Tagged european travel

Top Tips for Summer Switzerland Vacation Trips from an Insider: Nature, Wine and Chocolate Galore!

By Andrea Verdin
Photos courtesy Switzerland Tourism

Even though we are in the middle of our summer vacation season, the Wander team cannot stop planning ahead and daydreaming about what next adventure is down the pipeline. Coming back from the Mexican Riviera, I’ve got my mind on the next big excursion, and Switzerland seems ideal for a luxurious getaway.

People around the world have been heading to the Alps for thousands of years for jaw-dropping views and amazing experiences that cannot be had elsewhere. However, there’s so much to experience, it’s nearly impossible to figure out what to do while in Switzerland.

I asked Switzerland expert Greg Witt from Alpenwild about some of the tops tours, attractions and special events that guests should make sure to include in their tours, and here’s just a glimpse of what Witt suggested. We reached out to Witt and Alpenwild because of the knowledge regarding the Alps he could provide.

“Alpenwild is the leading operator doing hiking and walking tours in the Alps. Our most popular trip is the Haute Route, a legendary trek through the highest peaks in the Alps linking Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn,” said Witt. “It’s the most scenic trek in Europe. It connects the historic mountain resorts of Chamonix France and Zermatt Switzerland. Along the way we traverse ancient trade routes, pass immense glaciers, skirt scenic alpine lakes, and come within view of the 14 highest peaks in the Alps.”

With no further ado, here’s what Witt recommends for those traveling to Switzerland this summer.

The majestic Matterhorn
  • Book a view from the Swiss mountaintops
    If you’re looking to get 360° views and the fresh mountain air, Witt recommends the Stanserhorn Cabrio, the world’s first double-decker cable car with an open air upper deck. Another option is a new mountain attraction in Engelberg called the Rotair, the world’s first revolving gondola.

    “So like the Cabrio you get 360° views, but with the Rotair, the gondola car does the rotating as you ascend to the summit of Mt Titlis,” said Witt. “Once at the summit of Mt Titlis you can get your palms sweating by crossing Europe’s highest suspension bridge—the newly-completed Cliff Walk. On the tamer side, don’t miss the new Olympic Museum in Lausanne. Located at the home of International Olympic Committee, the newly-reopened museum explores the events, athletes, and history of the Olympic movement. It’s the most interactive, engaging, and entertaining museum I’ve ever visited—guaranteed fun for all.”

  • Eat the cheese and chocolate; sample the wine.
    If you’re planning a summer Switzerland vacation, it’s essential to eat as much Swiss chocolate as possible.

    “For chocolate lovers, Lindt will be opening a much-anticipated chocolate attraction in Zurich in 2016,” said Witt. “But for those who want to satisfy those cravings this very minute, go to Maison Cailler, Nestlé’s premier chocolate factory, for a tour followed by unlimited tastings.”

    For those more interested in food and wine, Alpenwild offers a tour called Cheese, Chocolate, and the Scenic Alps.

    “We link Alpine meadows, farms, dairies, and vineyards with some of the most spectacular scenery in the Alps,” explained Witt. “Switzerland is really emerging as a gastronomic powerhouse in Europe, and it’s becoming recognized as one of the great culinary regions in Europe. The cheese, wine, and chocolate are superb. The word is getting out—you can have a great food and wine experience in the Alps.”

  • Find a travel agency that will cater to your specific wants.
    If you want a trip that focuses solely on hiking, then you need to find a company that primarily offers hiking trips. If you’re looking for a haute trip that has individualized experiences catered to small groups, don’t expect every company to provide what you want. However, Alpenwild offers a wide array of what Wanderers might be looking for.

    Dividing the cheese ceremony in the Justis valley, Bernese Oberland. Each cattle owner fetches his animals in autumn and collects his share of the cheese produced.

    “We specialize in the Alps—it’s really all we do,” explained Witt. “It’s our passion and expertise and we’ve been at it for three decades. We know the trails and towns inside out. We know the hoteliers and their rooms, the restauranteurs and their menus. Our guides are on the trails every day throughout the summer which gives us a level of expertise that other operators can’t match. And our guests get a richer, more enjoyable experience.”

    Guests who choose a summer Switzerland vacation with Alpenwild will stay in carefully chosen inns, small hotels, and classic berghotels. They are typically independently-owned inns that offer a superbly satisfying mix of a welcoming atmosphere, traditional cuisine, and authentic charm.

