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This Socially Distanced Tour of Santa Cruz Offers a Local’s View of its Natural and Culinary Wonders

The county has everything from breathtaking sights to world-class dining.

Santa Cruz California Photo by Cosmin Serban

Jason Wertz launched his boutique tour company, Uncovr, in 2017, with the goal of providing what most tour companies don’t: slow travel. For 7 or even 10 days, Wertz’s itineraries amble along the back roads of less trod European regions such as Catalonia and Istria, forgoing rigorous schedules and well-known tourist spots in favor of flexibility and secret gems. Think off-the-beaten-path olive-oil mills in Puglia, Georgian vineyards and expert Portuguese ceramists.

“I look for places that will be hard for outsiders to find,” says Wertz, an art curator by trade who’s therefore always inclined to incorporate elements of art and design into his itineraries. Wertz typically spends weeks in a single region gathering intel and searching for artists, winemakers and chefs who offer deep, authentic experiences of a place. By working closely with these local “co-hosts,” Wertz fashions creative-led journeys featuring offbeat farms, galleries and restaurants that non-locals are unlikely to discover on their own. It’s a more intimate way of traveling; the co-hosts aren’t just guides but storytellers sharing their experiences.

Until now, Wertz has operated mostly in southern Europe. But with international travel still unpredictable, Uncovr has launched itineraries closer to home in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. “We’ve all been forced to turn our gaze from far horizons to our immediate communities, perhaps looking with new eyes and a newfound sense of wonder at the surroundings we often take for granted,” says Wertz, who adds that creating a trip in his own backyard allowed him to rediscover his hometown. “It’s truly special here,” he says.

Ventana spa sauna

A sauna on the aptly named Relaxation Deck, at the Ventana.  Courtesy of Ventana

Wertz says Santa Cruz offers “incredible wines, breathtaking natural scenery and a richly varied organic-farming scene.” With privacy and social distancing top of mind for most travelers, Wertz has curated the wine-driven Deep Into Santa Cruz itinerary, a full-day tour that whisks travelers around the Santa Cruz Mountains in Tesla SUVs. Guests will visit local markets, go for a sail on the O’Neill Catamaran and explore natural wine vineyards, including a (socially distanced) dinner with a local vintner. For clients who choose the optional two-night tour, accommodations include the swank, cliffside Post Ranch Inn or the stunning, secluded Ventana, in Big Sur.

“It’s a smaller footprint and will allow us to be very nimble,” says Wertz, who’s ultimately aiming to create more sustainable trips (hence the Tesla SUVs). “Along the way, we’ll be joined by passionate storytellers who share what makes Santa Cruz such a unique and memorable place to discover.” All the more reason to save Puglia and Portugal for 2021.

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