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Friendly Planet Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

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Can you guess the most popular European destinations to visit by rail?

Rail travel is the most sophisticated route to international adventure. Imagine sipping a cappuccino as you traverse the Tuscan countryside or enjoying a spot of afternoon tea while you await your arrival in Paris. It’s truly a relaxing, easy, and fast way to travel.

In fact, I believe rail travel is perhaps the best way to explore Europe. It quickly transports visitors between top destinations, without the hassle of road traffic or airport security. Plus, when taking a train from place to place, you depart from one city center and arrive in the next, completely eliminating the hassle and expense of those long transfers to the airport.

More than 713 million passengers traveled across the EU by rail between April and September of 2014, showing resurgence in popularity among locals and internationals alike. But can you guess what the top destinations to visit by rail were for the summer of 2014?

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Why save your vacation days for the summer? Travel during the off-season!

Forget springtime in Paris and summer in Santorini. Off-season is the new hot time to visit your favorite European destinations. More and more travelers are ditching their summer vacations and opting to visit their favorite cities throughout the winter months.

From November to March, Europe takes on an entirely new persona. Gone are the large crowds, humid days, and high prices — leaving only the true cultures, histories, and sights of each destination for you to enjoy. If you’re interested in experiencing some hidden, off-season gems of Europe, here are just some of my reasons why the off-season is the perfect time to travel.

Sightsee at a fraction of the price. It’s no secret that off-season travel often means lower prices. Not only will travelers save on airfares, tours, and accommodations, but they’ll often find that restaurants, shops, and bars in high-tourist areas are also less expensive. This can help significantly pare down a tight travel budget. Also keep a lookout for bundled tours that take place during the off-season. Tour operators often make the most out of seasonal pricing and share the savings with travelers. By saving on the essentials, travelers can splurge on extra special events, like enjoying a Champagne dinner at the top of the Eiffel Tower or taking a dip in Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon, making their trips even more memorable.

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Want to get away this holiday season? Now’s the time to book a vacation!

Imagine spending the holidays lounging on a gondola in Venice, spotting endangered sea turtles in Costa Rica, or salsa dancing with locals in Cuba, all at an affordable price. Well now’s your chance. Our team at Friendly Planet Travel is offering special deals on 38 travel packages to destinations across the globe, all with travel dates over the coming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Travelers can save up to an EXTRA $300 on select tours, but you have to book soon — these special offers end on Sept. 25, 2014. To help you picture that perfect getaway, I wanted to highlight just a few of the vacations that you could be booking for this holiday season.

Discover Havana: Through our people-to-people license, the Friendly Planet Travel team has helped more than 5,000 Americans visit Cuba legally. Cuba is a nation only 93 miles from the continental U.S., yet remains largely untouched by American influences. In fact, visitors often describe Cuba as a trip back in time. Our Discover Havana people-to-people program introduces travelers to the culture and daily life of the Cuban people. Travelers spend three eye-opening days in Havana, where activities include a visit with Cuban schoolchildren, a performance by a local dance group, and a meal at a paladar — a private restaurant run by a local family. In addition, they venture into the countryside to explore the coffee plantations of Las Terrazas and Hemingway’s Cuban retreat in Finca Vigia. This trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that truly unites two cultures through the magic of travel.

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Explore Tuscany and Barcelona through two new independent travel packages

Have you ever dreamt of visiting the rolling countryside of Tuscany or sipping sangria at a café in Barcelona? Well now you can for as little as $1,099! The new Tuscany Fly & Drive and Breathtaking Barcelona independent travel packages allow travelers to customize their trips based on their interests and experience the wonders of Italy and Spain at their own pace.

The best part? Our line of independent packages removes all of the guesswork from booking an international vacation.

It’s easy to find great travel deals on the Internet, but what’s difficult is ensuring the quality of the accommodations. Our staff has meticulously researched hotels and hand-selected properties that are well rated and located near tourist sites, as well as shopping, restaurants, and other attractions. We’ve also negotiated airfares and transportation to ensure affordable prices while promising quality accommodations and 24-hour customer support throughout the trip.

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How many of the most-pinned travel destinations have you visited?

I recently stumbled across a Mashable article highlighting the most-pinned places on Earth. As I scrolled through the list, I noticed that many of these Pinterest favorites are also destinations that we offer to our travelers!

I’m not surprised. Our Friendly Planet Travel team lives to craft once-in-a-lifetime tours to some of the world’s most popular destinations. Places like Italy, Greece, and Spain are not only beautiful in photographs, but engaging and authentic destinations that can change the way we look at the world.

