Medieval hill-towns like Assisi, Orvieto, Perugia and Spoleto perch high above lush valleys. Family-owned vineyards produce world-class wines and age-old olive groves yield fragrant extra virgin oils. From local farms come organic pork and lamb, lentils and chickpeas. Thick forests of oaks, elms and chestnuts shelter the region’s prized black truffles.
Known as “Italy’s green heart,” Umbria tempts all the senses. But it also transports the soul. The region’s misty blue hills inspired the likes of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare, St. Benedict, and St. Valentine, patron saint of lovers. Today, visitors explore rock-bound hermitages, hilltop shrines, and cathedrals adorned with frescoes by Giotto, Luca Signorelli, and Perugino, who schooled the great Renaissance painter, Raphael.
An eye-catching walled Old Town, topped by terracotta roofs and framed by azure waters and rugged mountains, helps earn Dubrovnik its nickname “The Pearl of the Adriatic”. The entire medieval-walled city is a pedestrian zone and UNESCO World Heritage Site, with polished stone streets lined by a treasure trove of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. No wonder Game of Thrones shot so much of its footage here. (Game of Thrones tours are popular with fans).
On a recent Windstar Cruise from Athens to Venice, my 23-year-old daughter and I were thrilled to have 12 hours to explore the city. Our plan was to climb the City Wall, shop a bit and then hit the beach and maybe take a short boat ride to one of the offshore islands before returning to enjoy the ship’s drop-down watersports platform. As it turned out, we never could tear ourselves from the town itself. We were enchanted by its beauty and fascinated by the diverse museums that were tucked into every corner.
With 18 sculpted peaks that soar above the tree line to heights of over 3,000 meters, expansive high meadows that change with the seasons, and meandering river-carved valleys, the beauty of Italy’s Dolomite Mountains is astounding. Here, small colorful villages with onion-domed churches and flower-box adorned chalets are tucked into the mountainsides and cows and horses graze on hillsides too steep to plow.
I like seeing Europe by train. With an eight-day, two-country Eurail Selectpass Flexi, I traveled through Germany and Switzerland. In Germany, I watched golden fields of rape, from which canola oil comes, sweep by; sprawling farm houses with helmet-like roofs, and castles perched above towns and villages
Poland is having a moment. With increasing chicness appeal, recently added nonstop flights to Warsaw and Krakow on LOT Airlines from New York, Newark, Chicago and Los Angeles
(www.lot.com), plus the locale’s great value for your money, more visitors are flocking to this ‘in’ destination. Medieval towns, remarkable museums, a blossoming art scene, trendy haunts, exceptional cuisine and world-class spas are some of the superb amenities Poland offers visitors.
The country’s fascinating historical heritage is reflected in its amazing castles with their unique architectural styles and stories. With over a hundred sprinkled across Poland - ranging from ruins with historic significance, preserved gems to meticulously restored wonders and royal residences - they are all impressive. Many of these magnificent structures contain museums and have venues for cultural events; some have been converted into luxury hotels with outstanding restaurants. Here are some of my favorites:
A Greek cruise is a bucket list item for many of your customers. Whether they are archeology buffs, interested in a religious pilgrimage, fans of Greek mythology, or just want to take in the beauty of the Aegean Sea and the Greek islands, a Greek cruise offers something for everyone.
Recently, my wife and I had the opportunity to participate in a 5-day/4-night cruise on the Celestyal Olympia. This was my first trip to Greece; one of my personal bucket list destinations. It met all of my expectations, and then some. It was a whirlwind trip to say the least, with two days in Athens, one pre- and one post-cruise, and 5 days of cruising with multiple daily island visits. I filled my camera with pictures, and my senses with the sights, smells, tastes, sounds and experience that is Greece.
Tenerife. The Canary Islands. The names sound far away, exotic and indeed, most Americans would be hard pressed to find these islands on the map. When spotted, their location off the West Coast of Africa would validate the term exotic, yet travelers are often mystified upon arrival in Tenerife because the island feels so “European.” It feels like Europe because it is Europe. It’s part of Spain and benefits from all the important infrastructure (think roads, electrical systems, water, etc.) built to European standards.
For seasoned travelers this results in an experience that is both exotic and familiar...all at the very same time, in the very same place.
I was among several journalists who boarded LOT’s (www.lot.com) inaugural direct flight from Newark to Warsaw. From the Frederick Chopin International Airport, we were driven to the luxurious Regent Warsaw Hotel (www.regent-warsaw.com) downtown, after which we left for the Sawa Bistro, named after the legendary Warsaw mermaid - the city’s guardian.
To make the most of your clients’ Poland experience, offer them accommodation in one of the many historic and beautiful castles that have been transformed into boutique hotels. Travelers to Poland have many unique opportunities to stay in places of historic significance, with the ability to experience and enjoy the nearby tourism sites, museums, local cuisine, and all that Poland has to offer. See these and more castle stay possibilities at www.poland.travel/en/castles-palaces
Allow me to take a few moments to introduce you to the latest love of my life, the lovely and lush country of Slovenia, a land of fairytales and forests that stole my heart for six days. You may remember it as part of Yugoslavia or know Slovenia as the birthplace of the First Lady of the United States, but you must travel to this verdant land to appreciate its magic. Slovenia connects the Alps, the Mediterranean and the Pannonian Plain in accessible distances. You can easily pair a trip to Slovenia with a visit to Austria, Hungary, Croatia or Italy. But you just may want to stay for a week, a while, or forever.
One of the primary reasons for my passion for this tiny country which is about the size of New Hampshire, is that it is full of diversity and surprises. Did you know that the noble white Lipizzaner horses hail from Slovenia? Or that Slovenia is home to Predjama Castle, the largest cave castle in the world? It seems almost implausible that a landscape dotted with ancient castles and steeples is just 26 years old. Join in a journey through the mountains filled with grazing pastoral animals, ribbons of greenery and breathtaking scenery.