We call it “ours” because we had a role in planning the unprecedented resort at sea, Explora I. Early on, we were asked for our input on what our clients would want in an ocean-going experience, and now that it is coming to fruition we are seeing that the owners of Explora I took our advice to heart…spacious suites, culinary excellence, and an emphasis on deeper destination experiences are all now part of the Explora experience.
We are holding a small number of suites on what we believe will be an exquisite experience: departing from Southampton on July 11, 2023, Explora I will sail north to one of the planet’s most exquisite destinations, the pristine fjords of Norway. Ultimately, we will reach one of the milestones for true adventurers, the Arctic Circle.
Explora will offer unequaled (and uncrowded) destination experiences for their guests, but for those who wish to go deeper…or simply explore on their own…we can craft individualized experiences before, during, and after this journey.
The phrase “once in a lifetime opportunity,” is often overused, but in this instance it is what we are offering—the inaugural sailing of a new ship, offering a never-to-be-repeated experience. We are holding a half dozen suites for our fellow travelers, and there is no guarantee that others will be accommodated.
To secure your place in maritime history, phone Victoria at 630.561.1095 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(See the video below, as well as a link to our flyer for this journey.)
Travel beyond…with Elán and Explora!
Peru…The Warmest Place on Earth?
No, we aren’t referring to heat, but rather to the incredible kindness and warmth of the Peruvian people. We’ve said this before, but in the realm of travel in which we work, beautiful properties are a given. What sets any destination apart from the others is one’s experience with the people. Our recent trip to Peru proved an excellent lesson in learning how kind and generous one’s hosts can be. In fact, at every turn we were met with smiling faces and warm embraces. You will love the Peruvian people.
Equally impressive are the art, history, and culture of Peru, evolved over millennia and on full display for the visitor.
For us, it was time to reacquaint ourselves with the leaders in Peruvian hospitality, Belmond. During our time in Peru we visited Belmond’s Miraflores Park (in Lima), Rio Sagrado (in the Sacred Valley), Sanctuary Lodge (at Machu Picchu), and Monasterio (Cusco). Keeping everything in the Belmond family, we hired guides from Journeys in Peru (their local onsite service) and traveled to and from Machu Picchu on PeruRail trains (specifically their Vistadome train to the site and the legendary Hiram Bingham train on our return to Cusco).
Here’s the tale:
Flying from Chicago to Lima via Houston found us arriving around 11:00 pm on a Friday evening. This was an opportunity to evaluate another of our VIP assistance partners…and it was spectacular. After transiting from our arrival gate to the luggage claim area we were met by Ana Maria, who escorted us directly to the VIP lounge. For those checking baggage, your VIP contact in Lima collects your bags, but we opted for carry-on only (we’ll write more about that topic someday). The VIP lounge was beautiful, decorated with modern Peruvian art, and we spent a few minutes relaxing there before Ana Maria took us to the VIP/diplomatic line for processing. A health worker was summoned to check our CDC cards, and we were then immediately walked to the customs/immigration desk where a Peruvian official greeted us and has us on our way within about two minutes.
We were immediately taken to Belmond’s Miraflores Park, which served as our home for the next three nights. Located in one of Lima’s most beautiful areas and across the boulevard from the ocean overlook, Miraflores Park offers a comfortable home away from home, as well as beautiful dining and cocktail venues. We retired to the rooftop bar and restaurant and took in the sights before turning in for the night. Our timing was fortuitous, and the next morning we met with our colleague Mary Anne Donlon and her husband Tom for an early breakfast. Mary Anne and Tom were on a somewhat parallel itinerary, and we loved connecting with them in Lima and once later in our trip. It’s always exciting to spend time abroad with others with whom you are close, even if for a quick meal.
The next day we set off on a tour of Lima with the first of our Journeys in Peru guides, Kika. A cultured and fun-loving woman with an encyclopedic knowledge of Lima, she took us to a number of the city’s most beautiful and historic sites. Lima is situated on the oceanfront, and largely infused with the energy and vibe of a seaside city. Beautiful parks abound. But perhaps the most impressive part of our tour was our visit to the Larco Museum. One’s visit to the Museum is immediately awe-inspiring, as it is the home to what has been described as one of the world’s most beautiful gardens. Flowers abound, and it’s incredibly beautiful.
But, what’s even more impressive is the collection of ancient Incan artifacts. Room after room is filled with perfectly preserved pottery vessels, sculptures, apparel and tapestries. Under Kika’s expert guidance we explored a great deal of the museum, which provided our first glimpse into the incredibly advanced artistry and science of pre-Colombian South America. The Larco is a must-see for every visitor to Peru. Stunning.
Prior to arriving in Lima we had asked for our hosts’ restaurant recommendations. Not an easy task, since Lima is the home to multiple Michelin-Star restaurants and considered one of the world’s top culinary destinations. However, there was no hesitation in the recommendation: Mayta. There’s a small fleet of Mercedes sedans constantly on standby outside the hotel, and we arrived at Mayta not quite knowing whether it was going to be a formal experience. However, far from it, Mayta turned out to be casual, with impeccable service and creative cuisine (and cocktails)…all in a very comfortable setting. And, like everything we encountered in Peru, when the bill came the only surprise was how reasonable it was.
Lima is a city of contrasts. Some of it reflects a hardscrabble way of life experienced by its residents, but the parks and Spanish-influenced architecture are a real marvel. There was a substantial army of public employees constantly cleaning the streets and parks in Miraflores, and we felt comfortable walking the streets on our own the next day, which was a “free” day in which we called all the shots. Shopping, strolling, and finding another fun restaurant on the oceanfront (courtesy of the concierge’s recommendation) were the perfect prelude to the adventures that were about to unfold the next day.
The following morning, Ana Maria was waiting for us as we checked out from Miraflores Park. She took us to our waiting van, whisked us to the airport and escorted us through the check-in process for our flight to Cusco. This level of attention to our comfort, convenience in security is something we’ve only ever experienced in one other setting…on safari in Africa with a partner whom we consider the world’s top safari company. Sometimes just winging it is fun, but it’s also supremely relaxing to know that you’re in the hands attentive experts who know the ropes.
