Top Places Less Traveled

Travel is easier than ever before, and as a result, we are becoming incredibly well-traveled. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, working with a trusted advisor can open up new regions and territories you haven’t thought about to expand your horizons even further. Maybe you saw the major places on your visit trip or two to a country or region, and now you want to go even more in-depth. These places are for you.

Western Australia

Most of the major cities Down Under are located on the eastern and southern coasts. There’s a whole lot of Outback separating Adelaide in South Australia from Perth, the capital of Western Australia. Perth, the fourth-largest city in Australia with about 2 million inhabitants, is the gateway to the Margaret River wine region, succulent seafood and black truffles just as good as any you’ll find in Europe. These factors contribute to Perth having the most restaurants per capita of any Australian capital and a great bar scene.

Madagascar

You’ve gone on safari. You’ve climbed Kilimanjaro. You’ve even gone gorilla trekking. Well, Africa has a lot more to offer than that. The world’s fourth largest island, Madagascar lies east of Mozambique and is home to 5 percent of the world’s wildlife and vegetation. While the beaches are great, there is a diversity of terrain from rain forest to desert, and much of the flora and fauna are unique to the island. Of the more than 200 bird species, about half are found only on Madagascar, which has almost 20,000 plant species, including seven types of baobab tree. Lemurs leap from tree to tree, while chameleons cling to the branches, making for an entirely different kind of safari experience.

Brittany

Who doesn’t love France? The glamor of Paris, the glitz of the Riviera, the chateaux in the Loire Valley, the beaches of Normandy, the wines of Bordeaux, the food in Lyon. When you think you’ve done it all in France, head to Brittany. Tucked in the northwest corner of the country, it’s one of the last bastions of Celtic culture. The region only came under the control of France in the 1500s and only fully integrated during the French Revolution. You’ll see street signs in Breton and French and experience an entirely different culture and cuisine.

Colonial Mexico

Don’t get us wrong, we love a beach vacation as much as anyone. But with great food, great places and an exchange rate of nearly 20 pesos to the dollar, colonial Mexico is worth a visit. Mexico City is home to the world’s 11th- and 13th-ranked restaurants (plus another in the top 100) and the beautiful Soumaya Museum. San Miguel de Allende is an artist’s or art lover’s dream you should see before it gets too popular, and Puebla is culinary capital with a downtown that is one big World Heritage site. Queretaro’s baroque architecture is a thing of beauty, and Oaxaca preserves key components of pre-Spanish cultures.

Laos

Southeast Asia has become exceedingly popular. The beaches of Thailand are known the world over, and river cruises have introduced many people to the wonders of Vietnam and Cambodia. Erase modern borders, and you’ll see that Luang Prabang has all the charms of Chiang Mai without all the crowds. Laos contains elements of traditional Buddhist culture alongside traces of its French colonial past. As with the rest of Southeast Asia, the food scene is hard to beat. The night market in Luang Prabang and street food in Vientiane will have your mouth watering, and you can wash everything down with a Laotian mulberry tea.

Memories of Notre-Dame

As the world watched Notre-Dame de Paris burn last month, many of us thought of our visits to the iconic cathedral that has stood in the heart of the French capital for hundreds of years. Those of us who have studied art history admire it as a leading example of Gothic architecture, with its signature gargoyles and flying buttresses.

While Notre-Dame’s treasures and rose windows were thankfully spared major damage, many people wept at the sight of the roof collapsing and the church’s spire crumbling down. Largay Travel advisors shared some of their memories of Notre-Dame. I myself was fortunate enough to ascend to the roof on my first visit at age 17, and each trip to Paris for me must include a visit; now more than ever.

Stefany DiManno Ceccato of DMC Travel Tailor first visited Paris and Notre-Dame in her early 20s. “I remember admiring the Gothic architecture, as I wasn’t used to seeing that in the States,” she wrote. “I lit a candle inside as my mom faithfully lights candles every Sunday in church. I was in awe with the beauty inside, the stained glass windows, the art, the sculptures, the details. I went with a couple of girlfriends from, so the whole trip was special since it was our first time in Paris!

