Travel

Lake Geneva Can Be Dramatically Beautiful This Time Of The Year

Surrounded by vineyards, storybook castles and cathedrals, with magnificent views of the Swiss Alps, Lake Geneva is for the dreamy traveller in us. The lake is shared between Switzerland and France, and is dotted with picturesque towns of Lausanne, Montreux, Nyon, Evian, among several others.

EXPLORE

Watch out for the most stunning scenery as you cruise the lake on a luxury boat from the Eelle Epoque era. See the lake changing its colour, or be witness to the occasional ocean-like moments with surf and waves. The most beautiful stretch on the Lake Geneva cruise is between Lausanne and Montreux, where the Alps form a constant backdrop and the Lavaux vineyards are seen on the northern shores.

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CHOOSE YOUR CRUISE

Lake Geneva caters to all travellers. Go for a day-long trip on a luxury boat, or hop on a regular ferry and explore the nearest port city. Compagnie Generale de Navigation is the most popular company in the area, and offers rides on various routes. It is also the only company that is allowed to drop off passengers at ports other than original boarding port. You can rent a kayak, yacht, windsurfer, pedalo pedal boat or power boat from major cities and explore the waters of Lake Geneva at your own pace.

WAYS TO SAVE

Try and plan your trip during the day when most of the companies offer cheaper deals. If taking your family along, ask for the family day tickets at ticket windows or buy them online. They are not well advertised, but save a great amount of money. Also, a same-day return ticket saves you around is per cent over buying two single tickets.

Beluga Expeditions: The Ultimate Game Fishing, Diving & Yachting Experience

The gleaming white mother ship seems to hover over the translucent waters of the Great Barrier Reef, a beacon of refinement for the exhausted and happy anglers aboard the game boats. It’s been another extraordinary day of marlin fishing on two of Australia’s most technologically advanced game fishing vessels. Now it’s time to return to Beluga for G&Ts, a chef-prepared dinner and a good night’s rest in five spacious cabins.

The European style of service on the decks of the mother ship contrasts with the easy camaraderie among Zulu and Levante’s experienced fishing crew. Captain Bob and his crew are polished despite being barefoot, asking if we’d like drinks or a dip in the on-deck Jacuzzi. If ever there has been a way to go heavy-tackle fishing in style, Beluga Expeditions is it. The concept of mother shipping – using a superyacht as a base while exploring, diving or fishing by day from the game boats – has never been done at such a level in Australian waters. The three vessels complement one another, providing both action at sea and a sophisticated retreat.

Beluga-Expeditions

The fleet is based out of Reef Marina at Port Douglas, but it’s rare to see the fleet in one place for long. This world wonder gives guests access to some of the most exciting dive, snorkelling and fishing sites, and free reign to enjoy her many toys, including jet skis and a mini-submarine. The Kimberley, the islands of Indonesia, Lord Howe Island and New Zealand are all among her possible destinations. A private charter aboard Beluga is all about the experience; she represents access to some of the world’s finest on-sea adventures without compromising on privacy, service or refinement. And for those days when you’re not feeling too adventurous, there’s always the Jacuzzi.

Abeking & Rasmussen Yacht: A Dream Come True For An Extreme-Sports Fanatic

Cloudbreak’s name says it all. The 72.5-metre motor yacht was named after a renowned Fiji surf spot that has some of the most challenging waves in the world. The owner is a surfing and heli-skiing enthusiast with an adventurous spirit. His dream? To own a global cruising yacht that could access remote parts of the world inaccessible to others.abeking-and-rasmussen

Built in 2016 by Abeking & Rasmussen with interior design by Christian Liaigre and exterior styling by Espen Oeino, the ship reflects the owner’s desire for German quality French interiors and a masculine exterior design. Envisioned as a high-tech floating ‘chalet’ the yacht has five comfortable guest cabins, cabins for the heli-pilot deck master suite. The layout and fresh decor won a 2017 Show Boats Design Award for Best Interior & Design. It has a fireplace lounge for warming up after a ski or diving adventure and an expansive Winter Garden with lounge, bar and dining area that can be enclosed in glass, allowing guests to take in the often spectacular views no matter what the weather’s doing.

