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View of French Polynesia land from Windstar Owner's suite balcony.

When Is a Cruise Ship Balcony Worth It and When Is It Not?

When is a cruise-ship balcony worth the splurge?   Sometimes booking a private veranda is a no-brainer for the vistas, the quick access to fresh air, lots of light, and the extra real estate. But sometimes, because of weather or your itinerary, a balcony may not be worth the extra cost.

I’ve sailed on 300 different cruises, from luxury ocean crossings to European river journeys to an expedition ship in Antarctica, and here’s how I weigh the pros and cons of private balconies on three common styles of small-to-mid-sized vessels.

River Ships

What to Expect: On European rivers, there are two types of balconies: The traditional, step-out space with chairs, and a “French Veranda”—essentially, a wall of glass (via windows that can be lowered with a push of a button or patio-style sliders) that is framed by railings.

The traditional balconies are smaller than what you’d find on an ocean ship because river vessels must fit through narrow locks. Still, there’s room for a couple of chairs and a small cocktail table.

In the priciest suites on a few ships, the balconies are much roomier.   Viking River Cruises’ Explorer Suites, for instance, have balconies that are almost as spacious as those of ocean-going ships, and their aft-facing view is relaxing while traveling on a river.

Balcony in the Explorer Suite on Viking's Longships.

Explorer Suites on Viking’s Longships have relatively spacious balconies. Photo: Viking Cruises

Some river cruise lines, including Uniworld and Avalon, have only French verandas. This offers access to fresh air and views (on Avalon, if you push a chair up to the rail, it’s almost a real balcony experience) and, because there’s not a separate, defined outdoor area, cabins tend to be more spacious.

Staterooms with French verandas or private balconies are typically located on the top decks of a river-cruise vessel.  The low deck offers window-only cabins, usually with no view—just a bit of light. These windows are typically long and narrow and located high up on the wall.

Avalon Waterway's Panorama Suite and its balcony.

Avalon Waterways’ Panorama Suite has “French balconies.” Photo: Avalon Waterways

Know this: The challenge with any type of balcony on a river ship—particularly on a cruise along the Rhine or the Danube—is that during the day, in port, ships may have to tie up to one another; this can completely block not just your view but also your light and privacy. Also, on river cruises you typically spend a lot of time off the ship in river towns; as many balcony cabins as I’ve had, there was never much time to enjoy them.

My Take: Cruising on rivers is all about the landscapes you’re passing through. If you stick to your balcony, you limit your view to just one side of the river. You’ll likely want to head up to the observation deck for 360-degree vistas instead. But since the only other room option—a window-only cabin on a low deck—can feel a bit claustrophobic, I’d prefer a balcony of any kind. Just don’t assume you’ll be using it for hours every day.

Ocean Ships

What to Expect: Balconies are a no-brainer on an ocean cruise—everyone wants one. The good news is that cruise lines have dramatically increased the percentage of balconied staterooms on ships built since about 2010 (the newer, the better). That means balconies are easier to snag and are a better value. On larger vessels—such as those of Celebrity, Holland America, and Oceania—all verandas are comfortable, but the best belong to the highest-level suites and can come with extras such as whirlpools and dining tables.

Sunrise on the balcony of a cruise.

On a trip around the Greek Isles, coffee on the balcony was a wonderful morning ritual. Photo: Carolyn Spencer Brown

On smaller ships, and particularly on luxury lines, verandas are a wonderful place to dine al fresco or simply stretch out on a lounger in your own private space. Even cruise lines with slightly older small ships, like Windstar with its intimate power yachts, have added French verandas to standard-sized cabins; these vessels have a handful of actual sit-out spaces in top suites too.

Know This: Location can matter! One of the best spots for a balconied cabin (or suite) is on a ship’s aft deck, facing backward over the wake. It’s an incredibly soothing sight ,and often these verandas (even with a standard-category cabin) are deeper and roomier than usual. By contrast, forward-facing balconies are more subject to winds, movement, and sea spray. You also will want to avoid any forward-facing balcony cabin that’s directly under the bridge (the key navigational area of the ship): At night you may be limited in their use, as the light can hamper operations.

View of Tahiti from Windstar Star Breeze's balcony.

A forward-facing balcony on Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze in Tahiti. Photo: Wendy Perrin

My Take: The bigger the ship, the more crowded the public spaces can be, so it’s nice to have a private slice of the outdoors to relax in from time to time. Breakfast on your veranda is a perfect vacation indulgence (and room service is typically free). At sea, the ocean view is lovely and even in most ports, ships don’t dock too close to each other, so you have nice vistas there too.

Even on smaller, more luxurious ships that don’t feel crowded, a balcony is desirable; if the weather is such that you can spend a lot of time on your balcony, it’s like having an additional room.

Expedition Ships

What to Expect: The hottest new trend in expedition cruising—itineraries to the most remote destinations on earth—is vessels that have all the comforts of small luxury ships, including private balconies. Expedition vessels built since 2014 increasingly have more spacious accommodations that include verandas. Cruise lines whose newest expedition ships have private balconies include Ponant, Scenic, Seabourn, and Silversea. In other cases, lines such as Lindblad offer balconies only in top suite categories.

A tropical expedition balcony in the Silversea Silver Origin.

On Silversea’s Galapagos-based Silver Origin, a temperate climate offers lots of opportunities for enjoying your balcony; this one’s part of the Royal Suite. Photo: Silversea

You may even have a choice of French verandas or traditional ones. On Viking’s Octantis and Polaris expedition vessels, a handful of top suites have normal balconies, while the standard accommodations have “Nordic balconies” that are similar to French verandas, with windows that open halfway.

Know This: How much you actually use a balcony on an expedition cruise is highly affected by your itinerary and the weather. On a cruise to the polar regions, where conditions can be cold and stormy, a private veranda is nice if you want to be able to jump outside to capture a photo, but you likely won’t be spending time lounging or dining there. If you’re headed to a tropical destination, such as the Galapagos, verandas are a wonderful indulgence—and much in demand.

Silversea Cruises' Silver Endeavour in Antarctica.

On Silversea Cruises’ Silver Endeavour in Antarctica, a private balcony may be great for capturing photos but not for dining. Photo: Carolyn Spencer Brown

My Take: On my Antarctica cruise last year, my balcony was a nice extra but not a necessity. We loved dashing outside to admire a passing glacier or penguins wobbling up an icy hill, but the weather was too cold to enjoy a meal or a cocktail there. And, as is common on expedition vessels, the best vantage points in such dramatic locales were the upper decks where, both inside and out, we could see the view from 360 degrees.

The cruise specialists on our WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts can help you weigh the pros and cons of a balcony on any ocean, river, or expedition cruise. Not sure which cruise or expert is right for you? Ask for our advice via the black button below.




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Northern Lights, Norway

Where to See the Northern Lights and When

To witness the northern lights—also known as the aurora borealis—you need to be pretty strategic about everything from timing and weather to geography and seasons. That’s because you need to achieve “the big three”:  First, a location under the auroral oval, a band that typically crosses through Alaska, northern Canada, southern Greenland, Iceland, and northern Norway. Second, you need dark nights. And third, clear skies.

We turned to WOW Listers for these places—Jan Sortland (Norway and Iceland), Torunn Tronsvang (Norway), Marc Telio (Canada), and Chris Gordon (Iceland)—to learn the best times and places to see the lights and for insider tips on fun ways to pass the days between your nighttime viewing opportunities. Before we dive into their favorite places to experience the northern lights, some overall tips:

Understand the auroral oval. The northern lights appear when the earth’s magnetic field attracts charged particles thrown off by the sun, the result of solar storms. The particles form a halo around the magnetic pole; this is the so-called auroral oval.

Plan a longer trip. Build in extra time in case of stormy weather. “I target trips of 10 days or more,” says Iceland specialist Gordon, “starting mid-September, because we finally have normal nightfall after a summer of midnight sun, and cloudy winter skies probably haven’t yet set in. And I discourage long weekends with northern lights as the primary travel goal. It takes priority and commitment to plan travel around them.”

Don’t assume you’re guaranteed a light show in Sweden, Finland, or Greenland. Sweden’s too far south (most of Finland is, too), and Greenland’s weather can be stormy in winter, resulting in skies that obscure the lights. So those countries tend to be more unpredictable for northern-lights viewing than Norway, Iceland, and Canada.

Consider your comfort in the winter months. “You need cozy lodging to balance cold nighttime searching,” says Gordon. “My favorite idea is a suite with a private outdoor terrace and hot pool. Maybe with a hot toddy in hand!”  Bring lots of layers too, so you stay warm in what are often harsh and inhospitable conditions.

Did you know you can see the northern lights in summertime?  They occur year-round; the only reason they’re perceived as a winter phenomenon is that you need a dark sky to actually see them, and in very northerly parts of the world, there’s very little darkness in summer. But, in certain spots, you can sometimes see the northern lights as early as late August.

Here are our experts’ top places to witness the northern lights:

Alta, Norway

View of the Northern Lights in Alta, Norway.

Northern Lights in Alta, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

This town is ideally located right under the auroral oval and at the meeting point of three different microclimate zones; this betters your odds of seeing the aurora borealis, since it’s unusual to have overcast skies in all three zones at the same time. Alta is also warmed by the gulf stream, so daytime temperatures are warmer there even than in spots farther south. In the past 20 years, every traveler whom Sortland has sent to Alta for at least three nights has seen the northern lights. “Venturing up to the top of Bjørnfjell Mountain to watch the northern lights around a bonfire is magical,” says Tronsvang. She adds that another benefit of Alta is that you don’t have to drive around to see the lights: “You can see them from your accommodations, such as the the Isbreen domes outside of Alta in Jokelfjord.”

When to Go

“The best time of year is March,” says Sortland, “but you can see the northern lights there from the end of August until the end of March.”

While You’re There, Don’t Miss….

Ice fishing and dog sledding. “Spend a day in the wilderness as a musher, followed with a 12-course organic dinner prepared by Sami chef Johnny Trasti at Trasti & Trine,” Tronsvang tells us. “The feeling of mastering the dogs and having to work hard outside in a stunning winter landscape, followed by culture told through local ingredients prepared like simple art, is amazing!” Jan can also arrange for you to go reindeer herding with the Sami.



northern lights over snowy flat plateau and lake in iceland

A dark-sky light show in Iceland. Photo: kamilgrygo/Pixabay

Iceland’s south coast, including the Vik area, and Jökulsárlón—the country’s best-known glacier lagoon—are prime destinations for northern lights. Because Iceland is an island and subject to offshore fronts, the weather can be unpredictable, and it’s common for clouds to block the light show.

When to Go

October to March.

While You’re There, Don’t Miss…

Gordon works with a local expert guide who takes his travelers up into unexplored, seismically active mountain ranges (in a specially modified jeep) via gravel riverbeds to reach raging hot rivers with high-elevation vistas. “Soaking in a clean, naturally hot river truly relaxes mind and body and inspires visions of an ideal way of living. While you’re soaking, your guide can cook wild-caught salmon in an adjacent hot spring or fumarole [natural steam vent].  They can even bake traditional Icelandic rhubarb cake!” he says.


Northern Canada

Dog sledding in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in Canada.

Dog sledding in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in Canada is an authentic adventure during daylight hours Photo: Shutterstock

Northern lights displays are likeliest in the northern third of Canada: The Northwest Territory often sits directly under the auroral oval, as does part of the Yukon Territory.

When to Go

The absolute best time of year for the clearest and darkest skies is from the third week of January to the end of March. November and December also have the dark skies, but they produce more precipitation, so skies may have more cloud cover. Peak-season dates book up early, so plan well in advance. (A typical stay in the region is four nights.)

