Indulgent Escapes

No matter the destination, cuisine has become a destination itself within the world of travel, giving tourists another opportunity to indulge in the delicious delicacies that define the region.

When it comes to food, travel company Brown + Hudson aims to integrate a country’s cuisine into a client’s overall experience, to the effect that guests feel like they’ve been on a culinary tour without necessarily realizing it. The same integration is seen and felt in every aspect of the “Heart of Darkness” tour through the cities and jungles of Ecuador.

Coined a luxpedition, the tour means to tell the “untold story of chocolate through exclusive access to areas few visitors have set foot in before,” all while experiencing utter luxury and insider access.

In partnership with To’ak Chocolate, the tour highlights several natural and cultural sights, particularly within the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve, where co-founder Jerry Toth originally became passionate about cacao farming. By way of rainforest conservation, Toth lived in the middle of the forest preserve in Ecuador for many years cultivating cacao trees, deciding after some time that he wanted to take the obsession to another level.

From the beginning, he says the goal of To’ak Chocolate was to “elevate dark chocolate to the level of vintage wine and aged whisky.” To’ak Chocolate is made with the rarest cacao beans in the world, which guests on the tour have the opportunity to experience at almost every level of crafting.

At the archaeological site of Santa Ana La Florida, travelers can explore the evidence left of the first domestic use of cacau among the Mayo-Chinchipe culture, dating back more than 5,000 years ago. With a visit to To’ak’s cacao plantation in the Valle Piedra de Plata, guests can roam the forest of nacional cacao trees, one of the most prized cacao beans on Earth and a species that was almost wiped from existence.

Jerry Toth

Photos courtesy Brown + Hudson.

Most appealing, though, will be the exclusive after-hours chocolate tasting in the Guayasamin Museum, creating a collective journey that acts as a portal into the culture, philosophy and emotions of the region.

Just as importantly, chocolate tends to play a complementary component in travel as well as dessert. Artisans of Leisure’s Food and Wine excursions provide in-depth private tours that couples the very best wine with other culinary and cultural highlights of the region, including chocolate.

For example, the “Bordeaux to Basque Country” tour includes sampling local wines, touring vineyards, viewing the architecture of several winery buildings, and sampling delicacies like chocolate found in the area.

This journey takes guests through cities and regions known for authenticity and tradition, from the half-timber houses and charming shops of Bayonne in southern France to the gastronomic capital of northern Spain, San Sebastian.

San Sebastian, Spain

Photo courtesy Artisan of Leisure.

While chocolate may not be thought of as the perfect complement to exercise, tour operators at UTracks have designed a self-guided bicycle tour that rides through the mountains and quaint cities of Switzerland, with special access to chocolatier shops and stops along the way. Tour Operator Kate Baker says the “Swiss Chocolate Cycle” tour offers the perfect balance of both travel and exercise. “Being active on holidays means you can indulge guilt free — a much better proposition than eating chocolate without being active.”

The tour will have participants cycling between cities throughout Switzerland, starting and ending in Zurich. Baker notes that “of course being in Switzerland, there are opportunities throughout the tour to taste artisan and more mainstream brands of chocolate.” In the town of Buchs, travelers will meet with chocolatiers at the Frey Chocolate visitor center to make their own chocolate bar. And after a peaceful bike trail along the Reuss River to the town of Root, travelers can experience the exciting world of Chocolatier Aeschbach, known for its tradition-conscious methods and high quality.

Other cities and destinations on the tour include the relaxing spa town of Baden, known for its thermal springs; views of the Swiss Alps through orchards and fields to the town of Sursee; a yacht trip around the bay of Lucerne; and so much more. The active aspect of the trip, Baker says, helps travelers to further witness the infusion of chocolate in many aspects of these cities. “A cyclist looks forward to every food experience, and moving between towns allows one to discover a range of cuisine.”

Top: Baden, Switzerland

Right: Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Photos courtesy Switzerland Tourism.

The busy summer season is coming to a close, but here are a few unforgettable destinations around the world that should be shared! These curated experiences are opportunities to immerse yourself in new cultures, taste new foods, appreciate art, design, history and enjoy time for yourself to rejuvenate.

