Avid traveller Mark Wolters — who has been to 70 countries to date and counting — shares his adventures and honest travel advice on his popular YouTube channel, Wolters World, to 893K subscribers.
The Illinois-based professor, who is on the road five to six months out of the year, caught up with OFFSHORE to share some advice on where travellers can go to beat the crowds in Europe.
“With revenge travel still in full effect, even with all of the airport and airline issues, it is hard to find a tourist destination that is not crowded this summer,” says Wolters, who is on team carry on only. “We have spent the entire summer traveling around Europe and there are a few things we have noticed that may help you get a respite from the tourist hordes.”
Tip #1: Secondary destinations
“First off, main tourist destinations like Paris, London, and the Amalfi Coast in Europe are completely packed, however the secondary destinations have not been as full,” he shares. “Instead of the Amalfi Coast in Italy, go to Puglia and Southern Italy and explore Bari, Matera, Alberobello, and Polignano a Mare.
Tip #2: Heritage towns
“Puglia is a popular summer destination for Italian tourists. In Bari you can see the grandmothers making pasta in the street, visit St. Nicholas’ Basilica, yes that St. Nicholas, and party the night away with the locals. Even though there are still a lot of tourists visiting Puglia in the summer, you will notice significantly more elbow room wandering the UNESCO World Heritage towns of Alberobello with their Trulli homes that look like a colony on Mars and Matera (which is in Basilicata) with their sassi or caves carved out of the rocks, than you will on the Amalfi Coast.”
Tip #3 Get off the beaten path
“With the major tourist destinations full, this is a great time to explore some of the lesser visited countries of Europe,” Wolters suggests. “If you have wanted to visit the Baltics or Scandinavia this is a wonderful time to visit. The weather is good, the sun stays out until 10:00 p.m., you have numerous lakes, coastlines, islands, and nature areas to explore. Also, the capitals of Tallinn, Stockholm, Oslo, Riga, Helsinki, Copenhagen, and Vilnius all have tons of cultural options for travellers. I spent time this summer in Helsinki, Copenhagen, and Vilnius, and I felt like I was almost alone in comparison to my time in Rome with all the tourists there.”
“From Vienna to Budapest, a river cruise showcases off-the-beaten path things to experience.”
There’s a fire in the kitchen! Sparks are flying after chef Karl Wrenkh pours a small vial of vodka into a simmering pan of oyster mushroom stroganoff and quickly takes a lighter to it — causing the liquid substance to instantly burst into metre-high flames.
But unlike some failed dinners that accidently transform meals into a charred crisp, his concoction is all about deliberately sealing some extra flavour into a mouthwatering recipe.
From the newly-remodelled cooking studio of Wrenkh Vienna Culinary School, the budding entrepreneur explained how he and his brother Leo followed in their parents’ footsteps to bring local, fresh and healthy cuisine to life in a destination that’s universally renowned for being the home of the Wiener schnitzel. It’s a rather interesting story too, considering the family isn’t vegetarian but rather, stems from a long history of butchering.
“Nobody in the family ever was [vegetarian] — we’re actually a family of butchers. We still feel there’s a lack of really good, quality vegetarian food in Austria. It’s great fun cooking vegetarian stuff because we can still always be creative with the recipes,” he said. “My parents were among the first vegetarian chefs in Austria in the 1990s, but then they divorced and we didn’t exist for a couple of years… then my brother and I opened up here in ’09. It’s 80% vegetarian with meat and fish [on the menu] — we say we cook what we hunt and fish.”
Today, the restaurant has not only become a trendy spot for lunch and dinner, but a cooking hub for visitors and locals alike to learn how to make mainly vegetarian meals with a twist during daily culinary workshops. The Wrenkh brothers, who have their own cookbooks, are also co-creators of Avalon Fresh, river cruise line Avalon Waterways’ selection of healthy and vegetarian menu offerings onboard.
“We had a need to elevate our vegetarian cuisine; we didn’t want to serve pasta every day,” noted Pam Hoffee, the president of Avalon Waterways, who was also on location for the cooking demonstration. “Originally, it was about vegetarian cuisine but then we saw a trend towards healthy eating as well. It’s helped us elevate that and it’s been evolving over time.”
The suite life
Recently christened by 15-time Emmy Award-winning host, executive producer and anchor Meredith Vieira, Avalon View is the newest ship to join Avalon’s fleet. The 166-passenger ship is mostly made up of 200 sq. ft. Panorama Suites with floor-to-ceiling 11-feet wide windows that slide wide open. There are also two large 300 sq. ft. Royal Suites, complete with two sinks and a powder room for guests for those seeking even more space.
