Recently, I had the pleasure of joining CW’s Guided Walking trip in Sicily, Italy. As a professional guide myself, it was wonderful to experience the world from the “guest” side of things. The trip itself was unforgettable—doubtlessly the vacation of my life. Here are a few of my favorite highlights:
1. Just outside of Syracuse, the UNESCO archaeological site of “Neapolis” was a great place for us to begin our adventure. With a local guide named Eva, we explored the ruins of an ancient Greek settlement, including the massive altar of Hieron—where over 400 bulls were once sacrificed to Zeus (at the same time!)—an immaculately preserved amphitheater, and the unique stone quarries of “Latomias Del Paradiso”—where ancient workers hacked striking angular overhangs and caves into the tufo rock. Here, we experienced an extra bit of the magic you find on a CW trip: as we were exiting one of the caves, an opera aficionado began belting out “O Sole Mio” inside. His powerful tenor voice reverberated off the ancient stone and added a quintessentially Italian charm to the moment.
2. Throughout this trip, the food was amazing. I could probably write about any night—from the overwhelming bounty of antipasti on our first night (with accordion accompaniment) to the meal I enjoyed in a pub with a group of crazed, local fútbol fans that I met during a wander in town—but the one that stuck with me the most was probably the one we cooked ourselves. At the Abazzia Santa Anastasia—a vineyard and hotel located in a former Benedictine abbey—we got a hands-on cooking lesson with the amazing Chef Antonio Bonadonna. Starting with just some flour, egg, and water, we learned to make pasta from scratch—including how to cut it and shape it to make a wide range of varieties. After taking a break at the winery for a glass of Rosé and some bruschetta, we sat down to a delicious dinner: our own pasta, made delectable by Chef Bonadonna’s culinary magic, followed by a course of grilled chicken or fish. I opted for the needlefish—which I had never had before—and was rewarded with a meal I’ll never forget. The dish was soupy, with a wide variety of herbs and spices, punctuated with tomato, and sprinkled with crunchy croutons. Fantastic!
3. I was really impressed with the natural beauty of Sicily. From the riotous wildflowers dotting the macchia on the hills to the staggering, weathered features of its volcanic bedrock, the island is full of natural wonders. We really got to enjoy this on a hike along the slopes of Mount Etna. Starting out at around 5,900 feet, we hiked a dark-grey lava track which took us winding down past amazing views up the black cinder slope to the snow-capped peak of the mountain. It was chilly up on the mountain—perfect weather to enjoy a mug of hot chocolate or caffe latte from a guide’s thermos. Eventually, we wound down the the historic Rifugio Citelli, a mountainside refuge where we enjoyed a rugged mountain lunch while staring up at the mountain.
4. For me, the last day of the trip was the cherry on the pie: we visited Selinunte, a large archeological site next to the sea, with incredible temples, walls, ruins and fortresses. One might assume that, after visiting so many ruins in this history-haunted region, I would have been a bit tired of them by this point, but I found this complex deeply moving. The remains of an acropolis in an ancient Greek settlement, Selinunte offers a number of fallen temples to wander, as well as the remarkable resurrected Temple of Hera (which was rebuilt in the early 20th century), and an extensive network of walls which marked the boundary of the hilltop temple complex. In this space, we were each able to explore on our own—I was the only one to pick my way through the tall grass to the sandy sliver of beach beneath the site. There, I walked along the slopes by the sea, eventually scrambling up the slope to find twelve enormous columns standing in profile against the blue sky, the remnants of a past splendor over two millennia old.
If you’re interested in learning more about CW’s Guided Walking trip to Sicily, you can find out all about it here.
I’d also encourage you to check out the trip that I guide—Spain: Basque Country Guided Walking.
To many, the idea of taking time off from work to do exactly what you do in your day job might seem a bit...nuts. But when you’re a guide for CW, that prospect becomes a lot more appealing. And if that trip is free? Well, all the better. Our innovative CW Guide Trip Program allows our many intrepid trip leaders to enjoy a bit of R&R while experiencing a bit of the world they haven’t seen before. Guides like Ruth Hackney (who some might know from our Scotland: Isle of Skye trip), love having the opportunity to rack up some new experiences while seeing how their peers operate. “It’s great to get the chance to stand back and see how guests respond to the guides,” says Ruth, who joined the Peru: Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley trip last year. Italy Guide Christopher Wellington (famed among our guests for leading the Cinque Terre, Piedmont, and The Lakes trips) agrees: “you learn how each guide—in very different ways depending on their personality and knowledge—gives so much time and attention to the guests.”
Of course, sometimes, it’s great just to be a guest yourself: “My favorite part was just hiking through farmland with the Andes in the background,” Ruth tells us. “We ate lunch al fresco beside a field where farmers were hand threshing their grain. It was lovely!”
This year, three of our guides will take advantage of this phenomenal program. Those interested in joining them are welcome to do so. Next month, Spanish guide Joserra Combarra—who leads our Spain: Basque Country trip--will explore Sicily starting on April 21st. From July 7-13th, beloved Peruvian guide Juan Carlos Yanez (who leads the Peru trip that made such an impression on Ruth Hackney) will join our Italy: Cinque Terre trip. Finally, on July 24, Francesca Assandri, who usually guides in Italy, will join our Iceland Guided Walking trip.
Please contact us if you’d like to learn more about any of these departures!More>
I’ve always wanted to explore the backcountry of the UK—as we do on our England: The Cotswolds Self-Guided Walking trip. I’m not sure why this particular region has held so much appeal: maybe it’s the pull of my family’s heritage; maybe I just watched too many BBC shows on PBS growing up. Either way, I’ve always felt the appeal of walking hedge-lined roads, stopping in local pubs, eating lunch beside local crofters’ cottages, and exploring ruined castles.
But, of course, I’ve always wanted to do it right. No one wants to be a tourist—being a true traveler (in the know about local traditions and customs) is far more appealing. That’s why I found it so interesting to chat with CW’s former Trip Manager (and friend of the company) Sally Thompson. As a native Brit, she was able to set me straight about one or two of the finer points of English culture. Chief among those? Here are 5 essential rules of pub etiquette to follow while you’re ambling through the UK.
1. Skip the Tip. It’s not customary to tip the bartender in most pubs in the UK. Instead, buy the barkeep a drink. By saying, “…and one for yourself,” when you go to pay, you allow them to put extra money equal to the cost of an average drink into a jar to save.
2. The Eyes Have It. To get served in a busy pub, don’t bother yelling, waving wildly, or ringing the bell on the counter—that’s a recipe for being ignored! Instead, simply make eye contact with the bartender; he’ll come over to serve you the next chance he gets.
3. Be Specific. Asking for “a beer” at a pub is a lot like walking into a diner and placing an order for “a lunch.” You’ll need to be a bit more precise than that. Instead, specify exactly what you want: stout, lager, cask ale, porter, bitter, etc. Not sure what to ask for? Lager is a safe, middle-of-the-road choice.
4. Round It Out. Don’t just order for yourself! By buying a round, you’re sure to make some friends in the average neighborhood pub. Be careful, though—sometimes you’ve got to be pretty quick on the draw to beat your new mates to paying.
5. Don’t Bar the Bar. Is there a large group of you? Don’t block the bar! Nominate one person from your group to go buy the round and let everyone else relax at the table. The regulars will thank you for it.More>