Inspired by The Cooking Cottage’s dreamy trips to Ireland, I took a semester off from college in fall 2008 and traveled to Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Ireland. Once the shock of all the dishwashing I had to do wore off, I had a wonderful time living amidst the farm and gardens and other food enthusiasts. When I wasn’t earning my keep cooking for and working at the local farmers market, I spent plenty of time in Darina Allen’s own kitchen and enjoyed many cooking classes at the world renowned school.

Here is Darina hosting a school group… no doubt telling them about the importance of local foods and cooking from scratch.


The views and drama of the Irish landscape are not easily forgotten. I loved exploring the coastlines, looking out at the Atlantic Ocean.


Kinsale is a charming coastal town. I remember strolling along the docks, full of bobbing sailboats. I also remember a delicious seafood lunch! Most of all, I remember the beautiful, colorful buildings.


The photo is a bit hazy but the memories are surprisingly clear. I hadn’t yet turned 21 when I traveled to Ireland so it was such a treat to be admitted and served (!) at the local pub. I drank my first hard cider at this friendly, cozy pub a couple miles from my apartment. If we’re lucky, there will be some live music while we’re there… but no matter what expect the perfect Irish pub atmosphere and friendly folks.


The produce in Ireland was gorgeous and I can’t wait to enjoy it again! Here is a photo of the produce boxes I used to pack up each week for lucky local subscribers.


And lastly… the herb garden at Ballymaloe. Absolutely legendary, the stuff of gardening dreams. I can’t wait to explore all of this again (and so much more), and hope you’ll join me! View the Enchanting Isle tour information and itinerary here.


It is the week of Julia Child’s birthday, the perfect moment to take a walk down memory lane. As those “in the know” are aware, Kat’s and my mother (Peggi) and grandmother (Winnie) kickstarted Onward Travel by offering culinary tours in Europe and the U.S. to their cooking school clientele. It should be no surprise that two ladies who operated a cooking school on their farm and hosted culinary tours in France (and beyond) throughout the nineties and early two thousands would harbor a love for Julia Child!

Julia Child, Peggi & Winnie in Philadelphia, 1993

Just as Peggi and Winnie’s love of food and travel inspired Kat and I, Julia Child inspired them. Julia taught cooking from a place of love and passion. She was not a formal expert or restaurant chef. She built her own business and translated complicated cooking to the masses. And she wrote really amazing recipes that Peggi and Winnie recreated at the Cooking Cottage in Sellersville, PA again and again. Fortunately, our mom and grandmother shared a love of this culinary icon with us.

These days, Julia Child’s home has new ownership and is a culinary-tourism destination. The previous owner, Kathy Alex, also hosted groups and in 1995 the Cooking Cottage headed to Provence to experience Julia’s home.  Here are two classic photos from that trip. Don’t worry, the “cooking with friends in France” aprons are still in regular rotation.

Longtime friend Jane & Peggi wearing Julia’s hats

The group at La Pitchoune.

France 1995 - at Julia Child's former house La Pitchoune (1)

This spring Onward Travel brought a group of AIGA members from across the United States to Iceland for Spring B’Reykjavik, our third annual design-focused trip centered around the Icelandic design festival called DesignMarch.

One of the highlights of this year’s trip was the afternoon we spent bopping around Reykjavik with designer Halfdan Pedersen. Halfdan studied film in Los Angeles and began his career in production design, which eventually transitioned into interior design. He has left his mark on Reykjavik in a serious way – it’s almost impossible to visit the city and not encounter his work.

Afternoon light at Snaps

Afternoon light at Snaps // Photo courtesy Brea Heth

Halfdan has designed many of the best restaurants in Iceland’s capital, including Dill and Snaps, as well as its trendiest place to sleep – Kex Hostel – and coolest places to hang out, such as Loftið and Mikkeller & Friends.

The bar at Mikkeller and Friends

The bar at Mikkeller and Friends // Photo courtesy Brea Heth

Of course Dani, as he prefers to be called, has also designed the interiors of the Reykjavik’s outposts of one of the country’s most iconic brands, Geysir:

Old mattress springs serve a new function at Geysir

Old mattress springs serve a new function: displaying woolen socks at Geysir // Photo courtesy Brea Heth

A rustic feeling in the Geysir store // Photo courtesy Brea Heth

A rustic feeling in the Geysir store // Photo courtesy Brea Heth

During our afternoon with him, Dani led us around Reykjavik, having made special arrangements for the restaurants and bars (not yet open for the evening hours) to serve us drinks and snacks as we learned about his process while enjoying and experiencing the amazing spaces he has created in his country’s vibrant capital city.

