Tag Archives: spain

Two travelers at Darling Harbour Pyrmont Bridge in Sydney, Australia

Make the Most of Your Kid Studying Abroad

With more and more students spending a semester studying abroad, we’re seeing more and more families travel to visit them. I’m just back from visiting my son Charlie in Australia, and many of you are arranging ever cooler trips to meet up with your own favorite undergrad, everywhere from Copenhagen to Botswana. So I thought I’d share some hard-earned wisdom:

  • When you reunite with your child in their foreign homebase, they won’t have jet lag, but you will. For our Australia trip, we knew Charlie would run us ragged playing tour guide. That meant we needed to get over jet lag before joining him in Sydney. So we opted to start our trip by recovering from jet lag first, at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef. As it turned out, half of the people we met on Lizard Island were parents from the U.S. who had just been in Sydney visiting their student!  (And many wished they’d eased in at Lizard Island first.)
Wendy's son and other people studying at State Library in New South Wales.

Charlie studying in the grand State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Photo: Wendy Perrin

    • Consider Thanksgiving or spring break. Of course you’ll want to visit when your college student has free time and doesn’t have exams. But if you’re bringing other children who are on a U.S. school schedule, your best timing during the fall semester is likely to be Thanksgiving, and your best timing during the spring semester is likely to be spring break. Such timing works well in many popular Study Abroad cities, such as Barcelona and Florence: Prices are lower and tourist crowds fewer than in peak season (Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Europe).
    • Make advance reservations. Many college students today have a last-minute lifestyle, which might not work well if you’ve got a group of people. Let your student show you their adopted city through their eyes, but if they’re not accustomed to planning activities and meals for a group, consider using the right local itinerary-planning expert who can cater to the special interests of each family member, optimize your itinerary for the month and days of the week that you’re visiting, and reserve hard-to-get-into restaurants or activities (such as a twilight Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, which Tim and Charlie did, below).
Two travelers climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb.

Charlie and Tim atop Sydney Harbour Bridge.

    • Don’t forget about other nearby countries. The study-abroad kids I know are exploring a different city within their new country almost every weekend. So think about other countries nearby where your student might not travel on their own. I’ve seen parents take a Spain-based student to Morocco, for example, or an Italy-based student to Malta.

There is a vast array of study-abroad programs now, not just for a semester but for January term, “Maymester,” summer, and more. Read on to get ideas for experiences that might resonate with your own family. We’re happy to help you with more ideas if you click the black “Get a Personalized Trip Recommendation” button below.


Spain: “My youngest daughter, who loves art, did a private art workshop with a local artist in Barcelona…”

Barcelona - Park Guell, Spain

Gaudi’s Park Guell in Barcelona. Photo: Shutterstock

“It was the easiest, least stressful, most enjoyable trip our family has ever taken. Much of the credit for this goes to Iván. This trip came about because our oldest is spending a semester abroad at the University of Granada. My mom told us about Wendy’s WOW List, and we soon connected with Iván. My wife and I had a one-hour Zoom call with Iván where he asked about our family, what we like to do, where we wanted to go in Spain, and our ‘must-see/do’ list. Within 48 hours, he sent us a detailed itinerary that blew us away. It checked all the boxes we were looking for and then some.

The main cities we visited were Madrid, Granada and Barcelona. Since college, my wife has been fascinated by Gaudi and has always dreamed of seeing his work, so in Barcelona, Iván planned a ‘Gaudi Day,’ so she could get her fill. The day included visits to Park Güell, La Pedrera, Casa Batlló, and La Sagrada Familia.

Some of our favorite activities during the trip were under-the-radar experiences that Iván set up for us. My youngest daughter, who loves art, did a private art workshop with a local artist in Barcelona where she created a tile mosaic of an octopus in the style of Gaudi.

My favorite was the photography workshop we did in Granada. It was run by a couple with a studio and darkroom in one of the cave houses in the Sacromonte neighborhood of Granada. The workshop focused on wet plate photography, one of the oldest types of photography. They took a photo of our daughters to show us how the process works and then let the kids take and develop a few photos, which are now proudly displayed in our dining room. They were such a lovely couple, and we could have spent many more hours with them. It was truly a special trip.” —Alex Kovac

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


New Zealand: “We saw a lot of the South Island by helicopter, we hiked, we kayaked, went to a mountaintop whisky bar and hot tub…”

The Hancock family on top of a glacier in New Zealand's South Island.

The Hancock family explored New Zealand’s South Island by helicopter, flying past waterfalls, high alpine lakes, river valleys, and sharp mountain peaks before landing on a glacier.

“Our 21-year-old son was studying in Australia. He was going to wrap up his trip in New Zealand. The idea came to us to make it a family holiday and meet him over there. The stars aligned and all schedules allowed it to happen. First off, Jean-Michel responded to our email inquiry immediately, and we were chatting with him 10 minutes later. We tossed ideas around and he assured us we could cover a lot of ground in the 8 days we had.

We saw a lot of the South Island by helicopter, we hiked, we kayaked, went to a mountaintop whisky bar and hot tub, went off-roading, drank lots of wonderful NZ wine and cheese. Our accommodations were fantastic. We have traveled the world, and Jean-Michel and his team are probably the best trip planners we have used to date.” —Susan and Blake Hancock

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


Italy: “Our private boat ride on the Arno was a huge hit; my niece who is studying there had not ever seen a private boat trip on the river…”

Beautiful cityscape skyline of Firenze (Florence), Italy, with the bridges over the river Arno

View over the Arno river in Florence. Photo: Shutterstock

“I had Maria plan a special family trip for three family members to spend 11 days in Italy in Oct. I had some specific requests to see some things I had not seen before, as I have lived and worked in Italy 30 years ago. Maria from the outset understood my needs and she crafted an amazing trip from the start (a private transfer from Malpensa to lunch at Villa D Este & on to Bellagio on Lake Como) to finish…High-speed train back to Milan to catch our flight home. Everything was seamless and very special.

All of the hotels were perfect for us, and Maria pulled off the virtually impossible: finding a lovely quiet room overlooking a piazza without crazy noise and in the shadow of important Renaissance architecture. She also mentioned the rooftop pool and bar at the Minerva in Florence, where we had drinks each night in the soft evening light, with gorgeous views of the Duomo.  Her private excursions to the Factory floor of Lamborghini, to lunches at small wineries run by families who have been there for centuries… it was all beyond terrific. Our private boat ride on the Arno at night was a huge hit; my niece who is studying there had not ever seen a private boat trip on the river in the evening. This is the edge Maria offers, access and know-how that only a seasoned specialist can uncover for their clients.

I can’t thank Wendy enough for linking me up with Maria, we enjoyed every day of our trip and we will certainly reach out to her again to plan some more special moments in other spots in one of my most favorite countries on earth, that I have visited more than 20 times!  Mille Grazie Maria and team!!!  —Mary Munn

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


Australia: “A private sunset cruise of the Harbour (one of our favorite moments!)”

Karri Schildmeyer and her family during their private sunset cruise of Sydney Harbour, Australia.

The Schildmeyer family on their private sunset cruise of Sydney Harbour.

“We cannot imagine our trip to Australia going any better than it did, simply because we learned about Wendy Perrin’s company from a dear friend, and their connection to Stuart and Jacki. We spent two weeks visiting our daughter, who was studying abroad in Sydney. Our trip began in Sydney, where we spent the first five days learning about the city, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, hugely enjoying a private tour of the Sydney Opera House and our e-bike tour of Manly Beach. Then we ventured outside Brisbane to Lockyer Valley and the quiet, peaceful Spicers Hidden Vale. How fun to chat with the kangaroos outside our cabins! This retreat was perfectly quaint, with incredible views, meals and service.

After three days in the Valley, we flew to Cairns to spend three days at the Niramaya Villas & Spa. This leg of our trip was the most tropical, as we experienced an amazing day on the water snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef and an afternoon at Four Mile Beach. Port Douglas was an incredible seaside town with fantastic restaurants and a must-see sunset at the Marina.

