Five best hidden gem holidays
For serious travellers, the ultimate holiday destination is the one that nobody else knows about. Porter magazine’s travel editor Catherine Fairweather, an expert in luxury and adventure travel, lines up five hot tips for undiscovered holiday locations in 2015
My father, a diplomat, had his share of hardship postings and I was taken along for the ride. In-between such postings, my parents’ favourite holidays were under canvas and the stars, sleeping on forgotten beaches in hidden outposts spanning the globe from the Mediterranean to Malaysia.
Perhaps it explains why in my 20-year career as a travel editor and journalist, I tend to be drawn to the wilder frontiers where there is the frisson of an adventure waiting to happen, and a narrative to relate. Much as I enjoy good food, wine, fashion and a comfortable pillow, it’s the snapshots and memories of my own travels that inspire me; dawn pilgrimages up Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka, rafting on uncharted white waters in British Colombia, encounters with gorillas in Uganda, or island-hopping in Greece.
Happily I am tapping into the zeitgeist; experiential travel is a watchword for travel in 2015. Luxury is no longer about infinity pools and thread counts and the square footage of the presidential suite. It’s all about exploring off the beaten track and discovering something about yourself in the process. Above all, it’s about coming home with a story to tell. Here then are my picks of five destinations where true adventures can still be found.
1. Himalayas, India
Shakti Himalaya is the ultimate travel specialist for restless souls. Venturing into India’s majestic and lonely Himalayan regions of Sikkim, Kumaon and Ladakh at various times of the year, after the snow melt or rain, you travel on foot, by mule, in four-wheel drive vehicles or on rafts. Accommodation is provided in wonderfully kitted-out tented camps or atmospheric homestays which you will have all to yourself. These village houses are still owned by the locals but have been leased by Shakti and given a makeover with hemp curtains, immaculate mattresses and wood-burning stoves, with staff and incredible cooks on standby.
2. Nihiwatu, Indonesia
Thanks to its famous ‘left-hand break’, the former surfers’ beach paradise of Nihiwatu has attracted adrenalin seekers for years. Since it was founded thirty years ago, however, it has also developed into an incredible resort with only 32 villas across 567 acres. It successfully sustains projects that work in harmony with the environment and for the benefit of local Sumbanese tribes while offering guests a unique taste of living on the wild side. Ride the swells, gallop along the two-mile long sandy beach, swim in waterfalls, hike to jungly hinterlands and pull wahoo fish out of the ocean for beach side barbecues. This is what Bali was like before it was discovered.
3. Kalahari, Botswana, Africa
San Camp is the latest addition to Uncharted Africa’s collection of tented lodges built in the Magkadigaki salt pans and looking out on to the shimmering bleached-out desert landscape of the Kalahari. To stay here is to enjoy a safari with a difference; you’ll breathe in the big-sky landscape and at the same time focus on the smallest detail. Uncover fossils with San tribespeople, ride across the earth’s crust on quad bikes, pull out your bedroll under the stars next to 2,000-year-old baobab trees and spend mornings with habituated meerkats.
4. Harahorn, Hemsedal, Norway
The resort of Harahorn is set in one of Norway’s loveliest and most untainted mountain landscapes. Outside the quiet skiing resort of Hemsedal, 1,100 metres above the frozen river, you’ll find a collection of beautiful old wood and stone houses and chalets built around the pine and spruce of a royal estate. With snow well into April and sunlight that lingers into evening, this is the place to come for late-season skiing. Choose from downhill in Hemsedal, or an extensive web of cross-country ski trails spidering out from the resort with one-day, two-day or longer expeditions into the white wilderness possible. Not feeling quite energetic enough? Plump for the comfort of fur-lined sleds pulled by teams of huskies across neighbouring lakes and rivers frozen through the winter. Back at Harahorn, a roaring fire and some of the best food in Northern Norway welcomes you (river trout from the waters below and reindeer meat marinated in mountain berry gin). In summer, when the sun never dips below the horizon, it’s a place to sit and take stock or hike in the wild flower meadows that fan out around the huts.
5. Bab Ourika, Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Only 45 minutes drive from the Marrakech but a whole world away from the hustle and bustle of the medina, the peaceful, isolated retreat of Bab Ourika is found among the orange groves and olives of a former mountain stronghold. Walls are made of rammed earth and polished plaster, and terraces have incredible views on to the snowcapped Atlas, the Tassa Ouirgane National Park (containing traditional salt mines), and the emerald green of the Ourika valley, which cuts a swathe through the barren, rocky landscape. It’s a place to rest, eat and if you like, hike for days with Bab Ourika’s own guides.