Travellers looking to experience the ship firsthand can take part in a variety of Danube-based itineraries offered this year, including a special Gone Girl! departure on Sept. 15 with author Gillian Flynn.
After transforming the ship from Lot #02338024 to Avalon View, Vieira, well known for her time on television as the host of The View and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, admitted to having a slight fear of water before agreeing to take on duties as godmother.
“It’s so warm and inviting. I love the size of the ship. You feel like you’re part of a family,” she said, reflecting on her time on the ship. “There’s an intimacy to it that’s really lovely. I really feel like I’m immersed in the culture around me because of the fact that we’re constantly stopping and you have the opportunity to do so many different things in port. The food on this ship is really good and the wine is unbelievable. I would definitely do it again. I could see myself doing it alone, it’s definitely a great experience as a family or friends. You can make it whatever you want.”
Highlights along the route
Unlike ocean cruises where guests often wake up somewhere new every morning, the river cruise journey takes place during the day so that all those onboard can soak up the scenery as the ship moves past historic castles, stunning landscapes and picturesque buildings like Dürnstein’s blue Abbey. Another must on a river cruise down the Danube is an evening illumination cruise past landmarks in Budapest like the The Hungarian Parliament Building and Castle Hill.
While in port, a variety of daily tours ranging from active hiking or biking outings to classic city explorations are offered to give visitors the chance to have a deeper connection and understanding of the destination. These options allow travellers to customize their river cruise journey from start-to-finish based on personal interests. In Bratislava, for example, a classic option would be a city tour with a stop to enjoy Slovakian liquor tasting at the St. Nicolaus Distillery. Meanwhile an active option would be hiking through the forest and vineyards of Raca, followed by a wine tasting. There is really no wrong choice and it can be tough to narrow down which tour to choose. The convenient thing about being docked in the heart of the city is that it’s also easy to get on and off to explore. There’s ample free time built into each itinerary so that those who are torn between two daily excursions will be able to cross off some of those sights on their own.
More than 150 years ago, Georges Nagelmackers turned a dream into a reality when he launched the first luxury Orient Express train. Soon, Orient Express will head back on track to offer travellers an unforgettable journey through one of the world’s most beloved countries: Italy.
The Orient Express La Dolce Vita will welcome its first passengers in 2023. Six trains will embark through several iconic itineraries across 14 regions and beyond, including three international destinations from Rome to Paris, Istanbul and Split.
A magical stopover in Rome will feature the very first Orient Express Hotel, Minerva, scheduled to open in 2024.
The concept for the new Orient Express La Dolce Vita trains pay tribute to “La Dolce Vita”, a historical period of glamour, joie de vivre and artistic fervour in Italy during the 1960s.
With support from Accor, La Dolce Vita train’s official hospitality partner, and thanks to the partnership with Trenitalia and Fondazione FS Italiane, the journey invites passengers to travel through more than 16,000 kilometres of workable railway lines – 7,000 kilometres of which are not electrified and are vestiges of Italy’s storied history.
The Orient Express La Dolce Vita offers a new way of experiencing the country: an environmentally-friendly adventure where forgotten roads are explored, hidden treasures discovered and where architectural triumphs take centre stage.
Designed by Dimorestudio, the global architectural and design studio founded by Emiliano Salci and Britt Moran in 2003, the Orient Express La Dolce Vita train embodies the Italian art of living and all its beautiful traditions with a more contemporary spirit of travel.
The train’s sumptuous decor will adorn 12 Deluxe cabins, 18 Suites, and one Honour Suite and restaurant, all boldly celebrating the craftsmanship, design and creativity of the 1960s and 1970s.
In collaboration with renowned local and international chefs and sommeliers, travellers will experience five-star service on board, savouring the beauty and excellence of “Made in Italy” through award-winning Italian wines and exclusive haute cuisine.
Before departure at the Roma Termini station, the Orient Express executive lounge will welcome passengers offering them a selection of refreshments in a convivial and elegant space, complete with dedicated services and staff to assist them.
The itineraries have been chosen to create unique travel experiences, all capable of awakening our five senses. Most will start in Italy, revealing the wonders of the Alps, the bucolic countryside, or the paradisiacal beaches of southern Italy. In addition, three dedicated itineraries will take you through eight countries, linking Rome to Paris, Istanbul, and Split.
Travellers interested in booking the luxury adventure of a lifetime are invited to click here for a closer look at the exclusive journeys to some of the world’s most captivating destinations on offer.
With all-time high demand and unprecedented sellout pace, the expertly curated itineraries will allow Four Seasons passengers to seamlessly explore a collection of bucket-list destinations, removing the stress of multiple commercial flights, layovers and delays. More opportunities await as the full line-up of 2023 itineraries is announced in the coming months.
