were magnificent.” —Lyn McHugh

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

START A TRIP TO ICELAND

Egypt: “The on-the-ground team was terrific about flexibility. I felt like they were my ‘genies in a bottle.’ Whatever I wished for, they went out of their way to make it happen, even on the same day!”

Queen Hatshepsut's mortuary temple in Luxor as seen from our hot air balloon just after dawn Egypt.

Hot air balloon, Luxor, Egypt. Photo: Stephen Behnen

Jim and his team check all the boxes.

Excellent guides, check!

Well curated—not days so full, I forgot what I saw—check!

Customized for me, check!

Flawless execution, check!

A high-quality, on-the-ground team, check!

Comfortable vehicles, check!

Flexibility with start time and itinerary, check!

Private experiences, check!

Behind-the-scenes opportunities, check!

Here are some stories to provide a flavor of what made this trip a WOW experience.

In Cairo, my hotel room wasn’t what I was expecting. Jim’s logistics person, who met me at the airport and took me to my hotel, was determined to change that. He wouldn’t leave the hotel until he spoke to the manager, and then shortly after that, despite the hotel being full, I was moved to the room I wanted.

Not only was my Cairo guide well-educated and knowledgeable, I felt as though she was matched to me. We had so much in common; we felt like friends by the end of our time together.

Jim provided a comprehensive itinerary and assured me it was flexible, and it was. The on-the-ground team was terrific about flexibility. I felt like they were my “genies in a bottle.” Whatever I wished for, they went out of their way to make it happen, even on the same day! When I thanked my guide for this, her response was, “You don’t come to Egypt every day, we want you to have the best experience.”

I could share many examples of what made this trip a WOW experience; here’s my favorite.

I wanted to see Jewish history in Cairo, in particular, to meet the “leader” of the few remaining Jews and visit the Jewish cemetery. Jim’s team tried hard to arrange these two requests in advance but was unsuccessful. The leader was out of town, and the government said no to visiting the cemetery. Unbeknownst to me, they were not giving up. Both my guide and the driver (who was also Wow, btw) were determined to make it happen, and they did. The driver drove down a road that didn’t seem drivable, stopped in front of a gate, and tested it. It was open, and in we went. It turned out this was an old Muslim cemetery. My guide spoke to some men she found. They knew about the Jewish one, called someone, I gave them some baksheesh (she told me how much), and off we went to the Jewish one, where someone was waiting to let us in for a bit more baksheesh. It was a wonderful experience seeing a centuries-old resting place of my ancestors, but what made it a lasting memory was the effort of the guide and the driver to make it happen.

I could go on and on with examples. Jim took me on rather last-minute because I was in a bind. The planner I had started working with had dropped the ball, and I was anxious because I was traveling alone. I had just learned about Wendy Perrin and contacted her, hoping to rescue my trip. Jim said yes despite being busy and in the middle of a move. From beginning to end, he and everyone on his team continued to say yes, and the process was flawless.”—Elisa Spain

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

START A TRIP TO EGYPT

London: “My private tours were fantastic, with guides who made London come alive for me by showing me different ways to experience the city…”

Aerial view of the Westminster Abbey from the Skyline in London.

Aerial view of the Westminster Abbey in London. Photo: Shutterstock

“I am just back from a magnificent visit to London. Wendy directed me to Jonathan and his wonderful colleague Katie, who were super attentive to my interests and also my circumstance as a woman traveling alone. January in London is the off-season, but still I never expected to see Westminster Abbey with only five other visitors! The same was true almost everywhere I went, whether Churchill’s War Rooms, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, the British Museum. The food markets were busy but mostly with locals, as were the pubs and restaurants.

My private tours were fantastic, with guides who made London come alive for me by showing me different ways to experience the city. I had so much fun learning about London street art from Alex, and Emma’s history of London in four drinks ended up in a gin distillery—what’s not to love about a great history lesson with a gin and tonic in hand!  I really wanted to visit Hampton Court Palace again and fit in a visit to Oxford. Simon, my driver-guide, made my day to Hampton Court and Oxford extra special by suggesting we include a stop at Runnymede and also asked if I’d like to attend Evensong at one of the college chapels in Oxford. The day was filled with great conversation, meaningful history, glorious sites, and capped by a beautiful service at New College chapel.” —Nancy Footer

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

START A TRIP TO LONDON

Uzbekistan: “Zulya set up a private tour with the Museum exhibition director, who is also an art history professor at the local university…”

Tilla Kori Medreseh, Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Tilla Kori Medreseh in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Photo: Zulya Rajabova.

“I traveled to Uzbekistan. The ancient cities of Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand are all wonderful—the architecture is breathtaking, perhaps some of the best preserved Islamic architecture in the world. I learned a lot of history about this part of the world that is often overlooked in American schools! In particular, I enjoyed the Savitsky Museum in Nukus. Zulya set up a private tour with the Museum exhibition director, who is also an art history professor at the local university. She was terrific and spent over two hours with me. Her explanations of the history of the 1920s-40s in both Russia and Nukus/Uzbekistan gave me a great perspective on the art.

Another trip highlight was Zulya setting up a lunch with her family in her hometown of Bukhara. It was a real treat to meet her parents, as well as many of her siblings, nieces, and nephews. The lunch was really tasty and bountiful: They demonstrated how they make plov, the national dish, and we also had many other tasty dishes, bread, and homemade fruit juices. After lunch, the children put on a dance show, and I was asked to join them. I am NOT a dancer but gave it a go! Their warm hospitality was much appreciated, and I had a wonderful time.

The trip logistics were flawless, and the only disappointment was that the Tajikistan border inexplicably closed a day before I was to travel to Tajikistan!  So my hiking there had to be canceled—a big disappointment. However, within 24 hours, Zulya’s local team was able to organize hiking in the Tian Shan mountains outside of Tashkent instead, complete with a guesthouse and a local hiking guide. I did three hikes, and the scenery was great. While I would have preferred to see the Fann Mountains/Seven Lakes, it was great to still be able to do some hiking on such short notice.” —Sally Lee

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

START A TRIP TO UZBEKISTAN

Italy: “This review really only scratches the surface of 87 days in Italy, five weeks of which were horseback riding…”

an autumn landscape in the Chianti region of Tuscany hills in the surroundings of Radda in Chianti

Chianti region vineyard, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“The trip was the most enjoyable of my life. In 87 days, Andrea’s team showed foresight in catering to my needs/interests and flexibility in adapting to my needs and interests as they changed, instead of rigidly and blindly following the itinerary. That includes changing transport arrangements based on circumstances and my preferences and guides being willing to take me places that I saw on the spot and sounded interesting. The guides had to be among the most knowledgeable in their cities and regions. Andrea’s team worked seamlessly with a riding outfitter to mix horse trips with their arrangements. This review really only scratches the surface of 87 days in Italy, five weeks of which were horseback riding.

• Did the trip planner add value to your trip?

Yes. By having really knowledgeable guides who had dealt with the people who worked at every site who were willing to change the itinerary as circumstances and personal interests changed. We couldn’t do the Siracusa archeological area on the first day, but were able to add it to the beginning of another. Also, having private drivers meant that it was possible to see more since the driver could let us off at one place and pick us up at another. The guides and Andrea’s team were able to book restaurants at the last moment and other activities, such as puppet shows in Sicily.

• Did you have certain trip experiences that other travelers should either seek out or avoid?

They should seek out a villa in Sicily between Siracusa and Agrigento with complete mosaics that depicted in fine detail life in Ancient Rome, the private tour of the Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel, the Palazzo Colonna in Rome, the Galileo Museum in Florence, the city of Verona, and the Piemonte region, which has rolling scenery every bit as beautiful as that of Tuscany plus great views of the Alps. Being with dogs hunting truffles was a lot of fun. San Gimignano, Siena, Assisi, and Perugia were all beautifully preserved medieval and Renaissance cities/towns that made me feel transported back in time.  The only place which I wish I hadn’t visited was the August Mausoleum because the restorations and alterations totally wrecked what was an amazing building when it was constructed.” —Daniel Wile

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

START A TRIP TO ITALY

African safari: “A pregnant leopard stretched in a tree, climbed down and walked by our vehicle…”

A leopard walking around at a national park in Zimbabwe

A leopard walking around a national park in Zimbabwe. Photo: Shutterstock

“I love Africa, been there more than 5 times. I wanted to change up my next trip with a custom itinerary instead of a pre-defined tour. Wendy’s expert, Cherri, created a fabulous and memorable experience. Cherri asked me what I love about Africa. The itinerary she recommended included:

Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
Chobe National Park, Botswana
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa

In Mana Pools, views were expansive and breathtaking. The Nyamatusi camp was modern and rustic and comfortable. The staff was musical and friendly and fabulous. The heat was notable, but the plunge pool, fan, outside shower and the banks of the Zambezi River made every day super special. Elephants, wild dogs and hippos were so close and easy to watch to create a super special experience.

At Chobe, Flo, one of the earliest woman guides in Africa, was my own private guide. The place was uncrowded, so Flo and I drove and floated the Zambezi every day. We did more outings on the Zambezi and I got to see so much elephant and hippo behavior at the water’s edge!!!

On the Okavango Delta, the Kwai Tented Camp is a modern, beautiful place and extremely comfortable. Giraffe, hippo, wild dogs, lion, hyena and leopard kept us company. I got an amazing moment in a tiny helicopter ride over the delta. We also had a really close up visit with a pack of wild dogs, who were hanging out on a dry river bed near the camp. We ended the stay with a fabulous dinner in the camp boma.

At Sabi Sands, the first morning, a pregnant leopard stretched in a tree, climbed down and walked by our vehicle. Then a lion pride of about 20, including two males (brothers) and cubs 3 months, 6 months and one year old. The father of the cubs was eating what remained of a recent zebra. His brother waited nearby and one of the 6 month old cubs approached, looking for approval to check out the zebra. The father grunted, allowing the young one to chew and play with the nose area of the kill. A few times, the little one tried to move up towards the more interesting parts but was immediately corrected—back to the nose. According to the guide and tracker, this kind of behavior is very rare.

Wendy surprised me with a surprise WOW Moment—a visit to an elephant rescue, including an elephant ride. It was astounding!  I’m so hooked on Wendy’s experts for designing and arranging my trips!” —Helene Bard

Read more reviews of Africa 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.

START A TRIP TO SOUTHERN AFRICA

London & Venice:  “Alvise, my artisan tour guide, knew the amazing talents on Murano, and introduced me to Maestro Pastor and his wood-carving talents…”

venice murano island canal with boats and no crowds

The island of Murano, Venice. Photo: Pixabay

“Wendy, my dream trip to London and Venice, arranged by Jennifer and her team, was everything that I had hoped for…with a little hiccup on the side. London was as amazing as ever. Jennifer was spot-on in recommending The Kensington. It had the best martinis of the entire trip (and I tasted many all over town) and was a quick walk to the Underground for exploring the city. Special access to the Churchill War rooms, a visit to the crypts of (an almost deserted) St. Paul’s, and amazing walks through Blenheim and Chartwell. My local guide, Hugh, knew more than just what was in history and guide books….it was an amazing educational and entertaining experience. I am already planning a return to follow in the footsteps of T.E. Lawrence…Hugh, you better start reading up!!!

At the back end of the trip, Venice:  It wouldn’t be Venice if San Marco were not flooded at least once during the week…it did not disappoint. The Baglioni Hotel Luna was perfectly situated at the corner of the Piazza San Marco, right off the Grand Canal and around the corner from Harry’s Bar (still have great Bellini’s). Alvise, my artisan tour guide, knew the ins-and-outs of the cathedral, the amazing talents on Murano, and introduced me to Maestro Pastor and his wood-carving talents. But Jennifer left me just the right amount of time to wander (and get lost in) Venice on my own—it’s the best way to experience the city.

Unfortunately, the middle of the vacation was filled with major upheavals, not because of Jennifer but because of Belmond: A day before I was to embark on the Orient Express, the entire journey was cancelled. A major disappointment. However, Jennifer and her team quickly sprang into action and coordinated/expedited/confirmed transport for me from London to Bologna to Venice. It was a major logistics coup and something I could not have done without their help—it turned a nightmare scenario into a (minor) annoyance. But what would life be without such a glitch?? This only means that I will have to come back next year for the train experience—and Jennifer is already working on that. I’ll let you all know how that works out this time next year!!” —John Bradunas

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

START A TRIP TO LONDON AND VENICE

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Susan Crandell and her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson riding Icelandic horses.

Travel Experts Share their Top 6 Tips for Successful Family Travel

The best family trips are fun and deeply rewarding. Successful family travel is about minimizing stress, smoothing out logistics, and keeping everyone in the family happy, from the grandparents to the teens and toddlers. A group of people with different ages, experiences, needs, and desires all traveling together makes for challenges, but when those challenges are overcome, it creates bonding moments and lifelong memories.

Family trips are more popular now than ever before. In 2019, the average number of travelers on a trip planned via The WOW List was three. Today, our groups average seven people. So during our 2024 WOW Week, Wendy, Brook, and Hannah (all moms themselves) had a live conversation and Q&A with several WOW Listers who are experienced family-travel planners as well as parents. Also joining us, to provide the grandparent’s perspective, was Brook’s mom, Susan Crandell. Watch the video below, and scroll down for the top takeaways from our conversation.

Shape global citizens

Wendy has been traveling with her two sons for 21 years, and they’ve been to 60 countries and counting. “Traveling gives your kids a confidence that will serve them well in life,” she said. Meeting people from completely different cultures and finding out you have a lot in common is deeply impactful. It’s how we create global citizens.

“When you model that being a traveler is part of your identity, your kids will pick up on that,” Brook said. In her family’s house, they have a hallway devoted to photographs that Zeke has taken on their trips; every time he walks to his room, he sees Egypt and Iceland and Vietnam and Norway and is reminded of the memories he made in each place. “He also has two world maps on the wall in his room, with pins for all the places he’s visited, the place he’s going next, and his dream destination,” said Brook.

Make friends

When Wendy’s sons were younger, they always brought a soccer ball on their trips. It’s a great connector, as tons of kids around the world love to play—and then you can leave it behind with the kids you meet. My own kids are still quite little, so I love making parent friends in playgrounds wherever we travel. It’s an ideal way to spend time with locals in the fresh air and get intel about more fun things to do with kids.

Wendy’s younger son, Doug, plays public pianos wherever he finds them—train stations, hotel lobbies, on the street, in music stores. It’s a fantastic ice breaker and conversation starter.

Assign jobs to kids

“Get buy-in from everybody, even if you’re the one paying the bill,” Susan suggested. In Iceland, she got her family to go horseback riding with her, something they wouldn’t have necessarily chosen—and then she went out of her comfort zone to ride an ATV, at her grandson’s request. It ended up being more fun than she expected. There’s always going to be compromise when traveling with a group, so it’s vital that everyone gets a say in the itinerary.

Zach Rabinor, on The WOW List for Mexico, took an eight-month road trip to 13 countries from Tierra del Fuego to Mexico with his family: his wife and two sons who were then 10 and 13, and at times joined by his in-laws and his mom, who was 78. His advice is to “involve everyone in the planning process, not just to avoid missteps but to get everyone engaged and excited.” Assigning responsibility to his kids helped them feel invested in the trip. One of his sons loves maps and took charge of directions. His other son, an avid reader, gave historical background and figured out the right tipping protocol in different places.

Seek out hands-on activities

Think beyond museums and landmarks. Brook and her family have “explored caves built by a pre-Viking civilization in Iceland, clambered through a Vietcong hideout in Saigon, and made cheese with a farmer in Norway—that last one wasn’t just hands-on, we were literally up to our elbows in whey!” These are the sorts of adventures that stick with all of us long after we’ve returned home, and the sort of experiences our WOW List fixers are experts at creating.

Jim Berkeley, on The WOW List for Egypt, gave his then-five-year-old son his camera in Luxor and let him follow his own inspiration. WOW List travel experts can also help steer you to guides who are excellent with children, or who even have their own children who might come along and play. “Let kids’ imaginations fly,” Jim says. “That’s what travel is all about—the world is their classroom.”

Schedule smartly

Jennifer Virgilio, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for France, England, Italy, and Switzerland, said that it’s going to be an incredibly busy summer in Europe. The Paris Olympics, Taylor Swift concerts, Wimbledon, the French Open, the Champions League, and the Formula 1 races are just the beginning of events taking over European cities. “It changes the whole landscape as a destination,” Jennifer explained. “If you are going to Paris for the first time, it’s best to wait.” If your heart is set on France and you can travel only in summertime, there are many lesser-known locales outside Paris that won’t be affected by the Olympics.

But even if, like many families, you’re forced to work around school breaks, there are alternatives to going in summer. For example, Thanksgiving is not a holiday outside the U.S., so it’s a smart time to head to Europe. If you must travel in summer, think about unexpected places such as Canada’s Maritime Provinces, including Newfoundland, to escape summertime heat, or Mexico’s Riviera Maya, to swim with whale sharks. Our WOW List experts can help you around crowds and maximize value wherever you go.

Keep it simple

Meg Austin, our expert for Caribbean beach vacations and ski vacations in the U.S. Rockies, highly recommends choosing direct flights whenever possible. Anything you can do to reduce hassle and smooth out logistics is worth the expense. “Don’t overschedule,” she urged. Make sure to build downtime into your itinerary.

All-inclusives are raising the bar on quality food—some even hiring Michelin-starred chefs, Meg reported. Ski resorts are great options for families, and ski resorts in the summer offer fantastic value, with plenty to do.

Pace your itinerary properly as well. “You don’t know how jet lag is going to affect your family,” said Jennifer. Try to stay awake the day you arrive and get to sleep at the time where you are.” Skip ambitious activities for the first morning, to give your group time to decompress after a long journey. Or skip jet lag all-together by traveling to the Caribbean, Mexico, or Central or South America.

Some final words of wisdom from Meg: “Always pack your sense of humor and your patience.”

 

We’ve published many stories about how to make the most of family travel over the years. Here are some of our favorites—and most helpful:

Traveling with Grandkids: Tips for a Successful Three-Generation Trip

This Is One Way My Family Gets to Know Locals When We Travel

How to Make Friends With Local People When Traveling

Colombia Is for Families: It’s Close, Safe, and Fascinating

Wendy’s Family Trip to Belize: Photos from the Beach and Sea

European Cities that are Surprisingly Kid-Friendly

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Family Trip to Egypt

Do’s and Don’ts for Your Trip to London

5 Ways To Get Your Child to Try New Foods When Traveling: A 12-Year-Old’s Advice

How to Make Sophisticated Travel Destinations Fun for the Whole Family

We Had the Best Family Trip in Whistler and We Never Put on Skis

Wendy’s Trip Photos from Morocco: An Unusual Spring Break Idea

My Family’s Best Christmas Abroad

How to Find the Perfect Vacation Rental: Tips for Your First Time, or any Time

Summer Vacation at a Ski Resort? Yes, and Here’s Why

Adventurous, Exotic Travel with Young Kids: It Is Possible

Italy Vacation Ideas for Every Age

Great Inspiration for Graduation Trips

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Family Trip to Southeast Asia

This Is What Makes Namibia So Cool

How to Have a Kid-Friendly River Cruise: Advice From a 12-Year-Old

Things to Know Before Booking Your Family Cruise: Tips From a 12-Year-Old

Why My Most Relaxing Vacation Was a Disney Cruise

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Brook Wilkinson in Machu Picchu, Peru.

South America Now: Smart Choices and Good Value

South America contains fascinating diversity—of cultures, landscapes, and activities ranging from wine tasting to wildlife viewing to bucket-list hiking. And while parts of the continent are once again receiving as many travelers as they did pre-Covid, those numbers are still an order of magnitude smaller than the crowds flocking to Europe’s most popular spots. While 2023 saw 35 million tourists visit Rome, for example, just 7 million visited all of Argentina. So often overlooked, and yet so rich in possibilities: You’d be wise to put South America on your 2024 travel calendar.

During our WOW Week 2024 Travel Talk on February 6, WOW List experts for South America joined Wendy and Brook to share what’s new in South America, what might surprise you, and how to ensure your trip there goes smoothly. Watch the full video, and scroll down for the top takeaways:

Top Takeaways

If your heart is set on the Galapagos, book far in advance, advises WOW Lister Allie Almario. Only 70 ships are allowed to cruise around the islands, and most carry just 20 to 48 passengers. So that your choices aren’t limited, start planning 8 to 9 months ahead—especially if you’re a family that needs multiple cabins.

Animal lovers should know about “Blue Patagonia,” says WOW Lister Maita Barrenechea. While this region is best known for mountains and hiking, its coastline is home to an abundance of marine wildlife: penguins, whales, sea lions, elephant seals, orcas, and dolphins. You’ll find the greatest concentrations of animals from October through the first week of December.

Colombia is maturing as a luxury-travel destination, reports WOW Lister Boris Seckovic. The Four Seasons will soon open its third hotel there, which will be in the Caribbean city of Cartagena. Colombia also checks a lot of boxes for families and multigenerational groups, with colonial towns, mountain ranges, rainforest, and beaches all in close proximity.

Bolivia’s Uyuni salt flat is a photographer’s dream, shares WOW Lister Marisol Mosquera. It’s equally beautiful in the rainy season (November to March)—when it turns into a lake with islands dotted by giant cacti—and in the dry season (May to October), when you can drive across the crystalline surface.