The challenge for the designers was to create a cosy interior without the use of too much dark timber. Instead, a soft colour palette and tinted brushed pine meets the youthful, sporty brief. A superyacht helideck for the owner’s Bell 429 Global Ranger enables easy access to the world’s best slopes and surf breaks, and a quick return at day’s end. The owner wanted to be able to land on the deck and head straight into a warm and comfortable lounge to watch the GoPro videos he and his guests had made during another action-packed day.

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There’s a large collection of water toys, including rugged tenders that launch straight off the main deck for safety in rough waters. Extreme sports may be exciting, but the yacht also has plenty of capacity for fun on board. A sound system, complete with DJ station, and sophisticated laser lighting makes this yacht party ready. Keeping fit between adventures is important, of course, so there’s a high-tech gym, sauna and chilled plunge pool with easy access from guest cabins via the engine room.

Hoshino Resorts: An Oasis Of Culture In Bali

Ubud’s rice paddies and peaceful forests may have given way to a Kuta-like sprawl of shops and eateries on the main road, but the Ubud of my memories comes back into focus when we drive through the gates of HOSHINOYA Bali to find a serene sanctuary set in a lush green valley. An ancient water canal runs through the resort, surrounding you with the soothing sounds of flowing water as you dine or recline with the valley at your feet. Three stunning canal-like pools stretch from one end of the three-hectare resort to the other. Echoing the river valleys of the region, water gardens in and around the 70-metre pools create natural oases woven seamlessly in and around the 30 villas.

Hoshino-Resorts

Architect Rie Azuma and landscape designer Hiroki Hasegawa spent considerable time researching Balinese culture, and have managed to merge Balinese traditions and Japanese minimalism with finesse. Marble and teak come together in perfect harmony inside each refined villa. A backlit Balinese wood carving covers the entire wall behind the beds (two single mattresses on a timber platform – Japanese style). And while the bathroom is distinctly Japanese (the toilet is seriously high-tech), vast sliding doors open from the bedroom to reveal a private tropical garden courtyard with a daybed under its own thatched gazebo -all very Bali. Outdoor stairs lead from the courtyard down to a private poolside retreat complete with daybeds, towels, robes and a shower – and a phone to dial room service.

Sacred waters – The three-hour time difference means I sink into a blissful slumber minutes after returning from dinner (Indonesian chicken cooked in a banana leaf served tableside with an assortment of tasty condiments), but I’m awake and ready for the day to begin the next morning at 4am – and a pre-dawn dip is calling. The water is balmy, despite the cool of night, and as I drift up and down the peaceful canal gazing up at the starlit sky, I relish the unhurried solitude.

Temple In Ubud

Temple In Ubud

By 6am I’m relaxing on the villa’s outdoor daybed, the scent of incense-laden offerings already in the air and the haunting sound of prayers being chanted at nearby temples drifting my way. After a relaxing yoga session and divine Japanese breakfast I’m immersed in Ubud’s spiritual side on a day tour of World Heritage-listed temples and sights. A highlight is Tirta Empul, an ancient water temple built around a natural spring. Here, you can join locals as they bathe in the pristine holy waters. My guide encourages me to close my eyes and ask the gods for what I want more of in my life. A little more of this would be nice; it’s profoundly calming.

Back at the resort, I’m keen to try out one of the seven birdcage-like gazebos perched in the trees. I settle into a daybed, press a button and order Champagne, which arrives with a skewer of tropical fruits – just the thing to whet my appetite for a degustation dinner of incredible Indo-Japanese fare. There’s another treat in store the next day. Deep in the forested valley lies the resort spa. Each treatment suite has its own Jacuzzi, strewn with flowers and just the thing to ease the last of your worries away after a massage, scrub and mud-wrap straight from heaven.