Experience the majestic landscapes of Africa on a magnificent 13-day family-friendly adventure, ideally timed over school breaks for a holiday to remember. From exhilarating wildlife excursions in Rwanda to the ancient pyramids of Egypt, travellers of all ages will experience an enriching blend of natural wonders and stunning city adventures.
Two African Wonders journeys are planned for 2023. The first is scheduled to take flight December 28, 2022 – January 9, 2023 and is currently wait list only, with the second departing in August 2023.
August 1 – 13, 2023 – Athens, Greece – The Pyramids, Egypt (day trip) – Serengeti, Tanzania – Mauritius – Rwanda – Victoria Falls, Zambia (day trip) – Johannesburg, South Africa
Begin the trip of a lifetime by exploring the historic heart of Athens on a private guided tour of the Acropolis and Parthenon. Next, visit the ancient Pyramids of Giza in Egypt to explore curiosities that have captured the imaginations of visitors for millennia. Celebrate magical moments with a torchlit dinner in the savannah, complete with sundowners and live entertainment in Serengeti National Park under the protection of Masai warriors.
In Mauritius, explore the island’s protected lagoons by kayak, snorkel through the coral reefs, or take a cooking class with an expert Four Seasons chef. In the lush forests of Rwanda, embark on a gorilla trek with local scientists and veterinarians caring for the country’s endangered primates. Enjoy a day trip to Zambia’s Victoria Falls, known to locals as “the smoke that thunders.” Conclude with a final stop and farewell brunch in Johannesburg before heading home, or continue on to another captivating destination.
As part of the African Wonders journey, additional activities can be tailored to the interests and age of each guest in concert with Four Seasons concierge teams in each destination.
The longest-running Four Seasons Private Jet journey is back, featuring a showcase of spectacular natural beauty, enduring cultural traditions, inspiring urban experiences and iconic wonders.
April 17 – May 10, 2023 – Oahu, USA – Bora Bora – Sydney, Australia – Bali, Indonesia – Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, Thailand – Taj Mahal, India (day trip) – Dubai, UAE – Florence, Italy – London, England
Starting off in Hawaii, embark on a spiritual journey to the westernmost tip of Oahu to hear tales from a revered storyteller followed by a traditional hula. Enjoy a guided snorkel safari in Bora Bora before jetting off to Australia to go backstage at the Sydney Opera House.
Take a batik painting class or go rafting on Bali’s longest river and enjoy visiting Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, the former capitals of the ancient Lanna kingdom in Thailand, offering transcendent temples, jungle landscapes and a culture of enduring traditions. Enjoy a day trip to the Taj Mahal without long lines and airport transfers courtesy of a private airport in Agra.
In Dubai, savour spectacular sunset views over the Arabian Gulf from the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. In Florence, sample the region’s exquisite cuisine and enjoy a private viewing of Michelangelo’s David. Finally, celebrate a journey well-travelled in London by heading backstage for a show at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
March 3 to 26, 2023 – Seattle, USA – Kyoto, Japan – Hoi An, Vietnam – Maldives – Serengeti, Tanzania – Marrakech, Morocco – Budapest, Hungary – St. Petersburg, Russia – Paris, France
Experience cultural immersion on a spectacular voyage across four continents. From a glimpse inside Russia’s lavish imperial past to a samurai sword lesson in Kyoto, this is a journey designed to stimulate the senses.
In Croatia, almost anywhere the land meets the water, rough steps carved from pure white limestone jut into the teal waters of the Adriatic Sea. The country’s impressive coastline is among the largest in the Mediterranean and has quickly gained recognition as one of Europe’s most beautiful.
Here, white sand beaches and towering palms are scarce. Instead, in July and August, when the heat from the sun is at its strongest, locals young and old can be found sprawled out on the nearest rock ledge that hangs over the sea, the rays turning their skin to a deeper shade of burnt bronze, while fishermen set up their boats and inspect their nets in preparation for a day on the water.
In 2011, 8.5 million international tourists trickled into Croatia. That year was also the same year that the first episode of what would eventually be one of HBO’s most popular television shows, Game of Thrones, aired with scenes filmed throughout the old town of the medieval city of Dubrovnik.
Now, a decade later, Croatia’s tourism numbers have more than doubled. Dubrovnik, though enchanting with its symmetrical orange clay roofs and ancient stone walls should by no means be the only city on your itinerary. As one of the five main airports in the country (Zagreb, Pula, Split, and Zadar being the others), Dubrovnik serves as the perfect jumping point for an extended Croatian holiday.
