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10 things to learn while you travel

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Experiential travel is the best kind – and what better way to get under a destination’s skin than by learning a new skill under the guidance of local experts? From cooking and dancing to surfing and diving, via a multitude of handicrafts, here are some suggestions for educational, practical activities to try out on your next trip.

Make a hammock in Belize

In Punta Gorda, in Belize’s quiet district of Toledo, barefoot children chase chickens in the yard of an unassuming farmhouse. Stepping over its threshold, you’ll meet a Maya family who make their living weaving baskets, fans and hammocks.

You’re put to work in the garden, collecting freshly harvested henequen plants, then the tutorial begins. It’s intricate, absorbing work, stripping down the plants’ strands and spinning them into a thin thread. Each hammock can take weeks to weave and complete by hand – miss one loop, and everything has to be unwound. You’ll be surprised at the skill and speed of the children lending you a hand – this is the family trade for many Belizean Maya, and they start young.

Tranquility Bay Resort, Ambergris Caye

Cook ceviche in Peru

Ask any Peruvian what their national dish is, and they will say ceviche. Learning how to make this plate of fish delicately marinated in citrus juices and spices is a great way to see one of the best elements of Peruvian cities – the markets. A half-day cookery class typically begins among the market stalls, prodding and assessing the local produce, sampling tropical fruit, and visiting the fishmongers – you need the freshest catch for a good ceviche. It’s a vibrant, noisy, delicious alternative to going to a supermarket.

The shopping expedition over, a top chef will school small groups of students in how to prepare ceviche, before you all sit down to a collectively prepared gourmet lunch.

Ceviche is a typical fish dish

Scuba dive in Koh Tao, Thailand

The little-developed island of Koh Tao is an excellent place for first-time divers – the currents are gentle and the marine life is varied and accessible. On a ‘Try Dive’, an instructor will teach you safety checks and other basic diving skills, before you embark on a shallow dive up to 32 feet (10m) deep. Even at this depth, there’s much to see. Look out for eels, groupers, barracudas, turtles, nudibranchs and neon yellow boxfish.

There’s an added bonus to diving here too. Since so many visitors are busy exploring the underwater riches of the island’s waters, the beaches remain relatively quiet – ideal for relaxing post-dive.

Scuba diving in Koh Tao

Take a pastry-making class in Morocco

Set in a former almond warehouse in the heart of Essaouira, l’Atelier Madada offers oriental pastry workshops in a relaxed, informal setting. Here, you’ll learn how to make traditional delicacies such as almond-based gazelle horns and orange blossom biscuits. These pastries are found throughout Morocco and are primarily served to welcome guests and celebrate special occasions.

You’ll watch as the cook prepares the various ingredients, before putting the ingredients together yourself and working the dough into the correct shapes. The distinctive gazelle horn is particularly tricky to master. While they’re cooking in the oven you can sip a customary mint tea, before taking your creations home.

Moroccan gazelle horns and biscuits

Explore fabric printing near Jaipur, India

Bagru, a village about 19 miles (32km) from Jaipur, has a thriving hand-printed cloth industry. Its simple designs use uncomplicated techniques and earthy shades of natural dye. Textile enthusiasts can learn about the printing, washing and boiling processes before heading to the Chippa Mohalla (printers’ quarter) to see all these methods in action. Here, you’ll observe block printers at work as they hand-block fabrics, and make natural dyes and printing inks.

While the finished fabrics dry in the sun, you can breakfast and drink tea with the artisans, before creating and printing your own patterns under their guidance.

Tie die process in Araveli

Milk cows in Sri Lanka

Jim’s Farm, in Sri Lanka’s central province, is a working farm with three villas dotted amongst palm tree and pepper plantations. During your stay you can take a tour of the farm and learn traditional farming techniques. Each afternoon at milking time, there’s even the chance to try your hand at milking one of the farm’s cows.

Perched on a rickety stool right behind the cow, one of the farm staff will show you the technique. It takes a few pulls before you get anywhere, but luckily you’re not expected to fill a whole bucket.

Jim's Farm in Pallepola

Cook, craft and dance at Araveli Cottages & Tented Camp, ME to WE, Rajasthan, India

Staying at Araveli, a Free the Children sustainable development project, equates to an almost total immersion in Rajastani handicrafts, food, and dance.

There are lessons in the art of tie-dyeing, block printing and painting. For the more gastronomically inclined, the camp’s head chef leads classes in how to make the much-loved local afternoon snack of samosas and masala chai. Munch on them while taking in a Bollywood-style dance show. The energy and dexterity of the dancers is a joy to watch, but be warned: after the performance is over, you may be asked to join in with the encore.

Bollywood style dance show at Araveli

Make necklaces and help farmers at Minga Lodge, ME to WE, Ecuadorian Amazon

From morning nature walks to water-based birdwatching aboard wooden canoes, Minga Lodge is a place for those who love activity. The women’s group in Mondaña Town will teach you how to make ornaments and trinkets using local natural objects. Some are beaded designs, but you’ll also learn how to make necklaces out of dried vegetation. These are then sold at local markets, providing an alternative income for the women.

Across the river in Bellavista Village, you can help a local farmer harvest his rice. It’s strenuous work, involving a lot of thwacking movements. Then it’s time to assist cacao producers in pruning their organic trees. With the help of the local shaman, you’ll try and spear a cacao pod with a blow-pipe.

