Travel

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Hawai’i – Off The Beaten Path

THE HAWAIIAN ISLANDS are places of epic and wild beauty that offer a plentiful range of off-the-beaten-path experiences. Hike to deserted beaches, hidden waterfalls and volcanic highlands, or go off-road touring in the remote backcountry. Help restore an ancient Hawaiian fishpond or take a walking tour of a historic town. Learn to take photos like a pro and night-dive with manta rays. Extraordinary adventures await across Hawai‘i.

O‘ahu – Backcountry Adventures

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Just a one-hour drive from Honolulu, O‘ahu’s North Shore is a world away of pristine mountains, valleys and forests. North Shore Ecotours (northshoreecotours.com) offers hiking adventures and an off-road driving tour on private conservations lands, providing guests with secluded access to O‘ahu’s natural beauty. Experience the island’s breathtaking natural terrain and vistas while learning about Hawai‘i’s exotic plants, culture and history — without the crowds.

WINDWARD COAST VOLUNTOURISM

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Makapuu Beach – Windward, Hawaii

Early Hawaiians employed an innovative aquaculture system of fishponds to catch, reproduce and raise fish. On the Windward Coast, nonprofit PAEPAE O HE‘E I A (paepaeoheeia.org) is dedicated to restoring HE‘EIA FISHPOND. Visitors are welcome to help with ongoing restoration work on Saturday Community Workdays (second and fourth Saturdays each month). Activities include invasive mangrove and seaweed removal, in addition to wall refurbishment. Private one hour Walking Tours are also available. Sign up for volunteer work and tours on the website.

Upcountry Maui

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Explore Maui’s paniolo (cowboy) heritage and lively arts traditions in MAKAWAO in Upcountry Maui. Browse the shops and art galleries; watch glass blowers, wood sculptors and painters at work; and visit Hui No‘eau Visual Arts Center, home to art classes and exhibits. Maui Friday Night Parties come to Makawao every third Friday of the month from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., with live music, great food, shopping and art, as well as kids activities. And don’t miss the Makawao Rodeo, held every Fourth of July.

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Slow-Rolling The San Juans

This archipelago off the coast of Washington offers ample opportunities for exploring nature — and they serve a pretty fine pizza too.

  1. Ansel in the House

Water is the theme of a photography show on view through Labor Day at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art in Friday Harbor; it includes work from Ansel Adams, Dorothy Kerper Monnelly and underwater photographer Ernest H. Brooks II.

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Museum of Art in Friday Harbor – San Juan, Washington

Titled “Fragile Waters,” it calls attention to this critical resource through 117 black-and-white photographs that capture the grandeur of water in nature.

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  1. Making a Splash

Following years of population stagnation and decline, two of the pods of orcas that call the San Juans home experienced a baby boom this past year, producing nine new calves. The best spot to see the whales and their little ones from shore: Lime Kiln Point State Park, on the west side of San Juan Island.

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Whale watching in Lime Kiln Point State

If you time it right, you can picnic while watching the dorsal fins of the entire brood glide past.

  1. Farm to Pizza

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    Pizza at Hogstone’s Wood Oven – San Juan

Naples has nothing on Hogstone’s Wood Oven, a roadhouse style spot in Eastsound, the biggest village on Orcas Island. The dough is thin and crispy; the sauce is tart and tangy. Chef Jay Blackinton sources many of his ingredients from a nearby farm — and he was recently nominated for Rising Star/Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation. Pizzas run from $10 to $25. hogstone.com

  1. The Shape of Things

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    Stir’d Up:
    A 1200 lb gorgeous life size running stallion
    by Jason Napier (Installed May 2015) – San Juan Islands Sculpture Park

Allow a few hours to explore the San Juan Islands Sculpture Park, an eclectic installation that spans 20 acres on the north side of San Juan Island near Roche Harbor. The rotating collection includes more than 150 original pieces, mainly by Pacific Northwest sculptors. Along the five marked trails, poetry from a local laureate celebrates the beauty of nature. Suggested donation, $5. sjisculpturepark.com

  1. Getting Monumental

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    San Juan Islands National Monument

Dedicated in 2013, the San Juan Islands National Monument encompasses 1,000 acres across the archipelago. The easy 3-mile Iceberg Point trail, on the southwestern tip of Lopez Island, is a great introduction to the park. From rocky cliffs at the halfway point, you can spot the snow-capped Olympic Mountains across the Strait of Juan de Fuca and look for whales. Wildflowers are also plentiful in summer.

