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We struggled at first on this trip. Things are different for Sarah, Carter, and me now. We built this trip in the summer of 2022 around securing tickets to the women’s semi-finals at Wimbledon. The tennis match would fulfill a dream of taking my mom to Wimbledon, though due to her passing suddenly in 2018, it will be through Carter’s eyes, with whom my mother shared a great resemblance.

The year concluded with another dream being realized—an expedition to Antarctica. Then in the early days of 2023 came an ER visit and a diagnosis of Diabetes for six-year-old Carter. With my mom no doubt beside us, we set off on a new course, one with which I am all too familiar. 

We asked my dad to come to dinner and talk to Carter who was understandably upset. Carter spoke of fairness and his disappointment, and my dad listened. Then he said, “Carter, I’d like to tell you a story about your daddy. He was only three months old, but he was dying. Finally, in March of 1978, a pediatrician at Columbia Presbyterian diagnosed Stuart with Cystic Fibrosis and he started to turn the corner. Stuart stayed with her as his only doctor until he was thirty-one because there was no adult care for a disease no one survives. The doctor’s name was Celia Ores, a holocaust survivor, and just the kind of warrior we needed as inspiration. They became very close.” 

“Dr. Ores told us, ‘the best case scenario is that Stuart lives to be seven.’” My dad held up his glass, eyes still locked on Carter, and said, “So the boy would only live to seven just returned from his seventh continent! It was hard Carter, but you can do this.”

Inevitably in life, even a well-laid-out plan makes you pivot. You have to have experience to know how to pivot. 

We called a lot of audibles along the way through the Cotswolds to accommodate Carter’s condition and in doing so discovered the optimal path through southern England. I’ll be damned if there is not a lesson here! You have to put yourself out there and have experts in your corner. If you do, what a life you may lead!

I have been where Carter is going next. While that initially made me sad, it resolved to gratitude. I can relate to him in a way few can. His mama is like mine; stronger than she knows, the warmest soul in every room, and a nurse practitioner to boot. Here is what we learned along this journey.

In life, vetting and advocacy lead to a higher probability of an elevated experience.

With travel, you are there to see the sites and head off the beaten path for unique experiences, but it’s your guide that makes or breaks the experience. You inevitably are forced to pivot. When you do, you need experienced people in your corner. Just as we as Luxury Travel Agents set out to become experts in you and align the trip’s ideals with who you are, so does the guide in real-time. 

If you have a fun and approachable guide you might share something that you might not otherwise. For example, we were discussing classic cars with our British guide, Sakis. 2023 is the sixtieth anniversary of my red convertible 1963 Corvette Stingray. It has been in the family since the showroom floor, was passed to me after we lost Mom in 2018, and will eventually pass to Carter. As we pulled into Castle Combe Manor Hotel, an impromptu stop, Sakis told us the following story. 

“When Aston Martin, Bentley, and Rolls Royce launch a new model they call their customers and this is where they go to launch it. Do you hear the engines? They have a race track on the premises to test drive the new models. “ Now, you can visit many automotive factories worldwide, but you cannot visit Aston Martin unless you’re buying an Aston Martin. One of the only ways you can visit with the Aston Martin representatives and company is at an event where you buy. The deviation in the day’s plan that allowed our guide to share this with us made the day memorable.

You don’t know if you will get a guide who merely takes you to the Highclere on the motorway and back. After all, that is the plan. Or you may have a guide who hears you and has such a depth of experience in the region that they are able to make something memorable happen in that moment. “There are degrees of excellence that are subtle until they are not,” as my musical mentor, close friend and producer Breck Alan would say. 

Here’s to always putting yourself out there. An ambitious stripped-down cover song. I was inspired by the legends of Oxfordshire!

At The Opulent Explorer, our partners vet the guides and that accountability helps lower guide volatility. Then, we take it to the next level by going to see for ourselves and developing a relationship. The foundation is our experience of having traveled to where you are going next. Not only have we been there, but we’ve experienced the day that is about to unfold before you on your travels. We know the drivers and guides, we see them annually at Marquees events like ILTM Cannes & Virtuoso Travel Week and even WhatsApp each other. Since we do a great deal of business with our Partners, they want us to see their services firsthand. You can bet that we will request our guides from our supplier when you travel. The difference in the levels of vetting and advocacy between this and online platforms like Viator which are ripe with non-professionals and no-shows is massive.

Sakis, our driver-guide in England, received his tourism education in Switzerland after a long career in finance. He speaks several languages and is as willing to offer a worldy perspective on the news of the day as he is to explain the history of a small riverside hamlet in the Cotwolds. 

We have all the pieces in place. We have partners who are experts in their region who are on-site to care for our guests and we have guides who are the best of the best travel professionals in the specific location, who are paid accordingly and not simply moonlighting in another profession. 

As of the writing of this article, we are proud to boast that The Opulent Explorer is fifth (out of ~ 350) on the Top Producers list at Gifted Travel Network. The benefit for our clients is that our relationships with suppliers results in us getting their best guides when we travel. Given our business levels, we enjoy the best of the best of their vetted guides. Having been where you are going next, our relationships with suppliers and guides is our value proposition. 


Lucknam Park Hotel - Photo by Stuart Marra
Lucknam Park Hotel – Photo by Stuart Marra

I am not a big fan of the spoke-and-wheel approach to travel. To me, this means making one hotel a home base and spending the whole of your time there. If faced with a decision to pack and move hotels after three days or drive two hours to a site only to return two hours later that day, I’d prefer to arrange day experiences within an hour of your hotel. This allows you to get back in the afternoon rather than be on the road for four hours. 

Lucknam Park was our home for part of the trip and it was magnificent. A Sheakpere fan would not be able to appreciate it if they drove 2.5 hours each way to Stratford upon Avon. Five hours in a car isn’t enjoyable or efficient and doesn’t leave you time to enjoy the hotel itself. 

We would do the Western Cotswolds which include the city of Bath, Highclere Castle (take note Downton Abbey fans), and Stonehenge. From there, the porter loads the bags with our private driver/guide and we hit a site along the way to our favorite hotel due east and explore Oxford, Stanford upon Avon, and Blenheim Palace. We see Windsor Palace as we come or go from London on a grand tour of Southern England. 

The Lucknam Park Hotel & Spa is extraordinary and you need time there as well as at the sites. Our hotel choices are, after all, experiences unto themselves.

carter and Stuart in London

We’d advise you to take a twenty-minute ride into Bath after breakfast at Lucknam Park and explore the city. We’d pre-book a spa treatment at the famous Roman Baths, then take lunch at a pub and people-watch before returning to Lucknam Park. The time you saved by agreeing to see a second amazing hotel in another part of the Cotswolds at a later date, has freed you up to horseback ride, visit the incredible spa and have a proper English tea in the country at Lucknam Park upon your return. Follow this up with a world-class meal at Hywel Jones before retiring to the grand living room and taking in the sunset with a craft cocktail. 

Stuart Mara
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