By Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador

 

Portugal - Marvao

Marvao 

Portugal is European elegance and medieval mythology, culinary excellence and fabled wine-making tradition, granite ramparts, endless rivers, and temples of skulls and bones. Portugal is a nation of quixotic charms, one best explored on foot, at a pace that allows for a deeper appreciation of people, place, and culture (not to mention wine – delicious, bottomless barrels of wine). With two feet and a heartbeat, I set out with Country Walkers on an expedition from one end of this Iberian playground to the other, on an adventure that was truly immersive, experiential, and fully Portuguese.

Portugal - Parque Natural de Serra de Sao Mamede

Parque Natural de Serra de Sao Mamede

Portugal - Castelo de Vide 3

 Castelo de Vide

Portugal - Castelo de Vide

Castelo de Vide

Portuguese is a lyrical language, and the most common refrain is bem-vindos, or welcome. I heard bem-vindos day after day, no matter where we wandered on our walking tour. We were welcomed at cobblestone cafes in the historic heart of old Porto. We were welcomed by local farmers when wandering through the cork forests of the Parque Natural de Serra de Sao Mamade. And we were welcomed by the happy people of the cozy, red-tiled village of Castelo de Vide. In part, we were welcomed wherever we went because Portugal is a friendly, vibrant nation – but the fact that we spent so much time on our feet, trekking from one destination to the next, allowed us a unique opportunity to travel deeper into the essential nature of the Portugal experience.

Portugal - Quinta Nova 2

Quinta Nova

Portugal - Quinta Nova

 Quinta Nova

Portugal - Douro

Douro

We had time to wander Arraiolos, a postcard perfect little village known for exquisite tapestries, made locally since the Middle Ages and based on Iranian designs. We spoke with artisans, explored shops and museums, and even had an opportunity to thread some needles ourselves (pro-tip: don’t use your thumb as a thimble). Out among the sun-splashed vineyards of the Douro Valley, we wandered into medieval-era orchards on the sprawling Quinta Nova grounds, plucking from the trees oranges, pears, and cherries. And Country Walkers made time for long, leisurely dinners, the sort people have been enjoying in Portugal for centuries. We dined out among the stars, were entertained by local concertina virtuosos, and feasted on national fare, like amêijoas à bulhão pato, a type of clam stew, alheira sausage, notable for including proteins other than pork, and, of course, delicate bites of famed Iberian ham. Fabulous table wines accompanied every meal, while port put an exclamation point on each evening; we sipped on wines from legacy producers and craft artisans like Dow’s, Cockburn’s, Taylor’s, … and more.

Portugal- Herdade do Esporao

Herdade do Esporao

Portugal - Evora

Evora

My Country Walkers experience was a throwback affair, a glimpse at travel in Europe as it may have been a generation ago. It was an opportunity to disconnect, enjoy the countryside of the rolling Douro and the rugged Alentejo, and immerse myself fully in the unique tapestry of local life. I felt welcome with every step, and can’t imagine traveling through Portugal in any other way.

Portugal - Douro (2)

Douro

Interested in learning more about Flash’s journey? Check out Country Walkers’ Portugal: Porto to Lisbon.

Flash is a journalist, photographer, and author based in Wyoming. His work has been published by AFAR, GQ Magazine, USA Today, Voyeur Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Get Lost Magazine, Celebrated Living, Asian Geographic, Food and Travel, American Cowboy, and more. Flash is the reigning 2016 SATW Bill Muster Photographer of the Year.


By Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador

 

POR - Douro (4)

Douro 

POR - Sao Pedro do Corval

Sao Pedro do Corval

Portugal is the little things. It is whistling ceramic roosters hand-made in a studio in Sao Pedro do Corval. Portugal is stomping grapes in an ancient lagares in a family-owned vineyard in the Douro Valley. It is walking miles over dusty dirt tracks between 2,000-year-old olive trees, while a towering castle stands sentinel on a nearby hillside. Portugal is grassroots agriculture and temples of skulls and bones, ancient monolithic sites and world-class cuisine, textiles and pottery and long walks over cobbled streets. Portugal is all these little things and more, little things you can only experience when you slow down and fully immerse yourself in the mystery, majesty and allure of the Iberian Peninsula. Recently I traveled to Portugal with Country Walkers, the global leader in small-group guided walking adventures, for an expedition from historic Porto to modern Lisbon, with stops to experience the pastoral bliss of the Douro Valley, the rugged hillscapes and castles of the Alentejo, and countless local wonders in between.