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Travel Icons… by the Back Door

From Great Wall to Grand Canyon – skip the queues and leave flag-waving tour guides in your dust with these alternative approaches to the world’s most-visited sites.

Bagan – Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar)

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Visitors Per Year: Around 2.1 million

Among the plains of central Burma lies ancient Bagan, the remains of a kingdom comprising some 2,000 Buddhist temples. Until recently, visitors were scarce but now the secret’s out…

Front Door: A fee (25,000MMK/£14.44) is charged upon entering the Bagan Archaeological Zone. Most visitors arrive via a short-hop flight at Bagan Nyaung U Airport. From there, the town of Nyaung U is a ten-minute taxi away, but the majority stay in the resorts scattered among the temples of Old Bagan.

Back Door: Stay in Nyaung U for more of a local feel; it’s also not far from the Irrawaddy River, so end your day with a quiet cruise. Rent an E-bike to explore the temples of Old Bagan away from the tours, while hot-air balloon flights are also a good way to skip the crowds. Be sure to book at least a month in advance; it’s also worth paying extra for the smallest (four-person) basket. Bear in mind also that access to the upper levels of temples is now banned in all but five pagodas.

For the most popular temples (Dhammayangyi, Shwesandaw, Ananda), arrive just after sunrise. The tours leave shortly after the sun comes up and the touts are too drowsy to bother you. After, rent an E-bike and head into the plains to discover smaller sites such as the Nandapyinnya, near Minanthu village, which has some of the best-preserved wall paintings in Bagan and is usually empty.

Head down to the jetty in Nyaung U and hire a boat (from 150,000MMK/£9) to take you up the river to a pair of temples (Thetkyamuni and Kondawgyi) not easily accessed by land. Plan this as an afternoon excursion and you can spend the sunset on the Irrawaddy as well.

“Thisawadi (near New Bagan) is a quiet alternative to catch sunrise/sunset. There are several levels on the way up it, but the highest offers the best shots. This is also one of the few temples still open for visitors to ascend, but less popular than the likes of Shwesandaw.”

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7 Great Spots to See Orcas

  1. ANTARCTICA

Why it’s a hot spot: The Antarctic is a good feeding ground for orcas and it is estimated that half the world’s population (around 25,000) reside there. Tours circle the Antarctic Peninsula in search of dorsal fins cutting through waves, or to witness orcas crashing into icebergs to knock unsuspecting sea lions into the water where they can be devoured.

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Minke Whale founded in Antarctica

Where to see: Tours of the peninsula from Argentina’s Ushuaia are popular, with sightings of minke and humpback whales common. Trips from New Zealand to the Ross Sea in the eastern Antarctic are also rich with orcas.

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Ushuaia Peninsula – Argentina

When to go: February-March

  1. PENÍNSULA VALDÉS, ARGENTINA
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Why it’s a hot spot: Neither heavy in numbers nor easy to spot, the lure of Patagonia’s orcas is their sophisticated hunting technique. Witness the lobos (meaning wolves, a local nickname given to the area’s predatory orcas) gulp down sea lion pups after purposely beaching themselves at high tide in order to capture their prey.

Where to see: Viewings are mainly land-based, with the beaches of Caleta Valdes, Punta Delgada and Punta Norte all good viewing spots.

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Orca Whale Catching a Sea Lion Cub – Caleta Valdes

When to go: March-April (Punta Norte) and September-October (Punta Delgada and Caleta Valdes)

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3 Days in Anguilla

It’s all about the beaches — a whopping 33 of them — on an island that measures just 16 miles long and 3 miles across (at its widest point). That idyllic combination of sugarwhite sand and uber-blue water can be found wherever you go on Anguilla, but most visitors head to what’s considered one the world’s top beaches, Shoal Bay East. The island also takes top marks in cuisine — more than 100 restaurants offer everything from barbecue to haute dining — and boasts some of the Caribbean’s best-loved resorts.

