Forget Costa Rica, and even Belize. Let me show you why Panama should be on your radar.

Panama, best known for linking Central and South America via the Panama Canal, has so much more to offer. While its northern neighbors attracts the mainstream tourist, Panama should not be left off your radar. With direct flights from many US Cities (including New Orleans), Panama can be a simple 4-hour flight away. Below I have listed some regions of interest and accommodation options for everyone.

PANAMA CITY OPTIONS:

The Bay View Area – Hotels host a unique view of both city and bay views. Check out; Intercontinental Miramar, JW Marriott, or Waldorf Astoria.

Casco Viejo Area – This is the old city area. Characterized by beautiful Spanish style architecture, cobblestone walkways, and unique dining options, like rooftop bars. This area is great for couples, but trickier for families needing connecting options. Stay at Hotel Central or American Trade Hotel.

Financial District Area – Centered in the hustle of the Panama, the Financial District has one clear option for accommodations, The Bristol.

First time visitors typically pair Panama City with coastal areas like Playa Bonita or Playa Blanca (my personal suggestion).

PLAYA BONITA – Dreams Playa Bonita or Westin Playa Bonita

PLAYA BLANCA – Buenaventura

Alternative Options for the more adventurous:

Red Frog Villas at Del Toro – Reachable by a short domestic flight and 15-minute boat transfer. Perfect for couples and families as there is a wide variety of accommodations and activities; snorkel, kayak, boogie board, SUP, bicycle, nature hike, various catamaran tours, chocolate tour, zip line, fish, etc.

Isla Palenque – The newest and most lux option for couples and families, requires a short domestic flight and 15-minute boat transfer. This is a great historic and option, best paired with a two night stay in the city. Activities include; snorkel, paddle board, kayak, boogie board, hike, local culture classes (cooking, etc).

El Otro Lado – Located within the National Park, this “non-beach” option offers great variety of things to do; mangrove tours, fishing, historical walks, art workshops, and more. A really unique destination which aims to maintain the cultural authenticity of the area.

Overwater Bungalows at Azul Paradise

Touring and Sites to See

City and Canal tours: Visit Panama La Vieja situated just northeast of downtown Panama City. You will visit Casco Antiguo, past monuments such as the Plaza Bolivar, the San Francisco of Assisi Church, the Bolivar Palace, the National Theater and “Las Bovedas Promenade”, which has one of the most spectacular views of Panama City. The tour also includes a visit to the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal to see the daily operations of the waterway. You will also have a chance to visit the “Causeway”, a group of three islands linked to the mainland by the breakwaters of the Panama Canal.

Old Cities Casco & Panama Viejo: Walk through the Old Town where you can observe the various architectural styles that demonstrates the rich cultural heritage of the area. The main styles are Spanish, because Panama was a Spanish colony; French, since French and Italians who made the first attempted to construct the caal lived in the area.

Panama Canal Partial Transit: You will enter the canal at the north end of Gaillard Cut, where the Chagres River flows into the canal. The Gaillard Cut is one of the main points of interest for visitors, because it was carved through the Continental Divide and this section of the Canal is full of history and geological interest. You will see the new Centennial Bridge which crosses over the Canal. Next, we will enter Pedro Miguel Locks, which is one of the two sets of locks on the Pacific side. You will then enter Miraflores Lake, a small artificial body of fresh water.

Rainforest Day Trip: Experience the magic of the virgin Gamboa rainforest, ascending some 280 feet from the shadowy forest floor through the dense undergrowth and up to the sun-drenched canopy with its thousand shades of green that are only interrupted by the vibrant colors of flowering trees. Colorful birds and butterflies are abundant here, and you might also encounter sloth or a white-faced capuchin monkeys and hear the howler monkeys’ cries in the distance. Then take a boat tour through the Panama Canal into secret waterways to find hidden islands that are the monkeys’ favorites. Capuchin and howler monkeys can be seen jumping on the trees above. Occasionally, they become curious of the visitors and venture down to take a closer look. The Monkey Island adventure tour begins on the edge of Gamboa, crossing the Chagres River, up to the Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal, one of the biggest artificial lakes of the world with an area of 425 square kilometers.

Embera Culture: Drive along the canal and Soberania National park. Arrive at the shores of Lake Alajuela where the Emberá will meet you with their handmade dugout canoe. You will pass through virgin rain forest and see many birds, such as herons, egrets, osprey, possibly toucans and wild parrots, as well as turtles, maybe a caiman and if you are lucky a sloth, otter or monkeys from the boat. If the water level is high enough you can stop at a local waterfall for a quick dip on the way to the village. Upon arrival in the village you will be greeted with a traditional greeting of music and seated in a typical community hut you will be treated to a fascinating presentation by the Emberá about their history, culture and how they live. After the presentation you will be served a delicious lunch of fresh fish, fried plantains and local fruit. After lunch, you will have the option to take a hike with one of the village elders to learn about their medicinal plants. Then you will be given free time in the village to look at or purchase any of their exquisite hand woven baskets, plates or masks made from palm leaf fibers or Cocobolo wood (rosewood) or Tagua nut carvings, get a cultural temporary tattoo, swim in the river, play with the Emberá children, interact with the villagers or take pictures. Your day tour will end with a display of shamanic and celebration music and dancing by the villagers.

Valle de Anton & Canopy: Drive through rural villages and rolling green hills, to the west of Panama City you can find the picturesque town of El Valle, nestled in the crater of a giant extinct volcano. During the tour, participants will have the opportunity to visit the Botanical Garden El Nispero, El Macho waterfall as well as the hot spring. After that we will have lunch in the town and afterwards the participants will have the chance to shop at the local handicraft market.

MORE: Experience fishing, white water rafting, kayaking, bird watching, foodie tour in Casco Viejo
Other historical tours: Portobelo, Agua Clara Visitor Center, San Lorenzo, and Miraflores.

Disclaimer before someone gets upset: Don’t really forget Costa Rica or Belize! They are amazing options that I personally love to the core. This article is meant to reach travelers looking for direct flight options or something new.

Virtuoso Travel Week Recap:

Each year, travel advisors gather from around the globe to meet with the elite members of the travel and tourism industry, in Las Vegas of course. After a week of relationship building and networking, the annual results are also in… How did your favorites do?

Sustainable Tourism Leadership – Hotel – Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley
Best Achievement in Design – Rosewood Hong Kong, China
Best Bar – Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club, Le Sirenuse Champagne Bar, Surfside, Florida, U.S.
Best Dining Experience – La Reserve Paris Hotel and Spa, Restaurant Le Gabriel, Paris, France
Best Family Program – Grand Velas Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Best Wellness Program – Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa, Tucson, Arizona, U.S.
Best Virtuoso Newcomer – Montage Los Cabos, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Best Virtuoso Hotel Ambassador – Carlos Quereda, Querido Representation Co.
Hotelier of the Year – Amanda Hyndman, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London, U.K.
Hotel of the Year – Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, France

Best Multi-Generational Program – Cruise – Royal Caribbean International
Most Luxurious Guest Experience – Cruise – Crystal Cruises
Best Culinary Experience – Cruise – Oceania Cruises
Best River Cruise Line – AmaWaterways
Best Expedition Cruise Line – Silversea Expeditions
Tourism Board of the Year – Switzerland Tourism
Best On-Site Partner – Calvados Club Luxury Travel – Croatia
Best Tour Partner – Belmond Trains & Cruises
Destinations & Experiences Partner of the Year – Made for Spain & Portugal
Destinations & Experiences Ambassador of the Year – Partner – Javier Echecopar, Abercrombie & Kent USA

Most Engaged Airline Partner – Delta Air Lines
Most Engaged Private Jet Partner – Prive Jets
Most Engaged Car Rental Partner – Hertz Corporation
Most Engaged Services Partner – Allianz Global Assistance

Top Virtuoso Network Production – Protravel International – New York
Top Production – Latin America/Caribbean – VIAJES INTERMEX
Top Production – Asia/Pacific – Goldman Travel Corporation
Top Production – Europe/Middle East/Africa – Grand Luxury Group
Top Virtuoso Air Production – Travel Experts
Top Year-Over-Year Percentage Growth – Quintessentially Travel
Top Year-Over-Year Revenue Growth – Direct Travel – Paramus
Highest Production Per Advisor – Churchill & Turen, Ltd.
Most Engaged Agency – Cruises Etc. Travel

Top Producer – Virtuoso Voyages – Ralph Bias, Amazing Cruises
Virtuoso Rising Star – Cruise – Frances Sarrett, McCabe World Travel
Most Innovative Advisor – Cruise Sales – Jonathan Phillips, Cassis Travel Services
Best Virtuoso Voyages Experience – Kusadasi by Sea Song Tours – Turkey
Virtuoso Cruise Ambassador of the Year – Member – Kimberly Wilson Wetty, Valerie Wilson Travel
Virtuoso Cruise Ambassador of the Year – Partner – Chris Austin, Seabourn

Airline of the Year – Emirates Airline
Service Partner of the Year – Travelex Insurance Services
Cruise Line of the Year – Crystal Cruises
Sustainable Tourism Leadership – Nomadic Expeditions

Planning for future travel. What accommodations should you be booking now?

