Swap all those last-minute mini-breaks for one meaningful, glamorous adventure that will truly enrich your life
Words: Kate Hamilton
I once slept in a nightclub in Amsterdam. Or rather, looking for a quick weekend away, I once booked a cheap last-minute trip to Holland and ended up sleeping in a hotel room below a nightclub. For three long nights the synth stabs of house music sliced through any semblance of sleep. And did I spend my day marvelling at Sunflowers in the Van Gogh Museum or strolling blissfully along the floating flower market on the Singel canal? No, I rushed, bleary-eyed between endless museums, boutiques and restaurants systematically ticking them off my to do list then went home anything but revived.
It was then I realised that by making do with quick-fix breaks that cause more stress than they’re worth, I’m prone to sacrificing the true romance and adventure of a significant holiday where I really discover the soul of a new place. And I suspect that I’m not the only one.
This year, the trend for experiential, transformative holidays that impact you deeply by opening your mind to new adventures and outlooks is dominating the travel world.
Reacting against our screen-filled modern existence, we are increasingly seeking experiences that allow us to return home feeling enriched. Seventy-six per cent of social media users post travel photos on their platforms but snapping a sunset, posting it on Instagram then rushing to the next hotspot no longer feels satisfying. Influenced by mindfulness and a desire for depth, travellers in search of true glamour now want to settle down with a bottle of wine and some friends and spend a couple of hours enjoying watching the skies turn from warm oranges and reds through to deep blues and purples until its finally time to move on. You can always take advantage of #latergram when you finally get home.
This slower, more profound approach can be applied at any budget – a transformative experience could mean chartering a yacht to sail around the Greek Islands, but it could also mean sitting and enjoying a coffee in an Italian piazza as a church clock sounds the passing time. And one long life-enhancing holiday, such as spending 10 days learning to surf on a Caribbean beach, could be worth as much to you and your emotional health as five weekend budget breaks.
The travel industry is innovating specifically to address our desire for stand-out trips. Luxury agency Black Tomato recently launched Blink, a service that brings the comfort of five-star accommodation to some of the world’s most remote locations (such as pop-up safari tents overlooking the Mekong River). Meanwhile Juliet Kinsman, the founding editor of Mr & Mrs Smith boutique hotels, is now working with Bouteco Hotels, a new enterprise that highlights stylish hotels with stories of sustainability. She says: “Glamour is no longer about glimmering chandeliers, polished lobbies and fussy service, it’s about having meaningful life-enhancing escapes where we make emotional connections with new destinations, cultures and people.”
Whatever your budget now’s the time to add an injection of occasion and bewitchment back into your travels. Experience them, savour them and share them – just don’t be in a rush to tick them off a list.
Enjoy Scotland’s Romance
From the moment the ivy- covered turrets of Dalhousie Castle (from £74, dalhousiecastle.co.uk) appear in view, time melts away. Eight miles south of Edinburgh, the building dates back to the 13th century, counts at least two English kings among previous visitors and feels as if every nook and cranny holds a little bit of history. There’s even a secret door to the bar through the library (clue: take a close look at the bookcases). Bedrooms are ornate and many have beautifully carved wooden four-poster beds, fit for the famous historical figures, including Mary, Queen of Scots, and William Wallace the suites are named after. For an extra special experience, reserve the Dalhousie room and stay within one of the castle’s famous red towers.
Take a stroll in the castle grounds to the River Esk then, to truly live like a Laird, book a session at the falconry to encounter buzzards, falcons and owls or try your luck at medieval archery. Lasswade Stables are nearby, if you prefer to explore on horseback (£35 per hour for a private hack lasswadestables.com) or for an even more memorable sightseeing trip, try a hot air balloon ride over Edinburgh, rounded off with a glass of champagne (£189, albaballooning.co.uk).
Make a memory: Wind your way down the candlelit stone staircase to the castle’s two AA Rosette Dungeon Restaurant. Try modern interpretations of classic Scots dishes such as slow-cooked sole with kale panna cotta or salt-baked celeriac – then sneak back up to the library for a wee dram by the roaring log fire.
Feel like you’re at the end of the earth in Sumba
Sumba island is way beyond most island dreams we’ve ever had. Located 250 miles southeast of Bali, Sumba is unblemished by mass tourism and offers pristine beaches, beautiful forests and traditional villages.
