Relax Rest Rejuvenate
By Meda Kessler
Photos courtesy of Big Sur to Bali
This couple’s carefully curated itineraries provide personalized travel experiences for body and soul
When Preeti Sharma talks about her travels, you can close your eyes and visualize her adventures as she speaks: the gorgeous wildflowers in Big Sur, a sky with five shades of blue in Tulum, the green that became her favorite color thanks to the verdant landscapes of Bali.
Of course, she acknowledges the hassles: packing, airport uncertainties, sitting on the plane for hours at a time. But for Preeti and husband Himanshu (“Sam”), it is all about the destination.
The former residents of Colleyville ran Divine Designs during their time in Texas. Both started their careers in the luxury hotel business but consider themselves entrepreneurs. After selling their home-goods business, the couple returned to Monterey, California, in 2017. From there, they are re-exploring, as well as adding to, their list of more than 65 countries visited over the past 20 years.
“We’ve always traveled with a passion: food, wine and luxury hotels, but also the back roads and the not-so-touristy things,” says Preeti. “We enjoy finding the soul of places. On our trips, we collected a lot of stories, which we’d relate to our family and friends. They said it made them feel as if they were there.”
Moving back to Monterey was a plus for acquaintances who enjoyed visiting the California coast. “Our town is a popular destination, but we’d show off the not-so-well-known places.”
The Sharmas began to think of how they could expand what they enjoy doing to include more people. They sat down with a bottle of Caymus — they love California’s wine country — to brainstorm about “rejuvenation” trips, wanting to start close to home with Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur. Preeti also is a follower of feng shui, which she says has helped her to live in the moment, something she found even more important because of the pandemic.
“There’s so much noise around us that we all need to find places where we can be present. We thought of all of our favorite destinations, which is how we came up with the name: Big Sur to Bali,” says Preeti.
The couple began planning their first retreat for March 2020, but COVID shut down travel. During that time, they decided to refine their concept to include a wellness element. In 2021, they organized a few retreats in Monterey.
“Our clients were thrilled with what we had access to, especially local restaurants,” says Preeti.
The Sharmas expanded their itineraries to include Napa, as well as the Provence region of France, and Marrakech, Morocco. Most recently, they’ve added Tulum, Mexico, as a destination. They spent weeks there, meeting locals, making connections and immersing themselves in the city’s art, architecture, culture and hospitality.
“It’s fairly easy to get to and is one of those places that has been calling me,” says Preeti. “It exceeded my expectations as a spiritual place where you can sit by the beach and be in the moment. But there is also the architecture, the native plants, the indoor-outdoor lifestyle. Plus, the people are warm, and the food is out of this world.”
The Sharmas promise that after you land in Cancun and step off the plane, they will take care of the rest, from luxury accommodations to fine dining to yoga. Special touches include swag bags, which Preeti loves to put together. Of course, trips can be customized to suit clients’ preferences. “And we’re working on special guests who can share their expertise and insight for guests.” One is Martyn Lawrence Bullard, the interior designer known for his hotel design around the world.
The Sharmas are eager to share connections they’ve made on their travels. ”We now have friends everywhere helping us connect the dots and make the trips even more special, something we’ve done even before planning this business.”
“We want you to enjoy yourself so much that you won’t want to be tied to your cellphone or document every movement of the trip on social media,” Preeti says. She and Sam plan to enjoy themselves, too. “I just turned 55, and our last child is off to college. I’m always looking for ways to ground myself.”
She talks about how one of her slippers broke during a walk on the beaches of Tulum. “Our guide told me to take my shoes off to better feel the earth. That’s part of the concept, too. Feeling more connected with yourself and your surroundings.”