Taste A Little of Stunning Sicily

Posted by Tammy Murphy

May 2, 2019 at 8:00 AM

 

Sicily is Beaches, Sicily is art, Sicily is lemons the color of Sunshine.  

Sicily is amazing!!

 

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If you're like me, you love discovering #destinations.  It's a big reason why we travel, right?  So, every year, I make a point to explore new locales.  I do this because I love to see the world, meet new people and I LOVE it even more when I am traveling with family or friends--it always brings you closer than you were before.

In addition to all of the benefits of travel, I travel so that I can personally vouch for the experiences I recommend to you and your family.  Not only was this a trip of a lifetime with my bestie, but I experirenced many different experiences in the same village so that I could better match you and your travel preferences to this destination.

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I am thrilled to share a little of the next few months about gorgeous #Sicily in southern Italy. 

Did you know that Sicily is the biggest island in the Mediterranean?  It's a land of crystal blue coves, hilltop villages, and ancient ruins. Sicily is authentic Italy - filled with local traditions, foods, and on-of-a-kind sights.

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Highlights from my time in Sicily include:

  • Hiking Mt. Etna, Europe's largest active volcano
  • Exploring the Ancient Greek temples near Agrigento
  • Wine tastings in the historic cellars of a local vineyard
  • Strolling the charming villages of Sicily's stunning island
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Over the next couple of months, I'll be sharing more and more of Sicily with you.  So, keep your eyes peeled on social medial for Sicily pictures and posts!

 

If this sounds like your perfect, no worry vacation, email us justin@viptravelexperience.com tammy@viptravelexperience.com
I would love to make your dream come true.

Are you looking for the perfect travel destination?  We would love to help you with travel tips and more.

Read more

Topics: #viptravelexperience, travel planner, planning the right trip, why use a travel agent, Best Vacation Value, #group travel, Italy Travel, experiencesnotthings, sicily

One of the hottest new ways to visit Europe

Posted by Justin Murphy

April 27, 2019 at 12:38 AM

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From fields covered in tulips in April to December's decadent Christmas markets, hundreds of riverboats sail along Europe's abundant, historic rivers and canals, which span thousands of miles. A European river cruise is one of the best and most efficient ways to explore inland Europe, stopping at many ports, towns, cities, and villages that traditional big ships usually can't access.

What makes a river cruise so different from an ocean cruise is emphasis and immersion into the destinations visited. Every day a new port is featured so there are no days at sea. Multiple guided tours are included to go out exploring a new and enlightening city. With this focus, it's nice that river itineraries in Europe feature a diverse mix of intriguing ports.

 Have an “in-Seine” experience in Paris sailing down the Seine River. Roll down the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Frankfurt. Drift down the Danube River to see the best of Budapest, or even take a merry little Christmas cruise. charles-bridge-743669_960_720.jpg

Though previously river cruises had the reputation for being adapted to the elder generations the newer river cruise ships are appealing to more active and adventurous travelers.  AMA Waterways newest ship proves very intriguing to golfers with its connection for some bucketlist golf destinations.  While still very popular with seasoned travelers,  the next generation of travelers are anxious to expand and enjoy this new experience without the backpacks and hostels. They’ve thought of everything in that you can even rent mobile hot spots for the day so no more outrageous international data plans to worry about. I am speaking from experience, I am counting the days until my next river cruise.

The excursion choices vary depending upon activity level, interests, and destination. Most of the adventures and tours are complimentary, from an evening bike ride along the Danube, a “Midnight in Paris” evening stroll, a canal cruise in Amsterdam, vineyard hikes, castle visits, and so much more. Also if you’ve adventured a little too much or stayed out a little to late and don’t want to explore around the port a certain day there are numerous on board activities offered. Sip wine while you paint on the top deck, take a mixology class and concoct something just for you, relax and center yourself with a yoga class, or have a special culinary experience with the chef’s cooking class. 

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To travel is to fully immerse yourself in another culture. What better way to do that than by trying out authentic port specific foods? River cruising many of your on board meals will be inspired by the local fare of the cities you’ll visit, made from ingredients that were sourced just miles down the road. If you happen to be hungry for something a little closer to home you’ll have classic options, comfort food choices and plenty of vegan, vegetarian and various healthy dining choices as well. Uniworld steps it up a notch with their partnership with VizEat to enhance the authenticity to eat like a local and taste the city and share a meal in the home of a U Host. It’s where authentic home cooking meets immersive travel.

There are many choices for the perfect river cruise.  Let us help you find the one that fits you best.   These cruise itineraries are great for college graduation gifts, girlfriend getaways, young groups, and even the solo traveler with the social and intimate feel of  smaller boats and crew.

