October 22, 2014

Hiking in Bhutan

BhutanOne of the most popular activities that we arrange in Bhutan is private hiking excursions, including day hikes, shorter hikes and scenic walks, and overnight treks. This is a great way to experience the beautiful Himalayan scenery, visit local villages, meet the people, and learn about Bhutanese traditions and beliefs.

Bhutan walking tours

overnight treks BhutanArtisans of Leisure arrange hikes from Paro up to Tiger’s Nest, a mountaintop monastery that is Bhutan’s most famous attraction.

private Bhutan toursWe also arrange day hikes in valleys throughout Bhutan, including Thimphu and Punakha. En route, hikers stop at local farms, waterfalls, temples, monasteries and rural villages.

short hike BhutanOur guides also help travelers experience the local lifestyle during the hikes, whether it’s seeing the farmers working in the terraced rice fields, learning folklore, or visiting holy locations.

trekking tours BhutanDuring hikes in more distant locations such as Gangtey and Bumthang, there is also the chance to see native wildlife such as langurs, red pandas and rare bird species.

Bhutan natureOvernight treks offer the adventurous traveler a chance to get more off the beaten track and convene more fully with nature.

Bhutan hiking toursBhutan toursAfter the hikes, a favorite pastime is soaking in a traditional Bhutanese hot stone bath, followed by a soothing massage.

Bhutan bathView our private Bhutan tours or contact us to learn more.

Destinations:  Asia, Bhutan

Tags:  active tours, active travel, adventure, adventure travel, Artisans of Leisure, Asia, Bhutan, Bhutan tours, Buddhism, camping, cultural tours, guided hiking tours, hiking, Himalayas, nature, trekking tours, wildlife

October 7, 2014

Notes from Our Travelers: A Romantic and Luxurious Honeymoon in Switzerland

Luxury Switzerland honeymoonMany of our travelers ask us to plan trips that celebrate some of the most important moments in their lives, including spectacular customized honeymoons.

We were delighted to plan a private tour of Switzerland for Brian and Allison Reichenbach, newlyweds who have generously allowed us to share their photos on our blog.

The honeymooners started in Zurich, with private touring of the historic center and two nights at the Baur au Lac, a luxurious lakeside hotel.

Honeymoon amenities“Welcome reception in our room at the Baur au Lac in Zurich! We were upgraded to deluxe suites at every hotel and each room was more lovely than the last. The most enjoyable part of changing cities was the welcome we received at each new hotel—Champagne, chocolate, cheese, etc.—wonderful!”

Zurich tours“We received the 5 star treatment everywhere we went, which made travel in a foreign country feel like a true vacation rather than a project.”

Luxury Switzerland honeymoonThey continued to Lucerne, where a highlight is the historic bridge and its painted panels.

Lucerne bridgeThe Reichenbachs said that they enjoyed the cheese in Switzerland, including fondue.

Swiss fondueThey also visited Reichenbach Falls. In addition to sharing their family name, the waterfall was the setting for a dramatic scene in a famous Sherlock Holmes story.

Switzerland outdoors tours“The special detour we made to Reichenbach Falls was fabulous, and we appreciate Artisans of Leisure’s help inserting that in to our travel plans. Worth the detour!”

Next, they ventured high into the Swiss Alps.

Swiss AlpsSwiss Alps tours“In Interlaken, our guide took us up to see Jungfraujoch. This man was amazing: a true Swiss mountain guide with wonderful stories about mountain climbing and growing up in Switzerland. He navigated the masses of tourists masterfully and we waited nowhere and saw everything.”

They also toured a cheese factory on the way from Interlaken to Lausanne…

Switzerland cheese tours“I wanted to tuck this into my purse…”

…and visited one of Switzerland’s most charming small towns.

Gruyeres“Our lunchtime view in Gruyeres, where we had tasty raclette. All of our guides gave wonderful recommendations.”

The honeymooners ended their tour with several days at the Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne.

Switzerland's best hotels“Every single hotel was absolutely fabulous, but the Beau-Rivage Palace was probably our favorite. Restaurant Anne-Sophie Pic there was also above and beyond—every bite was more interesting and spectacular than the last and the service was wonderful as well.”

