• Group of kids in Cuba

    Cuban and American Kids Connect (with a little help from our friends).

    <p>One of the best benefits of spending extended time in Cuba for the last 4 years, is that we’ve been able to create long-term friendships there. A regular highlight of our <a href="https://goo.gl/ifpZKb" target="_blank">Cuba for Families</a> and <a href="https://goo.gl/KqlTZm" target="_blank">Havana to Viñales trips</a> is a visit to a small rural school. We know the principal and the teachers, and best of all our tour leaders like Heather Harding and Eric Kessler have come to know the kids themselves.<br><br><img alt="School children in Cuba" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7kz&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002qWt" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <p>Back home in Washington state, Heather had the idea of connecting the students at her local schools with the Cuban kids she’s come to know. The result has been an amazing pen pal style back-and-forth. Check out this article in the <a href="https://goo.gl/c48lAE" target="_blank">Port Townsend Leader</a> for the whole story.</p> <p>One of the perks is how enthusiastically our guests are greeted whenever we arrive at the school. <a href="https://goo.gl/SEHgzt" target="_blank">The people of Classic Journeys are a “known quantity”</a>, so there’s no shyness or need to work our way through school bureaucracy to get inside the classroom for an experience that basically defines “immersive”.<br><br>After scores of adventures in Cuba, we’re thrilled to get that kind of reception wherever we go. While a lot of visitors to the island end up feeling like spectators, we’re welcomed as friends. The difference is incredibly important. For instance, in Havana our friends Julio and Nidialys love it when we stop by the workshop where they restore and update classic cars. There’s none of the distance or testing of the waters that happens when strangers meet strangers. The welcome is warm and immediate, and we get full value from our time together. The same thing happens from the tobacco farms in the <a href="https://goo.gl/5A2qvb" target="_blank">Viñales Valley</a> to the Santeria temple in Trinidad.<br><br><img alt="Cuban car workshop" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7kz&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002qXI" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br><br>If you follow the news, you know that travel to Cuba has skyrocketed in the last couple of years. We think that’s nothing but good for the island. But large groups of travelers suffer the same problems in Cuba as they do anywhere in the world. <a href="https://goo.gl/SEHgzt" target="_blank">Our small groups, averaging just 10-12 guests, </a>avoid the traps of only going to places that can cope with a swarm of visitors. As time has gone by, we’ve only found more and more opportunities to slip out of the mainstream and relax into our visits. It’s the difference between marching in lockstep and being waved down by a friend for a leisurely conversation.<br><br>On the flip side, the Americans who are trying to visit Cuba on their own are shut out of these experiences too. A teacher won’t temporarily suspend a lesson for a casual passerby. If you walk into a cigar-rolling workshop on your own, you’ll get a pre-packaged reception rather than the clear signal that it’s just fine if you want to hang around for a while to learn what’s happening.<br><br><img alt="Cuban cigar workshop" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7kz&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002qXN" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <p>We’re proud of the kind of work that Heather and Eric do to create and sustain our relationships with the wonderful Cuban people. And nothing makes us happier than when we get to share those warm and happy connections with the good people who travel with us.</p>

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  • Lavender field in Provence