Grls of San Miguel training to craft necklaces

Cook Cajun cuisine in New Orleans, USA

The city of New Orleans is a melting pot of different cultures, and this is demonstrated in the city’s cuisine. French, Spanish, Cuban and Mexican influences are all thrown into the mix, creating the dishes the city is known for: jambalaya, Cajun chicken and the hearty po’boy sandwiches.

The best way to experience Cajun food is with a hands-on cooking class. The New Orleans School of Cooking, a family-owned business, aims to acquaint visitors with the styles, methods and ingredients used in traditional Louisiana cooking.

In a full demonstration and cooking class, you’ll be shown how to make a meal from scratch. Specialties include gumbo, chicken creole and pralines, and classes are led by chefs with a maximum of ten participants. You’ll eat what you cook, washing it down with an Abita – a locally brewed beer – or Deep South lemonade.

French Quater of New Orleans in the USA

Surf on Bondi Beach, Australia

Wide white sands and foaming swells have made Bondi Beach hallowed in surfing lore, but it’s not just a place for experienced wave riders. The instructors here are specialists in helping beginners get going, too.

With a local Bondi surf dude as your teacher, you’ll don your wetsuit and head down to the beach to master basic surfing techniques on dry land. Once you know the simple movements, you’ll paddle out and start catching waves. Your instructor stays with you, and if you’re struggling to catch a wave by paddling alone, your tutor will help propel you into the crest of the wave. No matter your reservations or ability, you’re likely to be able to stand up on the board – not bad for your first ever surf lesson.

Bondi Beach in New South Wales in Australia

Craig Burkinshaw is Founder of Audley Travel.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Asia

Top 5 luxury resorts in Phuket, Thailand

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Phuket has gone through many avatars: from a backpacking haven, to the starting point for two of the luxury hotel world’s most significant names, to the current cacophony of low-end, mid-range, luxury, and every little niche in between. Phuket, once considered a paradise, now appears to be an overcrowded mass of people and concrete structures with ugly facades. And yet, it still remains a popular destination for tourists worldwide. There is a selection of resorts that still offers Phuket’s promise of paradise. These are Phuket’s best.

Amanpuri

It is a testament to the excellence of Amanpuri – a resort that opened in 1988 and celebrates its 28th birthday this year – that it is still up for consideration for the island’s premier resort. Like a fine wine, the eponymous and very first Aman resort has aged beautifully over time. The mix of traditional Thai architecture and understated luxury providing ample space, along with the resort’s envious location, set within a coconut plantation and fronting pristine Pansea Beach, offers arguably Phuket’s most secluded experience. Even if you find yourself staying at one of the resort’s sprawling 2-9 bedroom private villas with multiple pools and aren’t enticed to leave, the lure of the common spaces, from the main pool with its 27-metre midnight-black tiling surrounded by harmonious Thai-inspired architecture and rising coconut palms, to Pansea Beach’s soft, golden sand, is just too much to resist.

Amanpuri

Trisara

Founded and set-up by Amanpuri’s first General Manager, Anthony Lark, Trisara takes Phuket’s promise to contemporary heights. Set within a verdant national park, there are Thai elements in Trisara’s architecture, most obvious in the roofs that dot the lush grounds. But it is the contemporary touches here in each villa that elevate the resort: every suite, villa and residential villa comes with an extensive ocean view and a private pool, with some suites and villas enjoying a 10-metre long private infinity pool that looks to extend into the ocean. The resort is very much set up for maximizing time in your room, with large bedrooms and spa-inspired bathrooms and ample living space both inside and on the private deck that the pool occupies.

Trisara

Read our review of Trisara here.

Andara Resort & Villas

Drawing inspiration from much of Phuket’s legendary resorts, Andara offers a range of accommodation from terrace suites, to private pool suites with partial ocean views, to fully-staffed expansive private residential villas high up the hillside that offer some of Phuket’s best views from peaceful Kamala. While the resort mirrors much of Phuket’s top luxury resorts in architecture, design, interiors, down to the lengthy midnight-black tiled lap-pool, it is the dining here which is exemplary. Award-winning SILK offers some of Phuket’s best Thai cuisine – influenced from both the southern and northern ends of Thailand – at very reasonable prices.

Andara Resort and Villas

Read our review of Andara Resort & Villas here.

Six Senses Yao Noi

Six Senses Yao Noi is a throwback to Phuket’s origins, with a rustic experience on the eastern shores of Koh Yao Noi, an island about 15 kilometres east of Phuket. The resort’s location allows for stunning views of Phang Nga Bay and its limestone karsts, which dart out dramatically from the sea. The light woods and simple ‘barefoot luxury’ style found within the villas is reminiscent of a treehouse and plays upon childhood memories, and the resort’s eco-chic nature is harmonious with its stunning surrounds. At Six Senses Yao Noi, the focus is outdoor living, with an outdoor cinema fronted by a beach, a watersports centre replete with an outdoor muay thai ring, and dining venues that allow for natural air flow.

Six Senses Yao Noi

Sri Panwa

Malibu meets Phuket at this unique amalgamation of a resort. Set on the south-eastern tip of the island, unlike the other resorts on this list which draw heavily from Thai influences and cater to a quieter crowd, Sri Panwa sees a typically younger and more fashionable crowd gathering around at its renowned dining and sunset drink venues such as Baba’s Nest. Offering more of a social scene than the other resorts on the list, Sri Panwa combines elements of elegant Thai structures with a refined Hollywood buzz in its common areas. Offering a vibrant atmosphere with its dining venues and public spaces, privacy is never compromised, and those seeking utter solitude and seclusion can still find it in Sri Panwa’s beautifully designed villas.

