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- Caribbean Holidays 2015, 2016
Sunshine, beaches, rum and music: a heady combination that characterises the Caribbean and all its good-time, fun-loving feeling. The idyllic islands offer escapism and relaxation in spades. You can spend hours unwinding on spectacular beaches, pottering around local markets in search of conch and cocktails and exploring the lush green landscapes. Each of its many islands has a unique character, offering a variation in culture, food, activities and weather;there's a definitive vibe that's unique to each island, with joyous exuberance a common theme running from The Bahamas all the way down to Trinidad and Tobago. This makes island hopping all the more fun.
The Caribbean has long been associated with cruising;the short distance between islands and the sheer amount of places to dock lends the sunny island chain to a successful cruise holiday. From the fun-time atmosphere of Antigua, where you can recline on one of a seemingly limitless choice of beaches in the day (one for every day of the year -apparently) before enjoying music and jerk chicken at Shirley Heights at night, to the unspoilt beach haven of Saint Lucia and the glamorous St. Barths, there's a side to the Caribbean everyone can enjoy. It's quirky too: where else can you swim with pigs or stingrays, visit a former Swedish colony in the sun, or sample a hundred different kinds of rum. We'd recommend not trying them all at once.
The Caribbean with A&K
The Caribbean? Translucent shallows, powder beaches and spicy al fresco seafood, with a reggae backbeat. The honeymoon hotspot has many flattering stereotypes - nearly all well deserved - but the happy fact is that each gorgeous island has its own unique personality, landscape and flavour.
To pick the right one, you need an operator with longstanding experience of their individual charms, someone with encyclopaedic knowledge of the boutique hotels, laid back guesthouses, villa rentals and sophisticated resorts.
A&K uses the best, most passionate guides from local specialists to historians, naturalists and diving, sailing and sports fishing experts. We can arrange seamless travel across the region, find you the best deals and, thanks to well-established contacts, provide access to people and experiences off the radar of ordinary tourists.
Take an Abercrombie & Kent Caribbean holiday in 2015, 2016 and you have myriad options. Antigua, boasting 365 beaches - we think there's a little poetic license here - and fascinating colonial architecture, is a water sports heaven, particularly sailing with its world famous April regatta.
There are the exclusive hotels and chic restaurants of Barbados, a winter bolthole for A-list celebrities. Kissed by Atlantic and Caribbean waters, it also oozes local charm with brightly coloured villages dotted among the sugar cane, and a hotspot for polo, horse racing, and naturally, given it's the home of Gordon Greenidge, cricket.
Alternatively you could ferry-hop between some of the 60 British Virgin Islands which blend sun-bleached white beaches - shades are a necessity not a fashion statement - with superb diving and sophisticated hideaways. For more choice, there are the Bahamas, whose 700 islands juxtapose the glitz and casinos of New Providence with the unsullied, undeveloped Out Islands.
And you're only just starting. There's Cuba's beguiling mix of salsa, Hemmingway and Che, with elegantly decaying Havana, lovely colonial towns and a spectacularly diverse interior. Or there's the beautiful reggae capital of Jamaica, crossed by the Blue Mountains, home to rivers, waterfalls and 3,000 species of tropical plant. Elsewhere lush St Lucia effortlessly fuses French and English heritage beneath the distinctive twin peaks of the Pitons, while charming Nevis is a reminder of the Caribbean as it used to be.
You'll find sophisticated St Barths, verdant flower-strewn Grenada and Anguilla's heavenly beaches. That's an awful lot of choice, and with A&K, it's all possible.
Here's a selection of some recent articles to whet your appetite:
Geoffrey Kent - Ahead of his time
The man who put experience into luxury travel was 52 years ahead of his time. Geoffrey Kent, the founder of Abercrombie & Kent, explains all…
I’m kind of like a Land Rover – I combine adventure and luxury. I was born in Africa, lived on a farm in Africa and I’ve never really left. So on one hand I’ve got this rough, tough streak. But the other side of me is from my military training – I went to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and served in a great regiment. I was also a champion polo player – I captained the Prince of Wales’ Windsor Park polo team for five years. So I acquired a certain amount of cultivation.
At the Duke of York School in Nairobi where I grew up there was only one thing the boys dreamed of becoming – a professional hunter with the local safari company Ker, Downey and Selby. But that was seven years’ apprenticeship and after I left the army, I didn’t fancy doing that. So I decided to set up a rival.
Together with my parents, I started Abercrombie & Kent in 1962 with a dream £100 of my own cash, a made-up name (the “Abercrombie” bit just put me at the top of the Yellow Pages) and our old farm Land Rover - KBH 482. I decided to focus not on hunting, but on photography. My slogan was “shoot with a camera, not with a gun”. I made it exactly like a luxury tent safari – I got refrigerators, ice, caviar, Champagne and the finest wines. My Major General in the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, to whom I was an aide-de-camp, liked to live very well. He used to tell me, “Only a fool should be uncomfortable”.
I expanded into travel. I wanted to bring to the world all these wonderful things that can be seen and done, but with a simplicity and style underlined by the ruthless efficiency and logistics from my British military background. I’ve recently been inducted into the travel hall of fame – they said I was “a visionary who created the experiential holiday”. I was surprised it took people so long to “get” what I had believed implicitly since 1962 – why would you want to spend two weeks on a yacht in the Mediterranean, when you could be going to Antarctica?