Trekking in the Andes isn’t just about the Inca Trail, says WOW Lister Tom Damon. For instance, he can arrange a glamping experience in Peru’s Sacred Valley with tents large enough to stand up in, cots fitted with mattresses and pillows, a staff to cook for you, and animals to carry your gear.

Chile’s wine regions are vastly underrated, according to WOW Lister Jordan Harvey. A few of his favorites within driving distance of Santiago are the Casablanca Valley, for soft reds like pinot noir, and the Colchagua Valley, for more robust varietals like cabernet and carménère.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Waterfall Agua Azul, Chiapas. Located in Mexico

Best Multigenerational Trips: Reviews from our Travelers

We see it all the time: Grandparents want to take three generations on a memorable trip—but they don’t know where to go. So we’ve compiled below reviews of our favorite multigenerational trips. Our Trusted Travel Experts know how to negotiate the particular challenges of a group that spans decades: varied interests and activity levels, reduced mobility for some, the logistics of a large group, and more. Here’s what it means to get a WOW trip. If you’re not sure where you want to go, Ask Wendy—we’d be happy to give you a personalized recommendation for your next multigenerational getaway.


Australia: boating on Sydney Harbor, bridge climb, koalas & kangaroos…

View of Sydney from the Harbour BridgeClimb Australia

View of Sydney from the Harbour BridgeClimb. Photo: Destination NSW

Stuart and Jacki prepared an amazing itinerary for our trip to Australia in December. Jacki and the driver met us at the Sydney airport on a Sunday morning at 7am—how amazing to be met by the person who made our arrangements! She suggested the Langham Sydney, and we would be using it as a home base, as we went to Uluru (Longitude 131—an amazing hotel that even prepared a bed outside if you wanted to sleep under the stars), back to Sydney, followed by a trip to the Blue Mountains (Spicers Sangoma Retreat), and then a final 5-night stay in Sydney. Our guide in the Blue Mountains was Tim, and he knew every back road and all the locations for a beautiful view. Our WOW Moment was a sunset boat ride with drinks, and the weather was perfect for it.

The children and grandchildren arrived for the last 4 nights, and she planned a great itinerary for all of us, ages 2 to 70: a Christmas carol concert at the Opera House, drivers for everything (the driver even took a video of us from above taking the Bondi Beach walk—all 9 of us), a harbor boat trip with lunch and swimming, the Sydney Bridge Climb, a private tour of the Rocks, an Aussie Backyard Tour at the zoo, and a lovely day in Hobart, visiting Russell Falls and Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary.

Our granddaughter needed a doctor, and Jacki provided a list of doctors (outside of regular hours and during the Christmas holiday!) and Tyler (the Langham’s concierge that day) made repeated calls to get us an appointment. Both Jacki and Stuart followed up with her status. The parents were very impressed with Children’s Hospital in Sydney where she was treated, and we went on with our trip. We will be using Stuart and Jacki again for our next trip to Australia—they just made it so easy!” —Denise Staal

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

START A TRIP TO AUSTRALIA

Galapagos, Andes, Amazon: island wildlife, countryside hacienda, remote eco-lodge…

Travelers and a giant tortoise in the Galapagos.

Lauren Schor and family catch up with a giant tortoise in the Galapagos.

Allie did an amazing job planning our 13-day multi-generational family trip to Ecuador for Christmas 2023. We started planning almost a year in advance. Most accommodations are smaller, with about 20 rooms total, and I would definitely suggest planning this trip well in advance, as availability dictated the outline of our trip from the beginning of the planning process. And we LOVED all of the places we stayed!

Allie suggested destinations she thought were right for us, based on our travel style and age range. In the Galapagos Islands we opted for a land-based trip rather than a cruise, and although we didn’t get to see as many islands as we would have if we’d stayed on a boat, we were very happy with our choice. We spent four days in the Galapagos (two on land exploring Santa Cruz Island—so much to see and do) and two at sea exploring multiple islands in the archipelago. Allie even arranged for a private family photo shoot on the most beautiful beach!

Next stop was in the Andes mountains back on the mainland at an amazing hacienda where we really got a feel for the culture of the country. After a couple of days here, it was time for the grand finale, the Amazon rainforest. We all thought the Galapagos would be the main highlight of a trip to Ecuador, but the Amazon was just mind-blowing. Allie sent us to the most amazing eco-lodge in a very remote location where we spent three nights. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Ecuador was very unique in that we were able to spend time in the Galapagos, the Andes Mountains and the Amazon all in one trip! Just be aware, we had a lot of very early mornings and very little downtime (naps during transit were common). Some of the excursions can be physically challenging if you don’t have great balance or stamina, especially combined with the strong equator sun. And there is a lot of moving around and time spent traveling from one place to another. However, it was all 100% worth it! Allie planned the trip of a lifetime for our family of eight!” —Lauren Schor

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Kenya: a safari camp all to themselves & beach time on the Indian Ocean

Robin Carlson

Robin Carlson and family at Instinct of the Mara, where they had the entire camp to themselves.

Julian planned a memorable trip to Kenya for our extended family of 11 people, including grandkids ranging in age from 11 to 17. We planned to arrive in Nairobi a day before we needed to leave for our first camp, to give ourselves a little time to recover from the flights. Although we thought we had plenty of time to make our connection in Amsterdam, a long delay caused us to miss our flight to Nairobi. Because we were expected in Nairobi for a morning visit to the Giraffe Center, I contacted Julian and Lisa to let them know of our arrival changes. They were able to change the Giraffe Center visit to our last day in Kenya instead of the first.

Julian suggested we start at Sweetwaters Serena Camp, so we could see rhinos. It was a perfect start. There was a water hole opposite the tents, so animals were coming and going all day and night. Meals were buffet-style, which provided plenty of options for everyone, including kids and vegetarians.

Then we flew to Instinct of the Mara for four days. We had booked two 2-bedroom suites, as well as a room for my husband and me. We were lucky to arrive in time for the beginning of the Great Migration, which was awe inspiring. Except for one day when we saw a few other vehicles, we were alone among the animals. One evening we had a sundowner with lamb roasted on a spit by the Maasai while we watched the sun set.

Our final stop was Cardamom House on the Indian Ocean. It’s a beautiful, very private spot. We enjoyed relaxing and swimming. I had requested a birthday cake for my granddaughter, and the staff went all out. The chairs were decorated with balloons. They brought cake and ice cream and sang to her. She said: best birthday ever.

Without Julian we would never have found these places. The trip was paced well, and Julian and his people were there to help us through the bumps.”—Robin Carlson

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Iceland: ice caves, geysers & waterfalls with 2 teens

Foggy day on an ice cave tour in Iceland

Barbara Fierman, her husband, and their grandsons geared up to explore an ice cave.

“The timing, both time of year and number of days, was perfect for a trip with our two 14-year-old grandsons. We knew that the boys would love adventure and Chris provided ample opportunity for that. We explored caves, a geyser, and many waterfalls, hiked in national parks and in an ice cave, and kayaked at sunset through a glacial lagoon.

Most visitors to Iceland have opportunities to soak in thermal baths, such as the famous Blue Lagoon. But I doubt if many get to hike to a heated river, where the guide blocks the water flow, thereby creating a pool for private soaking, and cooks your meal over the heated rocks. Chris provided top-notch guides and special, unusual experiences.” —Barbara Fierman

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Azores: easy access to volcano hikes, whale watching, lava tubes…

Family hike up the mountain to Lagao do Fogo on São Miguel Island in the Azores.

Tony Ford-Hutchinson and family on a hike to Lagoa do Fogo on São Miguel Island in the Azores.

“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

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Kenya: celebrating a 50th anniversary on safari, with grandkids aged 6 to 13

A cheetah in the high grass of Masai Mara, Keny

A cheetah in the Masai Mara, Kenya. Photo: Korin DeAcetis / Hippo Creek Safaris

“To celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, we decided we wanted to take our two daughters and their families on an African safari. The trip Daniel planned for us was fantastic. Since we and our daughters live in 3 different U.S. cities, we met in Nairobi and stayed for 2 nights. The accommodations at the House of Waine were outstanding and the staff very accommodating, given two of our arrivals were very late and the 4 grandkids varied in age from 6 to 13. This gave us time to get over some jet lag and see some of Nairobi. We then flew via private charter for 4 nights to a Saruni camp in Samburu, followed by another private charter to a Saruni camp in Maasai Mara for 4 nights, before returning to Nairobi for our flights home.

The staff and guides at the camps were friendly and went out of their way to please us. They had a special celebration for our anniversary at all three locations. They also celebrated one of our son-in-law’s birthdays while we were on the trip with a cake and singing at each location..

Samburu is semi-arid and Maasai Mara lush and green. It was great to see the two different areas and experience the different as well as similar animals in each. Daniel is the one that recommended the two different areas and we are quite happy he did. The pace of the trip which he planned was good; having 4 days at each camp gave us the time to truly experience and appreciate each area.

Our experience suggests that other travelers should pace their trip similar to ours. Two of our international flights were extremely late and having 2 nights in Nairobi before going to the safari camps allowed us to catch our breath. Also spending 4 nights at a camp allows you to settle in and appreciate the uniqueness of the location.

Seeing all the animals with our extended family at each location made this a special travel experience. Some of the most outstanding were seeing the 5 animals unique to the Samburu area, lions along with some cubs, leopards, cheetah, elephants, giraffes and hippos. The sundowners and meals in the bush also were very special times. Of these, the most memorable was having a bush dinner with an open bonfire and full moon celebrating our anniversary. Local folks came in their native dress, danced and sang. They encouraged the kids and adults to participate and we all had a grand time. We would not have had all these wonderful experiences if it had not been for Daniel.” —David Magdanz

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Switzerland: hiking, rafting and wine tasting with an infant in tow

Laura Roberts

The Roberts family hiking in Wengen during their WOW Trip to Switzerland. Photo: Traveler Laura Roberts

“We traveled to Switzerland for 16 days with the help of Ana in Nina’s office. I asked a lot of her because we were traveling with our four grown children, our daughter-in-law, and our 10-month-old granddaughter. She did a great job of finding interesting activities that all eight of us could enjoy! We hiked, had a raclette lunch in a candlelight cave, rafted, mountain biked, wine tasted, and much more! We had three major destinations: Zurich, Wengen and Ascona. Wengen was our favorite—beautiful views of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, accessible only by train and no cars in town.

However, the true highlight was in the mountain near Ascona. There was a local alpine festival for the opening of a cattle-grazing area high in the mountains. Ana arranged for us to go by helicopter and see the local traditions—cheese making, eating polenta and alpine horns. We were the only foreigners there, and the people were very welcoming! We loved this trip!!” —Laura Roberts

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Iceland: road trip with “action-packed days” and “hikes galore”

Susan Crandell and her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson riding Icelandic horses.

Susan Crandell and her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson riding Icelandic horses.

Chris must live on Iceland time at his home in upstate New York. Far as I can figure, there is no time you cannot reach him. He boasts concierge service for his travelers, and he delivers. When we texted at 2 a.m. East Coast time with a query, Chris was on it immediately.

Not only did he create a well-planned self-driving itinerary for us with action-packed days, but he was available throughout our trip, whether we needed to sort out a glitch or decide where to eat dinner.

There were so many highlights: transiting a glacier cave via criss-crossing planks above roaring glacial runoff; a private sanctuary tour that had us inches from two beluga whales; experiencing tolt, a unique gait of the flowing-maned Icelandic horses; Zodiac-ing among icebergs to the face of a glacier.

I would encourage anybody who loves the outdoors to visit Iceland. There are hikes galore: you can transit behind a towering waterfall, ascend to the rim of an active volcano, or visit an extraordinary black-pebble beach. We boated by Surtsey, the newest island on earth, a dozen years younger than I am.”—Susan Crandell

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Dubai & Abu Dhabi: city tours, desert adventures, theme parks…

Diane Thormodsgard

Diane Thormodsgard with her husband and grandsons on a private sunset cruise in Dubai.

“My husband and I took our grandsons (ages 14 and 13) to UAE at the end of July for 10 days. We told our grandchildren many years ago they could pick any place in the world for a trip. Dubai was the choice! Although we were skeptical about going there during the summer when it is very hot, Nicholas designed an itinerary that suited all of us perfectly. He listened to our desire to give the boys an unforgettable experience and delivered.

We started in Dubai with a stay at Atlantis the Palm, including exclusive Imperial Club access, after being met with VIP service at the airport. The boys enjoyed Aquaventure and the pool. We also had a Dubai historical tour, visited Museum of the Future, went to the “top of the Burj Khalifa,” had a helicopter ride, and went on a private sunset palm cruise with a crew of four that provided excellent service.

After leaving Dubai, we ventured to Al Maha, a luxury desert resort. What a great experience in the desert with private pools at each suite (boys had their own Bedouin suite), a desert jeep ride, camel rides, beautiful sunset, early morning falconry presentation for the grandparents, and excellent food. Our only regret is we wished we would have spent more than one night there so we could have enjoyed other activities like archery, more time in the pool and watching the many gazelles and rare Arabian Oryx on the property. As the boys said, “this is really cool!”

The next stop was Abu Dhabi, where we stayed at the WB Hotel by Hilton, which is conveniently located near many of the theme parks. After touring Abu Dhabi, which included a tour of the Grand Mosque, we finished our trip with visits to Warner Bros. World, Ferrari World and the recently opened (May) Sea World. All of the parks are covered so the hot weather was not an issue. The new Sea World is absolutely incredible. Ferrari World was the highlight, however, with an individual Ferrari car ride on nearby roads with a professional driver for each grandson.

The trip was a nice mix of history, amazing architecture, and entertainment. The guides and drivers were always early, very professional and top-notch. They readily adjusted our tours (like less shopping time) to cater to our interests. Nicholas was available during the trip for any issues or questions we had. He started working with us to plan the trip 7 months before we traveled and never hesitated to make himself available.

I would highly recommend Nicholas and staff if you are planning a trip to UAE. It was very obvious he has strong relationships with local service providers and is very knowledgeable about the area. We were definitely able to experience a “trip of our lifetime” for our grandsons and us!”—Diane Thormodsgard

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French Polynesia: a private catamaran charter and overwater bungalows on Bora Bora

yellow fish underwater in tahaa Island Tahiti

An underwater view off Tahaa Island, French Polynesia. Photo: Tahiti Tourisme

“Our family enlisted Kleon to plan our trip to French Polynesia, where we spent a week on a catamaran sailing between the islands and a stop in Bora Bora for several days.

Because there were six of us, and three generations, Kleon suggested a number of activities that would suit us all. We snorkeled with manta rays and sharks, kayaked and paddleboarded. There were also visits to a pearl farm, vanilla farm, and rum factory, all of which we truly enjoyed.

The catamaran was a perfect choice for us. There was a very professional and cordial captain, and Virginie a perfect hostess and incredible cook. Because of them, we enjoyed spending time on the cat just relaxing, reading, snoozing, etc., as much as we enjoyed our excursions.

On Bora Bora, Kleon suggested the Pearl Resort, which suited us fine. We all had overwater bungalows with patios and direct lagoon access. It was also interesting to be able to feed the myriad of fish from an opening at the bottom of the bed! Kleon’s efforts and organization made this trip very easy, seamless, and special for us!” —Vanessa Hulme

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New Zealand: Family of 6 celebrates dad’s 80th birthday

Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand. Photo: Rob-Suisted/New Zealand Tourism

“My grandfather was in the Dutch Navy and spent time in New Zealand many years ago. He always spoke about how beautiful it was and how it was his favorite place he had ever visited. So when we asked my dad where he would like to go for his 80th birthday — he said New Zealand!

We just got back from the most incredible trip planned by Jean-Michel and his team. We were traveling with 6 people from 13 to 80 years old, and Jean-Michel did a great job finding activities that we would all love.

We had only 9 days so we stayed on the west coast of the South Island and there was plenty to explore. We started in Te Anu at the Fiordland Lodge and loved the beautiful lodge and surroundings. We hiked, went fishing, and explored Milford Sound by boat. The scenery was beyond breathtaking everywhere we went! Our next stop was Queenstown and we stayed at the historic Eichardt’s Private Hotel. We had a lovely wine tasting day in Central Otago with the best guide and driver (Beau Rapley) and our daughter even went bungee jumping from the Kawarau Bridge. She loved it!! The city of Queenstown & surroundings were great – plenty of walking trails, gardens, gorgeous lake and mountain views. Not to mention great food and wine!

The last place we visited was Wild Earth Lodge in Makarora. It was the most serene and beautiful little inn run from the home of Pete and Janine. They took great care of our whole family & cooked the most delicious meals! We spent our days there hiking to the Blue Pools and having some relaxing down time. We also had our most exciting day – a helicopter tour over Mt Aspiring National Park, a hike through Siberia Valley, and a thrilling jet boat ride back down the Wilkin River. The whole trip was outstanding and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without Jean-Michel.”—Alana Jacobson

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Costa Rica: new experiences in a familiar destination

Monteverde Hummingbird Gallery

Monteverde Hummingbird Gallery, Costa Rica. Photo by Sergio Pucci/Courtesy Costa Rica Expeditions.

Priscilla planned and executed a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for my multi-generational family. The needs and wants of teenagers, adults, and seniors were all addressed. We saw too many ‘creatures’ to list, including a breaching whale, dolphin pod, sloths, quetzals, trogons, etc. —something for everyone, which isn’t easy, given the age difference and some dietary restrictions. Thanks, Wendy, for the marvelous WOW Moment—a multi-hour sea voyage that enabled us to visit with the dolphins while learning the area’s history from the charming captain.

Priscilla ensured we saw the area highlights yet had sufficient time to just relax and enjoy where we were. I was able to reunite with guides I had first met in the early 90s. Also spoke with the owner of the local coffee company established in 1994 and selling me beans ever since. In thinking about highlights, the hanging bridges at Monteverde and the breaching whale rise to the top of the list, unless you count the smiles of the grandchildren throughout the day… every day. Who says you can’t relive the past? We did!” —Linda and Joe Rothman

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Malta: private villas and outdoor adventures

William Fisher

William Fisher’s grandchildren making pastizzi in Malta.

“Our family group of nine just returned from a week-long spring break trip to the Maltese Islands, organized by Damon and Denise. The trip included grandparents, children, and grandchildren ages 16 to 10. The trip was exceptionally well organized due to the time Damon spent prior to the trip determining what our interests were and how to maximize time spent making memories with our grandchildren.

The itinerary was heavy on outdoor activities to keep the grandkids engaged. Our activities included quad-biking on Gozo; a multi-course picnic lunch with wine on a secluded bay, followed by bocce ball with local players; touring the ruins of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples; and an amazing afternoon with the local falconer, who brought an owl, Harris hawk, and Maltese falcon to share with the entire group. We took a private tour of Underground Valletta and a private Dghajsa boat ride across the Valletta harbor for more exploration. We visited a baker and his wife where we made a local pastry called pastizzi, spent time with a local artisan who made musical instruments, visited a honey farm, and ended the day with a visit to a sheep farm where we sampled some delicious cheeses.

We stayed in a beautiful villa in Gozo that included a heated indoor swimming pool! You can imagine how excited the grandkids were when they walked in the front door and saw an indoor pool. Our lodging in Valletta was equally impressive, but in a different way. It was a castle-like structure built in the late 1500s that had been updated to include all the amenities of the current day. Our driver throughout our adventure was Super Mario. He was absolutely delightful! Always on time, always helpful, and always attentive to everyone’s needs, which were often a challenge. The entire experience was exceptional.” —William Fisher

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Belize: Family of 10 celebrates a 50th anniversary

palm tree and beach overlooking turquoise Caribbean Sea South Water Caye Belize

South Water Caye, Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

“To plan for our 50th anniversary family celebration adventure in Belize, Wendy introduced us to Patricia, a native Belizean with a passion for introducing her country to the world. A year of planning with Patricia and Juliannie culminated in a 10-day trip, five days in the jungle and five days on an island. With us were four grandchildren, ages 9-12, so a lot of thought went into making sure we had lots of kid-oriented things to do. We truly wanted to hear lots of “WOWs” from them and we weren’t disappointed.

Imagine four kids flying into Belize City airport and being escorted across the tarmac and realizing they were about to jump into two helicopters and fly to their jungle resort, or their excitement of being whisked from the jungle, via private plane, over to Placencia, then jumping on a boat and arriving on an island? Their reactions when they walked into their luxurious accommodations, complete with plunge pools, were priceless.

Chaa Creek Resort in the jungle didn’t disappoint, upping the “WOWs” to new levels each day. Our butler, Candi, and her trainee Ryan spoiled us with private dinners for 10, breakfast deliveries early in the morning, fresh fruit drinks when we returned from a day of touring, even babysitting so the adults could dine together. At 4:00 a.m. one morning Candi was helping decorate an outdoor pavilion so our granddaughter could have a fun 9th birthday celebration that night. The surprises never stopped, the staff was so generous and kind, the accommodations top-notch, and the food delicious. Our granddaughter with celiac even got special gluten-free desserts every day!

We had a dedicated driver and guide, Darryl, throughout our 5 days of touring the jungle, and when rising water closed the ATM cave tour, Darryl seamlessly changed plans. Darryl introduced us to the Mayan world, helped us explore their temples, took us to a local coffee plantation and to a women’s local co-op where the grandchildren were able to hand-grind coffee beans, fresh corn for our tortillas, and try their hands at ancient pottery making. A trip deep into the jungle delivered us to zip-lining at the end of our cultural immersion day!