POR - Quinta Nova 3

Quinta Nova 

POR - Quinta Nova 4

Quinta Nova 

POR - Quinta Nova 5

Quinta Nova 

I knew that my Country Walkers expedition was going to be a different sort of travel experience from the moment our party stepped foot in the Douro. A UNESCO World Heritage darling, the Douro Valley region has become a tourism darling in recent years, and it’s easy to see why – from our elevated position high above the river, the Douro is a postcard-perfect vision of Old World Europe. We spent our first day walking among a verdant carpet of old wine vines, and stopped to visit an olive oil mill, and, of course, a family-run winery with a history that stretches back centuries (all the way to Britain). Too many trips are focused on checklists, when they should be focused on experiences. Country Walkers doesn’t want their guests to “see this, this, and this,” and is instead focused on “experiencing this, fully, and completely.” Our group dinners at Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo epitomized this ethos – our candlelight dinners were characterized by Chef Jose Pinto’s unique take on traditional fare, and included extended wine tastings, wonderful conversation, and concertina music.

POR - Herdade do Freixo

Herdade do Freixo

POR - Mosteiro do Crato

Mosteiro do Crato

POR - Evora 2

Evora 

I knew that we would spend considerable time walking through vineyards and olive orchards, but I didn’t expect to wander through one of the world’s only skeleton temples, which we experienced at the Igreja do Sao Francisco, a 12th century Gothic wonder in the heart of bustling Evora.  I knew we would visit castles and ancient kingdoms, but I didn’t know that I’d stand in the center of a bullring in the castle of Reguengos de Monsaraz. I knew there would be wineries and Port and table wine, but I didn’t expect to learn so much about agriculture and eco-farming at the Herdade do Freixo do Meio, a sprawling agricultural co-op known for producing artisanal meats and vegetables. I knew there would be charming boutique hotels, but I didn’t know I’d spend my mornings in beautiful gardens and atmospheric crypts of converted monasteries, like the Pousada Mosteiro do Crato, for centuries known as the Flor de Rosa Monastery. And I knew to expect cultural marvels and historical allure, but I had no idea that we would flit between rock giants at the Cromlech of the Almedres archaeological site, where 5th century (BC) monoliths still call out to the stars.

POR - Capela dos Ossos

Capela dos Ossos

POR - Cromeleque dos Almendres

Cromeleque dos Almendres

POR - Cromeleque dos Almendres (2)

Cromeleque dos Almendres

Portugal is all the things I love about Europe – the pace, the grace, the idyllic countryside and the atmospheric medieval cities – and a thousand surprises I could have never anticipated. Country Walkers gave me an opportunity to go beyond guide books and become fully immersed in local culture, lore, and legends. I can’t think of any other way to experience Portugal.

 

Interested in learning more about Flash’s journey? Check out Country Walkers’ Portugal: Porto to Lisbon.

Flash is a journalist, photographer, and author based in Wyoming. His work has been published by AFAR, GQ Magazine, USA Today, Voyeur Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Get Lost Magazine, Celebrated Living, Asian Geographic, Food and Travel, American Cowboy, and more. Flash is the reigning 2016 SATW Bill Muster Photographer of the Year.


 

The first question people typically ask when planning a vacation is “where do I want to go?” But really…shouldn’t the question start with “why?”

Video produced by: GET Creative, a division of USA TODAY
 
Knowing what travelers want to get out of their trip is equally as important when helping them plan for it. The tour operator members of USTOA believe it’s critical to uncover “why,” the emotional connections people seek when exploring the destinations and cultures they plan to visit.

USTOA embarked on a journey to answer that very question – “Why do you travel” – through a collection of videos and articles that followed travelers on four tour operator member itineraries. We hope their testimonials will inspire you to ask yourself the same question. Find out some of their reasons below.

Go Ahead Tours’ traveler Ann Girres shared, “I travel for many reasons – for fun, for adventure, to better understand history, to experience other cultures, to see wondrous sites – but mostly because it helps me understand the world better.” Girres traveled recently on Go Ahead Tours’ “The Wonders of Ancient Israel, where guests tour the cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv before traveling to holy lands, including one of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem. The trip also includes visits to Mount Zion and the Dead Sea.

Roberta James, a guest on Audley Travel’s “Journey Along the Silk Route” China itinerary explains she travels to expand her horizons and knowledge. “I love meeting new people, eating new foods and visiting historical buildings. For me It’s about trying to absorb the whole picture of a country,” James said. Audley Travel’s 21-day Chinese adventure follows the ancient Silk Route taking travelers through stunning desert, mountain and countryside scenery, along with fascinating architecture and cultures.

Tauck’s “Switzerland: Europe’s Crown Jewel” 11-day itinerary, promises guests like Diane Buchanan views of Switzerland’s famous soaring panoramas and serene beauty. During the trip Buchanan said, “I travel because the world is a huge and amazing place. It makes you feel alive because you’re touching as much of it as you can.” Her trip also included a train ride to Gornergrat to view the Matterhorn, a wine-tasting cruise on Lake Lugano, and time to explore Bern, Lucerne and more.

African Travel, Inc. guest, Diane Rankin says, “Travel helps me be a better person. It gives me perspective on what’s important to other people and why.” Rankin was part of a custom trip to South Africa where she climbed to the top of Table Mountain via cable car, searched for “the Big Five” on a safari through Sabi Sand Game Reserve, visited a winery in the Cape Winelands, and more.

Whether it’s personal growth, meeting new people or gaining some perspective, USTOA encourages you to ask yourself – why do you travel?

