1) Blueflower Travel
Leaving a corporate job to work as a journalist and photographer, chef of his own private kitchen, and traveller six months a year, Andrea Oschetti of Blueflower Travel founded the company for people like himself, “people who never use a travel agency, and want to explore new places as independent travellers but can’t spend months organising a holiday.” Rather than acting as just another boutique agency, Blueflower — and Oschetti — acts as travel mentors, working closely with a tight-knit collective of inspiring individuals around the world, from journalists to chefs to filmmakers, to create experiential, life-enriching trips. Whether it’s visiting Venice during the masked Doge’s Ball or embarking on a soul-searching trip to Bhutan, Blueflower will be able to curate your one-of-a-kind experience.
Blueflower is also the first travel-themed dining space in Hong Kong, and regularly hosts stimulating events at its Travel Salon loft in Wong Chuk Hang. Guests are invited to share and plan their next adventures, tell stories and sip wine over a four-course meal (HK$450 per head, or HK$280 for Wanderer Club members, BYOB), after which themed panel discussions, film screenings, or TEDx-style talks take place.
Ultimate destination for 2017: “There’s so much interest in Cuba at the moment and a real sense of urgency from some travellers to visit now. We’ve designed an authentic experience with the help of our network of inspiring people on the ground to take people beyond the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, and into a nation of rich culture and tradition.” — Andrea Oschetti
Blueflower Travel, 20D, Yally Building, 6 Yip Fat Street, Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong, +852 3975 8193
2) Jacada Travel
“Uplifting” is a key word that describes Jacada Travel, founder Alex Malcolm tells us. Inspired by his experiences taking friends and family through his former home in Rio de Janeiro, the company now tailor-makes luxury itineraries for authentic, private experiences all around the world from their offices in Hong Kong, London and Cape Town. It’s not just the traveller who gets uplifted — for every trip Jacada sells, they also donate and give back to charities. This month, they are launching a Carbon Offsetting Programme, pledging to offset 100% of carbon emissions (including those from international flights).
Your travel experience is designed to start with the planning stage at Jacada, and rather than face a person typing furiously behind a laptop, you meet with one of Jacada’s Travel Designers at its Hong Kong Explorer lounge to discuss your next trip over a glass of whisky (or three — the lounge is currently offering a complimentary whisky flight for visitors). Soon, Jacada plans to expand its Central lounge to also incorporate an art gallery, which will host events to inspire travellers to explore new destinations.
Ultimate destination for 2017: “Kenya for its opportunities to interact in the culture, as well as beautiful wildlife encounters. July onwards will be a great time to go to see The Great Migration.”
Jacada Travel (Explorer Lounge), 17/F, Oriental Crystal Commercial Building, 46 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2110 0537
3) Lightfoot Travel
If you’re after expertly crafted, private and unique itineraries, Lightfoot Travel is a company quickly gaining traction across its offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, boasting a wealth of understanding for its destinations all over the planet. “We’re always on the lookout for new and exciting experiences to enhance a holiday, and thanks to our global contacts we hear of the hot spots before anyone else,” says Lucy Jackson, Co-Founder of Lightfoot Travel, Hong Kong. “What’s more, we have region specialists who have personally tried and tested the holidays that we recommend.”
The designer, tailor-made holidays range from luxury retreats in exotic beach villas to wildlife safaris to yacht and private jet travels, as well as visits to far-flung and less-trod places such as Rwanda, Mongolia, Montenegro, Iran and more.
Ultimate destination for 2017: “One country that I’m excited for people to explore is Mongolia — its nomadic culture remains untouched by ‘westernisation’ and it’s still in the early stages of tourism – go now before the crowds start to arrive!” — Lucy Jackson
Lightfoot Travel, Tin On Sing Commercial Building, 41-43 Graham Street, Central, Hong Kong
4) So Me Travel
If you ever wanted to set foot in a private castle in Europe, So Me Travel is the fixer to help you visit these historic private properties, which normally never open their doors to the public. Before moving to Asia seven years ago, So Me Travel founder Sophie Mensdorff-Pouilly worked for the Vienna Tourist Board organising trips for journalists from all over the world. Thanks to developing a personal network of family and friends, she has a close relationship with castle owners — families who have lived in and protected these estates over generations. By invitation, she is able to bring a select number of guests who are deeply interested in history, arts and culture into such architectural gems, to view valuable art collections and libraries, and even stay overnight.
