Imagine yourself chartering a private yacht to sail along some of the world’s most breathtaking coastlines, like the Amalfi Coast or French Riviera. Envision yourself skipping the lines at some of the world’s most exclusive stores and shopping straight from a private salon on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. Picture yourself crafting your own signature perfume while guided by a master in Grasse, France. These outside-the-ordinary experiences, plus others in the Riviera Maya, Koh Samui, and Turks and Caicos, are the sorts that fuel our wildest vacation dreams. And we’ve found 18 of ’em.
Los Angeles, California, USA
Shop Rodeo Drive Like an A-Lister
If shopping is part of your LA plan, don’t miss a cruise down Rodeo Drive. It’s an internationally known shopping destination, one of those rarified stretches where nearly every major luxury fashion and jewelry label is housed within what’s called the “golden triangle” of three head-turning blocks. And while the famous street itself is unique, to truly bump your shopping experience up to extraordinary, aim to shop off street level. Stores like Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Goyard, and others all have private shopping salons, usually located on upper floors with discreet back entrances. Inside, you can sip Champagne while trying on pieces selected just for you. The catch is that a service like this is invite-only—something that a Luxury Retreats concierge can arrange directly or that can be booked with a high-end personal shopping service like LaLaLuxe.
Hike Alongside Celebrities in LA’s Prettiest Canyon
There’s one popular hiking area in Los Angeles that has a much see-and-be-seen credibility as a buzzy new restaurant—and that’s Runyon Canyon. Here, you might find yourself brushing elbows with a celebrity walking their dog or jogging past (Natalie Portman, Orlando Bloom, Justin Bieber, and Channing Tatum are all rumored Runyon fans). And no matter who you see—or don’t—there’s great views of the Hollywood sign in the distance throughout the hike, perfect for selfies.
Take the Exclusive VIP Tour of Universal Studios
Universal Studios Hollywood is one of those essential LA experiences, so the theme park and film studio is perpetually packed. But to (literally) beat the crowds, sign up for a VIP Experience. Not only does this option offer up unlimited front-of-line privileges to all theme-park rides and attractions, you get the opportunity to have a expert-led studio tour and walk through working soundstages used in current productions. In other words, it’s the sort of access you’d enjoy only if you were related to Steven Spielberg.
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Have Your Own Indiana Jones Moment Within Mayan Ruins
Picking your way through the ruins left from the once-mighty Mayan Empire is one of the most incredible thing to do when visiting the Yucatan Peninsula. And while the ruins of Chichén Itzá and Tulum are the area’s most-frequented archeological sites, less-crowded Cobá is the spot to head to for a truly extraordinary experience. It’s a huge site, the biggest in the area. And it includes the 136-foot Nohoch Mul temple—one of the tallest in the Mundo Maya—and visitors are allowed to climb the steep steps for beautiful views of the surrounding Yucatan forest. If your legs are sore afterward, take in the rest of the grandiose site easily by hopping into a rickshaw and being escorted through on wheels.
Eat at the Outdoor “Jungle” Restaurant that Turned Tulum Into a Culinary Destination
Since it’s debut in 2010, there’s one restaurant in Tulum that’s commanded the attention of discerning foodies from around that world: Hartwood. American chef and owner Eric Werner put in time at at New York City restaurants Peasant and Vinegar Hill House prior to opening this shrine to the flavors of Mexico with his wife Mya Henry. It’s a “jungle restaurant” in it’s purest form—there’s essentially no roof and and barely any walls, much of the food is cooled over a grill, and solar power and generators run the few lights. Candles romantically light the tables. Each evening’s dishes are displayed by chalkboard, most involving locally-caught seafood grilled or prepared as ceviche, plus beef and local vegetables. For years, the only way to nab a table was to line up at 3 p.m. and make a reservation in person for later that night. But now reservations can be secured over email up to one month in advance. Do yourself a favor, and if you’re staying in a Luxury Retreats’ villa in the area, talk to your Luxury Retreats’ concierge to book a reservation for you, stat.