Discover Australia’s Most Luxurious Sky Lodge

If my fairy godmother could grant me just one wish with a wave of her wand, it would be to transform my skiing in a flash. In just 48 hours at the luxurious Astra Lodge, Falls Creek, my wish was granted. Named Australia’s Best Ski Boutique Hotel at the 2016 World Ski Awards in Kitzbuhel, the ski-in, ski-out lodge casts its own spell. In three years of staggered renovations, owners Seumas Dawes and Rosy Seaton have created a magical mountain retreat. It has a European alpine feel complete with roaring fire, leather, timber, stone and stylish soft furnishings. A discreet stag motif canters across cushions and hide rugs are scattered on the floor.

Poetry in motion – Installed next to the new state-of-the-art ski and boot room is the workshop of Adalbert Leibetseder, a legend in the industry. His Skimetric academy and bespoke equipment work miracles, and in Australia he works exclusively at Astra Lodge. His client list includes the world’s fastest ski racers (who between them have almost 60 world and Olympic medals), the theory being that, no matter how good a skier you are, if your equipment doesn’t work in harmony with your physiology then your skiing will suffer.

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Adalbert’s alchemy is created by a unique combination of circumstances: a father who was a shoemaker, a lifetime spent on skis, and experience developing high-end ski equipment. Add to this advice from a panel of medical experts and a perfectionist’s eye for detail and you have the formula that helps Adalbert turn leaden skiers into gold.

To transform my boots Bert takes measurements to build a 3D picture of my foot. The machines are so intricate and the series of tests and measurements so precise that I feel I’m about to be sent on a mission to Mars instead of down a blue run. Nobody has ever cared as much about my turned-in knee or the position of my big toe. As it happens, the end result is indeed out of this world. First I go out skiing with Bert so he can video my turns. It is early in the season and there is only one run open, but that’s all we need. As you’d expect from a former instructor and champion ski racer Adalbert is poetry in motion on skis. As for me? Well, suffice it to say I’m not.

Bert doesn’t judge; he merely records. He’s going to change it all anyway. After a few adjustments back at Astra Lodge I’m ready to try on my made-over boots. Already the results are astounding; my knock knees are gone, my legs perfectly aligned; even just standing in the workshop I look like more of a skier. Bert is such a perfectionist that he even designs the socks to go with the boots, lest a wrinkle in the wrong place or cold toes interfere with performance – and they are in fact the best socks I’ve ever worn.

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The best of everything – Relaxing in the hotel’s heated magnesium mineral pool later that evening I reflect on the fact that Bert and the hotel owners have a lot in common: they too have thought of everything. From the snowdrift-soft pillows on my bed to the organic bath amenities, everything is top quality. Financier Dawes is used to the best and clearly thinks his guests deserve it too. The Italian restaurant is the best in Falls Creek and the newly opened premium wine cellar is stocked with some of Dawes’ own favourite ‘ski wines’ from Italy and the subalpine Tyrol, not to mention a bottle or two of Grange Hermitage. There’s also a library where you can curl up with a good book and a mountain view, as well as a spa with massage rooms, wet and dry saunas, nail bar and hairdressing service.

Montreux Riviera: Fabulous Adventures For 5 Star Foodies & Nature Lovers

It’s the Belle Epoque beauty of Lake Geneva with the legendary luxury hotels to match. Montreux and its Riviera, stretching from Lutry in the southwest to Villeneuve in the northeast, have long been destinations favoured by discerning travellers, with active summer visitors increasingly choosing to explore beyond the city. Lovers of fine wine should make for the vineyard terraces of Lavaux, a 20-minute drive from the city’s grandest hotel, Fairmont Le Montreux Palace. Lavaux is a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering 830 hectares and four different Appellations d’Origine Controlees. Meander among some of the 250 winemakers (and their cellar doors) on the 10.4-kilometre-long self-guided walk or take a private tour, such as a five-hour discovery with Swiss Riviera Wine Tours. Whichever option you select, Lavaux is a region to be savoured, dotted with traditional winemaking hamlets and panoramas stretching to the lake below.

