Rhythm, gastronomy and wildlife phenomena: set forth on the season’s most exciting escapes to peaks, plains and far-flung islands.
Seek out the seclusion of a private island in Myanmar’s isolated Mergui Archipelago
When Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago opened up to tourism in the late ‘90s, it was the dive companies on Thailand’s Andaman Coast who first led sailing and diving excursions to the remote region.
Even then, the archipelago of around 800 islands remained largely untouched due to its isolation and size: it’s only in recent years that luxury travel made its appearance here.
The high-end yacht company Burma Boating began sailing through the region in 2013 and 2018 saw the arrival of luxury eco resorts, Wa Ale and Awei Pila. A two-hour speedboat ride from Kawthaung in southernmost Myanmar takes you to the island Wa Ale Resort calls home at the heart of Lampi Marine National Park. Wa Ale’s founders, Chris and Farina Kingsley, set the resort up with the primary intention of supporting the local communities and establishing conservation projects. These efforts, which are now in full swing, come hand in hand with the endeavour for optimum sustainability.
Boardwalks lead you through wild mangrove and the open-sided pavilion overlooks the roaring ocean. Safari-style tented suites hide within the island’s foliage and beautifully crafted tree houses sit within the canopy. All accommodation comes with uninterrupted views of the waves as they come rolling in. Days here are spent hiking the island’s forest trails, snorkelling over thriving reef and kayaking wild jungle channels.
This exploration of land and sea is also the focus at Awei Pila, which is tucked into the beachfront forest of Pila Island. Hiking, kayaking and diving are among the excursions offered, along with visits to the nearby Moken village. Combine a stay at Awei Pila with a luxury liveaboard experience on one of its sister company Burma Boating’s sailing yachts. Book a cabin or charter the entire boat for exploration of the jungle enshrouded islands and remote dive sites.
SUMMIT TO SHORE
Find exhilaration and adventure on Iceland’s rugged Troll Peninsula
Volcanoes, geysers, lava fields and hot springs: Iceland is a fount of dramatic landscape. The Troll Peninsula, known locally as Tröllaskagi, is particularly breathtaking. This wild pocket of land stretches between the Skagafjörður and Eyjafjorður fjords of Northern Iceland. Mountains rise up to over 1,500 metres and glacier carved valleys cut into the powerful landscape with tumbling waterfalls and gushing rivers flowing between. Such rugged terrain naturally inspires adventure.
Intrepid travellers come to journey along the scenic coastal roads, explore its mesmerising fjords and stop by fishing communities such as Siglufjörður and the region’s geothermal pools. Iceland’s summer months can be spent hiking through the vales and exploring on horseback, with whale watching tours departing most of the year, but winter is the time to come for adrenaline fuelled snow sports.
When the colder months set in, this rugged peninsula is the setting for adventurous helicopter skiing. The local outfit Arctic Heli Skiing, which is based at the family farm turned hotel Klængshóll Lodge, specialises in helicopter excursions that can see you skiing from the mountain’s summit to the shores of the Arctic Ocean — if you’re lucky enough, in tandem with the Northern Lights.
Deplar Farm lies to the west of this outfit in the region’s remote Fljot Valley. When this hotel opened in 2016, the converted sheep farm was dubbed Iceland’s most exclusive accommodation. Created by adventure-led Eleven Experience, the high-end property combines its original character—blending into the landscape with a living roof and black timber cladding—with everything you could want from a luxury hotel. See the Northern Lights through its floor-to-ceiling glass and soak in the geothermal saltwater pool with swim-up bar. The lodge has two helipads for instant access to the slopes.
The African Capital of Culture for 2020, Marrakech is awash with cultural insight
Rich history, tradition and creative innovation all make Marrakech the cultural hub it has become. Marrakech is recognised by UNESCO for Jemaa el-Fnaa Square and the labyrinthine medina of its old town, and the city as a whole stands out for its architectural, artistic and cultural legacy.
In recent years, this rich heritage has been joined by the city’s burgeoning contemporary art scene. The high-design Yves Saint Laurent Museum made its debut in 2017 and 2018 saw the launch of the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL) — anyone in the market for their own piece of African art can visit in February for the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, which is held in collaboration with major art institutions around the world.