We flew back to Sydney for a private sunset cruise of the Harbour (one of our favorite moments!) and headed stateside after our two-week adventures in beautiful, friendly Australia. This vacation exceeded every expectation and will undoubtedly be remembered in our family as a trip-of-a-lifetime.” —Karri Schildmeyer

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


Copenhagen: “We had a truly special evening at the home of a local couple. They prepared a Danish Easter dinner for us…”

Cari Bender and her family with the dinner's local hosts in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Cari Bender and her family with their local hosts in Copenhagen.

“We just returned from a wonderful trip to Copenhagen to visit our daughter who is studying abroad there. Mads helped us plan a lovely vacation where we got to explore all over the area. We learned about Danish food on a food tour and loved seeing the city from a private boat excursion along the canal.

Our favorite day was the Danish design day! We love Danish design, and Mads arranged for us to have a private tour of a furniture manufacturer and meet some current local artists in their own studio. It was a special and memorable day. My son and I probably took 1,000 photographs, and we all loved learning about the history of prominent furniture design. We had a terrific hotel right in Nyhavn, the famous canal with the colored buildings that was centrally located and super charming.

The other incredibly memorable adventure was Dine with Danes, where we had a truly special evening at the home of a local couple. They prepared a Danish Easter dinner for us—they must have cooked for two days! We simply adored them and we had a wonderful evening together. It was very special.” —Cari Bender

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


African safari: “We had so many up-close encounters with all sorts of wildlife…and have a shared album of over 1,000 pictures…”

lion sitting in savannah grass in botswana africa

A lion in Botswana. Photo: Shutterstock

“Thanks to Julian for arranging an absolutely fabulous trip to the Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls and Cape Town during March 2024. We had travelers on different itineraries from the USA and needed to connect with my daughter in Gaborone, which complicated our agenda, and they all met up as planned. I appreciated the extra help with arranging an additional tour in Maun while we waited for our last friend. After the tour, we were the first guests at the Great Plains lounge, which just opened that day, while we waited until our departing flight to the Delta. We were met and escorted exactly as expected and did not encounter any snags along the way—relatively amazing, given we were on a total of 14 flights in the two weeks.

We thoroughly enjoyed each of the three camps in the Okavango Delta. The accommodations, service, food and animal experiences were so beyond our expectations at all three that we couldn’t pick out our favorite and wished we had another night at least to spend at all of them. We had so many up-close encounters with all sorts of wildlife—lions, elephants wild dogs and more—and have a shared album of over 1000 pictures :) In Zimbabwe, the Old Drift Lodge was also very nice, and Victoria Falls is spectacular. We had animals close to our tents in each of the camps, which was amazing—elephants, baboons, hippos and others. Each of the camps had great views of wildlife from the tents and common areas.

Our guide in Cape Town, Malcolm, was a wealth of information and really helped to show us the city and surrounding areas with a minimum of delay and made sure we had a good amount of time at each stop. We made full use of the Table Bay Hotel’s amenities, surrounding area and attached mall.” —Lori Kirk

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



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Barcelona Spain beach-June 2021

Barcelona Without the Crowds and Cruise Ships

Barcelona Spain beach-June 2021
Barcelona's beach was lively, even at 9:30 at night.
Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia - market outside
But there were so few crowds at Gaudi's famous Sagrada Familia church that a market popped up outside. In pre-pandemic times, this street would have been elbow-to-elbow with tourists.
Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia 1-June 2021 interior
I was mesmerized by the light coming through the stained glass windows. I never would have been able to take this picture in 2019. There would have been throngs of people all through this corridor.
Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia interior
This was as crowded as it got in the main part of the nave.
Barcelona Spain Las Ramblas-June 2021
Las Ramblas were wide open.
Barcelona Spain Gotchic quarter street-June 2021
So were the tiny streets in the Gothic Quarter, which made it so much more enjoyable to wander and visit the shops.
Barcelona Spain La Boqueria Market June 2021
La Boqueria market was calm and I had plenty of space (partly because I visited late in the day).
people eating outside of vBasilica of Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona Spain
But it's not like the city was empty or deserted — it was lively in all the ways you'd want it to be. People were eating at a cute café outside the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar.
Barcelona Spain port restaurants-June 2021
They were having late dinner at the restaurants along the port.
Barcelona Spain Vila Viniteca food
I ate well too. At Vila Viniteca, my guide and I sat for nearly two hours with one of the shop's managers, just getting to know each other and tasting delicious Spanish cheeses and wines and fresh salad. That's tomato bread on the left, a simple yet delicious Catalan tapas of grilled bread, fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and salt served everywhere in Barcelona.
Barcelona Spain Vila Viniteca market with tomatoes-June 2021
But, as my guide pointed out, you have to use the right tomatoes for it.
3 women posing at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
Every shopkeeper I spoke to was thrilled that travelers were starting to come back. At La Manual Alpargatera, the oldest espadrille maker in Barcelona, the staff even applauded me and I got a special tour of the shop and even learned a bit about shoemaking!
Barcelona Spain La Plata tapas restaurant with bartender
The tapas and pintxos crawl experience is a little different because of the pandemic. At La Plata, beers are served in plastic cups and you have to order from your table.
Barcelona Spain Sagardi tapas restaurant with covered food-June 2021
And at Sagardi, the tapas are kept behind glass — you can no longer just grab them off the counter yourself. But the food is still delicious, and I saw many groups of friends out at night to grab a drink and a skewered snack.
Barcelona Spain Serras Hotel room
I found it so interesting (and helpful) that you can eat dinner earlier these days, if you prefer. Restaurants started opening earlier during the pandemic to account for curfews (now lifted), and so far they are continuing that trend. I wasn't able to stay up as late as a true Barcelonian, but maybe that was because I had this cool hotel room to come back to at The Serras.
Barcelona Spain Serras Hotel room-June 2021
The Serras Hotel is where Picasso had his first studio in Barcelona. The building overlooks the ocean, has a cool mod design, and my room had two balconies and a bathtub with a view!


When I posted photos of my experience at Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, taken just a few days after the country had reopened, the comments I got back were full of awe. Not awe of the eye-popping details of Antoni Gaudí’s elaborate and famously unfinished church, but of the lack of people crowding into it.

The Sagrada Familia is the biggest tourism draw in Barcelona (and arguably, in Spain), but if you were to visit now, you may not even realize it. Because as Spain welcomes back visitors, there is a special opportunity: You can have it to yourself. Travelers arriving directly from the U.S. don’t even need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test. All we have to do is fill out one simple health declaration form.

Barcelona, in particular, feels different as it emerges from the pandemic—in the best way possible. The Gothic Quarter isn’t clogged with tourists, you can actually stroll along Las Ramblas rather than be pushed along by the swarm, La Boqueria Market is calmer, shopkeepers have time to chat, restaurants are open for dinner earlier than usual so you don’t have to wait until 10pm to eat (though you can—there’s no curfew in Spain!), and museums have plenty of tickets.

The major reason for this change? No cruise ships. In years past, Barcelona had been Europe’s busiest cruise destination (more than 800 ships docked there in 2019), and the city’s mayor, neighborhood groups, and local organizations were all working to limit the swarm. Now, as a result of the pandemic, cruises are still extremely limited throughout the country. And when I visited in mid-June, I didn’t spot a single ship in the harbor (which I could take in from my balcony at the lovely Serras Hotel).

The beach, however, was buzzing. Masks are no longer required outdoors in Spain, and Barcelonians were reveling in the open air and warm weather. In fact, all of Barcelona had the vibe of a summer beach town that hadn’t been slowed down at all by the pandemic. At 9:30 pm on a Sunday, people were still out on the sand, playing beach volleyball, picnicking, and hanging out by the water. The restaurants and bars that line the beach and port were all open, and a few blocks away, in the little neighborhood of Barceloneta, spots were even livelier, dotted with groups of friends laughing, reconnecting, and watching football. The whole scene felt alive and fresh in a way that only a beach city can be—and after a year and a half in insular, cramped New York, I breathed deeper and more freely than I thought possible.

As I talked to locals (not only my guides, but shopkeepers, waiters, hotel staff, bartenders, cheesemongers, candymakers, cobblers), I realized they were no longer holding their breath either. Barcelonians are happy to have us back. If you’d asked them the same question in 2018 or 2019, you might have heard grumbles about the overwhelming waves of tourists spilling through the city. But now, the warmth is palpable.

