Lion walking across wild plains
walking safari with elephant in background

Traveljar guests can enjoy unique wildlife experiences such as morning walks with the orphaned elephants in Zambia. Imag by Andrew White

Traveljar designs luxurious travel itineraries tailored to guests’ interests and led by industry experts such as scientists, Olympic medalists and award-winning photographers. Chloe Frost-Smith speaks to Libby White, Director of Experiences, and Andrew White, Director of Conservation, about responsible travel, wildlife encounters, and far-flung destinations

1. Conservation is at the heart of your business. What are your top tips on how to travel more sustainably?

Libby: We really try to help our guests to become responsible travellers and learn how their trips can benefit conservation, communities and the environment. My number one tip would be to think about what kind of impact you want to leave behind from your travels. At Traveljar, we have partnered with suppliers who provide ethical and sustainable destinations so our guests are having a positive impact no matter where they choose to stay.

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Another top tip is to get involved! We love to help our guests find meaningful ways to give back during their trip. We can arrange a day of learning about rhino conservation in South Africa, visit an elephant orphanage in Zambia, spend the day reading to kids in a rural school in Zambia at our library project or take a tour around your accommodation and the local community to learn more about the sustainable practices that are in place to benefit the area. Traveljar also donates to one of our four NGO partners for every trip booked with us and all of our itineraries show guests how their trip is giving back.

Luxurious safari lodge

Wilderness Safari, Chitabe Camp in Botswana where guests can stay in sustainable luxury as the camp is 100% solar powered.

2. Where would you send travellers asking for the most off-the-beaten-track destinations?

Andrew: Two places immediately come to mind for me, the first one being Busanga Plains in Zambia. Located in the northern part of the Kafue National Park, this grassy seasonal floodplain is known for some of the best lion viewings in Africa. Because there are only a few lodges operating here and less visitors, you will get a more intimate safari experience, giving you a true remote bush safari away from the crowds.

Lion walking across wild plains

Lion on the Busanga Plains. Image by Andrew White

The other destination I would recommend is Virunga National Park in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is one of only three places in the world to see mountain gorillas and is very much off the beaten track when it comes to a holiday. Responsible tourism has the chance to make a difference to the communities living here. As well as support the conservation efforts in the park like the Senkwekwe Centre for orphaned gorillas and their ranger program which has over 700 male and female rangers who are protecting the park’s wildlife. For the adventurous, you can hike up Mount Nyiragongo, an active volcano, to one of the world’s largest lava lakes.

Close up image of gorilla's face

Mountain Gorilla. Image by Nelis Wolmarans

3. What has been your most memorable wildlife encounter to date?

Libby: Without a doubt for me it was seeing my very first rhino in Pilanesberg National Park (in South Africa) and then taking to the air in a helicopter for an anti-poaching patrol with our partner, Rhino 911. Seeing these gentle giants in their natural habitat for the first time was incredible but then to also get the chance to learn more about the dangers facing rhinos and the people try to protect them, made the experience one I will never forget. It has made me even more committed to doing what I can through Traveljar to try and help Rhino 911 in saving this endangered species.

Andrew: There is something very exciting about getting the opportunity to watch animal behaviour on a safari. One of my most memorable wildlife moments was in South Luangwa National park with two clients, both of whom had never seen African Wild Dogs before. After picking up their tracks, we found the pack sleeping in the long grass. Wild dogs are very playful and social and we got to watch them splashing around in the pools of water. Strengthening social bonds and listening to the chatter between them highlights their intelligence and our guests were amazed by their actions. That afternoon we followed the pack as they moved along the river in search of Impala and watched with interest as the dogs chased the impala across the plans, using incredible teamwork in the diminishing light.

Man and woman standing by helicopter

Libby & Andrew White with Rhino 911 in South Africa

4. How do you define experiential travel, and do you have a favourite moment from one of your expeditions?

Libby: For us, experiential travel is travelling with purpose and the ability to show our guest that you can combine a relaxing, luxury holiday while giving back. We believe that when people travel with purpose, that they have the potential to positively impact the communities and wildlife they encounter along their travels, as well as to come home feeling inspired themselves.

