Time for our yearly wrap-up spotlighting some the highlights of our time in Europe over the last nine months. It is a great opportunity for us to look back on how fortunate we are to travel like we do and what an amazing time it was. We hope you enjoy it too.
Best WWOOF Experience
Le Roche – Dogliani, Italy
We were back again to the same beautiful organic winery in the Piedmont region of Italy. This was a much different year than last in terms of weather. We also had new tasks like planting vines, pruning, and even leading a tasting. You can read more in our blog Catching Up with the Vagabonds – Year 2
Best WorkAway Experience
While living in our own little bungalow (on a river, in rural Ireland), helping with gardening, and taking on some building projects would have been rewarding enough, the highlight was going to traditional Irish music sessions where Josie, one of our hosts, participated.
Best House Sits
Toby and Hugo were great dogs but getting to go to a Burns Night Dinner, a Panto at a community center, and a Sunday meal in the home of some new friends made us feel like almost like locals.
East Grinstead, England
The home was in a converted convent in the West Sussex district of England. The National Trust sites nearby were stunning and we enjoyed long walks with the spaniels Finn and Floyd.
Our first trip to Portugal started in the capitol city if Lisbon, but we really fell in love with the culture in Porto.
We stopped here for a couple of days after dog sledding up north. Our guide Kate was the best! Very interesting city and not as cold in March as you might think!
We had a flight to the States from Amsterdam to see our son, David, in a world premiere play in Kentucky. We stayed here a couple of days prior to our flight so we could continue to explore this amazing city. I’m ready to go back again!
Erice Pietre Antiche – Erice, Sicily, Italy
Well, last year’s winner, La Giolitta, is still our favorite place to stay, but in the interest of variety, we added a few more spots. Our host, Massimo, made our stay in Erice very special. You can read more about this idyllic little village in our Sicily Food & Wine Tour – Part II
East London Hotel – London, England
This rather new property, in a renovated wine storage building, is a ½ a block away from a Tube Station making getting into central London very easy. East London is also the new hip place to be in town and it was fun to explore this area for the first time. Full disclosure, we were compensated in return for a review of the hotel but in all honesty we really enjoyed our stay and we would return.
Galtafell Guesthouse – Reykjavik, Iceland
We showed up at 9:00 am. It was pitch dark as it is in Iceland in January. They were very accommodating. We had a lovely room and it was an easy walk into central Reykjavik.
Ecomama Hostel – Amsterdam, The Netherlands
It has been a long time since we stayed in a hostel but this place was awesome. Our private room was built from on old shipping container. There was a communal kitchen, a shared bath area, and a movie tent. It was great and if I were still in my 20’s I would have loved it!
Ristorante Daria – Montichiello, Italy
This is one of our stops on our Small Group Tour of Tuscany and even though we have eaten there at least a half dozen times now, I still look forward to it! The beet gnocchi with gorgonzola and truffles on our last visit was amazing! They have a great wine selection and you can buy bottles to take away. Daria herself happens to be a lovely person and is almost always at the restaurant. She also runs a lovely B&B nearby that we can’t wait to try!
Scjabaca – Palermo, Sicily, Italy
Run by a husband and wife team, this quaint little spot in Palermo had only been open a few weeks when we visited in October. They are part of the Slow Food movement and are doing everything right. We highly suggest a visit if you travel to Sicily.
Fish Shop – Dublin, Ireland
This was a new find for us this time in Dublin. It is a tiny spot, only about 16 seats, serving a set menu of some of the best seafood we’ve had in a long time. We’ll go back!
Gebr Hartering – Amsterdam, The Netherlands
It is so hard to keep this list to just three. I could go on and on, but we had such a memorable meal in this cool little place near out hostel I just had to include it. They also feature a set menu where you can choose 5 or 7 small courses. All were outstanding and the wine list is exceptional. It is not in the center of town but well worth the walk.
Viking video/photo shoot
We unexpectedly found ourselves on a Viking boat again this year! This time it was a Viking River boat. Our friend Bill from White Rain Films, who we met last year on the Viking Sun, wrote and asked if we’d be interested in taking part in a video and photo shoot on the Rhine. Well of course we said yes! We can’t say enough about the professionalism with everything Viking does. So much so that Betsy has become a Viking River Cruise Expert! Let us know if she can book your next cruise.
Kiplinger interview/photo shoot/article
We were also surprised this year to get a call from Kiplinger Personal Finance wanting to do a story on us and our current lifestyle. What followed was a 90 minute phone interview, a photo shoot with Alberto Alicata (check out his work!) in Palermo, and a very nice article released in the December issue. Thank you Pat Esswein from Kiplinger for making this possible!
