Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula: Ancient culture waiting to be explored 

By: Jason Z. Cohen of Pleasant Holidays

From the pyramids that rise above the remnants of ancient Mesoamerican cities such as Chichen Itza, Coba, Ek Balam and Tulum, to the cenotes that lie underfoot, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to this day reflects the continuing influence of the Maya civilization that once dominated its lands.  

Although the Maya civilization was at its greatest size and power in the 9th Century A.D., some of the wonders of this ancient civilization have survived the centuries, and many of them are easy to visit and explore while vacationing in Cancun and Riviera Maya. Within a short drive of the resort areas of the Yucatan coast are dozens of archaeological sites, historic points of interest, and examples of natural beauty and wonder, all influenced in some way by the region’s Maya past. 

The view from atop Ixmoja Pyramid. Photo by Jason Z. Cohen, Pleasant Holidays.

Pay a visit to one of the ancient Maya cities, such as Chichen Itza, Coba, Ek Balam or Tulum to catch a glimpse of what life might have been like centuries ago. While the surviving structures have been partially or fully restored, it’s still possible to see trees growing from the walls, a witness to just how far nature went to claim it as its own. In fact, the growth had to be cut back substantially at these sites in order for people to appreciate their significance, and work continues even now to reverse the encroachment of the forest. At Ek Balam, you may even be able to ascend to the top of the Acropolis pyramid to gain a view previously reserved for Maya elite – a vista of the sprawling Yucatan rainforest from above the treetops.  

Another place where the history of the region is celebrated is at Xcaret Eco-Archaeological Park, which blends immersive history with aquatic adventure. Visitors can float the length of the park though a series of natural cenotes—subterranean caverns unique to this area that were formed by underground streams and rivers. The Maya people revered cenotes, believing they were passageways between our world and the Underworld, a spiritual realm occupied by mystical beings more powerful than humans. 

The park is also home to numerous archaeological sites featuring the ruins of buildings dating back to the height of Maya civilization. Each evening, the park puts on a dinner show that highlights the history of Mexico while celebrating its regional differences, from ancient to modern times. Part of the show recreates the ball game contested by players centuries ago, whose playing courts still can be found among the buildings in Coba and Chichen Itza. 

Before the Spanish colonized the land and brought their own flavors and ingredients, the people native to Mexico were already cultivating corn, chili peppers, avocadoes and cacao. The Europeans introduced beef, pork, rice, cheese and spices. The result of the combination is a cuisine that is popular throughout the world, consisting not only of well-known favorites such as tacos and tamales, but regional dishes as well, which are reflections of the history of the area.  

In the Yucatan, you can find chiles rellenos and chilaquiles, but also dishes steeped in tradition including Poc C​​huc – sliced marinated pork in a sour orange and achiote sauce – and the slow-cooked pork specialty known as cochinita pibil. Yucatan cuisine often features some combination of sour citrus, achiote and habanero chile, slowly cooked with smoke in an underground pit. 

Like the cenotes below, the Maya culture runs deep in the Yucatan Peninsula, offering ancient knowledge, customs, recipes and architecture for you to discover. 

About Pleasant Holidays: Founded in 1959, Pleasant Holidays is one of the largest tour operators in the United States offering vacation packages, flights, hotels, cruises, car rentals, cancel-for-any-reason travel protection and related travel services to the world’s most popular destinations, including Canada, Caribbean, Central & South America, Europe, Hawaii, Japan & Asia, Mexico, South Pacific (Cook Islands, Fiji and Tahiti), United States and cruise vacations worldwide. The Company’s portfolio of travel brands includes Pleasant Holidays®, Journese®, Pleasant Activities℠ and Air By Pleasant. Pleasant Holidays is headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif. near Los Angeles with regional offices in San Diego and Honolulu and a dedicated team of more than 400 employees. For additional information and reservations, visit www.PleasantAgent.com, www.Journese.com, www.PleasantActivities.com, and www.AirByPleasant.com


Discover Italy’s New UNESCO World Heritage Sites

By: Susan Van Allen 

Extraordinary destinations for travelers are added every year to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. In 2021, three of the new sites selected were in Italy, bringing Italy’s World Heritage Site total to 58—the most of any country in the world. 

While many of Italy’s UNESCO sites from the past are packed with tourists, such as the Historical Center of Florence or Venice and its lagoon, these newly designated places are under the tourist radar.  

Equally stunning and without crowds, these places give travelers a chance to blend in with the locals, immersing themselves in unique pleasures of bell’Italia.  Their locations add to their allure, as each can easily be reached by short train rides from Venice or Florence, making them perfect for day trips. 

For your consideration, from north to south: 

Padua’s Fourteenth-Century Fresco Cycles 

Only a 30-minute train ride from Venice is the university town of Padua, a dazzling delight, where visitors can wander through the historic center’s piazzas, entering churches and civic buildings that were fantastically frescoed by artists in the fourteenth century.  

As the UNESCO proclamation states, painters during that pre-Renaissance time brought a new image to Padua, giving it the nickname Urbs Picta, Painted City. The star of the eight frescoed buildings in the UNESCO group is the Scrovegni Chapel, painted by superstar Giotto. Entering, visitors are awestruck by vibrant colors and a striking style that captures powerful emotions.  

More breathtaking interiors are to be discovered in Padua’s Baptistry, Palazzo della Ragione, and the Basilica of Saint Anthony, one of Italy’s most popular pilgrimage sites.  To enrich the Padua fresco experience, there’s an app with fascinating commentary, and an inclusive ticket to see all eight sites. 

The Porticoes of Bologna 

Visitors to Bologna, in Italy’s central Emilia Romagna region, are enchanted by the city’s beautifully preserved medieval ambience, where sidewalks are sheltered with more porticoes than any other city in the world, totaling 62 km, or about 35 miles. The porticoes appear in a range of styles—from humble wooden structures to Renaissance loggias with carved stone columns and painted ceilings.  

