The Ampersand Travel team’s top travel recommendations for the year ahead….
Secluded deep within Bhutan’s Punakha Valley lies the stunning new 11-room Uma Punakha. Launched in September 2012, this is the sister property of Uma Paro, renowned for its COMO Shambhala massages, yoga and wellness facilities. The unveiling of Uma Punakha is significant because it opens up a new part of the Dragon Kingdom to those who love to combine luxury with adventure and culture. Split your trip between both Uma properties (5 or 7 nights) – and for the extremely adventurous, you can incorporate a stay at the Bumdra Monastery Camp, COMO’s own wilderness campsite high in the Himalayas and accessed only via remote mountain paths. Experienced guides will direct you through the Valleys of Punakha, Thimphu and Paro with activities including day walks, visits to the Dochu Lu, the Punakha Dzong, Taktsang ‘Tiger’s Nest’ Monastery, the National Museum and a wild hike to Kila Nunnery between the valleys of Haa and Paro.
Vivanta by Taj Madikeri Coorg is a new opening located in the misty jungle-shrouded mountains of Karnataka, a beautiful state in south India. If you want to detox from city life and completely switch off, this isolated hillside 4,000 feet above sea level is the perfect setting to do so. The property has 62 rooms and villas spread over 180 acres of rainforest with over 300 species of plants and abundant wildlife. Treat yourself at the Jiva Grande Spa which is hidden under a rainforest canopy or unwind listening to the sounds of the jungle at the Buddha Garden and vast outdoor pool. The design and location of this unique new property make it as invigorating as it is relaxing.
2013 is the year to visit Burma – the land that tourism forgot, but is now swiftly falling for. Stay one step ahead of the madding crowd with Ampersand’s recommendations of where to go and what to do in Burma, including:
- Ballooning over Bagan… Enjoy a sunrise hot air balloon trip over the temples of Bagan with extraordinary views over hundreds of ancient ruins and pagodas which peek out from this remote jungle.
- Sun-worshipping on the idyllic palm-fringed beaches of Ngapali… With one of the longest coastlines in Asia, Burma is a treasure trove of beautiful, unexplored beaches, many of which offer good diving and snorkelling. It works wonderfully as a stand alone beach break – certainly more adventurous than Thailand and with fewer tourists – and just a short plane hop from Yangon. Ngapali is one of the most spectacular sweeps of beach, a 3km stretch of palm-backed sand and the location of Sandoway Resort, one of Ampersand’s favourite hotels in Asia.
- The botanical gardens of Pyin Oo Lwin… These colourful gardens are beautifully maintained and a popular spot for honeymooners and families.
- Slicing through the water on Inle Lake on a long-tail boat… Nearly 200 miles south-east of Mandalay lies Inle Lake – a place of heart-stopping beauty where no electricity flows.
- Venture off-the-beaten track to a luxury oasis in Putao… Designed by Aman architect, Jean Michel Gathy, Malikha Lodge is sleek and sexy despite its incredibly far-flung northern location. This is Burma’s greenest, most remote state, home to Lisu and Rawang tribes. You go for forests, trekking, cycling, wildlife, waterfalls, rafting and kayaking – it’s all possible from the lodge. Be aware: Putao is hard to get to and this is reflected in the cost.
- Sailing on the Sea Gypsy… Departing from the homeport of Kaw Thaung, live like a genuine sea gypsy for a week aboard a rustic yet comfortable boat – with nothing to do but sail, dive and swim like a true Moken.
If you are a lover of golf and fine views, there’s nowhere better to stay than the Victoria Golf and Country Resort in Kandy – voted the best golf course in the sub-continent. Sleep in a chalet overlooking the 17th Tee, just steps away from the golfing green with stunning views over the Knuckles Mountain Range. Once you have had your golf fix, head into those wickedly named Knuckles! These thick forested mountains are perfect for those who love to hike, mountain bike or explore local villages and discover waterfalls. The flora and fauna is very impressive and there are many species of mammals found amongst these forests including elephants, giant squirrels and leopards. Rangala House is a charming and homely place with some of the most rewarding views in Sri Lanka overlooking the mountains as well as tea plantations. The drive to Knuckles Range forest conservation is only a 45 minute journey away so whether you want to sit back and marvel at the beauty around you by the pool, or actively explore the range, Rangala House is the place to be.
