Another Day in Paradise [Marie Claire]
Sailing through the azure waters of Indonesia, Nigel Tisdall discovers a little piece of heaven aboard Tiger Blue
The Experts - Zone Rangers [Conde Nast Traveller]
Get under the skin of the world's most exciting places with these finger-on-the-pulse gurus
James Grace-Jayasundera, Ampersand Travel - SRI LANKA
Of Sri Lankan and English descent, Grace-Jayasundera has been buzzing around the subcontinent all his life, but Sri Lanka is in his blood. He can ensure a super-lush five-star jaunt from start to finish if so desired, but his secret preference is for quirky details, and smaller, family-owned hotels run by upwardly mobile locals are his forte. He can help you decide which hous eyou should take over for Christmas (perhaps the one on a private island that you reach by elephant, and that comes with its own chef), which beach to flot on and which towns to rev up in (Galle is fascinating). If you want to see monkeys and blue whales, to explore the ancient kingdoms of Ceylon (including The Temple of the Tooth), to hit the surf, or the tea plantations, this is the man to talk to. He is funny and flamboyant, with feelers extending into India, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Maldives. His top picks this year include heli-skiing in Kashmir, temple hunting in Burma and trekking in remote east Bhutan. www.ampersandtravel.com
Luxury Travel [Square Mile]
James Grace-Jayasundera set up Asia specialist Ampersand Travel 10 years ago. He dips into his knowledge of the region to find five breaktaking trips.
Want a dose of extreme adrenaline with your history lesson? Try zip-lining over Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort in true Batman style (Batman buffs may recognise it as the setting for scenes of the new movie). Built in the 17th century by Maharaja Jaswant Singh, the fort is 400 feet high and zipping across each of the six wire routes provides dramatic views of its ruins. With emerald green moats beneath you and the blue-walled city in the distance, this cutting edge activity is perfect for daredevil sightseers and it is one of the highlights of visiting Rajasthan. You’ll be strapped into your harness and given two simple instructions: keep your head to one side of the wire and pull your knees up towards your chest. Those that don’t may end up in a 360 spin or lose momentum, which will leave you dangling mid-line. But don’t worry, you can always use your gloved hands to slowly haul yourself along the line towards the ramp – mildly humiliating but good amusement for everyone else. For a slower but still thrilling way to see the ‘BlueCity’, jump in a hot air balloon at sunset and capture some eagle-eyed photographs.
For Asia’s sexiest swells, head to Nihiwatu Lodge on SumbaIsland – an extremely exclusive retreat with fabled sky-high waves for surfers. A Spice Island first mentioned in the 16th century by a traveling companion of Magellan, Sumba is one of Indonesia’s most unexplored islands, located a two hour’s flight southeast of Bali. Nihiwatu has been featured in several surf movies; famously The Drifter featuring world-renowned pro surfer Rob Machado, and The Green Iguana by Billabong. “God’s Left” is the main attraction: these left breaking waves reel for over 300 metres and crest off the resort’s outstretched reef, reserved for a maximum of nine surfers at a time. The surf is good at 2 feet all the way up to 10 feet and it is consistent all year round. Non-surfers will be perfectly pampered, too. Nihiwatu has just 10-thatched roofed villas fronted by a 2.5 mile scoop of sand and backed by 175 hectares of lush jungle and rice terraces. Colourful coral and marine life makes for sensational scuba diving and snorkelling, or you can go on forest treks and village excursions – traditional animist communities and Stone Age sites have remained unchanged here for centuries. Surfing for luxury-lovers (long sun-bleached hair not required) with abundant nature and culture to boot… totally awesome, dude.