From the Beau-Rivage, they explored top attractions in the beautiful Lake Geneva region, including Chateau de Chillon.

Chateau de Chillon“We loved having a private guide at Chateau de Chillon—it makes a huge difference in how much you learn and how easy it is to navigate. Additionally, you get the chance to chat with local people, learn about the culture, and get recommendations you don’t find in the guide books.”

They also visited the ancient vineyards in the Lavaux region, where they sampled Swiss wines.

Switzerland wine tours“Our guide worked there at the vineyard and his passion for the wine and the winery itself was so evident that it was contagious. We left with a renewed interest in wine.”

wine tours SwitzerlandOlympics Museum Switzerland“We also loved the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. We went after our wine tasting and it’s a really wonderful museum, just a short walk from the Beau-Rivage Palace.”

Luxury travel Switzerland“Other companies we’ve used aren’t even comparable to Artisans of Leisure. Traveling privately with Artisans of Leisure was so much more relaxing and tailored to us and felt much more like a true vacation.”

Switzerland honeymoonCongratulations again to the newlyweds! It’s always gratifying for us to hear how much our travelers enjoy themselves on our tours.

Contact us to learn more about our private Switzerland tours or planning a private honeymoon tour in one of our many other recommended destinations for a romantic getaway.

Destinations:  Europe, Switzerland

Tags:  Artisans of Leisure, cheese, culinary tours, Europe, Europe tours, honeymoons, luxury honeymoons, luxury tours, nature, romance, Switzerland, wine tours

October 3, 2014

Spain Through the Eyes of a Sixth-Grader

More and more Artisans of Leisure travelers want their private tours to include activities based on their passions.

soccer tours of SpainOne such traveler is Derek S., an energetic sixth-grader who loves soccer. Last spring break, Derek’s parents surprised him with an Artisans of Leisure private tour of Spain that included Madrid, Barcelona, Toledo and Valencia.

To help Derek and his family connect with Spain’s vibrant futbol (soccer) culture, we arranged private tours of top soccer stadiums and procured difficult-to-obtain seats to the Copa del Rey championship soccer match between top teams Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in Valencia.

Barcelona for kidsWe recently spoke with Derek for more insight into what he loved about his trip, including not only soccer, but also Spanish food, art, architecture and more:

Q: What grade are you in?
A: 6th

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do?
A: Play soccer. Obviously.

Q: How often do you play?
A: A lot. Every day

Q: Who is your favorite team?
A: Chelsea. Definitely.

Q: Why?
A: I don’t know. I just love them. I have so many Chelsea shirts and Fatheads and balls.

Q: What are Fatheads?
A: Things that stick to your wall. Like a sticky poster.

Q: How did you find out you were going to Spain for spring break?
A: My parents told me.

Q: What were you most looking forward to in Spain?
A: The games. I went crazy when I found out we’d see both teams play against each other.

Q: Who were you rooting for?
A: Real Madrid.

Q: Why?
A: I thought they were the underdog, and I wanted them to win. Which they did. Two to one.

Spain family toursQ: What was the highlight of the game?
A: When it was 1-1, then they scored in the 88th minute, and Barcelona hit the post shortly thereafter. But the second goal.

Spain soccer toursQ: Tell us about your favorite meals.
A: All sorts of paella, especially the cooking class in Valencia learning Valencia paella (chicken, rabbit, lima beans, other beans) and the seafood paellas in restaurants.

I loved marzipan desserts. I had it in Toledo. I had marzipan cake at Adolfo. So good. The other marzipan were other assortments. They look different but they all taste the same. Excellent. I love marzipan now. This was the first time in my life I had it. I never knew what it was.

cooking class ValenciaQ: Did you get to play at all? Soccer?
A: Sure. Yeah, sometimes on the beach I got into games people were playing. On the street I saw someone kicking, and he passed it to me, and we started playing freestyle street soccer.

Q: Tell us about the hotels.
A: I liked all of them. They all had great breakfasts. Tons of stuff. Fruit. Sausages. Pancakes. Mini donuts. Crepes. Bread. Even Japanese food and samosas. So good.