Ray Caye Resort beach days were spent in total relaxation mode so snorkeling, jumping off the two-story diving platform, kayaking, canoeing, sailing the Hobie cat, and even scuba diving kept us engaged. But enjoying gourmet meals, sipping drinks around the pool in the near-perfect weather, and playing family volleyball and puzzle games brought us together after far too many years of separation. The island was magical, the staff always ready to help us, anticipating our every need, and on our last night there, they surprised us with a 50th anniversary family meal on the beach. The resort covered the whole island and at one point there were only 16 vacationers on it. Talk about a private and perfect post-pandemic place to be!  Leaving “paradise” the last morning was difficult, to say the least!

Patricia ensured that the whole trip worked seamlessly and not once did we have a glitch! She also chose the very best people to support us throughout the trip. We couldn’t have asked for a better family celebration of our 50th!” —Judith Rodwell

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Morocco: Family of 8 over Christmas/New Year’s

Camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

Wendy and family on a camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

Radia and her team put together a trip of a lifetime for our multi-generational family of eight. Our 10-day trip to Morocco over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays was one of the best we have ever taken together. It was the perfect combination of cultural experiences, food experiences, sightseeing, shopping and adventure! We spent three nights in Fes, one night in the Sahara, and six nights in Marrakech. Highlights included a hike in the Atlas Mountains, followed by a cooking class at a local Berber family’s home in the mountain village. We also loved the sidecar tour around Marrakech—such a fun and different way to see the city beyond the medina, where most tourists spend all their time.

But everyone’s favorite day of the trip was the time we spent in the Sahara. We felt like we were in the pages of National Geographic as we drove ATVs over the gorgeous sand dunes—so fun and thrilling, with the most unbelievable scenery. And we drove the ATVs right to where our camels were waiting to take us on an unforgettable sunset ride and then on to our luxury tented camp for the evening, where our belongings were waiting for us. It was truly a dream come true.

We also had another surreal experience in the Sahara when we had tea with a nomadic Berber family who lives in tents without electricity or running water. We were able to talk to them and ask them questions about their life (through our guide, who translated for us)—it was a very educational and eye-opening experience, especially for our teenagers. Morocco is a feast for the senses. Even just walking around the medina and souks, the sights, sounds, tastes and smells you will experience will leave a lasting impression on you.” —Lauren Schor

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Portugal & Spain: 3 generations over Christmas/New Year’s

Sao Pedro do Corval, Portugal

Sao Pedro do Corval, Portugal. Photo: Michelle Bodine

“Our family just returned from the most magical and well-planned trip to Portugal and Spain for Christmas and New Year’s! We were thrilled to have traveled at this time of year, and especially in Europe where the Christmas lights, trees and markets made it even better. We took our four children and their spouses and four grandchildren, so fourteen all together. Wendy lined us up with the perfect people to help us plan and then succeed on a 14-day excursion with 14 people, big and small, in Portugal and Spain.

Gonçalo and Patricia were phenomenal with their hotel accommodations, food and restaurant recommendations, tour guides that fit our needs of grandchildren ages 6, 3, 1 1/2 and 3 months, and activities that enriched our trip. The itinerary was just what we wanted!  It truly was perfect in every way. There was even flexibility, so if we needed to cancel a restaurant because we were going on a food tour and would not be hungry, we could. The amount of scheduled activities and free time to explore more was perfect.

Gonçalo and Patricia are experts in what they do, and I would trust them again to plan the most satisfying travel experience for my family! They both took the precautions necessary to help us feel safe with Covid and continued to help us along our journey with lost luggage and further restaurant recommendations. We could not have done this trip without our trip planners, Gonçalo and Patricia. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts for planning a Christmas to remember forever and ever!” —Michelle Bodine

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London: Chelsea Stadium, royal history, museum scavenger hunt for a family of 10

Big Ben Clock in London, United Kingdom.

Big Ben Clock in London, United Kingdom. Photo: Shutterstock

“We recently returned from a trip to London with our family of 10 people that we had planned with Jonathan. We traveled over the Christmas holidays with our children and 4 grandchildren, aged 10-13. Jonathan and Katie’s attention to detail was superb! We stayed at the One Aldywich Hotel in Covent Garden. The hotel was amazing in every way! Our kids each had a 2-bedroom suite to accommodate their families of 4. We arrived the day after Christmas, and the kids had gifts waiting for them in each room with their names on them. The adults all had Christmas stockings filled with treats. All of the rooms were beautiful, and it was a perfect choice for people traveling with families.

Our guide, Alex, was with us for 4 days. He and Olivia, our driver, exceeded all of our expectations. Alex was great with the kids and his scavenger hunt in The British Museum was a real blast! A highlight of the trip was traveling to Hampton Court to learn all about Henry VIII and his six wives. Later that same evening, we went to the theater to see Six, which is about all of the wives. The kids also loved their visit to the Chelsea Stadium. Everything went like clockwork, from our arrival in London to the time we left for home.” —Ellen Weiner

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Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands: wildlife trip for a family of eight

Amazon Jungles in Cuyabeno National Park, Ecuador.

Amazon Jungles in Cuyabeno National Park, Ecuador. Photo: Shutterstock

“We were looking for a multi-generational, active vacation—with a strong nature component—for a group of 8 ranging from 8 years old to 75, with two very keen birdwatchers. Ecuador fit the bill, and Allie organized an outstanding vacation for us. We started in Quito with a trip up the cable car where we had views of all the volcanoes surrounding the city, then lunch on the edge of a caldera, a visit to a museum on the equator (granddaughters loved this) and a quick tour round the old town.

The next day it was off to the Napo wildlife center in the Amazon basin, where Allie had arranged for two private guides, one the top birder in the Amazon region of Ecuador and the other a more general guide for the rest who wanted a more varied trip (including a visit to the parrot clay lick and views of the many species of monkeys).

Then came Mashpi, an outstanding luxury lodge in the middle of the cloud forests. Again we had two different guides, so everyone could participate in the activities they wanted. The final leg of our trip was in the Galapagos, where the remaining six of our group went on board a luxury catamaran with 10 other passengers and 12 crew, including an excellent naturalist. With a combination of snorkeling and land-based excursions, we had great views of most of the Galapagos wildlife. Think hammerhead sharks, penguins, sea lions and turtles swimming next to you, and birds galore and giant tortoises on the land.

Our final night was in Hotel del Parque in Guayaquil and finished with an outstanding meal on the terrace at Casa Julian, surrounded by the sounds of an Ecuadorian wedding. All transfers worked perfectly, all flights were on time and no lost luggage. Thank you, Allie!” —Anthony Ford-Hutchinson

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Norway: Fishing, hiking, RIB boating in the Lofoten Islands…

Reine, Lofoten, Norway. The village of Reine under a sunny, blue sky, with the typical rorbu houses. View from the top

The village of Reine in Lofoten, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

“Part of our Norway trip included three generations: my husband and me, our daughter, and four of our grandchildren. Jan encouraged us to stay at Reine, in the Lofoten Islands. We stayed in Robuer cabins, which were exactly the right fit for the families. Jan set up a full day with a RIB boat, including a shore lunch and a hike to a cave. The next day, he set up a fishing experience and a private chef to come to our room and cook the fish for all of us.

Following the multi-generational portion of our trip, my husband and I cruised from Copenhagen up the west coast of Norway and back to Copenhagen. Jan arranged for private guides to meet us at four different stops on the cruise. These guides were more than happy to tailor the day to our needs. While the ship offered excursions, having the private guides and drivers worked best for us, enhancing the trip with their knowledge and making each destination personal.

Covid was not an issue. Norway had been closed tight for two years and opened only a few months before our trip. It was the SAS pilot strike that made some of our travel plans most worrisome. Jan and his staff were literally at our service day and night as we tried to navigate the travel concerns brought on by the strike.” —Peggy Schuemann

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Austria and Germany: Christmas markets and more, to suit ages 9 to 79

Christmas market and decorations in Vienna park next to City Hall (Rathaus), Austria,Vienna.

Vienna Park Christmas Market, Austria. Photo: Shutterstock

“Took a multi-generational family trip to Germany and Austria during the 2022 Christmas holiday. Cannot say enough good things about planning a trip with Gwen. She is by far the best we have ever experienced!  Our guides — and we had a ton of them — all were fantastic. They were able to provide for and entertain everyone from our 9-year-old son to my 79-year-old mother. This was a special feat in the cold Christmastime chaos!

Gwen had all the right advice — we felt safe and cared for throughout our train and car transfers and adventures. Our initial idea was to see the Christmas markets, but what we got was so much more — the markets were almost an afterthought. She knew where to go — Munich, Salzburg, Vienna — and what to do there. When she heard that we had a 15-year-old car fanatic with us, she made arrangements for a side trip to Stuttgart as well. Just take her advice on where to go, and you won’t be disappointed!” —Theresa Sandoval

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Portugal: A four-day stopover for a family of eight…

the colorful yellow and red turrets of Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

The Pena Palace, in Sintra, Portugal. Photo: Pixabay

Goncalo and Patricia planned the perfect four-day stopover in and around Lisbon for our multi-generational family of eight. Spending a day in Sintra was a must on our list, and after being told that we would likely have to wait hours to get into Pena Palace even with advance tickets, they planned a private evening visit after the castle was closed, and we had the entire place to ourselves! This was a true VIP experience and a very memorable one for all of us!

We love trying all different local cuisines when we travel, so we did a food tour/food shopping in the morning that evolved into a cooking class in the afternoon, which everyone enjoyed. All of the restaurants Goncalo recommended were perfect, from the casual places while we were still fighting jet lag to the amazing dinner and Fado music show experience. And, visiting Lisbon around the holidays, we had the added bonus of all of the beautiful lights and decorations around the city!” —Lauren Schor

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Mexico: private villa in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta beaches, sunsets and scenic ocean views near Bay of Banderas coastline Mexico

Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta. Photo: Shutterstock

“When we decided on a family vacation in Mexico for three generations, plus a pre-vacation vacation for my husband and me, we wanted to make sure we navigated all the ins and outs of dealing with COVID while feeling safe and still having fun. Zach and his colleagues came through on both counts.

The first stop for my husband and me was San Miguel de Allende. While we had initially hesitated to stay at the Rosewood because it was not in the center of town, Zach convinced us this hotel would be excellent, and he was correct. Thanks to him we were upgraded to their Tower Suite, which not only came with an enormous amount of space on two levels, but its own private elevator, three outdoor patios, and two butlers! Everything about this hotel was magical, and we cannot wait to return. The tours Zach arranged in San Miguel were excellent and included a market tour and cooking class with a chef, and an in-depth tour of San Miguel and Guanajuato. (Zach had difficulty convincing us to spend the time on the day tour of Guanajuato, but we are so glad he did; it is a lovely, interesting city, and we were sorry we had not allocated an extra day or two to explore there.)

The remainder of our trip was spent in Puerto Vallarta with the entire family. We had very specific requirements for a private villa: directly on the water, large enough so we would all have our own space, fully staffed, close to activities, and located an easy distance from the center of Puerto Vallarta.

Our villa, Casa Demae II, is in a gated complex, and was exquisite and outstanding in every way: spacious bedrooms (all ensuite, and most with balconies) with views of the pool and Banderas Bay, incredible common areas, infinity pool with a swim-up bar, jacuzzi, outdoor dining areas (from where we saw whales most days), streaming services—you name it, it was there! The staff were excellent and always helpful; what a treat to always have, without asking, coffee ready in the morning and (for the adults), margaritas ready in the evening!  Our chef was fantastic—we actually cancelled two dinner reservations because the food at the villa was so wonderful. Another very nice touch was simply putting the dirty clothes in the closet basket, and having clean ones reappear that afternoon. This was like having our own private hotel…but better.

As in San Miguel, the activities planned were second to none. Everyone is still talking about the whale watching tour and the day on the private catamaran around Banderas Bay with complete crew and a chef. Also, because we had the benefit of entry to the Beach Club, the staff arranged for us to jet ski, paddleboard, and snorkel only a short distance away. There is no way we could have put together this trip on our own. From the moment my husband and I landed in Guanajuato until the entire family boarded our flight home, absolutely everything was handled efficiently and worked smoothly.” —Vanessa Hulme

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Costa Rica for four active teenagers and mobility-challenged grandparents

Monteverde Costa Rica

Monteverde, Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

“We were traveling to Costa Rica with ten people, including four active teenagers who are up for any adventure and my father who didn’t want his physical disability to stop the adventure or fun for his grandchildren. Priscilla found us the perfect home on an amazing beach where we could watch the sunset daily and take day trips scuba diving, surfing, and fishing. After five days, we moved to the Monteverde Cloud Forest for the sky walk, zip-lining, and endless hikes. What really made this trip special was the planning that Priscilla did in finding us the perfect naturalist guide, Eddie, as well as the perfect physical therapist, Alonso, to travel with us for the 10 days we were away. Alonso provided my father with the best care possible and had the knowledge and ability to work with him in the pool and help him do things he has not been able to do, like taking short walks on the beach. Having Alonso with us allowed my mom to get the vacation she so needed and took all the daily stress away. As for Eddie, the naturalist guide, from the moment we met him at the airport, he got the kids engaged and interested in learning about Costa Rica. When we were out hiking, he not only helped us find the monkeys, quetzals and sloth, but educated the kids on the Cloud Forest and the environment. It was an amazing trip!” —Kristen Ebner

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Atlantic Canada: A trip “about which my three grandchildren never stop talking”

boats in the town Joe Batt's Arm, Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

Joe Batt’s Arm on Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

“For our three-generation family trip to Atlantic Canada—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland—Jill arranged excursions which we never could have arranged by ourselves and about which my three grandchildren never stop talking. These included a boat trip where we dug for clams, pulled up lobster traps, gathered fresh mussels and oysters, and had a wonderful lobster boil on a secluded beach. Another boat excursion was to islands dark with puffins, murres, razor bills, cormorants and other birds, and a boat tour of coastal resettled communities during which we saw whales. We also had a songfest in a private home with guitar and accordion. And we (and some say this was the best) hiked along the shore with Lori, a chef, who pointed out plants which were edible and then used them to make a sumptuous lunch. The vistas of inland lakes, pine forests, and ocean fronts were magnificent. This was a visit of a lifetime.” —Richard Goldin

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Spring Break: Unusual Ideas for an Amazing Family Trip

You may think that traveling over school holidays means you must tolerate crowds and inflated prices—and that’s true, if you head for a predictable destination like Hawaii or Mexico over spring break. But if you expand your horizons to consider the unexpected, spring can be a brilliant time to travel to places that aren’t in peak season. Our own team follows this advice: We’ve taken our families to Morocco, Namibia, and Southeast Asia during our kids’ spring breaks.

Below you’ll find more firsthand reports of family-friendly trips that were educational, active, and thrilling. These travelers all took advantage of a Trusted Travel Expert’s insider intel and careful planning to make the most of their kids’ limited time away from elementary school, high school, or college. Here’s what it means to get a WOW trip.


Malta with grandparents, children, and grandchildren ages 16 to 10

William Fisher

The Fisher Family enjoying a picnic lunch in Malta during their spring break trip.

“Our family group of nine just returned from a week-long spring break trip to the Maltese Islands, organized by Damon and Denise. The trip included grandparents, children, and grandchildren ages 16 to 10. The trip was exceptionally well organized due to the time Damon spent prior to the trip determining what our interests were and how to maximize time spent making memories with our grandchildren.

The itinerary was heavy on outdoor activities to keep the grandkids engaged. Our activities included quad-biking on Gozo; a multi-course picnic lunch with wine on a secluded bay, followed by bocce ball with local players; touring the ruins of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples; and an amazing afternoon with the local falconer, who brought an owl, Harris hawk, and Maltese falcon to share with the entire group. We took a private tour of Underground Valletta and a private Dghajsa boat ride across the Valletta harbor for more exploration. We visited a baker and his wife where we made a local pastry called pastizzi, spent time with a local artisan who made musical instruments, visited a honey farm, and ended the day with a visit to a sheep farm where we sampled some delicious cheeses.

We stayed in a beautiful villa in Gozo that included a heated indoor swimming pool! You can imagine how excited the grandkids were when they walked in the front door and saw an indoor pool. Our lodging in Valletta was equally impressive, but in a different way. It was a castle-like structure built in the late 1500s that had been updated to include all the amenities of the current day. Our driver throughout our adventure was Super Mario. He was absolutely delightful! Always on time, always helpful, and always attentive to everyone’s needs, which were often a challenge. The entire experience was exceptional.” —William Fisher

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Poland with teens: WWII history, ancestral roots, gingerbread…

Beautiful Krakow market square, Poland, Europe.

Krakow market square in Poland. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our family of four (two boys, 17 and 15) did two weeks from Gdansk to Torun to Warsaw to Krakow. Gwen suggested Torun, a medieval city known for its gingerbread—which we loved and highly recommend. She also encouraged the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk, and we are so happy she did—it was one of our favorites. In Warsaw a must-see is the museum POLIN (Jews in Poland). It is hands-down one of the best history museums we have ever visited and a can’t-miss in Warsaw. Gwen arranged a gingerbread-making class in Torun and a pierogi-making class in Krakow—these were both incredibly unique and memorable.

The most special part of our trip was Gwen arranging a driver and guide to take us to the small village two hours east of Krakow to the cemetery where my great-great grandparents were buried—and all we had to go on was an old print with a few sentences of my great-grandfather’s handwriting on the back.

Gwen’s guides made all the difference: At the Solidarity Museum in Gdansk, our guide Kasha shared how she remembered the day martial law was imposed because her son had an earache that day and she had to go out and get medicine—you can’t get that from a wall placard! And at the Schindler Museum in Krakow, Marta was able to navigate us through the throngs (like hundreds!) of people at the entrance. Similarly, at Auschwitz, our guide was able to get us quickly through the crowds and confusion.” —Julie Heimark

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Costa Rica with elementary, high school & college-age kids

White-Headed Capuchin monkey in Manuel Antonio, the rainforest of Costa Rica.

White-Headed Capuchin monkey in Manuel Antonio, the rainforest of Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

“My wife and I, along with our three children (elementary, high school, and college age), worked with Priscilla in the planning of a trip to Costa Rica in March. We were able to mix in plenty of activities with some relaxation.

Our first stay was at The Springs Resort and Spa in the Arenal Volcano area. The hotel offered plenty for the children to do beyond swimming. The waterfall rappelling excursion Priscilla recommended was very fun. At the hotel we spotted sloths and toucans, and the view of the volcano from the hotel room was spectacular.

Our next stop was La Paloma Lodge in Drake Bay, on the Osa Peninsula. The Sunset Rancho offered a fantastic view of the ocean, and the meals were great. Our excursion to Corcovado National Park was a highlight and we were able to see Howler Monkeys and troops of both White Faced Capuchin and Spider Monkeys. We also saw an arboreal anteater, Coatimundis, and a saltwater crocodile. Priscilla set up a wonderful night tour where we were able to see snakes, frogs, spiders, a scorpion, and even a fleeting glimpse of a Kinkajou. Cocolito Beach by the lodge offered some great waves for boogie boarding and never felt crowded. From beginning to end, Priscilla and the team provided a lot of details/organization so we could just enjoy the trip.” —Nelson Mongiovi

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Belize with 6 people ranging in age from 17 to 60: “an unforgettable experience for the whole family”

Xunantunich Mayan ruins in Belize

Xunantunich Mayan ruins. Photo: Absolute Belize

“We travel a lot but generally to the beaten-track destinations, so Belize was a bit exciting and scary when we were planning! But with Patricia’s help it was an amazing trip that was an unforgettable experience for the whole family—everyone (6 people ranging in age from 17 to 60) loved it (which is rare) and Patricia’s help was just invaluable—so thank you!

In Ambergris Cay we stayed at the Alaia—loved this resort and our villa! Obviously the seaweed situation now is unfortunate, but nothing anyone can do and it affects many Caribbean and Mexican destinations. Loved our snorkeling trip—the reef here is amazing!

Then we moved on to the jungle and Ka-Ana resort—the rooms were very nice and the people were lovely and the special birthday dinner they put together for two members of our party who had a birthday while there was just amazing! This was our favorite part of the trip. All of the activities with Darryl of Unbelizable Adventures were amazing and we all loved Darryl as a guide—just the right balance for us of adventure and caution, of educating us but not droning on or being boring! The Caracol and Xunantunich Mayan ruin tours were amazing (lots of monkeys and wildlife too!), but the pontoon boat trip was an amazing highlight—I don’t think the description in the brochure does it justice! We all had the most amazing day.

Finally we stayed in Placencia at Itzana—loved the resort and the villa and the location. Adored the snorkeling trip to that amazing small island (bird something?); such a fun day in the Caribbean. We enjoyed the spice-farm and chocolate-farm tours as well as a Mayan cooking and drumming demonstration. We also all loved the boat tour of the bioluminescent lagoon and are very glad we added it!

All the flights and arrangements went very smoothly and we had a great trip and loved Belize!”—Regina Olshan

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Galapagos: small-boat cruise with a kid-friendly crew

photo of Sea turtle swimming underwater in the Galapagos island

Sea turtle swimming underwater in the Galapagos island. Photo: Shutterstock

“My family of four (two parents, 10yr old, 12yr old) took a one-week Galapagos cruise aboard the Elite. Allie planned the trip. EVERY aspect of the journey was incredible, and none of us wanted to leave.

We plan 90% of our travel on our own, but with a trip like this, which we thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, we wanted to be 100% sure we got it right. We are so happy Wendy linked us up with Allie. Allie was essential to helping us sort through the blizzard of options (land-based or boat-based? which of a hundred boats? large or small? monohull or cat? four-day or longer? etc.). She helped us make it perfect. So perfect that maybe it won’t be once-in-a-lifetime.