For an Indiana Jones-style adventure, head off the beaten track for a spot of temple hunting. Less famous but possibly even more spectacular than Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, Burma’s Bagan plains are an undiscovered treasure strewn with over 3,000 gold-clad stupas, shrines and ruins. Close to a thousand years ago, Anawrahta, king of the first Myanmar Empire and a staunch advocate of Theravada Buddhism, embarked on one of the most ambitious religious construction programs in history in his kingdom’s capital, Bagan. It is a mesmerising moment when you first set eyes on so many ancient temples peeking out from this vast, savannah-like horizon stretching as far as the Irrawaddy River; some are gnarled by jungle, but most are remarkably untouched. To fully get to grips with the scale of this historical site, take a hot air balloon ride to peer down upon it, or if you prefer to stay grounded, hop on a bicycle at dawn to have the plains to yourself. If you get too templed out, head to the coast to experience one of Asia’s best secret beaches: the palm-fringed and footprint-free sands of Ngapali, which has a delightfully quirky resort called Sandoway. Tourism has only recently opened up in Burma, so inquisitive adventurers should go now to experience it ahead of the crowds.
4. Best for wildlife spotting: Sri Lanka’s south coast
The tear drop-shaped island of Sri Lanka is a bountiful Page 3 stunner of a nation, spilling over with natural wonders – from the 2,500m peaks in her interior to the long flat panoramas of Yala and the curvaceous caramel sands of the south coast. Base yourself at the Amanwella in Tangalle, a super slick, James Bond-esque resort on one of the island’s most beautiful palm-fringed beaches. You’ll be within striking distance of the 17th century Dutch walled fort town of Galle (described by some as the St. Tropez of Asia) as well as Yala National Park, one of the best wildlife destinations outside of Africa. Here you can explore the park by open-back jeep safari accompanied by an expert guide and an enchanting chorus of tropical birdlife. You may meet with elephants, monkeys, peacocks, crocodiles, buffalo, deer, bears and, most excitingly, the elusive leopard – more leopards pad through this park per square metre than anywhere else on earth. Just off shore you can take a boat safari to spot blue whales and sperm whales – this stretch of coast is the best place in the world for spotting both at the same time. If you’re lucky, you may be escorted by a pod of friendly dolphins, too – sometimes up to 300 dolphins can be spotted racing through these waters!
Love and happiness abound in this magical Himalayan kingdom, ranked No. 1 in the world for Gross National Happiness. The scenery is truly soul-stirring – mountains are blanketed in evergreen forests and dotted with Buddhist temples; monasteries cling to cliffs (the Tiger’s Nest Monastery does so most dramatically); valleys are sliced by glacial rivers and the air is delicious and clean. It’s a bit like Switzerland, but with dzongs and prayer wheels in place of churches. Dressed in their colourful national costume (ghos for men and kiras for women), the Bhutanese are incredibly charming and quick to laugh. They have a lust for life, evident by their unique style of decorative painting: enormous erect penises can be seen painted on the walls of houses as symbols of good luck to drive away evil spirits. If that’s not enough to put you in the mood for romance, the luxury lodges will. COMO Hotel’s brand new 11-room Uma Punakha is particularly suited to sporty couples who like yoga, hiking and mountain biking, and there’s an incredible COMO Shambhala spa to return to afterwards (traditional hot stone massages works wonders on achy bones). Visit in springtime when the rhododendrons are in bloom, or in winter when the landscape is dusted with snow… there’s nothing more romantic than snuggling up by a roaring fire with a blanket and a hot apple tea!
These escapes were brought to you by Ampersand Travel (www.ampersandtravel.com; +44 (0)20 7289 6100; email@example.com), a London-based luxury tour operator specialising in holidays to the Indian Subcontinent and South East Asia. We provide expert travel advice & inspiration, tailor-made itineraries & full booking services.
So Where's Hot This Winter [Sunday Times]
We've trawled through the weather stats, calculated the flight times and pestered the operators for their best deals.
We've trawled through the weather stats, calculated the flight times and pestered the operators for their best deals. Now all you have to do is pick your perfect spot for soaking up the sun. By Chris Haslam.
BALI, INDONESIA Less than 15 miles up the coast from Kuta, between the rice terraces and a sparkly black-sand beach, is the Alila Villas Soori. If you're looking for romance, this is the place. It combines Balinese serenity, hugely distracting views across the straits of Java, techy mod cons and some of the best service you'll ever experience. A week starts at £2,725pp with Ampersand Travel (020 7289 6100, ampersandtravel.com).