The local institution Montresso Art Foundation creates a space for contemporary art exhibitions year-round and hidden galleries such as RiadYima show a different side to the city. Of course, the city’s 2020 status as first-ever African Capital of Culture isn’t based solely on its arts. Soak up local tradition in an authentic hammam, taste Moroccan dishes such as the tajine and try haggling in one of the city’s colourful souks.
For deeper insight into the culture, visit museums such as Dar Si Said and the palatial Dar El Bacha. Explore the city from one of Marrakech’s famously opulent hotels. Royal Mansour was designed to feel like its own medina with traditional architecture, restaurants, gardens, a sprawling spa and resplendent riads for accommodation. Mandarin Oriental Marrakech offers a more contemporary feel with suites overlooking the Atlas Mountains, andThe Oberoi Marrakech, which is the latest hotel to make its debut, combines architecture inspired by the palaces of ancient Morocco with an enviable location amid orchards and olive groves.
Glaciers, lagoons and snow-topped peaks give Patagonia intrepid appeal
For Patagonia, summer in the Southern Hemisphere means long days of sunlight and optimum conditions for outdoor activities. Even with the sun shining more than any other time of year, you’re still able to appreciate the snow and ice. Los Glaciares National Park in southwest Argentina’s Austral Andes harbours a spellbinding concentration of glaciers within more than 700,000 hectares of UNESCO World Heritage land.
A portion of the Andes lies to the west, with Patagonian steppe on the eastern side, but almost half of this area is taken up by ice. Of the 47 major glaciers here, Perito Moreno is easily the most famous. This natural spectacle attracts visitors from around the world to witness its dramatic icefalls. Join a guided hike across the glistening ice and take a boat ride up to the glacier wall, then follow the national park’s hiking trails to lagoons in the mountains of the Fitz Roy Massif.
Estancia Cristina is tucked into the park’s mountainous landscape. Having been founded in 1914 by Joseph Percival Masters, this heritage lodge has a history going back more than 100 years. To this day, the lodge reflects this history through its estancia style but interiors have all been updated for optimum comfort. Explorations on foot, horseback and by boat take in the mountains, valley and glaciers of the remote region and evenings are spent tucking into asado and sharing stories by a fire.
Around halfway between Los Glaciares National Park and the nearby city El Calafate, you’ll then find Eolo. One of Argentina’s most coveted properties, Eolo sits within its own 4,000-hectare estate, offering the seclusion and adventure people come to Patagonia for, along with gastronomy, Argentine wines and rooms that make the most of the breathtaking views.
NEW LIFE ON THE PLAINS
Witness one of nature’s great phenomena on the Southern Serengeti plains
Africa’s great wildebeest migration is one of the natural world’s greatest spectacles with around 1.5 million wildebeest, along with zebra and gazelles, stampeding across the plains of Kenya and Tanzania. The herds are on the move for much of the year, making timing for visitors crucial. For the Southern Serengeti in Tanzania, December to May is a particularly special time with wildebeest congregating here to birth their young before continuing across Serengeti National Park.
The abundance of wildlife at this time attracts extraordinarily high concentrations of predators following their prey, making the Serengeti famous for cheetah and lion sightings. Vast open skies and lush grasslands of the Green Season create a mesmerising backdrop for this wildlife activity. There are a number of safari lodges and tented camps dotted throughout these extensive plains, including Mwiba River Lodge, which sits within its own 51,000-acre conservancy on the edge of the Southern Serengeti. With just 10 luxury suites in total, this lodge gives you the privilege of game drives, walking safaris and sundowners with no other people in sight.
Mobile camps are another stand-out option as they move throughout the seasons with the movement of the wildebeest. Serengeti Safari Camp and Alex Walker’s Serianeach base themselves within this acacia-dotted conservation area when the wildebeest are calving. Both camps combine the romance of tented suites and dining under the stars with a sense of adventure and unrivalled access to areas of wildlife.
For even more adventure, you can pair a stay at Mwiba River Lodge or Alex Walker’s Serian with a fly-camping experience. Combining walking safaris with evenings around the campfire, these overland journeys bring you even closer to the Southern Serengeti’s extraordinary wilderness.