Best Custom Itineraries We Planned for Ourselves
We love creating Custom Itineraries for our clients and then hearing how much they enjoyed the trip. We also still like creating our own Custom Itineraries and exploring parts of Europe we have not been to before. Sicily was high on our list and we had a great trip there. In our 2 and a half weeks traveling around the island there were too many highlights to start mentioning them. Luckily you can read more about our time there on our posts, Our Food & Wine Tour in Sicily and Sicily Food & Wine Tour – Part II
Dog Sledding – Alta, Norway
Northern lights, sleeping in teepees, and harnessing our husky team for three days of sledding…what an amazing experience! Holmen Husky Lodge showed us a great time!
After leading our Small Group Tour of Tuscany in March and drinking big rich reds day after day we headed to Alsace to explore and drink highly acidic crisp whites day after day. This gorgeous region has bounced back and forth between Germany and France over the centuries and both cultures are clearly evident here. The brightly painted villages are right out of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast!
We ended this year’s adventures with a short trip to Scotland to chase down some of our favorite whiskies and relax. Chelsea single handedly planned this trip. Her latest blog is Three Day Whisky Focused Islay Itinerary
Favorite Winery Visits
Girolamo Russo – Sicily
There is a lot of stellar wine in Sicily and Girolamo Russo was one of our favorite finds. Our host Dante gave us a great tour of the winery where grapes were still fermenting from the recent harvest in big open tubs. He then took us out to the vineyards and led us through a tasting of their wines. While Sicily is known for their big reds we were surprised at how much we enjoyed the Rosato. Outstanding!
Arianna Occhipinti – Sicily
Another fantastic Sicilian producer, Arianna Occhipinti is a young wine maker at the forefront of the natural, organic wine movement. Her wines are surprisingly elegant and complex considering the hot climate she grows her grapes in. The tasting room is set in an old winepress room and is beautiful. We also visited the nearby Baglio Occhipinti, a wonderful B&B run by Arianna’s sister.
Kientzler – Alsace
All of the wineries we visited in Alsace were good. They also are very proud of their wines and are very generous with the tastings. At Kientzler we must have tried at least 8 different bottles and they were all spectacular.
Favorite Wine Shops
Enoteca di Ghino – Pienza, Italy
Once again, last year’s winner La Vite Turchese is still our favorite. When we visit, Stefano and Elisabetta treat us so well it just feels like home. But we wanted to share a few new finds with you. This year we discovered Enoteca di Ghino in the Tuscan village of Pienza. Ghino is the owner and he is quite a character. This became our spot to stock up during our Small Group Tour of Tuscany. Ghino and his sons are very knowledgeable and helpful. They also like to stock wine they believe can compare to some of the big names at a much better prices.
Boutique Vini – Riquewihr, Alsace, France
The somm at the wonderful Winstub Chambard in Kaysersberg told us about this wine shop in Riquewihr. We had a fun time talking to the shop keeper about all the local wines and asked for something from a smaller producer. He suggested a Riesling by Catherine Riss. It was so good we went back the next day and bought the last two bottles!
Il Buongustaio dell’Etna – Randazzo, Sicily, Italy
Not a lot of English spoken here but we managed to order a nice plate of charcuterie and told the owner we wanted to try a couple specific producers. He just stared opening bottles and setting them at our table and told us to taste as many as we wanted. We were afraid the bill was going to be outrageous but it ended up being quite reasonable. Awesome!
Favorite Distillery Visits
Bunnahabhain – Islay, Scotland
We sat in their cask room and tried several whiskies straight out of the cask. Many of their bottlings at the distillery are single cask and just superb! Find out how we got to try an $1800 bottle of whisky in Chelsea’s post, Three Day Whisky Focused Islay Itinerary
Ardbeg – Islay, Scotland
We’ve had their 10 year a couple times but we were really impressed with some of their more specialized bottlings. Outstanding tour and tasting!
Laphroaig - Islay, Scotland
A perennial favorite for all of us, the visit did not disappoint!
We spent two weeks in Siena taking Italian language classes at Dante Alighieri Siena. Look for an upcoming blog on this amazing experience. But getting to live in the city afforded us a chance to get to know the town better than in previous visits. On Wednesdays, several streets near the castle are filled with vendors selling everything from fresh produce and meats to clothing and gardening tools. While wandering around the market one day we saw an older gentleman wearing a Howard Payne hoodie. We asked if he was from Texas but it turned out he only spoke Italian and bought the hoodie in the Siena Market on a previous visit. Crazy!
