Airport delays, cancelled connections, queues, reservations awry: international touring often means a glitch somewhere along the line. Travel Editor Susie Boswell suggests how to ensure a trouble-free trip.
The variety of organised tours of the world’s best locations and attractions is countless, from the rite-of-passage Contiki formula for 18s to 30s to large-group special packages offered by operators like Scenic Tours and top-drawer luxury experiences. At the upper end of the scale the touring tends to be more elaborate, extended and in first or business class. Operators offer selective itineraries to remote and exotic destinations with everything laid on. Tour escorts are not mere timetable and luggage coordinators with a knack for leading the group singalong but experts in the field – park rangers on Kruger safaris, historians or naturalists on expeditions, horticulturalists at Chelsea, gourmets on culinary tours.
Port Macquarie’s fortunate to be home to the founders of Australia’s elite international luxury tour operators, John and Helen Ross, who operate J&H Tours. The pair’s had around 20 years in the upmarket travel game, starting out as the originators of Captain’s Choice Tours: famous for chartering an entire Qantas jet for a single select group and travelling around the world, or to Antarctica, on tailor-made itineraries. Since 2000 the Rosses have refined the art even further, reducing numbers in their J&H touring groups to, say, around eight to 20 travellers and homing in on ever-more elegant, opulent and interesting locations to create a portfolio of “guaranteed-success” boutique tours of France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, India, SE Asia and New Zealand, on board the six-star Silver Sea and on Orient-Express’s stylish canal barges. The couple themselves has travelled to some 130 of the world’s 195 countries so they certainly know their stuff and make perfect hosts of their latest Classic French Collection tours. These are personalised all-inclusive tours featuring extended stays in each region with a preference for smaller villages and with all guest arrangements, and baggage handling, put in place by the organisers.
“Staying for an extended period in one location avoids constant packing and unpacking,” the Rosses say, “allowing more time for in-depth exploration of an area.” Amen to that. And single travellers are well catered for, welcomed into the small groups, for a reasonable single supplement fee. Air travel may be booked in any class or you can use your own points and link up with the tours at Charles de Gaulle airport. Optional tours may be added ahead of a tour or your holiday extended at the end of the trip. Good value is a hallmark of the itineraries which include some welcome free time for relaxation and independent exploring, all meals and premium accommodation and transfer coaches: the only extra is your own spending money. For the Classic Loire Valley tour coming up on September 22 the twin-share price is $6990pp and the single price just $8990 for the 11 days to October 2. Some highlights are visits to half a dozen castles, one designed by Leonardo de Vinci; art and history tours; immersion in villages and towns including Joan of Arc’s battleground of Orleans; wineries of the famous Chenin region and Michelin-star dining. Accommodation includes spending the second five nights of the tour at Chateau de Marcay, a stunning hotel in a 15th century castle built on the ruins of an 11th century fortress.
Coming up from October 8 to 18 is J&H’s Classic French Riviera and Provence with gardens, markets, restaurants, wineries, art, architecture and historic villages. The tour opens in Nice with Michelin-star dining and moves on to famous centres such as St Paul de Vence, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille, the Pont d’Avignon and Arles, where Van Gogh painted Starry Night and The Irises. My own six-star experiences include travelling aboard a Bora Bora Cruises’ yacht with its crystal staircase, Tahitian butlers and fine cuisine, but I must say I’m taken by J&H’s invitation to top or tail their tours with a week-long luxury barge cruise on a four- or six-cabin vessel with private facilities and gourmet fare.