We lived in Stephenville, TX for over twenty years before beginning our extended travels. Every year we looked forward to the time when our local paper, The Empire-Tribune, published the "Best of Erath". This special edition highlighted local businesses that the readers voted on as being the top in the area. Well, the ETC Team has voted and here’s our list for our trip this past year. Many of these we have written about before and where that is the case there are links directly to those posts. Hope you enjoy revisiting the highlights of our year of travel!
One of the most unique aspects of our trip was participating in work exchange programs. In addition to it being an affordable way to stay in an area for longer periods ,it also gave us an opportunity to live more like locals. Here are some of our favorites.
Best WWOOF Experience
Le Roche – Dogliani, Italy
Sue was a wonderful host. We even got to lead a wine tasting with some of her friends on this little island on the Thames. Read more.
We worked with a great group of 20-somethings and learned to make a proper G&T at the Gin Bar. Read more.
Best House Sits
We just couldn’t get over how nice the people in this area were. Read more.
Villa Antea – Florence, Italy
Big spacious rooms, outstanding breakfasts, super nice hosts, a lovely quiet neighborhood and free parking at a great rate. That’s what you get when you stay a kilometer or so from all the tourist areas of Florence. The walk in was about 20 minutes through real neighborhoods. We loved it.
La Marmu – Vernetti, Italy
This is the spot we stayed at tucked into the Maira Valley in the Italian Alps. Beautiful views, wonderful rooms, nice people and a great meal awaited us after a long day of hiking!
Hisa Franko – Kobarid, Slovenia
After seeing this restaurant on an episode of Chef’s Table, we found our way to the remote village of Kobarid, Slovenia at the end of October. The food exceeded our expectations but the wine pairing was transformative. All Slovenian, natural wines that were delicious and perfectly paired with our food. The region is also gorgeous and we had two wonderful days of hiking in addition to the amazing food. Read more.
Noma Pop Up Under the Bridge – Copenhagen, Denmark
A stunning meal created by the team who’s restaurant has been voted Best in the World multiple times. Read more.
La Ciau del Tornavento – Treiso, Italy
You should expect a great meal at a restaurant with a Michelin Star and this gem in the heart of Italy’s Piemonte region did not disappoint. The company made it even more memorable. We were joined by Chelsea and Sam and our friends from the lake, Lisa and Pierre. Each couple ordered both of the tasting menu options and we shared 5 bottles of wine. At the end of the meal we were treated to a tour of their cellar featuring aver 7000 bottles! We have included La Ciau del Tornavento in our plans for our upcoming Small Group Trip to Piedmont during truffle season in the fall of 2019. Be watching for the itinerary and let us know if you’d like to join us!
We are blessed with many good friends. Two of them surprised us by inviting us on a shake-down cruise on the Viking Sun in the Adriatic. With stops in Italy, Kotor, Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia, we had a wonderful week sailing in perfect weather. We don't think of ourselves as cruise people, but we were very impressed with everything about Viking Ocean Cruises. We can’t say enough about our experience and highly recommend them if you are looking for a cruise company. Read more.
Before we picked grapes in Italy, we spent some time with Chelsea and Sam in Copenhagen. From there we took a weekend trip to the Danish island of Bornholm. It was absolutely spectacular. We stayed in a little cabin and tried to see as much of the island as we could in two days. Smoked fish, gorgeous seaside views, quaint villages, and beautiful countryside drives made it an unexpected pleasure.
We got to see Chelsea this past year more than any time since she graduated from high school. We felt fortunate to be invited with her and Sam and a few of their friends to a weekend in Riga, Latvia. We never knew we wanted to go to Latvia! We enjoyed a symphony concert, great food, interesting architecture, challenging history and too much beer! Read more.
Favorite Winery Visits
Rivetto – Serralunga, Italy
This is one of our favorite Barolo producers in Piedmont. Enrico Rivetto is a third generation grower who is absolutely passionate about taking his winery in a new, biodynamic path. This will be a stop on our upcoming Piedmont Small Group Tour.
Silvio Nardi – Montalcino, Italy
Bruno Porro – Dogliani, Italy
Our host at the winery where we picked grapes last year, and will be again this year, brought us to meet his friend and fellow producer Fabrizio Porro. We made no appointment. We just showed up and spent the next few hours talking and tasting wine as members of his family bustled about.
