Docent-Led Destinations

With the guidance of experts, travelers are able to experience more than simple sightseeing.

Spanning across Africa, Europe and The United States, these expert-led trips — curated by Architectural Adventures — blend world-class vacations with a deep appreciation for culture, history and architecture. Serving as the official travel program of The American Institute of Architects, Architectural Adventures plans each trip alongside knowledgeable architectural experts — unlocking the historical, cultural, and aesthetic significance behind the world’s most notable architecture.

©istockphoto / Daniel_Keuck

©istockphoto / TomasSereda

“In both Barcelona and Rome, we stay in the same city, and each day discover more about it. Staying in one place affords developing a more intimate look at the architecture and culture of the city.”

Sophia Gruzdys

Barcelona, Spain

Whether she’s embracing the local language, indulging in local cuisine, or exploring historic architecture, Sophia Gruzdys — an Architectural Adventures expert since 2017 — brings her own perspective to each tour she plans.

The licensed architect and educator has led tours in Barcelona and Rome, and will lead two Barcelona tours in 2019. “In both Barcelona and Rome, we stay in the same city, and each day discover more about it. Staying in one place affords developing a more intimate look at the architecture and culture of the city,” Gruzdys explains.

In Rome, travelers explore a wide range of architectural styles — including Contemporary, Fascist-style, Art Deco, and Renaissance. Meanwhile in Barcelona, travelers visit Antoni Gaudí’s iconic Sagrada Família and recently opened Casa Vicens, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s famed Bareclona Pavillion, and the modern urbanism of the @22 District. “It’s fascinating to compare the styles that emerged in our culture in different periods of history in different cities,” Gruzdys says.

Gruzdys, who encourages travelers to engage with local languages and embrace local culture, values the importance of hands-on experience. “It’s so rewarding to travel with people who are interested in the architecture — and to share their enjoyment. Each time I visit the sites, I’ll notice something new, and continue to learn from the experiences of others,” she says.

©istockphoto / TomasSereda

“I have traveled all over the world, but traveling back to San Antonio makes me more aware of its architectural history, and its many layers and textures.”

Jane Martin

San Antonio, Texas, United States

First discovered by Spanish explorers in the 1600s, San Antonio’s identity has always been strongly rooted in Mexican culture, history, art and architecture. From exploring the city’s Spanish colonial past at the Alamo and other UNESCO World Heritage Missions to cruising along the San Antonio Riverwalk, those who travel to San Antonio will be deeply immersed in local culture.

Jane Martin — architecture educator, historian and resident of San Antonio — will lead her first trip with Architectural Adventures in 2019 in her hometown. “I have traveled all over the world, but traveling back to San Antonio makes me more aware of its architectural history, and its many layers and textures,” she says. “There is a lot to see in San Antonio, and I am constantly discovering new things. There are a great variety of architectural styles — with everything from Spanish Colonial, all the way to International Modern.”

Travelers will also visit Sir David Adjaye’s cutting-edge Ruby City, the newest of the city’s world-class museums, and learn about historic Pearl Brewery, now a 22-acre complex with housing, retail and fine dining. “I hope this trip helps to bring San Antonio to the world, encourages people to sign up for the tour and enjoy the city,” Martin says.

©istockphoto / Marco_Bonfanti

Milan, Italy

From marveling at Milan Cathedral, touring Santa Maria delle Grazie (home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper), to visiting the UniCredit Tower, those who travel to Milan will surely learn a great deal from Architecture Adventures expert David Rifkind.

Leading a nine-day tour in 2019, the architectural history professor and practicing architect will explore the city’s range of historic architecture, as well as its recent cultural renaissance — which led to the creation of new museums, sustainable architecture, and Contemporary art exhibits. “I was surprised to learn that architects tend to be very interested in Contemporary architecture,” notes Rifkind, who also finds that non-architects tend to be more interested in historic structures.

Rifkind’s trip to Milan will bring together a unique group of travelers, consisting of both architects and non-architects from around the globe. “The dynamic of the people on the trip really does impact the experience in a really positive way,” Rifkind says. “Experiencing architecture first-hand is a unique pleasure, and alongside a group of diverse people who share your passion is truly magical. It has been rewarding to learn how travelers experience places that I thought I understood.”

While Rifkind understands the importance of an informative lecture, he also highly values hands-on learning. “It is really fascinating when a relatively small group of people experience a city together,” says Rifkind, who made unique contributions for this trip to contrast classroom learning.

“Experiencing architecture first-hand is a unique pleasure, and alongside a group of diverse people who share your passion is truly magical.”

David Rifkind

©istockphoto / Daniel_Keuck

“Although my studies will be very helpful, leading an Architectural Adventures tour will be a new experience for me. It will be very interesting to give tours to travelers who are already immersed in architecture.”

Stanley Ira


From volunteering in Tunisia for the Peace Corp to lecturing at the University of Kabul in Afghanistan, Architectural Adventures expert Stanley Ira Hallet’s range of cultural experiences has prepared him to lead a tour throughout Morocco in 2019.

“Although my studies will be very helpful, leading an Architectural Adventures tour will be a new experience for me. It will be very interesting to give tours to travelers who are already immersed in architecture,” says Hallet. The trip will include visits to the Hassan II Mosque, the French-designed Habous Quarter, and the Majorelle Garden (a two-and-a-half-acre botanical garden).

Whether travelers are exploring the ancient capital of Mauretania, Volubilis, visiting the medieval school of Bouanania (which was built in the 1300s), or marveling at the Sahara Desert, Hallet says they will partake in a “completely different urban experience.”

Hallet, who also has a passion for photography, hopes the trip will offer travelers a more complete story of Morocco.

Architectural tours are gaining popularity as designers revamp historic sites with fresh perspectives and classic details.

Photo by Eirik Johnson

The Glass House found in New Canaan, Connecticut, is an architectural icon and offers ideal tours for families, architecture and nature lovers, and more. The stunning grounds and architectural wonders make for an intriguing visit full of history.

The Glass House is one of 14 structures that can be found on the 49-acre site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in New Canaan, Connecticut. The structure dates back to 1949 and has since been restored to near pristine condition. Described as a pavilion, best used for observing the surrounding landscape, the structure’s walls are made mostly from glass. The house is 55 feet long and 33 feet wide, with 1,815 square feet.

Photos by Michael Biondo

According to The Glass House website, “Philip Johnson, who lived in the Glass House from 1949 until his death in 2005, conceived of it as half a composition, completed by the Brick House. Both buildings were designed in 1945-48.” The Brick House was completed just prior to The Glass House and sharply contrasts the near-unobstructed views by being almost totally encased by brick.

Photo by Eirik Johnson

Other structures on site include the Da Monsta, Studio, Painting Gallery, Pavilion in the Pond, Sculpture Gallery, the Ghost House, and more.

Photos by Michael Biondo

Three tours are offered. Find the one that works for you!

Glass House Tour – One hour

  • Tour the glass house and promontory
  • Minimal walking
  • Concise and enjoyable

Glass House and Galleries Tour – Two Hours

  • The most popular
  • ¾   mile of walking
  • Visit the Glass House, Painting Gallery, Sculpture Gallery, outdoor sculpture, and Da Monsta

Glass House Extended Tour – Two and a Half Hours




















Photo by Michael Biondo

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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