Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

We made a last-minute decision to plan a 3-week trip to the Bahia region of Brazil right in the middle of Carnival, & were so lucky to work with Paul’s colleague Thomas Robinson.

Not only did Thomas respond quickly to all our inquiries & was not phased by our short lead time, his detailed & straight-shooting information helped us plan a relaxing & memorable trip during one of Brazil’s busiest tourist seasons.

We began in Salvador for 3 days of the Carnival experience, staying in a small boutique hotel (Aram Yami) on the edge of its historic centre. This is not the time to visit Salvador if you want to explore its museums & galleries as many are closed, but if you want to witness a million+ people dancing & singing in the streets, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Very, very different from Carnival in Rio which we also loved, but in our opinion, not to be missed.

After the intense & sometimes frantic energy of Carnival in Salvador, we then spent another 2 weeks exploring the Bahia coastline, staying in little boutique hotels Thomas recommended in idyllic beach settings.

We loved the remote island of Boipeba, which we accessed by a combination of car, ferry & speedboat (although didn’t love the hotel we stayed in there), & also loved Itacare (Hotel Barracuda) & Trancoso (Hotel Uxua). We were travelling in early to mid Feb & this year was cloudier & wetter than many. But when the clouds cleared, the coastline & beach setting was extraordinarily beautiful! We would recommend Thomas & Paul’s company highly if you’re thinking of exploring Brazil! We love the energy & beauty of Brazil… This was our 5th trip…& we’ll definitely go again!

We had a fantastic time in Chile, on a trip planned for us by Paul Irvine and his team. We worked with Paul two years ago for a trip to Brazil, and he remembered our preferences and expectations, which made the planning for this trip exceptionally easy. We wanted to explore some of the wine country in central Chile for several days before boarding a cruise, and we knew we didn’t want to spend too much of our time in transit. Paul outlined an itinerary for us that was perfect — interesting wines and not too much time in the car. The hotels he suggested were spot-on for our tastes, which he knew from our previous conversations. The logistics of booking all these arrangements were handled with efficiency and care. One of the most important aspects of using Paul was his ability to select a responsible and safe driver for us. Hernan was careful, punctual, and extremely personable. We enjoyed our time traveling with him.

We landed in Santiago early in the morning from our overnight flight, where we were greeted by Hernan. After a quick stop for some coffee, he drove us to the Colchagua Valley, where we stayed for 3 days/2 nights. Our lodging was at the Clos Apalta Residences, and truly, this is now high on our list of the most beautiful places we have ever stayed. The main house where we had our meals is the former residence of the owners, and everything about it is warm and welcoming. We felt like we were visiting friends (who just happened to own a fabulous winery!). This year several new casitas have been added along the hillside, which is where we slept. The architecture is absolutely stunning — floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the vineyard, individual plunge pool on the private terrace, separate sitting area with a desk, and a free-standing tub in the magnificent bathroom. All our meals were included in the rate. The food was exceptional, and each course was paired with the amazing wines from their cellars. The winery can be toured even if you are not a guest at the Residences, and I would highly recommend touring it. The design is fascinating, and the science behind the architecture is incredible. There are many things to do in the valley as well. We did another wine tasting nearby at Viu Manent, had a cocktail class for Pisco Sours, and we also had a lovely horseback ride through the vineyard, which Paul took the time to arrange for us. We could have stayed at Clos Apalta for a week!

Our driver Hernan returned for us on Friday, and we headed towards the coast to La Casona at Vina Matetic. This was a delightful spot, very friendly and with beautiful gardens. There are only 10 rooms in the lodge, which is in the Spanish-Colonial style with thick walls and carved wooden doors. We enjoyed both the tasting and the meals with paired wines.

On Saturday Hernan came to drive us to Valparaiso. But wait! We had more wine tasting scheduled before that! Our first stop was at Emiliana vineyard in the Casablanca Valley. Like the other wineries we visited, they also use organic and bio-diversity practices in their vineyards and winemaking. Our guide was delightful and informative, and we enjoyed walking in the vines and seeing the wildlife before heading to the tasting. Then Hernan drove us to Casas del Bosque for lunch with paired wine selections. It was delicious, and the restaurant is beautiful.

We arrived in Valparaiso in the early afternoon, and Hernan gave us a tour by car. It was a great introduction to the city. We drove through many of the neighborhoods spread out on the different hills. We saw the historic plazas and government buildings, and we stopped to walk along the sidewalks above the harbor while Hernan explained about the history and architecture. Valparaiso is a fun city — it is messy, colorful, run-down and untidy but very exciting. Street art is everywhere, with fantastic murals that explode in colors and styles on whatever space is available. Our hotel — Hotel Cas Higueras — is in the Monte Alegre neighborhood, in an old mansion from the 1920’s. It is perched at the top, with lovely suites and their private terraces stair-stepping down the hillside towards the slender pool and garden. The view to the working harbor was fabulous. After a long stroll through the neighborhood with the shops, galleries, and cafes, we returned to the hotel for dinner on their terrace and listened to live jazz while the full moon shone in the sky above the hills. After dinner we went out again, and ended up in a tavern called CinZano, which has been in operation since 1896. It was a great spot, with a multi-generational crowd and lots of singing along with the musician onstage. At the end of the evening, we took a quick taxi ride back up the hill to our hotel.