    On the Hunt for Julia Child's Provence

    <p><a href="https://goo.gl/vbSukm" target="_blank">Provence, Southeastern France’s famed golden child,</a> was popularized by Julia Child – and justifiably so. As the decades have worn on, its rolling hills and cote d’azur shores have seduced scores of tourists, each in the search of the elusive “true” Provence. Journeying to the land of lavender poses the curious question about how to find hidden gems while having iconic experiences. But the world is big, and there are always discovery opportunities for explorers with good local connections.</p> <p>One of them is the Provencal village of Seguret, which boasts a population of just over a thousand, nestled in the foothill shadow of a chateau. The town is full of medieval relics of Roman influence. <a href="https://goo.gl/vbSukm" target="_blank">Provence was the first Roman conquest west of the Alps</a>, and bricked fountains and arches abound. The cobblestone streets here are quiet; the late afternoon sunlight tame.<br><br><img alt="Town in Provence" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7l8&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002qnu" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <p>Meander down one such alleyway, Rue des Poternes, and you’ll find yourself in front of LeMesclun, a surprisingly acclaimed restaurant in this sleepy town. It’s the labor of love of Christophe Bonzi, a forty one year old chef inducted into the Académie Nationale de Cuisine, an organization which promotes traditional French cuisine and authenticity to terroir (“the land”).</p> <p>Back of house, Bonzi cures his own saucisson, smokes his own salmon, and, as of this year, has started experimenting with gluten-free bread (in addition to the traditional baguettes he bakes in-house). The menu boasts rustic fare like pigeon, plated in minimalist style. And, for a lucky few, Bonzi opens up his kitchen for a memorable cooking lesson.<br><br><img alt="Salmon and bread" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7l8&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002qnz" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <p>Within the vermillion-painted walls, Bonzi instructs upon the fundamentals of prepping coquilles St. Jacques (scallops, usually still nestled in-shell) and constructing chocolate orbs. Every course is Instagram-able. At the end of the story, a feast awaits – on most days, these can be enjoyed on the stone patio, overlooking the valley below. A breeze blowsand wine is poured.</p> <p>From soup to nuts, this is just one story that Provence has to offer. And it’s one, we wager, that Julia Child would savor. <a href="https://goo.gl/vbSukm" target="_blank">Chef Christophe Bonzi welcomes Classic Journeys guests into his kitchen</a> for an instruction and meal on every one of the company’s Bon Appétit, Provence Culinary Tours. Read more <a href="https://goo.gl/vbSukm" target="_blank">here.</a></p>

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  • Gardens at Villa Rufolo in Ravello, Italy

