|by Nicholas DeRenzo||Walking Tours, Spain||0|
Let's face it: We're not in the business of covering luxury tours. Just look at our name. So why is Abercrombie & Kent—perhaps the luxest of the luxe for 50 years—on our radar at the moment? We like to say behind the scenes that Budget Travel is more about "value" than bargain-bin savings. Sure, we care about the bottom line, but the more important question for us is, "How can you get the most bang for your well-earned buck?"
Abercrombie & Kent has unveiled a new line of Connections journeys, small group tours (24 to 28 people) that are priced on average about thirty percent lower than their normal offerings. If your idea of "luxury" involves fluffy robes and spa days and Champagne and caviar, you might end up being a little surprised. The Connections program, as its name implies, is surprisingly intimate and focused on hands-on cultural experiences.
True, a tour with A&K Connections will still feel upscale. Hotels are 4- or 5-stars, with the occasional 5-star GL (that means Grand Luxe) thrown in for good measure. But there is also an attention to detail when it comes to choosing lodging. On their "Spain: Seven Cities" Connections tour (10 days from $5,495), for example, you might stay in the Belle Epoque Hotel Ritz in Madrid, literally feet from the Prado, or the Moorish-influenced Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville. These are not, by any means, sterile corporate chains.
But what sets these tours apart is how close you'll get to the action. Activities on the Spain trip are focused on getting you away from the tourist circuit to experiences you'd never be able to have otherwise: a private recital by Andalusian musicians in Granada, in a style based on North African music from over 1,000 years ago; a flamenco show and a dinner at a private palace in Seville; sherry tastings at a bodega in Jerez. Guides are local, and you get the sense that they're approaching their subject from the point of view of a passionate academic (that college professor who, through her sheer enthusiasm, actually made you care about Plato or Pythagoras) rather than a tour guide for hire.
The A&K Connections program will offer 17 trips around the world, always with an intimate, hands-on focus: eating oysters with a Croat fisherman, visiting a special-needs school in Kenya, exploring an Australian rainforest with an indigenous guide, or meeting Peruvian weavers in the Andes. In a sense, the luxury of access.
Let us know below: What kinds of special activities are worth a splurge? Would you pay a little extra for a trip like this?