Sri Panwa

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Asia

Photograph of the week: Yushu, China

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The city of Yushu is located in the southern Qinghai province at 3,700 metres above sea level, and, although it lies outside the Tibet Autonomous Region, a large proportion of the 270,000 inhabitants are Tibetan. Sadly, in April 2010, the city was struck by an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.1, killing approximately 2,000 people. Since that time, the city has been largely re-built and you’ll find some interesting examples of modern Tibetan architecture. The period from June to October is the best time to visit as, outside of these months, it can be quite cold.

Yushu, China

Thank you to Shutterstock for permission to reproduce the image.

If you have a really special photograph you would like to share with  A Luxury Travel Blog‘s readers, please contact us.

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Asia

Extend your Summer – 6 great places to go in September

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You could say September is the best time of year to go on holiday. And you’d be right. With a few exceptions, the shoulder season offers the perfect balance between reasonable prices and reasonable weather. The Summer crowds clear as schools return, the weather in the UK starts to turn and nights start to draw in. Everyone’s dragged down by back-to-school, back-to-work drudgery; it’s the perfect time to cheer yourself up with a few days away in sunnier climes. We’ve pulled together 6 of our favourite places to visit in September, ranging from action-packed city breaks to relaxing beach escapes. This year, buck the trend and embark on a Summer-extending adventure…

1. Greece

The hordes of holidaymakers are gone, but the Mediterranean beaches remain warm and sun-drenched. Even better, restaurants and hotels start to drop their prices. There’s enough going on to keep the lively Summer atmosphere going, but it won’t be crowded; the best of both worlds.

Santorini

2. Koh Samui

You’ll have the cotton-wool sand, periwinkle skies and azure waters to yourself; the beaches are suddenly deserted as Summer visitors evaporate. Rainy season starts in October – there’s a wide enough safety margin to avoid this, making September one of the best months of the year to visit.  From yachting to yoga, there’s plenty to see, try, taste and buy. Take a Thai cookery course and learn how to expertly carve vegetables into intricate artworks, snorkel the awe-inspiring coral reefs or relax at one of Samui’s upscale spas.

Koh Samui

3. New York

A trip to New York in September is a lot more manageable than peak Summer since all the kids are back at school. The worst of the sticky Summer heat has passed, but the days are still pleasantly warm; perfect sightseeing conditions. The subway loses it’s sweaty-hot odour, yet it’s still ideal picnic-in-the-park weather. A bike ride round central park is a pleasant way to spend a sunny afternoon. Shopaholics – tie in your visit to coincide with the Labor day sales, when stores reduce Summer stock to rock-bottom prices (2nd – 5th September 2016).

New York

4. Sri Lanka

Choose a hotel on the east coast during September, avoiding the Yala Monsoon which can hit the west and southwest at this time of year.  As the island is situated close to the equator, temperatures are consistent year round, with daily averages of 26-30°C.  Roughly the same size as Ireland, Sri Lanka manages to cram an awful lot into a small space.  Discover 2000+ years of culture at it’s impressive 8 UNESCO world heritage sites; ancient temples, ruins and national parks are all worthy of exploration – not to mention the gorgeous sandy beaches that surround the island.

Sri Lanka

5. Singapore

September is (relatively speaking) one of the drier months of the year.  Situated in the tropics, rainfall is plentiful all year round but tends to come in short, sharp downpours that quickly clear.  A cocktail of Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and Western cultures, Singapore is way more than a handy stopover destination.  Browse the glitzy malls selling high-end fashion and futuristic gadgets, or explore the diverse street markets of Chinatown and Little India. Don’t miss Singapore’s UNESCO world heritage wonderland, the Singapore Botanical Gardens (one of the most famous ornamental gardens in the world), or embark on a wildlife adventure & explore the rainforest nature trails at MacRitichie Reservoir.  The F1 Grand Prix is on mid-month – so unless you’re a motorsport fan avoid this weekend as hotel rates will spike around the race!

Singapore

6. Dubai

The frazzling heat and stifling humidity begins to relent in September, making Dubai an attractive Summer-extending destination.  Travelling outside of school holidays, it’s easy to pick up an excellent deal on accommodation at this time of year. You’re more likely to be lucky with the weather the later in the month you go – otherwise, our recommendation is to laze by the hotel’s chilled pool taking regular dips to cool down, or take advantage of the fierce air conditioning at Ski Dubai’s indoor snow park.

Dubai

Have you had a great Summer-extending holiday abroad in the past? Share an anecdote in the comments below and tell us your #1 September destination…

Spencer Groves is Commercial Director at letsgo2.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Asia

Wellness breaks – top 3 choices for a luxury spa experience

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Looking after ourselves isn’t often easy with the pressures of every-day life, so it’s not surprising that many view their one-two week holiday as a chance for some well- deserved R&R! Hotels and resorts have not only vastly improved their offering over the years from the standard swimming pool to now, a much more holistic experience which include the latest innovations in treatments and products, bespoke healthy eating programmes, and state of the art training facilities with expert staff on hand to help you achieve your personal goals.

If you’re looking for a week or two to help combat the stresses from the other 50 weeks in the year be sure to make it a worthwhile trip by staying in one of our top three choices for a luxury spa experience:

Zemi Beach House, Anguilla

The Zemi Beach House opened its doors earlier this year and provides an exciting development on the island of Anguilla as the first hotel to be built on the island for six years. Already a heavenly destination with its powdery white sands, crystal clear Caribbean waters and year round tropical sunshine, this high end luxury property is a haven of tranquillity. The jewel in its crown includes Zemi Thai House Spa, a sanctuary of private spa suites within an authentic 300 year old Thai House.

