Monet in his Garden“Claude Monet did not paint the subject, he painted the moment –the emotion, the light,” said our guide, Wafaa Lenkey, as our private car drove away from Paris’ Eiffel Tower, heading north to Giverny and the home and water lily gardens of  “the father of Impressionist Painting.”

Kensington Tours, known for their adventure tours, also now provides remarkable, customized day trips and night experiences in European cities, and they made the arrangements for our trip to the French Countryside with a private car, driver, and guide.

Page, a friend from graduate school, and I were on a girlfriend trip to France, stopping in Paris on the way to a superlative-sounding barge trip on the Burgundy river with European Waterways.  We both had wanted to see Giverny for many years,  but not with a busload of tourists. Renting a car and spending our time with our noses buried in maps and guidebooks wasn’t appealing, either. We wanted to be soaking in the landscapes that had inspired Monet and hearing great stories. Kensington supplied a great solution.

As we drove comfortably along the Seine River for more than an hour, Waafa told anecdotes about the names of towns, dished historic gossip, answered our questions, and prepared us for our destination. “Monet lived many places, but not all were conducive to painting… He saw Giverny from a train window and found it to be very conducive for painting.”

Private guide in the gift shop shows us a copy of the painting that gave the Impressionist movement its name.

She told us how he bucked the prevailing pressures to paint only “mythology, royalty, and religion” and wanted to capture light and  impressions, how the invention of paint tubes allowed him to paint outdoors, and how his cataracts in old age helped usher in Abstract painting.

Monet’s Realm

The first building we entered was once the enormous studio Monet used for his iconic water lily paintings. Duplications now hang above a gift shop, and outside the doors are the gardens immortalized in the moments Monet put on canvas—including the iconic green bridge, and a pond for water lilies.

“He composed his garden as if composing a painting,” she told us.  We had arrived before Spring had unfurled her full promise, but potential was ripe in every direction, and some bold tulips, daffodils, and primroses delighted the senses.

Imagine the conversations in Monet’s kitchen and dining area…. Our guide said he loved his food and wine.

Inside his house, Monet’s bedroom windows looked out on the colorful canvas of earth. His walls were covered with duplications of his paintings. Page particularly enjoyed Monet’s bright kitchen. Our guide told us he ate lunch there with his wife and their two kids, and his mistress and her four kids (not by him), and whatever guests he allowed.

He did not allow guests at dinner. After full days painting, he wanted quiet. Not even his dear friend Rodin or visiting American painters like Mary Cassatt were welcome at dinner.

Monet was influenced by Japanese prints and collected over 250 of them, many of them on the walls of bedrooms, and his kitchen.

Wafaa credits Americans with making Monet famous, because his first big exhibit was thanks to Americans, at a time when the French art critics were still dismissive of such big changes.  We credit Wafaa and Kensington with a delightful Spring excursion. On our art and garden trip through time, she was like the additional girlfriend you want with you — the one who knows all the good stuff about where you are.

Giverny Gardens on a Girlfriend trip with Private Guide

Future Trips

If you are going to a major European city and want to do something memorable, you can contact Kensington Tours in advance, like an elite concierge. They can find you a guide and tailor a day, a night, or more for you — from secret  fashion venues, to one-of-a-kind eating and shopping experiences, to behind-the-scenes at… well, challenge them and see.

In the spirit of Monet’s love of good food and wine, and trying to capture moments, Page and I are now off to another part of the French Countryside and will soon be gliding along the canals.

-Lisa TE Sonne, Luxury Travel Mavens

Photos by Sonne


 International trips organized around annual festivals and remarkable events may be packed and unpacked with “Ah!” and awe at human nature and earth’s nature.

Iceland, Solstice Celebration in June, photo courtesy of Kensington Tours

A camel beauty pagaent in India? Cherry blossoms in Japan? A solstice  celebration in Iceland? A leg rowing contest in Mynamar?  These are trips you can take that few have (and links to intineraries for that festival travel are below).

What better way to learn about a culture than by being part of the festivities it honors?  One of my most remembered (and photographed) trips was customized around the Tshechu dance festivals held in the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan in the Himalayas.  Our private trip beautifully developed by Bridge to Bhutan included a local guide, great access to the festivals and temples, and some luxury accommodations (Zwha Ling in Paro, the first Bhutanese owned-and-operated hotel and resort to receive five stars, Uma Paro for peaceful pampering, is part of the upscale Como Hotels and Resorts,   Taj Tasha, a modern landmark in Thimphu and a Taj Resorts and Palaces.)  I hope to return this summer to Bhutan with my husband to provide luxe trav readers updated details.

