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Ash Merscher

I help readers and travelers make the most out of their trips to European countries, especially Central and Eastern Europe. As a traveler myself, I love the adventurous feeling that a foreign destination gives you; but I also love knowing a little about what to expect. I appreciate the idea of experienced vagabonds sharing insider details on traveling within cities, popular destinations, and lesser-known gems. The adventurous unknown—the travel butterflies in the pit of your stomach—are still there, but you can picture a place before you arrive.

What places and activities do you specialize in?

"I've called a handful of European countries my home, including Ireland, Spain, Hungary, Croatia, and Romania. I've taught English and freelanced as a writer. During my time abroad (I'm currently living in Budapest, Hungary), I've been lucky enough to enjoy extensive travels across Central and Eastern Europe. My countries of expertise include Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia, Poland, and the Balkans. I'm a big fan of architecture, wine, and food, which are my two main reasons to keep traveling. I love a budget trip, so road trips are my go-to vacation, especially in gorgeous countries like Romania, Hungary, and Croatia."

How did you get involved in travel?

"While growing up in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, trips across the border to Canada were a childhood norm. The allure of international travel was always there, tempting me across the water and prompting my first big trip abroad when I was in my early 20s. I studied abroad in Ireland and felt far more comfortable in a foreign country than at my own university. I spent the next decade trying to be in Europe as much as possible, working multiple jobs and stockpiling my wages. For me, travel gave me a sense of adventure while teaching me some of my life's biggest lessons. "

Please share a unique travel experience you will never forget.

"After a whirlwind trip around Western Europe with my best friend, I decided to stay longer and volunteer at a farm in County Cork, Ireland. Each afternoon, after I finished my duties for the day, I'd grab the family dog—who was very pregnant at the time—and we'd walk up the hill to the cliffside. There, I'd sit on the edge (but not too close), Bella the golden retriever lounging just at my side. We'd listen to the Irish wind, which I feel has its own unique personality. It'd whip through tall tufts of grass, dancing across fields and plummeting down the cliffs, seabirds catching its drift and gliding across the horizon. I will never forget those afternoons with the sun melting into the Atlantic Ocean. They occurred a few years after I had experienced a tragedy in my family, and they helped to heal a broken heart and a lost soul. Travel tends to perform that sort of magic."

The French Alps
Top Active Experiences in France

France is an active traveler's dream, with sandy beaches in the north, the towering Alps in the southeast, several river valleys across its heartland, and a rocky southern coastline dotted with inlets, caves, and coves. You can easily spend your time cycling through vineyards and from one chateau to another, riding horses in the surf, kayaking the famous Calanques, and hiking in the mountains. Or, if you're more of a city person, add a bike tour or vineyard stroll to your exploration of hubs like Paris.

Wine tasting in France
Top Culinary Experiences in France

France has always been the center of culinary envy, known worldwide for its signature cuisine consisting of traditional techniques, ancestral secrets, and home-cooked comfort dictated by high-quality standards. From morning pastries to afternoon macrons, farm-fresh cheeses to wine, cider, and olive oil, and fresh food markets offering the freshest produce to unique dishes like snails and frog legs, you can truly enjoy it all in France.

Claude Monet's Gardens
Top Cultural Experiences in France

Many travelers choose France specifically for its unique and diverse culture. Explore Paris for its food, literature, and cabaret, visit Normandy for its art (including Claude Monet's gardens), and escape to the Loire Valley for chateaus, palaces, castles, and more. When ready, head to the south and peruse the unique cuisine and culture of the French Riviera and Provence, plus romantic hilltop villages and medieval riverside hamlets.

Historic towns of Provence
Top Historical Experiences in France

France is a historical goldmine, from ancient, medieval, and early modern experiences to the events of the 19th and 20th centuries. Spend your time learning about the occupied and liberated Paris of WWII, exploring ancient castles and villages, and diving into what it was like to live in France during the Middle Ages. In every corner of the country, you'll find significant history that shaped France, Europe, and the world.

A family visiting Paris
Best Family Experiences in France

Because France is a large and diverse country, it's an ideal location for a family trip. From art-centric and foodie cities like Paris to outdoor playgrounds like the French Riviera and the beaches of northern France, there's always something to do with activities appealing to various ages and interests. Along the way, make unique family memories that you can only experience in France, such as riding horses through the surf at Mont-Saint-Michel, learning to bake macrons, or enjoying a treasure hunt at the Louvre.

The harbor town of Honfleur
Best Things to Do in Normandy

Set in northern France along the coast of the English Channel, Normandy is known for its chalky-white cliffs and beaches, the famous Mont-Saint-Michel island, the WWII D-Day landings, and picturesque half-timbered houses surrounded by dairy farms. History is the region's highlight, but you'll also find treasured towns like Honfleur and the Pays d'Auge, gourmet cheese, cider farms, and many sites of famous Impressionist works of art, plus the home and gardens of Claude Monet.