I am asked all the time about “when should we book” or “how far in advance should we plan”. While I typically answer, “It depends, but the sooner the better”, I have tried to outline a simple guide.

A good rule of thumb for booking accommodations; the larger the group of travelers and the more popular the destination, then the more time you need to plan. Booking in advance ensures optimal availability and typically reduced pricing. Hotel and resort prices will typically rise with demand. Unless you are booking a low-demand property, then rates won’t drop as time nears for your travel.

Cruises (Boutique River and Ocean)
Book your cruise or expedition 12-18 months in advance. Sometimes 24.

Festive Season (mid-December through NYE)
Book your trip 10-15 months in advance when you’re traveling during the holiday season.

Peak Season (Caribbean mid-December through Spring Break)
Book your trip 8-12 months in advance for peak seasons, especially the Caribbean and Central America.

Peak Season (Europe June – August)
Book your trip 8-12 months in advance when you’re traveling to Europe for Summer Break.

Shoulder Seasons and all “other”
Book your trip 3-9 months in advance.

Weekend getaways or stay-cations
Book these quick adventures 1-3 months in advance but remember even weekend getaways and stay-cation destinations can be in higher demand and may require more time to plan.

In summary, what should your current calendar look like as Summer rounds out;

  • Fall Break – Booked (Smaller getaways should be in planning stages)
  • Christmas Break – Booked (Very limited availability, so book now if you can)
  • Ski Trips and Spring Break – This should be in the planning and booking stage currently
  • Summer 2020 – Planning 10-12 months out is ideal, especially if you have specific resorts in mind, want access to First Class international air tickets, or if you have a large group traveling.

 

Closing Pro Tip: Always purchase Trip Insurance to protect your investment from the “what if” and the unknown.

Re-introducing Me

Kristin Diehl, Travel Advisor

As I approach my third year working as an independent Travel Advisor for SmartFlyer, I decided to re-launch my business identity. After operating under my brand, Depart & Discover, I made the business decision to brand under what my client know and trust, my name.

I operate in an industry of relationships. Nothing is more genuine, personal, and recognizable than your own name. My clients rely on me for my trusted relationships with all my global contacts, so it makes sense to simplify my identity.

Launched this week, Kristin Diehl, Travel Advisor, will offer the same travel advising services many of you have come to trust. My new promise is to show more of a personal side of my daily life, client’s travels, and my personal travel.

Never worked with an agent. Well, the first question I am asked is typically about fees. I cropped-01i8837.jpgdo not charge any fees for my standard booking services. By booking with an agent, you have access to my preferred partnerships and memberships, and you never pay more than what you would pay direct or online! Agents are paid of commission from the hotels and tour groups. So, no matter if you book via AMEX or Expedia, someone is labeled as your agent. Need more, read “Why Work with and Agent”.

So, who am I? Well, I was born and raised in Hammond, Louisiana where I grew up lucky enough to spend time traveling stateside and my beloved Caribbean before I headed to college at The University of Georgia. I spent four amazing years in Athens, building life-long friendships and traveling the globe with them. After graduation, my thirst for white, sandy beaches (and St. John Brewers Pale Ale) brought me to St. John USVI where I met my husband! After that, we spent time bouncing around from Charleston, Nantucket, Baton Rouge, Boise, and then some. After being married back on St. John at Caneel Bay, we are now settled, with a family of four, in Baton Rouge!

Thanks for following along on this adventure and don’t hesitate to contact me.

Sailing Australia’s Coast

Already sailed the Caribbean? Want to try something new? Head to Airlie Beach in Australia. Charters there cruise in the Whitsundays Islands, which is a chain of 74 islands located in the middle of the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. These islands are pristine, with 66 in their natural state. Added bonus, the area is well protected for future generations through programs such as the Ecotourism Certification, administered by Ecotourism Australia

DAY 1: DEPART AIRLIE BEACH TO NARA INLET

Welcome to day 1 of your Whitsunday sailing itinerary. You’ll depart from marina in Airlie Beach, where you’ll have had your briefing beginning at 9am. Within a few hours, Image result for Nara Inletyou will be sailing off, with your first destination: Nara Inlet. Nara Inlet is found 13nm away on the southern end of Hook Island. The verdant greenery of the islands rises on each side as you sail into this stunning, secluded bay. In the wet months, waterfalls tumble down the hillsides. Nara Inlet is a great spot for history lovers and has fascinating cultural significance. Head inland through the bush to explore the ancient Aboriginal caves dating back thousands of years. The caves are adorned with Aboriginal paintings and the walk through the bush to see them feels like a step back in time. Nara Inlet offers anchorages only with good holding in all conditions.

DAY 2: TO BUTTERFLY BAY

On day 2, you’ll stay on Hook Island and head to its northern side. Sailing 11nm, you’ll end up in Butterfly Bay, an outstanding spot for snorkeling and diving. It’s a popular destination, with public moorings available.

Image result for CATERAN BAY

DAY 3: CATERAN BAY

Another day for marvelous snorkeling. Some of the best is to be found among the corals of Cateran Bay, 10nm away on Border Island. Teeming with marine life, this area is a “Green Zone” protected from anchorages and fishing. Much like in Butterfly Bay, you can opt to anchor outside of the reef protection area, but ensure a well set anchor to avoid gusts in strong southerlies. You may wish to spend some time onshore Border Island, as well. A hike to the highest island peak delivers tremendous views over the water.

DAY 4: TO WHITEHAVEN BEACH

Your sailing itinerary for the Whitsundays takes you to a very special place on day 4. Image result for Whitehaven BeachToday, you’ll visit Whitehaven Beach, the 7km white sand beach that is one of the most famous spots in the region, and one of the most photographed beaches in the entire world. You will sail 8.5nm to reach the beach, located on Whitsunday Island. If time allows, stop at Tongue Point for the walk up to the lookout, rewarding you with amazing views over Hill Inlet.

 

DAY 5: TO HAMILTON ISLAND

Your Whitsunday sailing trip is half over, but there’s still so much to see! Day 5 brings you to Hamilton Island, one of the main resort islands in the chain. Many of our guests enjoy this stopover on their yacht charter itinerary as it is a great opportunity for a taste of the Whitsundays resort experience. Enjoy dinner in one of the tempting restaurants, or enjoy some of the activities to be found onshore including mini golf, carting, and swimming pools. Note: You will need to pre-book your berth at the Hamilton Island Marina. This island is also great spot to top up your water tanks and to dispose of garbage.

DAY 6: TO CID HARBOUR

Day 6 is all about the beach. You’ll sail a short distance (7nm) from Hamilton Island to the western side of Whitsunday Island, arriving in Cid Harbour/Sawmill Bay. If you’re ready for some relaxation in the sun, the beach here is wonderful, or you can take an easy walk to Dugong Beach. But if you’re after more action, hike to the top of Whitsunday Peak for unparalleled views.

Image result for Cid Harbour Sawmill Bay

DAY 7: TO PALM BAY

Today, you head Palm Bay, Long Island. Here you’ll find the Palm Bay Resort. You can pick up a mooring for a fee, and certain fees also include use of the pool and the resort kitchen. There is also a bar/café. This will be the last night of your Whitsunday sailing itinerary, so be sure to have a relaxing evening and enjoy every moment.The next day, it’s a short sail to return your vessel in Airlie Beach.

Then? Time to start planning for your next charter!

For more information and pricing, please email me at kristin.diehl@smartflyer.com or give me a ring. Can’t make it all the way to Australia? Ask me about sailing closer to home.