LTM Festival Travel

Pushkar Camel Fair, India, courtesy of Kensington Tours

You may have a destination in mind and start checking into what festivals are celebrated as a memorable portal to unique experiences or you may know of a festival you like– St Patrick’s Day in Ireland in March, the big Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico in October, or the Water throwing festival in April that is part of Thailand’s New Year. You can start creating your own adventure with or without a company that customizes trips.

You may want to join a festival trip that has already been carefully planned. Since many destinations can be well booked by locals and foreigners for annual events, and festivals may have specialized customs, the expertise and clout of a seasoned travel company  could save you time and trouble. I have not experienced the festival trips below, but the photos and descriptions are beguiling:


Cherry Blossom Festivals in Japan Photo provided by Kensington Tours

Japan`s Cherry Blossom Trip

As described by Kensington Tours: “Picnic under trees radiant with cherry blossoms and take part in the centuries old Japanese tradition of “hanami” on this private journey showcasing Tokyo and Kyoto during the most desirable time of year. Delve into this ancient spring custom and more, as you’re swept into a land of kimono-clad geishas, zen gardens, sushi, samurai castles and shrines, all narrated by private guide.

“Stroll the flowery “Philosopher’s Walk,” tiptoe across nightingale floors, cruise the Sumida River, visit mountain temples and behold cherry blossoms season at its finest!”



Iceland’s Summer Solstice Tour: June 21, 2013

As described by Kensington Tours “Celebrate the Summer Solstice in “the land of the midnight sun” on this exclusive tour to the top of the world. Honor this mystical ancient tradition marking the longest day of the year in Reykjavik, Iceland.

“From druid priests, live music, bonfires and culinary feasts with the locals to champagne toasts, drinking “Viking blood,” carving sacred runes and unveiling legends of old with private Icelandic folklore guide, this northern adventure makes the most of all 24 hours of light.”

Nature’s spa at Iceland’s Blue Lagoon during the Midnight Sun, photo from Kensington Tours


Spain’s San Fermin Festival: July 6 – 14, 2013

As described by Kensington Tours, “Not for the weak of heart, this wild Spanish fiesta is known for the Running of the Bulls which dates back to 14th-century Pamplona. Over time it has evolved into a daring weeklong fête where 2,000 people

San Fermin Running of the Bulls Fiesta In Pamplona, Photo provided by Kensington Tours

run in front of 15 charging bulls.

“Led by a real picador guide, behold the spectacle from a private balcony as Ernest Hemingway did and head to the country where the famous bulls are raised. Not ready to take life by the horns? Fireworks, gigantes y cabezudos, contests, dancing and spirited locals will keep any globetrotter on their toes.”


Myanmar’s Leg-Rowing Festival: Oct 5 – 22, 2013

In the words of Kensington Tours: “Cruise the waters of time back to a celebration evocative of Southeast Asia centuries ago with a pilgrimage to Phaung Daw Oo – otherwise known as Myanmar’s Leg Rowing Festival. Held upon the shores of Inle Lake, a trip to this spiritual 18-day pageant is true cultural nirvana. Watch as a golden barge holding four Buddhas is towed by ornamented leg-rowers from private boat with expert guide.

“Take part in the eclectic festivities, from magic shows, dancing, leg rowing races and fireworks to fortune tellers, spiritual blessings and Burmese banquets. To amplify your experience, plan your visit to coincide with Thadingyut, the festival of lights!”

Myanmar Leg rower contest, Photo provided by Kensington Travel


Pushkar Camel Fair – India: Nov 6 -17, 2013

Kensington Tours: “There’s nothing quite as mind boggling exotic as a trip to India’s Pushkar Camel Fair. Held every year in the desert of Rajasthan during the full moon, this spectacular event attracts over 300,000 people and up to 50,000 camels.

Family at the Pushkar Festival in India, Photo from Kensington Tours

“Led by expert private guide, plunge into this cultural spectacle while staying at a whimsical luxury tented camp. From camel painting, beauty pageants, races, livestock trade, religious rituals to music, gypsies, mouth-watering feasts and other lively events, this exotic festival has it all!”