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If this sounds like your perfect, no worry vacation, email us justin@viptravelexperience.com tammy@viptravelexperience.com
I would love to make your dream come true.

Are you looking for the perfect travel destination?  We would love to help you with travel tips and more.

Read more

Topics: #viptravelexperience, travel planner, planning the right trip, #RiverCruise, why use a travel agent, Best Vacation Value, #group travel, experiencesnotthings

Tammy, Today was so perfect, it was ridiculous!

Posted by Tammy Murphy

November 20, 2018 at 1:02 PM

Enjoying Europe Through The Back Door
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Do you like slipping in the back door of a restaurant sometimes?  For many, avoiding the crowds is an essential part of ENJOYING our travels. Of course, there’s some irony in being a traveler who complains about all the other tourists cluttering up the landscape, (ha ha) because of course, we’re all contributing to the crowd!
 
In reality, the best-known places are always going to draw lots of people, and usually with good reason.  So how can we see the sights without feeling like we’re stuck in a herd of camera-toting sheep? I take great pride in carefully scheduling a great travel plan...designed to minimize crowds and time in line and maximize your enjoyment. Here are our top ten tips for avoiding the worst of the vacation crowds:
 
  • Hire a local guide
    • My very first suggestion is to hire a private guide, if your budget will allow. A guide knows when the busiest places will have lulls in the crowds, and exactly where to go to soak in a city’s ambiance without being joined by thousands of others with the same idea. I have several well-vetted private guides all over Europe that I use frequently for my clients. You will get so much more out of sights when you see them with a local guide who can make the history come to life. Your tour guide really DOES know it all!
  • Skip the line!
    • Did you know you could do this? A major benefit of using a travel adviser who specializes in Europe (like yours truly) is that they often have the ability to help you skip right past a 2-hour long line and whisk you inside the attraction you’d rather not wait to see. Some of the most important spots with “skip the line” privileges are the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Vatican and Colosseum in Rome and the Accademia (to meet Michelangelo’s amazing David) in Florence, St. Mark's Basilica and Doge's Palace in Venice, etc..
florence-2.jpg
  • Take advantage of jet lag
    • What does that mean? Imagine you managed to stay up until 8pm after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight. Now it’s 5am the next day and you’re wide awake. Get out of bed and  wander through near-empty streets as the city quietly stirs (I adore this time). Enjoy a coffee alongside locals on their way to work. Early morning can be a magical time to explore the streets of Europe
    • image1-7
  • Travel off-peak
    • Have you ever been to Italy in April or May? The locals have fled the city for their summer vacation, leaving the tourists to take it by storm. A lot of stores, cafes and restaurants are closed. Consider traveling in your destination’s shoulder season (April, May and September-October) – and avoid school holidays like the plague! If you are worried about taking your children out of school, get over it (Ssh, my husband is on the school board,  you didn't hear that from me)! A family trip to Europe will contribute so much more to their future than a “Perfect Attendance” award in 6th grade.
  • Do your research and plan museum visits accordingly
    • Many museums have “free” days once a month; these are always going to be busy days, and best to avoid. Some major attractions (e.g. London’s Tate Modern) stay open late one or two nights a week; visiting the gallery during these extended hours tends to offer a quieter experience.
denmark.jpg
  • Investigate “alternative” destinations
    • Everyone talks about the big ticket destinations – Rome, Paris, London, Prague – but there’s much magic to be found in Europe’s smaller cities. For instance, if you’re looking to experience Dutch culture, Leiden or Haarlem are beautiful and less crowded alternatives to Amsterdam. (we can find some great alternatives to the hustle-bustle where you will get the authentic “feel” of the country you are visiting).  Haven't you been dying to visit SICILY??
  • Benefit from local insight
    • TALK TO THE LOCALS  to learn about what’s popular with people who live in the city, rather than what’s popular with people who visit. A good way to incorporate this wisdom into your trip-planning is to use an experienced Travel Professional who specializes in Europe. Most of the suppliers we partner with to obtain inside access for your  vacation actually live in the destination you are visiting and can give us some great “insider” tips.
  • Choose attractions off the beaten path
    • Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to visit it; you won’t get a failing grade for skipping the supposed “must-sees”.  Don't miss the London sights beyond Buckingham Palace; You can experience Italy without snapping a photo of yourself holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There’s way more to a city than its icons, so let the icons draw the crowds, while you ferret out more unique ways to spend your time.
london-1.jpg