With Allie’s guidance we chose a small boat (the Elite has a 16-person max). Small boats can be rocky, so she steered us toward a catamaran for more stability, to minimize the risk of seasickness. The water was generally smooth, but on one or two nights with bigger waves, we were very happy to have two hulls, especially while watching how tippy the monohulls were. We didn’t really think about it beforehand, but being aboard a catamaran allowed for a wider beam and more spacious rooms on board.

The reason to go to the Galapagos is the geological and natural history, so I’ll start there. We saw blue-footed boobies, courting frigate birds, gulls, Galapagos hawks (hunting and eating marine iguanas!) and more. We encountered a number of Galapagos tortoises in the wild. In the water, on numerous snorkeling activities, we saw more types of reef fish than I could name, from little gobis and half-inch baby puffers up to tuna. Small sharks skimmed the bottom, oblivious of us. Penguins flashed by, within a few feet, as they hunted, and we actually saw them catching fish. We never sought out sea lions because as soon as we hit the water, they found us, swimming within inches of us in circles and loops, trying to get us to play with them. Pods of sea turtles munched on algae as we floated above, swimming so close to us at times that we actually had to struggle to swim away in order not to contact or disturb them. It was simply mind-boggling how many amazing animals we saw up close.

My 12yr old was captivated by being on a boat and got to know Marcello, the captain, and Rey, the first mate. They let him take the wheel a few times. Both were great with the kids aboard. On the zodiac boats that took us from the Elite to the shore, the guys who drove those boats also let our kids take the helm a couple times. The whole crew was super friendly and seemed committed to sharing their beautiful islands and making sure everyone left having had an extraordinary experience. They all had their specific jobs which they took seriously (it was a boat, after all, so it’s all serious at some point), but when they had time, they stepped outside their appointed roles to help guests or to point out interesting things. For example, one of the crew, Francis, snorkeled whenever he could and did a great job enhancing our experience, pointing out hard-to-spot creatures like sea cucumbers or rays camouflaged on the ocean bottom.

One unexpected aspect of the trip was the beauty of the islands. Had we never stepped ashore, the trip would have been memorable just for the gorgeous islands, striking sunsets, impressive vistas, and stunning beaches. I genuinely cannot think of anything that could be improved upon. We badly want to go again, bringing aunts, uncles, and cousins to share this exceptional experience.” —John Strachan

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Southern Spain with daughters in college: food tours, an equestrian show, a Real Madrid Femeninos soccer match…

Aerial evening view of New Bridge over Guadalevin River in Ronda, Andalusia, Spain.

Aerial evening view of New Bridge over the Guadalevin River in Ronda, Andalusia. Photo: Shutterstock

“For the first of two weeks in Spain arranged by Pablo, my wife and my daughter who is about to graduate from college hit Seville, Cordoba, Jerez de la Frontera, Ronda, and Granada. It would be hard to pick a favorite, but the highlights were the bull ring and views in Ronda, the equestrian show and mini food tour in Jerez, the old town in Seville, and the Alhambra in Granada. The hotels were just what we asked Pablo for: small, boutique hotels with charm to spare.

Our second week saw us dropping our oldest at the airport and meeting our youngest, who is studying in Madrid for the spring. The highlight was being able to work with Pablo’s guide Alfonso, who took us through the Prado and through Toledo, El Escorial, and Segovia. Alfonso set us up with reservations at incredible restaurants for lunch in both Toledo and Segovia.

In Madrid we stayed at the Totem Hotel, which was absolutely fabulous. A sneaky favorite for us in Madrid was an unplanned visit to Alfredo di Stéfano stadium to see the Real Madrid Femeninos play a match. Another was an impromptu visit to an Arab bath in the lower part of a privately owned building in Toledo. This was only possible because of Alfonso’s incredible connections. Pablo and his team were great to work with, extremely accommodating, very well connected, and really delivered on what we asked for and more.” —Neil Theberge

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London and Oxford with teens: “Our best family vacation by far”

Wynne Wages

Wynne Wages and family at Windsor Castle.

“This was our best family vacation by far. My “royalist” daughter was in literal tears when we walked up to Buckingham Palace…and her enthusiasm didn’t wane throughout the entire trip. Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London…so many places were thrilling for her (and for all of us!). When Tanner wanted to go by the Lindo Wing steps, our London guide, Mark, made the time…and made her day! Trey was enthralled with the behind-the-scenes tour of the Churchill War Rooms. We all were, actually.

In Oxford, our guide Elizabeth had such grace, knowledge, and love for Oxford. Not only do I want to be her best friend, but I want to be in her book club! Stratford-Upon-Avon was great; unfortunately, Anne Hathaway’s cottage was closed, so we missed going there. But we added a stop to Holy Trinity Church and Shakespeare’s grave, so that eased the pain! Both hotels—the Chesterfield Mayfair in London and the Old Bank in Oxford—were lovely, with perfect locations. Jennifer listened to our desires, planned a wonderful trip which checked all of the boxes for our various family members, and was incredibly patient and kind throughout the entire process.” —Wynne Wages

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Egypt: temples & museums for 8- and 9-year-olds

Part of the Mortuary temple of the Queen Hatshepsut (Dayr el-Bahari or Dayr el-Bahri), Western Bank of the Nile

Hatshepsut temple, Egypt. Photo: Shutterstock

“For spring break this year in early April, my husband and I took our 8- and 9-year old children to Cairo, Aswan, Abu Simbel — and then did a spectacular Nile cruise for a few days on a small dahabiya, ending in Luxor. Thanks to Jim‘s great team (and Arlene’s endless patience!) we were able to have the bucket-list family vacation of my dreams! We were taken care of every step of the way, met by kind guides and cool cars that helped up beat the heat while seeing loads of spectacular sites efficiently.

In Cairo, Max met us at the airport and sped us through security — he was a consummate gentleman. Iman, our guide, was deeply knowledgeable, and her ability to stay one step ahead of the crowds really made the difference when we visited the pyramids and Sphinx — where we had the Sphinx all to ourselves, silent in the morning! When our children faded early on our first day (a combination of much walking and the heat), Iman transitioned smoothly into dropping us off so the kids could rest. It was such a treat to be able to visit the Grand Egyptian Museum before it officially opened to the public — even though all of the spaces weren’t open to viewing, it was a tantalizing peek at a world-class institution.

We were grateful to have Max’s assistance navigating the Cairo airport for our domestic flight to Aswan — and when we arrived in Aswan, to stay at the Old Cataract was mind-blowing. We were in the newer tower of the hotel — it was slightly suboptimal to not have adjoining rooms, but they were on the same floor at least. The Philae temple and the quarry were astonishing. Our day trip down to Abu Simbel was a memory we will all cherish as well — the engineering feat that the Egyptian government & UNESCO accomplished by moving the temples to higher ground was truly an astonishing feat.

Our Nile cruise on a five-cabin dahabiya was beautiful and calm, and a lovely respite. I worried about bugs, but we didn’t have any problems, and the food was delicious — every meal was delicious! Our favorite temple was the Temple of Horus at Edfu; the Egyptologist on the boat was terrific and really picked up on our kids’ favorite gods and made a point of highlighting them when we’d tour sites, which really brought the temples to life for them.

We disembarked at Luxor and went straight to the temple there — the hypostyle hall full of columns is astonishing. From there, we went to the Valley of the Kings, where our guide recommended a set of tombs to visit. It was hottest in Luxor — fortunately the Al Moudira was a luxurious oasis!

After flying back to Cairo, we had an unexpected last day to fill due to an evening flight — so Max’s team stepped in and got us tickets to the mummies at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization and King Tut at the Egyptian Museum.

We were a little trepidatious because it was Ramadan — but we had no problems finding food, nor were we ever in an uncomfortable position eating in front of our guides. We felt safe the whole time, and are eternally grateful for everyone’s kindness!”—Nicole Neily

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Ireland with teens: “perfect mix of sightseeing, adventure, and downtime”

Killarney National Park with a scenic tour from Killarney Jaunting Cars.

Horse tour in Killarney National Park. Photo: Shutterstock

“My friend and I took our four teenage sons on a March spring break trip to Ireland arranged by Jonathan. It was a mix of sightseeing, adventure, and downtime that was perfect for all of us. I can’t speak highly enough about our time with our private drive-guide, Frank. Frank got to know the boys and their interests and went out of his way to add to the itinerary with activities such as Gaelic Games and time with a local club soccer team. Our boys loved getting to spend time with other teens from Ireland.

Some favorite activities were our boat ride in Killarney National Park followed by a seven-mile jaunting cart ride. The Galway food walking tour was a hit for all. While the rest of our group did Gaelic games, I did a walking tour of Dublin and had a wonderful time learning about Dublin past and present.

This is my second trip that I have done going through your WOW List. Your trip planners make vacations memorable and special. I will never plan a trip without going through Wendy Perrin—and I freely share this advice with others.” —Jennifer Brown

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Portugal with teens: unique family-friendly experiences

Lisbon, Portugal skyline with Sao Jorge Castle

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

Gonçalo arranged a two-week tour of Portugal for our family of four over spring break 2022. We spent six days in Lisbon, five days exploring the hilltop Templar castelos of Central Portugal, and then three nights in the Azores. Gonçalo and his team were very responsive and provided great support, and his hotel recommendations were spot on. We loved Hotel Bairro Alto in Lisbon—luxurious, great balcony for drinks and dining, fantastic location. And São Lourenço do Barrocal in the Alentejo is now up there with one of my favorites in the world—think a Portuguese Meadowood.  Just an exquisite property, and I’m already dreaming of a return trip there.

Gonçalo planned many unique experiences for us—a graffiti workshop, dinner in a Portuguese home (the best food we ate the entire trip), rail biking outside Mervão (my 16-year-old’s favorite), stargazing in Dark Sky Alqueva (my 14-year-old’s favorite), and guided hiking in the Azores.

For me, the highlight of the trip was a picnic lunch in a nature reserve outside Sintra after braving the hordes at Pena Palace. We spent the most delightful two hours in a sunny, flower-filled meadow sipping vinho verde, enjoying delicious homemade food, and laughing and talking with Lara (the chef and foodie tour guide) and Tiago F. (our walking guide and one of the smartest and most entertaining guys we’ve met), discussing everything from the Oscars to Queirós. I felt like I was experiencing the best of authentic Portugal and its people.” —Julie Heimark

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Northern Italy with teens: private fashion, food, and Ferrari experiences

Pool view looking over the lake and mountains in Villa Balbiano, Lake Como, Italy.

Villa Balbiano, Lake Como, Italy. Photo: IC Bellagio

“For our trip to northern Italy in late March with our teen daughters (14 and 17), Andrea added value by arranging experiences that we would not have known about. First was a private experience with a couture fashion designer in her studio: We learned all about the couture and ready-to-wear markets, along with a crash course on fabrics, materials, etc….We even got to see seamstresses working on one-of-a-kind dresses.

On Lake Como we had an all-day private boat tour, and en route to Bologna we stopped at the Ferrari Museum for a private VIP tour. It was very interesting….even for non-car people! In Bologna a chef/guide met us at the hotel to walk us through the old food markets of Bologna. He taught us all about the local foods while we shopped for ingredients for our private cooking class that afternoon. The chef was entertaining and informative. Most importantly, we made the most amazing homemade pastas and sauces!

Next came Italy’s Piedmont region, best known for wine and truffles. Andrea’s group had recommended a hotel that opened last year called Casa di Langa, located in the hills outside of Alba. This hotel was amazing, and the views from our room were stunning. The Piedmont region is completely underrated!!!  It has the beauty of Tuscany without the crowds. My husband is an avid wine collector and had requested a tour of the Gaia winery in a local village. Gaia is not open to the public for tours, but Andrea used her connections to set up a private tour and tasting for us that was definitely a highlight for my husband!

On our last day, we were taken to a private home of two brothers who truffle hunt. After a truffle tutorial, we made our way up into the hills with our truffle hunting dog. It was so exciting to actually find truffles in the ground! We proceeded back to the house for an amazing selection of local cheese, salami and olive oil…..with a generous portion of truffles slices on top! Back in Alba, we wandered the narrow streets filled with locals. Northern Italy was a special area that we can’t wait to go back to!!” —Jennifer Mann

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Egypt, Jordan, Israel: Middle East adventures with teens

Travelers posing in front of one of Giza pyramids

With the right strategy, you too can see the Pyramids without crowds marring your view. Photo: Traveler Beth Nury

“Arlene meticulously planned a 17-day adventure for our family of four that began in Egypt. Egypt continues to be an international tourist hot spot, and since we started planning a bit late, few accommodations were available. However, she was able to use her contacts for stays at the Four Seasons/Cairo, where we took advantage of the strong USD and had two five-star dinners at one of its six restaurants, Riviera. Arlene took a calculated risk and recommended the Sonesta Sun Goddess Nile cruise ship, a recently refurbished ship. Her insight paid off — the ship was great! As we sailed down the Nile over four days, we happened to see that our ship was one of the only that had an outdoor balcony, which my husband and I used regularly. The staff was attentive and friendly and there was a good variety of food. Once back on land in Cairo, we really enjoyed our WOW Moment, a VIP/behind-the-scenes tour of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), not yet open to the public. Very few crowds. We then drove over to Giza, where our guide, Remunda, cleverly started our pyramid/sphinx tour backwards, avoiding long lines. Our photos were incredible! They look like we had a private tour of Giza since there are very few tourists in the background.

One of our favorite memories was the food tour in Cairo. Our tour guide, Amina, did a great job and took us to some authentic neighborhood spots that locals frequent, like a juice bar that used over 10 fruits indigenous to Egypt. Kudos to her for finding restaurants that were open early (prior to 8:00), during Ramadan!

Following Egypt, we moved on to Jordan for three nights. We specifically requested a stop in Amman so our 18-year-old daughter, who lived there in July 2022 while learning Arabic, could show us her neighborhood and school. We capped our Jordan adventure with a two-day visit to Petra. Petra is worth the hype and has definitely earned its Wonder of the World status. The archaeological park is over 2,500 acres and provides plenty of space and freedom to walk and explore the numerous rock-cut architectural masterpieces.

We finished our Middle East adventure by staying four nights in Israel. We toured Old City Jerusalem by entering through the Jaffa Gate and meandering through the four quarters to see the mix of architecture and learn more about how religious groups lived harmoniously despite different beliefs.

We will never forget the tour of the West Bank. Our tour guide, Daphna, drove us to an area very close to the Israeli military checkpoint where we nervously waited for her friend Iesaa. When he arrived, we quickly hopped into his car and drove away. Iessa gave us an inside tour of the West Bank, highlighted by a tour of Bethlehem/Church of the Nativity. While stuck in traffic, he pointed out some Bansky graffiti and drove us through a refugee camp. He explained the politics, his perspective on the ongoing Palestinian/Israeli conflict and his hope for the future.

Other trip highlights that we would recommend for any future Middle East travel include: day trip to Abu Simbel, Valley of the Kings and a caleche ride to see the Temple of Horus at Edfu.”—Beth Nury

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Dubai & Abu Dhabi: city sights and desert adventures with 6- and 7-year-olds

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is 2,722 feet tall, making it the tallest building in the world—for now. Photo: BS1920/Pixabay

“We had a wonderful time during our trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi that was planned by Justin. The trip was very professionally arranged, from picking us up at the airport to all activities and transportation. We stayed at Jumeirah Beach hotel, which has beautiful views of the ocean and you can see the Burj Al Arab from it as well. Over the next few days we had our personal guide, who gave us a comprehensive tour of Dubai. We learnt about the city’s Bedouin heritage, bold architecture, Emirati culture, politics/sheiks. We got to see all the major attractions, the gold souk, Atlantis, and of course the Burj Khalifa. The guide had our tickets ready for us, which was nice. It took us 60 seconds in the lift to get to the top of the world’s tallest building. The views from there were spectacular. Once you exit the Burj Khalifa you end up in Dubai Mall (one of the world’s largest shopping malls), so we ended up walking around the mall and ate at the food court. Our kids had to try the McArabia from McDonald’s, which they thought was pretty good.

After a few days in Dubai we went to the desert. The highlight of our trip was the desert/Qasr Al Sarab Resort. It was a magical place, absolutely breathtaking. The desert sand is so soft, fine and has multicolored hues of khaki and orange. We all enjoyed rolling around in the sand dunes, and seeing the magical sunsets. Getting from Dubai to Qasr Al Sarab was flawlessly planned. We had our own private driver who was flexible in case we needed to make stops, as we were traveling with two kids (ages 6 & 7). Arriving there felt like arriving at an Arabian palace, the kind you see in Aladdin. They greeted us with some dates and a yogurt drink which was cooling in the hot weather. The breakfast was amazing, a lavish buffet having a mix of local delights. We enjoyed the dates, local jams, omelettes, and fresh juices. All the excursions were prefectly organized. We went on a camel trek, which was a great experience and felt like something out of a movie. In the evenings we got a chance to have some fine Arabic cuisine set in a beautiful ambiance amidst the desert lit up by lanterns, fire pits and the stars above. Certainly a dream. We dined amidst the desert dunes, a Bedouin set-up of plush carpets and cushions serving lamb, cherry rice, variety of dips/hummus, and breads. Another highlight of our trip was dune bashing. My oldest son loved it and said he would do it again, while my youngest said it was terrible. I would say it was exhilarating, however not for everyone. I would recommend not eating an hour before doing it.

Our next stop was Abu Dhabi. It was a quick two-hour drive from the desert. We only spent a day in Abu Dhabi, and then went back to Dubai. Abu Dhabi’s highlight was the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. We were greeted by our tour guide, who was well prepared. She had an extra head scarf for my wife, as the dress code is very strictly enforced. She was a wealth of information and was able to get us into the mosque the most efficient way. The architecture and design of the mosque is something quite special. It has intricate designs of flowers and geometric designs carved on the walls and exquisite carpets and chandeliers inside. After the mosque our guide gave us a tour of Abu Dhabi. We requested to go to some local markets, as we needed to get some souvenirs. She took us to a quaint market where they had camel key chains, local embroidered pillowcases, Aladdin lamps which my kids loved. Overall we really enjoyed our visit to the UAE. The tour guides, hotels, and recommended sightseeing spots were on point and made everything super-easy and stress-free.”—Adi Derasari

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

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Colombia: cities, coastline, coffee country…

Cartagena de Indias/Colombia, 06/05/2020: The vintage colonials facades of San Diego neighborhood in the heart of walled city

The San Diego neighborhood is lined with colorful facades. Photo: Shutterstock

Boris and his team were absolutely invaluable in helping us have an unforgettable family trip. We hired them for their pre-trip planning expertise, but what was unexpectedly amazing was being able to truly enjoy our time and not spend part of each day debating what to do, see or eat. This is a huge bonus, especially with a multi-generational family group full of opinionated people. Having a great plan in place allowed us all to actually relax and enjoy our family time pretty much from Day One.

Our tours were amazing, especially the music and art tours in Bogota and Palenque (so beautiful and culturally rich)! Cartagena is incredibly special; we enjoyed soaking it all in. The coffee region was so different—lush, green and peaceful. We adored Casa Medina and Hacienda Bambusa — gorgeous, high-quality, unique hotels with superb staff. If we had it to do over again, we probably shouldn’t have arranged quite so much activity, so that we could have relaxed at our wonderful hotels a bit more.” —Erin Texeira

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Israel, Jordan, Egypt: 2 weeks with a family of 8

Petra Jordan

Petra, Jordan. Photo: ChiemSeherin/Pixabay

“We recently travelled to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt with extended family on a trip planned by Dan. It was an amazing trip, and he made all our requests happen despite Passover, Ramadan, and Easter all taking place during our travel. With great planning, we were able to see all the major sites and packed many interesting experiences into our two weeks. Having a private guide and driver took the stress out of managing travel during our family vacation and created an experience where we were able to do and see a lot more than a typical tour. Our guides were truly experts in each region and connected us with friendly locals and great restaurants.

With the situation changing in Israel shortly before our trip, Dan was in contact with the local guides right up to our departure, and proposed alternative locations and timing to ensure we did not experience any disruption. Dan and our guides made sure every border crossing was smooth, airport transfers were easy, and had people waiting for us in each location to ensure we never had to worry.

Highlights of our trip included traveling from Tel Aviv to the Sea of Galilee (Cesarea, Akko, Haifa, Tiberias), time exploring Jerusalem, and time in Bethlehem. We visited Amman and Jerash, stayed in Bubble tents in Wadi Rum, and experienced the wonder of Petra. Finally, we travelled to Egypt where we visited the Pyramids of Giza and Saqqara, and visited Islamic and Coptic Cairo. Our guides timed each experience so that we missed the crowds, and used their expertise to bring each site to life. I highly recommend working with Dan and his office.”—Amy Johnston

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Ireland with three teens in late February, with a magical driver/guide

Slea Head, Drive Dingle, Ireland. Photo courtesy Jonathon Epstein

Slea Head, Drive Dingle, Ireland. Photo: Jonathan Epstein

“With three and a half weeks’ notice, Jonathan planned a fabulous 10-day trip to Ireland for our family of two adults and three teens. We stayed two nights in Dublin, and then our fabulous guide, Brendan, picked us up and spent the next eight days driving us around. We spent three nights in Galway and three in Cork. During the days, we explored the countryside and visited both historic landmarks and out-of-the-way finds. Along the way, Brendan charmed us with his unending knowledge of historical facts, local stories, jokes, and quick wit. As Jonathan had predicted, Brendan is now on our Christmas card list!