While Pinterest is a great place to fantasize about exotic destinations — Friendly Planet’s Pinterest page in particular will make you drool — nothing beats the real experience of discovering the world.

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The perfect Mother’s Day gift: International travel

It’s almost Mother’s Day, and as a mother and grandmother, I wanted to take a minute to share some motherly advice. While all moms appreciate the traditional Mother’s Day flowers, cards and the occasional breakfast in bed, the ultimate present has always been spending time with our children and yes, our grandchildren. I’ve watched my kids grow from wobbling toddlers to successful adults, and looking back over the years, the moments that bring the biggest smiles to my face are those spent enjoying time together.

With that in mind, I suggest rethinking the traditional Mother’s Day gifts this year, and consider giving Mom a present that will create lifelong memories for your family — a mother-and-child trip to an exotic destination that both of you are dying to visit and enjoy together.

In my more than 30 years in the industry, I’ve heard countless stories about how travel has built bonds and strengthened relationships. In fact, a lot of those stories are mine, having traveled internationally with both my own kids and grandkids. Not only do families learn about new cultures, they learn about each other and gain a new level of appreciation for one another. In case you haven’t discovered any mutual travel “must visits” of your own, here’s my Mother’s Day gifting guide to help you choose the perfect destination for you and your mom.

The first-time-traveler mom: Italy

Italy is a perfect destination for first-time international travelers. Your mom will fall in love with the welcoming Italian people and feel completely at home in the relaxed culture. Stroll through the winding cobblestone streets of Venice, a city that floats on water, and watch gondoliers serenade patrons as they glide along the city’s 177 canals. Travel to Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, and shop for gold, jewels, and art on the Ponte Vecchio, a walking bridge lined with high-end stores. Then gaze upon Michelangelo’s famous statue of David. End the trip sipping bold red wines at a café in Rome and wandering through the ruins of the famed Coliseum. Whether you and your Mom love cooking, art, music or just plain strolling, you’ll find boundless opportunities to make memories that will last a lifetime.

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Get even more travel advice about Italy: Enter to win one of Reid Bramblett’s signed Italy travel guides!

We hope everyone enjoyed our Facebook chat with Reid Bramblett today! To keep the information flowing, we’re giving away three of Reid’s books about the most romantic country on Earth – Italy:

These guide books offer dozens of helpful lists about the destination, including the 10 best restaurants, bars, neighborhoods, hotels, local attractions, and much more. They’re great to read before your trip or carry with you while you travel, and even have pull-out maps and guides of city metro systems, useful phone numbers, and 60 great ideas on how to spend your day.

Enter to win your copy below, and stay tuned for more travel chats on the Friendly Planet Travel Facebook page soon!

UPDATE: We’ve chosen the winners! Congratulations to:

Thanks to everyone who entered! 

A night in Italy at the Friendly Planet Travel Book Club

JOYFUL DISCUSSION: We chatted about “Every Day in Tuscany”
over wine and snacks 

Another inspiring Book Club meeting has come to a close, and we’d like to thank everyone who attended. It was a joy recounting Frances Mayes’ stories of fragrant gardens, warm and interesting friends, and gorgeous scenery from “Every Day in Tuscany,” her third installment of the “Tuscan Sun” series.

We recalled how entertaining it was to live vicariously through Frances’ writing as she recounts her adventures in Italy. Several attendees spoke about their own trips to Italy and how this wonderful country has touched their lives. Also discussed was our yearning desire to “pick up everything” and buy a house in another country as Mayes did, as well as the challenges that come with such a life-changing decision.

We enjoyed a lovely array of Tuscan inspired snacks, such as tomato and basil crostini, prosciutto and melon, and delicious Toscana olives, and toasted with a glass of prosecco.

After discussing Italy, we chatted about our other favorite destinations, which led to a friendly debate about the next book selection. Africa and South America were top contenders, but we’d love your input too. Let us know what you think we should read next (any destination/region will be considered). And, of course, we hope to see you at our next meeting!

4 destinations to visit in summer 2012

It’s hard to believe that summer is right around the corner. With Memorial Day weekend fast approaching, I started thinking about the best summer destinations to visit in 2012. Here are my thoughts:

Kenya: See the abundance of spectacular wildlife and lavishly gorgeous, incredibly photogenic landscapesKenya. Although June through September is the rainy season, the great migration of animals that cross the Serengeti occurs during this time, making it well worth the trip. Travelers will be amazed to see the plethora of wildlife as the animals take part in their annual search for water and a mate. Think of it as the best safari ever, unfolding right before your eyes.


