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.  


Exploring Irish Heritage

By Noreen Bowden of CIE Tours

A trip to Ireland can be an emotional homecoming for Irish-Americans, as they return to the land of their ancestors. Check out three museums and an online resource that can help unlock visitors’ family history and heritage.

Ireland’s tragic history and long legacy of emigration hold special meaning for tens of millions of Americans who can trace their ancestry back to the Emerald Isle. And for many Irish-Americans, a trip to Ireland is a kind of homecoming. Visiting the places that tell the stories of those who left their ancestral homeland can help unlock family history – and there are many museums in Ireland dedicated to revealing the experience of those who left. Here are a few of our favorites – these are all great places for exploring heritage, but there’s plenty to intrigue even those without an Irish branch in their family tree:

EPIC the Irish Emigration Museum

EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin is a shiny, high-tech wonderland – the first all-digital museum in the world. But don’t be fooled by the slick technology: this museum has a lot of heart. EPIC is all about stories – of the 10 million Irish people who left, where they went, and what happened to them. Twenty galleries detail the history, heritage, and culture of the Irish diaspora. It’s a wonderful introduction to the vast global scale of Ireland’s descendants.

See emigrant letters, experience Irish music and dance, meet the outlaws in the Rogue’s Gallery, hear the words of some of the world’s most famous authors in the Whispering Library. Visitors can even begin exploring their own history with a consultation with a professional genealogist.

The museum is located near Dublin’s docklands–steps away from the Jeannie Johnston, a replica ship similar to those that carried millions of starving Irish refugees fleeing famine in the 19th century (and also worth a visit).

For more information visit EPICchq.com

Dunbrody Famine Ship

The Dunbrody Famine Ship in New Ross, County Wexford is a faithful reproduction of an 1840s emigrant vessel that carried weary and hungry refugees fleeing Ireland’s Famine. The Famine was caused by a potato blight that killed the staple crop of the impoverished tenant farmers. From 1845 to 1852, 1 million people died and 1.5 million emigrated. As people fled throughout the world, the Irish Diaspora took on new dimensions.

The Dunbrody was launched as a cargo ship in 1845 but was quickly refitted, going on to carry thousands of desperate tenant farmers to Canada, most in overcrowded steerage. While many of the millions who crossed the ocean in that era died, the captains of the Dunbrody kept the mortality rate with good care of their passengers. Visitors to the Dunbrody learn the story of famine emigration  from the perspective of those who left, as they cross from the quayside of New Ross on the long journey to the Arrivals Hall in North America. 

The Dunbrody’s port location was the departure point for an ancestor of John F Kennedy, who visited there in 1963 in an emotional homecoming. The ship sits beside the Irish-America Hall of Fame.

Learn more at Dunbrody.com.

Cobh Heritage Center

The pretty little port town of Cobh – named in 2019 as one of the 25 most beautiful towns in Europe by Condé Nast Traveler – was the departure point for millions of emigrants over the centuries. The Cobh Heritage Center tells their stories – for many, their last glimpse of Ireland was of this harbor.  

Cobh’s role in emigrant history starts in the 1600s, when Irish people left for British overseas colonies like Virginia, New England, Barbados, Jamaica, and Montserrat. Then between 1848 to 1950, nearly half of the 6 million people who left Ireland departed from Cobh.

Cobh Heritage Center showcases many facets of emigrant history. Explore life on board a so-called “coffin ship” and a ship bringing convicts to Australia. Exhibits detail the lives of seventeenth-century local man Francis Barret, famed pirate Anne Bonney, smuggler Robert Davies, and more. Learn about Annie Moore, who departed the port in 1891 and became the first emigrant to be processed at the newly opened Ellis Island in New York – she’s memorialized with a statue at the entrance to the museum. The center also tells the story of the Titanic – Cobh was its last port of call for the ill-fated ship.

Learn more at CobhHeritage.com

IrelandXO.com: an online heritage resource

Those with Irish heritage who are planning a trip might be interested in an additional resource before they go: Ireland Reaching Out, a nonprofit group comprised of volunteers who seek to connect Ireland’s millions of descendants with the communities their ancestors departed from. Their many resources, including genealogy message boards, connection stories, and ancestor chronicles are available at IrelandXO.com.