Each family member loved learning about the rich history and culture of Ireland. Our kids, aged 20, 18, and 14, were the perfect ages for this trip, as there was so much to learn but also a lot of time in the car to see the far-flung rural sites. We were fortunate to attend a Gaelic football game where Brendan, a former player, could explain all the rules. The kids are very into sports, so this was a definite highlight. In all, the itinerary was a perfect mix for all our interests, and the right amount of moving from one hotel to another.

We were aware how much work Jonathan and Brendan did to make sure we were treated as VIPs everywhere we went. Our schedule frequently changed on the fly, due to weather or our wish to stay longer to learn more about a particular place, and Brendan was able to arrange upcoming situations to fit, every time. He could always call ahead to the perfect restaurant to get us right in, and he knew people everywhere we went to pave our way. We received the royal treatment wherever we went, and problems we faced were quickly arranged away.

Each of us are experienced travelers, but we would not have been able to do the volume of planning required to make this trip happen so well and so quickly, or to sit back, relax, and experience all the joys of Ireland while trying to manage the myriad logistics on our own.” —Jarvis Weld

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Oman: local interactions & desert adventures with a 7-year-old

Delicious dishes of traditional omani food served on carpet in traditional restaurant, Oman.

Traditional Omani dishes. Photo: Shutterstock

“We can’t say enough good things about the two-week Oman trip Dan and his team planned for us over spring break. Dan was responsive and thoughtful, putting together a trip that balanced immersion in a completely different culture with enough outdoor adventure for us while not daunting our 7-year-old. From bustling Muscat with an incredible home-stay dinner where our kid spent the night playing and laughing with our hosts’ children, to being way off the grid climbing sand dunes for a technicolor sunset in the desert, and walking through ancient villages in the mountains, it was an unforgettable adventure.

Our guides on the ground were flawless: knowledgeable, kind, and adaptable, with real substantive contacts and knowledge. They set up coffee and dates with a Bedouin family, showed our kiddo how to pet and meet camels, and adjusted plans seamlessly when a sandstorm blew up. Our WOW Moment from Wendy was a special surprise: a glorious five-course dinner under the stars looking over an enormous mountainside canyon. It was an amazing trip and wouldn’t have happened without Dan.” —Katherine Sanders

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Spain: Madrid and Andalusia during a semester abroad

The Cathedral in Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz Province

The Cathedral in Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz Province, Andalusia. Photo: Shutterstock

Virginia planned and executed the perfect family trip to Spain at the end of March to visit my son, who was studying for the semester in Madrid. She balanced the itinerary between spending time with my son in Madrid, to see his life there, and traveling throughout Andalusia.

She coordinated a private lunch at a castle with the owner, to learn about the history of the castle and the family that has owned it for generations. Our planned fishing trip in Marbella was cancelled because of the weather, and she adjusted the itinerary so that we could spend more time in Granada to see the Cathedral and tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella. All of the transportation between cities was seamless and the drivers were all professional.” —Amy Goldberg

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Belize: beach & jungle with teens

Footbridge over river in tranquil forest in Belize

Footbridge over river in tranquil forest in Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

Patricia crafted a wonderful itinerary for our family of four. She did a great job helping me think through how to spend our week in Belize, and explaining the options for activities and accommodation in various parts of the country. We spent 3 nights in the Cayó district in the west (Mayan sites, caving, canoeing) and 4 nights in Placencia on the beach. Her recommendations were spot-on and the tours/activities she organized were great.

Only regret: I wish we had opted for more activity on some days—there was a lot of sitting during driving, canoeing, small-boat fishing—but it felt important when booking to keep things unstructured. Patricia asked all the right questions along the way. We had a fantastic time!” —Sarah Wigglesworth

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Mexico: mother/daughter trip in nature

Sea lions swimming and playing, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Sea lions swimming in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

Zach and his wonderful team planned the most outstanding mother-daughter spring break trip to Baja California, Mexico, for my 20-year-old and me. We were interested in a nature-focused experience, spending all of our time on whale watching, sea lions, whale sharks, etc. Zach was so thoughtful, spending a series of phone calls with me figuring out what kind of travelers we were and what kind of experiences would be right. He then proposed the perfect itinerary, including four days in a remote whale-watching camp alongside time in La Paz on private boat excursions to key wildlife sites.

We weren’t excited about spending time in busy Cabo, and he found us an under-the-radar boutique hotel that checked all our boxes (quiet, beautiful, excellent service).  The trip was flawlessly executed, thanks to his colleague Carolina’s careful detail work and real-time monitoring. She went out of her way to figure out where we could skip logistics steps and bypass lines. It couldn’t have run more smoothly during a very crowded time in Baja.” —Cate Bradley

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

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England: London, the Cotswolds, posh hotels, Harry Potter…

England, Cotswolds, Hidcote gardens. Photo: Jonathan Epstein

Hidcote Manor Gardens in the Cotswolds, England. Photo: Jonathan Epstein

“We traveled to London and the Cotswolds in March. Jonathan and his team helped pick the perfect hotels for us: in London, The Goring, and in the Cotswolds, Lucknam Park. Our transfers and all of the details that can be very tedious and annoying were all seamless and we didn’t have any kind of logistical stress during our whole trip.

The tours they chose for us were perfect, and we got guides that were great for our family. We especially loved the Mini Cooper Harry Potter tour, and our tour of Oxford and the Cotswolds. Jonathan helped us organize our days so that each day was special but not overwhelmingly busy. T

he Goring was so charming and English: the bar, breakfast service, and afternoon tea were great, the rooms were beautiful, and the location is great too.  In the Cotswolds, Lucknam Park is a beautiful, expansive property. My daughter loves horses, and my son loves being in nature, so it was a great change of pace from London and a relaxing way to end our trip.

This is our second time using Wendy Perrin and it certainly won’t be our last. Before, we always figured with the internet you really don’t need a travel agent. But we have learned that the value-add makes it well worth it. The headaches are removed, the itinerary is thoughtfully organized, and you have access to special experiences you wouldn’t otherwise have.” —Jessica and Steve Martin

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

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Morocco with three kids, ages 3, 7, and 9

Camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

Camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco. Photo: Tim Baker

“Just got back from spring break in Morocco with my three kids (ages 3, 7, and 9).  We never could have planned an experience as wonderful as what Hicham and Radia planned for us.  We rode camels, went ATVing along the ocean, and my girls love couscous. We loved our private local guide, chosen for us by Hicham and Radia. He has three kids himself and was empathetic to the occasional chaos.

My snake-loving daughter loved the cobras and snakes she was able to hold. My 7-year-old got a fever and cough and our guide helped us find medicine for her. Honestly, it is always an adventure to travel, but with three kids we have to be able to pivot, and pause. Everyone was so helpful and kind. The Four Seasons was perfect for kids. The beach was beautiful. We feel so lucky to have been on this trip!” —Mary Ko

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

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Portugal with teens: culture, cooking classes, Coasteering…

Pessegueiro Island (or Ilha do Pessegueiro) on the Vincentina Coast, Algarve, Portugal

Pessegueiro Island (or Ilha do Pessegueiro) on the Vincentina Coast, Algarve, Portugal. Photo: Goncalo Correia

“We had a fantastic time in Portugal, in spite of rain throughout the 10-day trip and a once-every-20-year sandstorm that blanketed the country for three days.

Our trip began in Porto, where we stayed in a beautiful hotel within walking distance to shops and good food. We had an amazing cooking class at an estate outside the city that had been in the owner’s family for 18 generations. Next we spent time in the Algarve, where Gonçalo booked us at a wonderful resort on the beach and we spent the afternoons exploring nearby towns.

We spent the end of our trip in Lisbon, where our amazing local guide was able to engage our three teenage girls and keep all of us interested in the history and sights. We took a sailing trip and did an amazing Coasteering activity along the coast that the girls loved. It involved cliff jumping, rock climbing and swimming. We were freezing, but adrenaline kept us going, and the wetsuits helped.

Gonçalo arranged a trip exactly as we requested: some history, some culture, and some active adventure. If only he could have controlled the weather, it would have been a perfect trip.” —Karyn Sallus

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

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Switzerland with an 8- and 11-year-old

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

Monte Bre, Ticino, Switzerland. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our Switzerland trip with Philipp and Nina was incredible.  They planned a trip that made everyone in our family happy. Not an easy task with an 8- and 11-year-old!  We were supposed to take this trip pre-COVID and had to postpone. Philipp worked with us for over a year until we could actually travel. He planned a well-thought-out trip for Spring that really showed us diverse aspects of Switzerland. We could not have asked for a better agent!” —Tara Robertson

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

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Israel: adventure thrills + connecting a 12- and 15-year-old with local people with a range of perspectives

paragliding Masada Israel

Paragliding over Masada. Israel.

Joe listened carefully to the type of travelers we are and the experiences we wished to have in Israel and arranged our itinerary accordingly. Highlights for us were lunch with a Druze family, a visit with a Palestinian family in the West Bank, a briefing in the Golan Heights with an IDF reservist, powered paragliding, Krav Maga class, a Jeep tour, an ATV ride, and our guide Itay’s amazing storytelling at Masada.

Our kids (ages 12 and 15) liked that we incorporated adventurous experiences into our itinerary. Itay connected well with our children (a priority for us) and even called on friends to answer our questions when he knew of someone with specialized knowledge in the area about which we were asking. We learned so much on this trip because of the team’s ability to connect us with people who had different points of view. That gave the trip real value for us.” —Jennifer Milano

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

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London: private backstage tours, East End neighborhoods not mentioned in any guidebooks…

Evening View, London, England

Evening view of London. Photo: Visit Britain

“My daughter is a huge Harry Potter fan, so we wanted to go to the Warner Brothers Studio outside of London. Admission tickets were sold out when we started our planning, but Wendy’s recommended London specialist was able to secure tickets from a secondary source.

He also got us amazing seats to two requested West End shows and arranged great tours for us that lined up with our interests. We had a private backstage tour of the National Theatre, a place I never would have discovered on my own. I highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting London. We were surprised at how large the Theatre is and how much actually takes place there—the prop building (including their own wood and metal shops), rehearsals, public education spaces, and several stages.

We also enjoyed a three-hour guided tour of the food, street art, and culture of the East End. Our guide showed us parts of the East End that were not mentioned in any guidebooks that I had reviewed. My friend who lives outside of London and joined us on the tour, and who had been on several of these East End tours, said she saw so many new things.” —Nancy Wolf

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Vienna & Prague: trip for a piano-loving teen

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - mathematical hall of the Strahov convent library

The mathematical hall of the Strahov Convent Library, Prague, The Czech Republic. Photo: Shutterstock

“I told Gwen that our 17-year-old son is passionate about playing piano, particularly the music of Classical- and Romantic-era composers. She asked questions to understand how we like to travel, especially when it came to what would interest our son, and then planned and executed an absolutely amazing trip to Vienna and Prague for us.

Our itinerary included visits to Mozart’s and Beethoven’s apartments in Vienna; the cemetery where Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Schönberg are buried; and an exhibit that included one of Mozart’s original manuscripts. In Prague she arranged visits to a collection that included the original score to Beethoven’s third symphony, as well as access to the Strahov Library, which travelers typically only get to view from a distance but where we got to wander among the stacks!” —Adam Amsterdam

Read more reviews of Austria and The Czech Republic trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Costa Rica with four kids, ages 8 to 15

Hot springs in Costa Rica

Hot springs in Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

“Traveling as a family of six is not easy! We have four children between the ages of 8 and 15, each more adventurous than the next. We needed a spring break that would keep them entertained but also allow us the leisure time we really needed. Priscilla put together a perfectly balanced vacation for us in Costa Rica. Everyone was happy! She suggested we spend our week in two areas—Arenal (volcano and rainforest) and Manuel Antonio (beach). In Arenal, we swam in thermal hot springs, zip-lined through the rainforest, walked the hanging bridges of the rainforest canopy, and went white-water rafting. In Manuel Antonio, we spent quality time at the beach, surfing, boogie boarding, and relaxing. Priscilla and her team arranged all of our travel details (flights, hotels, activities, transfers to and from), and they really went out of their way to make sure our vacation was memorable. All we had to do was sit back and enjoy!”—Kara Lawler

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

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Croatia: a mix of history, art, culture, and Game of Thrones

Aerial view at famous european travel destination in Croatia, Dubrovnik old town.

The old town of Dubrovnik, Croatia. Photo: Shutterstock

“We were traveling over Easter and wanted to maximize our time in Croatia. We wanted a mix of history, art, culture, Jewish history, and Game of Thrones—and each of our three guides delivered. We saw and learned so much more than we could have seen on our own. Gwen was able to help us secure reservations at the restaurants we wanted, including Michelin-starred Restaurant 360 in Dubrovnik. We also loved her suggestions of Restaurant Dubrovnik and Adriatic Graso in Split—we had amazing meals and service.

While in Dubrovnik we were surprised with our WOW Moment. We had a private boat ride from the new harbor to the old harbor just outside the Ancient Walls of Dubrovnik. We were served wine and charcuterie. Despite the rough waters, Captain Chris gave us a wonderful tour and a new perspective of Dubrovnik. It was such a treat. Croatia is a magical place, and Gwen and her team are there to roll out the red carpet for you.” —Joellen Shelden

Read more reviews of Croatia 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.

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underwater photo of family snorkeling in Mexico

Thanksgiving Trip Reviews: Inspiration for a Holiday Abroad

Thanksgiving may be a trying time to travel within the U.S., but it’s a great hack for an exotic family trip: Since it’s not an international holiday, you won’t find the same crowds or high prices you have to grapple with over Christmas and New Year’s. Wendy has spent many a Thanksgiving in Europe; Brook recently took her family to Egypt over her son’s week-long school break. Read on for more ideas of where you can make the most of your time off in late November—with the help of the right Trusted Travel Expert, of course.  Here’s what it means to get a WOW trip.


Oman: forts and castles, white-sand beaches, luxurious hotels…

Daytime view of the Omani Coast on a sunny day.

Omani Coast Landscape at Barr Al Jissah in east of Muscat, Oman. Photo: Shutterstock

“Oman is a fascinating country. Huge variety of scenery, from lush date and coconut plantations on the coast to quite high mountains to deserts with lots of sand dunes. The history is interesting: The country has made huge strides in the past 60 years, from an underdeveloped country in 1970 to a modern, prosperous environment. Travelling is easy: Roads are great, there are lots of hiking trails and camping facilities, Oman Air was on time, etc.

The government has spent a lot of effort preserving old forts and castles (there are many of both). Our touring included many of these historical structures, hikes through old towns, visits to several mosques, two stays in the desert, a visit to a Bedouin household, and stays in three of the most luxurious hotels we have ever seen (and some not so great but quite acceptable).

This is a beautiful country, with long white sand beaches, that is just being discovered, mostly by travelers from Europe. I highly recommend it for people who have an interest in the history and culture, or just want to enjoy the warm weather and beaches. Daniel did a great job of the arrangements—everything unfolded exactly as planned.” —Robin Louis

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Vietnam: top to bottom in one week

Islands and islets in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Photo: Shutterstock

“WOW seems like too weak an accolade for Sandy and Ethan‘s magical trip suggestions and planning expertise in Vietnam. We have exquisite memories of a wonderful country and its people.

Starting in Hanoi and ending in Saigon worked perfectly and really felt like the right direction for us. Hanoi felt like what I was mostly expecting from Vietnam. It was charming and delightful. And then the following stops in Ha Long Bay and Hoi An were totally different and unique, upending any expectations. And then ending in Saigon felt like re-entering the modern world. There is clearly so much to see and do. And all of it is interesting and important and beautiful. So even though we had an abbreviated time in each of the spots, all of the activities were perfect. And just made us excited for a return trip some day.

This was everything and more that we wanted out of a Thanksgiving break in Vietnam. We really appreciate the time and hard work it took to bring all of this together. These kinds of trips are the ones that stick with us the most…the ones where we have a chance to get a bit off the beaten track and have a chance to connect with local people (now friends).”—Anne and Alex Leary

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Portugal with adult kids: Lisbon by tuk-tuk, stargazing, e-biking, Jewish history…

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Pixabay

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: cristinamacia/Pixabay

I can not say enough positives about our recent trip to Portugal over Thanksgiving 2023, planned by Goncalo and his team. We had originally planned to travel to Tel Aviv, and when the tragic war broke out, I emailed Wendy Perrin for suggestions. They responded immediately with a few ideas and travel consultants. After a call with Goncalo, we decided on Portugal. We were traveling with two of our kids, boys ages 26 and 28. At first, I was concerned that we were missing the summer beach vibes, but we had such an amazing trip we will need to return.

Goncalo’s office planned the perfect trip understanding that we wanted to experience the country without an overload of sightseeing, and we had the perfect amount of planned tours and free days. With busy work schedules, we wanted a balance and time to relax. We started in Porto, where we, of course, took a port-tasting tour. We also had a private tour of the city to learn its history, see some of the main sites, and try its famous dessert wine. St. Francis Church, the train station, the Stock Exchange Palace, Bolhao Market, Cristal Palace Gardens, and so much more to see in Porto. It is a beautiful town on the river, and we loved it.

From there, Goncalo recommended two nights at Sao Lourenco do Barrcal in the countryside, and on our way, we stopped at a charming town, Tomar. We went to see one of the oldest synagogues and the castle. In the countryside, we had a stargazing tour, a beautiful property and spa, and the restaurant and shop were both fantastic. We rode E-bikes to a small nearby town called Monsaraz to visit a castle, and we amazingly happened upon a small interactive Jewish History Center. The scenery on the bike ride was spectacular, and the castle was really cool to see, but we were shocked to find the Jewish history center in this tiny town. It depicted the story of the Jewish community from medieval times, and it was fascinating and incredibly meaningful.

From there we went to Lisbon, a fun and lively city. Our hotel had a fun rooftop bar with an amazing view. The boys loved it! We had a fun tuk-tuk half-day tour and a day trip to Cascais and Sintra. We also had a Fado concert in an underground reservoir, delicious meals, and some fun shopping.

You would never imagine this trip was planned so close to departure; it’s one of the good things about traveling off-peak. We had beautiful sunny days with temperatures in the mid 60s. Overall, I cannot say enough great things not only about Portugal but how Wendy Perrin and her recommended tour operator stepped in to make sure we were able to enjoy the time with two of our kids who had taken the time off of work to spend with us.”—Elizabeth Schwartz

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India with 3 generations: hands-on art lessons, street food, temples…

Amy Evers and her family at a produce market in Jaipur, India wearing marigold flowers.

Amy Evers and family at a produce market in Jaipur, India.

“Our trip was wonderful! I have now visited 52 countries and I don’t know why it’s taken this long to get to India. We loved it. This trip was with my husband, 2 kids (ages 12 & 13), my mother-in-law and I. We all loved it. Victoria and Diggi did a wonderful job planning a trip that would cater to all of our interests and abilities. I had a long call with Victoria in the beginning to get the process started and for her to get a better idea of what we wanted out of this trip. She took this to heart and knocked it out of the park. November was a perfect month to visit, highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s in Rajasthan.

Harsh, our guide, was one of the best! He is knowledgable, flexible, agreeable, capable of dealing with the trials of siblings, liked by all, patient, etc, etc. I’ve had good guides and I’ve had bad guides. He’s a great guide!

Dinesh, our driver, was wonderful too. We always felt safe with him at the wheel. He always greeted us with a smile. The vehicle was clean and roomy and perfect for our group.

We loved the tuktuk rides. Yes, at times, they were chaotic, but that just added to the adventure. The rickshaw ride got a special mention from my daughter. Our modes of transportation were perfect.

All of our accommodations were beautiful and unique. I honestly don’t have any complaints about any of them. My mother-in-law was able to do yoga 2 mornings at one of them, which made her very happy.

I don’t think there were any activities that we didn’t like, but the things that received special mentions by the group are:

-Food tour in Delhi. Everyone pushed themselves out of their comfort zones just a bit.
-Jaipur by dawn tour, including a very authentic experience at an active Hindu temple.
-Impromptu walking tour in Udaipur, resulting in feeding a random elephant walking down the road.
-Block printing workshop, a fascinating village visit and a hands-on creative experience.
-Elephant experience. Who doesn’t love spending close time with elephants?
-Jain temple visit and lunch with the pilgrims.
-Astrologer reading. My kids thought this was spectacular.
-Street food Indian breakfast.

Ultimately this was just the cultural and fun trip I was hoping my kids would have. We learned so much about various religions, culture and history. My kids truly are catching the travel bug and this trip has definitely contributed! I have no doubt that my husband and I will be back to India, maybe several more times, and we will definitely be contacting Victoria’s office again!” —Amy Evers

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Costa Rica: hot springs, high adventure & a plethora of wildlife

White-Headed Capuchin monkey in Manuel Antonio, the rainforest of Costa Rica.

White-Headed Capuchin monkey in Manuel Antonio, the rainforest of Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

“Just back from Costa Rica over Thanksgiving week and the trip planned by Priscilla was spot-on perfect. The locations we selected, Arenal, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio, gave us three different settings to enjoy and were all easy travel distances apart. We started in Arenal where Priscilla recommended Tabacon Resort — the room was spacious and had a direct view overlooking the volcano, the included breakfast was an incredible selection of continental and Costa Rican cuisine with the freshest, sweetest fruit, and the included hot springs were a wonderful way to relax at the end of the day. She arranged a private driver and guides and nearly all our activities were private too, and this really allowed us to learn more, see more and deeply experience each area. Across the entire trip, Priscilla expertly matched the activities with our desire for an active, high adventure vacation and we enjoyed canyoning (with waterfall rappelling), ziplining, white water rafting and lots of great hikes with hanging bridges.

