Your family is in need of some downtime, but with a splash of glamour. So where do you go? And how are our luxury escapes changing? Alison Ebbage speaks to Philippe Brown, founder of bespoke travel planners Brown and Hudson
If you thought going on holiday meant simply picking a speck on the globe, booking flights, and a luxury hotel, think again. Esoterica, Luxpeditions, or curated experiences are the new face of luxury travel. And with clients often used to luxuries in their everyday life, it is important for resorts and hotels to go that extra mile to create a truly bespoke and personal experience. At a basic level this can mean not wanting to have to deal with the ‘everyday’ on holiday. Instead you may want to enjoy all the privacy, service, and amenities that money can buy. You may want to have every whim indulged no matter how mundane or outrageous and for every small detail to be taken care of. Or you may want the complete opposite. Today it is more about the experience, less about the destination.
“Most travel companies focus on destinations and the highest level of accommodation available in those destinations, because that is what they are closest to and what they know best. Instead, our focus is the client,” Brown says.
“This approach is the way we have worked since the beginning. Once we understand the client, their deepest motivations, goals, needs, and desires we turn our attention to what travel should be for them. They are sold ‘stuff’ and places on a daily basis, but what they really want and need is somebody to put the focus on them and curate travel that is utterly unique for them. The same approach their financial or real estate adviser would have.”
Indeed in its simplest form the concept of a holiday is going somewhere, relaxing by the pool or beach, perhaps seeing some sights and then coming home. It might also involve some sort of experience; a yoga retreat, a mountain-biking holiday or a see-and-be-seen type trip.
But Brown says travel is now so much more than its composite parts. Instead the whole approach needs rethinking.
“Imagine you are a family and your adolescent kids would rather not go on family holidays anymore. They want to stay home and play on their computer games. Well, travel can help with that. We look at what is so captivating, engaging, and addictive about computer games and turn the trip into something even more compelling. We call that approach to travel ‘The Great Game’. Here the travel, the people you meet, the things you do, and every aspect of the trip is an incredible game.
“’Esoterica’ is another approach: If your passion in life is textiles, birding, Muay Thai or even Chilean Rodeo, then we research your esoteric interest, find the people who can bring it to life for you, then craft a trip that allows you to discover a place through the prism of your specific interest. This is an interesting non-obvious or peripheral approach to experiencing a place or culture.”
Brown also likes the concept of a journey with no destination where the idea is around the purpose of the travel; to relax, to recharge, to reconsider, to change the way a client feels about him or herself, their situation, or their confidence. This, he says, is very common.
“In this case if the travel is all about the feeling and not the place—then the place is kind of irrelevant. So we will not tell the client where they are going until they get there. This way they will focus on the feeling or the change they seek rather than the destination.
“When they arrive in-country we play an active part in helping them achieve their goal by planning a variety of experiences that connect to that country's culture or traditions and contribute to the client achieving their goal.”
The emerging demand for a ‘first-to’ type experience is another trend in luxury travel. Here the idea is to go where no one, or at least no one in their peer group, has gone before to secure bragging rights—but with all the creature comforts, service, and bespoke demands being met. Popular destinations du jour for these clients are Arctic Lapland in Sweden, the Salar de Uyuni salt desert in Bolivia, and the Emerald Coast of Nicaragua.
Brown calls this sort of trip a “luxpedition”.
“If a client is looking for a hardcore expedition in the footsteps of explorers to the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan or through the Darién Gap (a remote, roadless swath of jungle on the border of Panama and Colombia), but does not have the time or possibly the desire to put up with the required hardship, we can help. We use creativity, big thinking, logistics, and moments of surprising and personal luxury to make even the most arduous of challenges possible for people who do not have the time or DNA to be [British adventurer] Bear Grylls.”
Lastly, he says, if for whatever reason a client cannot travel, Brown can bring the destination to them through the concept of a ‘journey around my room’.
“We devise creative ways to bring India to Toronto or wherever to wherever. By understanding the science and subtle art of travelling, this concept allows us to replicate the experience of travelling in one country in another. This means that people who think they cannot travel can.”