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Wine on the water – Guests of the elegant Grand Hotel du Lac in nearby Vevey can even take the hotel’s electric Renault Twizy out for a day of exploration, accompanied by a gourmet picnic basket prepared by Michelin-starred chef Thomas Neeser. For a more glamorous (and high- powered) adventure, the hotel also offers the Riva Experience aboard a 1966 Super Florida out on the lake. Hotel des Trois Couronnes has been a favourite of sophisticated travellers to Vevey since the 19th century and is home of Michelin-starred chef Lionel Rodriguez.

Guests can take a more unusual gourmet expedition with the ‘Fish For Our Dinner’ experience. Hotel angler Patrice will show you his favourite fishing spots on Lake Geneva and share the best seafood found in its waters. The most famous attraction on the lake itself, however, is the 900-year-old Chateau de Chillon, with waters lapping at its stone foundations. It’s been a site of bloody politics, a 16th-century prison and inspiration for literary giants; Lord Byron and Henry James both immortalised the chateau in their works. Now, Switzerland’s most visited castle plays host to wine-lovers from around the world. Tasting the chateau’s own Grand Cru, stored in 40 oak barrels in its underground cellar, is the perfect way to finish a guided tour. The Verree Vaudoise, as it’s known, is held in the specially redesigned Castellan’s Hall, lending a particularly stately air to this sophisticated wine tasting adventure.

Cheese and chocolate – The Montreux Riviera is also the perfect place to experience Switzerland’s stunning scenery at the foot of the Alps. Hiking and mountain climbing are accessible from the lakeside towns via funiculars and trains, with Rochers-de-Naye one of the best destinations for nature-lovers. Climb to 1600 metres above sea level aboard the rack railway train and soak up the views stretching over the lake and to the Alps, where the cragged peak of the Dents du Midi (‘Teeth of Noon’) pierce the sky. You’ll find chocolate-box Switzerland in Gruyere, a region of rolling hills and wooden chalet villages about half-an-hour’s drive from the lake.

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This region is renowned for cheese, particularly the namesake Gruyeres, which you can sample during a two-hour self-guided dairy hike between Pringy and Moleson-Village. It winds below the mountaintop hamlet, guarded by the 13th-century Chateau de Gruyeres, from dairy to dairy. Cheesemakers, such as the Murith family of La Ferme du Bourgoz B&B, share their craft with visitors in tranquil pastures where cows graze in the sun. The region’s most spectacular views are found at the summit of Teysachaux, the reward for a 9.5-kilometre hike between Le Moleson and Les Paccots. Follow the idyllic descent through woodlands and flourishing meadows, then treat yourself to a multi-course dinner at La Pinte des Mossettes, one of Switzerland’s newest Michelin-starred restaurants. French chef Romain Paillereau contrasts the rustic surrounds of his traditional chalet with refined dishes inspired by international flavours.

For more adventures around Montreux, take the Golden Pass train to air ballooning hot-spot Chateau D’CEx, or take the Chocolate Train to Broc via Gruyeres. Broc is where you’ll find Maison Cailler-Nestle, the home of Switzerland’s oldest chocolate brand. Take a tour of the elegant headquarters or settle in with a creative chocolate-making class in the Atelier du Chocolat. At every turn, the Montreux region and beyond balances modernity and five-star refinement with handcrafted tradition and rustic appeal. For all its grand hotels and exquisite cuisine, however, it is rediscovering nature that is the greatest luxury in Switzerland.

Explore The Mystical Marquesas Islands At The Far Ends Of The Earth

I’m alone in an ancient world on one of the most isolated scraps of land on earth. All I can hear, as I follow a narrow mud path through densely thicketed jungle, is the steady dripping of water on leaves from an overnight rain squall, and my own heartbeat. Every other noise – birds, wildlife, insects – is muffled by the thick foliage all around. Suddenly, there’s a deafening blast of sound. I stop dead in my tracks. I can feel my skin prickle. There’s a moment of profound silence, followed by a high-pitched wailing. I start walking again, rather more briskly this time. As I round a bend in the track, all becomes clear. I’m face-to-face with a bare-chested, heavily tattooed warrior in a necklace of bones and a woven grass skirt, holding a massive conch shell. A beautiful young woman stands next to him, similarly dressed in grass, singing in an eerie, otherworldly voice.

