Hi from Rick: Hail to the Chefs!

Dear Traveler,

I've spent the past three weeks following my favorite route through Europe...on a bus...as a tour member. I'm sharing this experience with an impressive guide and driver team, plus the camaraderie of two dozen fellow travelers. I take one of our "Rick Steves tours" every year because I really enjoy it, and it vividly reminds me of the essential ingredients that create fun, authentic, and memorable travel encounters. Good travel should engage every one of your senses. And in Florence one evening, my group and I focused on taste.

To eat well in Italy, finding the right restaurant is key. I appreciate personality-driven restaurants, run by people who are enthusiastic about sharing their love of good cooking. For them, cuisine is like a religion — and it's the quality of the ingredients that's most sacred. Some dishes are only available during a short window of time, when local ingredients are at their tasty peak. Throughout our tours we eat what's seasonal, along with the regional specialties.

A big challenge when traveling with groups of 25 people is to find quality restaurants that enthusiastically welcome groups, and that don't feel like "tour bus restaurants." All along this Best of Europe tour route, we've accomplished exactly that. So it was only natural that in Florence we'd dine together at Ristorante Giglio Rosso.

The Tuscan cuisine that night was authentic, delicious, and obviously prepared with pride. That leads me to another ingredient for good travel: I always feel a real triumph when we connect Europeans who have a passion for their work and travelers who truly appreciate that passion. I never let an exceptional dining experience go by without inviting the hard-working chef and kitchen crew to come out for a round of applause and to take a bow. And our group enjoyed personally thanking them for a meal they'll remember fondly for all their lives.

In this month's Travel News we follow our passion for stoking your travel dreams, with articles on Europe's powerful artistic experiences, enjoying London and Paris with kids, my 10 favorite stops in Greece, and even the pleasures and quirks of European bathrooms. If you'd like to catch up on my latest touring experience (with lots of pictures and short videos), you can do that through my blog and Facebook page

Summer is here in Europe and the welcome is warm. I hope you can join me.

Happy travels,