Tag Archives: France

Wendy aboard a "hotel barge" on the Canal de Bourgogne in Burgundy, France

How to Know if a Barge Cruise in France Is Right for You

I’m just back from one of my favorite trips ever: a six-night, eight-passenger barge cruise on the Canal de Bourgogne. Too many people think a river cruise on a 160-passenger ship is their only option for traveling by inland waterway in Europe.  They are missing out.  France in particular has a big network of picture-postcard canals where intimate boats (4 to 12 passengers) glide from village to village, past medieval castles and old-world farms, with no cars in sight for long stretches. It’s like floating through a bygone era. The pace is so languid that you can actually walk faster than the barge goes. I enjoyed hopping off to walk or bike along the towpath, then hopping back on.

The biggest surprise for me was how the escargot’s pace of the barge forced me to relax more than I’ve been able to in years. We could have done the same sightseeing by car, sleeping in hotels—in fact, we could have driven from the village where we started (Vandenesse-en-Auxois) to the village where we ended (Plombières-lès-Dijon) in only 27 minutes!—but that would not have unwound us into the same state of deep relaxation.

A beautiful landscape of Vandenesse en Auxois Burgundy Canal barge.

We started our barge cruise in the village of Vandenesse-en-Auxois, France.  Photo: Timothy Baker

Despite the slow pace, we actually covered a lot of territory, thanks to excursions by van each afternoon to historic sights, wineries, châteaux, and villages where we ended up visiting artisan studios, farmers’ markets, antique shops, cheesemakers…. One of my favorite excursions was to the Chateau de Commarin, where the same noble family that has owned it for 26 generations still lives today; below you can see the Count’s dog greeting me.

Most people would be surprised by the level of luxury, the modern creature comforts, and the exquisite cuisine on our barge. A private barge charter really is like having your own staffed vacation home, only with ever-changing views. And, because you wake up in a different village each day, there’s always someplace new to explore outside your door, yet there are no logistics to deal with.

Tim and I can’t wait to barge again:  Next on our list is the Canal du Midi.  Still, barging is not for everyone. I wouldn’t recommend it to families with toddlers or teens (who could get bored on the barge or need more exercise than just walking and biking), nor to anyone who requires a hotel gym. Nor would I recommend it to people who don’t like wine or cheese, given how much of it is served every day. (We tasted at least 40 wines and 40 cheeses during our six days.)

Wendy biking near a barge in the Burgundy canal in France.

Biking on the Canal de Bourgogne was easy and safe.  Photo: Timothy Baker

There are three groups of travelers who I think could really benefit from barging:

  • A group of couples who get together each year and are looking for something different and fabulous.
  • A family group without kids that is looking for an especially scenic and logistically easy villa-style vacation.
  • Busy execs who must work on vacation. That’s because a barge lets you sightsee from your desk. I was able to sit on deck all morning, answering email on my laptop while bucolic scenery and history glided by, then take a break each afternoon for an excursion and gourmet pursuits.

If you’re an individual couple without a group, there are certain weeks of the year when barges will have availability for you, but most barge cruises are private charters (typically for a group of four, eight, or twelve). Barges are pretty much sold out for 2023, but there is still a lot of availability for 2024.  If you’ve got questions about whether a barge trip is right for you, or if you could use a recommendation of the right boat, region, or itinerary for your needs, I’m happy to help via the Ask Wendy questionnaire.

Wendy at Chateau de Commarin in Burgundy, with a dog approaching her.

One of my favorite excursions was to the Château de Commarin, where the same noble family that has owned it for 26 generations still lives today (that’s the Count’s dog you see greeting me).  Photo: Timothy Baker

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. 

Wendy-Perrin on Champ de Mars with the Eiffel Tower in the back.

Paris Is Crowded: These Tips Will Save You Lines and Headaches

I just spent the last ten days of April in France, including four days in Paris, and there are a few things that travelers should know. First, at no time did we see, nor were our plans affected by, the fiery protests or strikes you see in the news. Second, what we did see was a gazillion people in Paris. They were enjoying themselves immensely, but Paris was more crowded than I have ever seen before. Here’s what the banks of the Seine looked like last Saturday afternoon:

The crowds at Seine river bank in Paris, France.

The right bank of the Seine on Saturday, April 29, 2023.  Photo: Timothy Baker

If you’re headed to France this spring, summer, or early fall, hopefully you took the advice we’ve been giving since January and you’re making reservations well in advance or, better yet, using a France expert with local clout who can spare you time-consuming logistics and get you past the lines and crowds. (You’ll find my France picks on The WOW List.) If you are going it on your own—as I did because those France experts are so busy helping you that I did not want to take up their time!—here are my tips.

A long line of people in Champ de Mars waiting in front of the public toilets.

I counted 21 people in line to use the toilets on the Champ de Mars on April 30, 2023. Photo: Wendy Perrin

Plan for things taking longer than usual.

Because of lines, security precautions, and masses of people in popular places, things take longer than they used to. So, if you’re taking the kids this summer, don’t think you’ll be able to do three major sights per day; you’ll be lucky to do two. The line for the public toilets in the Champ de Mars last Sunday (above) says it all.

Guard against pickpockets.

Where there are crowds, there are pickpockets. Within an hour of our landing at Charles de Gaulle, my husband Tim’s iPhone was stolen (somewhere between Terminal 1 and the RER train platform at Terminal 3). The airport police, the guy at the Apple Store on the Champs-Élysées, and signs all over the Metro conveyed that there is a lot of pickpocketing in Paris now. Our hotel concierge said it’s especially bad at the Paris Flea Market, where Tim and I also went. For the rest of our time in Paris, I kept my iPhone zipped into an interior pocket in my jacket.

A photo of the Rodin Museum with the Sculpture Garden in Paris.

The Sculpture Garden of the Rodin Museum was a peaceful spot in Paris on Sunday, April 30, 2023. Photo: Timothy Baker

Seek out quieter spots.

There are so many lesser-known, charming parks and museums in Paris!  At the same time that the Champ de Mars was so busy, the Square d’Ajaccio, a serene and flowery little park with an Eiffel Tower view next to the Hôtel des Invalides (a 15-minute walk away), was empty. I know this because I stopped there en route to the Rodin Museum’s leafy Sculpture Garden on Sunday afternoon (above), which had no wait to buy tickets and had plenty of peaceful corners and unoccupied benches.

Book timed entry tickets.

They’re needed at the most popular museums. As for the Eiffel Tower, even if you buy timed tickets, you’ll still have lines and waits.

The Eiffel Tower comes with its own unique quandaries. Buying advance tickets means taking the risk that your time slot could coincide with rain or foggy weather that ruins your views. That’s why my advice for years has been to wait for a clear day with great visibility, then arrive before opening time and buy tickets to take the stairs to the 2nd floor (the 674-step walk yields fascinating views and perspectives on the city, and you can take it slowly), then ride the elevator from the 2nd floor to the top. In the past, I’ve never seen any line for buying stairs tickets. But now, based on the length of the stairs-tickets line last Sunday afternoon (below), my strategy may no longer work.

A line of people waiting to buy stairs tickers for the Eiffel Tower

The stairs-tickets line at the Eiffel Tower on Sunday afternoon, April 30, 2023.  Photo: Wendy Perrin

Signs said that that line was an hour long. More signs, at more ticket-buying lines, warned: “The top floor may be closed to visitors during busy times to limits on capacity. Delay more than 45 minutes on the second floor.”

Personally, the next time I go to the Eiffel Tower without help from a WOW List France specialist, I’ll book a table at the (Michelin-starred) Jules Verne restaurant on the 2nd floor. It’s got its own elevator with no line.

Or consider ascending the Tower at night. Visitors are currently being admitted until 11:45 pm, so you could see the City of Light illuminated.

Just across the Seine, the Trocadéro—with its famous Eiffel Tower views—was terribly crowded too but as good a people-watching spot as ever. We saw a just-married couple in traditional Korean wedding costume posing for photos, watched a man get down on one knee and propose to his stunned girlfriend, and saw dances performed by a group of girls from Germany.

German dancers on Trocadero in front of the Eiffel Tower.

A group of dancers from Berlin performed at the Trocadéro near the Eiffel Tower on April 30, 2023.  Photo: Wendy Perrin

In stark contrast to Paris, the idyllic villages of Burgundy where I spent my other six days in France, floating through the countryside on a barge, were blissfully empty!  Here’s what the barge cruise was like.

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.

3 women posing at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona

What I Learned About People from Traveling During Covid

3 women posing at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
Asilde, me, and Aurora
exterior shop view of La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
worker at work table at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
shoe molds on shelf at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
wall of shoes up to the ceiling at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
queue ticket numbers in shape of shoes at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
photo of owners meeting pope in backroom at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona

 

I’ve never been applauded in a store before. But that’s what happened about a minute after I walked into La Manual Alpargatera, the oldest espadrille shop in Barcelona. A few seconds into my broken-Spanish chit-chat with the clerk who’d come over to help me, she realized I was visiting from America…and a bright smile suddenly lit up her entire face. No mask could hide it.

She called out to her two colleagues who were busy making espadrilles by hand at the back table, pointed at me excitedly, and announced that I was here from the U.S. The next thing I know, they’re clapping, we’re all laughing, and my new BFF Aurora is introducing me to Asilde and Alberto, who tell me that it’s been more than a year since they’ve had a traveler from America in the shop.

Asilde is the owner’s wife, and she serves as my translator for the next hour as I talk to the trio about what it’s been like for them during the pandemic, learn a few fun facts about espadrille history and construction, and get a guided tour through the 80-year-old shop (which includes a large framed photo of Asilde’s father-in-law meeting the Pope, who bought a pair of their shoes).

Before the pandemic, Asilde explained, the store would be so busy that all 51 of the espadrille-shaped, numbered queue tickets would be taken—and they’d need even more. But during the hour I spent with them, only three other people came in. Fortunately, now that Spain is open to U.S. travelers and its Covid restrictions are easing (no quarantine or testing is required for vaccinated travelers; no masks are required outdoors as of June 26; indoor dining is permitted) it’s only a matter of time before travelers and cruise ships return to Barcelona and businesses like La Manual Alpargatera begin to recover.

Of course I bought a pair of espadrilles (with Aurora’s expert help and everyone’s feedback on styles), but the thing I’ll remember most about that afternoon is how uplifting and heartening it was. I laughed and bonded with three perfect strangers, simply because we had all just emerged from a difficult, shared global experience.

Turns out, something quite surprising and good is coming out of this pandemic—and it’s the dismantling of the wall between “tourist” and “local.” Everywhere I went on this trip, I had immediate common ground with the people I met, Equally surprising, what we had in common—a familiar tale of suffering and survival—wasn’t a downer.

Guides, shop keepers, ticket takers, even a baker in Madrid and a hotel maid in Paris, were eager to share their stories and hear mine. Regardless of whether we spoke the same language, we understood one another because we’ve all been through similar things—like when Olga, a maid at my Paris hotel, blanked on the name of a famous museum and then tapped her head three times, repeating the French for “Covid brain.” I’d never heard that term spoken in French before, but I knew exactly what she meant. We both burst out laughing.

Maybe you’d expect that all the mask mandates and social distancing rules would make it harder to forge any real human connections; maybe you’d think that if a person’s mouth and nose are hidden, you won’t be able to have a meaningful conversation. But that was not my experience at all. In fact, it was the opposite. After being cooped up and isolated from one another for so long, most people I met seemed to crave and appreciate human connection more than ever. Bittersweetly, we now all have the past difficult year and the upcoming brighter one as common ground to build on. Travelers especially will get to understand more about this strange moment in time and the people around the world who are going through it. And, maybe if they walk into the right shop or take the time to look at the Paris skyline with a hotel housekeeper, they’ll also make a friend.

 



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.

Paris Louvre pyramid plaza empty right after Paris reopening after covid lockdown

Paris Is Having a Moment. Don’t Miss It.

I arrived in Paris on the day that France opened to travelers from the U.S. (June 9).  My job: Find out what had changed and how it feels to be there now.  Short answer: Not much, and amazing. Walking around the city felt like the first day of spring when everyone emerges from a long snowy winter excited to socialize outdoors again. In the Latin Quarter on Friday night, I watched an impromptu dance party coalesce. I saw friends reconnect as they walked along the Seine.  In the Jardin des Tuileries, I saw a man on a bike literally stop to smell the flowers and coworkers and couples picnicking in the shade. I found the city flickering with moments like that—quiet in all the right places and busy in all the right places. As an added bonus, the sun doesn’t set until about 10pm in June, so there’s even more time to take in the festive atmosphere.  In the few days since I visited, restrictions have been eased further:  Masks are no longer required outdoors as of today, and there will be no curfew starting June 20.

Paris is having a unique moment. Here’s what I found:

The feeling on the street

 

Paris was downright celebratory from June 9-13:  The curfew had just been extended from 9pm to 11pm—and those two hours made a world of difference. On the first night, I spoke to Parisians dining at the many jubilant patios along Rue Saint-​Honoré. “We have our lives back,” a woman told me as she sat outdoors with a friend who’d just returned to Paris. Nearby, I saw a young man carefully composing photographs with his prized old-school SLR camera; he explained that he wanted to capture the evening on film so that he could remember it. At another bustling restaurant, the owner gushed, “I opened five years ago, and this is the best Wednesday we’ve ever had!” And you can bet that the next few weeks will be even better: the curfew will be dropped completely on June 20.

Although indoor dining is now allowed with certain protocols, most people are still eating outdoors—not surprising, considering this is spring in Paris.

While eating, masks come off (except for the waitstaff), but anytime I walked into a store, hotel, gallery, or museum, people put their masks on and used the hand sanitizer dispensers placed prominently at the door. In fact, I saw so many people stop to use them that the etiquette seems rote by now. Masks are no longer required outdoors as of June 17.

What’s open and what’s closed

Cinemas are open, concerts are happening in small venues (indoor and out), the Opéra Bastille is open with a ballet of Romeo and Juliet, the Opéra Garnier is open for visits (performances are coming later), and most museums are open. The Eiffel Tower is the only big-ticket sight I encountered that was still closed, and it was scheduled to reopen on July 16. (In the meantime, an alternative for good city views is the Centre Pompidou’s Restaurant Georges.)

Shops are open all over the city, and the streets are full of people going about their lives. In Saint-Germain on a Saturday afternoon, the streets were bustling, the brunch spots were full, and there were lines at the boulangeries. Le Marais was hopping too. That night, I even stumbled on a champagne-filled art opening hidden in a courtyard.

Popular places that are crowd-free

Versailles
Versailles
Versailles
The Louvre
The Louvre
The Louvre's Mona Lisa room when I visited June 11, 2021
crowd in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Paris France
The Louvre's Mona Lisa room when Wendy visited in 2012

 

While it seemed that the day-to-day venues of Parisian life were nearing normalcy, I did go to a few places that were definitely not back to their usual selves yet. And this was a very good thing.

Versailles was basically empty. On my Thursday mid-morning visit, there was no line to get in; in fact, there was barely anyone on the sprawling plaza at all. My guide Isabelle recalled that in 2019, a visitor could expect to wait two to three hours to enter the palace, even if they’d pre-purchased a ticket. Right now, we were able to walk right in, timed tickets in hand. The woman who took our passes said that in pre-pandemic times, Versailles saw 35,000 people a day. So far this season, the most she’d seen was 10,000—on the previous weekend.

Once we were inside the massive palace, I saw just how few people were there. In previous years, visitors would be so crammed together that they’d be jostling for personal space as well for views of the opulent rooms. But when we walked into the usually packed Queen’s bedroom, only two other guests were standing there. Isabelle whispered, “Oooh, this is incredible. I’ve never seen it like this.”