  • Stay in locally owned smaller hotels that are centrally located
    • Choosing a smaller hotel in a more residential neighborhood with easy access to the places you want to visit is a nice way to escape the crowds at the end of the day. You didn’t travel all the way to Europe to stay in a Holiday Inn or Best Western, did you? Plus, the owners and employees are super helpful in suggesting some little-known jewels for restaurants and sightseeing.  
  • Be a Good Neighbor:  
    • Please patronize European hotels, it is only fair and just to support the communities through hotel taxes that we are so happy to visit.   (it's only fair right?)
  • Be aware of cruise ship docking days
    • If you’re staying in a port-city, find out when the cruise ships dock – then hightail it out of there! And if you’re one of the people debarking from the ship, see Tip #1...then hightail it out of there with your private guide! Today’s mega ships can dump 3000 people off in Rome...all at the same time and all heading for the same sights.
You don't have to miss the "must see" sights to avoid the crowds.  
Plan carefully and seek guidance of travel professional.  We want you to have the BEST vacation EXPERIENCE possible!!!  Travelers thank us every day for showing them the quiet and secret sights, authentic experiences more so than the icons that drew them to the destination in the first place.    It's OK with us, either way, but do you want your photo in front of XXX like everyone else OR do you want to EXPERIENCE  something AUTHENTIC!!!

Which ever your style, we hope you will TRAVEL far and wide and explore this beautiful WORLD!!

road sign.jpg
Read more

Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy, First Time Tips to Italy

Today was so perfect, it was ridiculous!

Posted by Tammy Murphy

June 21, 2018 at 12:33 PM

Enjoying Europe Through The Back Door
tm_4720
 
Do you like slipping in the back door of a restaurant sometimes?  For many,avoiding the crowds is an essential part of ENJOYING our travels. Of course, there’s some irony in being a traveler who complains about all the other tourists cluttering up the landscape, (ha ha) because of course, we’re all contributing to the crowd!
 
In reality, the best-known places are always going to draw lots of people, and usually with good reason.  So how can we see the sights without feeling like we’re stuck in a herd of camera-toting sheep? I take great pride in carefully scheduling a great travel plan...designed to minimize crowds and time in line and maximize your enjoyment. Here are our top ten tips for avoiding the worst of the vacation crowds:
  • Hire a local guide
    • My very first suggestion is to hire a private guide, if your budget will allow. A guide knows when the busiest places will have lulls in the crowds, and exactly where to go to soak in a city’s ambiance without being joined by thousands of others with the same idea. I have several well-vetted private guides all over Europe that I use frequently for my clients. You will get so much more out of sights when you see them with a local guide who can make the history come to life. Your tour guide really DOES know it all!
  • Skip the line!
    • Did you know you could do this? A major benefit of using a travel adviser who specializes in Europe (like yours truly) is that they often have the ability to help you skip right past a 2-hour long line and whisk you inside the attraction you’d rather not wait to see. Some of the most important spots with “skip the line” privileges are the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Vatican and Colosseum in Rome and the Accademia (to meet Michelangelo’s amazing David) in Florence, St. Mark's Basilica and Doge's Palace in Venice, etc..
florence-2.jpg
  • Take advantage of jet lag
    • What does that mean? Imagine you managed to stay up until 8pm after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight. Now it’s 5am the next day and you’re wide awake. Get out of bed and  wander through near-empty streets as the city quietly stirs (I adore this time). Enjoy a coffee alongside locals on their way to work. Early morning can be a magical time to explore the streets of Europe
    • image1-7
  • Travel off-peak
    • Have you ever been to Paris in August? The locals have fled the city for their summer vacation, leaving the tourists to take it by storm. A lot of stores, cafes and restaurants are closed. Consider traveling in your destination’s shoulder season (April, May and September-October) – and avoid school holidays like the plague! If you are worried about taking your children out of school, get over it (Ssh, my husband is on the school board,  you didn't hear that from me)! A family trip to Europe will contribute so much more to their future than a “Perfect Attendance” award in 6th grade.
  • Do your research and plan museum visits accordingly
    • Many museums have “free” days once a month; these are always going to be busy days, and best to avoid. Some major attractions (e.g. London’s Tate Modern) stay open late one or two nights a week; visiting the gallery during these extended hourstends to offer a quieter experience.
denmark.jpg
  • Investigate “alternative” destinations
    • Everyone talks about the big ticket destinations – Rome, Paris, London, Prague – but there’s much magic to be found in Europe’s smaller cities. For instance, if you’re looking to experience Dutch culture, Leiden or Haarlem are beautiful and less crowded alternatives to Amsterdam. (we can find some great alternatives to the hustle-bustle where you will get the authentic “feel” of the country you are visiting).  Haven't you been dying to visit SICILY??
  • Benefit from local insight
    • TALK TO THE LOCALS  to learn about what’s popular with people who live in the city, rather than what’s popular with people who visit. A good way to incorporate this wisdom into your trip-planning is to use an experienced Travel Professional who specializes in Europe. Most of the suppliers we partner with to obtain inside access for your  vacation actually live in the destination you are visiting and can give us some great “insider” tips.
  • Choose attractions off the beaten path
    • Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to visit it; you won’t get a failing grade for skipping the supposed “must-sees”.  Don't miss the London sights beyond Buckingham Palace; You can experience Italy without snapping a photo of yourself holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There’s way more to a city than its icons, so let the icons draw the crowds, while you ferret out more unique ways to spend your time.
london-1.jpg

