1. If you love the sun, try zen-ing out in Bali
As islands go, beautiful, exotic and enchanting Bali has it all. Situated in the south west of Indonesia’s archipelago, Bali offers fabulous beaches, breathtakingly beautiful coral reefs and warm waters – a true tropical paradise that’s perfect if you want to work on your tan.
But there’s more to Bali than sunshine – you can also explore ancient temples, have dinner by an active volcano and swim in some of the world’s most spectacular infinity pools.
Plan a trip that lets you see plenty of the island. Make the Alila Seminyak resort your first stop. It’s on a fantastic beach so you’ll start your holiday just a few steps away from the tranquil waters of the Indian Ocean. There are five different infinity pools and complimentary yoga classes.
Then head down to the very southern tip of Bali for a few special days at Alila Villas Uluwatu (Uluwatu means “the rock at the land’s end”). As well as offering amazing views from its position above the ocean, the resort offers couples the chance to become masseurs for the afternoon. The “Journey Beyond Two” (£450 per couple) includes an opportunity to learn the Japanese art of oshibori (literally “wet towel”) and to master the basics of massage. A 60-minute expert massage rounds off the ritual, with a private candlelit dinner for two also included in the price.
Alila Villas Uluwatu comprises 56 contemporary villas, each with a private pool and butler. It is also brilliantly located for beach-hopping – and you can visit six of the most famous beaches, all dotted along the pristine coastline on a half-day Southern Beaches Experience (from £115 per person). The day ends watching the sun go down on Thomas Beach with a chef’s speciality picnic and coconut water straight from a palm tree. Snorkelling and surfing can also be arranged.
THE COST Rooms at Alila Seminyak (alilahotels.com/seminyak) start from £185 per night on a room-only basis, based on two people sharing (excluding tax). Rooms at Alila Villas Uluwatu (alilahotels.com/uluwatu) start from £520 for a one-bedroom villa with private swimming pool on a room-only basis, excluding tax. Flights to the Balinese capital Denpasar from London Heathrow (via Kuala Lumpur) cost from £510 in April (malaysiaairlines.com).
INSIDER TIP You can’t go to Uluwatu without visiting its famous sea temple, but take care as the resident monkeys will try very hard to part you from your belongings!
2. If you love Poldark and the British seaside, visit Cornwall
Cornwall is all about contrasting coastlines and spectacular scenery. If you fell in love with the landscapes of the TV series, then it’s time to see some of Cornwall’s beauty for yourself.
Lewinnick Lodge is a special place to stay. Located on Pentire Headland, just a stone’s throw from the beach, it’s a restaurant with 11 luxurious designer bedrooms, where the ocean views are absolutely stunning. Opt for a Sunrise or Sunset room if you can – you’ll have the use of a great big stand-alone bath as well as a power shower.
In the restaurant, specials change twice daily, depending on the freshest Newquay catches, but you might try pan-seared scallops with Doom Bar ale and black pudding (£8), followed by dressed Cornish crab with sweet potato fries (£15).
For a complete change, head south to the Lizard Peninsula and the fabulous surroundings of the Mullion Cove Hotel. Sitting high above Mullion Cove, the hotel’s position is breathtaking. From here, you can look across Mount’s Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, then set off to walk a stretch of the South West Coastal Path where you will discover secret little harbours, inlets and beaches during a day of gentle adventure. The Mullion Cove Hotel is perfect for a family summer holiday with children as it has a great outdoor swimming pool too. Bedrooms have traditional British seaside decor, most with fantastic sea views looking out over the cove or across the spectacular National Trust headland and out towards Land’s End.
INSIDER TIP If you stay at Mullion Cove, treat yourselves to the chilled classic seafood platter (£40 a head, book 24 hours in advance).
3. If you love getting fit on holiday, try Sicily
Fly into Sicily’s capital, Palermo, and transfer to Rocco Forte’s five-star luxury beachside resort, Verdura, on the south-west coast of the island. It offers world-class golf courses, tennis courts, a vast 60-metre infinity pool, four restaurants and five bars, plus the renowned Verdura Spa.
The idyllic setting – and fantastic weather – means you can’t help but want to be active, whether it’s teeing off on one of three Kyle Phillips golf courses, a tennis lesson, a choice of watersports (flyboarding – where a hoverboard enables you to “fly” above the water – for the brave only!), a challenging “total body workout” fitness class, or a coastline and countryside hike. Or simply start the day with meditative morning yoga on the beach.
The spa features four therapeutic outdoor thalassotherapy pools. When it’s time to relax, chill out in the sauna or double-height steam room, sip a restorative juice at the juice bar, or lie back for a spa treatment – the 50-min Sicilian Aroma Massage (around £110) was essential the day after our fitness class!
Much of the produce in the resort’s restaurants comes from its own organic farm, and dining choices range from stylish Mediterranean at Zagara to less formal, authentic Sicilian at trattoria-style Liolà.
