Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

The Holder family in Les Baux-de-Provence in the south of France

The Holder family in Les Baux-de-Provence in the south of France.

Michael planned a trip for our family of 6, two adult children couples and my husband and I in September 2023. It was a wonderful experience from the planning to the execution. The communication and attention to detail was excellent. Michael was also able to be flexible when we wanted to make some minor changes to our day. We wanted to visit the Rhone wine valley in France, because my husband loves the wine, and we wanted both a wine-tasting experience while exploring historical and cultural sites there. Michael did not disappoint. We stayed at La Maison Papillon with our hosts Caroline and Olivier, who made us feel like family. The rooms were lovely, Caroline prepared delicious meals and we had a cooking class where we made our own dinner one night. It was wonderful. Our second stop was at La Bastide de Marie, which was an upscale boutique hotel in the middle of a winery in Provence—a beautiful property. The food and service was excellent. We had excellent guides and a variety of activities: wine tasting, visiting ancient caves, kayaking, cooking classes, etc. A highlight was our last night in Paris before our trip home. Michael planned a private cruise on the Seine to see the sites of Paris. It was a great way to use a small bit of time to give us a feel for the city and included champagne! It was a great way end to a marvelous 10-day vacation.

My husband and I just returned from a great 10-day/8-night trip to France organized by Michael and his staff. We are lucky enough to say that this was our second trip organized by Michael and the team—we visited Provence for the same amount of time in May 2019, and that trip was so well done, we naturally turned to them when, in January 2020, we decided to try Normandy as our next trip to France. You all know how that turned out—we began the planning process and Covid 19 caused us to put the trip on hold. But when we contacted their office in the fall of 2022 and said we were ready to commit to a trip in May 2023, they seamlessly picked up where we left off.

Our goal was to see the Normandy/D-Day sights and Mont Saint-Michel, and asked Michael to design a trip around those sights and work with the amount of time we had. We wanted to travel by way of private drivers to avoid the hassle of having to navigate unfamiliar roads and deal with parking, etc. The team already understood that we enjoy staying in lovely, interesting, well-located hotels and prefer private guides to enhance (and often expedite) our experience.

The itinerary they developed was perfect for us. First stop was the Loire Valley, were we toured several amazing chateaux (Chambord, Chenonceau, and Clos Luce, which was a place we probably would have skipped but Michael’s team said it was worth seeing and it was amazing, especially the gardens) and stayed in a lovely hotel in Amboise, a charming town. Next stop was St. Malo, where we got a great feel for the lovely region of Brittany and a hotel room overlooking the English Channel. Then on to Mont Saint-Michel, which was a highlight (and surprisingly crowded for May, good thing we had an excellent guide to get us around the crowds!). Then on to Bayeau, our base for the Normandy/D-Day beaches tour, also a highlight were we had an amazing guide who spent a full 8 1/2 hours with us and would have spent longer if we didn’t have dinner to get to! Next stop was an amazing hotel in Honflour after a guided tour of the highlights of the Pays d’Auge region—and stops at a cheese factory and a picnic at a cider/calvados producer. The final stop was in Giverny, where we saw the Monet sites in all their springtime glory and had an amazing final dinner at our small but beautiful hotel.

All of our drivers were professional, prompt and interesting. Our guides were absolutely first-rate—highly knowledgeable, passionate about their work and their love for the places we were lucky enough to have them guide us through was obvious. They were all a pleasure to spend time with! All of our dinner reservations were made by Michael’s office as well, after consultation with us, and every meal was excellent. We requested “non-tourist” places that were within walking distance from our hotels, and they delivered in every location. They also arranged greeters for us at CDG who whisked us through the airport and worked their magic so that we avoided the very long lines at passport control and customs. We were through the airport in no time, and that was amazing.

All in all, we had a great trip. We are convinced that the value provided by local travel planners on The WOW List is absolutely worth it. Seamless transportation and transfers, no worries about luggage security, amazing guides, and great attention to detail throughout our time in France made the trip extra special. We were provided with an amazingly detailed booklet outlining every day of our trip, complete with all contact information, meeting locations of guides, hotel and restaurant info, background info on all regions and sites—what we thought was all the information we could ask for. But after a conversation with one of our drivers about local wines, the driver reported in to our team, and in our email a detailed article about local wines appeared from Michael’s office! Totally unexpected, but a great example of why if we find ourselves heading to France again, our first call will be to Michael!

Timing is everything! We began planning our trip to Paris and Provence with Michael Eloy in 2019 for May 2020 travel. Like everyone else, in March 2020 we were forced to postpone our trip because of Covid. Michael and his office stood by us. They immediately contacted all of the vendors/suppliers and were able to recover much of our trip cost and allow us to postpone until a later date. Of course, no one at the time realized how long the travel interruption would last. They continued to stand by us and by being flexible themselves, allowed us the flexibility to postpone our trip until we felt comfortable to travel. Costs did increase, but we finally took our trip, May 1-14, 2023!