Zemi Spa

Its team of trained therapists provide a range of holistic treatments from rejuvenating facials, tropical scrubs to signature treatments mirroring the inhabitants’ Taino therapeutic rituals of layering the body with herbs, fruits and muds and salts.

For those who enjoy a more active holiday, the resort’s 24-hour state of the art Fitness Centre is home to the latest fitness equipment as well as a variety of classes, an outdoor yoga deck and beach boot camp with personal trainers also available, ready to assist guests. In addition the resort’s round the clock concierge can organise activities from snorkelling, paddle boarding and glass bottom kayaks and other non-motorised water sports at Zemi’s Shoal Bay Beach Club.

Royal Mansour, Morocco

The Royal Mansour in Morrocco offers privacy and exclusivity from which to enjoy the opulent style and comfort of Marrakesh and indulge in a true holiday for the senses. The property is owned by royalty and takes its inspiration from the traditional architecture and arts of the Moorish culture. Each private riad residence offers attentive service whilst catering for every modern desire.

Royal Mansour riad

The world-renowned Royal Mansour Marrakesh Spa provides personalised programmes to meet each guest’s individual needs, providing guidance in nutrition, exercise, stress management and general wellbeing. Exceptional treatments are available including a choice of three signature Hammam treatments for a deep cleansing full body scrub and traditional Morrocan purification ritual for deep relaxation and rejuventation as well as physical and emotional detox properties.

Kamalaya, Thailand

Those wishing to travel further afield can enjoy the experience of the award-winning Kamalaya in Thailand. Overlooking the coast of Koh-Samui, this self-contained village within a forest-like setting is focussed on providing a life-enriching healthy holiday. The design of the resort encircles a centuries old cave once used by Buddhist monks as a place for meditation and spiritual retreat and gives the resort a particularly calming energy.

Kamalaya Spa Retreat

Its wellness programmes and full trained team will work with individual guests to create their own healthy programme involving an extensive range of holistic medicine, spa and healing therapies to combat detox, stress and burnout to simply enjoying a healthy lifestyle and yoga.

Diana Cherry is Director of Operations at Oxford Private Travel.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Asia

4 incredible luxury wildlife experiences

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If you’re fascinated by wildlife, yet also have a taste for luxury and the finer things in life, there are several experiences that should be on your bucket list. There’s nothing better than seeing wild animals in their natural environment, while also being able to enjoy some of the loveliest accommodations and cuisine that money can buy. Without further ado, here are my top picks for wildlife experiences combined with luxury resorts and lodges:

1. Giant Aldabra tortoises at Fregate Island Private, Seychelles

One of the largest tortoises in the world, with an up to 4 feet long shell and an average weight of 550 pounds, they have also been dubbed the “ninjas” of tortoises, for their sometimes precarious acrobatic stance rising on their hind legs to reach low tree branches for food. Aldabra tortoises are also among the longest lived animals on earth, with some living over 200 years.

Fregate Island Private-460-385

Fregate Island Private is a dream come true for guests: just 16 beautiful residences, each with its own private pool and jacuzzi as well as personal buggy to use to explore the island’s 7 gorgeous beaches. Take a nature walk with one of the resident Conservationists, go scuba diving with the PADI certified dive team, get your adrenalin rush windsurfing or water skiing, or try your hand at deep sea fishing–your catch will be transformed into delectable sashimi or grilled fish for dinner.

2. Elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos at Singita Boulders

Think of incredible wildlife and a luxury experience and luxury safari lodges in Africa comes to mind. For many, a safari is a once in a lifetime experience, so I highly recommend splurging on an exceptional lodge such as Singita Boulders. The luxury lodge features a swimming pool, spa, gym, and just 12 guest suites, two of them family suites, each with a fireplace and private viewing deck with heated plunge pool.

Most importantly, Singita Boulders, as a small luxury lodge set in Singita’s privately owned reserve within the 45,000 acres of Sabi Sand game reserve, offers a far more private game viewing experience than many other luxury lodges in Africa. Whereas on many other safaris you might frequently see other vehicles and guests while out on game drives, you typically see no one else on your twice a day game drives in Singita’s high end Land Rovers. Singita is also incredibly selective in the guides and trackers they employ, and rigorously train their staff to exactingly high standards. This level of quality and service and delivering a highly personalized experience obviously comes at a price premium to other lodges, but it’s worth it, particularly for a special honeymoon, anniversary celebration or unique family safari.

3. Manta on Call at Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru

If you’ve never snorkeled with an abundance of graceful manta rays, the Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru‘s Manta on Call experience is one you should put at the top of your bucket list. You’ll be given a phone to carry with you as you enjoy the resort, whether it’s relaxing on the powdery white sand beach, exploring the marine life and conservation efforts at the Marine Discovery Centre, sipping a fresh young coconut, or enjoy a complimentary yoga or aqua yoga class.

Manta on Call-Four Seasons Maldives Landaa Giraavaru-460-385

Once manta rays are sighted, your phone will ring and you’ll be whisked by speedboat to where the Manta rays are feeding, so you can snorkel with them. Some of my clients have even seen 70 huge mantas at one time! Especially good viewing times tend to be in late June, July, August, September and October.

