For so long now we have associated travel with sea, sun, sightseeing, pampering and generally making a nuisance of ourselves that it’s hardly a wonder that tourists are not the most beloved of people around the world. Instead of the conventional seaside hotel, country getaway or city tour we sought to find modern-day travel inspiration along a different route – one that approached the tourist experience from a novel perspective.
Where many have sought it in extreme luxury, out of the way locations or action-packed hairraising exploits, this selection of travel experiences gets close to Mother Nature and minimises the traveller’s impact without compromising on comfort. What’s more, we look at how the tourist may actually make a contribution to the environment he or she visits, something that is becoming more and more popular among seasoned travellers.
Indeed, both people with a strong sense of moral rectitude and those who’ve seen large parts of the world in first class and experienced much pampering are now keen to turn their travel experience into something more meaningful than the rather voyeuristic ritual it has become in past decades. Holidays that include an active contribution are therefore as trendy as sipping cocktails on deck or discovering new perspectives of our wonderful planet.
A WINDOW ON THE OCEAN
Now we’re familiar with those luxurious minimalist resorts that appear to float on the crystalline waters of the Maldives or some Pacific island against a backdrop of white sands and tall palm trees. Per Aquum resorts take this concept a step further, merging resort and ocean into one amazing visual spectacle that brings all those long-loved Bond movies to life.
Like a hidden paradise from that franchise its retreats in the UAE and the Maldives offer a seductive integration of land and water in which the view from your hotel room is not of the sea, but looks straight into it. Built on the edge of beach and ocean, Huvafen Fushi is a sumptuous luxury resort that allows you to immerse yourself in immaculate style on the white sandy beach, seek shelter amid tropical foliage, lounge on decks that merge with the sea, or return to your room under the waterline.
These luxurious cabin suites feature the elegance and style of a fine yacht or cruiser, yet with the unmistakable proximity to an underwater world that is normally associated with wetsuits, goggles, oxygen tanks and flippers. Not so here, where you can contemplate another world with drink in hand, like some suave Captain Nemo aboard a five-star Nautilus decked out with a spa and a fine dining restaurant.
A FLOATING PALACE INDEED
What the finest ocean liners lack is privacy, while all but the most fantastical yachts cannot compete with cruise ships when it comes to the sheer range and scale of amenities. The ultimate, therefore, would be a private ship with the size and infrastructure of a liner, but such a thing remains in the realms of fantasy (for now). The nearest thing in existence today is the MS The World, a beautifully sculpted cruise ship that started life as the World of Residensea and is now owned and operated by a residential community of no more than 300 ‘tenants’.
Fitted with everything you would desire of a large ocean liner, the 43,500-ton ship is geared not towards the usual complement of 2000-3000 staff and passengers, but instead 250 staff providing a six-star bespoke service for on average 100-200 owners and their guests. Instead of cabins or even suites the accommodation is made up of luxurious apartments of varying sizes and configurations that come complete with their own balconies and ocean-view jacuzzis.
Add a small ‘hotel’ for visiting guests, a regal choice of restaurants and cafés, swimming pools, spa, lounges, hairdressers, cinema, library, business centre, museum, gentleman’s bar, sports facilities (including a driving range), pool decks, fitness centres and a state-of-the-art docking port for water sports, and it becomes clear that this is nothing short of a floating paradise where even adults can feel like a kid in a candy store. What’s more, you’re not stuck in one location, but travel around the world in an everchanging itinerary agreed upon in advance. With automatic membership of the best yacht clubs, golf clubs and exclusive members clubs in most of the ports of call, it has everything to make you feel like royalty.
Natural Retreats offers the kind of settings and experiences that are very much of the land. Combining rustic luxury with the beauty and impact of authentic wildernesses, it brings you close to nature without having to forsake comfort. The destinations are wide and varied, but include such remote paradises as Tulloch, in Scotland’s Highlands, where towering white peaks surrounded by heath and indented by lochs that see the skies reflected in their icy waters form the gateway to a fairytale world of castles, ruins and mossy solitude.
The accommodation is in luxuriously appointed cottages where authentic local charm is elevated to a very comfortable home base from which to explore the surrounding national parks. Almost as moody and every bit as beautiful is the North American alternative. The Greystone Inn is a luxury natural retreat on Lake Toxaway in North Carolina’s stunning Blue Ridge Mountains. Here you can enjoy the refined pleasures of golf, tennis, croquet, sailing, fine dining and spa treatments, as well as the hiking, mountaineering and fishing offered by the gorgeous surroundings. Sundowners are enjoyed aboard a large mahogany launch, where guests sip champagne and contemplate the scenery in the grand style of the Bell Époque.
MAKING A CONTRIBUTION
For those with an active inclination there is a new kind of action experience that is fast taking root. Conservation holidays allow you to travel to far and wonderful lands where you can get up close to the culture, the natural environment and the people involved in helping to preserve fragile ecosystems and habitats. Rather than just being that tourist voyeur always looking from the outside in, volunteer holidays of this kind allow visitors to travel and see new things whilst also feeling that they have experienced something real and made a difference.
Making a contribution to the world rather than simply admiring it is what the hands-on holidays of GVI (Global Vision International) are all about, and they offer a wide choice of options ranging from environmental and community projects in Africa, Asia and the Americas to the conservation of endangered species such as the jaguar in beautiful Costa Rica. The hotel experience, consisting mostly of tropical huts and simple but honest meals, may be somewhat lacking in the luxury department, but the sense of involvement more than makes up for it, enabling volunteer visitors to work alongside conservationists and interns hard at work to study and protect these wonderful creatures.
The efforts of visiting contributors may seem like a short moment in time, but they form part of a coordinated conservation programme that maps out a protected habitat for an animal whose numbers have dropped from 400,000 in the 1950s to the 14,000 that remain in the Americas today. The setting is the stunning tropical Tortugero National Park, set along Costa Rica’s wild Caribbean coast. While learning about the surrounding ecosystem and helping with conservation activities, visitors are encouraged to enjoy themselves, let their hair down and sightsee, though the sightings of the jaguars themselves and the bonds of camaraderie that develop are generally cited as the most rewarding of all. For an experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life, this is holidaying seen from a completely different perspective.
This article was published in Villae International Magazine 9, the official magazine of EREN – The European Real Estate Network. You can also read the online version of the printed Villae International Magazine 9.