Marvel at Marine Life Living in the Great Mayan Reef
Situated just offshore of the Mayan Riviera is the Great Mayan Reef, the second largest barrier reef system in the world. It continues from Quintana Roo through Honduras, Guatemala and Belize for a length of over 600 miles. And its truly a wonder, filled with a documented five hundred different species of fish, mollusks, and crustaceans and 65 varieties of coral. There’s multiple access points to go scuba diving or snorkeling, but particularly the cities of Cancun, Punta Maroma, Puerto Morelos, Puerto Aventuras, Tulum, and of course, the islands of Isla Mujeres and Cozumel are excellent starting points. For the best experience, book a private dive that takes you to lesser explored off-shore spots, and can even get you up close and personal with bull sharks or whale sharks in the right season.
South of France
Create Your Own Signature Perfume, Guided by a Professional ‘Nose’
When in the South of France, follow your nose to Grasse. It might just be the sweetest smelling city in Europe, as the perfume capital of the world. This is where the flowers that create the scent of the world-famous Chanel N°5 are grown and harvested, and the home of of dozens of fragrance companies. And when in Grasse, what better thing to do than try your own hand—er, nose—at making perfume? Distinguished perfume houses Fragonard, Molinard and Galimard offer scent-crafting workshops paired with a professional perfumer, or “le nez” (nose). Want one-on-one time with a pro? Before traveling to the area with Luxury Retreats, ask your Luxury Retreats’ concierge to book a private session for you. You’ll learn about the architecture of a perfume, from base note to heart note to top note, and walk away with your own custom vial. What’s more, if you fall in love with your creation, the perfumery will keep your formula on record so you can order it again.
See the French Riviera by Luxury Catamaran
Sailing in the famed Côte d’Azur is synonymous with the style and elegance of the entire Riviera, and is also an unforgettable way to see the charming harborside towns, golden beaches, and lush landscapes that inspired artists like Picasso, Chagall and Cezanne. And there’s plenty of options for getting out on the water. Choose between intimate 30-foot catamarans perfect for a family or couples all the way up to 50+ person entertainment options. But for the most extraordinary experience, charter a crewed luxury catamaran—one that will wine, dine, and pamper you as you chart a course through these legendary seaside towns.
Take in Gorges du Loup, the “Grand Canyon” of France
In the hills above the French Riviera is a scenic drive that follows the path of the Loup River as it weaves through the Gorges du Loup. It’s a narrow, beautiful canyon studded with scenic waterfalls that’s vast enough to have earned itself the title of France’s Grand Canyon. The road cuts north-south through the hills from the foot of the town of Gourdon, passing through carved tunnels and rising up to magnificent vistas of the canyon and river below. Be sure to stop at Saut du Loup and descend a short flight of stairs to a terrace that overlooks waterfalls and pools; the pretty riverside village of Pont du Loup, right at the mouth of the canyon, is also an excellent place to explore.
Learn Muay Thai (Thai boxing) From a Master
Thai boxing, or Muay Thai, is the national sport of Thailand and Koh Samui is the ideal place to take in a match. Take note though, this sport is very different from commercialized wrestling or traditional boxing; it’s exciting, fast-paced, and rather graceful. It’s is referred to as the “art of eight limbs,” because it makes use of punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes (i.e., eight points of bodily contact). It’s also regarded as one of the most dangerous martial arts in the world—but don’t let that scare you off. Fights at Hat Chaweng Boxing Stadium are typically held on Mondays and Friday and last about three hours. The fights are an eye-opening glimpse into Thai culture, with traditional music, live commentary, and tons of fascinating rituals. Take in a fight, sure, but then turn your experience into something more extraordinary by taking a Muay Thai lesson yourself (much more interesting than just getting in a workout at the gym!). Training camps and personal instructors are available throughout the island.
Seek Out the Secret Buddha Garden
You’ll definitely see Koh Samui’s iconic Big Buddha during your visit—it’s so large that it’s often the first thing visitors spot from the plane, and yes, a visit there is practically a must. But get beyond the popular destination and set a course for the Secret Buddha Garden, too. Tucked into the interior hills of the island, it’s a cool, quiet place of peace and reflection with Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes scattered throughout the grounds. And the origin story of this magical spot is fascinating too: The gardens are a creation of an eccentric Samui fruit farmer, Nim Thongsuk, who collected—and erected—hundreds of statues and temples around his family’s land until his death at age 91.
“Fly” Over Unspoiled Rainforest (No Plane Needed!)
