Covert spy. International (wo)man of mystery. Professional globetrotter. B&R Trip Designer. When both your parents work in the foreign service—and you, as a result, spend your youth bouncing between far-flung corners of the globe when most kids your age have barely left the schoolyard—your conception of “job options” is different from most people’s.
“It was the classic ‘What colour is my parachute?’ experience,” Kathy Stewart says of her start at B&R. “I simply picked the company that I dreamed of working for, got a job in the mail room, and moved up from there.”
Twenty years later, she’s moved up indeed—and put on a few hats along the way. Having graduated from guiding to designing trips, she now oversees our Private Trips in France and the UK.
“I love having the opportunity to hit the road and meet fellow travel fanatics from the industry or at our traveller events,” she says. “Of course, it helps that I’m a ‘Chatty Kathy!'” (Ed. Note: An apt nickname if ever there was one.)
Years in Travel Business: 24
Years with B&R: 20
Countries/Regions of Expertise: North America, Europe
Countries visited: 40+
Countries lived in: Japan, India, Singapore, UK, France, Canada
Trips planned: 100+
Trips guided: 20+
Q&A with Kathy Stewart
What’s your preferred method for immersing yourself in a country or region?
I love to walk or bike as much as I can either through the countryside or a city – stopping to eat and drink, visit museums, shop etc.
What would you say is the best trip you’ve ever taken? (I know, I know, but try to narrow it down to one!)
Often it’s my most recent trip – my trip through South Africa with my 10-year-old son was truly a trip of a lifetime. The combination of animals, stunning scenery and activities was perfect and something my son will remember forever.
You’ve designed more than 100 trips, but are there any that really leap out at you?
There are so many, but last year I planned a trip for an adult family through Ireland. We planned a combination of biking, golfing, hiking and cultural events, combined with some of Ireland’s best country hotels. They were a lovely family and a pleasure to work with. It was really satisfying to hear that they had an incredible experience. Next year they are back for an epic tour of Italy!
Let’s get into some favourites. What’s your favourite hotel in the world?
Hmmm, this is tough. I love hotels. Again, I’m going to go with a recent experience. Serra Cafema in Namibia, a Wilderness Safaris property, is a very special place. I flew in on a two-seater plane and they were waiting for me with Champagne on the airstrip. It is truly in the middle of nowhere – on the Northern Namibian border with Angola, just on the other side of the river. Leaving behind a busy life and being alone at this beautiful lodge was so restorative!
Favourite restaurant in the world?
The best meal I ever had was in the Camargue at La Chassagnette in Southern France. We stumbled across it one Sunday afternoon when my oldest was just a baby. The chef, Armand Arnal, prepared our multi-course lunch as he walked back and forth to the garden (where my toddler was exploring). Farm to table wasn’t as trendy a decade ago – but this was the first time I experienced the concept and it is still the best.
Favourite bar/wine bar/watering hole in the world?
I love the Vinoteca wine bars in London. In a city that can be expensive, these bars are cozy and good value with great food and a really interesting selection of wines.
Crucial question: favourite bottle of wine?
Enjoying a fine Burgundy in Beaune with George Butterfield can’t be beat! I particularly remember an Aloxe Corton white that changed my mind about Chardonnay for life!
You’ve been to 40-plus countries, but what’s one destination you haven’t been to, but want to visit?
I have several on my list, but I would really like to visit Peru and Machu Picchu. It seems like one of those places (like Myanmar – also on my list) that should be seen before it is irrevocably altered.
You’ve known George Butterfield a long time. Of your many great George stories, what’s one moment that stands out?
In 1996 we celebrated B&R’s 30th anniversary. George and his wife Martha hosted what is easily the best party I have ever been to. A huge crowd assembled at Hart House at the University of Toronto (both George’s and my alma mater) where the guides and staff of B&R since 1966 came together for a giant bash! The French staff arrived in Louis XIV style costumes, George sabred champagne – it was the party to end all parties! (Of course, B&R will be turning 50 in a couple years…)
What’s your most embarrassing travel story?
I can’t think of one particular story, but more of a pattern. I’m forgetful and I usually end up losing something – passports/wallets/keys – which creates embarrassing situations! When I was a B&R guide I was famous for leaving hotels with their giant antique keys in my pocket and leaving my closet full of clothes!