These trips are a fine example of what Robb Report stands for: excellence, access and exclusivity. A visit to the WWII battlefields in Normandy in the company of Pulitzer Prize–winning author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin? We can make that happen. A takeover of a five-star private island resort near Tanzania or of a 16th-century palazzo on Lake Como? Sure, no problem. You won’t find any of these trips anywhere else. That’s why they’re part of our Ultimate Gift Guide 2019.
1. Take Over a Private Island off Tanzania
Sometimes luxury means total seclusion. On the tiny private island of Thanda, off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa, the only sights and sounds are white sand, blue ocean and the clink of ice in your cocktail. Heavy waves are kept at bay by the surrounding coral reefs, while noisy power boats are banned from the marine reserve that encircles the island.
The previously uninhabited 20-acre islet was acquired and transformed into a private resort by Swedish philanthropists Christine and Dan Olofsson, who run HIV-prevention programs in southern Africa. Nine guest suites and a spa look out over the Indian Ocean, and meals are served on the beach in local Swahili and Arabic style. As well as trying a smorgasbord of activities, including sailing, snorkeling, diving, deep-sea fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, tennis, yoga and a sunset cocktail cruise, you can swim with whale sharks and learn about Thanda’s conservation of sea turtles and dugong with the in-house marine biologist.
As a special experience for Robb Report readers, a five-night buyout of the entire island—up to 10 adults and nine children—will include a helicopter day trip for seven people to the neighboring spice island of Zanzibar. Thanda’s chef will take you on a foodie mission to the markets of Stone Town and a nearby spice farm. Back on Thanda, the chef will host a cooking class using the catch of the day from local fishermen and your freshly bought coconuts, spices, vanilla pods and vegetables. Lucy Alexander
$163,000, including food and drink, activities and helicopter transfers from Dar es Salaam. +27-32-586-0149, email@example.com
2. A Helicopter Food Tour of Tasmania
Australia’s smallest state, long overlooked as a sleepy backwater, is suddenly the country’s hottest under-the-radar destination for discerning visitors drawn to its foodie culture, strong contemporary art scene, world-class vineyards and breathtaking landscape.
The island—compact in size with dramatic scenery—lends itself to helicopter tours. A bespoke trip created for Robb Report readers starts off with two nights in the penthouse at the Macq 01 Hotel in Hobart, with a terrace overlooking the waterfront. From here, take a private flight west along the spectacular coastline, past Australia’s most southerly point to the Southwest National Park. Watch out for rare parrots, and explore Aboriginal culture at remote Melaleuca, accessible only by air, boat or an eight-day walk.
On the way home, stop off for a tour of the Fat Pig Farm in the Huon Valley, before a private lunch there straight from the garden, with specially matched Tasmanian beer, wine and cider.
The following day, take a helicopter to the Barilla Bay Oyster Farm to join the owner on his private beach and taste oysters plucked straight from the sea, accompanied by a glass of Tasmania’s finest sparkling wine. The state was recently named one of the world’s best wine destinations for 2020.
Next, on to the Southern Wild Distillery, on the island’s north coast, home to some of the country’s best gin. Enjoy a private lunch with the owner and have a personal bottle of gin made according to your taste. After lunch, see wombats and kangaroos in the wild on Maria Island, where you’ll also nibble on savory cheese and sip yet more sparkling wine. Spend the next two nights at Saffire, a small, exclusive resort on the peninsula of Freycinet National Park.
No trip to Tasmania is complete without a visit to MONA, the acclaimed Museum of Old and New Art, the largest private museum in Australia and the brainchild of eccentric local millionaire David Walsh. Take a private tour before you leave Hobart. Lucy Alexander
From about $10,200 per couple, Greg Ross at Tasmanian Air Tours, firstname.lastname@example.org, +61-414-389-69
3. Relive ‘Out of Africa’
“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” Meryl Streep’s opening lines from Out of Africa conjure the romance and epic scenery of a safari like a Proust madeleine. The African landscape outshone even Streep and Robert Redford in the Oscar-winning love story, based on Karen Blixen’s 1937 memoir of her years on a coffee plantation in colonial Kenya. Next year, Robb Report readers who are fans of the movie—or just fans of ultra-luxury safaris—can celebrate the 35th anniversary of the film’s release with a Roar Africa bespoke tour of some of East Africa’s most magnificent locations.