Outside the chateau, the gardens are so vast that it’s hard to believe they could be teeming with people. But they could. Yet they weren’t. We saw two busloads of students on a field trip, but those were the only big groups we encountered. Instead, I wandered manicured lanes of flowers, took the usual Instagram shots without worrying about random tourists walking through them, and shielded my eyes from the statues that had been re-gilded during the pandemic closure and were now so bright they hurt to look at. #VersaillesProblems.

“How long do you think this respite will last?” I asked Isabelle as we walked back to the train. “Months? Through the end of the year?”

“Weeks,” she said.

If you come after this unique window of post-lockdown calm, one way to ensure a less crowded visit is to leverage the connections of a local travel fixer. Jennifer Virgilio, a France specialist on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts, can arrange for you to see areas that are off-limits to the general public, like the apartment of the mistresses and the horse stables.

The Louvre was similarly uncrowded. You can easily buy tickets online for a set time slot now, but I happened to be passing by when I saw a distinct lack of lines at the pyramid entrance, so I took my chances and tried to get a ticket on the spot. The guard at the empty rope queue was checking ticket times as a few people around me flashed their phones and walked in, but he didn’t hesitate to let me pass when I said that I wanted to go in and purchase a ticket for today. When I got to the ticket counter inside, there was only one family in line ahead of me, and then the clerk quickly sold me a ticket for the current time slot. The whole process took only a few minutes and was very simple, but I don’t know if buying tickets in person like that will continue to be possible as travelers return en masse. Note that if you do not have a pre-purchased ticket, you must enter through the Pyramid. The attendants at alternate entrances like the Pavilion de la Bibliothèque and Porte des Lions, the latter of which is a great secret for bypassing long lines, won’t let you in without one. (The door guards at the Musée d’Orsay were similarly strict: If you didn’t have a ticket on your phone, they would not let you pass. And that’s why I saw about a dozen people busily tapping at their phones to download tickets.)

Once inside the Louvre, I headed straight for the Mona Lisa. If there was any arbiter of how busy the museum really was, that was it. And my jaw dropped as I walked in. The long circuitous rope lines were empty, and only about a dozen people were milling about. I waited about two minutes while some teenagers took selfies in front of the painting, and then I had an unobstructed view. Remembering the photo that Wendy had taken of the same room jam-packed in 2012, I snapped a comparison. (See both photos in the slideshow above.)

The hottest ticket in town

Swiss artist Urs Fischer made giant wax sculptures that burn a little every day, like candles.
Urs Fischer's wax airplane seats, with candles
The building is the old commodities exchange, and it's a work of art itself.
I liked the shadows created by the glass dome.
Gallery view
Artist Bertrand Lavier placed artworks in 24 wood-and-glass cases built for the 1889 World Fair.

 

While I would never say someone should skip the Louvre or the d’Orsay, the museum that I most wanted to see on this trip was the Pinault Collection, Paris’s newest addition to the art scene.

This modern and contemporary art museum has moved into the historic, iron-and-glass-domed Bourse de Commerce, which was a commodities exchange for wheat, sugar, and other crops in the 1800s. Now it’s been repurposed as a home for the vast art collection of French billionaire businessman François Pinault, who restored the building to its peak glory, hired Pritzker-Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando to design the interior additions, and filled the galleries with some very interesting works (including a room of sculptures made from slowly melting wax). This kind of old-meets-new juxtaposition is exactly my thing, so it was at the top of my must-do list for Paris. But since it opened in May, it’s been the hottest ticket in town: Slots were being released in controlled batches and were selling out as soon as they were posted.  Jennifer, however, was able to get me in.

Local guides are even more valuable

If you’re a regular reader here, you most likely already know the great value that private guides bring to a trip. Not only can they bring a place to life with their stories and introduce us to the most interesting people (artists, chefs, musicians, sommeliers, fashion designers, whatever your interest), but now they can provide fascinating insights into this new Covid era we all share. I had a hundred questions for Isabelle about what it was like to be in Paris during the pandemic, and she was able to give me personal insight I never could have understood from reading the news. As we walked through the city, she pointed out how different businesses and even whole streets were affected, she shared personal stories from lockdown, she illuminated aspects of city life and culture that the pandemic temporarily changed, and added context to what I was seeing all around me.

Where to stay

The view from my balcony at Le Meurice, over the Tuileries.
A suite at Le Meurice
A cute "attic" room at Le Meurice
The elaborate regal decor is dotted with contemporary art, like the glass sculpture over the fireplace and a standing panel of photography.
Relais Christine's entrance courtyard
Room 11, where I stayed.
It has a private backyard. Other rooms have outdoor patios as well, that open onto a shared lawn.
A leafy nook for sitting with a glass of wine or a cup of tea.
The lobby at Relais Christine is more like a living room.
At Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle, the furniture and artwork are replicas of 18th-century pieces.
One of the sitting rooms
The outdoor dining area looks onto the Orangerie.
The dishes, made by Limoges, are exact replicas of an 1833 set belonging to King Louis Philippe, the last king of France. He is the king who turned Versailles into a museum.

 

I tried out two very different types of hotels: a grand hotel that made me feel like I was living in a palace, and an intimate boutique relais that made me feel like I was living in a cozy mansion. Both had a few key things in common that made my trip feel safer and less stressful.

My first stay was at Le Meurice, an elegant palace built in 1835 with many distinctions: Queen Victoria stayed here in 1855, and it was the first hotel in Paris to have a telephone and, later, to have private bathrooms in each room. The amenities and service here continue to be as impressive as those, especially the views. Ask for a room facing the Tuileries garden directly across from the hotel; and open the French doors to let in fresh air and to see all the way from the Louvre to the Grand Palais and the Eiffel Tower. (The fifth and sixth floors have balconies; floors one through four have windows.) But don’t forget to keep your eyes open inside, too: There are contemporary artworks placed throughout the public spaces.

The hotel is in a prime location in the 1st arondissement right on Rue de Rivoli, within walking distance of the Louvre, the d’Orsay, and plenty of restaurants and shops on both the Right and Left banks. Don’t miss the hotel’s own newly reopened eateries either: Alain Ducasse’s Restaurant le Meurice has two Michelin stars.

My second stop was the Relais Christine, where the word charming might have been invented. You enter the hotel through a private courtyard rich with greenery; there’s even a little loveseat nook under a trellis where you can have drinks. Inside, the lobby and breakfast area are outfitted with gem-colored couches, textured wallpaper, and plush pillows. It is all very elegant, yet unstuffy and homey—like if you had a cool, down-to-earth duchess for a cousin and she invited you to stay for the weekend. Many of the 48 rooms have outdoor space, and #11 has its own private backyard. I loved how Relais Christine was right in the middle of the lively shops and restaurants of the Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood, but tucked away just off the main roads on a small, quiet street.

At Versailles, there’s a new hotel that is getting a lot of buzz, the Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle. It’s set in an 1861 palace building (called Le Grand Contrôle) originally used for schmoozing with ambassadors, artists, and other political and cultural bigwigs.  Each room is decorated differently with re-creations of period artwork and furniture, and the staff wear period-inspired uniforms as well. The entire venue has only 14 rooms, an Alain Ducasse restaurant, and exclusive guest perks such as access to areas of Versailles that are normally off-limits and after-hours tours of the palace.  The right local travel fixer, such as as the Paris specialist I used for my trip, can also plan these for you.

Transparency disclosure: So that I could investigate Paris on your behalf, Le Meurice and Relais Christine each provided two nights’ complimentary accommodations.  Jennifer Virgilio arranged for a day of private guiding with Isabelle, for which I paid 550 euros—and she was worth every cent!

 



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.

empty street in Paris during coronavirus lockdown

What Lockdown Is Like in Other Countries: Life During Coronavirus

As travelers, we’re curious about how people go about their daily lives in other countries. Thanks to our Trusted Travel Experts, I’ve gotten to milk cows with a farmer in Colombia, prepare dinner with a family in India, craft pottery with a Mayan woman in Belize, and watch my son draw alongside an artist in Vietnam.

Those travel experiences seem like distant memories as I navigate week two of sheltering in place here in California’s Bay Area. But it’s made me wonder: How are people around the world handling our new normal?

So I reached out to some of our Trusted Travel Experts, spread as they are across the globe, for their perspective on life in the time of coronavirus.

In Istanbul: Earl Starkey

“They closed all 60,000 mosques in Turkey for daily prayers, and they are disinfecting everywhere. The only panic buying was on kolonya, which is an alcohol-based antibacterial that people use here. Every night at 9:00 pm everyone goes out on their balconies and applauds all the doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers in Turkey. Here we generally kiss each other on the cheek—even men do it. I wonder if I will go back to that after this is over. I have been through so many disasters recently in Turkey, with terrorism, bombings, and coups, that this just feels like one more thing. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to travel right now, but I am happy to be riding this out in Turkey.”

In Rome: Jennifer Virgilio

“All we have open are supermarkets and pharmacies. If you go out, you have to wait outside the store, take a number, stand one to two meters away from each other, wait until they call you. They give you alcohol to wash your hands, and then they give you gloves to wear. Normally Italians do not show flags of their country like Americans do, but now flags are flying everywhere. I think it’s a great symbol of unity and pride while we all get through this. At 6:00 pm one neighbor blasts his Italian music, which is lovely—especially when he plays Volare. We’re doing lots of WhatsApp aperitivos, like we would normally do in person, and Whatsapp playdates with our daughter’s friends. We’re eating as a family, which is something that we didn’t normally do, because we had such different work hours. Week one was really fun. Week two has had a downward feeling. I have some friends who live alone; they’re struggling with loneliness. Overall I think the Italian government has done a good job, but some of my friends would disagree with me. They say that the government hasn’t kept us upbeat, they haven’t been there for us mentally. It’s hard to keep people upbeat when the reality is that they don’t have the capacity at the morgues, hospitals, and cemeteries in the north. I started doing Italian lessons again. It’s something I’ve put off because I’m always too busy, so now is the time to do it. I heard a man on the Italian news say that our parents and grandparents were called to war, whereas we’re being asked to watch Netflix. It’s not that hard. The air quality in Rome is amazing. Nobody is on the roads anymore. The more we look at these things as positive, the better.”

Rome during the coronavirus lockdown. Photo: Jennifer Virgilio

 

In Hangzhou, China: Fann Feng (colleague of Trusted Travel Expert Mei Zhang)

“Hangzhou was one of the first cities to respond to the virus. They had people guarding every local community and wouldn’t allow you to go out, but they would give you some daily supplies. After the first week, they started to give permission for one person from each family to go out every two days to buy supplies. In China we are used to following the government’s restrictions or advice. Normally I would be in Beijing, going to the office every day. It’s been two months that I’ve been working from home. One thing that many people did to pass the time during the quarantine was to watch the 24-hour live-stream of construction of the two temporary hospitals built in Wuhan in late January. We also had eight museums offering live-streams of their collections. A lot of the younger generation got through it by playing online games with their friends. Every night some people would sing together on their balconies, even do opera together. Now the restrictions are gone. Most cities have zero new cases. The schools are discussing a plan to reopen. When I first came home [for Chinese New Year], there were no cars on the streets. Now there are small traffic jams. I kind of missed the traffic jams! Now some of the tourist sites, parks, and museums are open, but you need to make an appointment in advance, and only a certain number of people are allowed in.”

very few people in a shopping mall in China during the coronavirus outbreak
"I went to a shopping mall in late Feb, I think. At that time, you needed to wear masks and show your ID card and “green code” if you wanted to enter into the parking lot and the building. In the picture, people who are in yellow coats are the delivery men, some of them didn’t stop working even during the outbreak peak, as there are quite a lot of people who still need help buying daily supplies and medicine. All of the restaurants at that time, if they were open, they could only do to-go and the restaurant staff would pack everything, put the bags on the table at the entrance, and then have the delivery man take it away. And also they would attach a piece of paper on the bag, noting the temperature of people who made the food, who packed the food and who delivered the food." Photo: Fann Fang
checkpoint barrier at the entrance to a local village in China during coronavirus
"I ran into this local village shutdown in China during the beginning of the quarantine, using one priceless opportunity of my family’s to go out of our apartment. I was going to pick up something from my mom’s friend, so I went to their village, and saw the guardians. They would only allow the villagers enter, so I had to call my mom’s friend to come to meet me by the entrance." Photo: Fann Fang
Chengdu Airport on January 30 with masked, fully suited person waiting to do screenings of travelers in line
Chengdu Airport on January 30. Photo: Fann Fang

 

In Puerto Vallarta, Mexico: Zach Rabinor

“AMLO [Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador] is telling people to kiss and hug each other, as per the norms in our culture. But there’s been a lot of leadership at the regional level; our governor here in Jalisco is a very progressive, visionary guy. The schools are closed, but there are no government rules restricting movement. The volume of people on the street has slowed in the last few days. I’m looking out on the main thoroughfare; instead of nonstop traffic, I see one car every minute. I just watched an excursion boat head out with 100 people on board, though. We are largely not leaving our home, but I’ve been taking my sons to surf breaks where nobody goes. Spending quality time with my family is the clear winner in this situation. We’re allowed to grieve the loss of social interaction. This crisis is showing the fissures and weaknesses and hollowness of our society. I’m confident we’re going to come through it stronger.”

 

In Paris: Andreas Eberhart (colleague of Trusted Travel Expert Jennifer Virgilio)

“The center of Paris is really rather calm, with very little traffic. The post office and courier companies are doing deliveries. The butcher, bakery, as well as supermarkets are open. Every evening at 8:00 pm Parisians go to the windows and balconies to applaud the people that are continuing to work on the frontline for the rest of us: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, cashiers at the supermarket, or our baker close to home. In the 9th arrondissement there is an opera singer, Stéphane Sénéchal, who every evening sings a song that her elderly neighbors will enjoy. The Opéra de Paris is live-streaming a few of their past shows. We are all being taught a very hard lesson here: We all take our lifestyles for granted. It’s time to come together as humans, politicians, and countries so we can fight this war all together. Stay home, self-quarantine, spend quality time together, read a book, help your neighbor in need, get creative and call [don’t visit] your grandparents. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we get the virus contained and can start traveling again, with a new perspective on life.”

Paris, during the coronavirus lockdown. Photo: Andreas Eberhart

 

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Dispatch from Paris: What It’s Like to Travel in France Right Now

PLEASE NOTE: Our ongoing efforts to check in with travelers who are currently overseas does not necessarily mean we advocate international travel during the COVID-19 epidemic.  Public health officials are advising older adults and people with underlying health conditions to abstain from travel.

In our continuing effort to answer readers’ questions about travel in this uncertain time, and to touch base with those who are traveling internationally now, we are interviewing readers who are currently overseas.  Although we are speaking with them at the moment they are abroad and publishing as quickly as possible, we realize that the situations in those locations and around the world are changing quickly, and therefore travel alerts, health advisories, and even these travelers’ opinions may soon be different.

We are grateful to WendyPerrin.com reader Deborah Wente, who spoke with us from Paris on Sunday, March 8. Mrs. Wente is a frequent traveler to France. She spent a college semester in the south of France. lived there after graduation, and now visits the country every year. “I know the city well, I’ve been in Paris five times in the past four years,” she told us over the phone as she walked around Montmartre. “Life is normal.”

At the time of the interview and writing of this article, the U.S. State Department had France at a level 2 travel alert—for terrorism concerns from April 2019. The coronavirus count in France did see a surge in the past week: On March 6, when Mrs. Wente flew from Chicago’s O’Hare airport, the count was 577 cases and 9 deaths. When she and I spoke on March 8, the count was 959 cases and 11 deaths. (It’s not clear whether this apparent surge is from actual virus spread or from increased reporting.) School closures in two departments (similar to states) were announced March 6, and the Paris marathon has been rescheduled from April 5 to October 18.