From ocean riches to foraged truffles, Tasmania has a natural larder to lust after
Tasmania is all about the great outdoors. This isolated island off Australia’s south coast is a verdant pocket of rugged mountains, national parks and coastal reserves — a flourishing environment that naturally lends itself to the cultivation of mouth-watering produce. Organic farmers cultivate fruit, cheese, honey, wasabi and even saffron, trained dogs hunt for truffles and vintners produce cool climate wines.
Perhaps the most celebrated product here though is the astonishing array of seafood. Tasmania’s clean seawater and fresh inland streams are the source of what are said to be some of the world’s best oysters, wild abalone, rock lobster, deep-sea fish and freshwater trout. All of these ingredients from land and sea come together on the menus of dining spots, such as Franklin, on Hobart’s thriving restaurant scene and in coastal villages brimming with opportunities to try the food.
To taste each product at its source, it’s worth heading out on one of the island’s food and wine trails. Follow the Cradle to Coast Tasting Trail for an introduction to the North West region’s artisan producers, farmers’ markets, distilleries and wineries; join a guide on the Bruny Island Traveller food tour to shuck oysters, taste Tasmanian whisky and visit Australia’s southernmost vineyard; and stop by more than 30 cellar doors on the scenic Tamar Valley Wine Route.
To combine luxury accommodation with gastronomy, stay at SaffireFreycinet. This architecturally striking lodge sits within the Coles Bay Conservation Area, which borders Freycinet National Park, overlooking Great Oyster Bay. The panoramic restaurant Palate serves degustation menus of East Coast Tasmanian produce with local wines and activities include beekeeping, mixology, cooking demonstrations and visits to Freycinet Marine Oyster Farm. For even more seclusion, take a boat over to the exclusive-use hideaway Satellite Island — kayak off the coast and shuck wild oysters with Tasmanian wine before retreating to the waterfront Boathouse.
Get a taste for royal life in the historic palaces of Rajasthan
Pink, blue and golden cities, lakeside palaces and ancient forts: these are just some of the reasons Rajasthan holds such timeless appeal. This state covers a vast area of northern India, from the rolling sand dunes of the Thar Desert to the sprawling Aravalli mountain range and forested tiger reserves such as Ranthambore National Park.
Resplendent palaces dot this mesmerising landscape — marvel at the architectural wonders of storied cities such as Jaipur and venture to a former royal retreat in the Aravalli hills. Take in the views of Udaipur from Rajasthan’s largest royal structure, City Palace; explore the courtyards and halls of Jaipur’s 16th-century Amber Palace; and hear the fascinating story behind Jaipur’s red and pink sandstone Palace of Breeze, Hawa Mahal. Jal Mahal palace sits in the middle of Man Sagar Lake in Jaipur with the Aravalli hills on each side. Offering even greater insight into Rajasthani royal life, a number of these former royal palaces now operate as luxury hotels. The world’s sixth largest private residence and home to erstwhile royalty, Umaid Bhawan Palaceis one of Jodhpur’s greatest attractions as well as being a five-star Taj Hotel.
Palace heritage walks and a family museum tell you more about the property that now features plush suites, restaurants and a luxury spa. Also combining Rajasthani heritage with luxury accommodation, fine dining and wellness, Jai Mahal Palace is another of the former royal residences in the Taj Hotels collection — located at the heart of Jaipur, this is a convenient base for visiting the city’s historic sites. Pair any one of these with a stay atThe Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur on the banks of Lake Pichola or check in to the former royal retreat Amanbagh in the tranquil Aravalli foothills.
Visit the hot spring towns of Northern Japan as festivals light up their snow-blanketed slopes
Winter in Northern Honshu comes with a lot of snow. So much snow, festivals have long been held to celebrate its presence and, often surreal, beauty. Heavy snowfall blankets much of inland Tohoku and its volcanic mountains draw people in for traditional hot springs and ski resorts. Mount Zao lies on the border of Yamagata and Miyagi. This whole area, along with mountain resorts such as ZaoSumikawa Snow Park, has become famous for its annual ‘snow monster’ phenomenon. The trees of the mountain’s summit and slopes become entirely encased in snow and ice at this time with heavy snowfall and freezing winds giving them their monster-like appearance.