Daniel 2- credit GET Creative

Credit: GET Creative

Visit www.ustoa.com/why-we-travel and www.youtube.com/user/ustoanyc for more information. Travelers can follow the adventures on Instagram and Twitter using #traveltogether or by visiting USTOA’s Facebook page.

 


Adventures by Disney

Credit: Adventures by Disney

With an increasing number of USTOA tour operator members offering families exclusive pricing and family-focused on-board activities, river cruising is no longer just an adult’s vacation. These special European river cruises offer parents an alternative to large cruises and traditional land vacations. Multiple stops along the way with child-friendly experiences in history, cooking, culture and much more enhance the trip for children and their parents.

Check out some of the family experiences offered by USTOA tour operator members below or visit www.ustoa.com/dream to find your next dream vacation.

Tauck - Castle on the Rhine

Credit: Tauck

Families can take French lessons, ride bikes along the Rhine-Moselle cycling route and much more on Tauck Bridges’ “Castles on the Rhine: Family Riverboat Adventure.” The eight-day cruise down the Rhine river from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland, includes a ride on the world’s steepest cogwheel train to the summit of Mt. Pilatus, walking tours in Koblenz and Cologne, a canal boat cruise in Amsterdam, and a visit to the Van Gogh Museum.  All shore excursions, meals and gratuities, all onboard beverages (adult and otherwise), airport transfers, and luggage handling are included from $4,490 per person, plus airfare. This cruise is available June 27, July 4, 23 and 30, 2018. www.tauck.com

Adventures by Disney - Cruise

Credit: Adventures by Disney

Adventures by Disney invites families to enjoy a cruise through Austria, Germany, Slovakia, and Hungary on the eight-day “Danube River Cruise.” Families can participate in a private marionette performance and strudel making demonstration at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, zoom down a mineshaft slide at the Salt Mines of Hallein in Austria, and test their skills at archery and other medieval activities during a visit to Devin Castle. Kids also enjoy movie nights with snacks and drinks and cultural games and traditions based on each destination. Families can get $700 off select staterooms or $350 off per person through October 20, 2017. Starting at $4,789 per person and available in June, and July 2018. www.adventuresbydisney.com

Children 16 and under sail free on CroisiEurope River Cruises’ family-focused “Family Club: Venice and its Lagoon” cruise. The itinerary features stops in Venice, Padua, Ferrara, Verona, and Burano where families have the chance to participate in walking and biking tours of various cities as well as visits to the lagoon islands of Murano and Burano. A tour of the Doge’s palace and its mysterious passageways and an optional gondola tour in Venice await passengers of this six-day European cruise. Just in time for summer break, this cruise is available for June, July, and August 2018 departures from $1,243 per person. www.croisieuroperivercruises.com

AmaWaterways welcomes families this holiday season with Christmas Markets themed cruises available on four itineraries from November 23 through December 23, 2017. Families will marvel at the fairytale-like beauty of the Danube during wintertime, sailing through Budapest and Vienna, where guests can explore up to six different markets and one of the world’s most famous Christmas Markets in Nuremberg. Guests sailing the Rhine visit bustling Christmas markets in Basel, Amsterdam and Strasbourg, as well as the quaint village markets of Riquewihr and Rüdesheim. Onboard festivities for the whole family include tree-trimming contests, gingerbread decorating, a Captain’s Christmas party, a traditional holiday dinner, carolers and more.  Prices start at $2,317 per person. Guests choosing to embark on the December 23 Rhine sailing will enjoy an AmaWaterways special holiday gift – two free nights in Amsterdam.  For more information, visit www.AmaWaterways.com.

 

Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.


By Colu Henry, AFAR Ambassador

When you tell people you’re going to Greenland, the reactions are impressive.  There’s a lot of wide-eyed nodding and inquisitiveness. In the weeks leading up to my trip, no one I encountered had actually ever been there before. I don’t think many people know that it’s just a quick two-hour flight from Reykjavík, but once the word is out, I have a feeling that will change quickly.

UNESCOHeritageSite

From my first glance out the plane window, I fell hard. The icy waters were turquoise and surrounded by ruddy land and patches of snow. It was a glorious site to behold. Upon landing we were shuttled to the port and then taken by zodiac to Lindblad ExpeditionsNational Geographic Explorer, which we would inhabit for the next four days. The ship is a converted ferry and holds only 148 passengers. (Side note, it also offers a 24-hour Open Bridge policy, which was an incredible post-dinner activity). I immediately knew as I stepped up into the bottom of the ship that I was in for more of an adventure than a leisurely boat trip.

IcebergsInIllulisat

I was more than happy to learn, unlike other ships, the National Geographic Explorer is staffed with an incredible team of naturalists, undersea specialists, geologists and photographers that teach you about the Arctic – and in this case Greenland specifically.

Russ Evans, the ship’s expedition leader, kept us informed and educated about where we were and where we were going. One night, he even woke us up at 1:00 am because he caught a glimpse of the northern lights. We all showed up on deck in pajamas, no questions asked. Alas, no lights, but what a dedicated group of voyagers we were nonetheless!