Ultimate destination for 2017: “This year, an exclusive group of 10-12 people will experience the Salzburg Festival — the most important musical event of classical music in Salzburg — and stay at a private castle near Salzburg, by invitation of Baroness Monika Mayr-Melnhof who is looking forward to welcoming the group for dinner. Dinner will include venison from the castle’s own hunting grounds.” — Sophie Mensdorff-Pouilly
So Me Travel, Unit 1109, 11/F Dominion Centre, 43-59 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, +852 6895 6473
5) Asia to Africa Safaris
With offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and Manila, Asia to Africa Safaris (also known as A2A Safaris) started out with the conventional route of offering expeditions in Africa since as early as 2002, but has recently began offering itineraries in Latin America and Antarctica. “I’d like to think we arrange the kind of trips that the discerning, luxury Asian traveller would deem as ‘too complicated’ or perceive as too dangerous or risky to plan on their own, but at the same time dream about visiting,” says co-founder Jose Cortes. “We live and breathe only these destinations.”
“There is a life-changing aspect to our trips, and all of our clients come back transformed in a positive way, whether it’s because of intimate interaction they had with wildlife or tribespeople or because they are more aware of climate change after a trip to Patagonia or Antarctica,” says Cortes. “I like to think that our trips change lives for the better — the wildlife in the areas they visit, the communities which get uplifted as a result of the low impact tourism we promote, and lastly the lives of our clients who come back transformed with a new perspective.”
Ultimate destination for 2017: “I once led A2A clients on a 21-day expedition around Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, retracing polar explorer Ernest Shackleton’s epic survival story on its 100th year anniversary. This was the best trip by a mile, and what I would highly recommend.” — Jose Cortes
A2A Safaris, Suite 504, 5/F, Chinachem Hollywood Centre, 1-13 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2525 2776
As people are increasingly searching for transformative, adventurous and one-of-a-kind experiences when they travel, founder Geetika Agrawal decided that there’s no better way for that than to go out to learn a new skill from a local, hence starting VAWAA, which stands for Vacation With An Artist.
“We offer creative and immersive experiences with local master artists around the world to learn a new skill or collaborate,” Agrawal tells us. “Our mission is to bring back adventure and humanity into travel, and creativity into our lives and community. We believe that the modern traveller is looking for travel experiences that go beyond entertainment and lead to personal growth. VAWAA experiences have led to artist collaborations, new creative businesses and projects, learning and enhancing of new skills, and a lot of creative rejuvenation.”
Experiences arranged by VAWAA run the gamut of everything from printmaking to cooking, salsa to music production, to even bamboo bicycle-making. Experiences are limited to one to two persons usually, so each traveller gets an insider look at what goes on in the artist’s studio, sometimes staying with them, and getting to know them at a personal level.
Ultimate destination for 2017: “Since I have personally curated all experiences together with the artist, I can say with confidence that every VAWAA experience is unique and life-transforming. Some of the newest highlight trips I’d say include visiting the turquoise beaches of Spain, learning to make Ceramic Artworks with Anastasia in Majorca and Photography with Tomas in Gran Canaria.” — Geetika Agrawal
7) Whistling Arrow
Adventure junkie is an understatement when it comes to the kind of people that seek out Adrian Bottomley for his travel design services, designed for intrepid travellers who are hungry to see the most unique corners of the earth. Bottomley, the founder of Whistling Arrow, creates highly distinctive cultural and expeditionary adventures throughout Asia, with a recent geographic focus on western Mongolia and the remote Tibetan borderlands of eastern Nepal and western China.
Just in 2017 alone, Whistling Arrow brought travellers on a “first foray” trekking expedition to summit two “unclimbed” peaks in eastern Tibet, a botanical expedition in northern Yunnan into the most prolific temperate biosphere on earth; and an immersive tantric adventure in the wilds of Kanchenjunga National Park in Nepal. “In short, we are experts in unique Asian adventure,” says Bottomley.
Ultimate destination for 2017: “Later this year, in October and early November, Whistling Arrow is also excited to be offering a small number of immersive expeditions for private clients to live (in custom-built en-suite gers) and hunt alongside the fabled nomadic eagle hunters of western Mongolia.” — Adrian Bottomley