Take a break from the norm at one of these wonderfully different destinations
Dine with giraffes in Kenya
Recommended by Stylist
When you go on safari, you normally travel to the animals, but if you’re a guest at Giraffe Manor then the animals come to you. The hotel is a boutique affair: a Thirties mansion in Langata, a pleasant suburb of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. But it’s the herd of Rothschild’s giraffes that make it special. Especially when they decide to push their long necks through a window to join you as you enjoy breakfast or high tea. And they aren’t the only ones. The giraffes are often accompanied by a couple of trotting warthogs – and we’ve felt affectionate towards warthogs ever since The Lion King.
The hotel is located in a sanctuary owned by the Africa Fund for Endangered Wildlife, so the giraffes are still wild animals and haven’t been trained to perform for tourists. They have, however, learned to trust the humans they meet at the Manor and are happy to feed through the windows. The sanctuary also runs a breeding programme, introducing pairs of Rothschild’s back into the wild in an attempt to reverse declining numbers. This is an animal encounter you need have no ethical worries over.
Stay: Giraffe Manor
There are 12 rooms in Giraffe Manor, ranging from standard doubles to a suite named after local resident Karen Blixen, the author of Out Of Africa. It also boasts elegant art deco furnishings, verandas, roof terraces and the option of eating a romantic dinner in the orchid house.
From £411. find out more at thesafaricollection.com
Cross the length of Britain
Humphrey Butler is founder of Strumpshaw, Tincleton & Giggleswick’s Marvellous Maps
“What’s the best way to experience Britain’s glorious scenery and make an epic adventure out of it? One answer is to travel the entire length of the country: from the most southerly part (the Isles of Scilly) to the northernmost (Shetland).
Highlights along the way: the low-lying sandy paradise of the Scillies, Glastonbury Tor and the Somerset Levels, Shropshire’s hills, Lancashire (especially the Forest of Bowland and views to the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District), Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, remote parts of the Highlands, prehistoric Orkney and – finally – otherworldly Shetland.
When you reach the cliffs of Hermaness and look out at the Muckle Flugga lighthouse and Out Stack, Britain’s most northerly point, you feel very remote. You’re closer to Norway than London.
The beauty of this journey is you can do it any way you like – cycling, driving, walking… you can even do a lot of it on public transport if that’s your thing. You can also tailor the route to suit the time you have available and the places you want to see. What better way to get to know Britain properly?”
The Joyously Busy Great British Adventure Map, (£14.99, marvellousmaps.com) is out now.
Stay: Busta House Hotel
A 16th-century hilltop home on mainland Shetland, Busta House has a restaurant serving up Shetland lamb, and a bar with 200-plus whiskies. Rooms are an unashamed mish-mash, all named after islands, and all looking completely different. Some have four-poster beds, some antique furniture, some splendid sea views.
From £115; find out more at bustahouse.com.
Take an incredible train journey in Norway
Andrew Martin is the author of Night Trains: The Rise And Fall Of The Sleeper (£14.99, Profile Books)
“The Nordland Railway is the most scenic in Europe for my money. It runs from Trondheim, halfway up the coast of Norway, to Bodo in the Arctic Circle. I recommend taking a day train and spending 24 hours in Bodo before returning by sleeper.
Trondheim is an elegant city of old warehouses lining the river Nid. From here, the Nordland Railway skirts the grey waters of the Trondheim fjord, taking 10 hours to cover 450 miles. Gradually the hills become forested and mountainous, then snow-capped.
Then comes the lunar landscape of the Arctic Circle. Bodo itself was flattened by German bombers in 1942 and rebuilt in concrete, but beautiful mountains and seascapes are visible from any street.
The night train back to Trondheim leaves just after 9pm. The bunks in the cosy sleeper berths (which you never have to share with a stranger) have crisp linen and a chocolate on the pillow.”