In fact, the staff at one store (the oldest espadrille shop in Barcelona) were so happy to have international travelers back that they applauded me when they learned I was visiting from the U.S. I then spent an hour hanging out with them, learning about the store’s history, and swapping stories about our pandemic experiences. It was one of many moments during my two weeks in Europe that made me realize that (a) masks cannot hinder true connection and (b) the pandemic gave us travelers the unexpected gift of common ground with everyone we meet no matter where we go. And that’s not a downer—it’s common ground people were eager to discuss. Especially, if you’re chatting over a spread of Spanish wines and cheeses, which I did for a couple hours at Vila Viniteca, a wine distributor, shop and market founded in 1932 where I sat in a private wine cellar with my guide Veronica and a couple staff members as we sampled their wares.

If you find yourself grazing through Barcelona’s many snack spots like I did, be sure to save room for pintxos and tapas, because the restaurants are definitely open and ready for hungry guests. During the pandemic, they started opening earlier to accommodate an earlier curfew. But now that the curfew is lifted, many are still choosing to open at 7 or 8pm in order to serve more people (and, hopefully, make more money). When I visited, QR menus were the norm, and instead of grabbing snacks off an open bar, you had to sit and order at your table (you can read more about my tapas experience in Madrid), but the food was still delicious and the gregarious, fun atmosphere was still there, the crowds were merely smaller and had moved outside into the cool air.

Getting there

In addition to easy access to culture, food, and camaraderie, the logistics of getting to and from Barcelona are easy too. I flew into Barcelona from Paris, and filled out the required health declaration form online, received a QR code by email a few seconds later, and then showed it at a health-security checkpoint after deplaning. Totally hassle-free.

I also took a three-hour train ride from Barcelona to Madrid, and it could not have been easier or more relaxing. I booked my ticket online and I chose the quiet car for two reasons: First, so that I wouldn’t have to listen to loud talkers on their cell phones the whole way, but also as an added safety measure, since talking spreads particles and the train windows didn’t open. That said, I wasn’t too worried: I am vaccinated, and all passengers and staff were required to wear masks, plus I had a two-seater to myself, as did everyone else in my car. The train ride ended up being a surprisingly restful and enjoyable little break. It was very comfortable (air-conditioned, smooth, and nearly silent), and the scenery of villages and vineyards passing by was beautiful.

But even as I was pulling out of Barcelona, I was already missing it. The city is coming alive now, and it’s having a kind of aaaah moment to stretch, sparkle, and rejuvenate. Travelers who can get there soon, before all of the mass tourists and cruise ship passengers flood back in, will be revitalized by that energy (not to mention the joy of being in the Sagrada Familia without fighting for space and sightlines). We’ve all just spent more than a year living through the bad side of Covid; for pete’s sake, take advantage and reward yourself with the one upside.

Transparency disclosure: So that I could investigate Spain on your behalf, The Serras Hotel provided two nights’ complimentary accommodations, and Virginia Irurita arranged for two private guiding experiences.


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

What I Learned About People from Traveling During Covid

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Madrid Spain Parque Madrid Rio with Pablo

The Wonderful Thing the Pandemic Revealed About Madrid

In Madrid, locals were going about their daily lives as normal—going to work, eating at restaurants, and relaxing in parks.
Madrid Spain Parque Madrid Rio with Pablo
Madrid has beautiful parks. Parque Madrid Rio runs along both sides of the Manzanares River and is criss-crossed by many pedestrian bridges, including Dominique Perrault Architecture's spiraling metal Arganzuel Footbridge.
Madrid Spain Parque de El Retiro formal gardens
Retiro Park is the city's backyard; Wander through formal gardens, run along its paths, chill out in the many shaded quads, or take a boat out on the lake.
Madrid Spain Parque de El Retiro glass house
The Glass Palace in Retiro Park was built in 1887.
Madrid Spain tapas at Casa Lucas
The tapas scene is alive and well. It looks a little different these days (you have to order from your table), but the goal is the same: good food and drink with good friends.
Madrid Spain Valor chocolate and porras
Hardest part of my job: testing out churros and chocolate. This is the offering at Valor, which serves my guide Pablo's favorite chocolate. Note that these fried dough sticks are actually porras, which are thicker than churros and smooth all around.
Madrid Spain San Gines chocolate and churros
These are the churros and chocolate at San Ginés.
front door to San Gines chocolate shop in Madrid
The shop has been serving this treat since 1894, and it usually has long lines of people waiting to give it a try.
Madrid Spain Puerta del Sol outdoor scene
Puerta del Sol is a city-center plaza near lots of shopping and food, but it was relaxed rather than mobbed.
Madrid Spain City Hall
The architecture in Madrid is beautiful. This is the city hall (Palacio de Cibeles), which also holds public events and exhibitions.
Madrid Spain National Library
The National Library of Spain is another stunner.
Don't forget to look up every once in a while as you walk through neighborhoods. The small residential buildings are charming too.
Madrid Spain Prado Museum
The Prado Museum had no line. I walked right up to the counter and bought my ticket to enter at the spur of the moment. I wasn't allowed to take photos inside, so you can't see it, but the interior was crowd-free too. Other than in the first gallery when everyone enters, I was alone in many of the rooms.
Madrid Spain local market where I got GF bread
I trekked to a local indoor market after one of my tapas waiters told me about a gluten-free bakery I had to try. I got there first thing in the morning just as it opened.
Madrid Spain Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is usually a touristy square, ringed with not-so-great restaurants and filled with visitors and the hawkers trying to sell them stuff. Even this square was refreshingly empty.
Back at my hotel, the Palacio de los Duques Gran Meliá, I had windows that opened to a quiet street below.
Madrid Spain hotel breakfast garden Palacio de los Duques Gran Meliá
I could eat breakfast in a leafy garden each morning.
Madrid Spain rooftop view from hotel Palacio de los Duques Gran Meliá
And get fresh air and great views from the rooftop lounge. From left to right, that's the Teatro Real (Royal Theater), Almudena Cathedral, and the Royal Palace.



Do not skip Madrid. The Spanish capital is buzzing, and the buzz is building, not just because of the easing of Covid restrictions—e.g., restaurants and bars are open until 1:00 am, and masks are no longer required outdoors as of June 26—but because this underrated, often overlooked city is on the verge of becoming the new It place. In the post-lockdown quiet of no tourists, you can get to know its people and experience its charms like never before.

I visited about a week after Spain opened to U.S. travelers in June, and this is what I learned:

It’s about the people

Madrid doesn’t have an iconic draw, like Barcelona and its Sagrada Familia. Nor does it have an aura around its name, like Paris. “People don’t have a mental image of what to expect, because we don’t have a monument like the Eiffel Tower,” says my local guide, Pablo, as we explore the city. In fact, he tells me, many visitors have admitted to him that they weren’t sure whether they should come to Madrid at all. “They think it’s just the business capital,” he says. “It is less obvious, it is less right in your face, it’s less monumental than other cities. But travelers who spend two or three days here start to see the way people live, and they understand that this is what makes Madrid special.” Even in my short visit, I can see what Pablo means. Madrid is real. Real people live here, doing real things, being their real selves, going about their real lives whether you’re there or not. It doesn’t feel like the tourist magnet that so many other famous European cities can feel like.

This is a remarkable kind of place to drop into as a traveler. In Madrid, it means there’s no barrier to seeing—and joining in—how residents get around and do their thing. They’re on the same streets as you are. And, especially now, there is no feeling of a tourist bubble in Madrid. One reason is that there are very few tourists. Another reason is that Madrid is Madrid. It is a cool city that doesn’t have an attitude about being cool.

“Madrid is very welcoming to people from everywhere, because it’s a city of people from everywhere, like New York,” Pablo explains. “No one is really from here, so it’s welcoming.” I ask him how a visitor might experience that feeling of welcome, especially if they’re only here for a few days. “You could talk to anyone, and no one would ever make you feel like you couldn’t go anywhere because you weren’t rich enough or local enough. Madrileños have a very welcoming and accepting nature.”

It’s about the food

A surge of four- and five-star hotel openings in the past few years has not only elevated the level of accommodations and service in Madrid—such as the brand-new Four Seasons Madrid and the Gran Meliá Palacio de Los Duques (a 19th-century palace where I stayed)—but it has helped draw attention to the city’s growing world-class culinary scene.