  • Stay in locally owned smaller hotels that are centrally located
    • Choosing a smaller hotel in a more residential neighborhood with easy access to the places you want to visit is a nice way to escape the crowds at the end of the day. You didn’t travel all the way to Europe to stay in a Holiday Inn or Best Western, did you? Plus, the owners and employees are super helpful in suggesting some little-known jewels for restaurants and sightseeing.  
  • Be a Good Neighbor:  
    • Please patronize European hotels, it is only fair and just to support the communities through hotel taxes that we are so happy to visit.   (it's only fair right?)
  • Be aware of cruise ship docking days
    • If you’re staying in a port-city, find out when the cruise ships dock – then hightail it out of there! And if you’re one of the people debarking from the ship, see Tip #1...then hightail it out of there with your private guide! Today’s mega ships can dump 3000 people off in Rome...all at the same time and all heading for the same sights.
You don't have to miss the "must see" sights to avoid the crowds.  
Plan carefully and seek guidance of travel professional.  We want you to have the BEST vacation EXPERIENCE possible!!!  Travelers thank us every day for showing them the quiet and secret sights, authentic experiences more so than the icons that drew them to the destination in the first place.    It's OK with us, either way, but do you want your photo in front of XXX like everyone else OR do you want to EXPERIENCE  something AUTHENTIC!!!

Which ever your style, we hope you will TRAVEL far and wide and explore this beautiful WORLD!!

road sign.jpg
Read more

Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy, First Time Tips to Italy

10 Foods You Won't Find In Italy

Posted by Tammy Murphy

April 26, 2018 at 6:30 AM

Which Italian Foods are in your Dreams?
Supreme_pizza
 
We associate food with Italy, am I right?  Do you long to taste the delicious fresh farm to table foods, sink your teeth into a glorious piece of authentic pizza?  Or roll your fork into a beautiful plate of authentic Italian spaghetti and meatballs?  

While I know you will fall in love with many, many authentic Italian foods, I need to let you know that unless you visit a very touristy restaurant (never by my recommendations!), you will not taste some of your favorite "Italian" dishes in Italy.  In fact, my Italian friends almost cry at the thought of some of the Italian-American dishes.  Something you should know right up front . . . Italians take their food very seriously and it saddens them to see what others may do to their great, great, great grandmother's recipes.

TIP:  Don't eat at the restaurants on the front row near the 
iconic sights, walk a few blocks back where the menu is only in one language-ITALIAN.    

I hope it's almost lunch time because you will surely be hungry before reaching the end of this email.
 
GARLIC BREAD
Bread in Italy is usually plain and served with olive oil instead of butter.  
bruschetti-2152340_960_720TIP:  Bruschetta (brusketta) is about the closest relative to garlic bread since its drizzled with garlic and olive oil before baking.
 
PEPPERONI PIZZA
Pizza in Italy is completely different (in a wonderful way) than it is in the USA. It has a very thin crust and may be topped with a variety of toppings like fresh tomatoes, broccoli and mozzarella, prosciutto, anchovies, mushrooms, but NOT pepperoni.  

TIP:  Taste the pizza in each city in Italy, they each have their own charms.  Sshh, don't repeat that in Naples.

ITALIAN DRESSING
Salads are sometimes topped with olive oil, vinegar, balsamic, salt, maybe pepper, but if you request Italian dressing in Italy, you may be stared at like a martian.  In restaurants, your salad is served to you plain and you are expected to add the oil and vinegar on table.
 
FETTUCCINI ALFREDO
Fettuccini al burro is slightly similar, but much lighter than the heavy cream sauce Americans serve.  Pasta is topped with butter and cheese (no cream) for a lighter dish that's healthy, not harmful.

TIP:  I always suggest CLOSE THE MENU and ask the chef to share his specialities, I promise he will not disappoint.

MARINARA SAUCE
Most dishes in Italy are not covered in red sauce.  In some cases, fresh marinara sauce may be used, but mostly your dish is prepared with shellfish and or olives.  

SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS
We realize this may come as a bit of a shock, but I assure you it is true.  What could be more Italian than spaghetti and meatballs?  NEWSFLASH . . . Italians do eat meatballs, but they are never served over pasta.  They're a different course altogether and are enjoyed on their own.