She made the trip flow so smoothly that even the travel days were filled with fun activities. On the transfer between Arenal and Monteverde we had a private boat ride across a lake and our naturalist guide, Fico (who was with us for 5 days and became like family) pointed out all sorts of wildlife along the way and then we did the most wonderful night hike and climbed a towering tree in the jungle to enjoy the sunset view from the treetops while snacking on Costa Rican treats. Hiking with Fico continued in Monteverde with hanging bridges and lots of bird watching. We saw sloths, monkeys, coati, agouti, snakes and more at every location. I was hoping to see one sloth the entire trip and we must have seen over 20, including one that was right next to us on the ground.

Our driver, Mauricio was also phenomenal and helped my daughter practice her Spanish. On the transfer between Monteverde and Manuel Antonio, we enjoyed a private crocodile boat tour where we saw many crocodiles, monkeys, birds and were slightly scared when a giant crocodile swam right up alongside the boat. Manuel Antonio National Park was the only really overcrowded spot of the trip, but the amount of wildlife we saw there with our wonderful guide Karla and taking a quick dip in the picture perfect, pristine beach were still highlights. Priscilla’s recommendations of Senda in Monteverde and Gaia in Quepos were also wonderful hotels with wildlife on both properties and amazing cuisine at the restaurants. Thanks for a perfect vacation, we can’t wait to see more of Costa Rica.” —Jill Teschmacher

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Denmark: solo travel in Copenhagen & beyond

Jeannie Mullen at Frederiksborg Castle, outside Copenhagen, Denmark.

Jeannie Mullen at Frederiksborg Castle, outside Copenhagen.

“When I was looking for a place to spend Thanksgiving this year, Jan listened and delivered exactly what I asked for. What I did not appreciate ahead of my arrival was just how much of a kick-start to the Christmas season this trip would be. Copenhagen was already decorated for the ‘Jul’ season, and a number of Christmas markets had already opened on November 16th, the day of my arrival. The hotel that Jan chose was perfectly located on Kongens Nytorv (the King’s New Square) for the market on the square, harbor walks, and great shopping in general.

Britt, the guide that Jan arranged in Copenhagen, did a great job of introducing me to the art and architecture, urban development and repurposing of buildings and land, food and spirits, culture and moods of Copenhagen’s various neighborhoods. When I inquired about more local, neighborhood markets, she took me to a ‘pop-up’ Christmas market, off the beaten path, that was there for only two days. As we made our way out of the city on other days to Frederiksborg, Charlottenlund, Elsinore and Kronborg, she introduced me to locally made products, local artisans, craftspeople and leaders in design.

Jan alerted me early on that Copenhagen is a city known for its food and, in particular, its Michelin-star restaurants. When I expressed my interest, he used his ‘fixer’ to secure a table at Geranium (ranked the best restaurant in the world in 2022), one of the two 3-star Michelin restaurants in Copenhagen. It was an experience more than a meal, which included a private tour of the wine cellar and the kitchen. From beginning to end, a visual as well as gastronomic experience.

A word about the temperatures and the crowds: I’m always looking to get away from crowds, lines, and traffic, and I don’t mind traveling in the off-season to do so (as Wendy so often suggests). The weather in Copenhagen at this time of year alternates between cool and crisp with gorgeous, blue skies to heavy and overcast, with occasional rain. No worries if one packs with that in mind.

I cannot say enough about the lengths to which Jan went to make this trip seamless. Not one detail was missed. It was a terrific and different Thanksgiving getaway that has me prepped for Christmas earlier than usual.” —Jeannie Mullen

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Spain with kids: family-friendly tapas, flamenco, dancing white horses…

Río Guadalquivir, Seville.

Gina Melton and her family enjoying a boat trip on Seville’s Río Guadalquivir.

Pablo and his team planned a wonderful 11-day itinerary for our family’s Thanksgiving trip to Southern Spain. We spent a significant amount of time in Madrid and then headed to Seville and Granada. Without a doubt, the success of this trip was largely attributable to the wonderful guides who showed us a little of their world. Not only were they incredibly flexible with our sons, aged 10 and 8, they found ways to bring the Spanish culture to life for them.

In Madrid, that meant trying the city’s best Tortilla in one of the city’s vibrant markets, stopping for churros, going to rooftops to teach the boys about the landmarks in a fun and interesting way and finding tapas restaurants that were authentic and family-friendly. Alfonso, our Madrid guide, was so kind and generous with his time, he really made us feel welcomed.

In Seville, I was pleasantly surprised to see the boys connecting with the Flamenco show Pablo arranged for us; it was an authentic experience that the adults enjoyed too! We loved our day trip to Jerez de la Frontera to see the dancing white horses at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art.  And, our tour of Alhambra Palace and Generalife was perfectly timed for the family—we were able to see the entire complex without rushing, but also held the kids’ interest.

The details were seamless throughout the entire trip and I appreciated Pablo’s office working on a last-minute change to our itinerary when we decided to call an audible on the final days of our trip. Spain is a wonderful place for children and this was one of our very best family vacations to date.” —Gina Melton

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Tulum, Mexico, with a blended family group: A private villa, exquisite beaches, snorkeling, biking…

underwater photo of family snorkeling in Mexico

Jessica Tolmach and her blended family snorkeling in Mexico.

“We just returned from an extraordinary WOW trip to Tulum, Mexico. Our trip planners Zach and Patricia were truly helpful and incredibly responsive throughout. We had a challenge: A blended family with 5 grown kids from all corners of the country and with different backgrounds, interests and styles. It was a 60th birthday celebration for Jessica and a pre-wedding, postponed 3x, gathering. We wanted exquisite beaches, Mayan history, a private villa with chef, and planned, safe activities as well as private beach. Zach found it! Casa Ixchel took our breath away and exceeded all our expectations. The accommodations were spectacular, everyone had a gorgeous, well appointed, beautiful designed room, the Casa had marvelous open common rooms with views of the gardens, pool and beach, the beach itself was beyond imagination, and our excursions were marvelous. We spent one half day biking at the Coba ruins and another day snorkeling off Cozumel island. The other two days we had free—to ride bikes, walk on the beach, lounge at the pool and just be together. The meals were beyond delicious—and accommodated a variety of dietary restrictions! The villa staff was professional, kind, helpful and responsive. Mostly we had a beautiful, breathtaking week. It was a trip we will cherish and remember always. Thank you, Wendy! Once again, we couldn’t have done it without you.” —Jessica Tolmach

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London with teens: Christmas lights, food tour, nighttime photo shoot…

Christmas in London

London gets decked out for Christmas. Photo: visitlondon.com

“Our London trip over the 2022 Thanksgiving holiday was fantastic—fulfilling the wishes of a family of four, including two teens. We are very glad we went for five nights, any longer would have been too much, any shorter wouldn’t have included such a variety of experiences. We all needed a seamless getaway from work and school, with enough activity to engage without the worry of language translations. We had heard the Christmas lights could be grand (they were) and that the streets wouldn’t be crowded (not true). The trip was energetic and vibrant—a great refresh.

Jennifer and her righthand planner, Zara, were pleasant to deal with, efficient, and thorough. In five short weeks, they planned a packed itinerary meeting all our specs. They suggested 3 hotels and we selected the one (The Ampersand) with a charming private nook for the four of us, which had the added benefit of being near the Tube. The staff was very attentive and the food delicious. After a day, the breakfast staff knew us and had our food ready every morning when we arrived! Dinner was good too. Given we were hesitant about dining out coming off Covid, meeting our personal needs was important and appreciated.

The trip planners added value in many ways: organizing a one-direction route for our activities, taking into consideration the timing of all activities and our walking stamina. There was no backtracking and all new material to see. They also provided guides that had extraordinarily deep knowledge of the subjects we wanted to tackle each day, from London history, architecture, Savile Row and Tower of London to the new demands on the city from an environmental perspective. We are foodies, and our food tour was over the top, even the vegan cheese! The planners also suggested our getting our own theatre tickets ahead of time online to save an agent fee, which we appreciated. While we were very fortunate with all our guides, one convinced a maître d’ (twice) into taking us for an early meal without a reservation, including a Friday night at a great Indian restaurant (Masala Zone).

In the end, the teens loved the London Eye (priority tickets cut so much time), Cabaret, Winter Wonderland, Tower of London, and the RIB ride. The historians in the family enjoyed St. Paul’s, changing of the guard, financial district, judicial buildings, and the many detailed stories from the guides. My husband enjoyed Savile Row, the changing architecture seen from rooftops, and the night lights. Me, I loved the personal photography shoot at night. We all loved the food tour. Other travelers can’t go wrong with any of these.

If you are booking with Jennifer, specify your interests in detail, where you want to spend your money (hotel, shows), and all the things you want to see. She listens, follows direction and has great suggestions.”—Peti Stone

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Family-friendly Peru: The Amazon & Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu sits atop a ridge, nearly level with the clouds. Photo: Aracari

“We traveled from the U.S. to Peru for the week of Thanksgiving, and Marisol and Mark did a great job creating the trip for us. We traveled with three teenagers and we visited an ecolodge in the rainforest in the Amazon Basin, and then went to Cusco to visit the Sacred Valley area as well as Machu Picchu. Mark made all our travel and hotel arrangements and did a great job organizing the whole trip. Our guides and drivers were fabulous and we learned just how important having a great travel agent was when Peru began having protests that shut down the cities. Our travel agent and guide managed to reschedule each of our days, filling in where possible with activities that we could do, even though no cars were allowed to move on the streets and all the of places we had planned to go were shut down. We still ended up with a great visit and we really got to see so many wonderful parts of Peru, thanks to all of the help from Mark’s team—thank you!” —Laura Virkler

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Belize for 3 generations: beach, jungle, kayaking, zip-lining, hand-grinding corn, making pottery…

A treetop villa with outdoor plunge pool at Chaa Creek Lodge in Belize.

A treetop villa and its private pool at Chaa Creek Lodge in Belize. Photo: Chaa Creek

“To plan for our 50th anniversary family celebration adventure in Belize, Wendy introduced us to Patricia, a native Belizean with a passion for introducing her country to the world. A year of planning with Patricia and Juliannie culminated in a 10-day trip, five days in the jungle and five days on an island. With us were four grandchildren, ages 9-12, so a lot of thought went into making sure we had lots of kid-oriented things to do. We truly wanted to hear lots of “WOWs” from them and we weren’t disappointed.

Imagine four kids flying into Belize City airport and being escorted across the tarmac and realizing they were about to jump into two helicopters and fly to their jungle resort, or their excitement of being whisked from the jungle, via private plane, over to Placencia, then jumping on a boat and arriving on an island?  Their reactions when they walked into their luxurious accommodations, complete with plunge pools, were priceless.

Chaa Creek Resort in the jungle didn’t disappoint, upping the “WOWs” to new levels each day. Our butler, Candi, and her trainee Ryan spoiled us with private dinners for 10, breakfast deliveries early in the morning, fresh fruit drinks when we returned from a day of touring, even babysitting so the adults could dine together. At 4:00 a.m. one morning Candi was helping decorate an outdoor pavilion so our granddaughter could have a fun 9th birthday celebration that night. The surprises never stopped, the staff was so generous and kind, the accommodations top-notch, and the food delicious. Our granddaughter with celiac even got special gluten-free desserts every day!

We had a dedicated driver and guide, Darryl, throughout our 5 days of touring the jungle, and when rising water closed the ATM cave tour, Darryl seamlessly changed plans. Darryl introduced us to the Mayan world, helped us explore their temples, took us to a local coffee plantation and to a women’s local co-op where the grandchildren were able to hand-grind coffee beans, fresh corn for our tortillas, and try their hands at ancient pottery making. A trip deep into the jungle delivered us to zip-lining at the end of our cultural immersion day!

Ray Caye Resort beach days were spent in total relaxation mode so snorkeling, jumping off the two-story diving platform, kayaking, canoeing, sailing the Hobie cat, and even scuba diving kept us engaged. But enjoying gourmet meals, sipping drinks around the pool in the near-perfect weather, and playing family volleyball and puzzle games brought us together after far too many years of separation. The island was magical, the staff always ready to help us, anticipating our every need, and on our last night there, they surprised us with a 50th anniversary family meal on the beach. The resort covered the whole island and at one point there were only 16 vacationers on it. Talk about a private and perfect post-pandemic place to be! Leaving “paradise” the last morning was difficult, to say the least!

Patricia ensured that the whole trip worked seamlessly and not once did we have a glitch! She also chose the very best people to support us throughout the trip. We couldn’t have asked for a better family celebration of our 50th!” —Judith Rodwell

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Italy and Switzerland with four daughters, ages 5 to 11: pizza lesson, mosaic making…

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

A Trusted Travel Expert can get you access to artists’ studios in less touristed neighborhoods Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“My family of six—including four daughters, ages 5 through 11—traveled to Italy and Switzerland in November/December. Maria pulled it all together on relatively short notice; I think we had only four weeks of lead time. She arranged for great hotels, fun excursions, and private guides in Florence and Zurich who were fantastic with the girls. It was really nice to have the same driver the whole time we were in a city, and each driver was excellent and very accommodating. We had a fantastic time making pizza in Florence, and another major highlight was our WOW Moment. Thank you so much, Wendy, we really enjoyed it! We walked across the river in Florence to a more residential neighborhood and visited an artist’s studio, where she welcomed us and helped us make our own mosaics in her found-object style. While they dried, we enjoyed sandwiches and cake in the cafe. The artist and Elvira (our guide) were so friendly and welcoming it was a real treat to spend the afternoon with them. Everything went smoothly, and it was nice not to have to worry about anything. I will definitely call Maria again when we return to Italy or Switzerland!” —Rebecca Bartlett

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Baja, Mexico for a family: scuba, sandboarding, horseback riding, rappelling…

underwater diver with fish in Los Cabos, Mexico

Explore a new world by going scuba diving in Los Cabos, Mexico. Photo: Los Cabos Villa Vacations

“Baja CA is such an easy destination to get to from Southern CA, so when Zach and his team suggested a Thanksgiving trip for my family of 4, including 2 teen daughters, we jumped on it as we have not explored the other parts of Baja beyond Los Cabos. As up-and-coming areas, we saw the charm of Todos Santos town, hiked along the hills above the ocean and had surf lessons at Los Cerritos. Next up was La Paz, which has potential to become a wonderful destination, as there are plenty of adventure activities to choose from. We had a few travel hiccups the first few days in Todos Santos and La Paz, but Zach’s travel team of Jose & Amalia worked to make it the best they possibly could.

One of our main goals for this trip was to swim with the whale sharks in La Paz, which normally have a very dependable arrival in early November. However they decided not to show up in their regular numbers, so no one could get permits to swim with them in La Paz bay. This was a major disappointment but we had back-up activities planned and ideas ready, which is a useful travel tip for those “planning” on unpredictable animal life interactions. You just never know what will happen, so have something else in mind that will satisfy your travel wishes.  We instead went on a sunset sandboarding excursion on the oceanfront dunes one late afternoon, and it was beautiful and remote. We also took a full-day boat trip to scuba dive with friendly, juvenile sea lions, took another dive through a shipwreck and then anchored at a remote beach for a wonderful lunch. These were both exciting excursions that filled the void of the whale sharks’ absence, and having Zach’s connections made it all that much easier.

Our last stop was Grand Velas on the Los Cabos corridor. What a property! The rooms, the views, the service, the spa, the food…it was all amazing!  We left the property for a few activities: horseback riding on the beach and in the hills, and a jam-packed adventure up in the mountains with zip lines, rappelling, free-fall jumps, climbing, & polaris vehicle driving; all seamlessly organized by Zach’s team. But coming back to the resort was the best part of the day and their Thanksgiving night celebration on the rooftop deck was over-the-top spectacular! We ended up with a memorable holiday break, even with the few struggles, and we were all recharged going into the holiday season!” —Andrea Phillips

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Family-style Costa Rica: monkeys, zip lines, surf lesson…

Manuel Antonio beach, Costa Rica - tropical pacific coast

The calm waters at Manuel Antonio beach are perfect for snorkeling. Photo: Shutterstock

Irene helped our family plan a wonderful trip to Costa Rica over Thanksgiving week. We loved the Arenas Del Mar resort in Manuel Antonio!  It was the only one on the beach and even had its own private beach. The monkeys and sloths were thrilling to watch. We saw them all the time!  Irene set us up with a zip-line tour that was fun for the whole family, and some of us did a surf lesson too. We also spent time with a guide in Manuel Antonio National Park. It was pretty busy, but our guide knew where to go for a quieter experience. The park is beautiful, and there was so much to see!

Our other destination was the Osa Peninsula. We got there by an exciting boat ride through the river and mangroves and into the ocean until we reached La Paloma Lodge. It’s a lovely luxury eco-resort, and we had a room with a spectacular view and plenty of space for our whole family. We enjoyed scuba diving, kayaking, exploring Corcovado National Park, and we even did a guided night walk to see some of the evening creatures. We saw macaws, toucans, many types of monkeys, sloths, agouti, crocodiles and even a tapir! We did have some rain on our trip— we heard it had been a very rainy year—but we didn’t mind: It makes everything so lush and green!

Irene was wonderful in seamlessly planning our trip and making sure everything went well. It was really helpful to have someone so familiar with the country and knowledgeable about all the hotels and activities. Thank you for making our trip great!” —Alana Jacobson

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Morocco: watching ceramics artists at work, riding camels and ATVs…

Racing down sand dunes in Morocco’s desert. Photo by Tim Baker

“This was an absolutely amazing trip for a first time to Morocco. First, our guide, Amine, was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable about all of the locations and sites we visited. Second, the sites and towns themselves were absolutely spectacular.

We started our trip landing in Casablanca, but then found our guide and driver and immediately drove the 3-4 hours to Fes. I was a little nervous about whether that would be comfortable after a long, overnight flight, but it turns out, sitting in the car and watching this unfamiliar scenery go by was absolutely perfect—especially since it allowed Amine to orient us to Moroccan culture, a little bit of history, and our trip logistics.

When we got to Fes, we were able to immediately check into our hotel (because we had spent the time required to take the trip), and we then went out and began to see the souks of Fes. We did this again the next day, complete with a trip to see Moroccan ceramics-making in action, a working tannery, and any number of mosques and other cultural sites.

Marrakesh was the absolute highlight of the trip. Our hotel was absolutely amazing. On our last day, we made an absolutely fascinating trip hiking on the High Atlas and then ATV-ing and camel riding in the desert.  It was an absolutely once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I would recommend it to anybody.” —Sarah Rathke

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Wild caribbean beach of Manzanillo at Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Where to Go in January: The Best Places to Travel

Ring in the New Year at home, then get on a plane: Though prices are high through New Year’s, there are deals to be found starting later that first week in January. Tropical and Southern Hemisphere destinations work especially well for those needing a dose of sunshine.

To understand what makes a trip WOW, read these recent reviews from our travelers. And don’t miss the rest of our “Where to Go” series on the best destinations for every month of the year.

British Columbia

two people watching the northern lights in british columbia canada

You’re likely to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights if you visit British Columbia in January. Photo: Cyndie Martinez

January and February have the most reliable snowfall, making it ideal for not just skiing, but also ice-fishing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling in Western Canada. You also have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Those looking for an extra dose of adventure can even mush their own dogsled team from lodge to lodge—led by an expert guide, of course.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Canada. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Costa Rica

Monteverde Costa Rica

Monteverde, Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

January is one of the nicest times of the year weatherwise for a winter escape, right in the middle of the Costa Rican dry season. It is often the only time in the high season that you can plan a last-minute trip and still have your first choice of the top properties.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Costa Rica. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Costa Rica

Belize

Goff’s Caye Island, Belize.

Nonstop flights to Belize take off from several U.S. cities that are only about three hours away. Once you’re there you can explore world-class coral reefs, visit uncrowded Mayan ruins, learn to scuba dive (as Wendy’s son did), fish for 100-pound tarpon (which kept her husband busy), and laze beside sparkling Caribbean waters—or you can charter your own private yacht, enjoying fabulous snorkeling, sunbathing, kayaking, and plenty of distance from everyone except your captain and first mate.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Belize. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Belize

Mexico’s Interior

Guanajuato's historic center is full of colonial-era mansions and plazas.