UNESCO calls these porticoes “expressions of Bologna’s urban identity.” Though their original purpose in the Middle Ages was to expand buildings to make room for the many university students coming to Bologna, today the porticoes serve to expand the city’s pleasures. On a practical level, they give protection for walks in rainy weather and provide cool shade on hot summer days. Moreover, they bring an easy-going elegance to the city, as they are perfect settings for sidewalk eateries or for musicians to casually set up and play Mozart concertos.  

A traditional Bolognese experience is the 4-kilometer, 2.5 mile walk through the longest portico in the world, adorned with 664 arches, from the Porta Saragozza in the historic center up to the church of San Luca, where stunning views of the countryside await. 

As Bologna is also famous for having the most delicious cuisine in Italy, it can be an ideal escape from the crowds of Florence, (only a 40-minute train ride away), to enjoy a classic lunch of Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

Montecatini 
Italian National Tourist Board c/o GettyImages 

Montecatini Terme, a Great Spa Town of Europe 

Mineral rich thermal springs have been enjoyed on the Italian peninsula since the days of the Roman Empire. Among Italy’s most famous places to “take the waters” is the Tuscan Art Nouveau town of Montecatini Terme, reached by an hour’s train ride from Florence.  

UNESCO included Montecatini Terme amongst 11 “Great Spa Towns of Europe”, praising it for its history, since the 1700s, when the town developed as an international resort destination, combining medical studies with monumental spa architecture, promenades, and parklands. 

Today there are two hundred spa hotels in Montecatini Terme that pump in curative waters, renowned for their beneficial effects on the liver and digestive system.  

A favorite spot is Terme Tettuccio, a grand pavilion that sits in the center of Montecatini Terme’s beautifully landscaped park. Gorgeous marble bars with brass spigots disperse drinking cups of the cure, as local hipsters in their gym clothes and pensioners with their canes mill about. A jazz orchestra plays on the bandstand, there’s a bookstore, caffe, and inner gardens that blend to create a blissful Old World ambience. 

To learn more, visit: www.italia.it or contact the Italian National Tourist Board in the US newyork@enit.it; losangeles@enit.it.  

About the author: Susan Van Allen is the author of 4 books about Italian travel, including “100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go”. She also designs and hosts Golden Weeks in Italy For Women Only tours, that give female travelers wonderful insiders’ experiences of the Bel Paese. www.susanvanallen.com 

The Italian National Tourist Board – ENIT – supports marketing activities worldwide, promoting Italy as a unique and exclusive destination, aiming to increase the international tourist flow, while maintaining its high market share. The promotion is carried out with a corporate strategy conceived in Italy and implemented through its 28 offices abroad. In the next few years, Italy’s tourism development will be focused on a value growth to generate economic, social and cultural sustainability: enhance tourism supply, increase the value of the territories and businesses and market relevance. 


Spain’s Commitment to Tourism Sustainability 

By: José Manuel de Juan of The Tourism Office of Spain 

Spain is one of the world’s tourism leaders, ranking second among the most visited countries. As part of this leadership role, the Government of Spain has launched an ambitious scheme that seeks to promote the transformation of tourist destinations towards sustainability in three ways: environmental, socioeconomic, and territorial. 

UNWTO defines sustainable tourism as “tourism that takes full account of current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts to meet the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.” Therefore, sustainable tourism is not a tourism product but rather a management principle that must be applied to any type of tourism product and destination. 

With this concept in mind, the Spanish government plans to invest 1.9 billion euros in the next three years to support Spain’s tourist destinations in their transformation process to integrate environmental, socioeconomic and territorial sustainability into their offer and to develop resilience strategies to face the new challenges in the tourism ecosystem, from climate change to tourism overdemand to health and safety crises.  

Specifically: 

  • To diversify the offer of tourist destinations to help generate employment opportunities, redistribute tourism revenue, and promote territorial cohesion while disrupting the concentration of the demand, particularly toward rural areas, as well as to promote arrivals all year round. 
  • To guarantee sustainability by reducing emissions, improving waste and water management, protecting and restoring ecosystems for tourism, and introducing actions to prevent or mitigate the effects of climate change. 

Any municipality in Spain can present their plans to the Government to get their sustainability plans financed.  

The type of plan will depend on the type of destination. Destinations will be divided into categories which will require different actions: 

Sun and beach destinations 

Sun and beach destinations are currently facing a profound change, with consumers who are increasingly more informed, more demanding and who have more alternatives, and citizens who demand a better distribution of the socioeconomic benefits of tourism among local populations. 

All this requires a strategy that reinforces the diversity of the tourism experience, the participation of the local population in the benefits of tourism, the reduction of its environmental impact, the contribution to energy efficiency, and the recovery of an environment where a wide range of travel experiences can coexist. 

Rural destinations 

Inland Spain has an enormous cultural heritage and rich natural resources. This endows it with  great potential from a tourism standpoint and a wide margin for development.  

A better integration of this territory in Spain’s tourism system will contribute to a seasonal adjustment, a disruption of the current concentration, and the distribution of tourism income. Spain’s plan for rural destinations is aimed at improving the quality of life of their residents, generating new job opportunities, revitalizing aged social spaces, improving industries and business, and contributing to the country’s strategy against depopulation. 

Urban destinations 

Urban tourism represents approximately a quarter of the international tourism demand towards Spain. The cities are also the main points of entry into the country through their airports. 

Cities face considerable challenges: the renovation of their cultural and leisure offer and the integration of new pieces in that offer, as well as the need for maintenance and improvement of their historic centers; a balanced approach that takes into consideration the multiplicity of demographic groups that inhabit a given space or neighborhood and the expectation that each group has for that space (living , working, visiting, etc.); the need to expand and diversify areas of interest; and the need for digital tools that allow a better management of tourism flows and contribute to a more efficient management of the different services made available to them. 

