Tag Archives: vacation idea

Sandy Bay, St. Helena island

One of the World’s Most Remote Islands Is About to Get a Lot Closer

One of the last places on earth that you couldn’t get to is about to become a place that a lot of people can get to. That means it’s your last chance to be a true pioneer (“I went when you could only get there by mailboat!”). It’s also your chance to see a little-known land before it changes forever (“I was on one of the first flights in!”) That’s what’s happening with the remote island of St. Helena right now.

St. Helena, a 47-square mile island with a population of 4,600 in the middle of the South Atlantic, is best known for being the place that Napoleon was exiled to. Until next month, the only way to reach it has been by mailboat from Cape Town—a journey that requires spending five or six days at sea each way. But starting in mid-October 2017, SA Airlink will begin weekly five-hour flights on a 76-seat Embraer from Johannesburg, South Africa. They fly on Saturdays and start at £804 for a round-trip ticket.

One of the world’s most isolated settled islands—1,200 miles west of the African coast and 1,800 miles east of Brazil—St. Helena may be most famous for its Napoleonic artifacts, but there’s a lot more to do than just visit the house where the French emperor lived and died. You can dive to shipwrecks, swim with whale sharks, go on picturesque hikes to see some of the 500 endemic species of flora and fauna, and meet the local people—called “Saints”—who are known for their hospitality. The island was discovered by the Portuguese in 1502 but colonized by the Brits—so, if you rent a car, you’ll need to drive on the left. You might actually feel like you’re in a tiny tropical England: The Saints speak British English, and you’ll spot red post boxes and English-style Bobbies as you tool around Jamestown.

As you’d expect, the introduction of the new flight will change the experience of the island, and it’s already preparing for an end to its isolation: A 30-room luxury hotel called the Mantis St. Helena has opened in three restored Georgian buildings, where visitors can relax after a round of 18 holes at the world’s most remote golf course, drinks at the world’s most remote distillery, a visit to the oldest Anglican church in the southern hemisphere, a hike to a heart-shaped waterfall, or a climb up Diana Peaks National Park where they can get a view of just how remote they are.

If you prefer the old-fashioned way of getting to St. Helena—via one of the world’s last mailboats, the RMS St. Helena—you have until February 2018. The arrival of a modern airport means the Royal Mail Ship is being decommissioned.

Read more about St. Helena here, and let us know if you decide to go!

St Helena island view
St. Helena, a 47-square mile island with a population of 4,600 in the middle of the South Atlantic, is one of the world's most remote islands. Photo: David Pryce
Fishing boat in Jamesbay St. Helena
Fishing boat in Jamesbay. Photo: Ed Thorpe
Old Woman's Valley, St. Helena island
Old Woman's Valley, St. Helena. Photo: Ed Thorpe
underwater view of fish off St. Helena island
Wrecks around St. Helena's coast provide great diving sites. Photo: Sandy Bay, St. Helena
aerial view of Jamestown, St. Helena
Jamestown, St. Helena. Photo: David Pryce
St. Helena island's heart-shaped waterfall
Hike to the heart-shaped waterfall. Photo: Ed Thorpe
Napoleon statue on St. Helena island
Napoleon was exiled on St. Helena island from 1815 until he died in 1821. Photo: Ed Thorpe
Longwood House is one of three buildings where Napoleon stayed in exile on St. Helena
Longwood House is one of the sites associated with Napoleon during his time here. Photo: St. Helena Tourism
Lot's Wife Beach St. Helena
Lot's Wife Beach. Photo: Ed Thorpe
jonathan the giant tortoise at plantation house on St. Helena
Jonathan the tortoise is 180 years old and lives at Plantation House on St. Helena. Photo: Jon Tonks
aerial view of St. Helena High Knoll fort
High Knoll Fort dates from 1874. Photo: Merrill Joshua
Napoleon's Tomb on St. Helena island
Napoleon's Tomb on St. Helena. Photo: Jon Tonks
The RMS mail ship approaching St Helena island
The RMS mail ship approaching St Helena



Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’s 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.

person standing on a mountain in Norway

Vacation Idea: Travel to the Happiest Countries on Earth

Norway is the happiest place on earth, according to this year’s World Happiness Report by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The report is shared annually to mark World Happiness Day on March 20. It determines “life satisfaction” among 155 nations by using Gallup poll data to rank, as its overview explains, “the factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.”

We’d add that happy locals create a welcoming environment for visitors, too, so one idea for your next vacation is to get to know the residents in one of the world’s happiest countries. Norway tops the list, jumping up from the number four spot last year. It’s followed by Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, and Finland; the U.S. is number 14. Here are the top 20. For insider info on planning your trip to many of these cheery destinations, click through to our Insider’s Guides or Ask Wendy.

  1. Norway
  2. Denmark
  3. Iceland
  4. Switzerland
  5. Finland
  6. Netherlands
  7. Canada
  8. New Zealand
  9. Australia
  10. Sweden
  11. Israel
  12. Costa Rica
  13. Austria
  14. United States
  15. Ireland
  16. Germany
  17. Belgium
  18. Luxembourg
  19. United Kingdom
  20. Chile


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.

fabric shop in souk, marrakech morocco

WOW Experience: Design Your Own Clothing in Marrakech

Aya's boutique in Marrakech opens its doors in a special way to certain travelers.
The founder of Aya's in Marrakech opens her atelier in a special way to certain travelers.
Fashion designer Nawal El Hariti in her boutique.
Fashion designer Nawal El Hariti in her boutique.
At Aya's you'll find kaftans...
At Aya's you'll find kaftans…
jewelry in marrakech
…and shoes.
First Nawal showed me a few ideas for what we could design together
First Nawal showed me a few ideas for what we could design together.
I loved the tunics but decided I could use a new jacket.
I loved the tunics but decided I could use a new jacket.
Off we go to the souk to find materials to make the jacket.
Off we go to the souk to find materials to make the jacket.
Strolling through the souk.
Strolling through the souk.
Passing spice shops.
Passing spice shops.
Nawal inspects fabrics for my new jacket.
Nawal inspects fabrics for my new jacket.
Which color do you like best?
Which color do you like best?
We liked the blue.
We liked the blue.
Soon you'll see this transformed into a jacket.
Soon you'll see this transformed into a jacket.
Checking out the bling.
Checking out the bling.
Heading back to Aya's through the souk.
Heading back to Aya's through the souk.
Nawal keeps plenty of fabrics in her boutique too.
Nawal keeps plenty of fabrics in her boutique too.
Time to choose buttons.
Time to choose buttons.
A seamstress in Nawal's studio.
A seamstress in Nawal's studio.
Lunch, served in Nawal's studio, began with an array of homemade salads and mezzes
Lunch, served in Nawal's studio, began with an array of homemade salads and mezzes.
Aya pouring tea the Moroccan way.
Aya pouring tea the Moroccan way.
While we ate, Aya's staff went to work on my jacket
While we ate, Aya's staff went to work on my jacket.
Two days later, an Aya's bag arrives at my hotel
Two days later, an Aya's bag arrives at my hotel.
Et voila! What I now wear to Manhattan cocktail parties
Et voila! What I now wear to Manhattan cocktail parties. Photo: Mahdi Messouli


Marrakech is one of the world’s best shopping cities—thanks to the souks, silks, linens, leather, embroidery, and artisanal crafts—and one of its best souvenirs is one you create yourself. Stylish travelers already know to make a beeline for Aya’s, the boutique where Sarah Jessica Parker bought gifts for dozens of friends when she was in Morocco filming Sex and the City 2. Anyone can shop at Aya’s, but we at WendyPerrin.com know that the way to make a trip special is to go above and beyond what “anyone” can do. So, on a recent trip to Marrakech, I tested a unique experience available through my Trusted Travel Expert for Morocco: I spent an afternoon with the founder of Aya’s, up-and-coming Moroccan fashion designer Nawal El Hariti, in the souk and in her studio. I ended up with much more than a custom-made silk jacket. I gained a vivid understanding of what it’s like to be a young female entrepreneur in an ancient male-dominated culture.

In this series of articles on “WOW Experiences,” we spotlight the special experiences you can look forward to when you book a trip via a WOW List expert. Below, learn what can be arranged for travelers to Marrakech.