Guanajuato’s historic center is full of colonial-era mansions and plazas. Credit: Journey Mexico

Mexico is much more than a one-dimensional beach destination. Sure, fabulous oceanfront resorts and sumptuous private villas abound on its long coastlines. But the country is also home to charming colonial towns such as Guanajuato, Morelia, and Oaxaca, captivating pre-Columbian ruins (especially in Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas), and a vibrant scene in Mexico City—and in January, these destinations have ideal temperatures and little rain.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Mexico. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Mexico

U.S. National Parks

snowy scene of hot spring steaming in winter in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park in winter. Photo: tpsdave/Pixabay

From snowshoeing in Yellowstone to hiking in Joshua Tree, adventures abound in our national parks—even in the middle of winter. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see the Grand Canyon with a magical dusting of snow, or have a view of Yosemite Falls all to yourself.
Read reviews of WOW trips to U.S. national parks. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to U.S. national parks

Argentina

vineyards with snow-capped mountains in background Mendoza Argentina

Mendoza, Argentina. Photo: Shutterstock

January is prime season for hiking in Patagonia, which gets just a bit quieter after the holiday rush. Meanwhile, at the foothills of the Andes, the grapevines in Mendoza sit heavy with ripening fruit. Temperatures hit the 90s in Buenos Aires, so the locals hit the beach—leaving the city easy to navigate, with so little traffic.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Argentina. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Argentina

Italy’s Cities

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

There are plenty of reasons to fall in love with Rome, Florence, and Milan in January. Temperatures will typically be in the high 40s and 50s during the day, but plan on bundling up to fit in with the locals. Perhaps a new pair of leather gloves to complete your Italian look? They’ll be on sale. Italy generally has only two times during the year when they extend sconti (discounts) in retail shops: January and July. You can find deals at both boutique shops and international-brand stores after the holiday craziness, and you won’t have to fight the crowds so common at other times of the year. Enjoy Rome’s decadently rich hot chocolate as an afternoon treat, or post up next to a funghi (the mushroom-shaped outdoor heaters) and dine al fresco in one of Florence’s beautifully lit piazzas.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Italy. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Italy

Thailand

small boat on beach of Koh Phangan island Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand. Photo: Journeys Within

Southern Thailand is ideal from mid-January through March, when the oceans are still relatively calm, and sunny skies and cooler temperatures prevail before the heat returns in April. Bangkok, meanwhile, is a year-round destination: There’s always great food and off-the-beaten-path adventures to uncover, and short bursts of rain can easily be dodged while in the city.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Thailand. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Thailand

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Sugarloaf Mountain and Botafogo Neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro by Sunset with Full Moon in the Sky

Sugarloaf Mountain and Botafogo neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Shutterstock

January is the best time to visit Rio—assuming you don’t mind temperatures that regularly hit 105 degrees: It’s the height of summer, Cariocas (Rio residents) are at their most relaxed, and the nightlife is at its peak.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Brazil. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Brazil

Nicaragua

Nicaragua mountains

Nicaragua. Photo: TPS Dave/Pixabay

In January, the country is lush and green, there is no rain, and the breezes keep temperatures in the high 80s during the day on the coast—perfect for chilling out by the ocean—and in the 70s in the mountains—ideal for hikes in the cloud forest.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Nicaragua. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Nicaragua

Sri Lanka

Adams peak also known as Sri pada in Sri Lanka over the Maskeliya reservoir and tea plantations

Adams peak, also known as Sri pada, in Sri Lanka over the Maskeliya reservoir and tea plantations. Photo: Shutterstock

The weather in mid to late January is delightful—spring-like temperatures and blue skies—and it’s a quieter period sandwiched between two busy times: Christmas/New Year’s and Chinese New Year.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Sri Lanka. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Sri Lanka

Dubai

Burj Al Arab hotel and beach in Dubai

In January, Dubai is still warm enough for beaches, but also has a shopping festival. Photo: Pixabay

January is the cooler season—which in this part of the world means temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s. Designers descend upon the city for the Shopping Festival, when shops and boutiques offer discounts all month long. Read how Brook spent a multi-day layover in Dubai’s desert.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Dubai. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Dubai

Sydney, Australia

boat sailing in water on Sydney Harbour Australia with famous bridge in background

Sailing on Sydney Harbour. Photo: Tourism Australia

Sydney’s summer months (December to February) bring beach weather, as well as festivals and harborside celebrations: After the world-renowned New Year’s Eve celebrations comes the Sydney Festival, a three-week celebration of the arts culminating with Australia Day on January 26. It’s also the right time to take a surfing lesson at Bondi Beach, go sailing in Sydney Harbour, hike waterside trails, picnic on city parklands, catch an outdoor movie screening or concert, or attend one of the city’s many professional surfing, tennis, cricket, and rugby competitions. (Remember that prices are also at their peak in summer, so book accommodations and tickets early, before they sell out.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Australia. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Australia

Other Smart Options This Month

Click on any of the destinations below to find out why January is a good time to go.

North America and Caribbean

Florida: Disney World, Orlando

Hawaii: Oahu (whale watching)

 

Central and South America

Brazil: Salvador and Trancoso

Ecuador: Galapagos

Panama

 

Europe

France: Paris apartment rentals

Iceland: northern lights

Norway: winter activities

 

Asia

Cambodia

China: Yunnan Province

India: Mumbai and Rajasthan

Myanmar’s tropical areas

Nepal’s lower elevations

 

Africa and Middle East

Abu Dhabi

 

Australia and Pacific

New Zealand: Bay of Islands and Queenstown

Papua New Guinea: diving in Milne Bay

 

Cruises

Africa Cruises

Antarctica Cruises

 

 

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Colorful empty adirondack Chairs lined up on a sunny Beach

Winter Escape: 10 Places You’d Rather Be Than in This Cold Weather

As you wait out the cold and snowy season with friends, family and a nice glass of wine, we want you to remember that there are still warm and sunny parts of the world.

These ten destinations in particular have gorgeous weather and beautiful beaches—imagine yourself in any one of them, or better yet, use the time stuck indoors to start planning your winter escape.

Caribbean Islands

There are several islands that you can reach via nonstop flights from many U.S. cities. These are the more familiar and busy ones, including Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. But to get to the really special places, you’ll have to put in a little more time and effort, which usually means at least two flights—one of them on a puddle jumper—and sometimes a ferry ride. The British Virgin Islands and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, along with St. Kitts and Nevis, are all well worth the effort it takes to reach them.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Finding Your Perfect Caribbean Island Resort, and contact Wendy to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Big Island, Hawaii

beach at Kawaihae, Big Island, Hawaii.

The beach at Kawaihae, Big Island, Hawaii. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

The Big Island boasts several of Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches, including the half-mile white-sand Hapuna Beach—the one often seen in advertisements and television shows touting an island paradise. For another perfect white-sand strand—but without the crowds—try Makalawena Beach near Kekaha Kai Sate Park, in Kona. You’ll have to maneuver an unpaved road for a short distance and walk a bit from the parking area, but that is part of the charm.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Big Island, Hawaii, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

three orange beach chairs and a green umbrella facing the ocean in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

Puerto Vallarta’s historic center is home to great restaurants, galleries, shops, and nightlife, as well as plenty of photogenic charm—cobblestoned streets, whitewashed adobe walls. The Malecon, Vallarta’s oceanfront promenade, offers a great look at how local Vallartenses spend their evenings, strolling along with their children, grandparents, and friends.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Costa Rica

Rio Celeste Waterfall photographed in Costa Rica

Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

There are lots of gorgeous spots in Costa Rica, but don’t miss Osa Peninsula, home to Corcovado National Park. Despite a certain level of press over the years, the peninsula’s remoteness leads most travelers to substitute easier-to-reach rain forests and jungles—but whereas you’re likely to see a scarlet macaw in one of those other locations, on the Osa Peninsula you might see a tree full of them. The abundance of wildlife among majestic old-growth trees makes the payoff huge.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Luxury Eco-Travel in Costa Rica, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Nicaragua

woman sandboarding down the Cerro Negro volcano

Try sandboarding down the Cerro Negro volcano, one of Nicaragua’s most active cone. Photo: Flickr/Beth and Anth

One of Nicaragua’s most appealing attractions is its abundant wildlife. Playa La Flor Nature Reserve, one hour from San Juan del Sur, is the perfect place to see sea turtles laying their eggs in the spring. Rather do something more adventurous? Try sandboarding down the Cerro Negro volcano, one of the country’s most active cones. It’s an hourlong hike to the top—where you’ll have a spectacular view of the sulfurous crater and also the Pacific Ocean.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Nicaraguaand use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

The Maldives

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives. Photo: Gili Lankanfushi

We’re pretty sure you don’t need convincing that the Maldives are paradise—just look at the photos. Bliss out on the beach, laze around in an overwater bungalow, or try UV snorkeling after the sun goes down and see how the corals light up in fluorescent greens, yellows, and reds.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to The Maldives, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Sri Lanka

beach at Nilaveli, Trincomalee Sri Lanka shutterstock

Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

From the urban centers of Colombo to the tropical seaside south of Galle, Sri Lanka offers both quiet retreats and thrilling adventures. For travelers who want to admire the beauty of the countryside, the Tea Country’s many miles of manicured tea plantations provide the ideal place for a hike. For thrill seekers, the Kelani River provides an unparalleled opportunity for rafting and canyoning through the Central Highlands.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Sri Lanka, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Rajasthan

Amanbagh, Rajasthan India

Amanbagh, Rajasthan, India. Photo courtesy Amanbagh

For complete relaxation, spend a day by the pool at Amanbagh, an oasis of palm and eucalyptus trees and Mughal-inspired architecture once used by the maharajah of Alwar on tiger-hunting expeditions. For something more active, saddle up one of the Marwari horses at Mihir Garh and ride through the Thar desert, pausing to visit the Bishnoi villages.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Rajasthan, India, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Sydney

Bondi beach panorama Sydney Australia

Sydney’s summer (December–February) brings beach weather. Photo: Southern Crossings

Sydney’s popular tourist attractions are well-known and visited by travelers from all over the world. But for some of the city’s hidden gems, jump on a ferry to Watsons Bay, and take in the views as you approach the southern entrance to Sydney Harbour. Once a tiny fishing village, Watsons Bay now offers walking tracks, beaches, and a harborside park.  Just one hour from Sydney and a favorite of locals but consistently overlooked by visitors, the Royal National Park has spectacular coastal views, abundant birdlife, indigenous culture, bushwalking, cycling, and surfing. It’s also the world’s second-oldest national park (after Yellowstone).

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Sydney, Australia, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Queenstown, New Zealand

View from Pencarrow Lodge, New Zealand

View from Pencarrow Lodge, New Zealand.

New Zealand is as an adventure mecca. Experiences for adrenaline junkies abound throughout the country, but most are concentrated in the Queenstown region. This is the place, after all, that claims to have invented bungee jumping. If you’re eager to try it (and you should!), we recommend a leap at the Kawarau Bridge. You can also go hiking on one of the area’s many unknown trails or go jet boating, rafting, skydiving, gliding, mountain biking—whatever rocks your boat.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Queenstown, New Zealand, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

 

Where would you rather be right now?

Fall foliage in Stowe, Vermont

5 Festive and Affordable Fall-Foliage Getaways

In the mood for vibrant seasonal colors? These locales offer plenty of fun fall activities—from apple picking to harvest festivals—happening this autumn.

 

1. New England: Stowe, Vermont

Stowe is the most budget-friendly of the New England fall-foliage destinations that TripAdvisor looked into. It’s a picture-postcard New England town, of course, and fall is festival time in Vermont. There’s the Foliage Art and Crafts Festival October 6–8, and Stowe Restaurant Week is October 22–28.

 

2. Mid-Atlantic: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Gettysburg is the site of the famous Civil War battle, of course, set in a small town that’s a slice of Americana. It’s also in the heart of Pennsylvania apple country. The 50th Annual National Apple Harvest Festival takes place October 7–8 and 14–15; here are additional October events.

 

3. Southern U.S.: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg is in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, where the change of colors can last seven weeks or more as the reds and yellows move down the mountainsides from the highest elevation to the foothills. Here’s the Fall Color Report for timing your drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway or your hike along the Rich Mountain Loop. The Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair stretches from October 5–22.

 

4. The Midwest: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

A resort town 80 miles north of Chicago, Lake Geneva offers a 21-mile walk around the Lake that is a unique way to take in the seasonal colors: The Geneva Lake Shore Path lets you literally cut through the backyards of some of the most historic homes in the Midwest. Expect peak foliage around the third week of October.

 

5. West Coast: Ashland, Oregon

Of the 15 fall-foliage destinations pinpointed by TripAdvisor, Ashland is the most affordable. In addition to majestic scenery, art galleries, and day spas, Ashland offers the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, so you can take in the fall colors while also taking in performances.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Duomo Florence Italy

Most Popular Destinations of 2015…and 2016

The WendyPerrin.com community of travelers is made up of some of the most sophisticated travelers anywhere. You seem to know where to go before the rest of the world does, and the things you do when you get there set the tone (and influence the itineraries) for future travelers.

With that in mind, we connected with our Trusted Travel Experts and reviewed the most popular places for WendyPerrin.com readers in 2015, as well as the locations highest on their lists for 2016. That’s one of the reasons we’re hosting the Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit right now in New York City: to meet with the travel planners on The WOW List, review these destinations, and learn more about what they can hold for you in the coming year.

Where are you headed in 2016? And for what destinations would you like us to provide more information — or more Trusted Travel Experts? Tell us in the comments below.

Most Popular Destinations in 2015

  1. Italy
  2. Cuba
  3. France
  4. Argentina
  5. Australia
  6. Mexico
  7. United Kingdom
  8. Costa Rica
  9. Spain
  10. India

Destinations Most Requested for 2016

  1. Cuba
  2. United States
  3. Italy
  4. France
  5. Mexico
  6. Japan
  7. African safaris/New Zealand
  8. Argentina/Spain/India/Australia
  9. Vietnam/Costa Rica
  10. United Kingdom

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

One&Only Cape Town Table Mountain

How to Make a South Africa Trip Extraordinary? Go In Winter

Cape Town shuts down in winter—South African winter, that is. At least, that’s what Capetonians will tell you. The popular tourist months here are in South Africa’s summer (December–February). But the weather remains mild through the winter season of May through August—enough to enjoy a lot of what this city by the sea has to offer. Even better, prices drop during the off-season, so you can find better deals and fewer crowds at popular hotels, restaurants, and attractions.

I’m just back from a winter week in Cape Town and the winelands, and here are the five experiences that most made my trip extraordinary. Any of them can easily be tacked onto a trip either before or after a safari. If your goal is the best trip possible, reach out to one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for South Africa—either Julian Harrison, of Premier Tours, or Dan Saperstein, of Hippo Creek Safaris. (Check out our readers’ reviews of Dan and reviews of Julian, and you’ll understand why we recommend them.)

1. Dine with Cape Town’s culinary stars
In Cape Town, there’s too much food and not enough time. But if you start early, you should be able to manage stuff in a few great meals. For a low-cost breakfast, join the young cool crowd at Jason Bakery for coffee and a house-made croissant or the croissant-meets-donut doughssant, which comes in a different flavor every day. For dinner, take your pick from two notable restaurants at the One&Only Cape Town: the only outpost of Nobu in Africa, and Reuben’s, the second restaurant from Reuben Riffel, one of South Africa’s most famous chefs (he started out in the country’s other food mecca, Franschhoek). At both, you’ll be able to dine for much less than it would cost you in other cosmopolitan cities. At Nobu, a six-course tasting menu with dessert is only $44. At Reuben’s, you can sign up for one of his Wine&Dine events showcasing special menus and local winemakers for about $30.

2. Take pictures with a penguin

boulders beach penguin colony south africa

Boulders Beach penguin colony is a tourist destination, but at the end of May, there were only four people there—including me. Photo: Billie Cohen

Boulders Beach penguin colony is in every guidebook for Cape Town, but it is still so worth visiting. The beach itself is beautiful enough to be worth a visit on its own—blue-green water separated into calm pools by the eponymous boulders. But on top of that you have all those adorable penguins! After paying the very small price of 60 ZAR (about $4.65), you’ll walk down a network of boardwalks leading to the shore, where a colony of about 2,000 endangered African penguins makes their home. Even from the raised platform you’ll be close enough to take great photos, but to get really close, walk down the path to the right of the ticket booth before you actually enter the reserve. Many penguins make their nests against the fence here. Be careful, though: You can get very, very close to these animals through the fence, but you don’t want to touch or try to feed them. Their beaks are razor sharp and they have been known to bite when threatened.

3. Learn to cook with a local

malay cooking class Cape Town

Our cooking teacher Fadelia was a character. She’s been inviting travelers into her home for years, both as a cook and as a homestay host for students. Photo: Billie Cohen

We learned to make samosas and chili dumplings, Malay chicken curry, roti, and honey-and-spice koeksisters. Photo: Billie Cohen

We learned to make samosas and chili dumplings, Malay chicken curry, roti, and honey-and-spice koeksisters. Photo: Billie Cohen

The Muslim neighborhood of Bo-Kaap is one of Cape Town’s most interesting (and that’s saying a lot in a city of interesting neighborhoods); the Malay here are descended from the slaves imported from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other parts of Africa by the Dutch in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Lined with brightly painted houses, the enclave is incredibly colorful—and so was our cooking teacher Fadelia, who’s been inviting travelers into her home for years, both as a cook and as a homestay host for students. She will regale you with funny stories about life in Cape Town (and her love life) as you learn the all-important South African skills of folding samosas, deep-frying chili dumplings, and finding room in your belly for one more honey-and-spice koeksister.

Cape Town Tourism can set this up for you—as can Julian Harrison, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Africa, if you book the rest of your trip through him.

4. Explore an entire neighborhood that’s been turned into a museum

cape town street art

Over the years, artist Juma Mkwela has invited dozens of street artists from all over the world to paint murals in the Woodstock neighborhood. Photo: Billie Cohen

cape town street art

Juma leads walking tours through Woodstock, an up-and-coming artists’ neighborhood. He’s expanded the project to Khayelitsha, which you can also tour with him. Photo: Billie Cohen

Street art is one of my favorite ways to get to know a city. In Cape Town, you can take a walking tour of a neighborhood entirely devoted to providing a canvas for this type of work—led by Juma Mkwela, the local artist who started the project.

Mkwela’s muralists come from all over the city and the world, and at this point he’s commissioned more than 50 paintings. During the tour, Juma will show you dozens, sharing stories about the artists and their inspirations—it’s not only a visual education, but a political one as well, as many of the murals reflect the city’s turbulent and complicated past. Meeting Juma is worth the price of admission alone—he’s such an interesting guy. He has recently expanded the mural project into his new neighborhood, Khayelitsha (of which he also leads tours) and launched a youth arts program. The tour cost R200 (about $15.50) and can be booked by emailing Juma Juma.mkwela@gmail.com.

5. Nab a reservation at one of the country’s most popular (and packed) restaurants

in the kitchen of the tasting room franschhoek south africa

Everything served to you during your eight-course meal at the Tasting Room in Franschhoek will be a surprise. Even if you get a kitchen tour, they won’t tell you what they’re making. Photo: Billie Cohen

meal at the tasting room franschhoek south africa

This whimsical dish was called Broccoli, Broccoli, and Broccoli, and it sliced, diced, fried, pureed, and drizzled the vegetable a million ways. It was delicious. Photo: Billie Cohen

The Tasting Room in Franschhoek is an incredibly difficult reservation to score. The small restaurant based at the small boutique hotel Le Quartier Francais is run by award-winning chef Margot Janse, whose team creates a nightly dinner menu that is full of surprises. In fact, no one in the dining room knows what they will be eating—the three-and-a-half hour, eight-course menu is a complete secret, you don’t even get to look at a printed version until after you’ve eaten. The result is extraordinary. There’s a feeling of anticipation that permeates the small room, and you can catch diners openly rubbernecking other tables in an attempt to find some clue as to their own whimsical next course, but Janse has thought of that—no one within your viewing distance will get the same dishes in the same order, and they likely won’t get some of the same dishes at all. Because of the experience and the pedigree, The Tasting Room is frequently fully booked (and an incredible deal at about $100 per person, including wine pairings).

But in South Africa’s winter, seats are easier to come by—and from May through August, Le Quartier Francais offers a special Dine-a-Stay package that includes a night at the hotel, breakfast, and—added in at no extra cost—Tasting Room dinners for two. Be sure to ask to visit the kitchen during your meal so you can meet the magicians at work; few people realize it’s allowed.

Where to Stay:

In Cape Town

One&Only Cape Town afternoon tea

Daily afternoon tea at the One&Only Cape Town is a feast: caramel éclairs, cinnamon macarons, tiramisu, scones with vanilla bean cream and strawberry jam, and so much more. Even better, it’s served with floor-to-ceiling view of Table Mountain. Photo: Billie Cohen

I stayed at the One&Only Cape Town, the luxury brand known for its island and beach resorts. The Cape Town property creates that secluded island feel by curving around a small canal and pointing most of its windows (including the floor-to-ceiling ones in the lobby bar) to Table Mountain, the centerpiece of the city. You’re also within walking distance of the V&A Waterfront area, a pedestrian-friendly enclave of shops, restaurants, and views. The Waterfront area is a bit touristy, but the trade-off is that you can stroll out of your hotel at night and wander around; you won’t need a cab, and it’s very safe.

The One&Only Cape Town is “popular with families, couples, and VIP clients,” notes Dan Saperstein, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for South Africa, adding this money-saving tip: “A lot of rooms face the harbor or Table Mountain, but we are of the opinion that you don’t need to pay for a good view in your room—you’ll see it all day and you’re only in your room at night anyway.”

Another way to save money: Timing. In peak season (December and January), rooms start at about $875 per night, but in low season (April through September) that price drops significantly to about $450. I’m sure you can come up with some great things to do with that extra money.

