Asia

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Asia.

Getting The Best Of Vietnam Landscapes

Set in the far north of Vietnam, for many, Sapa will conjure images of vibrant, green rice terraces, incredible mountain backdrops and endless trails with each twist and turn revealing a view more astounding than the last. But, as my mate Sam and I twisted and turned on an uncomfortable sleeper bus with cheesy Vietnamese pop music blaring over the speakers and large boxes poking us in the sides, the picture perfect idea of Sapa couldn’t feel further away. For the budget-conscious traveller or those short on time, these sleeper buses represent one of the most time and cost-effective ways of getting around Vietnam. The trouble is, they can be extremely hit and miss and as it so happened, we had the distinct displeasure of being cooped up in an overcrowded, smelly sleeper bus as it hurtled from Hanoi to Sapa at alarming rates.

vietnam-tours

The train would have definitely been a better option. Eventually, our bus rolled to a stop and we were dumped into a freezing cold and misty car park on the outskirts of Sapa in the early hours of the morning.

We chugged herbal tea in a small cafe to keep warm as we waited for our transfer and before long we were on our way into the heart of town and our starting point for a few days of trekking, the Grand View Sapa Hotel. Despite the name, the view was non-existent at this point because of some extremely dense, low cloud which shrouded the entire town. It was here that we were introduced to the rest of the group and our guide for the next two days, Na. Short and shy, but incredibly friendly, Na was a local who had been guiding for four years, having started when she was only 15.

Despite her small stature, she made navigating the troublesome terrain look easy and did so with a smile for the entirety of our trip. After several more herbal teas and a hearty breakfast of noodle soup, we were on our way, walking through the crowded and vibrant markets of Sapa before reaching the edge of town and joining a muddy trail which started to descend down into the valley. We weren’t quite prepared for how slippery the tracks were going to be and in places the mud would climb right up to your knees. With each step there was a lingering doubt as to whether or not you would still be standing after putting your weight on your foot. As challenging as it was to stay upright, it was certainly entertaining and it almost felt like a competition to be the last one standing in the group.

As it turned out, not too many people ended up on their bums. This was partly thanks to the support crew we seemed to have assembled within the first 10 minutes of the hike. Despite only having one guide, we somehow managed to acquire a group of about 30 other locals who decided to make the journey with us. It turns out that these women and children were part of the Hmong people, an ethnic group that reside in the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. With tourism becoming such a major player in Sapa, many of the locals see the trekking scene as a good opportunity to bring some money into the household, so they escort tourists on their hikes, lending them a helping hand on the troublesome terrain.

Saying "hello" to the locals.

Saying “hello” to the locals.

Now, the ages of these women and children must have ranged from three or four, all the way up to 80 or 90, and yet they made things look effortless, even when they had a child on their back. Eventually, they just became part of the group and as the ground levelled out and we began to accept the help of these skillful women, we could turn our attention to the views. As we descended further into the valley, the cloud became less dense with gaps opening up more frequently. Every now and then they would open enough to reveal an incredible new angle of the hills, farms and rice terraces below.

The further we went, the more the mountains and the valleys revealed to us. After a few slow miles on unforgiving mud we reached a hard-packed trail which clung to the side of the cliff and this led us to the most incredible viewpoint. At this moment, the low cloud cleared some more and we could see the valley stretching out before us with its steep walls stepped in rice terraces. The hard-packed trail we had found ourselves on didn’t last long and before we knew it we were back to fighting with the mud. As we descended down toward the river below we passed through a steep wooded incline which proved to be one of the most challenging parts of the day. Making it to the bottom on both feet felt like a real achievement.

The Magic Of India During Winter

HOW TO GET THERE – Your best option is to fly to Leh, where you can acclimatise before heading off to start the hike. Air India and Jet Airways both fly to Leh with connecting flights in Delhi. Travel time varies between individual flights, but you are looking at roughly 17 hours on the way out and 13 hours on the way back. The journey isn’t too hard on the bank balance though, with return tickets starting at just over £500.

WHEN TO GO – The Chadar Trek is only possible from January to February when the river is completely frozen. Outside of these times, it’s too risky to walk on the ice, and in the summer the river becomes a hotspot for other activities such as rafting.

