By Carol Dimopoulos, President of Perillo’s Learning Journeys

Behind every great tour experience is a phenomenal product manager – these “Modern Day Explorers” scout undiscovered experiences in new, emerging destinations, rediscover what’s new in beloved places, and get to know the community with the single goal to design enriching itineraries for you to book.

How do these explorers find the most memorable, culturally rich experiences you ask? Well, in 2016, USTOA is taking you behind-the-scenes with a handful of these Modern Day Explorers to find out. Today Carol Dimopoulos of Perillo’s Learning Journeys reveals her experience in Malta. So, in her words… 

Perillo's Learning Journeys in Malta

Brilliant colors illuminate the night sky across Marsaxlokk, Malta. Bursts of reds and gold stream across the harbor where fishing boats recline. Locals and visitors alike line the streets, delighting in the centuries-old tradition of fireworks and festas.

Perillo's Learning Journeys in Malta

The Maltese know how to throw a party, and seem to have tapped into the secret of enjoying life to the fullest.  It is no wonder the Knights of St. John so fiercely protected this Mediterranean jewel.

I came to Malta as a USTOA Modern Day Explorer for Perillo’s Learning Journeys knowing only of Malta’s close geographic proximity to Sicily. With the help of the Malta Tourism Authority, what I discovered were endless possibilities to experience outstanding hospitality, a land that blends sea and sun, rich Mediterranean cuisine and warm people who welcome guests with open hearts.

My journey began aboard Alitalia through Rome. A picturesque 50-minute flight over the Sicilian coast to the International Airport in Valetta was followed by a 20-minute drive to the lovely coastal town of St. Julian’s. My host, Warren Zahra, highlighted historical details of this English-speaking country along the way.

At my hotel Le Meridien, a mosaic of the eye of Horus depicts the deep spirituality of this land. The joyful sounds of laughter blend with lively street music and float to my balcony perched above the city. The next seven days will be filled with the focus to develop new transformative experiences for travelers exploring wellness, community, history, culture and gastronomy.

Perillo's Learning Journeys in Malta

Wellness and Giving Back

Mind, body spirit is at the core of the history of Malta.

Some of the oldest Megalith temples are here, dating back more than 7,000 years.

Today, the choices are endless to reset the mind, body and spirit.  A sense of well-being permeates the Maltese islands. From small boutique-style hotels to private villa rentals and luxury resorts, a holistic lifestyle is amplified by yoga, wellness, spas, temple visits, festivals, healthy food and meditation.

The Kempinski in Gozo is a place to unwind and focus on transformation, boasting an authentic Ayuvedic Spa – the only one in Malta – and healing packages for seven days, or longer.

Yoga with Perillo's Learning Journeys in Malta

Tourism is a very powerful conduit for peace and “giving back” to local societies is at the core mission of Perillo’s Learning Journeys.   Our hands on social sustainability experiences in Malta:

Marigold Foundation

We had the honor to meet with the First Lady of Malta to learn of her Marigold Foundation, symbolizing how tourism can help grow awareness and contribute to society.  We presented her with a quilt from Purkal Village – a hand-stitched quilt which took 40 days to create – in an NGO project Learning Journeys works with in India.

Marigold Foundation with Perillo's Learning Journeys

Dreams of Horses Farm

A visit to Gozo provided a moving experience with Victor, an animal whisperer, and founder of Dreams of Horses Farm.

Victor’s intuitive gift with rescued animals taught us the methods animals use to communicate. With his guiding compassion and respect, the animals are integrated in large open air areas displaying tolerance for one another and exhibit a loving, therapeutic kindness in their work with people with special needs and the emotionally challenged.

Dreams of Horses Farm in Malta

Both community projects will be included in our Malta offerings.

History, Art and Culture

Valletta and Mdina

As Malta’s capital and a World Heritage site, the open-air museum that is Valetta provides a living experience of Baroque architecture, a monument donated by the Knights of St John nearly five centuries ago.  The equally stunning city of Mdina displays a colorful history behind its mighty bastion walls, where majestic palaces collaborate with beautiful cobblestone streets. Our hands on art and cultural experiences:

Connect 2 Gozo

We sailed through the beautiful Blue Lagoon in Comino en route to Gozo, where we visited with local artist Hermine Sammut and her school Connect 2 Gozo. Depicting the sustainable art of Malta, the artist uses local flowers from her fields to create paintings and provides learning experiences with her jewelry making and ceramics, creating pieces of original art that students take home.

Connect 2 Gozo in Malta

Charles and Ron

Setting the style trends in Malta are Charles and Ron, who create vivid designs that capture the essence of Malta for the world stage. Their shops in Valetta are simply a must-see (and I had the honor of wearing their works of art during my visit… be on the lookout in our Modern Day Explorers video!)

Charles and Ron in Malta

Food and Wine

One goal of the visit was to focus on the rich culinary traditions and learning experiences of Malta. Our hands on culinary experiences:

Perillo's Learning Journeys in Malta

Dar Il Bniet

In Dingli we enjoyed a wonderful lunch and culinary experience at Dar Il Bniet. The farm-to-table restaurant is owned by Dorianne, a young entrepreneur whose focus is where “taste meets tradition.” The traditional lunch uses products from her farm. Food as it should be, pure and fresh.

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Ricardo’s Farm

We learned about cheese-making at Ricardo’s Farm in Gozo, a farm-to-table culinary experience.

Ricardo's Farm in Malta

Ta’ Frenc

We were honored to have a cooking class with the legendary Chef Mario at Ta’ Frenc farm-to-table restaurant in Gozo. I was touched by Chef’s passion and dedication to culinary traditions, as well as his commitment to quality of experience over profit.

