No matter how many times you’ve been somewhere, there’s always something to discover or a fresh insight to gain. We regularly visit new places and trial new experiences, from delving deep into Malaysian Borneo’s forests to glamping in Mexico to offer you something different. Here, we share some of our latest finds from around the world.
A private stargazing experience in Yosemite
We’ve got plenty of ideas for how to make the most of your time in Yosemite in daylight hours. But now our expert guides can help you to explore this immense wilderness after-dark, too. After dinner, your guide will pick you up from your lodge, and lead you on an hour’s night-time perambulation.
Gradually, the night begins to thrum with unfamiliar noises: you might hear the rustle of batwings, the hooting of a spotted owl, or the distant bark of a coyote. Your guide will help you to identify any sounds, explaining all about the park’s nocturnal fauna.
Once you’ve reached a quiet spot, you’ll direct your gaze to the heavens: the lack of light pollution makes it a superb place for observing the night sky. Your guide will point out constellations — you could spot Ursas Major and Minor, Leo, Sagittarius and Scorpio. And, if you’re lucky (and depending on the time of year), you could even witness a meteor shower.
Calanoa Jungle Lodge in the Colombian Amazon
She stayed in an eco-friendly river lodge called Calanoa, a property set up by respected Colombian photographer Diego Semper in a natural hardwood reserve. It sits right on the main Amazon itself, and is yet enticingly remote: there’s so little light pollution that at night you can sometimes see the Milky Way.
Fiona says, ‘I’d be delighted to recommend Calanoa to anyone looking for an Amazon stay. It’s a no-frills lodge: there’s no hot water, for example, but frankly when it’s 35 C (95 F) outside you don’t really care. I especially loved sitting on the lodge’s pier after dinner, watching fireflies.’
‘You might see pink and grey river dolphins, and look out for a particularly curious spectacle: a cloud of thousands of dragonflies hovering above a bed of water lettuce. You can also visit a nearby indigenous village, Vergel, where local José Antonio is teaching children to sing in their native language. Hearing them makes for a really intimate, authentic experience.’
Glamping in Baja California, Mexico
We recently enjoyed a stay at Camp Cecil, a seven-tent glamping experience on the national park of Espíritu Santo Island. This far-flung islet with its isolated slices of sand lies just off the coast of the Baja Sur region of Baja California.
Nature lovers will be in their element. Magnificent frigatebirds swoop overhead, nesting in the rocky outcrops surrounding the island, while spinner and bottlenose dolphins frequent the surrounding sea, which also hosts pods of whale sharks from December to April.
It’s a place for anyone seeking refuge from the busyness of mainland Baja, as this island is usually only accessible via daytime snorkelling tours. This means that before 10am and after 3pm, you’ll see no one else around (apart from your fellow glampers — oh, and the 80-year-old fishermen brothers who provide the camp with fresh catches).
You can kayak around sunken mangroves, snorkel with sea lions, and hike the island’s craggy desertscape.
While the camp has to abide by strict environmental regulations (such as using long-drop toilets and limited shower facilities), we think the overall experience still feels high-end: you’ll sleep in roomy tents with cotton linens and duvets, and dine on three-course meals cooked up using fresh local ingredients and imported wines.
At the end of a day’s exploring, you return to a cool towel, and can sip freshly made cocktails while watching the sun set over the Sea of Cortez.
Food touring around Byron Bay, Australia
Inland from always-busy Byron Bay you’ll find a mellow hinterland of rolling farmland, rainforests and fantastical waterfalls. Then, toward Ballina, you’ll see a hilly coastline festooned in greenery. But the scenery is only one of the delights of this increasingly popular part of New South Wales: it’s also becoming something of a prize destination for gourmets.
We recently took a small-group day tour around the area, visiting farms and providores (suppliers), and sampling local produce. The tour also includes a chance to dine at the sustainable and much-acclaimed Harvest restaurant (a proud owner of a ‘Hat’, the Australian equivalent of a Michelin star).
Locally grown, native ingredients are at the forefront of their menus; in fact, all the food served at Harvest is grown within 50 km (31 miles) of the premises. Much emphasis is placed on pickling and fermenting, and many ingredients (such as herbs) are foraged.
Highlights to look out for? Smoked and spiced macadamia nuts, kingfish, Kangaroo loin, and gin — made largely with botanicals grown on the area’s farms.
The best of Grenada, away from the beach
Grenada has enough deserted beaches to keep you occupied for days, but we’ve recently crafted a guided tour to coax you away from the coast (it’s worth it). Not much bigger than the Isle of Wight, the island is ideal for a day’s exploration with a private car and chauffeur-guide.
You’ll wind along steep roads, edged with tangles of deciduous forest, to Grand Etang National Park. The highlight of which is Concord Waterfall, a 65 m (213 ft) shaft that runs into a natural aquamarine pool. You’ll have time for a dip before continuing north to Gouyave Nutmeg Station where you can meet some of the women who process the spice by hand.