New Delhi winter

New Delhi winter

WHAT TO TAKE – The Chadar Trek will put you through some really tough conditions, so you’re going to need to take a lot of kit to make sure you get through it. You’ll want to take multiple layers for both top and bottom, including base layers, softshell trousers, fleece bottoms, mid to heavyweight fleece jacket, waterproofs, a down jacket and insulated trousers for evenings. You should also consider insulated walking boots, gaiters, multiple pairs of heavyweight wool socks, liner socks, multiple layers of gloves and headwear. This list is not extensive and you should be prepare for temperatures reaching as low as -35C.

HOW TO DO IT – British tour operator The Mountain Company runs a trip along the Chadar every year lasting 24 days and representing one of the only international commercial operations to the area. Alternatively, there are local operators who will offer the trek, while you could also take on the trek yourself, though we thoroughly recommend you seek out local knowledge or employ a local guide for your own safety.

VISAS – To visit India you will need to apply for a visa. British citizens can expect to pay approximately £102 fora traditional visa which allows you to stay in the country for up to 180 days per entrance. There is also now the option to apply for an e-visa online for just £39 (plus a small admin fee) which simplifies the process as well as being cheaper.

Chadar

Chadar

VACCINATIONS – When visiting India you also need to take into account any medical considerations. For India, you will want to make sure you have all primary courses and boosters up to date for British life, and it is also recommended that you get vaccinations for diphtheria, hepatitis A, tetanus and typhoid. Other vaccines you may want to consider include cholera, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis and rabies.

MAPS – Take a look at Ladakh and Zanskar Centre (1:150,000) by Editions Olizane. Maps of the northern and southern parts of Ladakh and Zanskar are also available.

How To Enjoy India At Its Fullest

Every winter, the Indian district of Zanskar is almost entirely cut off from its parent state of Jammu and Kashmir, effectively leaving its inhabitants stranded. Zanskar is practically surrounded by towering ridges and formidable peaks, with one high mountain pass providing the main line of communication throughout the year, but as the winter snows arrive, this vital line of contact is severed. This leaves residents of the Zanskar Valley with only one way in and out, the frozen Zanskar River. For centuries this seasonal highway, traditionally known as the Chadar, has been used by locals as a vital trade route, and to this day it still is.

Zanskar

Zanskar

Residents often brave the sub zero temperatures (which are known to reach a lowly 35C) and challenging terrain to reach towns and cities further afield, such as nearby Leh. In recent years however, it has been discovered by the outdoor community, growing more and more popular with people searching for beautiful hiking routes away from the normal trekking scene. And thus the Chadar Trek was born. The trek is approximately 65 miles long (one way) and it is certainly not one you should rush into. While it may not be the longest, the conditions you travel in and the terrain you cover makes it a serious undertaking. Temperatures are known to drop as far as 35C at night and it is not uncommon for a freezing wind to blow across the valley, so you’ll need to be prepared.

The trek can be extremely tough going and due to the unpredictability of the conditions and the remoteness of the area, it is a genuine adventure. Typically, if you’re taking on the Chadar Trek you will use Leh as a base, from where you will travel by car to Chilling, the route’s aptly named trailhead. From here, you trace the river as it flows deeper into the valley. Along the way, you’ll pass a handful of towns including Pishu, Pidmo, Stongde and Zangla, giving you an opportunity to explore impressive gompas (a Tibetan monestary or temple) and forts. These stops also give you the chance to gain an insight into the di verse culture and way of life for those that live in Zanskar.

 Ladakh Range

Ladakh Range

In recent years, the area has also been known to be home to the elusive but magnificent snow leopard, with paw prints being found in the snow at various points along the route. If the culture, landmarks and wildlife aren’t enough to get your heart racing, the scenery certainly will. The Zanskar River is flanked on both sides by near vertical walls reaching up to 600m high. Beyond them you will see the majestic snow capped peaks of the Ladakh Range, the Greater Himalayas and the Karakoram Range. Having said that, it’s below your feet where the real magic exists, and you are unlikely to have seen anything quite as remarkable as this frozen river stretching far away out of sight. The Chadar Trek may not have the same glitz and glamour as other hikes in the area, but it’s certainly one you’ll be able to brag about for years once you’ve returned home.

india-yoga-2

The Cradle of Yoga – India

India is an assault on the senses, challenging you with its extremes, prompting you to contemplate who you are and where you stand in the world

India, the largest democracy in the world is also the world’s second largest nation with 1.25 billion people calling it home. Seemingly homogeneous at first glance, this nation of 29 states and 7 union territories is actually so diverse it is almost shocking. Nearly all of the world’s religions are represented here, while 22 different languages are officially recognised with many others being spoken across the country. India has had its share of foreign rule as well that spans over 1,100 years, with the British claiming 300 and the Mughals 800. This hotbed of various influences allowed for the shaping of Indian society as we see it today.

