Dubai and the Maldives are ideal honeymoon partners. One&Only The Palm is Dubai’s most beguiling beach retreat featuring one of the smartest palm-tree-lined swimming pools in the Middle East, sumptuous suites plus a chic ‘n’ petite Guerlain spa with Bastien Gonzalez nail salon.
Then just four hour’s flight from Dubai, plus a short seaplane ride, One&Only Reethi Rah occupies one of the archipelago’s largest islands and is as upscale as it gets (it has an ESPA spa and a Japanese restaurant to rival Nobu). Each villa is the size of a house and unfolds onto its own stretch of flawless beach – it’s about as close as it gets to hiring your own private island.
Trail finders has come up trumps twinning an adventure in Rwanda with a fly-and-flop sojourn in the Seychelles. First up, you’ll spend a handful of nights tracking gorillas through the misty forests of the Virunga conservation reserve, seeing the primates’ fascinating interactions and chest-beating antics first-hand.
Then, you’ll be swept onto a jet plane bound for the Jurassic islands of the Seychelles, and whisked into the glamorous environs of the Banyan Tree hotel for a week of swimming with turtles, drinking coconuts and exploring empty coves with nothing but a picnic hamper.
The bush and beach combination is a honeymoon classic – and for good reason. Recently reopened following a top-to-toe polish. Ngala Lodge in South Africa has 20 thatched cottages dotted across a private game reserve that shares unfenced borders with the Kruger National Park – cue high densities of elephant, buffalo and rhino.
Just a helicopter ride away lies Benguerra Island, a paradise filled with indigenous casuarina pine trees located on one of the least-visited, watery corners of the world. There are few better examples of barefoot luxury: seriously soft sands, a kaleidoscope of coral glittering below the surface and a dozen rustic-chic casinhas.
When it comes to Tunisia, the conversation has moved on from safety to recovery for tourism, and a renewed appreciation of why the country is such a compelling destination. Travel warnings have been dropped and travellers are once again tuning in to North Africa’s most compact package. This year prices will remain tempting to lure travellers back, and lower crowds will mean that those who do come will get a more rewarding experience whether they stay in cosmopolitan Tunis, head for Saharan Star Wars sets or explore the Roman remains that dot the north of the country.
Seasonal charters from European airports to Djerba can be an excellent-value gateway into Tunisia.
Currency fluctuations mean that for certain Hers South Africa is more affordable than it has been for many years.Instead og just rejoicing in the undercooked rand, consider what South Africa offers value-seeking travellers at any time. How about fantastically accessible wildlife watching for all budgets, bargain public (and traveller-friendly) transport and free entry to many of the country’s museums? Most visitors will find something to please their budget, whether it’s a cheap-and-cheerful Cape Town seaside cafe or an affordable safari campsite.
Come in South Africa’s shoulder seasons (February, March, September and October) for the best combination of low crowds and comfortable weather.
For all the upscale new openings in China’s most famous coastal city, Shanghai remains reassuringly affordable for budget travellers. No-nonsense dorms start at -less than US$10, and the pleasing pricing continues through budget and mid¬ range hotels until you hit the less-than-friendly international big names and trendy boutique accommodation. It’s a similar story when eating out: characterful street-treats for a dollar, and big portions in popular restaurants for little more. Best of all, walking the city’s safe and buzzing streets is the best way to take the pulse of this fast-changing metropolis.
SmartShanghai is a great place to keep pace with new happenings in this ever-changing city.
It feels like we’ve heard this one before: `Beautiful, undeveloped tropical paradise seeks underfunded travellers for discreet liaison. Applicants must enjoy no-nonsense budget buses and simple, idyllic beach hut accommodation (fales), owned by local families, who tend to throw in diriner. So as with so many places before it, we’d say get to Samoa soon. Best visited by jumping off from New Zealand or Australia, these islands are one of the best travel deals in the Pacific.
The markets of Apia, Samoa’s capital and largest town, offer a great introduction to everyday life. Maketi Fou, the biggest, is the place to come for souvenir hunting and Samoan street food.
While many budget-traveller favourites have grown up and got proper jobs running overpriced resorts, Bali never stopped delivering the goods. In fact, while backpacker-friendly beachside bungalows and other affordable digs still abound, with reasonable costs for food and transport thrown in. Bali is also pretty stonking value for mid-range adventurers who delight in air conditioning, distinctive Balinese style and a large range of quality places to stay. And of course, Balinese spa treatments are rightly famous, and cheaper than in many other places.
Bali’s international popularity is evidenced by the large number of winter flights from Russian cities — offering the unlikely combination of a snowy Trans-Siberian journey and a week on a Balinese beach.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE LOOK? This handsome house, with its Victorian filigree-laced veranda, has been lovingly restored by its current owners. Room are pretty, with white walls and antique wood furniture, but it’s the building that’s the star here, sat among neat lawns and rose bushes in beautiful countryside east of Cape Town.
Round the back there’s an open conservatory, where evening meals made with ingredients from the kitchen garden are served.
WHICH ROOM IS MOST MEMORABLE? With a four-poster bed, fireplace and rolltop bath, it has to be the Honeymoon Suite.