I’ve always had an adventurous spirit. At 16 I left school a little early (I won’t go into reasons) and drove my motorbike from Nairobi to Cape Town – the first time it had ever been done. I think I got it from my father. He was in the King’s African Rifles and when I was a boy I remember him going away on big safaris. He’d say, “I’m going somewhere where you can’t drink the water”. When I started Abercrombie & Kent, that was my business plan – to take people places where you can’t drink the water.
When we’re thinking up new experiences for our customers, the key is I’ll always to it myself. I’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro twice in a month, spent 67 days in China and Tibet in the Seventies, crossed the Drake Passage in waves that were over 20m high. I always take a yellow pad with me – on the left I’ll write down all the most dangerous things we come across, and on the right, “How do we alleviate this danger through logistics and the best local guides we can find?” I did a trip down the Mara River in a Zodiac inflatable boat. This hippo grabbed the thing, and flicked us all out. Luckily he didn’t attack us – it was loving its new toy. I climbed out onto the bank, got out my pad and wrote. “NO. We don’t go here.”
I always say an Abercrombie & Kent holiday will change your life. I took Bill Gates to Africa and it changed his life, but it also changed Africa’s. He saw how people were living, saw the inequality and, millions of dollars later, he and Melinda have changed the world.
I’m so lucky because most people don’t get a chance to meet these people until they’ve become a huge success, get private jets and travel in these circles. At 20 years old I was guiding the Rockefellers and the Firestone families, and they introduced me to their friends and then they travelled with me.
In the future I see the travel industry helping communities. Every natural environment has to have an income, otherwise it will be poached, or fished or destroyed. The only way to get this income is from sensible, low-impact, high-spend tourism. This will mean people will become very aware of the problems in the world – like the extinction of species such as tigers, rhinos and elephants. There will be more ecologically-focused luxury travel. The internet will continue to make people very aware – but that doesn’t preclude the Abercrombie & Kent personal way of doing things.
Let’s face it; there aren’t many more places to go, so we have to be inventive. Over the next 25 years, we’ll be bringing on Iran and Cuba. We’ve just gone into Sri Lanka. Russia is going to be interesting – the Russian ambassador just asked me to open up the hinterland for great adventures. I also think there will be more expedition ships – a great way to travel round places like Indonesia.
Not bad for a Kenyan boy. I was born on safari and I travel 300 days a year, so I’ve been on safari ever since. And we’ve always had Land Rovers. We were driving Land Rovers at the age of six all over Kenya’s South Kinangop. We just put a couple of cushions behind us and we were off…
Land Rover Adventure Travel by Abercrombie & Kent has launched, with luxury self-drive adventures in the UK, Tanzania and India in 2014. Morocco and China are on the menu for 2015.
A Lifetime in Luxury Travel
An Interview for Ultratravel
On the banks of the Mara River in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, a mobile bush camp has been set up under the trees to recreate the atmosphere of a safari in the 1960s. To reach it we have flown from Nairobi by private charter,then driven across miles of lion-coloured plains on which herds of zebra were chomping at the chest-high grass. Now, seated by the river on canvas chairs in a shady grove of African greenhearts, Geoffrey Kent is telling me about his extraordinary life.
Lean and fit – he still goes for regular three-mile runs – he has a mane of hair that frames deeply tanned features that belie his 70 years. Dressed in a green bush-shirt and faded jeans, he looks every inch the polo champion he once was. “I was practically born in the saddle,” he says. “I’ve been riding horses since I was two years old.”
Geoffrey Kent was born in 1942 while his parents, Colonel John and Valerie Kent, were on safari in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), and spent his childhood running wild on the family’s farm on Kinangop Plateau in Kenya.
“I was a real kaburu – a Kenya cowboy,” he says. “We wanted to be like all the tough Afrikaner boys, who used to run around barefoot, killing elephants and doing all sorts of wild things.” Kent shot his first elephant when he was 16 – not unusual in that era, but a surprise given
his stance on conservation now. “I was with Major Lyn Temple-Boreham, Kenya’s head game warden,” he adds.
“He used to keep two tame lions, one of which bit me.” That same year he discovered he could make money by selling elephant-hair bracelets to an Indian trader and had soon acquired enough to buy a motorbike. But
by doing so, he had broken the school rules and was expelled. “I didn’t care,” he says. “I just got on my bike with a sleeping bag and some biltong and set off from Nairobi to Cape Town, 3,000 miles away. I was the first person to make that trip by motorbike.” Then, revealing
the consummate entrepreneur he was to become, he sold his story to the South African press and got paid enough to sail back first-class to Mombasa.
While we are talking, it is impossible to ignore our idyllic setting and its natural soundtrack. Hippos honk from the river below. Swallowtail butterflies flit about our heads and every now and again, above the liquid voices of forest orioles, there comes the yelping cry of a fish eagle. The year after Kent returned to Mombasa, his father decided the Army should be his future and shipped him off to England, where he arrived with his first-ever suit, a new pair of shoes and a hunting bow given to him by a pygmy. A spell at Sandhurst quickly knocked him into shape, where he excelled through his prowess at polo and shooting, and he soon found himself in the Middle East, where he became aide-de-camp to Major General John Frost, the legendary airborne officer who commanded the 2nd Parachute Battalion at Arnhem in 1944.