Though a lot of this escalated once Mrs. Wente was already in Paris, she said she and her family never considered canceling. The trip was to celebrate the 18th birthday of one of Mrs. Wente’s nieces, who is living in Toulouse. The rest of the group consisted of Mrs. Wente’s other two nieces, her sister, and their 81-year-old mother, who accompanies Mrs. Wente on her other trips to France each year. (Public health officials are advising older people, and people with underlying health conditions, not to take planes right now and to keep space between yourself and others.) The Louvre and other museums are open.

Mrs. Wente, from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, shared photos, video, and candid thoughts with us:

Q: Was there really no hesitation in your group about travel to France at this time?

A: The only thing was when my sister, maybe last Wednesday, sent us a text, saying the Louvre is closed. And people are still saying that. French people are still saying that, and it’s not true. It’s been reopened. But we never thought twice. I brought wipes to wipe down the plane, and we brought hand sanitizer, but we never thought about canceling.

louvre museum pyramid and plaza

Contrary to some misconceptions, even by Parisians, the Louvre is open. The entrance looked uncrowded when Mrs. Wente passed by, but she saw a long line to get into another museum, the Pompidou Centre. Photo courtesy Deborah Wente

Q: Why not?

A: Well, it seems a little blown out of proportion. But I did read something in The New York Times that helps me understand that they’re trying to get it under control. I also just feel like I don’t worry about terrorists when I come to Paris. If it’s for the greater good of society, then at some point I might not go, but I just feel like you have to live your life. My mom is in the vulnerable category, but we kind of didn’t worry about that either.

Q: What is it like there now? How does it feel?

A: I’ve been to Paris a lot, I know the city well, and I speak French so I talked to my Uber driver and other people. The Uber driver said, “Look at the French, we don’t care, we’re going to live our lives.” He thought tourism was down; he said they were seeing fewer travelers. But another woman I spoke to in Place du Tertre by Sacre Coeur said it’s just not a big weekend. It’s early March and cold and raining; it’s not high season. Then yesterday I was walking past the Pompidou, and it was packed. That was Saturday mid-afternoon. Tons of people. So I don’t really know if it’s quieter. Is it because it’s early March?

One woman Uber driver kind of went on a rant about how she cleans the car all the time and wipes stuff down when passengers leave and doesn’t touch any of their stuff. But other than her, they’re just like meh.

family stands to take a photo in the rain in Paris France

It was rainy and cold the weekend Mrs. Wente and her extended family visited Paris, and she wonders if the season was part of the reason it seemed less crowded. Photo courtesy Deborah Wente

Q: What have you been doing during your trip? Is the coronavirus affecting what you’re doing and seeing?

A: We went to the Rodin Museum and it was quiet, but it was Friday afternoon. We went to the Breizh Café in Le Marais. We went to our friends’ house for dinner about 45 minutes outside the city. And today, my sister went to the Catacombs with her daughters; I didn’t go because I’ve done that. And then we went to the Village Royal; it’s a little street with high-end stores, and an artist put up a canopy of pink umbrellas there. I took a photo because I was trying to show that it’s not that crowded. We walked past the Louvre but we didn’t go in. There are people, but it’s not crazy packed. There was that huge line to get into the Pompidou yesterday. We thought about going to another museum today but didn’t want to wait in line.

Q: Have you been reading or watching the news in Paris? How is it different from here?

A: I get the New York Times daily briefing and the Times’ coronavirus briefing, and that’s all I’ve been reading on vacation. I did learn how to clean my seat on the airplane. I’m washing my hands and sanitizing and doing the things that the CDC says are important.

Q: What kind of precautions are you seeing around the city?

A: There was hand sanitizer at our hotel. The restaurants have sanitizer. The Breizh Café had a big hand sanitizer, but they’re still bringing out baskets of bread. It’s all the France that I know and love. I’m standing right now in Montmartre, and there’s a man playing the accordion, and it’s like a French movie.

Life is normal. We’ve maybe seen like three masks on people. There are always Asian people with masks anywhere you go. We just haven’t seen that many masks.

Q: Do people seem more stressed?

A: People are so nice. We had so many special little experiences with people. Like three older women we met at a restaurant. When the waiter brought dessert and a glass of Champagne for my niece’s birthday, we started singing “Joyeux Anniversaire.” And they joined in singing and then came over and chatted with us. One was 83 and used to sing in a chorus. It was so nice.

Q: How is being there different than being in the US?

A: I feel like people at home are way more concerned. I have been watching on Facebook, and it’s spring break now, and a lot of my friends have kids in school, and they are cancelling trips. I haven’t watched the news here, but I feel like there’s way more hype at home. I get that it’s important and we want to stop it from spreading, but I feel like it’s much calmer here in Paris. There were more people wearing masks in the Chicago airport than here. I saw the picture of the plane that ran in your Italy story. Our plane was not empty. I walked through, and coach was pretty darn full.

Sacre Coeur Paris france

Mrs. Wente didn’t see many people wearing masks as she walked around the Sacre Coeur area in Montmartre.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

pier and overwater bungalows in Bocas del Toro Panama

The Best Places to Travel in 2020: Where to Go Now and Why

We’ve scoured the globe and selected the most rewarding places in the world to see in 2020. Whether because they’re under-the-radar or up-and-coming, whether because of new cultural attractions, much-anticipated hotel openings, a dining renaissance, or new cruise itineraries, these destinations are in that magical sweet spot: well equipped and ready for discerning travelers, but not yet overrun by tourists. So go on, visit a spot that’s new to you this year, or dig deeper into a place you thought you already knew. Or heck, just find a beautiful beach to tune out and relax on. In our list of Where to Go in 2020, we’ve got inspiration for everyone.

The Amazon: Expand Your Understanding, Support Its Recovery

Aerial view of Anavilhanas National Park Islands, Rio Negro, Brazilian Amazon

The Anavilhanas Archipelago in Brazil’s Amazon is home to wildlife including jaguars and manatees. Photo: Shutterstock

The Amazon’s forest fires have been making headlines for months. Martin Frankenberg, a Brazil specialist on Wendy’s WOW List, wants travelers to understand that they can actually do good for the rainforest by visiting: “The income generated by responsible tourism has the potential to provide an alternative to damaging activities in the region.” Travelers can also visit safely, since “the areas where the fires are burning are quite far from the touristed sections of the rainforest.” They’d be wise to visit soon: “It’s impossible to assure how much this disaster will impact and change the biome. So, the time to experience the forest is now.” Martin and his team are based in Brazil and know how to craft an itinerary that will not only observe the most respect to the Amazon environment but will also help travelers have the most immersive experience.

Start an extraordinary trip to the Amazon

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Brazilian Amazon.

Antarctica: Go now, it could get a lot more crowded soon

Zodiac cruise through the ice, Antarctica. Photo: Abby Suplizio

Antarctica is about to see a lot more ships. Go now before the experience changes. Photo: Abby Suplizio

An unprecedented number of cruise ships destined for Antarctica are being launched. Eight were delivered last year, and almost as many are expected in 2020. The variety of vessels (ranging from 100 to 530 guests and from casual to ultra-luxurious) opens Antarctica up to travelers who might never have considered the journey before, says WOW List expert Ashton Palmer. It also raises questions about how cruise companies will manage the influx of people. “Most ships are members of, and follow the guidelines set, by the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators,” says Ashton. “This self-regulated group has guidelines that require no more than 100 passengers are ashore at any given time.” Growth will raise a challenge, though; Ashton predicts ships limiting the number of sites they visit or the number of landings they make each day. “I would recommend people consider visiting sooner rather than later because more ships will mean more competition for landing sites and also potentially more overcrowding.”

Start an extraordinary trip to Antarctica

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Antarctica Cruises.

Turkey’s Northern Aegean Coast: What the Mediterranean used to be like

dog and cat on charming street in alacati village turkey

Alacati is one of the charming villages to visit when sailing Turkey’s northern Aegean Coast . Photo: Sea Song

“It is still authentic and pristine,” says Karen Fedoko Sefer, a Turkey specialist on the WOW List, “but I do not know how long this will last.” She’s talking about Turkey’s northern Aegean coast, a picturesque stretch of villages, small towns, and historical sites where people are turning their mansions into beautiful boutique hotels, where all of Turkey’s top-notch olive oil and wines are born, where travelers can go hiking and foraging for herbs in the mountains and then cook them with their truly farm-to-table dinner. While much of Europe is seeing worsening tourist crowds, the local people here are trying to preserve this coastline and keep mass tourism out. To experience it respectfully, leave Istanbul and drive along the Marmara Sea. Wind around the Gallipoli Peninsula, to Ayvalik for some olive oil tasting, and then to Junda Island where you can stay in a restored seaside mansion and sail on a private yacht. The next day, take a cooking class in Edremit, where you can pick herbs from the fields for the dinner you’ll prepare. Then it’s on to Urla, for a wine tasting from ancient vines that have been restored and which are now producing world-class pours. A short flight from Izmir will take you back to Istanbul.

Start an extraordinary trip to the Aegean Coast

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Turkey’s Aegean Coast.

South Africa: Safaris are now possible in just one week

Three cheetahs lounging, Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa

Cheetahs in Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa.

New nonstop flights to the African continent from the United States are a welcome trend for all us exotic-travel lovers who are so time-poor. It started last year when Kenya Airways launched a nonstop between New York’s JFK and Nairobi (see “Kenya: New flights make African safaris easier” in Where To Travel in 2019). This year, there’s even bigger news: United’s introduction of a nonstop route between Newark and Cape Town. It’s been 20 years since there was a nonstop flight from the U.S. to Cape Town, and it will cut flight time down to just 14.5 hours from New York. Travelers no longer need to fritter away valuable vacation hours flying via Europe, or transferring via Johannesburg, in order to access the increasingly exciting food, art, and cultural offerings of Cape Town. Better yet, a safari is now possible even if you’ve got only one week of vacation. You can sample two or three first-rate safari lodges or tented camps, and top that off with a couple of days in Cape Town, all within a 9-day/8-night period (a week plus a weekend). As for the next nonstop to Africa on the horizon, the country to get that will be Morocco. Following Royal Air Maroc’s launch of nonstop service between Miami and Casablanca earlier this year, American Airlines will start flying nonstop from Philadelphia to Casablanca in summer 2020. So both the top and bottom of Africa will soon be that much more accessible. It’s about time.

Start an extraordinary African safari

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this

Oslo: An architectural boom

exterio rof Munch Museum opening in Oslo 2020

The Munch Museum is opening in Oslo this year, one of several big cultural venues arriving in 2020. Photo: Munch Museum

Art and architecture fans are excited about Oslo this year, thanks to the unveiling of three eye-popping additions to the city’s skyline. “Oslo is getting a makeover,” says Jan Sortland, Wendy’s WOW List specialist for Norway. In the spring (tentatively April), the new Munch Museum will be unveiled. Designed by innovative Spanish architecture firm Estudio Herreros, the building is made from recyclable concrete and steel and will finally give The Scream a permanent home where it can always be on view. The National Museum is also moving into larger digs in 2020. In addition to providing expanded gallery space (conservators will be moving in more than 100,000 pieces before the opening), the sleek gray expanse is focused on creating open and inviting public spaces, including a rooftop terrace, an airy library, and several cultural and performance venues. Oslo’s new National Library will also open in the spring of 2020, opposite the waterfront Opera House. The library will be almost lacy and translucent, with a façade that will glow different colors at night, depending on what activities and events are going on inside. Visitors can of course browse the extensive book collections, but will also be able to take advantage of a movie theater, media workshops, gaming zones, lounges, and a restaurant.

Start an extraordinary trip to Norway

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Norway.

Panama: Under-the-radar tropical islands

pier and overwater bungalows in Bocas del Toro Panama

Bocas del Toro on Panama’s Caribbean Coast has all of the turquoise water and none of the hurricanes. Photo: Costa Travel

Thanks to its rapidly expanding airport hub, Frank-Gehry-designed Biomuseo, and improving tourism infrastructure, Panama has been climbing onto people’s radar for the past few years. While most people know the country for its famous canal, WOW List specialist Pierre Gedeon  is hoping travelers will start paying more attention to its lush rainforests, local traditions, ancient forts, outdoor activities and coffee plantations. What’s more, its coastal islands are home to new luxe resorts that immerse travelers in Panama’s natural environment while also protecting it. A 400-acre, private-island resort off the country’s Pacific coast, Isla Palenque has eight thatch-roofed casitas and one villa constructed out of sustainably sourced local materials. Guests can hike through primary rainforest, snorkel through the Chiriqui National Marine Park, learn about the island’s pre-Columbian cultures via anthropological excursions, or soak in the sun on the island’s seven different beaches. Solar-powered Isla Secas, opened in 2019, is another eco-retreat off the Pacific coast; it’s set on a 14-island archipelago with private casitas. Over on Panama’s Caribbean coast, the Bocas del Toro archipelago is where sun seekers will find the Red Frog Beach Island Resort. This is a more classic Caribbean-style resort with villas, lofts, and condominiums, but thanks to its location near the equator, it is outside the hurricane zone. From mid-December through the end of April is Panama’s dry season; to spot humpback whales, visit the Pacific Coast between August and October.

Start an extraordinary trip to Panama

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this.

Negev Desert, Israel: Remote relaxation at a beautiful new resort

turquoise infinity pool looking out over the Negev desert at the Six Senses Shahurte

The Six Senses Shaharut will give travelers an oasis of infinity pools in Israel’s Negev Desert. Photo: Six Senses

Carved out of a cliff in the Arava Valley of the Negev Desert, the Six Senses Shaharut is due to open in the spring of 2020. Until now, travelers’ only high-end desert-oasis option was the Beresheet. The Six Senses will be more remote, with only half the number of rooms (60 suites and pool villas). The difference, says Jonathan Rose, Israel specialist on The WOW List, is that the experience will feel more exclusive and will offer the luxe touches that the Six Senses brand is known for, including its signature spa and hammam treatments. Guests can try overnight camel camping, hiking, rock climbing, safaris, and wine tours, or learn about Six Senses’ local sustainability efforts at its Earth Lab.

Start an extraordinary trip to Israel

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Israel.

Madrid: An old city gets a new spark

Four Seasons Madrid Spain, exterior

In Madrid, the Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental will give their shared neighborhood a little boost. Photo: Four Seasons

With the opening of the Four Seasons and the re-opening of Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid will be turning heads again in 2020, says WOW List Spain specialist Virginia Irurita. As she explains: The area around the hotels, Barrio de las Letras and Puerta del Sol, had long been eschewed by Madrileños for being too touristy but is now undergoing a renaissance, with new shops, restaurants, and pedestrian-friendly streets that will encourage mingling between locals and travelers. Small businesses, artisan shops, galleries, and mom-and-pop cafés and restaurants are also opening in the surrounding neighborhoods, raising Madrid’s profile as a destination for those interested in art, design, and gastronomy.

Start an extraordinary trip to Madrid

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Madrid.

Taninthari Region, Myanmar: An untouched time capsule—for now

myaw yit pagoda in dawei measured in Mir Ji Dawei,temple of the Dawei area is located on a small island of the Andaman coast. - Image

Visit the Myaw Yit Pagoda in Dawai, a town in Myanmar’s Taninthari region along the Andaman Sea. Photo: Shutterstock

The Taninthari region in the south of Myanmar remains untouched and charming—a place where visitors (who are few and far between) will find quaint fishing villages, spectacular beaches, fishermen who still dive for pearls, and the semi-nomadic Moken peoples, whose ancient culture is based on the sea. Bordering the Andaman Sea and the Tenasserim Hills, the area’s key towns to explore are Dawei, Myeik and Kawthaung. Travelers can also charter a boat and sail the pristine Mergui Archipelago. Why do this now? “The place is changing,” says Toni Neubauer, a Myanmar specialist on The WOW List. “After a two-year suspension, plans are again underway to build Southeast Asia’s largest deep-sea port and a special economic zone in Dawei, the capital of the region.” This quiet coastline could soon be transformed into a major commercial center.

