Private Islands, Hidden Canyons, and A Train To The Arctic...Not Your Average Travel Destinations

Private Islands, Hidden Canyons, and A Train To The Arctic…Not Your Average Travel Destinations

Here are some place you can sweep your significant other off his or her feet this month.

ALILA PURNAMA

What: Drift away on a luxurious phinisi as you sail to some of the most spectacular regions of the Indonesian archipelago. The 46m long Alila Purnama (‘full moon) consists of three decks, and provides elegant, ultra-modern accommodation, complete with furnishing custom-made from teak, rattan and other locally sourced materials from Indonesia.

Onboard is a library, lounge, bar, and plenty of space outside to repose and enjoy the views in private on oversized daybeds shaded by umbrellas. While there is an air-conditioned indoor dining area large enough for 10, opt to dine on the outdoor deck with nothing but the horizon and sea breeze around you.

Handcrafted in the traditional style of a phinisi as used by Bugis seafarers from south Sulawesi in Indonesia, Alila Purnama has five rooms but the pick would definitely be the expansive master suite, Sriwijaya, complete with a private deck and large wraparound windows offering 180° views of the ever-changing surroundings.

Do: At this time of the year, Alila Purnama will be sailing to Raja Ampat, or the ‘four kings’ , referring to the islands of Salawati, Batanta, Waigeo and Misool in the north-west of West Papua province. This archipelago comprises of more than 1,500 islands spread over 50,000 sq km, and is a veritable paradise for divers – the waters of Raja Ampat is said to be home to around 70 per cent of the world’s total number of coral species and nearly 1,200 species of fish.

Alila Purnama has its own fully licensed PADI dive centre so there is plenty of equipment for all guests onboard as well as a dedicated freshwater rinse tank for camera equipment. For those with a taste for adventure, yoga, kayaking, snorkelling, visiting local islands and pearl farms, a picnic lunch or BBQ dinner on the beach are among the many other pursuits on offer. The ship’s 16-member crew also includes a spa therapist, so be sure to arrange for the smoothing pleasures of a signature Alila massage onboard or on a nearby beach.

AMANGIRI

What: A remote hideaway tucked within the luminous canyons of the American South-West, Amangiri (‘peaceful mountain’) is located in a protected valley in Canyon Point, southern Utah, with sweeping, almost otherworldly views of the starkly beautiful desert and the region’s iconic flat-topped mesa rock formations. This luxurious retreat, surrounded by five national parks, numerous national monuments and the Navajo Nation Reservation, the largest Native American reservation in the United States, is both a peaceful retreat and perfect base for unforgettable exploration.

With only 34 suites, there will never be a time when Amangiri gets too crowded. Still, for unrivalled privacy, check into the 6,200 sq ft Mesa Home. Secluded by a rock escarpment and surrounded by 600ac of undeveloped land, Mesa Home boasts four en-suite bedrooms (not that you’ll need the other three!), kitchen, and living and dining rooms, all designed with a pared-back aesthetic and muted palette that complement the rugged beauty of the Grand Circle Region. A 15m infinity pool is set into an expansive stone terrace, from where you can enjoy spectacular views of the desert.

Do: Although there are only 34 suites, Amangiri boasts a remarkable number of dining spaces, from large to intimate. The cuisine is inspired by the American South-west, made primarily from locally sourced ingredients. Enjoy a private dinner out on the Chinle Site, where, in-keeping with the rocky landscape, dishes are served on hot stones, while ice cream arrives on cold stones. The Aman Spa, spread across 2,322 sq m, reflects the healing traditions of the Navajo through the four elements of earth, wind, fire and water. Adjoining the spa pavilion is a stone-lined step pool with desert views, offering cushioned seating for contemplation, while yoga is conducted in a pavilion that opens up to views of the mesa.

