Cathy Liebman, owner of Living Explorations, travels the world to discover special places and shares her finds with a discerning audience who want only the proven best. Here she talks about how the business came into being, what if offers, and why the Algarve is so vital in the mix.

Time is precious. We curate Living Explorations in Portugal with the knowing sensibilities of being global travellers ourselves. High thread-count linen, fine hotels, stellar service, and a love of great, not good food has been an intrinsic part of our coupledom DNA since we met at Sydney’s former celebrity hotel, the Ritz-Carlton over 25 years ago. Alan, my husband, is a workaholic – businessman, visionary and global leader in the field of hospitality. Whilst I have this undeniably raw passion for dreaming and a belief that one can achieve anything they put their mind to. My first career was as a practicing dentist, the polar opposite of travel. Nevertheless,  those small details are equally important in both professions. Alan is the Yin to my Yang!

Alan’s corporate life with Kerzner International spanned two decades and in parallel our family vacations each summer were spent in the Algarve. His career and professional profile, coupled with relentless hours and corporate travel, is stellar. From the youngest General Manager, at the age of 25 in the history of Ritz-Carlton, to Chief Executive Officer for Kerzner International with the growth of Atlantis and One&Only brands worldwide. Yet it was our summer escape to the Algarve where we rebooted family connections; ate some of the freshest seafood in the world; paid for chicken piri-piri and clams “à bulhão pato” (with lemon and garlic) in escudos; where we woke each morning to azure blue skies; spent our days lingering on the beach and wilfully rambled the unmarked roads searching for local markets and discovering towns. Sounds ridiculously clichéd, but 20 years on, we still love the same things. We have more choices today and knowingly it is the warmth and friendliness of the local Algarvians which is an asset to the tourism industry.

It is the warmth and friendliness of the local Algarvians which is an asset to the tourism industry.

Summers in the Algarve were a way for friends and family to spend quality time with us.

We delighted in planning itineraries for them, sharing our discoveries, and basically running our home like a mini-hotel. Yes, toilet paper origami is a norm, as is freshly laundered and pressed clothes and always, always great local food and wine.

The ultimate luxury today is time and space.  How we spend it, who we spend it with and what we experience along the way. This has always been our family credo, and now forms the basis of our business.

A passion for perfection

While Living Explorations may be fairly new, we are not new to the hospitality industry. Our approach and philosophy is simple. We use our personal experience and expertise to work for our clients. We never propose that we know everything, however what we offer has been tried and tested. We can give an authentic and honest opinion. We want to meet and exceed expectations; create those WOW moments out-of-the-blue;  and realise that word-of-mouth is the best form of marketing.

Many query how we source our experiences. Today’s travellers are more discerning, look for authenticity, follow trends, social media and colleagues’ recommendations. To a point, we are no different and spend worthwhile time and finances on site inspections.

Nevertheless, we steer clear of press releases and sponsored articles and without limitation, try everything! You can’t expect, what you don’t inspect!

We set and demand standards, pay attention to details and are committed to our clients. Being of Asian heritage, that cute idea of packet noodles as an in-room amenity was unique and welcoming. Yet, it becomes worthless when there is no access to boiling water. Do you really want to call the front desk asking for chopsticks and an electric jug when you’re jetlagged at 2am? Or the time I was stuck in the shower when I swung the door the wrong way. We will not be recommending that room.

In our books it’s not good enough to read about the trendiest new restaurant or contemporary hotel. Protocol states that our staff must lay their heads on pillows, and put to the test each facet we will promote. Authenticity and more meaningful engagement often with traditional craftmanship is becoming more relevant, yet clients need to understand what this entails.

We often advise our local partners how to go that extra mile in terms of comfort and expectations. We’re in this together. We all want to promote this region, from the most beautiful beaches in the world, to world-rated greens; the natural diversity of the landscape, its gastronomy and wines, culture and traditions. Authenticity and luxury may not necessarily go hand-in-hand, however we are striving to close those gaps with some fine-tuning.

Our clients demand a seamless experience and flexibility to change their schedule on a whim. In the back of my mind, I am pushed to think, “WWAW?” (What would Alan Want?”).  Our services include meeting clients planeside on arrival, escorting them through customs to their chauffeured car curbside. We do our utmost to reserve the requested table in a Michelin-starred restaurant, at the least pushing our guests to the head of the waiting list. Private tours allow flexibility as interests and attention spans differ. Affluent consumers value their privacy, and demand personalised experiences.   We are with our client each step of their itinerary – silently reconfirming, updating our guides on preferences.

A Casa de Praia is an exceptional property where no expense has been spared to create a luxurious boutique hotel environment where quality is the top priority

A world of wonders

Since 2017, the USA has historically been our largest market, with 30% of our clients referred from travel agents, and the remainder hailing from the Middle East, UK and Australia. It’s a benefit for our US partners that we understand the US market – the way they travel (hit the road running), their hotel preferences (spacious bathrooms), and direct access to our staff during their stay (a client left his bag and passport in a taxi).

So what have we done for clients?

  • A group staying in Salema wished to provide the perfect 40th birthday gift for their biker friend. – the use of a Harley Davidson on his arrival. Surreptitiously, obtaining a copy of his licence, the Harley was delivered together with obligatory leather jackets and perfect-fitting helmets
  • Private dinners in wine cellars surrounded by thousands of bottles of Portuguese and international wines
  • Sending a helicopter from Lisbon for dinner with friends before a night in the penthouse at one of the region’s finest hotels
  • And the challenging task of co-ordinating with chefs during Christmas as clients had severe peanut allergies and kept kosher

A piece of paradise
In 2020, we’re still obsessed with providing the best we can for clients, yet it’s a year like no other and we have used this time for some serious smart thinking and adapting to the times.  Our portfolio will add value not volume and with the luxury travel sector being the first to bounce back, Living Explorations will have the exclusive listing for A Casa de Praia, located in the Algarve. Currently undergoing a full refurbishment, this 5-bedroom villa is a rare beauty with direct access to the beach. With its own gym, steam and sauna rooms and numerous outdoor spaces for dining or relaxing, this haven offers privacy and safety with all the features of a boutique hotel. The home which will also include a lift, infinity pool and jacuzzi will include your own butler and personal chef..and I failed to mention a walk-in cellar.

Explore the beautiful Algarve, and picturesque Portugal with Living Explorations, where we only work with trustworthy partners who understand our standards of service. Be inspired and we guarantee that you will love this place just as much as we do. Not only do we offer luxury home rentals and bespoke travel design within Portugal but also in the US, in Aspen, Colorado, and the Bahamas.

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