 

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Depart to Puglia, Italy for eight days

 Escape to Southern Italy for a warm Mediterranean getaway. Puglia is a treasure trove of art, history, and nature.  A land of sun and hospitality, you won’t believe your eyes. In Puglia you’ll find enchanted landscapes surrounding historic towns and cities of art. Romanesque and Baroque cathedrals and monuments frame town squares as they stand placidly in the shade of majestic castles and noble palaces.  Enjoy the rich natural beauty of the rugged mountains and coastline along with its distinctive, delicious cuisine, warm and friendly people and its myriad outstanding ancient sites.

Day 1 Alberobello:  Upon arrival at Bari airport, after clearing customs you will be met by your local tour manager who will be assisting you throughout the tour.  Welcome to Puglia, one of Italy’s hidden treasures. This is the region of fine weather, beautiful shorelines, lovely towns, baroque architecture and delicious cuisine. You will be transferred to your Hotel close to the center of town. In the afternoon enjoy a walk with your tour manager in Alberobello famous for its stunning collection of unique houses with conical roofs, the Trulli. This evening enjoy a welcome dinner at the hotel.

Day 2 Alberobello / Ostuni / Martina Franca / Alberobello:  After breakfast, depart for Ostuni, known as the white capital. It is one of the most stunning towns of Southern Italy. Clinging onto three hills at the edge of Le Murge, the old center is a spiral of whitewashed houses with dramatic views towards the sea with olive trees and the sparkling blue Mediterranean. Later, visit a fortified Masseria, an active farm of monumental centuries old olive trees still producing supreme quality extra virgin olive oil today. Tour Martina Franca a little baroque gem built like a balcony overlooking the land of Trulli. Later, savor a traditional Pugliese dinner at a local Masseria.

Day 3 Alberobello / Lecce / Alberobello: Morning departure for Lecce. With its wealth of art, elegance and culture, Lecce is known as the “Florence of the South.” Upon arrival, meet your guide for a gentle walking tour of the historical center of Lecce. Visit the Basilica di Santa Croce, site of the most important local Roman ruins and the Duomo standing in one of the loveliest piazzas of Italy. Have some free time to try one of the local restaurants and do some shopping before returning to Alberobello for the evening at leisure.


Day 4 Alberobello / Cheese Farm / Trani / Alberobello: After breakfast, depart for an ancient farm still producing delicious dairy products to this day. This is the land of the mozzarella, burrata and ricotta cheese. Learn about the production and enjoy a cheese making demonstration. Learn how to make the orecchiette pasta, traditional in the region and enjoy a country style lunch at the farm.  Later, arrive at the pretty fishing town of Trani. Walk through Trani, often called the pearl of the Adriatic Sea, a city known for its 19th century architecture and medieval art. See the castle and continue to the magnificent Cathedral, one of the most beautiful and evocative Romanesque-style cathedrals in Apulia which stands towering over the sea. Return to the hotel for evening at leisure. (B,L)

Day 5 Alberobello / Matera / Alberobello: Depart this morning for Matera, home to the cave dwellings known as the “Sassi”, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and now one of Italy’s most fascinating icons. For millennia people of this area have carved dwellings directly into ravines and gullies made of tufa, a characteristic honey-colored soft stone.  Visit a church cut into the rock of hillsides and ravines and explore a cave house. What a fascinating opportunity to see the typical layout of an inhabited cave, as they would have been until being deserted in the 1950’s. The furnishings and design are all very standard, and it is both impressive to see how families adapted to these restrictive living conditions, and shocking to think how recently people lived like this.  Enjoy free time for personal discovery. Return to hotel for evening at leisure.


Day 6 – Castellana Caves – Braceria & Bakery experience: After breakfast, depart for the Castellana Caves. The tour winds along a distance of 3 km, a unique guided tour of the caves to more than 60 meters deep in an amazing tableau made of stalactites, stalagmites, concretions, incredible shapes, fossils, canyons and caves with fantastic names (not suitable for people with health or mobility problems – gentle half tour is available.) After this walk you deserve a special lunch, so today we have lunch at the “Fornelli” also called the “Braceria” a local butcher where the patron chooses the meat that the butcher will grill served with jugs of local full-bodied red wines. In the afternoon before going back to the hotel, stop at a bakery to see the production of the focaccia Pugliese and and of course taste some! Evening at leisure.


Day 7 – Bari & Polignano a Mare: This morning, depart to visit Bari the capital of Puglia, with its elegant waterfront, Murat district, streets and boulevards adorned with elegant and refined buildings. The old city is an area of rare beauty and a contains many fine examples of medieval architecture. Standing imposingly over the Old Town of Bari, enjoy a guided tour of the Basilica of San Nicola. Continue on to the Norman Castle, Piazza Ferrarese e Mercantile and the historic center. Afterwards, some time at leisure to explore Bari independently. In the afternoon stop at Polignano a Mare. The tiny old town built on a cliff, reached through the Porta Vecchia gate, combines charming, white-washed streets with beautiful old churches such as the Chiesa Matrice. You may find yourself getting lost in the winding streets, but you won’t mind at all. Before you know it, you will have reached one of three panoramic terraces offering breathtaking views of the beautiful Adriatic Sea and coastline. This is the native city of the world famous singer Domenico Modugno, who wrote and sang numerous classic songs, including the “Volare.” Farewell dinner at the hotel restaurant with entertainment of local folk music and dancers–La Pizzica has been the local dance for generations!

Day 8 Depart: After breakfast depart for the Bari airport. 

Product Review: Away Luggage

Clients are always asking my opinion. When it comes to almost everything in life, I try to be as practical as possible… I said try.

Away luggage makes it easy. In an unofficial pole of travel colleagues, Away luggage was the clear favorite. It is not the most luxurious, but it is a fan favorite for sure. I recently enjoyed the below article, where the writer delivers more justice to this luggage than I could even try!

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Instagram’s favorite suitcase is a surprisingly great piece of luggage

Julianne Ross, CNN Underscored, Updated Thu April 11, 2019 (Full Article HERE)

Luggage startup Away has quickly become the de facto trademark of millennial jet-setters. Founded in 2015 by two former Warby Parker execs, Away has managed to make a rather ho-hum item an object of intense Instagram lust through celebrity collaborations, limited edition designs and plenty of personalization options.

Still, $200+ is a lot to throw down on what people typically leave stashed in the closet for much of the year. So is Away worth the hype?

In short, definitely. I caved to the brand’s online cachet two years ago and have never looked back. This is a sleek piece of luggage that fits a surprising amount of stuff while remaining lightweight, thoughtfully designed and durable.

What makes Away so popular?

High-quality luggage can run upward of $600, but Away keeps its costs down by selling direct to the consumer. Lifetime warranties mean these are pieces that you can feel confident about investing in, and the charger included in the company’s carry-on offerings is a great introduction to the world of smart luggage.

But beyond simply making luxury suitcases more accessible, Away has built a name for itself by making luggage — something decidedly unsexy — feel genuinely fun and fashionable. Its bags come in 12 standard colors and also feature occasional designer collaborations, making them part of a full travel outfit rather than just a vessel to shove your stuff into.

Carry-on vs. checked luggage

Away suitcases come in four sizes, including a Medium ($275; awaytravel.com)and a Large ($295; awaytravel.com) version for checked baggage. With capacities of 68.8 liters (about 2.4 cubic feet) and 99.2 liters (3.5 cubic feet),

these are excellent suitcases for longer trips. Neither has a built-in charger (given that it’d be rather useless once your bag makes its way to the cargo hold), but each still features a lightweight, unbreakable polycarbonate shell and TSA-approved combination lock to keep your stuff secure.

The stars of Away’s lineup, though, are its original Carry-On ($225; awaytravel.comand Bigger Carry-On ($245; awaytravel.com), both of which also offer versions (for an additional $50) with an attached front pocket for easier access to a laptop, documents, or other small items.

Away’s original Carry-On, which weighs 7.6 pounds and has a capacity of about 40 liters, adheres to nearly all airlines’ specifications for carry-on baggage. The Bigger Carry-On is built to fit the luggage sizers airlines actually use, which, according to Away, are in fact larger than the stated dimensions required of carry-on items. (Sneaky!) Having noticed this loophole, Away beefed up the size of its Bigger Carry-On for those who want to squeeze in a few extra outfits.