Independently of the funds that are available to the destinations, the Spanish Government has just announced a 170-million-euros project aimed at financing hotels and other hospitality facilities to become more energy efficient.  

This is just a brief summary of Spain’s comprehensive plan for a more sustainable tourism industry, one that the country takes with great enthusiasm as we lead the way into a new era in world travel. 

Spain is a destination filled to the brim with hidden gems in nature, culture, and cuisine. Mediterranean beaches, green National Parks, historic towns filled with contemporary art, and fresh seafood paired with world class wine make it a top pick for American travelers.

Find more travel tips, news, and inspiration by visiting the Tourist Board of Spain. 

Plan your visit with a tour operator by visiting https://ustoa.travelstride.com/trip-list/spain


Germany’s Wood Wide Web

By: Ralf Korbner of SITA World Tours

About 30 percent of German lands are tree covered. Germans have long had a mythological identification with their forests.  In German literature, the forest has often been portrayed as a place of happiness and contentment where people feel protected from social pressures and the chaos of everyday life.   

Hermann Hesse comments: “A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home.”   

Prussian poet Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff expressed how the forest embodied freedom and the idea of home: “Gentle rustling in the treetops – Little birds flying afar – Springs bursting from silent peaks – Tell me where my homeland lies.”  

Towards the end of the 18th century, Romanticism became a dominant theme in poetry, painting and music including in the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. The forest is the stage: Little Red Riding Hood meets the Wolf, Hansel and Gretel are abandoned, four mistreated animals become the Town Musicians of Bremen. German Romanticism also stylized the forest as a symbol of unity. The forest is more than the sum of its trees. It is a central part of German identity and culture that today is becoming a defining symbol of a sustainable future. 

Fast Forward:  

Wood Wide Web is a term Canadian research scientist and professor of forestry Suzanne Simard first coined twenty-five years ago. Simard tells us that trees communicate with each other. She describes how they are interconnected, send each other messages and she speaks about the prominence of all important mother trees.  

Simard and the German forester Peter Wohlleben are on the forefront of a much-needed new understanding of how trees live, and forests thrive. A few years ago, Wohlleben described the Hidden Life of Trees in his New York Times bestseller.  

Modern Germans understand that the mystical and religious connection of their long-ago forbearers, who believed their Gods resided in tree groves, is today the very practical knowledge that healthy forests are needed for our survival. 

Four experiences of many available:  

Image by Herbert Aust from Pixabay 

Sixty miles south-east of Berlin is the Spree Forest, a water meadow setting that has managed to stay largely natural in spite of centuries of human activity. The UNESCO World Heritage listed Spree Forest Biosphere Reserve mixes a mosaic of meadows, fields and forests with waterways. Ideal for a variety of plant and wildlife, a visit also highlights the customs and traditional costumes of the Slavic Sorbs minority living here. One-day or multiple-day visits can be included in any itinerary. The area and waterways allow for bikes, canoe or very enjoyable, traditional Spree Forest barge travel.  

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay 

Some fifty-five miles south-west of Cologne (35 miles from Bonn) we will find the Waldakademie (forest academy) Wohlleben in the small town of Wershofen. The aforementioned Wohlleben is Germany’s tree whisperer.  His academy provides guided tours and overnight adventures in the protected, adjacent forest reserve familiarizing the visitor with the emerging understanding of how trees communicate with each other through their root- network, warn and protect each other from danger, and look after their off-spring.  

Image by Thilo Wagner from Pixabay 

The town of Neuschoenau, some thirty-five miles from Passau, puts you at the center of the Bayerischer Wald.  Munich is under three car hours to the south. Here the woodland of beech, spruce and fir is densely packed with tall trees, wild and ancient.  However, it is accessible offering many hiking paths and even a treetop walkway with gorgeous views of the surrounding Bavarian landscape.  

Photo by vonMitzscha on Unsplash

The UNESCO World Heritage site Hainich Forest, twenty miles from Eisenach of Luther and Wartburg fame, features the last remaining central European beech forest. The forest offers miles of hiking paths, a canopy walk and horseback riding. During winter one can take horse drawn sleigh rides.  And there are guided tours available, explaining every aspect of the forest and how care is taken to  safeguard its continued health.  

With 89 years of exemplary service in travel, SITA remains as the go-to tour operator for exotic destinations worldwide. Headquartered in Los Angeles, SITA is renowned for its highly experienced team of international specialists and is dedicated to travel excellence in every element of its programs. As a deluxe, luxury tour operator specializing in Packaged, Independent, Customized and Groups travel, SITA has become a key source for both the Consortium and Agent network nationwide. SITA’s well-planned tours focus on a destination’s culture, history and unique geography providing the greatest value to clients. 

About the author: Growing up on a horse ranch in Germany with a younger brother, two cousins and lots of animals, travel was part of our annual family rhythm as long as I can remember. Summers were spent in Italy or Spain, winters in Austria for skiing and there were trips to the Baltic Sea or along the Rhine and Mosel with visits to castles and towns along those rivers. After graduating from high school on an island in the North Sea and while a university student in Germany, friends and I drove all over Europe during summer vacations. Those trips also included Turkey, Morocco and several of the countries then still behind the Iron Curtain. I became a member of the travel industry community after completing my studies at a California university. Visits to countries in Asia, Africa and travel in Australia and New Zealand have since broadened my geographic and cultural knowledge. 


Top Reasons to Explore in Your Own Backyard in 2022

By: Jaclyn Leibl-Cote, President and Chief Brand Officer of Collette  

The past two years have given travelers the chance to reflect on the memories and experiences that they may have been yearning for.  For many, after an extended period of staying home and building their list of places to go, it’s clear that 2022 is the rebound year for travel. Travelers are itching to explore, and right now, there’s a huge demand for finding adventure right in your backyard. As restrictions ease and travelers reconnect with the road, it’s a great chance to see a destination that you never would have thought to explore.  

