When there is something worth celebrating, taking a special trip somewhere is a sure way to guarantee fond and cherished memories. Whether it’s a honeymoon, 25th wedding anniversary, 50th birthday, university graduation, family reunion or just retirement – the destination can really make it memorable. Around this time of year I will admit, I cringe due to the hype Valentine ’s Day gets – only because I choose what dates I want to celebrate, dates important to me and my loved ones, and valentines just isn’t one. But as I said above, when something is worth celebrating, it’s worth celebrating in the form of a trip! There are of course many ways to travel, but for me it is the right combination of iconic sights, unique experiences particular to that destination, some fine food and of course wine, and a least one over the top indulgent resort! Now you may not agree in my destination choices, but I’ve chosen 5 destinations that are perfect for making those special memories that will last a lifetime and include each of these elements.
South Africa embodies the name of our popular itinerary “A world in one country”. Where else can you drink world class wine and dine in 5 star restaurants (Cape Winelands), see the ‘Big 5’ animals on safari (Kruger National Park), while staying at a choice of over the top game lodges, and go for a caged shark dive (near Cape town) easily done in one to three weeks of travelling? Known to be one of the most scenic countries in all of Africa, it really is! Travelers will find spectacular natural beauty, unspoiled coastlines, mountain ranges, fertile green valleys, as well as a vibrant culture steeped in diverse and fascinating history. It is ideal for couples, families, friends or reunion groups. Easily accessible from North America even those short on time can experience it all. And the best news of all is that there has never been a better time to visit. The dollar is at an all-time high against the South African Rand and that translates to superb value. It’s a win-win all round. There are excellent travel deals currently available and once in destination, your dollar goes very far in this fascinating and intriguing destination.
Australia is full of iconic sights: the Sydney Opera House, Ayers Rock, and the Great Barrier Reef to name just a few, make it one of the most recognizable countries just by it’s landmarks. When it comes to wine one has to seriously stop and ponder which region to start with, there are so many….Barossa, Hunter, Margaret River, Yarra, Coonawarra, Adelaide Hills, Clare Valley, McClarenvale, Kangaroo Island and many more . Of course with that wine comes world class cheeses, chocolates and dining experiences.
While I love delectable food and local wine, I also love the outdoors and wildlife – and Australia is an amazing wildlife destination. Home to more than 370 mammals, 800 bird species, 300 different lizards, over 130 snake species, and more than 80 percent of those are indigenous and unique to Australia! A trip to Kangaroo Island (near Adelaide) can include one the most indulgent lodge stay on the continent at Southern Ocean Lodge, whilst surrounded by kangaroos, koalas, seals, sea lions, wombats, wallabies, echidna and the very cute, but quite bizarre duck-billed platypus – all in their native habitat. Having said that, a behind the scenes tour at the Australia Zoo near Brisbane or even just in Sydney at Wildlife World is a great way to come up close and personal with animals and learn loads of interesting facts about them. Unique experiences abound in Australia from the easily accessible Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge (a great experience, done in the morning, afternoon, evening, or late at night) or snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef (near Cairns or Port Douglas) to remote visits to Tiwi Island (near Darwin) or swimming with the whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia (usually accessed via Perth – the most remote city in the world). Australia offers the perfect combination of iconic sights, food and wine, incredible beaches, unique wildlife and millennia old indigenous culture – which to me make it a perfect celebration destination.
Bali, Indonesia perfectly blends a beach destination with a cultural experience. Steeped in exotic Hindu culture (remember Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country), with numerous temples set in a dramatic landscape of volcanic mountains, green terraced rice paddies, sweeping valleys and stunning beaches. Bali has much to offer at every level, from backpacking surf-trips to prestigious spa-escapes. Whilst they import all their wine, they do have delicious local cuisine. The dining options are also vast, from 5 star Zen-style opulence at Amandari Resort and Spa near Ubud, to a casual beach-side seafood restaurant. I can recall one such restaurant on the remote north shore near Lovina where we chose from the fresh catch of the day, a table for 2 laid out under the starry night sky, with almost no one else around.
For more energetic travelers you can climb Gunung Batur (an extinct volcano) in the early hours of the morning to watch the majestic sunrise behind Gunung Agung (the mother mountain), a truly cerebral experience. If you don’t feel like hiking, there’s beginner-level whitewater rafting and pretty easy mountain biking routes through tiny local village, its great fun! The surfing is world class, with nightlife to match in Kuta, and with the proximity to Australia, you’ll see a lot of Aussies doing both of these activities. For a little air-conditioned culture, you can easily spend 3 or 4 days exploring the plethora of art galleries and studios in Ubud, an area famous for its spa treatments at the boutique hotels that dot the countryside surrounding the area.
Peru is the gastronomic capital of Latin America, is home to legendary Machu Picchu which is about as iconic as it gets, and offers a unique and rare glimpse into the Amazon Rainforest basin you cannot get in Brazil. Its hotels vary but several are some of the world’s finest, such as Hotel Monasterio, built within a former monastery in Cusco, by Orient Express. The Incan lost city of Machu Picchu is one of the “new” Seven Wonders of the World, and is on most globetrotters bucket list. Most travelers visit Cusco beforehand, but Machu Picchu can be reached by the luxury Hiram Bingham train, the scenic Vista Dome or via the power of your feet if you’re keen to hike the Inca Trail. You can even hike an alternative trail staying at mountain lodges, the first of which features a masseuse! If you are short on time, a visit to Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu can be squeezed into 7 days and because Peru is only 8 hours from NYC and on the same time zone so you waste minimal time getting there – ideal if you are traveling as a family with school children. I always encourage those with more time to visit Lake Titicaca, the Colca Canyon (to see the massive, rare condors) and the White City of Arequipa. The country is steeped in a fascinating history that includes Spanish conquistadores, and … “potentially” ancient astronauts that built the Nazca Lines. Peru is an awesome travel destination, and we’ve actually seen several travelers return more than once – there’s just so much to do and see!
Tahiti has long been the destination of choice for discerning honeymooners, those celebrating milestone birthdays and wedding anniversaries so of course it had to make my list. Unlike any “beach” destination in the world, the idyllic islands of French Polynesia continue to capture the hearts and imaginations of travelers and it is the number 1 choice of our Globetrotters for the “celebration destination” – No matter the celebration! Overwater bungalows, private plunge pools, cottages on the beach and world class spas all abound in this exclusive destination. A trip to Tahiti is more about the suspension of reality and stepping away from the shackles of daily life than any other destination on our list. Where else can you wake up in the morning in an overwater bungalow and have your breakfast delivered by a beautiful Polynesian woman in a canoe? Or have a picnic on your own private motu (island of sorts), with the majestic green peaks of Bora Bora as the backdrop? There is no shortage of luxurious resorts in French Polynesia but a favourite of travelers wanting the ultimate indulgence is Le Taha’s Island Resort & Spa with only 45 overwater bungalows, 10 beach villas and 2 royal beach villas. The worst part about Tahiti, is that after having travelled there, you realize no matter how much you love the sun, the ocean, beach-cocktails and fine cuisine…nothing will ever compare to Tahiti.