An extremely kind and clearly brilliant designer with a great eye for detail and real skill working with salvaged and reclaimable materials, Halfdan Pedersen may not admit it but there is no question that his work is playing a major role in defining 21st century Scandinavian design. As some of the brands he works for go international, so will his aesthetic – currently Dani is at work on projects in Portland, OR and Tokyo.  Lucky cities! Halfdan Pedersen is a designer to watch and we can’t wait to see what he does next. Thank you for a truly special and once in a lifetime experience, Dani!

A gorgeous afternoon in Reykjavik with Halfdan Pedersen // Photo courtesy Brea Heth

A gorgeous afternoon in Reykjavik with Halfdan Pedersen // Photo courtesy Brea Heth


At Loftid, a former tailor's shop has become one of Iceland's hottest nightlife destinations // Photo courtesy Brea Heth

At Loftið, a former tailor’s shop has become one of Iceland’s hottest nightlife destinations // Photo courtesy Brea Heth


The dining room at Dill, the restaurant by celebrity chef Gunnar Karl Gislason // Photo courtesy Brea Heth

The dining room at Dill, the restaurant by celebrity chef Gunnar Karl Gislason // Photo courtesy Brea Heth


AIGA members pose for a picture with Halfdan // Photo courtesy Brea Heth

Our Onward Travel group poses for a picture with Halfdan at Loftið // Photo courtesy Erika Enlund

In October we travelled to Tuscany for two back-to-back tours with Chef Jenna of Amore Trattoria in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We visited charming Tuscan villages: Cortona, Greve in Chianti, Montalcino, Bagno Vignoni, Siena… and savored the absolutely picturesque countryside that characterizes the region. They say the light in Tuscany is unlike any other place in the world. They’re right. The purple sunsets, the olive trees heavy with fruit, the Cyprus trees…. absolutely intoxicating. Or was it the Chianti?

Highlights from Amore in Italy 2015 ~ Tuscany:

The olive oil.
We were in Tuscany just as the olives were ready for pressing. And 2014 was a crummy year for olives (due to a warm winter) so locals were dying to get that bright green gorgeousness back in their kitchens. It was wonderful tasting a variety of different oils and equally wonderful sharing in the joy and enthusiasm that locals exuded. (And thank goodness I still have two bottles in my cabinet.) We even visited a press in Cortona, on one of the first days they were pressing for the season, and Chef Jenna translated the process and history of this business.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 4.09.21 PM

A charming cheesemaker in the hills. We visited the homestead of Federico Bagnoli, a cheese maker in a mountaintop village whose secret lies in the pure farmland his cows freely graze and his dedication to quality. He set up a table in the olive grove, talked about making cheese, and cut wheel after wheel of absolutely gorgeous cheese for us to sample.


Attending Sagra del Tordo in Montalcino! This is Montalcino’s most important annual festival and it includes food, dance, and celebration. The city is divided into four corners and the residents spend the weekend competing, on food, archery, traditional dance, and falconry. There is lots of parading and revelry. We spent two sunny days enjoying the festival. We dined at the open air food stands with a view of the valley (all four corners did great in our opinion!), attended a feast clad with bandanas supporting the city quadrant where we were based for our stay in Montalcino, watched the nail-biting archery competition, and watched the parades and dancers with joy. Those costumes!

The highlight was absolutely the food tents. Each city quadrant had their own set of tents with local specialties (hand-rolled pici pasta with ragu, giant grilled porcini mushrooms, polenta, chocolate salami (made with dark chocolate, cookies, and wine)… and so much more! We shared at least one of everything and the well-stocked wine tents made sure we had the terrific local Brunello di Montalicno to wash it down.

Top Left: A drummer in the parade, Jenna with a tray of food at the food tents, flags decorated each city quadrant. Bottom left: Molly and Jenna with their quadrant's scarves at the evening feast, a man working the wine tent, locals grilling porcini mushrooms.

Top Left: A drummer in the parade, Jenna with a tray of food at the food tents, flags decorated each city quadrant.
Bottom left: Molly and Jenna with their quadrant’s scarves at the evening feast, a man working the wine tent, locals grilling porcini mushrooms.