While You’re There, Don’t Miss…

To occupy yourself in the daytime, go snowmobiling, snowshoeing, dogsledding and ice fishing.  Also, says Telio, “there are some profoundly beautiful Indigenous storytelling and cultural experiences, including one where guests have the opportunity to eat Muktuk [whale] and meet with elders in a community.”



Read These Northern Lights Trip Reviews For More Intel and Cool Trip Ideas

Norway in September
“We stayed in a Rorbu in Reine and stepped outside to a show of the Northern Lights—right there on our own porch!!”

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

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

“We started in Bergen, driving north through the fjords, and had constant awe-inspiring scenery. Jan arranged two different times we would be on the water in a fjord. We spent half a day on a RIB boat—just the two of us and the captain—gliding along the fjord waters.

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

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


Iceland in September
“Sometimes I felt like I was on the moon. Other times I felt like I was in the middle of a volcano…”

Auroras over Eillidavatn close to Reykjavik in Iceland. calm water reflecting the northern lights blazing in the sky.

Northern Lights, Iceland. Photo: Shutterstock

Chris provided experiences for us that were truly unique. My favorite was when we got into a jeep, travelled a few miles inland and then began a hike. After a short while our guide dammed the hot spring and made a private hot tub for us in the middle of the wilderness. While we soaked, he cooked a salmon lunch for us over a fumarole. Spectacular!

We circumnavigated Iceland and felt we did not miss a thing. Chris steered us to the best restaurants, best sites and best lodging. We even saw the northern lights on our last night there. Talk about timing!

We went at the beginning of September, and the timing was perfect. We did not experience the summer crowds. The weather was cold but bearable. We had 12 hours of light each day. Everything was open for business.

I would recommend Iceland to anyone who is looking for a trip with adventure and outdoor activities. The landscape is spectacular, encompassing both thermal and ice. Sometimes I felt like I was on the moon. Other times I felt like I was in the middle of a volcano. Imagine hiking in an ice cave too! I have travelled many places but Iceland is certainly unique.” —Ron Klausner


Canada in October
“We viewed polar bears continuously for four days…”

Polar Bear walking on snow with northern lights in the background

Polar Bear, North Canada. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I traveled with another couple to Seal River Heritage Lodge, a short plane ride north of Churchill, Manitoba, from October 21-27. Marc was wonderful in helping us plan the trip. It was a trip of a lifetime! Everything went perfectly. Our two biggest wishes were to see polar bears and the northern lights. We were not disappointed. We had seen the trips that involve the elevated buses and knew we didn’t want that experience.

What Marc provided was so much more. We viewed polar bears continuously for four days. The photos we took were incredible. We weren’t promised anything, but what we received was so much more than what we expected. Thank you for an amazing experience!” —Mike and Sue Mrdjenovich


Norway in January
“We went dogsledding, snowmobiling, and saw the northern lights…”

A team of husky sled dogs running on a snowy road

Husky sled dogs running in Norway. Photo: visitnorway.com

“Truly a trip of a lifetime. My family of 4 (me, my husband and two adult boys) went to Alta where we went dogsledding, snowmobiling, and saw the northern lights. In Oslo we went on a very interesting architecture tour. The highlight was relaxing in the lodge sauna after a day spent snowmobiling and getting called by the lodge staff to come outside to watch the northern lights!

The staff at all of the places Torunn and Mari sent us to were exceptional and would go out of their way to provide assistance. We can’t wait to go back sometime in the summer now and see the same location again.” —Neha Vyas


Norway in February
“A Sami elder met us and drove us over 30 miles on snowmobiles to watch the Sami move a herd of 2,500+ reindeer to higher terrain…”

Reindeer herding with a traditional dressed Sami woman in Norway.

Reindeer herding with the Sami, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

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

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

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


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.

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 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.

two tourists Riding camels to the pyramids in Egypt

WOW Moment: A Private Visit to Nefertari’s Tomb

two tourists Riding camels to the pyramids in Egypt
Riding camels to the pyramids. Photo: Stephen Behnen
Queen Hatshepsut's mortuary temple in Luxor as seen from our hot air balloon just after dawn Egypt
Queen Hatshepsut's mortuary temple in Luxor as seen from our hot air balloon just after dawn
inside tomb KV14 in the Valley of the Kings Egypt
Julia and Mary inside tomb KV14 in the Valley of the Kings
Inside one of the Tombs of the Artisans outside Luxor Egypt
Inside one of the Tombs of the Artisans outside Luxor
tourists taking a carriage to the Temple of Horus at Edfu Egypt
Steve, Mary and Julia taking a carriage to the Temple of Horus at Edfu
tourists in front of the 108-foot-high facade of Abu Simbel Egypt
Mary, Julia and Steve in front of the 108-foot-high facade of Abu Simbel
Whirling dervishes performance in Cairo Egypt
Whirling dervishes performance in Cairo
tourists in Wadi Rum desert Jordan
Mary and Julia at Wadi Rum in Jordan
tourist in the North Theater of Jerash Jordan
Julia in the North Theater of Jerash Jordan


When Stephen Behnen and his wife, Mary Hornsby, of Seattle were unable to find a small-group tour that covered everything they wanted to do in Egypt and Jordan, they turned to Wendy’s WOW List. Despite complex logistics—five interior flights, desert treks, a Nile cruise, tickets to roughly 20 historic sites—the trip that Jim Berkeley, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Egypt, arranged for the Behnens was, according to Stephen’s post-trip review, “flawless.” Among its highlights were the Temple of Philae (“one of the single nicest temples we saw in Egypt”) and a stay in a Bedouin Camp at Wadi Rum (“the best scenery of our trip”), neither of which was on the Behnens’ original wish list. Jim not only suggested additions and alterations based on the Behnens’ particular interests but also managed to secure upgrades at choice hotels and top-deck suites on the Sonesta Star Goddess cruise ship. Because this was the Behnens’ third qualifying WOW List trip, Wendy added a surprise WOW Moment—an exclusive insider experience based on the travelers’ particular interests. The surprise that Wendy and Jim put together for the Behnens was a visit to the tomb of Nefertari, the wife of Ramesses II. After they returned, we called Stephen to find out how it played out.

Q: I’m hoping you can educate those of us who are not Egyptologists. What’s so great about Nefertari’s tomb?

A: Nefertari is a very special tomb. It’s considered to be the best-preserved tomb in all of Egypt. It has what looks like a vault door, for climate control. They’re trying to minimize the risk that visitors will cause the tomb to deteriorate. For many years you had to get permission from the Ministry of Antiquities to be admitted. That went away a few years ago, but then it was like a thousand dollars a pop. The price has since dropped and it has become much more accessible, but I didn’t know that, and it was not on our itinerary. We had seen half a dozen tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens when the guide said, “We’re going into Nefertari’s tomb,” and I said, “Oh my goodness, this will be fabulous.”

Q: Where exactly were you?

A: The Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens are gorges in the hilly desert outside Luxor. There’s no vegetation of any kind. From the ground, you see nothing except the entrances to the little tunnels that allow visitors to access the tomb areas. There are 62 tombs in the Valley of the Kings and a bunch more in the Valley of the Queens. Most of them are over three thousand years old, so the fact that you can find anything at all is remarkable.

Every tomb experience is roughly similar in the sense that you duck down into the ground through a narrow opening—because they never made big openings—and usually steep stairs. You can just imagine people digging tunnels into the rock and smoothing everything out so they had a nice clean surface to work on. Limestone doesn’t smooth easily. You have to chip away at it. But they had the patience to make it just as smooth as it could be. They didn’t have power tools. They had wooden wedges that they soaked and allowed to expand and crack the rock. I’m guessing they used granite sledges to chip away a lot of that stuff, and they used some granite-like tools and harder rocks to smooth the surface down. Then they sent their artisans in to do relief carvings into the face of the wall and then paint the carvings, creating pictures of the gods and goddesses that were going to be important to them in the afterlife. All this was done in dim candlelight by people working underground for years, just so their pharoah and sometimes the queens and kids could have a resting place that would serve them as they made the transition from the current world to the afterworld.  And it’s just . . . you have to see it to appreciate it.

Q: What was Nefertari’s tomb like?

A: My wife, my daughter, and I were the only people in the tomb besides the two security guards, which was wonderful for a variety of reasons. When you’re all by yourselves, you don’t have other people chattering around you and you’re not stumbling over everybody. You’re in a place that’s as quiet as can be—a place where somebody was buried, for crying out loud, and this is where they were going to spend their afterlife.

Because we had already visited half a dozen tombs, I knew how the chambers were oriented, what the burial chamber would look like, what the access would feel like, the kinds of gods we would see on the wall, where Osiris and Horus would be and what they’d be doing and the kind of offerings they’d be getting. We had a good feel for what we would see, but we didn’t know how artistic the works would be and how impressive in terms of their beauty. The colors are absolutely startlingly vivid. They just jump out at you.

There are signs everywhere reminding you that the maximum time is ten minutes, but because our guide was careful to arrange for us to arrive when nobody else was there, the guards were more lenient. They didn’t speak English, but they were motioning you might want to come over here and take a look at this. They didn’t try to shoo us out at ten minutes, and we didn’t volunteer to leave. We just drank it in.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to get to a lot of places, but Nefertari’s tomb was one of the nicest. It was the perfect way to end our visit to the tombs, and all of us loved it—not just me.

Q: Anything else you think other travelers should know about visiting this tomb?

A: The entire experience lasted 15 minutes. My only regret is that they’re particular about cameras, so it’s purely a memory situation, but that’s enough. You know going in that you’re not going to have any photographs, so better take in as much as you can and appreciate it while you have the opportunity.

In fact, there are pictures all over the Internet—but pictures only tell half the story. One of the benefits of travel is that it involves all your senses, including your sense of wonder: I’m actually here. I’m not leafing through a book or looking at a photo on the Internet. I’m actually here. Otherwise why would anybody ever travel?


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.

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

How and Where to Avoid the Crowds in Spain

A whopping 8 percent jump in international visitors in 2017 made Spain the second most visited country in the world (after France; the U.S. has been bumped to third place), and yet, much of the country remains relatively unexplored. Here, we help you zero in on the less-touristed areas that are most colorful and charming—along with the best way to experience them:

The Basque Coast

Beach and colorful houses of San Sebastian, Spain

San Sebastian, Spain, is a good base for exploring the Basque Coast. Photo: Shutterstock

The flysch of the Basque Country and the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic in Galicia are coastal areas known for their natural beauty rather than large beach resorts. The seaside town of San Sebastián is a good base for exploring the Basque Coast. The city itself is walkable, and it’s known for its food scene—there are so many Michelin-star restaurants that it’s hard to have a bad meal. Many visitors stay put except for a side trip to the Guggenheim in Bilbao, but it’s a good idea to hire a guide or rent a car and explore the coast; you’ll find lots of charming seaside villages where you can stop for lunch or a hike. The 100-million-year-old rock formations along the Flysch Route can be seen at Itzurun Beach, near the Algorri Visitor Center in Zumaia.


This province in northwest Spain is a wonderful stop for nature lovers, with a beautiful landscape, rolling mountains, hiking routes, and a scenic coastline. Highlights include Picos de Europa National Park and numerous pre-Romanesque monuments, particularly in Oviedo. There are lots of tiny rural villages and seaside towns, and the beaches are less crowded and touristy than in other parts of Spain, because they’re the beaches where people who live in the town go. The best hotels are not right on the beach but slightly inland; check out the Parador de Cangas de Onís, a former monastery in Picos de Europa National Park, and La Posada de Babel in the seaside village of Llanos.


