Here our team describe their favorite experiences from travel in the line of duty!
First up is Gwen, our General Manager:
Village Experience in Hungary
Tard is a village outside of Budapest that had a large number of older ladies who were unable to live off of their state retirement funds. A former resident, who now lives in Budapest, devised a social enterprise to both give back to the village (and these residents) and provide a great consumer good that is the perfect souvenir of Hungary – their intricate and colorful embroidery.
If guests don’t have time to do the excursion, they can still support these ladies and this social enterprise by buying the products in Budapest that feature Matyodesign as the tag.
The Village of Tard, Hungary
For our guests, the experience goes something like this –
They’re met in the morning by their guide and driver and head about an hour outside Budapest to the small town of Tard. Here they will meet local ladies in traditional dress before heading to the small workshop where they go to embroider. Guests are taught this time-honored art and have the opportunity to embroider their own small souvenir. They’re then led on foot through the town to the village church, which is their pride and joy, and guests hear a small organ concert and learn about the role that the church has in their community. Afterward, continuing on foot, they visit a village home that has been turned into a small ethnographic museum. Guests learn about village live throughout history and even have the opportunity to try on some of the traditional dress. It’s cute and fun. Afterward, they head back to the workshop. This also consists of an open-air kitchen where they can help prepare their lunch of chicken paprikash (or similar) along with fresh local vegetables, produce, wine and locally baked sweets.
It’s a full day excursion from Budapest.
I love it because it’s a truly authentic experience, completely local to the village, and also one where guests are really providing much needed help to these ladies.
Next up is Jody, who is expert in Russia, the Caucasus and Norway.
Wine Tasting & Dinner with the Didgori Singers
I’ve done this multiple times now, and never fails to impress and instill a sense of awe. It really is a true Georgian experience – a table laid heavy with food, perfectly paired traditional qveri wines, and the sound of ancient polyphonic voices raised together to sound out the songs of their past.
Just 30 minuites drive from Tbilisi this boutique winery produces just 4,000 bottles of wine per year. The wines are some of my favorites, and as they are hard to find here in the US, I cherish every glass. Iago Bitarishvili is so passionate about wine and how it is at the very heart of Georgian culture and is a wonderful storyteller. His wife is also a fantastic cook! Year after year, when returning to the region, I always keep my fingers crossed that I will have another opportunity to raise a glass of wine, as someone gives a toast, at Iago’s table.
Continuing the culinary theme, Toshiko describes her culinary journey in Croatia & Montenegro.
Culinary Croatia & Montenegro
In Croatia and Montenegro, I was able to experience the great food, wine, and relaxed environment that everyone lives by in this corner of the world. Enjoying a good cup of coffee, or a wonderful meal and wine with family and friends is a favorite pastime there. During our travels, we were welcomed into a local family’s home and farm in Croatia for a delicious traditional meal, we visited a local oyster farmer in Ston and learned about oyster and mussel cultivation, we learned about olive oil production at the Moric family’s olive grove estate in Montenegro, and we went on a truffle hunt with a local expert and his trusted dogs! All of these experiences have something in common, the love that the local people have for their food and their traditions, and their eagerness to share their way of life with others. This definitely makes for some truly authentic and favorite experiences.
Ashleigh particularly enjoyed the countryside in Bulgaria while staying at the Relais & Chateaux Zornitsa Estate.
Spectacular Scenery in Bulgaria
To get to Wolf Rock, we first had to take a Jeep safari to the top of the mountain. While it was a bumpy ride, we were full of laughter and were constantly on the lookout for black bears. Upon reaching the top of Wolf Rock, we were at first sad that it was foggy and there was no visibility, however the fog started to quickly lift and we were greeted with the most stunning views of the Rhodope Mountains. It was spectacular!
We all love any culinary experiences – and Lori is no exception!
Making Pierogi in Krakow
Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to Poland and Prague. We started in Warsaw, traveled to Krakow and then to Prague. All three are doable by train, which is good for me since I’m not overly excited about flying J
On our last day in Krakow, I was SUPER excited about attempting to make a homemade Polish known dish-pierogi! When we arrived, we were greeted by a sweet Polish woman who guided us through the entire process. From adding the flour to the water, to rolling it into a ball and then out flat with a rolling pin-we did it all. We would then stuff them with minced meat, potatoes and cheese.
You can see the final product-it is absolutely a fun, light hearted, family bonding experience. It is a beautifully preserved medieval city and definitely one for the bucket list.