Michael carefully listened to us regarding our thoughts on our trip, our must-dos and most importantly, our travel style. He carefully crafted a trip that met both of our needs, including giving my husband, an avid cyclist, the opportunity to climb Mt. Ventoux and giving me time in Paris. Our hotels, on the Right Bank in Paris, in Gordes and St. Remy de Provence in Provence and on the Left Bank, were all lovely. Our guides in Paris (Caroline) and Provence (Stuart and Michael himself) were terrific! This is where Michael and his team stand out. Their experience and contacts allow them to find the right places and the right people to make your trip outstanding.

A month before our trip, they sent us our “Piglet,” their book of everything we needed to know including contact information, day-to-day schedule, need-to-know information and a section called “Along the Way,” which included self-guided walking tours for the areas we would be visiting for times that we were not scheduled, even specifying some favorite restaurant and stores. One thing we wish they had done, which we have communicated to them, was to remind us to use the digital Piglet, as there had been last-minute changes that were not included in the printed version. Fortunately, we had numbers to contact when we showed up for a reservation that didn’t exist (the kind owners of the restaurant were having a private function and graciously gave us champagne while we contacted Michael’s office) and were directed to the correct restaurant. The office contacted the second restaurant to make sure that our reservation was still valid and that they would hold our table.

Thank you to Michael, Emilie and Habiba for a wonderful trip. We look forward to planning the next one!

Just back from Provence!

October is a delightful time to spend 12 days in Provence and with Michael’s help, we were able to spend time in each of three distinct regions, Les Alpilles, the northern Var and the Cote d’Azur. Our hotels, the Chateau des Alpilles, the Chateau de Berne and La Perouse, were all superb choices. (After an initial phone consultation, our planner made two suggestions for each destination—and we think we made the right choice each time.)

Michael grew up in Provence and continues to live there, so he is extremely knowledgeable about the whole region, which is a mélange of distinct sub-regions. We were fortunate that even though he guides very few of the trips he plans, he did spend a full day as our driver/guide and we were treated to a wine tasting, an olive oil tasting and beautiful drives around the countryside. We had both spent time in St. Remy previously, but we got a whole new perspective. On our own, we visited Roman ruins, such as the extraordinary Pont du Gard, as they didn’t figure into his planning. We would like to have seen the ruins at Glanum, near Les Baux, but instead he used the time to go to an immersion experience (video projections of Venice!) in an abandoned quarry.

Our planner suggested restaurants for lunch and dinner each day. Most of his suggestions were wonderful and led us to restaurants we are not likely to have found on our own. One misfire was suggesting a restaurant in Nice, perched high on a rock, which is more highly regarded for its view than its food—but our booking was well after dark, so we missed the sunset, which apparently is spectacular. Then we figured out why tables started emptying after our first course was served!

Our guides were also hit-or-miss. We had a walking tour of Arles, but the guide must think Americans only want to hear about Van Gogh, so that’s all he talked about before he dropped us off for lunch—half an hour early! No Roman ruins included, even though there is a beautiful amphitheater and ancient theater in Arles.

A real misfire occurred the next day. Neither of us had been to the Camargue and both of us really looked forward to that day. We arrived at the appointed hour to meet our guide at a hotel located on a manade, a type of farm where French bulls and domesticated white horses are raised. Much to our consternation, our “guide” was the manager of the manade—and didn’t speak a word of English! And we never left the property.

The Camargue is known for its salt marshes with wild white horses, bulls and flamingos, but once we were on our own again and started out along the route suggested in our itinerary, we saw no horses or bulls and only some flamingos in the salt marsh a great distance away. Our destination was Les Trois Saintes Maries, which has interesting legends associated with it, but today is more reminiscent of seaside resorts that have seen better days. All-in-all, a huge disappointment. We’re determined to return and do it right!

But Rolf, our driver/guide for three of the days we were in Nice, did begin to make up for the shortcomings of the others—and fortunately he was at the end of the trip, so we left with wonderful memories. Rolf (who speaks French, Italian, German and perfect English) made great suggestions for things to do along the way to the day’s destinations, always assured us we should spend as much time as we liked in any given museum, estate, garden, etc. We had indicated a desire to go into Eze on the middle corniche on the last day before being dropped off at the airport for evening flights, and when we realized we’d be there around lunchtime, he was able to secure a reservation at the deservedly-famous Chevres d’Or, where we had a blissful last meal with outstanding food and service and a spectacular view.

There were a few other glitches that didn’t have to happen, and our thought was that our planner’s agency was planning too many trips at once with so many North Americans returning to Europe for the first time. Just a couple of examples: There were so many items listed as “included” on our itinerary, but that weren’t included, that the agency had to refund us about 160 euros to cover items listed as included, but that we had to pay for ourselves. And all the tickets on the excursions that we did with Rolf were also listed as included, but he was unaware of that. We paid for tickets the first day to spare him any embarrassment; his agency (a subcontractor to the subcontractor our agency worked with) subsequently corrected the error and we weren’t out of pocket again.

We worked with the same agency but a different planner in the summer of 2021 to plan a trip to Venice, which was flawless. So we know they can be good and chalked up the glitches to their staff trying to plan too many trips at once.

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