There is no concrete history of the birth of yoga – many of the sacred texts and teachings were transmitted orally and were considered secret for many years. While the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation of northern India is widely credited with yoga’s beginnings over 5,000 years ago, some historians believe yoga may have started as early as ten millennia ago.

Pre-classical yoga was developed by the Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers); they documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, of which the most renowned is the Bhagavad-Gita, composed around 500 BC. The Upanishads taught that excellence could only be achieved through the sacrifice of the ego via self-knowledge, action (karma yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga). In classical yoga, there is an ‘eight limbed path” containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi or enlightenment.

In contrast, post-classical and modern yoga rejected the ancient teachings in favour of embracing the physical body as the true path to achieving enlightenment; the yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life, and developed a new form of practice called Tantra Yoga (what we refer to today as Hatha Yoga), consisting radical techniques to cleanse the body and mind in a bid to free the flesh from the binds of physical existence.

Delhiindia-yoga

My journey started in New Delhi, all ready for International Yoga Day on 21 June – it was in its second year of celebrations following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal to the United Nations General Assembly in 2014. “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help in well-being.” Having been adopted by the majority of the member nations. International Yoga Day is celebrated by yogis worldwide.

Delhi is recognised amongst the world’s longest continuously inhabited cities and longest serving capitals. Known as the city of seven towns, the city has not forgotten the importance of its past glory and continues to pay tribute to the rice and diverse cultures that call it home.

Top 5 Outstanding Indian Destinations

WILD WHITE WATER – On the banks of the Ganges, the holy city of Rishikesh is India’s white water rafting capital (along with Shivpuri, just to the north). Mix adrenaline bursts with glorious scenery and finish the day by trickling into town to the sacred chant of Om Namoh Shivaya. There’s everything from half and full-day trips to longer expeditions, camping on the shore along the way. And we love the names of the rapids, like Golf Course, Three Blind Mice and the ominous sounding Return to Sender.

Rishikesh

CYCLE THE SOUTH – Southern India is an excellent place to explore by bike. From the glittering city of Mysuru (formerly Mysore), with its world-heritage palace and ancient market, head for the tea plantations, tiger reserves and hill stations of the Western Ghats.

Then drop down to the coconut-palm-lined coastal roads of Kerala: explore the bazaars and old harbour at Cochin, ride past old Portuguese houses and sleep on a houseboat.

SEE OFF 6.000M – Ever wanted to tackle a 6,000m-plus peak? Check out Stok Kangri (6,153m), recommended as a good first Himalayan peak as it is technically straightforward, with easy-angled scree and snow lopes, while being both challenging and interesting, not least because of the effects of the altitude. Flying into Leh, the ancient capital of Ladakh, acclimatise by trekking through the beautiful Markha Valley and towards base camp, with views towards Tibet and the eastern Karakoram. A cracking expedition.

MEET MOWGLI – If you prefer jungles to mountains, and walking at lower altitudes to hitting heights, head to the plains and undulating hills of Madhya Pradesh, known as the heart of India, whose winding rivers and teeming forests inspired Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Call in at village communities and look out for leopards and tigers in the Pench National Park. Reach the area via sleeper train from bustling, colourful Mumbai and after that expect tranquillity.

Madhya Pradesh

Madhya Pradesh

TWO-WHEELED TAXI – Motorbike travel is part of India’s soul, but if you aren’t brave enough to hire your own, in Goa, India’s smallest state with endless beaches, you can ride pillion and hire a driver who will take you around on the back of a bike or Vespa. Most drivers are also good tour guides; spot them at the Two Wheeler Taxi Stands. Cheap, fun… and probably still a tad scary.