León is a vibrant city with great museums, restaurants, and—somewhat unusual in a smaller city—a thriving nightlife scene, especially in the Barrio Húmedo, where you’ll find bars specializing in gin, cider, beer, and, of course, wine. One of the few tourist venues that get crowded is the Gothic cathedral, an architectural gem— León is on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. Other cultural highlights of a tour of León: Gaudí’s Casa Bontines, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Museo León, and the Convento de San Marcos.

A gastronomy capital, León is known for the heavier cuisine of the north—cured meats, cheeses—and is close to some good wineries. A good day-trip is to rent a car and drive 90 minutes to an area called Toro, known for its full-bodied red wines. About 45 minutes from León is the restaurant and farm of El Capricho de Jimenez, world-famous for its ox.

A good place to stay is the Hostal de San Marcos (aka the Parador de León), a converted 16th-century stone monastery that is one of most beautiful historic hotels in Europe.


For a dip in the Mediterranean, head to Menorca, the least crowded of the Balearic Islands, and the most relaxed. As a result it’s great for families—or anyone who prefers to avoid the beach parties and all-night discos found on Menorca’s sister islands Ibiza and Mallorca. Many of the most charming hotels are slightly inland—although not right on the sea, they have a pool. Two good choices are the whitewashed converted farm buildings of Torralbenc, a luxury property with a spa and pretty views, and Alcaufar Vell, a stone farmhouse that dates to the fourteenth century.

Many of the most charming hotels are slightly inland—although not right on the sea, they have a pool. Two good choices are the whitewashed converted farm buildings of Torralbenc, a luxury property with a spa and pretty views, and Alcaufar Vell, a stone farmhouse that dates to the fourteenth century.

To ensure that you experience some of the local culture beyond your resort, rent a car or hire a guide and see what the island’s small towns and small beaches have to offer. Two beaches beloved by locals are Macarela and Mitjana.

Tips for Negotiating Packed Venues

• Don’t sleep in. In Spain, things tend to run later, so you’ll avoid the crowds if you start your day early.

• Don’t wait in line to buy a ticket. Either hire an expert guide or purchase your tickets in advance, for a time slot at the beginning of the day.

• Take a tip from the Spanish playbook and eat a late dinner, when it’s much cooler. Or take advantage of the late hours and get up early and enjoy watching as the town or city around you comes to life.

• Many museums, like the Alhambra in Granada and La Pedrera in Barcelona, have nighttime visiting hours. It’s a way to visit when it’s less crowded, and not as hot.

• It’s worth hiring a guide for the big museums, like the Alhambra and La Pedrera. The guides know what’s important and what’s worth skipping, and they can get you past a big crowd because they know the museum staff.

• The last few hours of the day are free entry at the Museo Reina Sofía and the Prado in Madrid, and those are terrible times to go. You’ll see lines forming hours before they start letting people in.

• Once inside the museum, you’ll be happier with a human guide than an audioguide, which will send you on the same crowded path with everyone else wearing headphones. So either study up on the museums before you enter, or hire a guide to show you the most interesting spots using a different route than the ones most people will be taking.

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.

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.

Vieste village of white buildings on a spit reaching into the ocean, Gargano National Park italy

How to See Italy Without the Crowds

Italy’s top tourist sites are famously overcrowded, so much so that they’ve sparked a national debate. One result: a five-year strategic plan by the Ministry of Culture to reduce the crush by promoting less-visited parts of the country. We asked Andrea Grisdale, who lives on Lake Como and is one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Italy, to name some of her favorite alternatives to jam-packed places like the Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, and Tuscany.  Here are a few ideas for you.

To get the best Italy trip possible, we invite you to write to Ask Wendy. We’re happy to recommend the best Italy travel specialist for your particular trip goals and ensure you are marked as a VIP traveler.


Assisi, Italy. Photo: Pixabay

This peaceful Umbrian hilltop town, the birthplace of Saint Francis, is a great place to experience local life. The biggest event in Assisi is the Festa di Calendedimaggio, in early May, but the three-day festival is not well known even in Italy, and it attracts mostly locals and few tourists. It starts on the first Wednesday after May 1, but there are a lot of events in the week leading up to it as well. Assisi is especially beautiful in April and May, when the hills are bright with new leaves and spring blossoms.

What to see and do:

•Visit the Basilica of Saint Francis, its first stone laid by Pope Gregory IX in 1228, and marvel at the frescoes and sculptures by such luminaries as Cimabue and Giotto.

•Stroll the labyrinth of narrow streets and stonewalls, which were painstakingly restored after a 1997 earthquake.

•Sample delicious Umbrian cheeses and cold cuts, difficult to find elsewhere in Italy.

When to go:

In spring or fall the weather is beautiful, with blue skies and sunshine, and the views are superb without the summer fog.

Where to stay:

The Nun Relais & Spa Museum is a 13th-century convent transformed into an 18-room hotel with panoramic views. Room 18 is a two-floor apartment with a spacious living room, private access, and original frescoes; rooms 5 and 17 have views overlooking the city of Assisi and the Umbrian hills. The rooms are decorated in contemporary style with touches of stone, old brick, and wood.


the town of Perugia in Italy

Perugia, Umbia, Italy. Photo: Brian Dore

Perugia is Umbria’s regional capital and was once one of the twelve capitals of the Etruscans’ Dodecopolis League. Its ancient artifacts include fourth-century B.C. fortifications and well-preserved arches. The city is also awash in medieval and Renaissance treasures. Perugia is an excellent base for visits to Assisi, Bevagna, Montefalco, Spoleto, and other Umbrian towns.

What to see and do:

•Visit the 16th-century Rocca Paolina fortress, the 13th-century Palazzo dei Priori and the majestic Fontana Maggiore, built by father-and-son master sculptors Nicole and Giovanni Pisano.

•Hunt for truffles—great fun for families—or take a private chocolate-making lesson in the Perugina factory.

•Tour the factory of fashion designer Brunello Cuccinelli with a private guide.

When to go:

Spring or fall, but avoid the Eurochocolate festival, which takes place this year from October 19 to October 28. Another big event is the Umbria Jazz Festival (July 13–22).

Where to stay:

The elegant 19th-century Brufani Palace has a great location in the heart of Perugia. Rooms with beautiful views of the valley include 330, a third-floor Royal Suite with a spacious terrace and sun loungers, and 331, a Deluxe room (not all the Deluxe rooms have such a view).


Maratea coastline village italy

Maratea, Italy. Photo: Pixabay/valtercirillo

The small town of Maratea in the Basilicata region has a beautiful coastline, great food, and lovely people. Less expensive and more authentic than the Amalfi Coast—and much less crowded even in summer—it appeals to sports lovers (hiking, bicycling, boating, fishing, diving), beachgoers, and families.

What to see and do:

•Wander around town on foot, exploring the little lanes and stairways that run up and down the hill and enjoying the slow pace of village life. (Beware: The town is built on a steep incline, and thus not a good destination for people with mobility issues.)

•Hire a boat and go on a sailing, diving, or fishing excursion. Take a picnic and snorkeling gear. Explore the area’s many coves and caves.

•Hike in the hills around Maratea.

•Rent a car and explore the settlements along the coast.

When to go:

The water is warm enough for swimming from May through October, but avoid August, when Italian families go on holiday. You might want to skip the last week in July, as well, when the Maratea International Film Festival takes place. Most hotels, restaurants, and shops are closed between November and May.

Where to stay:

Il Santavenere has 34 rooms split between two buildings, a private beach, and a beautiful spa. In the main building, room 25 is a wonderful suite with a private garden where you can also find an umbrella and two sunbeds, and room 123 has the best view of all the property. In the annex, room 200 is a Junior suite with a spacious terrace and a beautiful sea view.


Vieste village of white buildings on a spit reaching into the ocean, Gargano National Park italy

Vieste, Gargano National Park, Italy. Photo: Pixabay/Jack78

Italians love Puglia as a vacation destination, and the rest of the world is following their lead, drawn by the region’s history, food, wine, beaches, natural attractions, and lively towns. In Gargano, a promontory surrounded on three sides by the Adriatic Sea and backed by the Tavoliere delle Puglie, you find inexpensive osterias and trattorias that offer great food, and the sea is amazing, with hundreds of sandy beaches. Italians call the Gargano Peninsula the “island of nature.”

What to see and do:

•Hike or bicycle through Gargano National Park, a natural paradise of forests, lagoons, a ragged coastline, sandy beaches, vast stretches of Mediterranean vegetation, and very pleasant mountain-bike paths.

•Rent a car and explore the coastal towns of Mattinata, Manfredonia, Vieste, Peschici, and Rodi Garganico, each with its own special appeal. Or drive inland to the towns of Carpino, Ischitella, Cagnano, Varano, San Marco in Lamis, Rignano, Garganico, and Sannicandro.

•Visit the Tremiti Islands, a marine reserve with crystal clear waters, great for diving.

When to go:

May, June, July, and September (avoid August, the busiest month of the year).

Where to stay:

Chiusa delle More is a fabulous 16th-century farmhouse surrounded by century-old olive groves in the heart of Gargano National Park, between the Umbra Forest and the sea. The 10-room hotel, excellently managed by owners Antonella and Francesco Martucci, has breath-taking views of the countryside and a great location just minutes from the town of Peschici and 500 meters from the sea and beaches. Rooms 5 and 6 are spacious, and each has a beautiful balcony overlooking the olive groves. Room 8 has a private Jacuzzi just outside the room.

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 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.


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.


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.


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 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


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.


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.


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.

Cuisine at Nur Restaurant, Fez, Morocco. Photo: Nur Restaurant

WOW Moment: A Special Dinner With One of Morocco’s Finest Chefs

Andrea and Ron Klausner's WOW Moment was a special private dinner at Nur, a buzzy new restaurant in the Fez Medina that amazed Wendy when she dined here last year.
Chef Najat Kaanache of Nur Restaurant, Fez, Morocco
Nur is the creation of chef Najat Kaanache, a Moroccan who grew up in Spain’s Basque Country.
The dining room at Nur Restaurant, Fez, Morocco
The restaurant is tiny and fills up fast; reservations are a must. The Klausners’ complimentary dinner would include a private dining room, wine pairings, a personal greeting from the chef, and a professional photographer to capture the moment.
Chef Najat Kaanache prepares dinner at Nur, her restaurant in the Fez Medina, Morocco
Using the haute-cuisine techniques she learned at some of the world’s top restaurants, including Spain’s El Bulli, Najat creates a ten-course tasting menu that is based on fresh ingredients and changes daily.
Cuisine at Nur Restaurant, Fez, Morocco. Photo: Nur Restaurant
Some of Chef Najat's many inventions…
Cuisine at Nur Restaurant, Fez, Morocco. Photo: Nur Restaurant
Cuisine at Nur Restaurant, Fez, Morocco. Photo: Nur Restaurant
Cuisine at Nur Restaurant, Fez, Morocco. Photo: Nur Restaurant
Cuisine at Nur Restaurant, Fez, Morocco. Photo: Nur Restaurant
"Chef Najat came out before dessert and introduced herself. She and her partner made us feel 100 percent at home. After the meal, we sat around with the two of them for an hour and just talked. We talked food, we talked Morocco, we talked travel, we talked restaurants. We talked about family and children. We talked about where she had worked, where she had learned her skills."
Cuisine at Nur Restaurant, Fez, Morocco. Photo: Nur Restaurant
Cuisine at Nur Restaurant, Fez, Morocco. Photo: Nur Restaurant
Cuisine at Nur Restaurant, Fez, Morocco. Photo: Nur Restaurant
This one is called Choco Planet.
The Klausner family enjoying their dinner.


