Known as the “Ireland Specialist,” Brendan Vacations—which offers itineraries to destinations around the globe—has opened a new chapter in its product portfolio with the launch of Boutique Journeys. These journeys are exactly what the name suggests: intimate in nature, with no more than 24 guests, and delving deep into a destination, rather than just scratching the surface. Launched initially in Ireland about two years ago, late last year’s full-scale debut is a collection of what the company calls handcrafted itineraries to over 30 destinations around the world and are the perfect fit for the traveler who wants a well-planned, but nonetheless experiential-style vacation, with hands-on experiences.
“The itineraries,” Brendan Vacations’ president, Nico Zenner, explains, “include unique experiences not usually found elsewhere. We believe our Boutique Journeys will attract a more seasoned, savvy traveler; someone who is interested in a different type of vacation, with a smaller group of people, or to a destination that is not well traveled. Our clients are likely to be soft adventurers (to Iceland e.g.), or foodies (to France and Italy with our ‘Slow Food’ itineraries). These are travelers who have the time to discover the far corners of the world.”
One of the product’s most unique aspects is its focus on “Slow Food” tourism. In fact, Brendan Vacations joined with the Slow Food Organization and is part of the Slow Food Travel program, being sold exclusively through them in the U.S. marketplace. The “slow food” movement, incidentally, is part of a global, grassroots effort that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment. In that regard, Brendan has six Slow Food itineraries, because, Zenner says, “food consistently ranks in the highest categories of travel interest. And the regions we’ve selected—they are regional journeys, by the way—truly offer the best of Italy and France. We thought that customers would be interested in a different kind of experience and not go see monuments, cities and towns, but learn more about the food. We thought that the philosophy of the Slow Food Organization (good, fair and clean food) is awesome and it’s translated in virtually every aspect of those journeys. The experience isn’t just a culinary tour, though; it’s about the region and there are plenty of sightseeing inclusions alongside plenty of tastings, samplings, demonstrations, explanations and cooking experiences.”
To get a taste of what’s on the menu, there’s the 8-day Provenance—From Farm to Table (from $3,239 land-only), which takes travelers to the town of Cuges Les Pins to meet one of the last producers of Brousse de Rove, a goat cheese typical of the Marseille area; to hang out with fishermen in the charming fishing village of Sanary-sur-Mer, and to Aix to sample calissons, those delightful iced, candied fruits that we know we wouldn’t be able to savor enough of. Of course, there’s also a visit to the farmers market in Marseille (the scents!), wine sampling and a cooking lesson in Cucuron, all the while taking in the region’s picturesque and dazzlingly colorful landscapes.
The Slow Food itinerary that most intrigues Zenner—although to be honest it was tough for him to pick a favorite, but we insisted—is the one in Tuscany: the 8-day Foods & Vineyards of Tuscany (from $2,455 land-only).
“Like several of our itineraries, it is leisurely paced with a first and last night in Rome but five nights in the same palace in Rignano Sull’arno (outside of Florence). There are fantastic activities and excursions every day, ranging from Chianti and Greve, Siena and San Gimignano and Montalcino.” Your clients will learn about aromatic herbs, Pecorino cheese, honey, wine, olive oil, etc., with six guided tastings thrown into the culinary banquet.
And you might have noticed Zenner says “palace” when describing the accommodations on the Tuscany trip (palatial accommodations near Florence…who wouldn’t notice!), and that should come as no surprise when you take into account that the initial itinerary that set the whole Boutique Journeys collection into motion is the 8-day Castles & Manors tour in Ireland, part of the current catalog and with stays in, surprise, surprise, castles and manors. Unique accommodations are indeed part of the package and that adds to the “immersive” qualities of these trips. In fact, clients booking either one of the two Mongolia trips will stay in ger (yurts) camps (it’s what the locals do). That said, though, in terms of traditional accommodations, the hotels featured on the itineraries are of a superior first, first or deluxe category.
A few other things for travel agents to keep top of mind, says Zenner, are that “some destinations are only available for a very short period (e.g. whale watching in Baja, the Gobi Desert) and capacity is at a premium there. Many itineraries also only run in the summer.”
And yes, because of the uniqueness of the itineraries, prices tend to be higher than on traditional itineraries, but your clients, Zenner insists, will appreciate the unique features. Also, Zenner wants to make sure travel agents know that Brendan Vacations listened when they heard from agents that they wanted a quality product for their clients, and more importantly, “that the departures would indeed operate, even if there were just a few guests.” In fact, on some departures there might just be two guests.
And when you speak with Zenner about this new product, you can hear the excitement in his voice, and it’s evident he wants the travel agent community to share in his passion for Boutique Journeys. “Just the list of World Heritage Sites (found in the itineraries) is impressive. In China, we’ve included a city called Pingyao (a walled city not usually featured on a China itinerary); we feature Namibia and Easter Island and Laos…and then there’s Greenland that can be added from Iceland. Kulusuk anyone?”
Boutique Journeys: (800) 421-8446; brendanvacations.com