From Welsh Sunsets to Sicilian Recipes — Our Guides Offer a (Virtual) Taste of Europe

As we wait for travel to open up again, our European tour guides are finding creative ways to share their passion for teaching. We’re highlighting these opportunities — many of them free — on our Guides’ Marketplace, a little “market square” that connects homebound travelers with our team of talented guides. Each week we’re highlighting the delicious variety of cultural fun, storytelling, and other forms of travel inspiration available from our guides. Our goal: to connect travelers with tour guides who are bursting with energy and eager to share, even if those experiences are just virtual for now.

Mark Seymour runs tours in the United Kingdom and writes stories of British life on his blog, Seymour Travels. Mark often shares magical travel moments as well, such as this one from North Wales:

“Sometimes as a tour guide, you can make something magical happen. On a beautiful evening, several years ago, I climbed the mountains overlooking the Menai Straits of North Wales, with a man who has become a good friend, since then. His name is Gareth Wyn Jones, a local farmer with an intense passion for his lifestyle and his land. He wanted to show me (and my tour members) the wild horses that roam freely in the mountains That was an intense moment. But then we drove up to the cliffs and it occurred to me that we needed a song, and what better song than the Welsh national anthem. I didn’t know the words and I can’t sing, but knowing that every Welshman who was ever born has a magnificent voice, I encouraged Gareth to sing out loud…he did! And the reason why I fell in love with Wales was created.

“Over the years, I’ve stayed in contact with Gareth, his wife Rhiann and their family. I even take Rick Steves groups up there for a barbecue and a sheepdog exhibition, but for me the enjoyment comes when he and I or a couple of other friends take off over the hills with a bottle of Penderyn and enjoy the spectacular views as the sun sets.

“I’m very privileged to be a guide, and I love every minute of it, but these magical moments are the fuel that keeps me going and the fire that keeps me burning.”

Heading south across the English Channel, we rendezvous with two France guides — Véronique Savoye and Arnaud Servignat — in Cergy, less than an hour north of Paris by train.

Before returning to Europe in 2019, Véronique (or Véro for short) spent many years in the United States, calling Seattle home. She now lives in Paris, and her blog, French Girl in Seattle (Takes France), shares fun stories of getting reacquainted with life in her native France. Recently, Véro described her visit with friend and fellow Rick Steves tour guide, Arnaud, in his hometown of Cergy on the river Oise:

“When you have been confined in 265 square feet with no social interaction for several months, you want that first weekend out of town to be a special one. I was lucky: More than 100 days after my last adventure (a birthday celebration in Bourges), I headed out to meet a friend north of Paris. Better yet, that friend lives on a houseboat.

“Cergy is a town that ranges from ultra-modern architecture and grands ensembles (large developments) to the quaint and peaceful village and port de Cergy, the harbor where Arnaud’s boat is docked.

“Arnaud and I rode bikes around the Cergy-Pontoise Ile de Loisirs. From water sports to picnic areas, an accrobranche (tree climbing) course, miles of scenic trails along local ponds or the Oise river, there’s plenty there to keep locals entertained in the great outdoors.

“When I was on my own, I loved exploring Cergy-Village. There, I had another one of my ‘I-am-back-in-France’ moments: The main square is named ‘Place de la République.’ The Café-Tabac faces the memorial honoring locals fallen during WWI. Nearby, Saint Christophe church and its magnificent Renaissance gate greeted me on my way to the local boulangerie. Peaceful streets are lined with former farms, village houses or more affluent homes telling stories of a (not so) recent past.”

When Arnaud isn’t skippering his wooden houseboat, the Actarus, he leads Rick Steves tours in France and offers accommodations and customized cruises. This summer, Véronique continues to share her love of France and documents her travels in Western France daily in social media while teaching French online from the road.

Rick Steves tour guide and Stockholm native, Åsa Danielsson, is not in France…though from this photo, you might think she was:

“Lavender fields somewhere in Provence, France?” Åsa asks readers of Åwesome Travels with Åsa on Facebook.

“Nope, by the ruins of Alvastra abbey, founded 900 years ago when the Swedes had recently turned away from the old Norse gods to become Catholic. Saint Birgitta (Bridget), Patron Saint of Europe and Sweden’s only approved saint, received many of her visions here in the middle of the 1300s. Two centuries later the abbey was closed when the reformation came in 1527, and Sweden became the first Protestant Lutheran country in the world. A beautiful and evocative place!”

Åsa leads Rick Steves Scandinavia tours and offers trip-planning services for Sweden and throughout Scandinavia. She shares local insights as well as an inviting gallery of photos on her website, Åwesome Travels.

From Europe’s far north to its far south — just beyond the toe of Italy’s boot — we meet Tomasso Pante. Tommaso leads Rick Steves Sicily tours and offers accommodations, trip planning, and genealogy research services in Sicily. He’s also found a way to give homebound travelers a taste of Italy, by sharing some traditional Sicilian recipes from his “Mamma Pina”:

“Three thousand years, three thousand delights — Sicily is an island of great allure, fertile and sun-drenched in the heart of the Mediterranean. The island possesses all the colors in God’s creation: from the green of the coast, to the yellow of the countryside, to the blue of the sea, to the black of the lava and obsidian. Its history speaks the languages of the Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, and Italians who came here, willingly and not. They were brought by wars, shipwrecks, commerce, or a desire for knowledge, and all gave their colors and flavors to the cuisine.

“I have the honor of introducing Real Sicilian Cuisine with these delicious and simple recipes, with easy-to-find ingredients. All of these recipes are from the kitchen of Mamma Pina, my mother. Surely you know that we Sicilian men never cook because our mothers always cook delicious food for us (and also for our sisters, those modern young women). Yes, we are spoiled!”

On Tomasso’s website, you can explore recipes for all sorts of Sicilian dishes. Arancini (deep-fried rice balls), anyone?

Some of our guides are doing video blogs. For example, Pål Bjarne Johansen, Scandinavia guide and blogger, creates videos featuring his life and travels in Norway. After a month-long sailing trip in Scandinavia, from Norway to Sweden to Denmark and back again, Pål created this short and sweet montage:

Spain-based blogger Margaret Monnier recently shared this visit to small-town Portugal:

And in Bulgaria, Stefan Bozadzhiev guides you through the many layers of the historic Boyana church, on the outskirts of Sofia:

I know that many of our travelers care as deeply about our guides, as we do. We are friends. And supporting them in their creative business ventures during this crisis, as we await the day we can all travel again, is a wonderful way for friends to help friends. That’s what our Guides’ Marketplace is all about.

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