It was in 1962, home on leave from Sandhurst, that he helped his parents to set up Abercrombie & Kent after they were forced off their farm in the run-up to Kenya’s independence. “Those first safaris were modest affairs,” Kent recalls, “conducted with little more than my mother’s silver ice bucket and the farm Land Rover. I still remember the number plate: KBH 482.” Even in those early days the game plan was to become the best high-end tour operator in the field of luxury adventure – hence the name they chose. “We wanted a name that would put us at the top of the Yellow Pages. Aardvark was a hot contender, but in the end we settled for Abercrombie because it sounded so aristocratic.” In 1967 Geoffrey Kent became managing director when his parents retired and immediately decided to expand operations, establishing an office in South Africa in 1968. Three years later he met the Chicago heiress Jorie Butler, an ardent conservationist and astute businesswoman. She became a partner in the business and together they expanded A&K into the worldwide enterprise it is today, with offices in London, Illinois and Melbourne, and more experts in more places than any other travel company.
In 1969 he set up a programme working with Adventures Unlimited, owned by a husband-and-wife team, Buzz and Jane Chapin, aimed at travellers from the US. “We came up with a slogan ‘Hunt with a camera, not with a gun’ and within a year had 500 clients spending around $250 per night. In 1972 I took David Rockefeller and 122 of the world’s leading bankers on safari in Kenya, and that was the last time I acted as a safari guide. From then on, I’ve been a businessman, steering the ship.” By then he had married Andrea Whitehead (who later became the Duchess of Manchester), but the couple divorced in 1973 and Jorie became his second wife. Although they, too, divorced in 2002, she is still involved in the business and is the driving force behind A&K Philanthropy, which supports a string of conservation projects, including the Living with Elephants Foundation in Botswana. In between his travels, Kent somehow found time to become an accomplished polo player, twice winning the US Open and playing alongside Prince Charles as captain of the Windsor Park team. “Not bad for a barefoot Kenya cowboy,” he says with a smile. “But then I had a couple of nasty falls and was told I could never play again – something I still find very hard to take.” Kent accompanied Prince Charles on several safaris and also introduced Princes William and Harry to Africa, taking them to the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater and Lewa, where William later proposed to Catherine Middleton.
Today he divides his time jet-setting between Monaco and Belgravia in London, where he lives with Otavia Jardim, a Brazilian former model whom he married two years ago. But Kenya remains his spiritual home, hence his decision to celebrate A&K’s 50th anniversary by going back to the Masai Mara. The tents behind us, with their weather-beaten canvas and hessian floors, are leftovers from the 1980s – the best A&K could find to recreate a 1960s bush camp. One even has a long-drop WC and an outdoor shower in which hot water is dispensed from a canvas bucket suspended from a tree. “In those days,” says Kent, “the first thing you looked for when choosing a campsite was a suitable branch from which to hang your shower.”
How life has moved on. The Kent formula of providing a luxury cocoon from which to explore the world has attracted more than 200,000 clients, including Hillary Clinton, Richard Burton, Kim Basinger, John Grisham, Goldie Hawn, Robert De Niro and Bill Gates, who told him, “Geoffrey, you changed my life.” He loves to tell the story of how he once met the Duke of Suffolk on an A&K safari. “Suffolk,” said the Duke, extending his hand. “Kent,” replied Kent, trying not to smile. Over the years he also got to know most of East Africa’s old-time game wardens, including David Sheldrick, the legendary head warden of Tsavo National Park. “They were like gods to us,” he says. “One day my vehicle got bogged down in a waterhole in Tsavo and I’d forgotten to tell anyone where we were heading. I had clients with me and so, when night came, I rigged up a makeshift bed for them in a tree. There were lions all around, but eventually Sheldrick found us. He gave me such a bollocking but we became friends afterwards.”
Inevitably the talk gets around to what Geoffrey Kent calls “laxative moments” – like the time in the Ngorongoro Crater when his vehicle was virtually written off by a black rhino. On another occasion he was on safari with Richard Burton when a buffalo arrived out of the darkness and crashed into the campfire with four lionesses on top of it. “We watched from behind the mess table,” Kent recalls, “and when it was all over Burton was so impressed he asked me if I could arrange the same thing the following day.” Not all his memories are so fondly cherished. I ask him about Kichwa Tembo, the safari lodge he built in the Mara in 1978. Its Swahili name means “head of the elephant”, and it was the first tented camp to have a swimming pool. Robert Redford and Meryl Streep stayed near there while filming Out of Africa and it quickly became A&K’s East African flagship property. Then came the Gulf War in 1990. Overnight, the Americans stopped coming and Kent had to sell it. “It was the most difficult moment in the history of A&K and the worst day of my life,” he confesses. “I felt almost suicidal. But when something like that happens, you just have to sell the family silver, which is what I did.”
In mid-morning we break off our conversation to welcome an old friend of Kent’s, Dr Richard Leakey, a scion of Kenya’s famous fossil-hunting family, who has flown in to join us. Leakey is the man who gave up his search for the bones of our hominid ancestors to protect his country’s living heritage of endangered wildlife. That was in 1989, when he set up the Kenya Wildlife Service, ordered his rangers to shoot elephant poachers on sight and torched 12 tons of confiscated ivory worth millions to ram home the message that trading in tusks was a dirty business. His reward was a plane crash in 1993 – almost certainly sabotage – in which he lost both his legs below the knees. But his grit and determination survived, along with a restless mind and a wry sense of humour. Walking slowly but unaided on his artificial legs, he joins us in the clearing, where the two men greet each other warmly, having known each other since they were children. “As kids growing up in those days, Richard and I thought nothing of going on 20-mile horseback rides,” says Kent. “Our farms were so far apart, and that’s how people got around.” They both went to the Duke of York School in Nairobi and constantly tease each other about their achievements. “His mother loved Dalmatians,” says Kent. “It was a Dalmatian that dug up Zinjanthropus, not her.”