With its colourful coastal towns, balmy weather, and reputable culinary scene, Croatia is a country that can easily be explored from top to bottom.
Story & photos by CHRISTINE HOGG
With more than 1,000 combined islands, reefs, and islets, Croatia’s archipelago is the largest in the Adriatic Sea, and the country has the second largest number of islands in the Mediterranean, second only to Greece.
The majority are inhabited, though some are home to only dense pine forests, wild boar, wolves, and bears, and secret beaches, whose crystalline waters can still be reached by boat for an exciting day trip.
Perhaps one of Croatia’s best islands, Hvar, is to Croatia what Ibiza is to Spain. Easily reached by ferry from Dubrovnik two times per day during the high season, Hvar is a destination that’s steeped in rich nightlife, making it an ideal spot to escape the larger crowds of Croatia’s landlocked regions, while still enjoying the social comforts a city can bring.
Hvar island is also home to the town of Hvar (not to be confused with the island itself ), which dates back to the 13th century. It’s the biggest settlement on the island, and where the majority of restaurants, bars, and shops are located. Hvar acts as an open-air museum to the past, with many well-preserved sites, like the Stari Grad Plains, an agricultural landscape that were constructed in the fourth century by the ancient Greeks.
One of the best ways to take in the entire island, including Stari Grad (just 25 minutes outside of Hvar town) is by renting a gaspowered scooter or a quad for the day.
From mid-June to mid-July, the island of Hvar is bathed in a sea of blooming, violet-coloured lavender fields, with the majority of the fields being on the stretch of road that connects Stari Grad back to Hvar town. When lavender is in season, the fragrant floral also makes its way onto the gelato menus all over the island, where a popular flavour combo is one scoop of lemon, and one scoop of lavender.
Head back to mainland Croatia for a brief visit by taking the ferry from Hvar to Split.
Arriving by water, Split’s picturesque skyline which features the towering white Cathedral of Saint Dominus, constructed in 305 AD, is the first glimpse visitors will have into the city’s thrilling past.
Split is Croatia’s second largest city and one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, thanks to its easy link to the surrounding Adriatic islands. It’s a city whose history is as beautiful as it is complex, and in the heart of it all lies a nearly 2,000-year-old compound built for a former emperor, known as Diocletian’s Palace. Its immaculately preserved grounds form a protective rectangle around the historic city of Split, with hundreds of shops, bakeries, and restaurants found on the grounds.
Visitors to the palace are greeted by a 3,000 year-old Egyptian sphinx made from black African granite, which is said to have been dragged all the way from Egypt to Croatia under orders from the emperor himself.
Don’t miss the massive underground market inside of Diocletian’s Palace where tourists can purchase anything from genuine coral jewellery to stuffed lavender pillows and silk ties.
Continue heading north along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast to the city of Zadar, unmistakable for its dazzling white limestone streets and lively waterfront. In the evenings, listen along to the strums of soft guitar music and sing along to traditional Croatian songs that eventually lead to dancing in the streets.
The city of Zadar has a striking promenade with major fashion labels and an overwhelming restaurant scene that extends well beyond North America’s traditional palette.
A country that’s famous for its creative expression, whether through the visual arts, theatre, or, perhaps most importantly, music. Zadar is also home to several modern art installations, including the Sea Organ (2005), an experimental architectural instrument that uses the waves of the Adriatic Sea to produce randomized chords of music, which occur when the water flows into a series of pipes and a cavity constructed below a set of concrete steps, and the Greeting to the Sun (2008), a large circle made up of 300 glass solar panels. In the evening, the panels emit coloured lights, and the art installation transforms into a dance floor.
At one of Croatia’s northernmost points, and directly across The Adriatic Sea from Venice, Italy, lies one of Croatia’s best-kept gastronomical secrets —Pula.
Most easily reached by plane from Zadar aboard the regional carrier, Croatian Airlines, Pula is Croatia’s eighth largest city, located in the Istrian Peninsula. Much of its tourism stems from its impeccable food and wine offerings, which are much different than the cities further to the south.
The Istrian region gained even more recognition in 2012, when the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain traversed through Croatia to film an episode for his series, “No Reservations”. During the episode, Bourdain hunted for rare white and black truffles that nowadays can fetch upwards of 2,500 euro for even the smallest mushroom.
While the restaurants found along the Dalmatian coast all serve the freshest catch of the day and a series of traditional pastas, including frutti di mare (grilled squid, clams, and shrimp done in white wine garlic or tomato sauce), in Pula, the diet becomes largely influenced by the proximity of Croatia’s next door neighbour, Italy.