While these snow monsters are a sight to behold at any time, they’re at their most dramatic after dark with illuminations lighting up the slopes during peak ski season. The nearby hot spring town, Aone Onsen, also marks this snow-blanketed time of year. The one-night-only Aone Onsen Snow Illumination, which takes place in February, sees people from the community make shrines known as hokora out of ice before filling them with candles to be lit on the night.
The luxury ryokan Daikon no Hana Onsen provides a convenient base for exploration of the Zao region. From Zao, travel to KAI Tsugaru, a hot spring hotel by Hoshino Resorts in Aomori. This luxury property is a short journey from Hirosaki, which is home to another of Honshu’s great winter celebrations. Hirosaki Snow Festival sees hundreds of traditional lanterns, igloos and other sculptures made out of ice light up the snow-covered grounds of Hirosaki Castle. The 2020 edition is planned for February, and throughout all of the same month, KAI Tsugaru is hosting a Kamakura (Japanese igloo) experience with food, drink and atmospheric lanterns.
RHYTHM AND FLOW
Rumba, salsa and Afro-Cuban jazz: find your rhythm in the legendary music haunts of Havana
Rhythm takes hold of everyone in Cuba. Even if you’re coming to the capital for its pastel-painted UNESCO-protected architecture, vintage cars and famous esplanade, you’ll see music bring life to every corner of the city. Experiencing this can mean seeking out the major theatres, timing your visit with one of the music festivals or following the sound of salsa, jazz and rumba resonating from the bars.
You can start by following in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, Fidel Castro and Nat King Cole by stepping into 1942-founded La Bodeguita del Medio in Old Havana for live music and a mojito. See which famous names you can see scrawled on the signature-covered walls then stroll over to another bar made famous for its association with Hemingway, Floridita, for live salsa and the original daiquiri. You’ll have to stray a little further to La Zorra y el Cuervo in Vedado but this is where many legendary Cuban musicians have played with nightly performances pulling in a local crowd.
By timing your visit with one of Havana’s festivals, you can see the city’s streets, squares and parks when they’re taken over by musicians and dancers. Havana World Music brings Cuban talent to Parque Almendares; Old Havana: City in Movement sees dance performances unfold in museums, squares and parks; and the International Cuban Dance Festival draws dancers from across the world to Vedado. If you can’t make it to any of these, head to the architecturally impressive Gran Teatro de la Habana for performances by the Cuban National Ballet and seek out the muralled street, Callejón de Hamel, for its Sunday rumba sessions. Round your visit off with a stay in the city’s grand dame, Hotel Nacional de Cuba, or 2017-opened Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana.
Dive off Mexico’s Baja California coast for close encounters with the ocean’s gentle giants
Los Cabos may be best known for its golden beaches and luxury resorts but between October and April each year, this is where whale sharks come to feed. Reaching up to 10 metres in length, these majestic creatures take the crown as the largest fish in the sea. You can take a boat tour from Cabo San Lucas to swim with these gentle giants in the sheltered Bay of La Paz. As well as being the optimum time for encountering whale sharks, the first quarter of the year is a prime time for watching humpback whales. See these marine mammals as they migrate through the region from January to March, and dive down to marine-life-rich reefs any time of year.
Explore wrecks marking the point the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez meet, watch sea lions play beneath the waves and see rays pass through shallow bays. Nobu Hotel Los Cabos sits on the beachfront of Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. You could be tempted not to stray from this stylish spring 2019 opened property but you’ll be glad you ventured out when you’re cruising across the turquoise water and diving down to see the abundant marine-life.
The chic Grand Velas Los Cabos resort also commands an enviable spot on this oceanfront. Take a boat from here to the natural landmark, El Arco, and kayak to the isolated beach, Playa del Amor. Located nearby in San Jose del Cabo, One&OnlyPalmillais another good choice for anyone who wants to get out and explore. The ultra-luxury hotel hosts private cruises aboard a One&OnlyPalmilla yacht for whale watching and underwater exploration. ◼
© This article was first published in Dec-Jan 2020 edition of World Travel Magazine.