Voyages Extraordinaires: Report From DUCO France

Networking on the Seine’s quays at Yachts de Paris. A champagne-soaked celebration at Dior on the avenue Montaigne. Gourmet meals at Fouquet’s, Saint James Paris and the Prince de Galles. Meetings beneath a tower of chocolate crafted by the Hotel Lutetia’s pastry chef Nicolas Guercio. (The treats are trompe l'oeil creations of the hotel’s mascot puppy, LuLu.) A welcome to the Hotel Plaza Athénée’s red-carpet soirée by couture-clad models. At sister hotel Le Meurice, musical entertainment matched by a pastry spectacle: An enormous Saint Honoré by Instagram star Cédric Grolet. Glitz and glamor, courtesy of hosts Visit Monaco, beneath the iconic glass roof of La Samaritaine, the legendary department store painstakingly renovated by LVMH and reopened in 2021 after a 16-year closure.

Each of these settings alone is worth a trip. Experienced altogether? It’s a blowout immersion in the best of French hospitality—and these were just a few of the lavish Parisian venues experienced by the attendees of DUCO France. A total of 210 travel suppliers and 186 travel advisors convened in the "City of Light" from November 6 to 10, 2023 for the talked-about event.

The DUCO concept is unique: A boutique travel summit dedicated to a single destination, held in that destination, to orchestrate connections between luxury hospitality suppliers and top international travel advisors from English-speaking markets, mostly from the United States (72 percent this year). It’s a veritable showcase of the best of France, keenly supported by Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency. Since its launch three years ago, the invitation-only DUCO France has become a hot ticket on the yearly travel calendar.

You know the backstory: Carolina Perez, the Brazilian-Italian entrepreneur, made a splash with the launch of DUCO Italy in Florence (2018), followed by DUCO France in Paris (2021). Travel is in her DNA; she led the family business, Teresa Perez Tours, for 16 years in São Paulo, before launching the international travel show known as Travelweek São Paulo in 2009. Later, it was acquired by ILTM Reed Exhibitions and rebranded as ILTM Latin America.

At a press dinner at J.K. Place Paris—the luxe 29-room bolthole in the 7th arrondissement—Perez explained the theme for this year’s travel summit. “Voyages Extraordinaires” is a nod to French author Jules Verne, whose inspired books described adventures beyond the human imagination. France is the most visited country in the world, and its hospitality experts approach travel experiences with a similar no-holds-barred spirit.

DUCO’s organizers are all about attention to detail, starting with the colorfully illustrated map of France listing the participating hotel suppliers. To create this waterproof map, DUCO partnered with Italian design company Palomar, channeling its original “Crumpled City Maps.” The DUCO Gazette—a magazine filled with interviews—is handprinted by an artisan, each article title referencing a work by Jules Verne.

What’s a travel summit without awards? Attendees were invited to cast their votes in four categories to honor the finest in the French hospitality industry. This is no easy feat, considering the Hexagon is home to 31 “palace” hotels—a distinction that recognizes the crème de la crème. (François Delahaye, an industry veteran who’s the GM at the Hotel Plaza Athénée, describes a palace as a “historical statement,” with service that goes above and beyond. In the case of the Plaza Athénée, the ratio is three staff per hotel guest.) The winners were announced at the Dorchester Collection’s opening parties. Sophie Volant at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc nabbed “Best Hôtelier;” Samaritaine Paris was awarded “Unique Experience Provider;" "Hôtel de Charme” went to Cheval Blanc St-Tropez; and sister hotel Cheval Blanc Paris scored "Emblématique Maison." Interesting to note: Cheval Blanc Paris has not yet been classified a palace hotel, because it only opened in 2021.

News of Note

Blanketed with an early snowfall this year, the ski resorts in the French Alps are prepping for the season. The U.S. market is booming in the fairy-tale destination of Megève, where the Four Seasons and Les Chalets du Mont d’Arbois are seeing high demand. Alpine skiing is popular not just for its wonderful après ski scene, but also because it’s such a great value: The dollar-euro parity and pricey ski passes in the U.S. makes France an even more attractive destination.

Les Chalets du Mont d’Arbois Megève, A Four Seasons Hotel
Les Chalets du Mont d'Arbois Megève, A Four Seasons Hotel (Les Chalets du Mont d’Arbois Megève, A Four Seasons Hotel)

France is anticipating a big tourism year in 2024, with Paris hosting the Summer Olympic Games. The venues alone will steal the show: The Seine for the opening ceremony, the Palace of Versailles for equestrian events and the Champ de Mars for beach volleyball, held beneath the Eiffel Tower. Many luxury hotels are already fully booked for the event—privatized by sponsors, corporate entities and global media and broadcasting companies.