This unique program is only offered by Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, which also is exceptional, even among Maldives luxury resorts. It offers the best beach of the 5 Maldivian resorts I’ve been to, and its water villas and suites, some of them private pools, are airy and secluded, with spectacular views. Service is also at a higher standard than other Maldivian resorts I’ve been to, which stands to reason, since the Four Seasons has a unique recruiting and training program for new employees, and cherry picks the best to retain as full-time staff.

4. Baby kiwis at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

Even most New Zealanders have never seen their national bird, the endangered kiwi, in the wild, so The Farm at Cape Kidnappers‘ Kiwi Discovery Walk is truly a special experience. The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is set on 6000 acres and includes a working sheep and cattle farm, but also extensive forests that are a nature reserve. The owners, Julian Robertson and adjoining land owners, constructed a predator-proof fence and used traps to rid the property of ferrets and stoats, the main predators that kill kiwis.

Young kiwi chicks are transferred to the property to be creched in this safe environment and radio tagged, so that they can be tracked and regularly checked on and weighed. When you go on your walk, you’ll meet your guide and drive close to the part of the forest the kiwi is likely to be in, then use the radio transmitter, which emits louder beeps the closer you get to the kiwi, to find the kiwi chick. Kiwis are nocturnal and sleep during the day in burrows, so once you’re right by the burrow the kiwi is sleeping in, your guide will reach in to retrieve the baby kiwi, calm him or her in a dark bag and weigh the kiwi, then allow you to hold the kiwi while providing some grubs or other protein for extra nourishment. It’s amazing to hold and see in person these rare and endangered birds, which have only a 5% survival rate as chicks in areas with predators but a 90% survival rate at the Farm at Cape Kidnappers, thanks to eliminating virtually all predators. Adult kiwis are among the longest lived birds, and can live to over 50 years of age.

The Lodge at the Farm at Cape Kidnappers is itself a treat, with gorgeous views of the surrounding land and the Pacific Ocean, and just 22 guest suites plus a four bedroom Owner’s Cottage making for an intimate, boutique resort stay. The property is Relais & Chateaux, and the included daily breakfast, pre-dinner drinks in the cozy drawing room and library, and multi-course tasting dinner nightly are perfect for food and wine connoisseurs. Golfers will also be thrilled to play the Tom Doak course, one of the top courses in the world, with stunning views that are worth driving a golf cart around the back 9, even if you’re not a golfer.

Hilary Stockton is the CEO at TravelSort.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Asia

The best places to travel to this season

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Whether you’re seeking wildlife spectacles, otherworldly scenery or the buzz of a festival, there is a wide range of options for travelling to a new destination this season. We’ve listed ten of the best places to visit at this time of year to help you plan your next spring-summer adventure.

Australia’s Ningaloo Marine Park

While experiencing cooler temperatures than the summer months, Australia between April and June basks in pleasant temperatures, with less rain and plenty of sunshine. The change in temperature triggers the start of autumn, and in the south of the country the landscape becomes dappled with golden hues. With fewer visitors than earlier in the year, you can enjoy all the attractions of summer without the crowds and uncomfortable heat.

This is a great time of year to head to Ningaloo Marine Park on Western Australia’s northwest coast, where large numbers of whale sharks feed in the nutrient-rich waters between late March and early July, when the coral is spawning. Boat trips from Exmouth take you out to the reef, where you can swim and snorkel with these gentle creatures.

Whale sharks are the largest fish species in the world at up to 12 metres long. Completely harmless to humans, they move around slowly in the water while feeding on plankton. During the trip, you’ll be able to learn all about their behaviour, feeding patterns and how best to approach them.

Whale shark off Ningaloo Reef

St Petersburg’s White Nights Festival

From late-May to July each year, St Petersburg hosts the White Nights Festival to mark the natural phenomenon of constant daylight at this time of year, caused by the city’s northerly position.

The festival is a series of ballet, opera and musical events, with daily evening performances of ballet or opera held at the Mariinsky Theatre and the Mariinsky Concert Hall, and popular music stars holding concerts in the Palace Square.

The oldest and most popular event is Scarlet Sails, which pays tribute to the Russian children’s tale of the same name written by Alexander Grin in 1922 and celebrates the end of the Russian school year in June. You can sit on the banks of the Neva River and watch as a sailing ship illuminated by a glowing red light floats by, while fireworks explode in the sky above you.

The Scarlet Sails event during the White Nights Festival in St Petersburg

Northern India’s Ladakh region

While most of India endures searing heat and monsoon rains from June onwards, the high altitude of Ladakh in the country’s northern tip helps it stay relatively cool and dry, making it a wonderful place to visit at this time of year.

Despite being part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Ladakh region offers a very different culture to the rest of the country, with its proximity to the Tibetan border reflected in its large number of Tibetan Buddhists and traditional way of life.

Stretching from the Himalayan to the Kunlun Ranges, you’ll be struck by the area’s dramatic mountain scenery, which provides excellent opportunities for walking and photography.

The region’s capital, Leh, nestles in the mountains. It may take some time to adjust to its altitude of 3,500 metres, but there’s plenty to see in this historic town, from traditional mud brick houses and bustling street markets to the imposing ruins of Leh Palace. A walk up to white-domed Shanti Stupa rewards you with impressive views over the town, which was once an important trading post for Himalayan people. If you don’t mind an early start, you may wish to witness atmospheric morning prayers at Thikse Monastery, which is around half an hour’s drive from Leh.