Photo Courtesy of Collette

Why the United States? 

Travelers seem to want to explore close to home more than ever. There’s comfort, after such uncertainty, in getting back out there and getting away without being too far. Within the United States, there is so much diversity and adventure to be found. From stunning coastlines and national parks to musical cities and quintessential small towns, there is a destination that appeals to travelers looking to explore close to home, those seeking an outdoor adventure, or the couple easing their way back to travel.    

Photo Courtesy of Collette

Exploring Close to Home 

In spite of unprecedented travel restrictions over the past two years, travelers have pivoted their energy into exploring what lies in their own backyards. After all, a true explorer can find adventure anywhere and there is so much culture, history and beauty right at your fingertips. Travelers are looking at the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, the Rocky Mountains, national parks, deep South, Midwest and more. During this incredible rebound year for travel, domestic trips are trending more than ever, and the industry is responding with new tours to capture this ever-growing interest. Deep dives into lesser-traveled destinations like Montana, or new ways to explore big cities like Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., are allowing travelers freedom to go in-depth on tour in places that often are seen as a stop-over during a bigger tour. 

Photo Courtesy of Collette

Getting Outdoors 

Americans planning a domestic trip are searching for truly enriching experiences. In the last year, trips that connected travelers with the great outdoors and wonders of nature were some of the most popular. There’s a growing expectation that travelers will continue gravitating to some beachy locales. In terms of domestic outdoor spots, places like Martha’s Vineyard and Maui are highly searched destinations in the U.S. right now.  

There’s a growing trend, since the pandemic started, that travelers want to be outside! Given the restrictions indoor venues faced last year, it makes sense. People are choosing a lot more outdoor activities in their free time or on tour than prior to the pandemic. Many Americans are looking to experience nature as well, so experiences like seeking out the Northern Lights in Alaska, catching some sun on the white-sand beaches of Hawaii or relaxing at one of the many public seating areas overlooking the immense and colorful Grand Canyon are topping travel to-do lists more than ever before. 

The US Has It All 

From a lobster bake in New England to stepping inside the recording studio that Elvis Presley once created musical masterpieces – there are endless great experiences right in the United States for culturally curious travelers. Going in-depth in historic and bustling cities, slowing down and taking in the scenery, and learning more about the place we call home is a great way to reconnect with travel and connect with our roots at a time that’s ideal for doing just that.

About Collette

As the longest-running tour operator in North America, Collette is the company travelers can trust. Leading with integrity, Collette’s comprehensive travel protection plan, flexible tour pacing, and strong relationships within the travel space set it apart. The happiness of its guests has been its roadmap since 1918 and today Collette offers over 160 tours to all seven continents and five distinct travel styles, including small group touring and river cruises. This third-generation family-owned business is dedicated to giving back in both local and global communities through its social responsibility platform.  For more information, visit www.gocollette.com.  


Stay at the ‘World’s Best’ Hotels on Tour with Luxury Gold 

By Chelsea Todaro  

A world of indulgence and elegance await travelers with the incredible hotels featured on journeys with Luxury Gold, a worldwide leader in luxury, small group tours 

Hotels are an important pillar for Luxury Gold because they are carefully chosen for the location, service, and amenities – enhancing the overall experience. On every Luxury Gold journey, guests will also enjoy VIP experiences, exceptional dining, a Traveling Concierge and a Wellbeing Director who are there to tailor the guest experience and ensure extra care and attention while traveling.   

Many of the properties selected by the five-star tour operator have also been deemed the “world’s best” by esteemed travel publications. In terms of luxurious comfort, elegant surroundings, excellent locations and supremely high standards of service, Luxury Gold’s hotels truly immerse guests in each destination.  

With multiple night stays in many cities, travelers can spend their leisure time relaxing at rejuvenating spas, golfing on world-class courses, and sipping on cocktails at distinctive bars that will make for an unforgettable trip.  

Below are the six magnificent hotels on tour with Luxury Gold. 

1. Ashford Castle, Cong 

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As Ireland’s first and only Forbes Five Star Hotel and the former home of the Guinness family, Ashford Castle is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Photo by Red Carnation Hotels 

On Luxury Gold’s Ultimate Irelandtour, travelers will stay in a 12th century Irish castle with modern luxuries while maintaining a traditional elegance. An iconic Red Carnation Hotel property, Ashford Castle boasts an award-winning spa and 350 acres of lush woodland where guests can partake in horseback riding, golf, fishing, cycling, tennis, falconry even zip-lining. Ashford Castle is Forbes only five-star rated hotel in Ireland. It was awarded in Travel + Leisure’s Top 10 Resort Hotels in the U.K. and Ireland in their 2021 “World’s Best Awards” and the Top 30 Resorts in Europe in CondeNast Traveler’s 2021 “Reader’s Choice Awards.”  

2. Le Grand Hotel Bordeaux, Bordeaux 

Nostalgic French décor in the historic heart of the city set the scene at Le Grand Hotel Bordeaux, with two upscale restaurants, a bar, a rooftop, and a rejuvenating Spa. Photo by Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts. 

The five-star Intercontinental Le Grand Hotel Bordeaux is set in an 18th century building with a neoclassical-inspired facade, located in the historic heart of the city. Travelers can enjoy the city’s best attractions for an extra day on Luxury Gold’s new Ultimate Southern France itinerary, as the hotel faces the emblematic Grand Théâtre and is only an 8-minute walk from la Cathédrale Saint André de Bordeaux. The chic guest rooms include 19th century furnishings with an elegant marble bathroom, and guests can enjoy fine dining at the property’s two upscale restaurants – one of them a Michelin-Star by Gordon Ramsay– a stylish cocktail bar, and an indoor courtyard that serves afternoon tea. You can also relax in the indoor swimming pool or book a massage in the spa. 