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Happily, these locals are friendly, and this is their traditional welcome to one of the most sacred sites on the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia: an ancient stone platform with amazing rock art beneath a 400-year-old banyan tree. We’re on Nuku Hiva, one of the six inhabited islands of the Marquesas, among the most remote land masses on the globe, sitting in the South Pacific 1400 kilometres northeast of Tahiti and 4800 kilometres west of Mexico. There’s a shout and below us other men, similarly attired, and with their faces painted in myriad complex designs, start dancing a Marquesan haka to a hypnotic drumbeat and the background crooning of women. As the music washes over us and the men leap and gyrate, it’s impossible not to become enchanted by this glimpse into a world as foreign to a 21st-century traveller as it would have been to the first Spanish explorers who arrived in 1595.

The stuff of legend – The Marquesas have long been the stuff of legend, principally because of their isolation, sheer inaccessibility and tales of their fierce, cannibalistic inhabitants. Yet while the islands are still far off the beaten track, with rugged mountains crashing down onto white beaches, the populace couldn’t be friendlier – or more eager to introduce visitors to their vibrant culture. Painter Paul Gauguin loved it here and is buried on the island, close to ‘60s singer, songwriter and actor Jacques Brel. Kon-Tiki explorer Thor Heyerdahl also chose these islands for his biggest adventure, while Moby-Dickauthor Herman Melville lived here, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote In the South Seas about his visit and Brokeback Mountain screenwriter Larry McMurtry penned Paradise, a memoir about his voyage on a freighter to the islands.

Life on board a luxury freighter – Tellingly, a freighter is still the best way to reach the Marquesas, but these days it’s much more comfortable. The new ship Aranui 5 is half-freighter, half-cruise ship, delivering vital supplies to the locals at the same time as transporting a maximum of 240 guests to an area of the world that’s simply fascinating. The 14-day round-trip voyage, with its crew of muscular, traditionally tattooed Marquesans, is just as exciting as the destination. Each cabin is smart and spacious, with flat-screen TVs, a huge amount of storage and generous outdoor balconies.

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All meals are served in the dining room, from the buffet breakfasts to the three-course French bistro-style lunches and dinners, all served with French wine. The accent is Polynesian: poisson cru (raw fish) is one of the house specialties, and one evening is taken up by a grand Polynesian dinner. There are two main bars on the ship and a pool that gets very little use. And no wonder – there are so many opportunities to swim off the Marquesas’ glorious beaches, there’s little need for an onboard dip.

Ships And Models: Explore The Portuguese Beauty

Portugal’s sun-drenched Douro Valley is one of the most in-demand river cruising destinations in Europe. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed terraced vineyards that are carved into the hillsides form one of the oldest winemaking regions in the world, producing exquisite ports, as well as unfortified red and white wines. To cruise the river between Porto and Vega Terron, just over the Spanish side of the border, is to cruise through a region that is seemingly untouched by the vagaries of modern life.

Portugal

While traditional ways prevail on land, it is a different approach on the water, demonstrated by the two newest ships to arrive on the river. Douro Serenity and Douro Elegance are representative of the future. Their design has more in common with sleek superyachts than it does with the river ships of old, favouring an edgy steel-grey colour scheme. The two newest members of the Douro Azul fleet made their debut with flair in March. Portuguese society feted the double arrival with a firework-studded gala on the golden river, with two dazzling godmothers to christen the two new five-star hotel ships. Douro Elegance was welcomed by British singer-songwriter Joss Stone, while Douro Serenity made her debut with Sara Sampaio.

As a Victoria’s Secret Angel and the most famous Portuguese supermodel on the international catwalk, Sara was a natural fit to represent Douro Serenity. Both are modern beauties that showcase the best of Portugal, while holding its traditions close. Sara returned to her hometown for the event with her boyfriend, English tech millionaire Oliver Ripley. “She was born in Porto, [now] she is a global fashion personality, and the godmothers are chosen for their international recognition,” says Mario Ferreira, president of the company. “In fact, that’s why four years ago, I invited Sharon Stone and Andie MacDowell to be godmothers of the Amavida and Queen Isabel ships.”