Most of the time, neither version should present a problem at the gate. If you do a lot of short-haul travel on small or budget airlines, though, you may end up having to gate-check the Bigger Carry-On.

I went with the original size for peace of mind/in an attempt to Marie Kondo my packing habits, and it’s proven just fine for my needs. I can fit about three to five days’ worth of clothing plus shoes, toiletries and accessories.

Smart luggage

Of course, one of Away’s major selling points is the battery that comes built into either of its carry-on options. A phone-charging suitcase might seem like overkill, but it’s actually really useful; there’s no need to duke it out for outlets or sit on a sticky airport carpet to recharge while waiting for a flight. The battery will charge an iPhone about five times, but you can use it on any device that charges via USB. The suitcase itself takes about eight hours to fully charge, which is why the company recommends plugging it in the night before a trip.

While you can buy the suitcase without the battery to keep things as light and spacious as possible, the difference in internal size and overall weight is pretty negligible. The included battery, meanwhile, is TSA-compliant and easily removable. (So easily removable, in fact, that I sometimes pop it out and slide it into a day pack to use as a portable charger.)

My experience with Away

Packing with Away has made it easy to stay organized. The clamshell design features two compartments. One side is meant for clothes and is covered by a compression pocket that smooshes things down surprisingly well. The other side is an open cavity with a zippered mesh closure, making it great for hard or awkwardly shaped objects; I put shoes in there, along with bras, hats, or anything else I don’t want to get bent out of shape. The outer shell is sturdy yet has quite a bit of give, meaning you can stuff your suitcase to the brim without worrying about damage from less than reverent baggage handlers.

And the wheels! All four rotate a full 360 degrees without snagging. Mine have glided effortlessly through New York City’s cracked and tourist-filled streets, offering such a smooth ride that I can strap my dog’s carry case on top and he’ll stick his head out like he’s navigating a very small and slow-moving car.

It also seems that no matter how much I pack, I can always carry my bag pretty easily, which I attribute to how lightweight the suitcase itself is. I also love its side carry handle, which lets you flip the bag 90 degrees to more easily maneuver it up stairs.

Are there any downsides to an Away suitcase?

While I love my suitcase, it’s not entirely perfect. The bag comes with a nylon laundry bag that tucks away into a hidden zippered compartment — a great idea, but I once sent the laundry bag itself through the wash and it frayed heavily around the zipper. The suitcase’s wheels also don’t lock in place, which I didn’t think was an issue until my suitcase rolled down a subway car and nearly collided with a break dancer mid headspin. Finally, I got the color “sand,” a light beige that looks lovely but seems to scuff a lot. Then again, I did once drop my bag down four flights of stairs, so that might have had something to do with it.

Overall, this is a suitcase built by folks who understand what travelers need and put it into a package that looks really, really good. The customer service is also impeccable: All Away suitcases come with both a lifetime warranty and a 100-day trial period, during which you can return your luggage with no questions asked.

Since launching its suitcases, Away has added lots of useful products to its inventory. These include packing cubes to keep your clothes organized ($45 for a set of 4; awaytravel.com), a dopp kit for toiletries (from $45; awaytravel.com), and garment bags ($195; awaytravel.com)The Daypack ($145; awaytravel.com) and Everywhere Bag ($195; awaytravel.com) round out the offerings and slide securely over Away’s luggage handles, so you can complete your travel uniform.

If you decide to buy a set of Away suitcases, they’ll stack like Russian nesting dolls for easy closet or under-bed storage. But with luggage this chic, you’re going to want to book more getaways to show it off.

Vietnam & Thailand, for the adventurous

Day 1. Ha Noi Arrival

A city of lakes, parks and colonial mansions, Ha Noi retains much of its historical charm and, with an eclectic mix of Asian tempo and French refinement, Vietnam’s capital is a city to be savoured. The labyrinthine streets of Ha Noi’s Old Quarter are the ideal place in which to wander and observe daily life. Here street traders jostle for space on the sidewalks and crumbling houses are crammed into narrow alleyways that are still named after the goods that were traded there – Silk Street, Gold Street and even Fried Fish Street!  A stroll around West Lake reveals a different side of the city and nearby you will find the sombre Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which is usually crowded with Vietnamese of all ages wishing to show their respects. The elegant French Quarter is home to some fine colonial architecture including the famous Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel and the Opera House, whilst an early morning wake-up call and a visit to Hoan Kiem Lake will be rewarded by a display of local residents practicing their t’ai chi. Ha Noi is steeped in history from the ‘Hanoi Hilton’, the infamous Hoa Lo Prison where so many prisoners of war were incarcerated, to the religious pride that constructed the 11th century Temple of Literature, the heart of the Confucian education system. Ha Noi is a delightful city of contrasts and the ideal city in which soak up the ebb and flow of life in Vietnam.

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Hanoi After Dark by antique Vespa – We meet at our stylish local Café and start the evening with a cocktail or another kind of drinks (coffee, tea, juice, etc. ) and a delicious snack from one of the nearby night time vendors, before jumping on the back of the vintage Vespas. After weaving through the magical, busy back streets of the Old Quarter, we soon arrive at a fascinating local joint, right on the railway tracks (literally!) where we try some infused rice wine and a Buffalo Jerky appetiser. It’s back riding through the narrow streets again, as we head toward our next foodie place, a lively local restaurant serving Bun Cha. This quintessential, must taste Ha Noi dish of rice noodles, grilled pork and meatballs, with a side of Nem (spring rolls). Simple but delicious.We then head out of the Old Quarter and ride toward West Lake to try the local speciality of Pho Cuon, and learn the art of wrap ‘n’ roll, Vietnamese style. with these fresh & fragrant ingredients, and the Pho noodle! A short ride on the Vespa takes us to our final port of call, next to the superb Opera House. The halcyon days of the 930’s may be over, however this Jazz Club will wow you with a truly unique blend of styles-30’s style Jazz & Traditional Vietnamese music!

Day 2. Ha Noi

Full day Hanoi Mausoleum & Countryside – Duong Lam ancient Village

Visit Ba Dinh Square where silent sentries guard the marble mausoleum in which Ho Chi Minh lies in state. Usually crowded with Vietnamese of all ages wishing to show their respects the interior of the mausoleum may be visited, subject to opening hours.

Then, depart Hanoi for the 1.5 hour drive to Duong Lam village, one of the few heritage protected villages in Vietnam. This excursion provides the opportunity to trace the origins of many of Vietnam’s traditions as well as discover the architecture of its ancient houses and wander through narrow alleyways. Arrive in Duong Lam, an agricultural village of the northern Red River Delta where traditional houses built over one hundred years ago are preserved. A short walk brings you to the village communal house, a place where locals worship the gods and stands as a fine example of northern Vietnamese architecture.Image result for Duong Lam ancient Village

Take to two wheels (or a walk) for a one hour bicycle ride through winding village lanes and lush green rice fields, appreciating the simplicity of life for a Vietnamese farmer and the natural beauty that surrounds their existence. Continue by bicycle to Mia Pagoda where you will learn of the legend of a 17th century Vietnamese Queen and see the 287 Buddhist statues kept there – more than at any other pagoda in the country.

After returning from your ride visit a 300 year old traditional house where you will be invited for lunch by the family. Return to Ha Noi in the late afternoon and the rest of day at leisure.             

Day 3. Ninh Binh

Full day Ninh Binh: Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, Trang An & Van Long

With its landscape of impressive limestone karsts and its location away from Vietnam’s coast, Ninh Binh is often referred to as ‘Ha Long Bay on Land’. But instead of the sea at the base of the cliff faces, in Ninh Binh’s case a network of tributaries from the Hoang Long River wrap around and through the towering stone formations, and the multitude of limestone karsts rise out of the surrounding rice paddy fields.

This morning, visit to the once impressive citadel of Hoa Lu, which the capital of Vietnam during the Dinh (968–80) and early Le (980–1009) dynasties.

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The temples are said to be built on the old foundation of their original palaces in 11-12th centuries and restored in 17th century The energetic may undertake the climb of some 200 steps for a rewarding view, and exploration of the temples of Dinh Tien Hoang and Dai Hanh. Then get on boat to visit Trang An Eco-tourism Complex – covering an area of 1,961 hectares, Trang An belongs to the mass of Attraction Relic of Hoa Lu Ancient Capital and includes three main functional subdivisions: Center area for welcoming visitors and festival organization; tourist area of Grottoes with 48 grottoes and caves together 31 large and small valleys. The whole complex has 47 historical relics and nearly 100 grottoes stretching around 20km South– North.