3. Bauer Palazzo, Venice 

Set on the Grand Canal, the Bauer Palazzo screams luxury in the heart of Venice. Photo by Bauer Venezia 

On Luxury Gold’s most popular itinerary, Ultimate Italy, this picturesque hotel in Venice is divinely located on the Grand Canal, just off St Mark’s Square, offering spacious and elegant guest rooms. The hotel is only a 5-minute walk from both Piazza San Marco and the Teatro La Fenice opera house and features a posh Mediterranean restaurant, and a refined bar offering evening live music. Bauer Palazzo is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World.   

4. The Rubens at the Palace, London  

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Historic roots brought to life at The Rubens at the Palace with warm British hospitality and theatrical dining experiences. Photo by Red Carnation Hotels 

Part of the award-winning Red Carnation Hotel Collection, this historic hotel is located directly opposite the royal residence of Buckingham Palace. Recently fully refurbished, the five-star hotel celebrates the very best of British culture, from the red tail-coated doormen to themed bedrooms and a traditional afternoon tea in the Palace Lounge, giving guests the full royal treatment on Luxury Gold’s British Royale and Castles and Kingdoms journeys. The hotel was recently awarded as one of the Top 40 Hotels in London in Condé Nast Traveler ‘Readers’ Choice Awards 2021. 

5. Mena House Hotel (pyramid view), Cairo  

In a stone palace on 16 hectares of gardens, this upscale hotel offers unmatched views of the Giza pyramid complex. Photo by Mena House Hotel 

As far as hotels go, there are few that compare to the five-star Mena House Hotel in Egypt on Elegance of the Pharaohs. In a stone palace on 16 hectares of gardens, this upscale hotel offers unmatched views of the Giza pyramid complex in Cairo. Having welcomed numerous heads of state over the years, guests will have the opportunity to bask in its storied history, while still benefiting from its modern luxury, waking up to stunning views of the pyramids from the balcony of their decadent room.  

6. Fairmont Château Lake Louise, Canada 

Set in a castle-like building in Banff National Park, this grand hotel lies within a mile of Bow Falls, and the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. Photo by Fairmont Hotels 

Surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world, the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs resort is nestled deep within Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On Luxury Gold’s Majesty of the Rockies tour, travelers will indulge themselves in what is known as Canada’s ‘Castle in the Rockies.’ The world-famous Fairmont Banff Springs resort stands as a landmark in the picturesque alpine town of Banff and has been providing legendary hospitality to guests for more than 125 years. Enveloped by soaring mountain peaks, the natural beauty of this destination permeates every nook of the historic resort. The hotel was awarded among The Top 10 Best Resort Hotels in Canada in Travel + Leisure’s 2020 ‘World’s Best’ Awards.  

 About Luxury Gold 
Luxury Gold sets an unmatched standard with its collection of award-winning journeys. Guided by a Traveling Concierge, Luxury Gold is a journey beyond the ordinary, where guests enjoy exclusive VIP Experiences, savor exceptional dining and relax in luxury hotels on every curated itinerary. As global leaders in luxury travel with expertise accumulated over nearly 100 years, Luxury Gold epitomizes extraordinary exploration to some of the world’s most spectacular destinations. To find out more, visit http://www.luxurygold.com/us


Top 7 Unique Experiences with Insight Vacations

By Chelsea Todaro

Taking a journey with Insight Vacations means you will be immersed into the local culture with plenty of unique experiences that are unavailable to the average traveler. These range from special access to iconic sites, exploring cultural pastimes alongside a Local Expert and dining at a local’s home.

Whatever your interest may be, Insight Vacations will showcase the heart and soul of the destination with the option to choose between experiences you prefer. In addition, you will have a passionate Travel Director guiding you along the way, who is an expert on the destination and will provide unmatched knowledge on the best restaurants, shops, and other activities to explore.

In a global effort to preserve precious cultures, conserve wildlife and save the environment, Insight Vacations has curated new MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® experiences on its itineraries with its not-for-profit partner, the TreadRight Foundation. These experiences advance the United Nations Global Goals and positively impact travelers and the communities visited. They are chosen with great care using an assessment endorsed by sustainable tourism experts.

With more than 100 special experiences across Insight’s itineraries, here are the top 7 you should consider when planning your next vacation.

Explore Trinity College with Special Entry into Book of Kells

While in Dublin, you will receive special entrance into Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. These ancient manuscripts are believed to have been created by monks around 800 A.D. Not only will you skip the lines, but you will have a university insider guide you around Trinity College, sharing the impressive history of the place. You can enjoy this experience on Insight’s Country Roads of Ireland and Irish Elegance journeys.

Book of Kells at Trinity College

Sail the Coast of Croatia with an Oyster Farmer

On Insight’s Country Roads of Croatia, you’ll journey to the beautiful southern slopes of the Pelješac Peninsula while cruising on the tranquil waters of the bay of Mali Ston. Along the way you’ll stop at a shellfish farm and meet with oyster farmer, Tomislav, for a taste of the freshest seafood in Croatia. While admiring the turquoise-blue waters and sunshine, you’ll learn about the cultivation of oysters and enjoy a delicious Sea-to-Table tasting of fresh shellfish and local wine.

Oyster Tasting in Croatia

Learn How Music is Recorded in Nashville

While exploring the USA on Country Roads of the Deep South , you can go behind the scenes of a Nashville recording studio, where you’ll learn all about the song making process. This intimate experience introduces you to a country singer, musicians and the technicians behind a song’s development. You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with a runner up from the hit television show, The Voice.

Nashville Recording Studio

Support Local Economy on a Private Tour of Historic Scottish Estate

On Insight’s trips to Scotland, you’ll join in on a MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® experience by meeting Sir Ludovic for a tour of his family home, Ardgowan Estate, and savor a traditional Scottish tea made from local ingredients. You’ll learn more about centuries of history in the beautiful grounds and your visit helps support the estate by keeping Scottish history alive. This experience also educates you and the local rural community about their sustainability initiatives, reducing food waste and sourcing all ingredients locally to support the local economy.

