Written by, Gayle Keck for Luxury Defined, the lifestyle blog for Christie’s International Real Estate
Keck writes about travel and food for The Washington Post, GQ, and The Guardian
From close encounters with gorillas in Africa to high-octane rides in a stunt helicopter, there’s a unique getaway tailored to every thrill-seeker:
What’s the secret to a perfect adventure? Understanding clients’ dreams, hopes, and desires, according to the travel experts. To craft an unforgettable, never-to-be-repeated trip, it has to be personal, starting with must-sees and then going deeper, to learn what will fill your heart—and make it pound. Here, we’ve gathered six expert travel organizers who can weave your adventure wishes into reality.
Exclusive, one-of-a-kind adventures such as kayaking in Alaska offer the ultimate escape from high-pressured lifestyles.
Elizabeth Ellis spent two years travelling and researching before founding Blue Marble Private in 2014. Today, London-based Ellis and her team of “travel designers” offer a truly boutique experience. “By working closely with our clients we become their personal travel advisors,” she says. “These are people who have extremely demanding lives, so we focus on delivering exceptionally tailored, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”
Blue Marble Private’s tailored experiences have included flying with the Breitling Jet Team. Blue Marble’s adrenalin-fueled experiences might include flying in formation with the aerobatic Breitling Jet Team or riding alongside Red Bull’s chief pilot in a stunt helicopter. Later this year, it will take clients 12,500 feet under the surface of the Atlantic in a submersible on an expedition to survey the Titanic. Fewer people have visited the famous wreck than have travelled into space or ascended Mount Everest’s summit.
African safaris with a difference
There’s a lot more to a trip with Micato Safaris than big game. An African safari, for example, might include hiking in cloud forests, rafting, ballooning, scuba diving, horseback riding among giraffes, meeting Maasai warriors, and, of course, game drives. Lodging is at luxury hotels, lodges, or camps, and guests are accompanied by a safari director.
Micato Safaris has introduced intrepid travellers to Maasai warriors in Africa.
Founded in 1966 by the Pinto family, who were farmers in Kenya, the company offers safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, and Rwanda, as well as trips to India. Micato also specializes in giving runners the chance to train with professional marathoners at famous high-elevation training camps in Eldoret and Iten, Kenya, as part of Micato’s Elite Running Safari.
Bespoke trips for imaginative travellers
“If you can think it, we can make it happen,” says Stephanie Papaioannou, vice-president, private travel and guest relations at Abercrombie & Kent (A&K). Founded by Geoffrey Kent and his parents, the company has been offering bespoke trips for 53 years. “Mr. Kent quickly realized there were people who really didn’t want to travel with groups, who wanted custom, unique, authentic travel,” Papaioannou explains.
High-altitude treks to the Himalayas are a specialty of Abercrombie & Kent, which has been creating bespoke itineraries since 1962. Photograph: Getty Images.
For a family with teenage children who sought an upscale version of life depicted in reality TV shows such as Alaskan Bush People, A&K built a luxurious, four-bedroom cabin in the Alaskan wilderness, complete with an on-site helicopter for flightseeing. And for a husband who wanted to give his wife a special birthday, the company organized dinner under the stars at Petra, Jordan, with entertainment provided by the country’s top pianist. As a final touch, they had the wife’s name projected onto a hillside.
Kent himself leads journeys to the South Pole, complete with champagne served in crystal flutes, and luxury tents fitted with four-poster beds.
For the truly adventurous, however, A&K can organize super-high-altitude treks in the Annapurna region of the Himalayas—with an accompanying doctor in case of any issues with altitude. Accommodation is in guesthouses, but a luxury tent experience—including heaters, hot running water, and a chef—awaits at either end of the trail. “Luxury means a lot of different things for different people,” Papaioannou stresses. “We spend a great deal of time talking with clients about what it means to them.”
Luxury lodges among the gorillas
Volcanoes Safaris’ founder and CEO Praveen Moman was raised in Uganda, where his father was a British colonial officer. Early on he fell in love with the Virunga Mountains, a spectacular chain of eight volcanoes at the confluence of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “It was my backyard,” he says, “and one of the most special ecosystems in the world. [Renowned primatologist] Dian Fossey was around at the time, starting her gorilla research.”