Ron Klausner and his wife, Andrea, are frequent travelers who like to experience a culture in depth; often their trips include their adult children. On December 23, 2018, the family gathered in Morocco for a ten-day vacation. As repeat users of Wendy’s trip-planning system, the Klausners had qualified for what we call a WOW Moment: a complimentary insider experience, custom-designed for them by Wendy in collaboration with a Trusted Travel Expert.

WOW Moments are meant to be a surprise. When the Klausners arrived in Morocco—where they were met by a driver and a local guide—they knew only that they would get to experience a WOW Moment at some point during their trip.

What lay in store for them was a private room at Nur, a buzzy new restaurant in the Fez Medina that Wendy was amazed by when she dined there with her own family on a recent trip. Nur is the creation of chef Najat Kaanache, a Moroccan who grew up in Spain’s Basque Country. Using the haute-cuisine techniques she learned at some of the world’s top restaurants, including Spain’s El Bulli, Najat creates a ten-course tasting menu that is based on fresh ingredients and changes daily. Nur is tiny and fills up fast; reservations are a must. The Klausners’ complimentary dinner would include wine pairings, a personal greeting from the chef, and a professional photographer to capture the moment. This WOW Moment, like the rest of the Klausners’ trip, was arranged by Michael Diamond, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Morocco. As always, we were eager to hear how it had turned out, so after the family’s return to the U.S., we called Ron Klausner to find out.

Q: We want to hear all about your trip, but let’s start with the WOW Moment. Were you surprised?

A: It was a complete surprise. It came at the beginning of our trip, on day two or three. We walked to this restaurant, and of course, in Fez you can never tell what anything looks like from the outside, because everything looks like it did in the eighth or ninth century. We walked inside, and there was this beautiful restaurant. It was small—eight, nine tables—and the art was incredible. The seven of us were seated in a very private area, where we proceeded to have the most amazing meal using Moroccan ingredients but in a totally different way. There were Moroccan spices but combined differently, with different presentations. We had a ten-course meal with different wines. I don’t eat at every super-duper restaurant in the world, but this was certainly one of the top ten meals of my life.

Chef Najat came out before dessert and introduced herself. She and her partner [Charles Accivatti, Najat’s husband and business partner] made us feel 100 percent at home. After the meal, we sat around with the two of them for an hour and just talked. We talked food, we talked Morocco, we talked travel, we talked restaurants. We talked about family and children. We talked about where she had worked, where she had learned her skills. She’s very picky about every ingredient; the meal changes every night based upon what comes from the market.

The only bad thing was that we had to get going early in the morning, so I had to cut it short. It was midnight when we left. We had arrived for dinner at eight, and they were willing to keep talking, but I had to break it up because we had to get up early in the morning.

I’m amazed that in this little town, which is not very well touristed, there is this amazing chef. I would come to Fez just to eat at that restaurant. We traveled for another three weeks through Morocco, Kenya, and the UAE, and no other meal came close to that one. And I never once had to reach for my wallet, although we did leave some gratuities for the staff.

Q: You qualified for a WOW Moment because you’ve used Wendy’s trip-planning system multiple times. Why do you use WOW List destination specialists to plan your trips?

A: We’ve used Wendy’s people seven or eight times. Why do we use them? That I can answer very well. We go to places usually for a long time and in depth, so we want to benefit from a specialist’s in-depth knowledge.  Last year we went to Myanmar for six weeks. I mean, who can plan that unless they’ve really been there and know it? The year before, we went to Chile and Argentina for eight weeks. I want to work with somebody who knows the area, who responds immediately, and who translates my wishes into reality. Somebody who gets me access to local events. For example, we went to Uzbekistan, and the Trusted Travel Expert asked, “What would you like to do?” I said, “I’d like to have dinner at your mother’s house.” Believe it or not, we had a feast at her mother’s house in Samarkand. Not only for us—twenty other relatives came. She taught my son how to make a rice pilaf over the open fire for two hours. We then shared a family meal, danced together in the dining room—I’m speechless about it. I had a problem with one of the local guides in Myanmar, just a personality clash. I called up and within an hour I had a new guide. The communication, the oversight when we’re there, the knowledge… To get deep into a country, as I like to do, Wendy’s people are able to put it together.

Q: What are some of your travel criteria? What, in your opinion, makes a trip special?

A: About half our trips are with our children, and the other half are just my wife and me. It’s very important to us to take the children; we’ve traveled the world with them. We want them to see and experience other cultures—to realize that America is not the center of the universe, to be able to interact with other people, to learn from them, to enrich their lives, not to be afraid of strangers.

The trip to Morocco was one of our best trips together. We like to go away as a family over Christmastime, and often there are struggles over what different people want to do. Our children are millennials in their late twenties and early thirties, and when I asked everybody at the end of the trip to name their top three activities, they all came up with different top threes. Some of them were things I hadn’t expected them to appreciate as much as they did.

Q: Like what?

A: Sleeping in a tent in the Sahara even though it was 35 degrees. A day’s shopping with a local designer who brought us to the best shops, where we were able to buy at his special prices. I hate shopping, but I enjoyed that day, surprisingly enough. It was easy with a driver, and we had an amazing guide. He was the Trusted Travel Expert’s person on the ground. He buys rugs for ABC Carpets, so he has already negotiated a price with them. If we saw a carpet we liked, we didn’t have to worry about whether we were overpaying—we just bought it. So we bought carpets and leather and clothing, and then he shipped it back for us, which was fantastic. Everyone enjoyed that.

Q: What were some other highlights of the Morocco trip?

A: A cooking class outside Marrakech was high on the list—we all liked that. We like to do local things. We like to stay in more authentic local places, and the local riads gave us a taste of Morocco. At the Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou in Ouarzazate, a woman who has lived there for 80 years took us around her home in this ancient town. Jardin Majorelle, in Marrakech, was also surprisingly well received; I’m not big on museums but some people enjoyed that tremendously. The sunset walk at Volubilis was very cool, with incredible photo opportunities, and the timing was perfect, just to get out of the car on our way to Fez and walk around the Roman ruins for a quick half hour. A hike and a picnic lunch in the mountains outside Marrakech was another highlight.

Q: Is there anything that you would have done differently?

A: No, for the amount of time we had, I think it was perfect. We got everybody busy, everybody moving at a good pace. We didn’t do too much, so nobody got cranky, and we didn’t do too little, so they didn’t get bored. We like experiencing a country and drinking it in, but we also enjoy just being together as a family.


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!

couple on overwater bungalow in bora bora

WOW Moment: A Bora Bora Overwater Bungalow Surprise


Sharonne and David Hayes recently returned from a trip to French Polynesia that included something special: a surprise insider experience curated by Wendy. We call these WOW Moments, and travelers can start on the path to earning one by using our WOW List buttons to launch a trip and then reviewing their Trusted Travel Expert after their trip. (Here’s info on how to get your own complimentary WOW Moment on every third trip).

The Hayeses’ trip was masterminded by Trusted Travel Expert Leslie Fambrini. Its centerpiece was a luxury small-ship cruise of the Society Islands aboard the Paul Gauguin. What the couple didn’t know was that they would be spending one night in a brand-new overwater villa at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa. The resort’s four Brando Suites, which only just opened in December, have 3,400 square feet of indoor/outdoor living space and 180-degree views of Mount Otemanu. The Hayeses were among the first travelers to get to experience these much-buzzed-about new overwater “bungalows.”

Sharonne and David posted a review of their whole trip—you can read it on Leslie’s reviews page—but of course we wanted to find out more about how their WOW Moment went. The Hayeses live in Minnesota, and on a frigid day in January, Sharonne pulled up her snapshots of blue lagoons and petal-strewn tablecloths to answer our questions.

Q: Let’s start with your WOW Moment. Were you surprised?

A: The WOW Moment was way more than a moment. It was 24 hours of WOW. It was far more than we had expected.

We had been told in advance that on a certain day we were to pack an overnight bag. So we realized that our WOW Moment was not going to be on the ship.

The day before we reached Bora Bora, we were taken to the bridge, where the captain told us we were going to have our WOW Moment the next day—which we kind of knew, but it was fun to go up on the bridge.

We were told to get off on the 10:30 tender and take an overnight bag, and there would be a cab waiting for us. That was pretty much it.

The cab took us to the InterContinental, and the woman at the desk said, “Oh, your boat’s at 12:45.” That’s when we thought, Oh, maybe the WOW Moment is a snorkeling trip.

The boat, a little shuttle, took us to one of these fabulous houses at the end of a row of overwater bungalows; we were admiring them from the boat. They told us we were going to stay there, and they brought out some Champagne. It had a tub with a view, you’ve got your own little pool, and you can hop right into the ocean. And we were standing there saying, “This is ours?”

They said, “Just enjoy your afternoon; we’re going to come pick you up at 5:30 for a manager’s reception.” So we did. We just enjoyed ourselves. We just stayed outside and marveled at this place.

“They told us we were going to stay there, and they brought out some Champagne. It had a tub with a view, you’ve got your own little pool, and you can hop right into the ocean. And we were standing there saying, ‘This is ours?'”

I’m looking at my pictures now, and…there was a certain wonderment about this WOW Moment. There was this school of fish under our bungalow and I was swimming around trying to capture a picture of them with my waterproof camera. I never was successful—they were always ten feet away from me. It really was just magical.

There were other people at the general manager’s reception; it wasn’t just for us. It was just lovely, and we had a great conversation with the general manager.

We had been told that we were going to be picked up for dinner, and we were actually taken back to our place, where they had strewn flowers along the walkway into our bungalow. We had our meal on the deck as we watched the sunset. The weather was perfect, the colors were beautiful, and we enjoyed talking with the servers, a man and a woman, and learning about their lives. They cleaned up and left, and we had a lovely night.

When we arrived at breakfast the next morning they asked for our room number and then directed us to a private table overlooking the water in an area adjacent to the restaurant.

So the whole thing was in keeping with the fact that we were looking to be pampered and relaxed on this trip, and that’s what it was all about.

The whole time I’m there I’m thinking, “Oh, I wish my daughter and her husband were in the other bedroom.” It’s the kind of thing you really wanted to share with people.

Q: How was the rest of your cruise?

A: The Paul Gauguin was wonderful, and it was fun to be there on New Year’s Eve. We do like cruises, but there were things that I really liked about that particular cruise. One was the age mix. There were a few families, a few kids, a lot of honeymooners, people in their twenties and thirties, young couples. This was an upscale cruise, so the ages skewed older, but many grandmas and grandpas were probably funding the trip for their extended families.

There were a lot of Polynesians. One night on the beach, the musicians were playing their ukuleles and singing, and a whole group of Polynesians joined in and it was just magical. Ten cruise-ship guests were out there singing this song, harmonizing and echoing back and forth.

Another thing I liked was you didn’t feel pushed to sign up for shore excursions, but on every stop there was something you could do that was free, like a shuttle into town. I love to go to foreign grocery stores, so we went to shore but didn’t do anything formal.

Q: How did you decide on the Paul Gauguin?

A: We’ve had two prior trips using the specialists on Wendy’s WOW List—Costa Rica and Peru. Although the Peru trip was fabulous, it was also incredibly rigorous, and as my husband and I were walking down the Andes, breathless, he turned to me and said, “Our next trip is going to be a cruise.”

My husband travels a lot for work. He does a lot of hard travel. So when the time came to book something, I said, “Do you really want to get on another plane, or should we just drive up to northern Minnesota and sit in a cozy cabin?” And he said, “No, I really want to get away.”