Prices start at NOK 1179 (£107) one-way from nsb.no
Stay: Clarion Collection Grand Hotel Olav
Next to Trondheim’s main concert hall, the Grand Hotel Olav throws in afternoon sweet treats and dinner as standard. Public areas come with a piano, a jukebox and music memorabilia, plus cowhide seats and shelves of CDs.
From £96; find out more at nordicchoicehotels.com
Fly over Bhutan’s mountains
Joss Kent is the CEO of &Beyond, which specialises in curating adventures for small groups of travellers
“Bhutan is a stunningly scenic country the size of Switzerland, with only 750,000 souls in it and not one traffic light.
Get a different perspective on Bhutan on a helicopter tour in a six-seater single-engine Airbus H130. The flight takes off from Paro airport, circling over the fertile rice fields in the valley. Soar over the Rinpung Dzong, a Buddhist monastery and fortress, and past the Ta Dzong, or national museum, which used to be the old watchtower. Pass the famous Tiger’s Nest temple, where legend has it that Guru Rinpoche, founder of Buddhism, flew in on a tigress to meditate on the rugged cliff.
Follow the winding route of the Paro River over the ancient fortresses of Drukgyal Dzong and Lingshi Dzong. Then gaze at the sacred face of Mount Jomolhari, which straddles the border between Tibet and Bhutan, rising to a craggy altitude of 2,300 metres. Come to rest at a breathtaking site near Mount Jomolhari, where you can photograph the spectacular views.”
A 30-minute helicopter tour with Firefox Tours is £300 per person; firefoxtours.com
Stay: Naksel Boutique Hotel and Spa
The first thought tends to be: “Is that a temple?” It’s not – it’s merely a staggering piece of traditional Bhutanese architecture. Just about everything inside the Naksel was created by a community project in the Ngoba village, leading to rooms that are equal parts simple and beautiful. The Himalayan herbal spa tops it off.
From £161; find out more at naksel.com
Head to end of the earth in Patagonia
Tamara Lohan is the co-founder of boutique hotel experts Mr & Mrs Smith
“There’s been a huge surge of interest in visiting Chile recently. The past 12 months has seen a boom in boutique hotels and there are more direct flights than before.
The capital, Santiago, is very cosmopolitan – lots of culture, lots of bars. It’s a very vibrant scene with so much going on. But l love to head to the far south of the country, into Patagonia. There are glaciers you can climb and you can look for pumas and condors. I love spotting condors: they’re birds that look like dinosaurs. The first time I saw one it really gave me a sense of how old the earth is. There are volcanos too, which are so beautiful – the landscape feels so primitive, it’s like you’re seeing something from a much older time. You are so far south, geographically, that you really do feel like you are at the end of the world. You wake up early for a hike and look out of your window and you feel like you’re part of the sky.”
Stay: Awasi, Patagonia
The 12 cabins in Chile’s Torres del Paine national park are a touch of luxury in the wilderness, with open fireplaces, outdoor hot tubs and enormous windows to take in the spectacular views without getting out of bed. Awasi also gives every guest their own private guide to plan activities that can include hiking across glaciers or trips across Lake Pehoé in a catamaran.
From £1,907; find out more at mrandmrssmith.com
Meet mountain gorillas face to face in Rwanda
Anna Hart’s travel memoir, Departures: A Guide To Letting Go, One Adventure At A Time (£13.99, Little, Brown) is out now
“As adrenalin-spiking animal encounters go, one of the most memorable adventures out there has to be hacking through the bamboo rainforest of the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda, to come face to face with a silverback gorilla in the wild. Stay at Virunga Lodge, a luxury safari lodge on the site where Dian Fossey (of Gorillas In The Mist fame) set up her first conservation camp.
Visitor numbers in Virunga are strictly kept at eight humans to each gorilla family per day, making tracking the gorillas intimate and refreshingly uncrowded. It almost feels like you’re a family of humans going over to your gorilla cousins’ for tea. Cousins who could rip your face off at any given moment.