When we stayed at the East London Hotel we had a nice walk down to the Brick Lane Market Sunday morning. It is a vast market that is kind of a cross between an artisan showcase and a flea market. If you follow it far enough you run into the Old Spitalfields Market which is a permanent covered space for a little more upscale shopping and food choices.
Bath Christmas Market - Bath, England
During the weeks leading up to Christmas the streets of the picturesque town of Bath are filled with stalls selling Christmas ornaments, handicrafts, and delicious food. It is a great time to visit. Take the free guided city walk and spend the rest of your day wandering around the market.
Dukes – London, England
An upscale bar in an upscale hotel, Dukes London, is in the upscale neighborhood of Mayfair. The martinis here are legendary. They wheel a cart to your table. The gin and glasses come out of a freezer. The waiter pours a little vermouth in the glass, swirls it, and dumps it. He then proceeds to fill the glass with gin so high that the surface tension creates a bulge over the top of the rim. A lemon twist and then he carefully hands it to you without spilling a drop. The drink costs £20! Probably will never do it again but it was fun and tasty!
Camparino – Milan, Italy
This bar, just off the Piazza Duomo, specializes in various versions of spritzes and other cocktails made with Campari. The knowledgeable bar tenders will talk you through your options and you can munch on a wide array of snacks at the bar while you wait. And what a view!
Kytelers Inn – Kilkenny, Ireland
We first visited this iconic Irish pub with our friends Jonathan and Debra in 1999. It is still a great place for some fish and chips, bangers and mash, and a pint!
Turrisi – Castelmola, Sicily, Italy
We settled into this bar after a long uphill hike from Taormina for its beautiful views from the terrace. We didn’t notice the penis motif until we sat down — the unique theme is supposed to signify fertility and good fortune!
Traditional Irish Music Sessions – Borris and Graiguenamanagh, Ireland
During our WorkAway near Kilkenny we were invited on a couple occasions to some pubs to hear Josie perform with some of the local musicians. She is a very good accordion player and a reluctant but gifted singer. One evening at Mick Doyle’s in Graiguenamanagh, she was finally coerced into singing. She was sitting at the bar with us and when she began to sing the whole place went silent as she cast a spell over the room. Magical!
Best Theater Experience
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – London, England
This was a great book. It is a fantastic play with amazing staging and lighting techniques. Best of all, we saved a load of money by getting “day tickets” at the box office the morning of the performance.
The Price – London, England
One of Arthur Miller’s lesser known plays, it was still a great evening of theater. It also featured Brendan Coyle who plays John Bates on Downton Abbey!
Treasure Island – Whissendine, England
During our housesit in Cottesmore we were invited to attend a panto. Yeah, we didn’t know what it was either, but apparently these pantomimes have a long history in England! The leading male and female roles are usually played by someone of the opposite sex. They involve people of all ages and are strongly supported by the communities that produce them. Not very professional but lots of fun! The picture sums it up nicely.
Castiglione Falletto – Serralunga d’Alba – Monforte d’Alba, Piedmont
Another epic hike through the vineyards to some of our favorite villages in the Barolo region. Over 10 miles, 27,000 steps, and 90 floors climbed. We deserved the charcuterie and wine we had at Vinoteca Centro Storico!
Skogafoss Falls – Iceland
The waterfall is a busy tourist stop and it is gorgeous if a little crowded. But if you climb the stairs next to the falls there is a nice path that follows the river up the valley the whole way to the glacier it flows from. We only went about a mile up but we were almost by ourselves and it was gorgeous. We really want to return when there is more daylight!
Llyn Idwal (Lake) - Snowdonia National Park – Wales
Or Whales as our president likes to spell it! We did a Three Day Tour of Northern Wales in January. We loved it and want to explore the area further. This nice hike was on our last day.
This is one of the amazing museums in London that are free along with the British Museum, National Gallery, Tate Modern, and many more. It chronicles the history of the city from its prehistoric roots to the present day. So much to see in London!
Valley of the Temples – Agrigento, Sicily, Italy
Not really a museum but an outdoor promenade nearly a kilometer long among some of the best preserved Greek Temples in the world. One of the many highlights of our Sicily Tour.
Upfest – Bristol, England
This is like an open-air street art museum centered around North Street in Bristol. Every year there is a big festival and all the art on the sides of buildings are changed.
If you would like to visit any of these sites, we can help with that! Remember that we are always available to you and your friends and family for custom trip planning to Europe. We are experts in creating custom travel itineraries and leading small group trips in Europe. You can always reach Betsy at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to help you make your travel dreams to Europe come true!
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