Cézanne, Van Gogh, Chagall, and Matisse all drew inspiration from the storied beauty of Provence, and now savvy travelers can as well on a new, affordably-priced 12-day small group tour with Odysseys Unlimited: Discovering Provence with the French Riviera. From billowy lavender fields to rose-hued salt marshes, hilltop villages to medieval towns, and traditional cowboy ranches to the French Riviera, the small group tour relishes la vie Provençale with visits to Aix-en-Provence, Arles, and the quintessential Provençal villages of Lourmarin, Rousillon, Les Baux ,and Saint-Rémy; along with the Camargue region, Avignon, and Nice.
Six-time honoree of Travel +Leisure’s World’s Best Tour Operators award, I like Odysseys Unlimited approach with small groups, limited to 12 – 24 traveling companions, and led by top-rated tour directors with a balanced mix of guided tour and time for independent exploration. There’s nothing worse than never having a moment to relax. The company’s tour directors illuminate historic sites such as Cézanne’s atelier in Aix, the Pont du Gard and the Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) in Avignon, and the UNESCO sites of Roman Arles, while also allowing ample time to stop and smell the sunflowers. Or the lavender.
Small group highlights abound, including a private cooking class from a local Provençal chef, dinner and a wine tasting at a vineyard, a visit to a working manade (traditional ranch) in the Camargue, and a stay at a converted 17th-century convent.
Priced from $3,997 total price from Boston and New York ($3,495 air and land inclusive plus $502 airline taxes and departure fees), and slightly higher from other gateway cities, Odysseys Unlimited’s 12-day Discovering Provence with the French Riviera debuts April 6, 2020, and has 12 departures through October 12, 2020. There is an optional three-day/two-night extension in Nice on the French Riviera, from $245.
Germany. From bratwurst and Beethoven’s birthplace to beer and some of the best art and music in the world, it’s time to check out Rhineland-Palatinate’s Summer of Culture, taking place every year from May 1st – October 3rd. Featuring well over 200 projects covering all kinds of different cultural aspects, the theme is revised annually to reflect new focuses for the content, and the venue for the grand opening also changes every year. A large cultural festival on the first weekend in May also offers families their first peek at the summer’s program of events held across the state covering cultural, religious, artistic and social themes.
In early 1992, the Rhineland-Palatinate state government announced the staging of the first Rhineland-Palatinate Summer of Culture, the aim of which was to increase people’s awareness of the region’s culture. What the organizers had – and continue to have – in mind was a sort of ‘citizens’ movement for culture’. The Summer of Culture is, in fact, characterized by the large number of small projects and ideas at its core that were themselves developed out of local or regional initiatives. With almost 250 events including concerts, readings, exhibitions, children’s activities, theatre and more, it’s an incredible melting pot of people and ideas.
From example, throughout August 24, 2019, the Mayen Burgfestspiele Theatre Festival is the cultural highlight of the Northern Rhineland-Palatinate. Every summer, the quiet town Mayen, located about 1 hour north of Mainz (another little colorful gem) turns into a colorful theater city.
There’s also a nearby wine festival for the parents. The Rheingau Wine Festival has around 100 winemakers offering the acclaimed Rheingau riesling wines, as well as sparkling sekt and regional fare. The ten-day wine festival includes a varied program of entertainment in Schlossplatz and Dern’schen Gelände squares in Wiesbaden too!
Her crashing coastline, sky-piercing mountains, glacial lakes, sleepy surf towns and characterful castles set the stage for your own personal Emerald Isle production with your very own tour company. Enter: Wilderness Ireland’s new collection of adventure vacations. Designed by locals and delivered by local legends, the seven trips are said to “bring travelers closer to the source of where adventure meets fantasy and where fiction comes to life.” Works for us. Oh, and get this… the rock pinnacles of the Skellig Islands will feature prominently in Rogue One, the latest Star Wars flick for those who want to geek out and get a Star Wars location scout visit. Oh, and for Game of Thrones fans, the small village along the Causeway Coastal Route is better known as the location for Game of Thrones’ Iron Island. The best part? A favorable exchange rate and countless flight options makes it the perfect time to experience Ireland’s wild landscapes and enchanting history.
Here’s our latest eco-adventuring pick for Ireland’s fair sights:
Wilderness Ireland’s new small-group tours debut in Spring 2017
Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry: On foot and by boat, travelers discover Kerry and Cork, exploring the wildest corners of the striking southwest where tales of pirate invasions were born and ancient Neolithic sites are scattered across the land. Amongst many highlights is the climb up the bare rock steps of the UNESCO World Heritage site Skellig Michael. The Skellig Islands were home to Christian monks until the 12th Century and are now a filming location for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VIII. Travelers might also spot whales, puffins, dolphins, seals and sharks from the coastal trails.
Hiking the Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal: The Causeway Coastal Route is home to rolling mountains awash with local legends and myths, the highest sea cliffs in Europe and remote lodges dishing out fresh seafood from the Atlantic. From the most northerly point of Ireland at Malin Head, hikers can look across the windswept landscapes and its ancient archaeological remains, before the ascent up Mount Errigal to Glenveagh castle. Guests traverse the Pilgrim’s Path, a route once used for Christian pilgrimage, to meet with a local tweed-maker still practicing his craft on a traditional handloom.