When at last the sun goes down, the campfire is lit and we sit, Tusker beers in hand, continuing to reminisce as lions roar on the plains and the sparks fly upwards into the vast African night. This is the time that Kent loves best, after a day spent out in the bush, when you end up swapping yarns in the firelight’s glow. Over dinner – a candlelit feast of pumpkin soup and grilled lamb chops with South African wines in cut-glass goblets – Leakey tells the story of how, after the plane crash, he had his legs embalmed with a 10-year guarantee and kept them at his home on the edge of the Rift Valley until he decided he’d had enough of them and buried them under a tree. “Having had a funeral for one half of my body,” he adds with a puckish grin, “I’m not worried about what happens to the rest.” He is pessimistic about the future of Kenya’s wildlife and complains that the government is not doing enough to look after it. “I say to them, this is your oil and we should do everything we can to protect it.” But Kent is more upbeat. “Kenya is my country,” he says. “Its wildlife is our heritage and I have a huge belief in the ability of the Kenyan people to succeed. They possess an entrepreneurial spirit which is rare in Africa.” As for the future of eco-tourism, Kent believes there will be a resurgence of mobile camping as discerning clients seek out the last of that old, wild Africa that once existed everywhere, but is now so much harder to find.
Next morning, before Kent and Leakey have to fly back to Nairobi, there is time for a bush breakfast on top of the Oloololo Escarpment, close to where the last scene of Out of Africa was filmed and where, in a small plot of rocky ground enclosed by a low drystone wall, two massive granite boulders mark the spot where Kent’s parents lie buried. Above his father’s grave is a plaque with the words “His footprints across Africa became our road”. The views of the reserve 1,000ft below are sensational, with the tree-lined Mara River winding down to the Serengeti and the heat-hazy plains reaching away to the Loita Hills. With binoculars I can pick out the parasol shapes of desert date trees in the Mara Triangle, buffalo strung out like black beads in a marsh, and wandering herds of elephant. “I often come and sit up here,” Kent says. “I bring tea and ginger biscuits and think about those early days. I look down on the plains and I’m struck by the peacefulness and how nothing has changed. And I remember my mother; she was an incredible lady. During the Mau Mau uprising she would walk around the farm with a pistol strapped to her waist, but whenever she went to Nairobi she always wore white gloves and a hat, like all ladies did in those days.”
As for the future, Kent has a favourite saying: “Chance favours the prepared mind”. He’s always on the lookout for new ideas, he says, “trying to stay one jump ahead of everyone else.” To celebrate A&K’s 50th anniversary, he has persuaded leading conservationists in Kenya to accompany guests on activities – a one-day safari with Jonathan Scott, a tour round Kenya’s elephant orphanage with Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick, a photographic workshop with film-maker Alan Root and lunch with Dr Richard Leakey. He is currently looking to buy a camp in Kenya or Tanzania and set it up exclusively for the Chinese market, which he says will be the next big thing. “We have just produced a television film [for the Chinese] about the Masai Mara,” he says. “When it is screened over there it will be seen by 600 million people.”
Eat your way around the Caribbean
Forget everything you know about the Caribbean. High rise hotels, mass-market buffets and cruise ships are a thing of the past. Welcome in the new, boutique-chic properties that offer sensational service and fabulous food, away from the crowds.
A Match Made in Heaven
ANTIGUA, JOHN BERRY
A career in travel has taken John around the world and back again, and he now looks after our product in the Caribbean, amongst other things, while regularly jetting off on his own explorations.
"365 beaches, one for each day of the year"; you'll hear that a lot about Antigua. I can't personally account for each one, but I certainly got a sense of the abundance on my recent visit. Yet while the beaches are an undeniable draw, they're certainly not the only reason for you to visit this beautiful island. Likewise, some of the best hotels in the Caribbean are found in Antigua, and it can be tempting to see nothing but them; but I recommend at least a little time to explore what the island has to offer.
Rum Punch is ubiquitous across the Caribbean but there are surely few places as picturesque, or as fun, in which to sample one as at Shirley Heights overlooking Falmouth and English Harbours. I found myself there not entirely by chance on a Sunday afternoon, when this former military outpost is descended upon by visitors and locals alike as they lap up the stunning views and glorious sunset, while enjoying food from the barbecue, an obligatory glass of punch, and the joyful steel band and reggae music.
Lord Nelson famously set about developing the naval dockyard at English Harbour after his arrival in 1784. Today the area is well worth a visit as much of the original architecture has been restored. At night it comes to life with bars and restaurants; dinner by the water at The Admiral's Inn - one such historic building dating back to Nelson's time - was a highlight of my visit. History surrounds you in Antigua; there are many old sugar mills dotted about the landscape, serving to remind us of a time thankfully behind us.
If you like to be active there are also plenty of options, with sailing being top of the list. Come November, yachts arrive from their European summer, filling English and Falmouth Harbours and culminating in one of the world's most anticipated marine events, Sailing Week, in April. However, you don't need to wait until then to experience adrenalin on the seas. We can arrange for you to head out on racing boats and experience high speed sailing, and larger groups or families can split into two and race across the ocean in the quest for bragging rights. I was lucky enough to enjoy this experience and our fantastic crew even sailed us into the bay of our hotel for the night, Carlisle Bay. That's arriving in style.
