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Interview with Jeni Matthews of Red Balloon Travel and Consulting

Jeni Matthews created Red Balloon Travel and Consulting with the goal in mind to provide spectacularly unique French holidays.     After graduating from Northwestern University in Communications and International Studies, she headed straight to France, and has been living in the little known Rhone-Alpes region ever since.   She uses her first-hand knowledge and close business relationships to provide her clients with a very intimate and unforgettable experience.     Tourists from around the world flock to the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Pope’s Palace in Avignon.   However,   very few people know about the delectable truffles of the Drome that are shrouded in mystery, or the rich tannins that characterize the red wines from the exclusive Cornas appellation. What is it that  you do exactly?
I organize custom holidays for people who are interested in a completely original French experience.   Basically,   I design a client-specific itinerary that includes restaurants, hotels, excursions, transportation, and whatever else is needed to provide the ultimate vacation.     I first speak at length with the client in order to understand what are, for him, the most important aspects of the trip.   Equipped with this information, I contact each service provider to lay out a program that will both include all the clients’ wishes and add a few pleasant surprises.   I have personal relationships with each business with which I work, thus enabling me to offer unique experiences that usually surpass the highest of expectations. Once everything is organized, I personally greet the client to make sure he has arrived safely and has settled in to his new surroundings.   I am on call for the entire trip, should any questions arise or last minute changes be necessary, which provides a little extra reassurance to the client.   When I am not working on specific programs, I devote my time to discovering new people and places to add to my portfolio.   I’m always on the lookout for something new and original.   This often involves my spotting an interesting building or sign, which leads to further investigation, which in turn develops into the discovery of a fantastic restaurant, or hotel, adventure that simply must be shared with others (although not too many, of course).   It is very important to me that I have personally experienced each service I offer, so that I know my clients will enjoy only welcome surprises.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
What I enjoy is twofold.   I love being able to impart my knowledge to other people.   It’s such an incredible feeling when a client is enthralled by his meal in a tiny, off-the-map bistro where I have been dining for years.   But I also love when I make a new discovery to add to my portfolio.   It’s as if I have happened upon a marvelous secret that is only begging to be shared.
What would you say are the 3 best places you’ve ever stayed?
Kauai – the island is absolutely beautiful, with its hidden waterfalls, enormous beaches shaded by cliffs, and the amazing snorkeling! Stockholm – the city is so alive, and the people incredibly hospitable.   We had a fabulous dining experience at “Grill” right in the city centre. Maison de la Pra – this B&B in Valence, France is a remodeled 15th Century private mansion.   The owner has done everything himself, from the cast-iron light fixtures, to the dining room table, to the impressive wine-tasting cellar.   Henri-Jean is so enthusiastic about his creation and his city, it’s impossible not to enjoy it!
What’s been your most memorable dining experience to date?
A recent lunch I had in Saou, France was remarkable in every sense of the word.   The setting was breathtaking, with the Pre-Alpes mountains as a backdrop and the main square of the tiny village as the restaurant terrace.   The service was exceptional, as the owner took care of us and made sure everything was to our liking.   The food was divine; I had a ingenious dessert of aubergine sliced paper-thin served over an avocado and hazelnut purée. Finally, the company was fabulous, which is always primordial.
Have you rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, either through your work or your travels?
One of the essential elements of Red Balloon Travel is that very few people know of the places I send my clients.   While Brad and Angelina are not far away in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, my clients often feel it is much more interesting to partake in something a little more personal and exclusive, far from the flashbulbs and glory.
What currently ranks highest on your travel wishlist?
I would love to visit Peru.   I love France, but it is my home now, so it’s always interesting to see other countries.
Thank you, Jeni. If you don’t mind, I  might just have to ‘pick your brains’ a little before I next visit France.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. I have just read – and reread your article on further to your interview with Jeni Matthews and the restaurant you described sounded amazing!

  2. Hi,

    Sounds like the totally cool business that travellers would ultimately appreciate for a private get away. Its a real tempting experience. Wish I could afford one. Keep up the good work

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