Cooking & eating together. We love including cooking classes on most of our tours. In addition to picking up new recipes and enjoying a fabulous meal, we get to chat with instructors about their home.  Spending a day in Chef Alessandra’s kitchen in Cortona was wonderful. Here is Chef Alessandra’s Tiramisu Recipe (delizioso!!) ~ enjoy!


And the views! Oh, the views! We enjoyed this view from Cortona at a private home we rented, owned by a Prada fashion designer. Unique accommodations always help us experience the essence and flavor of the local area.


Check out this Facebook album for photos of our time in Tuscany.

We’re excited for more culinary adventuring with Chef Jenna this fall in Sicily. View tour details here; at the time of writing there are a few spots left.  Amore in Italy ~ Sicily promises to be another tour full of unique experiences, great wine, hilarious moments, and stunning scenery. Our October 2016 Tuscany tour is sold out but we’re considering going again in 2017. Interested in joining us? Let us know!

A few days after getting from home Spring B’Reykjavik, our design-tour of Iceland with AIGA, I re-packed my suitcase and headed to Cornell University for a long weekend. Every year, the Cornell Hotel School hosts Hotel Ezra Cornell, a weekend long conference where students take over the school, invite industry leaders to speak about a range of topics, and spend hours on end in the kitchen creating fabulous food.

It was my first HEC since graduating from the Hotel School in 2010, but I will be a regular from now on! I want to share some highlights from the weekend. But first, a throwback.

Dean Johnson, Peggi, Molly, and Herb in 2010, at the HEC gala a few months before Molly’s graduation.

Molly in the culinary lab fall semester freshman year, 2006!

Highlights from HEC 91, March 2016

  • Keeping Up with the New Consumer Panel

  • This was my favorite panel and it featured industry leaders from AirBnB, Flatbook, Hilton Hotels, Expedia, and Capella Hotel Group. It is an interesting time for the major hotel companies as consumers are booking directly with hotels at a decreasing rate, and more and more the sharing economy is catching on, with travelers booking with Airbnb, VRBO, Flatbook, or others.
  • Interesting, what all the folks on the panel cited, is that above all else the “new consumer” is craving authentic experiences. They are sophisticated and want to be treated as individuals. They want to experience the place they travel to. They want to wake up and know they are in Tokyo or Paris or Hungary. They desire unique opportunities and discovery. They want transformative experiences – not just a clean, comfortable hotel room.
  • Horst Schulze, hotel industry legend, current chairman and CEO of Capella Hotel Group, former president and COO of the Ritz-Carlton Group who coined the motto “We are Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen”
  • Schulze gave a dynamic hourlong presentation about the soul of luxury travel. He defined good, effective hospitality as offering a product or service defect free, in a timely manner, and with kindness. The kindness doesn’t have to be difficult but it is where we so often go wrong. In the hotel world, kindness differentiates hospitality from simply a sleep commodity. It is not the function that is essential, it is the soul provided by human beings.
  • Trends in the Food & Beverage Panel
  • Kat and I love to know the latest and greatest in F&B so can create terrific dining experiences for our travelers. When it comes to current F&B industry trends, I got a terrific primer from restauranteurs Drew Nieporent ’77 of Tribeca Grill and Nobu fame, Abby Murtagh ’92 who recently opened La Chine at the Waldorf Astoria in NY, and Jeff Zalaznick ’05 of NY’s taste-making restaurant group, Major Food Group.
  • Marty Weintraub, founder of aimClear®.
    Weintraub gave an absolutely fabulous crash course in psychographic targeting. He broke down the steps involved in leveraging Facebook’s Ad Manager tools to focus marketing and advertising efforts and sell to consumers using data collected about their lifestyle, habits, hobbies, and values. I found it so interesting to learn about this new and evolving area of digital marketing.

In addition to the program mentioned above (see the full schedule here), reconnecting with old friends, meeting dozens of Hotelies, and enjoying wonderful food and wine was all terrific.

Handmade pasta and Maine lobster tail paired with a Viognier from Napa Valley.

Molly with Hotel School Class of 2010 friends!

I look forward to #HEC92 and in the meantime, here at Onward Travel we’ll continue creating those unique and authentic and transformative experiences that travelers love.