Nutmeg is just one of a long list of crops that the small island produces annually, a list that also includes cocoa, which you can see at the next stop. A hand-painted sign tells you that you’ve reached Carlton’s Cocoa Station where you can see the cocoa production process.
The tour finishes with a glass of homemade juice in a private garden that’s tucked into the hillside near the hamlet of Saint David’s. Gemma, a Grenadian native, initially built the garden for her children, but she now welcomes guests, giving tours of her vegetable garden and oasis of orchids, heliconia and bougainvillea.
A cultural food tour around Mauritius
It may be an established beach destination, but we’re eager to show you a more in-depth view of Mauritius in our latest private guided tour. The island has been populated by waves of traders, colonists, slaves and indentured labourers over the centuries, creating a blend of cultures that’s best appreciated by sampling Mauritian cuisine.
Walking between the faded colonial villas in the capital Port Louis, try maize pudding, a cornmeal recipe brought over by African slaves or chilli cakes served in a French baguette. One of the most popular snacks is dholl puri, a stuffed flatbread that’s prepared using traditional Indian techniques.
You’ll then head inland to join Marie-Michelle for a traditional Creole lunch. A keen cook, she’ll show you how ingredients are ground together on a stone to form a smooth curry paste. Her family will join you as you sit down together to eat, and might teach you some sega dance moves once you’ve finished.
After lunch, you’ll visit Domaine Les Aubineaux, a 19th-century French colonial house that was once central to the Mauritian tea trade. It’s now been converted into a tea museum with memorabilia, photos and a tea-tasting room.
Deramakot Forest Reserve, Malaysian Borneo
You won’t find Deramakot in a guidebook or on a map. One of the first FSC-certified forestry reserves, Deramakot is a mixed dipterocarp rainforest that’s been managed as a sustainable commercial project since the 1990s.
A flagship reserve, its aim is to show how sustainable logging can minimise its impact on rainforest ecology and produce low-volume, high-quality (and high-priced) timber. Trees are carefully selected and removed in a way that limits impact on the surrounding forest. The aim is to use this as a blueprint to halt deforestation across Borneo.
The stewardship of the forest has worked — it rustles with wildlife. The list of sightings is huge, with civets, leopard cats, langurs and macaques common. You may see tarsiers, slow lorises, orangutans and elephants (you’re almost guaranteed to see their dung at any rate). It’s also become the best place in Borneo to spot the clouded leopards, although you need luck on your side.
This is a wildlife experience for the intrepid. From Sandakan, the nearest town, you’ll hop into a 4x4 that’s been loaded with provisions and drive four hours into the rainforest. The park headquarters, where the forestry staff and their families live, has two simple chalets that are looked after by their wives (who will also cook your meals).
If you’re happy with a basic level of accommodation (there’s air conditioning and en suite rooms) you’ll be rewarded with the freedom to roam as you wish — and you’re likely to be the only visitors. You can explore the forest from the back of a 4x4 with an experienced wildlife guide. You could set off in the early morning and drive through dawn, eating breakfast on route or, armed with a spotlight, head out after dark in search of nocturnal creatures.
Admire Berber jewellery in Essaouira, Morocco
Essaouira is a sleepy seaside town, a calm contrast to the bustle of nearby Marrakesh. Originally a Phoenician trading post, the town still boasts 18th-century ramparts from a period when it was a Portuguese colony. (Game of Throne fans may identify it as the setting for the city of Astapor.)
Wandering through the narrow streets, one of our specialists recently discovered the Centre de la Bijouterie Artisanale Maalem Ali 1908, a small shop that sells traditional Berber jewellery. As the name indicates, the shop has been around since 1908 and the stock looks largely unchanged for the past century.
You’ll find densely engraved Hands of Fatima on pendants, as well as filigree bracelets, wide necklaces and elaborate earrings. Also be sure to look for ceremonial headdresses known as taj — literally translated, it means crown. Hung with coins and other charms, they are traditionally worn by brides.
Many of the silversmiths here are young women who happen to be deaf. They trained in the meticulous art of jewellery-making as a way of earning an income.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa
If you’ve experienced a traditional safari and are looking for something different, we recommend Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a new addition to our South Africa offerings. Namibia, South Africa and Botswana have joined forces to protect this little-visited part of the south Kalahari. Once you’re within the park boundaries there are no borders, leaving you to cross between countries freely (although you do have to enter and leave at the same point).
This is a hot, dry desert environment where dry riverbeds cut across red sand dunes. The calling card here is the density of Kalahari black-maned lion (which you stand a good chance of seeing) as well as the sheer remoteness of the destination. Wildlife doesn’t appear around every corner but if you’re patient, you might also see cheetah, leopard and a range of desert-adapted species including springbok, oryx, meerkats and bat-eared fox.
There are only a few lodges in the park including Ta Shebube Rooiputs, which is set in a private concession on the edge of a riverbed for optimum big-game viewing. This could be combined with a few nights at !Xaus Lodge, an ecolodge owned by the San bushman community. A chance to get completely off-grid, it’s self-sustaining with no phone signal, Wi-Fi or TVs.
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Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.
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