India: Any Traveller’s Dream Come True

Disregard the undeserving repetition of Kolkata and be instantly rewarded with one of the most sophisticated cities in India. Home of Tagore, one of India’s greatest poets, the city has a strong artistic heart. The masterpiece of the British Raj, this city is a tropical haven punctuated with whitewashed Victorian buildings. The new ITC Hotel will be among the tallest buildings of Kolkata and the trusted hands of Glenburn will see the opening of The Penthouse, the city’s first boutique hotel. Venture outside Kolkata, to Rajbari Bawali, a lovingly restored neoclassical palace. Pioneer the east along the mighty Hugli, Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers.

ITC Hotel, India

ITC Hotel, India

The Assam Bengal Navigation cruises take you to the remotest corners uncovering islands, untouched jungle, tea towns, temples, and lesser-known old colonial settlements along the way. Cross the single sliver of West Bengal that takes you into the frontier lands of the Seven Sister States. East India – one of the last frontiers that has much to reward the intrepid traveller – reaches from the Himalayan heights down to the Bay of Bengal, via the wild mangroves and swamps of the Sundarbans. Take a cruise and you may be lucky enough to spy a flash of the tiger’s stripe as it prowls through the dense watery undergrowth. Drink in the tea-scented countryside aboard the ‘toy train’, that gently loops through the terraced tea plantations to the Victorian resort of Darjeeling.

Step back in time at the impossibly charming Glenburn Tea Estate, which boasts bedroom views of the spellbinding Kanchenjunga. Vast ethnic diversity has continued to fracture these fragile lands that border Tibet. Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. However, here you will find the world’s most ancient forests, tribal culture and mountains blanketed in rainbow-hued flora. Go walking in the alpine forest of Sikkim or travel to Nagaland to see the Hornbill Festival with a stay at the TUTC. In Assam, go in pursuit of the one-horned rhino in Kaziranga National Park while staying at the charming Diphlu River Lodge. Bihar and Jharkhand dominate the eastern Ganges basin, and are replete with spiritual sites, for this is the birthplace of Buddhism and home to the Jain site of Parasnath Hill. Head to the monument-strewn beaches of Odisha, and Puri – home to the vast Jagannath temple.

Jagannath Temple

Jagannath Temple

The south – a peninsula where the arid plains of the Deccan Plateau are guarded by the undulating Eastern and Western Ghats – then gives way to the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. An abundance of rugged shoreline, temple towns, ancient relics, palm-fringed backwaters, aromatic spice gardens and steamy hinterlands are where you will find a gentler pace of life. Andhra Pradesh (and Telangana) is the land of the Nizams.

Begin with the atmospheric city of Hyderabad and stay at the ethereal Taj Falaknuma – one of the world’s most ornate palace hotels. Discover the mosques, mausoleums and medieval forts of the erstwhile royals before heading to the kitsch coastal town of Visakhapatnam for a seaside stay at the vibrant Park Hotel. Karnataka is a cradle of stone architecture, fabled cities and empires of old. Uncover the magical ruins and relics of Hassan, Belur and Halebid, and do take time for Hampi, the legendary Vijayanagara capital.

This summer saw the opening of the new Orange County hotel which celebrates the pomp and pageantry of these former dynasties. Fly into the garden state of Bangalore and enjoy the cooler climes at the sumptuous Leela Hotel before heading to the flower markets of Mysuru (Mysore) and beyond to the verdant forests of Nagahole where the wild elephants roam. Go deeper into the deciduous rain forests of the Western Ghats staying at glass-fronted Vivanta by Taj. Madikeri. End with the hippie beach-haunt of Gokarna staying at the simple yet serene yoga resort, Swaswara.

Hotel SwaSwara

Hotel SwaSwara

Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh provide the transition where the Hindi-speaking north gives way to the distinctive southern states of Kerala and the Dravidian heartland of Tamil Nadu. Ancient pilgrimage routes map out vibrant temple towns where the garish gods and goddesses dance across the gopurams (towers) that soar above the tropical canopies. Start with Chennai, the gentleseaside capital, and stay at The ITC Grand Cholawith its award-winning cuisine. Or enjoy the luxury Leela Hotel with its panoramic sea views. Escape the heat up in the Nilgiris at the quaint hill stations of Ooty and Kodaikanal, or take a sojourn at the once French colony of Pondicherry, a delightful melange of Indian and French culture. Stay at the elegant CGH Earth Palais de Mahe or the delectable La villa.