Photo courtesy of São Lourenço do Barrocal

Wild Terrains — Portugal

As the only travel company leading women-only group trips that partner exclusively with local, female-owned businesses, Wild Terrains has expanded and launched their second destination – Portugal. This new eight-day/seven-night journey takes women travelers to Lisbon, Alentejo, and Porto, where the dynamic history, delicious food, and breathtaking landscapes are just the beginning. Guests stay at stylish women-owned hotels like The Lisboans in Lisbon and Duas Portas Townhouse in Porto. Experience a Lisbon street art tour designed by Vanessa Teodoro, a South African street artist. Enjoy a tasting menu dinner at women-owned Prado with wine pairings by Portugal’s top female winemakers, and so much more!

Other activities:

Foraging with Portuguese mixologist Constança Cordeiro, private mixology lessons, biking through the countryside of Alentejo Visit. Travelers will learn more about Portuguese food history with cooking classes and eating your way through Porto with a food crawl. Another option is to take a day trip to Douro Valley to meet some female winemakers in the region, and so much more!

Photo courtesy of Prado Restaurant                                                                                                                                              Photo courtesy of  The Lisboans

Photo courtesy of Wild Terrains

On Foot Holidays — Catalonia

The hills of Catalonia are perfect for a fall getaway, with the grape harvest in full swing in September. On Foot Holidays’ self-guided hiking vacation will take you through the terraced vineyards of the famed Priorat winemaking region to the town of Porrera, where there are, of course, plenty of opportunities to sample the local wines in celebration of completing your walk. Starting at Montsant, only an hour from Barcelona, the route through quiet hills with magnificent vistas also passes two fine abbeys – Poblet and Escaladei – the former thriving and active, the latter now being restored as an archaeological site of major significance. 

Did you know?

All of On Foot Holidays’ 32 routes throughout Europe are designed by a local – someone who lives near every route and is responsible for the upkeep of the route, hotel liaison and providing telephone support for all walkers during their trip. For this route, the locals recommend a stay in Barcelona at the end (or start) at one of On Foot Holidays’ hand-picked hotels or B&Bs.

Photos courtesy of On Foot Holidays

Les Ilets de la Plage – Saint Barth

The sixth edition of the Saint Barth Gourmet Festival takes place November 6-10, 2019 on the island of Saint Bathélemy. Now considered a major culinary event, the Festival’s cast of participating chefs is once again star-studded and comprises iconic figures of haute French cuisine. The Saint Barth Gourmet Festival is counted as one of the major events in the world of culinary excellence and one of the best gourmet festivals on an international scale. 

In addition: 

The intimate, family-owned beach resort offers 12 private villas with direct access to the white sand beach and azure sea. Secluded yet central, Les Ilets has been a well-kept secret for years, combining the privacy and serenity of a villa with a hotel concierge service at an affordable price. 

Photo courtesy of Pierre Carreau

Photo courtesy of Gerald Tessier

Ignacia Guest House — Mexico City

Stay in the beloved Colonia Roma neighborhood at Ignacia Guest House, a trendy eco-friendly bed and breakfast. Featuring just five unique suites, the hotel’s namesake is Ignacia, the housekeeper who took care of this 1913 colonial mansion for more than 70 years. In celebration of Dia de los Muertos, the chef will bake the traditional holiday bread for breakfast that week – Pan de Muertos or “bread of the dead,” a slightly sweet, brioche-like bread covered with orange blossom water and anise seeds. 

In addition:

Foodies will love Eat Like a Local Mexico City’s special Dia de los Muertos food tour where founder Rocio Vazquez Landeta shares her personal approach to the celebration. Start the day with coffee, sweet bread, and street tacos with a visit to the flower market to enjoy delicious food while shopping for candy skulls, flowers, candles, colorful papers, and more. 

Photo courtesy of Jaime Navarro

The Liming — Bequia 

To Caribbean locals, liming means ‘the art of doing nothing.’ At The Liming Bequia, this leisurely way of passing the time comes with added luxury. Set on the tiny island of Bequia, this boutique hideaway is refreshingly off the beaten track compared to larger islands. With lush gardens, a private marina and views towards Canouan and Mayreau, The Liming instantly rewards you for going that bit further. 

Did you know?

Reopening after the off-season on November 9th, 2019, The Liming Bequia recently announced a special offer for travelers –

stay for 7 nights, pay only for 5” – so guests can enjoy liming for even longer. 