Travel with CIE Tours, the premier tour operator into Ireland – offering dozens of expertly crafted vacations to Ireland to suit every travel style and taste, from the camaraderie of coach tours and custom group travel to a variety of independent adventures, small group tours and personalized private driver experiences.  See CIETours.com for more information.

Noreen Bowden, the Content Manager at CIE Tours, writes extensively about the Irish diaspora; she has worked in Ireland and the US in positions aimed at strengthening links between Ireland and the Irish abroad.


Living the Outdoor Life in Finland 

By Mila Kickert, Product Manager Northern/Central Europe, Avanti Destinations

Nature is practically the national religion of Finland. 

If you don’t know this sparsely populated, little-touristed Nordic country that sits between Sweden and Russia, you owe it to yourself to get familiar with it, especially if you love nature.  There is no other place like it. 

No matter what the season, Finland gives you plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities: hiking, trekking, biking, cross country skiing, ice skating, whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, Husky and reindeer sledding, snowshoeing, fishing, bear-watching, and picking wild mushrooms and berries while strolling through its nearly 50 million acres of forests. Since we’re talking numbers – there are more than 180,000 lakes in Finland. “Land of 1,000 Lakes” is an understatement. 

You’ll be happy to know that most Finns speakexcellent English – because who in the world is going to learn to speak Finnish? It’s a complex language completely unrelated to any other, except Estonian and Hungarian. With so many Finns speaking English – and eager to practice – it’s easy for Americans to get around.  Finland also has an excellent road system if you want to rent a car, as well as a great public transportation system and good air connections between destinations. Keep in mind that if you rent a car, gas is quite expensive compared to the US –  like most other countries. 

Because of its extreme northern latitude, you can also experience two natural phenomena in Finland. Between October and March, when the days are short and the nights are long, you can see the Northern Lights or aurora borealis, that spectacular kinetic light show dancing in the night sky. In the late spring through the summer, you have the wonderful long days of the Midnight Sun, when the darkest it gets in the middle of the night is like twilight. For two months in the far north, enjoy “White Nights” when the sun does not set at all. 

The only thing as sacred to Finns as being active outdoors is relaxing from all that exertion in a real Finnish sauna – which usually involves several dips in rivers, lakes or the sea in water that can be quite – shall we say, invigorating? In the winter, Finns cut holes in the ice to take a quick swim after a sauna. I personally am sold on saunas, and saunayoga – the best way to relax after hiking, skiing or kayaking or whatever you want to put your body through. 

For those seeking some adventure, one of my favorite places is Lapland – specifically Ruka and Kuusamo, near Oulanka National Park. When I visited in February we “hunted” for the Northern Lights by snowshoe one evening, by a sled pulled by huskies the next.  During the day, we went cross country skiing, and successfully tried ice fishing.  On a subsequent trip during June, there were so many things to do: we canoed, went whitewater rafting, rode fat-tire bikes on forest trails, fished for brown trout in a nearby river, patiently watched for bears, and picked wild berries – blueberries, lingonberries and 

Ah – heaven. No wonder Finland has been named the happiest country in the world for the past four years! 

Since 1981, Avanti Destinations has been selling independent travel products and custom-crafted vacations in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Central and South America. The Portland, Oregon-based wholesale tour operator offers a wide range of FIT components to travel agents only, including air, rail, rental cars, hotels, sightseeing/attractions, transfers, and hard-to-find experiential travel options.  Avanti specializes in hand-picked, locally-owned hotels in both large and small cities and in connecting all the pieces of complex, multi-destination itineraries. The company also creates complete packages for custom groups of 15-100 passengers.  

For more information: https://book.avantidestinations.com  


Exploring Iceland’s Golden Circle

By YMT Vacations

Iceland’s Golden Circle is one of the world’s most impressive day trips. The route from Reyjkavic to Iceland’s three biggest attractions highlights the dramatic natural beauty of the rugged island nation, connecting geysers, waterfalls, and the collision point of two vast continents. With countless sightseeing opportunities and dining options along the way, the Golden Circle has something for everyone.

What Is the Golden Circle?

The Golden Circle is an extremely popular daytrip from Reyjkavik. The 190-mile scenic route to three of Iceland’s most iconic attractions is most often travelled clockwise, stopping at Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and then the Gullfoss Waterfall. Almost 2 million people toured the Golden Circle in 2019. The majority of visitors come during the relatively dry summer, when temperatures hover just above 50℉. Tours of the Golden Circle last all day, and include sites beyond just the main three.