Cycling and Yoga Escape: Each day begins with a gentle yoga session to help cyclists prepare for their two-wheel journey in the peaceful north-west. From laidback surfing villages to wild mountain ranges and historic pubs overlooking the Atlantic, this bike tour has it all. Travelers cycle through the charming Irish countryside and across glaciated valleys to ancient castles.
Hiking the Ring of Kerry Mountains: Hikers summit some of Ireland’s highest peaks in Killarney National Park, Corrán Tuathail and Mount Brandon, and take lost pilgrimage paths along the sea cliff’s edge to white sandy beaches. Travelers uncover the legend of Cú Chulainn and the giant as they explore the stories of the Dingle Peninsula. Evenings are enjoyed in cozy inns with traditional live music and the finest local fare.
Hiking the Mountains of Connemara and Mayo: Following in the footsteps of Saint Patrick, hikers will conquer three of the highest mountains in the west of Ireland. Guests explore the spectacular mountain and bog wilderness of Connemara, home to Ireland’s only true fjord, Killary Harbour. Watching wild dolphins play in the nearby surf makes the Mayo Coastal Trek one of Ireland’s most memorable.
Bike Tour – Connemara and the Aran Islands: The westernmost regions of Ireland have their own distinct culture and traditions. Places such as the Aran Islands are the last bastion of the Irish Gaelic language. Back on the mainland, in The Burren National Park, ancient tombs, friendly farming communities, and cozy pubs are natural complements to the exhilaration of riding through this majestic landscape.
Hiking the Burren, Aran Islands and Connemara: The limestone landscape of the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher are blanketed in colourful wildflowers in summer. Travelers follow the winding paths of the Aran Islands to visit Europe’s most important prehistoric sites and enjoy outstanding views of Galway Bay, Connemara and Black Head.
The region of Emilia Romagna always reminds me of a beautiful woman nestled in the arms of her sultry Italian love. So, as a tribute to a region we hold dear, we wanted to share a few A, B, C’s to get you started dreaming about wandering through cobblestone streets, sipping Lambrusco, and dipping fresh bread into their version of black gold… also known as balsamic vinegar.
Without further ado… the first five letters of the alphabet of Emilia from the top!
A for Art: The regions of Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Le Marche and Umbria are celebrating the one year anniversary of their collaboration on the Terre di Piero, a unique trail following the work of 15th century painter Piero della Francesca visiting the four regions that inspired his work. The new year will bring two updates to the route. The first is a new exhibit at the San Domenico Museum Complex comparing the works of painters who came after Piero and were inspired by his work. The second will be that restorations to The Resurrection, which has been called the most beautiful painting in the world,are scheduled to be completed in August 2016. The process is currently in progress in a way that allows visitors to still view the masterpiece.
B for Black Gold: While balsamic vinegar is often thought of as a dressing, traditional balsamic vinegar is far too rich in flavor with a production process that is time-intensive to use it on salads. In order to receive recognition as a maker of traditional balsamic, the producer must follow a strict set of guidelines and practices. Visitors to the Modena area will find a number of tradition balsamic vinegar producers who are happy to share their knowledge and passion.
C for Competition: This year, Emilia Romagna’s Lambrusco Wine Competitionshowcased over 90 Lambrusco wine producers. Special to Emilia-Romagna, Lambrusco grapes create a semi-sweet, fresh and light wine that has been produced since the Roman period. This wine can be found in most Emilian kitchens and consistently enhancing the flavors of any traditional meal. When Lambrusco is not being used to enhance the meal it can be ideal in making a Sangria or Spritz.
D for Delicious: Parmigiano Reggiano cheese has been a culinary staple for ages to enhance flavor and, of course, top-off our favorite pasta dishes. The process of boiling, stirring and shaping the cow’s milk requires deep concentration to form the perfect block before aging to form the “King of Cheese.” Travelers visiting the Parma area will come across numerous Parmigiano Reggiano farms where they can see first-hand the steps that go into creating this beloved food.
E for Eat Up: Emilia Romagna boasts itself as the “breadbasket” of Italy. It is here that many pasta varieties we have all come to know, love and crave were created. From lasagna to tortellini, tagliatelle to ravioli, gnocci and more – Emilian’s throughout history have perfected the art of pasta-making. While visiting the region, sign up for an authentic Italian cooking class and toast these new-found skills!
Turkey, the site of two wonders of the ancient world, is a present-day marvel – the cradle of many civilizations, the very center of world history and a modern republic which, at times, struggles between embracing the relics of her past and a forward-seeking future. A country of fascinating contrasts, antiquity is juxtaposed with the contemporary, the familiar with the exotic, and sun-swept beaches beckon less than an hour away from snow-capped mountains. Everywhere, however, visitors say they are often treated to the extraordinary warmth of the Turkish people. Istanbul is the most popular 1st stop for those visiting Turkey and it’s a clear winner among people of all nationalities and religions. If you only have a few days or a long weekend, here’s a quick cheat sheet of the Top Things to Do and Seein Istanbul, to soon be followed by the Wonders of The Turkish Coast.