From Nairobi, you will fly by private plane to a remote airstrip at the northern tip of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, staying three nights at the exclusive Angama Mara tent resort. Set high on a plateau overlooking vast grasslands, Angama Mara was a key filming location for the movie. Curate your own safari experience: hot-air ballooning at dawn, walking safaris with Maasai guides, a picnic in the exact location of the movie poster, even a re-creation of the famous hair-washing scene down by the river (Streep and Redford not included). Safaris typically spot Africa’s Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo.
An hour’s private flight north takes you to Segera Retreat, a luxury eco-lodge set between Mount Kenya and the Great Rift Valley. Spend four nights at the Bird Nest, an open-air tree house with a 360-degree viewing terrace from which to watch the wildlife at dawn and dusk; expect to see elephants, buffalo, lions, leopards, cheetahs, antelope and zebras.
From Segera, fly in the original biplane used in Out of Africa, take a helicopter to see the flamingos at Lake Turkana, celebrate a traditional blessing ceremony with the nomadic Pokot people and, finally, sit under a vast African sky to watch Out of Africa on Segera’s outdoor screen. Lucy Alexander
$61,860 per person (double occupancy), email@example.com
4. Take Over a Wellness Retreat in China
Electrifying, frenetic Shanghai is not normally associated with relaxation. But weary travelers jaded by the bright lights of the world’s third-largest city can now seek respite at Sangha Retreat, a new lakeside wellness resort an hour and a half ’s drive west from the Bund.
Sangha occupies a 47-acre peninsula on Yangcheng Lake, near the historic town of Suzhou, known as the Venice of the East owing to its ancient canals and bridges (it’s China, so there are skyscrapers too). The resort gives the waterside aesthetic of its locale a deeply contemporary spin—the design, by New York firm Tsao & McKown, has won numerous international awards.
Sangha’s entire At One hotel is available for 66 people to buy out for a week’s immersive retreat, complete with spa, fitness center and Michelin-starred cuisine. Unique to Robb Report readers is a bespoke wellness program that embraces Eastern and Western philosophies, led personally (schedule permitting) by Fred Tsao, Sangha’s founder and the fourth-generation owner of a family business that started as a shipping company on the Bund in the early 1900s and is now based in Singapore. The retreat offers ancient Chinese practices, such as tai chi and meditation, and new traditions, including sailing across the lake at dawn to receive blessings from 300 Buddhist monks.
For some, a little meditation goes a long way. If that’s you, Sangha can also arrange three nights at the Four Seasons Shanghai Pudong, including evening entertainment and dinner in the historic former French Concession area, a boat ride on the Huangpu River and a visit to a tailor on the Bund to be fitted for figure-hugging qipao dresses and Mandarin-collar suits. Lucy Alexander
$1.7 million for full hotel buyout. Additional $155,000 for Shanghai trip. Prices based on 66 people. Jamie Waring: firstname.lastname@example.org. Martha Morningstar: 443-570-2252
5. Help Reforest Guatemala
Gifts can take many forms, and volunteering your time on a fulfilling project is one of the most rewarding. Especially when it’s combined with a fabulous adventure vacation.
Guatemala is famous for its natural beauty, but its fast-growing population—it has the highest birth rate in Latin America—has led to deforestation as ancient jungle is cleared to make way for farmland.
Global Visionaries is a non-profit that promotes reforestation in Guatemala, and the luxury travel agency Scott Dunn is inviting Robb Report readers to spend two days restocking woodlands, working alongside local communities during planting season (May to October) as well as reforested land to reduce the risk of forest fires and ensure the new trees are in the best condition to survive.
You’ll be based for three nights at the boutique San Rafael Hotel in the colonial-era city of Antigua, filled with crumbling Spanish Baroque churches and set against a backdrop of volcanoes. After your reforestation experience, take a helicopter tour of Chichicastenango market before moving on to Lake Atitlán, where you’ll stay at Casa Palopó, a bright, antiques-filled waterside hotel. From here, explore villages (don’t miss the local chocolates) and try your hand at weaving traditional textiles. Finally, head deep into the jungle to see the Mayan ruins of Tikal rise up out of the forest. Watch the sunrise from the top of Tikal’s temples before a private tour of the ruins.