    4 Great Garden Walking Tours

    <h2>A stroll through an ancient garden relaxes the soul and nourishes the senses. </h2> <br><img alt="Italian Lakes garden" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lM&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rPj" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br>  <p>We love a good walking vacation. It’s the best way to immerse yourself into the life and culture of a new destination. It’s also the best way to experience a beautiful garden — and we’ve seen many a beautiful garden. Here are four of our favorite garden walking tours:</p> <p><b>Villa Rufolo, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi/?utm_campaign=4-garden-walking-tours&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">Ravello, Italy</a></b><br><br>Overlooking Piazza Vescovado and with <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi/?utm_campaign=4-garden-walking-tours&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">magnificent views to the Bay of Salerno, Villa Rufolo is the cultural and historical center of Ravello</a>. Built by a wealthy merchant in the 13th century, the villa has been memorialized in literary works such as “Decameron,” by Italian renaissance author, Boccaccio. It’s storied past includes banquets for King Robert II of Naples and other Norman royalty and legends of hidden treasures.</p> <p>In 1851, Sir Francis Neville Reid, a Scottish botanist, fell in love with the property despite its state of disrepair and neglect at the time. He purchased the estate and began an extensive renovation on the property including the gardens.</p> <p>Know as the “Garden of the Soul,” <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi/?utm_campaign=4-garden-walking-tours&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">the garden of Villa Rufolo is bi-level with ancient walls</a> nearly hidden by cypress and lime trees. Reid stocked the garden with a variety of exotic plant species, which remain today. One such species is the Mediterranean cypress or pencil pine, which appears to originate from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. It was originally imported by the Phoenicians for its highly ornamental pyramidal form.</p> <p>Another beautiful plant in the gardens is the creeping or climbing fig. It originates in south-eastern Asia, is a vigorous climber with small, dark green heart-shaped leaves. Its aerial roots adhere to walls.</p> <p>The large-leaved lime or linden, is a deciduous tree with heart-shaped leaves with serrated edges. They produce fragrant whitish-yellow flowers in May and June, arranged in drooping clusters of two or more hermaphrodite flowers.</p> <p>Today, the <a href="http://www.villarufolo.it/" target="_blank">magical gardens and villa grounds</a> are open to the public year-round.<br><br><b>Gardens of Château de Marquessac, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/?utm_campaign=4-garden-walking-tours&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">Dordogne region, France</a></b><br><br><img alt="Gardens of Château de Marquessac" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lM&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rQ3" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>Step into the <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/?utm_campaign=4-garden-walking-tours&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">otherworldly landscape of the Gardens of Château de Marquessac</a>, designed by a student of André Le Notre, the famous designer behind the gardens of the Château de Versailles. The <a href="http://marqueyssac.com/" target="_blank">formal French-style garden</a> is up-ended — almost becomes a playful version of itself — with dramatic swirls and rounds. The garden is comprised of rosemary, santoline and 150,000 pruned box trees.<br> </p> <p>Once you recover from the wonder of this sight, you’ll notice the garden’s <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/?utm_campaign=4-garden-walking-tours&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">prominent cliff-side position overlooking the Dordogne River</a>. You’ll see four of the famed castles of the area, including <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/?utm_campaign=4-garden-walking-tours&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">Castelnaud, Beynac and Fayrac.</a></p> <p><b>Botanical Garden, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba/?utm_campaign=4-garden-walking-tours&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">Cienfuegos, Cuba</a></b><br><br>An 1899 meeting between an American sugar planter in Cuba and two Harvard professors established The Harvard Botanic Station for Tropical Research and Sugar Cane Investigation in Cienfuegos, Cuba.</p> <p>In 1920, the ties between the garden and Harvard became more formal with a large endowment provided by the sugar cane farmer and the recognition of the garden as part of the university. Harvard Biological Laboratory was constructed at the garden four years later.</p> <p>During the 1930s, the garden reached its peak of beauty and diversity as a tropical arboretum. It was used by professors, students and visiting fellows to study tropical botany. Local citizens made up the grounds crew. With the Cuban revolution in 1959 and later the U.S. embargo American involvement was restricted and Harvard terminated its support. Today garden is run by the Cuban government and is both a <a href="http://www.uh.cu/centros/jbn/" target="_blank">National Monument and a popular tourist destination</a>.</p> <p>More than 2,000 species of plants thrive in this amazing 230-acre expanse in the gently rolling countryside just outside Cienfuegos. It’s the <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba/?utm_campaign=4-garden-walking-tours&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">only plot on earth where you can see 280 kinds of palms </a>in a single setting. It’s also a marvelous place to spot hummingbirds, trogons and other birds.<br><br><b>Annapolis Royal’s Historic Gardens, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/novascotia/?utm_campaign=4-garden-walking-tours&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia</a></b><br><br><img alt="Apple orchard" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lM&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rQ8" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>This 17-acre paradise, overlooking a tidal river valley, marks the first European settlement in North America. It’s <a href="http://www.historicgardens.com/" target="_blank">divided into themed areas</a> that tell the story of the area’s local history from a horticultural perspective of gardening methods and designs.<br> </p> <p>La Maison acadienne design is based on diary notes from the Acadian era and includes an orchard and willow hedge. It includes the only archeologically authenticated replica of a pre-deportation Acadian dwelling in the Maritime region — a 1671 time period when Port-Royal (later Annapolis Royal) was the center of Acadie.</p> <p>Herbs, flowers and heritage 18th-century apple trees fill the Governor’s Garden. They are arranged according to the traditions of the mif-1700s period, when <a href="http://www.historicgardens.com/" target="_blank">Annapolis Royal was the capital of Nova Scotia, then under British rule</a>.</p> <p>Other gardens include more than 3000 brightly colored annuals; hydrangea and day lilies; a rock garden; a heather bed and a rose garden with more than 270 cultivars.</p>

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