Take advantage of guided walks through wildlife reserves and daily game drives in search of tigers and leopards in Nepal. Get in touch with nature by staying in tents and eat outside with binoculars in hand. A mixture of marshland and grassland habitats attracts as many as 500 avian species to the country, including the stunning Himalayan monal, the national bird of Nepal. A great place to spot feathered friends is Koshi Tappu National Park, a birdwatcher’s paradise. But if birds aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of other wildlife to get excited about, such as sloth bears, crocodiles, elephants and swamp deer.
The biodiversity hotspot of Madagascar is where many wildlife enthusiasts make their pilgrimage. The island is teeming with endemic species and new animals are being discovered all the time. Perhaps that’s what makes Madagascar so exciting; the guidebooks are constantly being rewritten. One of the most recognisable animals is of course the lemur. There are 101 species of lemur living on the island, all of which are found nowhere else in the world. It’s possible to get guided lemur tours and witness their natural behavior, or you can go on safari and experience all the wildlife Madagascar has to offer.
Costa Rica is a haven for sea turtles. It’s a great place to go and experience first-hand the life cycle of one of Earth’s most ancient creatures. During nesting season, turtles line the coasts, laying dozens of eggs to bury beneath the sand for safety.
The six species have different nesting seasons at different sites. There are always turtles laying eggs somewhere in Costa Rica, which means there are almost always hatchlings emerging. The coasts of Costa Rica are strongholds for these turtles, particularly the leatherback sea turtle that has declined by 90 per cent since 1980, and much conservation work goes on here.
Its possible to stand back and take in the sight of hundreds of small turtles making their frantic dash to the sea, or you can volunteer for one of the many organisations working to protect the turtle’s future.
Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago and one of the best places to see polar bears and other iconic Arctic wildlife. Race across the snowy tundra in the company of an experienced guide and take in the astonishing beauty of the icy landscape and secluded fjords. Many companies offer snowmobile safaris, giving you the opportunity to witness wild polar bears roaming the ice in their natural habitat.
You’re not guaranteed to see a bear but to increase your chances, it’s best to visit in the summer, before the ice freezes over and the dark days draw in.
Zig-zagging across the ice sheets on a snowmobile means you won’t have to rely on husky-drawn sleds, giving the dogs a break. If you’re lucky, you may even fit in seeing the Northern Lights.
Few places will capture the imagination quite like the jungles of Malaysia. With dozens of places offering eco-friendly accommodation, you can immerse yourself in the wilderness. Sanctuaries such as the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre teach rescued orangutans how to live in the wild. Simply pay them a visit or sign up for a volunteer placement.
Other bays along the coastline of South Africa’s Western Cape attract migrating whales, but most of them return yearly to the waters of Walker Bay and the coastal town of Hermanus. The months of June to November see hundreds of courting, mating, and calving whales, particularly the southern right whale, with a few Bryde’s and humpbacks thrown in for good measure.
Hermanus sits atop a ledge where a 7-mile cliff walk is the prime vantage point for whale-watching; a roaming whale-crier, complete with sandwich board and bullhorn, keeps you apprised of approaching activity. Even on a rare whaleless day, you might be happily compensated with white sharks, jackass penguins, and seals in a naturally beautiful setting. Nearby, Grootbos Lodge offers the area’s loveliest stay.
This privately owned 295-acre nature reserve gives a limited number of guests the chance to meander on horseback or on foot over hills draped with wild lilies and fynbos, the predominant flora of the Cape, and through milkwood forests full of bird life. The young European owner and manager finds time to excel as a chef as well, and arranges beach barbecues along the coastline, where sunset is a bonus.
This 130-mile stretch east of Cape Town runs along the coastal terrain of lakes, mountains, forests, and golden beaches. The waters are full of penguins, dolphins, and migrating whales. Its year-round beauty is enhanced between July and October, when multitudes of blooming wildflowers create a nonpareil diversity of flora due to unique climatic and soil conditions.
The floral kingdom of the Southern Cape is the most varied in the world, as hiking among hundreds of miles of trails and leisurely drives through forests and parkland will illustrate. The famous Otter Trail in the Tsitsikamma National Park is a five-day hike through some of the country’s most spectacular scenery; half-mile trails descend from the Visitor’s Center for those without much time or stamina.
The charming town of Knysna is a must-see. While you’re there, sample some of the area’s renowned oysters; the famed Knysna Oyster Company’s alfresco tasting tavern overlooks a scenic lagoon. Follow the town’s walking trails out along the coast to view the Heads, rock sentinels that stand guard at the mouth of the lagoon.
On a gorgeous sweep of beach lies the Plettenberg, the coastline’s most exclusive hotel and an enchanting place to stop. Built around an 1860 manor house, a more contemporary addition has airy rooms that overlook the pool and ocean. Come at least for a wonderful lunch on the open terrace and whale-watch as you dine.
Twenty minutes but light-years away from downtown Cape Town, Constantia offers and idyllic taste of wine country that obviates the need to venture east to the more extensive wine lands near Paarl.