If time and energy permit! Climb up 500 steps to the Mua Cave to enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the countryside and Ngo Dong River.

Later this afternoon, visit Van Long Natural Reserve– known as the “Preserved Nature Area” of Ninh Binh, it offers wonderful views of landscapes and rural life. Compared to Tam Coc – the used-to favorite site, Van Long is much more primitive and completely untouched. River, mountains, grottos, rice paddies, old houses, friendly locals, tiny-bamboo boat riding, ect., all contribute to make Van Long a must-see for the connoisseurs of traveling. Tourists who come to admire the reserve will have the opportunity to view rich flora and fauna within the most bio-diversified wetland in Vietnam, according to research by national and international scientists.

Day 4. Ha Long Bay – Bai Tu Long Bay – Thien Canh Son Cave

Approximately 170 km from Ha Noi, the mystical landscapes of Ha Long Bay are one of Asia’s most iconic sights. Translated as the ‘Bay of Descending Dragons’ and located in the Gulf of Tonkin, Ha Long is made up by some 1,600 islands and islets, forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars, lush islands and emerald waters. Although best explored from the comfort of a Chinese-style junk or replica paddle steamer ensure you make time to ascend one of the surrounding hills for a memorable panoramic view of the verdant islands and shimmering waters below. One of the most beautiful places on earth, this magnificent feat of nature rarely fails to impress. Breathtaking beyond words, and often compared with the limestone mountains around Guilin in China, Ha Long Bay is justifiably one of the world’s natural wonders and more than deserves its UNESCO World Heritage status.

12:00 pm – 12:30 pm      Embark at Hon Gai International harbor.Image result for L’Amour private 1-cabin boat

12:30 pm – 1:00 pm        Check-in, enjoy welcome drink & cruise briefing.

1:30 pm – 3:00 pm          Have lunch while cruising to magnificent Bai Tu Long bay; admire the fascinating formations on the way.

3:15 pm – 3:40 pm          Explore the well- hidden Thien Canh Son cave

3.45 pm – 6:00 pm          Enjoy relaxing on a white sandy beach at Hon Co island, swimming or kayaking

6:00 pm – 7.00 pm          Back to junk for refreshing before having dinner on board

8:00 pm – 9:00 pm          Relax, enjoy fresh air & overnight on board

Your accommodation tonight is on board the L’Amour private boat allowing for a peaceful night’s sleep and a memorable morning out on the bay.

Day 5. Vung Vieng Fishing village – Ha Long Bay – Ha Noi – Bangkok

7:30 am – 8:00 am           Morning view of Bay’s landscape with a cup of tea or coffee. Have breakfast in the fresh air.

8:30 am– 9:.30 am           Visit Vung Vieng fishing village by a rustic row-boat

10:00 am                         Check out of the cabin. Start cruising towards the harbor while an A la carte lunch is served

11:45 am – 12:00 pm       Disembark

You will have time at your leisure to explore Hanoi city or visit a museum.

 Sawasdee…Welcome to The Lands of Smiles

 Well known as the City of Angels, Krungthepmahanakorn (Bangkok) is the present capital city and the focal point for Thailand.  It was made the capital of Thailand in 1782, the first monarch of the present Chakri Dynasty.  It is a vibrant city, a national treasure house and Thailand’s spiritual, cultural, political, commercial, educational and diplomatic enter with endless choice of sightseeing and entertainment opportunities.  In addition to the many temples and historic buildings, such as The Grand Palace and Wat Arun, the list of interesting places to visit is endless. There are numerous canal (klong) networks, the Chaophraya River, giving it the name of “Venice of the East”. 

 

Day 6. Bangkok

Half day Grand Palace and Wat Po with Thai set lunch – The Grand Palace is the “must see” attraction in Bangkok. It is an architectural wonder of golden stupas, walls and pillars encrusted in shining and colourful mosaics. Previously the residence of past Kings of Thailand, you will see palaces once used for different occasions; the Reception Hall, the Coronation Hall, the Throne Hall, the Royal Guest House and Wat Phra Kaew. The architecture is predominantly Thai, though there are some European influences. The palace served as the official residence of kings of Thailand from the 18th to the mid-20th century. The most famous building within the palace grounds is Wat Phra Kaew and this is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. Continue to Wat Po, with its massive reclining Buddha. Lunch at Sala Rattanakosin Restaurant

Half day Canal Tour – One of the best ways to explore Bangkok is by boat. A cruise along the Chao Phraya River and the canals of Thonburi on the east side of the river reveals a scene that offers a stark contrast to the frenzied activity of the modern metropolis of Bangkok. The city’s network of canals earned Bangkok the title of “Venice of the East” we travel along these waterways by long-tail speed boat to see family homes and temples. On the return journey, we stop at the Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) whose towering spire has become an iconic symbol of Bangkok. There will be ample opportunities to photograph the magnificent multi-colored porcelain-studded tower of this temple.

Evening Food and Tuk Tuk Adventure – Food and tuk tuks! Two of the things that Image result for Food and Tuk Tuk AdventureBangkok is most famous for and one of the best way to spend an evening! On this food tour we combine them with a little bit of mystery for a fantastic evening of eating and adventure as we whizz around Bangkok. This food adventure gives you a local’s perspective on night time eating in Bangkok. We will travel by tuk tuk as we explore the food in both the historical center of the city and more local areas. We combine a few street food eating experiences with a few of our favorite local restaurants to give you a diverse look at the Bangkok food scene. We will also explore how Thai food from different parts of the countries varies and also how it has been influenced by other countries in the region. The majority of the places we will stop to eat have come through recommendations from locals, friends, parents, staff and guides. We don’t promise to take you to the most famous places or the ones you will find on TripAdvisor. What we do promise to do is share an experience with you. Our expert guide will share insights into the various foods as you eat and help you dig deeper into Thai culture as you explore the city. We suspect you will be grateful of the occasional cultural break or tuk tuk ride to give you time to digest between food stops. We will drive around the historic Rattanakosin Island with stops outside the beautiful Phra Sumen Fort next to the river, and the view of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall and Rama 5 statue.

Day 7. Bangkok – Chiang Mai     

Popularly known as the Rose of the North, Chiang Mai is blessed with stunning natural beauty and unique indigenous cultural identity.  Founded by King Mengrai the Great as the capital of the Lanna Thai kingdom by merging the various city states in the region in 1296.  Today Chiang Mai is the economic, communications, cultural and tourism centre of Northern Thailand. About 700 kilometres from Bangkok, Chiang Mai is situated on the Mae Ping River basin some 310 metres above sea level.  Surrounded by high mountain ranges, it covers an area of approximately 20,107 square kilometres.  The terrain is mainly jungles and mountains, parts of which are within national parks which are still fertile and verdant with plentiful flora and fauna.  There are many sites and locations where tourists prefer to visit to study the lifestyle of the tribal people who live on high hills.

Evening Thai Boxing Match – Thai boxing (or Muay Thai) is a sport developed long ago from combat training and has become well known throughout the world. Foreigners who watch never cease to be amazed by the strange rules (or lack of them) that allow the boxers to not only use their fists for punching, but their feet and knees for kicking or pushing, and their elbows for jabbing while striking any part of the opponent’s body. Still, the matches of today are greatly refined (and less bloody) from those that took place years ago. Back then, there were no gloves, the boxer’s hands and arms were bound only with knotted starched cord, and the rules were much different. Visitors to the Kingdom should not hesitate to witness this thrilling and unforgettable spectacle. There are fights on weeknights at the city’s two major boxing stadiums and there is absolutely not a more energetic sport available than Muay Thai.

Day 8. Chiang Mai     

Local Market and Alms Offering – This early morning adventure takes us to a local market at the busiest time of the day when you will be able to make “merit”. Each morning before dawn, monks wearing saffron robes walk quietly along the streets carrying alms bowls to receive boiled rice and other food donations from bystanders. In return, the people receive holy blessings. You can participate in this very special Thai custom by personally presenting alms. You can also buy a local-style breakfast at a nearby market.

