Ampersand Travel's top trips for 2012
Hyderabad… India’s newest undiscovered luxury destination. This lively city has a new world-class international airport (recently voted top 5 in the world) with direct flights from London, and it is home to a phenomenal new hotel: the Taj Falaknuma Palace. Grand, opulent and steeped in history, this 19th Century palace used to be home to the Nizam and has played host to European royalty and heads of state. It is now a true destination hotel: the spa, food and swimming pool are all sensational. Set in a peaceful location on top of a hill, you can almost step away from the city whilst still feeling a part of it and you can hear the Islamic calls to prayer at different times of the day.
Eco luxury on the southern coast… The ultra-stylish Song Saa Resort is a new opening designed in a Maldives-esque style with over-water stilted villas – a first in Southeast Asia. We love it because it offers a new and interesting alternative to Thailand as a sexy beach break. From Siem Reap simply fly to the coast and then take a 30-minute boat ride. The 25 villas each have their own private pool and their design is inspired by Cambodian fishing villages with features like thatch roofs and the use of drift wood. This ground-breaking luxury resort is also as environmentally friendly as they come and they work to protect the virgin rainforests, tropical reefs and glistening white beaches of this area. Diving has been dramatically improved since they restored the coral, or you can go sailing, kayaking or snorkelling.
The northeast & northwest coasts… Trincomalee (left) is the 5th largest natural harbour in the world, located on the northeast coast. At present there is the upbeat and colourful 4 star Chaaya Blu which is a delightful property built in the 70’s and recently refurbished taking full advantage of the return in popularity of this iconic style. Another up-and-coming coastline is Kalpitiya, 150km north of Colombo. It is one of the most beautiful coastal areas located in the Western Province. The peninsula separates the Puttalam lagoon from the Indian Ocean and creates a marine sanctuary with a diversity of habitats ranging from bar reefs, flat coastal plains, saltpans, mangroves swamps, salt marshes and vast sand dune beaches. There is also a really fun and chilled out resort here called Bar Reef.
Eco Lodges & mud huts… These offer a taste of the traditional Sri Lankan village lifestyle – our favourites include The Mudhouse (left) in Anamaduwa, Galapita Eco Lodge in Buttala and Bar Reef in Kalpitya. Ulagalla Resort in Thirappane is a great example of the new trend for melding eco initiatives (it is powered by Sri Lanka’s biggest solar farm) and extreme 5-star luxury… it simply stunning with 21 chalets spread across 58 acres of natural woodland.
Hot air ballooning over Bagan…Enjoy a sunrise balloon trip over Bagan with extraordinary views over hundreds of ancient temples & pagodas peeking out from this remote jungle. This is one of Asia’s most awe-inspiring experiences – perfect for those who have experienced Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and are looking for something more adventurous and arguably even more wondrous.
The idyllic palm-fringed beaches in Ngapali… Burma has one of the longest coastlines in Asia and it is a treasure trove of beautiful, unexplored beaches – many of which offer fantastic diving and snorkelling. Ngapali is the best up-and-coming beach and the location of our favourite hotel in Burma, Sandoway Resort. It has 56 rooms, villas and cottages scattered through 6 acres of tropical gardens, a big pool, a great seafood restaurant and its own Art Deco style luxury cinema.
Hunting for precious gems… Burma is known for her top quality rubies, sapphires and semi-precious coloured stones. This experience introduces you to the miner families who teach you how to choose the best gems – perfect for those of you looking to treat yourself or your partner to a beautiful sparkler… perhaps even find the perfect handpicked engagement ring. The brokers are mainly women and great fun to deal with. Over tea, drinks and local snacks they will display an array of loose stones, explaining which are the better quality stones and why, the different ways of setting them together and negotiating the best prices. Traditionally, tourists will only be exposed to already set pieces; this is a unique experience because you can select the stone of your choice and decide on the design yourself. The stones are then set to your design and will be ready by the time you return from the rest of your trip!
New luxury lodge… Set to open in September 2012, Uma Punakha is COMO Hotel’s second hotel in Bhuta. The first is Uma Paro, our favourite hotel in Paro – especially suited to people who are sporty and into wellness and yoga – and the two properties are a 5-hour drive from each other. Their new resort has spectacular elevated views over the lush terraced valley and the rushing Mo Chu river. It is going to be a great base for hiking, white water rafting and cycling with an English-speaking guide. The other stunning, high-end options in Bhutan are a collection of lodges by Aman Resorts, who were the first luxury hotel chain to open here. They have five gorgeous rammed earth lodges in Paro, Thimpu, Punakha, Gangtey and Bumthang which make for the perfect circuit through the country. The great thing about Bhutan is the ability to combine untouched natural surroundings and an authentic cultural experience with impeccable and unpretentious luxury. Whatever you do, don’t miss the dramatic cliff-hike up to the sacred Tiger's Nest monastery (pictured above).
Sailing South East Asia… Tiger Blue is a 34-metre traditional teak and Phinisi schooner, hand-built on an Indonesian beach by local craftsmen. This stunning luxury yacht offers tailor-made trips exploring the islands of South East Asia. Available to charter year-round for groups of up to ten people or 14 for families with children, the boat comes with a nine-strong crew including a chef, laundry boy and dive master. With a unique blend of style and comfort, this beautiful vessel has been designed with outstanding attention to detail and has sumptuous en-suite cabins with cosy beds, hot showers and air conditioning. The top deck, with its plush loungers, is the perfect setting for relaxing with a sundowner at the end of an exciting day. Whether you want to sail around the Komodo Islands (best in March – Sept), cruise the famous Spice Islands in eastern Indonesia (best in autumn), or explore the abundant Raja Ampat Islands (best Dec – Jan), you are guaranteed a mind-blowing trip.