This was hilarious the first time I registered for a cooking class and I was asked to choose the menu.  

spaghetti
CHICKEN PARMESAN
Only eggplant gets the parmigiana treatment and not veal, chicken or meatballs.  HA HA, another discovery at a cooking class.


CHICKEN PASTA
No, another myth.  Please don't give your chef a heart attack. Chicken does not belong ON pasta.  These are two very different dishes.  YOU may find small pieces of fish on pasta.  

CHEESECAKE
Another shocker!!  Italians believe a decadent dessert like cheesecake is a bit much for every day eating.  Italians will serve something lighter like cannoli, fruit tarts or fresh fruit in season.
tiramisu
 
 
Don't  be disheartened, it may be different than you are expecting, but I encourage you to try dishes that you may not LOVE in USA, something about the FRESH produce, I LOVED dishes that I had always thought that I didn't like.  I can promise you, the foods you taste will be MUCH better than you are expecting!!!
 
You see, when Italian immigrants arrived in other lands in the 19th and 20th centuries, they did as they did in Italy ... used local ingredients.  This absolutely changed the way they cooked and created a new cuisine.   While the new cuisine is simply wonderful, you will not find it in ITALY.  ENJOY your ITALIAN favorites at home, but prepare your taste buds for a beautiful, authentic ITALIAN EXPERIENCE you will not soon forget.   i.e., FRIED ZUCCHINI FLOWERS--YUMMY!!!!!!
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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy, First Time Tips to Italy

Authentic and Amazing Italy

Posted by Tammy Murphy

April 6, 2018 at 10:46 AM

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 11.26.18 AM.png"Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life" - Anna Akhmatova.
 
Italy is by far, the European country requested the most by my clients....in fact, over 46 million tourists visit this amazing country every year. They come from all over the world, for many different reasons, and many will return again and again for that magic that only Italy can deliver. Italians are very kind, outgoing, family-centric and extremely patient (unless they are driving!). The Italians realize how blessed they are to be the safe keepers of some of history’s most magnificent relics and art treasures and they are happy to share them. However, there are a few things that most Italians want Americans to know before we arrive in their country. Here is our list of the Top 10 ways to blend right in to Italian Culture:
 
1. Slow Down: You will NOT see it all!
Trust me, the reason that the 46 million tourists attack Italy each year is because there is so much beauty to see and experience: culture, art, vineyards, food, museums and the amazing people! A lifetime isn’t even enough time! So, slow down, take it all in, appreciate what you DO see....and then plan to return!
 
2. Dress more conservatively than you do at home.
Mini skirts, short-shorts (they are for the beach!); halter tops and saggy jeans will not live up to the classic fashion taste of Italians. You don’t have to be formal and uncomfortable...just neat, put-together and a little more modest.  Some Cathedrals (including the Vatican) will not let you enter if your shoulders and knees are not covered. Cover up, unless you really are spending the day on a beautiful Italian beach. And leave the stilettos at home...Cobblestone streets and high heels don’t get along very well!
 
3. Cappuccino and Café Lattes are morning-only drinks!
A true Italian would never dream of ordering one after late morning, or especially after a meal! If you need a caffeine pick-me-up later in the day, stop in a coffee bar for a quick shot of espresso.  Did you know that Italy is one of the only countries that doesn’t have a Starbucks? They are illegal there because the Italians are so proud of their coffee culture.  Italian coffee is superior and should be enjoyed as the real Italians do...Give it a “shot”! (Pun intended!)  Caffe Correcto.
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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy, First Time Tips to Italy

Italy's Endless Experiences

Posted by Tammy Murphy

February 6, 2018 at 11:34 AM

ITALY 
What to see AFTER your first visit
puglia2.jpg
 
 
The key to visiting a city, no matter where it's located, is to visit with a local and not JUST a tour guide.  You MUST have a tour guide who is passionate about sharing their unique stories and activities and who is in contact with local realities and artisans. You will be AMAZED at how much more personal your experience will feel when guided by a person who is thoroughly connected to a city - 360 degrees from every angle.
 
Italy is a lot more than Rome and Tuscany.  From the Hills of Langhe to the trulli of Puglia, going through the culinary haven of Romagna, you will find fewer tourists and wonderful land to discover.
 
Puglia (above)
Summer dreaming . . . 
walking along the seafront in Otranto, breathing the salty breeze, watching a sailboat bobble in the bright blue bay, you may catch yourself thinking "NOW this is the real Italy!" 
 
