Italy WOW Moment: A Private Michelin-Star Dinner with Fireworks
How do you impress a traveler who’s been everywhere and done everything? That’s our challenge with a lot of our readers. You are a very well-traveled and discerning bunch! Even those of you finding The WOW List for the first time arrive with very high expectations—and we love that about you.
But it does create a challenge for us—and for the Trusted Travel Experts on Wendy’s WOW List—to dazzle you with something new and unexpected. Yet that’s exactly what Wendy aims to do with her WOW Moments. She personally adds a complimentary insider-access experience to your itinerary on your third trip with a WOW List–recommended travel specialist. It’s a thank-you for trying our new WOW trip-planning system and helping us test and fine-tune it.
The best WOW Moments come as a complete surprise. And that’s why we are thrilled with the response Jeff Bernfield had to his WOW Moment in Florence, Italy, last month. Dr. Bernfield, a physician in the Chicago area, is a special case: He’s used 15 of Wendy’s recommended travel specialists over the years.
“I could plan each trip myself, but it’s so much easier to use one of these people and let them plan the whole thing for you,” he told us over the phone after his trip to Italy arranged by Maria Gabriella Landers and Brian Dore. “I never ever worry about things that can go wrong because even if something might go wrong, they fix it. They always fix it. It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s like having an insurance policy.”
Knowing that Dr. Bernfield and his wife would be in Florence during the June Feast of San Giovanni—celebrated with historical parades, music, and fireworks over the Arno—Wendy worked with Maria and Brian to come up with something very special. Maria suggested dinner at La Leggenda dei Frati—a restaurant located in the Bardini Gardens—on the Terrazzo dei Limoni, an exclusive part of the restaurant with only five tables of two and fantastic views of the fireworks at night. Maria explained that, while there is another, larger terrace at the famed Michelin-starred restaurant, the Terrazzo dei Limoni would be more atmospheric and exclusive. Wendy agreed it sounded perfect, so Maria set it up, and we waited to hear the Bernfields’ reaction. Dr. Bernfield emailed Wendy right after they got home from their dinner, and then we followed up on the phone to hear all the fun details. This what he had to say:
Did you have any clue what was being planned?
We knew something was up because I’m a voracious reader and researcher. Even with these travel experts, if they make a recommendation, I read about it and make sure it fits—I’m not good at just accepting things. For this, we got an itinerary, and I kept noticing that Saturday night was empty, and I kept questioning Maria about it. We had originally planned to go to the festival of St. John because Maria told us it was a great event in Florence—we scheduled our whole trip around being in Florence that day. And then there was nothing written on the itinerary for that evening. Our itinerary said, “Meet your guide at 3pm and she’ll show you around and then you’ll be left for the evening.” I had a feeling something was up, but I couldn’t find out what it was. Back at our hotel, we were told someone would meet us in our hotel lobby at 8.
Sneaky. Who was it?
We went down to the lobby and, to our surprise, Maria and Brian were there! That to me was the highlight. For me, it’s always about the people. I don’t care what museum or what church or what holy site or any activity that we do. For us, travel is always 100 percent about the people, and I thought that was one of the nicest things she could have done. Even though that technically wasn’t our WOW Moment, for us that was it.
But of course it wasn’t! What had they arranged for you?
They had arranged a taxi to take us to a beautiful Michelin-starred restaurant overlooking the Arno River, La Leggenda dei Frati, where we didn’t just have dinner—they took us to an open-air roof on top of the restaurant that we had to ourselves, and they hired an Italian opera singer to serenade us. That was incredible. There was also a harp player, and a private photographer taking pictures of us.
This restaurant was special because of the Feast of San Giovanni. What was the location like?
We had basically a private viewing of the fireworks over the river. In fact, other people sitting on the lower level of the restaurant could not see the fireworks because the trees blocked it. We’ve been sent the photos since then and they are great—much better than what we did with my iPhone. [Laughs]
After the fireworks, the chef introduced himself, took us into the kitchen, and took us to the separate private museum roof overlay, which had all kinds of art. It was outrageous. If I had tried to plan the most romantic evening I could for my wife, I would have fallen short of what Wendy and Maria and Brian planned for us. It could not have gone any better. For that, I thank her. I don’t know what I did to deserve it, but we are very appreciative. It was the highlight of our trip. We’ve had amazing experiences all over the globe, but this ranks number one.
You’ve used travel specialists on Wendy’s WOW List more than a dozen times. How did you originally find Wendy’s list of travel specialists?
To make a long story short, I used to use a local boutique luxury travel agent here in the Chicago area, and my wife got sick and we were off the grid for a couple years. We couldn’t really travel, waiting to see if she got better, and she did, thankfully. When she got better, we decided that tomorrow isn’t promised, so to speak, and we’re going to live each day to the fullest. and we’re going to go out and see the world. So I called this travel agent, and she didn’t want to offer her services because we hadn’t used her in the past six months. And when I explained why, she still didn’t want to offer her services. I didn’t really know what to do. I’d told my wife that when she got better she could pick her bucket-list trip as long as I could pick mine. She picked Greece, and I picked Africa. And then kind of out of the blue, I reached out to Wendy, who was at Condé Nast Traveler magazine at the time, and I think I sent Wendy a tweet or an email, I don’t remember. I was not expecting a response—but she answered! [Laughs] I was stunned, because I didn’t know her and took a shot in the dark and she answered. I was looking for help and advice on how to do this and I didn’t have anybody local and one thing led to another. I think I’ve used about 15 WOW List people over the past few years, and in her nice way, Wendy reciprocated—she didn’t have to—with this WOW Moment.
Honestly, I think it was the nicest, most enjoyable evening the two of us have ever been lucky enough to spend. Apart from my son’s wedding five weeks ago, this ranks right up there with one of the unexpected enjoyable evenings.