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Sir Ludovic with guests at his family home, Ardgowan Estate

Learn First-Hand About Traditional Weaving in Italy

While exploring Italy, you’ll take a visit to Laboratorio Giuditta Brozetti, one of the last traditional weaving workshops in Italy, situated in the Church of San Francesco delle Donne, in medieval Perugia. Since World War I, the Brozetti family have practiced the art of hand-weaving textiles on antique wooden looms. As an Insight guest, you’ll meet Marta Brozetti to discover how she’s leading a new generation of weavers and investing in e-commerce to preserve this tradition. Marta and her students help to safeguard the unique patterns while contributing to the protection of Umbria’s cultural heritage. This MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® experience is offered on many Italy trips, including Best of Italy and Country Roads of Italy.

Marta Brozetti demonstrating the art of weaving

Support Women at The Iraq al-Amir Women’s Cooperative

An uplifting MAKE TRAVEL MATTER EXPERIENCE® in Jordan, you’ll visit The Iraq-Al Amir Women’s Cooperative in Amman, personally meeting these women and learning how the Cooperative raises the standard of living for them in the area by providing employment and preserving local culture. The women are taught to make cultural handicrafts, including ceramics and textiles, which are then sold in their gift shop and online. During your visit, you can see first-hand the work in progress and hear about how it has improved their community. This experience is available on Insight’s Jordan Experience and Israel & Jordan trips

Woman crafting textiles at the Iraq al-Amir Cooperative

Learn the Patagonian Cowboy Lifestyle at a Chilean Ranch

While visiting Chile’s UNESCO Reserve, Torres Del Paine, you’ll join a Patagonian Ranch Cultural Experience and learn about the baqueano (cowboy) way of life. During your time with these local cowboys — the descendants of horsemen who came to work ranches in this remote region more than a century ago, you will learn about their special clothing, saddles and other horse tack. You’ll also be shown how to properly saddle a horse, nail a horseshoe and of course how to ride. Afterwards, delight in a Yerba mate tea with them while chatting about Patagonian culture. This experience is included on Insight’s new 2021 journey in South America, Best of Chile from Atacama to Patagonia.

Torres Del Paine

As the global leader in premium guided tours, Insight Vacations has been crafting magical journeys that embody the “Art of Travelling in Style” for over 40 years. Insight’s collection of award-winning itineraries showcase the most outstanding destinations and curated experiences in Europe, Northern Africa, Asia, India and North America.  Guided by a highly skilled Travel Director, guests can savor authentic dining and enjoy a range of immersive Insight Experience and choose to travel in classic groups, small groups or small private groups. A newly created Well-Being Director will take a proactive approach to guests’ welfare and implement enhanced well-being protocols. As a founding member of The TreadRight Foundation, MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences are conscious and sustainable travel experiences available on Insight itineraries which are chosen with great care based on the positive social or environmental impact they have on their communities and those who experience them. To find out more, please visit InsightVacations.com.   


Ten Countries for Crafts with a Cause

By Overseas Adventure Travel

In survey after survey, up to 76% of consumers say that they’d rather spend their money on experiences than things. They further cite “meaning,” “inspiration,” “fun,” and “learning” as outcomes they seek. Travelers can count on all of the above on one of Overseas Adventure Travel’s small group adventures. These include hands-on activities that connect them to the local culture, such as visits to workshops where local artisans demonstrate traditional crafts. Visitors can roll up their sleeves and join in, and if they like, purchase the local wares.

“It’s a win-win,” says O.A.T. Vice Chairman Harriet Lewis. “Our travelers get to engage with local people and learn something new, and our hosts gain support for the industries their families rely on.” Oftentimes, the activities occur during O.A.T.’s signature A Day in the Life experiences which are woven into the trips; or though visits to sites supported by Grand Circle Foundation, O.A.T’s non-profit charitable organization. Here are just ten of the local crafts supported:

1. Australia: Aboriginal Dot Paintings

Ultimate Australia

The distinctive Aboriginal dot designs are not random, but are filled with symbols that tell a visual story. Dot painting has been around for millennia, but exploded in the 1970s in Papunya near Alice Springs, where indigenous artists used it as a secret language. Other Aboriginal communities embraced the form, and today they adhere to strict rules about which techniques, symbols, and stories belong to which tribes. O.A.T. travelers are urged to only buy authentic, ethically sourced works that bear the official Indigenous Art Code seal, the “gold standard” among reputable merchants.

2. Laos: Traditional Weaving

Ancient Kingdoms: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, & Vietnam

While the men of the poor Laotian village of Tin Keo farm or seek jobs in the city, the women create fabulous, colorful textiles. It started as a way to be sociable with their neighbors. Today, these industrious ladies can earn a windfall of $70-80 a month selling their fabrics, all the while improving their skills and preserving an important cultural legacy.

3. Portugal: Azulejo tiles

Northern Spain & Portugal: Pilgrimage into the Past

Porto’s Banco de Materiais is an unusual bank: you can deposit antique tiles and withdraw some for free. Portugal’s signature blue and white azulejo tiles date to Moorish times. The Banco safeguards these treasures, and sometimes the fire department will even collect tiles off at-risk buildings and deliver them to the bank. Employees then study and catalog the tiles and preserve them in wooden boxes where visitors can admire or buy them.

4. Kenya and Tanzania: Maasai beadwork

Safari Serengeti: Tanzania Lodge & Tented Safari

A Maasai collar can be the shape and size of a dinnerplate, decorated with bold-colored beads in intricate patterns. But to the Maasai people, these aren’t just pretty baubles: they tell individual life stories, map out villages, indicate marital and social status, and represent the culture. O.A.T. travelers can purchase them directly from artists when they experience A Day in the Life of a local village such as Mto Wa Mbu.