In addition to David Muñoz’s three-Michelin-star DiverXO, Madrid has four more restaurants with two stars, and another 14 that have earned one star. Of course you don’t have to seek out Michelin distinctions to eat well in Madrid—even the most casual tavernas can turn out a stellar tortilla de patatas (try several so that you can join the local debate of onions vs. no onions).

The tapas process has changed due to Covid, though. You’ll no longer have to elbow your way through a mob to reach the bar, nor will you be able to grab skewered snacks yourself (in most places they’re behind a barrier or not even lined up on the bar at all). Instead, for now, you have to sit down at a table (indoor dining is permitted in Spain), scan a QR code for the menu or look for a chalkboard posted on the wall, and order from a waiter. Although some tourists who’ve read guidebooks may be disappointed by the lack of a tapas-bar mosh pit, in my opinion that attitude misses the point of this tradition. Tapas isn’t a contact sport—it’s a lifestyle. It’s about hanging out with friends over good food and drink in your favorite local places.

And such hanging out is happening. Even on a Tuesday night, I ate my way through several tapas bars where groups of friends, and couples young and old, were enjoying small plates and small glasses of beer (order una caña so you don’t get too tipsy). What’s more, there’s a potential bonus to this new way of doing tapas, if you’re open to it. In my case, it was chatting with my waiter, who taught me a few key phrases so that I could order vegetarian tapas more easily, and who also told me about a gluten-free bakery run by his friend that I visited at a neighborhood market the next day (and where I got to chat with the baker too).

The other aspect of tapas crawls that Covid has changed is the hour they start. During the worst of the pandemic, when restrictions mandated that restaurants close early, they started to open earlier too. So, instead of dining at 9:00 or 10:00 pm, people started eating at 8:00 or 8:30. For now, that seems to be sticking. “Three years ago it would have been crazy to hear someone say they wanted to eat that early, but now it’s sensible,” Pablo says with a laugh. “You can eat early, then go for a drink later.”

Just as we want to go to the places that don’t have their usual long lines right now, so do the locals. So, a longtime Madrid resident who normally would not bother to battle the tourist mob at Chocolatería San Ginés (which has been written up in countless guidebooks for its chocolate and churros) is more inclined to revisit such popular spots now. “There were places I thought I’d never again go back to because of the crowds,” Pablo tells me. “But this is the type of thing that we Madrileños are starting to do more—we are taking advantage of this parentheses in history.” And, with that, he insists that I too take advantage of the lack of tourists at San Ginés—but that I must also sample the chocolate at Valor (his favorite) and report back with my opinion. My favorite kind of assignment.

It’s about the arts

As much as I love all the food and desserts, Madrid’s world-class art scene is worth the visit alone: The Prado is renowned for its collection of Velazquez, El Greco, Goya, and Bosch; the Museo Reina Sofía boasts Picasso’s Guernica along with other masterworks of contemporary art; and the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza makes the third “point” of Madrid’s so-called Golden Triangle of art, with its impressive private collection of Western paintings. But there’s so much more: the Biblioteca Nacional de España (which has exhibits of works on paper, like one of illuminated manuscripts that I took in), the Museo de América, and the National Archaeological Museum; plus a slew of smaller galleries and hip cultural centers like the Matadero Madrid, a contemporary-arts hub in a converted slaughterhouse that presents exhibitions, events, and festivals across a wide range of disciplines. And right now is a great time to have these venues to yourself. For instance, there was no line at all to get into the Prado. I was able to walk right up and buy a ticket at the spur of the moment, and although there was an initial congregation of visitors in the first few galleries, I found myself blissfully alone in many of the rooms after that.

Madrid also has a big theater scene that offers Spanish-language versions of popular Broadway musicals and plays, plus a thriving “off Broadway” too. “Theaters were one of the first things to open,” Pablo points out to me, as evidence of how important they are to the lifestyle here. “On a weekend [pre-pandemic], there could be 100 to 140 performances around the city.” Theaters are currently open and operating at limited capacity, and more performances are in the works.

It’s about urban design

Madrid’s art isn’t just inside the buildings. It is the buildings. Take the time to stroll around: Grand palaces and frilly cake-like mansions are everywhere. I recommend a walk along Paseo del Prado toward the elaborate city hall and then down Calle de Alcalá toward Puerta del Sol, where, if you’re so inclined you might stop for a leches merengada ice cream at Palazzo or a cream pastry at La Mallorquina. Even the residential buildings are lined with petite iron-railed balconies that remind me of Paris.

Madrid’s green spaces are just as dramatic. Parque de El Retiro is a sprawling, sculpted green space on the east side, where a crystal palace glitters over a small lake at the top of the hill, and you can take rowboats out on a larger lake nearby. Even on a weekday, the park was alive: I saw a group exercise class, couples of all ages walking hand in hand, plenty of dog owners running their pets, and a surprising number of roller bladers. There are formal gardens and fountains and snack areas, but my favorite features of the park are the many shaded quads, perfect for picnics or just relaxing and reading up on what to do with the rest of your day.

On the west side of the city, there’s Casa de Campo, 16th-century royal hunting grounds that were converted into the city’s largest public park and forest preserve in the 1930s. If the trails, sports fields, and pool don’t provide enough outdoor activity for you, there’s also an amusement park on the grounds.

In between Retiro and Casa de Campo is the Parque Madrid Rio, a more recent addition that transformed the banks of the Manzanares River into a green space for biking, walking, and admiring the many pedestrian bridges that span the small waterway. Don’t miss the super-modern, spiraling-metal Arganzuel Footbridge or the 18th-century Baroque stone Puente de Toledo.

It’s the perfect time

This unusually quiet, post-lockdown moment has created an unexpected side effect: Being in Madrid now, when the city is remarkably free of tourists and when locals are seamlessly getting back to their normal lives, reveals what makes this place awesome. Tourists are going to realize it soon and descend in droves, so get here before it becomes a hot spot.

And give yourself enough days to dive in: Talk to people; stroll the streets; take in as many museums, galleries, theater, and dance performances as you can; and, of course, eat as much as you can too. The right travel fixer can spotlight the coolest experiences, open doors to more Madrileños than you could meet on your own, and connect you with a great local guide. Virginia Irurita, one of Wendy’s recommended travel specialists for Spain, matched me with Pablo, and it was like hanging out with an old friend who totally got me. I might just frame the piece of paper on which he wrote down all his favorite dinner and dessert spots.

Transparency disclosure: So that I could investigate Spain on your behalf, Gran Meliá Palacio de Los Duques provided two nights’ complimentary accommodations, and Virginia Irurita arranged for a half day of private guiding with Pablo.


Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

tourist selfie in St. Peters Square Vatican City Rome

Traveling through Europe as the Coronavirus Spread: A Family’s Experience

PLEASE NOTE: Our ongoing efforts to check in with travelers who are currently overseas, in accordance with our promise to monitor their trips, does not mean we advocate travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.  On March 11, the U.S. State Department advised U.S. citizens to reconsider travel abroad, and non-U.S. citizens were banned from flying from Europe to the U.S. for at least 30 days.  Public health officials advise older adults and people with underlying health conditions to abstain from travel entirely. They also recommend “social distancing” for everyone, which means keeping about six feet of space between yourself and others, which is hard to do on planes or trains and in airports. For any travelers returning from a country with a widespread outbreak, the CDC is advising self-quarantines

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

We’re thankful to Janette Gill and her family for sharing their story, and for continuing to share as world events and travel rules have changed over the past few weeks. We have added updates from Mrs. Gill throughout her trip.

The Gills’ travel timeline (Rome–Norway–Barcelona–Porto–Lisbon):

Mrs. Gill’s travels began on February 26, when she flew to Italy to spend time with her college-age daughter, who was studying in Rome this semester. After a mother-daughter jaunt to Norway, their plan was to return to Rome and meet up with the rest of the family—Mrs. Gill’s husband and younger daughter—for an Italian spring break planned by Andrea Grisdale, one of Wendy’s WOW List trip-planning specialists based in Italy.