After two nights, you’ll cross into Belize to stay at Blancaneaux Lodge, from which you can trek through pine forests on horseback, past waterfalls, caves and more Mayan ruins. A final helicopter and boat trip take you to Cayo Espanto, a tiny ultra-luxury Caribbean island with just seven cabanas. For four days, enjoy some of the world’s best scuba diving and sail to nearby deserted beaches for dinner on the sand. Lucy Alexander
$12,500 per person, based on double occupancy, for a two-week trip that includes all accommodations and breakfasts, plus full board and most activities at Cayo Espanto, and all tours and transfers, including helicopters. Round-trip airfare to Guatemala not included. Scott Dunn, 858-523-9000
6. Journey to the Japanese Island With the Most Rarefied Beef in the World
On the verdant Japanese island of Shodoshima, ranchers for centuries have raised some of the country’s finest cattle, and for the past hundred years farmers have grown some of its best olives. But it wasn’t until 2006 that someone tried combining the two.
Rancher Masaki Ishii noticed that after the olives were pressed for oil, the leftover pulp was usually thrown out. He fed it to the cattle, making an already exceptional type of beef even better.
“This breed of cattle—Kuroge Wagyu—has this genetic predisposition to create the internally fine-grain, marbled fat that melts in your mouth and has that umami-flavor profile that makes Wagyu so special,” says Joe Heitzeberg, an expert on Japanese beef and owner of the online steak purveyor Crowd Cow. The olives only boosted the prized umami flavor.
Many times, getting Olive Wagyu requires knowing someone who knows someone. Fortunately for you, Heitzeberg can be that guy. He’s inviting one Robb Report reader and a guest to join him as he guides you from Tokyo to Shodoshima and back.
Along the way you’ll enjoy the tranquility of the island, meet the rancher who raises some of the world’s best beef, eat traditional Japanese fare and partake in some excellent Olive Wagyu. Heitzeberg will get you access to a special private dinner at Ichigo steak house. And then, back in Tokyo, you and Heitzeberg will be admitted to a members-only restaurant with Wagyumafia for a sumptuous tasting menu. It’s a beef connoisseur’s dream. Jeremy Repanich
$30,000, including meals, accommodations and travel in Japan. Round-trip airfare to Tokyo not included.
7. A Round-the-World Performing Arts Tour on VistaJet
For dedicated opera and ballet lovers, long-haul travel to the world’s best concert halls can sap a little joy from what should be a sublime experience, even when flying by private jet. But what if you could enjoy a private performance on the flight itself?
In an exclusive gift for Robb Report readers, VistaJet will fly you to the world’s finest opera houses and music venues, with a few actors on board to perform your favorite scenes above the clouds—from Shakespeare to Lin-Manuel Miranda—or even a bespoke private commission. VistaJet will help you design your ideal itinerary. See the extraordinary Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, a symbol of national identity that has survived two fires, Nazi bombs and the Russian Revolution. In Vienna, choose from the world’s largest repertoire at the Wiener Staatsoper. The opera house, which opened in 1869 with Mozart’s Don Giovanni, is beloved for its productions of history’s greats, such as Verdi and Puccini.
Other venues include London’s Royal Albert Hall, Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, the Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall and Harpa in Reykjavik (above), one of Iceland’s greatest modern landmarks, designed by Olafur Eliasson in 2011.
At each location, watch from a private box, enjoy backstage access, meet cast members as a guest of the theater director and stay at the city’s very best hotels. Lucy Alexander
From $260,000 for two people, increasing up to a maximum of 10. Theater seating contingent on availability. Book through VistaJet’s Private Office: email@example.com
8. Tour Normandy With Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin
This year marked the 75th anniversary of the Normandy beach landings, when 156,000 Allied troops launched a dawn raid by sea and air into Occupied France, changing the course of World War II. For Doris Kearns Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, “D-Day will always be remembered as one of the most complex and epic military successes in history. It was the beginning of the end of the Nazi regime and allowed the institution of democracy to survive, reinforcing the preeminent role of the United States as a beacon of freedom.”
Goodwin, whose acclaimed books include biographies of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, will accompany a five-night luxury trip to Paris and the Normandy battlefields in August to share her expertise. Travel company Discover 7, which is arranging the trip, is giving a Robb Report reader the opportunity to buy out the entire 20-person tour.