We didn’t know exactly where to go at that time of year. We were looking for the right itinerary and ways to fit it into our schedule. We had just nine days, and we wanted to go somewhere we had never been before, but we were not looking for an adventure cruise. What we really wanted was relaxation.

I went to Wendy’s WOW List, and I couldn’t tell which of the cruise specialists would be the best fit for us, so I sent an email to Wendy and got a response from one of her assistants within 24 hours. I think that speaks to the personal service.

Q: In retrospect, aside from the WOW Moment, did it help to have a travel specialist plan this trip?

A: I felt like we really benefited from Leslie’s advice. We decided on the Paul Gauguin, and after that it was the logistics of getting it planned. For instance, we were going to have to fly in a day early and have an extra night on either end, and we didn’t know what to do with it. One of the things that was really good advice, even though it was costly, was to have a hotel room ready and waiting for us in the early morning when we landed in Tahiti.

I’ve been on cruises before where the shore excursions are very important. And I didn’t know if that was the case here. Leslie said, after several conversations, “What I’m hearing is, I don’t think you should sign up for anything,” which was my gut feeling, but it was nice to be given permission, and she was right.

“For me, using a travel specialist is a no-brainer for a more complex trip, but even for a cruise, I can’t see a reason not to.”

Q: Can you tell us more about why, as frequent travelers, you rely on Wendy’s WOW List?

A: I bought into using specialized travel agents more than a decade ago when we were going to Africa, and I’ve referred many people to Wendy’s WOW List, partly because I think it’s really curated. I enjoy the process of doing the research, but you can only do so much online.

Our Peru trip is a good example. It was two families. There were six of us, aged 17 to 60, with three different itineraries. Part of our time was together and part of it was apart. Our adult son didn’t want to go on the Andean trek, so the travel specialist gave him some other options. It helped to be able to say, “The 20-year-old son is not buying this. What can you do?”

For the Peru trip, we had eight or ten hours from the time we got back from our Amazon cruise to our return flight, which normally would have meant an icky time in an airport. Instead, somebody picked us up and took us around to show us sights they wanted us to see—I couldn’t have orchestrated that on my own. I would have had to find a car service and tell them where to go. I didn’t have to do that.

For me, using a travel specialist is a no-brainer for a more complex trip, but even for a cruise, I can’t see a reason not to. If you’re booking through a cruise line and you have a question, you won’t get an answer, or you’ll get an answer that benefits the cruise line, versus the unbiased insider look.

Q: Is there anything else would you like to tell us about your cruise, or the WOW List in general?

A: Somebody who saw my pictures of Bora Bora said, “Is that like the best vacation you ever had?” I haven’t asked my husband, but I would say it’s the best vacation I ever had with just him, and I would include my honeymoon in that.


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!

Old cozy street in Lucca, Italy. Lucca is a city and comune in Tuscany. It is the capital of the Province of Lucca

30 Ways to Feel Like a Local When You Travel

My aunt Ruth, a wise woman, once popped into a city hall and asked to speak with the mayor. The mayor was produced, and Aunt Ruth said, “I bring you greetings from Ringwood, New Jersey!” The mayor, whose town was also called Ringwood, responded with a guided tour. It was one of the highlights of Aunt Ruth’s only trip to England.

It took me years to learn how to do this sort of thing. Meanwhile, I wasted some unique opportunities. I once moved to a town where the local beauty shop was called the Bull Cheka Hair Salon and Tire Repair, and guess what: I never even went inside! Instead, I drove by the Bull Cheka approximately 5,000 times, burning with curiosity. I didn’t need my hair braided or my tires repaired, but I did need female company. I should have invented any excuse—a sudden need for a manicure or a henna rinse—to get myself through that door.

Since then, I’ve become a lot more like Aunt Ruth. You can only learn so much about a place without getting to know the people. It does no good to hang back. You must get out there and meet people. Make friends. Here’s how.

1) Rent a home. Do not stay in a hotel. This is elementary. Hotels are for people from out of town. Rent a house or an apartment in a neighborhood where people buy vegetables, do laundry, and get their hair done.

2) Start your day at a coffee bar. Make small talk with the barista. Do this every day. Same bar, same time, same drink, same barista. Be part of a neighborhood’s morning commute.

3) Go to a community event—a church supper, a croquet tournament, a trade show for farm equipment—and learn as much as you can. Pick something outside your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to sound stupid. There are actually people who come to life when you ask them what a driveshaft is.

4) Carry a sketchbook. Discover the contemplative magic of sitting in a public place and sketching rooftops and telephone wires. Why should you do this? To avoid taking hundreds of photos with your smartphone, and to practice paying attention.

5) Likewise, lose the earbuds. Life is a sensory experience. Stop, look, and listen. My first-grade teacher taught me that.

6) Volunteer. Trash Removal Day at the local playground? Grab a plastic bag and go.

When Wendy’s family visited Sri Lanka, they spent the day volunteering at a local school, where her sons made fast friends with the students. Photo: Tim Baker.

7) Let your passions guide you. There are people all over the world who love knitting, dachshunds, backgammon, vintage motorcycles, Italian hand puppets, you name it. Go to your Web browser and find them. Be creative with your use of search words. Try typing the name of your destination plus “chat english” or “community events.” To find the places where local people gather, you’ll need to make Google your friend.

8) Find a local chapter of your 12-step group. A New York stage actor told me about attending an AA meeting in Colombia; he was the only one in the room who didn’t speak Spanish. Top that for nerve.

9) Register at Meetup.com. The site lists all kinds of local events, many of them free. It has led me to Zumba classes, French lessons, woodland hikes, and a Scottish lady who taught me to darn socks.

10) Follow the students. University neighborhoods are magnets for the young, the intellectually curious, and the frugal. Poetry bars and kimchi pancakes are found here.

11) Patronize local markets and shopping malls, and don’t just stroll around taking pictures of the wares. Vendors hate that. Instead, learn how to prepare a local dish and buy all the necessary ingredients, including the spices. Now prepare the dish.

12) Brave the supermarket. If you really want to sample local life, you’ve got to shop at a grocery store. I can promise you an adventure. I once found a rack of leopard-print bras next to a refrigerator advertising “live bait.”

13) Talk to strangers. If the stranger is wearing a frog costume and carrying a blowtorch, disregard this rule.

14) Take public transportation. Every time you ride the bus you become part of the human pageant. It’s like stepping into a Bruegel painting. There is comedy, romance, and drama. This doesn’t happen in a cab.

15) Go for a run. If you don’t want to run alone, find a running club. In Tanzania, I ran with the Hash House Harriers; in Togo, my companions were the local gendarmes. There is always someone to run with.

joggers on Brooklyn Bridge New York

Find a running group to join; you’ll meet people and see more of the place you’re visiting.

16) Visit a church, a synagogue, a mosque, or a temple. Every major religion has a tradition of welcoming the stranger. You’re a stranger, so be welcomed.

17) Be sporty. Ride a bicycle, fly a kite, join a game of pickup basketball, climb a rock. If you don’t know how to climb a rock, find someone to teach you.

Anantara Peace Haven Resort in Tangalle, Sri Lanka

Bath time at the lake, on Wendy’s family trip to Sri Lanka.

18) Go to a communal bathhouse. I have not done this. I am too chicken. But I’m told by experts that it is the best way to immerse yourself in local culture.

19) Visit the local swimming hole. This one I can handle. Bring a towel and don’t expect the water to be even close to body temperature.

20) Go to the port and ask a fisherman to take you fishing. Be prepared to get up early.

21) From a musician friend: “If you hear music or singing, follow it, and maybe join in, if they’ll let you.” I wish I had thought of this one. I once heard somebody whistling Handel’s Messiah from an upper storey as I walked through a village in France. I wonder what would have happened if I had whistled back.

22) Go to an art gallery at lunchtime and take the owner out for a sandwich.

23) Join the club. Rotarians, Rastafarians, and writers of romance novels all belong to organizations. Reach out to them and say hi.

24) Visit an ESL classroom and let the students interview you.

25) Look for an anglophone society. That’s how I made friends when I moved to France. I googled “anglophone club” and the name of my town, et voila! Lectures, classes, and activities galore.

26) Go to a park. Not the kind that birders like, with quiet woodland trails. You want dogs and balls and kids and ponies and rowboats and ice skates for rent. Couples walking hand in hand. Furtive adolescents. A hurdy-gurdy man.

27) Never choose a restaurant because it’s safe. Dining out should be an adventure. If you can’t read the menu and have to order with your hands, you’re off to a good start.

Dali Yunnan China local lunch woman cooking

At this very local lunch spot near Dali, China, there is no menu. Diners choose to their ingredients and the cook stir-fries them up with whatever sauce she thinks best. Photo: Billie Cohen

28) Chat with bartenders. A good barman is full of wisdom.

29) Visit a barbershop or a hair salon. There are a dozen variations on this theme. My 18-year-old went to Bali and came home with a tattoo that took many hours to execute. He got to know the tattoo artist very well.

30) Buy your gifts in a hardware store. You know those dish sponges with the clear plastic handles that dispense soap? My Parisian mother-in-law fell in love with one on a trip to America. If you want a good gift, think tools.

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.

Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

How to Island-Hop Your Way Around French Polynesia

So I’m watching a hula competition on YouTube and dreaming about blue lagoons when my husband says, “What about the Marquesas?” The IRS has just sent us a modest refund and we are trying to decide where to spend it.

“The who?”

The Marquesas, Patrick informs me, are a group of volcanic islands northeast of Tahiti in French Polynesia. “They’re remote. Few tourists are going there, so the culture is more genuine. And they’re mountainous, not flat. You can hunt wild pigs.”

My tropical island fantasy includes an overwater bungalow, gardenia-scented breezes, and mahi-mahi with vanilla sauce. No wild pigs.

A marketing website for Tahiti tourism describes the Marquesas, which are a thousand miles northeast of Pape´ete, as “seemingly lost at the end of the earth.” Patrick’s idea is to fly to Pape´ete and hire a boat—any kind of boat, whatever’s available. Then we will simply island-hop our way around French Polynesia—which encompasses an area roughly the size of Europe—until it’s time to come home.

I should probably mention here that my husband, who is a native Parisian, once hitchhiked down the Amazon from Iquitos to Manaus, a journey of approximately 1,000 miles for which he allowed two weeks. It took him three months. At one point, he was forced to build a raft.

The next morning, after a fitful sleep, I call Kleon Howe, who is not a marriage counselor but a travel specialist with connections in French Polynesia. Most of his clients stick to the resorts in Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Moorea, but when your husband wants to go pig hunting in a “seemingly lost” part of the Pacific, Kleon is the person you call.

Note: Kleon first visited the Marquesas in the 1980s on an around-the-world sail that lasted 11 years.

The vessel Kleon recommends for a trip to the Marquesas is the new Aranui 5, a supply boat that doubles as a passenger ship. Classified as a small vessel, the custom-built Aranui 5 has 103 cabins and can hold up to 254 passengers. The 14-day cruise starts in Tahiti and takes you to three of French Polynesia’s five archipelagoes: the Society Islands, the Tuamotus, and the Marquesas.

I gotta say, the boat sounds cool. It has eight guest decks, an outdoor pool, a Sky Bar (panoramic views of little atolls streaming by), a massage room (yes please), and a gym (no thanks). The food, Kleon assures me, is “excellent.” There are 21 Premium staterooms with private balconies and seven other categories of cabins. At the budget end of the spectrum is a dormitory-style cabin that sleeps eight.

