Meet the Makers
Watch the masters at work and snag a standout souvenir
on your next getaway
By Kathryn E. Worrall
Authenticity sometimes is hard to prove. One way to ensure you aren't perusing mass-produced items is to look for artisans who make their goods on-site.
When I spent a summer studying in Florence, Italy, I visited Carlo Cecchi di Guiliano Ricchi, a tucked-away workshop and store. It's located in the Piazza Santo Spirito; ring the bell of number 12 and Ricchi himself is likely to let you in.
Speaking little English, Ricchi is warm and welcoming when demonstrating how machines operate and showing his current works in progress. Using Old World techniques, Ricchi meticulously crafts jewelry, figurines and more from gold, silver and enamel. His high-quality pieces are sold around the world and often commissioned for luxury brands like Christian Dior and Gucci. The connecting shop offers reasonably priced items, and I cherish my silver-plated jewelry box.
Discover this Florentine artisan -- who began his work here in 1962 at the age of 15 -- with a stay in Firenze. The Hotel degli Orafi is just a 10-minute walk across the Ponte Vecchio from the piazza.
Read on for nine other must-have mementos and the tours, resorts and cruises that will lead you to them.
In 1780, John Jameson concocted the first batch of his namesake Irish whiskey in a Dublin distillery. The company relocated to County Cork in 1975, and today its Old Midleton location produces every drop of Jameson served around the world.
Jameson, made with barley and fresh water, is distilled three times and aged in seasoned oak barrels. To earn the distinction of Irish whiskey, barrels must mature for three years on the Emerald Isle. The Dungourney River flows through the distillery and serves as its water source -- a fitting touch, given that the word whiskey comes from an Irish phrase meaning "water of life." Learn more on the Jameson Distillery Experience Tour, capped off with a tasting of three whiskeys.
The outing is wrapped into the "Cork City and Whiskey Tour" shore excursion, available on a Sept. 26 expedition with Silversea Cruises. This 15-night trans-Atlantic journey embarks in London and concludes in New York, with stops in southern England, Ireland, the Canadian Maritimes, the French overseas territory of St. Pierre and Boston before making a scenic transit of the Cape Cod Canal. The culinary-themed cruise includes onboard cooking demos and workshops, with prices from $7,100.
TASTE OF ITALY
Insight Vacations' 16-day "Country Roads of Italy" hits tourist hot spots like Rome, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast as well as lesser-known locales. Plenty of foodie favorites await -- Chianti in Tuscany, gelato in San Gimignano -- but Day 13 packs a particularly palatable punch.
Modena is known for its traditional balsamic vinegar, crafted from grapes and aged into wine vinegar. On your tour, attend a master class on production and try some samples to understand why this exclusive product can be as pricy as fine wines.
Next up: Parma. Home of cooking schools, a pasta company and more, the city also boasts Ciaolatte, an organic farm that produces Parmigiano-Reggiano. Discover the cheese-making process, from cow's milk to the wheel, and sample the cheese paired with a glass of wine.
Other authentic experiences include Venetian glass blowing and tasting Lucca's sweet bread, buccellato. This vacation is available through October from $4,895.
It is believed that the Mayans created the first cigar sometime before the 10th century. Hundreds of years later, Christopher Columbus and his band of explorers found indigenous people of the Caribbean smoking bundles of wrapped tobacco leaves. The modern name comes from those two early adopters: the Spanish cigarro is likely an adaption of the Mayan term, sikar.
Once forbidden for U.S. citizens, Cuba's most prized export is accessible once again. Royal Caribbean International offers the five-hour "Havana's Aromas," an outing that provides a peek into the tobacco industry with a tabaquero-led tour. Walking around a factory floor, you learn about the work of growing, harvesting and processing the plant. Enjoy a selection of cigars along with coffee and rum before strolling the harborside Almacenes San Jose market.
Promising the "pure essence" of Havana, the shore excursion is available on a selection of four-night Caribbean cruises out of Fort Lauderdale, FL. Prices start at $359 for a Sept. 21 departure.
The first cowboy hat, created in the 1860s by John B. Stetson, sold for $5 -- about $75 in today's currency. While the hat's materials and style have changed little over the years, most companies (including Stetson's namesake) now produce them by machine.
That's not the case with Jackson Hole Hat Co. Since 1983, the Wyoming shop has crafted customizable hats by hand, spending around three days on each one. Buyers design every element, from the felt color (available in shades like whiskey and pecan); the fur (rabbit, beaver or a blend); and the brim style, with options to add a rattlesnake or horsehair hatband. The company's website notes these hats are made by real cowboys and cowgirls, so expect expert tips and craftsmanship. Prices run from around $300 to more than $1,000.
