Our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide

‘Tis the season – we’ve created a festive round-up of a few of our favorite locally made creations and experiences in the South Carolina Upstate and Western North Carolina. We hope this list sparks plenty of inspiration and holiday cheer – and it’s a great way to support small, local businesses this year! We’re also sharing ideas in the travel department – a one-of-a-kind gift for you and yours, that comes with shared memories for years to come. [And yes, we do indeed offer gift certificates!]

And now . . .

For the foodie:

Mulled Wine Blend

What are we missing this holiday season? It might be the carefree milling around festive holiday markets – whether in Germany’s Black Forest or our Blue Ridge Mountains – sipping a delicious, steaming cup of mulled wine. Mulled wine, or Gluhwein, is a traditional hot drink found during the winter months in Germany (and across Europe, under a variety of names), made from heated wine, blended spices, and citrus. Thankfully, we’ve found very nice local mulling spices to keep you warm and cozy at home this year!  Perfect for turning your Trader Joe’s red wine into something truly special. It’s also made in Asheville by Spicewalla, a culinary company founded by (James Beard Nominated) Asheville chef, Meherwan Irani. Psst – these spices are also usually available for purchase at the Swamp Rabbit Cafe in Greenville, SC.

Shop here

Macaron Making at Le Petit Croissant 

Vincent Caradonna is a native of Annecy, France, who owns Le Petit Croissant shop in Greenville, SC. He was personally responsible for keeping our spirits up throughout lock-down in 2020 with his impeccable fresh-baked croissants! As a master chocolatier and pastry chef, he also offers macaron making workshops, as well as chocolate and bread workshops – sign up for a slot on a scheduled date, or book a private class for a group.

See upcoming workshops

Travel in Tuscany. . . need we say more? 

Join Explore Up Close in October 2021 as we discover hidden treasures of Tuscany, on this hand-crafted small group adventure through the Italian countryside!  Gourmet experiences await around every turn . . . we can already taste the Brunello di Montalcino and the truffle pasta (hand-rolled, of course).

View the trip details

For the artistic soul: 

Once Again Sam: Fiber Art Landscapes

This beautiful fiber art is made by Greenville artist Sarah Mandell. We’re fascinated by her unique work, and how she creatively interprets the world through fiber – from felted plants and insects, to detailed landscapes rendered in wool. Her South Carolina State Park & 50 States landscape series are nothing short of wondrous.

Shop her work

Southern Women Artists of the Johnson Collection 

Discover the vibrant work of female artists of the South, as showcased by the Johnson Collection in their exhibition, “Central To Their Lives: Southern Women Artists in the Johnson Collection,” which “examines the particularly complex challenges Southern women artists confronted in a traditionally conservative region during a period in which women’s social, cultural, and political roles were being redefined and reinterpreted.” The Johnson Collection is South Carolina’s largest private art collection, based in downtown Spartanburg – and is nationally acclaimed for its pivotal role in elevating art and artists connected to the South.

Order the exhibition catalog from Hub City Bookshop here


Charleston in Bloom: March 14 – 17, 2021 

There’s nothing quite like Charleston in the spring!  Join Explore Up Close on this festive small group trip that will immerse you in some of the area’s loveliest outdoor spaces – from storied gardens in bloom at Middleton Place and Drayton Hall, to exploration of Wadmalaw Island.

Find the trip details


The Splendid Channel Islands: August 31 – September 9, 2021

An upscale, other worldly blend of French traditions, British sensibility, and island charm – we may not want to leave!  From World War II bunkers, to the streets that Victor Hugo walked as he wrote Les Miserables, to dramatic sea cliffs, you’ll be mesmerized by the idyllic microcosms of Jersey, Guernsey, and Sark.

View the trip details 

For the outdoors adventurer: 

The Landmark Project

This Greenville-based company is popular around the country, but their flagship store is rooted right here in the Upstate!  They curate and produce an incredible collection of ethically-produced clothing and gifts that celebrate the National Parks. We love their vintage aesthetic, and their commitment to protecting the great outdoors through art.

Shop their website


Pisgah Map Company

Have we mentioned how much we love maps? Based in Western North Carolina, these are the coolest trail guides for our region around – in their own words, “the culmination of decades of local knowledge and firsthand experience in the woods, rivers, rocks and trails of the Southern Appalachians.”

Shop their website 


Exploring South Carolina’s Blackwater Rivers | February 21 – 24, 2021

Winter is a great time to explore coastal South Carolina’s natural treasure trove!  Join Explore Up Close for a unique small group adventure – exploring nature and wildlife preserves on foot and by kayak, including Hobcaw Barony and South Island. Our home base will be the wonderful property of Mansfield Plantation – perched on the banks of the Black River, outside of Georgetown, SC.

Trip details


Venture Out West with Explore Up Close: 

The Colorado Explorer: June 2021

Denver  |  Garden Of The Gods  |  Cañon City  |   Royal Gorge Railroad  | Rocky Mountain National Park  |  The Stanley Hotel  |  Estes Park  |  Boulder

Exploring Southern Utah: October 2021 

Zion National Park  |  Bryce Canyon  |  Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument  |   Capitol Reef National Park

Jasper to Vancouver, by Scenic Rail: August 2021

Banff National Park  |  Jasper National Park  |  Lake Louise  |  Icefields Parkway  |  Maligne Lake  |  Rocky Mountaineer Train  |  Vancouver  |

For the lover of stories and off-the-beaten track places: 

The Explore Up Close 2021 Calendar

Our first-edition wall calendar is here, to spark fresh inspiration for travel and exploration of the Southeast in 2021. Featuring our photography of the diverse landscapes of our region – from the mountains of North Carolina, to Florida’s Forgotten Coast – and snippets of stories that invite deeper exploration . . .  it’s a love letter of sorts to our region

Shop the calendar


Corps of Discovery membership with Explore Up Close

The Corps of Discovery — our one-of-a-kind membership program, featuring local history, travel photos and videos, online Lunch and Learn events, and more!

A Corps of Discovery membership makes a wonderful gift, for anyone interested in learning more about the Southeast – and beyond!

Learn more here

Note: When purchasing the Corps of Discovery as a gift, please email us separately to confirm your gift recipient.

For family fun: 

Universal Yum Boxes

These fun boxes arrive on your doorstep once a month, laden with sweet and savory treats from around the world!  Each month features a different country, and it’s not all just about the snacks – we found them to be highly educational, too!  Each box includes an easy-to-read brochure with fun facts, and even games, about the featured country. An amazing way for young people – and the young at heart – to learn more about other cultures!

Visit their website


A Custom Family Adventure

After a year apart, gather the family together to celebrate and explore together again – with a custom private trip, planned and guided by Explore Up Close. Whale-watching in Canada, rainforest fun in the Caribbean, highlights of Europe, or the Great American National Park Experience – we love crafting the perfect trip for family (and friend) groups of all sizes. Contact us today, and let the planning begin!