The Aranui is registered in France but Polynesian-owned, and the entire crew is either Tahitian or Marquesan (the Tahitians tend to work on the passenger side while the Marquesans handle the freight). “The other ships in French Polynesia all have non-local crews,” says Kleon, “so it’s unique that way.” My fellow travelers will likely include French, Germans, Italians, Aussies and Kiwis. The cruise is a good option not just for a retired French safari guide and his American wife who isn’t a hunter and doesn’t speak French but also for families with kids and almost anyone, in fact, who has at least 16 days to spare and wants to get beyond the resorts. “It’s a cruise for someone who wants to experience another culture and be active,” Kleon says. “My focus is to give people the deepest experience they’re willing to have.”

The Aranui is the only ship visiting some of these islands, many of which have no airport, and its arrival is an event. Schools close. Men, women, and children line the shore. Passengers wave from the ship’s balconies. Refrigerators, trucks, and livestock roll off the ship. The freighter crew performs feats of strength. Bundles of fresh fruit and tapa cloth fly through the air.

Sometimes there’s a gangplank, and sometimes the transfer from ship to shore is via small boat. “The guys who work the freighter part of the ship are the ones who take you ashore and bring you back,” says Kleon, “and these guys are huge. They literally lift everyone up and gently put them in the boats, and they take such overwhelming care of you, you feel like family. It’s a tremendously unique experience.”

There are no tour buses on the islands. The Marquesans drive you around in their personal cars and trucks, which they decorate for the occasion. Their children take you by the hand and guide you through the village, stopping at woodcarvers’ ateliers and tapa workshops, where women turn mulberry bark into cloth the traditional way, by soaking it and then beating it with sticks. You can also hike into the hills along forest trails that lead to rock needles, thousand-foot waterfalls, and ancient sacred sites marked by giant stone sculptures.

The Marquesas are known for their tattoo art (Kleon can arrange for me to get a tattoo if I really want) and, sure enough, their pig-hunting safaris. The hunters are armed with spears and there’s a ceremonial feast at the end. Between you and me, I would rather beat mulberry bark with a stick until it becomes cloth. That said, I’m willing to include a few wild pigs (Kleon calls them boars) in my tropical island fantasy if it will get my husband, who doesn’t do beach vacations, to agree to this trip. I’m hopeful that, at 71, he is more interested in seeing where the pigs live than in actually stalking one with a spear.

My notes of this conversation include the word “life-expanding” and the information that Kleon can also find us the perfect overwater bungalow on Bora Bora or guide us to the best spot in French Polynesia for kite surfing. He can even arrange a custom cruise aboard a private yacht, allowing us to go wherever we want and stay for as long as we want—information that will be carefully edited, along with the eight-bunk dormitory, from the briefing I give my husband.

For more information about island-hopping in French Polynesia, contact Kleon Howe.

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

bicyclists in Piemonte Italy wine country

Six Iconic Wine Regions That Are Made for Bicycling

I thought I knew how to ride a bicycle until I moved to France, where I discovered that you do not need special shoes—any old pair of five-inch heels will do. In France, I learned that helmets are for rugby and that a bike clip is what fastens your skirt to the saddle so your underpants won’t show (where I come from, it’s the thing that attaches your shoe to the pedal so you can pump like a maniac). I learned that wine is an energy drink—something farm hands and dockworkers have known for centuries—and that the best way to tour Burgundy, or almost any wine region, is on two wheels, sampling the local terroir as you go.

Here are some top wine areas for exploring on two wheels.

bicyclists in Piemonte Italy wine country

Piemonte, Italy. Photo: Butterfield & Robinson

A magical relationship exists between bicycles and vineyards, a symbiosis that has a lot to do with geography.

“The main thing is that the roads that vintners take to get to their grapes are paved small trails, perfect for biking,” says Tyler Dillon, a travel planner who has put together many vineyard biking trips. “Second, the distances between villages are just right, a comfortable 10 to 15 kilometers [about 6 to 9 miles]. They work well with mealtimes. You can ride for two or three hours in the morning, ending at noon in a small village that’s serving a Michelin-star lunch.”

Wine regions are accessible to cyclists of all skill levels.   

“The gradual changes in elevation that are suitable for growing grapes are also good for cycling. If you haven’t been training you can stay at the lower altitudes.”

The pace is just right.

“There’s also a certain pace of life that’s appealing. You’re immersed in a culture that’s based on seasonality, on a crop and cycles of nature. It’s a slower pace than in a big city, a pace that matches with biking. On a bike you’re forced to slow down and take it all in.”

Traveling on the ground helps you understand what comes out of the ground.

“To understand a bottle of wine you have to understand the region where it’s grown—the rocks, the soil, the humidity in the morning, what time the sun rises. That’s what you want to walk away from on a bike trip. You want to smell the lavender. You can’t do that in a car.”

Where to Plan a Wine Region Bike Trip

bicyclist in Burgundy france wine country

Burgundy, France. Photo: Butterfield & Robinson

Tyler names his favorite wine-country destinations for cyclists:

Burgundy: “Not too far from Paris, so you can catch a train there pretty easily. If you get off in Dijon and go south, every town you stop in you’ve seen on a bottle of wine.”

Piedmont, Italy: “A close second to Burgundy, with similar geography but like a big bowl, so instead of going from point A to point B you can do the trip in a circle.”

Rioja: “It feels a little more adventurous than the first two because the climate is more stark and Don Quixote–like. The vineyards spring out of the shale rock and it’s very dramatic.”

Bordeaux: “Great country roads and great food.”

Côte du Rhone: “Dry Mediterranean climate, shaley soil, and a rugged countryside with secluded pockets that feel like no one has been there since the Romans.”

Tuscany: “Hillier than Burgundy or Bordeaux or the Côte du Rhone; it feels like biking through a painting. It’s also quite hot. In hot climates, there’s a little more of a looseness and a celebratory feel in the culture and the wines are more flavorful. The geography is epic, with stunning vistas; when you bike through it you feel like you have a full orchestra behind you.”

To find the right Trusted Travel Expert to help plan your biking vacation, contact Wendy

bicyclists in Bordeaux france vineyards

Bordeaux, France. Photo: Butterfield & Robinson

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

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

5 Amazing Island Resorts Where Overwater Villas Are Just the Start

It’s easy to book an “exclusive” resort in the Maldives, right? You just Google “best luxury resorts in the Maldives,” and see what pops up. Then you do a bit of online research, ask a well-traveled friend for his opinion, or flip a coin. Right?

Wrong. Just because you’re going to an amazing destination doesn’t mean your trip automatically will be. There are countless ways in which the right travel fixer, one with intimate knowledge of the territory and on-the-ground relationships, can pull strings to improve a trip. Justin Parkinson, for example—Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for the Maldives and the Seychelles—does far more than just guide you to the right island and property for your needs.

Based on dozens of trips to these islands and his close relationships with the hoteliers there, he has access to the best rooms at the best prices. He knows which overwater bungalows have the most panoramic views or the most private setting or the biggest pools or the best snorkeling off the deck. He knows that the best bungalow locations on an island often depend on weather conditions, which change throughout the year, and can tell you the best room location in January vs. June. And he knows when to suggest getting the full tropical experience by splitting your stay between a beach villa on one side of an island and an overwater villa on the opposite side (the butler can move your things from one room to the other).

He also arranges activities, of course, suggesting the best times of day for things like snorkeling and seaplane excursions, and offers unique experiences such as an afternoon on a desert island or a private beach barbecue where the chef teaches you how to grill seafood the local way. Justin even matches his travelers to the staff members—from room butlers to dive instructors to massage therapists—who will best suit their needs and personalities.

And we haven’t even mentioned the value-added benefits (such as complimentary meals and yacht transfers) or how much Justin can save you on business-class airfare to and from the islands, thanks to specially negotiated airfares.

Even pinpointing the right resort in the first place isn’t as simple as it sounds. Your in-laws may have fallen in love with XYZ Private Island, but that doesn’t mean you will. To make the perfect match, your travel expert must ask the right questions and take the time to discover what lights your fire.

Start feeling the spark with this list, from Justin, of the five most exclusive private islands in the Maldives and the Seychelles:

The private beaches at Cheval Blanc Randheli

The private beaches at Cheval Blanc Randheli are as luxurious as the villas. Photo: Cheval Blanc Randheli

Cheval Blanc Randheli, Maldives

“Cheval Blanc Randheli’s 29 water villas are quite possibly the most luxurious ever built at any resort in the world. The entire property is lavish, but the rooms are a highlight. Designed by Jean-Michel Gathy with cathedral ceilings and 20-foot-high hand-crafted doors that can be opened for airiness or closed for coziness, there is nothing like them—anywhere. Each villa has its own infinity pool, dining pergola or pavilion, and private beach. Among the many facilities are a spa on its own island, reachable by dhoni, with separate hammams for men and women.”

One of the beautiful villas at Frigate Island Private in the Seychelles

One of the beautiful villas at Frigate Island Private in the Seychelles. Photo: Fregate Island Private.

Fregate Island Private, Seychelles

“Fregate Island Private has some of the prettiest beaches in the Indian Ocean. The eco-resort has made an outstanding effort on behalf of the island ecology, and it shows: The island is a haven for rare birds, plant life, and a healthy population of Aldabran tortoises. Each of the 16 private residences has its own terrace, a large infinity pool, and a Jacuzzi. You can dine at the Yacht Club, in a tree-house restaurant in one of the island’s largest banyan trees, or on the plantation where the resort’s food is grown, as well as on the beach or in the privacy of your own residence.”

The Private Reserve overwater villa at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

“Gili Lankanfushi lays claim to the world’s largest overwater villa. It’s called the Private Reserve, and it’s a freestanding structure, accessible by boat, in the lagoon. The resort also boasts an organic vegetable and herb garden, secluded beaches, an underground wine cellar, treetop tables, and a laid-back Maldivian feel. The new surf center takes guests to excellent nearby breaks.”

North Island, Seychelles

North Island is known as much for its seclusion as for its incredible views. Photo: North Island.

North Island, Seychelles

“A large island with only 11 villas, North Island is the ultimate in privacy and seclusion, while at the same time offering plenty to do—for example, you can go hiking with an ecologist or diving with a marine biologist. The resort does a first-rate job of looking after its guests, as well as protecting the island’s ecology.”

Veela Private Island

The terrace of the Ocean Pool House at Veela. Photo: Veela Private Island

Velaa Private Island, Maldives

“Velaa Private Island is one of the best all-around resorts in the world. Its overwater villas are huge, and they have good-size pools, not plunge pools. It has the best service of any resort in the Maldives, and its facilities, too, are unmatched. They include a multi-story wine tower, a golf academy, and an overwater restaurant featuring the most talented chef in the Indian Ocean.”

Wendy recommends maximizing every moment of a Maldives or Seychelles vacation by reaching out to Justin to orchestrate it. You’ll find the best trip designers for other parts of the world on The WOW List.

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

Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia

These Four New Lodges Offer a Rare Glimpse of Northern Namibia

Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia
Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia. Photo: Tino De Njis/Namibia Exclusive
Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia
Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia. Photo: Tino De Njis/Namibia Exclusive
Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia
Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia. Photo: Tino De Njis/Namibia Exclusive
Omatendeka safari lodge, Namibia
Omatendeka safari lodge, Namibia. Photo: Greg Wright Architects/Namibia Exclusive
Omatendeka safari lodge, Namibia
Omatendeka safari lodge, Namibia. Photo: Greg Wright Architects/Namibia Exclusive
Elephants at Namibia's Xaudum Lodge
Elephants at Namibia's Xaudum Lodge. Photo: Namibia Exclusive
Namibia's Xaudum safari Lodge
Namibia's Xaudum Lodge. Photo: Greg Wright Architects/Namibia Exclusive
Namibia safair. Photo: Olwen Evans/Namibia Exclusive
Sheya Shuushona safari camp, Namibia
Sheya Shuushona safari camp, Namibia. Photo: Piers L'Estrange/Namibia Exclusive
Sheya Shuushona safari camp, Namibia
Sheya Shuushona, Namibia. Photo: Piers L'Estrange/Namibia Exclusive


A newcomer to the safari scene is making some of Namibia’s wildest country accessible with the opening of four small luxury lodges in remote northern regions. The lodges, designed by architect Greg Scott and constructed of native materials, are surrounded by spectacular scenery—boulder-strewn desert, red sand dunes, soda lakes. Far from conventional tourist routes, they provide rare access to such treasures as a river valley that is home to the endangered black rhino and a national park populated by some 3,000 elephants.