Here’s how to spend 36 hours on this laid-back Leeward Island.

Day 1 – Hit The Beach

Pop by for a brioche and a strong espresso at Café de Paris near the West End Village.

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Then continue to the famed Shoal Bay East to stake out your slice of sandy heaven. (All Anguilla beaches have public access and are free.) This is one of the busiest beaches; daytrippers come via ferry from nearby St. Martin, and people flock to the restaurants and bars that line the shore. Not to worry: On this 2-mile stretch of sand, you’re bound to find a secluded spot.

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Shoal Bay East – Anguilla

Cocktail Hour

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Sunset Lounge – Viceroy Anguilla

Bid the day farewell — with a potent Painkiller in hand — at the aptly named Sunset Lounge at Viceroy Anguilla. Arrive on the early side to score a primo table at the open-air bar; you’ll be rewarded with a vivid red, yellow and orange Caribbean sky as the sun sinks into Barnes Bay.

Go Bar-Hopping

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Sandy Ground Village – Anguilla

Site of Anguilla’s main harbor, Sandy Ground is an easily walkable village filled with bars, restaurants and late-night music venues. Chill out at SandBar , which serves inventive (and affordable) tapas in a casual beachfront setting, or honor the island’s British heritage at Ripples, with English pub-style fare. Live music is a must-do here, and the quirkiest spot to see it is The Pumphouse, a former salt factory with wood walls and rafters lined with funky memorabilia. Bands take the stage every night, starting around 9:30, but Thursdays, this is the place to be.

Walk on the Wild Side

First-time visitors to Sabah, on the northern edge of the mystical island of Borneo, will be charmed by its capital city, seduced by its golden beaches… and captivated by its wildlife.

Metropolis Makeover

You know the hotel’s general manager is Aussie when there’s a jar of Vegemite perched on the Club Lounge breakfast bar.

“I like to look after our guests,” laughs Ballina-born Fiona Hagan, general manager of Le Méridien Kota Kinabalu hotel. She’s at the helm of Le Méridien’s 21st-century makeover. The makeover is symbolic of many subtle changes taking place in sleepy Kota Kinabalu, or KK as it’s universally called.

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A view from Le Méridien Kota Kinabalu hotel – Borneo

The old shopping centres in KK are being nudged along by the arrival of glamorous “newbies”, while sunset cocktail bars overlooking Tunku Abdul Rahman marine park’s five islands are also gaining traction. Over at the Hyatt Regency Kinabalu, the Tanjung Ria Kitchen is another first for the region, featuring cooking stations and house-made specialties, while Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa continues to rake in awards.

Golden sunsets bring out the locals who shop and eat at the bustling waterfront market or along Gaya Street, the city’s main artery. Gaya Street is a hub of kerbside cuisine for Sabahan families. New establishments have sprung up, such as Peppermint (offering Vietnamese fl avours), and the Seven Grains Café, which specializes in Ibérico pork. Be there on a Sunday and hawker stalls take over, turning Gaya into a pedestrian street market selling everything from puppies to pizza.

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Gaya Street Market – Borneo

KK runs at a leisurely pace and the popular waterfront market’s souvenir section – nestled between jungle medicines, dried fish, fresh vegetables and men at sewing machines doing alterations for just a few Aussie dollars – makes it a must-visit.

When asked, Fiona happily shares some of her Sabah secrets. “Chilli Vanilla is a hole-in-the-wall cafe/bakery where they make divine chocolate brownies and red velvet cakes. For seafood, I always recommend Alu Alu Café near Jesselton Point, which serves sustainable fish straight from the boat and is cooked in the local Chinese style.”

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Get in Gear

Cycling blends the best of slow-and fast-paced travel, and its popularity among travelers has grown rapidly in recent years. Accessibility is the key to its appeal: you don’t need to have the thighs of an athlete to have yourself a two-wheeled adventure, and some trips even offer e-bike alternatives. So whether you’re looking to pedal flat plains, conquer rolling hills or challenge yourself to some unforgiving mountainous terrain, there’s a bike trip out there for you.

