Growing up outside of Philadelphia, I was involved in a lot of sports and activities. I also spent a lot of time cooking in my Grandmother’s kitchen. So it’s no surprise that some of my favorite travel experiences have been things like cooking an authentic Spanish meal at a private home in a small Andalucian village, bike riding through vineyards in Tuscany or floating above the lunar landscape of Turkey’s Cappadocia region in a hot air balloon.
Although I’m a planner by nature (and occupation), I think the perfect trip combines scheduled experiences with plenty of time to be spontaneous! I’ll never forget the time my family decided to stop for an impromptu pint at a pub in Dingle, Ireland. Everyone stopped and stared at me in silence as I walked in first. As it turned out, the bar had quieted down to listen to a patron who was about to sing an old Irish folk song, and we were just in time.
Since my first trip to France as a child, and a stint in Switzerland studying hospitality, I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled through much of Europe. And for the past ten years I’ve been helping others explore their interests on their travels.
Q&A with Ally - Europe Specialist
What is your favourite travel memory?
After years of seeing photographs and videos of the famous Catalan castells, essentially human towers, I had the opportunity to visit a castellers club outside of Barcelona as they practiced for an upcoming festival. In the club’s lounge I watched videos of some of their most impressive towers, then met with instructors to learn the basics of climbing and even got to support the base of a tower several levels high. As much as I was in awe watching people of nearly all ages – from young children to senior citizens – participate in building a human tower, it was the hospitality and warmth of the castellers community that most overwhelmed me.
Your most annoying travelling habit?
Regrettably, it’s overpacking. I like to be prepared when In reality, I find myself wearing the same comfortable clothes and wishing I had more space for things I buy during my travels. It’s a habit I’m trying to break…
What 5 things do you always travel with?
Packing cubes and pouches to keep me organized (and reduce stress!), credit card, iPhone, wet wipes, and a scarf or wrap (which I can also use to protect my skin from the sun, or to cover-up when entering a place of worship).
What is on your bucket list?
The list is long and always getting longer, but a game viewing safari in Kenya’s Masai Mara and driving through the amazing landscapes of New Zealand’s southern island are high on my bucket list.
You are stranded on a desert island with 2 famous people, who are they?
Jennifer Lawrence – she seems fun and hopefully she can use some of her skills she learned filming the ‘Hunger Games’ to get us food; and Beyonce, because if she gets stranded on a desert island people will definitely be relentless in searching for her.
My Favourite Destination
While it’s hard to pick a favorite, Dubrovnik is among my best-loved destinations in Croatia. Situated right on the Adriatic Sea, the city has been protected by its massive stone walls and the narrow limestone streets have retained much of their historic charm. Of course, a city as impressive as Dubrovnik attracts crowds, so I love to stay in a waterfront hotel outside of the old town; it’s the perfect balance of bustling ancient city and relaxing seaside retreat.
Throughout my travels there are some experiences and memories which stand out. I would like to share these recommendations with you for some travel inspiration..
My Favorite Island - Korcula
Croatia has so many amazing islands, but the sunny island of Korcula is at the top of my list! A big reason is the largest town on the island, also known as Korcula. The buzz in the town is contagious with people milling around the medieval squares and limestone streets, dining outdoors, popping into shops and galleries. Across the island you’ll find forested roads and smaller towns like Vela Luka. Korcula is also known for its numerous vineyards, including some varietals you can’t find anywhere else. And when you just want a place to relax, the island has numerous beaches (even some sand beaches) and coves that are wonderful places to sunbathe or take a swim in the crystal clear sea.
My Favorite Hotel - Mas de Torrent
Situated in the countryside of Spain’s Costa Brava region, Mas de Torrent is one of my favorite hotels. The heart of the hotel is a 19th-century Catalan farmhouse known as a masia, where the restaurant serves up outstanding cuisine based on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The extensive property features just 39 rooms, lovely gardens, an outdoor pool and a spa with an indoor pool, plus attentive service that melts all your worries away. The hotel’s location is perfect for exploring all that Costa Brava has to offer. Set amongst the bucolic landscape of Emporda, it’s just a short ride to the medieval town of Girona, charming rural villages, scenic beaches and bustling seaside towns.
Your Favorite City - San Sebastian
It’s hard to deny the appeal of San Sebastian in Spain’s Basque Country. Small enough that you don’t get overwhelmed, but with a world-renowned food and bar scene that rivals any major city. The city is home to numerous Michelin-starred restaurants, but you’ll find the most incredible bites known as pintxos in bars all throughout the city. By day, I visit the market, relax on the beach in La Concha and swim in the bay, and admire the Belle Epoque architecture while shopping. At night, you’ll find me hopping from bar to bar, eating and drinking my way through exploring the narrow streets of the old town.
Your Favorite Experience - Douro River Boat Cruise
The Douro Valley is my favorite wine region in the world and my favorite way to experience all it has to offer is on a Douro River Boat Cruise, complete with wine tasting! The boat ride itself is an amazing experience with stunning views as you cruise along the winding river past steep, vine-covered hills. Add in the experience of tasting wine from one of the best local wineries and you have the perfect afternoon!
Ally's recommended trips
Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes, Split, Hvar, Dubrovnik10 NightsFrom $3,289 PPDiscover the highlights of Croatia, from walled medieval cities and gem-like islands to majestic waterfalls on this luxurious private tour.
Lisbon, Algarve, Seville, Madrid12 NightsFrom $5,597 PPDiscover the rich history, culture, and magnificent scenery of Portugal and Spain on this unforgettable 12-night adventure.
Madrid, Seville, Granada, Barcelona10 NightsFrom $4,555 PPAn unforgettable adventure through Spain’s most popular cities with Seville, known for its rich culture, Granada, and Barcelona's Gothic Quarter.
Barcelona, Basque Country, Rioja8 NightsFrom $3,992 PPDiscover the best of northern Spain through a variety of cultural attractions, outdoor adventures, and gastronomic experiences.
Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes, Split10 NightsFrom $3,023 PPThis enchanting 10-nights land and cruise tour explores Zagreb and Plitvice Lakes National Park before sailing from Split to Dubrovnik.
Lisbon, Porto, Douro Valley8 NightsFrom $3,798 PPEverything from vibrant cities with magnificent cathedrals to famous wine country like the Douro Valley, known for its port dessert wine.
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