Can’t-Miss Attractions

The official Golden Circle route is made up of just these three stops, which are easily accessible and spectacularly beautiful. They’re essential for a reason.

Thingvellir National Park

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is in the rift valley where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. It is one of few places on earth where tectonic plates are visible above ground. This is also where Iceland’s early settlers created the world’s first parliament in the year 930. Snap a gorgeous picture at Öxarárfos Falls, or at a viewing area where both plates are visible at once.

Geysir Geothermal Area

See hot springs, gurgling mud pots, and the natural spectacle of geysers. You’re virtually guaranteed to witness Strokkur Geyser erupt, as it has been shooting superheated, highly pressurized water up to 130-feet in the air every ten minutes since 1963. A short walk to the peak of nearby Mt. Laugarfjall provides incredible views and photo opportunities of the geothermal area to one side, and the sprawling Haukadalur Valley to the other.

Gullfoss Waterfall

The glacial water of Gullfoss Waterfall thunders more than 100 feet down two spectacular drops. When the sun is out, the water itself can light up in a dazzling shade of gold, appropriate given Gullfoss’ literal translation of “Golden Waterfall.”

Other Must-See Stops

Hot springs, colorful craters, and miles of idyllic countryside line the route of the Golden Circle, and shouldn’t be missed.

Secret Lagoon

The Secret Lagoon is the country’s oldest geothermal swimming pool. Dating back to 1891, the warm, healing waters come from nearby hot springs and Litli Geyser, which erupts several times an hour to the delight of bathing guests. Come here to relax like a true Icelander.

Kerid Crater

Kerid Craster is a volcanic caldera made up of red and orange lava rocks with a bright blue lake in its center. A magnificent contrast in colors, the stunning oval-shaped natural feature was formed nearly 7,000 years ago.

Where to Eat on the Golden Circle?

All this sightseeing is bound to work up your appetite. Thankfully, there are plenty of stops you can make on the road. For breakfast before leaving Reykjavik, stop by the brightly colored Braud & Co., and order one of their world-famous cinnamon buns. In between Thingvellir and Geysir, the Efstidalur Farm’s restaurant is a welcome sight. Family run, the centuries-old farm grows and raises much of what they serve guests, including the fresh cream that makes Efstidalur’s ice cream such a treat.

Take a Guided Golden Circle Tour

If the magnificent Golden Circle, a highlight of the perfectly named “Land of Fire and Ice” appeals to you, we suggest taking a guided tour with YMT Vacations. You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the sites of the Golden Circle, as well as black sand beaches, a geothermal greenhouse and horse farm, the Reyjkanes Peninsula, and more on Enchanting Iceland. We will take care of all the details, leaving you free to enjoy a dream Icelandic vacation.

YMT Vacations has been providing affordable guided tours for mature travelers since 1967. Our guided cruise and land tours, to destinations around the globe, are designed with value in mind. By thoughtfully bringing together each separate element of your vacation, we can guarantee you the best price and an easy, worry-free trip. Visit ymtvacations.com to learn more!


What’s New in Culinary?

By Chef Bernhard F. Zorn, Culinary Director for Uniworld Boutique River Cruises 

Over the last year, cooking at home has become more popular than ever before. Online recipe sharing and food deliveries have taken off since the start of the pandemic began. As a chef myself, not much has changed, though I do miss cooking for others. One thing I am happy to see, however, is how much more people seem to pay attention to what they’re eating and care about ingredients.  

The culinary industry, in recent years, has seen a trend towards healthier eating. Plant-based food, vegetarianism, fresher ingredients, knowing where and how our produce is grown, have all increasingly become part of the definition of fine dining. I think we’re definitely going to see that movement pick up even more speed in a post-COVID world.  

The team of chefs I work with in the Uniworld kitchens bring together the freshest ingredients sourced from local farmers’ markets and other regional suppliers to best guarantee mouth-watering culinary journeys to accompany our guests’ travels.  

We collaborate deeply with our vendors, considering limits on delivery ratios and selecting the most seasonally and regionally appropriate ingredients. Transparency is always a top value, and the focus is always quality. We’re shifting away from “exotic foods,” which need to be transported from far distanced parts of the world, in favour of more home-grown options that taste fresher and are less wasteful.  