Thiksey Monastery just outside the captital of Ladakh, Leh, northern India

Peru’s Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca

By May, Peru’s rainy season will have come to an end and the landscape will be incredibly lush and green. This is one of the best times to enjoy all of Peru’s main attractions, at a quieter time than the festival month of June and the peak months of July and August. You can choose to embark on a trek in one of the mountainous valleys surrounding Machu Picchu, which range from 1 to 12 days and vary in difficulty. Although, if you want to complete the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu itself you’ll need to book in advance as permit numbers are heavily restricted each year.

Alternatively, you could travel into the Sacred Valley – the Inca’s heartland – by road before taking the train from the town of Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu. Reaching this mysterious yet familiar site as the sun rises and the clouds clear to reveal the sacred ruins is unforgettable, but the journey there is often just as scenic as you follow the course of the Urubamba River along the valley floor through dense forest.

For a more relaxing experience, enjoy a peaceful boat trip out on Lake Titicaca under vivid blue skies. The largest lake in South America, the Inca civilisation believed that the world was created here by the god Viracocha, and the local people still hold onto their pre-Conquest traditions. You can visit some of the traditional communities that live on the lake floating on islands made from reeds, or travel out to the pre-Incan burial grounds of Sillustani, where stone chullpas (burial towers) dot the shores of Lake Umayo.

Machu Picchu in Peru

China’s Yunnan Province

At this time of year, China is experiencing warm weather but has yet to reach the hot and humid conditions seen in the summer months. May is the peak month for the wildflowers of Yunnan Province to bloom, and you can take in strikingly beautiful scenery as the mountain slopes are transformed by the vibrant colours of rhododendrons and other flora.

One of the most visually impressive areas within the province is Tiger Leaping Gorge, which  was formed by the Jinsha River forcing its way between the Yulong and Haba Mountains. While just 30 metres wide at its narrowest point, it’s one of the world’s deepest river canyons with a maximum depth of 3,790 metres. A two-day trek around the gorge allows you to explore this region in-depth, and stay overnight in a local guesthouse in the middle of the gorge.

Tiger Leaping Gorge in China

South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal coast

Between May and July, the coast of KwaZulu-Natal in the east of South Africa plays host to the sardine run, a natural spectacle that sees millions of sardines (or South African pilchards) migrate northwards along the coastline from the Agulhas Bank. The vast shoals of these fish – often more than seven kilometres long and 1.5 kilometres wide – catch the attention of many predators, creating a feeding frenzy that’s exhilarating to watch.

Thousands of sea birds, such as Cape gannets, plunge into the water to catch their prey, where a variety of shark species, including hammerhead, great whites and bronze whalers, are already feasting on the fish. Bottlenose and common dolphins also pursue the shoals, working together to round the fish up into ‘bait balls’ and push them to the surface before tucking in to their meal.

You can go on predator viewing boat trips, diving charters or simply snorkel in shallower waters to witness the spectacle more closely. Alternatively, there are several vantage points along the coastline where you can watch the drama of predator-versus-prey from dry land.

Bottlenose dolphins off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal

Borneo’s rainforests and beaches

Travelling to Borneo during May allows you to avoid peak season prices, larger crowds and the most extreme temperatures of the year. Both Sarawak on the northwest coast and Sabah in the north enjoy favourable weather conditions, although tropical storms are never unheard of at any time of year.

Sabah’s northeast coast experiences its lowest annual rainfall in May, so it’s an ideal time to relax on the sandy beaches and explore the diverse sea in marine parks such as Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, where you may encounter black-tip reef sharks, barracuda and rays. For more wildlife encounters, you can take a trip to Lankayan Island, to see and snorkel with turtles in the island’s clear waters at the start of the turtle season.

Back on dry land, conditions for trekking in Sarawak’s rainforests are at their best at this time of year. You’ll have a good chance of seeing orangutans high in the trees, as well as encountering other wildlife such as proboscis monkeys, tarsiers, gibbons, slow lorises (small, nocturnal primates with large eyes), sun bears and pygmy elephants.

Infant orangutan at Sepilok, Malaysian Borneo

Japan’s flowers and festivals

The first week of May in Japan is ‘Golden Week’, a national holiday when many local people travel around the country, making public transport and hotels busier. But, once this week is over, the warm, mostly dry weather and lush green foliage around the country makes this one of the best times to visit.

It’s also the only time of year to view wisteria in full bloom, with purple and cream flowers hanging gracefully from the plant’s long vines. One of the best places to experience this is Kawachi Fuji Garden in Kitakyushu, where you can stroll through a wisteria tunnel made up of around 20 different species of white, blue, purple and pink wisteria.

With the waning of the cherry blossom season across much of Japan by May, your best chance of catching its tail end is to head to northern Hokkaido, where the cooler conditions hold back the cherry blossom blooms until later.

Head to Tokyo on the third weekend of May to witness one of the city’s largest festivals and parades, Sanja Matsuri, which is held in honour of the three men who established and founded Tokyo’s oldest temple, Sensō-ji. Colourful floats and over 100 Buddhist shrines are paraded through the streets of Asakusa (a district in Taitō, Tokyo), accompanied by geishas, musicians and dancers in traditional Edo period costume.