Yet, the best thing about Amangiri is what lies just beyond – hypnotic, outsized landscapes of the American South-west that, uniquely inspired both adrenaline and serenity. Take an early-morning hot air balloon flights for high-altitude views of Lake Powell, Navajo Mountain, the Vermillion Cliffs and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, or explore the sweeping Utah desert landscape on horseback. Take a kayak out on Lake Powell’s 3,200km (2,000 miles) of shoreline fringed by slot canyons and lofty mesas, or less strenuous but no less enriching, discover the rich cultural heritage of the Navajo, with tours of Monument Valley, and storytelling and ritual dances.

GOLDEN EAGLE LUXURY TRAINS – ARCTIC EXPLORER

What: An adventure on wheels, the Arctic Explorer takes you from St Petersburg up to the Norwegian Arctic Circle in a quest for the Northern Lights. Along the way, discover some of Russia’s most majestic cities and the remote communities of the Arctic Circle, all the while enjoying the finest rail accommodation, and unparalleled food and service. All cabins onboard the Golden Eagle, Russia’s premier train, are spacious, luxuriously appointed and fully en-suite. Expect also first-class service, with a personal cabin attendant service available at all times to look after all of your needs.

The social heart of the Golden Eagle is the Bar Lounge Car, where you can relax and unwind over afternoon tea or a game of cards before dinner. In the evenings, the resident pianist at the baby grand keeps you company and, conveniently, the bar stays open until the last person leaves. The Restaurant Car harks back to a simpler time and serves both Russian specialities and international cuisines. If you’re staying in one of the 120 sq ft Imperial Suites, which comes complete with a lounge area, you can also opt to dine in.

No detail has been overlooked on this trip. There’s an onboard astronomer to help you keep track of the stars, and you’ll receive Russian hats, traditional felt boots, embroidered scarf and woolly mittens on arrival to help keep out the cold. You can also look to the complimentary bottle of vodka in your cabin to help you keep warm.

Do: This edition of the Arctic Explorer takes place from 11 to 22 February (the next one is in December) and begins with a two-night stay at the luxurious Belmond Grand Hotel Europe in St Petersburg. Explore the city with guided tours of Catherine’s Palace and the Hermitage Museum, St Isaac’s Cathedral and Nevsky Prospect, before boarding the Golden Eagle for the celebratory Gala Caviar Dinner as you head north and cross the Arctic Circle on Valentine’s Day.

Cross over to the small mining town Kirkenes in north-east Norway, one of the best vantage points for seeing the Aurora Borealis. You can make your stay at Kirkenes even more memorable by opting for the unique Snow Hotel, with its ice sculptures and snow paintings by local and international artists, and go on a magical excursion in search of the Northern Lights by husky dog sledge.

Your journey continues back in Russia, with a trip to Murmansk, halfway between Moscow and the North Pole, and just over 190km north of the Arctic Circle, before moving south to Petrozavodsk, on the western shore of Lake Onega, the second largest lake in Europe. After stops in the historic city of Vladimir, founded in 990 and one of Russia’s oldest communities, and Suzdal, one of the country’s most perfectly preserved walled cities that dates back to 1024, you’ll head to Moscow for the final leg of this amazing and unforgettable adventure.

NIYAMA PRIVATE ISLANDS

What: The Maldives conjures up dreams of the bluest skies, the whitest sands, the most beguiling seas, all under an irrepressible, iridescent sun. And, then, when you get there, you realise it’s all true. A place of pure indulgence, your journey to Niyama Private Islands begins with a 40-minute seaplane ride from the capital Malé, soaring over atolls, villages and deserted isles surrounded by crystal-clear waters. There are less splashy ways to arrive, but why delay your arrival at paradise?

For that is exactly what Niyama Private Islands – there are two of them, called, appropriately enough, Play and Chill – is: a one-of-a-kind, very private and luxurious haven that you would sorry to ever leave. There are 134 rooms spread out over the two islands but, unless sandy white beach on your doorstep’s your thing, opt for the water pavilions, with its private pool and outdoor Jacuzzi that’s perfect for watching the stars from. The lagoon is, literally, down the stairs from your private deck. Fresh coconuts and a cooling box with cold face towels arrive daily, and if you need anything else that’s not already there, your thakuru (personal butler) will be happy to see to it.