Start an extraordinary trip to Myanmar

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Myanmar.

Matera, Italy: The new Puglia

Matera, Basilicata, Italy: landscape at sunrise of the old town (sassi di Matera), with the ancient cave houses carved into the tufa rock over the deep ravine

Matera’s sassi, ancient cave dwellings, are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Photo: Shutterstock

Puglia has been hot for a few years now. It’s the region of Italy located just across from the Amalfi Coast (it’s in the heel of the boot-shaped country) and, thanks to its reputation for friendly people and charming villages, its popularity has skyrocketed. “When you walk around in the small towns it is very easy and fun to interact with the locals and truly feel part of the local community,” says Andrea Grisdale, one of Wendy’s WOW List specialists for Italy. But for those who are ready to explore an even lesser-known gem of Italy, nearby Matera is where they should be headed. And soon. The town, located in the Basilicata region about an hour from Puglia, is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Its pride is the sassi, more than a thousand ancient dwellings and churches carved into the natural rock of the town’s steep limestone ravine. The historic grottoes haven’t always been so appreciated, however. After seeing them in 1950, Italian Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi declared the cave homes decrepit and unsanitary and ordered that all residents be cleared out and moved into new housing projects. As a result, the area was abandoned and devolved into a crime-filled slum. Luckily, within ten years locals were already working to save and rehabilitate their unique historic town, and eventually their efforts paid off. In 1993, UNESCO recognized the sassi for their outstanding universal value, and today, the caves have been transformed into hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, and private homes. “Matera is not the easiest place to reach, which is why it has managed to remain relatively unknown,” Andrea says. “When you are driving toward Matera and it finally comes into view, the first thing that most people tell us comes to mind is that it resembles strongly the way Jerusalem is portrayed in so many movies.”

Start an extraordinary trip to Matera

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this.

Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands: A beloved resort returns

wooden pier reaches from ocean to shore at th Rosewood Little Dix Bay resort in Virgin Gorda

Rosewood Little Dix Bay will reopen in 2020 after a four-year, multi-million-dollar renovation. Image: Rosewood

In 2017, Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on the Caribbean, including Virgin Gorda. The quiet and undeveloped island is back in business, and in March, Rosewood’s esteemed Little Dix Bay resort will unveil its multimillion-dollar renovation. The island is known for the Baths, a natural geological formation that is simply beautiful, but it’s also the perfect home base to island-hop to other spots, like Anegada or Jost Van Dyke. Little Dix Bay is set in 500 acres of natural gardens and, if it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s famed for being the eco resort that conservationist Laurance Rockefeller built as his family retreat more than a half century ago.

Start an extraordinary trip to Virgin Gorda

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this.

Gascony: France’s unsung food mecca

Summer landscape - view of the countryside close to the village of Lavardens, in the historical province Gascony, the region of Occitanie of southwestern France -

Gascony is a culinary destination that isn’t crowded with tourists yet. Photo: Shutterstock

Foodies should head to Gascony sooner rather than later. This agricultural region in the southwest of France doesn’t boast any celebrity chefs, fancy hotel chains, or corporate wineries—and that is exactly its draw. The rich food, roadside distilleries, lively local market towns, and rolling farmland are the stars of this rural area, which remains slower-paced and less trafficked than the beaten paths of its neighbor Bordeaux. A good way to access Gascony’s culinary (and cultural) nooks and crannies is via the scenic Canal a la Garonne, on a canal barge cruise. Much smaller and homier than river ships (and, in some cases, completely private), barges meander slowly through the countryside, stopping frequently to explore villages, sights, and restaurants. Many of the vessels are owned and operated by locals, an arrangement that enables guests to make meaningful—and delicious—connections.

Start an extraordinary trip to Gascony

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to European Canal Barge 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.

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

How to Avoid the Crowds at Paris Museums and Cultural Sites

The following tips from Jennifer Virgilio, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Paris, will help you make the most of your time in the City of Light, even at the height of tourist season. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Paris with Perks, and use Wendy’s trip request form to contact Jennifer in order to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Tips for visiting the major sites

• The best time to visit a Paris museum is on Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Two notable exceptions to this general rule are the Louvre and Versailles. The Louvre is closed on Tuesday, and thus the days on either side tend to be very busy, so it’s better to go on a Thursday morning from 9 to 11 or for one of the late-night openings on Wednesdays and Fridays. Versailles is closed on Monday—another reason to avoid the Louvre on that day, as people tend to go there instead.

• Most museums are calmer after five o’clock.

• Avoid the first Sunday of the month, when the entrance fee to most museums is waived but the tradeoff is unbearable crowds.

• A new development: Some guides are not allowed to guide in museums on Sundays, specifically the Orsay. Ask ahead of time.

• Reduce wait time at the Louvre, the Catacombs, and other popular attractions by buying time-entry tickets three to six months ahead of your visit. Jennifer does this for her clients, and she knows the best times to avoid the crowds, but you can do it yourself via the museum’s website or by purchasing a Paris Pass.

• Consider skipping the Eiffel Tower this year. Because of renovations and because there are no more Behind the Scenes tours, the Eiffel Tower is especially crowded, time-consuming, and frustrating. “There are some times they don’t allow Summit (3rd floor) access, and people have to queue again or buy new tickets when upstairs,” says Jennifer. “And there were some occasions last summer when people had 2nd floor tickets but had to walk up and were not allowed on the lift.”

• If your heart is set on going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, it’s still best to buy tickets in advance. But Jennifer notes that even if you buy skip-the line group tickets, you are going up at a set time and must arrive 15 minutes in advance of the slot on the ticket—and must still pass security checks, which, she says, could take a very long time. “Then you go up to the 2nd floor in the lift with your group and you can have the tour or leave and go off on your own, then you queue again for the 3rd floor (if you have tickets you don’t need to re-purchase but if you do not have tickets then you must buy them and queue for this and the lift). The line to get into the lift is very long here too, as everyone wants to go up to the top.” Jennifer cautions that some travelers find the experience to be disappointing and not what they expected. Jennifer adds that she often suggests the Montparnasse Tower Panoramic Observation Deck as an alternative, as well as restaurants looking at the Eiffel tower, rather than the ones in the Tower.

• The new Atelier des Lumières, a digital art museum in a repurposed 19th-century foundry, is one of the hottest tickets in Paris right now. Be sure to buy advance tickets if you want to check out its multimedia exhibitions, which currently include immersive creations about Van Gogh and Japanese art.

• 2019 is the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, and many museums around Europe are planning events in his honor. Paris is no exception. The Louvre will host an exhibit dedicated to the Italian master from October 24, 2019 through February 24, 2020. Jennifer advises travelers to take note that advance tickets are mandatory and that the museum is requiring that everyone—including those under 18, who are normally free—have a ticket to this special show in addition to the museum’s usual entry ticket.  “Under 18’s are still free,” she explains, “but need to register for their ticket and show ID on arrival.” She also cautions that even with advance tickets or a Paris Pass, lines at many museums will be long for these special events.

 

Excellent alternatives to the major museums

These lesser-known museums and historic sites in or near Paris are fabulous and uncrowded all year round:

Chateau Chantilly

Instead of Versailles, Jennifer recommends Chateau Chantilly. “It’s the biggest horse stable in Europe and so much less visited,” she says. “Our guides are recommending it more and more as they have recently opened up new apartments following restoration, and Versailles is just overrun with tourists and crowds.”
Driving time from Paris: 1hour and 30minutes each way
Best time to go: Any day
Don’t miss:  The apartments of the Duke and Duchess of Aumale recently reopened to visits after massive renovations to their furniture and decorations. Created between 1845 and 1847, these eight rooms were the princely domaine of Henri d’Orléans (a.k.a. Duke of Aumale), fifth son of the last king of France, King Louis-Philippe. A visit to the chateau, and to these rooms in particular, gives travelers a connection to life during the Monarchie de Juillet. The estate is also home to the largest horse stables in Europe. Called the Great Stables, they are set in an 18th-century building and host equestrian shows throughout the year.

Auvers-sur-Oise

Auvers-sur-Oise is the final resting place of Van Gogh and was a favorite village for other painters of the 1800s. In the last 70 days of his life Van Gogh painted 70 paintings in and around Auvers-sur-Oise. He came here to be near his brother Theo, who lived in Paris. Sights include the cemetery where the two brothers lie side by side; the Romanesque/Gothic church immortalized by Van Gogh; Daubigny’s studio, with its wonderfully restored decor painted by the Daubigny family and friends Corot and Daumier; the house of Dr. Gachet and its beautifully planted garden, painted by so many artists; the Absinthe Museum, a superb tribute to the notorious “green fairy”; the nearby château (Château d’Auvers); and the Auberge Ravoux, known as the House of Van Gogh.
Driving time from Paris: 45 minutes
Best time to go: Arrive by 10:30am and spend the day visiting the different sites, with a lunch break at Auberge Ravoux. Note: Some sights in Auvers-sur-Oise are closed during certain months of the year.
Don’t miss: The charming garden of Dr. Gachet, a specialist in mental illness who became the doctor and friend of many painters who stayed in Auvers—Corot, Cezanne, Pissarro—and took care of Van Gogh during his stay there.

Basilica of Saint Denis

Final resting place of the kings of France, the former abbey of Saint Denis was for centuries a spiritual, political, and artistic center. The cathedral basilica is a masterpiece of Gothic art, and the royal necropolis houses the archaeological crypt and burial site of Saint Denis, eight recumbent effigies commissioned by Saint Louis, the tomb of King Dagobert, and 60 other sculpted tombs.
Driving time from the center of Paris: 45 minutes
Best time to go: Monday–Saturday 11am–1pm or 4–6pm
Don’t miss: The heart of the youngest son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette was taken secretly by the chief surgeon of the Hotel-Dieu after the child’s death, preserved in alcohol, and is displayed here in a glass egg. The boy died in prison of tuberculosis at age 10, two years after his father was beheaded.

Château de Malmaison

Malmaison was the private residence of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine from 1799 to 1814. Bought by Josephine as a retreat from the formality of the emperor’s residences at the Tuileries and Fontainebleau, it has charming rural grounds. While Josephine loved the country manor, Napoleon scorned its entrance as fit only for servants. Instead, he had a curious drawbridge built at the back of the chateau. The finest rooms are the frescoed and vaulted library, the canopied campaign room, and the sunny Salon de Musique, hung with paintings from Josephine’s private collection. Many of the rooms overlook the romantic gardens and the famous rose garden that was cultivated by Josephine after her divorce.
Driving time: 30 minutes
Best time to go:  10am–12:30pm. Closed Tuesday.
Don’t miss:  Josephine’s bedchamber, a magnificent indulgence bedecked in red

Musée Marmottan Monet

The Marmottan houses the largest collection of Monets in the world—more than 150 works. Jennifer recommends a visit before or after Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny. (Note: Giverny, though well worth seeing, is one of those places where you should be sure to book a timed-entry ticket to shorten your wait.)

Best time to go: Tuesday–Sunday 1–3pm
Don’t miss:  Monet’s Impression, Soleil Levant, which gave its name to the Impressionist movement, and the Berthe Morisot collection

Musée Nissim de Camondo

Just a stone’s throw from Parc Monceau, this museum houses a magnificent collection of decorative art from the second half of the 18th century. Aubusson tapestries, paintings by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, and furniture by cabinetmakers Riesener and Oeben are on display here.
Best time to go: 11am–3pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday
Don’t miss: The porcelain collection by Sèvres, and Marie-Antoinette’s sewing table

Museum of Romantics

The Paris residence of the painter Ary Scheffer, now a house museum, entertained many a famous guest back in its day. Among the visitors: Delacroix, Rossini, Sand, Chopin, Turgenev, and Dickens.
Best time to go: 11am–3pm. Closed Monday.
Don’t miss:  The quiet garden, which exudes greenery and tranquility. Come here for a drink after a stroll around Montmartre

Rungis Market

Rungis International Market is the principal market of Paris and the largest wholesale market in the world. It’s located in the southern suburbs, near Orly Airport. Jennifer can arrange a guided tour, or you can contact Rungis directly.
Driving time from Paris: 30 minutes
Best time to go: Your only option is 4am.

Winemaking Workshop at Les Caves du Louvre

The wine cellars where this workshop takes place were built by the sommelier of Louis XV for his private mansion, and were used to store wines for the king and his court. They’re located a five-minute walk from the Louvre. The wine-tasting experience is perfect for those who don’t know anything about wine except drinking it and want to learn the basics.  You can also create your own wine here in a workshop. The winemaking workshops are at 11:30am, and the tastings are from 2:30pm.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Tangalle Sri Lanka ocean view with palm trees

7 Keys to Traveling Without Fear Despite Terror Attacks

The past few years have underscored that we’re living in a world where anything can happen anywhere at any time—at hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, at a country music festival in Las Vegas, on a bridge in London, at a celebration on the French Riviera, at a Christmas market in Berlin, in a theater in Paris, at the airport in Istanbul, at a shrine in Bangkok, in a hotel in Mumbai, at a nightclub in Orlando, at a marathon in Boston, in a skyscraper in Manhattan….

The answer is not to stop traveling, or to avoid huge swaths of the globe out of a misperception that your risk is greater there than anyplace else.  The answer is to keep traveling, to make friends around the world, and to be a thoughtful ambassador for your country.

Of course, while your head may agree with me, your gut may be apprehensive. You may be making travel plans—or trying to—and you can’t help but wonder: If I go, what is the risk that I will get caught in a terror incident? How do I minimize that risk? If I can’t minimize it, how do I get over my fear?

I believe the solution is to put your risk in perspective.  Here’s how:

1. Grasp how minuscule the statistical probability is of getting caught in a terror attack abroad.

According to the U.S. State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas by incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2014 was 369; compare that number with the 3,043 killed inside the U.S. by terrorism during the same period.  In terms of street crime and gun violence, most of the U.S. cities we live in are statistically more dangerous than the places we visit abroad.   Your risk of being killed in a car crash (one in 19,000), drowning in your bathtub (one in 800,000), or being killed by lightning (one in 10 million) far exceed your risk of dying from terrorism (one in 20 million).

2. Don’t confuse the probability of a terrorist attack with the probability of becoming the victim of a terrorist attack.  

Is it virtually certain that there will be another terrorist attack in Europe in the next 12 months? Yes. Does that translate into a high degree of risk for the individual traveler to Europe? No.

3. Know where the real dangers lie.

When planning a vacation, we tend to worry more about spectacular risks—whether a terrorist attack or an epidemic of norovirus on a cruise ship—than about boring risks like, say, overexposure to the sun, even though one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.  Remember that the single biggest cause of death for Americans traveling overseas is motor vehicle accidents. (Terrorism is #7, after incidents such as suicide and drowning.)

4. Understand the reasons why your fear of a terrorist attack is out of proportion to the risk.

There are psychological reasons why we are more afraid of terrorist attacks than logic would dictate. We’re more afraid of risks that are new and unfamiliar than of those we’ve lived with for a long time (e.g., heart disease, which accounts for one in every four deaths in America each year).  We’re more afraid of risks that kill us in particularly gruesome ways—say, a plane crash, a shark attack, or the Ebola virus—than in mundane ways. We’re less afraid of risks we feel we have some control over, such as skiing and driving, even if it’s only the illusion of control. (Most people think their driving is safer than it actually is. We’re all one text message away from death on the road.)  We’re more afraid of human-made dangers than of those with natural causes, such as solar radiation or earthquakes. We’re more afraid of risks that are highly publicized, especially on television, and those that involve spectacular events. One incident with multiple deaths has a much greater impact than many incidents each involving a single death. That is one reason why we fear plane crashes more than car crashes (even though the latter are far more likely).