Here, the wine flows as freely as the olive oil, which is poured on everything from woodfired pizza crusts to hearty traditional stews and soups. Homemade olives make their way onto charcuterie boards and meat dishes are featured more prominently on the menus.
Croatia is home to more than 300 geographically-designated wine regions, with a history of winemaking that dates back 2,500 years when the Ancient Greeks inhabited the area and planted the first grapes. Istria’s rich, red soils and sub-Mediterranean climate enables the wines made here to be flavourful and full-bodied. Food and wine tourism continues to dominate the Istrian Peninsula, and many culinary tours are available for booking.
Eat Istria, led by Istrian-born Goran Zgrablić, is one such company that offers both private cooking classes and organized wine tours. Guests can try their hand at rolling out traditional Croatian pasta (fuži), or chopping vegetables and preparing meat to make a traditional žgvacet or brodet goulash.
Not to be missed in the quiet city of Pula is the Pula Arena. Constructed between 27 BC and 68 AD, this Roman amphitheatre is one of the world’s largest six surviving arenas, and the only one of its kind to have all four walls preserved. Purchasing a ticket grants entry to the ancient seating area, where gladiators and beasts once faced off for royal entertainment, as well as a museum located beneath the arena where ancient artifacts can be viewed.
With their endless historic archaeological sites, modern attractions, breathtaking beaches, and culinary delights, these four regions are among Croatia’s most popular tourist destinations, and all provide yearround entertainment, whether visitors come in the high season or the low season.
Christmas markets in Europe are a sensory experience. From picking up and touching artisanal products, to sifting through a heavenly assortment of homemade baked goodies; to graciously sampling chocolate or cheese, there is so much to see and do. Some of the world’s most beloved Christmas markets in years prior, after a two-year hiatus, have returned, back with measures to ensure that your experience is as safe as it is memorable. Safety protocols in place, combined with high vaccination rates and low case counts, has earned several countries a spot on the list of Europe’s safest Christmas markets. While Germany, France, and Austria have world-famous set-ups, this year, Eastern Europe continues to enchant.
Story by Christine Hogg
Estonia’s capital city is home to an annual Christmas market that takes place from Nov. 19 to Jan. 2, 2022 at the Town Hall Square, in the centre of Tallinn Old Town. Every year since 1441, a towering Christmas tree is set up in the middle of the market and decorated in a display of dazzling lights. This year, the festivities will extend throughout the city’s Old Town. Estonia is currently open to fully vaccinated travellers with zero restrictions in place, which means this year’s Christmas market will be in full swing, with local artisans selling everything from traditional Estonian cuisine to hand-painted ornaments.
Many of the various products and goods found in Talllinn’s Christmas market can’t be found anywhere else throughout the year, including fur coats and hand-carved wooden ornaments. (visitestonia.com/en/tallinn-christmas-market)
The Gdańsk Christmas Fair runs from Nov. 23, 2021 to Jan. 1, 2022 in Targ Węglowy, which is a square in the city centre. Don’t miss the beautiful Christmas tree next to Neptune’s Fountain at Long Market (Długi Targ), or the ferris wheel on Granary Island (Wyspa Spichrzów)., which, despite sounding like a remote spot, can be reached in five minutes by car from Gdansk’s main square. During the Christmas fair, four street names have been cleverly changed to Chocolate, Cinnamon, Angel or Christmas Eve Street. For the very first time, a five-metre-tall gate that’s decorated with Gdańsk’s largest advent calendar will open a new window every day to mark the Christmas countdown.