This little travel secret is being discovered more, but you still won't find hordes of tourists here.  This is Southern Italy, minus the masses.  Puglia brims with pristine cove, sandy beaches and charming villages Wait, did we mention the FOOD of SOUTHERN Italy . . . wide variety of seafood, fresh tasty vegetables, rich olive oil, and of course, basil and oregano.  The best Italian olives come from this region and are often marinated in garlic oil with crushed chili.
What do you think of NO LINES, NO HASSLE, NO CROWDS.
Just sun and sea and genuine Italian hospitality. 
 
Basilicata_Matera2_tango7174.jpg
Basilicata
With over 11,000 years of history, Basilicata spans a total of 3,860 square miles, located at the "insole" of Italy's boot between Puglia to the east Campania to the west, and Calabria to the south. 
 
The region's history of poverty contributed to its unique cuisine which is gaining significant recognition in the last several years.  Artisan Luganega sausages, fresh pasta made from water, salt and flour (omitting the usual eggs present in the rest of Italy's pasta), and abundant use of seasonal vegetables and legumes are prominent in the cuisine allowing it to highlight local flavors.
 
Sassi di Matera is one of most highly visited UNESCO World Heritage Sites visited in the region.  It is a city of caves  and was used as the backdrop location for Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion of Christ".  Moving along to the area of Vulture Melfese... is drawing wine enthusiasts showcasing its high-quality red, Aglianico, while the small town of Bernaida, the former home of Francis Ford Coppola's grandfather and current location of his newly-opened Villa offers another great experience.  And natural Beauty lovers are enamored with the miles of coastline and national parks in Maratea watched over by the2nd largest statue of Christ in the world.   Last but not least, Pollino offers travelers a bit of everything, a national park, prehistoric cave drawings and burial sites and unique vacation spots such as the thermal springs in Latronico.

veneto.jpgVENETO 
Venice will tug at your heartstrings, but stay awhile, there is more to Veneto than Venice.

I had the pleasure of taking an authentic journey to the Veneto Region - beyond Venice last year hosted by my Italy partners that I love so much.  I can barely remember the names of all of the towns visited, but I was WOWED by it's rich artistic, historic and culinary heritage, not to mention the beautiful Italians that greeted us at each town.  We stayed in a variety of places ... hotels at city-center hotels, a Castle, a Relais, Villas.  And the regional cuisine in each town was more than a meal but a true EXPERIENCE.  We also were invited inside residences for a private viewing of amazing art, surprised by an opera singer in our villa, toured olive oil farms, wineries and watched the cheese-making process. 
Stay tuned for a more in depth view of our times visiting Padua, Volpolicella, Verona, Lake Garda, Vicenza, Bassano del Grappa, Asolo and Treviso.

sicily.jpg
Savoring Sicily
 
Enjoy an intimate voyage through Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean.  Sicily boats stunning seascapes, historic towns and charming countryside.  Fed by rich volcanic soil, Sicily also produces some of Italy's finest wines.  A journey through Sicily includes authentic food, private guides and behind-the-scenes access to Sicily local traditions and people.

sardinia-940560_960_720.jpg
Sardinia
When you opt for a private tour, we can give you a real cultural immersion.  We  hand pick local  guides are born and raised in the destination.  You will discover some amazing, but virtually unknown, places that would be hard to find on your own.  It is something you will remember when you buy tortellini from a local shop, but it's another thing altogether when you discover the best tortellini you've ever tasted and buy it from a little shop, which the locals go, just around the corner from the one where all the tourist stop.  THIS is something you will not only remember but will share with your friends and family for years to come because it is a personal connection you've made with ITALY!

Which ever your style, we hope you will TRAVEL far and wide and explore this beautiful WORLD!!

Regions-of-Italy2.jpg
 
Click here MORE BLOG STORIES for more inspiration and ideas for a travel inspired life.
 
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Topics: why use a travel agent, luxurytravel

Avoiding Crowds & Creating Experiences

Posted by Justin Murphy

January 25, 2018 at 9:56 AM

Enjoying Europe Through The Back Door
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For those of us who cherish authentic experiences, avoiding the crowds is an essential part of enjoying our travels. Of course, there’s some irony in being a traveler who complains about all the other tourists cluttering up the landscape, because of course, we’re all contributing to the crowd! The best-known places are always going to draw lots of people, and usually with good reason. So how can we see the sights without feeling like we’re stuck in a herd of camera-toting sheep? I take great pride in carefully scheduling a great travel plan...designed to minimize crowds and time in line and maximize your enjoyment. Here are our top ten tips for avoiding the worst of the vacation crowds:
 
