A Decade Dedicated to Fascinating People and Places
Ten years ago Deb Niven decided she wanted to create a travel product that would introduce or “unveil” more of the sacred, or spiritual side of a destination – while at the same time being different from the traditional spiritual adventure, such as a yoga retreat at an ashram or a backpacking trek through the Andes.
“I longed to combine what I did in the corporate incentive travel world, which was to combine luxury elements with experiencing the destination in private, exclusive, and unusual ways, while also encountering the soul of a place – what made it sacred,” says Deb. “I knew that this idea did not exist out there, and I felt a calling to bring it into being.”
Fast forward a decade, and The Divine Destination Collection has used its unique mix of luxury, spirituality, and adventure to take travellers to 10 countries – Bali, Ireland, Mexico, Peru, Scotland, Spain, South Africa, the U.S. (Arizona), Zambia, and Zimbabwe – plus Canada (Montebello and Muskoka).
As a result, Deb and co-founder Allison Frame have logged an estimated 167,000 kilometres on their trips, learned to say “hello” in seven languages, and have drunk too many bottles of wine to count!
THE FIRST OF MANY ADVENTURES
Carol remembers meeting Deb and Allison at Deb’s yoga studio in Toronto when they had just started talking about forming a travel company.
She quickly signed up for their first Divine Destination Collection trip – a three-day weekend in Muskoka. “It was so much fun. And they went on from there to travel further away to more exotic locations – places you always wanted to go, but didn’t know how to set yourself up to get around.”
Since then Carol has travelled with The Divine Destination Collection on almost all of their trips, with her favourite being the journey to South Africa in 2016. “We visited Cape Town, which was beautiful, and then stayed at the Londolozi Game Reserve, where we had the whole lodge to ourselves. You are right there in nature, with elephants in the back yard!”
Another favourite was Scotland, the group’s last trip before the pandemic struck. “Scotland was fantastic. My grandparents were born there but I had never been.”
A particular highlight was spending two nights in the Queen Victoria suite at Inverlochy Castle in the Scottish Highlands. “Queen Victoria herself stayed there enjoying painting, nature, and just the beautiful surroundings,” says Carol. “We also enjoyed a private dinner and exclusive tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia located in Leith Port, Edinburgh. What a thrill!”
South Africa and Scotland also feature prominently on Deb and Allison’s list of memorable travel moments over the past 10 years.
Bali – Getting lost in the crowds
- We had chosen the lush, cool, mountain temple of Batukaru for a quiet, contemplative experience –only to find out on the day of our visit that it was a holy day of worship and there was going to be a massive celebration with thousands of people! Even though this was the complete opposite of what we had planned, it was absolutely fascinating to be immersed in the local culture, and everyone was thrilled to be able to get a true taste of Balinese traditions.
Ireland – A one-of-a-kind, authentic Irish experience
- We carefully curate the experience our guests will have by travelling ahead to walk the trip in their shoes. We found our final night entertainer in a lounge on our site visit and knew she would reach the souls of our guests. We discovered Gregans Castle, a shabby chic hotel on the Burren that rivals no other with owners that are passionate about their guests, and arranged for our group to be welcomed into the home of a local resident for dinner.
Africa – An exclusive Safari camp
- We really bonded with the staff at Varty Camp at the Londolozi Game Reserve. After our final night Bush Dinner they opened the bar and the kitchen and treated us to a party filled with authentic warmth and friendship. We were honoured and had a hell of a good time.
Peru – Partying in the Andes
- On this adventure, we contemplated the possibility that Machu Picchu originated as a school run by women for the advancement of humanity, spirituality and harmony, took a luxurious Hiram Bingham private train ride, and had the best time partying with strangers ever. An amazing live trio played traditional and popular songs while we drank, sang, and danced. The Happiness Quotient was off the charts.
Spain – Communing with nature along the Camino
- While it’s a highly spiritual experience, especially when you arrive at the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela at the end of the journey, walking the Camino is not a “high-end” adventure. Galicia is in a very rural part of northern Spain and we had many interesting experiences trying to add our Divine touches and find the best accommodations. One of our stops – known for its incredible cuisine – had bats in some of the rooms. The owners shrugged and said that’s all part of the Camino experience, and our staff ended up spending the night in the bat rooms!
Scotland – Waiting out inclement weather
- When rain got in the way of a surprise pop-up tea and gin and tonic party on the moors, we found an absolutely smashing last-minute indoor/outdoor venue at Gleneagles Hotel. They cleaned up, lit the fires, and offered us tea and scones and a full bar (with those promised gins and tonics), after leading our travellers in with traditional Scottish pipers. The universe also complied, cracking a clouded, overcast sky with the most BEAUTIFUL SUNBURST.
WHAT DOES THE NEXT 10 YEARS HOLD?
After we celebrate our 10th anniversary with travellers, the Travel Advisory Board members and some of the fantastic people who helped support the Divine Live and Online virtual experiences during the pandemic, we are planning for a September “glamping” weekend – where the luxuries of a hotel meets the adventure of camping – in Grafton, Ontario, 90 minutes east of Toronto.
Home base is the fabulous Whispering Springs Wilderness Retreat which combines stunning amenities and accommodations with the beauty of the Canadian wilderness.
In addition to yoga sessions with The Divine Destination Collection’s favourite yoga instructor, Allie Chisholm-Smith, guests can indulge in a relaxing day at the Fieldstone or Ste. Anne’s spas, both located only a short distance away. There will also be lots of great outdoor dining, s’mores, hot chocolate and Baileys around the campfire, and live entertainment.
In 2023, the plan is also to reinstate the Sacred South of France adventure that had been postponed due to COVID. We will trace the fabled footsteps of Mary Magdalene beginning in the medieval walled city of Carcassonne and surrounding villages accompanied by “Mary experts”…our adventure finishes up in exquisite Aix-en-Provence. Discover the lore of Mary Magdalene’s journey and immerse yourself in the beauty, elegance and gastronomy that is France.
A trip to Africa in 2023 is also in the planning stages, with a stop in Cape Town, a safari to see the Big Five – African lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, and Cape buffalo – and a visit with some mountain gorillas.
Stay tuned for more details and registration information on these trips, as well as other exciting adventures. It’s been a long two years of social isolation due to the pandemic, and Deb and Allison are anxious to get travelling again.
“When we first started The Divine Destination Collection we hoped to create a loyal following chomping at the bit for the next destination and adventure,” says Deb. “Now we can’t wait to get together with them again.”