Photos courtesy of The Liming, Bequia

Enjoy stunning fall colors, gorgeous views, endless amenities, and satisfying food at these luxury destinations!


It’s that time of the year to break out the hot cocoa, comfy sweaters, and pumpkin flavored everything. The season of holidays, romantic getaways, family gatherings and more is officially here. Three top fall destinations will have you booking your next vacation before the leaves hit the ground.

The Ranch at Rock Creek

Five-star Guest Ranch – Philipsburg, Montana

“The first thing that stands out when you arrive is the natural beauty and privacy of The Ranch at Rock Creek, which is situated on 10 square miles of wilderness and surrounded by the Sapphire, John Long and Pintler mountains. Add that a river runs through it and you are transported back in time to a more simple way of life, rugged yet unhurried,” says Carol Ann Kelley-Elwell, the director of marketing and media relations at The Ranch at Rock Creek.


This destination is the perfect mix of Western adventure — horseback riding, fly fishing, hiking and wildlife viewing — and all-inclusive luxury. From the spa and the gourmet dining to the custom duvet covers, you’ll enjoy every careful detail.

Why is this a luxury fall destination?


“The brilliant colors and cooler temperatures make for exhilarating days and cozy fireside evenings,” says Kelley-Elwell. “The ambiance and décor of the historic barns, granite lodge, riverfront canvas cabins and log homes make for the perfect fall escape for all ages.”


Photos courtesy of The Ranch at Rock Creek

Topping Rose House


Haven in The Hamptons – Bridgehampton, New York


“The first thing people recognize about Topping Rose House is the timeless design of the colonial manor,” says Joseph Montag, the general manager of Topping Rose House.



Tradition and history meet new and luxurious at this haven in The Hamptons. “The blend of historical and contemporary design is unique to this property in the Hamptons,” says Montag. This luxury hotel is surrounded by gorgeous grounds and offers exhilarating activities, including hiking, nature walks, golf courses, tennis clubs, and a mix of beaches. “The fall is actually the most consistent weather season of the year. There is little rain and the brisk breeze coming off the ocean gives an ideal climate and beautiful scenery,” says Montag.

Amenities Offered

“The hotel has a swimming pool that is open to the public as well as a year-round Jean-Georges restaurant. The restaurant wraps around the front porch of the main house to provide a unique dining experience in the Hamptons,” says Montag. The hotel also has new Lexus cars that are available for guests, a pool and a spa.


Photos courtesy of  Topping Rose House



Award-winning luxury Forbes Five-star resort – Lenox, Massachusetts

Blantyre is a Tudor-style mansion and estate that was built in 1902 but has been seamlessly updated to the highest of standards. This retreat has an abundance of history that melds perfectly with fine and casual dining that adheres to a farm-to-table philosophy, a spa and vitality bar, hot air balloon rides, hiking and much more.

A Great Fall Destination


“The stunning and scenic 110 acres of the estate and the manor house is modeled after a Scottish castle,” according to a Blantyre spokesperson, making this an unforgettable fall destination.



“Blantyre offers unparalleled culinary experiences, including a classic French bistro, fine dining restaurant, and outdoor dining terrace, in addition to New England’s most extensive wine cellar with a private tasting room, and nearly 10,000 bottles,” according to a Blantyre spokesperson.


Photo courtesy of Blantyre Resort

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 edition of The High End magazine. For more information about The High End, click here.

Bespoke Experiences is “your friend in the city,” creating your customized, luxury private journey from Nashville and New Orleans to San Diego and San Francisco.

By Sarah Binder

Photo courtesy  © / SeanPavonePhoto

It’s vacation time, and you’re heading to a city you have never been, but one of your friends lives there. What do you do? Chances are, you called that friend weeks ago to help you plan where to go and what to see, and they know exactly where to take you because they’ve known you for years.

Even if you don’t know a soul in Nashville, New Orleans, San Diego or San Francisco, Bespoke Experiences is ready to fulfill that role for you. The New Orleans-based luxury travel company crafts private and completely customized journeys led by licensed local tour guides dubbed Experience Architects (EAs).

“We consider them more ‘your friend in the city’ who just happens to be exceptionally knowledgeable and well-connected. They are our guests’ local link to everything that is currently going on, as well as to the regional history, explaining the cultural narrative in a language and style that is compatible with the guests’ interests, demographic and pace,” explains Jennifer Simpson, the company’s founder and chief experience officer.