Situated on the beach, this former surfing retreat, Nihiwatu (from £608 per night, nihiwatu.com) has been transformed into the ultimate island resort with 28 teak-and-rattan villas that take in the panoramic sweep of the Indian Ocean. Wherever you look, the views are jaw-dropping.
Spend your time on the picture-perfect beach or relaxing by one of the infinity pools before dining in a romantic treehouse above breaking waves.
To bring your more active island dreams to life, gallop along the shore on horseback at sunset, snorkel among the exotic marine life, surf the Coconut Cove or visit the Blue Waterfall. We recommend making the trip out to Konda Maloba Bay on the edge of Sumba’s National Park – an idyllic spot to laze in the dappled sunlight before diving into the crystal-clear waters.
Make a memory: For a beauty treatment with a scenic difference, take part in the day-long Spa Safari. Take a walk through the rolling hills and rice paddies to reach Nihi Oka where, after a refreshing fresh coconut drink, you can indulge in unlimited spa treatments as well as taking a dip in a natural spring.
Travel back to a more opulent time in Jaipur
It's where Naomi Campbell chose to throw a lavish birthday for an ex – and you can see why it caught her attention. Romantic, historic and breathtakingly beautiful, a visit to Jaipur, Rajasthan’s capital, will stay with you forever. Immerse yourself in the majestic architecture of the Raj-era palaces in the Pink City (so called for the colour of its stonework) and allow its bygone grandeur to give you a taste of life as an Indian royal.
If you want to splash out and experience true luxury, stay at the Suján Rajmahal (from £583, sujanluxury.com/raj-mahal). A former palace built in 1729 by the Maharaja for his wife, each of the hotel’s 15 rooms are decorated with bespoke floral wallpaper. The breakfast room known as the ‘57 Shades Of Pink’ room is an explosion of bright colours and glimmering mirrors. Private butlers will attend to your every whim.
Nearby is The Gem Palace (gempalacejaipur.com), which has handcrafted diamond- encrusted pieces enjoyed by royals including Princess Diana. For a touch of luxury at a more bank balance friendly level, enjoy panoramic views over dinner at the art-filled Peacock Rooftop Restaurant in the Hotel Pearl Palace (hotelpearlpalace.com) before sinking into a dark leather chair at the Aza library bar in the Fairmont Hotel (fairmont.com/jaipur), with the best wine cellar in town.
Make a memory: Head into Ranthambore National Park to watch the majestic tiger in its natural habitat. Sher Bagh has Twenties-style hand-stitched tents with rosewood four-poster beds and butler bells to summon assistance (from £477, sujanluxury.com/sher-bagh). Days are spent jeeping through long grass – and nights sampling spiced dishes from an outdoor clay oven.
Dip your toe in Montenegro’s retro glamour
With honey-coloured stone buildings and bright red roofs, the miniature rocky isle of Sveti Stefan dates back to the 15th century, and has become the quintessential image of Montenegro, a country which has been quietly hailed as the new Croatia for a few years now. Back in the Seventies, the peninsula hosted the likes of Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor, and today it’s home to the exquisite Aman Sveti Stefan (from £600, aman.com), a boutique retreat perched on a private inlet. Reached only by a narrow strip of land, the resort’s rooms have a chic, serene feel – with wood-beamed ceilings, exposed stone walls and a neutral palette – and the whole place somehow manages to seem more like a charming village than a luxury hotel.
The upscale Aman Restaurant specialises in Adriatic seafood, including rock oysters and freshly caught sea bass, while the Taverna, Enoteca and Antipasti Bar are all located on the Piazza and offer informal, Italian-style dining. Take a seat on the sea-facing terrace and nibble fresh bread and local olive oil, washed down with the resort’s signature cocktail made with raki spirit, elderflower extract, grenadine and vanilla. And don’t forget to visit the beautiful Skadar Lake. Located just 25km from Aman and home to over 280 species of birds, the lake’s glassy surface is alive with floating fields of waterlilies.
Make a memory: Pack a picnic and stroll 10 minutes from the resort’s main island to Queen’s Beach. Framed by towering cliffs and picture perfect mountains, the pristine stretch of sand (and the clearest water we’ve ever seen) is available exclusively for guests of Aman.