Our South East Asia specialist Mark recently stayed at Surya Shanti and said it was by far the most special place he experienced in Bali – his new secret discovery which he is eager to share with clients! It offers the archetypal Balinese idyll that everyone is looking for on the island but simply can’t find – and at an affordable price. One hour from Ubud if you want to go shopping but close to a very cute little village, Surya Shanti is otherwise completely surrounded by rice terraces, zero traffic, Mt Agung volcano views from every angle and dramatic valley views leading down to the sea. The property has just 11 villas (4 of which have panoramic views of everything from your bed), 2 swimming pools, a spa, a terraced restaurant and a dining balé in the garden. The gardens are the perfect blend of manicured and wild, and the natural colours of the flowers and plants are utterly kaleidoscopic It is hard to imagine that a place like this still exists on this overcrowded island. Many hotels in Bali go for the wellness angle or full blown luxury, but what Surya Shanti offers is the spiritual essence of Bali – as clichéd as that may sound!
A sailing voyage is the best way to experience the mythical Komodo Islands and the remote Raja Ampat islands. As for which vessel to choose, we think Tiger Blue is the most glamorous yet affordable schooner which sails these seas – a 34-metre phinisi with billowing red sails, sexy teak fittings and 10 en-suite cabins that can sleep 10 people. If you prefer, you can sleep on deck to enjoy the balmy breezy and star filled night skies. There are 9 staff including talented Indonesian chefs (otak-otak or a fresh sashimi snack, perhaps?) and a Dutch dive master who can guide you through the magnificent underwater landscape. Raja Ampat has the richest marine life of anywhere on the planet.
Sumba, a surfer’s paradise just an hour’s flight from Bali, is home to some of the most untouched beaches and traditional villages in Indonesia, as well as the best surfing conditions. The only hotel on the island, the hideaway resort of Nihiwatu Lodge is set amongst 438 acres of tropical forest, rice terraces and grasslands wrapped around the stunning two and half km long Nihiwatu beach. This world-class beach is protected on both ends by cliffs and headlands ensuring total exclusivity. Tucked amongst the trees these luxury bungalows villas all have balcony vistas stretching the full length of the beach, the sea and the headlands beyond. For those who can afford it, we suggest splashing out on their new residences, “Nihiwatu 2.0”, which launched at the end of 2012. These offer more seclusion, better ocean views, a butler service, access to a private pool (shared between the Nihiwatu 2.0 residences) and a higher level of luxury and hardware than the other cottages. Fear not, though… whichever category of villa you choose, they are all stunning.
Song Saa Private Island is the brainchild of an ex-marketing exec Rory and interior designer Melita, an Australian couple who love luxury hotels as much as they love the environment. They have done a truly magnificent job of taking eco-luxe to the next level. If you are used to staying in the best luxury hotels like Amans, Six Senses or COMO Hotels, you will not be disappointed at Song Saa. After identifying the most idyllic undiscovered location – 2 small islands in Cambodia’s Koh Rong archipelago – they have transformed it into a rustic palace decorated with unique and often re-used salvaged items combined with the slickest white lounging sofas and killer beds. The food is Michelin worthy (and it’s all included in the price) and the natural environment and local island culture is safeguarded Rory and Melita, who work hard to protect both. Be warned: this resort is so special and staff are so welcoming that guests have been known to cry on departure!
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44(0)20 7289 6100 to speak to one of our consultants about any of these trips. They will advise you on your options, plan a bespoke itinerary for you and take care of all the booking details. Happy travels in 2013!