The What:

Create your own kaftan, robe, tunic, cape, coat, or whatever Moroccan garment appeals. First, meet Nawal at her boutique to brainstorm ideas and take measurements. Then go with her to the souk to shop for the fabrics and other materials to make the garment. Then it’s back to her studio for a custom fitting and a home-cooked lunch of Moroccan mezzes, tagines, and sweets. A couple of days later, your new outfit is delivered to your hotel in time for your flight home.

The Where and When:

Aya’s, on the edge of the medina, and the souk a couple of blocks away, on any day when Nawal is available. (Fridays and other holidays are less than ideal.)

The WOW:

I left Morocco not just with a one-of-a-kind souvenir but with a new friend. I loved getting to know Nawal and hearing what life is like for a woman business owner in Morocco. She is that rare example of a successful self-made female entrepreneur in a Muslim society. Her stories of hard work and personal tragedy—she lost her mom when she was two and her grandmother when she was seven—and the challenges of juggling a career, marriage, and motherhood are fascinating. She is a seasoned traveler too, making her way around the Middle East regularly to acquire textiles and jewelry for her business. Rather than share her stories here, though, I’ll let Nawal tell you herself (she is a very private and discreet person) the next time you’re in Marrakech. And if you’re wondering whether it’s worth missing other things in Marrakech to carve out half a day for this experience, I would tell you that this experience is a microcosm of Marrakech. You get that heady combination of the elements that define the city—ancient tradition, modern decadence, over-the-top hospitality, magical ambience—viewed through the lens of a local.

How to Make it Happen:

This experience can be tailored to your specific interests and is available through our Trusted Travel Expert for Morocco, as part of a full Moroccan trip. (It can’t be booked a la carte.)  To be marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler and get special benefits, request your trip here.


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.

Fall foliage in Stowe, Vermont

5 Festive and Affordable Fall-Foliage Getaways

In the mood for vibrant seasonal colors? These locales offer plenty of fun fall activities—from apple picking to harvest festivals—happening this autumn.


1. New England: Stowe, Vermont

Stowe is the most budget-friendly of the New England fall-foliage destinations that TripAdvisor looked into. It’s a picture-postcard New England town, of course, and fall is festival time in Vermont. There’s the Foliage Art and Crafts Festival October 6–8, and Stowe Restaurant Week is October 22–28.


2. Mid-Atlantic: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Gettysburg is the site of the famous Civil War battle, of course, set in a small town that’s a slice of Americana. It’s also in the heart of Pennsylvania apple country. The 50th Annual National Apple Harvest Festival takes place October 7–8 and 14–15; here are additional October events.


3. Southern U.S.: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg is in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, where the change of colors can last seven weeks or more as the reds and yellows move down the mountainsides from the highest elevation to the foothills. Here’s the Fall Color Report for timing your drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway or your hike along the Rich Mountain Loop. The Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair stretches from October 5–22.


4. The Midwest: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

A resort town 80 miles north of Chicago, Lake Geneva offers a 21-mile walk around the Lake that is a unique way to take in the seasonal colors: The Geneva Lake Shore Path lets you literally cut through the backyards of some of the most historic homes in the Midwest. Expect peak foliage around the third week of October.


5. West Coast: Ashland, Oregon

Of the 15 fall-foliage destinations pinpointed by TripAdvisor, Ashland is the most affordable. In addition to majestic scenery, art galleries, and day spas, Ashland offers the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, so you can take in the fall colors while also taking in performances.


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

Spanish Riding School, Vienna, Austria. Photo by Susan Portnoy

WOW Experience: Backstage at the World’s Oldest Horse Riding Academy

One of Vienna’s most popular tourist magnets is its 450-year-old Spanish Riding School, where world-famous white Lippizan horses practice and perform classical dressage—that graceful art that’s like an equine ballet. Anyone can see a performance while visiting Vienna—if their timing is right—but we at WendyPerrin.com know that the way to make a trip special is to go above and beyond what “anyone” can do. So we’re starting a series of articles about “WOW Experiences” you can have around the world—behind-the-scenes, private, insider-access experiences available via the world’s most well-connected travel fixers. These experiences are just one way to elevate a trip from ordinary to extraordinary, which is the point of Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts: They’re the fixers who can make the magic happen.

Below, we’re spotlighting what Gwen Kozlowski, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Austria, likes to arrange at the Spanish Riding School.

Spanish Riding School, Vienna, Austria. Photo by Susan Portnoy

Most travelers never get inside this courtyard. It’s the Summer Riding School at Vienna’s Spanish Riding School. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

The What:

A visit to the Spanish Riding School at Vienna’s Hofburg Palace, including a private VIP tour of the stables and a seat in the Royal Box—where the Hapsburg kings and queens once sat—to watch the legendary Lippizan stallions perform.

The Where and When:

In Vienna, select weekends March–June and August–December (the stallions are on vacation in July). That’s when you can see the horses’ performances, as opposed to just their daily exercises.

Spanish Riding School, Vienna, Austria. Photo by Susan Portnoy

Spanish Riding School, Vienna, Austria. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

The WOW:

The Spanish Riding School represents the pinnacle of the tradition of classical horsemanship. The stunning and athletic Lippizan stallions were originally imported from Spain by Ferdinand I in the 16th Century (thus Spanish Riding School). The show takes place in the grand baroque Winter Riding School, part of the Hofburg, the former imperial palace in the center of Vienna. You’ll get to see the show, but you’ll also be ushered past the crowds and across an alley into the cordoned-off, 16th-century Summer Riding School, where you’ll tour the stables, peek into the tack room (where dozens of magnificent custom-made saddles and bridles are kept) and, if the timing works, watch as grooms prepare the horses or lead them through their workout.

Then you’ll move into the Winter Riding School—a splendid showcase built by the Habsburg emperor in 1735—to see the horses’ morning exercises: Multiple riders take their stallions through various gaits (walk, trot, canter), then tackle harder movements such as a cabriole, where a horse leaps into the air, with a rider on its back, and kicks out his back feet—a move used hundreds of years ago by the military to attack the enemy if surrounded. While other spectators stand in balconies on either side of the ring and get commentary via loudspeaker (which the acoustics make difficult to understand), you’ll get a coveted seat in the Royal Box, at ground level with the riders, next to an expert who will provide customized commentary and answers to any questions you have about what you’re seeing in the ring.

Spanish Riding School, Vienna, Austria. Photo by Susan Portnoy

Spanish Riding School, Vienna, Austria. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

How to Make it Happen:

This experience can be tailored to your specific interests and is available through Gwen Kozlowski, our Trusted Travel Expert for Austria, as part of an itinerary of three days or longer. See Gwen’s Insider’s Guide to Austria, and read reviews of Gwen to understand the caliber of trips she arranges. To be marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler and get priority attention and special benefits, request your trip here.

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.


Read more from Susan Portnoy at her own site, The Insatiable Traveler, and follow her at facebook.com/Insatiabletraveler and @susanportnoy.

Musicians in Mongolia. Photo: J. Doyle

Why Is Everyone Talking About Mongolia and What Do You Do There?

One of the most sparsely populated countries in Asia, Mongolia has an exotic, wild mystery to it. There are more horses than people, wide-open landscapes, desert, mountains, crystal clear skies, nomadic tribes, and even a modern sprawling city.

In the few short years since it was named the fastest growing economy in the world in 2013, Mongolia has attracted more and more attention, popping up on travel websites and blogs with stunning photos of reindeer, colorfully garbed tribesmen, and rustic yurts. In 2016, the National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year won that prestigious contest with an image of one of Mongolia’s horsemen galloping through the snow.

It’s a country of dichotomies, says Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Mongolia, Jalsa Urubshurow, a Mongolian-American who was among the first to offer highly customized trips there and who also created one of the country’s original guide-training programs. “There’s a modern city, and then an hour outside of the capital, you see the nomadic lifestyle, where people are still living this pastoral existence,” he says.

As the country is attracting more and more sophisticated travelers—and the infrastructure to cater to them, with Shangri-La recently opening Ulaanbaatar’s first five-star luxury hotel—we asked Jalsa to explain what travelers can expect from a well-planned trip.