The 90-minute flight to Cusco takes you over stunning Andean vistas, and when you land in Cusco you may be a bit short of breath since you’re at over 11,000 feet in elevation. This is where we met our second Journeys in Peru angel, Nancy (Nancy is, by the way her real name…though of Incan and Spanish descent, her mom was inspired by the name of a Hollywood star she saw in a subtitled American movie). Again, it was a wholly comfortable arrival experience. Nancy took us immediately to our car, where our driver, Felipe, helped us load our luggage and drove us roughly two hours to Peru’s famous Sacred Valley. Inhabited for millennia by the Incas and their predecessors, it’s clear to see why those ancient Peruvians revered the beauty of this valley and the majesty of its mountains. Along the way we stopped to walk the streets of some of the local villages, visited a textile center where we saw some incredible artistry in hand-produced tapestries, and spent some quality time with alpacas and llamas.
Arriving at Belmond’s Rio Sagrado, a couple of hours from Cusco, is an exercise in sensory overload. The small town is, truthfully, not all that different than the other agricultural villages in the Sacred Valley, but the moment you enter Rio Sagrado the sights and sounds that greet you are overwhelmingly beautiful. Set on the edge of the Urubamba River, the sound of rushing water is a relaxing natural sonata that provides a backdrop to your time there. The grounds are beautiful, with baby llamas grazing peacefully on the lawn, and the accommodations themselves are…well…you’ll just have to look at the photos. We were assigned a beautiful villa and, after settling in, made our way to the restaurant. Heeding Nancy’s advice, we enjoyed a light dinner and a cocktail, then fighting the shortage of oxygen (still at over 8,000 feet), we made our way back to our villa, where the staff had started a roaring fire. A bit of champagne, a wee bit of chocolate, and we called it a night.
The next day, after breakfast, Nancy and Felipe were waiting for us. We spent a full day touring the Sacred Valley, with a breathtaking (in more ways than one) visit to a llama farm, a local market town, and, finally, to the Nilda Callañaupa Workshop. We spent quite a bit of time with Nilda, who has devoted her life to preserving ancient handicrafts. The weavings she features are those of local artisans who engage in every step of the creative process, from harvesting the wool to dyeing, spinning, an weaving incredible tapestries. Nilda’s efforts have been featured in National Geographic magazine; she is a true cultural treasure who has single-handedly preserved some of Peru’s most important artistic traditions.
Throughout all of these experiences, Nancy’s tremendous command of Peru’s history and its ancient cultures greatly enhanced our understanding of the art, science and architecture that we were experiencing. It added a layer to our experience that one simply cannot get from a guide book.
We were looking forward with great anticipation to our visit to Machu Picchu, one of the great wonders of the Ancient World. That morning Nancy took us to explore Ollantaytambo, an impressive Incan fortress in the Sacred Valley, followed by a superb picnic with Nancy and Felipe. Then, on to catch our train to Machu Picchu. Our excitement built at we boarded the Vistadome train en route to this amazing place, and as we got closer the wide open expanses of Sacred Valley gave way to impossibly steep mountains, and a rain forest environment, seeing a variety of orchids along the way. We were even treated to a native song commemorating our 45th anniversary! All was going well…until…Nancy approached us quietly and told us in a hushed tone that our hopes of an overnight visit at Sanctuary Lodge had been dashed!
Listening to Nancy in near disbelief, she told us that a protest had been planned for the next day, with the likelihood that the sole train line would be blocked for a couple of days.
A little stunned, Nancy assured us that Belmond, Journeys in Peru and the staff of the Hiram Bingham had us covered.
Interrupting for a commercial announcement*…In the past we’ve encountered situations in which clients have experienced unpredictable events—illness, family crises, and, in one case, a home that had burned to the ground—and that is when true professionalism shines through. Though the impending train cancellations were hardly catastrophic, it meant that a number of things had to happen: We would go immediately to the Citadel after a brief stop at Sanctuary Lodge, we would be given an astounding tour Nancy that extended one hour past the site’s closing time (including a touching Incan blessing), we would be shuttled back to the fully booked Hiram Bingham train, and upon arrival back in Cuzco, we would be escorted to one of Monasterio’s top accommodations, the Bishop’s Suite.
Lemons to lemonade. Multiple “impossible” changes, all accomplished seamlessly. All because we were in the hands of top professionals, and traveling with…Our. Amazing. Nancy.
But, let us return to the experience at Machu Picchu. Though we had less time there than we had originally planned, there are few things in life that compare to the moment you step out of the forested path and see the ancient city before you. It’s an astounding tribute to the genius of the Incans. And, thankfully, it’s incredibly preserved. Until you visit—and you must visit—it’s not apparent how improbable this was…sited in the midst of unimaginably steep mountains in a rain forest, the ancient Incans managed to move and hew massive boulders to create a wondrous place. Then, having disappeared centuries ago, nature took over the Incans’ treasured city and concealed Machu Picchu until its existence was revealed to Hiram Bingham in the early 20th century. It’s impressive in every way, and if you don’t tear up a bit with emotion when you first see it…. Well, you’ll tear up.
After our expansive tour of Machu Picchu, Nancy accompanied us to the train station. The Hiram Bingham was “sold out,” but calls had been made. A conversation with a harried clerk had us all nervously checking our watches, but we boarded the Hiram Bingham with minutes to spare. It’s a beautiful train, furnished in a livery reminiscent of Belmond’s other great trains such as the Venice-Simplon Orient Express (VSOE) and the legendary Royal Scotsman.
The unhurried trip back to Cusco began with Champagne and cocktails, after which we were summoned to the bar car (“Pisco sour, please.”). It started off sedately. Then the musical duo struck up a song. And another song. And soon the Latin American zest for life was turned to 110%, with the crowd singing familiar (to them) Latin songs, and dancing with astounding energy. Again, we were toasted for 45 years of marriage and shouts of “Don’t go!” filled the car as we made our way back to our table for a gourmet multi-course meal.
Really, it was an emotional roller coaster—in a matter of just a few hours, we went from the deflating news of the likely railroad closure and an abbreviated visit to Machu Picchu, to a fantastic voyage aboard one of the world’s great trains, surrounded by a celebratory crowd reveling in one of those magical experiences that only happens when the stars align.