Fortunately, these gorillas have all been carefully ‘habituated’ (gradually acclimatised to human presence by wardens over years before tourists are introduced), a process pioneered by Fossey. And it’s gratifying to feel that the gorillas are gloriously untroubled by our squeaks of delight and the occasional shutter flash. They just keep on chewing bamboo, scratching around, doing their thing, and being totally awesome.
When Fossey began her research in 1967, the mountain gorilla population consisted of an estimated 240 primates. Happily, it’s now risen to 900, but meeting the mountain gorillas is still a powerful reminder of just how fragile the world really is. The pulse-racing experience of seeking out these mighty apes through bamboo forests in the shadow of the dramatic, mist-shrouded Virunga volcanos is as thrilling as it is humbling.”
Stay: Virunga Lodge
Ten individual luxury bandas (traditional-style huts) look out over mountains and lakes, while unashamedly vivid local fabrics are used to add a blaze of colour. Everyone gets their own fireplace, while laundry and boot-cleaning are gratis. And the romance factor is off the charts.
From £617 per person; find out more at volcanoessafaris.com/virunga-lodge-rwanda
Hike in the wilds of Japan
Rebecca Hallett is an editor for the Rough Guides series of travel books
“In the lead-up to the 2020 Olympics, the number of visitors to Japan is going to skyrocket. Luckily, you can escape the growing crowds by heading to Shikoku in the south-east of the Japanese archipelago. The least visited of the country’s four main islands, Shikoku offers a slower-paced, more traditional vision of Japan, and the perfect way to experience it is on the Shikoku Pilgrimage, or Shikoku Henro, a 1,200km trek between 88 different Buddhist temples.
You might not have a couple of months to spare for the whole thing, but just completing a few stages will give you a taste of life as a henro-san (pilgrim). Pick up the traditional white robes and sedge hat at the start (and the vital walking stick) to do it properly, or take it a step further by not booking accommodation, relying instead on the free lodgings for pilgrims along the route. While this might be daunting anywhere else, in super-safe Japan you can be sure of a warm welcome and generous hospitality. Plus, if you go in balmy springtime or cool autumn, an occasional night under the stars is the perfect accompaniment to your spiritual journey.”
Stay: Kotohira Kadan
With 400 years of history, and a habit of popping up in Japanese literature, this traditional ryokan (Japanese inn) has embraced tech with wi-fi and LCD TVs. But in other senses, it’s a glorious timewarp, with spring-fed communal baths, a meticulous cherry blossom-filled garden and tea-ceremony dinners with fish and crab.
From £135; find out more at kotohira-kadan.jp
Splash in a secret lagoon in Portugal
Gloria Molins is Airbnb’s trips lead for Europe, Middle East and Asia
“Lisbon is one of my favourite cities, it reminds me of Barcelona 15 years ago. It’s a magic place, one to discover by foot, the architecture is incredible and the food is wonderful. There is so, so much to explore just in the centre, but if you want to see another side to it, I recommend taking a short trip outside of the city.
Not many people know, but there is an incredible lagoon close by. It’s the kind of place you would never stumble across, but Airbnb have guides who can take you on a day trip. The lagoon at Albufeira is very beautiful, it looks like a delta, and you can kayak and paddleboard. You’ll almost certainly be by yourself. It will feel like a precious oasis in the middle of your trip – you’ve been in the centre of everything, experiencing culture, and then you’re in an isolated place of sand and water. I love these surprise changes of pace in a trip and discovering a place that feels like it’s all mine.”
A Wild Beaching & Coast Safari with Henrique & André is £83; airbnb.com
Stay: Casa Amora
Located in Lisbon’s creative Amoreiras district, you’ll be Instagramming the tiled-covered façade of this artsy B&B before you even set foot through the door. The five bedrooms and six studios (all named after Portuguese artists, actors, singers and poets) boast the eclectic flea market finds you’ve always coveted while the sunny courtyard at the back is an ideal spot for breakfasting on the city’s iconic pastéis de nata.
Rooms from £75; find out more at casaamora.com
Words: Anna Fielding and David Whitley