Then Italy’s coronavirus count exploded. The day before Mrs. Gill arrived in Rome, 11 towns in Lombardy went on lockdown, and Milan closed its schools, the Duomo Cathedral, and the La Scala opera house after the reported cases surged from five to more than 150. Mrs. Gill and her daughter were much farther south, touring Rome and monitoring the situation. By the time they flew to Norway on February 28, the number of Italian cases had hit 800 and the CDC and State Department gave Italy a Level 3 travel alert (reconsider travel). The very next day, northern Italy was bumped up to Level 4 (do not travel). The Gill family had to rethink their trip.

Instead of scrapping their vacation, they changed their destination.  While in Norway, Mrs. Gill and her older daughter researched their options and decided on Spain and Portugal, where the viral infections were much lower (at that time, fewer than 400 in Spain and only nine in Portugal) and the travel alerts were not prohibitive (level 1 in Portugal; Spain is still at level 2 for political unrest in October 2019).  Of course, the pandemic continued to spread, and on March 11, President Trump announced a travel ban, prohibiting non-citizens from 26 European countries from entering the U.S.; Portugal and Spain are on that list.

The first time we interviewed Mrs. Gill, she was in Norway on March 3. We talked about her experiences, thoughts, and decisions about traveling during the coronavirus outbreak. We emailed with her again when she and her older daughter landed in Spain on March 6 to meet up with her husband and younger daughter. We spoke again on the phone on March 10 after they had driven from Porto to Lisbon. On March 13, she emailed us again from Lisbon with a final update, as she and her family prepared to board a flight home from Portugal (their regularly scheduled flight).

Update March 13, from Lisbon:

Via email: “Since we were not able to change our flights to travel home a day earlier yesterday, we decided to make the most of being in Portugal by being outdoors (still lots of hand washing and sanitizer). There were still a handful of tourists visiting the quaint seaside town of Sintra and driving along the beautiful coastline near Lisbon. Locals were out shopping, eating in cafes, and playing at the beach since school had been canceled.

Our tour guide this morning told us that the Prime Minister of Portugal “has now invited everyone to a volunteer quarantine,” and I’m hopeful that the locals can get back to their normal lives very soon.

In order to be a good citizen to my neighbors and family, I plan on self-quarantining when we arrive home, to help prevent the possible spread of this virus.

Even though the past 2 1/2 weeks of traveling through several countries in Europe has sometimes been challenging, with schedule changes and the unknown of what the next day would bring, I must say that the locals have done their best to accommodate us by adjusting our itinerary. I know their economy will suffer from the decrease in foreign tourists, but I have no doubt that they will bounce back in time even stronger.

Kudos go out to Andrea Grisdale and her team for postponing our trip to Italy until next year.”

Lisbon's Praca do Comercio

The Gill family with their guide in Lisbon’s Praca do Comercio. Photo courtesy of the Gill family

Update March 10, from Lisbon:

When we spoke on the phone with Mrs. Gill on March 10, she and her family had just driven from Porto to Lisbon. She noted that when she flew from Rome to Barcelona and then from Barcelona to Porto, neither airport was checking temperatures. “It surprised us,” she said. She also said that the airplanes were about three-quarters full and the airports seemed busy.

Despite the coronavirus seeming to take over news here, they were enjoying themselves. On Monday, they had toured the Douro Valley with a guide and ran into some other American travelers. “On our little gondola ride across the water, there were a group of three Syracuse students that were studying in London and were on their spring break. They said they had to be careful where they traveled to because the university told them not to travel to certain countries. A couple from New York was there and they were having a great time.”

Mrs. Gill has had a few experiences that reflect the uptick in coronavirus concerns. When she contacted a guide to schedule a day trip from Lisbon to Sintra, the guide declined, saying she is ten weeks pregnant and her doctor advised her not to lead tours right now. And when the family checked into their Airbnb in Lisbon, their host contacted them to say she would not be meeting them in person because of the virus. “So there were two incidents when the locals were keeping themselves safe,” Mrs. Gill said. Still, she added, “I’ve only seen a handful of masks, and people don’t seem to really be talking about it.”  This morning, she said, they’d walked down to the port and around the harbor, and then visited the popular Livraria Lello, the bookstore that inspired J.K. Rowling’s vision of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. As usual, it was busy to get in. “There was a line, but they had hand sanitizer at the door.”

We asked her if her feeling about traveling, or letting her daughter travel, had changed at all. She answered,  “I don’t think it’s really changed. I think it’s just that we need to stay informed before my daughter travels. She needs to stay informed of what’s going on and which areas she shouldn’t travel to. She will have been two weeks from Rome by the time she gets home. If she came back with us she would have to self quarantine. But she’ll be in Dublin for a week so she won’t have to; it’s from the day you leave the country.”

Update March 6, from Barcelona:

Mrs. Gill landed in Barcelona on March 5, after transiting through Rome, and she emailed us March 6 with an update. Much had changed in the short time she was away from Italy; the number of cases was now more than 4,000.  “I must say that I can now see how this is affecting the Italians,” she wrote. On the flight over, the Alitalia staff member who checked her in expressed concern that the company might go under because of the virus. She said: “Also, I sat next to a young Italian woman who lives in Barcelona who had been visiting her family outside of Rome. She mentioned that taxis that day in Rome were begging for passengers, restaurants they ate in were deserted, and roads were empty (which never happens). It’s all very sad for their people and economy.” Mrs. Gill added that she was surprised that no one at the Barcelona airport took her temperature when she arrived. And she included a photo, taken by her husband, of his empty flight from Newark to Rome, where he and their younger daughter flew before their connection to Barcelona.

empty flight from Newark airport to Rome on March 6

Mr. Gill’s empty flight from Newark airport to Rome on March 6. Photo courtesy of the Gill Family.

The Gills took this video of the line at Parc Guell in Barcelona on March 7:

Original interview on March 3, from Norway, after Rome:

tourists walking in Rome in front of St Peters Basilica

The streets in Rome were still full of tourists on the last weekend of February, and not many were wearing masks.

Q: Your main concern was not getting sick but getting stuck?

A:  Yes, my husband didn’t want to get stuck. He said, I don’t want to be quarantined if we come back from Italy and they’ve raised all of Italy to Level 4.

And, just as my oldest daughter and I were headed to Norway, she got an email from her university that they were canceling the semester in Rome and they would do all their classes online. So now our family is planning to meet in Barcelona [on March 6] for a few nights and then go on to Portugal [March 8–13].

Q: You spent time in Rome February 26–28. What was that like?

A: I spent two nights in Rome with my daughter, and we felt perfectly safe. I washed my hands a lot and did what you normally do when you travel so you don’t get sick. I’d brought extra sanitizer and wipes and things like that to wipe down the airplane seat and tray. But other than that, we felt safe in Italy.

Q: How did the virus situation affect what you did in Italy?

A: It was fine. There were very few people with masks on. We went to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. We made sure to wash our hands a lot. But other than that it was business as usual. My daughter thought the lines to get into the Vatican were less crowded than usual, but there were still lines. They weren’t wrapped around the building anymore, but there were lines. We met up with some of her roommates for dinner, and the restaurant scene was packed. To me, I wouldn’t have noticed anything going on, and the Italians that we spoke with didn’t seem too concerned.

Then we went to the airport. There wasn’t a fear. It was just that if someone coughed, you stepped away. There was hand sanitizer at the baggage claim and desk, but I don’t know if that’s always there. When I’d arrived at the Rome airport from the U.S., they were screening for temperatures. When we took a train from the Rome apartment to the airport to fly to Norway, there were signs up at the train station and on the train. There were also signs in the Norway airport.

tourist with pizza maker in Rome Italy

Mrs. Gill said her trip to Rome and Norway felt “the same as other trips, but with more hand sanitizer.” Photo courtesy of the Gill Family.

Q: You’ll need to transit through Rome so your daughter can get her stuff there. Are you concerned?

A: I wasn’t fearful to be in Rome; my only fear was returning to the U.S. and what the U.S. government would impose on us. At my daughter’s [home] university, it’s mandated that students traveling back from the Rome program must self-quarantine for two weeks before they go back to campus. Seeing that come from the university, my husband said, ‘I don’t want to go to Italy because when we come back I don’t want to be self-quarantined for two weeks.’ [Update: When Mrs. Gill and her daughter flew back to Rome after Norway, she remained in the airport in order to avoid being subject to self-quarantine in the United States; her daughter would be traveling through Europe for a few more weeks and therefore would no longer be required to self-quarantine.]