Rooms are contemporary and spacious, each featuring a private balcony with Mediterranean sea views and a four-poster bed.
THE COST Rooms from £225, roccofortehotels.com. Packages are also available. British Airways (ba.com) flies from London Heathrow to Palermo, Sicily, from March to October, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Fares start from £96 return.
INSIDER TIP To experience more of the island, the Planeta winery in nearby Menfi (planeta.it) offers wine-tasting among the vineyards.
4. If you love exotic Dubai and the Arabian Gulf, try Oman
Sophisticated, elegant and exotic… three words that sum up a holiday in Oman – as well as clean, safe and beautiful.
In fact, it’s hard to find enough superlatives to describe this unforgettable country – no wonder it’s hotly tipped as a top destination for 2017. The capital, Muscat, is energetic, busy and searingly hot. Set aside a day for comfortable, air-conditioned shopping in one of the malls where the people are friendly and welcoming.
Make time to enjoy the elegant surroundings of the superb Al Bustan Palace Hotel, with its private beachfront location (which means plenty of watersports if you want them), five swimming pools (including 50-metre infinity pool) and fabulous Six Senses Spa. Here, you’ll find domed ceilings, arched walkways and natural stone walls and floors.
Pick up some frankincense to take home (as well as burning it, the Omanis use it in cooking and they claim it has health benefits). Then seek out somewhere special for dinner. Ubhar, in the Bareeq al Shatti Mall, specialises in putting its own twist on traditional Omani dishes, so watch out for camel biryani (it’s delicious), hares (chicken with wheat) and date ice cream. For open-air eating, try The Beach (part of the Chedi Hotel), where you can tuck in to terrific seafood, oysters and caviar, right by the sea.
An evening visit to one of Oman’s turtle beaches is a must. At Ras Al Jinz, for example, you can see turtles coming up onto the beach to lay their eggs under a blanket of the most amazing black sky and stars. The lack of light pollution makes it a mesmerising experience! Visit between July and October when around 20,000 turtles will come ashore, here or on four of Oman’s other turtle beaches.
The desert sand dune driving experience at Wahiba Sands (around £175pp for a day excursion) is a brilliant 21st century way to get to know the desert that’s been there for 6,000 years. A three-hour drive from Muscat, the Wahiba Sands stretch around 120 miles from north to south and 50 miles from east to west. You’d be forgiven for thinking that nothing could possibly thrive in this landscape, yet apparently it’s home to around 150 species of plant and 200 species of animal.
It’s worth setting some time aside for a few days outside Muscat. The Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar hotel – the Middle East’s highest five-star resort – is located on the Saiq Plateau on Green Mountain. At 6,500 feet above sea level, it’s a welcome ten degrees cooler than anywhere else.
The spa here is fantastic. Loads of marble, a private hammam, five opulent treatment rooms and a combination of Arabian mystique and Thai sensuality. There are separate thermal suites for men and women, each with a Himalayan salt steam room, aroma-infused sauna, rain showers and vitality pool.
You also get stunning views, beautiful villa accommodation with a private infinity pool and loads of activities to try. In every sense this is a highlight of any visit to Oman.
THE COST Flights from London Heathrow to Muscat with Oman Air (omanair.com) start from £529 per person. Rooms at Al Bustan Palace Hotel (ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/oman/al-bustan) start from £150 per night, rooms at Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar (jabal-akhdar.anantara.com/) start from £293 per night, and rooms at the Grand Hyatt Muscat (muscat.grand.hyatt.com/en/hotel/our-hotel.html) start from £180 per night. Zahara Tours (zaharatours.com) offers a number of excursions to discover areas of Oman, including the Ras Al Jinz turtle reserve. For further information on Oman, visit omantourism.gov.om
INSIDER TIP Muscat is cosmopolitan and “westernised”, but elsewhere in Oman you should expect to cover up shoulders and arms when you’re out and about.
5. If you love self-catering, book a French villa with a twist…
Imagine owning your own chateau in the beautiful Loire Valley for a blissful week of sunshine and wine. This dream can become a reality if you hire the beautiful Château La Perrière through Sawday’s.
It’s so stunning you can’t help but gasp the first time you set eyes on it. Just a couple of miles outside the medieval town of Chinon, you have to pass through the gatehouse and drive up the tree-lined gravel driveway for it to appear, bathed in the evening sun.
It looks like the kind of romantic castle you’d find Sleeping Beauty in – there’s the typical gleaming white exterior, elegant grey steepled roof and two striped turrets on either side of the house.
But this is no Disney castle – it’s a genuine chateau dating back to 1836, which has been tastefully restored by the current owners. That means it’s like stepping back in time but with all the mod cons you’d expect from a 21st century villa holiday. The kitchen has all the pots and (Le Creuset) pans a big family need, there’s a barbecue (which we used most days), a games room in the old stables (which still have two big statues of horses’ heads hanging over the entrance), and a very safe swimming pool area complete with Instagram-worthy inflatables.