HomesinSisimiut

BoatsinSisimiut

Each place in Greenland we visited was distinctly its own and equally as gorgeous. From the bright houses in the small harbor town of Sisimiut to the awe inspiring icebergs in Iluslissat, where we boated out into the frigid waters, each place we saw took my breath away and left me bewildered and more curious about our precious earth.

Iceberg2

We also had the gift of having Aleqa Hammond, the former Prime Minster of Greenland, on our trip. Hearing her talk about the history and culture of Greenland’s people was educational and inspiring. With only 65,000 people inhabiting the island, Greenlandic people still hunt for most of their food, which includes seals, whales, polar bears, and of course fish. No land hunting on motorized vehicles is allowed, which I found not only ethical, but incredibly impressive. She also spoke passionately, but optimistically about global warming and how the country is working to learn how to adapt and problem solve what lies ahead.

WalkwaytoUNESCOsite

If you had asked me before I left if I’d walk away from this trip yearning for Artic hikes, undersea diving recaps and talks from naturalist, I would have politely dismissed you. I’m ever so happy to be proven wrong.  Greenland, really hope to see you soon.

 

Interested in learning more about Colu’s journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com the USTOA blog and check out Lindblad Expeditions’ Hot Springs and Icebergs: Iceland to West Greenland tour. 

Colu is a food and lifestyle expert, native New Yorker, and avid home cook. Most recently, she worked as Director of Special Projects at Bon Appetit. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Refinery29, Cherry Bombe, and Wine Enthusiast. Her cookbook Back Pocket Pasta will be released by Clarkson Pottering in February 2017.


 

 

Ascend to the “top of Europe,” trek through the Swiss Alps, or enjoy a meal with a local Swiss family in the heart of Europe with tour operator members of USTOA. Our members are offering new itineraries, special savings, and authentic Swiss experiences to entice travelers to visit the diverse destination of Switzerland in 2017 and 2018.

Need more inspiration? Click here for a look at why real travelers chose to experience Switzerland, and view itineraries from USTOA members to start planning your dream vacation to Switzerland today.

A&K- Switzerland

Credit: Abercrombie & Kent

Abercrombie & Kent’s new “Switzerland & Italian Lakes” itinerary offers travelers a luxury journey through Switzerland. Guests will savor famous Swiss chocolate at a tasting workshop at the Lindt chocolatier, visit Brienz, a center of Swiss woodworking, and ascend the slopes of the Stanserhorn on the world’s first cable car. The journey will bring travelers to Bern, Interlaken, Zermatt and more. The eleven-day itinerary is available from $8,495 per person for travel on various departures in 2018. www.abercrombiekent.com

Trafalgar - Switzerland

Credit: Trafalgar

Make Switzerland your next family vacation on Adventures by Disney’s “Italy and Switzerland Destination” trip. The country’s range of activities is highlighted with a chance to zip line in the Alps, a local monastery cheese factory tour, dinner at the world-renowned Old Swiss House and more. Adults and kids alike also enjoy a boat ride across Lake Lucerne and a Swiss chocolate adventure. Departure dates from June 11, 2018 to July 26, 2018 from $6,599 for adults and from $6,269 for children. www.adventuresbydisney.com

Guests on Collette’s “Alpine Lakes and Scenic Trains” 10-day tour will explore Switzerland utilizing its many forms of transportation like a ride on the Golden Pass panoramic train and a traditional open-air commuter ferry ride across Lake Como. Travelers also will journey through the Bernina Pass on one of the world’s most scenic railways, visit the Zermatt Matterhorn Museum, and a tour with a local expert through charming Zermatt featuring its best-known landmarks. This itinerary is available for departures on various dates in May 2018 to October 2018. www.gocollette.com

Travel along the stunning Swiss Alps and pristine lakes during go-today’s nine-day “Switzerland Fly & Drive” trip. Guests looking to find adventure with a flexible schedule will begin in Zurich and enjoy a seven-day car rental with unlimited mileage to journey across Switzerland. The trip also includes round-trip flights from New York to Zurich. Experience the natural beauty and charming towns along the way from $699 per person available from October 2017 to July 2018.