What to See
In addition to the well known sites of the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, two years ago, Istanbul was rated Travel + Leisure‘s #1 European city to visit, so, to celebrate Staff of the Turkish Cultural Foundation (TCF) compiled a list of the 10 places every visitor to Istanbul must experience which we wanted to share.
Sip the best Turkish coffee at Mandabatmaz
Browse the sustainable, locally-made, high-end contemporary Turkish goods at Armaggan Emporium
Indulge in centuries of Anatolian culinary tradition at NAR Gourmet and NAR Restaurant
Absorb the work of Turkey’s greatest contemporary artists at Istanbul Modern
Hop on a Bosphorus ferry to Kadikoy for people watching and Alinin Dondurmasi’s famous ice cream
Experience the centuries-old tradition of raki and fresh fish at İsmet Baba in Kuzguncuk
Relax in the pleasure of a traditional Turkish hamam bath at Cağaloğlu Hamamı
Shop the collection of critically acclaimed Turkish designer Simay Bülbül
Soak up the sounds of Turkey’s thriving jazz scene at Nardis Jazz Bar
Enjoy cocktails and conversation in Münferit’s quiet garden before returning inside to dance until dawn with locals
The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul
A few years ago, we stayed at The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbulbecause we always know we’ll get top-notch service and food, but Istanbul has several fantastic properties that are unique and special (Note: Ciragan Palace). The Ritz is located at one of the most exciting cultural crossroads in the world in a city that bridges the continents of Asia and Europe along the banks of the Bosphorus Strait. From the outside, it may look like another skyscraper, but once inside, international recognition for its commitment to exceptional levels of service becomes clear. You’re not simply told where the Ladies room is located, you’re escorted there, after being offered some warm Turkish sahlep, a delectable sweet warm drink reminiscent of yogurt and cinnamon. The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul was voted “Best Overseas Business Hotel 2009” by readers of Condé Nast Traveller UK and it’s no surprise. It’s about as stress free as you can get. In addition to 244 rooms and 23 suites, there are 57 Ritz-Carlton Club Level rooms (since I’m obsessed with the Club Level) and The Ritz also offers the award-wining Laveda Spa that includes ten treatment rooms including a not-to-be-missed Turkish Hammam where you will feel transported back in time, dreaming of the days of Suleyman the Magnificient.
At the Laveda Spa, the experienced therapists apply the miraculous methods of massage and skin care with Aromatherapy Associates offering all natural plant oils and the high-end line of Carita products. Apart from that a variety of holistic massages like the relaxing “Sultans Royal Six Hands Massage” applied in synchronization by three trained artisans, there are also exclusive body treatments like the “Hot Chocolate Seduction”, “Caviar Therapy”, “Milk & Honey Bath,” or an intoxicating wine therapy called “The Gift of Bacchus,” all infused with natural ingredients.
The indoor pool, the biggest of all indoor hotel pools in the city, is another alternative for more sporty activities or a few lazy laps. You’ll have the feeling of soaking under the Turkish sky when swimming in the mosaic pool as twinkling “stars” on the ceiling illuminate the pool area and highlight the impressive architecture of the Byzantine period of Istanbul.
But perhaps the most stunning section of the Spa is the authentic Turkish Hamam modeled on the 16th century Baths of Roxelana. The Hamam ritual entails a process of complete surrender to scrubbing, washing, and relaxation where you enter a private hamam room and lay a warm slab of marble. Once there, you’re exfoliated and cleansed like a goddess with copious amounts of warm and cool water, followed by a thorough body wash, and a bubble massage where the therapist creates clouds of bubbles with the use of a special towel that surrounds you like a daphine-scented cloud (an exotic flower from Western Asia).
This was, in many ways, the highlight of my luxurious vacation.
After our Turkish Hamam, we headed to the Ritz Calrton Istanbul’s Çintemani restaurant for dinner, an exciting autumn menu designed to celebrate local seasonal produce and showcase a unique approach to the culinary traditions of Turkey. Highlights on the autumn five-course degustation menu from then Chef de Cuisine, Ali Ronay (now at Raffles). His menu included Turkish puff pastry with pumpkin and pomegranate, lamb from the Thracian region and Turkish pancakes, while the à la carte menu was a whirlwind journey around the country’s regional flavors from Thracian beef fillet, prawns from Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, tuna and octopus from Dardanelles, veal from Balikesir, and chicken from Bandirma on the Sea of Marmara. The fusion of local flavors and innovative cooking techniques made the dishes so unique and mouth-watering that I can honestly say I’ve never quite tasted food like this before. Prawns were infused with Turkish Raki brandy, Bosporus bonito fish was prepared in traditional tomato and onion ragout, while mullet from Dardanelles was dressed with virgin olive oil from Bodrum. Innovative techniques included lamb prepared à la sous vide (a method of cooking vacuum-packed food in a plastic pouch at a set temperature often in a water bath) and cheesecake created from Aegean curd and seasonal pumpkin.