Discover one of the world’s oldest cultures.

Mongolia nomads. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

Mongolia nomads. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

“Mongolia is home to the last horse-based nomadic culture—30 percent of the population. It’s a trip back in time,” Jalsa says. By visiting them in their gers (traditional yurts or tents), you can immerse yourself in the culture of one of history’s largest empires. “People are still living and utilizing the same tools they did during Genghis Khan’s time.”

Dig up paleontological treasures.

Travelers can go back even farther in time on a paleontology dig. Mongolia has seen some of the most famous dinosaur fossil finds. In the late 1970s, the “Fighting Dinosaurs” fossil was discovered in Tugrugiin Shiree, and the first dinosaur eggs were unearthed at the Flaming Cliffs in the Gobi Desert.

See unspoiled nature.

Mongolia's landscape with a rainbow. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

Mongolia’s landscape with a rainbow. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

At about 1,500 miles long (half the length of the U.S.), with only 3 million people, Mongolia is largely untouched. “I think Mongolia offers what people are seeking today: a true chance to get away from things and unplug,” says Jalsa. “It’s a place that inspires unavoidable reflection and a meditative, transformative experience for people.”

To facilitate that inspiration, Jalsa works with organizations like the World Wildlife Fund to create unique experiences that enable visitors to see Mongolia’s natural beauty at its best. For instance, the second-largest concentration of rare snow leopards in the world lives in the Gobi Desert (about 26 to 32 adults), and on Jalsa’s Snow Leopard Quest tour, travelers get to trek with WWF biologists to set up cameras and help conduct other research in the Altai Mountains. Even cooler: Jalsa’s company donates 100 percent of the proceeds from the trip back into snow leopard research.

He also has an astrophysicist on staff at his remote luxury inn, the Three Camel Lodge, to lead a 3-D presentation on the creation of the solar system. “Then you go outside with her and her telescope,” he says. “I call it our five-billion-star hotel.”


Bactrian camels in Mongolia. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

Bactrian camels in Mongolia. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

Explore a new city balancing ancient culture with modern growth.

“When Mongolia became a democracy in 1990,” Jalsa explains, “Ulaanbaatar went from 600,000 to 1.5 million with no urban planning.” So when you visit, you’ll see the old and the new juxtaposed: an ancient Buddhist monastery from the 1700s next to a modern 26-story skyscraper, gers all around, lots of cars, and now the city’s first five-star hotel, the Shangri-La.

Ulaanbaatar is also vibrant with culture that draws from new and old: There are museums showcasing ancient tribal costumes, next to galleries featuring young Mongolian artists; you can see modern performing arts, or attend morning services with monks at the oldest monastery in the country. (One of Jalsa’s special experiences is to arrange a private dinner and performance in the Fine Arts G. Zanabazar Museum, amid the institution’s beautiful Buddhist sculptures.)

All that and stellar shopping too: Ulaanbaatar is known for its exceptional cashmere, along with traditional felt slippers and fur hats.

Participate in unique traditions.

Horse riders in Mongolia. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

Horse riders in Mongolia. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

Jalsa’s travelers get to experience some of Mongolia’s most fascinating traditions and events. One of them is a festival Jalsa created himself, October’s Golden Eagle Festival, which his guests can attend. “In 1998 I rode with the golden eagle riders,” he says of the Kazakhs, Mongolia’s largest ethnic minority, who live along the western border and practice a centuries-old tradition of hunting with trained birds. “There were only 40 of them left in the world.” Jalsa explains that the riders’ activities were suppressed by Stalin during the country’s time as a Soviet satellite, but after the launch of the festival in 1999, there are now 400 families that have eagles. The festival celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2019.

Sleep under the stars without giving up creature comforts.

The inside of a luxury ger, Mongolia. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

The inside of a luxury ger, Mongolia. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

Mongolia’s remote nature and rugged landscapes don’t mean that travelers have to rough it to get the most out of the experience. Jalsa’s team has you covered. In an effort to introduce visitors to the beauty of the Gobi Desert and its nomadic culture, he opened the luxurious Three Camel Lodge in 2002. Since then, the solar-powered eco-lodge has won various awards. While staying there, you can explore the desert, watch the stars with an astronomer (Jalsa once counted 43 shooting stars in one night), meet nomadic families and local herders who share the property’s wells, enjoy a performance by local school kids, or head to the Flaming Cliffs for a sunset dinner.

Even if you’re not staying at the lodge, Jalsa’s team can set up mobile accommodations all over the country, and get you to them by small aircraft or helicopter. “From the high Altai Mountains to the Mongolia tiga, we can set up in the most remote places a sumptuous experience—with luxury gers, portable toilets and showers, field chefs and kitchens, and even a butler if you need it.”

For more on Jalsa and his unique approach to Mongolian travel, check out his Insider’s Guide to Mongolia or contact him through our site to be marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP.



Children in Mongolia. Photo: M. Dunlap

Children in Mongolia. Photo: M. Dunlap

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.

people canoeing in British Columbia Canada

Summer Vacation Idea: British Columbia for Every Type of Traveler

The skiing in British Columbia may be world-class, but if that’s all you know of the westernmost Canadian province, you’re missing out on one of the smartest summer vacation ideas for U.S. travelers right now. As Wendy discovered when she took her family there last summer, British Columbia has it all: Spectacular unspoiled scenery, first-rate farm-to-table food, one-of-a-kind activities, high culture, pristine wilderness, hip city neighborhoods, indigenous cultural communities, colorful festivals, charming inns, characterful lodges….Plus it’s nearby, it’s Zika-free, and the exchange rate is a relief. Whatever type of traveler you are, there’s more for you in B.C. than you realize. So we asked Marc Telio, who lives in Vancouver and is Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Western Canada, to detail some of the lesser-known opportunities for five different types of traveler. Here’s what he recommends.

horseback riding in british columbia at clayoquot wilderness resort

British Columbia’s wilderness lodges put you right in the middle of the great outdoors. Photo: Clayoquot Resort

Outdoor Adventurers:

British Columbia is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Just pick your adrenaline-boosting preference: sea kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, glacier hiking, helicopter hiking, river rafting, jet boating, rock climbing, kayaking on lakes, rivers or oceans—the possibilities are vast, like the wilderness here. And you can set your vacation right in the middle of it all at any number of wilderness lodges, inns, and resorts where Marc negotiates special benefits for his travelers. When you need a minute to rest from all the excitement, just enjoy a relaxing picnic—on a glacier, a clifftop, or an uninhabited island,

Cultural Explorers:

British Columbia is about the indigenous culture and people too. First Nations communities in B.C. have started to step up their tourism game, and an insider like Marc can arrange for visitors to experience these indigenous people’s culture and traditions in the most authentic way. For example, he can arrange for you to tour the islands and villages of the Haida Gwaii archipelago with a Haida guide, and for you to stay overnight at a locally owned and operated lodge. Or stay at the Spirit Bear Lodge in B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest, where the lodge gives you access to a local aboriginal village and authentic culture, and you enjoy bear-viewing while learning about local conservation efforts.

grizzly bears in river in atlin british columbia

Summer is a great time for bear viewing in British Columbia: grizzlies, black bears, and more. Photo: Phil Timpany

Wildlife Junkies:

 Marc shares a secret: “My favorite part of B.C. is the northern coast because that’s where you’ll find grizzlies, black bears, spirit bears, and all of the species of whales, seals, and sea otters.” You can cruise the region’s waterways looking for humpbacks in the water and grizzlies along the shores, or head into the Great Bear Rainforest to spot spirit bears—rare black bears with white fur—plus eagles, and more. August, September, and October are the best months for all of the above.

Family Trippers:

Want to sneak a few life lessons into a family vacation? Take your kids out of their comfort zone. That could mean zip-lining through the forest canopy, canoeing down a river, or hiking across a glacier. You could spend a few days enjoying Vancouver’s cultural attractions, then immerse your children in wilderness at a remote lodge. Getting them ten feet from a breaching killer whale or a wrestling match between black bears just might make you the coolest parents around. Continue to engage the kids over dinner: Marc can arrange for your family to pull up crab traps with local fishermen and then help a chef prepare the haul for lunch, or to go behind-the-scenes at the Vancouver Aquarium with one of the beluga whale trainers.

canoeing at whistler british columbia

Whistler may be British Columbia’s most famous ski resort, but it’s also an ideal destination for summer activities too.