But that’s not all for 2024. Normandy will be hosting the Impressionist Festival, an artistic celebration that takes place every four years. Running from March 22 to September 22, 2024, the festival will coincide with the 150th anniversary of Impressionism. (The birthplace of the art movement is considered an exhibition held in April-May 1874 at the photographer Nadar’s Parisian gallery.) Normandy will also be celebrating the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Now’s the time to book much-loved hotels like the Château La Chenevière, an Small Luxury Hotel ambassador with two farm-to-table restaurants, and the La Ferme Saint Siméon, a Relais & Châteaux jewel in Honfleur.

Hotel Buzz

The Hotel Prince de Galles recently unveiled a new brasserie by chef and TV personality Norbert Tarayre. A member of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, the Art Deco-style hotel on avenue George V is also home to Akira Back, the first European restaurant for the famous Michelin-starred chef. The signature suites on the seventh floor are beautifully designed with custom furniture inspired by the great decorators of the Roaring Twenties. Of particular note is the Lalique Suite, the very first of its kind by the French luxury glassmaker.

The only palace hotel on the Left Bank, and a popular gathering place for French stars and celebrities who live in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the Hotel Lutetia launched a new concept store in partnership with Rupture. It’s a carefully curated cross between an art gallery, fashion boutique and bookstore. (Rupture stores can also be found in Marseille, Venice and the Marais district of Paris.) Tip: The top-floor Penthouse by Coppola has a rooftop terrace with sweeping panoramas over Paris.

Part of Hyatt’s Unbound Collection, the historic Hotel du Louvre reopened in 2021 after a renovation. The geographically blessed hotel recently teamed up with cult beauty brand Codage to create a pop-up “atelier” where clients can relax with facials and spa treatments.

Launched in 2021, Homanie is a collection of exceptional villas and dream homes that come with concierges, private chefs, personal coaches and other services. “There has to be a wow factor,” said co-founder Marie Treppoz. Standouts include a home with a pool in the Latin Quarter of Paris, a vineyard estate in the south of France owned by filmmaker George Lucas and a Riviera villa featured in the "Downtown Abbey" movie. There are even large properties with up to 25 bedrooms, ideal for corporate seminars or private events.

Homanie Toulon
Homanie Toulon (Photo by Homanie)

Just a 20-minute drive from Brad Pitt’s Miraval recording studio in Provence, Hôtel Lou Calen has a storied history in Cotignac, classified one of “the most beautiful villages in France.” Newly opened in summer 2021 after many years of closure, the boutique hotel champions sustainability and authentic experiences, such as market tours, botanical walks, ceramic workshops and olive harvesting.

The Paris-based EVOK Collection—behind trendy hotels such as Brach and Cour des Vosges in Paris—expanded outside of France for the first time with the new Nolinski Venezia, housed inside the old stock exchange. This beautifully designed hotel is already getting lots of buzz, even before the opening of the hotly anticipated onsite restaurant by chef Philip Chronopoulos. EVOK will continue its international expansion with the Brach Madrid in September 2024.

In the Loire Valley, Les Sources de Cheverny—the sister hotel to Les Sources de Caudalie, the gorgeous palace-classified estate outside Bordeaux—recently obtained a Michelin star at its Le Favori restaurant. Opened in November 2022 near Amboise, the Chateau Louise de La Vallière is an immersion in centuries past; the staff even wear period dress and recreate historical rituals and customs. The 20 rooms were individually decorated by designer Jacques Garcia.

In Beaune in Burgundy wine country, the Cèdre is a historic address, once a master winegrower’s mansion, utterly transformed since it was acquired in 2019 by new owners. After a renovation, it reopened in 2021 with attractions such as a Michelin-starred restaurant and a Nuxe spa in the vaulted cellar. A hotel spokesperson noted a new trend in Burgundy: Guests are staying longer, focusing on wellness, and soaking up the charms of this gourmet destination. Tip: The hotel’s sommelier can arrange guided walks through the vineyards.

Luxury hotels weren’t the only suppliers in attendance at DUCO France. There were also DMCs like 1889 Experience, which creates “nothing is impossible” experiences for international luxury clients. In the travel business for 25 years, Exclusive France Tours specializes in personalized luxury tours and high-end events for international clients.

Up next for the DUCO Travel Summit is DUCO Italy, which will be held in Milan from March 18 to 22, 2024.

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