The result of this is a return to comfort food and the basics, classics with a modern twist that remind guests of a refined version of their mothers’ own kitchens.  

Favorites of guests from the Uniworld Kitchens:

  • Wiener Schnitzel with Homemade Potato Salad (served in Austria and Bavaria) 
  • Simmered beef brisket—Tafelspitz—with horseradish sauce, pumpkin seed oil, cranberries and bouillon potatoes (served in Austria)  
  • Traditional Rhineland beef roast—Sauerbraten—with braised red cabbage and potato dumplings (served on Rhine river cruises) 
  • Alpine River Trout with almond butter, parsley potatoes and local lamb lettuce (served in the south of Germany) 
  • Gratinated onion soup (served in France) 
  • Oven-fired pizzas and handmade pasta (served in Italy) 
  • Desserts like caneles (served in France) and stuffed vanilla cannoli (served in Italy) 

Chef Bernhard F. Zorn grew up working in his parents’ restaurant in Germany. Cooking alongside his mother prepared him well for a series of jobs across Europe, South Africa, the Maldives and on a variety of international cruise lines. Now, he is the Culinary Director for Uniworld Boutique River Cruises and has been honored as a Global Master Chef by the World Chefs Association and as an Officier Chef Rotisseur with the Chaine des Rotisseurs.  

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises features distinctively designed ships with an average capacity of 120 guests, exclusive excursions, gourmet cuisine, and one of the highest staff-to-guest-ratio in the river cruise industry. offers truly all-inclusive itineraries in Europe, as well as voyages in Russia, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, India, Peru and Egypt—a total of 20 rivers in 28 countries worldwide. Uniworld is a member of The Travel Corporation (TTC) family of companies, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2020. 


Best Wildlife Experiences with African Travel, Inc. That Go Beyond Your Big Five Bucket List

By Chelsea Todaro of African Travel

Wildlife in Africa is so vast and plentiful, it’s sometimes hard to choose where you can find the best animal encounters. 

Whether it’s the big five, exotic birds, desert roamers, or aquatic life you’re searching for, an African safari will deliver for any wildlife preference. You can still enjoy sundowners, culinary delights and other luxury experiences while on safari, but there’s also extraordinary wildlife encounters that will check off your big five bucket list and also contribute to sustainability.  

African Travel Inc.’s safari experts curate wildlife experiences tailored to any traveler’s desires, and do so sustainably with their not-for-profit partner, TreadRight Foundation.  

Below, African Travel Inc. breaks down the top wildlife safari experiences in Africa. 

Help Save Rhinos in South Africa 

At Shamwari Game Reserve you’ll learn about the important conservation work done to help save rhinos and big cat species. Shamwari is one of the largest conservation initiatives in Southern Africa, and every guest participates in the conservation story – whether it is a through a donation made for each guests’ visit or their own experience with the animals. Learn about the balance between wildlife and plant life from the rangers or meet the veterinarians and ecologists at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. If conservation is your passion, consider a two-week volunteer program with the Shamwari Conservation Experience. 

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See the Greatest Show on Earth from Your Treehouse Balcony 

In Tanzania, the Great Migration is a must-see as millions of Wildebeest, zebras and gazelles– to name a few–come together for the largest animal migration in the world. If you’re staying in the Serengeti, you can have your own private showing from your treehouse balcony at Tarangire Treetops. These luxury elevated suites are perched on platforms in the branches of age-old Baobab and Marula trees. It makes for some of the best panoramic wildlife viewing from a high altitude!  

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Close Encounters with Gorillas and Chimpanzees 

To discover Rwandan wildlife, get your outdoor gear and camera ready as you hike into the rainforest mountains in search of the magnificent, and critically endangered, Silver Back Mountain Gorilla. Any fatigue from your mountain trek at Volanoes National Park will fade away with your first close glimpse of the gorillas while they forage and move through the forest. While visiting Nyungwe National Park, expert rangers will guide you during a chimpanzee trek deep in the rainforest. You’ll observe them playing wild and free, hooting and dashing through the trees—this is their home after all!  