IS Switzerland- Premier World Discovery

 Credit: Premier World Discovery

Travelers will uncover some of Switzerland’s most famous sites and explore the country’s boutique cities on Premier World Discovery’s “Scenic Switzerland” tour. A Swiss wine tasting at Chateau de Chillon, an excursion on the Golden Pass Train, and stops in Bern and Lucerne are only a few of the things that await guests on this nine-day trip through the heart of Europe. Available for various departure dates throughout 2018 from $2,595 per person, double land only. www.premierworlddiscovery.com

Travel Impressions

Credit: Travel Impressions

Journey through some of Switzerland’s most awe-inspiring destinations during Travel Impressions’ “Exploring Switzerland from Bern” trip. The four-day independent itinerary includes excursions to Thun and Mt. Rigi, a private guided tour of Lucerne and more. The trip also includes the Swiss Coupon Pass with two-for-one Dine and Discover Deals. Available from November 1, 2017 to October 31, 2018 from $1,498 per person. www.travelimpressions.com

As a part of its 90th anniversary series, Globus recently launched the “Top of Switzerland” itinerary with a six-day tour of the Alpine beauty and the vibrant city of Zurich. Guests will travel to the “top of Europe” on the Jungfrau Massif in Interlaken, visit a cheese farm in Affoltern (Emmental Valley), and even visit the open-air museum of Ballenberg with its centuries-old buildings from all areas of Switzerland. This Swiss adventure is available from May 2018 to September 2018 from $1,735 per person. www.globusjourneys.com

On Avanti’s new “Swiss Food Discovery” tour, travelers delve into Switzerland’s diverse culinary scene with a six-day food and sightseeing exploration. Guests will enjoy dinner in a local Swiss home, a wine tasting in the UNESCO-protected Lavaux region, and a fondue lunch along the way. Additionally, travelers will visit the breathtaking Mt. Rigi, “Queen of the Mountains.” Also included is the Swiss Coupon Pass, 100 coupons offering 50% off selected restaurants, city tours, entrance fees, and up-grades on trains and boats. Available for various departures from April to October from $1,499 per person/double occupancy (land-only from Zurich). www.avantidestinations.com

Alpine Adventure - kids hiking

Credit: Tauck

From a train ride to the “top of Europe” to a private water taxi across Lake Lugano, Tauck’s 11-day “Switzerland: Europe’s Crown Jewel” promises guests soaring panoramas and serene beauty. Upon reaching the Jungfraujoch or “top of Europe” guests will receive a Tauck-exclusive reception at the Ice Palace. Additional highlights include a cogwheel train to Gornergrat to view the Matterhorn, a wine-tasting cruise on Lake Lugano, and time to explore Bern, Lucerne and more. Available from June to September from $6,590 per person, plus airfare. www.tauck.com

Insight Vacations Jungfraubahn vor der Jungfraubahn

Credit: Insight Vacations

Discover Switzerland’s charming boutique cities during Insight Vacations’ “Country Roads of Switzerland.” Guests will travel through the Swiss countryside aboard the Glacier Express to Chillon, Zermatt, Grindelwald and more. Highlights along the serene route include a visit to the Lion Monument in Lucerne, the Matterhorn in Zermatt, and Lake Maggiore in the Italian Lake District. Available from April to September 2018 from $4,395 per person. Guests can save 10% when booking and paying in full before January 11, 2018. www.insightvacations.com

Mont Blanc mountaineers

Credit: StudentUniverse

See the stunning vistas from the premier hiking routes of Mont Blanc on StudentUniverse’s “Trekking Mont Blanc” active itinerary. During this Swiss adventure, students will hike the Alps from France to Italy and Switzerland along the Tour du Mont Blanc. Views along the route of glaciers, steep valleys, Alpine valleys and meadows showcase Switzerland’s breathtaking natural beauty. Adventurous travelers can experience this trek from September 2017 to September 2018 from $1,699 per person. www.studentuniverse.com

Trafalgar

Credit: Trafalgar

Travel through the diverse destination of Switzerland by high-speed train on Trafalgar’s “Best of Switzerland” itinerary. Travelers will visit St. Morirtz, Zermart, and Geneva, the capital of the Suisse Romande (French-speaking Switzerland). Additionally, guests will stop at Interlaken in the heart of the Swiss Alps, at the foot of the famous peaks the Eiger and Jungfrau and visit the poignant Lion Monument. Available from April 7, 2018 to September 29, 2018 from $2,575 per person. Guests can save 10% when they book by January 11,2018. www.trafalgar.com

 

Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.


 

By Colu Henry, AFAR Ambassador

 

Raudholar Rocks

I had always yearned to visit Iceland and finally this summer I was able to make the trip. I longed for lava fields and moon-like landscapes and the trip didn’t disappoint. We landed in Reykjavík, the countries capital and largest city, and upon arrival Lindblad Expeditions, whom I was traveling with, whisked us off to a small restaurant situated by the sea to start the day.

Cod

The flight to Iceland from New York is a hop, skip, and a jump (or a mere 5 hours), so quick enough to return frequently, but not quite long enough to get a good night’s sleep. Luckily, our first, well-planned stop was to visit the Blue Lagoon. The lagoon was formed in 1976 during an operation at a nearby geothermal plant. It’s said that people began to bathe in the water and apply the mud to their skin and noticed huge improvements to skin disease such as psoriasis. It’s now considered one of the 25 Wonders of the World. I get why.

Blue Lagoon

We soaked in the thermal baths and enjoyed their restorative, warm waters and it nearly kicked my jet-lagged. I highly recommend this plan of action for anyone taking an overnight flight to Iceland; it works. In general, I’m a firm believer that wherever you travel, if you keep your sleeping schedule to rise and set with the sun where you are, by the next day you’ll be nearly back to normal.

