Traveling with luxury tour provider Abercrombie & Kent guarantees a positive travel experience, there’s really no doubt there. One of the world’s experts on leading folks to some of the most amazing spots on the planet, Abercrombie & Kent first defined the concept of experiential luxury travel a long time ago and they are still leading the way in expanding that definition. I first traveled with them last year on a remarkable safari in Tanzania, a cornerstone experience for the company. That’s one reason why I was so very curious about my trip with them to Spain. Completely unlike my solo safari experience in Africa, this small group tour is one of the featured trips in their ever-expanding Connections Boutique Journeys collection, a different way to experience the world.
Connections Journeys are Boutique Group trips that focus on the destination and, almost more importantly, the local people and culture. They’re meant to be immersive trips, led by individuals who call the destinations home and who understand the cities and towns better than almost anyone else. Using carefully crafted itineraries, small one-of-a-kind hotels and special immersive experiences, the goal of Connections is not to just see new places, but to live them. I’m working with Abercrombie & Kent to help share this unique style of travel but, as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own, including these key takeaways from my Connections experience in Spain.
An important aspect of the Abercrombie & Kent Connections Journeys is the reasonable group size and in my case that meant 17 of us spent a week gallivanting around Spain. I don’t normally travel with strangers, and at first I was slightly intimated by the idea, but almost immediately I began to see the value in observing the world through the eyes of others. I’ve long said that it doesn’t matter the ages or backgrounds of the people who travel with you, be it on a cruise ship or tour. The fact is that you all made the same travel decision, which means you have similar interests and have similar expectations from the travel experience. Not only did I make new friends during the week, but we all learned from each other along the way. There is power in discovering a new destination through the eyes of someone else. They pick up on different aspects of the city, which in turn makes your own experience that much more interesting and complete. Not only did traveling with a small group help me better understand the destinations, it was just a lot of fun as well. These folks were there to enjoy some leisure time, to have an active but fun vacation and to experience a part of the world new to most of them. Along the way we got to know each other extremely well, joking with one another and even seeking each other’s company when it came time to enjoy a meal or a nightcap. These were friendships and not just socially polite relationships, and by the end of the trip it wasn’t a group of strangers touring Spain, it was a brand new set of friends.
One Of A Kind Experiences
One of my favorite aspects of traveling with Abercrombie & Kent, no matter the style of journey, is their ability to surprise and delight their guests. As one of the world’s foremost luxury providers, they well understand the power of added value and provide it in a variety of ways guaranteed to put a smile of their traveler’s faces. That was certainly the case throughout our trip around Spain and not only were the unique experiences offered fun, but they helped bring us even closer to the destinations themselves. One of the best examples of this one-of-a-kind experience happened in sunny Seville and the evening we spent in a local home. We didn’t know a lot about the evening in advance, only that it would be a night of good food and exciting entertainment that we would never forget. An early spring evening in Seville meant that it wasn’t too hot and yet the sun was shining and the entire city seemed to be out enjoying the weather. It was the ideal time for a horse-drawn carriage ride around town, and the perfect way to start a memorable evening. The horses pulled up to an inauspicious home not too far away from our hotel, the historic home that played host to our locally inspired evening. There we were escorted inside the veritable palace by the owner, the latest in a long line of family members who have acted as caretakers of the property through the generations. A tour of the mansion followed by an incredible meal featuring local delicacies would have been enough, but the capstone was a form of entertainment for which Seville is particularly well known – the flamenco dance. Professional dancers and musicians thrilled us all with their strangely enticing dance, leading us through stories and tales along the way. It was honestly a perfect evening and one that could not have been otherwise duplicated; but one example of many of how Abercrombie & Kent adds real value to their Connections Journeys.
An important aspect of any trip, not just the Abercrombie & Kent Connections Journeys, are where one spends the night. One of the focal points of these special boutique trips are the small, independent-minded properties and for me they were a key aspect of the trip. No matter which city we visited, A&K managed to find luxury minded and yet boutique hotels that complemented the style of travel perfectly. In Barcelona this meant the stylish and well-located Hotel Omm, but in Granada it was the former convent AC Palacio de Santa Paula that served as our host. Each hotel was very different from one another, but they all shared certain qualities in common. They were all high-end hotels with a keen emphasis on the customer experience. This meant they were located in ideal neighborhoods with easy access to shops, restaurants and attractions. It also guaranteed a high level of service and comfort whether in a mega-city like Madrid or a sleepy town like Ronda. And much to my surprise, they all also had fantastic food options. A large group dinner was a feature at most of our hotels and I was honestly very surprised at how delicious all of the meals were. I’m not normally a “eat in the hotel” kind of guy, but this trip may have changed my opinion on that forever. Additionally, no matter where we went, our bags were taken care of for us and checking in and out was fast and easy. Like all aspects of the Abercrombie & Kent trip, the hotel experiences were effortless and amazingly well executed.
Ease of Travel
The way I want to travel varies depending on my mood. Sometimes I want nothing more than to be left alone, guessing my way around new cities. Other times though a little ease of travel and convenience is a great luxury as well. I mix up how I travel throughout the year; I think it’s a smart way to travel to ensure that your travel experiences are a little more well rounded. Abercrombie & Kent provides this ease of travel in a manner that surely must be the best in the world. Little touches, like never having to move my bags personally, to handing out printed plane/train tickets as the group entered the points of departure. Every little detail was thought of and instead of detracting from the travel experience, it accentuated it. Instead of having to stress over minor details that don’t mean a lot, I was able to spend more of my time actually enjoying the trip, the destination and the overall experience.
Immersive and Locally Focused Travel
For the last several years, I try to incorporate great walking tours into my travels. I found that I just wasn’t learning enough from my travel experiences by relying solely on guidebooks or the like. One of the many great features of a tour experience like the one I had in Spain was that those expert guides are built into the experience. The way that Abercrombie & Kent structured my Spain tour was to have one Resident Tour Director who was in charge of everything and who was with us the entire trip. Her job duties were many, but ranged from helping us find great restaurants in the local neighborhoods to acting as interpreter to being a general go-to person in the country. Then, at each stop along the way, a local guide was brought in to provide even more in-depth knowledge of the area and for them to show us around their town. It was a great combination and I quickly appreciated the fact that I was learning more than I had on any trip in a very long time.
That local expertise would have been enough, but Abercrombie & Kent naturally takes things to another level by adding even more immersive travel experiences. I already mentioned the dinner in Seville, but there were many other experiences offered as well. An evening with the Tour Director learning all about tapas as we restaurant-hopped around town taught us all we needed to know about this important culinary tradition. Also in Seville, we visited the annual April Fair; a massive event that seemed to take over the entire city with outrageously colorful clothes and plenty of good humor. Spain is also well known for its sherry and in Jerez we spent a lunch touring one of the legacy producers, learning about this sometimes-overlooked drink and enjoying some of their best vintages along with a delicious lunch of light bites. No matter where we went there seemed to be extra locally inspired experiences, all designed to bring us even closer to the communities we visited. It transformed the trip from a nice tour to an immersive travel event I know that none of us will ever forget.
We all trust certain companies when we travel, whether it’s an airline, a hotel or a tour operator. We place in their control our vacation, our limited time off and ultimately our enjoyment of new places we decide to visit. This is an important obligation and one that Abercrombie & Kent certainly takes seriously. The tour was better than even my own high expectations, creating travel memories that were fun and which I know I will always remember.