Ta’ Frenc in Malta

Corinthia Palace

We concluded our journey with Michelle Buttigieg from Malta Tourism and the team at the Corinthia Palace, where guests are treated like royalty.  We met with Executive Chef Stefan Hogan – who is committed to food sustainability and cutting edge trends – and enjoyed the company of our warm and most gracious hosts.

Malta is truly the unknown jewel of the Mediterranean and I can’t wait to share this journey with the world through Perillo’s Learning Journeys programs.  It truly is a country that must be seen to be believed.  Thank you USTOA and Tourism Malta for the opportunity.


Interested in learning more about Carol’s journey to Malta? Go behind-the-scenes with Carol this summer with our video series, A Modern Day Explorer’s Quest to Malta, launching this July.

 Ready to visit? Visit for details on traveling to Malta with Perillo’s Learning Journeys.

 Prof. Carol Dimopoulos is President of Learning Journeys powered by Perillo Tours where she brings her passion for learning and travel to transformative programs in global destinations in Europe, Latin and South America, Africa and India. A RYT-200 Yoga instructor with additional certifications in Yoga 4 Cancer (y4c) as well as a university professor who teaches sustainable leadership best practices in business management, she is also committed to wellness and servicing communities, and incorporates these principles in every journey.

By Louise A. Shumbris, Vice President, Product Development & Operations, Abercrombie & Kent USA

Behind every great tour experience is a phenomenal product manager – these “Modern Day Explorers” scout undiscovered experiences in new, emerging destinations, rediscover what’s new in beloved places, and get to know the community with the single goal to design enriching itineraries for you to book.

How do these explorers find the most memorable, culturally rich experiences you ask? Well, in 2016, USTOA is taking you behind-the-scenes with a handful of these Modern Day Explorers to find out. First up? Louise Shumbris of Abercrombie & Kent reveals her experience in the Philippines. So, in her words… 

Batangas Coastline, Manila

When considering new destinations for Abercrombie & Kent (A&K), I begin with an open mind and ask lots of questions. A lot of due diligence is required as well. While many places on earth might qualify as a potential Tailor Made destination, the requirements are different for an A&K luxury small group journey. We not only look at what’s hot and what’s emerging, we also verify the state of the infrastructure required to handle a group of 18 discerning travelers who tend to define acceptable service, quality and consistency by top American standards. Delivering luxury in unexpected places is an A&K hallmark that applies to everything from bedding to bathroom facilities, as well as to opportunities for insider access and exclusive activities, such as our Ride Like a Local, Chef’s Table and Scenic Sundowner experiences.

Lagoon, El Nido

The Philippines had been popping up on A&K’s new destination radar for a number of reasons, but a turning point was a compelling presentation given by the Philippines Tourism Bureau at the most recent USTOA Annual Conference. I was intrigued to learn that the Philippines had achieved economic stability, and I was reminded of the country’s strong cultural ties to the United States. The islands became a U.S. possession following the Spanish-American War, and Filipino and American troops fought side by side in World War II. What’s more, English is one of the two main languages spoken in this predominantly Catholic country, so there is a relatively high degree of cultural familiarity between visitors and locals.

Street Scene, Manila

So armed with months of research, maps, and local contacts I departed for the Philippines — to evaluate whether it should become a new destination for a luxury small group journey from Abercrombie & Kent. And though I appreciate the importance of advance research, as a passionate, lifelong traveler myself, I also know the value of luck and personal instincts.

One case of serendipity was during my search to find a lunch stop after visiting Corregidor. There was the obvious choice — a highly recommended fine-dining restaurant in a prime location, but alas, it was closed the only day I had to visit the area. My local contact apologetically set up a lunch elsewhere which led me to discover a hidden culinary gem. With its al fresco, yet elegant, dining atmosphere, incredible organic gardens, and even a spa, it offered exactly the kind of experience A&K seeks out on behalf of our guests. Had I not actually been there to see for myself, I might have simply settled for the “recommended” option. That is why, at A&K, we make a point of evaluating a destination in person, in depth and leaving room for luck.

Local Cuisine, Manila

As for trusting my personal instincts or passion — in the Philippines it led me to discover the heart of the Filipino personae. I love unusual works of art, especially if they tell a story, a true story. When visiting Manila’s Rizal Park, we were led to a side entrance. Passing through the entrance shed and walking behind the seven-foot stone wall, I was intrigued to see larger-than-life bronze statues depicting the firing squad execution of Filipino hero José Rizal. Rizal was a nationalist living during the country’s Spanish colonial period who used his novels and poetry to advocate for political reforms. Our wonderful local guide explained the meaning of each statue and diorama as he told the tale of this colorful 19th-century playboy ophthalmologist, researcher and writer and how, after being executed for rebellion by the Spanish colonial government, his death made him a national hero. Rizal’s writings helped usher in eventual independence for the Philippines and his influences can be found throughout the nation. He was the Filipino Michelangelo, Galileo and George Washington all rolled into one.

Jose Rizal National Monument, Manila

Throughout my trip, every time I saw a reference to Rizal, and there are plenty, I thought of those imposing bronze statues and how, though depicting an execution, they are a wonderful visual testament of respect and honor to a country filled with national pride — and how an open mind can lead visitors to discover the heart of this wonderful nation and culture.

Hacienda Maria, Family, Boracay

Interested in learning more about Louise’s journey to the Philippines? Go behind-the-scenes with Louise this summer with our video series, A Modern Day Explorer’s Quest to the Philippines, launching this June.

Ready to visit? Visit for details on traveling to the Philippines with A&K.

Louise A. Shumbris joined A&K two years ago, bringing with her decades of experience in product development, tour design, contracting and operations. Louise has worked for the top U.S.-based tour operators, developing and managing travel programs around the world. Her specialty is designing luxury group journeys, but she has also created FIT, incentive and even sport group programs.