Q: How expensive or difficult was it to cancel your Italy trip?

A: Andrea Grisdale was fabulous: She worked with us and enabled us to postpone our trip and save almost all of our money. We will come back to Italy before the end of the year; we’re just not sure when. Andrea has also been good about sharing information on how many people in Italy who got the virus have already recovered. It gave me a sense of comfort to know that a lot of the people who were affected have already been cleared.

Q: What does it feel like in Norway? How are they addressing the coronavirus for travelers?

A: At the last two hotels we stayed at, there was lots of hand sanitizer everywhere, and we did see a few signs. Every restaurant has hand sanitizer when you walk in. I don’t know if that’s normal, but I did see it.

Norwegian language sign warning people about coronavirus in Kirkenes Airport Norway

Signs were posted in Kirkenes Airport in Norway, as well as on trains in that country and in Italy. Photo courtesy of the Gill Family.

Q: Your Norway arrangements were made by another WOW List trip designer. What have you been doing in Norway?

A: We spent three nights in Tromso and did this fabulous experience: Vulkana. It’s an old whaling boat that they have remodeled into a spa. On top is the hot tub, a sauna on the second level, and a steam room on the third. And they serve this beautiful lunch and my crazy college daughter, she and everyone on the boat did the polar plunge except me. Not me, no thanks. We saw lots of cruise lines and ships coming in. It seems like they were traveling as usual. I brought masks—just in case we got sick, I didn’t want to get anyone else sick.

We also went on a crab safari. They drive you out to a fjord and they take a snowmobile sled out on the ice and they have drilled a big hole into the thick ice and they just pull the crab baskets out. Then you come back to the house and they cook it, and it was the most amazing crab I’ve ever tasted in my life. Tonight we’re going out to look for the Northern Lights. [Editor’s update: They saw them.]

northern lights from a dog sled in Norway, with dogs in foreground and green lights in the sky

After we spoke, the Gills went on a sled trip hoping to catch the Northern Lights. They found them. Photo courtesy of the Gill Family.

Q: Why Spain and Portugal?

A: We’ve never been to Portugal, it’s not on any travel alert lists, and we like to drink wine. And if you can’t go to Italy…. We thought what the heck. Now, would I go to China? No, because I don’t think they’re as advanced in some of their hygiene and in some of the cities.

Q: How does this trip differ from other trips you’ve taken?

A: It’s the same as other trips, but with more hand sanitizer. We’re not in the at-risk groups. If I was 70 years old or had a compromised immune system, I probably wouldn’t travel—just like if there was an outbreak of flu in my community. But because we’re not in that risk group, I just think life is too short. Before we left, several of our friends said, you’re still going?  But the odds of dying on the way to the airport are much higher than me contracting the coronavirus. [Laughs.] That’s how I roll.

pier and overwater bungalows in Bocas del Toro Panama

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

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

The Amazon: Expand Your Understanding, Support Its Recovery

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

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

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

Start an extraordinary trip to the Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

Start an extraordinary trip to Antarctica

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

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

dog and cat on charming street in alacati village turkey

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

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

Start an extraordinary trip to the Aegean Coast

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

South Africa: Safaris are now possible in just one week

Three cheetahs lounging, Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa

Cheetahs in Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa.

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

Start an extraordinary African safari

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Oslo: An architectural boom

exterio rof Munch Museum opening in Oslo 2020

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

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

Start an extraordinary trip to Norway

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

Panama: Under-the-radar tropical islands

pier and overwater bungalows in Bocas del Toro Panama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Madrid: An old city gets a new spark

Four Seasons Madrid Spain, exterior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Matera, Italy: The new Puglia

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

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

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

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Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands: A beloved resort returns

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

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

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

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Gascony: France’s unsung food mecca

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

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

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

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Tangalle Sri Lanka ocean view with palm trees

7 Keys to Traveling Without Fear Despite Terror Attacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Know where the real dangers lie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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.

Barcelona - Park Guell, Spain

A Trip to Spain:
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The first port of call on the first-ever sailing of Silversea Cruises' new ship Silver Muse: Marseille, France

Cruise Report: Wendy’s Photos from Silversea’s Newest Cruise Ship

I’ve sailed on inaugural voyages before—I’ve even served as godmother of a cruise ship, smashing the bottle of Champagne at the christening—but, until last week, I’d never boarded a ship a mere three hours after it had left the shipyard. I was on the first-ever sailing of Silver Muse, the elegant new ship from Silversea Cruises that launched in Genoa and will call at 130 ports in 34 countries this year. We hit three of those countries—Italy, France, and Spain—on last week’s “shakedown cruise.”  Honestly, not much shaking down was required:  Silver Muse gleams from top to bottom.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about the Muse is the food.  There are eight gourmet eateries onboard—which is a lot for a 596-passenger vessel—including Italian, French, Asian, sushi, a steak house, a pizzeria, and a gelateria. There’s even a cheese bar at night in one of the observation lounges.  The food is sophisticated and imaginative, with ingredients sourced from around the globe—giant prawns from Madagascar, cod from Greenland, steak from an Argentinian estancia, lamb from New Zealand, burrata from the boot of Italy….you get the idea.

But what surprised me most on the ship was Gennaro, the charming Italian cobbler who has a little shop on the pool deck and custom-makes shoes while you wait.  I ordered up a pair of Capri sandals just so I could see Italian craftsmanship at work.  In 45 minutes I had perfect-fitting gold leather sandals.  To see the shoes, and photos from the rest of my Mediterranean coastal adventure, check out the pics below and follow my travels on Instagram.

And if you’re wondering whether Silver Muse is the right ship for you or a different one might be better suited to your trip goals, feel free to write to me at Ask Wendy.


This is how I’ll be leaving Genoa tonight — aboard @silverseacruises’ brand new ship, #SilverMuse.

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Okay, so this ship is not for light packers. @silverseacruises #SilverMuse

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Aboard @silverseacruises you get to choose which #toiletries you want. That’s Naru, my butler. #SilverMuse A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

I’d be happy with just this for dinner. But it’s only the first course. #antipasto #SilverMuse

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It’s 64 degrees here in the Ligurian Sea. The pool deck is hopping. #SilverMuse A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

It’s nice to think some people still use #stationery rather than smartphones. #SilverMuse

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Meet Gennaro, the cobbler from Preludio in Capri, who custom-makes shoes on the pool deck. #SilverMuse

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Ta-da! Thank you, Gennaro, for my new custom-made leather sandals. Time it took:45 minutes. Cost: $200. #SilverMuse


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Nice spot to dig into a book. But I’m headed over to that ferris wheel. #Marseille #SilverMuse

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Le Vieux Port of #Marseille, as seen from atop La Grande Roue (the ferris wheel). #SilverMuse

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Looking up the Rue de la Republique from the ferris wheel, Le Vieux Port, #Marseille. #SilverMuse A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

Specialty of #Marseille: orange blossom navette (navette fleur d’oranger) #SilverMuse A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on


Chocolate olives. #Marseille #SilverMuse


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Coconut rice pudding. #yum #SilverMuse A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on


Follow more of Wendy’s travels on Instagram @wendyperrin!


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List 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.

child playing with toy boats in the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris France

Unexpected Spring Break Vacation Ideas

Where to take the family for spring break? It’s a question I get from countless readers every year who are desperate for an alternative to theme parks and mega-resorts. Finding an interesting, convenient and, ideally, affordable vacation is no easy task, especially when so many schools let out simultaneously and so many families crowd the same places. Airfares and hotel prices shoot up and, if you’re not careful, so does your stress level. What kind of vacation is that? To help you and your crew escape the beaten path of family-travel destinations, here are a few alternatives—including the place I’m taking my own kids this year.


It’s one of the world’s kid-friendliest cities, and not just because of the playgrounds, carousels, and crepe stands everywhere. I took the kids for spring break when they were ten and eight, and we discovered a huge number of surprisingly kid-friendly museums. Thanks to fantastic children’s audioguides, my kids were captivated everywhere from the Musée de l’Armée—where the handheld guide took them on an entertaining scavenger hunt—to the Musée de la Musique, a collection of unique, antique, and exotic musical instruments, including some that look like they’re straight out of Dr. Seuss. Rent an apartment to get more space for your money and to give your kids a glimpse of what it’s like to live as a local. My then-10-year-old, Charlie, learned how to go to the corner boulangerie and buy croissants with euros all by himself. Consider staying in the seventh arrondissement, which is center of Paris, home to many families with children and has easy access to museums and monuments. It also has many excellent bakeries—children can pick a new one every day—as well as affordable restaurants and open-air markets.  Don’t leave home without my tips for how to skip the lines at the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

children listen to a historical reenactor play violin at Colonial Williamsburg Virginia

Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg is an immersive history experience that enchanted my kids.