  1. Peru – Accelerate Through the Andes

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    Chinchero Plateau

Pedal through colonial Cusco, the Sacsayhuaman ruins and the salt pans of the Chinchero Plateau with World Expeditions’ Cycle the Andes tour. Explore the Sacred Valley and the village of Calca before taking a ride out to see that most majestic of Incan mountain citadels, the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu.

Fitness level: Moderate to hard – lots of off-road cycling at high altitude

  1. Croatia – Grape Expectations
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Join KE Adventure Travel on its new Cycle the Wine Roads of Istria tour. Swap the beach-fringed peninsula for the area’s lesser-known green interior. Pedal Tuscan-like countryside pit-stopping at medieval Grožnjan, seaside Poreč and larger Rovinj – punctuate your journey with tipples from wine cellars en route.

Fitness level: Basic – 40km a day but at a leisurely pace on quiet country roads

  1. Spain – Pedal the Pilgrims’ Route
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Cycle the Camino de Santiago from León to Santiago de Compostela with Echelon. Cross Hospital de Órbigo’s bridge and pedal forests, mountains and villages between Molinaseca and Fervenza.

Fitness level: Moderate – daily climbs

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Cupid Lives Here

The Best Places for A Little Romance in Malaysia

Malaysia is a destination of endless possibilities, rich in hospitality, culture, food, history and natural heritage. It’s the perfect idyll for couples and honeymooners, from its picture-perfect beaches and sumptuous cuisine to amazing adventure and outdoor activities, not to mention some of the friendliest locals in Southeast Asia. Throw in a favorable exchange rate which makes it one of the best value-for-money destinations in Southeast Asia, and no one does affordable luxury better – leaving lots of spare change for celebratory Champagne. The perfect place for Cupid to take aim, here are our top romantic resorts in Malaysia.

The Majestic – Kuala Lumpur

A bedroom in The Majestic Hotel - Kuala Lumpur

A bedroom in The Majestic Hotel – Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, Kuala Lumpur offers up the bright lights and all the sophistication you’d expect. For a romantic getaway, take a break from the hustle and bustle by simply making your way to The Majestic. Regarded as one of the best colonial hotels in Southeast Asia, and the only heritage hotel in Kuala Lumpur, this iconic landmark offers couples a relaxing and luxurious oasis within the heart of the city’s busy downtown area.

Originally built in the 1930s, The Majestic has long been the venue of choice for glamorous social events and historical political meetings. Conveniently located in one of the city’s most intriguing and walkable neighborhoods, couples don’t have to go far to enjoy a romantic evening stroll. The hotel also stands opposite the grand 1910 railway station, and many of the city’s favorite tourist attractions are also close by, including the National Museum, National Mosque, Islamic Arts Museum, the Perdana Botanical Gardens (often referred to as Lake Gardens), and bird and butterfly parks. The Majestic also offers a “Leading Romance” experience, with highlights such as flowers and a bottle of Champagne in your suite on arrival, in-room butler service, and an indulgent two-hour “English Afternoon Tea” spa treatment at The Majestic Spa. It’s the ideal setting for a romantic rendezvous in every sense. majestickl.com

The Datai – Langkawi

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Situated on the mystical island of Langkawi, The Datai is the perfect getaway for couples seeking refuge from their busy lives. Nestled in the heart of an ancient rainforest and overlooking one of the world’s best beaches (as rated by National Geographic), The Datai is a captivating resort that blends smoothly with its surroundings. A stay here is not only guaranteed to reignite romance and passion with your loved one, it’s also a great opportunity to reconnect with nature.

As soon as you enter the resort, you’ll immediately understand why The Datai has won more than 80 awards, including the World Luxury Hotel Award 2014 and 2015. Every room, suite and villa embraces the beauty of the lush rainforest and offers unbeatable views of the breathtaking Andaman Sea. Sleek guest rooms are sophisticated, with tropical wood floors, shantung-silk wall panels and sprawling marble baths.