Wisteria tunnel at the Kawachi Fuji Garden in Kitakyushu, Japan

The USA’s national parks

This is an ideal season for visiting both the northern and southern parts of the USA, with pleasant temperatures and sunny days coupled with greater access into many of the national parks. You’ll also find the parks much quieter than in the summer months, particularly those in the north such as Grand Teton National Park. Here, you may well have a scenic trail all to yourself as you hike through seemingly deserted mountains and valleys with perfectly still lakes, some of which may still be frozen over in higher ground. Wildlife such as black bears, bison and moose are readily seen, and a wider range of activities becomes available, from canoeing and climbing to cycling and fishing.

The national parks in the southern US, such as Yosemite, also offer excellent conditions for hiking, and you can make the most of the warmer climate by heading to the Californian coast for some beach relaxation before it becomes more crowded in the summer months.

Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park, USA

Saint Lucia’s jazz festival and natural wonders

While the peak season for travel to Saint Lucia has just come to an end, this is still one of the best times of year to visit the island, whose natural beauty has earned it the name ‘Helen of the West Indies’. Prices are significantly lower than in February and March, yet the rainfall is only slightly heavier, which in turn has its benefits as the landscape becomes more lush and green.

The beaches should be quieter at this time of year, giving you more space to relax without being disturbed. While temperatures are getting hotter and humidity is rising, it’s still worth exploring the island’s tropical interior, where you can hike up the volcanic hills and mountains to be rewarded with sweeping views over the rugged coastline and out to sea.

At the beginning of May, the Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival takes place on Pigeon Island – a tiny island artificially joined to the mainland’s northwest coast. This colourful festival runs for just over a week with performances from both local and international musicians. It also showcases dance, theatre, fashion and poetry representing the various cultures that have influenced Saint Lucia over the years.

Saint Lucia in the Caribbean

Craig Burkinshaw is Founder of Audley Travel.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Asia

The other Hong Kong

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Most visitors to Hong Kong think mostly in terms of the bustling urban areas such as Kowloon and Central. However, there exists another side; one that is sparsely populated, green and even has wildlife. We guide you away from the crowds towards areas of outstanding natural beauty and havens of calm.

Hong Kong Island and outlying islands

Enjoy a day at the beach at either Shek O or Big Wave Bay nearby. Take your own BBQ or eat out at one of the local cafés. There are walking trails up behind for those so inclined.

hong-kong-beach

Lantau Island is best known for being home to Hong Kong’s International Airport. There are many other more exciting things to see or do including the stilt houses at Tai O and the Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride. The official website for the latter, http://www.np360.com.hk, offers a range of other suggestions for visitors to the island.

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Lamma and Peng Chau islands can both be reached by regular ferries and provide a real contrast to the city skyscrapers. You will find a maze of lanes through towns with interesting shopping options as well as delightful fishing hamlets scattered around the coast. Photographers will find a wide range of opportunities but should be aware of ferry times to avoid getting stuck overnight unexpectedly.

ngong-ping-360

The New Territories, from Kowloon

The extensive wetlands of Mai Po Marsh are an important wintering ground for many migratory bird species. Bird-spotters will be in their element with many rare species visiting the shallow gei wai (shrimp ponds) and mud-flats.

wetland-birds-hong-kong

Sai Kung town, east and north of Kowloon, is an attractive fishing port well-known for its super-fresh seafood restaurants as well as for a host of options beyond. It is only a short hop over to Sharp Island or to Yim Tin Tsai, the latter with its abandoned buildings providing interest to short walks. The whole area around the High Island Reservoir is scenic, bordering on wilderness. If you can arrange private transport then longer hikes and remote coves beckon.

seafood-restaurant-hong-kong

Of course, there are plenty of other beauty spots to be discovered. Hopefully the few mentioned here will get you thinking and out beyond the the familiar streets, out to the other Hong Kong.

basalt-beyond-sai-kung

Ian Ford is Operations Manager at Photo Tours Abroad.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Asia

Why is Sri Lanka the perfect luxury family destination?

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Putting aside all the obvious reasons for visiting this tear-drop island: breath-taking scenery, tropical climate, exotic paradise a million miles away from home… Sri Lanka is an island which really has it all. Here is why we think Sri Lanka is so wonderfully family-friendly, with our top 5 places not to be missed…

Getting around Sri Lanka is slow, but great fun. The diversity of the landscape means you’ll never hear the dreaded “are we there yet?”, because no matter whether you’re experiencing lush countryside dotted with swinging monkeys, coconut trees at every turn, bustling towns selling anything and everything, colourful tea plantations, dramatic waterfalls or a glimmering coastline – it’s all incredibly exciting. Bus drivers are straight out of Fast & Furious, and although you may have to change a few times, routes are remarkably well connected and you wouldn’t normally wait for more than 10 minutes at a terminal. Whilst you could explore every inch of the island by bus, trains are less available. However, they cover all the most scenic routes and a 3-hour journey will go by in a flash when you’re snapping away at the dramatic landscape, munching on snacks sold by loud vendors who hop on and off when trains pull into stations. The Colombo-Matara route makes its way along the famed western and southern coast, dotted with the island’s best beaches.

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Once you’ve experienced public transport, a car and driver are a fantastic way to get from A to B. They’re easy to find, reliable and incredibly good value. The great advantage is stopping when you’re passing through a fabulous market, or when you’re feeling peckish and find a P&S. Tip: always be on the lookout for P&S, a great chain of local restaurants that does fabulous rice, curry and short eats. It’s incredibly clean, well presented and excellent value, as 200 rupees/£1 will buy you lunch. Hiring a driver is also a great way to get an insight into local life; Sri Lankans are incredibly friendly and if you learn a few Sinhalese words, you will find you’ve made a new best friend and will be “chatting” away for the entire journey!