5. India: Embroidery and Textiles

Heart of India

India’s Ranthambore National Park is famed as a sanctuary for Bengal tigers, and while some locals have resorted to poaching them, others have found a more ethical and sustainable enterprise. Through their Dhonk and Dastkar handicraft cooperatives, local Indian women teach artisanal skills so members may earn a living outside of poaching by creating embroidery, clothing, and gifts. Supported by Grand Circle Foundation, the cooperatives now celebrate the tigers whose allure attracts a steady stream of travelers—and crafts customers.

6. Morocco: Henna tattoos

Morocco Sahara Odyssey

Known as mendhi, the use of henna to paint the body with intricate patterns is a centuries-old Berber art believed to promote harmony and ward off evil. The (non-permanent) tattoos are also a symbol of female solidarity, as O.A.T. travelers discover when they visit the Imik Smik Women’s Association for Rural Development, which provides skills training for women in the Aït Benhaddou area. As a token of friendship, members invite women visitors to participate in a traditional henna ceremony.

7. Peru: Chinchero weaving

Machu Picchu & the Galápagos

High in the Sacred Valley, Chinchero was a 16th-century Inca emperor’s estate, as well as a resting place on the Inca Royal Road. Today, this small village is known for its weaving industry. It is entirely managed by the local women, who use plants (and in some cases, bugs) to produce their dyes. O.A.T. travelers converse with the weavers about village life and observe the process of designing and creating these vibrant garments.

8. Japan: Hakone woodcraft

Japan’s Cultural Treasures

Hakone yosegi zaiku is a form of marquetry that creates intricate patterns by joining together pieces of wood. The colors—red, white, yellow, black, and green—are not created through inks, but are the natural wood shades. Today, yosegi zaiku is popular all over Japan, but there are only about 50 artisans making it, all in the Hakone/Odawara area. O.A.T. brings travelers to the Hamamatsuya workshop to meet its fourth-generation owner, and see a demonstration.

9. Vietnam: Bat Trang Pottery and Ceramics

Inside Vietnam

The village of Bat Trang may lie on the Red River, but it’s the area’s rich white clay that has made its pottery renowned for seven centuries. O.A.T. travelers have plenty of time to browse the shops, but also visit the home and studio of an artisan family and get to make their own ceramic pieces.

10. Turkey: carpet weaving

Turkish Coastal Voyage: Greek Islands, Istanbul & Athens

Rug weaving in Anatolia began with the arrival of Turkic tribes from Central Asia, and was a prominent art form by the 12th century. Then as now, most carpetmakers were women who worked anonymously. The process is intensively laborious, and prices are based on the intricacy of the design, quality of the materials, and the number of knots per square centimeter.

Overseas Adventure Travel is the leader in personalized small group adventures on the road less traveled. Serving all travelers over 50, the company is known for its expertise in solo travel, and has recently published 101+ Tips for Solo Women Travelers which can be ordered for free here.


How Traveling with My Family Shaped My Life

Written by Rachel Jordan of Club Adventures by AAA Exclusive Vacations

When I reflect on my favorite childhood memories, I don’t think of cookouts or birthday parties; rather, I distinctly remember scenes like this one – chilly breeze, side-by-side with my mom, dark asphalt passing under me as I jump over cracks in the path. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, horses appear, ridden by men in red coats – police officers – or what I called “Canadian Bounty Hunters.” I was 12 years old, on a cruise to Alaska, and it was the first time I had set foot in another country and witnessed something different from my own culture. Even as young as I was, I thrived off the unfamiliarity of it and the opportunity it provided to be curious at every turn.

When I boarded the ship, I was thrilled at the towel sculptures and chocolates in our room, but it wasn’t long before I’d find myself gazing out across the ship towards Canada (or what I saw at the time as uncharted territory). It’s only in retrospect that I realize how desperately I wanted to explore after I took that first deep, cool breath of Canadian air and wandered past the red-coated officers.

For the next few years, I chased that feeling of bliss that comes with discovering a new destination. I became enamored with the unexpected moments and the sheer volume of knowledge that one conversation could yield. Through Central Europe and the South Pacific, my family not only pushed me out of my comfort zone, but they supported every adventure I committed to – no matter how many bake sales I had to have to get there.

As the travel bug took permanent root in my personality, people began to question how I ended up so focused on discovery – and, as a small-town kid from Mississippi, I couldn’t blame them for wondering why I was always planning my next adventure. Since then, I’ve given the credit to the atmosphere I was raised in. My grandparents used to tell stories of weathering a cyclone off the coast of New Zealand or meeting an old friend in Tokyo. Their love of exploration, coupled with my parent’s fascination in culture, heavily influenced my professional career as well as my personal values.

From tasting bison in Calgary, Canada, to sipping local wine and eating kangaroo sliders in Australia, and enjoying pineapple right from the source in Jamaica, my family adventures instilled a desire to a travel as authentically as possible. Throughout each experience, we made sure to eat where the locals ate, not only because we’re big foodies, but also because there’s no better way to dive into a destination’s culture than to ignite the culinary senses.  

The way my family traveled molded me into a more open-minded, curious, and genuine person. I know this because I’ve been able to see so many unique cultures, and once you tap into how other communities around the world think and live their daily lives, your entire mindset shifts. You begin to keep a portfolio of the aspects of each culture that you love and respect, and whether you know it or not, you start to become a more well-rounded global citizen. You realize that there are infinite ways you can live your life, both personally and professionally.

I’ve always been a firm believer that if you’ve experienced someone’s culture, you’re more inclined to form a meaningful, friendly relationship with them. Traveling with my family reinforced this idea, and I still strive to be a more thoughtful person because of the experiences I’ve had.

These adventures molded me so much that I even pursued working in the travel industry. For me, that means assisting people in having the same eye-opening travel experiences I have. Working for Club Adventures, a small-group tour company backed by AAA Travel focused on immersive cultural itineraries, has allowed me to channel all the incredible lessons I’ve learned and push people to take their families abroad.