With the tour’s generous allotted time to explore, true to my word, and a lover of straying off path, I connected with my friend Margret Eir –  who happens to be famous Icelandic pop star – to take me around town that night. I love exploring new cities on foot; it gives you a real understanding of how a place is laid out and a chance to meet the locals, so we did just that. Margret and I wandered downtown, where immediately I was captivated by the city’s warm people and charming shops. She also took me to her partner JJ’s barber shop, named Common Joes, which in addition to cutting hair, also acts as a visually impressive storefront where he beautifully restores antique furniture and electronics to make them compatible for present day.

Dinner at Messin

Reykjavík’s restaurant scene is also having a moment and Margret took me to a new, very cool and charming restaurant called Messin. The menu, like most places in Iceland (no complaints here), is very fish-driven. Everything is served in copper pots, family-style upon the table. We feasted on shrimp, gravlax and curried cod and sipped on white wine; it was delicious and exactly what I needed. After a few stops at some local bars (a favorite activity on any trip), I was almost on Icelandic time, and finally ready for bed.

Icelandic Horses

The next venture on my journey was the gift of being able to ride Icelandic horses through a lava field. The farm is situated right outside of town. These gentle beings are smaller than regular horses and the loveliest of creatures. After our ride, we headed in town for a beautiful lunch and were then treated to a nature walk just a short drive from town. Our guide brought us up to speed on the incredible eco-system of the country. Did you know that they have no mosquitoes, snakes or really other prey in Iceland?

VioeyIsland

That evening, after a ferry ride to Viðey Island for dinner with a beautiful music performance by locals, I slept soundly and woke ready for the next piece of our adventure to begin. We were Greenland bound.

Interested in learning more about Colu’s journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com and check out check out Lindblad Expeditions’ Hot Springs and Icebergs: Iceland to West Greenland tour. 

Colu is a food and lifestyle expert, native New Yorker, and avid home cook. Most recently, she worked as Director of Special Projects at Bon Appetit. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Refinery29, Cherry Bombe, and Wine Enthusiast. Her cookbook Back Pocket Pasta will be released by Clarkson Pottering in February 2017.


ttmonth-header-image

This September, the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) marks its annual Travel Together Month with more than 100 exclusive savings on bucket list destinations and experiences around the globe.

Travel Together Month showcases a curated selection of offers from the country’s leading travel companies with dates available through 2019. Offers can be found through September 30, 2017, at www.ustoa.com/travel-together-month, featuring travel to all seven continents with countless “live like a local” and bucket list opportunities.

photo credit Hurtigruten

photo credit Hurtigruten

Exclusives include the following offers:

  • Abercrombie & Kent: Save up to $10,000 per couple on a 2017-2018 Luxury Expedition Cruise to Antarctica. Book Category 1-3 and save up to $5,000 per person on Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands for travel through January 2018.
  • Ritz Tours: Save $500 per couple on the “China Scenic” 12-day tour to experience the natural landscapes in Guilin, archeological sites of Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum in Xi’an, UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Beijing, and the cosmopolitan Shanghai for travel in 2018.
  • Hurtigruten: Save up to $1,000 per couple on cruises to Antarctica, South America, Canada, the US, the Caribbean and Central America for travel from April 4, 2018 to April 3, 2019.
  • Islands in the Sun: Enjoy two bonus nights and all meals on Islands In The Sun’s 8-Day Fiji Romance in Matangi Private Island trip with prices from $2,829 per person for travel until March 31, 2018.
  • go-today: Save $100 per person on Cape Town Escape with Great White Share Encounter. From $1,499 per person after discount using promo SHARK at checkout. Travel available through June 5, 2018.
photo credit Asia Answers

photo credit Asia Answers

Travel agent incentives can be found at www.ustoa.com/travel-together-month. Highlights include the following:

  • Lion World Travel: Travel agents earn $100 per person booked on the luxurious “Discover East Africa” tour for travel on April and May 2018 departures.
  • GOGO Vacations: Travel agents have the chance to win a $1,000 gift card on any new GOGO Vacations’ itinerary booked during the month of September. Winners will be announced on October 13, 2017 in the GOGO Vacations’ Travel Agent Insider email.
  • Asia Answers: Travel professionals can earn bonus commission of $50 per person booked on a China vacation lasting seven days or longer for travel through August 31, 2018.
  • Celtic Tours: Enjoy an Italian vacation with the travel agent exclusive of the five-night “Tuscan Villa” independent package with car rental or transfers, net rates from $449 per person for travel by December 15, 2017.
  • Zegrahm Expeditions: Receive a $100 gift card for each new guest booked on “Across the Antarctic Circle: Voyage to the 7th Continent” for the January 22, 2018 and February 4, 2018 departures.
  • CroisiEurope Cruises: Sell three double cabins (or six passengers) on the 11-day safari cruise itinerary and be entered to win an 11-day safari cruise for two people for travel in 2018 based on availability. Prize drawing December 20, 2017.
  • Alexander+Roberts: Earn $50 per person “Booking Bonuses” on all Private Tours, Small Ship Cruises and Small Group Journeys (never more than 16 guests) when clients pay-in-full for travel through April 2019.
photo credit Alexander+Roberts

photo credit Alexander+Roberts

Note: offers can be booked September 1-30, 2017. All travel deals, restrictions and booking instructions can be found at www.ustoa.com/travel-together-month.