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Take Wildlife Photography Lessons in Botswana 

Botswana offers one of the most diverse game-viewing in Africa with land and water safaris. At Botswana’s new Xigera Safari Lodge, travelers can relax for a night in the new Baobab treehouse experience and join the lodge’s wildlife photography expert Mike Myers on a private safari perfecting their photography skills. You’ll spot wildlife all over from the Okavango Delta’s diverse ecosystems—ranging from hippos, crocodiles, lions, leopards, elephants, wild dogs and a myriad of birds. Designed to frame the breathtaking floodplains and riverine forests, the Xigera’s spacious suites look out onto lily-filled lagoons, providing a front-row seat to the theatre of the African bush.  

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Take a River Cruise at the Mighty Victoria Falls 

Victoria Falls is hailed as one of the world’s Seven Natural Wonders and attracts many wildlife species to its large water source. Sail upstream the Zambezi River on a sunset dinner cruise for a wildlife photographer paradise. Use binoculars to zoom in on the hippos cavorting in the river and look out for the elephants as they make their way to the riverbank for their last drink before settling down for the night.  

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Discover Pristine, Desert-Adapted Wildlife and Track Black Rhinos 

On Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, you can discover desert-adapted animals that live in this harsh environment, like the unique lions, and the conservation efforts to try and ensure their survival. You’ll also see one of the greatest concentrations of desert elephant, along with Hartmann’s zebra, oryx, giraffe, springbok, and even lion and brown hyenas. Dramaland is recognized for having the largest free-roaming black rhino population in Africa. Enjoy the thrill of tracking these rhinos with expert rangers and learn about the work being done by Save the Rhino Trust. 

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Chelsea Todaro is a Communications Specialist and Writer for The Travel Corporation, where she promotes family-owned travel brands across the globe. She graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a B.A. in Journalism and Multimedia Studies. Chelsea Todaro is also an opinion columnist for CEO World Magazine. Follow her on LinkedIn. 

About African Travel, Inc. - ”We Know Africa” 
African Travel, Inc. is the longest established luxury safari operator based in the US focused exclusively on the African continent. With a team across North America and in Africa, the luxury safari operator creates unforgettable tailor-made journeys. Each trip also has a positive impact on the people, place and wildlife through their #AfricanTravelCares program and partnership with The TreadRight Foundation. African Travel is one of the most awarded safari companies, including a Travel +Leisure 2020 Top 10 World’s Best Safari Outfitter, and a proud member of The Travel Corporation (TTC), a family-owned company with more than 100 years of expertise in luxury travel. 


A Guide to 7 of Colorado’s Top National Parks and Monuments

By Katie of Trafalgar

Colorado’s national parks and monuments are home to the state’s greatest treasures. You’ll find everything here from dinosaur bones and ancient ruins, to stunning scenery ranging from snowy mountains and river gorges, to rocky canyons and golden sand dunes. Whether you want to go hiking, kayaking, sandboarding, stargazing, or wildlife spotting, the Centennial State is the ultimate American adventure. Planning a trip? Read our guide to seven of the best national parks and monuments in Colorado – and be sure to add some to your bucket list.

Rocky Mountain National Park

1. Rocky Mountain National Park

As one of the world’s most extraordinary landscapes, the Rocky Mountains National Parks is regularly hailed as one of Colorado’s top national parks. It’s filled with snowy peaks soaring more than 12,000 feet high, alpine lakes and waterfalls, and gorgeous meadows dotted with moose, elk, bighorn sheep and more. If you can tear your eyes away from the views, you’ll also find campgrounds, fishing spots and 350 miles of scenic trails ranging from short walks to multi-day treks. The central area of Beaver Meadows and Moraine Park are great places to start your Rocky Mountains adventure. And be sure to take a drive along the Trail Ridge Road, a spectacular scenic byway crossing the continental divide, famed as the highest continuous paved highway in the USA. 

GET INSPIRED BY: Welcome to Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park

2. Mesa Verde National Park

If you’re looking for the best national parks in Colorado, you can’t go past Mesa Verde. Set in the stunning Four Corners area of Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park offers both natural beauty and fascinating history. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, here you can trace the ancient footsteps of the Ancestral Puebloans who carved cliff dwellings out of the sandstone canyon walls. The park is home to some of the country’s most well-preserved archaeological sites, including more than 4,000 ruins dating back hundreds of years. Drive along the Mesa Loop Road to see the amazing carved dwellings or walk the Petroglyph Point Trail for stunning views and the best rock art in the park. You can also take a ranger-led tour to see more impressive archaeological sites, including the Balcony House with 40 preserved rooms and Cliff Palace, with 150 rooms and 23 kivas. 