You’ll arrive in Paris on August 6 and spend three nights at the opulent Le Bristol hotel. Take a VIP trip up the Eiffel Tower with a descendant of Gustave Eiffel, who will whisk you past the tourist lines and open his family archives to you. The next day is devoted to Marie-Antoinette, the last queen of France. You’ll visit some of her favorite haunts, including the Comédie-Française theater (the oldest active theater company in the world) and the jewelry and textile shops she frequented that are still in business today, as well as what were undoubtedly some of her least favorite locales: the Conciergerie prison and the Place de la Concorde, where she faced the guillotine. Goodwin will be on hand to give her expert historical perspective.
Then come two nights in Normandy, at the Château d’Audrieu, an 18th-century palace converted into a five-star hotel. See Bayeux’s cathedral and famous tapestry, an 11th-century embroidery depicting William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066.
Spend your final day on a driving tour of Normandy’s iconic World War II sites. See Mulberry harbor in Arromanches and the Batterie de Longues, where German artillery still sits; then continue to Omaha Beach, where the largest assault landed. Visit the Normandy American Cemetery and walk along the Pointe du Hoc, 100-foot-high cliffs scaled by US Army Rangers.
For Goodwin, visiting Normandy is a matter of civic duty. “Those who fought on the beaches are now in their mid-90s,” she tells Robb Report, “and we must not let their images drift from our memory. It’s up to all of us to honor their ultimate sacrifices to make the world a safer and more humane place.” Lucy Alexander
$244,000 for all 20 spots, if you book before December 31; otherwise, $12,200 per person to join the group individually (prices based on double occupancy). firstname.lastname@example.org
9. Take Over a Villa on Lake Como
“This lake exceeds any thing I ever beheld in beauty… But the finest scenery is that of the Villa Pliniana,” wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley to his friend and fellow poet Thomas Love Peacock, during a tour of Italy in 1818. The Pliniana remains one of Lake Como’s oldest and most beautiful waterside villas, today run by the nearby Il Sereno luxury hotel, which is as contemporary as Villa Pliniana is historic.
Named after Pliny the Younger, the Roman writer and senator of the first century AD, who grew up on the shores of the lake, Villa Pliniana was built in 1573. By the time Shelley tried to rent it nearly 250 years later, it had fallen into disrepair. “The scene from the colonnade is the most extraordinary, at once, and the most lovely that eye ever beheld,” he wrote, adding that he was “endeavoring to procure” the house, “which was once a magnificent palace and is now half in ruins.”
Today, the villa is fully refurbished as a luxury residence, with 17 bedrooms and interiors by acclaimed designer Patricia Urquiola. An 18-acre park surrounds the villa, and all guest suites overlook the lake, as do the spa and infinity pool.
Shelley may have failed to “procure” the villa, but Robb Report readers can rent out the entire complex for up to 34 guests, arriving via private helipad or boat dock. Il Sereno’s executive chef, Raffaele Lenzi, will conduct private cooking classes, demonstrating the techniques, presentation and recipes that he has honed working in Michelin-starred kitchens. Lucy Alexander
$142,200 per week for full buyout, including daily breakfast. Cooking classes from $700 per person. Marta Camps, Sereno Hotels, email@example.com, +39-031-5477-800
10. Take Over a Hudson Valley Inn
The Troutbeck estate, which dates from 1765, encircles a rambling stone manor house and walled garden in the Hudson Valley town of Amenia, New York. Now a chic private resort, Troutbeck was for many years a literary and progressive salon under former owners Myron Benton, a 19th-century gentleman poet who hosted Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Colonel Joel Spingarn, a publisher and civil-rights activist whose guests included Ernest Hemingway, Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall and President Theodore Roosevelt.
The estate, which wears its legacy lightly, is set amid 45 acres of countryside and has a quaint roll call of rooms: library, pantry, ballroom, sunroom, gun room, dining room, living room and barn, not to mention 36 guest bedrooms. A pool and yoga space are on-site, while riding, hiking, polo, fly-fishing, skiing and art galleries are nearby.
Robb Report readers can enjoy the entire estate as part of a weekend takeover experience for up to 80 guests that includes a luxury picnic on the train from Grand Central, with a menu by Michelin-starred chef Gabe McMackin featuring Hudson Valley produce and sommelier accompaniment; star-gazing and smores around the firepit; yoga; meditation, and a private vineyard tour. Lucy Alexander
From $95,000 (depending on season), 845-789-1558