My favourite moment so far has been taking guests to help set up a library in a rural school in Zambia as part of our community engagement commitment. It was amazing to be able to watch my clients read and interact with the kids, to see the positive impact it was having on them as well and to know that, together, we had all been a part of providing books for over 600 children to continue developing their reading skills for their future.

African children reading books

Children reading with books donated from Traveljar’s library project in Mfuwe, Zambia. Image by Andrew White

Andrew: My favourite moment from our expeditions is always the chance to take clients on a morning walk with the orphaned elephants at the Lilayi Elephant Orphanage in Zambia. I have personally been involved with Game Rangers International for the last 10 years and being able to help others learn about the work this incredible NGO is doing to rescue, rehabilitate and release these elephants back to the wild is always very special to me.

5. What makes your itineraries ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trips?

Libby: All of our itineraries are 100% bespoke, making them completely tailored to the client’s travel wishes. We decided to do our trips this way because we felt like what equals the “perfect” trip for one person is not the same for the next. We take the time to really get to know our clients and understand what they are hoping for from their trip. Guests can choose every aspect of their adventure, along with our expert guidance, from the type of accommodation they stay in, to the activities they participate in, down to which partner we make a donation to from their trip. In planning a trip this way, we can create the “perfect” and “once-in-a-lifetime” adventure for each individual.

Elephant roaming at sunset

Elephant at sunset in Botswana’s Chobe National Park by Barbara Eidel

6. What is your favourite image from your photographic safari masterclasses and why?

Andrew: For me, the photographic masterclass is all about helping our clients get their dream photo. By travelling with Nelis Wolmarans or myself, our guests will visit beautiful destinations with incredible wildlife, leading to a number of opportunities to either learn more about wildlife photography for the first time or to work on perfecting their skills or trying out new techniques. One of my favourite pictures from a photographic masterclass trip was a beautiful elephant at sunset photo by our client Barbara Eidel, taken in the Chobe National Park. I had the chance to take her on her first African safari last summer and help her in developing her wildlife photography skills, building confidence and creativity in her work . Having a client at the end of the trip enthusiastically share their photos with you and ask when the next trip is going to be, makes it a very memorable adventure together.

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Reading time: 6 min
Historic jewelled brooch

Model wearing large jewelled necklace

The creations of quintessentially Parisian jewellery maker Chaumet may have been fit for an empress in the late 18th century when the company was founded. But the jeweller aspires to be equally at home with the modern woman around the world. CEO Jean-Marc Mansvelt tells Irene Bellucci how they make the new out of the old
portrait of a man in a suit wearing glasses

Jean-Marc Mansvelt

“For me, luxury is about craftsmanship and excellence. But it’s more than functionality – it’s also about emotion. And luxury transcends fashion, too; it takes time to invent, create and make.

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“Chaumet’s founder Marie-Etienne Nitot trained under the jeweller to Marie Antoinette, and after the Revolution became Napoleon Bonaparte’s official jeweller in 1805. This led to numerous commissions from the great and the good, including jewels for Empress Joséphine, after whom one of our most iconic collections is named. The brand’s tiaras went on to be worn by queens and rulers across the globe.

Vintage diamond tiara

Laurel Leaf Tiara by Joseph Chaumet (1920)

“Yet, our history isn’t enough to sustain us in the 21st century; consumers’ tastes have changed as has the function of jewellery itself. Nowadays, a tiara is not really worn beyond special and rare occasions, so in 2010 we reinvented them by moving them from head to finger for our Joséphine ring collection. Once they were crowns expressing power, but now we have brought them into the modern era in a more delicate and wearable form.

“But not all of our pieces are reinventions. We try to mix tradition and contemporary art; we also like to look to the world of music for ideas. In referring just to the past, the risk is that we will repeat ourselves – we need to inject new elements into the process.”