A visit to Chettinad provides another distinctive flavour with its opulent mansions and spicy cuisine. Thisyear saw the opening of Svatma, a restored, traditional, century-old family mansion and the first luxury offering in Tanjavur. The sultry Western Ghats rise in the east, and a multitude of rivers, canals and waterways crisscross through the hill stations, coconut groves and spice gardens down to the hungry Arabian sea. This is God’s own country. Kerala. Watch the fishing boats go by at the Brunton Boartyard, or dine at the eclectic Malabar House, in the historic state capital Fort Cochin – a heady mix of Keralan, Portuguese. British and Jewish culture.

Travel to the rustic retreat of Shalimar Spice Garden in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary before heading to the spice plantations of Munnar and the Windermere Estate. Discover the backwaters aboard the luxury Oberoi MV Vrinda for a taste of decadence as you watch the world go by. The abundance of beaches provides endless Ayurvedic spas and beach resorts – from the northern tip with its virgin backwaters and the dreamy Neeleshwar Hermitage – to the wide expanse of Marari Beach and the southern beaches of Thirumullavaram and Kovalam. Stay at Niraamaya Retreats Surya Samudra, and watch the sun sink slowly into the ocean.

Discover The Wonders Of Northern India

The north of India offers some of the most extraordinary diversity, from lofty Himalayan peaks, to the scorched desert plains of Rajasthan below. Enter ‘Paradise on Earth’, immortalised by the Sufi poet Amir Khusro, and visit Ladakh, the rugged mountain land of the Buddhists. Stay at The Ultimate Travelling Camp, Diskit, the latest luxe outpost in the Nubra Valley, truly at the edge of the world. For a gentler trek head to Himachal Pradesh, dense with fragrant pine forest, rhododendrons and apple orchards.India-Udaipur-Pichola-Lake-

Experience the summer capital of the Raj by staying at The Oberoi Cecil, Shimla or see the sweeping forest vistas from the grand WiIdflower Hall.

Next year sees the Taj Hotels’ opening just outside Shimla. This season Punjab is firmly on the map with the opening of Vivanta by Taj in Amritsar, home of the legendary Golden Temple. Meanwhile, state capital and modernist masterpiece Chandigarh will see The Oberoi Sukhvilasopen in the beautiful Siswan Forest Range.

Uttarakhand is the birthplace of the godly Ganges, many an ashram, and hallowed pilgrimage sites. Spend time at the peaceful Ananda spa, and nourish your mind, body and soul, or wander the holy holiday towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar. Corbett Tiger Reserve is only six hours from Delhi and has recently seen the openings of The Gateway Resort Corbett on the banks of the River Kosi, along with hotly anticipated Park Hotel. The historic capital of New Delhi offers a visually harmonious view of India’s extraordinary past, through its diverse architecture, monuments, bazaars and gardens.

Taj Mahal, India

Taj Mahal, India

Stay at The Imperial for a taste of art deco-dence or at The Taj Mahal Hotel located in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi Leave the sprawling city behind and find an oasis of calm at The ITC Grand Bharat, a sprawling spa-retreat with first-class golf courses. The neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh is home to some of the most mythical cities in India – Agra with the dreamlike Taj Mahal, the world’s greatest monument to love, the ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri. Lucknow. Buddha’s Samath and the holiest of cities – Varanasi.

Indian Luxury Rooms With A View

Experience the unbeatable combination of Greaves’ award winning service, in depth knowledge and the style and luxury of the Taj Grand Palace Hotels. Enjoy a selection of sumptuous tours, including the legendary Taj Lake Palace Hotel, voted the best hotel in Asia by Traveller’s readers, but for a fraction of the usual price. Staying in Taj’s authentic Palace Hotels will immerse you in the decadence and heritage of a bygone era as you journey through historic Rajasthan. Prices from £2899pp for 8 nights inclusive of BA flights. Additional savings can also be made by pampering yourself in the renowned Jiva spas and dining at the Grand Palaces.