    “We pride ourselves in offering exclusive experiences and unique itineraries that would never be possible on other tours or traveling alone. We make cheese over an open fire with an alpine farmer, we learn the art of making chocolate truffles with a master chocolatier, and we’re hosted for winery tours and tastings by the region’s top vintners.”

    Wine tasting in the wine cellar of Gerard Raymond at Saillon, Canton Valais.

    Summer is prime time in the Alps and you’ll find a full array of hiking, walking, culinary, and sightseeing tours at www.alpenwild.com. Additionally, Alpenwild offers an intriguing variety of specialty and custom tours throughout the year—photo tours, cheesemaking, literary tripsplein aire paintinghistory toursChristmas market tours, and trips for cross-country skiers and snowshoeing.

For more information, or to book a summer Switzerland vacation, check out the Alpenwild website.

Bocadillos in Jackson Square offers savory, rich tapas inspired by Spain’s Basque region

Photo courtesy of Bocadillos.

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

Since moving to San Francisco, it still amazes me how blurry the neighborhood and district lines are throughout the city. Go down one nondescript alley and you’ll find yourself straddling the borders of North Beach, Chinatown and Financial District all at the same time. One restaurant that I visited recently not only has a great location, but also offers ahh-mazing tapas inspired by the Basque region of Spain. Bocadillos in the Jackson Square neighborhood attracts business people going to and from FiDi, tourists and locals with the restaurant’s small bites and delicious Spanish wines.

Bocadillos invited me into their warm, brick-walled restaurant as their guest to explore their vast tapas and Spanish wine menu. Restaurant manager, Luke McKinley, was on hand to guide me through the menu and offer recommendations on his personal favorites. I started my meal off with a flight of white wines from Spain. Ask your server for a recommendation based on your personal preference and what you plan on having for your meal. Most of the white wines are bright with citrus and green apple notes and pair perfectly.

The Blood Orange Pinxto is the best way to start your meal. Photo courtesy of Bocadillos.

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Europa Village incorporates music and art to its Spanish, French and Italian sensibilities

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

The French-inspired tasting room and bistro at Europa Village, Temecula

We were recently invited to Europa Village in Temecula Wine Valley to get a sneak peek into the winery’s future happenings for this spring and summer. Since opening in April 2011, the winery has worked toward gathering inspiration from Spain, France and Italy for its grapes and physical environment, while also focusing on music and the arts. And this year’s upcoming events surely mirror this combination.

Europa Village combines the aesthetic of Old European charm with high-quality wines you expect to come out of Temecula Valley. From the wine growers to the tour guides, everyone at Europa Village has a passion for the product and is as hospitable as all get up.

Chef Dean mans the helm at Europa Village

During our last visit, we learned about the vineyard’s musical wine dinners where guests can enjoy a memorable meal crafted by Chef Dean Thomas, listen to Singing Waiters, and sip on some perfectly paired wines. Make a reservation for a wine dinner and you’ll be treated to some of the Valley’s most talented singers in genres ranging from opera, jazz and the sounds from Broadway.

The next musical wine dinner, Festival de Cannes, is May 8 so make a reservation soon. The evening will honor the Cannes Film Festival in the form of music, film and food. Go for a gourmet, four-course meal and stay for some excellent musical performances.

Additionally, The Inn at Europa Village is perched just above the vineyards and tasting room. The 10-room bed and breakfast is a perfect destination to accompany an evening in the vineyards. We’ll be staying at the Inn later this month so be on the look-out for our follow-up.

Europa Village also has plans to open two other internationally-different wineries steeped in Italian and Spanish traditions, Vienza and Bolero Cellars, respectively. The two new additions will nicely align with the already-present wine cave and French tasting room, C’est La Vie Wine Chateau. The build-ons promise an Italian deli, event space, and an additional 40 guestrooms.

Along with its musical dinners, the winery also hosts mystery dinners, weekly live music, comedy nights and Shakespeare in the Vines. We heard just a snippet of the live music guests can enjoy during the wine dinners so you’re definitely in for a treat. For more information, visit www.europavillage.com.

