As more and more holidaymakers look to make a real experience from their time away, travel expert Oliver Broad, director of RB Collection in Lichfield, takes a look at some unique places to holiday
In recent years, the buzzword in the travel industry has been ‘experience’. No longer are travellers just seeking a traditional holiday where you ‘fly… and flop’ on a beach. Today, the modern traveller looks for so much more from their valuable time away, and that doesn’t necessarily mean climbing Mt Kilimanjaro – although that can be arranged, of course. In this inaugural issue of J’AIME, I take a trip down memory lane to some of the most unique holiday ‘experiences’ I have had the pleasure of sampling, from a night sleeping in the deep freeze on ice, to the colourful and fascinating sights of Peru to a dreamlike tropical-island Caribbean getaway.
Let’s start with something really out there. Last year I visited Sweden’s ICEHOTEL, which you may have heard about as it’s been reviewed in pretty much every travel magazine going. What is exciting this year, though, is the fact you can now sleep on ice there all year round! This may sound totally bizarre so please indulge me for a moment.
I’ve been arranging holidays to this special place in Sweden’s Lapland for nearly 15 years and I’m quite used to the notion that the hotel is rebuilt every year, using ice blocks from the River Torne on the banks of Jukkajsarvi village. When my colleagues at the hotel mentioned they want to open year-round I was, to say the least, a little surprised. However, a year later and they are currently in their first season of ICEHOTEL 365. An all-year-round permanent version of the ICEHOTEL building has been constructed with solar panels to generate the energy needed to keep it -5C indoors at all times. The building is home to 20 suites, each with their own individual art sculpture designs from acclaimed designers around the world.
In winter, the building sits alongside the seasonable building rebuilt every year and you wouldn’t know the difference as you zoom around on your snowmobile or enjoy an encounter with the huskies and reindeer. In the summer months, however, its fresh Nordic design stands out and a clever programme of activities has been designed to reflect the serene beauty of this part of Sweden. Experience river rafting, an adventure park, late-night wilderness dinner, fresh water fishing, wildlife photography tours and even from the end of August a Northern Lights Safari!
As for the night ‘on-ice’, your army issue sleeping bag will keep you toasty warm and it will most definitely be an experience of a lifetime. Visiting during the summer is also great value for money, with a reduction of around 30 per cent compared to winter packages. A special Northern Lights Autumn package for example starts from just £645 per person. Visit IceHotels.co.uk for more details.
In South America, one of my favourite destinations is Peru. With its ancient Inca sites, colourful culture, warm and friendly people, and delicious cuisine, there is so much to see and now there’s a new, unique place to sleep too. High levels of visitors means the country has often been at the forefront of tourism in the region with a fantastic selection of innovative and luxury hotels.
Belmond (formerly Orient-Express Hotels) have a long-standing relationship with the country with two hotels in Cusco and the only property at the entrance to Machu Picchu, allowing early entry before the crowds arrive. They have now also launched their second luxury train in addition to the existing Hiram Bingham which transports explorers from the Sacred Valley to Aguas Caliente for their exciting trip up to Machu Picchu itself. The second train is called the Andean Explorer, a luxurious sleeper train. For me, this would be one of the most unique experiences you can encounter in South America; the journey is one of dramatic, changing landscapes and the Belmond high levels of service and characterful personality will no doubt make it a must do for luxury visitors to Peru. On arrival in Lake Titicaca, the floating islands are waiting to be discovered and visitors can continue their journey overland to Colca Canyon to witness the mighty condors take flight.
There are very few opportunities to travel by train in the world in such comfort and style; you really are transported back to a bygone era and it’s an exciting experience to undertake having done it myself on the Venice-Simplon Orient-Express through Europe and Rovos Rail in South Africa… there’s simply nothing else quite like it!
For many, wildlife is an ultimate holiday experience and something I tried out for my honeymoon. I have to say this was totally out of my comfort zone – the idea of being woken up by a stranger at 4am every morning was an eye opener but, as they say, the early bird gets the worm – or in our case the early bird gets to see the Big Five!
I have to be honest, it was daunting to us to be staying in such a remote location, having to have an escort back to our villa after dinner in the dark with the possibility of all sorts of wildlife hanging around – however once you get over the initial shock you suddenly realise you are in a very special place indeed. We stayed in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa, which borders the Kruger National Park. I’d heard from colleagues this was a more authentic area to visit while not feeling too remote or uncomfortable as it was our first safari trip. It wasn’t until our first safari drive that it sunk in and I understood the feeling of being an observer in nature. Literally within minutes we had stumbled across a cheetah in a tree feeding. All that we could hear was this wondrous wild animal totally focussed on its meal, oblivious to the onlookers below.