Do: You can, of course, indulge and dine in throughout your stay, but do make time for some of the resort’s more spectacular dining options. Top of the list is, probably, the underwater playground of Subsix, accessible only by speedboat and 6m below the sea. Nest, on the other hand, is 6m up in the air, where you can enjoy Asian avant-garde cuisine in a surreal tree top setting. Edge, also accessible only by speedboat, offers fine dining half a kilometre out in the ocean, an experience enhanced this month with the visit of two Michelin-starred chefs from Europe – Heiko Nader of the Dolder Grand on Lake Zurich and Johannes King of Söl’ring Hof in Sylt, Germany.

The usual water activities are all on offer: snorkelling and diving, jet skiing, waterskiing, mono-skiing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding, catamarans, windsurfing, kitesurfing, parasailing… Or take a dhoni out for a quiet sunset cruise. And if you’re into surfing, do know that Niyama is the only luxury surfing resort in the Maldives that has waves break directly onto the island, so you needn’t go far. Drift Spa offers over-water treatment rooms and therapies that employ local ingredients like Maldivian coral sand and house coconut oil. Indulge further with a bottle of champagne and chocolates to accompany your rejuvenation here.

SANCTUM INLE RESORT

What: Located in Shan State, north-east of the capital Yangon, Inle Lake is one of Myanmar’s most compelling – and least known – destinations. At 880m above sea level, this freshwater lake, with an estimated surface area of 116 sq km, Inle Lake harks back to a simpler time, with its stilted wooden homes, floating vegetable gardens and fishermen who propel their boats across the water with a singular, one-legged rowing style. Discovering this region has now become easier, thanks to Sanctum Inle Resort, which only opened in October 2017.

The hotel is located in Maing Thauk Village, half of which is on dry land while the other half sits on stilts over the water. Fly into Heho Airport, from where you can take a drive through quaint villages and scenic hills or, even better, make your escape from the modern world complete with a boat ride that takes you pass the iconic Intha fishermen as you wind through waterways, past stilted wooden homes and floating vegetable gardens, before the grand vista of the resort, respectfully blending into its spectacular natural surroundings, makes an appearance.

There are only 94 rooms here, ranging from the Cloister Deluxe, with natural wood floors and views of the resort’s garden, to the 150 sq m Sanctuary Suite, with lofty ceilings and a private terrace that take in views of the mountains. Celebrating the virtues of a monastic life, the room designs are minimalist, balanced with all of the necessary modern comforts that will make your stay here perfect.

Do: It’s easy to do nothing here – The Refectory celebrates must-eat standards of the Shan culinary arts, from noodles and soups to fresh garden salads (Inle is renowned for the quality of its organic fruits and vegetables), as well as regional fare with mohinga, samosa and curries from wider Myanmar. The Cloister Bar serves favoured tipples and a wide range of Myanmar-brewed beers, and boasts a wine list that includes two premium local vintages. An Olympic-sized pool overlooks the lake, while The Sanctuary Spa promises total rejuvenation with its therapies that include its signature Tamarind Scrub, using tamarind harvested from the property.

Still, just outside are some of Asia’s most remarkable markets, pagodas and stupas that you’d be silly to miss. Visit the lake’s daily morning market, which rotates locations on a five-day basis, where you can see the Pa-Oh, Inthar and Shan people, some in their traditional outfits, gather to buy and sell their wares.  Or take a bicycle ride to Red Mountain Estate, a collaboration between the local Pa-Oh people and a French winery, for a tasting of red and wine wines. Drive from the flatlands around Inle Lake deep into the Shan Hills to the hidden ‘forest of temples’ at Kakku, where you will find more than 5,000 stupas dating back to the 11th century rising high above a plain. Go even further off the beaten track, to Sagar, founded as a royal capital of the Shan State in 1479, and its 108 sunken stupas amidst spectacular natural beauty.

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