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This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue

Reading time: 1 min
Countryside landscape with river
Countryside landscape with river

The Garonne river runs through the heart of southwest France

The recent opening of the spectacular Chais Monnet country hotel in Cognac has put southwest
France on the touring map. Jenny Southan outlines the wonders of a region which stretches from Bordeaux to the idyllic Ile de Ré, with Cognac and its new luxury destination hotel at its gastronomic heart

With environmental activists calling for 2020 to be a no-fly year, this is a good time to swap long-haul holidays for road and rail trips across the continent. And with the future relationship of the UK and Europe changing, heading to the home of the founding father of the European Union, Jean Monnet, in Cognac, France, feels apt. The Monnet family have lived in Cognac since the 19th century, and in 2018, their former mansion and distillery was turned into a luxury hotel – the first for the region.

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Hôtel Chais Monnet has proved one of the most expensive hotel developments in the country in recent times, and has consequently become a destination in itself. The two-hectare former industrial site – comprising cognac cellars, warehouses and barrel cooperage – was transformed thanks to €60 million of investment from British businessman and property developer Javad Marandi, who has also put money into Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire (the hotel embodies much of the look and feel of this high-end British retreat from the Soho House Group).

Positioned on the banks of the Charente river in a town famous for its double-distilled brandy, the 92-room Hôtel Chais Monnet has become a lively retreat for both visitors and locals who come for hedonistic brunches, live music and cognac-infused mille-feuille. Both beautiful and striking, with a mix of renovations and new-build structures, the property has been reimagined and expanded by French architect Didier Poignant, who also worked on Le Royal Monceau and Hôtel de Crillon in Paris.

Grand old country house

Contemporary building

Classic and contemporary collide to stunning effect at Chais Monnet

A spa and heated swimming pool are in a glass pavilion and an ultra-modern glass building covered in iron latticework houses the majority of the rooms as well as 13 apartments with kitchens for those looking to stay three nights or more. A 2019 addition is Les Foudres, a gourmet restaurant in the old cognac-ageing cellars, a cathedral-like space that incorporates giant barrels into the architecture of the entrance hall. A rooftop bar, modern art gallery, concept store, cinema, kids’ club and patisserie have also been added. At night, each building is connected by illuminated walkways.

Luxurious outdoor swimming pool

The hotel’s outdoor swimming pool

One of the many charming features of Hôtel Chais Monnet is its partnerships with local craftspeople, who have been recruited for their skills and to share their wares with guests. Some of the staff wear traditional Charentaise shoes from nearby Angoulême; handmade leather travel trunks are brought to the rooms containing croissants, yoghurt and fruit for breakfast; minibars stocked with Charente craft beer; and oak parquet flooring laid by expert carpenters. Meanwhile, the wooden beams in the La Distillerie brasserie have been brought back to life by local cabinetmakers, and diners even get their choice of locally made cutlery.

Luxurious restaurant interiors

Les Foudres restaurant.

Guests checking in will be guided up to elegant, homely rooms decked out in light oak furniture (those in the old building also have original oak beams), fauteuil armchairs, Nespresso machines, Fragonard bathing amenities and free Wi-Fi. Some also have sun terraces. The Jean Gabriel Monnet suite (named after the French political economist, diplomat and founding father of the European Union), is the largest at 180sq m, and has a lounge, butler service, a treatment room for massages and a marble bathroom.

Read more: Inside The Garrison Club at Chelsea Barracks, Belgravia

Once you have unpacked, a trip down to the Angélique Café for afternoon tea or Le 1838 bar are de rigueur. Located in the Monnets’ original cooperage – where barrels used to be made – the latter lists more than 400 types of cognac (famous houses such as Hennessy, Rémy Martin and Courvoisier are all close by), and also regularly hosts jazz and blues bands. Champagne is also on the menu, of course, as are a variety of innovative cocktails such as The Road Jack, which is made from Cognac VS, local aperitif Pineau des Charentes, dry white wine, lime juice, lemon thyme syrup, honey and sparkling water. For those who don’t like brandy, there is also Grey Goose vodka, which is served in nightclubs across the planet but rarely acknowledged as being from Cognac.

Lighthouse in countryside landscape

Hand-drawn map of France

The Phare des Baleines lighthouse at Ile de Ré, and the region surrounding Cognac

A stop on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route, Cognac is a small town of approximately 20,000 people, surrounded by six different vineyard areas within the appellation d’origine contrôlée. The spirit has become famous for its blend of eau de vie made from grapes from different locations, although the best use Petite and Grande Champagne grapes. Once the colourless alcohol has been distilled in copper pots, it is poured into oak barrels to mature (the wood imparts colour and flavour). With a history of exports to the UK, the makers typically label the bottles with English acronyms, depending on how long it has aged – VS (very special), VSOP (very superior) and XO (extra old, meaning at least six years in the barrel).