Throw in some award-winning dining options, an indulgent spa and a variety of amenities for your pleasure, and it will be hard to leave! For adventurous couples, there are plenty of inviting activities on offer nearby. Participate in an interactive Thai culinary cooking class paired with complementary wine, take a ride on Southeast Asia’s steepest cable car, meander along one of Langkawi’s breathtaking nature walks or unwind on a sunset cruise with your loved one. The Datai Langkawi is the epitome of a romantic tropical retreat. thedatai.com/Langkawi

Cameron Highlands Resort – Pahang

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Set amidst tea plantations at the highest point of Malaysia’s spectacular Titiwangsa mountain range, Cameron Highlands Resort embodies all the romance of Cameron Highlands’ grand colonial heritage. The boutique hideaway is surrounded by breathtaking scenery, lush greenery and Tudor-style cottages.

The resort features 56 beautifully appointed rooms and suites, and fronts Cameron Highlands’ 18-hole golf course. It also houses the third wellness centre of the award-winning Spa Village group, which offers exotic treatments focusing on the healing and restorative properties of tea. Endearingly known to some as the “little corner of England in Asia”, couples will enjoy all the character and charm of a region that has remained largely unchanged since colonial times, as well as its cool climate and fresh air.

With temperatures ranging between 15°C and 25°C, Cameron Highlands Resort is ideal to visit all year round. cameronhighlandsresort.com

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Resort Report

The coolest new hotels, trips and events around the globe.

St. Regis Style Comes to Langkawi

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Langkawi Island – Malaysia

Located off the west coast of Malaysia, the island of Langkawi is known as a jewel in the country’s tourism crown thanks to its natural beauty in which verdant, jungle-clad mountains and shimmering turquoise waters feature strongly. It’s already home to several well-known five-star resorts, but the opening of a prestigious St. Regis luxury resort in April this year is set to attract even more luxury-seeking travelers from around the globe.

With 85 suites and four water villas, each boasting a spectacular view of the Straits of Malacca, guests can expect the five-star luxury and bespoke services for which every St. Regis property is known, including British-trained personal butlers on hand around-the-clock. Incredible pampering treatments and specialty massages are available in the Spa Salon, while three restaurants and three bars will cater to every culinary and libationary whim. The resort’s signature bar also serves up the hotel group’s legendary Bloody Mary cocktail, born at the flagship St. Regis New York hotel in the early 1900s. stregis.com/Langkawi

Irish Eyes Are Smiling

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The Orient Express Train by Belmond

“It’s my experience that most folk who ride trains could care less where they’re going. For them it’s the journey itself and the people they meet along the way”. Author David Baldacci was writing about a train journey in the USA, but could just as well have been writing about the luxury train journeys offered by Belmond, the name behind the iconic Orient-Express. Renowned for its journeys through Europe and Thailand, plus the Royal Scotsman, which runs through the wilds of Scotland, Belmond has now launched its first train journeys in Ireland.

The only luxury train in Ireland, Belmond Grand Hibernian will offer a selection of journeys from Dublin for only 40 passengers in 20 en suite cabins. Visit Dublin, Belfast and Cork, and you can enjoy daily excursions such as a private tour of the Jameson Distillery, a tour of the Lakes of Killarney by pony and trap, a private tour of the Titanic Experience and a visit to the Old Bushmill’s Distillery. This is just a sample of the daily excursions on offer, which have been designed to suit a vast range of interests. The journeys are a unique opportunity to immerse in the fascinating historical, musical and literary history of this bewitching country. belmond.com

Classic Hollywood Charm

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Ivory Restaurant – The Mondrian Hotel, Los Angeles, U.S.A