This is barely scratching the surface of Antigua; whether you choose to lie on one of the 365 beaches (I certainly won't judge you, I also did plenty of this) or get out and explore the island, you'll be spoilt for choice.
THE BVI, LISA KOWALKOWSKI
Having lived in America and travelled around the Caribbean for three years, Lisa is well acquainted with the joys of this tropical paradise and is always on the move checking out new places to share with her clients.
I explored the Caribbean a lot when I lived in Savannah, Georgia, and became particularly fond of the British Virgin Islands. When I found out that the tourist board had invited me on a familiarisation trip I knew I was in for a treat and I was certainly not disappointed.
The journey from Antigua airport to BVI is nearly as fun as the destination. We boarded a nine-seater aircraft which took us on an hour-long flight over stunning scenery and deep blue sea. It was a thrill to see the area from a bird's eye view - our Captain pointed out Montserrat, the active volcanic island off the coast of Antigua, St Kitts, Nevis, and Anagada, and before we knew it we were landing on Beef Island.
The beauty of the BVI - a string of more than 60 islands, rocks and cays, many of which are uninhabited - is how easy it is to explore. We have picked out three hotels - Rosewood Little Dix Bay and Biras Creek, situated on Virgin Gorda, and Peter Island, located on a 1,800 acre private island. All three give you the option to explore at your own pace and feel like Robinson Crusoe; resort hobie cats, Boston Whalers, paddle boards and windsurfs enable you to discover hidden coves and hangouts popular with boaters. You can make use of the public ferries which offer a reliable service between islands, or book excursions through your resort to visit places of interest such as Virgin Gorda Baths, Anagada, Jost Van Dyke, and the wreck of the RMS Rhone (great for diving and snorkelling). You could even head to St Thomas if you have the urge to shop. Of course, relaxation is also well and truly on the cards!
My most memorable days were spent exploring the North Sounds stretch of calm water on board a Boston Whaler, hobie cat and paddle board; relaxing on board a 60 foot crewed catamaran, with regular stops to appreciate some of the best snorkelling sites in the area; partying at a Full Moon Party on Trellis Island; and meeting the inspirational Sir Richard Branson - who has unsurprisingly made Necker Island his home.
The fabulous food also deserves a mention. The fresh fish and seafood dishes were to die for - and I loved the seafood buffet at Little Dix Bay, a weekly event featuring a buffet piled high with the most exquisite fresh lobster and shrimps imaginable. At the more formal end of the spectrum, the five course wine pairing meal known as Vintners Dinner at Peter Island was also a great experience, with the Master of Wine and Executive Chef on hand to talk about their creations.
The local people were a delight to be around and they played a huge part in making my trip so unforgettable. Unfailingly welcoming and amiable, the islanders are understandably one of the reasons why many people return to the BVI time and time again. One of my top tips would be to make the most of this friendliness and talk to the bar staff, waiters and people you meet, because they will be happy to share with you their favourite hidden beaches and bars. I would also highly recommend staying at two different hotels to get a real flavour of the islands.
And one last thing - comfortable as those beds might be, make sure that you wake up early at least once to witness the incredible sunrise - believe me it will be an unforgettable experience!
Big Five: Island Escapes
Peter Island Resort & Spa, British Virgin Islands
Mountainous and jungle-cloaked with secluded coves and idyllic beaches, Peter Island has played host to an impressive array of visitors including explorer Christopher Columbus, Hollywood heavyweight Robert De Niro and footballer Rio Ferdinand. Reached only by boat or helicopter, the island began life as a resort in the 1960's and has always maintained a wonderfully laid-back and romantic atmosphere. With world-class diving, delicious private picnics, cooking lessons, horticultural tours and a blissful spa, there are plenty of ways to enjoy island life. We recommend heading to The Loop to watch the sunset whilst tucking into a fruit and cheese platter - delivered to you alongside your tipple of choice.
Constance Tsarabanjina Lodge, Madagascar
Located on a remote islet in the paradisiacal Mitsio Archipelago, Tsarabanjina Lodge combines castaway simplicity with Constance comforts to offer barefoot luxury at its best. Surrounded by vivid-blue waters, kaleidoscopic underwater scenery and powdery white beaches, you can do as little or as much as you like here. Take a trip to meet the lemurs on the nearby island of Nosy Komba, or watch the sun set behind the volcanic Frères islands to a ballet of tropical birds. When you're done with exploring and rejuvenated after a snooze in your private hammock, the beach bar is the place to be. It only closes when you're ready to leave, and the mango martinis are to die for.
Refugia, Chiloé Island, Chile
The largest island of the Chiloé archipelago - until recently one of the most isolated on earth - is a stunning natural wilderness. Rich in folklore, the island is a melting pot of ancient traditions and Hispanic culture, and there are charming little villages, costal treasures and three national parks to explore. Opened in 2012, Rufugia Lodge is the island's first luxury offering- an intimate 12-room gem with dreamy views over the water of Reloncavi Sound and the distant Andes peaks. Stylish yet homely: large glass windows make the most of the views, whilst the restaurant serves up delicious local fare accompanied by fantastic Chilean wines. From unwinding in the outdoor Jacuzzi to penguin safaris, rainforest treks and sailing trips; the experiences you have here are guaranteed to stay with you long after you return home.