And, as someone who is forever grateful to my parents for my experiences, I can tell you this about family travel: it is a priceless gift that keeps on giving and will open your eyes to the adventure that surrounds us, no matter the time or place.

Rachel Jordan is the Partnership Marketing Coordinator for Club Adventures, by AAA Exclusive Vacations®. In her role, she assists with the implementation of comprehensive marketing strategies, while continually enhancing the strength of the Club Adventures brand. Rachel is also an avid traveler and blogger and is currently pursuing her M.S. in Global Tourism and Sustainable Economic Development. She continues to expand her comfort zone by exploring as many new cultures and destinations as possible. Follow her adventures on her Instagram account! 

Club Adventures is your key to seeing the world through a local lens. Whether you’re looking for a self-drive road trip through your own backyard, or guided journeys halfway around the world, Club Adventures by AAA Exclusive Vacations® takes you there – we are your backstage pass to new adventures. With a variety of travel styles and over 1,000 adventures around the globe, there’s something for every kind of traveler. Club Adventures believes adventure moves each of us differently, and no two adventures are alike. We introduce you to the people who call our destinations home; people who will share their stories and unlock what it really feels like to live where they live.


Top 5 Extraordinary Culinary Experiences with Luxury Gold

By Chelsea Todaro of Luxury Gold

If you’re traveling with Luxury Gold, expect unforgettable delicious high-end dining. You may find yourself indulging in Michelin-star fare one evening and then diving into the street food scene the following day on a foodie tour. From private cooking classes with culinary masters to marvelous lunches at vineyards, dining is a highlight of the journey, rather than just a standard mealtime.

Food is a huge part of travel, and you’ll truly discover the culture of a destination through Luxury Gold’s carefully selected dining experiences. In addition to renowned Michelin-star restaurants, you’ll also visit fine-dining restaurants acclaimed by other leading industry guides such as Zagat, AAA Diamond and Forbes.

Prepare for the meal of a lifetime with Luxury Gold’s top 5 extraordinary dining experiences below.

Exclusive Views of the Gulf of Naples at Michelin-Starred Mammà

Mammà

Italy is known for its exceptional cuisine, and you will not be disappointed on Luxury Gold’s Ultimate Italy. While visiting the gorgeous Isle of Capri, you’ll take in beautiful, exclusive views of the Gulf of Naples from the privileged perch of Michelin-starred Mammà for lunch. You’ll indulge in a delectable meal of Mediterranean flavors in perfect Caprese style, created with passion from fresh, local produce by chef Salvatore La Ragione.Mammà is in the heart of Capri Island, an iconic spot from Dolce Vita, and is just steps from the famous square.

Tour the Best Bites in Paris from a French Food Connoisseur

Maison Prévôt

While exploring one of the most iconic food capitals of the world, you’ll join a passionate food connoisseur for a small-group gourmet foodie walk through the streets of Paris on Luxury Gold’s French Vogue. You’ll visit a variety of patisseries, boulangeries and chocolatiers, taste delicious specialties and meet passionate foodies along the way. After visiting Paris, enjoy a high-end lunch at the Michelin-starred Maison Prévôt, nestled in the heart of Provence. This restaurant embraces contemporary, gourmet cuisine and follows the changing of the seasons with locally sourced ingredients.

A Taste of Modern Cuisine at Cusco’s Top Restaurant

MAP Cafe

While exploring Peruvian culture on Luxury Gold’s Treasures of the Incas, you’ll enjoy an intimate candlelight dinner at MAP Cafe in Cusco, one of the city’s most prominent restaurants. MAP is situated on the lively, modern courtyard of the Museum of Pre-Colombian Art. This small, glass-enclosed, elegant café delivers contemporary Peruvian haute cuisine with an artistic dining experience, and candlelit for a dazzling evening ambiance.

Dine at Renowned 1135 in Jaipur, Enjoy High Tea in the City Palace

1135 AD

In India, there are two unforgettable VIP culinary experiences on Luxury Gold’s Essence of India. While visiting Jaipur, you’ll dine at the historic Amer Palace on centuries-old recipes, once made exclusively for royalty. Condé Nast consistently names 1135 AD in their top restaurants of India, and the tantalizing dishes on offer make you realize why. In addition to having dinner at this one-of-a-kind restaurant, you’ll also get to savor a locally inspired high tea in a private living room of the Maharaja, within the Jaipur City Palace. You’ll explore rooms that are not open to other visitors and see the spectacular crystal table handcrafted by renowned artisan René Lalique.

Enjoy Colonial-Style Tea in Egypt’s Famous Historic Hotel

The Old Cataract Hotel

Discovering the ancient lands of Egypt calls for a relaxing afternoon tea, British style. On Luxury Gold’s Elegance of the Nile, you’ll enjoy a British past time in Aswan with a colonial-style afternoon tea at sunset in the elegant Victorian surroundings of The Old Cataract Hotel. Thi9s hotel was famously visited frequently by Agatha Christie and Winston Churchill. You’ll enjoy gorgeous views of the Nile River and Elephantine Island as the hotel sits on a pink granite cliff.  To end the day on a high note, you’ll enjoy dinner on your luxurious river cruise ship, The River Tosca, accompanied by a Nubian folklore show and live music. The River Tosca presents world-class cuisine made from fresh ingredients, locally sourced from Egypt.

Luxury Gold sets an unmatched standard with its worldwide collection of award-winning small group luxury journeys. Guided by a Travelling Concierge, guests can indulge in the ultimate guided vacation, discovering exclusive VIP Experiences and savoring exceptional dining on every curated itinerary. They will stay at magnificent hotels and travel in absolute comfort, with their Well-Being Director who is always a step ahead to ensure the places visited, adhere to the high standards of excellence. As the global leader in luxury travel with expertise accumulated over 101 years, Luxury Gold epitomizes extraordinary exploration to some of the world’s most spectacular destinations. To find out more, please visit www.luxurygold.com.