Day trippers will regret not having reserved a stay at Cellars-Hohenort, a historical country hotel nestled against the forested eastern slopes of Table Mountain and housed in the 18th-century cellars of the former Cape governor’s wine estate and triple-gabled manor house. Guests find a stylish rural retreat here, surrounded by orchards, vineyards, and beautifully landscaped gardens of roses, petunias, and caladiums. Although the ambience is understated and relaxed, everything is first class, and a dinner at The Cellars, the hotel’s noted restaurant, may well be one of your most memorable in South Africa. Drawing on French and English inspiration, the young chef utilizes the Cape’s bounty of fresh seafood, game, and produce.
Another excellent destination for epicures in Constantia is Buitenverwachting. The tongue-twisting name of this well-known wine-producing estate and its eponymous restaurant is Old Dutch for “beyond expectations” – but who thought to have such high expectations for antelope, ostrich, and springbok?
Excellent Italian or French cuisine may be had elsewhere in the country, but if you want to be wonderfully reminded that you are in South Africa – where the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean meet, where the karoo lamb is redolent of the herbs and grasses on which it feeds, and where the African rock lobster is justly famous – then come to Buitenverwachting.
Window-side seats look out over acres of vineyards, towering oak trees, and the crags of the Constantiaberg mountains. If you arrive earlier in the day for a wine tasting, buy one of the restaurant’s picnic hampers and have a glorious lunch on the estate’s gorgeous lawns.
Relive the glory days of steam travel in the lap of Edwardian luxury as you huff and puff with Rovos Rail through the heart of the bush and some of the continent’s most magnificent scenery. A menu of train itineraries can be mixed and matched according to the time and budget of rail and romance enthusiasts.
Take the twenty-five-hour Cape Town to Knysna round-trip route through the fabled Hottentot Holland Mountains and along the lake district and dramatic coastline. Or plan ahead for the once-a-year no-holds-barred fourteen-day Cape Town to Dar es Salaam journey, which passes through Zimbabwe and Zambia with excursions to and stopovers in places such as Victoria Falls along the way. Some of the vintage steam trains used by Rovos Rail date back to the late 1800s. All prewar carriages are spacious, richly paneled cars, and a posh 1924 dining car is perhaps the handsomest of all.
Exceptionally large suites are outfitted with queen-size beds and deluxe amenities. Dressing for dinner seems appropriate, when entrees like Cape rock lobster are paired with South Africa’s best wine selection. It’s red-carpet treatment all the way on the aptly named “Pride of Africa.”
The Blue Train first took to the rails in 1946, and as elegant, stylish, and comfortable as the original trains were, passengers will certainly appreciate the new generation of railcars, introduced in the late 1990s. The fresh and sophisticated contemporary decor is accented by an African aesthetic – the most visible difference in this updated breed of luxury travel, whose runs from Cape Town to Pretoria (one night on board) and from Pretoria to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (two nights), are the most popular among a number of choices.
In the middle of dry bushveld and surrounded by the ersatz glitz and Las Vegas glamour of the entertainment and resort complex called Sun City stands the regal Palace of the Lost City, on a scale that is almost inconceivable.
Not everyone agrees on what is the world’s finest hotel, but no one disagrees that this $190-million African fantasy extravaganza dazzles and astounds. A gambling casino, four hotels, two award-winning 18-hole golf courses, and a 136,000-acre game reserve were not enough to satisfy the young entrepreneur who created Sun City in 1979. He concocted a myth of a lost civilization that would be anchored by the magnificent Palace Hotel, a pleasure dome supposedly built upon its ruins. The hotel’s attention to detail in architecture, service, and furnishings is mind-boggling. There are more than 300 rooms (for an extraordinary experience, book the King Suite); graceful reminders of African heritage and ethnic motifs greet visitors at every turn.
Fifty-five groomed acres of man-made jungle and rain forest are studded with convincing remnants of the legendary Lost City civilization. It’s one part Walt Disney, one part Xanadu, and jone part Cecil B. DeMille.
A wine safari combines two of South Africa’s greatest treasures: the spectacular Cape wine region and its excellent regional cuisine, a mix of the culinary skills of the Dutch, French, British, Portuguese, Germans, and Malays. Within easy reach of Cape Town, the major estates and the small, sophisticated, fabled towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek have roots deep in the Dutch and French Huguenot chapter of the country’s history, dating back to the mid-1600s.
The gracious Cape Dutch homesteads are set against a bold backdrop of granite-peaked mountains, forests, and rolling vineyards. They are often centuries-old family-run concerns, whose private cellars can be visited and sampled by special arrangement.
A visit to Groot Constantia, the oldest wine estate in the country – originally owned by Simon Van Der Stel, the first governor of the Dutch Colony here – offers the chance to experience some of the world’s finest wines as well as a rich historical and architectural tradition. Stay in Paarl at Grande Roche, one of South Africa’s uncontested jewels.
The cluster of historical gabled buildings (whose nucleus is the Dutch manor house dating to 1707) and house-proud hotel-of-the-year staff create a delightful atmosphere in this enviably scenic location. The hotel’s sophisticated restaurant, Bosman’s, draws Cape Town’s epicures, who think nothing of helicoptering in to enjoy one of the country’s best dining experiences.