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Retracing a College Trip to Europe 30 Years Later

The best of Italy and the Adriatic

by Thomas Windsor

Having backpacked through Europe in my 20s when money was tight, I couldn’t wait to return to this side of the world in a grander, more luxurious fashion. Simply put, I wanted a high-end experience across several countries, with experts handling the logistics. But at the same time, I wanted personal interaction with the locals like I’d experienced in college. Here’s how I did it.

A couple of years ago, I booked a trip to Iceland and Scandinavia with Enrichment Journeys, and had a wonderful, very personal and immersive experience, so I turned to them again. I booked the 14-day land and sea tour of Northern Italy and the Adriatic, with 7 days exploring Milan, Lake Como, Padua, and Venice, followed by a 7-night cruise aboard the Oceania Sirena. Wishlist: check, check, check.

I couldn’t wait to see Lake Como. We boarded a cruise on the lake, and staring out at the hills and villas along its shores made me float on a cloud. In one of these very villas, a few of us were treated to a cooking class. As aroma filled the kitchen, the wine flowed freely, and so did the revelry. The small size of our group allowed us to interact with the chef and get to know each other.

In Turin, we sipped the local Barolo and Barbera wines, accompanied by truffles, cheeses and chocolate creams. Parma waited for us with its famous ham and cheese and more wine, of course. Throughout our trip, both on the land portion and aboard our ship the Sirena, we were treated to world-class dining experiences.

"LA VITA É BELLA"

After winding our way through Padua and Venice, we boarded our Oceania cruise ship and sailed to Dubrovnik, where we stopped for a specially guided full-day tour to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site. This wasn’t a drive-by tour by any means. The Sponza Palace and 14 century Franciscan monastery were a couple of highlights.

From Dubrovnik, we were taken on a private tour of the Croatian countryside to enjoy a meal of local delicacies specially prepared by our host and chef Niko Novakovic, who grows many of his ingredients right on his family’s estate. This was another of the “up close and personal” experiences that confirmed I’d made the right choice to not take the typical do-it-yourself vacation.

Relatively undiscovered Albania was a nice counterpoint to the more popular places on our itinerary. You could say that in Europe, this is going off the grid. I had been curious about this small country that for many years was hermetically closed off to the world. From there, our sea voyage continued on to the Greek island of Cephalonia. Naples I was especially keen to visit. From there, we departed to Pompeii, a somber monument to life in the Roman Empire tragically captured in volcanic ash.

With the journey almost at its conclusion, I sat on my stateroom balcony and thought about all the sights and experiences of this fortnight made possible by Enrichment Journeys. I’m already thinking of the next one.

Editor’s note: If a small group, up close and personal vacation sounds good to you, I second Tom’s recommendation of Enrichment Journeys. — SG.