It seems like yesterday, but it was nearly two decades ago that a dozen travelers met in the Provençal city of Avignon to begin the first ever Classic Journey.
I can’t tell you how obsessively we scouted that trip before finalizing the itinerary and taking the first reservation. We got lost on walks. We slept in farmhouse hotels that felt too much like farm and not enough like hotel. We visited Sénanque Abbey in the morning, and then went back in the afternoon to decide when the light was best. Sometimes we had trouble strolling from one side of a village to the other because we stopped to talk to every flower-watering, bread-baking, boule-playing person we saw. For the ultimate sacrifice, we must have taste-tested 50 or 60 Provençal meals. It’s a tough job, but someone had to do it.
Fully scouted and thoroughly handcrafted, that first trip ran like clockwork. Yet just a week after it was over, we were already experimenting with how to improve it. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past 20 years, it’s that no trip is ever “perfect.” We’re never happier than when we’re tinkering, tweaking and re-evaluating an itinerary (and not just because it’s an excuse for an extra visit to Provence). Like a centuries-old Provençal farmhouse, our latest trip still offers plenty that would be perfectly familiar to those first guests. But it’s also the product of two decades of thoughtful renovation to sharpen its authenticity, enhance its amenities and keep up with changes in how we see the world.
For instance, how do you feel about constantly packing and unpacking your bags when you travel? I’ve always been happy to do it, but I’m even happier doing it as few times as possible. That’s why we now divide our week in Provence between just two hotels instead of three, as we did in the beginning. Half of those nights are in the lovely Auberge de Noves chateau, which is just as authentic as our original hotels but with a fifth star in its rating. Tweaks like this help ease the pace, allow us to see more of what we came to see and enjoy ample time to feel settled in.
Or think about food culture nowadays: Celebrity chefs abound. Locally sourced heirloom tomatoes are the rage. “You’ve been chopped” is actually part of the lexicon. To satisfy our heightened appetite for culinary art, science and fun, we’ve added a memorable gastronomic experience. Today, Michelin- starred chef Alain Nicolet invites our guests into his kitchen to tie on an apron, talk technique and cook at his side. As wonderful as that experience is, the real piece de resistance is the lavish dinner he cooks especially for us. Also, as our guests have become more sophisticated and adventurous in their love of wine, we now include local vintages with all dinners. The entire week is now a unique tasting experience.
Most of all, we love how our guests today are more interested than ever in experiential travel and in truly connecting with different people and cultures. We’ve grown in that way, as well, thanks to a bigger, richer circle of friends in Provence than we ever could have hoped for in the beginning. I’m proud to say we’ve graduated from cordially received visitors to “mon ami” status over these past two decades. Our friends are so gracious in how they offer us an intimate look into their lives. I think of Isabelle, who is now one of our local Provençal guides. She and her husband, Jean, also happen to be olive oil wizards whose artisanal oils win gold medals in international competitions. We always visit their olive press for a personalized tasting.
All these years later, we still can’t resist hitting the refresh button every chance we get, and every time something new pops into view. We’ve done it again and again in Provence—just like we do in every region Classic Journeys visits to assure you a richer, more immersive and utterly up-to-date experience on every vacation.