Portugal

Ferreira, who founded Douro Azul 25 years ago, shared his vision for the company with the crowd of 200, announcing his goal to “reach new regions of the globe”. The two new ships represented an investment of €26 million (AU$39 million), with Ferreira emphasising that they were “built in Portugal and by Portuguese”. Douro Azul is now the leading cruise line on the river, and was named Europe’s Leading River Cruise Company at the 2016 World Travel Awards. With the arrival of Douro Serenity and Douro Elegance, there are now nine hotel ships in the fleet. The two new sisters each accommodate up to 126 guests across three decks, offering attentive service with a ratio of three crew members per passenger.

Throughout their voyage, passengers can soak up the panoramas of the river and the vineyards from the Bar Lounge, do a lap or two in the top-deck outdoor swimming pool, or indulge in a rejuvenating treatment at the spa on the main deck. Cuisine is also at the heart of the Douro Azul experience, with the main restaurant serving up extensive buffet breakfasts, lunches and sumptuous four-course dinners showcasing international, Mediterranean or Portuguese specialities.

Seabourn Odyssey: An Unforgettable Cruise Experience

Although I’m a seasoned traveller, I have a confession to make: I had never been on a cruise. Partly because my parents liked to stay in hotels, but mainly because the idea of visiting a destination and being deposited in a touristy port has never appealed to me. I was that person who winced whenever someone asked if I’d ever been on a cruise. I had visions of being herded onto the ship in droves in a hurried, uncomfortable manner, staying in cramped quarters, eating from unappealing buffets, and being exposed to new levels of kitsch.

So, when I was invited to be part of an exclusive itinerary through the Greek Isles and Dalmatian Coast on the small luxury ship Seabourn Odyssey, I was willing to open my mind and find out exactly why cruising holds such appeal. My mother and I boarded in Athens, and were immediately impressed by the lack of crowds and the ship’s chic interior design. Seabourn Odyssey accommodates 458 guests in 229 luxury suites (and a crew of 330) – not too big, not too small.

After a quick lunch on deck, our Veranda Suite was ready. The 28-square-metre cabin was like a luxury hotel room: king-sized bed with Egyptian cotton linens, living area with desk and sofa, flat-screen TV, walk-in wardrobe, and bathroom with a shower and full-sized bathtub. Our personal suite stewardess presented us with a choice of bath amenities: Hermes, Molton Brown and L’Occitane. Throughout our stay, our stewardess would learn our preferences, including Mum’s penchant for gourmet nuts and my favourite fruits, which were replenished each day.

Understanding the appeal – What I enjoyed most about the cruise was that we go could at our own pace. We enjoyed pre-scheduled tours at each port, including a tour of a Greek olive oil farm. We could choose nightly which restaurants we wanted to dine in, from celebrity chef Thomas Keller’s The Grill to the more formal Restaurant, and even the 24-hour room service. No massive midnight buffets; just lovely dining experiences night after night. The spa was spectacular and one you’d see in a five-star hotel. The nightly entertainment was fun, from comedy shows to musical performances, and there was even a small casino.

Seabourn-Odyssey

Many of the people we met on the ship were seasoned travellers who repeatedly booked Seabourn because of its consistency in service and diverse choice of itineraries. By the time we reached Venice, having visited many charming towns in Greece and Croatia on the way, we understood the appeal of small luxury cruising. It’s highly attractive for people who don’t have much time but want to see a lot of interesting places, only unpacking once. We found ourselves feeling sad to say goodbye to our favourite crew members, but are planning another Seabourn adventure soon, possibly to Alaska. While the destination may be new, we know that Seabourn Odyssey is sure to feel like a home away from home.