Luxurious interiors of a hotel bar

Le 1838 cognac bar

If you’re in Cognac, it’s a prerequisite to do some tastings, and some of the production houses have welcome centres where you taste samples. Next door to Hôtel Chais Monnet is Martell, which has a contemporary art foundation and rooftop bar, while the Royal Château de Baron Cognac, birthplace of King François I, offers tours of its cellars. The hotel itself can also arrange experiences for guests – from bike rides, horse riding and vineyard tours in its vintage Citroen 2CVs, to truffle hunting, golf and half-day excursions through the countryside in a luxury sports car. There is also a lake within the Grande Champagne vineyards where you can go waterskiing. In July, there is the annual Cognac Festival with live bands and fisherman’s huts.

Although there is plenty to do within Cognac itself, it is also well worth doing a bit of exploring. About an hour’s drive south-east is Champagne, while Bordeaux, which makes an excellent day trip, is 1.5 hours south. Being one of the best wine-producing regions in the world, with renowned vineyards such as Château Smith Haut Lafitte, tastings should undoubtedly be part of any itinerary. However, the city itself is worthy of time, too, with its beautiful neoclassical architecture, buzzing central market (hawking oysters, cheese and baked goods) and pedestrian quays that run alongside the Garonne river. The maritime Musée Mer Marine opened in 2019 by the former docks; and there is also the futuristic, snail-shaped wine museum, La Cité du Vin, which was designed by XTU Architects.

Village landscape in France

The legendary vineyard town of Saint-Émilion, home to Château Cheval Blanc, is a quick day trip from Cognac

Not far from Bordeaux is the picturesque medieval town of Saint-Émilion, which has in excess of 800 wine producers, some of the most famous Grand Cru estates being Châteaux Cheval Blanc, Angélus and Figeac. Another, Château Clarisse, has more than 20 hectares of vineyards growing merlot, cabernet franc and carménère grapes. In 2019 it produced its first organic vintage after switching to a more environmentally respectful viticulture.

Read more: Sea2See recycles marine plastic to create fashionable eyewear

Further afield are the Dordogne’s famous Lascaux caves. Discovered in 1940 by a group of teenagers, the UNESCO World Heritage Site encompasses prehistoric caverns stretching 235m, and decorated with hundreds of Palaeolithic paintings of animals and plants native to the region 20,000 years ago. They are considered to be the work of many generations of humans living in the Old Stone Age. The Hall of Bulls stands out for its images of bulls, horses, stags and a bear, which can be clearly seen on the walls of the ancient rock chamber. However, visitors will have to make do with seeing facsimiles in Lascaux II, as the real caves have been closed off since 1963.

Indoor swimming pool

The hotel spa swimming pool

Following the road an hour and a half north of Cognac to the Atlantic, is Ile de Ré. As well as sweeping dunes, golden beaches and sweet-smelling pine forests, this chic little hideaway boasts delectable, cheap seafood (mussels and oysters are a staple here) while sea salt is collected in pans by the marshes. The island also has miles of cycle paths allowing you to navigate its 30km-by-5km area on two wheels in a couple of hours. Plage de Gros Jonc is the place to head for surf lessons, and the capital of Saint-Martin-de-Ré, behind its 17th-century walls, has inviting cafés and restaurants.

Hôtel Chais Monnet is the perfect base to return to at the end of a day’s excursion. Passing through its gates in the evening, guests will find buildings connected with illuminated walkways, freshly turned-down beds and platefuls of lobster risotto waiting for them at La Distillerie. For those with aching limbs after a day’s exploring, the spa is open until 9pm for restorative ‘Back from the vineyards’ foot massages. Although many years have passed since its days as a functioning cognac distillery, at Chais Monnet, enjoying the fruits of this endeavour while reclining on a Chesterfield sofa by the fire, is surely the only way to round off the night. Sante!

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This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue.

Reading time: 8 min