Keep clicking in for future luxury festival trips as readers and luxe tour operators share their favorites. Coming up: Food and Wine Festival Trips

-Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

Photos provided by Kensington Tours


The adventures of the known and unknown…

Are you itching for a travel experience that is rare and “hot”? Or looking for a trendy trip for a great luxe gift to someone wonderful? Customized travel group Kensington Tours shares their top ten travel trends for 2013 with vacation adventures that include dragons, lemurs, soccer, white sand beaches in Africa, the land of the Hobbit, and the best Northern lights in 50 years.   They polled people they call Destination Experts  i.e.  in their own words “Kensington’s team of seasoned nomads, globetrotters and adventure enthusiasts.”  I have never experienced a Kensington trip so the specific adventures linked below are not personally vetted,  though I have enjoyed exotic river cruises, safaris and night-time lights shows in other ways and recommend the concepts ! Read on for the top travel trend results as Kensington sent them to Luxury Travel Mavens:

Trending Wonders in their Words:

1. Asian Safaris – Dragons, Tigers, Orangutans & More
One wild trend that is on the 2013 hotlist – More families are requesting animal safaris in Southeast Asia than ever before!  Borneo’s orangutans, Cambodia’s elephants, Thailand’s tigers, Laos’ gibbons and Indonesia’s komodo dragons, these animals add another dimension to the temples and treasures of these culturally rich countries.

2. Glamping – The Glam In Latin American Camping
Take some of Latin America’s wildest destinations, a large dose of fresh air, mobile tents and evening campfires, add porters to carry your gear, breakfast mimosas, and a personal chef – this is what glamping is all about! Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Patagonia all have a growing collection of luxury mobile camps for those who love the great outdoors but don’t want to miss out on prerequisite holiday pampering.



3. River Cruises – From Europe To The World
The popularity of European river cruises in past years has gone global.  Quickly cruising their way on to the top of 2013’s travel hotlist are small ship adventures along the Irrawaddy in Myanmar, South East Asia’s Mekong, the Brazilian Amazon and Botswana’s Zambezi.

4. Island Hopping, African Style
Mozambique’s Benguerra, Zanzibar, Seychelles and Mauritius. After a week of going wild on game drives, safari-goers aren’t shy to ask which way to the beach? While the white sands of these African isles aren’t near as busy as Miami, Phuket, Bondi or Rio, 2013 sees them drawing more North American sun-worshipers than ever before.

5. Set Jetting – Lights, Camera, Travel
A blockbuster hit in this day and age can play a real role in driving tourism. Hollywood movies inspire people to visit far off lands and can arouse a strong sense of wanderlust for the destinations showcased on film. For 2013 we anticipate fans building trips around New Zealand’s The Hobbit, India’s Life of Pi and the Wild West’s The Lone Ranger.

6. 2013 Year Of The Northern Lights
Give into the call of the north as the dancing green glow of the Aurora Borealis will be shinning brighter than ever for winter of 2012-2013. NASA has predicted a 50-year peak in the auroral cycle and there’s no finer place to see this natural phenomenon than now through to the end of March from Sweden, Norway or Iceland.

If your dreams take flight, where will you go?

7. Last Call For Untouched Sri Lanka
With publications like Lonely Planet and the New York Times putting Sri Lanka on the top of their 2013 bucket lists, the time is now before crowds hit and prices rise.  Go at your own pace with a private guide and driver for a more personal experience and discover Sri Lanka’s tea plantations, elephant sanctuaries, wild jungles, divine temples, sun-kissed beaches and more.

8. Brazil World Cup Warm Up – 2013 Confederations Cup
Held the year before World Cup, Confederation Cup is regarded by football aficionados as the dress rehearsal for the big event and will be drawing travelers in droves to stadiums across Brazil June 15th- 30th 2013. Die-hard fans who want to experience Brazil and World Cup without the high prices are making travel plans for 2013 as they know this is the perfect kick-off

9. Lemur Fever! Madagascar
Bizarrely beautiful, this eco rich isle’s playful lemurs, phenomenal beaches, baobab trees and outlandish creatures are quietly climbing their way to the top of every globetrotter’s hit list. The country is only now beginning to embrace tourism after years of being off the map and it’s an exotic add-on to any African safari.

10. Travel Smart – With A Smartphone
HD cameras and travel apps on smartphones are bringing the days of lugging around heavy gear, books and other gadgets to an end. With apps such as Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, you can share their travel moments those instantly as opposed to weeks later when the postcard arrives.


What are you own predictions for travel trends?  Which of the above would you add to your bucket list? Which have you already enjoyed? What was it like? Please add your thoughts in the comments section below the field of wildflowers.  Happy Travelling!

Posted by Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

Photographs by (c) Lisa TE Sonne Please contact her for permission to re-use.