Cappella Lodge, Lord Howe Island, Australia
Just two hours from Sydney, Lord Howe Island is one of Australia's best kept secrets. Subtropical, untouched and brimming with rare birds, flora and fauna: the island is a collage of soaring volcanic peaks, turquoise lagoons, lush vegetation and spectacular coral reefs. A real adventure playground, activities include bird-watching, surfing, guided hikes, snorkelling and diving, to name just a few. At the southern end of the island, the nine-suite Cappella Lodge provides a luxurious and eco-friendly base with beach-house chic interiors, a relaxed vibe and top notch contemporary Pacific cuisine. After an action-packed day, book yourself in for the three hour 'Dreaming' package at the Capella Spa - guaranteed to leave you feeling balanced and renewed.
Denis Private Island, Seychelles
With unspoilt surroundings, bags of character and the moto "The island is yours - Do as you will, without disturbing others", Denis Private Island is pure magic. Just half an hour by seaplane from the main island of Mahé, the 25 cottages are hidden among the lush foliage, just yards from the vivid crystalline waters. Spacious and elegant, the cottages offer privacy and comfort aplenty. We love the open-air bathrooms, and with no televisions, mobile phone signal or keys, this really is the place to simply kick back and unwind. A haven for turtles and rare sea birds, the wildlife is also a major draw; don a snorkel and head to the lagoon for encounters with triggerfish, clownfish, parrotfish, pirouetting rays and gliding turtles.
Big Five: Spring Breaks
Famous for its archaeological treasures, lip-smacking food and unmatched zest for life, Mexico is in full swing in Spring: celebrate the Spring Equinox at the spellbinding Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, witness the great Monarch Butterfly migrations in the highlands of Michoacan and tuck in at the Cancun and Riviera Maya Food and Wine Festival. February through to the end of April is also whale-watching season on the wild pacific coast of Baja California. One of the longest peninsulas in the world, here you can see a greater variety of whales and dolphins than anywhere else on the planet.
From the vast open plains of the Serengeti to the snow-dusted peaks of Kilimanjaro and the dazzling white beaches of Zanzibar, Tanzania has so much to offer. One of its biggest draws, the wildlife in Tanzania is spectacular; here you'll discover big game, flamingo-filled soda lakes and playful chimps. If you visit in the Spring you'll also find its plains are full of young, as many species - from the big cats to the plains game - give birth before the long rains begin. For the ultimate safari experience, we recommend topping off an exhilarating game drive with a reviving sundowner and a night spent out under the stars at our luxurious mobile camp.
With guaranteed warmth, a captivating culture and spellbinding landscapes, Morocco has all the appeal of an exotic location and yet is just a short-haul flight away. Arguably at its best in the Spring when the country is lush and green, and temperatures are comfortable, there is plenty to tempt you here from bustling cities to remote desert landscapes and the windswept Atlantic coast. Spring in the Atlas Mountains is particularly pretty, as the hills and valleys come into bloom against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks. Fabulous mountain retreats and guest houses provide comfort and relaxation, and you can stroll through the valleys and explore traditional Berber villages.
Although the Spring may not be the peak time to visit Cambodia weather-wise, the 'rainy season' is rarely as dramatic as it sounds. It generally means a tropical shower in the morning, clearing the air ahead of a glorious day on the beach or late afternoon - a perfect time to visit the spa. Hotel rates are often much lower and the crowds that descend on the country from December-February are long gone, leaving you to explore the countries mesmerising temples, relaxed leafy cities and a whole host of gorgeous, unspoilt islands in relative solitude. Experience castaway luxury at its best at Song Saa- Cambodia's first private island resort.
So much more than a beach destination, Turkey has stunning landscapes, a magnificent coastline, classical cities and an intriguing and unique culture. In Spring, the climate is pleasant enough to enjoy both the cities and the coast, and the landscape comes alive with flowers. A proud, historic city and Turkey's cultural capital, Istanbul is one of our favourite European cities, where time can be spent wandering the many districts, sharing delicious meze dishes and haggling with the sellers at the Grand Bazaar before an evening cruise to the 12th Century Maiden's Tower aboard a traditional kayak.
Big Five: Foodie Hotspots
It's hard to imagine a visit to Italy which doesn't involve indulgence. For the Italians, enjoyment of good food is simply a way of life. The principle of Italian cuisine is actually quite simple: fresh, natural ingredients prepared simply and with care. There are abundant food and wine-related activities on offer in the country. Some of our personal favourites are pizzamaking lessons in Rome, heading into the Tuscan woods in search of truffles and porcini mushrooms - and then preparing them with a local chef - and visiting wineries and olive oil producers for a glimpse into how the country's high quality produce is made.
Food is something of an obsession in Japan, and the cuisine is considered one of the finest and most unique in the world. The focus is on the freshest of ingredients and a delicate balance of flavours and textures. At high-end restaurants, food is elevated to an art form and is complex and technical yet tastes clean and fresh. At street level you can enjoy delicious yakitori grilled meats and bottled beer whilst sitting on makeshift benches. The cities of Tokyo and Kyoto are the best places to enjoy cooking courses, which we can easily arrange for you.
Home to around 50 of the best restaurants in the world, South Africa is no less than a foodie paradise. The South Africans have exacting standards, and the land produces an enviable bounty of delicious, quality produce which lends itself to fantastic and inventive cuisine. Private bush dinners prepared by your own personal chef come as standard, and there are innumerable Michelin starred restaurants and unique dining experiences to be had, not to mention private tours at some of the world's best wine estates. Le Quartier Francais, an exclusive boutique hotel situated in the heart of the Franschoek Valley, offers excellent cookery classes.