Even the most experience-orientated trip needs a bed to lie in. So where are the tried and tested destinations that maintain their popularity year-after-year?
Monaco and the French Riviera remain ever-popular—preferably on a yacht to be able to move around the coast. The French Riviera has kept its appeal as a glamorous and romantic coastline and has, for centuries, been a beloved getaway spot attracting wealthy and often famous people, ranging from Brad Pitt to Pablo Picasso and Coco Chanel. One such spot mixing luxury and simplicity is Hôtel Les Roches Rouges. Perched on a bluff above the sea between Cannes and St Tropez since the early 1960s, it offers a chance to step out of the world. hotellesrochesrouges.com
Porto Cervo, in northern Sardinia, is an island about 350km west of Rome where the ultra-wealthy are well catered for with restaurants such as Cipriani Porto Cervo. It is part of an exclusive club resort called The Billionaire. Most holidaymakers stay in three-to-six bedroom villas with private swimming pools, fitness areas, and large terraces which look out into the Tyrrhenian Sea. The snag is a six-month waiting list and so the alternative, Hotel Cala di Volpe, may prove more suitable with its substantial presidential suite. caladivolpe.com
NORTH AMERICA AND CARIBBEAN
The Point is part of the long-standing tradition of exclusive, reclusive hideaways built by the wealth of the Gilded Age. It was once the private vacation retreat of William Avery Rockefeller, nephew of the Standard Oil tycoon. Situated in Saranac Lake, New York, it attracts financial types from New York, who hop aboard a private flight to the nearby Adirondack Regional Airport. It has a low-key vibe offering neither television nor internet in the 11 guest cabins. thepointsaranac.com
Musha Cay is a private Bahamian island resort which bills itself as ‘Paradise Found’. Guests have included US entertainer Oprah Winfrey, philanthropist Bill Gates, and Google co-founder Sergey Brin, as well as Saudi and European royalty. The property is owned by David Copperfield, the US magician, who carefully manages its many fantastic details and whose unofficial motto for guests is ‘whatever you dream can happen’. mushacay.com
Aspen in the remote US Rocky Mountains remains a firm favourite. It is popular with those who want to see and be seen and has a plethora of luxury stores and top notch restaurants. A popular hotel is The Little Nell which has a range of rooms, up to a 186 sq m suite. thelittlenell.com
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
Dubai may be the glitziest destination in the region, but the new kid on the block is Abu Dhabi. This is a desert location, so off-roading in 4x4 vehicles followed by dinner in a tent on the beach while the sun is setting is one popular activity. Others include trips in a hot air balloon and playing a polo-like game on camels. Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara is a popular location —situated on an island in the Persian Gulf about 40 minutes outside of Abu Dhabi. sir-bani-yas-island.anantara.com
Southern Africa is popular with major destinations including South Africa’s Cape Town, Umhlanga, Stellenbosch, and Kruger Park. For that dash of privacy try heading north-west to Ibo Island Lodge, spread over three colonial mansions in Mozambique’s Quirimbas Archipelago. It remains the country’s benchmark for a luxury heritage experience; an exercise in landmark architectural preservation, community engagement and sustainable tourism. iboisland.com
The Indian Ocean is studded with a host of popular destinations, with one of the most popular (and jaw-droppingly beautiful) being the Maldives. This tropical nation is made up of more than 1,000 coral islands. One of the pioneers in eco-luxury in the island chain, Sonu Shivdasani, has opened Soneva Jani, the brand’s newest luxury resort offering which boasts five islands surrounded by a 5.6km private lagoon. The highlight? Cinema Paradiso—the first overwater silent cinema in the Maldives. soneva.com/soneva-jani
Almost 250 years after it was first visited by British explorer Captain Cook, Australia’s Coral Sea continues to hold a mystical appeal. While the impressive Great Barrier Reef is its number one attraction, the jewel in its crown is Hayman Island—a private island resort in the heart of the Whitsunday Islands. The nearest island to the Barrier Reef, Hayman is ideal for nature-based activities and visiting the world-famous Heart Reef and Whitehaven Beach. hayman.com.au