Half Day Chiang Mai City Temples – The city of Chiang Mai has an abundance of beautiful and historic Buddhist temples and this tour takes in the most interesting. One Image result for Chiang Mai City Templesof the highlights is a visit to the 600 year-old temple of Wat Pra That Doi Suthep, near the summit of Doi Suthep mountain. After a drive up the mountain’s winding road, the final climb to the site is via a magnificent Naga (dragon-headed serpent) staircase of 306 steps. Inside is an intriguing copper-plated chedi topped by a five-tier gold umbrella which contains partial relics of Lord Buddha. On a clear day, there are incomparable views over the city of Chiang Mai. Other temple visits on this tour include: Wat Suan Dok, whose large central stupa contains the ashes of Chiang Mai’s royal family; Wat Chedi Luang, where the Emerald Buddha was once enshrined; and Wat Phra Singh, housing a very sacred 1,500 year old Buddha image.

Chiang Mai Culinary Delights – As the former capital of the Lanna Kingdom; the second-oldest Thai Kingdom after the Sukhothai Kingdom, Chiang Mai became a vital cultural and commercial crossroads city between Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and China. The first Thai culinary recipes, as identified by many ingredients that are still in use today such as lemongrass and galangal, have their roots in culinary use in the north and were perfected in the Chiang Mai royal courts. This evening tour provides an insight into the culinary heritage of the “Rose of the North”. You will embark on a guided tour, where you will sample the delights of Chiang Mai cuisine, including various mouthwatering local snacks, and the delicious Khao Soi – a delicious coconut curry noodle dish that is unique to Chiang Mai. After the tour, you may wish to go to the night market, where your guide will assist you should you want some help with bartering, or searching for particular items.

Day 9. Chiang Mai     

Full Day program at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary – A full-day Elephant Jungle Sanctuary package offers visitors the opportunity to get to know each of the remarkable elephants and gain a special understanding of their daily lives and behaviors. Experience life with the elephants in their natural home – A freely roamed environment which is both safe and sustainable. Located beside a Karen village in a densely forested mountainous region, the Sanctuary is surrounded by spectacular jungle scenery.

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In small groups, you will meet and interact with each of our friendly elephants personally. Learn about elephant behavior, and discover the unique and interesting history of each elephant as you touch, play, feed, and photograph them. Once you have met and spent time with each of the elephants, you can retire to a relaxing platform overlooking a picturesque river and jungle. There, you will enjoy a delicious lunch of traditional Thai food and fresh fruit, before being re-united with your elephant friends.

At this point during the day, you will walk alongside the elephants to a nearby river and join them for a bath in the refreshing water. Here, you will have the opportunity to bathe and brush the elephants while they enjoy wading through the water. Next, it will be time for a therapeutic mud spa. Feel free to get muddy as you cover the elephants in a protective layer of mud. Have fun playing with them and watch as they joyfully frolic in the mud spa.

When it’s time to say goodbye to the elephants, you can take some final photos with them to preserve this precious memory, then head upstream and wash off your remaining mud, or relax with a swim in the fresh, clean water. Finally, you will change clothes and take a scenic walk back through the Karen village. You will then part ways with your local guide, and return to Chiang Mai, experiencing the drive through picturesque rural scenery in the pleasant glow of the afternoon sun.

Day 10. Chiang Mai – Phuket     

Phuket is the largest island in Thailand and is a province in itself.  Phuket itself is a beautiful island with many great beaches, rocky capes, mountains and forested hills as well as lush farmlands incorporating crops such as rubber, pineapple and tapioca.  Phuket is also a central point from which travelers may discover alternative but equally exciting destinations. Phuket has a major International airport, hotels of all categories, excellent infrastructure, established international standard restaurants, small local eateries, shopping centers, excellent nightlife, marina, movie cinema and a wide choice of recreation activities.

Day 11. Phuket

Today is yours at leisure to enjoy the facilities of your resort or exploring the amazing beach.

Day 12. Phuket

Phang Nga Hong by starlight – There are 42 islands in the Phang-Nga Bay National Park and this cruise gives the best view of this fascinating land and seascape. Limestone cliffs rise vertically out of the sea creating a surreal image fit for a mythological legend. We use kayaks to visit the tidal caves and washouts called “Hongs” which are part of the incredible limestone karst formations that have made the area a backdrop for countless international movies. Besides exploring the area, we also have the opportunity to swim, relax, or even make a Loy Krathong; a decorative float that the Thai people set sail on streams and rivers during the Loi Krathong festival on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar (in November). You can launch your own Krathong under a moonlit, starry night. En-route back to Phuket, we will be entertained by “Star Games” on the starlight deck. A buffet lunch and dinner will be served onboard.

Day 13. Phuket

Today is yours at leisure to enjoy the facilities of your resort or further exploring the amazing beach. 

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*** End of Services ***

Discover Paris, Provence & Côte d’Azur

DAY 1.

Arrival at CDG Airport

HALF-DAY PARIS DISCOVERY TOUR – With your driver and with your personal guide you will start the day with a quick briefing which will highlight what you may like in order to create in a few minutes a tailor made tour which will suit your real interests. For instance, we can drive you to the Opera Garnier, Place Vendome, Palais Royal, the Louvre, Ile de la Cité, Cathedral Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, the Conciergerie, the Hotel de Ville (Town of Hall), the Ile St Louis, the Old Paris (left Bank): Latin Quarter, the Sorbonne (university), the Pantheon, the Luxembourg Garden, the Church St Sulpice, the Saint Germain district (home of many jazz musicians, writers and painters since the roaring 20’s), the Orsay Museum (outside visit). You will also pass by the Concorde square, the Champs Elysées, the Arc de Triomphe, the Grand Palais, the Invalides, the Image result for Sacré Coeur basilicaEiffel Tower where you will make a stop before driving to Montmartre – the village of the artists and highest place in Paris – where your guide will take you for a small walking tour to discover the famous Place du Tertre with its cafés and shops and the Sacré Coeur basilica before driving you back again to your hotel.

STAY. Relais Christine, 3 Rue Christine, 75006 Paris

DAY 2.

WINE & CHEESE TASTING – IN THE HOME OF A PARISIAN EXPERT – Born into a Champagne-producing family near Reims, our expert will provide you with a unique perspective on French wines and cheeses as you are welcomed into her home for a private tasting. First, visit a typical fromagerie (cheese shop) with our expert where you will learn about the finest cheeses and assist with the selection before the tasting begins. Once entering her beautiful Parisian apartment, you will review the wines which have been chosen form the best regions of France and are representative of the broad range of flavours that can be experienced around the country. As you taste each pairing of wine and cheese, your host will help you to isolate the textures and scents within the flavours. Savour the aromas while you relax in this charming environment and enjoy afternoon in true Parisian style.

PRIVATE CRUISE ON SEINE RIVER – For a more intimate experience, jump aboard our exclusive Venetian yacht. Admire Paris highlights with a completely different perspective: Notre-Dame de Paris, the Louvre, the Conciergerie, and the Eiffel Tower… In the yacht, you will have a bottle of champagne, fresh fruits and soft drinks. The captain will take you to cruise along the Seine for one and a half hour. A magical 1½-hour private cruise.

DAY 3.

EARLY MORNING PRIVATE VISIT OF LV FOUNDATION BEFORE HOURS – Created at the Image result for Fondation Louis Vuittoninitiative of Bernard Arnault by Frank Gehry, the Fondation Louis Vuitton, located in Paris, supports French and international contemporary artistic creation and makes it accessible to as many people as possible. You will have a private tour before the opening hours, which will give you a unique experience when exploring this magnificent work of art. Rising among the century-old trees of the Jardin d’Acclimatation, standing on a mirror of water, the building integrates harmoniously into its natural wooded surroundings, with which the building initiates a real dialogue.

AND/OR

WALKING TOUR OF THE OCCUPATION AND LIBERATION OF PARIS (WWII) – This Walk will take you through the events of the World War II in Paris and what happened before, during and after the Liberation. All aspects are covered. Women and life in Paris during the Liberation, the daily events happening in Paris, the Resistance, the military highlights and Jewish life in the local neighborhoods. A relaxing stroll through Paris with fascinating photos and pictures to illustrate the events along the way.

DAY 4.

Train from Gare de Lyon to Avignon Train station – TGV, with private transfers

STAY: La Divine Comedie, 16 Impasse Jean Pierre Gras, 84000 Avignon

DAY 5.