Silvana Frappier of Destinations Less Known wrote: “A few years back, my husband and I traveled to Paris to celebrate his birthday. This trip was all about him and for him, but I had one request: ‘I must go to the Notre-Dame Cathedral. As a big fan of the classic movie ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ it was a dream of mine to visit the cathedral. After many photos were taken outside, we got to go inside and tour. My husband kept making fun of me that Quasimodo was going to show up at any minute to hunt me. I said to him, ‘stop making fun of it, something is going to happen to you.’ After that he went to light a candle and say prayers. Doing it he burns most of his fingers. … He said he was cursed. We’re still laughing until today of the episode. We will forever cherish this memory.

Melanie Schultz sent along this memory from clients of hers: “What a wonderful time we had in France last summer. One of our many highlights was seeing Notre-Dame. You couldn’t help but feel the history standing in front of this majestic church. So happy my family and I were able to see her in all her glory.”

President Emmanuel Macron has vowed France will rebuild Notre-Dame as swiftly as possible, and generous donations have poured in to fund the undertaking. While none of us who saw the flames engulf the roof will likely ever forget it, we hope someday the fire of 2019 will be just one chapter in the lore of a magnificent building that stands for hundreds of years more.

Top Cooking Classes

We’re smack in the middle of the cooking season. Thanksgiving has come and gone and with it the first round of feasting. Maybe you’re still working your way through leftover stuffing or making soup with turkey stock. If you haven’t already started, you may soon be deep in the throes of making Christmas cookies and other goodies. With Hanukkah underway, perhaps you’ve already churned out several loaves of Challah or several batches of latkes. Whether you’re trying to keep your skills sharp on vacation or learn how it’s done in a different culture, you’ll love these cooking classes with Virtuoso partners.

Florence

Eatwith lets you start your morning by meeting an Italian grandmother in Florence’s central market, shopping for ingredients that you’ll make into a wonderful meal that afternoon. Spend time discovering Florence with a local and stop off for a nice glass of wine or coffee before getting down to business. Learn how to make homemade pasta from recipes that have been passed down for generations. Cap it all off by enjoying a meal that tastes even better because you had a hand in it.

Casablanca

Soak up the sights, sounds and smells of a Moroccan souk with ShoreTrips. Sample lamb, couscous and seafood, deciding what should go in your dish. Once your menu is set, head to your host’s home and dive into making authentic appetizers, main courses, even desserts. Your host’s family will arrive just in time for dinner, sharing snippets of their daily life and engaging in cultural exchange.

Tokyo

Eatwith takes you on a tour of the world’s largest fish market. There will be big, beautiful fillets of tuna, live shrimp jumping and octopuses wriggling. Take the catch of the day to your guide’s house, where you’ll learn the ancient art of sushi making. Your guide will help you make rolls and nigiri and share the secret of the perfect slice. Enjoy a bowl of miso soup and a healthy dessert along with as much sushi as you can handle.

Lima

Discover the history of pre-Columbian cultures through the food of the Peruvian capital. Lima Tours immerses you in a culinary experience that gives you the flavor the country. The chef shares the history, geography, and biodiversity of Peru’s regions, then instructs you on how to make a proper ceviche. For the main course, you’ll make lomo saltado, a stir-fry loaded with beef, vegetables, and French fries. By then, your mouth will be watering and you’ll get to devour your creation.

Lyon

Train under a Michelin-starred chef in the French foodie mecca. Book a cruise that is a Virtuoso Voyages sailing, and you’ll be able to visit the famed Les Halles, dedicated to cooking legend Paul Bocuse. Chef Philippe Lechat will show you around, introducing you to the cooks who make the magic happen. Sample a local specialty to get the taste down, then spend an hour making the main course. Don’t worry about dessert, the chef will handle that. You get to kick back and savor the fruits of your labor.

Top Wine Destinations in the World

By Landa Mauriello-Vernon

It’s an oenophile’s dream to taste favorite vintages on their own terroir. As lovers of food and wine ourselves, we’re experienced when it comes to enjoying the world’s best wine regions. It’s a tough job, but we’ll go to great lengths to ensure time well spent for our travelers. From our journeys, here are a few of our favorite wine tours with Virtuoso-preferred partners.

