In Europe, luxury travel experiences keep taking off in new directions, as can be expected on a continent tailor-made for today’s world of bespoke travel. This is, of course, good news for U.S. travel planners looking for new horizons and creative ways to serve their upscale, well-traveled, recently adventurous, and often repeat-travel clients. They are the audience for the newest luxury lodgings and most exclusive trips, the most extraordinary and authentic experiences. We zeroed in on a trio of tour operators that are addressing the expanding and demanding bespoke market in three different ways.
It was the boom in the luxury travel market that begot Luxury Gold vacations, once the baby sister of Insight Vacations and now a free-standing family member of The Travel Corporation, and most recently, inducted as a Virtuoso luxury travel partner. “We are very attuned to the fact that travelers want to see Europe in the best way possible and have experiences that are not available to the average traveler,” says Phil Cappelli, president of Luxury Gold USA, this year introducing nine itineraries for small groups, five of which are in Europe. “We [seek] to guarantee a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he continues,” by ensuring that each of our small group journeys includes immersive cultural encounters, the finest luxury accommodations, Michelin-starred dining, and the services of a passionate Traveling Concierge who can personalize the trip to individual tastes.”
Atop the luxury ladder this year will be its new Chairman’s Collection, a curated selection of memorable encounters with European nobles in stunning locales that are available on only 12 Luxury Gold departures to France, Italy, England and Austria. Inspired by the golden era of travel, Stanley Tollman, chairman of The Travel Corporation, called upon his extensive personal connections to give guests the chance to meet with counts, duchesses and princesses, and to go behind the scenes at some of Europe’s most celebrated castles and estates. Think a private reception with Princess Anita von Hohenberg on the Harmony of Central Europe itinerary, or an exclusive lunch and wine tasting with Count Francesco Mazzei at his centuries-old Tuscan estate on the Ultimate Italy itinerary.
And come summertime, Luxury Gold guests on select trips will enjoy the pre-trip amenity of starting (and ending) their journeys with the brand-new door-to-door private airport transfer service. These limousine transfers will be available to guests living within a 50-mile radius of a qualifying international airport in the U.S.; guests living beyond this perimeter will receive a credit to their trip booking, while they make their own transfer arrangements.
CIE Tours International
The evolution of luxury travel products continues at CIE Tours International, with this year’s Luxury Vacation Collection expanded to embrace both Ireland and Britain and offering clients three choices:
• Private Driver Vacations for two or more people, touring in Mercedes-Benz in the company of an expert guide who escorts clients along the customized itinerary by day, dropping them off each evening at their luxury lodgings.
• Custom Guided Vacations for a group of 10 or more travelers traveling by luxury coach with a private tour director, with the option to choose ideal departure dates; itinerary; hotels and attractions.
• Exclusive Luxury Guided Vacations, with a maximum of 26 guests traveling by luxury coach and staying at top accommodations, many with golf and spa facilities.
Cox & Kings
Luxury travel is not new to Cox & Kings, The Americas, and Warren H. Chang, its COO, reminds us that “luxury, Cox & Kings-style, puts the accent on providing travelers with pluperfect cultural and wildlife journeys. And this year, our roster of luxury escorted tours and private journeys in Europe is a bit exotic, appealing to those seeking, in the company of expert guides, to discover new horizons in familiar places, as well as overlooked destinations.”
Chang points out that there is great interest this year in Scandinavia, where the luxury of adventure seems to be the call of the wild in Arctic areas for clients who have dreamed of experiencing the Northern Lights or Midnight Sun, or of going dog sledding or snowshoeing (tour options: 9-night Finland: Winter Wonderland or Cities & Fjords from Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Flam, Bergen). There’s big demand for The New Baltics—Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia—as well as to the Balkan countries (tour: 8-night Balkan Discoveries: Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia). For Chang, pride of place in new luxury tours to traditional destinations is Great Britain and Cox & Kings’ Royal Heritage by Rail. “This 8-night private journey is a beautifully crafted itinerary—London, York, North Yorkshire, and Edinburgh—connected with ease and comfort by first class rail.”
Eurostar Headed for Holland
Gearing up for peak spring launch, Eurostar’s high-speed trains will begin zipping directly between London’s St. Pancreas station to the heart of Amsterdam (Rotterdam will follow at a later date). The twice-daily service will use the brand-new e-320 rolling stock, which features free WiFi and meals in Standard Premier and Business Premier classes. New lounges will allow passengers to pass through security before boarding in London or Holland, then just step off on disembarkation and exit the station. Trip time between London and Amsterdam will take around four hours city-center to city-center, a compelling reason to switch from air to high-speed rail.
Speed is also the travel story in Germany, where travel time has been cut from 6-½ hours to four with the introduction of ICE Sprinter service three times daily between Berlin and Munich. For more 2018 updates, contact Rail Europe, the largest distributor of European rail products in North America. raileurope.com