5. Don’t focus so much on unlikely risks that you ignore common risks that are far more likely to hurt you.

Frightened people make dangerous choices. As an example, after 9-11, people chose to drive rather than to fly.  As another example, cruisegoers may be so focused on washing their hands frequently in order to avoid norovirus that they forget to reapply their sunscreen.  Or, here’s a personal example: When I was in Istanbul shortly after 9-11, I opted for a small, locally owned hotel in a quiet part of town far from the U.S. Consulate. I figured a Western chain near the main square, or a hotel next to the Consulate, was more likely to be a terrorist target. But every night I kept having to hail a taxi to that small hotel, and the drivers kept getting lost en route–one even got a flat tire and left me on the side of the road—and it was dark on that inconspicuous street in a quiet part of town. My point is: The miles it took to reach my hotel every night raised my risk more than the likelihood of a terrorist attack at a Western chain near the Consulate would have.

6. Appreciate that what’s bothering you is not risk itself but your uncertainty as to the degree of it.

The problem you face as you try to plan a vacation is that you don’t know what your risk is or how safe one country (or concert venue) is versus another. We try to weigh the risk of one destination over another by looking at the historical record of violent incidents there. What’s tricky right now is that we don’t know how relevant the historical record is. Will the future be different than the past?  We don’t know.  Even when you can’t know the degree of risk, though, you can…

7. Lessen those risks you do have some control over.

You can say to yourself: “What is the likelihood of the situation affecting my trip? Pretty tiny.” And you can lessen those risks you do have some control over.  You can drive very carefully on your way to the airport.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

two people in a lavender field in Provence France

WOW Moment: Vintage Car Tour of Provence’s Hidden Charms

two people in a lavender field in Provence France
Pam and Ken Anderson in their own private lavender field
blue classic Citroën 2CV car in Provence France
The classic Citroën 2CV
The village of Saignon Provence France
The village of Saignon
two people standing by a classic Citroën 2CV car in Provence lavender field
Pam with Philip Haslett

 

Pam and Ken Anderson of Lexington, Kentucky, had been to France a few times already, but they’d never made it to famously charming (and famously tourist-filled) Provence. “The last time, when we were on the Riviera, I’d wanted to go to Provence but felt like I really didn’t know exactly where to go or what to see,” Pam told us over the phone recently. “So that was our motivation: We wanted to see Provence the best way possible. And we are Wendy-allegiant now,” she adds with a laugh. “I’ll always go to Wendy’s List because it’s such a better experience.”  We hoped this particular trip would be an even better experience because the Andersons were due for a WOW Moment.  So Wendy recommended they connect with Philip Haslett, one of the France travel specialists on The WOW List, who is based in Provence.  Here’s what happened.

Q: What was your WOW Moment and how did it unfold?

A: We didn’t know anything—what day or what it was going to be. Then, on the first real day that we were there, Philip called and said, “Today is your WOW Moment, and I’m going to pick you up.”

He met us in the lobby and walked us outside to a classic Citroën 2CV, which just looks like France to me. And he actually spent all day with us, from about 10 in the morning until 5 or 6 in the afternoon. It was like having a friend to take you around and show you all the hidden treasures of Provence.

Also, my husband works for Toyota, so he’s a car guy. I don’t remember if I mentioned that to Philip—maybe I did. So my husband definitely loved it.

Q: Where did Philip take you?

A: He had an itinerary of what he wanted to show us. I told him we like small towns and off-the-beaten-path things and history and culture, so he knew what we liked and tailored it to that.

Our first stop was Ménerbes, where we had lunch at a lovely venue that overlooks the Luberon. It specializes in truffles, so we had everything truffle. It was really nice.

Two of my favorite things during the day: In Saignon, we were the only people there other than the artist sitting around—and this was in the peak tourism month of July!  So that was one of my favorite stops. The other thing that was really fun: Philip is on the board of the lavender preservation association, so he told us a lot about the different types of lavender and issues they’ve been having with pests. And he has a friend who has a lavender farm, so we went off-roading on a dirt road way back into the middle of the lavender fields. There was nobody there. We were in the middle of nowhere, and it was beautiful. We were there totally alone and literally went down a tractor path to get there.

Q: Were there other places where you felt like you got away from the usual crowds?

A: We went to Oppède le Vieux and hiked up to the top, and we were the only people up there in the church, Notre-Dame-Dalidon. Almost the whole day, we seldom ran into many tourists. That’s the special part: Philip knew when to go and how to avoid any kind of groups, and we had the places to ourselves.

Q: What were other highlights from the rest of the trip?

A: Obviously Philip’s agency carries some weight because everyone we encountered treated us like VIPs, everywhere. For example, for our final night, we were in a chateau in Èze, outside of Nice. They set us up on this terrace overlooking the bay of Nice, and we had wine and cheese and dessert out there by ourselves.

Q: You joked that you are “Wendy-allegiant.” Why are you such a fan of The WOW List?

A: We travel a lot. We try to do a major destination—some place we’ve never been before—twice a year, in July and at Christmastime. The reason I will only use WOW List travel specialists is that you’re getting someone who has expertise in that particular area and is in that particular area most or some of the time. We took a trip to Argentina and it was through a travel agent in our town; she had connections there, but things just kept going wrong. They didn’t realize the car rental agency didn’t open until a specific time—things like that, that a local would know. The quality and the knowledge of the WOW specialists, and the personal attention as well, are just above and beyond any other agent you could use.

 

Wendy Wants To Amp Up Your Trip!

On every third qualifying trip, Wendy will add to your itinerary a surprise WOW Moment. A WOW Moment is an exclusive insider experience that helps make a trip extraordinary. Each WOW Moment is totally different. They vary depending on a huge range of factors, including the country you’re headed to, the timing of your trip, logistics, availability, and more. You can read a sampling of the more over-the-top WOW Moments (those most conducive to editorial coverage) here. Learn which trips qualify, and how the process works, here: Wendy Wants To Amp Up Your Trip!

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

How to Avoid the Crowds in Provence

On a self-drive trip to Provence in June with my husband, our four children, and our two grandchildren, we made the following mistakes:

  • Booked a vacation house, sight unseen, that didn’t have enough beds.
  • Neglected to plan our activities in advance and, when our merry throng gathered, couldn’t agree on what to do.
  • Based ourselves many miles from the places we wanted to visit (once we decided what they were).
  • Drove our rental car into the branch of a tree and damaged the hood.
  • Drove our rental car over a stone curb and damaged the chassis.
  • Didn’t take the rental company’s car insurance.

Obviously, these blunders could have been avoided—but there is more. Our trip occurred before the July/August peak, and yet the worst of our problems involved parking. In Avignon, home of the famous bridge and the Palais des Papes, we arrived at rush hour and drove around and around looking for parking places for our two cars. After an hour or so of this activity and several temper tantrums, a miracle happened and we found two spaces close together at the bottom of a steep hill, which we hiked up, leaving my husband behind in a café (he was tired), only to find that the Palais des Papes had closed for the day.

Ochre hills in Roussillon Provence France CR Pixabay

Some of the ochre hills we did not get to see in Roussillon. Photo: Pixabay

In Roussillon, a small town in the Luberon that is known for its ochre quarries, we scoured the town for parking and, finding none, ended up at a tractor show in a hayfield, miles from town. We did not see the ochre quarries except as a bright orange slash on a distant hillside.

Tractor show Rousillon Provence France

The tractor show that we did see. Photo: Sara Tucker

The one thing we did right was to visit the hilltop towns recommended by Philip Haslett, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Provence and the French Riviera. Philip later told me (when I finally called him) that we should have planned to see Roussillon at the end of the day or, even better, hired a driver who could drop us at the entrance and then slip the car into one of the secret parking spots he knows about. He also gave me the following tips for making my next trip to Provence go more smoothly, despite the crowds that flock to this popular region.

Don’t snub Marseille.

Marseille Old Port from atop ferris wheel

Wendy took this shot of Marseille’s Old Port from the top of a Ferris wheel.

Wendy’s swing through Marseille last year counted as one of her Best Travel Moments of 2017. “Marseille is vibrant, it’s lively, and the museums are incredible,” says Philip, “but we have to push people to stay there.” The city is rumored to be dangerous, but Philip says that reputation is undeserved. “It’s no more dangerous than New York or any big city.” His guides can ease your way through such major attractions as the fish market at the Old Port, Notre-Dame de la Gare (“stunning and the views are amazing”), and the Panier. Philip recommends two nights in Marseille to allow for a full day of sightseeing. He does not, however, recommend the city as a base for excursions into the countryside, because of its heavy traffic.

Visit the Palais des Papes on a private guided after-hours tour.

 Palais des Papes in Avignon Provence France

Visit Avignon’s Palais des Papes after hours. Photo: Pixabay

(This one would have been perfect for us.) Avignon was once the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Papal Palace is “definitely worth discovering,” Philip says, “but it can get very crowded. If you arrange a visit after hours through me, you’ll have the entire monument to yourself with one of our exceptional guides. It’s eerie, magical, and certainly brings the monument to life.”

Cross the Rhône.

After visiting the Palais des Papes, drive across the river to Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. Among its attractions: the Carthusian community of Notre Dame du Val de Bénédiction; the Tour Philippe-le-Bel; and the Fort Saint André (here, too, Philip can arrange private VIP visits). “You can spend a day in Villeneuve if you are a history fan,” he says, “and there are great restaurants for your lunch break. This side of the Rhône is the new part of Provence to go to. We’re going to be concentrating on the Gigondas wine country, for instance. There’s a beautiful hotel up there, as well as what I consider the most beautiful road in Provence. Uzès, too, is beautiful, and the market is stunning.”

Pack a picnic lunch, put on your hiking shoes, and get off the tourist trail.

Saignon fountain Provence

The town square and fountain in Saignon. Photo: Sara Tucker

The Luberon, east of Avignon, has miles and miles of hiking trails, as well as an extensive network of bike paths. The region is known for its hilltop villages; one of the lesser known is Saignon. “Saignon for me is just magical,” Philip says. “If there was a good restaurant, everyone would be going there.”

Gorge below Banon Provence France

The gorge below Banon. Photo: Sara Tucker

His Luberon picks include the hilltop villages of Oppede le Vieux (home to one of his favorite bistros, Le Petit Café), Bonnieux, Simiane la Rotonde, Banon, Viens, and Oppedette, as well as “the amazing Gorges d’Oppedette.” Instead of hiking down into the gorges, I hiked up steep cobblestone streets and stone stairways to the inevitable church and sometimes the ruins of a chateau. I ate a ham-and-cheese sandwich on a bench that overlooked infinity, with swifts and swallows diving and swooping below me.

Oppede le Vieux Church Provence France

The church in Oppede le Vieux. Photo: Sara Tucker

Le Petit Bouchon restaurant in Oppede le Vieux, Provence France

Le Petit Cafe in Oppede le Vieux, Provence. Photo: Billie Cohen

You would think that, being a travel writer (and one who lives in France), I might have planned our Provence itinerary better. Perhaps I would have, but this trip was planned by my husband. He spent much of his childhood in Provence and has traveled extensively in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. He is a former tour operator. He thought he knew what he was doing, and so did I. (We are still married, by the way.)

If I had it to do over again, I would do as savvy travelers do and (a) contact Philip before the trip, instead of midway through it, (b) pick a better base and plan activities that would suit a multigen family, (c) get help executing the plan (a child-friendly guide for at least some of the historic sites, for example, to make them come alive), and (d) hire an eight-passenger van with a qualified driver or, at the very least, check “yes” for the car insurance.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

The 5 Keys to the Perfect Paris Apartment Rental for your Family

We chose an apartment in the 7th arrondissement. This was the view from our balcony. Photo: ParisPerfect
The living room in our apartment. Photo: ParisPerfect
The bedroom. Photo: ParisPerfect
mother and child looking through telescope on terrace at the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann department store in Paris
Enjoying the view from the terrace at the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann department store, well worth a visit for its wonderful Art-Nouveau glass dome.
child and adult look out the window at the rain at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris
A winter wonderland in spring, as seen from the Musée des Arts et Métiers.
adult and child play cards in an apartment rental in Paris
Down time in our apartment.
family in Paris rental apartment eating lunch
We found the delicious fixings for this lunch on Rue Cler, one of the city's best market streets and just a few blocks from our apartment.
boy stops to listen to a street musician in Paris
Zeke stops to listen to a street musician.
Sailing a toy boat on the Luxembourg Gardens' pond in Paris
Sailing a toy boat on the Luxembourg Gardens' pond.
The line for stair-and-elevator tickets up the Eiffel Tower in Paris
The line for stair-and-elevator tickets up the Eiffel Tower was short when we arrived 15 minutes before it opened at 9:30am one morning.
boy at market Marché Saxe-Breteuil in Paris
Early-spring produce at the Marché Saxe-Breteuil.
child looking at art at the Centre Pompidou in Paris
A lesson in modern art at the Centre Pompidou.
child looking at art at the Centre Pompidou in Paris
Zeke loved a special exhibit of works by the artist César at the Pompidou; those are crushed cars in the background.
child navigates a via ferrata, one of many children's play places scattered along the banks of the Seine in Paris
Zeke navigates a via ferrata, one of many children's play places scattered along the banks of the Seine.

 

Ah, Paris.  City of Lights.  City of Romance.  City of … families?  I’d been to Paris at least five times before I came to truly appreciate it. It wasn’t as a high-school exchange student, or on a girlfriends’ weekend getaway, or even after three weeks in France with my husband, that I finally succumbed to Paris’s charms. It was with my six-year-old son. The human-scale architecture, the playgrounds galore, the carb-heavy cuisine—this place is a kids’ wonderland, I discovered. Without him, I also wouldn’t have waited in line for the chocolat chaud at Angelina or seen the world’s oldest self-propelled vehicle at the Musée des Arts et Métiers. My son, my mother, and I spent an unseasonably chilly week in Paris this spring—I have the photos of falling snow to prove it—and when we weren’t busy scaling escalators at the Pompidou or strolling along the Seine, we enjoyed the comforts (and warmth) of our home base: a cozy apartment in the 7th arrondissement.

When you’re bringing kids to a city for more than a few days, it’s a no-brainer to rent an apartment, merging the conveniences of home with the perspective of a local. You get considerably more space than the typical footprint of an urban hotel room, you save money by making some of your meals in the kitchen, and a washing machine can cut down considerably on your packing (no need to bring spare clothes for the drips and stains that are an inevitability of parenthood). In short, you end up feeling like you’re actually living in the city, rather than just visiting.

But where and how to find the perfect apartment—one that truly enhances your experience of the city?  My week in Paris taught me five important strategies:

1. Choose a neighborhood that’s frequented by locals but close to the most kid-friendly attractions.

As I strolled a few blocks each morning from our pied-a-terre in the 7th arrondissement to a scrumptious patisserie for our daily quota of croissants, I would smile at the crossing guard shepherding kids on their way to school. I also met the kind man from Mauritius who lived on the ground floor, looking after the building where I was staying and making jewelry in his spare time. I felt like a local—but I was a mere seven-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower, which made it easy to be among the first in line for the tickets that let you take the stairs to the second floor and the elevator to the top. (These tickets are my favorite option for families—they allow you to go when the weather is clear, and turn the ascent into an interactive experience as you look out on the city through the exoskeleton of the tower’s legs—but you can’t reserve them ahead.)  We also had a center-stage view out our living-room window of the sparkling lights that illuminate the tower each night, and we were walking distance from an excellent farmers’ market where we bought fresh pasta and salad fixings for dinner.

