“We’re looking at the kind of traveler who wants to experience things up close; our motto is ‘slow down and see the world in person,’” says Kathy Stewart, Trip Planner for Butterfield & Robinson.
What does a luxury tour company mean by “slow down”? In the case of Butterfield & Robinson it’s roughly 2 to 10 miles an hour. The folks at B&R want to immerse you in a place by using your feet — literally — to walk or pedal your way to deeper cultural understanding.
The B&R tours focus their time on the places between the big urban centers, the places where you can get a better sense of the culture without the intrusion of the internationalism of big cities.
“A lot of our tours are focused more on the countryside and less on urban environments,” Stewart says, explaining the company understands most people can navigate the highlights of cities like Florence, Paris, or Ho Chi Min City. Still, B&R doesn’t abandon travelers at the city line. Your tour guide uses his or her local connections to help you set up the best walking tours, cooking classes, or just suggest the best restaurants and experiences.
“Our feeling is if you want to go to the Vatican, you can do that on your own but we can get you an after hours inside pass,” Stewart says.
I know for many of us, a vacation in an international city is enough of an adventure. You may not feel the need for more than some of the world’s greatest monuments and museums all within a taxi ride or subway stop of your hotel.
“In the countryside it’s about absorbing the whole culture through — without wanting to sound to corny — through the smells and sounds of the landscape,” Stewart explains.
B&R aims to facilitate connections with the locals and break down the barriers between strangers and friends that you wouldn’t get traveling on a bus tour or even by car.
She cited the example that in Tuscany, the Lungarella family has opened their backyard to picnics for B&R groups for almost 25 years. It’s a connection that began just because the tour company asked the family one day; the home was on the tour’s bike route. After more than two decades, tour guides have formed a special bond with the family as they’ve watched kids grow into adults with families of their own.
If you’re traveling in France and interested in learning about the culture through cooking in the Lorie Valley, B&R will take you to the home of a Michelin Star chef or to visit an olive press to meet the olive oil maker and have lunch at his house.
The small groups max out at 24, but most travel with 16 people. Traveling in such a small group means you can use locally owned and operated accommodations.
“We lean towards boutique style properties; smaller, family-run, 12 to 14 room kinds of establishments,” Stewart said.
They also (like all good tour companies) want to work with you to give you the kind of trip you want, so they offer different tiers of guide involvement. You can have someone with you every step of the way or have a guide simply give you lists of suggestions of places to eat and places to go. Though for the accommodations and personal service you get from Butterfield & Robinson you need to be prepared to pay between $500 and $1,000 per person, per night.
Oh yeah, and one other thing B&R offers that makes them a perfect tour operator for a blog called No Kids, Will Travel: they have a minimum age requirement. All tour members must be at least 18 years old unless it is otherwise designated as a family trip.