Pulling into the station at Cusco we were met by our driver who was to us to Belmond’s beautiful Monasterio Hotel. Once again, the hotel was “sold out,” but calls had been made. As we alluded to earlier, they not only took care of us, they took care of us in a big way, escorting us to the beautiful Bishop’s Suite. One enters the suite through a massive ancient door, and inside finds exquisite murals still on the walls. Of course, in the Belmond style, the suite was beautifully furnished and supremely comfortable.
Everything about Monasterio was fantastic. The serene inner courtyard is open for meals and coffee or cocktails. On our second night there we dined in the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, enjoying a performance by members of the Cusco Opera. With an additional day in Cusco we did a great deal of touring…one full day with Nancy and our driver, Felipe, and the rest on our own. Despite the warnings that the city has its share of pickpockets, we felt entirely safe and comfortable when we were on our own. One is frequently approached by people selling inexpensive souvenirs, but the impossibly friendly and courteous Peruvian demeanor means that a polite “No, gracias” is met with a smile and a willingness to let you pass.
Cusco fully displays the clash of cultures that occurred centuries ago when the Catholic Spanish encountered Incan tradition and religion. European architecture is often found overlaid on Incan structures, and even the religious symbols found in its churches and cathedrals reflect an effort to incorporate Incan and Christian symbology, all in an effort to effect conversion. While this was a violent time in Peruvian history, today one finds that the people embrace their fascinating past, which has led to a vibrant culture that honors both traditions.
On the outskirts of the City we visited the huge Incan fortress known as Sacsayhuaman and other Incan edifices. The precise uses and symbolism found in these sites is sometimes elusive since the Incans lacked a written language, but there are times when the sites reveal ancient Incan traditions, including that of human sacrifice.
After three nights at Monasterio, it was time for our return home. Our flight back to the States departed a bit after midnight, so we had arranged for a dayroom at an airport hotel that was mere steps from the terminal. Basic accommodations, but incredibly convenient. We had a good meal there before our Journeys in Peru escort arrived to take us back to the same VIP/Diplomatic lounge we had visited upon our arrival. Having checked in, it was a comfortable way to pass the final two hours prior to our departure. The trip home was, blessedly, uneventful.
This has been one of our longer posts, but even so it captures only a fleeting glimpse of this voyage of discovery. The beauty and history of Peru is undeniable, and our short visit provided a meaningful voyage into the country’s remarkable history and culture, as well as a reminder of why Peru is perennially favored by those who value the kindness and authenticity of its people.
On a professional level, we used this trip to evaluate our Belmond partners. The properties at which we stayed were beautiful and, in the Belmond tradition, each reflected a unique identity and sense of place. Service was uniformly outstanding. Food and beverages top notch.
What really stands out, however, is the fact that we had—without exception—overwhelmingly positive dealings with our Belmond counterparts. From the flawless assistance with our initial planning through to the unflappable display of adaptability in the face of the unexpected by our guide Nancy, we experienced graciousness, attention to detail, and assertive confidence to professionally handle every situation. In our debriefing with Max Snytin, our principal point of contact at Belmond, we told him that we’ve seldom experienced this level of confidence in our hosts.
Extraordinary Peru. Extraordinary Belmond. We’re proud to be their partners in providing memorable travel experiences to our clients. We urge you to put Peru on your “Must Visit” list.
We just returned from a whirlwind trip to Portugal, our first in several years. This was an action-packed voyage, ranging from the Algarve Coast in the south to the Douro Valley in the North, along with time in Lisbon and Porto. Over the course of ten days, we visited a large number of hotels and resorts, and visited some of the country’s iconic tourist destinations.
The verdict? Incredible!
Let’s start with our immediate overall impressions: Portugal represents an incredible value for American visitors. We were repeatedly surprised by the extremely reasonable cost for accommodations in fine hotels and resorts, and astounded by the affordability of excellent food and wine. Our clientele is not one that would be considered budget-driven, but everyone appreciates good value, and Portugal delivers it at every turn.
Now, a few details…
Throughout this trip we were driven in luxurious Mercedes vehicles supplied by Tempo-VIP, a Destination Management Company owned and operated by Danilo Cerqueira. Danilo, who accompanied us through much of our time in Portugal, is an energetic and creative ambassador for Portugal. The itinerary he created in conjunction with TL Portfolio (owned by our good friend Tina Lyra) was chock full of incredible properties and experiences. And, more importantly, it demonstrated that Tempo-VIP is a reliable and professional partner to whom we can turn for our clients’ needs for their Portugal visits. While our personal knowledge base is considerable, we rely on our network of experts throughout the world to help us build world class itineraries for our clients. Partners like Danilo and Tina are an indispensable part of our worldwide team.
We travel often, but seldom take vacations…this trip was aimed at evaluating for our clients the hottest destination of 2022. We hit the ground running. We had barely checked in to the Four Seasons Ritz when Danilo took us on a whirlwind tour of Lisbon hotels. The Four Seasons merits special mention for its beautifully renovated rooms and public spaces, the latter featuring important artwork by Portuguese artists. In addition, Danilo accompanied us to a number of Lisbon’s hotels over the next two days, meeting with the general managers and evaluating their room offerings, restaurants, and guest amenities
The collection we visited was impressive. We noted a number of favorites and throughout our tour we were frankly astonished at the incredible value, with room rates for exceptional suites substantially below the prices elsewhere in Europe. A sampling is included in the slideshow below. We visited dozens of properties, and while we don’t have the space here to review each of them, we came away with a good sense of the value and individual sense of place offered by each.
Our tour of Lisbon included a sailboat ride on the Tagus River, providing a unique perspective on this historic city, a point from which many of history’s most famous adventurers embarked on seafaring expeditions. From this perspective, one gets a better understanding of Portugal’s place in history and the vibrant nature of the city. It is an exciting place!
The following day we visited two of Portugal’s national treasures, Quinta da Regaleir, an elaborate and fanciful estate located near the historic center of Sintra, and then Pena National Palace, which dates back to 1839, when the King Consort D. Fernando II of Saxe Coburgo-Gotha acquired the ruins of the Jerónimo Monastery of Nossa Senhora da Pena and started its adaptation to the fanciful structure modeled on Bavarian palaces of the era.