The 6th and 7th arrondissements are ideal for those with kids, putting you close to the Eiffel Tower, Champs de Mars, and Luxembourg Gardens.  (Don’t miss Luxembourg’s main pond, where the toy boats steered with bamboo poles are a wonderful throwback for this tech-addled generation.)  Think twice before renting in the 1st arrondissement (tourist central), the 2nd (too far from the Seine), the 3rd (not enough green space or playgrounds), or the 4th (better for nightlife, not kids).

2. Pick a location within easy walking distance of a Métro station.

A big part of Paris’s charm with kids is making your way from park to park on foot, stopping for street musicians and Nutella crepes along the way, but you can’t walk all day. The city’s subway system is clean, easily navigated, cheap, and can take you just about anyplace you want to go. Fair warning, though: The unlimited Paris Visite passes that are marketed to travelers only make economic sense if you’re planning to take public transportation at least six times a day. Instead, buy a carnet—a pack of ten tickets sold at a discount—to be shared among the adults in your group, and a reduced-fare version for your kids. With these, one-way rides cost about $1.75 for adults, and 90 cents or so for kids. Another way to counteract all that walking is with a boat ride on the Seine; it lets kids rest their legs while the changing scenery keeps them captivated.

3. Factor local architecture and appliances into your decision.

For instance, some wrought-iron balconies are more easily climbed than others. Not all apartments have both a washing machine and dryer—and air-drying your clothes takes up time and space. And many buildings in Paris have very thin walls (we were asked to keep voices to a whisper in the hallways of ours), so if your kid is particularly rambunctious, you’d be wise to look for newer construction.  Also, those white couches may look chic in the photos, but what if your child is inspired by the Louvre and takes crayons to the fabric?   An experienced apartment rental specialist will know which properties are most intelligently outfitted for families.

4. Don’t arrive too late or leave too early.

Arrive early enough that you’ll have a few hours to get oriented in the daylight.  That’s because apartments aren’t as intuitive as hotel rooms, since the latter are explicitly designed to be occupied by a new visitor every night.  The Trusted Travel Expert who arranged our stay (Ask Wendy for a recommendation) always has a staffer on hand to greet travelers at their apartment and show them how the air-conditioning works, where the bowls are stored in the kitchen, and how to convert the living room into sleeping quarters (many of her apartments have comfortable sofa beds, which let families economize on one fewer bedrooms).

At the end of your stay, you’ll need to tidy up the apartment, take out the trash, and likely coordinate getting all your luggage down to the ground floor in a small elevator that fits no more than one person with one suitcase at a time. So don’t set yourself up for a stressful departure by booking the first flight of the day.

5. When comparing prices, compare apples with apples.

Sure, you can find plenty of places to rent on Airbnb—so many, in fact, that the options can be truly dizzying. Our Trusted Travel Expert has a handpicked portfolio of apartments that she and her team have personally inspected, with prices that are nearly equivalent to those on Airbnb, once you factor in Airbnb’s service and cleaning fees. And the additional service she provides translates to additional value.

If you go: Ask Wendy to put you in touch with the right France travel specialist for your particular trip goals and needs.

Disclosure: To report this story, our writer stayed in an apartment on a complimentary basis. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, coverage was not guaranteed and remains at our editorial discretion. 

 

What a Barge Cruise Is—and Why Some Prefer It to a River Cruise

savoir vivre in front of chateauneuf barge cruise France CR Barge Lady Cruises
The Savoir Vivre. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises
The canals. Photo: Sara Tucker
Rear view of our boat. Photo: Sara Tucker
Front view of our boat. Photo: Sara Tucker
The view. Photo: Sara Tucker
Pastoral scenery. Photo: Sara Tucker
Goats. Photo: Sara Tucker
burgundy lock barge cruise France CR Kelly Weiss Barge Lady Cruises
The locks. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises
Locks. Photo: Sara Tucker
A castle. Photo: Sara Tucker
Taking walks. Photo: Sara Tucker
A stop to see the Hospices de Beaune. Photo: Sara Tucker
The strawberry soufflée. Photo: Sara Tucker
Cote d'Or wine. Photo: Sara Tucker
Another village we walked through. Photo: Sara Tucker
A stop ion Dijon. Photo: Sara Tucker
Our tour guide. Photo: Sara Tucker
The lounge on the Savoir Vivre barge cruise in France
The boat's lounge. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises
The lounge on the Savoir Vivre barge cruise in France
The other side of the lounge. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises
A state room on the Savoir Vivre barge cruise in France
The boat's staterooms. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises
The lounge on the wine and snacks overlooking the Burgundy countryside taken from the Savoir Vivre barge cruise in France
The view. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

 

If you have a hard time making sense of the phrase “barge cruise,” don’t feel bad. Luxury barging is such a tiny niche that it is practically unknown even in France, the country where the phenomenon originated. When I told my French friends that I was going on a barge trip (croisière en péniche), they thought I was going to rent the barge and pilot it myself while Patrick—my French husband, a retired safari guide—whipped up gourmet meals in a tiny kitchen. They thought we were going to take turns opening and closing the locks. (This type of DIY cruise, while possible, is not at all what we had in mind.) My American friends heard “barge” and thought “river cruise.” Almost everyone imagined something rustic.

A barge cruise is very different from a river cruise, starting with the size of the boat. A river ship usually carries 160 to 190 passengers, whereas the capacity of most barges is between eight and twelve. It’s like the difference between a 90-room hotel and a B&B. With one you’ve got your own TV and the option of having your own balcony; with the other you’ve got a captain who picks you up at the train station. Barges usually ply canals, not wide rivers—so, instead of cruising alongside highways and industrial areas on much of your route, your waterway is the equivalent of a country road. Another difference is speed. A long-legged person can walk alongside a moving barge without breaking a sweat. This has important implications. If you get tired of cruising, you have only to wait a few minutes for a set of locks, then hop off the boat and explore. You and the boat, which travels only a few miles per day, are never going to lose each other.

Families and groups of friends like barge cruises because they can book the whole boat and customize their shore excursions. Kids like them because there are bicycles, and farm animals, and castles, and a captain who will let you help him pilot the boat.

My first-ever barge trip was aboard the Savoir Vivre, an eight-passenger hotel barge that cruises a section of the Burgundy Canal. The 242-kilometer canal, completed in 1832, takes you deep into the heart of the French wine country, bisecting cow pastures, sheep meadows, woods, fields, and small villages. Starting in the village of Escommes, near Dijon, we cruised a total of 40 miles in six days, passing through 50 locks.

My trip, which took place in mid April, was arranged by Ellen Sack, the barge cruise expert on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts. My assignment from Wendy: To learn as much as possible about barge travel, through firsthand experience, so that I might enlighten others.

The Boat

When enthusiasts say that barging is an “intimate” form of travel, they are not just talking about the size of the boat, although it all starts with that. Barges are narrow, flat-bottomed vessels originally used to transport cargo; their heyday lasted for about 20 years, until the invention of the railroad. In the 1970s, an enterprising British chap hit on the idea of taking transporter barges and turning them into floating hotels by adding a superstructure. The idea caught on, and a little industry was born. The Savoir Vivre is unusual in that it is a purpose-built hotel barge, not a conversion. Nonetheless, the eight-passenger vessel has to fit through the same locks as all the other barges. Its four cabins are small—Patrick and I took turns getting dressed—and the lounge doubles as a dining room. On the larger of the two observation decks, six is a crowd, but you are welcome to go up to the wheelhouse and hang out with the captain, who has the best view. Our captain, Richard Megret, was an easygoing Frenchman who had been barging for 20 years; he started out as a cook. He was also our bartender, waiter, guide, and chauffeur. When one of us had a birthday, Richard ordered the cake. When the dishwasher broke, he did the dishes by hand; then he fixed the dishwasher. We and the six other passengers spent most of our waking hours with him and Laura, our tour guide, and each other. This is what barge fans mean by “intimate.”

The Scenery

Unlike a river ship, a canal barge chugs along at four miles per hour, pausing every few minutes to pass through a set of locks. The shore is right there: You can practically reach out and touch it. On the Burgundy Canal, you’re a few feet from white cows and flocks of sheep. When you’re standing on the deck you can literally talk to the villagers strolling along the towpath with their fishing poles and picnic baskets and baby carriages. Children walk or ride their bicycles to the canal to watch the boats go by. They cluster on the little bridges that cross the canal. They sidle up to the uniformed men and women who work the locks by hand. At each set of locks is a small house where, up until the 1950s, the lockkeepers and their families lived; now the houses are abandoned or rented out and the lockkeepers zip up and down the canal on motorcycles. Most mornings, I left the boat on foot and walked through the village where we had moored. On these rambles, I might pass a boulangerie, a post office, a school, a church. I never had to cross a highway or wait for a traffic light. Cocks crowed. Cows mooed. Church bells rang. One evening we moored next to a field where a white horse and a red horse grazed. The young girl who came to fetch them called out a greeting. This, too, is what barge fans mean by “intimate.” You are, for a brief time, a part of French village life.

The Daily Routine

Breakfast is served in the lounge at 8:00. The table is laden with local goodies—pastries, cold cuts, cheeses. At 9:30 or 10:00, Laura arrives and you pile into the minivan. She hands out bottled water and peppermints. You drive through vineyards, woods, fields, and small villages to a castle, or a goat farm, or a monastery where, in the Middle Ages, the monks made wine in monstrous wooden presses. After the tour, you go back to the boat for lunch, which, like breakfast, is catered by a fine restaurant. You eat more than you should. Then you nap, or stroll along the towpath, or sit in a deck chair and watch for herons while the barge putters along. At 6:00, Richard opens a bottle of very good Burgundy and sets out bowls of olives and little puffs of choux pastry called gougères. Then you walk or drive to an excellent restaurant and eat too much food again. (This was another difference between our particular barge cruise and typical river cruises: On river cruises all meals are served on the ship, which means you may miss out on tastier, more authentic cuisine you could find in local eateries.)

Land Activities

Alongside the canal is a well-maintained towpath, once used by draft animals. Every set of locks is an opportunity to get off the boat and bicycle or walk along the towpath. When you reach a set of locks and you want to get off the boat, you have only to open a small gate and step onto the berm. This is also what barge enthusiasts mean by “intimate.”

In addition, there are daily shore excursions. Our tours were led by Laura Aplin, a British guide with a particular interest in sociological history—how people lived way back when. At Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, a medieval citadel, we learned what life was like when the castle was under siege. (Days were spent in boredom. Then a dead cow might fly over the wall, catapulted by the attackers in an effort to spread disease among the enemy.) We learned about 15th-century medicine at the Hospices de Beaune, made friends with the goats at a vineyard in Sainte Sabine, and learned how 12th-century Cistercian monks made wine at Clos de Vougeot. The tours generally lasted a couple of hours and involved a little bit of walking but not a lot. They were all fun. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand reading little signs and wearing earphones when I go through a museum. (On river cruises, as opposed to barge cruises, the group tours ashore are so large that passengers must wear audio headsets in order to hear the guide.) And I will tell you straight out that I fell in love with Laura. Everybody did. We competed to sit next to her in the van.

The Food

An essential feature of barging is the food. It’s supposed to be outstanding, and with one exception—a new restaurant that our captain wanted to try out—it was. On the boat, meals are served family-style. Lunches are hearty: two or three kinds of salad, quiche, plus a main dish (either meat or fish) and a dessert. The Savoir Vivre is unique among hotel barges in that your evening meal is not on the boat but in a local restaurant, often in a gorgeous building that dates back to the days when Burgundy was a dukedom. One evening we walked along the canal and across a great expanse of lawn, past fountains, ponds, and weeping willows, to a former abbey, now a five-star hotel, where the only other guests (it was early in the season) were a couple of Londoners who were on a DIY barge trip to celebrate their upcoming nuptials. What did we eat? I honestly don’t remember, except for the baba au rhum, because the waiter set the bottle of rum on the table next to the dish. I do remember the amuse-bouche and the strawberry soufflé at Chateau Sainte Sabine, both of which were garnished with flecks of gold leaf.

The Bottom Line

Ellen’s daughter Stephanie Sack, a marketing specialist, told me that there are only 75 hotel barges in the world. The majority of them are in France. This is where Ellen first encountered barging in the 1980s, when the phenomenon was in its infancy. She now arranges barge cruises in ten different regions of France, as well as on canals and rivers in seven other European countries. (Such scope and expertise are partly why Ellen has earned the spot of barge travel specialist on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts; the other reason is the glowing reviews we receive from our readers.)

The Savoir Vivre costs $3,500 per person for six nights, plus a tip of 5 to 10 percent for the crew. Is that a good deal? Let me put it this way: While a DIY cruise is theoretically possible, do you really want to order the food, pilot the boat, moor the boat, load the dishwasher, fix the dishwasher, stock the bar, or even order the croissants? I sure don’t. And how are you going to get to the beautiful castle if you don’t have a minivan, or figure out what you’re looking at when you arrive? I wouldn’t have wanted to do any of our shore excursions without Laura. At Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, in addition to old-time germ warfare (the flying cows), she showed us where the lord of the castle hid his jewels when the tax assessor came (hint: his wife sat on them), and what a fourteenth-century hot-tub party was like. Without her, we would have seen only a chair and a wooden tub.

For $675 per day, minimum, you get, minimum, an all-inclusive laid-back holiday with great food and wine, one that allows you to bicycle through the French countryside and stroll around small villages at your own speed, visit historic sites with an excellent guide, and travel in a small group.

That leaves the question of weather. The Savoir Vivre has one TV, some DVDs, sporadic Wi-Fi, a Scrabble game, but there’s not a lot to do on a barge when it rains. In fact, there’s not a lot to do on a barge, period, besides eat and sleep. Shore excursions make the days pass quickly, but I wouldn’t want to carry a dripping umbrella around Burgundy if I could help it. Barge season in Burgundy runs from April to October. April gets an average of nine days of rain, per regional weather statistics, May gets 13. There are eight umbrellas onboard the Savoir Vivre, just in case. If you want to play it safe, go in July.

To ensure you get the best barge trip possible, reach out to Ellen Sack via Wendy’s trip request form.  You’ll be marked as a VIP traveler and get these five benefits.

*Disclosure: Barge Lady Cruises provided our reporter, Sara Tucker, with a six-day barge trip through France, free of charge. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, coverage was not guaranteed and remains at our editorial discretion. You can read the signed agreement between WendyPerrin.com and Barge Lady Cruises here.

The Eiffel Tower and surrounding gardens, Paris

How to Avoid the Crowds in Europe

If you’re planning a trip to Europe this summer, you’ll want to arm yourself with a few strategies to avoid the kinds of bottlenecks—long lines, traffic jams, sold-out venues—that can hamper a European vacation.  We asked Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts to give us a few strategies for navigating tourist hot spots and to steer us toward some of their favorite lesser-known finds—seaside villages, scenic drives, urban centers, island getaways, and historic sites that attract smaller crowds but are every bit as lovely as their more popular rivals. Here are a few of their insider tips for Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and the UK.

France

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

Visit the Louvre at night. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

Instead of visiting Versailles, consider Vaux Le Vicomte. This château was actually the inspiration for Versailles, so why not see the first one? It has a lot of history, and it’s amazing to visit and definitely less crowded.

Instead of visiting the Louvre first thing in the morning when everyone tries to arrive early to avoid the crowds, it’s a much better option to go during the late-night hours (Wednesday and Friday nights).

Don’t wait to buy tickets to key monuments. Prebooking tickets is always the best idea for popular attractions such as the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Catacombs. These lines can all be hours long if tickets are not prebooked.