The colonial city of Galle, halfway point on the Colombo-Matara train line, is the perfect first stop. The elegant Amangalla oozes un-clichéd colonial charm, whilst the food at the Galle Fort Hotel is fantastic as you sit on the terrace and watch the world go by. It also has a picture perfect swimming pool. The shopping is excellent; the streets packed with cafes, terraces and boutiques are pleading to be explored. The whole family is bound to find something to bring back home from Barefoot, and Stick No Bills has fantastic vintage travel prints of Sri Lanka. Galle is one of the few places in Sri Lanka with a restaurant and café scene, so it’s definitely worth making the most of this city!

galle

Follow your stay in Galle with an entertaining hour’s tuk-tuk ride to one of the south coast’s most beautiful beaches – Mirissa; family friendly with an expansive bay and beach shacks dotted down the stretch of golden sand. With so much choice and little obviously differentiating one beach shack from the other, it can be difficult to know where to stop. Zephyr is a personal favourite and a great place to settle down for the day. It offers sunbeds and ice cold beer for the grown-ups, and exceptional fresh juices and shade under trees for the smaller ones. The food is great too: slightly more inventive than its neighbours, including exceptional tempura prawns. There is also a variety of activities for those who get itchy feet: the area is famous for whale watching tours, fishing, diving and yoga classes on the beach. Mirissa is extremely laid back and you can easily while away the time, hopping from one side of the beach to the other, jumping on waves and enjoying nightly barbecues.

After a spot of civilised city culture in Galle, and beach life in Mirissa, take a car and driver and visit Udawalawe National Park, the best park for elephant spotting, en-route to the Hill Country. You should aim to get to the park for 4 o’clock, as come early evening elephants come to take their bath in the lake; the sight is truly magical. Jetwing Kaduruketha is a good place to end the day, situated in an idyllic position an hour south of Ella with a wonderful infinity pool and exceptionally charming staff. From there, spend a day visiting Buduruwagala rock carvings and Diyaluma waterfall before catching the bus an hour up the road to Ella, where you’ll drive past Ravana waterfall. You’ll be passing through the un-touristy Wellawaya, which has some great fabric shops and a lively market.

udawalawe national park

The Ella-Kandy train journey in the hill country is in every guide book for good reason, but I would suggest breaking up the journey, by travelling from Ella to Nanu Oya by train (the closest station to Nuwara Eliya) and then Nuwara Eliya to Kandy by bus. The train and bus routes are different and doing it this way gives you the best of both worlds – the train journey covers the country’s most scenic landscape and the bus is fast and equally breath taking as it meanders its way past waterfalls, tea plantations and local villages. You could even fit in a visit to Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Centre for a tour of its production site and an obligatory cup of delicious Orange Pekoe. The bus drives straight past it and it is easy to hop on and off.

There is no shortage of cultural sights in Sri Lanka, and it is definitely worth including a few to your itinerary. From Kandy, it’s only a few hours’ drive to the island’s cultural centre. Sigiriya fortress, an impressive 200 metre tall rock where 1200 steps will take you to the very top, has the most exceptional views. Although not initially the most obvious choice for a child friendly activity, it is in fact worth the effort and great for the adrenalin kick. It also makes ending the day at the pool that much sweeter! The neighbouring temple Dambulla, consisting of 5 caves, is equally challenging with 400 steps uphill, but arguably more impressive than Sigiriya and one of the most magical temples in Sri Lanka.

Above all, Sri Lanka will provide you with a luxury experience: the luxury of lazing on a beach that dreams are made or by an infinity pool in a secluded villa surrounded by palm trees; the luxury of sipping fresh king coconut juice straight from the fruit and climbing a 200 metre sacred rock; the luxury of stumbling across unspoilt locations and glimpsing a real insight into everyday life; the luxury of almost everyone you meet being so welcoming an friendly; the luxury of being spoilt for choice. Sri Lanka is an island of diversity, where everything is offered and thus offers something for everyone, both big and little.

James Jayasundera is Founder and Managing Director of Ampersand Travel.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Asia

Recipe of the week: Raw coconut and lemongrass soup

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The fresh zest of lemongrass is a staple of Thai cuisine; creamy coconut another. This rawfood twist on a classic coconut lemongrass soup enhances flavour and preserves maximum nutrition. Easy to make with ingredients found at any grocer, it is served at room temperature and is an ideal first course conversation starter for a dinner party. It looks especially beautiful when decorated with some greens for garnish, and an edible flower of any colour. Suitable for vegans, vegetarians, dedicated rawfoodists and anybody who enjoys fresh Thai food. Preparation time: 2 hours. Recipe serves 2.

Raw coconut and lemongrass soup

Ingredients

2 tbsp cashew nuts
1 tsp virgin coconut oil
1 cup coconut water
1/2 cup coconut milk
4 stalks lemongrass
1 tsp honey
Pinch of diced garlic

2 tbsp lime juice 
Sea salt to taste

Directions

1. Soak cashews in water for two hours. 

2. Cut a thin slice from a clove of garlic and dice finely.

3. Juice lemongrass (strain out pulp).

4. Blend all ingredients until smooth.

5. Garnish with peeled zucchini, cucumber and/or coriander. A zucchini flower adds a decorative finish.

Thank you to Arif Springs, Raw Food Chef at Taksu Spa & Restaurant, Ubud, for the recipe.

If you have a recipe you would like to share with  A Luxury Travel Blog’s readers, please contact us.

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