An epic journey, far and wide, to assemble (in no particular order) the very best that the planet has to offer
Stay in a former palace
Favoured by Hollywood and Bollywood stars alike, sleep like a sultan and step back in time in one of India’s majestic palace hotels, the likes of Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur or Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad. Each has its own unique charm and décor. Some are only accessible by boat, others offer limousine services, resident astrologers, butterfly gardens and refreshing subterranean pools. While each has a unique history, all have one thing in common – pure, opulent decadence, where the only decision you’ll have to make is the choice between a relaxing massage or a spot of lunch, brought to you by a private butler.
Drive the Garden Route
The best bit of driving the Garden Route isn’t actually the driving: it’s what you encounter along the way. Discover ancient indigenous forests where endangered elephants roam; spot dolphins while you laze on crowd-free beaches; take a tiny steam train that threads through dramatic mountain ranges. This 300km route between Mossel Bay and Plettenberg Bay is packed with incredible landscapes and experiences, so it’s not a road trip to rush. Stop as often as you can, and let the wonderful wildlife reveal itself: it’s not everywhere that you can spy humpback whales, vervet monkeys and rainbow-plumed birds of paradise all in one day.
Encounter elephants in Chiang Mai
Skip tourist-trap Phuket and keep the island hopping for elsewhere – Chiang Mai is your go-to destination in Thailand. The mountainous northern capital is a fantastic escape from Bangkok’s hectic pace of life and, as the cultural centre of the country, is steeped in history. Riding on the back of an elephant at Thailand’s best-known elephant rehabilitation centre can be done without a shred of guilt, as the refuge has won countless awards for its ethical approach to rehabilitating elephants since it opened. Help the keepers feed these colossal animals, before accompanying the elephants on a walk to the river for their afternoon bath.
Book a bed on board the Trans-Siberian Railway
Usually the journey isn’t the highlight of any trip. Except when the journey encompasses the spectacular vastness of the world’s largest country, via the longest voyage you can make by single train – the perfect opportunity to get stuck into War and Peace. Cabins in first and second class come with standard bed and breakfast, but you can treat yourself to the Golden Eagle for a double bed, wardrobe, TV and DVD, and en-suite shower room. While tickets don’t include any stop offs, you can book tick-off-your-bucket-list trips with visits to World Heritage Site Kremlin and Lake Baikal.
See the sights and sounds of Baku’s Old City
Don’t be distracted by the rainbow-lit skyscrapers and Zaha Hadid-designed modern marvels that puncture Baku’s skyline: the heart of Azerbaijan’s capital is actually in its Old City, a fascinating settlement whose roots can be traced back to the seventh century. It has been lived in since its ancient beginnings – with one step you can gaze into twelfth-century madrassas, while round the corner you’ll spy majestic Baroque houses. This UNESCO-listed treasure is no museum piece: it’s stuffed with fascinating shops, charming hotels, and even a bathhouse, restored to former glory.
Relax with a traditional Balinese massage
Take a stroll down the many streets of Legian, Seminyak or Kuta and you’ll instantly notice the hundreds of massages places dotted all around Bali. Incorporating notes from their neighbours in Java – who performed indulgent spa flower petal baths and luxurious massages on their Royal Family – then drawing from ayurvedic techniques in India and borrowing elements of Swedish massage, Balians created their now world-famous massage technique. Cheap as chips, you can indulge in the tradition for a meagre USD10 – an amazing price, and you’ll feel the results in your deep-muscle tissue for days.
Immerse yourself in the madness of Tokyo
While the perma-glow of neon and hordes of crowds might seem like an attack on the senses, there’s much more to Tokyo’s futuristic metropolis than skyscrapers and robots. Visit a Sumo stable to watch traditional Japanese wrestling or head to a maid café and witness Kawaii ‘cute’ culture – whoever spots the most elaborate animal stuck to a headband wins. Take refuge at Meiji Shrine in Shibuya – you might even spot a traditional Japanese wedding – or head to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden where you’ll find themed gardens and a 300-year-old pine tree.
Party in Beirut, before seeing Roman ruins
Combine hedonism with ancient wonders in the bright lights of Beirut – a rather grown-up kind of city break, we like to think. Lebanon’s capital is renowned for epic clubs – there’s a thriving scene of arty independent nightspots, from underground lounges to rooftop venues with views. Once you’ve danced the night away it’s only a short hobble to the Roman Baths, a bewitching ancient ruin right in the heart of downtown Beirut. You can wander through the relics before seeking a shady spot in the Roman Baths Garden – an age-old site of recuperation. And let’s face it, you’ll probably need some of that.
See the sweeping majesty of Iguazu Falls
The border crossings of South America aren’t famed for drama or beauty, but one particular boundary between Brazil and Argentina will blow your road weariness right out of the water – quite literally. Enveloped in a misty curtain of its own making, Iguazu’s wall of white water crashes between the two countries, a ceaseless crescendo on the River Iguazu’s 1,320km journey. Access from the Brazilian side is easy, with a walkway, boat trips and helicopter tours. Those approaching from Argentina take the train through the National Park to pick up walking trails that lead right to the cascade’s mouth.
Get to Everest base camp, if you dare
Trekking to base camp at Mount Everest is something for those who thrive on a bit of a challenge. It’s definitely attainable, even for those of us who wouldn’t quite subscribe to the ‘athletic body’ camp. More than just a trek, this is a photo opportunity and sense of accomplishment rolled into one. Every bend in the trail opens out onto beautiful forests, glacial moraines and unrivalled vantage points. As you climb, you’ll pass through ancient Sherpa villages, browse Namche Bazaar, listen to the grunting of mountain yaks and drink-in views from the summit of Kala Patar – the highest point on the trek.