Going Off Piste in the Himalayas [Conde Nast Traveller]
In recent years, the north Indian region of Kashmir has been quietly attracting more adventurous travellers, who come for its little-visited sights and tranquil landscapes such as Dal Lake.
INDIA In recent years, the north Indian region of Kashmir has been quietly attracting more adventurous travellers, who come for its little-visited sights and tranquil landscapes such as Dal Lake.
Rarely is it thought of as a winter-sports destination; but in fact Kashmir's snow-capped Himalayas, have some of the highest, most challenging and blissfully untouched ski slopes in the world. Some of them are still as-yet unchartered, which make for an extreme snow-sports experience and bring a new meaning to the phrase 'going off-piste'.
Gulmarg is Kashmir's principal ski resort, and is not your average alpine adventure-spot. Intrepid skiers take the world's highest gondola up to a vertigo-inducing 13,400 feet to one of the most unmapped slopes in the world. Meanwhile, for advanced skiers who are daring enough to take on the mountains from giddy heights the gondolas can't reach, heli-skiing is available: a helicopter to whisk skiers up and deposit them on top of some of the world's most dramatic and untouched mountainscapes for a first descent.
While sightings of fellow humans might be fleeting, the mystical landscapes are populated with monkeys, eagles and even the odd elusive snow leopard, although taking your eyes off the wild pistes isn't particularly recommended.
Val d'Isère it is not: the powder is deep, the drops are sheer, and it's possible to traverse the mountainous territory without seeing another group of skiers for hours. A skiing holiday in Gulmarg is certainly not suitable for beginners, or those who can't do without après-ski comforts such as hot chocolate, fondue and French covers bands. But the Kashmiri alternatives - spiced curries, warming mint teas and good conversation - make the experience all the more authentic.
Ampersand Travel offers an 'Unknown Kashmir Ski' package starting from £1,890 per person that includes seven-nights at the Hotel Highlands Park in Gulmarg, international and domestic flights, transfers, ski passes and guides as well as a night in Srinagar and Delhi. For more information visitwww.ampersandtravel.com.
Tour (Operators) de Force [Country Life]
Take the stress out of planning the trip of a lifetime and leave it to the experts, for whom nowhere is too far-flung and no request too outlandish. Here, we pick the best travel companies around and find the places they do particularly well...
Asia – Ampersand Travel
Why Every member of the team has either lived, worked or travelled at length in the countries they represent. Talk to founder and MD James Grace Jayasundera – he knows everything there is to know. www.ampersandtravel.com
Our Favourites [Culture Odyssey]
Navigating Indonesia [Daily Express]
Chris Caldicott sets sail on a traditional schooner for a voyage across tropical waters
007 Heaven [Daily Mail]
Travel News [Daily Telegraph]
Take the Family [Country Life Travel]
Top Honeymoon Destinations [handbag.com]
Top 10 Honeymoon Destinations in India and Sri Lanka Escape to your very own Indian or Sri Lankan paradise with our guide to the best hotels, villas, lodges and havelis courtesy of Ampersand Travel
Untouched Himalayas [insignia Online]
Ghee and Sympathy [Sundat Times Travel]
India Just the Way You Like It [The Sunday Times]
Sydney Morning Herald
Land of Many Colours [The Independent]
The Indian Post
The Saturday Travel [The Sun]
The Saturday Travel [The Sun]
India: The Total Guide [The SUnday Times]
Burmese Stays [travel Weekly]
Ski Deals [Travelbite.com]
Between the Lines [TTG Luxury]
Time to Reflect [TTG Luxury]
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- Jaime Benitez, South India
- Leslie Siben, India
- Mr David Wallace, North India
- Mr Geoffrey Johnson, India
- Mr & Mrs Manson, North India
- Krista Weir, Sri Lanka
- Matthew Nicklin, North India
- Mr Richard Stoughton, Sri Lanka