Mendoza, Argentina

Step out of your room and into a vineyard at Casa de Uco, a wine resort in the Uco Valley. In the foothills of the Andes, under a brilliant blue sky, you can taste wines in their natural habitat and learn how much difference even subtle changes in the landscape make to grapes growing within a few hundred yards of each other. Make your own blend at The Vines Resort & Spa, where you can also ride with the Gauchos. There’s plenty of great steaks and fresh produce to pair with your Malbec.

Marlborough, New Zealand

Abercrombie & Kent’s Wine in the Wilderness private tour whisks you away to a remote beach in Abel Tasman National Park. A hike in between a gourmet lunch and a dinner loaded with seafood and local wine helps you burn off the calories while taking in some majestic scenery. Visit a handful wineries outside Picton on ShoreTrips’ 6-hour Marlborough Wine Country Immersion tour. After lunch at one of the world’s southernmost wineries, you’ll stop off at a boutique chocolate shop. It makes for a perfect day trip or shore excursion.

Napa & Sonoma, California

With accommodations at Meadowood Resort and Vineyard and Farmhouse Inn over the course of five days, American Excursionist’s Napa & Sonoma for Connoisseurs leaves no leaf unturned as you get tasting tips from a master sommelier and spend a morning among the vines. At meal times, savor the fruit of those vines at Michelin-starred restaurants as they complement farm-to-table delights. Wine is tops on the list of activities, but cheese and seafood are wonderful in supporting roles.

France

Bordeaux. Burgundy. Champagne. Côtes du Rhone. France has more than its share of excellent wine regions. Chocolatine’s Tour de France of Wine features vintages from six of those regions at a tasting just footsteps from the Louvre in Paris. In 2 hours, your sommelier will teach you everything from how to read a label to which grapes grow in which regions and why they thrive there. Even if it all goes in one ear and out the other, at the very least you’ll get to taste some extraordinary wines.

Cape Winelands, South Africa

An hour outside Cape Town lie some absolutely gorgeous landscapes that producing world-class wines. The 26-room Mont Rochelle hotel and vineyard offers A Romance Getaway in the Cape Winelands that includes a picnic lunch with a tasting of three varietals. To help you relax even further, there’s also a couples’ hammam session featuring Cape Malay spices and essential oils. Combine the three-night stay with a honeymoon safari or just a break from the city during a Cape Town trip.

World Cup Semifinals: Ranking the Destinations

Though the final isn’t until Sunday, we do know one thing for sure about the team that will host the World Cup: The winning country will hail from Europe. With the last remaining South American teams, Uruguay and Brazil, ousted in the quarterfinals we’re left with an all-Europe final four. While each team has a unique story of making it this far and its own collection of stars who led the way, we’re making our picks based on what the semifinalist countries have to offer for travelers.

France vs. Belgium

It’s matchup of haute cuisine vs. comfort foods. Cassoulet and escargot vs. waffles and chocolate. Those French fries we’re all so fond of? The origin is highly in dispute. Ask a Belgian, and he’ll say that Belgium invented the delicious potato everyone knows and loves and that the term “French fries” comes from a French gastronomic hegemony that subsumed neighboring cuisine under the French umbrella. One thing’s for certain, the Belgians do fries best. Dip in some garlic mayo and enjoy. Both countries know their way around chocolate very well, with pain au chocolat being one of France’s many contributions to breakfast delights and Brussels being home to an excellent chocolate museum. Actually, Belgium is basically one big chocolate museum.

When it comes to washing down all that food, France and Belgium are locked in the eternal struggle of fine wine pitted against craft beer. Is a Trappist Dubbel or a witbier any match for a nice Bordeaux or Champagne? It’s all a matter of taste. Each nation’s drink of choice pairs well with its food.

When it comes to cities, France, of course, has Paris, the City of Light. A mecca of culture, architecture, and history, Paris is one of the grand cities of the world. Lyon is a gastronomic capital. Provence and the Cote d’Azur are renowned the world over for their beauty. As for Belgium, Brussels has the Grand Place, perhaps the most alluring square in Europe. Bruges is locked in time, a fairy tale town that’s all canals and gabled roofs. Belgium is a blend of French-speaking Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemings, with a few German speakers sprinkled in.

Overall, Belgium punches well above its weight and deserves to be included in your next trip built around Paris or Amsterdam, but our pick is France.