From sizzling street food to home cooked dishes and the finest royal cuisine, Vietnam's food is unfailingly delicious. Food is an integral part of everyday life in Vietnam, so much so that a famous proverb dictates that people should 'learn to eat before learning to speak'. Since good food is such an important part of a visit to Vietnam, we have designed a culinary tour to get you right to the heart of the nation's cuisine, offering the chance to explore local markets, learn about street food and enjoy cookery lessons with expert chefs and local families.
Forget all you think you know about Mexican food. The country has an incredibly varied and delicious cuisine, which displays indelible Aztec, Mayan and Spanish influences, as well as many more. The country's food varies from the most meticulous haute cuisine to weird and wonderful street food. The Oaxaca region is especially good for regional specialities, and you can enjoy a delicious meal courtesy of famous chef Alejandro Ruiz at Casa Oaxaca - featured in Thomasina Miers' 'Mexican Food Made Easy'. In the Colonial Heartlands, head to San Miguel de Allende and enjoy a lesson at the fantastic Sazon Cooking School.
Big, bold and beautiful: Welcome to North America
Vast, both geographically and culturally, North America is a place the just keeps on giving. Whether it's bear spotting in British Columbia, surf lessons in Santa Monica or sampling food pods in Portland, the United States and Canada offer more gob-smacking, jaw-dropping and thoroughly mind-blowing experiences than anywhere else on the planet.
THE PLACE TO BE
California's calling. Miles of golden sand and surf; laid-back, quirky cities from San Francisco to San Diego with the glamour of Los Angeles in between; the majesty of Yosemite, the wines of the Napa Valley…the Golden State has pretty much everything, and all on a grand scale. This really is the place to 'dream big'.
Off-the-beaten-path Oregon is one of our favourite states. Miles of rugged Pacific Coast, bordered by lush temperate rainforest makes it brilliant for leisurely coastal touring. Throw in the laidback city of Portland and wrap it all up in delicious local wines from the Dundee Hills, organic farm-to-fork food to make your mouth water, and humorous, charismatic people.
The birthplace of America is filled with rich history, cultural attractions, fascinating cities, scenic villages and outdoor adventures. The six states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont are renowned for their vibrant Autumn colours, but whatever the season, New England is a beauty.
The raw nature of Alaska is overwhelming. This vast state, once part of Russia, is home to towering mountain ranges, thick forests, mighty rivers, open tundra and tumbling glaciers. Wildlife viewing is amongst the best on the planet; from the brown bears of Brooks Falls to the whale watching of Glacier Bay.
Home to five national parks, Utah represents the best of the Desert Southwest. Nowhere else on earth offers landscapes as stark yet beautiful or as dramatic yet intimate. Our Mighty Five encompasses the iconic Wild West scenery of Monument Valley, the majestic canyons of Zion, the mysterious hoodoo rocks of Bryce, the white water rapids of Canyonlands and the natural bridges of Arches National Park.
Howdy Cowboy! They say it's like a Whole Other Country - and it is. The Lone Star state is home to vast open prairies and swaggering stockmen on the one hand - with glitzy Dallas and boho Austin on the other. There are dude ranches galore for the real cowboy experience.
British Columbia, Canada
An intoxicating blend of cosmopolitan and rural; wild and homely; sophisticated and sleepy, BC is a paradox. The towering mountains of the Coastal Ranges, the wilderness of Vancouver Island and the Great Bear Rainforest offer square mile upon mile to explore in splendid isolation, save for the grizzly bears you may see fishing for salmon.
Home of the Rocky Mountains, Alberta is a land of staggering beauty and awe-inspiring wildlife. A land where bears roam free, bison graze in boreal forests, moose amble through spectacular landscapes. From the dizzying mountains through crystal lakes to the open plains of the east, you could easily spend months in this province alone, fishing, walking, riding, ranching.
Set on Widgeon II, a re-purposed crabbing boat which was originally a World War II-era troop carrie, the unique setting of Tutka Bay's cooking school offers inspiration to explore Alaska's regional products such as halibut, salmon and oysters.
Take in the sounds and sights of Austin's historic 6th street. Located within the city's urban core in Downtown Austin, its jam-packed with eclectic bars and an ever changing array of live music spots.
A tranquil and luxurious resort, Amangiri (meaning 'peaceful mountain') is situated on 600 acres in Canyon Point, Southern Utah, close to the border with Arizona. Soak up mesmerising views from your own private deck over the colourful, stratified rock towards the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument.
A collage of gemstone lakes, lush valleys, mighty waterfalls and glinting glaciers, Yosemite National Park offers adventure in spades. An early morning start, to avoid the crowds, is well worth the effort.
Tuck into seasonal Canadian cuisine at the Banffshire Club. Located at the Fairmont Banff Spring, famously known as 'The Castle in the Rockies', the hotel's signature dining room uses ingredients sourced from the best local and sustainable producers, farmers and growers. Try the Angus beef tartare with pepper cress and some smoked mustard. Delicious!
Experience the wild and rugged beauty of Canada's west onboard the Rocky Mountaineer. With domed glass windows curving high over your head, the Gold Leaf carriage offers the ultimate opportunity to see much of Canada's natural beauty and wildlife, including eagles, elk and black bears.
