Report Cards

This item appears on page 4 of the October 2010 issue.


We hired the guide Patrick Penev ( for a tour that started in Sofia, Bulgaria, and took us to Koprivshtitza, Shipka Pass, Valley of the Roses, Thracian tombs, Plovdiv, Orpheus’ tomb, Jeravna and Varna, July 22-27, 2010.

Four of us paid €775 (near $981) per couple, which included transportation (and petrol), accommodations (and breakfasts), two dinners and guide service. Other meals and museum admissions cost extra.

From our initial meeting until the final farewell, Patrick made our visit awesome. His fluent English, knowledge of Bulgaria and its history, and his engaging personality made this part of our vacation informative, exciting and entertaining. His intimate knowledge of places and people was exceptional.

He took us to Thracian sites which have been excavated only within the past decade; he arranged with museum directors to have their museums opened especially for us, and he provided opportunities for us to interact with locals.

We located Patrick through earlier ITN recommendations and could not have been happier with him. I would gladly answer any questions.

— Jeanette James, Dearborn, MI


• In the Auvergne region of France, I stayed at the Grand Hotel du Midi (39, Avenue Union Soviétique, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand, France; phone +04 73 92 44 98, on July 9, 2010.

Perfect for train travelers who don’t want to lug luggage very far, this old-style hotel is directly across the street from the train station. It’s about 15 minutes on foot from the central historic area.

My single room was freshly painted and had international TV and WiFi. Booked online, it cost €51 (billed as $65), including a buffet breakfast of yogurt and fruit besides the usual — plentiful.

Staff was friendly and helpful.

• In a wine-growing region south of the Auvergne, I stayed at Le Manoir de la Fabrèques (Fabrègues, France; phone +05 65 66 37 78,, located between Estaing and Espalion in the Aveyron area.

Set in the old manor house of the Fabrèques estate, complete with gardens and rustic scenery, this luxurious 12-room hotel is impeccably decorated. On July 12, my single room cost €81.

They served breakfast (included) in the former wine cellar, dinner (not included) in a separate dining room and drinks in an enclosed, flower-filled courtyard. Wonderful owner/staff.

• At the manor house, I enjoyed a gourmet locavore meal at its restaurant, which is owner-operated and -staffed. The team, with international experience, had tired of the fast lane before opening this place in a tiny rural hamlet where one of the owners summered as a child.

The owner/chef is a young genius. Both owners are extremely proud of the local ingredients they purchase daily.

For €30 (near $38), I had a first course of magret de canard and warm goat cheese wrapped in bacon along with fig sorbet, followed by local trout from the Lot River, a puree of olives and potatoes, carrot-and-zucchini “spaghetti” with orange-coriander sauce and, for dessert, crème brûlée with cinnamon ice cream, plus a glass of Vouvray.

• We had a rustic French meal at Hostellerie de l’Abbaye (rue Charlemagne, Conques, France; phone +05 65 72 80 32) on July 13.

Enjoying salads made of local products on the shaded, flower-filled balcony of a small, family-run hotel down the hill from the abbey church of Conques, one of the true wonders of French romanesque art, this was the perfect ending to a day touring the pilgrimage town of Conques.

Of the salads, one included smoked salmon, smoked whitefish, shrimp terrine and scallop terrine on a bed of fresh fruit and greens. The other consisted of foie gras, confit de canard and pâté de campagne on a bed of fruit, nuts and greens. Including a bottle of the local rosé, the meal cost $70 for three people.

— Betty Serow, Tallahassee, FL