HALF DAY WALKING TOUR OF AVIGNON & SURROUNDINGS – For some time capital of Image result for pont d’AvignonChristendom in the Middle Ages, retains the indelible mark of its grandiose destiny: the Palais des Papes (palace of the popes), the Saint-Benezet brigde, called the « pont d’Avignon » of worldwide fame through its commemoration by the song, and the ramparts constitute an exceptional complex of monuments listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. In addition, dozens of churches and chapels, all remains of a past rich in history give the city its unique atmosphere.

DAY 6.

FULL DAY ST REMY MARKET & VISIT CARRIERES DES LUMIERES – You will start your day in St Rémy at the market. St Rémy de Provence a particularly interesting town because of its typical architecture: an old center with quaint 17th and 18th century houses and narrow cobblestone streets, surrounded with ramparts, around which is a circular boulevard planted with plane trees (sycamores of Provence), immortalized by Van Gogh. When one discovers Saint Rémy, one falls in love with the authentic atmosphere, which is so very Provencal. You will take the roads of the Alpilles valley the olives have been cultivated since the time of Ancient Greece. This area’s olive oil is an AOC – we will arrange a visit to an olive mill where you will understand how it is made & taste this local product.Today you enjoy lunch at a private estate in Provence, hosted by a family of local chefs. Food and wine pairing with some of the best wines from Les Alpilles (Domaine de Travellon, Dominique Haufette…) The location is one of the most beautiful estates, very authentic and Provençal with a nice modern touch. The host is one of you guide’s oldest friends and you will enjoy some traditional Provençal recipes in a charming and cozy atmosphere. After lunch you will enjoy a visit to Arles. Few other towns in Provence combine all the region’s charms so well as Arles. Its Roman remains, such as the arena and Constantine’s baths, are complemented by the ocher walls and Roman-tiled roofs of later buildings. A bastion of Provencal tradition and culture, its museums are among the best in the region. Van Gogh spent time here in 1888-9, but Arles is no longer the industrial town he painted.

DAY 7.

PRIVATE TRANSFER & WITH LUNCH IN GIGONDAS

STAY: Hotel Crillon Le Brave, Place de l’Eglise, 84410 Crillon-le-Brave

DAY 8.

FULL DAY WINE TOUR TO LUBERON & CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE – Your private driver/guide will pick you up in the morning and together you will depart on a full day wine tour to the Luberon. During this trip you will visit 2 Wine Chateau and get to taste wines.

Your first stop will be at the Domaine de Peyre. This Domaine was taken over a few yearImage result for Domaine de Peyres back by Patricia Alexandre, former director of Gault at Millhau. She hired Philippe Cambie, the best oenologist consultant to blend wines of the country. Ever since they belong to the top 3 rosé wine produce in France. After this first visit your driver/guide take you to visit the village Luberon which has a breath-taking view. From there you will depart to one of the most famous wine regions of France – Chateauneuf du Pape. There you will have lunch at La Table de Sorgues where most winemakers from Chateauneuf du Pape hang out. A sort of must be location. Later in the afternoon will get to see the behind the scenes of the harvest at Chateau Vaudieu, followed by a delicious wine tasting.

DAY 9.

PRIVATE TRANSFER & WITH LUNCH AT CHEATEAU DE BERNE– Your first stop after your pick up is at Chateau de Berne where ou will enjoy a beautiful lunch in the midts of nature. After you lunch your travel continues onward and your driver guide will take you to a visit of Chateau d’Esclans. Chateau d’Esclans is located on an exceptional site, on elevated land near the Gorges de Pennafort, twenty five kilometres northwest of the ancient Roman city of Frejus on the Mediterranean Coast. Its rosé wine is the most expensive in the world. “Whispering Angel” is the most famous in the high society of New York.

STAY: Hotel Belles Rives, 33 Boulevard Edouard Baudoin, 06160 Juan-les-Pins

DAY 10.

FULL DAY TOUR TO GRASSE, BIOT & MOUGINS– Perched on top of a hill, bathed in sunlight the old village of Mougins spirals down from its like a snail shell, with its ancestral streets and a splendid panorama over the Bay of Cannes. Pablo Picasso spent the last 12 years of his life living in Mougins. The village of Mougins is today a collection of restaurants, art galleries and estate agents. *Grasse: Coco Chane l may have first set up shop in Cannes, but when she wanted to create her classic “No. 5” fragrance she headed to Grasse, the perfume capital of the world, with its mild microclimate, which nurtures nearly year-round shows of tropical-hue flowers: orange blossoms, pittosporum, roses, lavender, jasmine, and mimosa. *Biot: Rising above a stretch of commercial-industrial quarters along the coast from Antibes, the village perché of Biot (pronounced “Bee-otte”) sits neatly on a hilltop. Threaded with cute alleyways and dotted with pretty placettes (small squares), the old town is so picturesque it almost demands you pick up brush and palette. This medieval village of Biot is proud to be one of the south of France’s most picturesque villages. Nearly 2500 years old, Biot is a world known village for its famous glass blowers.

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FULL-DAY PRIVATE TOUR TO CANNES AND ANTIBES – Cannes has linked its name to the world of cinema since 1946, a long sequence which lasts for 70 years, a romance on the big screen under the eyes of the whole world. Antibes Juan-les-Pins is a corner of paradise, crowned by a citadel cutting an imposing figure against the backdrop of the French Alps. It is ideally located at the heart of the French Riviera between Nice and Cannes. Here, Picasso Museum is located – a treat for art lovers. Picasso Museum, Picasso was invited to stay in Chateau de Grimaldi, an old castle of Antibes. Over the period of six months, he created numerous masterpieces, drawings and paintings. When he left, Pablo Picasso donated 23 paintings and 44 drawings to the city of Antibes.

DAY 11.

HALF OR FULL DAY CRUISE IN LUXURY YACHT – Hop on your luxury yacht for the day that will bring you alongside the beautiful Cote d’Auzr.

DAY 12.

Departure from NCE Airport

Japan, a unique honeymoon adventure

I love working with my honeymooners, especially on unique excursions that balance active adventure with romantic relaxation. Check out this client’s honeymoon!

Day 1: Osaka Arrival

The historical commercial capital of Japan, Osaka is Japan’s third largest metropolis and it has been the economic powerhouse of the Kansai region for centuries. Osaka first gained prominence when a powerful warlord built the country’s most magnificent castle in the 16th century. To develop resources for his castle town, the ruler persuaded merchants from other parts of the nation to resettle in Osaka and it became an important distribution center. As the merchant class prospered, the town grew and traditional arts such as kabuki and bunraku flourished. With the legacy of the city’s commercial beginnings still intact, Osaka is renowned as a hub for international business. It is also famous for its local cuisine, large aquarium, underground shopping arcade, and its popular Universal Studios amusement park.

Accommodation: Conrad Osaka or Granvia Osaka 

Day 2: Evening Osaka Gourmet Tour by Public Transport

The morning is at your leisure to enjoy. In the evening, your guide will meet you at hotel and introduce you to the splendors of Osaka’s casual cuisine, venturing into the epicenter of street food culture in Osaka: Dotonbori.

Dotonbori is a famous pedestrian-only restaurant street in Osaka’s boisterous Namba district. Famous for its vast array of culinary options, Dotonbori is known as a food paradise throughout Japan. This is where Kansai people come to celebrate!

Image result for DotonboriColorful eateries and bars line the neon-filled streets: hole-in-the-wall takoyaki stands and street-side ramen bars rub shoulders with upscale eateries serving the finest wagyu beef – and everywhere, people – young and old – out to enjoy the culinary pleasures of the nation’s most famous restaurant district.

You’ll have the chance to sample a variety of local foods, including the famous and ubiquitous takoyaki (commonly known as “octopus balls”) and kushikatsu (skewered meats and vegetables). The cost of these – and one drink a piece – is included. Your guide can also take you to a huge variety of other establishments, from ramen noodles to izakaya bars. The cost for your orders here will be on you.

Afterwards your guide will take you back to your hotel, or direct you to elsewhere nearby if you prefer to keep eating and drinking!