Taking place this holiday season from Nov. 25 to Dec. 23, 2021, Basel’s Christmas market can be found in the centre of the Old Town in the cozy squares of Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz. With two Christmas markets on offer, visitors can expect no shortage of ways to get into the holiday spirit. At the Barfüsserplatz, market stalls with white roofs offer an assortment of handmade ornaments, gifts, and treats, including famous Swiss fondues and milk chocolates. The Christmas market at Münsterplatz is set at the base of the breathtaking Basel Minster cathedral, done in Romanesque and Gothic architecture, and dating back to the year 1019. At Christmastime, more than 180 vendors are on site, and food plays a major role, with all kinds of delicacies, sweet and savoury, available for purchase to eat on site or to take home, including the famous Swiss raclette and sizzling grilled sausages. This year, there’s plenty to see and do. Guests can enter St. Martin’s tower from Dec. 2 to Dec. 20 to take in the sea of tinkling lights across the square. The Basel Wish Book has also returned for another year, and allows visitors from around the world to write a special note to Santa Claus, or send well wishes out into the world. (basel.com/en/events/christmas/christmas-market)
Considered the oldest Christmas market in Germany, and the oldest authentic Christmas market in the world, the Dresden Christmas market (also called the Striezelmarkt) began as a one-day event back in 1434. Now in its 587th year, the Dresden Christmas market takes place this year from Nov. 26 to Dec. 24. and is one of the best Christmas markets suited for children and families, thanks to attractions like a puppet theatre, merry-goround, and a children’s railway in recent years. A stretch of the market on the Prager Straße, known as Winterlights of Dresden, features a 15-metres high Christmas tree as well as a series of dazzling light displays. Meanwhile, the Christmas market at the Frauenkirche, one of the city’s most historical churches, includes an eight-metre tall climbable pyramid that’s covered in handcarved wooden figurines, and a series of traditional products for sale by local craftsmen. (dresden.de/en/tourism/attractions/events/christmas-season/dresden-christmas-markets.php)
Whether it’s the smell of roasting chestnuts or the draw of the countless markets selling artisanal products that lures you in, Vienna is a must-see destination around the holidays. The city’s Christmas markets date back to medieval times, when in 1296, permission to host Vienna’s first-ever Christmas market was granted by the Duke of Austria, Albrecht I. Just like the age-old carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Vienna has a total of 12 Christmas markets and pop-ups taking place throughout the city. Not to be missed are the Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace (Nov. 19 – Dec. 26) and the Christmas Market at Schönbrunn Palace (Nov. 20, 2021 – Jan. 2, 2022). Both markets have enchanting backdrops that show off some of the city’s most famous Baroque-style architecture, and serve an assortment of tasty Austrian treats, like freshly-baked gingerbread, sugar pancakes with raisins, and mulled wine. (austria.info/en/things-to-do/skiing-and-winter/christmasmarkets/vienna)
Over the years, Croatia has emerged as a leading Eastern European travel destination, thanks to its stunning beaches, impressive culinary scene, and overall affordability. Advent Zagreb is the capital city’s take on a Christmas market. While dates are still being finalized, the Market normally begins on the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent and runs through the first week of January. While Advent Zagreb used to be a Christmas market
confined to a square, two years ago, the decision was made to expand it into an experience to be had throughout the city.
From cheering on runners of the Santa Claus race, to visiting the giant tree at St. Mark’s Church, or grabbing a tasty Croatian pastry (try the savoury bureka or the poppyseed roll) from one of the many stalls set up around town, there’s no shortage of festive moments this time of year.
It only took one glance out across the heated infinity pool overlooking Lake Lucerne to understand why this spot lives up to its reputation as a highly Instagrammable location. Here, the water blends into the sky, giving way to a captivating bird’s eye view of the entire scenic region below.
In its glory days the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren frequented this mountain-side locale. Today, it’s been reborn as Bürgenstock Resort, a destination in and of itself, home to multiple high-end resorts, mouthwatering restaurants, and the Bürgenstock Alpine Spa, an indoor and outdoor retreat featuring one-of-a-kind mountain and lake views.
More than $500 million and nine years in the making, Bürgenstock is just one example of how to soak up a memorable time in Switzerland. For anyone dreaming of visiting the European nation soon, here are some inspiring ideas, all chosen by locals.
RAISE A TOAST FROM THE TOP OF THE WORLD
Like the name suggests, Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe – offers sweeping views of the Swiss Alps from high above — 3,454 metres above sea level to be precise. But the highest train station in Europe, which is connected by rail to the scenic villages of Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, and Wengenis, is also home to some ice-cold experiences. In the middle of the glacier, there’s an Ice Bar to discover, where everything, even the bar, is made of ice.
“The Ice Bar is an exclusive experience in the Swiss glacier on Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe,” says Dario Gross, Sales Manager for Jungfrau Railways. “Be sure to taste some Swiss single malt whiskey, which is stored in the glaciers!”
If you’re short on time, it’s now possible to reach the Top of Europe in 15 minutes — 47 minutes faster than before — on the new Eiger Express tricable aerial cableway.
TRAVERSE AN ENTIRE COUNTRY BY FOOT
Switzerland borders Liechtenstein, one of the smallest countries in the world.the world at a mere 25 kilometres in length. Matthias Kramer, Head of Tourism & Economy, Liechtenstein Marketing, suggests those looking for a bucket-list–worthy adventure consider “crossing a whole country by foot.” Packages are available along the Liechtenstein Trail to arrange luggage transfers, overnight stays, and meals along the route.
