Few have traversed Namibia’s undulating wilderness without being truly spellbound. The West African nation is largely made up of remote desert with 2.5 million people living across 825,615km². It’s a country waiting to be explored. In recent years its status as a luxury safari destination has grown with its proliferation of fully-decked out glamorous lodges and tents with a taste of bygone eras.
You’re likely to feel like you’re in the ends of the world in any part of the deep orange-hued desert – The Namib desert’s natural colours are so acute, it looks like an over-exposed photograph.
You’re also likely to see a lot of wildlife along the way. Namibia is home to the world’s largest number of cheetahs, free-roaming black rhinos and a species of desert-dwelling elephant which has adapted to the country’s arid conditions.
Sonop, a luxury lodge located in the Karas region of the Namib desert, brings to life a British colonial experience from the 1920s with ultimate comfort. Between 10 spacious tents, colourful carpets, precious wood and antiquities abound, giving a sense of yesteryear’s wealthy explorers – the black tie service at dinner takes that sophistication up a notch, too.
A large list of adventures await from: desert yoga, horseback riding, hot air balloon safaris, walking trails and other made-to-measure excursions. For a truly romantic experience, the outdoor cinema under a starry sky perfectly encapsulates Namibia’s still and visceral magic.
2. BORNEO, MALAYSIA
Rampant rainforests and soft, unending beaches characterise Borneo’s equal measure of wild and whimsical splendour. Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Malaysia’s Sabah state in the northern reaches of Borneo, is a gateway to raw jungle and pristine properties. Jessleton Jetty – a mere 10km from Kota Kinabalu’s airport – is a launch pad for rare, underwater snorkelling and island hopping. A 15-minute salty yet welcomed speedboat ride takes you to the verdant Gaya Island, where marble bathtubs and chic sun-loungers allow you to plunge into romance mode.
Tucked into protected mangroves, Gaya Island Resort curls around the sandy coast of Malohom Bay where banqueting on tuna tataki and sinking into tandem massages are top of the agenda. The hillside villas blend beautifully into their natural environment, giving you ultimate privacy and license to turn off from the world outside.
Set within a marine park, visitors to Gaya Island Resort should have a taste for eco-friendly adventure. The resort’s resident marine biologist, Scott Mayback’s commitment to preserving the marine life has seen him implement many conservation programmes.
Planting coral is a mainstay conservation activity, as are turtle rescues which sees the release and rehabilitation of sea turtles that the resort receives from the Sabah Wildlife Department. Separate sojourns to see Borneo’s orangutan population through beautifully untamed rows of thick rainforest back on the mainland offer a glimpse into rare wildlife, too.
Fairy-tale fjords and treehouse cabins are the makings of a romantic escape – and they exist in large supply in Norway. The Scandinavian nation has always stirred a misty-eyed longing for the most discerning of travellers. Its ink-blue waters, mighty snow-capped peaks, hairpin bends and remarkable vistas make it a destination you’ll want to cocoon yourself in from every vantage point.
The beauty of Norway is, there’s both a lot of and few things to do depending on your calling. It can be as stimulating or as still as you want it to be.
Around 90 minutes from the city of Ålesund in the north west of Norway, the glass-fronted walls of Juvet Landscape Hotel serve up views that look as if they’ve been torn out of a nature-filled coffee table book. Its peppering of cabins in the wilderness is Norway’s answer to a ski-chalet setting: complete with Falun-red walls, dark-wood beams and lace-trimmed lamps. The seven glass ‘cubes’ on stilts are a feat of environmentally-minded architecture, capturing every second and nuance of nature. The hotel provides a plethora of water activities, such as river rafting and fjord kayaking, as well as hiking and climbing trips, for those whose holidays call for adventure.
To experience small town Norwegian life, Storfjord Hotel is a luxury boutique property on the west coast of the country. Touted as a slow life hideaway, Storfjord is made up of handcrafted log walls with both forest and fjord views. Taste takes pride of place at Storfjord, where the kitchen works with the area’s local producers for farm-to-table fine dining experiences.
4. CEYLON TEA TRAILS, SRILANKA
Silence is the loudest sound you’ll hear at the Ceylon Tea Trails, up high in the Hatton region – accessed by car or seaplane from Colombo. Sri Lanka’s dramatic beaches have long since been the main draw for visitors but the Ceylon Tea Trails’ rolling hills are a sight to behold.
Across a collection of five elegantly restored British colonial bungalows with the oldest dating back to 1888, the Ceylon Tea Trails overlook the Castlereigh reservoir – which at the break of dawn, is swathed in sheets of low-lying mist, and could easily be mistaken for the Scottish Highlands.
Luxury colonial features are abundant at any one of the bungalows. From wicker chairs to grand four-poster beds to free-standing bathtubs with fantastically vintage faucets on sumptuously tiled period-drama floors, nostalgic charm is felt in every corner. You can spend hours pouring over the antiquated maps in the living rooms as there are no TVs in the bedrooms. Each bungalow comes with manicured gardens and highly enticing swimming pools, with water drawn straight from the mountain spring.
If you want to know what life is like as a tea magnate, the Ceylon Tea Trails is the place to be. The staff can arrange for you to take a tour of the Dunkeld Tea Factory, which offers an insight into the production process, from picking to packing. Or you can while away the day on the many walking trails at your disposal where you are unlikely to see another soul along the way.