Bidding farewell to Lisbon, we journeyed on to the Alantejo region, which provided one of the great surprises…and delights…of our trip to Portugal: Herdade da Malhandinha Nova (HDMA) (https://www.malhadinhanova.pt/en/). This sprawling property, comprised of a winery and unique accommodations scattered throughout 450 hectares (a little over 1,100 acres) is astounding in every way. The brainchild of the Soares family, the estate exudes creativity, style and passion in every detail, from the exquisitely decorated homes to the picture perfect stables to the carefully curated vineyards.
We were greeted by Rita Soares, the CEO, who ushered us into the tasting room for an introduction to the estate’s award-winning wines, and brief introduction to its history and the family’s vision. From there we were taken to our stunning accommodations, beautifully appointed rooms centered around a large, modern living space with an open kitchen, sumptuous furniture and a bar that sits opposite a vintage Steinway piano. Pure magic.
Throughout our stay, Rita and her husband João lavished us with time and attention. We’ve never known more gracious hosts…they joined us at dinner each night and arranged for Portugal’s most renowned chef, Joachim Koerper, to oversee a lunch that could only be described as spectacular. We met other members of the family, gawked at João‘s motorcycle collection, visited the stables, and toured the estate by ATVs and Land Rovers.
If we seem effusive, it’s because this is one of the most astounding properties we’ve experienced in more than 40 years in the travel profession. You simply have to put it on your dream list. We will be back.
From that point we ventured south to the Algarve, Portugal’s southern coast, a place of expansive beaches and endless sunshine. En route we visited a Roman temple, a Chapel of Bones, and a delightful hilltop town where we were treated to an authentic local tavern meal. Delicious!
Arriving on the coast, we were met on a hillside high above the ocean by the manager of the Grand House, who plied us with fresh local oysters and Champagne, before we went on to the Grand Beach Club, a seaside restaurant owned by the hotel and available exclusively to hotel guests, where we met with a good friend from the hotel industry. Amazing food. Great conversation. Then, on to the nearby hotel…an intimate, beautifully appointed property across the street from the waters of the port. All of this within eyesight of Spain, which lies just across the Guadiana River (note for those interested in visiting Spain: Barcelona is only an hour away!).
Another amazing meal, followed by a round of exquisite Port (and cigars!). This was a fairly quick visit, but offered valuable insight into a beautiful property in a location favored by those who lean toward abundant sunshine and salty breezes.
As with any great journey, this was about the point that we started looking at the remaining itinerary with the wistful sorrow that the trip’s end was just days away. But, there was no time to bemoan the sifting sands of time…we were about to jet off to northern Portugal. Upon arrival in Porto we began an exploration of yet another of Portugal’s distinct regions. We were welcomed at the airport and ushered to beautiful yacht for a cruise on the Douro River. It was truly a unique way to enjoy the sights of the city, but the Douro Valley was calling. Our rather gorgeous accommodations were at the Six Senses, which sits high above the valley with a commanding view of the terraced landscape. The Valley is a place where the land’s native beauty has been enhanced by the hands of vintners and artisans who have tended to the Valley over centuries. The Six Senses embodies all the grace one expects from the brand, and offers an all-encompassing sense of oneness with the place in which it is situated…carefully prepared and locally sourced food, local wines, expansive gardens, and an impressive spa all curated to offer guests an immersive sense of comfort and well-being.
Not all of our time was spent on the property. During our time in the Douro Valley we enjoyed a vintage car ride (in a Cadillac Eldorado!), a boat journey on the Douro, and an other-worldly cooking experience with a Countess. Another astounding experience offered by Tempo-VIP.
Following all of this we returned to Lisbon, where we spent our final evening in Portugal at one of the loveliest small hotels imaginable, Bairro Alto, ending it all with a dinner with Danilo and his beautiful girlfriend.
Portugal is emerging as a favored destination for travelers, and our whirlwind visit provided us clear insight into why it should be on your travel wish list. With possibilities ranging from urbane Lisbon and Porto to the serenity of the Alentejo to the beaches of the Algarve and on to the vertiginous vineyards of the Douro Valley, Portugal provides an amazing array of opportunities for the aficionado of art, history, cuisine, wine, and elegant relaxation. And, while budget concerns are not an issue for many, it offers all of this at price points that comprise great value.
Now is the time to travel to Portugal. In concert with our partners who assisted us in putting together our journey of discovery, we can craft an incomparable experience for you and your family. It’s truly a must-visit destination.
A few days ago we shared some of our experiences in Antarctica. It was a life-changing experience…the beauty and abundance of life there was astounding.
But, there was more to this trip. Our expedition to Antarctica was originally scheduled to depart from Ushuaia, but the state of the world rendered that port of embarkation impractical, prompting Silversea to switch to Porto Natales, Chile. I’m tempted to say “when life offers your lemons, make lemonade,” but the truth was that this offered us an incredible opportunity to follow our trip to one of the more amazing places on Earth with a visit to another of the more amazing places on Earth, Patagonia. And, thus, a plan was hatched.
Upon disembarking from the beautiful Silver Cloud in Punta Arenas, we (and two members of our “travel family”) were met by a van that took us on our three-hour drive to The Singular Patagonia, perhaps the most unique hotel we’ve ever visited (photos below). Situated just outside the fishing village of Porto Natales, the Singular is a clever reinvention of an abandoned cold storage facility. The history is fascinating…and on full display, with substantial part of the original facility still intact, serving as a museum of the industry and the machinery of a bygone era. Ensconced within the old factory is a luxurious hotel that offers exceptional comfort and outstanding dining.
The hotel is situated very close to the world famous Torres del Paine National Park (https://parquetorresdelpaine.cl/en/home/). While our travel partners opted for a couple of days of strenuous hiking, including a puma trek, we settled into a more relaxed, though active, pace. With only three nights at the uber-cool Singular Santiago, one day was spent on an all-day driving tour, with a driver and guide…very knowledgable and professional. The sights were magnificent, and the day was punctuated by a gourmet picnic lunch, replete with Chilean wines, served in the Park.
While Torres del Paine is accessible by road vehicles, vast expanses are equally as wild as Antarctica. Glacier-fed lakes sit at the base of impossibly steep mountains, with glacial waters cascading over immense waterfalls. Condors abound, as do guanacos, members of the camelid family resembling llamas.