  • Hire a local guide
    • My very first suggestion is to splurge on a private guide, if your budget will allow. A guide knows when the busiest places will have lulls in the crowds, and exactly where to go to soak in a city’s ambiance without being joined by thousands of others with the same idea. I have several well-vetted private guides all over Europe that I use frequently for my clients. You will get so much more out of sights when you see them with a local guide who can make the history come to life. Your tour guide really DOES know it all!
  • Skip the line!
    • Did you know you could do this? A major benefit of using a travel professional who specializes in Europe (like yours truly) is that they often have the ability to help you skip right past a 2-hour long line-up and whisk you inside the attraction you’d rather not wait to see. Some of the most important spots with “skip the line” privileges are the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Vatican and Colosseum in Rome and the Accademia (to meet Michelangelo’s amazing David) in Florence.
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  • Take advantage of jet lag
    • What does that mean? Imagine you managed to stay up until 8pm after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight. Now it’s 5am the next day and you’re wide awake. Get out of bed and go for a wander through near-empty streets as the city quietly stirs. Enjoy a coffee alongside locals on their way to work. Early morning can be a magical time to explore the streets of Europe. 
  • Travel off-peak
    • Have you ever been to Paris in August? The locals have fled the city for their summer vacation, leaving the tourists to take it by storm. A lot of stores, cafes and restaurants are closed. Consider traveling in your destination’s shoulder season (April, May and September-October) – and avoid school holidays like the plague! If you are worried about taking your children out of school, get over it (shh, you didn't hear that from me) ! A family trip to Europe will contribute so much more to their future than a “Perfect Attendance” award in 6th grade.
  • Do your research and plan museum visits accordingly
    • Many museums have “free” days once a month; these are always going to be busy days, and best to avoid. Some major attractions (e.g. London’s Tate Modern) stay open late one or two nights a week; visiting the gallery during these extended hours tends to offer a quieter experience.
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  • Investigate “alternative” destinations
    • Everyone talks about the big ticket destinations – Rome, Paris, London, Prague – but there’s much magic to be found in Europe’s smaller cities. For instance, if you’re looking to experience Dutch culture, Leiden or Haarlem are beautiful and less crowded alternatives to Amsterdam. (I can suggest some great alternatives to the hustle-bustle where you will get the authentic “feel” of the country you are visiting)
  • Benefit from local insight
    • Talk to the locals to learn about what’s popular with people who live in the city, rather than what’s popular with people who visit it. A good way to incorporate this wisdom into your trip-planning is to use an experienced Travel Professional who specializes in Europe. Many of the suppliers we use to construct your vacation actually live in the destination you are visiting and can give us some great “insider” tips.
  • Choose attractions off the beaten path
    • Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to visit it; you won’t get a failing grade for skipping the supposed “must-sees”. You can visit London without going to Buckingham Palace (maybe); You can experience Italy without snapping a photo of yourself holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There’s way more to a city than its icons, so let the icons draw the crowds, while you ferret out more unique ways to spend your time.
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  • Stay in locally owned smaller hotels that are centrally located
    • Choosing a smaller hotel in a more residential neighborhood with easy access to the places you want to visit is a nice way to escape the crowds at the end of the day. You didn’t travel all the way to Europe to stay in a Holiday Inn or Best Western, did you? Plus, the owners and employees are super helpful in suggesting some little-known jewels for restaurants and sightseeing.
  • Be aware of cruise ship dockings
    • If you’re staying in a port-city, find out when the cruise ships dock – then hightail it out of there! And if you’re one of the people debarking from the ship, see Tip #1...then hightail it out of there with your private guide! Today’s megaships can dump 3000 people off in Rome...all at the same time and all heading for the same sights. Plan carefully.

Whatever your travel personality, we can help you identify it and plan accordingly.  We want you to have the best EXPERIENCE possible on your next dream trip,

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Topics: why use a travel agent, luxurytravel

New Year, New Resolutions, & New Vacations, Right?

Posted by Justin Murphy

January 18, 2018 at 6:30 AM

Why I haven’t left the house in three days...
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Is everyone with a camera  a photographer? Is everyone with a blog a journalist?  Likewise, is everyone with a computer a travel expert? The difference in each instance is years of training, experience, vetting products and relationships, and a little dash of intuition. 
 
January is typically the busiest time of the year for travel professionals.  Why?  I guess families get together over the holidays and discuss their travel plans for the next year...then when the kids go back to school, they pick up the phone and call their local, friendly travel expert. That’s great for me, as a business owner, but also tends to be a very busy time as my “To Do” list typically grows each and every day. I wake up with my list of trips to research, documents to deliver, travel articles to write, emails to return, social media ads to post... usually leading to more new ones added than old ones crossed-off when I leave my desk at the end of the evening. Complaining? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I absolutely LOVE  it! It’s my passion! So please permit me to explain a little bit and hopefully clear up some misperceptions of what I do:
 
1.   When I first meet with a prospective new client, I am used to all of the usual questions; "Why should I use a travel agent?", "How do you get paid?", "What can you do for me that I can’t do for myself online?", etc. I have been asked these questions countless times. 
 
