25 years! All because banking did not fuel my soul, and we had the youthful hubris to believe we could build a better mousetrap (or in our case, tour). A quarter of a century later, we have accrued some of the most incredible friendships and memories imaginable. We’ve narrowed them down to 25 photos that capture the years and experiences for us.
Havana Cuba, circa 1959: Susie’s mom, Janet, with her friends Rosemarie and Geraldine, would escape their jobs as secretaries in Chicago for long weekends in Havana. The goal: dance with handsome boys and drink daiquiris. The embargo in 1961 stopped the trips. But as soon as I began to hear about trips in 1986, it lit a fire in me to explore Cuba. In 2003 we began petitioning the Treasury Department for permission you operate trips there. In April 2013, president Obama awarded one of the first People to People licenses to Classic Journeys.
Luberon, Provence, France. Our first tour ever. Our first cooking instruction ever. Chef Jean Pierre did it just as a favor, as a one off experience for us. The guests loved it so much, we convinced him to do that instruction on all Provence walking trips. And that led to the lightbulb moment to create the culinary tours... our own spin on experiencing the food and wine of a region. Zero kilometer and farm to table about a decade before those became popular catch phrases.
Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain. Jack is three and Matt is one. We realized early on that the best local guides could talk to me and Susie at an adult level, and to the boys at their level, thereby keeping everyone engaged. So that began the boys’ participation on scouting trips. Now 23 and 21, they’ve explored 33 and 32 countries, respectively.
Countryside outside of Fes, Morocco. Forbes magazine named our Morocco trips one of their Luxury Walking Favorites. It was likely because of the luxury desert encampment that we have privately to ourselves, the award-winning hotels (like Hotel Sahrai in Fes), and unforgettable restaurants (like Maison Blue and others). But it could just as easily have been for the bread Miriam makes. It is the best bread anywhere. Period. Try it with the homemade honey from the farm we visit owned by our friends, Tarik and Badria’s, and you will agree with the Forbes editors too.
Munro Beach, South Island, New Zealand. Jack was five and Matthew was three. We’re scouting the NZ tour and with a naturalist guide who explains that the fjordland created penguin mommy lays two eggs, watches to see who is stronger and feeds that chick so that it is strong enough to survive the 1500 mile swim across the Tasman Sea. For unexplained reasons, Matthew months later thinks that Susie has chosen Jack as the stronger and will only feed him. She explains that we are not penguins. Matt is now 6’4”, 200 lbs. Well done, little penguin.
Near Olbia, Sardinia, Italy. Two titans in one photo. 25 years of guests have traveled with Sergio and Luciano. Here they’re having lunch at our friend Tonino’s country home. Toning is a shepherd and he’s roasted a lamb, made his own honey and ricotta cheese, and served it all to us on hand carved cork wood plates!
Escambray Mountains, Cuba. That chihuahua’s name is Fendi, after the Italian fashion house. And that’s our friend, Antonio, who owns a finca (farm) there with his wife, Nydalis. Not pictured is Tony’s 3ft machete hanging from his belt and with which he and Fendi cut a hiking path from his neighbor’s farm past waterfalls and coffee plantations to his farm, just so Classic Journeys guests would have the perfect way to arrive for lunch prepared by Nydalis.
Marrakesh, Morocco. Her name is Saida and her official title should be ‘Turns Stereotypes Upside Down’. She went to university to be a journalist. After a successful career in that, she pivoted and went back to school to be a tourism guide. Now she leads presidents and prime ministers, as well as Classic Journeys fans, on a caravan through Morocco. She also managed to raise two amazing daughters along the way; a doctor and an engineer.
Diamond Beach, South Coast, Iceland. You may not be able to tell with his face obscured behind one of the blocks of ice on Diamond Beach, but Alti is the most local, most accomplished guide in Iceland. Descended from 9th century Vikings, he also has 30 generations of shark fishermen in his bloodline. And he led the charge to create the largest national park... in Europe! (It’s in Iceland.) as one guest said, “When the zombie apocalypse happens, I want to be with Atli!”
Sacred Valley, Peru. Susie has raised millions of dollars for San Diego-based charities. So when she told me several years ago that our charitable outreach lacked focus and impact, I listened. She took the lead and directed all of our efforts to children’s education and women’s economic empowerment in the second and third world countries we visit on tour. Now schools like those we visit in Peru are major beneficiaries. But so are our guests, who come for Machu Picchu and other famed sites, but leave with the personal connections they make with the kids at the school and the ladies at the women’s weaving cooperative.
Phuket, Thailand. A group of 25 friends gave us carte blanche to create an over-the-top week for them. So we played with elephants, did a road rally in tuk tuks, sailed a teakwood junk, and capped it all with a white party on the beach with a fire dancing performance for the ages.
La Jolla, California. If you come to visit us in person you’ll find the team one block from the Cove with its world famous seals. Visit on Halloween and you may not recognize us. Visit any Friday and you’ll meet any number of canines on Dog Day Friday’s.
Isabela Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. How fast can you explore an island? This group of guests from Road Runner Sports asked us to create a private version of our Galapagos multisport tour so they could add in runs each day among the birds, plants and animals, and sea life. And they even added in the Ultimas Noticias marathon I’m Quito!
