A Trafalgar Travel Director tells us the best way to see this great continent
Want to dive into European culture, food and hidden gems that only the locals or a lucky few travellers get to experience? Then there’s one person you must meet, and that’s a Trafalgar Travel Director. We managed to catch up with Bernadette Willis, a 47-year-old Trafalgar Travel Director, just before she hit the road again on a European Splendour Discovery trip, to talk about all things travel in Europe.
How did your journey with Trafalgar begin?
“I am originally from a coastal town in Australia and came to Europe on a two-year working visa in 1996. Some friends saw a job ad for what was then called a ‘Tour Manager’ for our sister company Contiki. I went to the interview, a bit hesitantly, to be honest, but by the end of the induction day, I knew that this was the job for me.
“A few years back I thought I should ‘grow up and get a real job’, but I’ve been here ever since. While this isn’t a ‘normal job’ it definitely is a ‘real job’. And for me, it’s the best job in the world. I took my first trip with Trafalgar in 2005, a Discovery trip, and have since travelled through 63 countries.”
What is a Discovery trip?
“Trafalgar has different trip styles. Trafalgar’s Discovery trips allow you to explore several countries at a faster pace and are ideal for discovering a continent such as Europe or North America. Everything is taken care of, and they include a mix of iconic sights, hidden treasures and exclusive to Trafalgar insider experiences.
“I have been running Discovery trips since 2005, and I love them. They are so well designed to ensure our guests can travel with ease while discovering all the must-see destinations of Europe. The Be My Guest initiative (celebrating its ten-year anniversary this year, guests meet and dine with a local family in their home) allows guests to make real connections. Trafalgar also ensures guests are in the right place at the right time – we either have priority entry into many popular sightseeing attractions or the itineraries are tailored so that we arrive before everyone else.”
Why choose a Discovery trip?
“It is hard to imagine that each country in Europe can be so different. By simply crossing over a river or through a mountain pass, you arrive in a completely different country with its own language/dialect, food, drink, architecture and culture. It is wonderful, and what better way to realise this than by visiting multiple countries on just one holiday?”
Do you have a favourite Discovery itinerary?
“If I had to choose, I do particularly love our European Wonderland trip, which is one of our Family Experiences trips. It is just like our European Splendours itinerary but every day has been tailored towards family fun. Kids get to make their own pizza in Rome, paint their own Carnival mask in Venice and so on. So many new friendships are made and – best of all – the adults can relax and enjoy a glass of wine at dinner knowing that everything is being taken care of.”
Can you let us in on your favourite hidden gems in Europe?
“The fabulous graffiti art in Florence that has now become part of the modern culture there. I love the traffic signs that have been stealthily altered by the French artist Clet Abraham. I always recommend my favourite gelato makers in Florence, ‘Gelateria dei Neri’. I do challenge guests to do their own ‘research’ by eating as much gelato as possible so that they can make an informed decision as to whether it really is the best. And it usually is.
“In Bologna, I always have the Local Specialist guide take a detour to the Anatomy Theatre at the University of Bologna, dating back to the 1600s. It’s just off the main square however our guests wouldn’t find it or perhaps realise just how worthy it is to visit – and it has so many interesting features that are hidden gems within a hidden gem!
“In Venice, there is an old German Merchants warehouse that has been converted into a high-end department store. It has been so well restored that wandering inside gives you the feeling of what the monumental buildings that line the Grand Canal used to be like. There is also the most incredible rooftop terrace that looks out over the Rialto Bridge. It provides one of the best photos of the city – and it’s free, but most people don’t even know it’s there. I love hearing the guests expressions of joy when you walk them out there to take in the view.”
What’s your favourite Be Me Guest foodie experience?
“It’s hard to choose as they are all unique but I am a sucker for a medieval castle with its own wine cellar, locally sourced and produced food, homemade olive oil and a story of betrayal that could have changed the course of history… so it has to be the Be My Guest visit to the 12th Century Castle of Trebbio in Tuscany, Italy.”
Favourite destination in Europe?
“Italy is a huge passion of mine for the food, art, architecture and culture, but just as incredible are the mountains and lakes of Switzerland or strolling through the streets of Paris or Vienna. That’s why I do Discovery trips; I don’t have to pick just one favourite!”
Least favourite destination?
“I really believe that there are no least favourite destinations. Travel is about understanding the uniqueness that every place has to offer and appreciating every new destination for its place in the world. While on rare occasions I might decide that I don’t necessarily have to go back to one place, I’m never disappointed that I went there in the first place.”
Can you share a favourite memory from a trip?
“From arranging marriage proposal moments to celebrating birthdays, I have just about had it all. Probably one of my most memorable moments was in Amsterdam at the end of a 30-day Discovery itinerary, where the group surprised me at our Farewell Dinner by having the ladies tease the front of their hair and the guys putting their napkins around their heads in an attempt to mirror my own hairstyle. The restaurant staff were all in on it and the laughter and joy (and a few tears) that were shared that night is the very reason I do this job. Those guests are still in contact with me and each other many years later.”
What’s the most common question asked by travellers?
“‘Which Trafalgar trip should I do next?’ of course!”
Top insider tip?
“Bring your own water bottle with you. As part of our Join Trafalgar program powered by The TreadRight Foundation, we are all looking at ways that we can ‘travel today and sustain tomorrow’. We are trying to reduce the number of single-use plastics when we travel (From April 2019, The Travel Corporation, the parent company of Trafalgar, announced it will no longer make plastic bottles available on any of its coaches across brands). Bringing your own water bottle is a really simple but very effective way to minimise our footprint in these iconic destinations.”
What’s next on your travel bucket list?
“I have only been to Argentina and Ecuador in South America, so I’m dying to explore that continent further. Finding the time these days is getting challenging, so I’m super excited that Trafalgar has created some amazing itineraries there in the last few years. They have their own Discovery style trips where you can cover as many countries as you want with the same ease as the Discoveries of Europe.”
You too can discover Europe with Trafalgar’s Discovery trips.