Michelle visited Belarus this year and found it a revelation:
I had a fantastic day in and around Minsk with one of our colleagues, Anna who is a Minsk native and knows every corner of the city. We started with an early morning walk around the Old Town before exploring some of the city’s Jewish heritage and the fascinating WWII Museum. At the end of the day Anna took me to the quirky and privately owned Museum of Miniatures that showcases 22 of the key architectural sights in Belarus in minauture.
Frozen in Norway!
I recently had the opportunity to visit Trøndelag county located on the west coast of Norway. Røros was a true highlight of the trip. This town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The town was founded over 300 hundred years ago around the Olav mine. Street after street of the historic wooden house lay testament to the rich history. So picturesque is the town, it was a huge inspiration for Disney when creating the Frozen movie. Although it was March when I visited it, the city was decorated for Christmas as Netflix was filming an upcoming show.
Surrounded by farms, it is a true farm to table destination with the locals eager to share their bounty in creative ways. The town is north enough to be a good environment to raise reindeer and I was able to meet with the indigenous Sami people to learn more about their culture and how they are trying to keep their native language alive.
The cold weather also provided the perfect chance to go dogsledding. I have done this numerous times but this was the first place where I could interact with the dogs first and get to know them- a real highlight!
Private Waltz Lesson
I am the first to say that I am no dancer, which made this experience that much more exciting! Learning the art of the waltz really does connect you to the city of Vienna and is fun and interactive cultural experience to try. It is ingrained in Austrian culture and really a part of everyday life – teens take weekly lessons and love it! There are 450 balls annualy in Vienna and on n New Year’s Eve, everyone stops – in the streets, at parties – to waltz to The Blue Danube.
This is me with our great instructors, and although i didn’t quite excel, I am going to work on it – Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Stella chose the magnificent architecture of Uzbekistan. Taking the time to meander through Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand will truly make you feel as though you are on the set of 1001 nights!
Magic of Samarkand
One of the most striking highlights of Uzbekistan, is the architecture. Nothing exemplifies this more than the Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis in Samarkand. Burial place of royalty and noblemen, the complex is a UNESCO site and was constructed over 800 years, starting in the 11th century. More than 20 buildings make up this complex and each has the stunningly intricate tile work in hues of blue and green that leaves a lasting memory of the city.
Legend says that if you count the number of stairs up and down, and reach the same number both ways, you will be considered freed of sins. It’s common to see believers diligently counting stairs on the way up and again on the way down!
The Jungfrau region is truly one of the most spectacular areas in Switzerland! Grindelwald is a charming mountain village next to the striking Eiger’s North Face, and it is connected by train to the Jungfraujoch and the impressive Aletsch Glacier. To enjoy these views throughout, stay at the Boutique Glacier Hotel.
Ala lived in St. Petersburg for almost three years and is fascinated by the Soviet era. One of her favorite experiences of 2019 was visiting this amazing apartment in St. Petersburg – a rabbit warren of treasures!
Soviet Treasures in St. Petersburg
Go back to the 20th Century in St. Petersburg and visit an extraordinary early Soviet apartment, now owned by one of the leading antique dealers of the city. The home is actually a recreation of what the original apartments in this historic building looked like before they were converted into Soviet communal apartments. This apartment building was built just before the Russian Revolution as one of the most advanced and luxurious apartment complexes of Russia, used to house the most senior officials in the USSR. Sergey, the owner, will greet you and give you a personal tour of the antique-filled rooms, set with authentic artifacts of the 19th and 20th centuries. Should you be interested, nearly everything in the apartment is actually for sale.
Staying in Russia, Carissa shares her love of theater!
Having been fortunate to travel throughout many of our destinations over the years and been able to experience many incredible things, one of my all-time favorite experiences was a backstage visit to the Bolshoi theatre in Moscow. Having grown up dancing, ballet has always been close to my heart. To be able to tour this iconic theatre and see it from all sides and angles, was nothing short of incredible. Our theatre guide had been with the Bolshoi for years, and knew every inch of the theatre. She made the entire experience even more special by sharing her own stories of working for the theatre. Her knowledge and enthusiasm towards the various productions, (not just ballet, but opera and concerts too) was unmatched. I could not recommend this experience more to anyone who has a passion for theatre.
Finally, Izzy loved the Christmas ornament experience just outside Krakow when we had our staff teambuild in Poland last December:
One of the highlights of my trip to Poland was painting our own Christmas ornaments. You really underestimate how much work goes into one of those! The staff is super nice and welcoming, and they teach you the techniques. It looks simple when you see how beautiful the samples turn out… until you start making your own! I am certainly not as talented as I thought, but the most important part was that I had SO much fun doing it that I ended up making 3 of them, and proudly brought them home to display on my tree!