Our following drives over the four days took us through a wide range of vegetation and wild landscapes as we observed giraffe, zebra, rhino and lion, not to mention the chatty hippos bathing right outside our villa. It was a juxtaposition of adrenaline pumping through the veins as we followed a herd of elephants, but also the relaxation of being an observer in the wild. It wasn’t an exhausting experience at all.
The morning drives were followed by an exciting sumptuous breakfast as we all gathered back at the lodge to chat over the viewings earlier that morning. The daytimes were spent by our private pool on our villa’s deck followed by lunch. In the afternoon, we ventured back out again on our second safari drive which usually ended in a beautiful sundowner and then back to the lodge for a romantic candlelit dinner. It was a magical experience. For the more adventurous my colleague Nathan -our resident safari expert – has recently arranged a walking safari in Zambia.
If, like me, you also enjoy disconnecting from the modern world and reconnecting with your loved one with some serious rest and relaxation I can personally, highly, recommend Petit St Vincent, part of the Grenadines in the Caribbean. There are a handful of excellent luxury private island getaways in the Caribbean but unlike Richard Branson’s Necker and Rosewood’s Jumby Bay, Petite St Vincent is very understated – a home away from home and as far away from the hustle and bustle of daily life as possible.
While I would still describe it as luxurious, it is a far cry from the marble taps and gold bathrooms you may in other five star hotels. This is certainly not an action-packed holiday experience; more a purely serene opportunity to remind each other why you got together in the first place. I met a couple on the island who’ve visited every year for 17 years and they simply wouldn’t go anywhere else.
Just 22 villas are tastefully dotted around this tiny and slightly hilly island which can easily be explored in 15 minutes. Most guests opt to stay in their villas, simply soaking up quality time with each other during the day and then venturing to the island’s bar and restaurant in the evening. It is a very charming island with a local community feel. On our first night we were invited to the owner’s villa for a small drinks reception to mingle with other guests and the family-like relationship between visitor and the staff was immediately apparent. The bay down by the restaurant was adorned with sailing boats where explorers would anchor and visit the island for dinner and rekindle friendships spurned from their first encounter in years gone by. Easily combinable with St Lucia, as we did, I can safely say this was the most romantic, memorable time I have ever had the pleasure to experience. Sometimes you just don’t need the pomp and circumstance – just a private, understated little private island in the Caribbean, that will do nicely!
Best of the rest – more unique places to stay to whet the appetite
Full of Stars Hotel, Wadi Rum, Jordan
Wadi Rum is one of the most popular places to visit in Jordan after the Lost City of Petra. Now you can sleep under the starlit sky set in a unique ‘bubble room’ offering stunning views of the desert landscape and clear sky.
Perfect for explorers and romantic escapes.
Soneva Kiri, Koh Kood, Thailand
Soneva Kiri’s ‘intelligent luxury’ concept blends eco-resort living with clever luxurious private pool villas set naturally among the vegetation. The modern take on the kids club – The Den – is dedicated to learning, excitement and meaningful experiences with a variety of hands-on activities including growing their own vegetables for dinner. You can now also fly from their own private island landing strip to Cambodia to tour Angkor Wat.
Perfect for romantic escapes and families seeking more enriching experiences.
Golden Eagle Luxury Train
The ultimate train journey through Russia, Europe, Central Asia and China can be undertaken in first-class style on board this beautiful train. A number of itineraries are offered from nine to 23 days.
Perfect for culture lovers, rail enthusiasts and explorers.
Italian food and culture
There’s nothing quite like being taught how to make pasta from scratch in a former royal villa, as I attempted last October, or mixing the perfect tiramisu as my colleague Kirsty’s daughter did when she stayed at the Belmond Villa San Michele outside Florence. Integrating food experiences like this can really bring a holiday alive.
Perfect for those with less time on their hands, families seeking interactive experiences.
To plan and book your unique holiday contact RB Collection on 01543 258631 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Mention ‘J’aime first issue’ and book any of the above holidays before August 31, 2017 and receive complimentary VIP lounge access at your departure airport, conditions apply. See www.rbcollection.com/jaime for details.