Multigenerational groups:

B.C’s ski resorts transform into ideal summer destinations for family members of all ages. As Wendy discovered when she took her family to Whistler last summer, the sheer variety of activities means there’s something for everyone. Grandparents can stroll around at their leisure, take vehicles to go bear-watching, or ride a gondola to the top of the mountain, while more active family members can try kayaking, canoeing, hiking, or mountain climbing. For family groups wanting more privacy, Marc has chartered a flotilla of seaplanes to the coast and taken over wilderness lodges. Talk to Marc to plan a trip that is guaranteed to make everyone in your wide-ranging group happy.

If you’re looking for a British Columbia specialist to design a custom-tailored once-in-a-lifetime adventure for you, read Marc’s Insider’s Guide to British Columbia, and reach out to him via this trip request form so you’re marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler.

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.

Beautiful Sunset at Tangalle, Sri Lanka

Now Is the Time to Travel to Sri Lanka. This Is Why.

For decades Sri Lanka was in the news more for a civil war than anything else. The island nation seemed like the last place anyone would want to go for a beach holiday. Even in 2009, when that war was finally over, fewer than 500,000 people visited. But last year more than 1.5 million people flocked to Sri Lanka—an astonishing rise in such a short period of time—and this year it seems to be on every must-visit list.

That sudden turnaround might leave you wondering what other travelers know that you don’t. We tapped Miguel Cunat, our Trusted Travel Expert for Sri Lanka, for intel—and he gave us three reasons why now is the moment to go:

It’s the new Bali. Sri Lanka has gorgeous beaches, magnificent archaeological ruins (many of which are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites), and a rich culture that celebrates both Buddhist and Hindu traditions with numerous festivals. Tea plantations dot the interior’s hill country, and the island’s national parks are full of leopards, elephants, and incredible bird life.

The infrastructure has improved, so travel is easier. Those acquaintances of yours who went to Sri Lanka five years ago had to put up with a lot of headaches in return for being travel pioneers. Says Miguel, “With peace and the prospect of growth, important investments have taken place; we have better roads, fewer power outages, more hotel rooms, more options for dining in the main cities, and more flights within the country.”

More development is coming, so now is the time to see the island in its natural beauty. Miguel tells us that Sri Lanka’s government is very welcoming of foreign investment. He’s already starting to see “cookie-cutter hotel development,” and he expects that five years from now, a bit of Sri Lanka’s authenticity will be lost to the inevitable forces of globalization, replaced by Singapore-style shopping malls, Chinese and Italian restaurants on Colombo’s streets, and karaoke bars amid the tea shops.

With so many travelers adding Sri Lanka to their wish lists, you’d be wise to start planning your own trip before the hordes descend and transform the island. Even with the increase in tourism, it can be difficult to find high-caliber private guides and on-the-ground services. When tourism explodes fast, it takes a while for supply to catch up, so there is a shortage of savvy travel fixers and hotel staffers who really comprehend and can deliver what sophisticated travelers want. One way to ensure your trip is filled with first-rate services and experiences is to book through a Sri Lanka specialist, We recommend Miguel. He’s so plugged in he knows how to avoid the crowds at top sites like Yala National Park and the Sigiriya rock fortress—and, of course, he knows the most well-connected private guides. Check out his Sri Lanka Insider’s Guide for more details on the local experts he can introduce you to, the best (and worst) times of year to visit, and much more.
Read Miguel’s Insider’s Guide to Sri Lanka, and reach out to him to get the best possible trip.

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.

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

Even in summertime, there is still snow at the highest elevations. Photo: Tim Baker.
The Inukshuk rock statue on Whistler Mountain was created for the 2010 Winter Olympics. An inukshuk is a collection of rocks that may have been used as a navigation reference point for the Inuit. Photo: Tim Baker.
The family takes the podium outside the Roundhouse Lodge atop Whistler Mountain. This is as close as we’ll ever come to winning an Olympic medal. Photo: Tim Baker.
Mountain bikers from around the world cruise down the mountains. Photo: Tim Baker.
Bikes and bikers fill a gondola up the mountain. Bikers and hikers usually ride up in separate gondolas. Photo: Tim Baker.
Bikers and hikers are kept separate on the mountain too. Photo: Tim Baker.
Doug tries his balance on a teeter-totter in Whistler’s bike-skills park. Photo: Tim Baker.
Doug powers over the bumps at a park along the Fitzsimmons Creek in Whistler. Photo: Tim Baker.
A lull in the action on our Green River rafting trip. Photo: Tim Baker
The view from the summit of our RZR adventure. Photo: Tim Baker.
Blink and you can miss the bobsleigh. If you plan to shoot photos of family and friends riding it, practice on preceding runs. Photo: Tim Baker.
Connecting Blackcomb and Whistler mountains, the Peak 2 Peak gondola set multiple construction records. Photo: Tim Baker
The 20-minute ride travels up to 1,427 feet above the ground. Photo: Tim Baker.
Two of the gondolas have glass-bottom floors. Photo: Tim Baker.
We saw many signs warning about bears, but the only wildlife we saw was this hoary marmot posing for photos at Blackcomb. Photo: Tim Baker.
Charlie speeds through the last corner of the Westcoaster Slide in the Blackcomb Adventure Zone. Photo: Tim Baker.
The boys battle each other in floating circular rafts in the Blackcomb Adventure Zone. Photo: Tim Baker.
Whistler Village has plenty to offer families in summer. Photo: Tim Baker.
Kids at play in Whistler’s Olympic Plaza. Photo: Tim Baker.
The boys are attracted by a hand-operated water pump and race leaves down the sluice. Photo: Tim Baker.
The Whistler farmers’ market takes place Sundays from June through October and on Wednesdays in July and August. There’s plenty of fresh local produce and homemade snacks to fill up on. Photo: Tim Baker.
The mini golf course in front of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, our home base for our trip. Photo: Tim Baker.
From the gondola, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Photo: Tim Baker.
At our table in The Grill Room at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Charlie picks the size of his cut of Dry Aged Prime Canadian Rib Eye. Photo: Tim Baker.
Tomato Gin Soup being prepared at our table. The soup was as great as the presentation. Photo: Tim Baker.
Chocolate fondue with fruit and cake for dessert in The Grill Room at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Photo: Tim Baker.
One of our many “designer” hot chocolates in the Gold Lounge of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Photo: Tim Baker.
The Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club is nestled into the mountains. Photo: Tim Baker
Even if you are not a golfer, the clubhouse at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s golf course is a nice place to enjoy a sunset cocktail or meal. Photo: Tim Baker.
At the Britannia Beach Mining Company, a mining drill is demonstrated inside a tunnel. Photo: Tim Baker.
Inside the ore-processing building of the Britannia Beach Mining Company. Photo: Tim Baker.
Shannon Falls Provincial Park is a perfect place to stop and stretch along the Sea-to-Sky Highway. Photo: Tim Baker.
Tourists have been visiting the 450-foot Capilano Suspension Bridge near Vancouver since 1889. Photo: Tim Baker.
Besides the Bridge, Capilano has many more suspension bridges and displays that explain the flora, fauna, and history of the area. Photo: Tim Baker.


Note from Wendy: If you need a vacation spot that’s gorgeous, uncrowded, not too hot, and not too far, Canada is a destination you should be seriously considering for this summer. Last summer, my family went to Whistler, and here’s what my husband, Tim wants other families to know about it.

Everyone knows Whistler’s reputation as a winter sports mecca. It hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics—and so far this season has had more than 32 feet of snow, with all 200 trails open. But did you know Whistler is an adventure-packed summer destination too? Wendy and the boys and I had a blast there last summer, and we strongly recommend it to other families. Here are ten reasons why:

1. The Peak 2 Peak Gondola

It’s not a thrill ride per se, but the Peak 2 Peak Gondola is a thrilling ride, to be sure—especially when there’s a light breeze. This gondola connects Whistler and Blackcomb mountains and holds world records for the longest (2.7 miles) and highest (1,427 feet) gondola, with the world’s longest unsupported span: 1.88 miles. The ride takes about 20 minutes. Two of the gondolas—the silver ones—have glass-bottomed floors; while that’s kind of cool, the view down wasn’t much better than the view out of the almost-all-glass gondolas. Be sure to watch the short video in the lodge atop Whistler Mountain on how the lift was constructed and its safety systems. You’ll want to ride this more than once to fully appreciate the engineering.