The people were so nice. They were very welcoming, especially at Hotel Arts in Barcelona. They had me answer questions about my favorite color, animal, etc. They showed us all around. I loved the club lounge. There was a corner with lots of food‎ and some was piled high with other food around it. I liked their soup at lunchtime. Cream of cabbage. Also, the ham and their pastries (croissants and donuts).

Q: What did you do during the winery visits?
A: Well, for me it wasn’t that fun. But Jean Leon and Albet I Noya both had cool underground rooms with wine tanks. They gave me grape juice in a wine bottle and chocolate eggs for Easter.

Q: Tell us about Toledo.
A: We saw a lot of buildings. There were so many. The cloister nuns were cool. They lived in a room that was locked up. It was their choice. They live there for their whole lives. All they do is make and sell marzipan and communion crackers. I met a nun and she gave me some. The guide introduced me. They only leave if they have a doctor’s appointment or something.

We saw the armor and helmets. Lunch was great. Adolfo. Really good. I had duck liver and pig. And the marzipan cake for dessert. It was so good. It was different colors and shades as you ate deeper.

private Toledo toursQ: What about Valencia?
A: The game was awesome. During the touring we went to the harbor to the marina. We went to an open area mall, and they had an exhibit for game day about the Copa del Rey and the teams, and they had a mini store. We went to the market and we saw a real pig’s head with its nose, pigs’ feet, live eels, shells. ‎They also had real snails moving around in a bucket. We saw a science museum, opera house, aquarium. I went into a giant bubble. I loved bouncing inside and pretending it was TNT and would blow up.

private Valencia toursfamily travel SpainQ: Tell us about Barcelona.
A: Gaudi. Antoni Gaudi. My favorite artist. We saw a bunch of his things. For Easter, we saw Mass in Catalan in the Sagrada Familia. We went all over Parc Guell. La Pedrera. We saw Casa Battlo. Easter was so crowded at Sagrada Familia.

Barcelona for kidsWe toured stadiums in Barcelona and Madrid. We went into the locker room in Real Madrid and saw their names, players’ pictures and jerseys in the lockers‎. We went all over the stadium grounds.

stadium tours SpainQ: Memories of the trip?
A: The game. The stadium tours. The cooking class and the tapas tour. The last night in Madrid, our guide took us to five places to try tapas. It was the best. The first place had the best Spanish tortilla with onions. We tried a bunch of other places and had seafood, croquettes, one place that only had things with ham (it was a ham shop), and the owner gave us a packet of ham.

We saw a lot of other art and museums. The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch had three sections and when it’s folded it shows the earth, and inside is the beginning of life, sins, hell. That was in Madrid.

Q: What do you like about traveling with Artisans of Leisure?
A: Well, they give us the best things to do. The trips have everything you would want.

Q: Where do you want to go next?
A: Maybe Sweden.

Contact Artisans of Leisure to customize a private tour based on your interests.

Destinations:  Europe, Spain

Tags:  art, Europe, exclusive activities, family tours, family travel, family vacations, food, football, holiday travel, museums, soccer, soccer tours, Spain, Spain tours, sports, wine

September 24, 2014

Iconic image: Karst peaks along the Li River in China

Li RiverThe spectacular karst formations along the Li River in southern China constitute one of the country’s most iconic landscapes. Mists swirl around the craggy, foliage-covered hills as they rise out of rice paddies and tea plantations, recreating Chinese ink paintings in three dimensions.

Artisans of Leisure arranges day cruises on the Li River from the city of Guilin to the village of Yangshuo, giving ample opportunities to admire the spectacular formations of this UNESCO World Heritage Site along the way. We also offer our travelers scenic drives and easy bike rides through the region.

Guilin, Yangshuo and the Li River are featured in many of our private China tours, including Discover China and Highlights of China & Hong Kong.

Destinations:  Asia, China

Tags:  active touring, biking, China, China luxury tours, China tours, cruises, Li River, luxury travel, nature, river cruises, Yangshuo

August 21, 2014

Llama Trekking in Northwest Argentina

Llama trekking in the foothills of the Andes is an unforgettable way to experience the stunning nature and vibrant culture of Northwest Argentina.

llama in ArgentinaA two-hour flight from Buenos Aires, Salta City is the gateway to Northwest Argentina and the rural provinces of Salta and Jujuy. This delightful and less-visited region offers many varied touring options, including traditional villages, wine country, pre-Columbian ruins, cloud forests, salt pans, high-altitude desert landscapes, views of volcanoes and the high Andes, and more.

llama trekking in ArgentinaTrekking with genial local guides and native llamas—pack animals that carry provisions for the day—offers a distinctly Argentine way into the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a rugged valley of multi-colored hills  and ancient villages in Jujuy Province.