LA’s hoteliers and restaurateurs must spend many a sleepless night thinking about how they can tap into the public’s eternal obsession with Hollywood. One of West Hollywood’s original luxury boutique hotels, the Mondrian on Sunset Boulevard, has recently opened the Ivory Restaurant. The 700msq-space takes full advantage of Mondrian LA’s classic setting and sweeping city views – and inspiration from Hollywood’s golden age. Delicious Californian cuisine from a menu designed by Chef Brian Malarkey; a selection of house-infused signature cocktails; a globally inspired, robust wine list; an oft-played grand piano and a relaxed-yet-refined ambience of lounge seating and varied indoor-and-outdoor dining options all combine to create a venue that’s a must-visit when in LA. With a glamorous and quintessentially “old Hollywood” vibe, the restaurant – and indeed the hotel – have wide appeal to locals and visitors alike, but as such, early bookings are essential. ivoryla.com

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Chrushing on Courchevel

We realised we weren’t in Kansas anymore when we skied to the door of Courchevel’s Annapurna Hôtel (annapurna-courchevel.com) for lunch. Instead of clumping through a crowded buffet leaving a trail of snow behind us, we were met by a lovely lady who explained we should take off our ski boots. We did.

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The Annapurna Hôtel

She then gave us slippers to put on and said she would heat up our boots while we ate. What? Really? We then quietly went through to the stylish restaurant, past the massive heated indoor pool, through the spectacular bar with coffee tables made of redwood slabs and a counter topped with gorgeous ice-like glass, and sat down at a table which had views looking up the impossibly pretty mountains. It was that easy. From the slope to fine dining – with accompanying wines – in minutes.

On the Slopes

Our lunchtime introduction set the tone for the rest of our stay in this luxurious resort. Courchevel is known for its five-and even six-star accommodation, its bounty of Michelin-starred restaurants and its high-end shopping. All of which, when added to the world-class ski and snowboard terrain, attracts A-list celebrities the likes of Posh and Becks, William and Kate, Giorgio Armani and Russian squillionaire, Roman Abramovich. Most celebrities will be found in Courchevel, which is the highest of the four villages making up the resort. It sits at 1,850 metres, with Courchevel Moriond at 1,650, Courchevel Village at 1,550 and Courchevel Le Praz at 1,300. All the villages are very cleverly designed, with most properties ski-in/ski-out, and it’s easy to ski to all of them.

We’re lucky enough to be at the legendary Le Chabichou (lechabichou.com), a Relais & Châteaux property with impeccable service, a two Michelin-star restaurant, huge spa and ski shop with young men who lay your skis out on the snow in the mornings and help you into your boots. We really could get used to this.

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Le Chabichou Hotel

As Courchevel is so huge, with 58 ski lifts, some 150 kilometres of terrain and 95 trails (or 96, depending on who you ask), we organise a guide/instructor for the morning. The lovely Francoise meets us and off we swoop into a world of white. We are almost speechless as we make our own tracks in fresh powder. We ski down to Courchevel Village then back up to the top of Chenus and down to the village of La Tania, which has spectacular runs through gorgeous forests of Nordic pines, spruce and fir.

My face hurts from smiling and I hear myself mumbling, “Oh wow” over and over again like a stuck record. Francoise keeps us moving with an “Allez, allez”, and we crisscross the valleys heading up La Tania gondola, up another two chairs and finally up the Saulire tram to take in the view. We alight at 2,730-odd metres and have the world at our feet.

We stop for a hot chocolate at the Panoramic Restaurant perched on the clifftop. It is absolute bliss. Francoise points out Mont Blanc, Aguille de Fruit and other peaks – the names mesmerising in her exquisite French accent. She also shows us the way to Méribel, the next resort over and part of the mind-boggling Les Trois Vallées – the biggest ski area in the world. The resorts of Courchevel, Méribel, Les Menuires, Saint Martin de Belleville and Val Thorens are all linked, and a 3 Vallées (les3vallees.com) lift ticket allows you to ski at all of them.

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The Mont Blanc Massif

Another “allez” and we’re off again, past a giant red gorilla that’s one of 10 animal sculptures that Parisian artist Richard Orlinski has created around the resort. They certainly make for good Instagram shots. We ski from the top of Saulire, down towards the steep and short airport runway where private jets and helicopters drop off the rich and famous, and venture up and over to Courchevel Moriond. Francoise waves au revoir as we hoon down a host of big, beautiful runs – our favourites being Chapelets and runs off the Pyramide t-bar.