2. The Olympic Bobsled

The Olympic Bobsleigh at Whistler Sliding Centre has been adapted for summer use: Rubber tires have replaced the bobsled’s rails. You buckle your helmet and strap into the sled for a run that takes less than a minute. It’s sensory overload: You hold on tightly, blink, and it’s already over. One run is not enough. If you do a second run, you might have time to actually look out and enjoy it.

3. The Via Ferrata

We climbed to the top of Whistler Mountain, aided by steel rebar rungs drilled and epoxied into the mountain face. See I Can’t Believe We Did This: Mountain Climbing in Whistler. It was one of the most rewarding adventures we’ve ever had as a family. While often we’re just passengers in our adventures, this climb totally depended on you! We had a great feeling of accomplishment upon reaching the summit. Surprisingly, this 3- to 4-hour Via Ferrata climb is still under the radar. Even locals don’t know about it. You’ll work up an appetite, so I suggest the all-you-can-eat barbeque at the Roundhouse Lodge afterward as a tasty reward for your efforts.

4. The Sasquatch zip-line

If you need to add North America’s longest zip-line (1.6 miles) to your zip-line collection, the Sasquatch is for you. The first step is a true leap of faith, as you’ll be traveling about 60 miles per hour at up to 700 feet above the valley floor. It’s an adrenaline rush, but it’s not our family’s favorite. (This one’s our family’s favorite.) Next time, we’d like to try some of the other ziplines in and around Whistler. Here’s a video of the boys riding the Sasquatch.

Sasquatch from Timothy Baker on Vimeo.

5. RZR driving

Of all our activities, Dads, this one is for you! You race off-road up and down fire breaks on a nearby mountain in a four-seat, four-wheel-drive dirt buggy. Maybe I liked this RZR adventure so much because whenever I drive the kids on roads of similar condition to our favorite hidden lake in California, I’m always pulling a fishing boat, trying to avoid the potholes, ruts, and washboards. In these speedy little RZR buggies, though, you just power over them! Just hit the gas and hold on for dear life. Then back way off the gas because you’ve scared yourself to death. This was freedom and fun! Granted, I had the steering wheel and the kids just sat there holding on to the grab bars, but they loved it too. Full props to our guide, who saw us languishing behind a much slower tandem ahead of us and called base for a new guide just for us. I had a hard time keeping up with the new guide, but it sure was fun trying. Check out this video of our ride:

Wendy RZR from Timothy Baker on Vimeo.

6. Mountain biking

In summertime, instead of brightly outfitted skiers and boarders bombing down Whistler Mountain, you see brightly outfitted mountain bikers. Only trail dust subdues their colorful outfits and skid protectors. Speed is a must; control seems to be optional. We saw wipeouts but, fortunately, we viewed from a safe distance as we rode up and down the mountain on the chairlift. Lifts are designed to carry bikes up the mountain, and shops in town that sell and rent skis in winter cater to all sizes, abilities, and pocketbooks of mountain bikers. We saw groups of bikers from around the world posing for photos with their national flags.

Our resident biker, Doug (who was 11 at the time), wasn’t quite ready for the mountain, but Whistler Village has a free public bike-skills park that is perfect for beginners. We rented a mountain bike from one of the many shops (about $20 for a couple of hours) and rode over. Doug loved it and built up course confidence by handling all the obstacles (the teeter totter, the whoop-dee-doos) at his own speed. When we visit again, he’ll take advantage of one of the many classes available on the mountain.

7. Whitewater rafting

The Whistler area has a variety of whitewater rafting runs, ranging from beginner to advanced. We chose an easy one and had a few thrills and spills. Here’s a little sample:

Whistler Raft from Timothy Baker on Vimeo.

8. Golf

The boys and I played a few holes at the scenic Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club. Designed by Robert Trent Jones II and nestled into the slopes of Blackcomb Mountain, the 6,635-yard course is Audubon Certified. That means that the operators appreciate their stewardship of the land. They’ve reduced water and chemical usage and are managing habitat for the wildlife living on or near the course, including a “hotel” (wooden nest) for bats. You can drink water from the glacier-fed Blackcomb Creek that flows through the course. Even if you don’t play golf, you can enjoy the scenery by having a drink or meal at The Clubhouse. We ate there at sunset.

9. Blackcomb Adventure Zone

Our boys are getting older (they’re now 12 and 13) and now require a little more adrenaline than what was on offer at the family adventure zone in our hotel’s backyard. The pint-sized race cars, Westcoaster Luge, and Kiss The Sky Bungy Trampoline are perfect for the younger set. The Mario & Friends Mini Golf was challenging enough to be enjoyed by all ages. We played several times, early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.

10. Our home away from home: The Fairmont Chateau Whistler

This is the grand dame of Whistler, and we loved it. The Fairmont Chateau Whistler rises from the valley the way Cinderella’s Castle rises from Disneyland. You can see it from many spots on the mountain, and it looks every bit the place you want to call your home. The staff was friendly and efficient, from the valet who opened our car door when we first arrived to the guy who brought umbrella drinks to us in the hot tub at 10:30 pm.

Our room was mountain-themed without being too heavy-handed or theme-parky.

The highlight of the hotel for the kids was breakfast in the Gold Lounge each morning, thanks to the amazing, artistic hot chocolates with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Each morning the boys’ hot chocolate was decorated differently, as if the staff was having a competition to decorate each mug better than the last. Dinner in The Grill Room was another highlight for the boys. I devoured the dry aged prime Canadian rib eye, carved to order at our table. If there is a must-have, we all loved the Tomato Gin Soup, flambéed tableside. Be ready with your camera.

If there was one time I wished we were there in winter, it was when we were soaking in the giant Jacuzzis on the pool deck looking onto Blackcomb Mountain. I could imagine myself there after a day of skiing, just soaking for hours under the stars. But it was a wonderful summertime antidote for our adventure-weary bones too—an antidote made even sweeter by the late-night cocktail service.

Getting there from Vancouver

We drove the 70 miles from Vancouver on the Sea-to-Sky Highway at a leisurely pace. If I had any regret about the trip, it’s that the drive was too short and I just wanted to keep driving. The roads are easy and the scenery spectacular. We enjoyed trying to pronounce the Indian names for the towns and areas we passed, and we were always intrigued to find out what was around the next mountain.

En route to Whistler we stopped at Shannon Falls Provincial Park, right off the Highway, and the boys had a great time scrambling over rocks around the falls. On the way back we stopped at the Britannia Mine Museum; with a bright yellow 235-ton mine truck in front, it’s pretty hard to miss. The highlight for the kids was riding the train into the mine and seeing (and hearing) the drills and mucking machine being demonstrated. I was awed by the size, scale, and heavy-duty engineering of Mill 3. The fact that we learned so much about mining seemed almost incidental to the visit.

For the grand finale, as we neared Vancouver, we made one last stop at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which has been a tourist stop since 1889. The 450-foot-long bridge itself is way cool, but the rest of the park was a perfect place to let the kids loose again before heading back to the city.

Planning the Ultimate Itinerary

We got indispensable itinerary help from Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Western Canada, Marc Telio. If you’re looking for a British Columbia specialist to design a custom-tailored once-in-a-lifetime adventure for you, read Marc’s Insider’s Guide to British Columbia, and reach out to him via this trip request form so you’re marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler.

Disclosure: Tourism Whistler invited our family to Whistler and arranged for a complimentary stay at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, as well as a rental car. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on Tourism Whistler’s part, nor was anything promised on ours. You can read the signed agreement between Wendy and Tourism Whistler here.

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.

The Holocaust Memorial in Budapest

The Ultimate Jewish Heritage Trip in Israel Includes a Stop in Europe

Starting this spring, U.S. travelers who are passing through Europe on their way to or from Israel can take advantage of special new Jewish-heritage itineraries. “It’s actually very convenient to combine a tour of Israel with a stopover or a few days in Europe or North Africa,” says Joe Yudin of Touring Israel, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Israel. “It’s a great way to break up a long flight while keeping the theme of the journey.”