One of the most popular hiking paths in the Quebrada winds through the stone streets of the village of Tilcara and then circles up into the hills beyond. The route offers splendid views of the town and of the valley’s famous pink- and purple-hued quebradas (ravines), which are particularly colorful at dawn and dusk.

Northwest Argentina toursThe landscape and climate change dramatically as the trail climbs and then plateaus. Arriving at the top and seeing the expanse of the valley on the other side is a singularly breathtaking experience. The impressive vista makes a great place for an almuerzo (lunch) of fresh bread, cheese, wine, and Argentine delicacies such as dulce de batata (sweet potato jam) and dulce de membrillo (quince jam). It is a local custom to pour a bit of wine onto the ground as an offering to Pachamama, a goddess of the earth worshipped by indigenous people of the Andean region.

estancia in ArgentinaLater in the day, dropping down into a narrow canyon alongside the Huasamayo River yields a thrilling find: trilobite formations in the surrounding rocks!

trilobites in ArgentinaEventually, the trail reaches a formation known as Garganta del Diablo or Devil’s Throat. This formidable gorge, renowned for its spectacular colors and its echo, is one of Tilcara’s most beautiful natural attractions.

After the invigorating hike, it’s satisfying to partake in the Argentine tradition of merienda, the convivial late-afternoon meal that comes before dinner. Pairing robust mate tea with traditional medialunas (sweet, crescent-shaped pastries) is a delicious ending to a day of exploring the natural wonders in Northwest Argentina.

resting llamasOur Best of Northwest Argentina and Journey Through Argentina tours feature the best of Salta and Jujuy provinces, including half-day, full-day or multi-day hikes in the Quebrada de Humahuaca. We can also customize any of our private Argentina tours to include activities in this region.

Destinations:  Argentina, South America

Tags:  adventure, Argentina, food, hiking, llamas, luxury Argentina tours, Salta, South America, trekking, wildlife

July 20, 2014

Must Visit: Longsheng Rice Terraces, China

Longsheng rice terracesA private day trip to the spectacular terraced rice fields of Longsheng, near Guilin, is one of our favorite excursions in southern China.

Longji Titian or “Dragon’s Backbone” is the local name for the undulating mountain landscapes, where the shimmering, water-filled terraces are said to resemble dragon scales. Built over centuries, the rice terraces have provided sustenance to the local Yao, Zhuang, Miao and Dong minorities for generations.

Longsheng villagesWe arrange for travelers to walk along the terraces and take in ever-changing views of these incredible earthworks from viewpoints with evocative names such as “Seven Stars and Moon” and “Nine Dragons and Five Tigers.”

Longsheng weaverOther highlights of the day trip include meeting local minority people to learn about their traditions, snacking on bamboo sticky rice, seeing traditional wooden houses perched on hillsides, and browsing for local crafts such as woven textiles, embroidered bags and silver jewelry.

China food toursView our recommended private luxury China tours to learn more about visiting Longsheng.

Longsheng rice terraces

Destinations:  Asia, China

Tags:  active touring, Asia, China, China tours, hiking, Longsheng, luxury travel, nature, rice terraces, villages

June 28, 2014

New Authentic Experiences in Southeast Asia: Food, Culture, Art and Style

We’ve recently introduced a number of exciting new activities in Southeast Asia. All of the experiences—including culinary, active and art options—can be incorporated into our private luxury tours.

monks in BurmaNew Artisans of Leisure experiences in Southeast Asia include:

Culinary Touring
•    Learning to prepare pho (noodle soup) and banh mi (baguette sandwiches) in Vietnam
•   Taking a hands-on lesson with a dim sum master in Hong Kong
•   Private street food and night market tours in Saigon, Hong Kong and Bangkok
• Visiting local producers, including a tofu maker in Indonesia, a winery in Myanmar (Burma) and a noodle maker in Singapore