In Franschhoek

The boutique hotel Le Quartier Francais looks like a secret garden and provides perks to all guests: free Wi-Fi, free minibar, and good-night notes on your bathroom mirror. Photo: Billie Cohen

The boutique hotel Le Quartier Francais looks like a secret garden outside and provides perks to all guests inside: free Wi-Fi, free minibar, and good-night notes on your bathroom mirror. Photo: Billie Cohen

I stayed at Le Quartier Francais, a small blue-and-white boutique hotel that feels like it belongs in Provence instead of South Africa’s wine country. Although, to be fair, all of Franschhoek looks and feels like Provence. The shop-lined village is walkable and adorable, and the nearby wine farms (which LQF will shuttle you to and from) are impressive for their idyllic atmospheres as much as for their vintages. Depending on which room you choose (they’re all designed differently), rates decrease about $40¬–$100 per night in the winter. Check the hotel website for other winter deals, including packages for the town’s annual Bastille Day Festival.

*Disclosure: Both One&Only Cape Town and Le Quartier Francais provided me with free stays. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for coverage by either property, nor was anything promised on ours. 

forbidden city, china

Is 2015 the Year to Travel to China?

Is this the year to finally take that trip to China? One of the big findings from TripAdvisor’s 2015 TripBarometer study, the world’s largest traveler and accommodation survey, is that China will see the greatest reductions in hotel prices this year—a year when most countries will be hiking their prices. Half of all properties worldwide—and 59% of U.S. hotels—plan to up their room rates this year (with the biggest increases expected in South Africa, Austria, and Brazil).

There’s value for your dollar in China, for sure, but only if you’re careful. As someone who has spent six weeks of her life road-testing China every which way, I am here to tell you that China is one of those countries where, if you want to avoid unexpected hassles that eat up significant time and money, you’re better off having a China travel specialist orchestrate and book your itinerary. Factors that can foil the best-laid plans include:

* Places that were charming a year or two ago have been overbuilt and overrun with domestic Chinese tourists.

* Things in China change overnight, which means it’s tough to get reliable logistical information or accurate opinions as to which places are still worth seeing and which have been spoiled.

* The ingrained tourism infrastructure inflicts a mass-market agenda that will turn off sophisticated travelers. Without help from the right sources, you can easily get trapped at mediocre sights, with detours for forced shopping, tasteless meals at tourist restaurants, and layers of middlemen extracting cash from you at every turn.

The solution is a stellar China travel specialist with up-to-date intel, reliable taste, special access, and well-trained, flexible English-speaking guides who can get you past the lines and crowds and who understand the difference between authentic, photogenic experiences and tourist traps. My Trusted Travel Experts for China fit the bill. They know this year’s must-dos and must-skips, and they’ve shared that intelligence in their Insider’s Guides (for example, Mei Zhang’s Insider’s Guide to Beijing or Yunnan Province). So, if you’re thinking about China, reach out to me, via Ask Wendy, to find the one who best suits your needs. 

Hong Kong Via Helicopter

Hong Kong viewed from a helicopter. Photo courtesy David Allardice.

I’d love to know: Do you want to travel to China this year? Why or why not?

 

 

 

How to Transform a Disney Trip from Average to Extraordinary

Just thinking about a vacation at Disney World conjures all kinds of images: Mickey Mouse, princesses, rides, parades, smiles, magic…big crowds, long lines, overtired parents, overstimulated children. Of course, you can have all of the good with none of the bad, but it requires some planning—and a lot of know-how. After a recent trip to Orlando, we’ve got you covered with our own tricks, as well as advice from our Trusted Travel Expert for Disney vacations, Michelle Allen, who can help ensure an all-smiles, no-stress trip with all the best activities and experiences (and oh yeah, she costs nothing to you; Disney pays her fees). Here are five foolproof ways to transform a Disney World trip from average to extraordinary.

 

Four Seasons Orlando

After a day at the park, the sleek and sophisticated design of the Four Seasons is a welcome respite from its over-the-top surroundings.

1. Stay at the new Four Seasons

Disney World has a lot of really great hotels at a wide variety of price points, but the newest addition to the lineup really stands apart. The Four Seasons Orlando just had its grand opening this fall, and provides all the luxury and service you’d expect from a Four Seasons property—attentive staff, beautiful rooms, a full-service spa, customized beds—plus all of the official Disney services, thanks to its location inside park boundaries (e.g., free buses to parks and attractions, an on-site desk for tickets and reservations, discounts for Disney-property guests). “It’s still on campus, so you’re not giving up the location that you would have had to in the past to stay somewhere different—it’s really right there within,” Michelle says. “And while Disney does deluxe, this is really luxury.”

The hotel’s best perk might just be the visual and mental break it provides from its over-the-top surroundings. After a day of crowds and craziness (or instead of one), the hotel’s nearly-mouse-free design, sleek adults-only pool, cocktail-carrying pool staff, and full-service spa are a welcome respite. Not that families are forgotten here—this is Disney World after all, and the hotel is a very kid-friendly home base with a complimentary kids club, two water slides, a lazy river, a zero-entry family pool, a rock-climbing wall, sand volleyball courts, and a splash zone water playground. There’s even a character breakfast.*

 

Disney World Orlando

The mosaics in Epcot’s Morocco showcase were crafted by master artisans. And since only Allah can achieve perfection, they left a crack or a flaw in every work. Photo by Billie Cohen.

2. Splurge on a VIP Tour

We’re not saying this isn’t expensive, we’re just saying it’s a pretty failsafe way to make your time in Disney World more extraordinary. Hire a VIP guide and you’ll be picked up at your hotel and ushered into the parks of your choice through special back-lot entrances. Once inside, your guide will map out the most efficient way to hit every ride, parade, and snack spot on your wish list, FastPassing you to the front of lines and character meet-and-greets, scoring VIP seating at parades and fireworks, and dropping all kinds of Disney secrets and trivia along the way. Wondering who’s on those portraits in the Haunted House? Why there’s an intentional flaw in EPCOT’s Moroccan fountain? I was repeatedly impressed by how much my guide knew, and her narrative made my day more than just a series of rides. Apart from the fun of all that Disney geekdom, it’s the personalized attention that really makes a VIP Tour attractive: The stress of crowds, lines, far-far-away bathrooms, parking—they are all removed from the equation. At a price, of course: rates range from $1,890 to $3,000 for a six-hour-minimum tour, depending on the season and whether you’re staying at a Disney resort, and that fee does not include park admission. On the bright side, that fee is the same whether you’re one person or ten, so if you’re traveling as a family or two, the cost can be shared…or mitigated another way, as Michelle has seen from her own experience: “There are some people who may stay at a moderate resort and put that money toward a guide instead,” she says.

 

Disney World Orlando

Pick up a MagicBand and you can leave pretty much everything in your hotel room—even your room key. Photo courtesy Walt Disney World.

3. Embrace technology

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, you can reserve three FastPass rides before you step foot outside the hotel (or even before you leave home). “It used to be that you had to get to the park before opening,” Michelle recalls. “The rope would drop, you’d get a FastPass, hop on a ride, then run to the other end of the park to get another FastPass. But now you can reserve guaranteed board at Space Mountain between 10:30 and 11, so guess who gets to have a leisurely breakfast? You do.” Guests staying at a Disney resort can also use MagicBand bracelets, which are registered online and then used for various functions, including park admissions, FastPass reservations, Disney PhotoPass accounts, paying for food and merchandise, and even unlocking your hotel room door.

Tying it all together is the My Disney Experience app. From your phone, you’ll be able to check ride wait times, change up your FastPasses, make dining reservations, and find character greeting locations. Plus it has GPS, so you’ll be able to see where you are in relation to that Dole Whip you’ve been craving.

 

Disney World Orlando

Silhouettes and abstract images of the renowned mouse are hidden throughout the parks and resorts of Disney World. This one is embedded in a giraffe carving at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Can you see it? Photo courtesy Walt Disney World.

4. Go surfing… or backstage

Some of the parks feature special activities that really do make you feel special. Typhoon Lagoon offers surf lessons before the park opens to the masses. At Hollywood Studios, you can dine with a Disney Imagineer. And at Magic Kingdom, the Keys to the Kingdom tour lifts the curtain on the whole Disney show, bringing you to backstage areas, leading you through the secret underground tunnels used by staff to get around without being seen, and pointing out a ton of hidden Mickeys disguised all over the park.

5. Use our Trusted Travel Expert
Yes, yes, we’re tooting our own horn here, but we have no qualms about it. Booking a trip with Michelle Allen won’t cost you a thing, but booking without her most certainly will. You’ll end up paying in time, stress, and yeah, probably dollars because she can not only make sure you get access to great activities, she can also find you deals (and let you know when something simply isn’t worth the price). There’s just so much to navigate, reserve, and organize when it comes to planning a Disney vacation. Why do it alone? Read more about Michelle’s background and her tips for Disney World.<

 

*Disclosure: Four Seasons Orlando provided me with a three-night stay free of charge, and Disney provided me with a VIP Tour so that I could test it for our readers. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on Four Seasons’ or Disney’s part, nor was anything promised on ours. You can read the signed agreement between WendyPerrin.com and the organizers of my trip here.

Theater of Dionysus in Athens Greece

A Day in Athens: How to Spend Your Cruise Shore Excursion

Today we kick off our series on cruise shore excursions, in which we curate your best options in port cities worldwide when you’ve got only eight to ten hours before your ship sets sail for the next port. We’ll be asking local experts in the world’s popular cruise ports to recommend efficient sightseeing itineraries and how to make the very best use of your time. Today we start with Athens, Greece, where we spoke to the experts at Context Travel, who have sussed out the best walks in the world’s cultural capitals.

The challenge with Athens: How to get the best feel for the cradle of Western civilization in just one day—and actually enjoy yourself. The solution: two suggestions—one, a day on your own; two, a guided walking seminar. Each takes about eight hours, including transit time from the port into the heart of Athens and back. Remember that from spring through autumn Athens can be very hot, so factor in rest time, as well as a recuperating lunch break.

 

Getting into Athens

The city of Athens is served by the port of Piraeus, itself a city, located about ten kilometers away—though due to urban sprawl the boundaries between the two are increasingly blurred. Piraeus is a huge port serving international traffic as well as many domestic services to the Greek islands. The Metro line number 1 (green line) runs regular, high-speed trains between Piraeus and the center of Athens, but depending on where in the port you are, it can take 20 to 30 minutes on foot to reach Piraeus Metro. A single ticket costs €1.40. Though you may need to allow about an hour to get into town on public transport, the journey itself is a historical adventure, especially for engineering enthusiasts. The Piraeus-Kifissia Electric Railway began life as Athens’ first steam-powered train service in 1869 (today the railway is fully modernized). Alternatively, a taxi can get you into central Athens in about 30-45 minutes, depending on traffic. Make sure you take a cab from an official taxi rank and that the driver uses his meter. Expect to pay €20 to 30 one-way.

 

Acropolis Museum exterior in Athens Greece

The beautifully renovated Acropolis Museum has a postmodern design that contrasts starkly with the ancient classicism above. Photo courtesy Context Travel

Excursion Option 1: A Day On Your Own

The obvious attraction is the mighty Acropolis, but bear in mind it is hugely crowded in cruise season (spring through fall), and there is a 20-minute hike to the top of Acropolis Hill before you can even join the back of the queue. One alternative is to skip that part entirely and head straight to the beautifully renovated (and air conditioned) Acropolis Museum, whose contemporary postmodernist lines contrast starkly with the ancient classicism above. You’ll need at least an hour to explore the layers of history within those walls, from the statues in the Archaic Gallery to the Parthenon frieze. Don’t miss the Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis, with its vertiginous transparent floor revealing the archaeological excavation below. The gallery is home to artifacts discovered in archaic sanctuaries on the side of Acropolis Hill, as well as from everyday life in Athens.

Afterward, rather than visit the main attraction, explore the many other impressive archaeological sites just a stone’s throw from the Acropolis Museum. Around the corner from the Museum, for example, lies the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which took 600 years to build. Though only fragments of the Temple remain, you can still feel the scale of the colossal structure if you stand beneath its towering columns. Sadly, the temple fell into disrepair after an invasion in the 3rd century A.D. Nevertheless, it’s still a breathtaking remnant—one that stands out all the more thanks to a relative lack of crowds.

Also nearby is the Theater of Dionysus, on the south slope of Acropolis Hill. Though it’s not in as good shape as the Acropolis’s other theater, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, this one is historically more important, having once played host to more than 17,000 spectators.

A combined ticket to all of the archaeological sites of Athens costs €12 and can be purchased at any of the entrances. Entry to a single site (excluding the Acropolis) is €2 (Agora €4).

When you’re finished with the historical sites, you should have time for a stroll through the winding streets of Plaka. Yes, it’s touristy, but Plaka still holds a special charm. Just behind the Theater of Dionysus you’ll find the diminutive district of Anafiotika, with its ancient abodes that seem to be carved into the hilly landscape. Like a cute little village from one of the Greek Islands, Anafiotika has been known to draw a crowd, but there’s an authenticity here that should excite even jaded travelers.

Getting there: Take the M1 metro to Monastiraki and walk (15–20 minutes) around the foot of Acropolis Hill to the Acropolis Museum.

Lunch and breaks: For a well-earned lunch, try Attikos Greek House, which offers that rare combination of spectacular Acropolis views and a credible smattering of locals. For a quick revitalizing break, head to Syntagma Square, where you can join locals in an iced coffee, also known as the Greek frappé. This typically consists of instant coffee with added cold water, whisked up to a foam with a couple of ice cubes dropped into the glass. No milk, but add as much sugar as you like. Pro tip: Syntagma Square has a metro station with its own archaeological collection of artifacts discovered during its construction.

 

Excursion Option 2: The Guided Day

When you’ve been to Athens before and are happy to avoid the heat and crowds and admire the archeological sites from afar, or you simply prefer to enjoy the city as the locals do, then make food the theme of your day.

Retsina wine barrels in Athens Greece

Retsina is a sweet Greek white wine made with the resin of a local pine species. Photo courtesy Context Travel

Food culture in Athens revolves around the busy Central Market, or Varvakios Agora. Here, nut vendors vie with butchers and fishmongers for the attention of passersby. On the surrounding streets, you’ll find honey, cheese, and pastry specialists who offer a fantastic array of snacks that demonstrate the intricacies and complexities of Greek cuisine. Again, take the M1 Metro from the cruise port to Monastiraki; you’ll emerge within a few steps of the action.

Foodies and culture vultures interested in an authentic taste of Athenian life can join an Athens chef and food journalist for an in-depth and immersive walking tour with Context Travel. Called Beyond Feta, the tour traces the development and character of Athenian cooking from farm to fork. One of the stops, for instance, is Dyporto Wine Shop, in a basement beneath the markets of Monastiraki Square. The shop has been owned by the same family for more than four generations. They produce and serve a special Greek wine called retsina—a sweet white made with the resin of a local pine species. Greek president Karolos Papoulias reportedly stopped by unannounced last year for a meal with some aides, and current owner Dmitri will proudly show you a photo of himself with Francis Ford Coppola. After sampling some of the wine, you’ll get to try a traditional Greek lunch in the cool wine cellar.

After the tour, you’ll likely still have time to explore the charming streets of Plaka (see above) before heading back to the port (allow one hour for your return). And don’t worry about getting lost: the Acropolis is always looming above as a way to orient yourself.

Getting there: For more info on this food tour and where to meet your guide, contact Context Travel.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Bannerman Castle, built in the early 1900s, as it stood on July 4, 1961.  Photo: Douglas Labounty/Courtesy of the Bannerman Castle Trust

A Surprising Day Trip from New York

When visitors come to New York, they usually think: Empire State Building, Central Park, Broadway. They probably rarely think: kayak to the ruins of a castle in the Hudson River. But they’re missing out. Last week, I joined a kayak tour in Cold Spring, NY, a charming Hudson Valley town about an hour outside NYC packed with antiques shops, cute restaurants, and a few great hiking trails. Our destination was Bannerman Castle, a somewhat dilapidated manse built in the early 1900s on Pollepel Island, a small circle of rock in the middle of the Hudson.

Hudson River and Pollepel Island

The view from my kayak, looking north up the Hudson River to Pollepel Island in the distance. Photo: Billie Cohen

The castle has an interesting and quirky history. Not surprisingly, it was the summer residence for a wealthy New York City family (the Rockefellers, FDR, and railroad tycoon Jay Gould also had mansions in this region). But the main reason the Bannerman family purchased the island in 1901 was to store all their ammunitions: guns, cannons, bayonets, and other military paraphernalia stockpiled after the Civil and Spanish American wars.

The castle’s owner, Francis Bannerman, was born in Scotland and came to Brooklyn as a toddler in 1854. He worked with his father there, collecting scrap from ships in New York Harbor to sell at auction. As an adult, Frank grew the resale business so well that he eventually started to purchase surplus government stock—including military gear from various wars. But where to put all those ammunitions while he waited for new buyers? It was too dangerous (and against the law) to keep them in the city. So when Frank’s son David spotted Pollepel Island on a canoe trip in 1901, the family bought it up and started construction of an arsenal. To give you an idea of what the Bannermans were holding, a tour guide told us that the family had so many weapons in their possession that some of the ornaments on the arsenal buildings and the nearby residence are stuck on with bayonets, set inside the walls instead of I beams.

Bannerman Castle in the Hudson River New York 1905

Bannerman Castle was built as a complex to house the Bannerman family’s military resale business, which they advertised in gigantic letters on the side of the arsenal, shown here in 1905.   Photo courtesy of the Churchill / Bannerman Family/Bannerman Castle Trust

As you’d expect, this wasn’t the safest of residential complexes. And in the 1920s, an arsenal building exploded. Another fire in August 1969 did further damage, and most recently, a storm in December 2009 tumbled several walls of the main arsenal, known (in Scottish style) as Crag Inch Tower. The façade of the family’s residence is in better shape, though visitors are not allowed inside either building.

Bannerman Castle New York today

This is what the Crag Inch Tower looks like today; you can see these ruins from the mainland shore and from the Metro-North train. Photo: Billie Cohen

 

Bannerman Island castle

The Bannerman’s residence on Pollepel Island.  Photo: Billie Cohen

The ruins are currently in the care of the Bannerman Castle Trust, a nonprofit organization that has stabilized the arsenal and is trying to raise money for more preservation efforts across the island. During the spring, summer and fall, the Trust offers tours and other fun events—including a nighttime photography workshop coming up on August 23, and a five-course gourmet meal prepared by Hudson Valley chefs on September 13—and since the island is accessible by boat or kayak only, the Trust works with specific companies to organize those tours. Take note: Anyone who paddles up to the island of their own accord is prohibited from landing; you have to go with a licensed group.

My visit last week was arranged through Hudson River Expeditions. I took the Metro-North commuter rail right from Midtown Manhattan and had to walk only a block to get to the launch point, where I met our two guides and six other guests. After some instruction, we paddled for about 90 minutes from Cold Spring, then landed on the island for lunch and a guided tour (the day’s fee included the meal, bottles of water, and a donation to the Trust). We ran into a few other groups that had arrived by passenger boat, but I’d recommend the kayak route. This part of the Hudson River is beautiful; you’re not that far from the concrete and noise of the city and yet all you’ll see are low green hills lining the shore and maybe a bald eagle or two. In general, I’m a fan of kayaking as a way to see a place from a new perspective, so even if you don’t make it to Pollepel, it’s worth getting on the water to look at NYC from sea level—you can even kayak for free in the city proper at one of several coves run by the Downtown Boathouse. The best part: You don’t need to be some special athlete for these tours; all you need is a little paddling experience and a sense of adventure.

St. Catherine's Monastery Mount Sinai

My Best Travel Mistake: Climbing Mount Sinai for the Sunset

We’ve all been through travel nightmares that over time have turned into fond memories. Maybe you were lost for hours in a maze of back alleys in some gritty Beijing hutong where nobody spoke English but you eventually found your way back to your hotel. Maybe a flight cancellation stranded you on a remote Pacific island for three days but you ended up making great friends and learning how to boil kava.

mount-sinai-few-people

My biggest travel mistake happened in Egypt. Tim and I had driven across the Sinai Desert to see St. Catherine’s Monastery—the sixth century cloister at the foot of Mount Sinai—and had decided to climb to the top of the mountain for the sunset. The path was rocky and precarious, but after about two and a half hours we had made it up the 7,500 feet. We were virtually the only people at the summit at sunset. It was one of those perfect travel moments.

Until the sun disappeared behind the mountain and we realized there was no light anywhere in the desert. We somehow had to get all the way back down that mountain in the pitch dark. The descent was treacherous, and the only reason I’m alive today to tell the tale is that I was wearing sturdy shoes and Tim happened to have a Mini Maglite flashlight in his pocket.

 

A friendly Bedouin

A friendly Bedouin

What turned this ordeal into a cherished memory was what greeted us when we finally reached the bottom. It was like we had landed in Lawrence of Arabia. A blanket of stars had come out, and beside the ancient cloister, crouched around a flickering campfire, was a group of friendly Bedouin and their camels, making dinner and telling stories in an incomprehensible but mesmerizing tongue. We were, again, the only travelers around. That movie-set finish to our day is seared in my memory, and somehow over time that harrowing Mount Sinai descent has turned into one of the highlights of my travel history.

Mount Sinai after sunsert

Mount Sinai after sunsert

Three lessons learned:

1. The next time I climb to the top of a mountain, it will be for the sunrise.

2. No matter what time of day, I’ll be carrying a Mini Maglite.

3. Don’t let State Department travel alerts cause you to misperceive the real risks. As is often the case, the risk of death by violent human attack or explosive device is far less than the risk of death from simply wearing the wrong shoes.

St. Catherine's Monastery

St. Catherine’s Monastery

The Sinai Desert

The Sinai Desert

What was your worst travel mistake that turned into an amazing memory? I just might collect the best stories and share them with everyone.