Target and Neiman Marcus Holiday 2012 Limited Edition Collection

Written by Nadia Ibanez, Photos courtesy of Yahoo

Luggage by Alice + Olivia for Target

The girls of Wander Magazine are mildly obsessed with a few things:

  • The sale rack at Anthropologie because we love a good deal on artisan-made and unique frocks and homegoods.
  • Planning weekend staycations and getaways throughout Southern California and creating itineraries for future vacations. And we can’t forget about all of the amazing restaurants we’ve discovered throughout the years.
  • Looking for alternative ways to get outside and sweat — hence recent excursions to local beaches for yoga classes on stand-up paddleboards, zombie-filled 5k races, and our first Color Run in November.
  • And pretty much any where that sells unique, vintage and shabby chic-inspired furniture, like our local flea markets.
Travel Bags by Carolina Herrera
An iPad Sleeve by Proenza Schouler for Target

So when today’s announcement of this holiday season’s Target and Neiman Marcus Holiday 2012 Limited Edition Collection finally unveiled itself, we were all kinds of giddy. Not only were there affordable clothing and home items from our favorite luxury designers, but there were quite a few travel essentials on the list.

To be honest, we rarely step foot inside our local Neiman Marcus, unless we’re celebrating  a new job with a new pair of shoes or handbag. Designers like Marc Jacobs, Jason Wu, Diane von Furstenberg, Marchesa, Tory Burch, Derek Lam, Alice + Olivia, Tracy Reese, and a whole slew of other clothiers will be making their Target debut with affordable gift ideas. Every single one of the items in the collection will range from $7.99 to $499.99 and we are absolutely salivating over here.

Yoga Mat Designed by Diane von Furstenberg
Dying over the Dessert Plates by Tracy Reese for Target

In keeping with the holiday season, both companies will donate $1 million of their proceeds to the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Here are some of the items you’ll find at your local Target and Neiman Marcus department store from America’s most popular contemporary fashion designers.

A Tote by Oscar de la Renta
Dog Collars and Leashes by Oscar de la Renta for Target
We’re guessing this Marc Jacobs scarf for Target will sell out in three minutes

Be on the lookout for the merchandise shipments on December 1 both in store and online. What items are you most looking forward to?


Time to start planning… Top tips to help you plan out 2012 vacations

by Andrea Verdin, Chief Wordsmith

Even though we are in the middle of the holidays, it’s important to start planning the rest of year’s vacations out! Here are some tips that we, as planners and organizers to a fault, have put together to help you begin making 2012 an epic adventure.

1. Figure out what you want to do. 
We’ve learned that the best way to have an epic vacation is by looking at what you want to do, who you want to do it with, and how much money you want to spend. Are you fine with a shoestring budget and roughing it? Do you want to stay at a high-class resort with all amenities covered? Would you rather rock out at a concert than eat at a five-star restaurant? Would you like to do a little of everything?

2. Buy in advance.
Once you figure out what you want to do, start looking at airfare. Some websites, like Travelzoo and Kayak, track the fluctuation of airfare for you, so you don’t have to guess at when would be the least expensive time to travel and purchase tickets. Don’t wait until a month in advance; getting to your destination is already going to be one of the most expensive investments you will make, so don’t worsen the dilemma.

3. Constantly check in with your crew.
The one problem with planning in advance is the lack of being able to plan for the unexpected. Maybe one of your best friends has to suddenly drop out of the vacation due to illness, a job loss, or lack of interest. That’s not a bad thing if you know it’s coming. Constantly check in with everyone to make sure that everyone can still afford the trip and go. Otherwise, you may be left alone, footing an enormous bill.

4. Pay off your trip, bit by bit.
If you can, begin paying off parts of your trip before you even embark on it. This will allow you to enjoy the experience without having to worry about the bills that come along with it afterward. In addition, if you have your friends paying you back for putting reservations on your card, set up a payment plan to make sure that you aren’t going to get stiffed.

5. Strategize like a conquering overlord.
I’m not saying that at the end of the vacation, you’ll have a new country that you can name after yourself. HOWEVER, I am saying that you should get to know the area that you’re visiting well before you go. Talk to friends who have been where you are headed, and ask for recommendations. Email the Visitors Bureau for a list of recommendations. Do Yelp and Google searches on restaurants in the area, and see what you will eat. Figure out what you will do each day of your vacation, and remember to plan in relaxing/sleeping in time. Your entire team will thank you later, especially if you can all get in everything you wanted to do.

Now that the list is done, I’ll share with you a little daydreaming trip I’m planning on attending this year: Wakarusa. It’s looking pretty epic. Hopefully I’ll see you there, if you plan it out right.