The park encompasses approximately 550,000 acres (225,000 hectares) of pristine, untamed natural beauty, and hikers, bicyclists, and adventure motorcyclists have been known to spend weeks exploring this incredible land, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve known as the Eighth Natural Wonder of the World. Our day tour was sensational, but we will be back…you could lose yourself for days or weeks in this amazing Park…and beyond, in greater Patagonia.
Our second full day was fairly tame, encompassing a visit to the quaint, somewhat hardscrabble town of Porto Natales. Life here, near the bottom of South America, is not so far from the Antarctic Circle. These days fishing remains the core of the economy, along with tourism. It’s reflected in the local abundance of incredible seafood such as sea bass and king crab, which are a large part of the local culinary offerings, along with lamb and other wood-fired dishes.
We could have—should have—stayed much longer, but home was beckoning, so after our third night we hopped a flight to Santiago, Chile’s capital city. Our awaiting driver took us immediately to the Singular Santiago, another hotel that ranks high on the “Fantastico!” scale. Rooms are comfortable and the staff was beyond helpful. Our first stop after settling into our rooms was the rooftop bar and restaurant. As we had experienced in Patagonia, the food at the Singular Santiago was exceptional.
The next two days were spent touring. Both days we were in the hands of Ynez, a woman with an encyclopedic knowledge of Santiago and Chilean history. Truth be told, Santiago offers some beautiful sights—gorgeous parks and historic buildings—along with the somewhat jarring reminders of the civil unrest of 2019, significant expanses of graffiti.
Night life in the area around the Singular is animated, to say the least. Mere steps from the hotel…actually, just around the corner…each night brought a vibrant scene of outdoor dining, open air vendors of every variety, and street performances ranging from dance to singing. It’s more than entertaining; in every direction there’s something to see, hear or taste. And, it’s also safe…though pickpockets are something to be aware of, families with young children are a significant part of the crowd. Mind your wallet, but enjoy the panorama of humanity on the street.
Our second full day in Santiago saw us meeting up with Ynez again, then heading out of the city to tour the Santa Rita Winery. We’re not quite sure what magical spell Ynez cast over the staff at the ticket counter, but what was supposed to be a brief tour of the winemaking facility turned into a half day of touring the entire estate—vineyards, gardens, hotel, chapel, and, finally, a wine tasting experience in the historic tasting room of the Mansion.
This was truly a treat…and touring with expert guides such as Ynez is always something we recommend to our clients. An outstanding private guide not only brings context and understanding to the sights you’re experiencing, but he or she can sometimes open doors that are closed to most visitors.
The wines of Santa Rita are really outstanding, as were all of the Chilean wines we sampled during our visit. Winemaking is a large part of the country’s economy, and overall their outstanding vintages are a real bargain compared to most others.
Our time in Santiago was truly filled to the brim…art, architecture, history, and wine…but we were ready to head home the next evening (flights from Santiago back to the States generally leave in the late evening). For once…the first time in memory…Mike actually slept on the overnight flight back to Houston.
Our visit to Chile capped one of the most diverse and spectacular trips of our lives, ranging from the urban experience of sophisticated, but sometimes raw, Santiago, to the untamed beauty of Antarctica (teaming with life), to the spectacular scenery of Patagonia and Torres del Paine (wild beyond words). And, true to the Elán credo to “Travel beyond,” we combined all of this with the expert guidance of Silversea’s incredible expedition staff and stays at two astoundingly unique Singular hotels.
As we write this, we are packing our bags for Portugal, where we will visit, evaluate, and report back on one of the world’s hottest destinations. Later this spring we’ll be heading back to South America, visiting Peru and experiencing the Belmond touch as we make our way to Machu Picchu.
There’s more on the agenda…Victoria has a board meeting in Iceland and Mike is kicking the tires for our BMW motorcycle tour of the American West. If we’re able to incorporate some partner properties into our itinerary as we make our way to the Grand Canyon we’ll share the rundown here.
We feel fortunate to be able to share these experiences, and we urge those who have been hesitating to live their travel dreams to stop waiting. Partners such as those we worked with to make our most recent travel dreams come to life—Silversea, Singular Hotels, and Abercrombie & Kent—are key to crafting unforgettable travel experiences for our clients throughout the world, and we are exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to work with the world’s top travel suppliers, both for our personal travel and that of our clients.
The world has reopened. It’s time to travel beyond!
We’ve been on an epic adventure for the past two weeks or so, but our ability to update you on our travels was limited by sporadic to nonexistent connection to the internet. So, buckle up—you’re about to get two weeks’ worth of news in one dose. I invite you to peruse the slide show below; the magnitude of Antarctica is impossible to capture in mere words.
Our summary of travels to and in some of the world’s most wild and beautiful regions—Antarctica and Patagonia—follows. This post will focus on Antarctica, and we’ll follow up on our visit to Patagonia (as well as Santiago) next week.
This trip has been a long time in the making. We began planning our expedition to Antarctica over two years ago. It seemed a fitting way to mark the launch of Elan. But, as with many others’ plans, the advent of C19 threw a wrench into our initial plans. Working with Silversea’s incredible expedition specialists, we forged ahead, undaunted. In total, we saw three cancellations of our Antarctica expedition, and finally saw the possibility of success toward the last months of 2021, as the date of our late January embarkation approached. We had asked others to join us, but with the schedule being a moving target some had to postpone their Antarctic ambitions.
Nonetheless, we were accompanied by three other couples on this trip. It was an immense honor to travel with them and the time we spent together gave us the opportunity to expand our “travel family.” We hope that we will be able to share future trips with those who became truly special friends.
Throughout the nearly two years from which we started planning for Antarctica, Silversea (as well as others who sail to the Seventh Continent) continued to explore ways to make it happen and ultimately found a winning approach. Changing our point of embarkation from Ushuaia, Argentina to Punta Arenas, Chile was the major factor that permitted Silversea to move ahead with our somewhat modified itinerary. So, on January 28, we flew from Chicago to Santiago, Chile to begin our incredible journey.
Without belaboring the point, the COVID protocols adopted by the Chilean government were a challenge, but with the expert guidance of Silversea we were able to negotiate the complexities without any real difficulty. By the time we were permitted to board the Silver Cloud we had completed three COVID tests and undergone an exhaustive process of authenticating our vaccinations. Was it worth it? Without a doubt!