Our spring-break getaway when the kids were seven and nine was an interactive immersion in early American history.  In Colonial WIlliamsburg the flowers were blooming, turning the grounds in front of the Governor’s Palace into a riot of color, and the village was not nearly as hot and crowded in April as it gets during the summertime. You can read more advice from me (how long we spent there, where we stayed, etc.)—and even read my then-9-year-old’s trip review—in this article I wrote for Condé Nast Traveler. Go to History.org and click on “Kids” for a slew of games and activities to get your children excited about their trip and educated about colonial villages even before you arrive.

Anza-Borrego Desert, California

You can always find inexpensive airfares to Los Angeles (LAX), where it’s easy to rent a car, drive south along I-5 to Oceanside, then turn east toward Borrego Springs and the spectacular badlands of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The wildflowers here usually explode into bloom in March, and that bloom continues for weeks afterward in different parts of the Desert (check for wildflower updates here). California’s largest state park is a tranquil wonderland of geological phenomena including canyons, mesas, buttes, badlands, dunes, washes, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas that give new meaning to the phrase “purple mountain majesties.” Family fun includes checking out Split Mountain, ruptured and contorted by earthquakes and flash floods; squeezing into The Slot, a narrow sandstone canyon; finding prehistoric fossils and ancient pictographs in sacred rocks; and looking for shooting stars after sundown.

Washington, D.C.

National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, D.C.

National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, D.C. Photo: National Cherry Blossom Festival

When cherry-blossom season coincides with spring break (the peak bloom is forecast for March 19–22 this year), Washington, D.C., is a super destination for families. The Smithsonian Museums have free admission (as does the National Zoo), and several fun family-friendly events take place in early April, including the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s Blossom Kite Festival (April 1) and Parade (April 8) and Opening Day for the Washington Nationals (April 3). There’s also the Smithsonian Craft Show (April 27–30) and the Wine and Food Fest just down the Potomac River in National Harbor, Maryland (April 29–30).

Andalusia, Spain

children look at crates of oranges during the orange harves in Andalusia Spain

Our trip to Andalusia when the boys were five and seven coincided with the orange harvest.

For spring break when the kids were 5 and 7, we rented a villa in the rolling countryside outside Granada, in southern Spain. Temps were in the 60s, it was orange harvest time so the aroma of oranges wafted through the air, and there were fiestas around the region. We explored everything from the ancient white villages of the Alpujarra mountains to the Moorish palaces and gardens of the Alhambra. Just keep in mind, when your spring break coincides with Easter, that Holy Week in Andalusia can be crowded, with processions day and night.

Yosemite National Park, California

mountain view in Yosemite National Park, california

Yosemite National Park, California. Photo: tpsdave/Pixabay

Too many families consider national parks only for summertime trips. If your kid’s spring break falls in April, Yosemite is a great option. As you know from Your National Parks Calendar: Which Parks To Visit Each Month, its sparkling waterfalls are at their peak flow in springtime. Whether you’re looking for easy day hikes or technical rock climbing, a bicycle ride along paved paths or an overnight trek into the backcountry, you’ll find it in Yosemite, along with massive granite walls and a lush valley full of wildlife.


young tourist boy feeds pigeons in Cartagena, Colombia

Here’s Charlie feeding pigeons in the Old Town of Cartagena, Colombia, during spring break last year.

There’s a lot of new airline service to Colombia, and in March and April you’ll find sunny days, clear skies, a fresh breeze that keeps the temperature comfortable, and reasonable prices, since the low season is about to start. More and more families are visiting Colombia nowadays—and exploring well beyond the beaches and colonial Old Town of Cartagena. They’re visiting Bogota too—for its art, architecture, and food—and Colombia’s coffee country, which abounds with outdoor and cultural activities.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Yes, it takes time to get to—it’s in a remote part of southwestern Texas, a three-hour drive from Midland/Odessa airport—but temps are in the 70s in March and April, and it’s the best time to see the cactus and wildflower blooms. As we know from Your National Parks Calendar: Which Parks to Visit Each Month, Big Bend has three strikingly different landscapes containing canyons, rivers, desert, and mountains:  You can navigate the Rio Grande by raft or canoe, soak in hot springs, climb the Chisos Mountains for a view into Mexico, or search for rare ocelots, jaguarundis, and jaguars.

A cruise leaving from a port that’s cheap to fly to

kids snuba diving underwater

The boys have tried SNUBA (a combo of snorkeling and scuba) in Caribbean cruise ports during spring break.

Here’s one of my tricks for avoiding those sky-high spring-break airfares: Instead of flying my family to a destination that’s in peak season, I fly us to a city that’s in low or shoulder season and has a cruise port where we can board a ship and sail to a place that’s in peak season. For example, we’ve flown to ports such as New Orleans and Los Angeles, where we’ve then boarded ships for the Caribbean or Mexico. Last year we flew to Panama (there were cheap airfares on United because Panama City is a hub) for a Panama Canal cruise. The Panama Canal fits the bill when you’ve got kids for whom a cruise is nirvana but you want to avoid the same old overbuilt Caribbean ports.

Where I’m going this year: Morocco

camel in the desert in Morocco

To avoid high prices and crowds, I looked for a country that doesn’t celebrate Easter. We’re going to Morocco!

Since the kids are now 15 and 13, they’re old enough to appreciate more exotic spring breaks. This year, eager to avoid the crowds and high prices that accompany Easter in many countries, I decided to look for a country that doesn’t celebrate Easter. And, since my goal is to raise global citizens, I wanted them to experience a completely different culture. So I chose Morocco, which is close enough—it’s a seven-hour flight from New York City (JFK)—yet otherworldly.  And the five-hour time difference (which is the same as the time difference between NYC and England) won’t mean too much jet lag. (Here’s a full report from when we got back from our trip.)

Busy parents, if you wish you could snap your fingers and find the perfect travel agent to design and deliver the best trip possible to any of these places, click over to Ask Wendy.  Because family travel memories are too precious to jeopardize with bad logistics.


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.

San Sebastian Spain beach

5 Reasons to Go to San Sebastián This Year

Although it’s often overshadowed by other Spanish cities—like Madrid, Barcelona and Seville—San Sebastián shouldn’t be overlooked. Spain’s northwest city, also called Donostia, not only boasts centuries of Basque heritage, natural beauty, and cutting-edge culinary and architecture scenes, but it was also chosen as European Capital of Culture for 2016. Visitors to the city this year will be treated to more than 400 cultural activities, including exhibitions, concerts, plays, dance performances and special gastronomic events. And the best part is that most of them are free. Here’s why you should get in on the action asap.

The city’s best architecture is on display.

The opening of the Guggenheim in nearby Bilbao back in 1997 stoked the Basque country’s architecture and art scenes, inspiring the creation and renovation of several impressive institutions over the years. Since many of the Donastia/San Sebastian 2016 events are taking place at these sites, you’ll be able to appreciate the architecture boom as you’re taking in all the cultural activities.

The Tabakalera is a new contemporary art center housed in a former tobacco factory; Spanish architecture firm Vaumm unveiled the stunning Basque Culinary Center in 2011 to much critical acclaim; and the century-old San Telmo Museum has been reimagined as the Museum of Basque Society and Citizenship, with a very modern nature-inspired wing connected to the original 16th-century convent building.

San Telmo Museum, San Sebastian, Spain

The San Telmo Museum is now also home to the Museum of Basque Society and Citizenship. Photo: San Sebastián 2016

The Diocesan Museum of ecclesiastical art recently got a facelift from Spanish architect and Pritzker laureate Rafael Moneo (who also won the Mies van der Rohe award in 2001 for the Kursaal arts center, where the San Sebastian International Film Festival is held), and the Balenciaga Museum arrived in neighboring Getaria in 2011 to honor the home-grown, acclaimed international designer.