And on Sunday, Hernan returned once more to drive us to the pier for our cruise. He knew exactly where to go, because he had made a visual check on where the ship was docked before coming to get us at our hotel.

This was a short visit to the wine region, but so well arranged by Paul that we felt we saw quite a lot. We would highly recommend the places he selected for us, and we are extremely pleased with his services.

We booked a Seabourn cruise this year from Buenos Aires to Miami in February and March. We reached out to Paul Irvine for help with our daily excursions in Brazil. Although it’s not the usual type of trip for him, Paul was very accommodating and helped us plan many day excursions throughout the cruise. He also booked our hotel in Buenos Aires prior to the cruise. We were amazed when we arrived at the Four Seasons and got a complimentary upgrade to a larger suite because of Paul. The guides he provided were excellent and really listened to our requests. We managed to combine their knowledge with our specific interests and had fabulous days in each port. Thanks so much to Paul for helping us make this cruise extra special.

My wife and I had traveled extensively through North America, Europe and the Caribbean, so we decided that we had to expand and try another continent. We booked a two-week trip to Brazil using Wendy’s recommendation of Paul Irvine, and he came through big time.

The best tour guide we’ve ever had, Lais, met us at the airport on arrival and transported us to the beautiful Hotel Fasano right on Ipanema Beach. We were able to spend two full days on the beach where we really got a feel for the local culture. Later, Lais gave us the grand tour of Rio de Janeiro including the iconic Christ the Redeemer. We visited the unique, quirky Convent Stairway.

My wife had wanted to see the dancers at Carnivale, but we didn’t arrive in Rio until it was over. Somehow Lais pulled off a miracle and found a group that was meeting in a public park and recreating their Carnivale performance. It was called a Samba Hangover Dance. Since they’d bought the outfits and practiced so hard they figured they should perform the dance one more time. We were able to hang out with the locals for a few hours and able to see the performance up close. Afterwards we stopped at a popular, crowded neighborhood diner and feasted on huge plates of crab meat for a very reasonable price.

Then we went to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, where we were met by a master craftsman who taught us how to make the best Caipirinhas we had on the entire trip.

While in Rio we were able to eat at Garota de Ipanema, the cafe where Vinicius de Moraes originally saw the famous “girl from Ipanema” go by before writing the lyrics to the song.

On Paul’s advice we also went to eat at Aprazivel Restaurant in the hills above Rio for a delicious meal in a beautiful restaurant with an amazing view of the city below.

Next, we boarded a plane to Iguassu Falls on the other side of Brazil and at the border of Argentina. We stayed at the Hotel des Cataratas in the national park and only 100 yards from the falls. The hotel is the only one in the park and you often had the viewing areas to yourself. The hotel was beautiful and perfectly located. Our guide took us on a tour the next day of both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides of these gigantic, 2 1/2-mile-wide falls. Seeing them was awe inspiring, but taking a boat ride under them was exhilarating and an experience not to be missed. At Niagara Falls you get misted when taking the boat ride, at Iguassu you actually go under the falls. It was safe and great fun.

We ended our trip with a stay in the colonial town of Paraty. We’d seen the big city while in Rio, the jungle in Iguassu, and now a peaceful, historical small town in the center of the country. Our stay at Casa Turquesa was magical. It’s a 9-room inn with a beautiful pool and lovely rooms. We enjoyed navigating the original rocky streets while visiting the shops in town. Paul had arranged a day trip on a schooner where we visited several bays and beaches and had lunch at a place that was only accessible by boat. It was a perfect, relaxing way to end our trip.

Everything had been well planned and executed by Paul and his team. Great guides, great hotels and memorable experiences.

A final note about safety. In the United States we’d read traveler warnings and received a notice to beware of dengue fever from our government. Some friends were wary of us going to Brazil. In response I’d like to note that we never felt uncomfortable or unsafe for even a minute during our trip. Are there places in the city of Rio that you shouldn’t visit? Of course, just like in New York City. So don’t go there. Your guides will help you with that. I’ve told friends that Rio is like NYC, but with a better view. Even though we’d taken mosquito repellent to avoid getting dengue fever we only used it once the whole trip and I never saw a mosquito the whole time. So, of course, take precautions, but we found Brazil to be a very safe place to visit.

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