You’d like to set out for a holiday, to a place unlike anything you’ve ever done before. So where? It can be a difficult decision if you don’t have a clear picture in mind, and if you don’t have much time to search around. In this article we present five ideas for exclusive, dream holidays. The sort of experiences that can become lifelong memories.
Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles)
1,150 km from Mahè, the largest island in the Seychelles archipelago, the Aldabra atoll is part of the so called Outer Islands. It is at the tip of a volcano rising a kilometre from the sea-bed. It sank into the sea millions of years ago after an eruption, and today the islands rise just a short distance above sea-level, at most 8 metres. This small, precious paradise comprises four major islands, Grand Terre, Malabar, Picard and Polymnie. Together they form one of the most important coral atolls in the world, with a large lagoon inside. They became part of the UNESCO world Heritage in 1982, and they are one of the few locations, along with the Galapagos islands, where thousands of animals dominate the environment. Charles Darwin himself, along with other scientists, asked the British government to turn the islands into a protected area.
Today, the inhabitants comprise over 150,000 giant tortoises, and the world’s largest colony of turtles. The bird population comprises flamingos, herons, red-tailed tropicbirds and many others. Cetaceans in the surrounding waters include dolphins and humpback whales, and a small number of dugongs, that were thought to have been extinct since the 18th century. Scuba divers and snorkellers will enjoy the underwater lagoon fauna, while the surrounding waters are home to reef sharks, manta rays, barracuda and many other species. The flora is also exceptional, with 200 flowering plants, of which 40 exist here alone.
Aldabra atoll is controlled by the Seychelles Island Foundation. You can visit the island as part of a cruise or a diving holiday, or by means of special day passes. A holiday in the Seychelles, with its all-year-round tropical climate, offers a valuable opportunity to see these incredible natural treasures.
Bhutan is one of the smallest states in Asia, in the Eastern Himalayas, laying between China, Tibet and India. But its population call the country ‘Druk yul’ (Land of the Thunder Dragon). Apart from its impressive natural heritage, the kingdom of Bhutan is famous for its concept of Gross National Happiness, a parameter coined by the 4th King of Bhutan in 1972, declaring that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.” This is an interesting idea considering that the countries is one of the poorest in the continent, but nonetheless it records the highest happiness index in Asia. How is GNH measured? 72 indicators are considered, in 9 different fields: the use of time, standard of living, quality of government, psychic wellness, the vitality of the community, culture, health, education and ecology.
The country’s only international airport is at Paro Dzong, and a visit begins with a breath-taking descent amongst the spectacular Himalayan peaks. The most important fortresses (dzong) of the country are at Paro, and they are an imposing, regal expression of Bhutanese architecture.
A good reason to visit Bhutan is the Taktsang monastery, known as the Tiger’s Nest. It is one of the most famous and sacred locations for Buddhism. According to legend, Guru Rimpoche, founder of Buddhism in the Himalayan countries, arrived here riding on a tiger’s back, and spent three months meditating in a cave. The monastery was founded and built on the site of the cave. Tiger’s Nest is an important spiritual retreat, at an altitude of 2,900 metres, looking over the lovely Paro valley. It takes a 4-hour walk to reach it, but the view from the top makes it a worthwhile trek.
The capital Thimphu is just 50 km from Paro, and it is the only world capital without traffic lights. A visit to the Tashichoedzong monastery is essential to learn more about Bhutanese government and religion. Another important visit is Buddha Point, with a large statue of the seated Buddha looking out over the valley.
Bhutan was one of the last countries to accept television, lifting a ban on internet and television in 1999. The country also has the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, Gangkhar Puensum, 7,570 metres. Bhutan was the first country in the world to ban smoking, in 2010.
Let’s take a look at Thailand. Famous above all for Bangkok and the islands, the northern part of the country also has a lot to offer, particularly if you are fascinated by the beauty of tropical nature and have a penchant for adventure. Thailand in fact offers a huge diversity both in terms of landscape and its society, with many tribal communities whose existence is outside any geographical or political constraints.
Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand and the second largest of the country, a city blending tradition, innovation and spirituality, with over 300 temples. Protected by imposing walls and looking out towards the splendid mountains to the north, it is a mystic city with innumerable artistic riches. No space for boredom. In the 14th century Lanna temple Wat Phra Singh, you can see one of the most sacred images of Buddha in the whole of Thailand. Another superb sight is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, built on the mountain Doi Suthep, just a few minutes from the centre of Chiang Mai. Don’t miss a walk amongst the hundreds of stalls of the nocturnal bazaar, and a visit to the Doi Inthanon national park. Chiang Mai is the starting point for many treks that head north towards the Golden Triangle.