ITC Hotels: Exporing India Through Luxury

ITC Hotels, in association with The Luxury Collection, offers 11 unique properties across lndia, each inspired by the history and culture of the region in which they are located. These are opulent residences with roots: every hotel celebrates India through its warm hospitality architecture and cuisine while upholding the highest standards of sustainability.

The Golden Triangle – Begin amid the intoxicating sights, sounds and smells of New Delhi before retreating to ITC Maurya. Its instantly recognisable stupa design pays tribute to the Mauryan dynasty plus its home to Bukhara and Dum Bukht, two of the country’s most sought-after restaurants. Next stop Agra and the Taj Mahal, where ITC Mughal offers a regal welcome. Winner of the Aga Khan Award for its representation of Mughal architecture, this is a retreat in the truest sense of the word. A must-visit on any Rajasthani journey is the pink city of Jaipur home to palaces, forts and bazaars. Here, ITC Rajput ana, designed to echo the regions havelis, embraces the spirit of royal Rajasthan. To complete the Golden Triangle with ITC Hotels, check into ITC Grand Bharat back in New Delhi, India’s first all-suite luxury retreat. In an idyllic spot, it offers luxury creative cuisine, a vast spa and a 27-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.

Complex-Hindu-New-Delhi-India

New Delhi

Southern splendor – Beyond the Golden Triangle, ITC Hotels brings other parts of India alive. In southern India, ITC Grand Chola is a landmark in Chennai from which you can stroll Marina Beach, soak up the sights and sounds of the city before retreating for rejuvination at the spa. Travel on to Bangalore and check-in at either ITC Gardenia (inspired by the city’s flourishing gardens) or aristocratic ITC Windsor. Sign off your southern sojourn in Hyderabad with a stay at ITC Kakatiya overlooking Hussain Sagar Lake.

Bright lights, big cities – For those heading to either Mumbai or Kolkata, ITC Hotels has properties in both. There’s the vintage ITC Maratha or super-stylish ITC Grand Central for anyone Mumbai-bound and Kolkata is home to ITC Sonar; India’s first business resort, nestled amid a million trees.

Southeast Asia: Nature, Culture, Wilderness

Dwarfed below the shimmering branches of Singapore’s solar-powered supertrees, it feels a little like you’ve been catapulted into the next century. The towering trunks may look more like terrifying triffids than twinkling Christmas trees, but there was a festive market in full swing, despite the electrical storm crackling above the seasonal carols. Even Santa would be hard-pressed to think of a much more enthralling destination for Christmas shopping than Chinatown or the designer stores of the ‘Garden City’s’ famous Orchard Road. The city’s night skyline ablaze with colourful lights is just as sensational from the sea, as I discovered when I joined an n-night round-trip cruise on board the Sapphire Princess.

asia

The ship’s first country of call is Brunei, where a group of us chow down sticky-rice treats wrapped in banana leaves at a local home on stilts in Kampong Ayer, the world’s largest water village. In Vietnam’s beach town Nha Trang, I swap the chance to explore palm-fringed Tran Phu Street solo or flop on a sun lounger in the sand, for a half-day tour that includes visiting the 79-foot-tall Buddha at Long Son Pagoda and chaotic, crowded Cho Dam Market. It was similarly hectic in Saigon, where locals pay scant attention to red traffic lights and everything from chickens to pigs is balanced precariously on two wheels, as swarms of scooters speed through the streets. On board, many of the dishes (even the pizzas) were given a spicy Asian twist.

The specialty restaurants – Sterling Steakhouse, with its succulent surf and turf, and Sabatini’s Italian – were excellent and well worth paying extra for. And, for a special occasion, splash out on a night at the Chef’s Table, where you get a backstage peek at the bustling ship kitchens before a grand dinner: porcini mushroom risotto, mustard-coated fillet of beef and bittersweet chocolate mousse.

Sterling Steakhouse Restaurant

Sterling Steakhouse Restaurant

Four at-sea days meant plenty of time for a much-needed massage at the adult-only Sanctuary, where stewards were on hand with chilled face towels and frozen cocktails (more active passengers managed to summon up the strength to play basketball in the sweltering sunshine). Evening entertainment proved particularly lively, from acrobatic displays and Champagne fountain parties in the glitzy piazza to poolside family entertainment at Movies Under the Stars, where snacking on popcorn and ice-cream while watching the latest film blockbusters in the balmy open air was sheer bliss.