“The unique Principality of Liechtenstein is the sixth smallest country in the world. It is easily accessible from Switzerland, Germany, and Austria and lies about a two-hour drive from the Italian border,” he says. “It is easy to discover several experiences during your visit, since distances are close: looking at artwork by Picasso or Monet at the Museum of Fine Arts in the capitol, Vaduz, and then heading up to the mountain resort of Malbun in only 20 minutes by car, where hiking trails, and pristine Alpine nature are waiting and a chairlift brings you up to the panoramic restaurant of Sareis.”
Wine enthusiasts should pay a visit to the Prince of Liechtenstein Winery, where travellers can walk through the vineyards and sample excellent wines.
TAKE YOUR GOLF GAME TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Those who have their sights set on visiting the UNESCO-recognized Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn region, known for being the most glaciated part of the European Alps, can also play a round of golf at Europe’s highest 9-hole golf course.
“Aletsch Arena is the home of the highest 9-hole golf course in Europe — 2,000 metres above sea level,” says Jasmine Noti, Product and Market Management, Aletsch Arena AG, home of the 14 miles-long Aletsch Glacier. “The idyllic golf course with its breathtaking panorama of the Valais peaks is a joy for beginners and experienced golfers alike.”
First-time visitors should embark on a guided glacier tour of the 23-km Aletsch Glacier. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience where you can feel the effects global warming will have and how it will change our world as the guides also tell fascinating facts about glaciers, the ice ages, and the flora and fauna of the Aletsch Arena,” she says. “For me, it was like walking on the moon. Something magical.”
FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF JULIE ANDREWS
Acting legend Julie Andrews, who notably starred in The Sound of Music, once said: “Gstaad is the last paradise in a crazy world.”
This charming town has as many residents as it has cows — 7,000 — and is known for producing some top-quality cheese.
“It’s true, the number of people and cows are the same in the destination Gstaad,” muses Thomas Schetty, Head of Markets and Sales at Destination Gstaad. “And we have no traffic lights in the whole destination. Furthermore, we have only chalet-style architecture, because it’s a law since the 1960s that every construction has to be made in a very strict way and form. It feels like a fairy tale!”
One unique thing to do here is order a Fondue Backpack, which contains all the fixings to have a fondue in the wild, including crusty bread made fresh by local bakeries and a fondue pot to use on the go. Simply decide between a traditional thick fondue or a truffle fondue, and indulge wherever you desire. “It’s a unique and unforgettable experience out in the nature,” Schetty says. “You prepare your own fondue in summer or winter and enjoy the local sustainable products in incredible ambiance.”
When you think of Rome, art and history come to mind, sure, but the Eternal City is a hub of glamour, fashion, refinement, and sophistication, too. Rome offers even the most demanding travellers a rich panorama of high-quality lifestyle experiences, making a trip to the Italian capital truly unforgettable.
WHERE TO START
Start your trip at the top, Rome’s famous Terrazza del Pincio. Take in views of the city while strolling these magnificent gardens that retain much of their 16th-century appearance and character. Caffè Colbert deserves a stop among its ancient statues, coloured cushions, and wrought iron sofas. A little further on, Casina Valadier, the masterpiece designed by the neoclassical architect of the same name, houses a renowned restaurant.
At the foot of the Spanish Steps – between Via Condotti, Via Borgognona, and Via Frattina – is Rome’s luxury shopping destination. Here you will find a succession of elegant jewellers, ateliers, artisans, and boutiques, both Italian and international. Don’t miss Peppino Capuano jewellery or Atelier Maria Fiorello before taking a break at Caffè Greco, the second oldest Italian café and favourite meeting place of intellectuals and artists from the 18th century. Bespoke shoe brand Marini crafts each hand-made pair from personalized measurements. Find art galleries along Via Margutta before heading to Atelier Cristina Bomba with a knitwear collection designed in-house from a selection of noble natural yarns. Moving towards Via di Monserrato, you’ll find Maison Halaby, a fashion and accessories workshop, the Soledad Twombly atelier featuring mini kimono-style jackets and tunics of antique ikat, creative jewellery by Fabio Salini, and Chez Dede’s exclusive collections of accessories, fashion, and furnishings.
Rome abounds with ancient ruins around every corner, but along the Tiber River you’ll find two of the most important monuments celebrating the great Emperor Augustus. Under his rule, Rome was enriched with numerous new and splendid buildings that transformed the city into an imperial capital that can still be admired today. The Ara Pacis celebrates the Augustan peace with scenes carved into the marble depicting sacrifices of magistrates, priests, and vestal virgins. And the Mausoleum of Augustus, having just been brought back to life by an excellent restoration, bears witness to the Emperor’s desire to bind himself to the city and its people in perpetuity.