Now that you look the part, embrace cowboy country with a stay at Spring Creek Ranch, a luxury resort offering horseback riding and summer rodeos just north of Jackson, WY.
There are conflicting stories of its origin, but one legend claims that vodka was invented by a Moscow monk. Through the centuries, it's had a rocky relationship with Russia -- the state once regulated and profited from sales but implemented prohibition with the outbreak of WWI and the revolution that followed. Today, it's the national drink of Russia and typically served straight.
In St. Petersburg, guests of Princess Cruises' "Bon Appetit Recommended: Roots of Russia" excursion sample several vodkas and partake in a cooking class to create another Russian classic, pelmeni. Similar to Poland's pierogi or a Chinese wonton, pelmeni are dumplings stuffed with minced meat, typically pork or fish. Chef Fedorov Alexey, graduate of a prestigious St. Petersburg culinary school, leads a hands-on demonstration of preparing the comfort food.
Multiple Baltic cruises spend time in St. Petersburg, with prices from $1,799 for an Aug. 28 departure from Copenhagen, Denmark.
Along with windmills and tulips, klompen are a famed symbol of Holland. Dating to the 13th century, wooden clogs are crafted from a single piece of wood; practical, affordable and water-resistant, they became a staple for agricultural workers. While they aren't spotted on city dwellers today, some farmers and gardeners still use them.
During a port call in Amsterdam, Disney Cruise Line offers a chance to design your own souvenir during "Volendam and Wooden Shoe Workshop." The excursion visits a shoemaker's shop in the fishing village of Volendam after some sightseeing and a Dutch-style lunch. The shoemaker breaks down crafting and decorating techniques, and then guests can customize their own clog to take home.
The eight-hour excursion is suitable for ages 5 and older. A seven-night sailing of Northern Europe aboard the recently renovated Disney Magic stops in Amsterdam on its way to and from Dover, a port serving London. Prices start at $2,438 for this Aug. 18 departure.
For a smorgasbord of handmade crafts, consider AmaWaterways' "Riches of the Mekong" through Cambodia and Vietnam. This eight-day cruise of the Mekong River starts and ends in major cities, but guests also visit rural villages with unique customs and techniques to share.
In Koh Chen, Cambodia, copper and silver metalsmiths engrave delicate patterns onto vases, jewelry and more. In Vietnam, walk among weavers at their looms in Tan Chau, famed for its black-dyed silk, and peruse reasonably priced scarves and ao dais (tunics). In the Vietnamese town of Cai Be, you can watch locals make rice paper and coconut candies.
Consider a pre- or post-cruise extension in Siem Reap, Cambodia, for spots like Made in Cambodia Market, a supporter of local artists, and Siem Reap Food Tours, for hole-in-the-wall eats, traditional food markets and a visit to a rice noodle farm in the countryside.
"Riches of the Mekong" is priced from $2,299 and runs August through April.
In the 1800s, the sailors and fishermen of Saba, a small volcanic isle in the Lesser Antilles, spent much of their time at sea. In their absence, the Island of Women became self-reliant as it produced various cloth items, most notably lace, after a resident learned needlecraft while visiting a Venezuelan convent.
One of Saba's most popular exports, this intricate art is available at a few shops: The Saba Lace Boutique in Zion's Hill has the largest collection, while the Saba Artisans Foundation in The Bottom offers lace and other locally produced goods, including spices. Women often gather at the Foundation or the Eugenius Johnson Center in the town of Windwardside for visitors who would like to see crafters at work.
Thanks to its small-scale ships, SeaDream Yacht Club can reach exclusive Caribbean destinations like Saba. An assortment of cruises offered this November and December also visit white-sand spots like St. Barts and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Prices begin at $2,999 for the Nov. 2 departure.
In French Polynesia, prized pearls are cultivated from black-lipped oysters. But calling the Tahitian pearl "black" is a bit of an exaggeration -- true black pearls are very rare, with most having a charcoal, silver or gray hue.
On Windstar Cruises' "Raiatea, Concierge Collection: Harvest Your Own Pearl" excursion, prepare to pluck your own. After boating to an over-the-water pearl farm near Raiatea, Tahiti's sister in the Society Islands, snorkel through cobalt waters past coral systems before diving down to choose an oyster. The pros will explain the process of harvesting to participants.
The three-hour excursion allows time to shop for jewelry and other pearl products. Weeklong cruises through French Polynesia run through January with prices from $2,399 for an Aug. 15 departure.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Summer 2019. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 680-2858 for current rates and details.