Volcanoes Safaris makes it possible for travellers to take part in the annual gorilla-naming ceremony in Rwanda, view gorillas and chimpanzees in their natural habitats, or meet conservation specialists from The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
The Moman family was expelled from Uganda under president Idi Amin, but in 1995, following the Rwandan genocide, Praveen returned to help recovery efforts in the region. He built his first lodge in Uganda and expanded into Rwanda, so his clients could experience the magnificent native mountain gorillas. More than 20 years on, Volcanoes Safaris hosts adventurers at four luxury lodges, with trips to see chimpanzees as well as gorillas. Moman is deeply involved with conservation—of both wildlife and the area’s indigenous peoples. His company has even gifted land and is helping to build a village for displaced Batwa pygmies in Gahinga, Uganda.
Volcanoes Safaris can also facilitate guests’ attendance at the annual gorilla-naming ceremony in Rwanda, where distinguished visitors are able to name baby gorillas born in the previous year—an event that mirrors the local village tradition for naming human babies.
The company once staged a wedding for a couple who wanted to take their vows in front of a gorilla family, gaining permission from the park, working with rangers, and providing an officiant. (There’s no record of what the gorillas made of the event.) For those interested in conservation, Volcanoes Safaris can organize meetings with The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International charity, or veterinarian Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, who studies how human health affects gorillas.
Around the world by bicycle
Butterfield & Robinson (B&R) was founded in 1966 by student friends George Butterfield and Sidney Robinson, whose motto is “slowing down to see the world.” Today B&R has offices in Canada, France, Italy, and Brazil, and organizes trips to more than 60 destinations worldwide. The company pioneered bike touring in Europe—during its first-ever trip the founders accompanied a group of students around the continent—and its focus is still on tours that feature cycling, walking, and other active pursuits.
Butterfield & Robinson pioneered bike touring in Europe and still run trips around the vineyards of Burgundy.
B&R’s travel experts are regionally based specialists who road-test the entire trip to ensure everything goes smoothly. In Australia, private trip designer Annalise Andrews concentrates on immersing guests in local culture. “I like to give them authentic experiences where they can connect one-on-one with locals,” she says.
Andrews can organize a trip to Australia’s remote outback, with a local Aboriginal guide and luxury lodge-hopping by private charter plane. Or it might be something simpler, like a yacht in Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve. Both founders have led wine-focused trips in France, including one fly/bike odyssey that visited Bordeaux, Alsace, Champagne, and Burgundy to sip wines with their makers. Another included a cooking class at three-Michelin-starred restaurant L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges. It’s even possible to stay at Butterfield’s own house within the medieval walls of Beaune, Burgundy.
Magic in the mountains
The Treks founder Catherine Channon loves creating memorable moments, as she did for one guest who loved swimming as a child: “One hot day, at 6,500 feet, we swam across a glacial lake to a little island where we sat on our haunches eating wild blueberries, just the two of us,” she says. “It was magical.”
The Treks organizes climbs that have taken in the Col d’Anterne mountain pass near the Franco-Swiss border.
Channon, a lifelong fan of escaping the city, enjoyed organizing weekend trips for friends so much that five years ago she decided to turn it into a career. But if you’re looking for absolute luxury, her Alpine adventures may not be for you: while lodging at the beginning or end of the trail is in boutique hotels and gîtes, accommodation at high altitudes is in more rustic mountain refuges. However, The Treks does have its own chef. “We love food,” Channon says.
In an encounter of a totally different kind, Charlotte Jalley, The Treks’ crew lead, encouraged one group of guests to create a Bollywood routine performed on the tables of a Savoyard restaurant—to a track by Madonna. “It was surreal and totally unexpected, but so much fun,” Channon declares.
And if you don’t know your crampons from your pistons, don’t worry: “We’re about making the mountains enjoyable,” Channon explains, “seeing where the trails lead us…”