Colorado National Monument

3. Colorado National Monument

The Colorado National Monument protects one of the most breathtaking landscapes in the US. Set in the northeast of the Colorado Plateau, you’ll come face to face with sheer-walled canyons plunging as deep as 500 feet, and granite rock monoliths towering to 450 feet. It’s all red rock and green juniper forests, and as you gaze out over this mesmerising landscape, you might even spot soaring eagles, mountain lions and bighorn sheep. You won’t want to blink as you drive the 23-mile Rim Rock Drive along the spectacular plateau lined with spectacular views. Or get on solid ground with the 14 hiking trails in the Colorado National Monument, including the popular Serpent’s Trail, a zigzagging trail that takes you along the original dirt road into the monument in just 2.5 miles.

RELATED CONTENT: Hit 10,000 steps a day on these 7 iconic USA National Park hikes

Dinosaur National Monument

4. Dinosaur National Monument

Ever wanted to see a dinosaur? You’ll find them in Colorado’s national parks. Well, the bones at least. The Dinosaur National Monument is one of the few places where you can see and touch massive dinosaur bones sticking out of the rocks where they were found, and even see ancient petroglyphs. But dinosaurs aren’t the only attraction here. You can hike along miles of trails, and go swimming, fishing and boating around the gorgeous area where the Yampa and Green rivers meet. Take a drive along Harpers Corner Road for mesmerising views over the rivers, or grab a raft and float along while admiring the ancient canyon walls and spotting elk on the riverbanks. Dinosaur National Monument is even an International Dark Sky Park, and astronomy lovers flock here for stargazing and night hikes in summer.

Great Sand Dunes National Park Preserve

5. Great Sand Dunes National Park Preserve

With 149,000 acres of sand dunes, forest and wetlands, and home to the tallest dunes in the country towering 750 feet high, the Great Sand Dunes National Park Preserve is one epic sandbox. While the incredible scenery provides plenty of photo opportunities, this is also one of the most fun national parks to visit in Colorado, with outdoor adventures like sandboarding, sand sledding and four wheeling. Start at the fantastic Visitor Centre to see the exhibits and short film about the park or meet a Park Ranger to uncover the secrets of this unique natural phenomenon formed more than a million years ago. If you want to go climbing or sandboarding, make your way to High Dune and Star Dune, or head to the 22-mile Medano Pass Road for a four-wheeling experience across sandy creeks. After the spring snowmelt, the Medano Creek is also great for swimming, sunbathing and relaxing after your ride down the sand dunes.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

6. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
It may not get the hype of the Rocky Mountains, but this national park is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. The park surrounds a 53-mile gorge plunging 2,700 feet into the earth, with the marbled rock walls carved out by the Gunnison River. The deepest points of the canyon barely receive sunlight, and it’s a mesmerising experience to stare into the dark depths. For the best views of the gorge, head to Devil’s Lookout and Dragon Point. You can also walk the Chasm View nature trail on the north rim or stop at the viewpoints along the South Rim Drive, where you’ll also see the striped Painted Wall. Besides the scenery, there’s also plenty of wildlife including golden eagles, elk and mule deer, a railroad museum that tells the story of the railroads that used to cross this gorge. It’s even an International Dark Sky Park with sky parties and astronomy festivals in summer. 

RELATED CONTENT: What to pack for a trip through America’s great national parks

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

7. Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
If you want to get closer to Colorado’s prehistoric life, the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is the place to be. You’ll find thousands of fossils dating back millions of years, including plants and insects, and huge petrified redwood stumps up to 14 feet wide, which are best seen along the 1.1-mile Petrified Forest Loop. Other hiking trails reveal the natural beauty of the park, with alpine forests, granite outcrops and lush meadows spread across 6,000 acres. You can even explore the pioneer history of the area, with a fantastic museum and an early homestead that shows what life was like during Colorado’s settlement. For the perfect mix of history and nature, this has got to be on your Colorado bucket list. 

Are you dreaming of visiting Colorado’s national parks and monuments? Guided touring company Trafalgar Tours offer incredible travel experiences to many of America’s great National Parks. Visit their website or get in touch to start planning your next vacation today.

Katie is a regular contributing writer for Trafalgar’s The Real Word blog, based in sunny Perth, Australia. She lives for and writes about all things travel, culture, food and nature, and loves to inspire people to discover the world through her travel blogs.