On January 29th, after a one-night stay in Santiago and a subsequent flight to Punta Arenas, the Silver Cloud pulled away from the dock. This, in itself, struck many of us as almost surreal. After two years of planning, frequent disappointments, and negotiating the Chilean bureaucracy, we could scarce believe we were underway.
That afternoon, we sailed through the Strait of Magellan, along Tiera del Fuego, and entered the Drake Passage. Even now, I get all goosebumpy, thinking of our transit through waters that I first studied in grade school…places that seemed impossibly exotic and remote.
The Drake Passage is a notorious body of water, the place where the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific meet. Combined with sometimes impressive winds, it can be a daunting experience. Our first few hours were admittedly a bit choppy, with waves of 20-plus feet. But, the Captain forged a path that soon became smooth, even serene. The two day sailing across the Drake remained uneventful. The first evening we were introduced to our butler and learned about the extensive array of Silversea amenities, from in-suite dining to daily laundry service. While the voyage was to introduce us to untouched lands and wildlife, our time on boarded the ship was marked by comfort and gracious service. Equally important, the ship’s many expedition specialists, scientists ranging from mammalogists to botanists, were constantly available and circulating around the ship. Conversations with them brought context to what we were experiencing, and are a key part of Silversea’s expedition offerings.
Our arrival in the South Shetland Islands…at the tip of the Antarctic Archipegalo…seemed almost magical. As we approached, the first sighting of whales occurred, and we prepared for our first trip ashore via the Silver Cloud’s fleet of Zodiac boats. Many of our fellow travelers shed a tear of joy at our arrival. It seemed nothing less than magical.
There are not enough superlatives.
It seemed to take forever for our first trip ashore—base layer, mid layer, waterproofs, boots, parka, and life preserver were de rigeur. Ultimately we got the hang of it, and what seemed like an hour-long process soon became reduced to minutes. It’s worth noting that Silversea and others operating in Antarctica require each passenger to undergo a serious sanitation process before venturing ashore. Prior to the first excursion, boots, poles and clothing are checked for possible contaminants and bio-tagged once cleared. Expeditioners walk through an antiseptic tray both upon departing and returning to the ship. And, boots and overpants are washed to ensure that no contaminants are transferred. It’s an impressive display of respect for the pristine ecosystem, one that is repeated each time anyone goes ashore.
If you don’t find the experience of setting foot on Antarctica for the first time to be emotional, you don’t have a beating heart. It is simply otherworldly. We’ll let our photos tell the story, but every moment of our time in Antarctica was filled with wondrous sensations. It is as far from the frozen lifeless continent that many imagine. Rather, it is teaming with life—whales, seals, penguins, and a continuous array of avian species are on display. Beneath the surface of the water, Antarctica is blessed with an abundance of krill, tiny sea creatures that form the base of the food chain for the fish, mammals and birds that call Antarctica home. It’s claimed that 20% of the Earth’s biomass is found in Antarctica and its waters, a fact that is driven home by the observation that the places we visited provided a glimpse into an abundance of life.
Every day in Antarctica provided us a continuous panorama that nearly defies comprehension—blue icebergs (some immense), rising steam from volcanic sands, huge colonies of penguins, and feeding orcas come to mind. The experience is enhanced by an impressive crew of scientists who provided context to what we were seeing, and the others serving us—not the least of whom was our own butler—making life aboard the Silver Cloud extremely comfortable. Suites are well appointed, and nearly all feature a veranda, from which passengers can take in the sights of Antarctica. The vistas are incomprehensible in their majesty.
Ultimately, after six days in Antarctica, with many trips ashore, we returned via the Drake Passage to Punta Arenas. As with our first passage, the first few hours saw us the ship rolling pretty noticeably. And, again, within a few hours we were back in calmer waters and smooth sailing.
On February 8th we arrived back in Punta Arenas. Most of the ship’s passengers returned to Santiago via a chartered aircraft. However, we opted to extend our adventure, traveling on to Chile’s famed Patagonia region. More on that in our next installation.
Before we turn to that next chapter, it’s worth offering a couple of general impressions. Exploring Antarctica is a close to visiting another planet as you can imagine. Each day you are met with a seemingly endless panorama of glaciers and dramatic mountains rising from the sea. Animal life is abundant, astonishingly so. And, it’s pristine. Apart from a few remnants from the whaling era and scattered scientific research stations, Antarctica remains a wild place.
Perhaps more than any place we’ve ever traveled, Antarctica stole a piece of our hearts. It’s a creation that tests the limits of your senses, a blend of purity and wildness that penetrates your soul. Should you ever have the opportunity to visit, do not let it pass.
You’re going to have to pay attention, because this post has more flashbacks than “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We’ll start with the Victoria’s most recent travels, harken back to a couple of earlier travels, then wrap it all up with some final thoughts and tips.
First, we need to acknowledge that 2021 has not always rewarded us with the limitless greener pastures we envisioned as 2020. We took a few hits ourselves. If nothing else, the challenges that have been thrown our way have taught us all lessons in resiliency. And, for many, it brought home the fact that we have a limited time to live our life’s dreams.
Overall, travel rebounded in an astounding manner among our clientele, but not everyone was as fortunate. Challenges remain, but if you’re willing to travel in the year ahead, we’d urge you to remember all those who take care of us while we’re on the road…the servers, the porters, the cleaners, and others have taken a huge hit. A little encouragement or extra generosity may make a real difference in their lives.
Victoria recently returned from a whirlwind trip to the French Riviera and Paris, where she evaluated several new or renovated properties, and participated in ILTM, one of the larger gatherings of luxury travel providers and advisors in the world. These types of trips are key to advising our clients, who expect a high level of current knowledge and personal insight into the choices with which they are faced.
She began her trip with a visit to the recently completed Maybourne Riviera, an astounding hotel built on the vertiginous cliffs overlooking the waters of the French Riviera. This beautiful property is located within a short distance to Eze and other gorgeous destinations within the region.
From there, she went on to the Four Seasons Hotel du Cap Ferrat (where we stayed a couple of years ago) and the Hotel Martinez. The week at ILTM was followed by a visit to Paris, traveling on board the TGV train. In Paris, Victoria visited a number of new or recently updated hotels, including the sumptuous Le Bristol and the new Cheval Blanc Paris. We’ve posted a few photos below.
