Travel expert Jenn Schutte tells us where to go and what to see across the pond.
“Travel is in my blood,” Jenn Schutte says. With a father who owned a travel agency and a mother who grew up in Europe, Schutte recalls an upbringing that was imbued with a sense of respect and wonderment toward the multicultural world we inhabit.
Schutte was less than a year old when she traveled to Europe for the first time, and her childhood was populated with frequent international jaunts.
“[Traveling] was naturally a part of our life,” she explained. “I was very lucky that it wasn’t a foreign concept or a scary thing.”
This love of globetrotting figures nicely into Schutte’s professional career. For the last 17 years, she has worked for Rick Steves’ Europe Through The Back Door — a company that sits at the forefront of the travel industry, thanks largely to its charismatic spokesman and his highly popular philosophy that foreign countries must be experienced to their fullest. Steves has become synonymous with sensible sightseeing — and Schutte effectively leads his support team.
Initially, Schutte was employed as a travel adviser for the company, offering helpful tips to tourists at the Rick Steves travel store. Six years later, she became manager of the store — a position she retains to this day. Her time is divided between managing one-on-one consultations with company clients and leading guided tours throughout the European subcontinent, though she claims her tenure at Rick Steves essentially makes her a jack-of-all-trades.
“I’m a generalist,” she says. “I know a lot about the company, since I’ve been here a long time.”
Naturally, when it came time to compile a comprehensive list of Europe’s top destinations, “Seattleite” turned to Schutte for a one-on-one consultation of our own. Some of her picks are widely-known, while others are well-kept secrets. All of them, she assured me, are worth a first-hand look.
Location: The Julian Alps in northwestern Slovenia.
Why it’s great: “Lake Bled is a stunning lake with a fairy tale island, housing a quaint church surrounded by the Julian Alps. To reach the church, one must climb 99 stairs. It’s tradition for the groom to carry his bride up all 99 stairs to ring the church bell. One can hike to the hilltop castle in town for a postcard view of the lake. This is an ideal hiking base or if you prefer wander along the peaceful path around the lake stopping to admire villas or viewing local artists at work. This is a place to relax or recharge.”
City of Galway (Cathair Na Gaillimhe)
Location: County Galway in the Republic of Ireland
Why it’s great: “Galway is a great day base to explore Western Ireland and experience the true Gaelic culture first hand. Galway is a lively college town, a mecca for good Irish music and a great jumping off point to visit the Aran Islands, Connemara, The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. A couple of my favorite places to see in the area would be the Kylemore Abbey and Ashford Castle. This is also the birthplace of the Claddagh ring.”
Location: The eastern flank of the Pyrenees Mountains in southern France.
Why it’s great: “Off the beaten path and accessible only by car, Roussillon is the Bryce Canyon of France. Roussillon is a wonderful hill town where one can melt into Southern France and lose themselves. It’s unspoiled and even better after dark when you can wander and be amazed by the red clay or the ochre.”
Location: The rugged coast of the Italian Riviera.
Why it’s great: “If I could only go to one place in Italy, it would be Cinque Terre, ‘the five lands.’ Just sun, sea, wine and relaxation. Enjoy hiking between the towns or take a scenic boat ride. This area is the birthplace of pesto and visitors must order pesto lasagna. Finish the night off with the traditional dessert wine called sciacchetra. Each town has its own feel but my favorite is Vernazza. In the evening locals fish off the pier. The square is crowded with tourists and locals enjoying the catch of the day. The Cinque Terre is five hilltowns built on a remote part of the Italian Riviera. It’s traffic free and not a museum in sight.”
Location: Southernmost region of mainland Portugal
Why it’s great: “The Algarve is a great alternative to overrun Costa del Sol. This warm and dry coast line stretches for miles offering sandy beach resorts, lagoons and rugged cliffs. For rest and relaxation, make Salema your Algarve hideaway. Salema is at the end of a small road off the main drag. It’s a simple fishing village with endless sun and beaches dotted with colorful fishing boats.”
Location: Eastern Anatolia in the Republic of Turkey.
Why it’s great: “Cappodocia’s landscape is unparallelled, due to the unique fairy chimneys that decorate the valley. There are hidden chapels carved into the rocks, frescoes and cave dwellings. Cappodocia looks like a moonscape and feels mystic. A wonderful place to take a hot air balloon ride, sleep in a cave or go for a hike.”
Location: The Bernese Oberland of Switzerland.
Why it’s great: “Gimmelwald is a slice of heaven on earth. This traffic-free Swiss hamlet is perched on a mountainside cliff above the Lauterbrunnen valley. Visiting Gimmelwald is stepping back in time; a place where there are more cows than mailboxes. Step outside in Gimmelwald and all you hear are cowbells, birds and babbling brooks. My favorite thing to do here is to step outside into the fresh Swiss air and sip a Heidi Cocoa, taking in the view of the Jungfrau.”
For more information on traveling Europe, please visit Rick Steves’ Europe Through The Back Door online or drop by the company’s Edmonds office.
Rick Steves’ Europe Through The Back Door | 130 4th Avenue N, Edmonds|(425) 771-8303