It’s the perfect place for a three-generation family holiday – the chateau is big enough to mean grandparents won’t hear their young grandchildren crying in the “family wing” and the children will be happy to join in a game of traditional French boules with the grandparents.
It sleeps up to 12 in six bedrooms (four doubles and two twins plus two cots if required) all tastefully furnished in neutral shades of pale grey, blue and pink – with fabulous views over the ten acres of rolling parkland it’s set in. The English owner, Karen, was a delight to deal with, and incredibly helpful with local restaurant recommendations, tips and advice on making the most of your stay. But be warned – it’s so easy to make yourself at home you won’t want to leave. We spent most of the week deciding which part of the house and garden was our “favourite”. Note: we are still undecided!
Children will love finding the six sculpted faces hidden in the trees, playing on the swing and feeding the chickens with the help of the friendly housekeeper Neil, who comes to clean the pool every morning before you’ve even thought about getting up. For adults, there are gentle walks in the woods as well as bikes to hire for a cycle down for fresh bread in the morning, or a trip to one of the local wineries.
THE COST Sawday’s (sawdays.co.uk/chateaulaperriere) offers stays at Château La Perrière from £2,000 per week/£350 per night for six people, or from £3,000 per week/£400 per night for 12 people. Book your crossing from Newhaven to Dieppe (a three-hour drive from the Château), which is operated by DFDS, with aferry.co.uk. Prices start at £78 return.
INSIDER TIP There are 21 chateaux in the Loire to explore. Don’t miss the storybook Château de Saumur, with its medieval sculptures, as well as Château de Chinon – you can see La Perrière from the battlements. There’s a delightful museum nearby, which celebrates the birthplace of the satirist François Rabelais. The Loire Valley is famed for its wine and there are plenty of wineries a short drive away from La Perrière if you want to enjoy an afternoon’s wine tasting. Our favourite sparkling rosé was called Si Irresistible by the Louis De Grenelle house in Saumur (louisdegrenelle.fr).
6. If you love Mediterranean islands, try Mallorca
While everyone else dashes to the nearby beaches, we recommend exploring its gem of a capital, Palma. It’s a sophisticated city with plenty of history that’s compact enough to walk around. There’s no need to hire a car – it’s just a 15-minute taxi from the airport, around £15.
Situated right in the centre of town on sunny Plaça de Cort (close to the baroque town hall) is Hotel Cort. The perfect base for a short break, it’s next to the square’s famous 1,000-year-old olive tree, a traditional meeting place for locals.
You’ll love the cool blue, white and ultramarine colour palette used in the 16 bedrooms and suites. Moorish mosaics mingle with traditional Mallorcan fabrics and, if you visit out of season (we were there in mid-November!), there’s the added luxury of underfloor heating in the bathrooms. Plus, you can sunbathe on the roof around the plunge pool.
Eat in Hotel Cort’s restaurant – ideally outside on the terrace – where the Mallorcan philosophy is “excellent produce with minimal interference”. Try the octopus “al olivo”, followed by fresh red tuna with tagliatelle, or something spectacular from the “raw bar”. And don’t miss the ensaimada pastries with breakfast.
Wander through the narrow lanes that run from the Plaça de Cort down towards Passeig des Born, the main shopping street as well as Avinguda Jaume III.
The boutiques and kiosks in the back streets sell great leather accessories and jewellery. Plus Palma is home to several big branches of Zara, including the more upmarket Uterqüe (Spain’s best-kept secret as it hasn’t made it to the UK high street yet). As closing time is usually 10pm, there’s plenty of time for a post-supper shop. Indulge yourself in the restaurant Marc Fosh, located in the old town. Marc Fosh is one of Europe’s most creative cookery talents, becoming the first and only British chef to be awarded a Michelin star in Spain. And have a pre-dinner drink at Hotel Tres or the famous nightspot Abaco next door. It’s a fabulously exotic cocktail bar hidden away behind a door.
Other things we enjoyed were the delicious seafood tapas, sushi or oysters at the indoor fish market on Plaza de Olivar before wandering around the market stalls next door. Taking a tour of the city on a double-decker bus is also worthwhile, your ticket lasts 24 hours and you’ll go to the magnificent Bellver Castle, one of the most original buildings in Mallorca’s history.
Don’t miss sightseeing at the Almudaina Palace, where the Royal family hold their official events, and at the Cathedral of La Seu, which dates back to 1230 and has stunning stained glass windows and an alter designed by Gaudi.
INSIDER TIP Try to be in Palma on a Tuesday evening, when pubs and bars in the old quarter take part in the “Tapas Trail”, and offer tapas and a glass of beer or wine for just €2 (around £1.70) between 7.30pm and midnight.