Chase cherry blossom in Japan
Spring in Japan conjures up one unique image: dreamlike cherry blossom. In Japanese culture, these heavenly petals aren’t just a feast for the eyes; each exquisite blossom symbolises the transience of life itself: a graceful acceptance of nature’s encircling karma. Over the centuries, the ancient practice of picnicking under these powder-pink clouds has become an act of poetry itself. Indulge in your own ethereal journey through the cherry blossoms with Cox & Kings (from £4,555; coxandkings.co.uk) or sort your own itinerary – fly Tokyo and sip grapefruit and yuzu cocktails at the Mandarin Bar on the 37th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel (mandarinoriental.com/tokyo) before exploring the city’s relaxing oasis at the Imperial Palace’s East Garden. From there, take in two of Japan’s most picturesque spots: Hakone National Park and Miyajima Island. In the mountainous region of Hakone, rejuvenate both body and soul at one of its luxurious hot springs (hakoneyuryo.jp) and discover the last remaining Edo period (1603-1868) teahouse along the Tokaido Highway. Traditionally revered as “the island where God resides”, Miyajima has long since been regarded as a spiritual sanctuary. Delve into its unique history by visiting the island’s centuries-old Itsukushima Shrine (en.itsukushimajinja.jp), but do so at high tide, when this romantic structure mystically floats on water, as if by magic.
Make a memory: Stay in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn that served weary travellers between the 17th and 19th centuries. Ryokan Izuyasu (From £234, izuyasu.com) is walking distance from Kyoto Station and the Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple or try Hiiragiya Ryokan (from £437 a night, the-ryokan.com) in old Kyoto and unwind in a bathtub built from fragrant podocarpus wood.
Tango in Buenos Aires
Tango in buenos aires cruise along The riviera With French classical architecture and a fiery Latin heart, Buenos Aires moves to its own beat. Home of the tango, absorb the most glamorous and edgy interpretation of the dance at the Rojo Tango in Faena (faena.com/buenos-aires), Philippe Starck’s legendary hotel. Inspired to try out the moves? Sign up at Piazzolla Tango (piazzollatango.com), where, for £118, you can take a class before enjoying a three-course dinner, dance and show.
By day, explore the aristocratic area of Recoleta and visit luxury scent laboratory, Fueguia 1883 (fueguia.com), to create your own bespoke fragrance. Come evening, dine at Coupage (casacoupage.com), an intimate restaurant offering tasting menus which might include langoustine, venison and pisco sour sorbet, before heading for Bar Isabel (isabelbar.com), a beautiful cocktail haunt with rounded leather banquettes and mirrored walls. Lay your head at Legado Mítico (from £200, legadomitico.com) in the heart of the city where each room is named after a great Argentinian – from Evita to Che Guevara.
Make a memory: Sample life as a gaucho on one of the oldest ranches, La Bamba (from £640, labambadeareco.com).
Cruise along The Riviera
If you’ve ever wanted to emulate Brigitte Bardo in the South of France, pack your most stylish turban and hop on a flight to Nice, on the Côte d’Azur. Head to Le Negresco’s Bar (hotel-negresco-nice.com) where Richard Burton once pulled up a bar stool, then head to the Musée Matisse in a Genoese-style 17th-century villa (musee-matisse-nice.org).
For the ultimate in luxury retro, hire a racing-red open-topped Triumph TR3 (rivieraclassiccarhire.com) and cruise across the viaduct that bridges Villefranche-sur-Mer and Monaco like Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief.
Perched 1,400 feet high above sea level, the nearby ancient village of Eze reminds you of a simpler time. Take afternoon tea in the garden of one of the world’s most luxurious hotels, Chateau de la Chevre d’Or and picture previous guest Marlene Dietrich taking a stroll across one of its gorgeous courtyards.
Next, head west and explore the beautiful coastline taking in Nice, Antibes and Cannes. Make like Princess Grace and book a room in one of the To Catch A Thief’s locations, the luxurious InterContinental Carlton (from £173, ihg.com/intercontinental).
Make a memory: Visit Cap d’Antibes’ Plage de La Garoupe – a jazz age spot that is believed to have inspired F Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night.