EXCLUSIVE DINING TERRACES
Set on seven hills, Rome is a city of panoramas, and you’ll find many of the most incredible vantage points at Rome’s famed hotels and their luxurious restaurants. Lunch and dinner options abound. Enjoy a dinner of seasonal Mediterranean cuisine at La Terrazza Restaurant at Hotel Eden. Or Hotel de la Ville welcomes guests throughout the day with a variety of delicious menus and one of the most spectacular views from their Cielo Terrace. Located on a quiet street in the epicenter of Rome, the Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese is within walking distance of some of the city’s best-known monuments like the Trevi Fountain, Villa Medici, and the Spanish Steps, but the pride of this hotel is Settimo, an elegant restaurant and bar and one of the highest rooftop restaurants in the city. For dinner, try La Pergola at the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the only three-star restaurant in the capital or the Michelin-starred Restaurant Imago, on the sixth floor of the Hotel Hassler, which guarantees impeccable service and views.
WHERE TO FINISH
No need to languish at the airport, instead, immerse yourself in the glossy world of famous Italian high fashion houses. The Tax Free Mall, located at International Boarding Area E of Fiumicino Airport, boasts more than 50 shops, from haute couture brands to exclusive perfumes to fine dining. For a personalized experience, let a personal shopper assist you, but be sure to book in advance.
DID SOMEONE SAY Aperitif?
Like so many southern Europeans, after a long day of work or shopping, Italians love to indulge in an aperitif before dinner. Here are a few favourites…
CHECK IN Downtown Reykjavik’s imposing Hotel Borg By Keahotels (keahotels.is/en) is an elegantly styled lodging in the centre of it all, boasting modern amenities and a relaxing spa. Or for the ultimate in luxury and spectacular views, stay at one of only eight suites at the Tower Suites Reykjavik (towersuites.is). Large groups can book the entire floor of suites for up to 27 guests.
LOBSTER SOUP Reykjavik’s cafes may be famous for their selection of sandwiches but skip this in favour of a walk down to the Old Harbour district for a hearty bowl of lobster soup at either Sægreifinn (saegreifinn.is/en) or Verbúð 11.
SHOP For a taste of Iceland to bring back home, find hand-harvested salts in flavours like licorice and smoked birch, by Saltverk (saltverk.com). For something sweeter, Omnom (omnom.is) creates small-batch chocolate bars in creative flavours like sea salted almonds and coffee + milk. Both sweet and salty souvenirs can be found at shops around town.
BLUE LAGOON A rite of passage for any visitor, the Blue Lagoon (bluelagoon.com) offers a multitude of geothermal experiences in their milky blue waters. The ultimate in rejuvenation is the five-hour Retreat Spa package that includes access to the Blue Lagoon, eight subterranean spaces, and private Retreat Lagoon, plus skin care amenities, a ritual treatment, refreshments, and more.
GOLDEN CIRCLE All around the island, Iceland boasts incredible nature: waterfalls, hot pots, black sand beaches, glacier hiking, and more. It’s worth a longer stay to travel the famous Ring Road navigating the circumference of the nation. But if you’re only in town for a few days, don’t miss the Golden Circle, a trifecta of natural treasures just outside the city limits, including Thingvellir National Park, Geyser, and Gullfoss Waterfall (visiticeland.com). Join a tour or rent a car for a self-guided day trip.
VIEW Standing guard over the city is Hallgrimskrikja Church (en.hallgrimskirkja.is), still one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. A visit to the church is free, but a $10 admission fee will give you access to the tower and some of the city’s most incredible views.
DINNER Dining options abound in Iceland’s capital. For a quiet night in, grab a pizza at Eldsmidjan (eldsmidjan.is). Try the Rustico with cream cheese, ground beef, and pepper cheese. See and be seen at the lively Tapas Barinn (tapas.is/is) serving small plates of adventurous Icelandic delicacies like puffin, lamb with wild berry sauce, minke whale, and skyr for dessert. Wash it all down with a bottle of house- made sangria. For an haute- cuisine experience, Icelandic-style, there’s no place better than Dill (dillrestaurant.is/en). The tasting menu is ever-changing and an expression of traditional and sustainable ingredients and preparations. Wine pairings highly recommended. Reservations required.
HARPA Reykjavik’s centrepiece, Harpa (en.harpa.is) is a glass goddess located at the foot of downtown. The facility is home to Iceland’s finest productions, concerts, theatre works, events, and more. If you’re not into live theatre, roam the beautiful building on the weekend when it hosts a market of local crafts, foods, and goods.
AURORA During the darkest part of night, between September and April, visitors to Iceland have a good chance of spotting the elusive beauty of the northern lights (visiticeland.com). Join a tour group with skilled excursion leaders who know how to “hunt” down the lights.