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Here’s the thing...you don't ALWAYS need a travel expert ...if you want to book round trip air from Charlotte to Buffalo and stay in the Holiday X on the corner of1st Avenue and Main Street, you probably don’t need me!   I  am an expert in custom-crafting vacations that are going to provide you with the EXPERIENCES you are longing for. I don’t just “book travel”.  It ALWAYS  amounts to some well-researched (and vetted) advice on which Caribbean all inclusive or which Hawaiian island is the right fit for your dreams. THEY ARE ALL VERY DIFFERENT!  It involves literally hours upon  hours of detailed planning, research and jigsaw-puzzle precision to put together a 10 day custom European journey through 1 to 3 different countries for a couple or family who want to immerse themselves into each culture with art or culinary classes. I am happy to go to any lengths necessary to craft that perfect EXPERIENCE for my clients...it’s what I do! And it turns out to be a gift of mine!
 
2.  If you send me an email that says “I found a deal online for a week in Jamaica at the XYZ resort for $599...Can you beat it?”   I’m going to let out a big sigh and pour another glass of wine.  First of all, how can we know that the XYZ resort is a good fit for you?  Secondly, we  have no idea what the good "deal" includes.    Nine times out of  ten, I have learned that if SOMETHING looks too good to be true, always is.     I've had clients that saw a great price online, then once they pressed the button with their "on-line travel agent" realized the advertised price was "PER ADULT"  and did not include tax and the tiny print had some language about "or comparable".    Please don't fall victim to "steps from ... the beach, city center" etc. literally I see these and I know its over "a mile of steps from".  
 
Saving money is great, and I'm all for staying within budget and getting a good value for my own travel dollars, but don't reduce  your vacation experience to being treated like a commodity. When an item is a “commodity”, there are no differences between the same item sourced from different places – except price.  I really do have your best interests in mind...trust me to do what I do best and find you the perfect fit and the greatest value for your precious vacation time and budget.
 
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3.  Finally, keep this in mind...when you hit the “Buy now” button online and purchase that vacation from an invisible travel agent, you receive confirmation numbers and that's the end.  Are there any unique experiences included?  When you give me, or any other hard working travel professional, the “go ahead” to book that same vacation (often at the exact same price, or better), you receive your travel documents, destination information, restaurants recommendations and sightseeing suggestions or reservations, along with the promise that we have YOUR BACK until you return home from the trip ... and even beyond!  If anything goes wrong on the trip, we are that extra security blanket and advocates for YOU and YOUR well being.    Try getting Mr. Orbitz or Expedia to pick up the phone at 6:00 a.m. to argue with the French hotel desk clerk about the noise level, or lack of air conditioning in your room!  That my friend is "VALUE" for your travel dollar.  
 
Ultimately though, it amounts to WHAT is important to you.  If you want LIFE ENRICHING or CHANGING experiences, it probably can't be found with a "BUY NOW" button.
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Topics: why use a travel agent, luxurytravel

Keep on Smiling through International Flights

Posted by Tammy Murphy

January 11, 2018 at 6:47 AM

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TRAVEL PLANNING in is full swing--it's January!  Chances are you have already booked or will be booking a long haul flight for 2018.  Here are few creative ways we've read about  the years from creative travelers that  make their overnight flights more comfortable, some of them will make you giggle.  Which one will you try?

1)  Cabeau Fold 'n Go Travel Blanket & Case Plush and can be used as pillow and lumbar support. Fold-n-Go-Blanket-blue-folded-595x613.png

2) Emergen-C Packets Take one while flying, and a couple more over the course of the flight.

3) IPad if all all attempts fail to make you sleepy, take along your favorite TV shows, novels, movies.

4)  Lululemon Scarf   is wide and soft cotton with snaps, it can be a blanket, pillow, wrap or blocks the light if you are trying to nap.

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Inflatable beach ball  serves as a great oversized pillow.  If you have one of the cheap blow up beach balls cover with a hand towel to lay on in your lap. 

6) Tennis ball   Great for rolling your feet over on long flights.  Roll your foot over the ball while sitting in seat to stretch the muscles and increase blood flow to your feet and heels. 

7)  White Noise App  Pop in your earbuds, turn on your favorite sound.  I'm told it works better than noise-cancelling headphones. 

8) Rosemary Oil  Great for sinuses and fights  the dryness caused by cabin pressure which may lead to headaches.
 
Don't forget to stretch your legs and neck  every few hours.

What's your favorite remedy? We would love to add your creative ideas to our list!

 
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Topics: First Time Tips to Italy, Flight Tips

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