Be enchanted by the winelands of the Cape
For wine (and landscape) enthusiasts there are few more beautiful places to visit different terroirs and sample local grapes than South Africa’s stunning winelands. Only an hour from Cape Town, the region is made up of the valleys around Paarl, Franschhoek (famed for its cuisine, try The Kitchen at Maison, maisonestate.co.za) and Stellenbosch. Here, nestled among mountains, is the unique setting of the Delaire Graff Estate (delaire.co.za). The beautiful Cape Dutch winery is peppered with modern art donated by the estate’s owner, world-renowned jeweller and philanthropist Laurence Graff. Famed for its clarets and sauvignon blancs, enjoy the drink of your choice on a terrace overlooking the valley (try the tasting, pairing five wines with local cheeses for just £15 per person). For the ultimate in luxury, stay at one of the estate’s lodges with their own heated plunge pool, or for relaxed glamour with spectacular sea views, choose Ellerman House hotel (from £414, ellerman.co.za) overlooking Bantry Bay. Its 11 rooms all feature an elegant mix of antique furnishings and modern African art.
If art is your passion, visit from September when the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (zeitzmocaa.museum) opens in Cape Town. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, it’s set to become one of the world’s most influential cultural institutions.
Make a memory: Don’t miss Cape Town’s ultimate sundowner spot, the flat-topped Signal Hill has enviable views over Table Mountain. At weekends, the place comes alive with groups of friends picnicking, sipping local wines and enjoying the dipping sunset at dusk.
Set up home in the Hamptons
A train ride away from New York City, the Hamptons are a group of idyllic seaside towns along the southern edge of Long Island which have a history of attracting the rich and famous, from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to modern day A-listers.
Each town boasts its own attractions, from the therapeutic salt caves at Montauk (montauksaltcave.com) to the boutiques of Sag Harbor or Jackson Pollock’s former house in East Hampton. You can still see the famous paint spatters in the barn he used as his studio (sb.cc.stonybrook.edu/pkhouse).
Despite the glamorous pedigree, the feel of the Hamptons is understated luxury. Make like a native New Yorker and rent a temporary home with a group of friends, such as the chic yet charming Coolidge Lane Residence, which sleeps 10 (from $750 a night, kidandcoe.com), or try renting the six-bedroom Victorian beach house in East Marion that Lena Dunham and the Girls friends stayed in during the ‘Beach House’ episode (email the owner for prices, toweratrockypoint.com). Just make sure you had a better time than they did.
If you want to break with tradition, book into the supremely glamorous and individual The Maidstone hotel in East Hampton, which mixes Scandinavian-inspired décor with all-American charm (from £217, themaidstone.com).
For a relaxing day on one of the pristine white sand beaches, pick up an exquisite beach picnic from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa gourmet grocery store in East Hampton and truly immerse yourself in a classic NY holiday.
Make a memory: Take the ferry from North Haven to nearby Shelter Island and book in for dinner and cocktails at the Sunset Beach Hotel (sunsetbeachli.com) – owned by Andre Balazs of Chateau Marmont and Chiltern Firehouse fame.
Board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express to Venice
Visiting the hauntingly beautiful city of Venice is like stepping back into an age of elegance so, to fully transport yourself to another time, arrive on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express from London (from £2,365, belmond.com/venice-simplon-orient-express). The train is an icon of Art Deco luxury and you’ll be surrounded by oak panels, mosaic tiles and the clinking of champagne glasses as you feast on a five-course gastronomic meal while en route to the floating city.
The epitome of romantic glamour thanks to its winding canals, sumptuous palaces and secret alleyways, Venice was the wedding venue of choice for George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin. Their A-list guests stayed at the iconic Hotel Cipriani (from £553, belmond.com/hotel-cipriani-venice) on the island of Giudecca overlooking Venice, but there are so many hotels to choose from.
Rich seafood risotto is the pillar of Venetian cuisine, and you can try a delicious, reasonably priced take on the classic at Antiche Carampane (antichecarampane.com/en). With starched white tablecloths, dark wood furniture and walls lined with gilded mirrors and black-and-white photographs, this is old-school Italian dining at its best. Meanwhile Harry’s Bar (harrysbarvenezia.com) is the birthplace of the Bellini cocktail (prosecco and peach purée). Pull up a chair just like Charlie Chaplin and Ernest Hemingway did here decades before.
For modern-day glamour, visit T Fondaco dei Tedeschi (dfs.com), the high-end shopping centre which opened last month with interiors by Jamie Fobert, one of the architects behind London’s Selfridges.
Make a memory: Hire private water taxi (around £80) and glide between the Venetian islands, admiring the multi-coloured buildings of Burano and glittering Byzantine mosaics of Torcello.
Words: Kate Hamilton, Editor-in-Chief, Suitcase Magazine
Opening image: Esperanza Moya/folio-id.com
Photography: Getty Images