Special Access & Meetings with Experts
•    Tours of herbal markets and meetings with traditional health practitioners
•    A tour of a Buddhist monastery in Mandalay with a head monk
•    Behind-the-scenes tours of a water puppet theater in Hanoi
•    Private Thai massage lessons in Bangkok
•    A private gamelan lesson in Bali

Shopping Excursions
•    Private art-buying tours at up-and-coming galleries in Yangon, Hong Kong and other cities
•    An insider’s tour of the latest shops in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore
•    Visiting the best lacquerware studios in Myanmar (Burma)
•    Visiting the shop and studio of a renowned weaver in Laos
•    Appointments with renowned designers and artists in their studios, including jewelers in Bali and Hong Kong

Art, Architecture & Design Touring
•    Touring interiors with a feng shui expert in Vietnam or Hong Kong
•    Tours of Singapore’s newest outdoor art, architecture and garden sites, such as Gardens by the Bay and Parkroyal on Pickering
•    A private decorative arts tour of Bangkok
•   Learning about the design and techniques of traditional weaving in Indonesia, Thailand and Laos

Family & Active Experiences
•    Meeting novice monks in Myanmar (Burma) and learning about their lifestyle
•    A family bicycle tour, including a picnic, in rural Cambodia
•    A rice-planting experience in Vietnam
•    Working at a private elephant conservation camp in Thailand
•    Surfing lessons in Bali
•  Bicycling among the rice terraces of Bali, on undeveloped islands in Singapore, or around scenic Inle Lake in Myanmar (Burma)
•    Learning to make shadow puppets in Indonesia

We’ve also added tours that feature new luxury resorts and cruises in the region, including Romantic Vietnam, which features the new Amanoi resort on a beautiful beach in Vietnam and Mekong Experience, which incorporates a cruise on the luxurious Aqua Mekong along the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Destinations:  Asia, Bali, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Southeast Asia, Thailand, Vietnam

Tags:  adventure, art, Asia, Bali, Burma, Cambodia, culinary travel, design, exclusive experiences, family travel, food, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, luxury resorts, luxury tours, Myanmar, shopping, Singapore, Southeast Asia, Vietnam

June 9, 2014

Exclusive New Sri Lanka Tours

Amanwella in Sri LankaOur new private Sri Lanka tours are filled with authentic, hands-on experiences that capture the best of the beautiful island country, such as:

•    Touring a historic tea factory with the resident tea planter
•    Learning to prepare Sri Lankan curry during a private cooking lesson
•    Riding elephants at a private sanctuary
•    Visiting a spice plantation
•    Enjoying a private performance of Sri Lankan dance and fire walking
•    Exploring the monuments and ruins of ancient Buddhist cities
•    Wildlife touring and private game drives in national parks
•    Appointments at Ayurvedic spas
•    Touring the country estate of influential Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa
•    Staying at top luxury hotels and resorts that embrace the culture and history of Sri Lanka, including Amangalla and Tea Trails

Sri Lanka luxury toursThe tours bring travelers close to Sri Lanka’s incredible culture, wildlife and landscapes in full Artisans of Leisure style, including staying at luxury hotels and traveling with your own private guide and driver.

Artisans of Leisure’s Sri Lanka tours feature the country’s most interesting and beautiful regions: Colombo, the bustling capital of Sri Lanka; the Cultural Triangle, including Sigiriya (spectacular rock fortress), Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa (ancient Buddhist cities filled with holy sites, monuments and ruins), and Dambulla (caves filled with Buddhist art); Kandy, the last royal capital of Sri Lanka and home of the Temple of the Tooth; the Hill Country, a mountainous area covered with tea plantations; Galle, an atmospheric, colonial-era fortified port; Tangalle, location of Amanwella beach resort; and Yala National Park, famous for wild leopards, elephants and more.

We can also customize private tours that combine Sri Lanka with India, the Maldives, the United Arab Emirates and other destinations in the region.

Destinations:  Asia, Sri Lanka

Tags:  Asia, Asia tours, culinary tours, culture, dance, luxury tours, new tours, Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka tours, Sri Lanka trips, tea, wildlife