Joe has teamed up with Europe specialists on The WOW List to create the customizable multi-country itineraries, which typically include visits to historic synagogues, Jewish museums and cemeteries, and restaurants specializing in traditional Jewish food. So far, these travel experts have created seven itineraries—six in Europe and one in Morocco—that tell a seamless story. “After all, the story of the Jewish people began in Israel 4,000 years ago,” says Joe, “and with the Roman conquest of Israel the Jewish nation was dispersed throughout the known world. These tours will focus on the connection of those events and be tailored to each traveler’s specific interests.

“Of course, travelers can also visit the usual iconic sites in those countries, just as a Jewish-heritage itinerary in Israel also includes visits to Christian and Muslim and secular sites.” The tours are hosted by guides specialized in Jewish culture and history and include opportunities to meet local Jewish community leaders. Highlights include:

* Morocco: In Casablanca, the Moroccan Jewish Museum, the only Jewish history museum in the Arab world.

* Spain: The Jewish Quarter of Cordoba and the Maimonedes Synagogue, built in 1315, as well as Jewish heritage sites in Barcelona, Seville, Toledo, and Gerona/Besalu.

* Portugal: The little towns of the Serra da Estrela and one of the oldest synagogues in Europe at Tomar.

* Budapest: The Holocaust Memorial in Budapest and the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives in the Great Budapest Synagogue.

* Prague: The Spanish Synagogue, as well as the ancient Old-New Synagogue and Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish cemetery, founded in 1478.

The Jewish Museum at Dorotheergasse, Vienna

The Jewish Museum at Dorotheergasse, Vienna. Photo courtesy Ouriel Morgensztern.

* Vienna: The Jewish Quarter of Leopoldstadt, the Jewish section of the Central Cemetery, and the Jewish Museum at Dorotheergasse, where a permanent exhibition gives a comprehensive insight into Jewish life and the Jewish history of Vienna.

* Italy: The Jewish Ghetto in Rome and a medieval Tuscan hill town known as La Piccola Gerusalemme, or Little Jerusalem, for the Jewish community that coexisted with the majority Christian population in the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century, the Medici rulers confined the Jews to a ghetto, and travelers can visit the synagogue, bakery, mikvah, and other remnants of Jewish heritage.

Spotlight on Venice
A destination of particular interest this year is Venice, which established a Jewish ghetto on March 29, 1516. The city and the Jewish community of Venice are marking the quincentennial with Venice Ghetto 500, a yearlong program centered on three main events: an opening ceremony at the Fenice Opera House on March 29; the exhibition “Venice, the Jews and Europe” at the Doge’s Palace (June–November); and the refurbishment of the Jewish Museum and restoration of three historic synagogues, a $12 million project begun in 2014.

In connection with the quincentennial, Touring Israel has teamed up with Maria Gabriella Landers and Brian Dore to offer a three-day, privately guided tour that comprises both prominent landmarks and little-visited sites. The following itinerary can be customized to suit individual travelers’ interests and time constraints:

Day 1: You’ll take a private water taxi to the dock of Ca’Sagredo, one of Venice’s oldest and most esteemed five-star hotels near the major sights. Although on the Grand Canal and close to the Piazza San Marco and Rialto, the hotel is a bit apart from the tourist thoroughfare. Home to one of the Venetian Republic’s wealthiest and most powerful families, this 42-room property is housed in the palazzo that was their fifteenth-century residence. Paintings of important seventeenth-century Venetian painters adorn the common areas, and there is a restaurant on site with seating on the Grand Canal.

In the late afternoon an English-speaking Venetian will meet you in your hotel lobby to accompany you on a bacarata, stopping in at some choice spots for ombra and cicchetti (wine and Venetian appetizers) during the traditional cocktail hour. This is a great introduction to La Serenissima through a truly local custom, and you can learn about Venetian gastronomy as you become familiar with the lay of the land.

Day 2. A local expert guide will lead you through the Jewish Ghetto. The term ghetto originates from the Venetian word getto, meaning the pouring of metal. Today the word has a negative connotation, but in 1516, when an enclosed neighborhood for Jews was created in Venice, it referred to the foundry that the district replaced. The Venetian Republic segregated Jews to placate the Roman Catholic Church, which had already forced the expulsion of Jews from much of Western Europe. Nonetheless, in the span of a few decades the Venetian Jews were able to overcome obstacles and establish a tight network of trade that involved the states bordering on the Mediterranean Sea. You will visit the ghetto and learn the historical importance and contribution of the Jewish population during the Serenissima Republic, and you will see the famous hidden synagogues, which are among the oldest and most valued in Europe. Your specialized guide will accompany you privately into three stunning synagogues and explain the ghetto’s history, art, and curiosities. After the ghetto tour, you’ll explore the Cannaregio neighborhood, a very interesting but little visited section of Venice. Enjoy lunch here at one of the restaurants that feature classic Venetian kosher cuisine. After lunch you’ll explore the Jewish Cemetery on the Lido, where the tombs date from 1389. The cemetery endured a long and tumultuous history until it was abandoned in 1938.

Day 3: Your guide will get you past the lines for the Basilica in the iconic Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, where, you’ll get to see the 500th-anniversary exhibit, a multi-media celebration of Jewish art, culture, and civic society throughout the history of the lagoon.

Day 4: On your final morning, you’ll get to take a private water taxi from your hotel to your point of departure (airport, train station, port, or Piazzale Roma).

For more information or to customize your own itinerary, contact Joe Yudin of Touring Israel.

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.

Lunch al fresco on Viking Star cruise ship

This is a Cruise Ship That Smart Travelers Will Love

Lunch aboard Viking Star in the port of Monte Carlo. It was December, and temps were in the 50s.
In Corsica, an empty beach—one of the rewards of low season.
Ajaccio, Corsica on Viking Star cruise
Viking ships tend to stay in port till after dark. This is Ajaccio, Corsica.
Lunch al fresco on Viking Star cruise ship
Lunch al fresco again—in December, in Ajaccio.
Toulon, France on Viking Star cruise ship
Here we are in Toulon, France, just past sunset.
all onboard sign on Viking Star cruise ship
A curfew of 10 pm means you can arrange a very full day of sightseeing in southern France.
big windows on Viking Star cruise ship
Most parts of the ship let the outdoors in—even the buffet restaurant.
the bar in the buffet restaurant on Viking Star cruise ship
Almost everywhere on the ship there’s a view. This is the bar in the buffet restaurant.
Explorers Lounge on Viking Star cruise ship
Viking Star has a ton of nooks with books and, sometimes, screens displaying ever-changing travel photos from around the world.
video screen on Viking Star cruise ship
The biggest screen with a scene is in the atrium.
Explorers Lounge on Viking Star cruise ship
Even the bars are comfy.
rooftop infinity pool on Viking Star cruise ship
Probably the only rooftop infinity pool in Toulon.
main pool on Viking Star cruise ship
The main pool can be enclosed or open-air, depending on the weather.
main pool on Viking Star cruise ship
Here’s the same pool, at night.
spa thermal pool on Viking Star cruise ship
And here’s the thermal pool, in the spa.
spa on Viking Star cruise ship
There’s no fee to use the spa. These heated loungers are available to everyone.
spa snow room on Viking Star cruise ship
The spa’s snow room is available to everyone too. In case you feel like jumping from hot tub to snow and back again.
cabin on Viking Star cruise ship
This was my cabin—simple and comfy.
cabin balcony on Viking Star cruise ship
This was my balcony.
putting green on Viking Star cruise ship
The ship’s putting green—which I never saw used, despite shirt-sleeve weather.
Viking Heritage Museum on Viking Star cruise ship
The atmosphere onboard is one of cultural enrichment with a Scandinavian flavor. Here’s the Viking Heritage Museum.
wool hats for sale on the Viking Star cruise ship
Homey touches include these wool hats for sale. They’re knitted by Berit Clausen, the spa manager’s 95-year-old grandmother back in Norway.
Mamsen’s, the Norwegian deli on the Viking Star cruise ship
My favorite place to eat on the ship is Mamsen’s, the Norwegian deli in the Explorers’ Lounge. It’s named after the mother of Viking president Torstein Hagen and supposedly serves her traditional recipes.
Norwegian deli food on Viking Star cruise ship
Among the delicacies on offer (for free) in the Explorers’ Lounge, as well as in The Living Room, are salmon gravlax and steak tartare.
lunch on Viking Star cruise ship
Reke (Atlantic shrimp on white bread) for lunch.
breakfast on Viking Star cruise ship
At Mamsen’s they make these special waffles with berries and sour cream.
waffles on Viking Star cruise ship
room service on Viking star cruise ship
Room service is free too. And the salmon gravlax melts in your mouth.