Namibia Exclusive Safaris is the brainchild of Vitor Azevedo, a native Angolan who came to Namibia as a refugee at age 12. Its mission extends beyond wildlife conservation and includes helping pastoralists and small farmers live sustainably on their ancestral lands. The company has developed equitable partnerships with local constituents organized into conservancies, and its programs give visitors a unique glimpse into the lives of people such as the Damaras, pastoralists who speak a click language. The first lodge, Sorris Sorris, opened in August 2015.

Perched atop granite boulders in a rocky desert landscape, Sorris Sorris has only nine guest rooms (like all the lodges), an outdoor pool, and panoramic views of the Ugab River and Brandberg Mountain, Namibia’s tallest peak and the site of hundreds of rock paintings. The river’s ecosystem provides habitat for the black rhino, the desert elephant, and the desert-adapted lion. In addition to nature drives, sightseeing here is done by hot-air balloon.

Omatendeka, at the headwaters of the Hoanib River, boasts a 360-degree view of plains and tabletop mountains. Natural springs attract lions, elephants, and the endangered black rhino, as well as zebra, oryx, springbok, giraffe, and eland. Activities include guided nature walks, game drives, and watching the animals at the waterhole outside your bungalow door.

Located inside Khaudum National Park, Xaudum is surrounded by Kalahari sand dunes covered in an acacia forest, habitat for an estimated 3,000 elephants, as well as antelope and the rare wild dog. The nine guest rooms are connected to public areas by raised wooden walkways.

Sheya Shuushona, on the edge of Etosha National Park, overlooks a vast saltpan that changes color with the season, from snow white to pink to turquoise. The pan becomes a lake in the rainy season, attracting flamingos, storks and cranes. The nine guest rooms can accommodate 18 guests at a time.

For more information or help planning a trip, contact Cherri Briggs of Explore, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts.


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

National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, D.C.

Spring Vacation Idea: Flower Festivals Worth Traveling For

Massive displays of spring blooms have an irresistible appeal, drawing millions of people to parks and gardens around the world. In Tokyo, several hundred thousand people pass through Ueno Park every day during cherry blossom time, which lasts barely two weeks. And in Holland, Keukenhof Park attracts more than a million visitors during its two-month tulip season.

If you’re also finding yourself drawn to colorful bouquets and floral aromas now that spring is approaching, check out this short list of top flower festivals around the world. The cherry blossoms, tulips, and other spring blooms are all worth traveling for.


Keukenhof Tulip Festival, Holland (March 23–May 21)

Claim to fame: Billed as “the most famous and largest flower park in the world” Keukenhof, near Amsterdam, plants seven million tulip bulbs each year, as well as hyacinths, daffodils, orchids, roses, carnations, irises, lilies and other flowers.

Good to know: The park is accessible by public transportation from Amsterdam. You can order your tickets online and receive them by email. On Saturday, April 22, Holland’s annual parade of flower-bedecked floats and automobiles travels a 42-kilometer route from Noordwijk to Haarlem, passing Keukenhof at around 3:30 p.m. The floats remain on view in Haarlem through Sunday.

More info: Holland.com


Flevoland Tulip Route, Holland (April 14–May 8)

Claim to fame: Central Holland’s 100-kilometer-long “Tulip Route” passes through nearly 2,500 acres of flowering fields in East and South Flevoland, the country’s biggest flower-growing region.

Good to know: You can explore a 19-kilometer portion known as the “Garden Route” by bicycle, stopping at gardens along the way.

More info: Holland.com


Istanbul Tulip Festival (mid-April to late May)

Claim to fame: Begun in 2006, Istanbul’s annual festival boasts more than 14.4 million tulips of 270 different varieties planted along the city’s avenues and throughout parks, squares, and roundabouts.

Good to know: Emirgan Groves, Göztepe Park, and Sultanahmet Square host activities such as live music, glass-blowing demonstrations, and art exhibitions. From the top of Büyük Çamlıca Korusu, you have a great view of the city, surrounded by 500,000 tulips.

More info: HowToInstanbul.com

cherry blossoms in Ueno Park Tokyo Japan

Ueno Park, in Tokyo, is Japan’s most popular cherry-blossom-viewing spot.

Ueno Sakura Matsuri, Tokyo (late March to late April)

Claim to fame: Japan’s most popular cherry-blossom-viewing spot has more than 1,000 cherry trees lining the street that leads toward the National Museum and around Shinobazu Pond, as well as 1,000 lanterns that light up the park at night during cherry-blossom time.

Good to know: Ueno Park is a five-minute walk from JR Ueno Station (Yamanote Line). The Japanese Tourism Office’s countrywide bloom-forecast chart predicts the first blossoms will appear in Tokyo on March 22.

More info: Japan National Tourism Office


Shinjuku Gyoen Garden, Tokyo (late March to late April)

Claim to fame: Shinjuku Gyoen Garden, once the samurai residence of the Naito family, has been famous for its cherry trees since the Meiji Era (1868–1912).

Good to know: The garden is a ten-minute walk from JR Shinjuku Station (Yamanote Line), or exit at Shinjuku-gyoen-mae Station (Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line).

More info: Japan National Tourism Office


National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, D.C. (March 15–April 16)

Claim to fame: The annual festival, which commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from the city of Tokyo, welcomes more than 1.5 million people per year. First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.

Good to know: Photographer David Coleman, a D.C. resident, keeps a Facebook page called Cherry Blossom Watch, where you can follow the progress of this season’s buds. The National Park Services defines the “Peak Bloom Date” as the day on which 70 percent of the blossoms of the Yoshino cherry trees that surround the Tidal Basin are open. And a tip from the official festival website: “Hop aboard a water taxi to the Tidal Basin from Georgetown (or from the Tidal basin to Georgetown–DC’s shopping and dining hot-spot), and enjoy viewing the blossoms from the water along the way. Tickets are $15 round trip or $10 one way, and must be purchased online in advance from www.DC-Watertaxi.com.”

More info: NationalCherryBlossomFestival.org

RHS Chelsea Flower Show, London

Chelsea pensioners look at ‘Peter Beales Roses’ in the Great Pavilion at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London. Photo: RHS/Hannah McKay

RHS Chelsea Flower Show, London (May 23–27)

Claim to fame: Organized by the Royal Horticultural Society, Britain’s most prestigious flower show has been held on the grounds of London’s Royal Hospital Chelsea since 1913. The RHS website advertises the show as “the place to see cutting-edge garden design, new plants and find ideas to take home.” The number of visitors has been capped at 157,000 since 1988.

Good to know: The show sells out quickly and you must purchase tickets in advance; do so via the RHS website. This year’s highlights include the Greening Great Britain Garden, a garden exhibit designed to celebrate plants in urban areas, as well as exhibits from more than 100 of the world’s best florists and nurseries.

More info: rhs.org.uk


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

Shakespeare400: One More Reason You Should Be in the U.K. This Spring

When William Shakespeare shuffled off this mortal coil at the age of 52, his body was lowered into the grave without a lot of fanfare. By then he had retired to his home in Stratford-upon-Avon, and his London public, wowed by Richard Burbage’s portrayal of Hamlet, paid little attention to the playwright’s passing—an oversight that puzzles Shakespeare scholars to this day. This year marks the quatercentenary of the great man’s death, and his countrymen are honoring him with a fitting yearlong celebration. The Shakespeare400 festival involves a consortium of leading arts and cultural organizations coordinated by King’s College London, and it will take place all over England, with events concentrated in London and Stratford-upon-Avon. To suss out what’s happening, you need to do some research (always the case with Shakespeare).

Our handy Shakespeare 2016 toolkit, below, will guide you to the treasure (be prepared to make some hard choices!) and help you plan your trip.

What to Do and Where to Find It


This events calendar lists dozens upon dozens of Shakespeare-related performances in London and other parts of England. They range from Forced Entertainment’s “Table Top Shakespeare” (the complete works performed by six actors and a cast of household objects—Pericles is a light bulb, Hamlet a bottle of ink; March 1–6) to the London Philharmonic’s “Shakespeare400 Anniversary Gala Concert” with readings by Simon Callow (April 15).


Shakespeare’s Globe, a major participant in Shakespeare400, has mounted an ambitious yearlong program of special events called 1616: A Momentous Year. The theater is marking the playwright’s birthday weekend with the return of its around-the-world Hamlet, now entering the final weeks of a two-year, 180,000-mile, 196-country tour, and The Complete Walk, a 2.5-mile outdoor pop-up cinema along the Thames. The 37 screens, one for each play, will show scenes from Hamlet filmed in Denmark, Antony and Cleopatra in Egypt, Romeo and Juliet in Verona, and so on (April 23–24).

Royal Shakespeare Company

The website of the Royal Shakespeare Company describes a dazzling yearlong program of performances, lectures, and behind-the-scenes tours of its Stratford-upon-Avon complex. Start by viewing the season trailer.

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

This nonprofit org cares for the five homes and gardens directly linked to Shakespeare and his family. Its website lists upcoming events, gives online access to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare-related material accessible to the public, and hosts a video tour of the five homes. Birthday events in Stratford-upon-Avon include a jazz procession staged by the New Orleans Shakespeare festival and a hip-hop performance of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets by New York rap artist Devon Glover (April 24).

Shakespeare’s England

What to see and do in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Kenilworth, Royal Leamington Spa, and the surrounding areas.


Where to Stay

For hotels in Stratford-upon-Avon, Jonathan Epstein, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for England, recommends The Arden, which is right across the street from the RSC; for a more countryside experience, he recommends staying in the Northern Cotswolds at a property such as Buckland Manor, Dormy House, or Cotswold House. In London, where Jonathan has special relationships with an array of four- and five-star hotels, he particularly recommends the historic Carriage Rooms at The Stafford for Shakespeare fans. Breakfast at many hotels is included when you book through Jonathan, as well as complimentary cream tea at The Arden, a guaranteed upgrade at Dormy House, and other perks.

If you’d prefer to spread out in an apartment, consider family-friendly South Kensington, especially if you’re traveling with children. The neighborhood is close to Kensington Gardens, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum. Kensington is also well connected on the Tube and buses so that you can easily reach all the Shakespeare400 spots quickly and easily. (Go to Ask Wendy for a recommendation for a London apartment specialist.)


For Special Access

Jane McCrum, another of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for England, can arrange a complete itinerary that includes unadvertised V.I.P. activities such as visits to private libraries to view original folios of Shakespeare’s works.


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

How to Spend a Romantic Weekend in Paris: A Gentleman’s Guide

“If St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, were to whisper in your ear, ‘Take your wife to Paris for the weekend; she works hard and she deserves a break,’ where exactly would you take me and what exactly would we do?”

This is the purely hypothetical question that I asked my husband, a native Parisian, three days before Valentine’s Day. His response was to sit right down and, drawing on his extensive knowledge of Paris and women, craft the following itinerary. I share it here in the hope that it will bring comfort, joy, and a moonlight boat ride to another hardworking girl.