Laos is the very definition of slow adventure with intrepid itineraries framed within luxurious creature comforts. Despite its landlocked geography, Laos benefits from a wealth of water running through it, as well as mountains and palm trees.
Luang Prabang, the spiritual capital in northern Laos, has a mix of riverside temples and dozy streets where things definitely don’t operate at a mile a minute. You won’t see fly-by tourists – but more of the long-term traveller variety who assimilated to the delayed gratification of Laotian life. Encapsulating all of the country’s mesmeric merits is the French colonial Amantaka hotel – of Aman repute. Tradition and authenticity are experienced throughout. From the Buddhist rituals which guests can participate in, to the voluminous bamboo-shaded garden to the green shutters and white walls, Amantaka is a sophisticated sanctuary of unbridled peace.
River cruises allure visitors to experience the majestic Mekong. Whether during sunrise or sunset, the romance factor is ever-present as you glide down the river at a regal pace with the hotel’s own pillow-adorned cruise, which can also be tailored to a bespoke and private trip.
A stroll through the UNESCO-protected old town will likely see you encounter the saffron-cloaked Buddhist monks, walking the sleepy streets accepting alms, as well as the graceful temples with delicate carvings.
Visiting the lesser known Greek islands, which merely look like a smudge on the map, is the way to a newfound Hellenic experience. Beyond the hot spots of Mykonos and Santorini are islands deserving of even higher praise, not least for their discreet yet prominent positioning in the Aegean sea. If you’re taken by the signature blue and white theme of a Cycladic island, Astypalaia – which is in fact on the fringes of the Cycladic cluster but officially belongs to the Dodecanese – is a butterfly-shaped, sun-drenched island.
With only 1,500 residents, it doesn’t have the same cosmopolitan air as Corfu, nor the party-mad vibe of Zante, but as far as quietly confident aesthetics go, Astypalia is head and shoulders above the rest. Only 18km long and 13km wide, days can be spent wandering small alleys in the main town of Chora or driving across the island to visit the many lapping, blue wave beaches.
Pylaia Boutique Hotel offers the hallmark traits of a Greek island with views and more views. Surrounded by olive trees and flowers, Pylaia is a no frills, no fuss property. In fact, the whole island lacks large-scale hotels – only small, bohemian boltholes. The island’s minimal nightlife affords blissful solitude.
If you want to be within driving distance to Greece’s most prominent ruins, Four Seasons Astir Palace is a choice stay in the prestigious Vouliagmeni suburb of Athens. The pine-clad property on the shores of the Athens riviera has a ‘rich and famous’ aura courtesy of Sinatra, Onassis and Bardot’s stamp of approval back in the 1960s. Set your sights on the seaside facilities: three private coves, two supreme pools, and a 300 metre boardwalk flanked by chic loungers and cabanas. It’s enough to elicit the phrase: “this is the life”.
Known for its beguiling meeting of land and sea, the tiny European country is a natural class act on the romance stakes. Kotor – a simple 15-minute drive from the popular arrival city of Tivat – is the best kept secret in the Adriatic, with a patchwork of cuisine influences (Italian, Greek, Balkan), topography to make you melt, and glitterati-worthy pebble-laden beaches. Adding to its appeal, Kotor’s meld of Byzantium and Venetian architecture offers a constant and fascinating snapshot of the past. Long, spontaneous walks in and around the old town work best.
West of Kotor lies the newly developed Lustica Bay – a never-ending coastline with wonderful water access and activities. Montenegro benefits from idyllic sailing conditions where hidden craggy coves and the most blinding turquoise water spots can be discovered via luxurious and private yachts for a lazy day at sea.
The Chedi Lustica Bay overlooks dainty polychrome coastal townhouses and azures for days. The hotel brings together contemporary luxury with inspiration from the surrounding local villages in an inviting white, silver and aquamarine colour palette. It offers a number of activities from cycling tours through the dramatic mountains, kayaking and rambling.
The relatively sparse tourism traction almost feels like Croatia 10 years prior to its recent travel stardom, therefore Montenegro should be visited ahead of the inevitable curve.
8. Galápagos Islands
The seclusion of the Galápagos Islands makes it one of the most impressive and incredible places on the planet. It may take a less than a straightforward route to get there (you have to fly into Ecuador) but the awe-inspiring nature and never-before-seen strange wildlife is worth every concession on your sleep.
The Galápagos Archipelago is a group of 13 islands and hundreds of islets that are in perpetual movement. They lie 973km west off the coast of Ecuador, sitting on top of a volcanic hot spot that was responsible for their creation in the first place. Human life is a rarity. The air is clean and the landscapes unsullied.
To experience the true majesty of its boundless beauty, the Galápagos is begging to be experienced by cruise to see tropical birds, giant tortoises, beautiful flamingoes, penguins and iguanas with a first-hand lens. Adding to the plentiful adventure to be had, hiking through lava caves is another pioneering way to explore the wilds of the Galápagos.
Bringing all of its uniqueness in full view, is Grace Galápagos Cruise – a vintage ship steeped in history. Its moniker is named after the legendary Grace Kelly who walked the same decks. Once the preserve of the super-rich of the 1920s, it’s now a slice of history sailing through a chain of volcanic islands set against visceral sunrises and sunsets.
Book the Grace Kelly Suite with décor by award-winning designer Adriana Hoyos, replete with sumptuous fittings and the latest mood-lighting to enhance your experience of the Galápagos. If there were ever a perfect picture window, this is it.