For further inspirations or to search for dream travel itineraries and destinations, visit www.ustoa.com/dream.

 

 


 

The thought of planning holiday travel is known to strike fear into the hearts of even the most energetic travelers. The tour operator members of USTOA instead believe that the holidays can be an ideal time to bring families and friends closer together and create lasting memories for years to come.

The key is to find a destination that suits everyone, and, more importantly, to plan the trip without hassles and haggling.  So, gift yourself a stress-free holiday vacation with one of the following suggestions from our members:

Zegrahm Expeditions knows that some travelers want to escape the harsh winter weather, but also travel somewhere new. During its Hidden Gems of the Caribbean cruise, travelers will explore the lesser-visited islands of the eastern Caribbean with stops through the Grenadines, Iles des Saintes, Martinique, St. Lucia, Grenada and Grenada. Guests will snorkel and dive among colorful coral reefs, spot endemic birds and hike through various islands throughout the 12-day itinerary. Travelers also can learn from local experts onboard about the history of the islands visited and their struggle for independence from Europe. This idyllic escape is available November 25-December 6, 2018 from $12,980 per person. www.zegrahm.com

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Guests on CroisiEurope’s The Season of Advent: Italian Art and Traditions itinerary can spend their holiday season cruising the Amalfi coast soaking in the striking landscapes and villages while learning the history of Christmas markets and nativity scenes. What’s not to love? The trip includes a visit to the Museo di Capodimonte, the museum that houses famous works such as The Flagellation of Christ by Caravaggio and Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe. Naples, Sicily and the island of Capri are a few of the cities that await guests during this coastal cruise. Departures available November 20 and 27, December 4, 11 and 22, 2017 from $1,749 per person. www.croisieuroperivercruises.com

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For a true escape, travelers can explore the island paradise of Fiji in luxury this Thanksgiving holiday with Down Under Answers’ Raiwasa Fijian Luxury itinerary. Travelers will swim and dive to the Rainbow Reef and enjoy a free cooking class before retiring to a private two-bedroom villa with 180-degree views of Somosomo Strait. Unwind during the holiday trip with a daily 60-minute massage treatment per adult and stunning stargazing opportunities at night. This luxury getaway is available August 1 – November 30, 2017 from $11,899/person based on double occupancy. www.duatravel.com

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For further inspirations or to search for dream travel itineraries and destinations, visit www.ustoa.com/dream.

Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.

 


 

Whether it’s sharing lunch with a local family in a private home in Beijing, marveling at one of China’s 52 famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, or riding the Mag Lev bullet train into the modern metropolis of Shanghai, there are so many ways to experience the vast and varied country of China.

go-today-great-wall-of-china

Credit: go-today

Discover just a few reasons why China – 5,000 years “new” – could become your next dream vacation with a selection of itineraries from as many as 70 USTOA tour operator members. Find your own dream vacation to China here.

Marvel at the extraordinary sites showcasing China’s traditions and natural wonders during Adventures by Disney’s 12-day “China Destination” tour. Families can experience the excitement of Disney magic at China’s Disney theme parks, or be awed by some of the panoramic views of China’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the iconic Great Wall, Terracotta Army Museum, Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, and the incredible Imperial Palace. Departures are available from September 3, 2017 to October 21, 2018 starting at $7,699 per adult/ $7,289 per child. www.adventuresbydisney.com

Explore the serene beauty of China’s Yunnan Province and delve into the fascinating history of Shangri-La on Cox & Kings’ “Yunnan: A Journey to Shangri-La” private excursion. Explorers will discover the Old Town of Dali, cruise on the striking Erhai Lake, follow along the path of the Yangtze River, marvel at the views from Black Dragon Pool, ascend the Tibetan Plateau, and more. This eight-day journey is available throughout 2017 to March 2018 from $4450 per person based on two travelers. www.coxandkingsusa.com

Guests on Globus’ “Treasures of China” tour will begin their journey through the city of Beijing to discover stunning UNESCO World Heritage sites like the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and the Temple of Heaven. During the 11-day tour, guests also will delight in a colorful assemblage of classical performances in Xi’an, visit Guilin’s local tea farms for a hands-on demonstration of the tea-making process, and explore the sprawling city of Shanghai. Available on select departures in August, September, and October 2017 starting at $2,389 per person. www.globusjourneys.com

forbidden-city-china-go-today

Credit: go-today

Experience the historical and cultural highlights of both modern day China and its grandeur-filled past on go-today’s six-day “Treasures of China Escorted Tour.” Travelers will visit legendary sites, such as the Great Wall, Forbidden City, the Terracotta Army Museum and be enthralled by China’s unsurpassed art and culture. Available throughout 2017 to January 2018 from $2,099 per person. www.go-today.com