—Jennifer Virgilio, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for France. Read more of Jennifer’s tips in her Insider’s Guide to Paris with Perks, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

the hilltop village of Gordes, Provence, France

Provence and its pretty villages, like Gordes, are incredibly popular so try to visit in shoulder season. Photo: Pixabay

Visit Provence in the off-season. Provence and the French Riviera together comprise the second-most-popular destination in France and one of Europe’s leading vacation hot spots. To avoid the crowds at the iconic sights, go out of season (May, June, and September). However, in every region there are yet-to-be discovered areas, and here is no exception.

Explore La Provence Verte, an area off the beaten tourist track. La Provence Verte, or the Haut Var, is an area situated between Provence and the Riviera and just to the north of St-Tropez. It is a perfect stop when traveling from one to the other and also where you can spend several blissful days. It has some exceptional vineyards and is truffled with beautiful villages, such as Tourtour, Cotignac, Sillans-la-Cascade, Bagnols en Foret, Seillans, Fayence—to name but a few. There are also some wonderful craftsmen, notably in Salernes, where ceramic artists have moved on from making tiles to some of the most wonderful artistic creations for every taste.

Arrange a private chateau visit. The 12th-century Cistercian abbey of Le Thoronet is also on the Haut Var bucket list, as is the privately owned Chateau d’Entrecasteau, where visits with the owner can be organized. To crown it all, a lunch at Bruno’s truffle restaurant will leave one of the most lasting memories of all of the incredible meals you have ever had in your life!

—Philip Haslett, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for France. Read more of Philip’s tips in his Insider’s Guide to Provence and the French Riviera, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Italy

Polignano a Mare, puglia, italy, seaside village

Don’t overlook Puglia, Italy. Photo: Pixabay/newneo47

Instead of Tuscany, savvy travelers should consider Umbria, a region right next door dotted with beautiful towns like Perugia and Assisi.

Think Puglia. In the Gargano area of Puglia, you find inexpensive osterias and trattorias that offer great food, and the sea is amazing, with hundreds of sandy beaches.

And Bergamo. Bergamo is one of the most important cities in Northern Italy, both historically and artistically. Bergamo Alta is by far the most beautiful and interesting part of the city.

And Maratea. The small town of Maratea in the region of Basilicata is a hidden gem with a beautiful coastline, great food, and lovely people.

Purchase advance tickets online for the Accademia Gallery, the Uffizi Gallery, the Vatican Museums, the Colosseum, the Doge’s Palace, and other major attractions. That way, you won’t have to wait in line when you get there.

—Andrea Grisdale, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Italy. Read more of Andrea’s tips in her Insider’s Guides to the Amalfi Coast and Italy’s Lakes Region, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Portugal

Queluz Palace, Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Estoril Tourism Board

Stay outside Lisbon; Estoril, home of the Queluz Palace, is a good choice. Photo: Estoril Tourism Board

In the Lisbon area, base yourself in Estoril. The resort town of Estoril, 20 miles west of Lisbon, is a good base for tours of the capital and surrounding area. Another good choice is Arrabida.

In the eastern Alentejo, base yourself in Monsaraz. Everyone stays in the Evora area, but Monsaraz is incredibly beautiful, with great boutique properties from which you can explore Spain and Portugal.

In the Douro Valley, base yourself in the Côa Valley. Everyone stays in the area where the Six Senses Spa is located, but all the best quintas for wine are in the Côa Valley, the area of the Douro that is closer to Spain.

—Virginia Irurita, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Portugal. Read more of Virginia’s tips in her Insider’s Guides to the Algarve and the Alentejo, Portugal, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

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

Know when to go to Pena Palace, in Sintra. Photo: Pixabay

Know when to go to Sintra’s Pena Palace. The most popular day-trip from Lisbon is Sintra, a castle-studded small town set above a rocky coastline in the forested hills of Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais, and the most popular attraction in Sintra is the Pena Palace, an outstanding example of the Romanticism style of architecture. The Pena Palace is the last stop on most tours of Sintra, so your best bet is to arrive at its entrance at 9 a.m., when the ticket office opens, and to be among the first visitors to enter at 9:30 a.m. Weekdays are generally less crowded than weekends, but the only sure way to sidestep the crowd is to spring for a private (and pricey) after-hours tour.

Or skip Pena Palace for a less crowded but just-as-beautiful alternative. Also in Sintra, the Quinta da Regaleira is not nearly as crowded as the Pena Palace, but it is stunning, with beautiful gardens and manmade hidden tunnels (there are fascinating tales related to the beautiful Portuguese masonry). The small Convent of Capuchos and the Monserrate Palace are also a lot less crowded than the Pena Palace.

Some lines are worth the wait; others aren’t. The 16th-century Jerónimos Monastery is Lisbon’s most impressive monument. There are always two lines: one line to buy tickets to visit the cloisters, chapter house, etc., which is normally huge; and a different line to visit the actual church (the most impressive part of the building), which normally isn’t that long. You can easily skip the cloisters and visit the church with hardly any waiting time.

Don’t stand in line to see Porto’s famous bookstore. Livraria Lello, in Porto, is one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, and the lines are just hard to believe. Purchasing a ticket from the Lello website in advance will spare you the long wait to get in.

Another popular day-trip from Lisbon is the town of Óbidos, but don’t go on weekends. It will be full of Portuguese families and huge excursions from the senior day-care centers. Go there during the week.

Go medieval. The medieval castle and walled village of Marvão, lost in the middle of the Alentejo landscape, is a place where you really feel you are in very deep Portugal. You will certainly have no crowds here.

Arrange an after-hours tour of Porto’s most visited site. Palácio da Bolsa, the magnificent Neoclassical palace in Porto, is deservedly the most visited monument in northern Portugal. Go after hours, when you can have the entire museum to yourself.

—Gonçalo Correia, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Portugal. Read more of Gonçalo’s tips in his Insider’s Secrets to Portugal, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Spain

Spain town of Montserrat surrounded by rocky mountains

Montserrat is a great day excursion outside Barcelona, but avoid visiting in the morning if you want to beat the crowds. Photo: Pixabay

The time of day can make all the difference in the quality of your visit to Spain. Montserrat is a great day excursion outside Barcelona, but avoid visiting in the morning. Go after lunch. The place has half the visitors, and the Boys’ Choir sings on most evenings. Likewise, tour the cities of Toledo, Córdoba, and Ronda after lunch. Most of the crowd will be gone.

In high season, stay in hotels outside the city you are visiting, or in a non-touristy neighborhood: If you’re visiting Seville, stay in Carmona, a beautiful city with a great food market and an incredible parador housed in a castle. If you’re visiting Barcelona, stay in the Gracia Quarter. And if you’re visiting Madrid, stay in Toledo, Segovia, or Alcalá de Henares, a beautiful small city declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its university. Alcalá has a great parador, a great street full of tapas bars, and it’s very close to Madrid.

For a quiet getaway, go to La Granja, a beautiful town built around a great royal palace with an incredible garden, or Cáceres, in the Extremadura region, which has a great hotel with a three-Michelin-star restaurant called Atrio.

—Virginia Irurita, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Spain. Read more of Virginia’s tips in her Insider’s Guides to MadridBarcelona, and Andalusia, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

sailboats moored in turquoise water off a rocky shore in Menorca Spain

Menorca is the least crowded of Spain’s Balearic Islands. Photo: Pixabay

Instead of Ibiza and Mallorca, find peace and quiet on Menorca. If it just isn’t summer vacation without lying by the pool or taking a dip in the Mediterranean, head to Menorca, the least crowded of the Balearic Islands. The locals are friendly, and the vibe is relaxed. It’s great for families, or really anyone who would rather skip the beach parties and all-night discos found on Menorca’s sister islands, Ibiza and Mallorca.

Trade large beach resorts for coastal areas known for their natural beauty. The flysch in the Basque Country and the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic in Galicia are two of my favorite spots.

Architecture buffs will love the grand monuments of Leon, such as the Gothic Cathedral and Gaudi’s Casa Botines. It’s also got vibrant nightlife (check out Barrio Húmedo) and delicious local cuisine.

Asturias, in northern Spain, is a wonderful stop for nature lovers, with a beautiful landscape, rolling mountains, hiking routes, and scenic coastline. Highlights of Asturias include the Picos de Europa, an incredible natural park, and numerous pre-Romanesque monuments, particularly in Oviedo.

For big museums, like the Alhambra, hire a guide. A guide knows what’s important and what’s worth skipping; they’ll take you on a different circuit from the audio guides; and they know the people who work there, so they can sometimes slip you in ahead of a big group.

Ask Wendy if you’re seeking the best Spain expert to plan your trip.

United Kingdom and Ireland

Ireland

road and landscape of Beara Peninsula, Ireland

Ireland’s Beara Peninsula is just as gorgeous as the Ring of Kerry, and has much less traffic. Photo: Celebrated Experiences

The Ring of Kerry isn’t the only gorgeous drive. While the Ring of Kerry is so well known and often crowded in high season, there are many other gorgeous coastal drives in the southwest of Ireland, such as West Cork and the Beara Peninsula.

When you fly into Dublin, instead of heading south or west, go north. Belfast is an incredible city—so popular with Europeans yet still fairly off the beaten path for Americans. It is only two hours north of Dublin, and you can use it as a base to discover the great coastal drives of Northern Ireland, such as the Causeway Coast. It is also central to many Game of Thrones sites; world-class golf, such as Royal County Down and Portrush; the Giants Causeway; and so much more. Also, when you choose to go north, you can then make a second stop in County Donegal, which has some of Ireland’s best scenery and outdoor activities, such as horseback riding, hiking, rock climbing, surfing, and golf.

Take advantage of timed entries, a feature offered by more and more sites in Ireland. You purchase your tickets in advance and it limits the number of people at each time. The Guinness Storehouse, Kilmainham Gaol, Trinity College, and now Newgrange all have timed entries, which is great.

Scotland

River, Glencoe Highlands, Scotland

Explore the Glencoe Highlands. Photo: Jonathan Epstein

Let the crowds have the Isle of Skye, and explore the Northern Highlands instead. The Isle of Skye has become so crowded, and there are so many other parts of Scotland with truly majestic scenery that you can visit without the crowds. Some favorites are along the NC500, a great coastal road in the Northern Highlands. You can also take wonderful day trips by ferry from Oban, such as Mull. Ayrshire is a beautiful coastal area overlooking the Irish Sea, and a fun day trip from there is the isle of Ailsa Craig, where most of the word’s curling stones are made.

England

The south front of Chartwell, the home of Sir Winston Churchill between 1922 and 1964, Kent.

Chartwell, the home of Sir Winston Churchill between 1922 and 1964, is in Kent. Photo: National Trust

Some of England’s best off-the-beaten-path areas are on the southern coast. In the Sussex area there are beautiful historic properties such as Gravetye Manor and Amberley Castle, fascinating historic towns such as Arundel, fantastic gardens like Sissinghurst, historic homes like Chartwell (Churchill’s house) and castles like Hever (Anne Boleyn’s family). A bit further west you come to the New Forest and Dorset. Two of England’s best hotels are in the area: Chewton Glen and Lympstone Manor. A great day out is a visit to the Jurassic Coast.

—Jonathan Epstein, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for the UK and Ireland. Read more of Jonathan’s tips in his Insider’s Guides to the Cotswolds, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

The Taj Mahal, Agra, India

How to Never Wait in Line at a Tourist Attraction Again

Why waste your precious vacation time battling crowds and waiting in lines? Popular tourist sites the world over grow more congested every year and, sadly, the typical fixes—reserving an entry time, booking a “skip-the-line tour”—are not always a good solution. So I thought I’d share the best fixes I’ve found.

Reserving a time slot might make sense at an indoor museum (I wouldn’t show up at Rome’s Borghese Gallery or Florence’s Uffizi without one), but not necessarily at an outdoor monument. When I go to Paris, for instance, I want to hit the Eiffel Tower on a sunny, clear day; what if my entry time, reserved weeks in advance, coincides with rain and fog? Furthermore, I want to take my kids to the Louvre on a rainy day; what if I book skip-the-line tickets for what turns out to be a gorgeous day that we’d rather spend in the Jardin du Luxembourg? As for “skip-the-line tours,” aside from the fact that you can end up herded around in a big group with an annoying guide, they’re often not what they claim to be. A skip-the-line tour of the Vatican might get you past the ticket-buying line but not the security line. I’d rather be one of the handful of travelers who gets to eat breakfast at the Vatican and see it before it opens to the public.

By far the best way I’ve found to avoid crowds and bypass lines is to book your trip through the right travel fixer—someone who knows every insider trick at your destination and can leverage his/her superlative relationships there on your behalf. Such destination specialists can get you into sites at off-hours when they are empty and even into places that are off-limits to the public. The right person can get you past the mobs at Angkor Wat or ensure a crowd-free sunset at the Taj Mahal. You can even have Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia all to yourself. These Trusted Travel Experts can, in fact, arrange an entire trip that spares you from every line. And all you need to do is show up.

But if you prefer to D.I.Y. your trip, here are strategies that have worked well for me:

Find out if there’s a side or back entrance.

Rose Center for Earth and Science at the American Museum of Natural History

To avoid long lines, try an alternative entrance, like through the Rose Center for Earth and Science at the American Museum of Natural History. Photo: ©AMNH/D

Sometimes there is an alternate entrance with a shorter line or none at all. In Paris, my family entered the Louvre via the Porte des Lions and saved ourselves from an hour-long line at the Pyramid entrance. At the Museum of Natural History in New York City, if there’s a line at the Central Park West entrance, you can enter via the Rose Center for Earth and Space or via the 81st Street subway station.

Go at sunrise.

A lot of people assume sunset is best, but at many outdoor iconic monuments—Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Mount Sinai in Egypt, Petra in Jordan—sunrise is better. You get equally great light for photos but fewer crowds to spoil them. Sunrise is better for seeing neighborhoods too. In popular destinations that are touristy from 9 am till midnight, it’s from 6 to 9 am that you can see the locals living their everyday lives—green grocers opening their stalls, kids going to school, fishermen delivering their catch to the fish market, etc.

crowd in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Paris France

Visit museums on a night they’re open late and you’ll likely avoid mobs like this one, in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Photo: Wendy Perrin

Go at night.

Not all landmarks are accessible at night, but those that are are usually worth seeing at that time. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., for instance, is beautifully lit and especially poignant at night. Park rangers are actually there to answer your questions until 10 pm. Remember that world-class museums are usually open on at least one night of the week. London’s Tate Modern, as just one example, stays open till 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The Eiffel Tower admits visitors until midnight in summertime—and sparkles at night too.

night skyline of Washington DC with Lincoln Memorial Washington Monument and Capitol building

Some famous attractions, like the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. are more beautiful at night—and less crowded. Photo: Pixabay

Take the stairs.

A two-hour line at the Eiffel Tower. Photo courtesy Tim Baker.

A two-hour line at the Eiffel Tower elevators—which we skipped by taking the stairs. Photo: Tim Baker.

I’m no athlete, but I’ve climbed to the tops of dozens of bell towers, fortresses, palaces, and cathedrals, and I am here to tell you that the effort has always been well worth it, not just because of the views but because the great majority of visitors don’t make it there. Sometimes the journey itself is a highlight. If you’ve ever followed the circuitous, increasingly narrow route into the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, you know what I mean. My family saved at least two hours at the Eiffel Tower by climbing the 670 steps to the second floor and taking the elevator from there to the top, rather than waiting in the scary elevator line at the base.

Buy the right pass.

aerial view of Venice Italy and surrounding water

Venice, Italy. Photo: Pixabay

Some cities sell city museum passes that let you bypass the line. For instance, the Paris Museum Pass and the Vienna Pass let you skip the line at dozens of museums and monuments in those cities. If you don’t need a multi-day museum pass because there’s really only one museum you want to see, sometimes you can buy a combination ticket for just three or four related museums (the world-famous one you want to see, plus other lesser museums you’re not interested in). Buy the combo ticket at one of the lesser museums with no line, then use it to skip the line at the museum you want. For example, in Venice, a ticket to the four Museums of St. Mark’s Square allowed me to skip the line at the Doge’s Palace.