Ireland: Enjoy the emerald green countrysideIreland. Pleasant weather during the summer allows travelers to enjoy the lush, green scenery that this country is known for. The friendly, outgoing Irish people will make you feel right at home, and travelers will have more chances to take in all of the attractions, as they have the longest operating hours during the summer.


Greece: Explore the ancient secrets of the Greek islands and bask on the sun-splashed Mediterranean beachesGreek Islands. This summer is a great time to visit, as travelers can take advantage of the many bargains being offered to attract tourists. Although Greece is experiencing unrest and a problematic economy, the exquisiteness and charm of the most beautiful islands that exist anywhere in the world remains unchanged.


Italy: Experience the art, fashion, and music that flourish in the citiesItaly. Though a great year-round destination, some places are better visited in the summer. Tuscany is lavishly fertile, with vineyards and olive groves as far as the eye can see, delectably fresh food, and magnificently endless panoramas and rolling hills. Venice and Florence are also great to visit in the summer, thanks to many outdoor performances and festivals. The Amalfi Coast and Sorrento, aka the Sunbelt of Italy, is home to some of the most beautiful towns, dramatic coastlines, and stunning panoramas in Europe, and should not be missed. There’s also nothing like enjoying a summer evening outside at one of the countless restaurants with a delicious Italian meal, glass of wine, and good friends.


If you’re interested in booking a trip to one of these destinations, or would like to speak with a member of our reservations team about other fantastic summer getaways, you can reach us at 800-555-5765.

Where are you traveling this summer? Let me know your top choices in a comment!

Costa Concordia: What does it mean for you and cruising?

The tragedy of the crashing of the Costa Concordia on the coast of Italy has been front page news for over a week now. This has been perhaps the most deadly cruise disaster since the sinking of the Titanic.

There have been 16 confirmed deaths so far and even one death is one too many. There’s no excuse for the cruise captain’s negligence. I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the disaster and what it will mean for the future of cruising. I answered some of them when I was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times about how the Costa Concordia incident will affect the travel industry, but I wanted to expand upon those answers here.

Q: How will the Costa Concordia incident affect the future of the cruise industry?
A: Although the incident might not deter avid cruisers, other vacationers might avoid cruising for some time. Incidents like this are rare in the industry, and all eyes will be on the cruise liners to see how they handle this and implement changes to improve passenger safety. Officials are reporting that this incident was most likely due to a misjudgment on the part of cruise captain. I predict cruise liners will be closely scrutinizing safety protocols and will be filling any potential gaps they see to ensure the utmost safety of their passengers.

Q: Does Friendly Planet Travel have any travelers booked on the Costa Concordia?
A: Friendly Planet Travel hasn’t sold any trips on Costa Cruises for a few years now. However, we do offer cruises on various cruise lines owned by Costa’s parent company, Carnival Corporation. Among the Carnival-owned cruise lines that we offer are Carnival, NCL, Royal Caribbean Lines, Celebrity, and Azamara.

Q: Should I cancel my cruise booking because of the Costa Concordia?
A: Avoid the urge to cancel a cruise you have booked because of this incident. Cruises are historically safe — safer than driving a car. The U.N.-affiliated International Maritime Organization lists 38 incidents involving passenger ships since 2005 in which more than 60 people died. Compare that to car travel, in which more than 100 people die per day. You have a better chance at getting struck by lightening — about 40 people die every year from lightening strikes, according to the National Weather Service. No one has called Friendly Planet Travel to cancel an existing cruise booking. Right now, Carnival Corporation and nine leading cruise lines around the world have announced a comprehensive audit and review of all safety and emergency response procedures, so they’re taking extra precautions to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Q. What can I do to be a better-prepared cruise passenger?
A: The very best thing that travelers can do is prepare themselves for various scenarios while on a cruise ship. This includes finding out where you should go on the ship in the event of an emergency, determining the location of life boats, and discovering the storage spots of extra life jackets and other supplies. Wendy Perrin, writer of the Perrin Post on Condé Nast Traveler, recently published a comprehensive list of things that travelers can do to prepare themselves while cruising. I suggest that anyone planning to cruise check out Wendy’s tips.

If you have any more questions about cruising, please feel free to leave a comment here and I’ll do my best to answer it for you.

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About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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