The route towards the Golden Triangle goes through Chiang Rai, one of the reasons why this town, with its many temples, is so famous. Wat Phra Kaew is the most venerated Buddhist temple in the city, and it was once home to the Jade Buddha that is now in Bangkok. Chang Rai is also famous for Wat Rong Khun, its most unusual temple, a privately-owned architectural work in the style of a temple. Many call it the White Temple, for its white colour, enhanced by many mirrors that reflect the extravagant sculptures all around. The interiors feature colourful paintings inspired by the contemporary world, creating a unique contrast.
The legendary Golden Triangle is a territory lying between the river Ruak and the Mekong. From the Belvedere, a favourite site for selfies, you can see Thailand, Myanmar and Laos in one glance. The classic end to the day is a cruise on the Mekong, when its waters are tinged red by the setting sun.
Patagonia, in the southern-most reaches of Latin America, the wildest areas of Argentina and Chile, is a classic destination for all those who love nature, animals, wide open spaces, and trekking adventures. Virtually uninhabited, it is a land dominated by spectacular, uncontaminated nature, with lofty peaks and massive glaciers.
Patagonia is in the southern hemisphere and so its seasons are inverted with respect to those of Europe. In the same way that happens towards the North Pole, the approaches to the Antarctic comprise lands with a wealth of fjords and islets lying off the coasts. The most famous locations in Argentine Patagonia comprise Puerto Madryn, El Chalten and El Calafate. Puerto Madryn is an excellent starting point for visits, starting with the Valdés peninsula, a UNESCO heritage site populated by many animals such as ostriches, guanacos, foxes, cougars, and above all, sealions and whales. There are many places worth seeing, such as Punta Norte, Caleta Valdès, Punta Delgada and Punta Loma. The best months for whale-watching are from July to December.
Absolutely unmissable is the Glaciar Perito Moreno, 80 km from El Calafate, and part of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. It is one of the most active glaciers in the world, moving at a speed of about 2 metres per day. Its turquoise blue colour is unbelievably intense. It has been part of the UNESCO heritage since 1981, and it can be explored in three ways: on foot, trekking along raised panoramic walkways just a few metres from the glacier; by boat, or hiking with crampons. The best time to visit it is in the southern-hemisphere summer, with the exception of January, which is the Argentinian’s holiday month and so likely to be very crowded.
The Lofoten Islands
One of the most evocative locations in the world is just a short distance from the Norwegian coast: the incredible, magical archipelago of the Lofoten Islands. The perfect location if you like the idea of a unique and unforgettable holiday. They are characteristic for the intense green colour typical of Europe’s northernmost lands. The landscape is dominated by dramatic mountains, which rise up from beaches or directly from the sea.
The Lofoten Islands are well north of the Arctic Circle, at a latitude that offers two unique, spectacular natural phenomena, according to the time of year: the Aurora Borealis, namely the Northern Lights, and the midnight sun, when the sun never sets. The latter makes the area ideal for people who like out-door activities, because you could spend 24 hours a day on bike tours, hikes, rock climbing, camping, kayaking and many other sports. Another unusual characteristic of this location is the fact that the climate is surprisingly mild all year round, as a result of the Gulf Stream.
All parts of the Lofoten islands are worth visiting. Some examples: Svolvær is the capital of the Lofoten islands, the administrative centre of Vågan Municipality, and its unique light has inspired countless artists. There are many studios and art galleries here. Henningsvaer, ‘Lofoten’s Venice,’ is a small fishing village built on a series of islets, linked to the main island by a bridge. It is the location of one of the most frequently photographed ports in the world, and one of the most picturesque football stadiums ever built. In Henningsvaer you can purchase local souvenirs from crafts workshops, and in summer you can take boat trips in order to observe sea eagles.
Laukvik is a village in the municipality of Vågan offering incredible views of the North Sea. It is the perfect place from which to watch the Northern Lights or the midnight sun. Last but not least, Uttakleiv and Haukland are famous for their white beaches and the contrasts created in winter, between the blue sea, the beach, and the white snow cloaking the surrounding landscape. Absolutely marvellous.