Day 3: Travel to Kyoto by train

This is a must-see destination in Japan. Kyoto is the nation’s former capital and was the residence of the emperor from 794 until 1868. With 2,000 religious buildings, including 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, as well as palaces, gardens and associated architecture, it is one of the best-preserved cities in Japan and has 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Kyoto represents the “Japan of old” and beyond the high-rise skyscrapers built as a monument to progress, the real monument to Japan’s historical and cultural past can be found in the city’s narrow alleyways where tea houses abound and kimono-clad geisha hurry from elegant function to function.

Accommodation: Four Seasons KyotoFour Seasons Kyoto or Hoshinoya Kyoto            

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Thursday 13 Jun 2019, Day 4: Full Day Kyoto Arashiyama Tour by Public Transport

In the morning, your guide will meet you at the hotel and together, head to the Arashiyama district, a pleasant district in the western outskirts of Kyoto. The area has been a popular destination since the Heian Period (794-1185), when nobles would enjoy its natural setting.

Take a walk through Arashiyama’s famous bamboo groves, which are particularly attractive when there is a light wind and the tall bamboo stalks sway gently back and forth. The bamboo has been used to manufacture various products, such as baskets, cups, boxes and mats at local workshops for centuries. Nonomiya shrine is a Shinto shrine where in ancient times, unmarried imperial princesses stayed for a year or more to purify themselves.Image result for Arashiyama bamboo groves

Okochi Mountain Villa is the former villa of the popular samurai film star Okochi Denjiro (1896-1962), and consists of several beautiful gardens and buildings, including living quarters, tea houses and a zen meditation hall. Here you will enjoy some matcha green tea with a snack. After short break, visit Tenryuji which is ranked among Kyoto’s five great Zen temples and the largest and most impressive temple in Arashiyama. Founded in 1339 at the beginning of the Muromachi Period (1338-1573), the temple is one of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In addition to its temple buildings, there are attractive gardens with walking paths.

After a traditional Buddhist vegan lunch, you will head to Arashiyama Monkey Park. After hiking uphill for about fifteen minutes, you will find an open area with over a hundred monkeys roaming freely. There are also nice views down onto the city.

End your day with a ride on the Sagano Scenic Railway, also known as the Romantic Train. It is a sightseeing train line that runs along the Hozugawa River between Arashiyama and Kameoka. Its charming, old fashioned trains wind their way through the mountains at a relatively slow pace, taking about 25 minutes to make the seven-kilometer journey and giving passengers a pleasant view of the scenery as they travel from rural Kameoka through the forested ravine and into Arashiyama.

Day 5: At leisure

Breakfast at your hotel. Today is at your leisure to enjoy. Suggested activity is the Four Seasons Kyoto Spa.

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Day 6: Kyoto Market Visit, Sake Tasting And Cooking Lesson, Private Lesson

The morning is at your leisure to enjoy. In the afternoon, make your way to the meeting point in central Kyoto.

Together with a local guide you will walk the mile-long Nishiki covered food markets, where there are many interesting food stores to explore as you help your guide buy the ingredients for your Japanese cooking class. This is a great opportunity to learn about local Japanese produce. After visiting the markets, you’ll travel through the back streets and lanes of Kyoto, and visit a traditional townhouse for a sake tasting.Image result for Nishiki covered food markets

Finish the walk at a traditional wooden townhouse for your Japanese cooking class. Learn how to make rolled sushi, miso soup and cooked salad with seasonal fruit for dessert, and enjoy the results for dinner. Afterward, you are free to continue exploring on your own.

Day 7: Travel to Okinawa by flight

 Okinawa is an island chain located half way between Japan and Taiwan that stretches for over 1000 km.   During its long history, Okinawa has its sovereignty as an independent kingdom and been under Chinese and U.S. rule, giving it a colorful culture that you won’t find anywhere else in Japan.  Home to more than 300,000 people, Naha is the capital and largest city of Okinawa Prefecture. With its port and airport, it also functions as the regional transportation hub, offering direct flight and ferry connections into other parts of Okinawa, Japan and Asia. The former capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom around Shuri Castle was located within the borders of today’s Naha City.

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 Accommodation: ANA InterContinental Manza Beach or HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island

Day 8: At leisure

Breakfast at your hotel. Today is at your leisure to enjoy at the beach.

Day 9: At leisure

Breakfast at your hotel. Today is at your leisure to enjoy at the beach.

Day 10: Travel to Tokyo by flight

One of the world’s most cutting-edge capitals, Tokyo is a city of contrasts. Famous for its sprawling neon-lit landscape it is also home to expansive parkland, peaceful shrines and temples, and lovingly tended gardens. On the surface, Tokyo is a mix of digital trends and conspicuous consumption, but dig deeper and you will find a city rooted deeply in the traditional culture. Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples stand close to skyscrapers as a reminder of a more contemplative time. At the heart of the hyperactive center lies the Image result for Hamarikyu Gardensserene Imperial Palace, the home of the ruling emperor that provides a tangible link to the city’s historical past. Behind the shopping, entertainment, and commercial emporia you will find quaint wooden houses, private gardens with meticulously clipped bonsai trees and the calm of the Hamarikyu Gardens.

Accommodation: Aman Tokyo or Mandarin Oriental or Park Hotel 

Day 11: Tokyo Samurai Sword Dance Experience

The morning is at your leisure to enjoy. In the afternoon, make your way to the venue.

Learn more about the legendary samurai warriors in this exciting program. You will wear a samurai costume, learn about the lifestyle and etiquette of samurai classes and finally take the sword and learn the basics of kenbu, a highly stylized sword dance that samurai used to perform as training and to find concentration.

This is a unique experience to learn in-depth about this cultural heritage of Japan. The instructors are skilled Kenbu master and are also fluent in English, and they will be happy to answer your questions. At the end of the experience, you are free to continue exploring on your own.

Day 12: Full Day Mt Fuji National Park Excursion from Tokyo end at Kawaguchiko by private car

In the morning, meet your guide at the hotel and travel to explore part of the Fuji Image result for Lake Kawaguchi and of Mt. FujiNational Park. Today you will visit the beautiful lakeside town of Kawaguchiko, known for its panoramic views of Mt. Fuji and the mountain’s symmetrical reflection in the lake. First stop will be a visit to the lakeside for a journey up the Kachi Kachi ropeway on Mt. Tenjo, allowing you wonderful views across Lake Kawaguchi and of Mt. Fuji, if the weather is fair.

After descending, you’ll head to Bat Cave, where large colony of bats used to reside in the winter. Explore this extensive cave with multiple chambers before starting the hike through a section of Aokigahara. Aokigahara literally means “sea of trees”, so named after its vast area of dense, tall trees that at some areas block out the sun above. During the hike, you can visit a couple of other caves as well.

The final stop on today’s tour is a visit to Mt. Fuji’s 5th station, where the road runs out on the mountain itself. The views looking down below are quite astounding and you will begin to understand why Japan’s tallest mountain is so very revered.

Throughout the day you will have the chance to get a glimpse of Mt Fuji, however, please keep in mind that she is a notoriously shy mountain and it needs to be a clear day.

Afterward, you will be taken to your accommodation at a beautiful traditional ryokan near Kawaguki Lake, where a traditional Japanese dinner awaits!

Accommodation: Ryokan Konanso

Day 13: Travel to Tokyo by train

Breakfast at your hotel. Afternoon is at your leisure to enjoy.

Day 14:  Half Day Tea Ceremony & Tea Shop Experience by public transport

This privately guided tour will take you to the family-run Kakinuma Tea Shop located close to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, where you will  have the opportunity of participating Image result for Japanese tea ceremonyin a Japanese tea ceremony as well as tasting various kinds of Matcha green tea.

First, you will take part in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony that is conducted exclusively for your group. Here, a member of the Kakinuma family will instruct you on the traditional art of Japanese tea ceremony and will prepare a thick tea made of powdered green tea leaves for you. A Japanese confection will also be served alongside the tea. With the skilled guidance of the tea master, you will be able to observe the graceful movements of tea preparation up close and will learn the ceremonial way of drinking tea.

Afterwards, you will have the chance to taste various grades of tea, ranging from ordinary green tea purchasable at the supermarket right up to the finest green tea used by reputable tea masters. During your tasting, the shop owners will be happy to share with you the stories of some of their favourite items in the tea shop– you will soon find out that every single detail in the tea room is considered by the ceremony master. We highly recommend that you purchase a few souvenirs here- the tea tools and cups make wonderful talking pieces in your home.

Day 15: Tokyo Departure

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