Luxury on the go

exotic holidays

Luxury on the go

Cruise along the Caribbean in style, ski down snowy mountain slopes in Gulmarg, enjoy the safari experience in South Africa where luxury in the wild has been elevated to a fine art... The possibilities are endless. Gustasp & Jeroo Irani share their experience of holidaying in scenic corners around the globe, ensconced in luxury, sated with fine food and pampered by liveried stewards.

The world seems so well mapped and charted today that exotic destinations may well be hard to come by. Yet we keep stumbling on new gems, hidden and secretive, or old ones with a new luxe twist. The search is never-ending.

Recently, we breezed through a time warp of sorts and landed in a forgotten era, a time when indulgence and opulence was the lifestyle of a chosen few. We imagined ourselves in the role of prosperous merchants perched on the back of camels as they loped across the Silk Route which was once laced with riches and adventure.

The golden sand dunes of the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, which surrounded us on all sides, heaved like the waves of a surging ocean.

Was it a mirage playing tricks on our imagination? No, it was the real thing. Our personal butler from The Serai had set up a romantic table for two on the crest of a sandy hillock.

Dressed in spotless white kurta and dhoti and a bright red turban that exploded like a bullet of colour against the bleak desert setting, he waited for us with a bottle of sparkling wine and two flute glasses balancing on a tray held high like a prized trophy in his hands.

We slid off the saddled backs of our camels and eased ourselves into reclining chairs. Munching on slices of cake and sandwiches between sips of bubbly, we watched the sun slowly slip off the sky. The Relais & Châteaux resort on the outskirts of the fabled town of Jaisalmer had pulled out all the stops to recreate an experience that will stay with us for a long time.

True luxury is more than just the opulence and facilities of a resort or hotel — undoubtedly they are important ingredients in the mix — it’s about guests checking out with a hamper of special moments.

We have, over years of travel across India and the globe, found that these memorable moments have greeted us in different avatars: A romantic table for two in a tree house overlooking the forest at Orange County, Kabini in Karnataka; sipping steaming hot tea on the sit-out of our luxury tent at The Chamba Camp near Leh in Ladakh and watching the first rays of the rising sun wash over the hilltop monastery of Thiksey.

We remember skiers whooshing down snowy mountain slopes outside the icicle-draped windows of the spa lounge of The Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa in Gulmarg and a rewarding safari when we sighted leopards was topped off with sundowners on a rocky outcrop...

Indeed, the safari experience at Jawai Leopard Camp in Rajasthan had overtones of similar ones we had in South Africa where luxury in the wild has been elevated to a fine art. The contradiction of the concept — unlimited pampering in an untamed natural setting — is what makes the experience truly exotic. North of the border at the Victoria Falls in Zambia going wild was redefined once more as we found ourselves soaring in a micro-light aircraft over rainbows thrown up by the cascading waters; quaffing beer on a river boat safari and sitting down to High Tea at the lip of the falls that tumbled down into a deep ravine.
 
Wild paradise

Costa Rica on the other side of the globe in Central America was a Jurassic Park adventure-land. This was where the original dinosaurs-on-the-rampage movie was shot. Of course, there were no pre-historic monsters threatening us, but the atmosphere was surreal: any moment, we imagined, giant lizards would spring out at us from the depths of the dense rain forests; thundering waterfalls; active volcanoes...

In Fiji, an archipelago of 332 islands marooned at the edge of nowhere in the South Pacific Ocean, we lunched with cannibals in a village on the main island of Viti Levu. The last person to be served as the main course was missionary Reverend Thomas Baker in 1867! Since then, humans have been taken off their menu.

After the meal which, incidentally, was a vegetarian affair, we flew to Laucala Island, located on an island of the same name, to the north of Nadi on the main island. At Laucala Island, a luxe private resort, every suite had its own private beach and our every whim was catered too. The sumptuous retreat even had its own private airstrip where staff members assembled to welcome guests as they stepped off private jets.

We found paradise once more soaking in a wine cask in a picturesque vineyard resort and spa near Bordeaux in France. The spa at Les Sources de Caudalie was the first to offer vinotherapy treatments, combining natural mineral-rich spring water with grapes, grape seeds and even grape skin. Meals at Les Sources de Caudalie were elegant, very French and served in a Michelin Star restaurant. We indulged our palates once more, tasting select French wines at the cellar bar of the adjoining winery.

Tradition has it that after you have selected your meal, the restaurant’s sommelier recommends the right wine to go with your choice. At a boutique resort in the wine region of Barossa Valley in South Australia, they did it a little differently. Here the chef, a qualified sommelier, came to us at our table and suggested we first choose the  wine.

Having determined that, he proceeded to prepare our order in a manner that brought out the best balance of flavours of the wine as well as the meal. Quite honestly, we missed the subtlety that might have impressed a connoisseur, but we loved the ceremony and attention to detail. And to make the moment even more special, a gang of kangaroos started to hop around the fringe of the vineyard, outside the French windows of the restaurant.

Hidden gems

In Cuenca, Spain, we checked into a monastery. Of course, the hermit monks who once peopled the building would not have recognised it in its present avatar as a luxe hotel, Parador de Cuenca. All the mod-cons aside, its location is what makes it a winner.

Perched on the summit of a hillock in the middle of a ravine, it offers guests a stunning view of the historic Hanging Houses that cling to the edge of vertical cliffs. A grand Cathedral; churches; a Moorish citadel; museums, including the first Museum of Abstract Art in Spain; narrow cobblestone streets; colourful festivals which include its own fete — Running with the Bulls through the city streets...

The medieval city packed it all into a compact area. But what really makes Cuenca special is the fact that it is loved by the Spaniards and is one of their most popular getaways. The locals seem to delight in the fact that it has not been overrun by international tourists.    

However, a number of East European countries seem to revel in the fact that visitors from around the globe have started to discover the gems that have for long been hidden in this corner of the world.

We sailed into this once forgotten part of the world in a plush river cruise boat, making ports of call at exotic cities along the Danube river: Budapest and Kalocsa in Hungary; and Novi Sad in Serbia; Veliko Târnovo and Verna on the Black Sea in Bulgaria and Bucharest in Romania. Each night we would return to the cruise boat; a boutique resort with no permanent address.

But the true nomads of the sea are the mega cruise ships; mini citadels that trawl the oceans of the world. Many, if not most, are destinations in themselves and each new ship ups the stakes by offering its guests mind-boggling on-board facilities.

The Quantum of the Seas, the newest ship to sail the Seven Seas, is the ultimate in indulgence... with 18 decks and 18 restaurants; Bionic Bar with robots as bartenders and waiters; the largest indoor sports and entertainment centre at sea; the only skydiving facility at sea and a glass capsule which takes you as high up as the Statue of Liberty — 300 ft above the ocean and the most advanced line-up of entertainment including Broadway shows!  

And if guests tire of the doodads and bells and whistles of this landmark ship, there’s always the Great Outdoors — destinations that Quantum glides into like a giant swan. Ultimately, the joy of an exotic getaway lies as much in its sudden discovery as its sheer luxury.

There are perhaps fewer David Livingstones today as there are no more Dark Continents to tramp through. Yet, there are little scenic corners around the globe waiting to be explored by the seasoned traveller.

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