Antalya, Turkey → La Jolla, California. When fellow residents Dick and Barbara Enberg took their first trip with Classic Journeys, it was to bridge Dick’s assignments with NBC Sports as the voice of the French Open and Wimbledon. Months later, when Cemil, our head guide in Turkey, came to La Jolla, he stayed with them. Barbara invited Susie and me to join them for what we thought was to be a small, intimate dinner. When we arrived, we discovered they had invited about 30 of their closest friends to an elegant dinner party, catered with Turkish specialties, and all of the tulips available from our local florist. The capper on a perfect night was listening to Dick narrate a slideshow of their trip to Turkey with Classic Journeys.
Chianti, Tuscany, Italy. Forbes magazine named our Tuscany and Cinque Terre trip a Luxury Walking Favorite. Small wonder when the hotels on it include a 16th century villa owned by our hosts, a count and countess. Imagine staying with the coolest aunt and uncle you could ever imagine and that’s Corso and Jacqueline. Watch the 1:1 interview with them and you’ll know what I mean... and you’ll be looking at the calendar for the first dates you can get away to join us there.
Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica. Look closely and you’ll see a famous actor. That’s Christian Slater, who brought his son and daughter along for a year end holiday family vacation. His rendition of ‘New York, New York’ in our Costa Rica Idol competition won raves. But to his right is Jim, a former Air Force 1 pilot, who along with his wife, Julie, stole the show by writing their own rap song about the wildlife they’d seen during the week. The kids on tour thought they were ‘sick’, ‘dope’ and ‘legit’.
Dingle Peninsula, Ireland. What makes multiple time VIP guests Jerry and Cathy jump for joy? It could be Donal and Bill, our amazing local guides, or maybe it’s the boatmen on Killarney Lakes, or maybe it’s the Guinness and singalong they just enjoyed at Murphy’s Pub over lunch...
Shark Alley, Ambergris Caye, Belize. That’s Steve. He’s our local friend, captain and proud owner of the catamaran we spend the day on swimming, snorkeling, learning to spear fish, and enjoying the fresh from the sea ceviche that his sister makes for us for lunch right in the boat. Another bonus of traveling with Steve? He times our explorations so that we always miss any crowds at Shark and Sting Ray Alley, the coral gardens and every one of his favorite haunts for showing us the incredible sea life along the world’s second largest barrier reef.
Karen Hill Tribe, Thailand. On a scouting trip to the hill tribes, Susie and I befriended a woman, her little daughter and her elderly father. A year later, we returned with guests. The little girl, named Elizabeth, remembered Susie and immediately brought her into their home for a play date that included painting Susie’s face to match hers with a natural homeopathic paste.
Naples, Italy. We first met Sergio’s son, Ulisse, when he was about 12 years old. Fast forward four years and I receive a phone call from Sergio asking me to give Uli an internship at the Classic Journeys office for a month over Christmas break. He spent the month labeling, boxing and mailing the handcrafted olive oil that our friend Roberto had pressed just for us to send to our guests. About 10 years later, he started as an assistant guide. Now in his mid-30s he is married, with a son of his own (Lorenzo) and an incredibly accomplished guide in his own right. And the first second generation guide to lead Classic Journeys trips. It doesn’t get more local than that!
Solheimajokull Glacier, Iceland. We’ve had some really fun partnerships over the years. Here a group of guests celebrates another memorable day on our Special Edition trip, driving iconic Land Rover Defenders. You can’t imagine how neat it looks to see a dozen Defenders snaking their way over glacier, across rocky river beds, over black sand beaches and up to plunging waterfalls. But you can join us and see it yourself!
Pacific Ocean, near Santa Cruz, Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. Darwin may have introduced cruises to the Galapagos when he arrived in the mid-1800’s in his boat, The Beagle. But I bet he never had occasion to save two sea turtles caught on illegal fishing lines. That’s what some guests and I had the chance to do recently as we returned from snorkeling near Santa Fe Island. AFAR magazine named our tours there the Best Wildlife Experience in the world. With our naturalist guides there looking out for our guests and the wildlife, it’s no wonder why.
Cape Town, South Africa. Easter Island, Chile. The last two tours we operated before global border closures. In each, our local guides performed their daily magic. In Cape Town, Virgin Atlantic had cancelled all of its flights, so our guide Clive pulled strings at British Airways to get guests Joe and Sally Palmer the last two seats out of Cape Town (in first class, no less). Half a world away, our head guide in Chile, Andres, was pulling strings of his own through his relationship with the mayor of Easter Island to move to the front of the line guests Bill and Mary, so that they could fly to Santiago and connect back to the U.S. Otherwise, they might still be on the island even now!
Secret location, Northern Lake District, Chile. Sorry, but we can’t be more specific than that location, because we want it to ourselves for viewing the total solar eclipse that will take place on December 14, 2020. Our hosts? The Mapuche mayor of the valley and his wife, of course!
San Andreas Fault, Sonoran Desert, California. Our guide, Marv (aka Marvelous) names his Jeep ‘Dream Catcher’. It’s aptly named, because he uses it to access cinematic 4x4 tracks and hiking trails on private lands to keep us away from the crowds and provide an unmatched immersion into 1 million years of geology and history on the Palm Springs and Joshua Tree tour.