England vs. Croatia

While France and Belgium are next-door neighbors, England and Croatia have vastly different landscapes. Both have been part of unique political-geographical unions, with England joined with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to form the United Kingdom and Croatia being part of Yugoslavia with what are now Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Macedonia. But England and Croatia have vastly different histories. While England was the head of the mighty British Empire, Croatia became independent only in the 1990s after centuries of outside rule.

England has London, one of the world’s best — but most expensive — cities. It’s a wealth of culture, literature, and history, with the West End, the Tower of London and countless other sites that attract millions of visitors each year. The countryside is strewn with castles, while world-famous universities dominate the towns of Oxford and Cambridge. Ancient civilizations have left the landmarks of Bath and Stonehenge, while Liverpool gave us the Beatles. The charm of the Cotswolds and the Lake District provide a tranquil respite that’s great to combine with bustling London, while the coastal areas offer a surprising number of good beaches.

Beaches, meanwhile, are a particular strong suit of Croatia, which has more than 1,000 islands to choose from. Hvar is famous for its lavender and red wine in addition to simply being a sun-soaked paradise. Korcula is covered in virgin pine forest. The Pakleni Islands offer secluded harbors where visitors can get away from it all.

On the mainland, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything more beautiful than the stunning Plitvice Lakes National Park, where waterfalls cascade into the emerald water for miles around. Dubrovnik is a spectacular seaside city famed for its red-tiled roofs and medieval walls. It doubles as King’s Landing on “Game of Thrones.” As they did in Bath, the Romans left their mark in Split, where you can find the ruins of the Emperor Diocletian’s palace.

England is a great place to visit, of course, but while we’re sure plenty of Croatians visit there, the English flock in droves to the sunny isles of Croatia. If even the English pick Croatia, we will too.

Final: France over Croatia. It’s a tight contest, but with cuisine, culture, and diversity of cities and countryside, France takes the crown

Must-See Spring Blooms

Depending on where you live, it might not yet be evident, but it is officially Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Soon enough, birdsongs will fill the air and everything will be in blossom. While there is an abundance of festivals celebrating the renaissance of greenery, these places’ blooms are among the best.

 

Washington, D.C.

Peaking near the end of March, the famed cherry blossoms turn the Tidal Basin into a dazzling canvas of pink and white. Gifts from Japan more than a century ago, the cherry trees have come to symbolize the start of spring in our nation’s capital. There are nearly 4,000 trees in 11 varieties near the National Mall, and peak bloom is expected this week. The National Cherry Blossom Festival runs until April 15.

 

Japan

The ancestral home of D.C.’s cherry trees, Japan has several areas throughout its islands that are great for viewing sakura. Utilizing the bullet train system, visitors can make their quickly from south to north as the warm weather and blooms spread in late March and early April. Set against the backdrop of a 400-year-old, the blossoms in Hirosaki are particularly worth checking out. Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo is a reliable spot thanks to its proliferation of early- and late-blooming trees. Chureito Pagoda in the shadow of Mount Fuji is among the most picturesque spots.

 

The Netherlands

Obsessed with the flower since the Tulip Mania of the 17th century, the Dutch have cultivated the world’s finest tulip garden at Keukenhof in Lisse, South Holland. About 7 million bulbs are planted across 79 acres and pop up in a variety of bright colors. The park opened last week and remains open until May 13. The best time to see the bulbs is usually mid-April, during which time river cruises designed around tulip viewing are in high demand.

 

Morocco

High in the Atlas Mountains, a 6-hour drive from Marrakech lies M’Goun Valley, aka the Valley of Roses. Between April and mid-May, the valley yields 3,000-4,000 tons of wild roses. Used in the production of perfumes, oils, soaps and rose water, the plants have also inspired an annual Rose Festival in May. According to legend, the flowers were introduced to the area by a Berber trader from Damascus, and the sweet-smelling Damask roses are now a highly sought-after prize among France’s top perfumers.

 

France

The lavender fields of Provence aren’t in full bloom until mid-June, but they are more than worth the wait. The Luberon countryside erupts in purples and blues until harvesting is complete in mid-August, filled with gorgeous sights and smells. Charming hill towns such as Aurel and Sault make for a beautiful staging area for a driving tour, and the fields around the Abbey of Senanque are the perfect setting for a photo, so long as you arrive early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the throngs.