The quaint inn alongside Lago di Bolsena in central Italy. The lively pub overlooking the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland. The seaside bistro anchoring Pamlico Sound in North Carolina. Each charming haven sits tucked away, far from the eyes of prying tourists. Yet inquisitive travelers are sure to revel at these unique destinations when forging new paths with Explore Up Close. 

“We are not a travel agency,” explains second-generation guide Caroline Cope Khoury. “We are an exploration travel company. Our trips are based around storytelling, cultural exploration, and hidden history. It’s about the things you find along the way that make a memorable trip. Uncovering those and sharing the local character of a place with people is a real joy for us.”

Caroline’s father, Chumley Cope, founded the Upstate-based business in 2004. After years of teaching students and organizing trips at Spartanburg Day School, the instructor channeled his passion for history and travel into a business escorting small groups down the world’s back roads. “Growing up, we traveled a lot,” confides Caroline. “My siblings and I would tease my dad. We never got to where we were going taking the most direct route. He always avoided the highway to take the smaller, scenic roads.” Boutique lodging, country estates, exclusive tours, and intimate audiences with experts are hallmarks of Explore Up Close journeys. Each itinerary is curated to illuminate private and public groups of typically 6–14 people . . . no more than will fit in a passenger van.

“You may think you’ve been to a place before,” says frequent traveler Jeff Willis. “But they’ll introduce you to things you didn’t even know about. I learn something new everywhere we go. I thoroughly enjoy these trips. They are really unique.” The Converse College director of archives has traveled with the Copes for more than a decade. Favorite treks include the presidential tour of Virginia, Provence, France, and Southern Italy. “Oh, we went to Sorrento,” Jeff recalls with a smile. “We stopped at a medieval monastery, Monte Cassino, that I had always wanted to see. It was wonderful.”

The retiree plans to take Explore Up Close trips to Pittsburgh and New York’s Hudson Valley later this year. The company has doubled its offerings over the last three years, prompting Caroline and her husband to join the family firm. “That makes it fun for me,” admits founder Chumley Cope. “They are great travel mates. We enjoy each other’s company immensely on our adventures—whether we’re in the Scottish or North Carolina Highlands.”

After a home-bound spring, the Copes are discovering that most folks are eager to hit the road. “We find when people are isolated, it’s more important than ever to be able to look ahead and experience the joy of anticipating the future,” shares Caroline. “Travel expands your mind. It makes you realize we are all connected in so many different ways, and it brings you closer together.”

Photography by Eli Warren. To view upcoming trips with Explore Up Close, go to exploreupclose.com.