The 2014 Hot List
With British Airways now operating direct flights from Heathrow to Santorini and Mykonos from May this year, it's never been easier to discover Greece's captivating islands. The most westerly of the Cyclades, Santorini is associated with the misty tales of Atlantis. With an average of 300 days of sunshine each year, picturesque white-washed villages teetering on the edge of an extinct volcanic caldera, multi-coloured beaches of volcanic sand, and some of the oldest wineries in the world, we can't recommend it enough. Popular all year round, and in full swing during the summer months, the island can be busy but that doesn't take away from its magic.
With small-scale entrepreneurship now permitted in Cuba and the imminent scrapping of its two-currency system, you can feel change in the air all over the island, with an atmosphere that is, for the most part, incredibly positive. Fresh back from a trip there last month, our Latin America Product Manager, Lucinda Paxton, hasn't stopped raving about the food: "As state control over the country's food supply lessens, paladares and restaurants are gaining access to previously hard-to-find ingredients with lip-smacking results. I was amazed by the array of local fresh produce and innovative fusion dishes." When you're not busy discovering Cuba's food revolution for yourself, we recommend shimmying on down to one of the capital's top musical hotspots.
As its neighbour Myanmar continues to attract the crowds, with demand far outstripping supply in the best hotels, Laos, as Laos does best, remains as laid back and tranquil as ever. From kicking back with an ice-cold Beerlao at sunset by the river, in what might just be the world's most unhurried, friendly capital city, Vientiane, to trekking forest-topped mountains inhabited by remote hill tribes in the north, and discovering the cooler climes of the Bolaven Plateau in the south, Laos offers relaxation, culture and adventure in spades. Just make sure you get there before everyone else cottons on.
Straddling Chile and Argentina, Patagonia is home to otherworldly landscapes that to the north hide dinosaur bones and legends of cowboys past, and to the south the mythical granite towers and glinting glaciers of Torres del Paine National Park. If your new year's resolution is to get outdoors and be more active, then Patagonia has your name on it. One of the most remote and beautiful environments in the world, you can trek over glaciers, gallop over vast grassy plains, kayak across turquoise glacial lakes and revel in splendid isolation. It is also rich in wildlife and birdlife, so you are likely to spot condors, penguins, wild guanaco and even pumas, to name just a few.
A mesmerising mix of rich culture, welcoming people and staggeringly beautiful landscapes, Ethiopia tourism is set to sky-rocket over the next few years with a boom in small hotels and restaurants. From the ancient rock-hewn churches of Lalibela to pristine national parks, and the buzzing restaurant and nightlife scene of its capital Addis Ababa, travel here is as rewarding as it is surprising. Located in Bale National park, the newly opened Bale Mountain Lodge is one of the country's first luxury wilderness lodges. The surrounding area is home to myriad rare species, including Ethiopian Wolves, and offers fantastic trekking opportunities. We'd recommend combining a stay with a visit to the tribes of the remote Omo River Valley, one of Africa's-and the world's-last great undiscovered places.
Big Five: Detox Destinations
Body Holiday, St Lucia
The Body Holiday is based on the principles of relaxation, restorative beauty, exercise and good diet - a holistic approach aimed at helping you feel refreshed and rejuvenated by the time you leave. The resort is set on a private cove in the north west of the island and has excellent facilities including an award-winning Wellness Centre. Treatments range from massages and facials to courses of Ayurvedic treatment, Reiki and sleep restoration.
Ananda in the Himalayas, India
Where better to cleanse body and mind than in the beautiful Himalayan foothills, on the banks of India's holy Ganges River? At Ananda, you can relax and rejuvenate surrounded by mountains and ancient sal forests. Inside the historic viceregal palace lies one of the world's leading spa hotels, where staff and facilities are dedicated to your wellbeing.
Txai Itacaré, Brazil
In this vast and beautiful country, it is easy to feel at one with nature. Txai Itacaré nestles amidst coconut groves and rainforest,looking out over a deserted beach on Brazil's undeveloped Cacao Coast. A rustic, ecofriendly resort with just 40 rooms, Txai places an emphasis on achieving harmony between man and nature - there are no TVs in the bungalows, and many of the spa treatments are derived from natural produce from the surrounding and plentiful Bahia region.
SHA Wellness Clinic, Spain
SHA was designed by prestigious Uruguayan architect Carlos Gilardi and prize-winning European designer Elvira Blanco Montenegro. Positioned on a beautiful mountainside overlooking the sea in the agreeably warm Valencia region, this pioneering hotel-cum clinic takes the idea of a spa retreat to thenext level. SHA aims to improve wellbeing with a combination of modern macrobiotic nutrition, natural therapies and a dynamic and practical education programme.
Como Shambhala Estate, Bali
De-stress and detox at Bali's revered spa resort, where resident experts including a yoga teacher, Ayurvedic doctor and nutritionist will assist you in your quest to get healthy. Built into jungle clearings above the Ayung River, beautiful Balinese residences and communal areas are surrounded by dense tropical gardens in Bali's serene rural heartland, near the arty hub of Ubud. The Como Shambhala philosophy is of proactive holistic wellness. Their vision encompasses healthy eating, exercise and self-development, including adventure and cultural discovery.
Below are some of our suggested places to stay:
Our Islands & Retreats team are experts in designing the perfect holiday to suit your personal needs, interests and budget. Their intimate knowledge of our hotels and resorts featured in our portfolio, together with our own network of offices throughout the region, allows us to offer unique in-depth knowledge, unparalleled insider access and the VIP service for which Abercrombie & Kent is renowned.
Read about our lastest experiences in our Travel Blog pages.
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