While the beaches and coastal towns of beautiful Koh Samui are easy to explore, it’s an entirely different world at the island’s interior. There dense rainforest and jungle rules, hiding beautiful gorges, waterfalls, swimming holes, and more. And the best way to see this hidden area of Koh Samui is to “fly” through it on a zipline. There’s several different courses and companies that offer this experience to choose among, but they all have one thing in common: You’ll be soaring through the treetrops, taking in the astounding, unspoiled, and incredibly lush views below.
Turks and Caicos
Explore the Third Largest Barrier Reef in the World
The TCI sits on an underwater plateau that rises more than 11,000 feet above the ocean floor and the edges of this shelf are lined by miles and miles of unspoiled, absolutely pristine barrier reef. Diving and snorkeling here is a wonderland. There’s a whole spectrum of Caribbean reef fish, including the color-changing stoplight parrotfish, and Caribbean reef sharks and stingrays are often spotted. There’s tons of vibrant corals and sponges as well. There’s a huge range of dive sites to explore, but keep in mind that some of the better locations such as French Cay, West Caicos and Northwest Point, are as much as an hour boat ride out from Providenciales. Step up the experience even further by exploring an especially fascinating site like the airplane wreck near South Caicos, or take on a night dive to see certain sea creatures that only emerge after dark by the light of your headlamp.
Swim with Friendly Stingrays at Gibbs Cay
There are some places in the world where you can swim with dolphins, seals, even sharks. In Turks and Caicos, it’s possible to swim with southern stingrays. Gibbs Cay is the place to head for this, as it’s waters are warm, shallow, and clear—stingrays love these conditions so much that you’re practically guaranteed a sighting. And actually swimming alongside them, shooting close-up photos of them, and looking into their eyes is the sort of unforgettable experience that vacationing in an exotic destination is all about.
Island-Hop Uninhabited Cays and Secluded Islands
The Turks and Caicos Islands consist of 40 islands and cays that dot the submerged Caicos Bank. Only eight of these islands are populated, which means there’s plenty of others out there, ripe for exploration, picnicking, sunbathing, and more. Charter a boat to spend a memorable day plotting your own path among the islands and cays. Just don’t miss highlights like Iguana Island, a minimally-developed National Park where you can walk along pathways and platforms to spy the TCI’s endangered rock iguanas; and Water Cay, a pristine, private undeveloped island with a spectacular northern beach.
Explore the Famed Coastline’s Secret Beaches and Caves by Private Yacht
While the windy, narrow road that twists through the gem-like towns of the Amalfi Coast is filled with dramatic vistas and scenic overlooks, an even better way to take in the breathtakingly beautiful coastline is by sea. There’s tons of options, but even just a day charter offers up a more personal experience, allowing you to visit any beach you stumble upon. There’s numerous secret beaches and caves along the coastline that are only reachable by boat, plus, with your own yacht you can avoid the busy ferries that are always filled with day-trippers headed to the nearby island of Capri. And one place to head on your own there too? Capri’s incredible Grotta Azzura (Blue Grotto). This natural sea cave is flooded with a brilliant blue or emerald light that’s particularly reflective between noon and two in the afternoon, and is well-worth anchoring at the buoys near the cave then climbing aboard a rowboat to glide within.
Walk in the Steps of the Gods
Who wouldn’t want to walk in the steps of the Gods? Along the Amalfi Coast, the stunning eight-mile Path of the Gods, which meanders along the coast’s sheer cliffs, is well-named. Each bend of the trail frames birds-eye-views of the Mediterranean, the coastal towns and villages, and scenic olive and lemon groves. A quick tip: The views are better if you trek from east to west, starting in Bomerano and ending in Nocelle (just outside Positano). It’s possible to do this trek with a guide, but also quite rewarding as a solo or couple trip—it’s well sign-posted, and worth every sweaty step.
Discover the Area’s Best Uncrowded Sunset-Viewing Beach
The tiny, beautiful fishing village of Priano is often overlooked by travelers making for its flashier neighbors like Positano and Amalfi. But the lovely, un-touristy town is an excellent place to stop if you’re driving the coast. It’s a maze of pretty pastel cottages and steep stairways that lead down to peaceful Vettica Beach, 300 feet below the town’s center. But the real reason to stop here is for the sunsets. Thanks to the town’s optimal west-facing position, it’s a local secret that they’re the absolute best on the Amalfi Coast. The ultimate place to settle in, sundowner cocktail in hand, is on or near La Cala Gavitella, the only beach on the Amalfi Coast that stays unshaded until sunset.