“Our EAs are first and foremost hospitable, always looking to make the guests’ needs their first priority. They have a vast, broad and diverse regional knowledge of the city, the surrounding region and its people,” she adds. “They are charming and charismatic, can adapt on the fly and are exceptional problem-solvers.”

Experience Architects provide guests with an intimate look at their desired destination, but first, the Bespoke Experiences operations team establishes a personable, open and collaborative relationship with every client to learn their travel style, preferences, interests, budget and additional considerations. This process entails an extensive initial phone interview followed by many phone and email exchanges between the guest and the team.

“This one-on-one effort, and the attention to detail required to execute each diverse experience requires an inordinate amount of time and a Herculean effort,” says Simpson.

Combining close attention to their guests’ details with extensive local connections, Simpson’s team creates multi-faceted activities that connect clients to a destination in the most personal ways. To call these experiences “tours” would be doing them a disservice.

“Recently, a guest celebrated a milestone birthday in New Orleans with a few of her closest family and friends after overcoming a major health crisis. We arranged for a personalized Second-Line parade through the French Quarter with her own brass band, umbrella, police escort and courtyard lunch reservation at the conclusion. At the finale of her time in the city, we arranged for her birthday dinner in the private home of a local celebrity musician whom she happened to admire,” Simpson says. “There, he and his band performed a private concert and served them a home-cooked meal that he and his wife prepared. Then, everyone relaxed and chatted like they’d all been long-lost friends. She, and all of the guests, wept with joy when she learned of the surprise.”

Simpson draws on her previous professional experiences to cater to a well-traveled, well-educated and affluent clientele — she used to own and operate a pharmaceutical event/meeting planning business that served a similar audience. At one point while living in New Orleans, she was attempting to convert her Canadian pilot’s license to an American one at the Lakefront Airport. While talking with a fixed-base operator, she learned that more than 1,500 private aircraft were flying in for the impending Super Bowl, which led to an “aha moment.”

“We realized there weren’t any organizations in place to service this small, elite market once they were in town,” she explains. “There really wasn’t anyone catering to the luxury niche.”

In many cases, the ultimate in luxury travel means gaining exclusive access to experience top landmarks in unique ways. Through connections with the Louisiana State Museum, Bespoke Experiences has been able to provide guests with unique opportunities to enjoy Jackson’s Square, the city’s most popular attraction.

“A local physician had a visiting Catholic colleague who’d never explored St. Louis Cathedral, and he wanted to go above and beyond for his guests. We coordinated to gain behind-the-scenes access with the Archdiocese. Unexpectedly, the timing of our visit corresponded with the burial of a recently deceased Archbishop, so the guests were also able to witness aspects of an in-church burial that no one typically sees,” she says.

In addition to the birthplace of jazz, Bespoke Experiences launched services in Nashville — the Music City — in April 2017. The company has helped guests snag prime seats at the Grand Ole Opry (where, if you’re lucky, a star like Blake Shelton might pop up). For those who are unsure what to do, but have a particular interest, Simpson can design an itinerary focusing on Nashville’s influential history, visiting sites from the Civil and Revolutionary Wars, or its eclectic architecture, including the “Mother Church of Country Music:” the Ryman Auditorium, constructed with flawless acoustics.

As Bespoke Experiences looks toward the future, it is focusing on both short- and long-term goals. The team has an ambitious “26 by 26” goal to be operational in 26 North American cities by 2026. In the near future, it will roll out its custom, luxury private tours in Chicago and Toronto this year.

Simpson and her team implement a strategic approach to selecting new destinations, asking several questions to evaluate the possibilities. “We look at several factors: What destinations are our clients requesting? What destinations are making the ‘Top 10’ North American travel lists domestically and internationally? What destinations align with our key guest offerings (history/culture/culinary/lifestyle/landscape/architecture)?” explains Simpson.

Regardless of location, she will continue to guide her team and ensure positive client experiences by emphasizing a simple principle: the Golden Rule.

“Bespoke Experiences is aspirational to me. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’” she says. “Bespoke is how we wish to be treated while we travel: with kindness, courtesy and friendliness. With respect for my time, my money, my interests, my style of travel and my family dynamic. This honesty, integrity and sensibility influence our business acumen.”

Photos courtesy Bespoke Experiences

New Orleans


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