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Seeing Iceland’s epic landscape from the Ring Road. Sipping wine at a centuries-old French vineyard. Exploring ancient Roman ruins on an Italian island. If adventures like these dance in your head and have you blowing the dust off your passport, you’re not alone: AAA Travel Advisors are seeing an increased appetite for international travel for 2022 and beyond. If you, too, are eyeing distant shores, here are some ideas to help you imagine where and how to go.

Seaside Sublime: Italy

Hugged by water on three sides, Italy has more than 4,700 miles of coastline and some of the world’s most breathtaking coastal vistas: colorful villages perched on rocky cliffs or curved around quiet harbors, islands dotted with relics of civilizations past, cities brimming with art and architecture. Among the most awe-inspiring stretches is the 34-mile-long Amalfi Coast, dotted with sheer 500-foot-tall cliffs and picturesque towns such as Positano, which spills down to a yacht-dotted harbor, and Ravello, a hilltop hamlet with endless views over the sparkling Tyrrhenian Sea. For more Italian charm, the romantic canals of Venice await, while islands such as Sicily and Capri beckon with ancient ports and artisan shops.

How to go: One way to enjoy Italy’s la dolce vita is from the convenience, comfort and vantage point of a cruise ship. A cruise makes itinerary planning simple, gives you views unattainable by land and leaves plenty of time off-ship to satisfy your urge for adventure. And who can resist the luxury of only having to unpack once? If you’re craving more time on land, guided tours help you reach off-the-beaten path experiences, with local guides and drivers to navigate for you.

Northern Wonderland: Iceland

The “land of ice and fire” is an almost otherworldly natural wonderland, a place where majestic waterfalls tumble from on high and ghostly green lights dance against the night sky. You can stroll black-sand beaches, clamber across lava fields or explore electric blue ice caves. Nature’s beauty and power are on endless display as Iceland froths and flames—that’s thanks to its geothermal activity and volcanic landscape of about 130 volcanoes, active and inactive. The former is a source of endless fascination and fun: In the morning, you can bathe in a geothermal hot spring, and then visit a bakery run on geothermal power—and literally savor the way a small town harnesses its natural resources. (About 65% of Iceland’s energy comes from geothermal sources.) And when it comes to COVID-19 safety, Iceland is one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, according to the World Health Organization.

How to go: With so much to see and do, you may want to focus your energies on exploring. And with many of Iceland’s gems, such as the Ring Road and the Golden Triangle, requiring a drive, a good solution is to take a small group tour led by an Icelandic guide. The planning and navigating are taken care of for you, and you get to enjoy the insights and expertise of a local. What’s more, English is spoken by nearly all Icelanders, so your communication will be seamless.

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Roads Less Traveled: Ireland

For quiet back roads and rural byways, Ireland is uniquely satisfying. The island nation has its showy headliners, to be sure: the Cliffs of Moher on the west coast and the Book of Kells at Trinity College in the east; the Neolithic megatomb known as Newgrange (which is older than the Egyptian pyramids) and the Star Wars-famous Skellig Islands. What’s more, cities like Dublin, Cork and Galway offer up an eclectic blend of new and old (think nouvelle cuisine restaurants alongside shops selling penny candy). But many find the essence of Ireland lives along its country lanes, in places bearing names as poetic as the landscape: Inishbeg, Skibbereen, the Great Blasket Island. Here, lambs bleat in the breeze near stone walls that have stood for centuries. And no one, by the way, is too busy to chat with a stranger. Thanks to Ireland’s excellent education system and a centuries-old storytelling tradition, the Irish are some of the world’s best raconteurs, and you’ll find that the spontaneous encounter—a conversation with a farmer in the pub, or the woman who invites you home for tea when you ask for directions—becomes as treasured a part of your trip as anything you’d set in your itinerary.

How to go: Nearly every drive’s a scenic one in Ireland, and customized driving tours are a great way to see much of the countryside. Your AAA Travel Advisor—through their connection with the Ireland experts at trusted AAA tour partners—can help you plan a driving trip that takes you to little-known treasures and suits your interests and budget. There are a wide range of trip options, from driving yourself to going with a private chauffeur (it’s more affordable than you think).

Peaceful Pleasures: France

Looking for a fresh take on Europe’s grande dame of culture and cuisine? Then turn your attention to an unsung treasure: France’s network of crisscrossing rivers and canals, which run like arteries through the heart of the country. Paris itself rises along the banks of the Seine, which acts as a historical dividing line between the capital’s elegant and bohemian halves. The rivers Garonne, Dordogne and Saone meander through the wine regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, with their iconic chateaus and estates, lush vineyards, and delicious tastings. Another iconic waterway, the Rhone, delivers visitors through the peaceful landscape of Provence, where artists have been painting since prehistoric times and which Cezanne and Van Gogh immortalized in masterpieces.

How to go: On a river cruise, you’ll find the journey’s half the pleasure. As you slowly drift along, you can take in the scenery while relaxing on your cabin’s balcony, or from a higher vantage point on the rooftop deck. You’ll head onto land once or twice a day for memorable excursions, such as sipping vintages at a wine estate or pedaling through the countryside to a magnificent chateau. The ships’ small number of passengers—typically 120 to 200—and wellness amenities like gyms and whirlpools make relaxing tres facile.

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This story was featured in the
January/February 2022 issue of AAALiving Magazine

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