China-Karakul-Lake-Yurt

Credit: Intrepid Travel

Journey from Beijing to Shanghai during Intrepid Travel’s 12-day “North China Getaway” tour. Guests will travel to Huangshan, also known as Yellow Mountain, and stay in a local guesthouse for two days to explore the mountain. Travelers also will venture into the idyllic Huizhou countryside and explore rural villages on foot or bike. The trip also includes visits to China’s historical landmarks like the Great Wall where guests will stay at a family-run guesthouse. Available throughout 2017 and 2018 from $1,296 per person. www.intrepidtravel.com

yangtze river gorge

Credit: Mayflower Tours

Travelers can save $300 per couple on Mayflower Tours’ “Best of China and Yangtze River Cruise” itinerary to marvel at some of China’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and cruise along the Yangtze River. During the 12-day Chinese journey, guests can learn a Chinese folk dance and participate in a Chinese culinary lesson. The trip features visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the Great Wall, Temple of Heaven and Xian, and the Forbidden City. Savings available on the September 15, 2018 and October 13, 2018 departures from $2,469 per person. www.mayflowertours.com

Float down the famous Three Gorges of the Yangtze River, climb the Great Wall and gaze at the giant Buddha of Leshan on Student Universe’s three-week tour, “Beijing to Hong Kong: Essential China.” Guests will experience cultural and natural highlights including the Terracotta Warriors, a visit to a tea plantation, and enjoy a bike ride through the stunning Yangshuo countryside. Additional bucket-list activities await travelers on this itinerary from $3,399 available through December 2018. www.studentuniverse.com

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Credit: Trafalgar

Travelers can visit China’s must-see cities like eclectic Beijing, buzzing Shanghai and historic Xi’an and must-do experiences, like cruising down the iconic Huangpu River during Trafalgar’s 17-day “Classic China with Yangtze Cruise and Chengdu” tour. Guests will enjoy insider moments like dashing through the ancient Hutongs by rickshaw and savoring a home-cooked meal at a local family’s home in Beijing. Additionally, guests can join others on a visit to a primary school in Xi’an to get to know students and teachers, and see how their visit supports local education. Available on select departures in September, October 2017 and March-June 2018 starting at $5,475 per person. www.trafalgar.com

Temple of Heaven 09

Credit: Wendy Wu Tours

Join Wendy Wu Tours on a 26-day in-depth adventure during “The Silk Road Explorer” air-inclusive itinerary. Guests will immerse themselves in Chinese history and visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the Mogao Caves, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven and of course the famous Great Wall. Travelers also will have the chance to participate in a traditional dance class at the Temple of Heaven and marvel at Buddhist art spanning a period of 1,000 years at the Mogao Caves. Available from $6,390 per person on select departures between September 4, 2017 and October 8, 2017. www.wendywutours.com

Guests will hike through rice fields and across China’s countryside during Audley Travel’s “Hiking in China” itinerary. Hikers also will take part in a guided trek through the impressive Tiger Leaping Gorge before heading to Zhongdian (Shangri La). Travelers will witness the sunrise over Huanshan, visit the high Tibetan Plateau in Zhongdian (Shangri La), and visit the magnificent Great Wall. This 18-day active journey is available from $7,630 per person in September, October and November 2017. www.audleytravel.com

Chengdu_Pandas_Avanti

Credit: Avanti

Avanti’s new “The Great Panda Adventure” takes guests on a 12-day adventure through China with a private tour of Panda Center and UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the Great Wall. Guests can add on the Panda Private Volunteer Experience at the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda. During this added experience, participants will spend five hours feeding, cleaning cages and learning about the 20-40 giant and red pandas living there. The panda add-on is available for $375 per person and open to those 12-65 years of age. The 12-day itinerary is available year-round and starts at $2,589 per person/double occupancy (land-only). www.avantidestinations.com

UW Century Legend exteriror

Credit: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

Join Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s “China, Tibet, and the Yangtze” itinerary to experience the timeless allure of China. Guests will visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, and Goddess Stream and see Shanghai’s modern landscape of towering skyscrapers. Travelers on this 14-day trip also will explore Beijing via rickshaw and enjoy lunch with a local family and a traditional tea ceremony. Available September and October 2017 from $7,299 and throughout 2018 from $7,099. www.uniworld.com

Collette - Yangtze River

Credit: Collette

Guests on Collette’s “Wonders of China and the Yangtze River” program will discover China’s food, natural beauty and historic landmarks in addition to a ride on the Mag Lev bullet train reaching speeds of more than 260 miles per hour. Other trip highlights include a traditional tea ceremony, lunch with a local family in their Hutong home, and a lesson from a Chinese calligraphy master. The 16 to 19-day tour is available on select departure dates throughout 2017 and 2018 from $2,649 per person. www.gocollette.com

 

Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.