Discover The Harsh Beauty & Wildlife Of Antarctica

The Russian research vessel upon which I am about to set sail is tiny compared with most of the ships that take tourists from the Argentinian town of Ushuaia down to the Antarctic Continent. It carries just 95 passengers rather than the thousands the bigger ships can accommodate, but being small can be an advantage. The Akademik Ioffe can enter narrow harbours and navigate shallow waters, facilitating visits to places those on bigger cruise liners will never get to see. I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. And so the Ioffe’s horn blows, and we pull away from the snowy peaks of Southern Argentina and head northeast to the Falkland Islands, a place of heathery hills, rainy weather, fish ‘n’ chips… and penguins.

antarctica

We visit albatross colonies and rockhopper, Magellanic and gentoo penguin rookeries, and historical sites where British and Argentinean forces fought in the 1980s. But most memorable is a stroll around the islands’ capital, Stanley. This tiny ‘town’ looks and feels like it’s been lifted from Scotland and placed here in the Subantarctic. The locals will tell you they are distinctly Falklander, but anyone who has been to the United Kingdom will get pangs of deja vu.

Shackleton and battling seals – From the Falklands, it takes us two days of sailing through infamous swells to reach our next destination – the isolated and frigid Islands of South Georgia – but it isn’t a boring voyage. Not at all. Akademik Ioffe is staffed with glaciologists, ornithologists, marine biologists and historians, and lectures throughout the day teach me about the exploits of explorer Ernest Shackleton and all manner of relevant topics, from how glaciers and icebergs are formed to why elephant seals can dive to more than 2000 metres and hold their breath for over an hour. And speaking of elephant seals… I see my first colony of them as we hop aboard the Zodiacs and land at Fortune Bay on South Georgia.

On a narrow beach, backed by massive black snow-capped mountains and cerulean-blue glaciers, hundreds of these giant behemoths (some measuring up to six metres long and weighing in at 4000 kilograms) have hauled themselves ashore to fight, fidget and flatulate. When two male elephant seals take umbrage with each other (usually over beach real estate and lady seals) it’s like watching a pair of mighty slugs sumo wrestling. There is much wailing and belching and gnashing of teeth, and it all looks a bit hectic. But for the most part, elephant seals are pretty chilled, and it is safe enough for me to walk among them and take photos.

antarctica

Just as distracting are the hundreds of thousands of king penguins that also live on this coastline. They cluster in unbelievable numbers, and sing their tuneless songs while making a fuss over their brown and downy chicks. Like most animals in the Antarctic, they are unafraid of humans, making them easy to approach. We spend a few additional days exploring, and taking kayak and Zodiac cruises among playful seals and dolphins. But the most fascinating place on the island is a dilapidated and rusty ex-whaling station called Grytviken. It’s the only place on this 4000-square-kilometre island where people live, but the population is only around 20 souls. There is a historical museum here which celebrates, commemorates and castigates the whaling industry that, before it was phased out in the 1970s and 80s, nearly sent many species into the abyss of extinction.

Out of this world – We set sail south down to the Antarctic Peninsula, where huge monolithic mountains of the blackest hues reach for the heavens and glaciers as tall as skyscrapers and as blue as sapphires crack and groan under their own enormous weight. There are gargantuan icebergs drifting here and there, whales breaching, ice shelves, snow drifts and penguins and seals galore; and all of this under the 24-hour sunshine of the Antarctic summer skies. I’m in awe of this massive, untouched place.

antarctica

On the last day, we take the Zodiacs out one last time and explore the drifting ice fields of Orne Harbour, a beautiful calm bay where whales and icebergs play. We find numerous predatory leopard seals and ‘flocks’ of porpoising penguins ‘flying’ through the crystal-clear waters like jet fighters. And then the clouds roll in and the light becomes surreal. Everything turns the colour of blueberry ice-cream – the snow, the mountains, and even the clouds. The weather is about to change, we’re told, and it’s time to head back to the Ioffe. And indeed it does. Within minutes, the serenity and cobalt colours are replaced by driving sleet and snow and icy winds, and we are reminded of how inhospitable and wild the Antarctic can truly be.