If you’re an avid independent traveler, as I am, seeing the world by ship has its pros and cons. A cruise is an easy way to see remote places that would otherwise be too expensive and logistically tricky to get to. But there’s a trade-off: Your limited time on land at each stop hampers your freedom.

That’s why I’m excited to tell you about Viking Cruises’ first ocean ship, the Viking Star. On a recent Mediterranean sailing from Barcelona to Rome, it was easier than ever to go at my own pace and do my own thing. (I say that having sailed on more than two dozen ships worldwide, ranging in size from 120 passengers to 6,000.) Viking Star’s sister ship, Viking Sea, will launch next month, and two more nearly identical ships are coming next year: Viking Sky and Viking Sun. They’re a good option for travelers who are normally too independent for a cruise. Here’s why:

1. You can avoid the tourist hordes.

In my case, I got to explore Europe minus the crowds of peak season. It was an unconventional wintertime Romantic Mediterranean itinerary that the new Viking Sea will sail next winter. The Barcelona-Rome route includes Toulon (on the French Riviera), Monte Carlo (Monaco), Ajaccio (Corsica), and Livorno (Italy). There are two traditional drawbacks to Europe in low season, of course: Chilly weather and not enough daylight hours. Normally in low season it’s smart to stick with Europe’s large cultural capitals, since they have a lot to offer even when it’s cold and dark outside. But the Viking Star keeps you warm and cheery in cold weather (see #5 below). The ship can’t rectify the second drawback: the sun setting at 5 pm. Darkness falling early, combined with the fact that the ship was docked in one port or another all day every day, meant that I almost never got to see the ship moving through water in daylight (normally one of my favorite things about a cruise). What made up for that, though, was the absence of other cruise ships in port, making it so easy to escape other tourists on shore (something that is not easily done on, say, a Caribbean cruise).

2. The ship isn’t too big or crowded.

It holds 930 passengers, but it feels more like a 500-passenger ship. It’s blissfully uncrowded, perhaps because people disappear into the dozens of nooks and hiding spots around the ship, and also because every cabin has a balcony. At no point did I encounter or spot any lines or wait for a deck chair or an empty table. There are many public spaces where you’ll find a comfy armchair, a great book, and nobody around. The ship has three pools—an outdoor infinity pool at the stern, a heated pool in the spa, and a main pool that can be either enclosed or open-air, depending on the weather—and none of them ever had more than two people in them.

3. You spend a ton of time on land.

On the “Romantic Mediterranean” itinerary, we sailed only at night. The ship was docked in port all day long, every day. You can sightsee till 8 or 10 pm, and the ship overnights in Barcelona on the first night and in Rome on the last night, so on those nights there’s no curfew at all. I ended the trip wishing we’d had a day at sea so I could have spent more time enjoying the ship itself—watching the waves pass by, soaking in the spa’s thermal pools, sampling more Scandinavian delicacies, and curling up on one of the many plush sofas with one of the many classic novels from one of the many intriguing bookshelves.

4. You don’t feel confined.

First, you’re almost always able to get off the ship and into town. Second, every chance they get (when the weather is warm enough), the crew throws open the floor-to-ceiling doors and windows to let the outdoors in. There are great views from almost every public space on the ship. Even the buffet transforms into an open-air restaurant—and it has an open kitchen, so you can actually look through the kitchen to the ocean on the other side of the ship. Every room has a veranda with a floor-to-ceiling view, and there’s a promenade deck that wraps around the entirety of the ship (something that’s increasingly rare nowadays). Windows onto the promenade deck open as well.

5. Itineraries can be unconventional because the ship is weather-proof.

I’ve never been on a comfier ship for cold-weather cruising. In addition to two indoor pools, Viking Star’s got two indoor hot tubs, a Nordic-style spa with saunas and steam rooms, an abundance of armchairs adorned with blankets and throws, and warm Scandinavian décor throughout. This means the ship can ply cool itineraries such as from Norway to Montreal, with stops in the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and Quebec.

6. There’s no regimented schedule.

Unlike on some larger ships, there’s nobody telling you when to do what. There are no announcements. There are no formal nights. You don’t have to report to a particular lounge or theater at a particular time in order to join a tour. Nope, if you want to join the free group tour in each port, you just get off the ship and meet your group on the pier. In fact, the only time I saw herding during the cruise was off the ship, on those free tours. Because they’re free, almost all the passengers take them, which means you could be part of a caravan of buses all pulling into the same tourist sites at the same time. Remember: Just because it’s free, you don’t have to do it. It’s very easy to do your own thing in port. Just grab a taxi, hop on public transit, rent a car, or start walking.

7. The Wi-Fi is free, fast, and reliable.

The Wi-Fi alone gives you freedom and flexibility because it costs you nothing to hop on the Internet and do a little research before arriving in each port to find out what’s happening on the day you’ll be there.

8. It’s easy to dine privately and on your own schedule.

There are four restaurants where you can have long, elaborate meals, but if you’re like me and you just want quick, easy options anytime, anywhere, the choices are excellent. You can order room service for free, 24 hours a day, and it’s delicious and arrives fast. You can also grab hefty, free gourmet snacks of melt-in-your-mouth salmon gravlax, Atlantic shrimp, and steak tartare (with all the trimmings), both at the ship’s Norwegian deli and at its Living Room bar.

9. The ambience is more boutique hotel than cruise ship.

The ship was designed by an architect who does not normally design cruise ships. Not only are the interior design and décor atypical, but very little of what you see onboard feels corporate or mass-produced. The ship feels like an independent, family-owned, Scandinavian hotel, with homey and personal touches—such as wool hats, for sale in the spa shop, that were knitted by the spa manager’s 95-year-old grandmother. The atmosphere is one of cultural enrichment, from the collections of classic books to the Viking Heritage museum to the selection of TED talks on your in-room television.

10. You can relax mentally because it’s so affordable.

Your cruise fare includes a lot. In addition to the Wi-Fi and the tour in each port, you get entry to the spa’s thermal pools, saunas, and steam rooms; beverages, beer, and wine served with meals; minibar items; cappuccinos at the bar; and the aforementioned gourmet snacks served around the ship. There were salmon gravlax (on rye bread with dill mustard sauce), Reke (Atlantic shrimp on white bread), steak tartare (with the trimmings), and assorted Norwegian pastries, including special waffles with berries and sour cream. When you consider the sky-high prices you’d pay for those things in Scandinavia, the value is striking. There’s no nickel-and-diming; in fact, it’s hard to spend money on the ship. There isn’t even a casino. My only shipboard expense was a 50-minute Swedish massage which, thanks to massage therapist Luisa who is literally from Sweden, was the best I’ve had on any ship.

If you’ve got questions about the ship, feel free to ask in the comments below.

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


Disclosure: Viking Cruises provided me with a complimentary week-long cruise. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on Viking Cruises’ part, nor was anything promised on mine. You can read the signed agreement between me and Viking Cruises here.*

Cheetah in Kenya Photo by Susan Portnoy

Great Deals on Kenyan Safaris Are Happening Now: Don’t Miss Out

If you’ve been even toying with the idea of taking a safari, now is the time to book it. KLM has just announced a flash sale of airfare to Nairobi, starting today through March 14, for trips taken through May 31. Fares out of several major US cities start as low as $723. Even better news: Those aren’t the only flight deals right now. Dan Saperstein, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for East Africa and South Africa Safaris, reports that British Airways and Swissair are also offering fares right now for less than $800 (he’s even seen a few for less than $700), and that some discounted fares are extending through July and August. “These are all excellent deals,” he says, “as this airfare is usually anywhere from $1,100–$1,500 per person for these airlines (KLM can be upwards of $2,400 at times).”