I have taken the liberty of filling in a few details not supplied by my husband, whose descriptions of romantic hotels, streets, and restaurants tend to begin and end with the phrase “It’s nice.”  Sometimes he adds a finer detail or two, such as, “There are cobblestones” or “It goes back 500 years.”  Where the descriptions are purely those of Patrick Texier—former teenage Romeo, now devoted husband—I have put them in quotation marks. Because he was a teenager in the 1960s, he specified that the car you hire for this itinerary should be a Citroën 2CV, aka a “deux chevaux,” the car Brigitte Bardot drove in the 1961 romantic comedy Please, Not Now! directed by Roger Vadim.  Patrick had one when he lived in Cameroon in the 1960s, and his eyes grow misty with nostalgia whenever he chances upon one rusting away in a patch of weeds.  The car is seriously cute—a little like a Volkswagen Beetle, only French.  Several companies supply them, with a driver or without.

Hôtel Particulier Montmartre is small, with only five suites, and surrounded by a pretty garden. When I, intrigued, asked my husband to tell me more, he said, “There are big photographs on the walls.” A perusal of the hotel website states that the deluxe suite has a private stairway, a panoramic view of Paris, and walls painted with “Barbie doll eyes” that make the traveler feel “spied upon.” Another suite has thickly upholstered button-tufted walls and a display cabinet containing “erotic and gourmand objects by Philippe Mayaux.”

After your night in the deluxe suite with the Barbie-doll eyes, followed by café au lait and a buttery croissant (my husband’s standard breakfast), you will head out into the morning light, arm in arm with your beloved, and stroll around Montmartre, stopping at the following places:

The "I Love You" wall mural in Montmartre, Paris

The “I Love You” wall mural in Montmartre, Paris. Photo: Peter Rowley/Flickr

Le mur des je t’aime, a mural composed of 612 tiles of enameled lava inscribed with declarations of love in 250 languages;

The Brancusi sculpture The Kiss, in Montmartre Cemetery, which marks the tomb of a young Russian anarchist driven to suicide by an unhappy love affair. (My husband visited her grave in 1964 with a girl named Irene, who lived below his parents’ flat in Port d’Italy);

Musée de la vie romantique, the 19th-century home of Dutch painter Ary Scheffer (his work was much admired by King Louis-Philippe), where the Friday-night salons, which went on for decades, were attended by neighbor George Sand and her lover Frédéric Chopin, as well as Delacroix, Liszt, Rossini, and later Charles Dickens and Ivan Turgenev. Today you can see the plaster casts of what the City of Paris, which runs the museum, describes as “the writer’s sensuous right arm and Chopin’s delicate left hand,” as well as other George Sand memorabilia (her jewelry, her family portraits, her rare and unique watercolors).

At this point, gentlemen, you may notice that the love of your life is wan from hunger and fatigue, so usher her into the 2CV and head for the center of Paris. Swing by Place Dauphine (“It’s nice. There are cobblestones”), pausing for a double selfie in front of No. 15, where Yves Montand and Simone Signoret used to live.

Have lunch at Le Caveau du Palais, “because the food is good and it isn’t touristy; a lot of lawyers are going there.” Romantic touches include plates of gravlax and magret de canard decorated with expressionist squiggles.

After lunch, stroll through the Square du Vert-Galant,  a little triangular park that juts into the Seine at the western tip of Île de la Cité. “It’s one of the best views of the Seine. You’ve got the river on your left, the river on your right, and the river right in front of you.” The park is named for Henri IV, a renowned vert-galant, which is to say a ladies’ man who is undaunted by a few gray hairs.

Square du Vert-Galant, Paris

Square du Vert-Galant, Paris. Photo: Oliver Hertel/Flickr

Next, guide your sweetheart around Ile Saint Louis, where “the small streets haven’t changed in 500 years.”  When she begins to drag her heels across the cobblestones, return to the 2CV, which you have nimbly parked in a space that a Rolls-Royce would ignore, and head for the hills with the top down.  Wind through Buttes Chaumont, “an old neighborhood, mainly Jewish, on a hill, with a very nice park and nice views of Paris”; Butte Bergeyre, a small village that “very few people know about; the houses are low because a lot of quarries are underneath”; and Rue Mouzaïa, “like a village street, with cobblestones and lots of plants” (by which, my husband says, he means trees, shrubs, and rosebushes). Stroll with your lover under the trees, pausing to pluck spring blossoms from her windblown hair.

Buttes Chaumont, Paris

The view from Buttes Chaumont, Paris Photo: Eric Huybrechts/Flickr

On your way to dinner, drop by Dilettantes, a champagne bar in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. If your date is famished, buy her a handful of macarons (Pierre Hermé; Arnaud Larher) or chocolate (Patrick Roger; Jacques Genin) and feed them to her one by one. Do not allow her to stuff them in her purse “for later.”

Dinner is either aboard a yacht on the Seine or in one of the private dining rooms at Lapérouse. My husband and I had a small argument about this. He claims the boat ride is the more romantic choice. The yacht, which is called the Don Juan II, is small enough to qualify as intimate; the cuisine is by Guy Krenzer, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France; and everyone gets a window seat. And of course, Paris at night, reflected in the river, is spectacular. All good arguments for the cruise. To which I countered that the private rooms at Lapérouse are also pretty darn spectacular, and more intimate, and that any restaurant that contains in its official 250-year-old history the phrases “hidden stairway,” and “criminal activity” deserves a closer look.

And that’s it. Sadly, I have not done most of these things, and I will not be doing any of them on Valentine’s Day. My husband, however, has done them all with one exception. He has never, to my knowledge, booked a room at Hôtel Particulier Montmartre, which only opened in 2007.

Romantic couple walkng through Paris France

Romance in Paris Photo: Flickr/Snaaaax

Postscript: While my husband was laboring over the above itinerary, I furtively posted a request on Facebook, where I have many Paris-loving friends, asking for their input. Joël Le Gall, an utterly charming Frenchman who leads tours of Paris, suggested Hotel des Grandes Ecoles, a “fabulous romantic hotel in Quartier Latin,” and seconded the choice of Musée de la vie romantique, pointing out that you can have a drink under an arbor on the terrace.

Jeff Tolbert, an American whose wife is French, recommended Hotel le Crillon and a visit to the hammam at the Mosque de Paris or l’Escale Orientale.

Finally, both gentlemen, like my husband, recommended a tour of Paris by Citroën 2CV. The car features in Jeff’s memory of a day-trip to Giverny with Florence, and in the story of a Le Gall daughter’s engagement, which Joël described to me in a Facebook comment thus: “When my son-in-law decided to say to my daughter that he wanted to marry her, he rented a 2CV and drived into Paris in a very old frenchy fashion. How should she be in a situation to say no?”

Read reviews of WOW trips to Paris. To get your own maximized trip with VIP treatment, use the black button below.



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

Kids in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo: Timothy Baker

Photo Etiquette: How to Take Pictures of People When You Travel

Getting good pictures of people without invading their privacy can be a challenge for travelers. The etiquette is devilishly complex: For starters, it depends not only on who the subject is (a street musician, a child skipping rope, a panhandler, a policeman) but also on where he is. In France, for example, you’re breaking the law if you don’t ask permission first.

“A lot of it is situational,” says contributing photographer Tim Baker. “Some people actually like having their photo taken. Some people hate having their photo taken. And a whole bunch of us could go either way, depending on our mood.” As a photojournalist who has traveled to more than 100 countries, Tim often downsizes his equipment when photographing people in public places. “Smaller cameras are better than monster ones,” he says. “Far less intimidating.” The photograph above, made in Hanoi, is a case in point: “Even though I had all my pro photo gear, I used a point-and-shoot-style camera. The other key was taking some time. After the subjects’ initial interest in me, I just stood around for a couple minutes looking away.  Their interest in me waned, allowing me to get a nice candid moment. Of course,” he adds, “when taking a little more time, you risk the scene changing.”

Here is a short list of Tim’s strategies for getting the shot while keeping things cordial in most travel situations:

* Explain what you’re doing. “If the subject and I speak the same language, I’ll tell them why I want to take their photo (‘What a beautiful scene. The background fits you perfectly’) and quickly explain my vision.”

* Don’t be pushy. “If you ask permission and it’s denied, don’t try and sneak a photo.”

* Respect your subject’s time. “Be ready to shoot if you get a go-ahead. Don’t pick that moment to change lenses and settings. Make it quick.”

* In a local market, establish a rapport with one of the sellers. “Once accepted by one, the others will often think you are okay to photograph them, too.”

* Make taking a photo of the seller part of the negotiation—as in “Okay, I’ll buy your tchotchke if you pose for a photo.” Pictures of craftspeople with your purchase add to the item anyway.

* Focus on people who are engaged in an activity. The best time to take candids of people is when they are busy—involved in something else like shopping, watching a sporting contest, and so on.

* Be willing to back down. “Sometimes you just have to walk away from what you think is a prize-winning shot because the subject won’t cooperate—unless you think it’s worth risking the subject’s wrath.”

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

How One Travel Company Creates Meaningful Travel

Years ago, at the end of a trek through the Himalayas, an American traveler asked her Nepali guide, If you could do anything for your village, what would you do? It’s a question that regularly comes up on cultural tours, especially in a place like Nepal, where families often struggle to put food on the table but readily open their doors and hearts to passing strangers. Naturally, we wish to return their generosity and reflect their good will, but how?

The American trekker, in this case, was Antonia Neubauer, our Trusted Travel Expert for Nepal and Bhutan. Her guide responded that he would build a library for his village. Antonia, a former language teacher and education researcher, knew about libraries and about the impact they can have on entire communities—men and women, adults and children. And as the founder of a travel company specializing in Asia, she had the drive and the resources to create one in a Nepali village.

That parting conversation was the beginning of READ Global, an international organization that today serves 2.5 million people in three countries—Nepal, Bhutan, and India—and has garnered a string of prestigious awards. The latest: The 2015 Legacy in Travel Philanthropy award, sponsored by American Express, which recognizes sustained impact for more than 15 years. The award, announced in December, went jointly to Lindblad Expeditions and Myths and Mountains, the travel company Antonia founded in 1987. From the beginning, part of the mission of Myths and Mountains has been to give back to the communities that bring its customers so much joy (you can watch Toni talk about it in this video).

In October 2016, Antonia will be taking a group to Nepal to visit several of the READ libraries, which function not just as book lenders but as community centers, bringing information—how to grow better crops, how to raise healthier children—to rural villages. (The initials stand for Rural Education and Development.) On that trip, travelers will:

  • Have dinner in Kathmandu with the READ board, which includes key members of Nepali society, to get a unique perspective on life in the country;
  • Have breakfast with the Jomson Mother’s Group, a women’s organization that has established a library, a children’s center, a microcredit program, and a water-treatment plant;
  • Learn about the efforts of Tukche villagers to rebuild following the 2015 earthquake, and visit the furniture factory that sustains their library;
  • Meet the remarkable Tharu people who reached out to other communities after the quake, saving many lives.

When your travel specialist engages in the type of philanthropy exemplified by READ Global, you cannot help but share in the benefits. Over and over, travelers tell us their most memorable moments have little to do with snowcapped mountains and everything to do with the people they meet. As “Antonia’s friend,” you are welcomed with open arms, and that’s just the beginning. Throughout your trip, you have unparalleled access to people and places, and extraordinary experiences as a result. Finally, the question of how to thank your hosts becomes a no-brainer when there’s an award-winning organization to accept your check—all because of a lot of behind-the-scenes work on the part of your Trusted Travel Expert. It’s a travel experience in which everybody wins.


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