Best Wine Shops
La Vite Turchese – Barolo, Italy
One of our happy places! Stefano and Elisabetta take such good care of you. We are very happy to include this shop on our Piedmont Small Group Tour.
D. Byrne & Co. – Clitheroe, England
An amazing shop in a small town in a corner of England that we had never considered visiting. This shop was one of many things that made our house sit most enjoyable.
Hedonism Wines – London, England
As the name suggests, it is over the top. If you are into wine, add this to your What to Do In London list.
Burrough Market – London, England
Leave it to Chelsea to find a great foodie spot. You can read more about her London picks here.
Dogliani Market – Dogliani, Italy
During our time on the winery we were sent here to buy food for some of our meals. It is the perfect example of a small town, Italian market. We watched the locals to see how it was done and used our limited Italiano to get what we needed.
Great Market Hall – Budapest, Hungary
This is just one of the reasons to visit this amazing city. Read more.
Szimpla Ruin Pub – Budapest, Hungary
A unique, crazy, mix of bar, performance art, and local entrepreneurship. Another of our Top Ten Things to do in Budapest.
Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs – Riga, Latvia
We spent too much time and drank too many beers here. We danced to live folk music and tried to keep up with the 20-somethings. We loved every second of it.
The Swan with Two Necks – Pendleton, England
The quintessential English Pub frequented by the nicest people on the planet.
Academy of St. Martin in the Field – Bristol, England
What a treat to hear one of our favorite groups which is now led by the incredible Joshua Bell. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and more.
Budapest Festival Orchestra – Budapest, Hungary
MUPA in an amazing performance space in this vibrant city. Another Top Ten.
Filharmonia Koszalinska – Koszalin, Poland
One of the many regional orchestras in Poland this group put on an ambitious concert, but the highlight for me was the Chopin Nocturne the piano soloist played as an encore. Read more about our time in Poland here.
Favorite Theater Experiences
Hamilton – London, England
Bought tickets the day of the show for less than $75. Much easier than NYC. Amazing! And it was so cool to watch it with a British audience….it gives the show a whole new perspective.
Glengarry Glen Ross – London, England
With Christian Slater. Again, found cheap seats the day of the show and again amazing performance.
Long Day's Journey Into Night – London, England
With Jeremy Irons. See comments above.
The York Realist – London, England
With our friend Lesley Nichol (Mrs. Patmore from Downton Abbey), who we met on the Viking Cruise. Wonderful of course.
This was a wonderful day during our time at the winery. Seeing old friends and making new ones. Read more.
Marmora, Maira Valley
Our last weekend on the winery our host arranged for us to hike in the Italian Alps. Stunning! Read more.
Lake District, England
We were knocked out by the beauty of the Lake District in England. And best of all we could start right from our hosts’ home. Read more.
Tate Modern – London, England
We love that the museums in London are free. The British Museum, National Gallery, Victoria and Albert, etc., all free! This year we added the Tate Modern to our list and we were not disappointed.
Berggruen Museum – Berlin, Germany
Berlin is a city full of amazing museums and memorials. We hit the Pergamon, German History, Alte and several others. Thanks to the Museum Pass we could skip the ticket lines and just pop in for a short bit if that’s all time we had. We could also visit some lesser known spots and that’s how we found this gem. Not crowded, relaxing, and filled with Picasso, Matisse, Klee, and more.
Solidarity Museum – Gdansk, Poland
During our time in Berlin, Poland, and Budapest we spent well over a month in locations that had been behind the iron curtain. It was humbling to discover how little we knew about events that happened mostly in our life time. This museum in the beautiful town of Gdansk on the Baltic Sea was extrordinary.
Highlight of the Whole Trip
At the end of our nine months in Europe we had a couple days of relaxation in Verona, Italy. Upon reflecting on our travels we came up with many highlights, mostly mentioned above. But we both agreed that the most fun we had was sharing our love for travel with our small group tours in Tuscany. What a great two weeks we had with two awesome groups of people.
Are you planning a trip somewhere in Europe? We can help with that! Remember that we are always available to you and your friends and family for custom trip planning to Italy, France, Ireland, England and all of Europe. We also still have spots available on our small group trip to Tuscanyin May and the itinerary for our trip to Piedmont in October 2019 will be coming out soon! We'd love for you to join us! You can always reach Betsy at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to help you make your travel dreams to Europe come true!