In addition to the airfare deals, there are two other big discounts that travelers can take advantage of if they head to Kenya in spring:

1. Accommodations: “Pricing for the camps and lodges is also less expensive these months of the year,” Dan explains. “Rates typically go up around June 15th in East Africa, so combined with the airfare, you can see significant savings traveling during these months.”

2. Visas and fees: In an effort to encourage more family travel, Kenya just changed its entry visa policy so that all children under the age of 16 get into the country for free, effective immediately (adults are still $50). In the same vein, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that from July of this year, all park fees will be reduced and that VAT charges will be removed. Dan says, “It may not appear to be a huge difference on a daily basis, but it certainly adds up to a huge savings over the course of one’s safari, especially when traveling with a family.”

As for the key question of whether spring is a worthwhile time to take a safari, Dan says “absolutely it is. Rains can occur this time of year, but the ever-changing global weather patterns make it a worthwhile time to visit, as the animals are there to be seen year-round; they certainly don’t go inside if it happens to rain!”

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

National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, D.C.

Spring Vacation Idea: Flower Festivals Worth Traveling For

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

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


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

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

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

More info: Holland.com


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

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

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

More info: Holland.com


Istanbul Tulip Festival (mid-April to late May)

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

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

More info: HowToInstanbul.com

cherry blossoms in Ueno Park Tokyo Japan

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

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

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

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

More info: Japan National Tourism Office


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

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

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

More info: Japan National Tourism Office


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

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

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

More info: NationalCherryBlossomFestival.org

RHS Chelsea Flower Show, London

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

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

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

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

More info: rhs.org.uk


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

Canal Barging: The Cruise Experience You’ve Been Missing Out On

Picture yourself floating gently along Europe’s winding waterways, dining every night on fresh local foods and spending your days exploring hidden nooks of France, Germany, and Belgium.

That’s the experience of canal barging—a very specific type of European cruise that has gained a very loyal following of sophisticated travelers, but which is still unknown to many.

That might be because the word “barge” isn’t very enticing—it doesn’t exactly conjure up the charm and luxury that these trips really offer. A better name for the experience would be “canal yachting,” says Ellen Sack, our Trusted Travel Expert for this kind of vacation, who’s been working in this unique part of the travel industry for 30 years.

But whatever you call it, this kind of vacation is something special—a way to see beautiful European countryside from the water without the drawbacks of a cruise. Even if you’ve been to Europe many times, or taken a river cruise, canal barging is a new experience.

barge cruise france

The Luciole cruises through Northern Burgundy and holds up to 14 guests. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

What exactly is canal barging?

Canal barging is a type of cruise that takes place on very small boats that wind through Europe’s manmade canals, some of which were built as far back as the 16th century, when cargo barges used them to ship freight around the region. Now that trucks, trains, and planes have taken over that job, the canals are used as sightseeing routes for small boats that are still called barges, even though they’re more like intimate floating hotels. As opposed to their predecessors, these come with all the high-end amenities: private chefs, private tour guides, and a captain who is often the owner of the vessel and an expert on the region. Days are filled with activities that enable you to delve into the rural areas’ artisan culture and laid-back lifestyle. On one day you might find yourself bicycling through fields, shopping at local markets, wine tasting at vineyards, or getting a behind-the-scenes tour of a chateau.

Canal barge vacations are similar to other cruises in that they have start and end dates and follow set itineraries. But since groups are very small—Ellen Sack’s company, Barge Lady Cruises, offers boats that carry 12 people or less, and none carry more than 24—guests have access to a lot of privately guided experiences. And if you don’t feel like sharing the boat, you don’t have to: A multigenerational family can book an entire barge to themselves, whereas if you’re a couple who’s feeling social, you can join a mixed boat.

Either way, the groups are always very small—not like a bus tour or cruise ship excursion. “It’s intimate, very authentic, very slow,” she explains. “You see the rural countryside from the water and get into a world that a traveler wouldn’t get into ordinarily. It’s really a lot more interesting than the name of the industry would imply.”

Where can you do it?

France is the main destination, and Sack has most of her boats there. But she also offers cruises in Holland and Belgium, Italy, Ireland, England, Scotland and Germany.

canal barge cruise itinerary

Canal barge itineraries include private tours, artisan food tastings, outdoor activities like bicycling, and visits to villages and markets. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises.

How does it differ from river cruises?

“The small size differs from every other cruise on the planet,” Sack explains. “It’s often confused with river cruising because both are on waterways of Europe, but our boats are much smaller, they go on canals and really small waterways.” And, she adds, barging is much much slower. “We go about 50 miles per week. You could walk faster. Whereas river cruises are larger—100 to 200 people—and they travel several hundred miles per week.”

The upshot is that barging will take you deep into a country’s rural areas, which are not accessible to river cruises (or big-ship ocean cruises either).

However, if you’re looking for a lot of nightlife, shopping, a more formal atmosphere, and city excitement, then canal barging is not for you. “It really is deep countryside and it is laid back.”

The other important thing to understand about barging is that it is not a customized trip. Itineraries are set, and have been crafted by Sack and her team based on more than three decades of experience and contacts in the area. “On all of our boats, whether it’s a family trip or anything else, we have strong programming,” Sack explains. “It’s not for people who prefer to wander around by themselves. Barging is for people who want everything taken care of, who want to eat gourmet food, who want to see sights with a private guide. If someone tells me that they want to spend ten hours wandering around village X, then barging is not for them.”

How to decide if canal barging is right for you:

Barging is for a certain kind of traveler.

•You like slow travel. Barging isn’t for travelers who want to hit a lot of countries and destinations in one trip. It’s for travelers who want to immerse themselves in an area and see parts of Europe they haven’t had access to before.

•You like good food. Barges have their own private chefs and usually include the chance to shop with the chef at a market.

•You like private, special-access experiences. Barge cruises stick to set itineraries, but the quality of the itinerary very much depends on the experience of the company you book with — which is why we recommend Sack’s company. She has great connections in Europe and is able to arrange for special experiences, like mustard tasting with artisans in Burgundy.

•You don’t care about dressing up. As Sack tells it, most of her travelers are comfortable in the informal setting of a barge. They aren’t looking to get dolled up and hit the town, and they don’t mind that they’re going to kick back for a week.

•You’re not looking for a custom-tailored trip. Barge cruises are turn-key—that is the point. They provide a luxury experience that is all laid out for you, so that you know exactly what you’re getting and don’t have to think about anything. And the best part: It’s all pre-paid. Every single meal, drink, activity, and guide (except for gratuities) is covered in your initial cost. “We call it a house party,” Sack says. “We want to treat you like you’ve joined a house party and everything is prepaid. You will never put your hand in your pocket.”

canal barge cruise food

Most canal barges have a private chef, who prepares meals with local foods every day. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

When to do it:

Since barge cruises travel where most tourists don’t—and offer private tours and experiences—anytime is a good time to go, even during the usual height of Europe’s tourist season.

In general, the barge season runs from April 15 to November 1 and is most popular in June and September. Mid-April through the first two weeks of May are what’s known as value season, where some boats offer 10 to 25 percent off their main season rates. But every boat differs; some might have their value season in August, and some don’t have a value season at all.

But Sack stresses that it’s the boat that makes the trip—not the date. “The weather doesn’t differ drastically, so there’s not a better or worse time to go. It’s more about finding the right boat for you.”

And finding the right boat for you is what Sack does best. Contact her through WendyPerrin.com to be identified as a Wendy Perrin VIP traveler (which means that Wendy will be in the wings offering advice and making sure your entire travel-planning experience is a positive one), and then talk to her about what you want in your vacation. Sack knows her boats, their routes, and their owner-operators extremely well and can tell you whatever you need to know. You can also peruse her Barge Lady Cruises website, which is packed with a ton of info. You’ll find pictures and blueprints of every boat, sample menus and photos of meals, a full itinerary, photos of the crew and past guests in action, and reviews from previous travelers on each specific vessel.

canal barge cruise deck

Canal barging is all about having a laid-back vacation. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises