Whether you head for the mountains or the sea, to a four-star hotel or a campground, taking a trip is a great way to shake the winter cobwebs out of your mind. Some people travel to learn more about different cultures, while others think swinging in a hammock with a piña colada trumps sightseeing every time.

St. Charles Avenue asked a few well-known locals to talk about their favorite trips and to spill the beans about their worst travel experiences. Here’s what we found out.

A Trip to RememberVirginia Saussy, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Mignon Faget, travels a lot for business. When she gets a chance to travel for pleasure, she often heads east – way east. “Bali is the ultimate in relaxation,” Saussy says. She visited the Indonesian island in 2002, and found it to be the perfect combination of busy days and veg-out days. “Bali is just gorgeous,” she says, with hills, mountains, rice paddies, Hindu temples, native art and some of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet. She adds that the food is unbelievably delicious and the island is easy to get around. The main town on Bali, Ubud, is also the island’s center for art. It’s a long flight, Saussy says, but massages are cheap in Asia and a good way to relax after your hours in the air.

Saussy says one of her least pleasant travel experiences was a group trip to Belize. Because no one had really nailed down an itinerary before the trip, a lot of time was wasted discussing what to do and the tour the group ultimately took wasn’t one of the better ones.

If she hits the lottery and scores a lot of vacation weeks, Saussy’s “dream” vacation would be to visit Cambodia, Vietnam and Japan, and to return to China. “The culture is so ancient in Asia,” she says. “It opens your eyes up to a whole other, ancient world.” Oh, and a few more trips to Europe wouldn’t be bad, she says. “You can never get enough of Rome and Paris.”

A Trip to RememberBali is also tops with orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Mel Parnell. He says that the people there are very poor but as happy as can be and very friendly, too.

Parnell and his wife, Leslie, recently returned from a honeymoon trip to Tahiti. Tahiti is an ideal honeymoon destination because it’s so laidback, he says. The water is gorgeous and the small islands are easy to explore.

Parnell, who travels a lot, says one of his worst travel experiences was on a return trip via Air France from South Africa just after Britain uncovered a plot to blow up some airplanes. Passengers weren’t allowed to take anything onboard except their passports and wallets; security was “a nightmare,” he says.

The Parnells are taking their dream trip in September – a cruise of the Greek Isles. The cruise goes from Athens to Istanbul and Parnell says he’s excited about the chance to see so much history.

Europe is one of co-owner of Dunn & Sonnier Antiques and Flowers Stephen Sonnier’s favorite destinations. His No. 1 favorite spot is St. Jean-Cap-Ferret, a peninsula in the South of France between Monte Carlo and Nice. The bright blue Mediterranean, the fresh seafood and the relaxing atmosphere make it the perfect destination, says Sonnier. During a 2004 visit, Sonnier went to Monte Carlo and dined in famed restaurateur Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV restaurant, located in the Hotel de Paris. The restaurant (which is decorated in the style of a little old house called Versailles), truly rates the overused superlative “unforgettable,” Sonnier says.
Sonnier says he’s been spared the proverbial “trip from Hell,” although he has taken a few road trips that were hassles, including one where his car overheated and burned.

Should the travel gods smile upon him, Sonnier’s dream vacation would be to Italy to take in Lake Como and the Amalfi Coast. He has been to other parts of Italy, and especially enjoyed Rome. “As an antiques dealer, I’m much more into the Old World,” he says.

Although many of her travels revolve around football, Rita Benson LeBlanc, owner and executive vice president of the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans VooDoo football teams, likes to organize her vacation trips around her love of art. Even when she’s traveling in a work capacity, LeBlanc visits museums whenever she can. One of her favorites is The Frick collection in New York. “I enjoy collections of an individual,” she says. London rates high on her list of top cities; she likes to sample the many types of cuisine available there.

“It’s such an international city,” LeBlanc says. “There is always a new restaurant to discover.” London also rates points for being such an easy city to walk around, she says.

A few experiences lugging around heavy suitcases taught LeBlanc to pack efficiently and stick to carry-ons whenever possible, which leads to another travel lesson: It’s easier to make new connections (especially if you miss a flight) if you haven’t checked your baggage. Miraculously, she says, most of her travel experiences have gone smoothly but a New York to Philadelphia to Germany trip did get a little stressful when she had to re-route through London.

As for dream vacations, LeBlanc has two she’s eager to plan once she frees up enough time. One features an extended stay with a group of friends at a country estate in England or France. Her other plays into her knowledge of art history: touring Russia’s incredible museums. For this type of trip, LeBlanc recommends joining a tour that is large enough to plan events at some of the destinations, such as a ball at a museum.

A Trip to RememberRobbie Vitrano, president of local advertising agency Trumpet, says his idea of an ideal destination is Santa Barbara, Calif. He and his wife, Tricia, were married there and their son was born there. The area has it all, Vitrano says – wine country, canyons, mountain passes, the coast and a couple of cities.

He gives the “most unique trip” award to a 3,000-mile driving trip the Vitranos took about 18 years ago from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Their destination was Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands in the state of Washington. The scenery and the wildlife are amazing, Vitrano says. He, his wife and their son, who was a baby then, camped along the way, staying in hotels every few days.

As for dream vacations, Vitrano ticks off trips to Patagonia, Chile, and the Lost Valley in Tibet. Tibet offers mountains, the amazing river valley plus the opportunity for philosophical studies.