Art is everywhere.

You don’t have to stay inside to see some of San Sebastian’s best artwork (though you certainly could; the Tabakalera is hosting artists from around Europe in a series of temporary exhibits, workshops, and lectures). Stroll outside to see the public artwork for which the city is known: Jorge Oteiza’s Construcción Vacía (Empty Construction) is a landmark on the Paseo Nuevo waterfront promenade, for example, and Eduardo Chillida’s Wind Combs sculptures can be found at the foot of Monte Igeldo.

It’s a festival town.

San Sebastian is home to several annual festivals. From July 20 to 26, the international jazz fest Jazzaldia will be celebrating its 51st edition with the help of global stars such as Diana Krall and Gloria Gaynor. Classical music fans will descend on the city in August for the Musical Fortnight (Quincena Musical); and film buffs should plan to arrive in mid-September for the International Film Festival.

The DSS 2016 lineup is adding a few more events to the festival schedule. For instance, to celebrate Shakespeare400, visitors can participate in an interactive version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where they will be guests at Hermia and Demetrius’ wedding while enjoying a feast prepared by the Basque Culinary Center (June 21–­July 24).

san sebastian spain hiking trail

Explore nearly 600 kilometers of hiking trails. Photo: San Sebastián 2016

You can surf, hike, or just lie in the sun.

San Sebastian rivals its Spanish sister cities when it comes to location, boasting both a beautiful shoreline (it’s right on La Concha Bay) and a picturesque mountain backdrop (it’s in the foothills of the Pyrénées). As a result, the area has long been a mecca for surfers in search of some of Europe’s tallest waves. Bring your board to Zurriola beach to join in, or just watch from the shore. The beach right in town along La Concha Bay can get packed in summer with sunbathers, so for a little more room roll out your towel on Playa de Ondarreta, found on the other side of the Palacio de Miramar, or take a boat out to Isola Santa Clara to admire the city from its small beach.

For landlubbers, the center of the city is the starting point of a new hiking route, the 2016 Bidea, a 32-stage hiking trail extending nearly 600 kilometres through the mountains. It was completed for this year’s Culture Capital event.

culinary event in San Sebastian Spain

Culinary events are part of the DSS 2016 festivities. Photo: San Sebastián 2016

You can eat your heart out.

San Sebastian’s innovative chefs have converted the city into a gastronomic mecca which now boasts 16 Michelin stars—the most per capita in Europe and second only in the world to Kyoto. Experience this gastronomic revolution at three-starred Arzak, famed for modernizing Basque cuisine, or the mountaintop Akelarre, where the tasting menus are as stunning as the views.

For a more adventurous experience, try the Basque Culinary Center. This gastronomic university has a cafeteria run by the next generation of super chefs; visitor can also choose to don an apron themselves in cooking classes (some are in English).

Alternatively, you can easily subsist on the region’s own style of tapa: the pintxo. These generally consist of a small piece of bread topped with anchovies, tuna, or egg-and-potato tortilla, and are held together by an olive and toothpick. They go down particularly well with a glass of txotx, Basque cider, or txakoli, slightly sparkling local white wines. Make your way to the old quarter’s maze of bar-lined streets, where you can carry out your own pinxtos tasting tour, sampling traditional bites at Gandarias or modernized options at Fuego Negro or Zeruko.

Of course, the DSS 2016 program doesn’t leave out gastronomy, which you can explore in activities like On Appétit!. Each month local chefs are passing their aprons to European counterparts, who will be preparing dishes from their respective regions. Plan to stop by participating restaurants or attend a series of cooking show events. Bon appetit, indeed—or, as they say in Basque, dezagun jan!

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.

Meet our writer

Lily Heise’s work in tourism and travel writing have seen her blossom hunting in Kyoto, tracking down hidden Angkor temples and getting lost in the Argentinian outback. Her writing has been featured in CondeNast Traveler.com, The Huffington Post, Business Insider and Frommer’s Guides, and she also share tips on France, other travel destinations and romance on her blog Je T’Aime, Me Neither. You can catch up with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Royal Palace Madrid Spain

Madrid Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Sometimes you just can’t avoid an airport layover. When you find yourself facing a long one, use it as an opportunity to add a great day trip to your vacation plans. It’s easier than you think to escape the airport for a few hours and get a taste of the cultural capital in which you’ve landed. In this series, we talk to experts in some of the world’s most popular airport hubs to get their suggestions for how to make the most of your time on the ground. For Madrid, we asked the city mavens at Context Travel to whip up a few itineraries for those passing through.

The Basics

How to get out of the airport: Madrid city center is just 12 kilometers from the airport, so you won’t waste too much time in transit when you could be exploring the city or savoring a delicious Madrileno meal. These are your options for getting out and getting back.

Taxi: A taxi to the city center is your most expensive but arguably the most convenient option. It will cost you 30 euros (about $38), which is a flat rate adopted by all official taxi companies. Count on 20 to 25 minutes of travel time, and more during rush hour.

Metro: You can access the city metro from terminals T2 and T4. It runs about every five minutes, from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. It’ll take you about 12 minutes to get to the city center (more if you have to switch to a different line). Single-journey tickets are between 4.5 euros and 5 euros  (about $6), depending on your final destination, and they can be purchased in the metro station (www.metromadrid.es/en).

Bus: Airport bus 200 runs from 6:36 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Tickets can be purchased on the bus, cash only, for 5 euros each way. Expect 40 minutes travel time, making this the slowest method of transport.

What to do with your luggage: Lockers are available to rent, in 24-hour intervals, in terminals 1, 2 and 4. Cost varies by locker size (small 4.22 euros, medium 4.82 euros, large 5.42 euros), and additional lockers are available for suitcases, bicycles, guitars, and other large objects.


If You Have a 7-Hour Layover

Taking into account airport security, baggage claim, travel time from and to the airport, and arriving back at the airport two hours before your next international flight, this option gives you approximately four hours in the city.

First-time visitors to Madrid should plan a stroll through the city center and historical district. Start at Puerta del Sol, the heart of the city, with arteries leading to the various barrios. Admire the square’s large city hall building, then make your way toward the Opera House and the Royal Palace, which you can gaze at over coffee on one of the peaceful terraces just behind the Opera House. Zigzag through the narrow streets to the Plaza Mayor, a regal 17th-century square lined with shops and cafés. If you still have energy, keep walking into the Huertas district and you’ll come to Plaza Santa Ana, where you can enjoy a beer and some basic tapas at one of Hemingway’s favorite haunts, La Cerveceria Alemana (Plaza Santa Ana 6; +34-91-429-7033, www.cerveceriaalemana.com/). If you prefer a guided walk instead, Context Travel offers an introductory historical walking tour in this area, Madrid Through the Centuries, led by a local scholar. Got kids in tow? Context has a special version of this tour just for families.


If You Have a 9-Hour Layover

Madrid is home to some of the best museums in the world. Spend your on-the-ground time surrounded by the creative genius of Velazquez, Titian, and Goya at the Museo del Prado (Calle Ruiz de Alarcón 23; +34-91-330-2800; www.museodelprado.es/en), or pay homage to Spanish history at Picasso’s monumental tableau Guernica at the Reina Sofia (Calle Santa Isabel, 52; +34-91-774-1000; www.museoreinasofia.es/en), which houses countless other modern masterpieces as well. Afterward meander through nearby 350-acre Buen Retiro Park. Finish your foray with a little window shopping in either the elegant Salamanca district or up-and-coming trendy Chueca before saying adios to Madrid and heading back to the airport.

How about a massage? High-end Spanish spa chain Elysium Travel Spa has an outpost in terminal 4 (+34-91-746-6280). The airport also has VIP Air Lounges, where you can shower (towel, slippers, and shower gel included), eat, watch TV, use Wi-Fi, and flip through newspapers and magazines (prices start at 25 euros). If you didn’t get any sleep on the plane, check out Air Rooms, which can be rented overnight or for three- or six-hour periods during the day (Terminal 4; +34-93-375-8600; www.premium-traveller.com/en).

More Layover Solutions:

Amsterdam Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Beijing Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Barcelona Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle

London Heathrow Layover: Great Hotels for a Stopover at LHR

Tokyo Airport Layovers: The Best Way to Spend Them

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.