Star Dining

As a reward for all that skiing, we tumble into the welcoming Cucina Angelina (portetta.com) at Portetta hotel in Courchevel Moriond. Recently opened by popular English chef Angela Hartnett – who was a protégé of Gordon Ramsay and has the Michelin-star Murano restaurant in London – this fine Italian restaurant has a beautiful outdoor terrace with a fire pit, comfy lounges and trees decorated with fairy lights.

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Cucina Angelina Bar and Restaurant

Angela herself is in the house, but we’re too busy demolishing the exquisite Pollo alla Milanese accompanied by a lovely local white wine to bother her. With lovely restaurants dotted all around the mountains and in the villages, a long-ish lunch before an afternoon of skiing is par for the course here.

Courchevel has seven Michelin-star restaurants, and the free shuttle bus connecting all the villages makes it easy to get around. We try the new (and, as yet, un-starred) Koori Restaurant at the swanky L’Apogée Hotel (lapogeecourchevel.com), and are blown away by the exquisite Japanese dishes that we see prepared in front of us, including soft crab tempura wrapped in flambéed salmon, and mochis (Japanese rice cakes).

At Le Chabichou, chefs Michel Rochedy and Stéphane Buron gained their second Michelin star in 2014 with inventive cuisine using fresh produce and herbs from their own garden. The restaurant has been an institution amongst food lovers for many years and if you’re a budding MasterChef, there are cooking classes (in English) once a week. The bistro, La Chabotté, was added in 2011.

For a more casual meal without foregoing style, Les Suites de la Potinière (suites-potiniere.com) is perfect. Our plans for a quick, light dinner at this bar-and-restaurant-in-one soon evaporate, and end with a dessert of chocolate pudding featuring a salty caramel interior and vanilla-infused French custard, followed by the local digestif, Génépy. Made from a local plant only found in these parts in summer, it might knock your socks off at first taste, but really grows on you.

Star Spas

Courchevel is the land of spas, and bath robes are well and truly in. You’ll see people in their robes and slippers sauntering around their hotels on their way to, or from, the spa. The Spa by Sothys at Le Strato (hotelstrato.com/the-spa) is stunning, created out of slate and stone, and with glamorous touches like a huge chandelier over the large heated pool. The relaxation room is lavishly luxe. After the treatment, we melt into a lounge in the bar, staring out at the sparkling lights of Courchevel backed by the ghostly loom of the mountains.

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The Spa by Sothys at Le Strato

Le Chabichou’s spa is enormous and has ice baths, hot baths, salt caves, a pool, Turkish bath and a banya (no, I don’t want to be whipped with birch branches), while Le Spa de L’Apogée at L’Apogee Courchevel is smaller but equally as beautiful, and uses Sisley products.

The biggest spa-cum-aquatic playground is the new Aquamotion center (aquamotion-courchevel.com), which opened in December 2015. It’s an architectural marvel offering something for everyone – a huge restaurant, rock climbing wall, surf wave, ice pool, saltwater cave, heated indoor and outdoor pools, waterslides, mini cliff jump and lively 110-metre wild water rapid. We try just about all of them, then move into the wellness center with its 19 treatment rooms and our waiting massage therapists.

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Aquamotion center

Fun and Games

Apart from the incredible skiing in Courchevel, there’s a host of activities available. The sledding track is long, windy and fast, and the snowshoeing is scenic and informative. There are nine snowshoe circuits ranging from 45 minutes to three hours. One of the prettiest is the walk to La Rosière, featuring a gorgeous lake beside a forest.

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La Rosière Lake

There are guided snowshoe walks, as well as free cross-country skiing and Nordic walking trails. Hot air balloon rides and scenic helicopter flights are available, or you can do a tandem parachute jump down over the winter landscape.

There’s ice skating, ski touring, shopping at places like Moncler, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior and Fendi, and every Wednesday night, there’s night skiing with a fun atmosphere in the Verdons area. And if you have any energy left, remember you’re on the doorstep of Les Trois Vallées, with more than 170 lifts and 600 kilometres of terrain. Sacré bleu! Pass me the Génépy.