This trip followed an autumn trip to Italy where we combined family time with visits to some of Tuscany’s most incredible destinations. Other trips this past year included Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit, Hawaii’s Big Island, and a swing down the stunning California coast, including visits at some incredible properties.
In each instance, we were confronted with the same questions and COVID-related hurdles that our clients are facing, and learned some invaluable lessons. Primary among them is that the rewards of travel are perhaps even greater now than they have ever been.
Flashback to Italy: this was a wonderful journey, on which we were accompanied by some of our favorite people. We visited properties that are at the very top of their game, and we learned a bit about navigating Europe during a time when the rules were in flux. In spite of these somewhat minor challenges, this turned out to be a life-changing trip. Most of it was spent with our son Alex and his wife Aly, starting with a brief stay in Florence at the impeccable St. Regis, then traveling on to our villa just outside of the jaw-dropping city of Siena. Our villa was perfect, absolutely perfect. We struck up a friendship with our chef, Merope Harris, to the point that our son at one point declared “Merope is family.” Yep.
Incomparable scenery, visits to world-class wineries, and dining at restaurants that displayed excellence with a nod to tradition were part of every day. There are no better words to sum up how amazing this trip was than the words of our daughter-in-law Aly, who said “Italy is my new favorite everything.”
Similarly, our visits to Mexico and Hawaii illustrated that the world is still open to those who are prepared.
What did we learn? First—and we know not everyone is overjoyed by this—it has become increasingly apparent that, at least for the foreseeable future, you should consider becoming “fully vaccinated.” Simply put, those who are not are now finding much of the world closed to them. For most adults, and even children, this means receiving the full series of jabs, including boosters. Americans, your CDC vaccination card is now as essential as a passport.
Thoroughly researching your destination’s requirements is also a must—without going into excruciating detail, timing requirements and documentation of tests and immunizations are now every bit as important as your hotel reservations. Much of the value in working with the top professionals who are our partners lies in their ability to help us navigate these issues.
On our recent trips we have used a range of specialty services to make (y)our travel more pleasurable. First, we have partnered with an incredible “meet and greet” service that will ease your arrival (and, if necessary, transfers) at many of the world’s largest airports. For Victoria’s trip to Cannes, where the fashion demands ranged from walking about cobblestone streets to attending elegant dinner parties, she used our luggage forwarding partner, Luggage Free, to forward most of her wardrobe. In a time when there are some extra hurdles to travel, accessing these tricks of the trade can make all the difference.
What do we see for 2022? Knowing that none of us can predict every possible twist and turn, we are optimistic about a continuing surge in travel. We saw this emerging throughout 2021, and it seems that governments are increasingly emphasizing a balanced approach to health concerns that is resulting in the easing of restrictions. Our travel calendar over the next six months presently includes visits to Antarctica, Patagonia, Peru, and Portugal. Beyond that, we are plotting for a possible return to Alaska and other destinations on our must-do list. If you’ve been waiting, we urge you to realistically evaluate whether 2022 may be the time for you to check off a destination or two from your bucket list.
Please join us for a few snapshots from our 2021 travels, The Best Travel Year Of Our Lives….
We just returned from an incredible time in Tuscany, and we owe our faithful followers a report:
This trip was conceived two years ago, a process that involved sifting through dozens of villas and finding the one that was “just right.” Ultimately we decided on a villa near Siena, just outside the town of Pianella. Everything was set…for September 2020. That, of course, didn’t happen, and the villa owner agreed to a postponement of a year.
We, of course, had to wait; the world wasn’t open. But now that travel to places like Italy is once again possible, we can’t imagine waiting. The time to visit Italy is now; the conditions are ideal.
The day for our departure arrived, and we set off from O’Hare IAP with our son Alex and daughter-in-law Aly. Travel on the airline was uneventful…just an additional check or two of COVID test results and vaccination records, but otherwise unremarkable. Throughout our visit we found that Italy was easy to navigate—light crowds and minimal restrictions. We all made sure to have our vaccination records with us when we ventured out, but over the span of our two week-plus visit we were asked to show those documents no more than around a half dozen times. As in the States, some people were wearing masks, but outside very few people did so. Most of our meals were on patios—some covered and some not—and wearing masks was just not an issue. In museums and shops all were wearing masks.
So, overall, we experienced very little inconvenience. For those who are fully vaccinated, Italy is truly a piece of cake to visit. It’s perhaps even a bit better to visit at this time because of the light crowds. But, on to the details of our visit….
Flying via Frankfurt, we arrived in Florence the morning following our departure and made our way to the beautiful St. Regis, situated along the Arno River. Upon settling in, we immediately set off to visit our friend Claudio Meli, the GM of The Place, an exquisite small hotel in the heart of Florence. Claudio, the consummate host, treated us to what was absolutely the best gelato any of us had ever experienced. Later, we returned to The Place for an exquisite dinner on the outdoor patio. Really, a stunning setting.
The following morning we took a quick walking tour of the city, then set off to pick up our rental car and head for the heart of Tuscany. The drive was fairly uneventful, at least as uneventful as any drive in Italy can be, and we were just a little flabbergasted when we arrived at our beautiful villa, just outside of Siena. It was perfect.
Rather than droning on with a play-by-play, an overview, with a few highlights is probably best:
We spent a couple of days in the cities of Florence and Siena, each beautiful in its own way. It is just possible that Florence is our favorite city in the world. The concentration of history, art and architecture is unmatched, largely a result of the Medici family’s wealth and influence.
Most days saw us jumping into our car and exploring Tuscany. We went in every direction from our villa, and within a very short drive there was inevitably a beautiful village to be seen, a winery to be visited, or a stunning vista to take away your breath. It’s hard to envision the concentration of notable wineries and historic sites in every direction. And, wonder of wonders, there were three Michelin-star restaurants within minutes of our Villa.
A large part of our time in Tuscany was focused on visiting our industry partners, evaluating their properties, and discussing future joint plans with Elán. First among these was the St. Regis in Florence. This elegant hotel combines notes of traditional luxury with the modern. It was a true treat to settle into this iconic hotel, which is supremely comfortable, but the highlight had to be seeing our daughter-in-law Aly doing the sabering of the champagne, a St. Regis tradition around the world.