Arrive at the visitor center before it opens.

World-famous sites with visitor centers tend to attract a lot of tour buses. You want to arrive long before they do. At Gettysburg, for instance, be the first inside the Museum and Visitor Center when it opens at 8:00 am (April 1 – Oct 31). If you have no reservation for the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, get there before it opens at 7:00 am because that’s when tickets for that day are available on a first-come first-served basis.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Field of Light installation by Bruce Munro; at Uluru, Australia

Where to Travel in 2018

There are so many exciting, beautiful, relaxing, delicious, educational, awe-inspiring, adrenaline-pumping, perspective-shifting places to see—and so little time. That’s why we’re here with our annual list of recommendations for where to go next. The following places are worth seeing in 2018 for reasons that range from blockbuster events and noteworthy anniversaries to the fact that they’re at that delicate tipping point between buzz-worthy and overrun. See them before the tourist hordes beat you to it. No matter where you decide to roam this year (and you’ll find additional ideas here, based on which month you can get away), we wish you safe and extraordinary travels.

Romania

Valena Zalanului, guesthouses, Romania

Valena Zalanului, guesthouses, Romania

Romania turns 100 years old in 2018, a centenary marked by cultural celebrations that will give travelers even more reasons to explore this underrated but increasingly popular country dotted with 13th-century villages and UNESCO World Heritage sites. Mark your calendars for the Transylvania Film Festival (May 25–June 6), the Full Moon Horror & Fantasy Film Festival (August 10–13), or the annual Electric Castle music festival (July 18–22). Be sure to make time for Romania’s other homegrown activities, such as hiking in Central Europe’s largest forest or watching artisans ply their craft using the same tools and techniques used for centuries.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best Romania trip possible, contact Wendy here.

Puebla, Mexico

Museo Internacional del Barroco, Puebla City, Mexico

Museo Internacional del Barroco, Puebla City, Mexico. Photo: Journey Mexico

This charming colonial city has been on savvy travelers’ radar for a while now, what with its fresh crop of sophisticated hotels (including a Rosewood and a Cartesiano) and tourism improvements such as a sightseeing cable car and a train connecting Puebla City to Cholula, where you’ll find trendy new eateries and pop-up markets that give that town a Oaxaca vibe. All of this is on top of Puebla State’s historic and cultural legacy, born from its UNESCO World Heritage monuments, its internationally renowned cuisine, and its beautiful pottery. Most visible on the city’s undamaged skyline is the undulating white façade of the new Museo Internacional del Barroco, which houses exhibitions about the artistically rich (though often underrated) Baroque aesthetic of the 17th and 18th centuries—a period that had a major influence on the look of Puebla City itself. If you’re thinking that the 2017 earthquake made all of this irrelevant, we’re happy to report that you’re wrong: The museum withstood the quake, and so did this resilient city, where hotels remained open, reconstruction began immediately, and tourism rebounded quickly. Get there soon before everyone else realizes it’s ready for them.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best Puebla trip possible, contact Mexico travel specialist Zach Rabinor through our site. Here’s why.

Antarctica

Adelie penguins jumping in to sea in Antarctica

Adelie penguins dive into the water in Antarctica. Photo: ExpeditionTrips

New and improved Antarctica voyages are on tap for 2018, with upgraded ships, cutting-edge itineraries, and program enhancements. The tricked-out World Explorer will debut in 2018 with classic Antarctic peninsula itineraries but with the new option to fly there directly from Chile rather than brave the choppy Drake Passage by water. The recently refurbed 114-passenger expedition vessel Hebridean Sky will offer kayaking, camping, and a citizen-science program for families. For those looking for even more unusual routes, Le Boreal and Le Soleal will venture to South Georgia Island and the Falklands, and the Silver Explorer will journey to those destinations plus the rarely visited South Sandwich Islands.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the Antarctica expedition cruise best suited to your specific trip goals and needs, contact Antarctica travel specialist Ashton Palmer through our site. Here’s why.

Angra dos Reis, Brazil

boat in the water Angra dos Reis, Brazil.

Angra dos Reis, Brazil. Photo: Pixabay/gabrielvannini

Many Brazilian elites own beach homes two hours from Rio in Angra dos Reis, which is known for its beautiful coastline. The bay has more than 300 islands covered in Atlantic rainforest, many of them uninhabited, with picture-perfect beach coves and very calm emerald-colored waters. The reason more travelers don’t go to Angra dos Reis is that, until now, there has not been a hotel of the same caliber as the beach homes for rent. That’s about to change, with the opening of the Fasano Angra dos Reis in early January. The resort will have 54 suites—all with sea views—plus an 18-hole golf course, two restaurants, and nightlife options. It will now be easier to combine Rio and Angra dos Reis into one quick trip that introduces you to both Brazil’s energetic urban vibe and its blissful beaches.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best Brazil trip possible, Ask Wendy. Here’s why.

Parma, Italy

winding colorful street in Parma Italy with biker on it

Parma, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Yes, this is where the famous ham comes from. But prosciutto di Parma is not the only reason to go. Parma is in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, where you can find the best of what Italy’s pantries have to offer, including Parma’s Parmigiano Reggiano, Modena’s balsamic vinegar, and Bologna’s egg pasta. A trip to Parma is delicious anytime, but in 2018 you’ll be able to sample its culture via the Festival Verdi, an annual opera series dedicated to the maestro, who helmed several of his most famous productions in Parma. This year’s fest will showcase four rarities, including an early ‘comedy,’ the Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth, and Le Trouvere, a rewrite in French of one of his most popular works, Il Trovatore. “You can pair all of it with a plate of the finest Culatello di Zibello, torta fritta, and a glass of bubbly Lambrusco to fulfill an Italian opera-food-lover’s nirvana,” notes Italy travel specialists Maria Landers and Brian Dore, who are opera singers in addition to being Trusted Travel Experts on Wendy’s WOW List.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best Emilia-Romagna trip possible, contact Maria and Brian through our site. Here’s why.

Gdansk, Poland

Gdansk, Poland. Photo: Poland Tourist Organization

Gdansk, Poland. Photo: Poland Tourist Organization

For years it was just another Baltic cruise port—one overrun with tourists and not that interesting. Thanks to recent investments, Gdansk has new hotels (the stylish Puro is already open and two four-star properties are on their way), trendy restaurants (Piwna47 and Mono Kitchen are standouts), and three new museums that have put its rich and complex history back at center stage. The Emigration Museum shares stories of Polish émigrés all over the world, especially to the U.S., while the Solidarity Center focuses on the struggle for freedom and democracy in Poland and beyond. “The collection is very interactive and not just a bunch of names and dates,” points out Gwen Kozlowski, an Eastern Europe travel specialist on Wendy’s WOW List. “Poland somehow creates super-interesting museums like this (such as the Warsaw Uprising Museum, Schindler’s Factory in Krakow, and the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews).” This curatorial talent is demonstrated particularly well at Gdansk’s third new museum, the World War II Museum—where, for example, a kids’ section shows the same Warsaw apartment on the day WWII started, one year later, and toward the end. The Museum garnered a lot of attention when it opened in March 2017, as much for its exhibits about Gdansk’s former life as Danzig, the contested “free city” where Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and started WWII, as for the current Polish government’s role in trying to dictate how that history is portrayed. “Gdansk is now much more than souvenir shops, mediocre pierogi, and amber jewelry stores,” says Gwen. “It’s a city that should be on your radar.”

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best Poland trip possible, contact Gwen through our site. Here’s why.

Northeastern France

WWI war cemetery in Verdun, France

Verdun, France. Photo: Pixabay

November 11, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day and the end of WWI, which will be commemorated across Europe. But Northeast France is where the Armistice was signed—at the Clairière de l’Armistice in Compiegne—so that’s a good place to include in an itinerary focused on “The War To End All Wars.” Verdun is a must, so you can see where the largest and longest battle on the Western Front was fought between the German and French armies. Today, you can walk through the fort and what’s left of the trenches, comparing the beauty of present-day farm country with wartime fields that were so heavy with shells that it made the mud bounce. Other stops might include the Museum of the Great War, in Meaux, which has Europe’s largest collection of artifacts from WWI; the open-air Montsec American Monument, which features a bronze relief battle map of military operations in that area; the Thiepval Memorial, which pays tribute to the thousands of missing soldiers of the Battle of the Somme; and the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne-Sous-Montfaucon: It’s the largest American cemetery in Europe, not far from the 200-foot granite American Memorial that commemorates the U.S. army’s victory during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best France trip possible, contact Wendy here.

Hoh Xil, China

Wild horses in Hoh Xil, China

Wild horses in Hoh Xil, China. Photo: Wild China

Out in China’s western province of Qinghai, Hoh Xil remains one of the last untouched natural landscapes on Earth. This plateau, which is the largest and highest in the world, was just named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a smart time to see it because foreign passport holders can now visit the edge of the national park with an exclusive permit. Be among the earliest adventurers to explore this wilderness—home to more than 230 rare species of animals.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best China trip possible, contact China travel specialist Mei Zhang through our site. Here’s why.

Uluru, Australia

Field of Light installation by Bruce Munro; at Uluru, Australia

Field of Light installation by Bruce Munro at Uluru, Australia. Photo: Mark Pickthall

Iconic Uluru and its ancient outback landscapes are perennial traveler favorites, but now is a compelling time to move them to the top of your bucket list. Travelers to Australia’s Red Centre will now be treated to something special at Ayers Rock: internationally acclaimed artist Bruce Munro’s Field of Light installation. The rock and the surrounding Red Desert were the original inspirations for Munro’s sprawling outdoor artwork, after a visit in 1992, and this iteration (which was supposed to close in March 2018 but was just extended to 2020) is the most expansive in all the years since—a carpet of 50,000 solar-powered stalks illuminating the landscape.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best Australia trip possible, contact Wendy here.

Monteverde, Costa Rica

Monteverde Costa Rica

Monteverde, Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

The Monteverde Cloud Forest, in the mountains of northwestern Costa Rica, is a lushly biodiverse reserve that nature lovers like to spend days exploring. For years the hotel and restaurant options in the town of Monteverde were limited, making it a destination for backpackers and die-hard naturalists only. But recently a range of new places to stay and eat have opened. Monteverde now has several local craft beers, galleries where you can meet the artists, and local artisanal chocolate. Visit now before it becomes overcrowded.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best Costa Rica trip possible, contact Wendy.

Tbilisi, Georgia

aerial view of Tblisi Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo: Georgian Tourism Ministry

It’s quickly becoming Eurasia’s creative and cultural center of cool. In fact, it’s hardly under the radar anymore, what with magazines reporting on its annual Fashion Week (Vogue wrote that Georgia is where the world’s best knitwear is being woven these days) and Anthony Bourdain touting its food and drink (Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world). “At the turn of the 20th century, Tbilisi was a vibrant capital city that attracted artists, musicians, writers and travelers, and it has now returned to its roots,” explains Zulya Rajabova, a travel specialist on Wendy’s WOW List for Central Asia, where she grew up. “It began with the lure of fabulous food and wine, and now this relatively untraveled city is attracting more and more visitors.” Go while you can still get tickets to the city’s annual jazz and art festivals, sample its more than 500 varieties of wine in peace, or stroll its curving cobbled streets without being overwhelmed by parades of tour groups.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get a superlative Georgia trip, contact Zulya through our site. Here’s why.

The Northwest Passage

Arctic Ice Bridge, Canada

The Canadian Arctic has jaw-dropping views including this ice bridge. Photo: David-McEown

As climate change progresses, media attention on the Northwest Passage has increased—and so has traveler interest. First traversed in 1906 by professional explorer Roald Amundsen (also the first person to later reach the south pole), the route through the Arctic Circle above North America has become increasingly popular for cruises. “Space is filling up at a record pace,” warns Ashton Palmer, expedition-cruise specialist on The WOW List, so book now. Of what’s still available, Ashton recommends the 92-passenger Akademik Sergey Vavilov’s itinerary through the Northwest Passage and Greenland, the larger 240-passenger MS Fram’s eastbound route, or the just-renovated Ocean Adventurer, which will loop from Ottawa to Greenland following in the footsteps of early Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin. More ice-ready ships are expected to launch in 2018 and 2019, so interested adventurers should expect more availability—and more people—heading through the Passage in the near future.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the Northwest Passage expedition cruise best suited to your specific trip goals and needs, contact Ashton through our site. Here’s why.

Cabo Pulmo, Los Cabos, Mexico

underwater diver with fish in Los Cabos, Mexico

Diving in Los Cabos, Mexico. Photo: Los Cabos Villa Vacations

The southern tip of the Baja Peninsula will be turning heads in the coming year, thanks to the highly anticipated debut of posh new resorts such as Zadún, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve in San José del Cabo; Montage Los Cabos, on Santa Maria Bay; and a Nobu Hotel in Cabo San Lucas. But savvy travelers should look east of the tourist corridor, toward the less flashy East Cape area, home of Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park. This protected stretch of the Sea of Cortez is home to one of only three living coral reefs in North America, and its clear waters offer some of the best diving in all of Baja; the area was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2005. In 2018, a Four Seasons resort will open a little farther up the coast at Costa Palmas, a two-mile beachfront campus that will include a yacht club, a marina, private villas and residences, a hotel, a Robert Trent Jones Jr.–designed golf course, and a beach club. Cabo Pulmo is an easy day trip from Los Cabos, but now visitors will be able to stay near the park in five-star digs. “This is definitely going to change the laid-back atmosphere of this untouched area,” says Julie Byrd, Trusted Travel Expert for Cabo on Wendy’s WOW List. “It will make the park more crowded but will also offer a high-end option in the area.”

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best possible trip, contact Julie through our siteHere’s why.

Sri Lanka

Elephants swimming during the Gal Oya boat safari, Sri Lanka

Elephants swimming during the Gal Oya boat safari, Sri Lanka. Photo: The Fabulous Getaway

In 2018 Sri Lanka will celebrate 70 years of independence, as well as 70 years of cricket. But the main reason to go soon is that a big tourism boom is coming that will likely change the undeveloped feel of the island. For example, right now, there is one lodge with access to Gal Olya National Park, where you can take a boat safari to watch elephant herds swimming in the Senanayake Samudra. Wendy and her family visited Sri Lanka a year ago and spent part of their trip at the island’s first big five-star beach property, the Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort. (That trip was her family’s best Christmas vacation abroad.) More luxe hotels have been popping up around the country—including the Wild Coast Tented Lodge, a Relais & Chateaux property near Yala National Park—and a Shangri-La beach resort is coming soon to Colombo. Wendy’s family found still-unspoiled landscapes, rich local culture and traditions, delightful people, and even opportunities to give back. Go now.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best possible trip, contact Miguel through our siteHere’s why.

St. Helena

Sandy Bay, St. Helena island

Sandy Bay, St. Helena. Photo: Ed Thorpe

Given its location in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean 1,200 miles west of Africa and 1,800 miles east of Brazil, St. Helena is one of the world’s most isolated islands—which is why, back in 1851, it made an ideal place to exile Napoleon to. Today, the 47-square mile British territory has a population of 4,600—who call themselves “Saints”—and they want you to know that there’s a lot more to do on St. Helena than just visit the house where the French emperor lived and died. You can dive to shipwrecks, swim with whale sharks, go on picturesque hikes to see some of the 500 endemic species of flora and fauna, and get to know them personally. And now that South African Airlines recently launched flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town—shortening the journey from five days at sea on a mail boat to five hours by air on a 76-seat Embraer—all of that’s going to be a lot easier. Plus, the long-distance trip will make for some pretty cool stories to tell your friends when you get back home.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.