Have you ever heard of The Place, a small property in Florence heralded as among the world’s finest hotels? It’s so nice, we visited twice! The first time to meet with our good friend, GM Claudio Meli, for a tour of their latest updates and what turns out to have been the best chocolate gelato of our trip, and the second time for an incredible dinner on the piazza. It’s one of our favorites of all the places we’ve visited in the world. The Place. Florence. It gets no better.
One of our first expeditions was to Rosewood’s Castiglion del Bosco, near Montalcino. One of the most comprehensive vineyard tours and wine tastings we’ve ever experienced was followed by a visit to a villa to grab some video for a client, and a meal that was out of this world. Castiglion del Bosco is a real treat, offering a wide range of sumptuous accommodations atop a mountain that affords vistas that seem endless. They are among the most highly trusted partners in Elán’s portfolio, and our visit cemented our adoration of this property.
The following day, we were treated to a lunchtime visit to Villa San Michele, where a Michelangelo-designed facade greeted us, followed by a cocktail in the stunning gardens that overlook Florence. The setting for our lunch—prior to our tour of the Uffizi and the Academia—was a “Wow!” in the true sense.
Later in the week we visited Tenuta Argentaia. This thousand-year-old compound had fallen into ruins and has been faithfully restored by its owner, a former trader on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It features tremendous privacy and expansive spaces, along with one of the foremost privately owned modern art collections in Europe. Look for a collaboration between Elán and this one of a kind property in the months ahead.
It’s hard to name any one of these properties as the top among those we visited, but it’s hard to imagine any place more beautiful and serene than Belmond’s Castello di Casole. Describing it as a hotel does not really do it justice, as it consists of a restored castle and all the elements of the surrounding town, now incorporated in the accommodations, dining venues, and other facilities of the resort. GM Roberto Protezione is the consummate host, and his passion for gardening has created one of the most visually stunning places in all of Tuscany. Upon arrival, guests are greeted by the rose garden he conceived, with 4,000 rose bushes. Incredible! Throughout the property the gardeners have masterfully woven extravagant flowering plants into the fabric of this ancient town. Photos cannot do it justice.
One other property worth mentioning was one of our neighbors…Hotel La Fontanelle was just a couple hundred meters from the entrance to our villa. We crashed their party twice during our visit, the first time to meet with the GM and sales staff, and the second to enjoy a lunch on the pool patio. This family-owned hotel is an unheralded treasure, lovingly restored from ancient ruins and commanding an impressive place atop a Tuscan hill. The family owns and operates a nearby winery that is utterly state of the art.
We were so privileged to visit these, and other, properties in Tuscany. We are developing Elán-specific programs with each of them, and truly could spend an extended holiday at any one of them. Alas, this is not to be…at least not now. It’s too invigorating to make the rounds, firm up plans, and look toward the future.
Our villa, a short distance from Siena, was fabulous. Comfortable and quiet, it provided a great home from which to conduct our many excursions. The household manager Salvatore (“Sati”) took great care of us, and our chef who came in daily, Merope Harris, really made our time at the villa special. We hope to partner with Merope in the future, and would suggest that she is a great choice for those who want to experience a level of true culinary excellence in their Tuscan home. FWIW, our son Alex declared Merope “family,” and it was truly sad to bid her farewell.
Apart from the visual splendor of Tuscany, the wines, and the food, that is what makes our travels so rewarding. The casual conversations. The shared stories. And the bonds that last forever.
Now, more than ever, two words should guide each of us: “Don’t wait.”
Please enjoy the slideshow….
Elán has been very, very busy. A good thing, reflecting the fact that people are traveling again and enjoying the world. We love helping others travel beyond their day-to-day, experiencing discovery and enjoyment. However, it’s time for us to grab a bit of relaxation.
Or close to it. We’ll be leaving for Italy this week, leaving behind a house occupied only by an armed guard or two, and will not return until nearly the end of September. We’re going to be staying in the Tuscan villa pictured above, doing a bit of touring, drinking a bit of Chianti, and enjoying one of the more pleasurable places on Earth.
Okay, to be totally honest, a lot of it will be work-related. We have several visits and consultations set up with our industry partners while in Italy, and we’ll share some of that here. Stay tuned in to this page and to our Facebook posts (https://www.facebook.com/102189984600211/) as we try to grab a bit of relaxation with our enjoyment of beautiful Tuscany.
The best part of it is that we’ll be spending this time with family and friends…our son Alex, his wife Aly, and our wonderful friends, Chuck, Laura, and Alison.
We’re turning off the computers, except to occasionally fire them up for an update on our travels, so we’ll be providing contact information for colleagues who will unerringly help you with any urgent travel needs during our absence.
A few days ago we got a little giddy and shared a hint about an upcoming opportunity, referring to the the latitude of the Arctic Circle. We can now share the information: Elán has reserved a limited number of suites on the Inaugural Norwegian Journey of the Explora I, departing from Southampton and journeying along the stunning Norwegian Fjords, ultimately arriving at the Svartisen Glacier and the Arctic Circle.
Explora is an entirely new venture, joining the Aponte family’s centuries of seafaring experience with many of the leading names in the world of refined travel. Our ship, the Explora I, captures the storied seagoing history of its creators and will take guests to unrivaled destinations in a style unmatched anywhere. We have been given a sneak preview, and to say it’s amazing is no exaggeration.
We’re really excited. Really excited. We’re among a handful who have been selected to offer this inaugural opportunity to our clients. It happens on 11 July 2023, and it promises to be beyond extraordinary.
Travel Beyond…with Elán and Explora.
To learn more, please email Victoria at email@example.com. We can’t wait to hear from you.
You may recall that Victoria returned from Rwanda just a few weeks ago, where she experienced one of the more magical travel experiences on the planet…trekking into the jungle to spend time with the mountain gorillas.
Many of our clients asked for more information, so we’ve worked with our friends at Micato Safaris and the One&Only Resorts to bring you some further details. First, we’d like to share with you this brief profile of Prosper Uwingeli, the man principally responsible for the welfare of the mountain gorillas within Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. He’s an incredible person, approaching the task with the conviction that he is saving the world for these magnificent animals….